Terry Karney’s blog pointed me at this wonderful poem. Here are the first few lines….
This book saved my life.
This book takes place on one of the two small tagalong moons of Mars.
This book requests its author's absolution, centuries after his death.
This book required two of the sultan's largest royal elephants to bear it; this other book fit in a gourd.
This book reveals The Secret Name of God, and so its author is on a death list.

Yes, it’s vaguely reminiscent of David Moser‘s self-referential tour de force (published by Douglas Hofstadter in Metamagical Themas), but it’s a much more beautiful and thought-provoking piece. Pass it on.

Kabuki review

renjishi_pic1.gifYesterday evening my daughter (Kate) and I went to see the final performance of the Japan Society of Boston‘s presentation of Kabuki at the Cutler Majestic theatre in Boston. The performance was given by the Heisei Nakamura-za Kabuki Troupe starring Nakamua Kankuro, who are touring New York, Boston, and Washington DC this summer. (There’s a fascinating interview here, in which Nakamura Kankuro talks about the challenge and opportunity to bring kabuki to the United States.)
The troupe – actors, singers, musicians – performed two pieces that showed different sides of kabuki, Bo-Shibari (“Tied to a pole”), and Renjishi (“Dance for two lions”). There’s a detailed description of each here, with comments by Kankuro. The performance was in Japanese (obviously), and there was no printed or simultaneous translation, although Peter Grilli, the president of the Japan Society of Boston, provided a short introduction to the pieces. But the language was not a barrier.
The result? It was glorious – visually stunning, dramatic, funny, clever, musically exciting, challenging, dramatic, exuberant, and just plain fun.
One point of note was that the audience included many Japanese, mostly living in the Boston area (though some had travelled a long way to attend the show). As a result there was much bowing as people met. There was even one woman in a beautiful pink kimono, with all the trimmings.

Posted in Art

CD of the week: Schubert: The Last Four Quartets

Although this is a double CD containing four of Schubert’s quartets, I tend to listen to an iTunes/iPod playlist that picks out just one of them: String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887 (Op. posth. 161). I first heard this piece on an old Deutsche Grammophon LP back in the late 60s or early 70s*, and I remember being stunned that a string quartet could have such symphonic proportions. At the time, I owned a nice LP box set called The Rise of the Symphony which explored the evolution of the modern symphony through works by J. C. Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. My immediate reaction on hearing Schubert’s G major quartet was that he’d made the symphony orchestra obsolete. OK, I was impressionable – but the work continues to exert an almost hypnotic effect on me to this day. I know that Death and the Maiden gets all the attention, but to me it’s just a warm-up for the main event.
As to the performance, I’ve listened to many quartets trying to capture the combination of ethereal beauty and naked power of the work. I had great hopes for the version on CBS by Ma/Kashkashian/Phillips/Kremer, but I found it disappointing. This budget recording by the Quartetto Italiano is deeply satisfying, however. It induces the chills up and down the spine just the way Schubert intended…..
* My brother reminds me that the LP in question was an Amadeus Quartet recording that he gave me one Christmas in 1973 or thereabouts.

Better, Faster, Lighter Java

I assume that you know that feeling when you’re in a bookshop and a book title just grabs you, and you instantly know that you have to read this book – you hope that it’s good, but even if it’s crap, you need to understand that too. Well, that particular experience hit me in my local B&N this afternoon. The book in question is Better, Faster, Lighter Java by Bruce A. Tate and Justin Gehtland. I’ll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, it’s sent me hunting through the usual chains of blogrefs, in the course of which I happened upon Bruce Tate’s Don’t make me eat the elephant again. Curiouser and curiouser….

How to talk about unemployment

Unemployment cartoon from ZmagTelling the real story about unemployment is tough. Anna Marie Smith’s piece in Zmag is excellent on the complexity, but really hard to summarize (although the cartoon, right, captures one angle very nicely). Paul Krugman’s July 6th op-ed in the NYT focusses on one measure – the percentage of adults who have jobs. In Salon, J. K. Galbraith discusses the “Manchester index”, which “multiplies the number of unemployed by the average duration of their unemployment. In this way, it captures one of the most important features of being without a job: that the situation gets worse the longer it lasts.” Manchester index since 1979 And not all jobs are equal: as the EPI points out, real wages have been falling for the last six months. All of these articles tell a part of the story, but none of them clearly supports the kind of memorable slogan that is essential in political rhetoric.
Maybe Kerry’s best approach is to stick with the simple words of Reagan: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” For the majority of people, the answer is crystal clear.
Update July 9, 2004: FactCheck.Org has put out an interesting analysis which suggests that the “quality of jobs” issue may not be as straightforward as most people think. Essentially there seem to be two inconsistent sets of data coming out from the BLS. FactCheck normally does good, careful work, so I’m going to watch this. One omission: they don’t mention benefits, which could be a significant factor.

My top 10 films

While looking up one of my favourite movie quotations*, I was inspired to try to put together a top 10 list. Several classic musicals, several recurring names. In no particular order:
The Lion in Winter [1968; K. Hepburn, P. O’Toole]
The African Queen [1951; H. Bogart, K. Hepburn]
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner [1967; S. Tracy, K. Hepburn, S. Poitier]
Summer Stock [1950; J. Garland, G. Kelly]
My Fair Lady [1964; A. Hepburn, R. Harrison]
Kiss Me Kate [1953; K. Grayson, A. Miller, H. Keel]
The Shawshank Redemption [1994; T. Robbins, M. Freeman]
The Princess Bride [1987; C. Elwes, M. Patinkin, W. Shawn]
Hope and Glory [1987; S. Rice Edwards, S. Miles]
On the Town [1947; F. Sinatra, G. Kelly, A. Miller]
* The quotation in question is from The Lion in Winter; Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine: I made Louis take me on Crusade. I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure and I damn near died of windburn… but the troops were dazzled!

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

While searching Google’s Usenet archives looking for an old friend, I stumbled across the first Usenet posting that I ever made on the subject of politics. It was in April, 1986, and I ventured into a heated discussion in net.followup about Reagan’s bombing of Libya.
The sense of déjà vu is weird. Take this bit, for instance:
It’s ironical, isn’t it? Over the last year or so the “Great Communicater [sic]” has presided over an absolutely disastrous slide in the world perception of the U.S. […] A good indication of this is the fact that last week the Soviets felt able to launch a massive series of air strikes against the Afghan rebels, knowing that compared with the Libyan raid it would be a non-event.
Substitute Bush for Reagan, and Chechnya for Afghanistan….