Friday, July 29, 2011

U.K. government funds "doorstep lecturers"


You can close the door on traveling salespeople (if any still exist), petition-signature gatherers, or Jehovah's Witnesses. But what if the "salesperson" is from the government?

From the Daily Mail:
Doorstep lectures on travelling without your car as army of advisers teach families about 'sustainable travel'
Hundreds of thousands of families are to be visited by travel advisers who will tell them to stop driving their cars. Armed with bus timetables and cycle route maps, they will knock on doors and lecture on the need for ‘sustainable travel’.
The doorstep campaign by the army of taxpayer-funded ‘personal travel advisers’ is part of a £156million effort by ministers to persuade people to leave their cars at home when they go to work or the shops, or take children to school.
Lord knows every Western country has its nanny state apostles, but in the U.S. it's hard to imagine someone from the government ringing your doorbell to ask, "What prevents you from cycling?" and "Do you know where the nearest bus stop is?"

Things are different in the U.K., where there's a ministry (and ministers, in the religious sense) for everything from diversity to dental hygiene. British people have traditionally been called "subjects" of the Crown, rather than citizens. Can you doubt it?

I wonder -- seriously -- what would happen if a bus timetable-wielding govbot  showed up at an Englishman's door to deliver a sermon on the joys of being un-motored and the victim responded, "Sod off."

A matter for the police? Anyone who doesn't fancy an official snoop on his doorstep probably has other criminal tendencies, including failure to recycle or telling Irish jokes. Probably racistsexisthomophobicislamophobic in the bargain.

Zero tolerance for car users!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Breivik: First (and last) posting

I usually avoid posting about hot topics, figuring that anything I say will have already been said by others, maybe better. I'm tempted to ignore Anders Breivik for that reason.

But since Gates of Vienna and Jihad Watch have long been on my blogroll, I feel a duty to stand with them when they're subject to a hate campaign.

Those two sites (among many others) appeared in Breivik's book-length, cut-and-paste manifesto. Now the LA Times, along with the rest of the leftist/multi-culti propaganda collective, is ecstatic to have an excuse to label the anti-jihad movement "right-wing extremists," "Muslim-bashers," and "bigots."

According to the LA Times:
What Spencer [of Jihad Watch] failed to address is the fact that his site, and others cited by Breivik such as The Gates of Vienna, make a habit of blaming all Muslims for the actions of a minority of violent jihadists. As an example of Spencer's thinking, he wrote in November that the Transportation Security Administration should profile and give extra screening attention to Muslim males at airports, because this is the likeliest group to commit acts of terrorism. One could as easily argue that special attention should be paid to white males. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber's reign of terror, the Tucson shootings and, now, the mass murder in Norway, this population also appears prone to terrorist violence.
The Times's illogicality should be obvious. Giving extra screening to Muslims is not "blaming all Muslims." If the TSA's aim is actually to deter terrorists from boarding planes -- and not, as many of us believe, to be a jobs program for otherwise unemployables and to create a new class of government dependents -- it is only common sense to give a little more attention to a population responsible for an endless stream of terrorist activities worldwide, even while recognizing that most individuals of that population won't fit the profile.

I have read Gates of Vienna and Brussels Journal (also mentioned in the manifesto) for years; Jihad Watch less often recently, simply because it doesn't tell me much that's new. On none of those sites have I ever seen advocacy of a lunatic act such as Breivik's, or anything that could be interpreted by a sane person as advocacy.

Ah, but what about influencing the insane? the anti-anti-jihad left would reply. That is irrelevant. People who are paranoid or schizophrenic can be influenced by anything: "hidden messages" in advertising, voices in their minds, the patterns of window cracks.

Gates of Vienna, its frequent contributor Fjordman, Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, "cultural conservatives" and many others who oppose the Islamization of the west are extremists only in the eyes of the leftist/Muslim united front. They ask us to face an uncomfortable truth: that there are almost no positives about Muslim immigration and many negatives; that Muslims will not "integrate," except in the most superficial ways, into Western cultures; and that Islam is an all-embracing politico-religious system stuck in a stage of intolerance that other cultures have long since gotten over.

The anti-jihad movement has nothing to apologize for.

Sunday, July 24, 2011



Mostly, the first season of the BBC police detective series Wallander is high-dose tedium. But what is good about it is superb.

Shows like this can be appreciated for what they're meant to be: glossy superficial entertainment with an interesting character as the crime solver. But damn, they're getting ritualistic. In the opening couple of minutes, something right nasty happens. Cut to the cop shop. You meet the detectives. You meet the star of the series, who you soon learn has Problems and a Secret in his background. You meet the boss, usually a uniformed bully who can't stand the detective of the show's title and the feeling is mutual. The scene-of-the-crime officers at the scene of the crime. The autopsy, ughh. 

Colorful suspects. Halfway through the episode, it needs another "bump" to keep the audience from nodding off, so there's a second killing. The detectives grate on one another. The clues don't add up ... et cetera.

Wallander doesn't touch all these bases -- the boss, if that's what she is (I couldn't tell who was in charge) is sympathetic, insofar as she's anything -- but otherwise it's built from the standard blueprint. There must be more to the source novels by Henning Mankell, whom I'd never heard of  before, although I gather he's as popular a crime writer as his fellow Swede, the late Stieg Larsson.


A lot of reviewers on the Netflix site applaud the direction. Well, it's professional enough with camera angles, tension, and release; and the editing is above par. Atmosphere too, but really, there's only so much mileage you can get from exterior shots of salmon-colored sunsets, trembling grain fields, all that. (I'd never realized rural Sweden looks like Kansas.)

The biggest drag on Wallander is that Detective Kurt Wallander is the only character who matters. The other detectives are transparent wraiths. Not that they are poor actors -- this is a big-time BBC production, and I suspect they hired good talent -- but the "supporting" cast has next to nothing to work with. They're confined to toxicology babble and lines like, "Kurt, why don't you go home and get some rest?"

Well, he doesn't and it's a jolly good thing too, because Kurt is played by Kenneth Branagh. Not that script is worthy of him, but he's on camera seemingly 90 percent of the time, and he doesn't waste a second of it. He finds things in the lines and, just as important, between the lines that you or I wouldn't dream was there.

Branagh is mesmerizing, scoring emotional points with words and situations that would come off like schlock in the hands of a lesser actor.

Watch this master at work and put up with the rest.

* * * * *
The subject of this posting must seem utterly trivial compared with the mass killing in Norway. I'm still too shocked to absorb that fully, and have nothing to say beyond the obvious, that it was a loathsome act with no possible justification. At the same time, when the Western world's so-called "leaders" force population replacement on their countries and criminalize anyone who protests, the opposition is bound to include a few madmen seething with frustration.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Anger mismanagement

Lots of Americans are very unhappy about the state of play. I'm one of them. But I've noticed a new tone recently, at least on line, where people can say what they really think (anonymously, if they want). Of course the mainstream media barely reflect any of that, being primarily purveyors of entertainment and distraction.

The tone lately seems to have shifted in many quarters from griping to anger, even rage. Maybe that's good -- diffuse criticism, especially when it travels along well-worn partisan lines, tends to dry up and blow away.


But do words like the following contribute anything useful?
As the average American continues their epic struggle to stay afloat in these turbulent times it is clear to those with critical thinking skills, like Chris Whalen and Ron Paul, that the game is rigged in favor of those with enormous wealth and power. There is no doubt the levers of government and finance have been seized by a super rich minority of men, willing to use all means necessary to increase their wealth and power at the expense of those they consider lowly expendable peasants. The myth perpetuated by those in control of the system is that everyone in America has ample opportunity to move up the ladder, even as they push the ladders away from the parapet surrounding their castle.
That comes from a battle cry in a blog called The Burning Platform.  The author, whose name I can't find on the site, has written an extended piece using the metaphor of the Clint Eastwood western, Unforgiven. (Actually it's a running series, with each installment based on a different Clint Eastwood western; I haven't read the earlier postings.)

The gathering storm

The entry carries on:
This is how it will play out over the next ten to fifteen years. Cynicism about solutions put forth by corrupt politicians, distrust of government bureaucrats and crooked bankers, and a society wide demoralization, as widespread unemployment and declining living standards for middle class Americans has darkened the landscape like an approaching winter storm. The disillusionment of average Americans is reflected in poll after poll, with only 20% of the population satisfied with the direction of the country versus 70% just prior to 9/11. The mood change in the country since 2005 is palpable.
The gap between the Haves and the Have Nots has never been greater and continues to widen. The middle class has floundered for decades, while bankers, politicians and corporate titans have reaped vast riches through peddling debt and gaming a system rigged in their favor.
Many of the posting's criticisms are valid. But its air of hyperdramatic inevitability is unconvincing, even off-putting.

Our anonymous revolutionary is enamored of a book called The Fourth Turning, which he references several times. Apparently it's based on a predictive model of history moving in cycles. The revolt of the colonies against Britain, the War Between the States, the Depression/World War II are cited as crises evenly spaced about 65 years apart (if, like The Burning Platform, you account "the American Revolution Crisis" as ending in 1794 -- five years after the Constitution was adopted). The next crisis, or "turning," is shaking hands with us now, according to this theory.


I'm skeptical about mass events unfolding in cycles. Why should people go mental at 65-year (more or less) intervals? The idea they represent a certain number of generations whose behavior unconsciously reproduces the behavior of their equivalents in earlier cycles seems lame. Countless factors affect human behavior, and the world changes drastically in the meantime. That a certain number of years has passed probably has a minimal influence, if any.

Sometimes history repeats itself. Sometimes it rhymes. Mostly it's written in blank verse.
As the game approaches its inevitable termination those in control have become increasingly audacious and frantic in their attempts to embezzle what remains of middle class wealth. The anger and disillusionment grows by the day. The mood of the country darkens like the sky before an approaching blizzard. The intensity and violence during a Fourth Turning hastens as events spiral toward a climax. The extreme actions taken by those in power since September 2008 have set in motion a chain of events that will lead to civil war. 
I myself have offered a few posts about the possibility -- possibility -- of another civil war (and argued that the best safeguard against it would be to have a legal means by which states could secede from a bloated, dysfunctional central government). But let's not get drunk on our own rhetoric.

To write, hysterically, things like "the game approaches its inevitable termination" is popular in the blogosphere currently, especially on alternative financial sites like Zero Hedge. Some people seem to get a thrill from telling us there's nowt left but to store up food, water, and ammunition.

After some reasonable points about what the country should have done and didn't to avoid or prepare for our Time of Troubles, the author adds this:
We needed a revival of citizenship over individualism, with a focus on future generations who would be left with the fallout of thirty years of debt induced societal degradation. The government should have shifted its budgetary focus away from the non-needy old to the young people of our once great Republic. The future of the country depends on the young, not the old. 
What a shallow argument. The future of the country depends on everyone, not a single demographic cohort. Almost all traditional societies assumed that the older generations were best fitted, through their experience of life, to shape the future properly. Once again, this rage against the Boomer generation is becoming standard. I agree that many of that cohort have a lot to answer for, having accepted the leftist tripe they were raised on and never bothered to re-think any of it. (As Napoleon's minister Talleyrand said of the former French aristocracy, the Bourbons, "They never forgot anything and they never learned anything.")


I don't know what our author means by "shifting the budgetary focus," but it sounds like he wants to confiscate whatever our "non-needy" elders have squirreled away and redistribute it to the poor victimized younger generations. However you feel about the Boomers, most of them earned what they have honestly and through working hard. They paid their taxes and had an ever-increasing portion of their paychecks snipped off for Social Security. It's wrong in principle to double-cross them now because they lived through economically better times.

The posting contradicts its own argument for generational warfare. It says, "There are 310 million Americans and ... only 1.5 million would be classified as very rich or extremely rich." Where are all the "non-needy old"? It also says, "As the middle class has been impoverished, 30 million people are unemployed or underemployed, senior citizens have been sacrificed at the altar of Wall Street and 45 million people are forced to use food stamps, the top 1% has done fabulously." And, "Savers and seniors have been thrown under the wheels of a Lamborghini driven by the profligate Wall Street gamblers." Our seniors have been sacrificed at the altar of Wall Street, thrown under the Lamborghini, but still, "the Boomer generation will be scorned for their reckless disregard for future generations and stripped of their entitlements."


It goes on to quote another blogger, a certain Jesse from Jesse's Café Americain:
“Not all sociopaths wield knives and knotted cords. Some wear suits, and are exceptionally intelligent and articulate, obsessively driven, and are able to use and undermine the law and the rules for their advantage, like weapons.  It is never about the win, never about the money.  It is about the kill, the expression of their hatred, about elevating themselves with the suffering of others. Bind, torture, kill.  Not only with ropes and knives, but also with power and money, and the subversion of law.  Lawlessness is their addiction, their will to power.

When societies become lax and complacent, these sociopaths can possess great political power through great amounts of unprincipled money.  And over time they become almost anti-human, destroyers of all that is good, all that is life, all that offends their insatiable sickness with its goodness.  They twist the public against itself, and turn a broad sweep of society into their killing grounds. This is the undeniable lesson of the last century.  There are monsters, and they walk among us.”

Oh, please. We do have structural problems aplenty; a Red-diaper baby president; an overgrown federal bureaucracy; regulations up the wazoo; something approaching state capitalism, where the government decides who is too big to fail and what businesses are welcome to fail, rewards GM unions while stiffing people who invested in the company's bonds; and a poisonous ideology of social engineering.We won't fix the looming disaster without drawing lines, taking stands, and thinking hard. 

But horror-film clichés about sociopaths and monsters walking among us draw no lines, take no real stands, and urge us to think with our blood. The Burning Platform and Jesse only make resistance to exploitation sound crazy.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Suddenly, it's 1956

Ike has decided the country is humming along nicely, the USSR is contained, and he's ready to retire. Naturally, lots of politicians want to take his place in the White House. One of them offers the following campaign speech:

"I represent change!

"If elected, I promise to do or encourage the following:

"We need to fight wars in the Middle East so that Muslim countries can be taught to enjoy our freedoms. Two wars minimum, maybe three. Ten, twelve years of combat and occupation should win the hearts and minds of the locals. Yes, sure, a few thousand Americans will give the full measure of devotion, and we'll have to make room for a few more thousand without legs, arms, or faces in our VA hospitals, but it will be worth it to insert Democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever.

"But that's not enough! We need to replace the American population. It's too overwhelmingly white. Too Christian. Hardly a Muslim or animist to be found! I promise to ignore our national borders and encourage people from Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa to come establish colonies in our cities. To show them the joys of capitalism and keep the wheels of industry turning, they can do the jobs Americans do, but at a fraction of the cost to business. I know as taxpayers, you will be happy to subsidize them through welfare programs such as free birth vouchers, free housing vouchers, free medical vouchers, and free food vouchers.

"Of course real progress depends on shipping as many American jobs as possible to other countries. We'll begin with manufacturing jobs, but as our technology improves we should be able to send many service and 'white collar' jobs abroad as well.

"But make no mistake, a country can't run on pure economics. I pledge my unstinting efforts to social justice. Our workplaces must be run by and for our minorities, who will be given preference for jobs, not only in the government but in private industry, or the Czars and Lord High Bureaucrats I appoint will take companies to court till they get the message. Nor will we ignore the fundamentals under my command. My federal court appointees' mission will be to ensure that students have unlimited rights to ignore or taunt the teachers, that no one in the protected class of a certain race fails because of inability. 

"I envision the day when sex education begins in kindergarten and homosexuality is taught. Speaking of which, how do we expect to win the Cold War when all our military personnel are men, straight men at that! I promise to create co-ed combat units, and make a special effort to recruit homosexuals -- my staff tell me they call themselves by the delightful term 'gay' -- and lesbians for our armed forces.

"Naturally, in our new 'rainbow' nation, it would be unthinkable to demand our new colonists speak or learn English. We must move forward, for the future lies ahead, and America has no future without millions of immigrants to give us vibrancy. As some of you may know, a dead white male by the name of Shakespeare wrote, 'O brave new world, that has such people in it!'"

[He stands, waiting for applause. Dead silence. There's a little stirring in the crowd, maybe a growl, what's wrong with these people?]

"Er, perhaps I am too idealistic, too bold. I know these are the white-bread, conformist '50s, and we are a nation of racists and Indian killers, but I say we can change. And with your votes on election day, we will!"

Then I wake up. Suddenly, it's 2011. Thank heavens, it was just a nightmare.


Friday, July 15, 2011

U.S.A. in the subprime of life


Subprime mortgages, mainly given to persons of color thanks to the, shall we say, "urging" of our federal overlords, weren't the only cause of the 2007-08 financial debacle that has landed us in debt halfway to China. But they were the precipitating factor, the last straw.

Well, at least we learned a lesson. Ooops.
Racial Politics: With homeownership plunging among minorities, Democrats and community organizers are pushing banks to revert to the easy-credit requirements that got us into the crisis.
In the latest move, the NAACP announced Wednesday it was forming a partnership with Bank of America to "advance fair-lending practices" that will help provide credit to "disenfranchised communities that were ravaged by the economic crisis."
Bank of (Latin) America -- you remember them,  the banksters who made a special push to open accounts for the dinero of los illegals -- "BofA has agreed to monitor lending policies for their 'racial impact' and 'allow borrowers the option of selecting a loan that is appropriate for his circumstances.' "

Appropriate for his circumstances -- that should be "their circumstances," but grammar is racist -- means "taxpayers to eat the bill when 'he' of the Protected Class stops paying the mortgage."


The country is faced with such debt that only hyperinflation -- enabling the government to pay off its deficit in dollars curiously resembling pennies, with the same effect on your savings -- offers a way out.

Yet Black Privilege and Mestizo Privilege must go on regardless.
California’s budget crisis has reduced the University of California to near-penury, claim its spokesmen. “Our campuses and the UC Office of the President already have cut to the bone,” the university system’s vice president for budget and capital resources warned earlier this month, in advance of this week’s meeting of the university’s regents. Well, not exactly to the bone. Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine.

Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.
If we are the slightest bit honest about rescuing the U.S.A. from its bankruptcy, let's end the diversity racket. Let the diversicrats raise the money for their salaries and programs through private donations, and if they can't, tough. No more money siphoned from funds legally extorted from taxpayers. None.


When our political jellyfish stop the racial-ethnic pandering, I'll consider the possibility that they've seen the light about financial reform. The diversity payouts may not be that big in the whole scheme of things, but they're an infallible lie detector.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Nipper in Wonderland


Nipper was the terrier that, around the beginning of the 20th century, was pictured listening to a gramophone. He became the much-loved trademark for the Victor Talking Machine Company, RCA Victor, HMV, and other record labels. Nipper continued to adorn labels of RCA LPs into the 1950s, and his image has been periodically revived.

Plaster casts of Nipper were available for sale at the Capital Audiofest, which I attended this weekend, in the Maryland 'burbs of Washington. A medium-size Nipper went for $37, and was practically the only item at the show I could afford. The Audiofest was a venue for demonstrating high-end audio equipment. High-end means, "If you have to ask how much it costs ... ."

Why go to the event if the gear would have knocked my budget into origami? I wanted to see (and, of course, hear) the changes the audio industry has gone through since I worked at Santa Fe Sight & Sound in 1988-1991. Even then it was tough to keep up with the new technology. Now it has gotten still more esoteric.

At least a couple of dozen manufacturers and one high-class retailer had rooms with elaborate set-ups of components and connections, designed to show what their products could do. In some ways the Audiofest resembled the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas I went to as an SF Sight & Sound employee, but this was more comfortable. It was limited to audio, unlike the CES (which had everything from car alarms to -- I kid you not -- a huge room dedicated to "adult" movies, with some of the, uh, actresses as greeters). It was large enough to be able to audition many systems, but not so huge as to generate listening fatigue -- well, not until it was getting toward the end of the day.

I've kind of followed the progress of the industry through publications like Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. But I don't go to high-end retail showrooms. Not because I can't resist temptation, but because it isn't ethical to take up salespeople's time when what they are selling is beyond my means. However, the Audiofest was different; you paid for admission and that entitled you to wander at your heart's content from one demo to another.

Music software increasingly consists of computer downloads rather than compact discs, or computer downloads onto CDs. Interestingly, while almost all the systems included CD players and turntables for vinyl LPs (all the fashion these days), in many cases they were secondary to computer files as sources for the playback demonstrations.

The problem with downloads is that most common file types, especially the dreaded MP3s, are compressed and the sound is compromised. I talked with one of the experts on hand about lossless compression for downloads, mainly .FLAC files. If I understood correctly, the trouble is that no equipment other than computers can play .FLAC recordings; they have to be converted to .WAV, which do retain all the original bits and sample rates (now often 24/96 or greater). It just seems like too much of a pain. When lossless downloads become easier, as they surely will, I'll sign on.

Separate digital-analog converters (DACs) seemed ubiquitous. A CD player has its own DAC, but like all components that marry different functions (in this case, the disc reading mechanism and the conversion of digital information to an analog signal), it is said that some compromise is involved. Voilà: your dedicated DAC housed in its own box. (I'd always pronounced it in my mind as "D-A-C," but the pros said "Dack.")

The demographics of the attendees were interesting. Unsurprisingly, 90 percent male, with a few wives and girlfriends; didn't see any women who appeared to be there on their own or with women friends. Generally middle aged or older. Prosperous-looking, no Great Recession here. 

What did surprise me was how many well-to-do blacks were in attendance. The Maryland suburbs have a high black population, and I would guess most of those I saw at the show wear (or used to wear) U.S. government ID badges as bling during the week. To be fair, the same is probably true of many of the white men who showed up.

Many of the blacks brought their own CDs or LPs to listen to on the high-end systems; their music was generally jazz, and good stuff. I have always found jazz to be a good meeting ground with African Americans, and I tried to start up a conversation about recordings we were hearing, for instance Gene Ammons's Boss Tenor, which is in my own collection. (Serious listening was going on, but the semi-partylike atmosphere encouraged conversation.)

My attempts at cross-cultural interaction were disappointing. None of the blacks I tried to chat up were rude or hostile, but I got a lot of short replies and the impression they didn't have a lot of time for whitey's enthusiasms about "their" music.

Back to the sound reproduction. Were the examples of systems that cost more than my annual income mind-blowing? In a few cases, yes, but not necessarily. And given that each manufacturer was showing off what they considered their best products, it was remarkable how different they sounded from one another. All were impressive, but in different ways, some of which I liked, some not so much.

One problem was the music chosen by the proprietors for their demonstrations. Lots of jazz, particularly featuring extended drum solos. Some rock, which is useless for demonstrating accuracy: with electronic instruments, there is no way to know what they "really" sound like. It's understandable that a proto-sales event for big-bucks equipment encourages playing knock-your-socks-off recordings ... but really. High enders: can we take it as a given that all these systems with eye-watering prices are brilliant at transients (drum thwacks, plucked strings, etc.)? I want to know what they can do with more subtle and varied music. Eventually I went out to my car and pulled a disc out of the CD player, Brahms's Third and Fourth Symphonies conducted by the late Sir Charles Mackerras. I requested it be auditioned on two different mega-systems, and the manufacturer representatives were glad to oblige. The results were eminently satisfying.


These are hard times for high-end audio, a low-volume business at best and lower still in today's economy. But it was obvious at the Audiofest that there are still people who care about building equipment to make reproduced music come alive. Even though many of them could probably make more money at something else, their commitment to bringing the world's great musicians virtually into the homes of their customers is admirable.

Oh, about that sculpture of Nipper. I considered buying it, but the seller said it was the only one left, and I sensed that he wasn't too keen on letting it go. Good on him. Besides, $37 is a lot of money.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Life goes on

 This is Matisse.
We wish he'd learn to relax.

There's a saying on Wall Street: "The market climbs a wall of worry." The metaphor describes a paradoxical, counterintuitive principle: there are always looming threats, risks that should cause any sensible person to avoid venturing a penny on investments. Somehow the future bad news gets priced in. More often than not, the investment works out.

It occurs to me that's not only true of investing, but of life. There's always a wall of worry. The media enable us to gorge on everything that's bad and going to get worse. The news is mostly a collage of everything scary and depressing. It's hypnotic, insistent. If the news were all that happened, it would make no sense to carry on.

But most of the time, all that is only background. Our challenge is to acknowledge it, do what we can to "take arms against a sea of troubles" -- and keep it in proportion. Sometimes it touches us, usually not. Meanwhile, every day offers un-newsworthy miracles: beauty in countless forms, an unexpected smile from a stranger, the trust of a mate or dear friend or pet, creating something new with whatever talent we were given and developed. The wall of worry is real. So is the climbing of it.


Sunday, July 03, 2011

Was Mozart reincarnated as Erich Korngold?

Erich Korngold, age 12

Erich Korngold is not as famous as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but he left his imprint on the musical world, and it is possible that had it not been for difficult circumstances -- mainly, having to escape to America from Austria as the Nazi madness loomed over Europe -- his accomplishments would have rivaled those of Mozart.

He is probably best known today among old-movie buffs, having written the scores for many popular films of the '30s and early '40s (The Sea Hawk, Elizabeth and Essex, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Kings Row, etc.). But his career began as a classical composer, and he continued in that vein after retirement from Hollywood.

The very young Korngold demonstrated musical abilities that astounded everyone around him. As the Korngold Society says in its potted biography (and the facts are corroborated elsewhere):
Already having played the piano from a very early age, the young prodigy composed his first original works in 1905 at the age of eight. Demonstrating a phenomenal musical precocity towards music, Korngold was taken by his father in 1906 to meet and play for Gustav Mahler. Proclaiming the child a genius, Mahler encouraged the elder Korngold to engage the renowned composer Alexander von Zemlinsky as the boy's mentor. Though there were lessons with Robert Fuchs and Hermann Grädener among others, for all intents and purposes Zemlinsky would be Korngold's only teacher, and for only a short time at that.
Julius Korngold published privately three of his son's compositions in 1909 - the ballet "Der Schneemann" (The Snowman), the Piano Sonata #1 in d minor, and the character study suite "Don Quixote" - and distributed them to dozens of musical authorities, inlcuding Artur Nikisch, Englebert Humperdinck, Hermann Kretzschmarr, and Richard Strauss among them. All who examined the scores expressed amazement at their originality. Strauss in particular singled out their bold harmonies and assurance of style.
Of all his early accomplishments, perhaps winning the admiration of the self-absorbed Gustav Mahler best testifies to his brilliance.
Not long after, the two-act ballet/pantomime Der Schneemann introduced the young wunderkind to the world with two premiere productions in 1910. The first, a performance in April at the ministerial palace of Baroness von Bienerth, employed a four-hand piano arrangement with the young composer at one piano, and Richard Pahlen at the other. The second, in October, presented an orchestral arrangement of the ballet premiered by imperial decree at the Vienna Hofoper on Emperor Franz Josef's name-day. The sensation was followed in November by the Munich and New York premieres of his Piano Trio, Op. 1. Astounded by the abilities of this "miracle child", the musical cognoscenti of the time were quick to take up and promote the creations of this musical wunderkind.
In 1911, Artur Schnabel premiered (and afterward championed extensively) the Piano Sonata #2 in E Major, Op. 2. The same year also saw Artur Nikisch give the world-premiere at the Leipzig Gewandhaus of Korngold's first orchestral work, the Schauspiel Ouvertüre, Op. 4, displaying the composer's gift for orchestration. In 1913, the Sinfonietta in B Major, Op. 5 - a symphony all but in name - was premiered in Vienna under the baton of Felix von Weingartner, and the Violin Sonata in G Major, Op. 6 was premiered by Karl Flesch and Artur Schnabel in Berlin, fully demonstrating the composer's range of mastery from the large late-Romantic orchestra to the virtuosic intimacy of smaller-scored chamber works.
Schnabel is renowned as one of the 20th century's greatest pianists; Nikisch and Weingartner were conductors as celebrated in their time as Bernstein and Karajan were later.

Like Mozart, Korngold seemed to be born with a musical soul that no child could have acquired through ordinary development, that could not be explained by talent or even genius.

The Manchester Guardian of December 12, 1912 carried an account of a visit to the home of the young Korngold by a writer called W.P. Price-Heywood. Although actually a transcript of an account by a woman who wanted to remain anonymous, Price-Heywood maintained that "although 'written up' a little, the article is a record of fact, and may be taken literally." The Guardian article, along with a statement by the writer, was published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research in its April 1913 issue.

The eyewitness to the behavior of Korngold at the age of about 15 wrote:
It is clear from watching Korngold that musical ideas flow through his mind far quicker than he can record them. The brain always lags behind the elusive thought. Much that he writes is too difficult for him to play; indeed it would obviously be impossible for him to be capable of playing the intricate and infinitely varied orchestral work which he has written since he was eleven years old.
How did he get this knowledge? His musical education was received from an average Viennese music-master. His father, although he has a deep theoretical and a fine critical knowledge, plays but little and cannot compose. Eric's grandparents are ordinary bourgeois folk. No creative musical talent has been known in the family. 
For an explanation one is almost forced to fall back o n the hypothesis of reincarnation. Is it possible that this boy genius came into the world fully equipped as a first-class musician, and all that he had to do before starting upon his new career was to run rapidly over the old lessons and regain what he had temporarily forgotten? This is the Platonic idea that all knowledge is reminiscence. In Germany people are actually asking, "Has Eric Wolfgang Korngold lived before as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?"
Heywood-Price, in reply to a query from the Society for Psychical Research, fills in more of the background (attested by other sources):
[Korngold] began to show signs of musical genius when he was three years old. In his fifth year this became so pronounced that he was called "the little Mozart." He first composed when he was four. From the age of six he composed regularly and industriously. ... When he was fourteen he wrote his first orchestral work -- the overture to "A Winter's Tale" -- after studying orchestration for only four months. [Emphasis in the original.]
I have heard this work, and was simply astounded at the technical grasp and marvellous facility of the orchestration. The full score was written out at once, without any sketch-plan, and the conductor Nikisch, at the first rehearsal, was particularly amazed by the certainty and vigour of the scoring.
It is said (how accurately I don't know, and perhaps no one knows) that Mozart "heard" entire compositions in his mind before he set them down on paper.
Mr. Ernest Newman, the musical critic, has written of this: "It is evident that the gift for scoring, like that for harmonic combination and modulation, is inborn in him." 
Ernest Newman is still remembered and his musical writing reprinted. While some people, perhaps even Heywood-Price, might have exaggerated Korngold's abilities, it is unlikely that a case-hardened musical critic (or Mahler, Strauss, or Nikisch) would have done.


Heywood-Price adds:
What impresses one in K.'s music is its maturity; it has the passion, the yearning, the sadness, the serious thought, of the man who has seen life in many phases. K. has not attended more than ten orchestral concerts in his life; certainly he has not filched his musical ideas from other moderns; as I have said, he will not listen to other people's music. To my mind this phenomenon can only be accounted for by (1) Myers's theory of genius as a subliminal uprush, or (2) the hypothesis of reincarnation.
Myers is Frederic Myers, one of the Society's founders and the author of the famous book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, which has been continuously in print since its publication in 1903.

Myers described his idea of the subliminal mind:
The word subliminal . . . has already been used to define those sensations which are too feeble to be individually recognized. I proposed to extend the meaning of the term, so as to make it cover all that takes place beneath the ordinary threshold, or say, if preferred, outside the ordinary margin of consciousness; — not only those faint stimulations whose very faintness keeps them submerged, but much else which psychology as yet scarcely recognises; sensations, thoughts, emotions, which may be strong, definite, and independent, but which, by the original constitution of our being, seldom emerge into that supraliminal current of consciousness which we habitually identify with ourselves. [From Human Personality ... ]
In plainer language, the unconscious and what is sometimes called the super-conscious.

While Korngold's dazzling precocious abilities doubtless emerged from some unconscious mental level, I do not think this explains how a youngster could demonstrate attributes and -- even more significant -- emotions that were simply beyond his years. They may have been "stored" subliminally, but what was their original source? A previous life as a great musician is one possibility, as it may have been for Mozart himself.

But I don't think Heywood-Price's two alternatives are the only ones. The evidence from mediumship suggests that discarnate spirits on the Other Side often influence the living, for good or ill, and that such influence can vary in degree from simply implanting artistic or scientific ideas to temporarily "taking over" the minds of the living. For instance, the spirit of a person who was a creative musician while embodied might want to use an earthly mind that is relatively unformed, yet possessing musical tendencies. Young Korngold probably would have been primed by association with his father, or through genetic inheritance of basic musical leanings.

Far-fetched? Maybe, but is it any stranger than the established facts of Erich Korngold's uncanny early life?