Roll Over, Guitar Hero

April 21, 2008

With all the talk about gaming in libraries and using Guitar Hero to bring in the kids, here’s a similar idea I found on Opera Chic’s blog. Courtesy of the Berlin Philharmonic, a Cello Challenge.

I eagerly anticipate Conductor’s Challenge, which would work well with a Wii. With that and Guitar Hero, you can fancy yourself the Lenny of your choice.

Makin’ noise

October 24, 2007

For those expecting my take on noise in libraries, I’m sorry to disappoint. Instead, I am currently reading a new book entitled The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, authored by New Yorker music critic Alex Ross. Well, perhaps not now, as my current resting place has remained for five days at the chapter on Berlin in the 1920s. Nevertheless, I whipped through the book’s first third over the course of few nights last week.

As a regular reader of Ross’ blog of the same name (with interactive stuff to enhance the reading experience), I had known of this book’s gestation for a while. It sounded quite promising, with a recommendation by Björk and a first chapter focusing on the Austrian premiere of Richard Strauss’ opera Salome (a favorite of mine, as my regular readers already know). It has received many excellent reviews, and (for my fellow librarians) would make a wonderful addition to any collection with its comprehensive discussion and contextualization of 20th Century music.

As in the case of any particularly ambitious work, some people and societal trends receive more attention than others. This seems to be the case with the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, to whom Ross devotes an entire chapter. However, Ross advocates for Sibelius’ status as a great 20th Century composer, partially due to the relative lack of serious attention from music scholars. To some extent, this derives from his relative popularity and accessibility among lovers of classical music, at least when compared to more “innovative” composers like Arnold Schoenberg.

Schoenberg himself seems to have established such a worldview himself, believing that he needed to to create a “revolution” for the “emancipation of the dissonance,” and getting a cadre of disciples to spread the good word throughout the rest of the 20th Century. The way I see it, almost 100 years have passed since Schoenberg started fiddling with atonality, and I don’t see Dissonance Day coming anytime soon… at least the way Schoenberg likely envisioned it. We may have grown accustomed to dissonance in music, and some of us may hear the influences of Schoenberg’s experiments (most likely in thriller flicks), but his compositions seem too far-gone to appeal to a broad audience. If the general public places more popular pieces of classical music and opera on a pedestal, or looks upon them with a kind of ambivalent reverse snobbery, Schoenberg’s “revolutionary” vision doesn’t stand a chance of ever coming to pass.

Although Schoenberg’s atonal music has little or no appeal to me (and, believe me, I’ve tried listening to it to find the appeal), his own pretentions at making a grand revolution in music seem quite limited in scope. It almost seemed as though no one else was writing music in different countries and genres. As Ross points out, many other musicians made their own unique contributions to 20th Century music without a ridiculous-sounding “call it arms.” In the chapter “Dance of the Earth,” Ross discusses how composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Leoš Janáček, and Maurice Ravel drew upon folk music to create a “music of the body,” more or less in opposition to the more abstract stuff of the previous century. The chapter also touches upon the reception of “Le Jazz” in France towards the end of World War I, and how some composers (including the so-called Les Six) viewed the American musical style as an alternative to “‘theatrical mysticism’ and other Wagnerian diseases” found in the concert hall and opera house (100). Of course, their understanding of Jazz was quite superficial and patronizing.

From “Dance of the Earth, Ross segues into the chapter “Invisible Men” with a discussion of American music in the early 20th Century. He focuses on atonal experimenation, as well as the difficulties faced by African American composers in the 20th Century. As Ross points out, the younger generation of African American artists and activists found it difficult and pointless to carry on the earlier generation’s ideal of developing a so-called “high culture” analogous to that of a white society that would not allow it. American avant gardists may have dismissed of Jazz as a not truly American, but it has become one of the United States’ quintessential musical forms. Jazz musicians also rejected the notion of trying to find “legitimacy” in terms defined by success in the concert hall, as in the case of Duke Ellington (who made it to Carnegie Hall, anyway, though he didn’t need it for validation). In the same chapter, Ross also discusses George Gershwin, who managed to fuse American and European sensibilties into his pieces. Readers also learn of the influence of Alban Berg, a puckish disciple of Schoenberg’s Second Viennese School, who actually wrote music worth hearing (including his two shocker operas, Wozzeck and Lulu), on Gershwin.

As you can tell from reading this partial review, Ross’ book takes one on a far-flung journey throughout the 20th Century, both in time and geography. And I’ve only gotten to roughly the 1920s and 1930s. (By “roughly,” I refer to Ross’ Godfather II-like flashbacks and flashforwards through time; the Sibelius chapter extends to the composer’s death in 1957.) Also like Godfather II, there are compelling characters, as well as alliances made and broken. As the book enters the age of Hitler and Stalin, I anticipate even more intense Machivellian intrigue… some of which I have probably heard before, but likely with fresh insights from Ross’ perspective. In fact, Ross’ broad look at his topic and characterizations of the many major protagonists make the book a compelling read. I also found validation in my perception (which I thought unique or deluded) that the jazzy opening to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue bears some resemblance to the opening of Strauss’ Salome, which seems to inadvertently anticipate Jazz in some places… depending on whose version you listen to. (Ross also owns at least as many recordings of Salome as I do.) Now if someone perceives the more-than-passing resemblance of the Salome character Narraboth’s themes to the “Blues” theme from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver, I will be happy.

If you want fresh insights on 20th Century music and a compelling refashioning of the stories surrounding its progression, you must get this book. Although Ross neatly ties together seemingly unrelated composers and musical styles into a compelling narrative, you also might end up entertaining more seriously some of your own fleeting notions of interconnectedness among various styles of music. Schoenberg’s revolution may have failed, but the quieter and more gradual evolution of society to encompass just about everything truly has changed music. (Leonard Bernstein, the great popularizer of classical music who also took Rock and Roll seriously, is my role model for holding such a worldview.) Chuck Berry may have wanted Beethoven to roll over, but I’d like to think that we live in a world where classical, opera, jazz, rock, and everything else can roll together. I suggest The Rest is Noise as the handbook for the real revolution, if one cares or dares to call it that.

Early October Posting

October 11, 2007

Not an exciting title, but probably appropriate due to the infrequency with which I have posted over the past few months. Much of it has had to do with moving to and settling into life in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. As my regular readers know, I have been seeking employment in the area. I have tried for jobs in various library settings, and I signed up for the North Carolina State Government’s temporary employment agency. The latter has paid off (so to speak), so for the next three months, or until I find permanent employment in a library, I will work 40 hours per week as part of a state agency project to modernize how the North Carolina “conducts business.” I ended up in a group that schedules one-time training sessions for state employees in various regions of North Carolina. My first few weeks have been busy fiddling with the learning management system, including such activities as scheduling people en masse for classes; moving around people who ended up with schedule conflicts, or who somehow ended up scheduled for the wrong region; and solving problems related to employee profiles within the system (mainly password changes and account creation). It doesn’t pay nearly as well as a professional librarian position (yes, I read this), but the work is fine and I’m learning a few new computer skills from the management system used for this project.

I have had a chance to catch up on library-related matters, though with little time to sit and write something coherent. The Wyoming mudflap flap seems to have emerged as a semi-major issue, though it has probably begun to subside now that I have a chance to write about it. In my opinion, both the mud flaps and the subsequent flap seem rather silly. The mudflaps may pique some interest among those who haven’t read the infamous NY Times article about hip librarians, but I don’t think the trick will work in the long run. People go to the library for a number of reasons, and I suspect that anyone expecting to see a real-life manifestation of the silhouetted “book babe” (for lack of a better term) will skulk away sheepishly from the stacks of libraries throughout Wyoming. I doubt that anyone would think such a thing, anyway, even at a subconscious level. Still, I suppose it demonstrates that librarians have a sense of humor… apparently the same kind required to use Tigi hair care products. (A lighted curling iron? OMG! ROTFL!!!)

Sadly, I missed out on adding my life story to the Annoyed Librarian’s poll asking if librarians were unpopular as children. Among the comments, someone told another commenter that they found that person’s blog more sincere than most, along with my blog. That comment compelled me to post one of my own, but time and modesty worked against me. Once again, a tad tardy, but here goes…

My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low grade narcolepsy and a penchant for…

No, wait. I’ll try again…

I grew up in the coutryside about a mile outside a small rural town in Ohio, and I had older parents than most of my contemporaries, which meant that some kids had parents who were the same age as my brothers. I grew up with a sensibility barely touched by anything past the mid-’60s. There were exceptions, of course, such as television and movies, but I was rather out of touch with many other things my peers enjoyed (especially music… it took years for me to appreciate and enjoy Rock ‘n’ Roll). I also didn’t really start forming close friendships until sixth grade. My interest in girls started to emerge around that time, which gave me some incentive to finally start catching up. Figuring out that thick glasses and corduroy pants wouldn’t exactly work magic on them seemed like a good start, but I still acted about as suave as Guy Gadois. Things improved somewhat when I moved into town at age 16, though I remained “unattached” throughout high school and didn’t really fit in very well with any cliques. Nevertheless, I at least knew people from a variety of groups (preps, skaters, scummers, etc.), and I would hang out with people I met on my walks or bike rides throughout town.

Beyond high school, the details of my life are inconsequential, at least for the purposes of AL’s survey. Some things could be better, but I’m generally content with how my life has turned. Best of all, I have spent almost five years with my wonderful wife Diane, which shows that the best things come to those who wait. Speaking of Diane, I’m quite proud of her for being selected as guest editor for the most recent issue (October/November 2007) of the ASIST Bulletin, which focuses on folksonomies. For those of you interested in image tagging, Diane’s introductory article focuses specifically on that topic. Also look for a cameo from yours truly.

What’s your style?

September 19, 2007

Every so often, I have thought about the raison d’etre of citation styles. They contribute much to the overall health of scholarship in all fields of study by saving the time of readers who want find the sources from which an author developed their ideas, and by reducing the likelihood of plagiarism. Strangely, some citation styles fall short of saving the time of the reader; on more than one occasion, I helped students track down citations that omitted titles and page numbers. Yes, I’d like to believe that my memory has started playing tricks on me since leaving my last job, but I don’t think I could have made that up. The fact that articles could get through the editing process with such minimal information just amazes me, considering that I’m used to seeing more comprehensive citation styles, such as MLA, Turabian, Chicago Manual of Style, and so on. But then, the editors of these journals (mainly in engineering) must have some rationale that makes sense in their respective areas of study, or just for their specific publications.

More likely, a larger number of library personnel have encountered mismatches involving numbers within citations. Most of the information may be correct, but an incorrect volume number, year, or even page numbers can waste the time of faculty and students. If process of elimination doesn’t work, a well-structured Google search can come to the rescue of all involved.

To me, the essence of a good citation boils down to providing sufficient and accurate information in a consistent format that allows anyone to find the original work easily. I don’t think anyone can argue with such a simple rule. However, as we all know, the world of citation styles can get rather complicated, and they can cause much gnashing of teeth for anyone writing a bibliography. Bibliographic managers (such as RefWorks) may ameliorate the pain of churning out properly-formatted papers, articles, and so on, but only if one uses them prior to the initial stages of research. As the designated RefWorks contact at my last place of employment, I had to give the bad news to some people who had already started writing their papers that they couldn’t use RefWorks retroactively. One could still enter references manually, or even import citations if they ran the same searches again, but that would likely defeat the time-saving purpose of RefWorks.

Although RefWorks can help those who know how to use it prior to starting research, it still has a few bugs that need worked out with regards to punctuation. While giving a session about RefWorks a few years ago, I received a question from someone doubting its usefulness since RefWorks still let a few errors get by. The way I saw it (and still do), a few minutes double-checking a RefWorks-generated bibliography for accuracy seemed a lot less wasteful than typing by hand and fretting over one “manually” generated.

Now that I have discussed some challenges involving citation styles and the bibliographic managers designed to make them seem less painful, it behooves me to discuss what prompted this posting. A few months ago, someone asked Diane to contribute a chapter to a book. After a few rounds of proofreading from the editor, who liked the ideas in Diane’s chapter, all seemed well. In the meantime, the editor kept asking the publisher what citation style they required for the book. Finally, a few weeks after Diane finished her chapter, the publisher said that they wanted it in Chicago Manual of Style. Naturally, Diane used another style, so she needs to go back in and fuss over the picayune details of CMS. Diane also asked the editor for examples of CMS, but they actually varied in appearance, likely due to the variations that exist within CMS itself. She gave up trying to make sense of what she needed to do, so we went to Barnes & Noble on Monday to pick up a copy of CMS. They only had it in hardcover for $55, which may be a good investment in the long run if future editors or publishers want Diane to format articles in that style.

Diane’s situation made me wonder about all the fuss made over citation style formats. As I mentioned before, good citations are an essential part of scholarly research. However, I have also noticed how some people go overboard with citation styles. All of us have probably heard of professors who drop papers a whole letter grade due to improper formatting in a few citations. They justify it as a form of conditioning to make sure that students know how to cite properly in a specific format when they go forth into the world as professionals in whatever field. Such an outlook doesn’t help someone in Diane’s situation, who has to learn an entirely new format anyway due to the whims of a publisher. I have also heard about individuals who develop an almost unhealthy attachment to a specific citation style, and who will debate the merits of it with someone who feels just as strongly about another style format.

All this pickiness over citation style formats misses the point of having them in the first place: saving the time of the reader and preventing plagiarism. Otherwise, citation styles start to become objects of resentment and fear on the part of those who have to turn in bibliographies that satisfy the arbitrary preferences of those who have something for a specific style. Does it really matter whether a paper is cited in MLA, Turabian, APA, or whatever style? Does it affect the paper’s quality? Does a difference in styles really confuse people used to the style used in a certain discipline (especially with interdisciplinarity becoming more prominent)? I have yet to hear a convincing argument that they do, and I think such concerns seem like empty exercises that stray from the true value of scholarly research.

Job Seeking and Opera

September 12, 2007

Job seeking may sometimes seem like an opera, but I will actually discuss both separately. As my regular readers know, I am in the process of finding a job in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Since Diane and I moved recently, I have managed to keep busy with household matters, including organization, cleaning, laundry, and lawn care. Most rooms currently have a minimal amount of unsorted stuff, much of which has ended up in the guest room after sitting for weeks in what has now become our exercise room. On Friday, we got a treadmill, whose box (which I call The Monolith) still sits in the office. For the yard, I have done very little due to the drought and unusually high temperatures for the area. I at least concentrate on taming weeds, just to keep our friendly neighborhood home owner’s association from pestering us with finger-wagging letters.

Depending on their requirements, several places have received a cover letter, resume, and/or application, which may be electronic or printed. The combinations and permutations of the aforementioned documents I have sent nearly equal the number of positions for which I have tried. I also visited a temporary employment place last week, and a few employers have started to contact me for interviews. More as the search progresses…

As one who listens to opera, it seems appropriate for me to comment on last week’s passing of Luciano Pavarotti. Oddly enough, I would be hard-pressed to find a recording of Pavarotti in my collection. Considering my tastes, it seems not quite so strange since I have a strong preference for German opera. Still, in his youth, Pavarotti sang the small role of the Italian tenor in a recording of Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. That version was conducted by Sir Georg Solti, who (coincidentally enough) passed away on 5 September 1997… almost exactly 10 years before Pavarotti.

Although classical and opera fans know of Solti and his fiery approach, I learned of his death while flipping through a back issue of Time a few weeks later. Not unusual for anyone in the classical/opera world, unless they’re a Leonard Bernstein, a Beverly Sills, or a Pavarotti, whose deaths received appropriate coverage in the media. However, Solti had the misfortune of passing away around the same time as Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. In addition, unlike Bernstein, Sills, and Pavarotti, Solti somehow didn’t manage to infiltrate American middlebrow culture (a phenomenon discussed more broadly in a recent article by Terry Teachout), although he tried with the help of Dudley Moore in the delightful PBS series Orchestra!.

As I already mentioned, I don’t have many recordings of Pavarotti, with the exception of the Puccini excerpt album Tu, Tu, Amore. On the day of Pavarotti’s passing, I unearthed a U2 CD of Diane’s that contains “Miss Sarajevo,” a wistful song with the tenor making his grand entrance in the song’s second half. Not surprisingly, Bono wrote a moving tribute to Pavarotti on the band’s website. Such collaborations underscore Pavarotti’s appeal to audiences who generally think of opera as large women in horned helmets singing in German, or large men in tuxedos singing in Italian. Nevertheless, opera purists consider Pavarotti’s work outside of opera (and even his performances in the Three Tenors concerts) as sellouts that ruined his integrity as an artist. Still, who’s to say that such crossover work in itself is inherently bad? People who have high standards about musicianship might know or care whether someone’s voice is past its prime, while many others simply might not notice the difference. I must admit, when I attended a Pavarotti concert with a library school friend at Dallas’ American Airlines Center in 2002, I didn’t think of his singing in technical terms. I found it quite exciting to at least see Pavarotti in person, even though he looked tiny from my nosebleed seat… almost like an infant as he stretched out his arms to the audience and waved his handkerchief. But then, unlike me, Alex Ross could assess Pavarotti’s decline over time (and probably from a more technical perspective) by comparing his later work with recordings made back in the 1970s.

I stand by my contention that Placido Domingo remains the best of “The Three Tenors” due to his wider range of operatic roles. As a highly subjective bonus, he’s the only one who has done a substantial amount of Wagner. Nevertheless, the other tragedy in music from the past week makes less-than-great Pavarotti transcend the problems discussed by critics. Even if he came across as some kind of one-trick pony, Pavarotti at least gave everything he had to his audiences. Now, one can imagine him lending his voice to the chorus of the universe, maybe joining in duets with Maria Callas and Elvis Presley 30 years after their own passings from this world.

Quantifying Nerdiness

September 12, 2007

Via Jennifer’s blog, I found the NerdTest. This helps anyone taking it determine what type of nerd they are, based on five factors. Here are my results:


NerdTests.com says I'm an Uber Cool High Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!

Actually, my five scores do not surprise me much. My heart is in history and literature, but I also know quite a bit about science fiction and just enough about comic books to BS my way at a SciFiComCon (or whatever it’s called). Remembering some science facts, as well as my admiration for Carl Sagan, probably helped boost my score as a Science/Math nerd, but it still wasn’t enough to get a sufficiently high score. My score is pretty low in Technology/Computer, mainly because a lot of the questions relate to things I never needed to do at work or in my spare time (such as taking things apart and coding). It might also explain my own cautious attitude towards technology. As for Dumb/Dork/Awkward, I’m not sure that counts because such people could only be considered nerds if they have an interest in at least one of the other four fields of nerddom. Or is it Nerddom? Or Nerdom? Well, if none of them is a word, one of them should be!

I don’t understand my overall labelling as an Uber (actually, Ueber) Cool High Nerd, however. Based on my score, I wonder it it may have to do with being “cool” (or having sang froid) towards various aspects of Nerdom. Whatever it is, I would be interested in finding out.

(Ach! Ended sentence in preposition. There goes my H/L score.)

Me on 2.0

September 7, 2007

Despite the title, don’t expect a narcissistic post. Rather, in response to the “infamous posting” by Annoyed Librarian last week about Web 2.0’s “Twopointopians,” I list below some of my previous postings on Web 2.0. I do so (a) in the interest of saving time, (b) because my past writings should show my level of agreement/disagreement with AL, and (c) others have already written their own responses… at least one of which (mentioned below) dissects AL’s concerns more eloquently than I could. I meant to comment on the posting shortly after its appearance, but I have kept plenty busy with job searching, helping Diane’s parents get acquainted with Durham, going through junk we should have pitched back in Texas, and so on.

It would be difficult to determine objectively the degree to which prominent advocates of Web 2.0 conform neatly to the Twopointiopian caricature. Generally, I believe they do not. Nevertheless, I found myself agreeing with what AL wrote regarding those who have developed an almost evangelistic zeal about Web 2.0 (or “Twopointopians” from this point on). This in itself wouldn’t be bad if some of them didn’t demonstrate an air of smug superiority over those who “don’t get it,” the favorite strawpeople of Twopointopians. And, no, I will not name names, either. I’m too nice, and I cannot know what’s in the hearts of those serious advocates of Web 2.0. The way I see it, Web 2.0 advocates can get so wrapped up in the excitement they find in the phenomenon that they know not what they do. As a result, they become the AL’s “Twopointopians,” and they inadvertently alienate those who might need to “see the light” the most. Lecturing at them won’t help, but understanding skepticism and using some friendly persuasion could help further the cause of Web 2.0 in Libraryland.

For a more balanced examination of these issues, Meredith Farkas wrote an excellent response that dissects AL’s concerns from a not-so-literal perspective. Naturally, I found the use of various forms of “pragmatic” heartening, and I agree that a more balanced advocacy of Web 2.0 in libraries would help ameliorate the schism that appears to have developed within Libraryland. I can understand the concerns of those who try to advocate new ideas in hostile environments. Still, bragging about being “a bitch and a half with a cherry on top” doesn’t seem like the best way to get people on board with one’s cause. Also, as I mentioned earlier, not trying to understand the concerns of skeptics certainly won’t help, either.

Anyway, since I’ve already written several postings on Web 2.0 in greater detail, here’s a list for those who wish to read more on my opinions:

For the Health of It (latter portion of posting)

TLA Presentations: Library 2.0

Anonymity in the Blogosphere

Feed Me!

Ready for Their Close-Up

Blogs and Finding Serenity (Now)

So, there you have it; some select (or maybe just selected) postings that seem appropriate in relation to AL’s posting. Also, for once, a professional posting to balance out all the personal ones that have dominated recently, and that have appeared on an irregular basis. I’ll be back with that soon, however, perhaps on the job search and the recent passing of Luciano Pavarotti.

Refocusing

August 17, 2007

Despite my lack of postings for over a month, I would like to thank those of you who have maintained their subscriptions to this blog, or who have checked on it regularly. Diane and I moved from Texas to North Carolina, so I hope to return to regular postings soon. A sense of normalcy would also help, but we are slowly making our way there.

While my coworkers feted me on my last day at work, Diane had to handle a family emergency. It continued over the course of a few days, which delayed packing for the move. The following week, I packed somewhere around 40 boxes of books and got other things ready for the move. After that came the week of the move itself. Packers arrived Monday, loaders got our stuff on Tuesday, and we left in two cars on Wednesday.

The first morning of the drive began inauspiciously. I saw a plume of smoke from Arlington, which got bigger as I approached downtown Dallas and made me think the worst. Fortunately, Reunion Tower and everything else remained in place, but traffic came a to grinding halt on I-30 a few miles west of downtown. Diane found out that a gas explosion had occurred near the “Mixmaster,” blocking all the major highways to and from downtown Dallas. After a few hours of sitting in traffic, we finally got back on track, but we ended up spending the night in Little Rock instead of Memphis as originally planned. We ended up at a downtown La Quinta and ordered Papa John’s pizza in-room for dinner.

The following day, we finished our drive through Arkansas and drove through most of Tennessee. Diane and I stayed at another La Quinta, this time in the touristy area of Sevierville/Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge. Everything seemed glossy and squeaky-clean enough for families and retirees, though I suppose Sexy Stuf along the main drag added a dash of naughtiness. We ended up at Outback this time around for dinner, fortifying ourselves after the day’s drive.

As you may have noticed, Diane and I stayed at La Quintas. We did this for a reason. As some of you may remember, our Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix Arabella passed away in June. We didn’t plan on getting a new dog, but we ended up falling for a purebred chihuahua the following weekend at a PetSmart-sponsored adoption. We named her Sophie, more or less setting a precedent for naming pets after characters from Richard Strauss operas (this one from Der Rosenkavalier). Traveling with Sophie posed some logistic problems, but things turned out well in the end.

We finally entered North Carolina the following morning, with temperatures getting as low as the mid-60s. The high elevation seemed especially inspiring, and I searched in vain for a snow-capped peak I recalled from a drive through the area many years ago. Nevertheless, it seemed appropriate to play certain pieces that evoke the spiritual and mundane aspects of high places, including Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie and Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Outside the mountains, temperatures warmed up to the 90s as we approached our new hometown of Durham, and the drive became less “scenic.” Still, the opportunity to see tall trees in North Carolina seemed a novelty for someone coming from Texas, even though I came from Ohio and had grown up surrounded by them. Now I had more or less returned closer to my roots, albeit still a bit further south.

The afternoon consisted of picking up our keys to the new house (a rental that offers an embarrassment of riches spacewise), dropping off Sophie at a kennel, and getting to a bed and breakfast for the weekend. The following Monday, Diane’s birthmother and her husband arrived for a visit. We drove to the Outer Banks for a trip whose length depended on the anticipated arrival date of the movers. As Thursday seemed the more likely candidate for an arrival date, we went from an overnight quick trip to a two-day visit.

As usually happens in the case of rare visits to a coast, I ended up groking the beach and die grossen Wasser. I have looked out over the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston a few times, but never the Atlantic Ocean. Rationally, I know that such bodies of water extend a few hundred or a few thousand miles. But then, notions of distance can dissolve easily during such getaways. The ocean looks and sounds spectacular during the day, with many clouds and possibly a distant storm visible past the sun and water worshippers playing and reclining along the beach. At night, with fewer people out and little more than some artificial lights, the oceanfront fosters an awesome view of the moon and stars that can make one contemplate infinity. But then, the call of oversized and overpriced seafood buffets leads one back to slaking more earthbound desires.

In anticipation of the arrival of our worldly possessions, we left the Outer Banks on Wednesday morning. As promised, the stuff we didn’t take in our cars arrived, with possibly a few exceptions. We also got Sophie, who has adjusted quite well to a new yard for romping, among other things. After my birthmother-in-law and her husband left on Saturday, Diane and I spent the following week unpacking and slashing our way through bureaucratic stuff.

We finished most of the unpacking and official matters in time for the arrival of her adoptive parents, who have stayed with us since last Saturday and plan on moving here. They have secured a place, and they’ll probably come with their stuff next month. They leave this Saturday to take care of final moving arrangements in Texas, so I think Diane and I will finally be able to settle in (with Sophie) at our new home. We miss a few things from Texas (relatively close proximity to Austin, various cultural activities, La Madeleine, etc.), but not as badly as we may have thought. We have kept busy, and the area around “the Triangle” offers quite a bit to do. Once we return to our routines and temperatures become more moderate, I believe that the appeal of this area will become even more apparent.

Ducka ducka ducka ducka ducka ducka ducka. MAC-arena.

I’m not sure if I got the right number of “duckas,” but Austin Powers fans should remember the scene where Dr. Evil tries proving he’s hip by doing the Macarena for his son Scott Evil. Of course, Dr. Evil’s attempt to “connect” only confirms Scott’s view that his father and would-be master of the world is just an “ass,” and not at all hip. As an audience member, one likely feels some discomfort as the malevolent (albeit clowishly so) Dr. Evil stoops to a new low to get approval from his son… who, come to think about it, has inherited his father’s assishness, but with a Generation X sensibility.

I had a similar feeling of discomfort reading the latest on how librarians are changing their image as younger people enter to profession. Yeah, to quote another Mike Myers character, “As if.” As if tattooed and pierced librarians seem as shocking as Marlon and Elvis in the 1950s. As if the “shush” image of librarians has just now started to subside. As if librarians have just now started to understand the virtues of technology. As if librarians haven’t been trying to change their image to seem more “user-friendly.” As I look it over, the article says little new, though I suppose the general public might seem shocked and surprised at what it reveals about our secret lives, filled with Dewey Decimaled mixed drinks. The article mentions things that we’ve been hearing for the past decade or so. Probably the only thing that has changed is the number of people roughly my age or younger who have entered the profession, which apparently has increased librarianship’s hipness quotient.

Sadly, despite my age, I remain the furthest thing from hip. Looking back on my quixotic attempts to become so many years ago, I couldn’t act hip if my life depended on it, and I like too many things that aren’t hip. Besides, I don’t think I’d look right schlepping around in hip styles, such as “thrift-store inspired clothes.” I don’t understand how one could see that as a fashion statement, much less an “inspired” one; as far as I know, most people get thrift-store clothes if they have few options and just need something to keep themselves warm.

The way I see it, being “hip” or “cool” or “with it” in themselves won’t make people come to libraries. As in the case of his father, maybe Scott Evil would see through the facade and say something like this:

God, all I want is some good service. But you’re just acting like an ass, trying to be all cool and crap. Why don’t you just tell me how to look up stuff on obscure prog rock from the ’80s, and stop waving your supposed hipness in my face? Just be yourself, and not what you think other people or your so-called ‘hip’ friends want you to be.

A bit harsh, but I’m sure Dr. Evil would put his pinky to his mouth in delight. It might also liberate those who have cultivated a level of hipness so high that they have slowly suffocated their true individuality.

Sicko-Bizarro World

July 9, 2007

Although Diane and I rarely go to the theater to watch movies, we try to have “movie night” at home at least once every weekend. Actually, we probably have movie night precisely because we find little that we just have to watch in theaters. The last few movies we saw included Casino Royale and The Good Shepherd, both films with some kind of cloak-and-dagger intrigue. Last weekend, we saw Michael Moore’s new film Sicko, a scarier cloak-and-dagger film with real people. Criticism of Sicko ran rampant a few weeks ago. However, now that it has come to theaters, people can see the film for themselves and justify their opinions about it.

Everyone knows Moore’s political leanings, and that he might be stretching the awful truth a bit. If that’s the case, Moore doesn’t seem any different from the likes of Bill O’Reilley, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter. Some also claim that Moore doesn’t believe what he’s saying, but I have more serious doubts about the near-crazy blather of his aforementioned counterparts. Compared to Moore, they come across as pathologically obsessed with beating opponents into submission. Some conservatives have disavowed the more extreme among their ranks, as in the case of Coulter several years ago. This should come as no surprise, even to those who conflate Coulter, Limbaugh, and O’Reilley with more thoughtful conservatives like Anthony Daniels (who uses the pseudonym Theodore Dalrymple).

One could argue that Moore likes to browbeat his opponents as well. However, even if he has moments that may seem pushy or “over the top,” he generally strikes me as a concerned citizen trying to learn the truth, even if his liberal agenda seems obvious. After all, as conservatives point out numerous times, liberals keep wanting to push “an agenda,” while conservatives just want to do what they consider best for the country.

We have heard horror stories about socialized medicine, which some have equated with the horrors of Communist regimes. I don’t doubt that such systems may have the usual problems outlined by detractors, such as long waits for care. Whatever one’s political beliefs, one can’t help but have some fellow-feeling for the people Moore profiles in his film: someone who stitches their own wound to avoid a costly visit to the hospital; another who had to decide which one of two fingertips to have restitched after an accident; a couple that moves into their daughter’s storage room after a string of bad luck with their health; a woman whose $7,000+ hospital bill didn’t receive coverage due to a relatively common pre-existing condition; a mother who had to take her daughter by car to another hospital because the first one she visited was out-of-network; and so on. Although these stories sound similar to what one might hear about socialized medicine, they all happened in the United States. A few of the people mentioned didn’t have insurance, but many others had to contend with the “goals and objectives” of insurance companies… enabled by politicians who buy the party line of maximizing profit, and who profit from that notion themselves.

Speaking from personal experience, I have had little need for health insurance yet (knock on wood). I had to visit the doctor a few years ago for strep throat (or, more accurately, strep cheek), but that’s pretty well it. As for vision insurance, I have had the good fortune of being on the Superior plan. For a premium of just over $7.00 per month, I get excellent coverage for all aspects of basic vision care. Recently, I paid $35 for an eye exam, and I got a new pair of glasses yesterday for over half of what it would have cost (which means I’ll need to change my photo soon). In contrast, Diane is on a different plan, and a store sale on glasses proved cheaper than the coverage on her insurance.

Diane has also had bad luck with oral surgeries getting covered. She had jaw surgery back in high school, and her mother had to fight to get the insurance company to cover it. A few years ago, her dentist and orthodontist recommended an implant to replace a tooth. They said that a “bridge” would start to fall apart after several years, but the implant would be permanent. Most importantly, the implant would prevent the area around the lost tooth from collapsing. The false tooth cost a few hundred dollars, which would seem reasonable to pay if one considers cosmetic procedures unnecessary. However, the implant within the jaw itself cost thousands of dollars, and it still wasn’t covered. Although two medical professionals found the implant medically necessary, it was accorded the same “cosmetic” status as the tooth. To add insult to surgery, the implant and tooth are currently in the back part of Diane’s mouth. Even up close, I couldn’t even see the gap for the $200 tooth unless Diane opened her mouth wide.

Getting back to the film… As a contrast to the stories about private health insurance in the U.S., Moore shows health care systems in Canada, Britain, and France. Everyone with whom he spoke seemed content with those systems, which have relatively straightforward rules and procedures ensuring that everyone receives the care they need. This means no figuring out which digits to reattach; no falling into financial ruin due to bad luck with one’s health; no denials of coverage based on pre-existing conditions; and no referrals to other hospitals due to some “out-of-network” blather. In addition, at least one British doctor expresses contentment with his yearly income and lifestyle, which one couldn’t imagine if relying on detractors of anything even remotely resembling socialism.

Of course, no Moore film would be complete without a coup de grace (though no coup just yet). Learning about the high quality of care given to enemy combatants at “Gitmo,” Moore leads a small flotilla there with a number of sick people, including three who helped with rescue and clean-up after the World Trade Center collapse. They have no luck, but they end up finding inexpensive care within Cuba itself. Even fans of Moore have difficulty wrapping their minds around this portion of the film, especially due to Cuba’s poor reputation with regard to human rights. One does have to wonder why the Cuban doctors “reached out” to U.S. citizens. Goodness? Propaganda? Wanting to climb up a few numbers from #39 on the list of health care rankings to outmaneuver the U.S.’s #37? We’ll probably never know. I certainly want to believe that a sense of fellow feeling motivated the treatment, and not cynical maneuvering on the part of Castro’s cronies (which I’m sure some pundit will purport to unearth, if they haven’t done so already).

However one feels about Moore, one can’t help but wonder why a good number of health insurance companies in the U.S. feel compelled to deny a number of claims that most people couldn’t even begin to afford without going into serious debt or losing everything. Do these companies not have enough money to cover everyone? Do they have just enough money to hire lackeys who track down customers’ pre-existing conditions, and who can somehow “interpret” the slippery wording of health insurance policies so that the companies don’t have to pay on claims? Oddly enough, all this sounds suspiciously similar to insurance companies denying compensation to Katrina victims by splitting hairs between wind and flood damage.

After watching Sicko, I still wasn’t sure whether to believe that socialized medicine would actually work in this country. Nevertheless, the film, as well as Diane’s own experiences and other things I’ve heard about health care, did convince me that health insurance companies need one of two things: closer monitoring by an external party, such as the government (Gasp!), or a healthy dose of ethics and compassion… whatever would ensure that customers will receive the kinds of services they think they should get.

Although I’m not sure how and if socialized medicine would “work” here (as in how much we’d be willing to pay or go into debt for it), I don’t care who offers decent coverage. As long as the premiums or taxes seem reasonable and justifiable, the policy language is straightforward, and the coverage is comprehensive, that’s all that matters to me… and probably to most people. However, one does have to wonder if the insurance companies are up to the task. Unlike industries where one could easily name the best companies (as in the case of vehicle manufacturers), I think many of us would be hard-pressed to name a private health insurance company that distinguishes itself by providing comprehensive coverage at a decent price, and without using confusing jargon and formulas of coverage that can overwhelm the most intelligent of customers. If I want challenging reading, I’ll turn to Vladimir Nabokov or Salman Rushdie. The difference is that reading their works offers numerous intellectual rewards. Ploughing through insurance policies does not, and can only lead one to have an aneurysm… which requires a 20% co-pay for a hospital stay that increases to 40% after 10 days, which invalidates coverage for an ambulance ride that we’ll cover but only with advanced notice, but which will not be covered if you have had a severe headache sometime within the past year, except maybe during the holidays when relatives can drive you crazy. Visting a counselor will most certainly not be covered.

When I try to read health insurance policies, I start to wonder if the company will actually cover something serious, or if it will leave one hanging due to the listing of numerous exceptions that somehow invalidate coverage. Something doesn’t seem right when a U.S. citizen can get free or cheap treatment for a boneheaded stunt in Britain, but not for cancer in their own country. In places like Britain and Canada, even conservatives don’t seem to mind the idea of socialized medicine, including Margaret Thatcher of all people. Of course, as Thatcher said, there is “no free lunch,” which means that funding health care would require more of one’s tax dollars (or pounds) to maintain it. However, considering the horror stories of the people featured in Sicko, I would willingly pay a few dollars more in taxes so that no one would have to worry about health insurance company bureaucracy. Yes, I said “company bureaucracy.” People complain about government bureaucracy, but businesses can also make customers jump through various hoops to get the goods and services for which they pay. Automated menus found via “customer service” phone numbers for banks, various utilities services (phone, cable, electricity), and credit card companies offer just a few examples, as do the aforementioned problems with medical services.

As Moore points out, we don’t question government funding of fire and police protection, and (at least to a lesser extent) many of us still see free education and libraries as good things. When will we see health care as something that the government could also take a more active role in handling, at least when private companies fail to provide decent service to those who need it the most? In my opinion, the issue goes beyond some narrow-minded concern about an obligation to “shareholders,” because all of us will need serious health care sooner or later, and none of us should have to wonder whether we will get the care we need without choosing between financial ruin and poor health… or even death. After all, if the government can step in on behalf of Terri Schiavo, why can’t it help those who may actually have a better chance of reclaiming a decent quality of life?

Over the weekend, Diane and I found ourselves making a very difficult decision. We had our pomeranian/chihuahua mix Arabella put to sleep due to a heart condition that suddenly turned worse.

When we adopted Arabella almost four years ago, someone from the pet adoption agency told us that she had a heart murmur, but nothing serious enough to merit euthenasia. However, Arabella had fainting spells every so often over the past year, and they became bad enough in April that a veterinarian put her on a diuretic. She seemed to return to normal for a few months, but things changed rapidly starting on Friday. When taken outside, she would pass out, and her energy and appetite declined throughout the weekend. Arabella hardly did anything on Sunday, so we took her to an emergency vet hospital that night. She seemed to perk up, but the diagnosis from the vet who saw us didn’t sound good. We left her there and received a call around 1 AM. The vet told us the details about her heart’s condition and our “treatment options.” None of them sounded good, because the vet said that Arabella could go on various medications, but she wouldn’t be able to do much of anything. After many tears that night and the following morning, we called the vet with our decision.

Prior to Arabella, I never had a pet other than fish, and Diane had limited experience with dogs. Nevertheless, after we got married, we decided to start looking for a dog. Diane and I saw Arabella at a PetSmart adoption “fair” in September 2003, where she quietly sat in the lap of someone at a table. We figured that someone had already adopted her, especially since she looked adorable. When we inquired about her, someone else said that no one had adopted her, but that we could walk around the store with her for a “test drive.” Arabella followed us around, and we decided to take her home. We heard about the heart murmur, but she seemed like the right dog for us otherwise. Her teeth were also in bad shape, and her mouth would somehow occasionally contort into a ferocious-looking shape that exposed her front teeth. We called this expression her Dick Cheney, though she had not a mean bone in her body. She would bark when unfamiliar people came to visit, but she calmed down and easily befriended anyone who gave her attention.

Arabella did give us a few problems. That explains the middle name Marie, which we would employ for the times she got into trouble. Going to the bathroom in the appropriate places seemed to pose the greatest challenge; the most amusing incident occurred just as we settled in for Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws’ house that first year. She would also have unexplainable barking fits at 3 AM for a few days straight, but they would stop as quickly and strangely as they started. Nevertheless, I believe that her problems may have been due to age, and her general demeanor seemed appropriate for Diane and me. Compared to other dogs, Arabella seemed aloof and quiet. She showed little interest in toys, and we could almost swear that she viewed other dogs as crazy; she would remain relatively placid as fellow canines tried engaging her in play or (occasionally) other “activities.” Since she lived with cats previously, Diane and I suspect that Arabella picked up her relative air of detachment from them, as well as the tendency to engage in self-grooming behaviors usually associated with felines (most notably the licking of paws).

Although Arabella showed little interest in other dogs, she loved attention from people, who universally found her adorable. Some even mistook Arabella for a puppy due to her size. Of course, Arabella seemed especially keen on seeking attention from Diane and me, especially when we had other things to do. When Diane would settle on the sofa to grade papers or read, Arabella would jump up and place her head under Diane’s hand for petting. During The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, she would jump between us and take in the political hijinks. Other times, Arabella would just lay down on the other side of the sofa, or perch on the ottoman of our leather chair. When Diane would work at home, Arabella would curl up behind the chair and sleep, or she would act as guard in the event that someone rang the doorbell peddling junk.

Dogs occasionally drive their owners crazy, but they can also be the best companions. Besides acting as a guard or member of our “pack,” Arabella seemed to know when one of us was upset. She would look on with a mixture of confusion and concern. She also may have known that she didn’t have long to live, and that she wouldn’t be able to do the things that made her happy.

Whether one chooses euthenasia or allowing a terminally-ill pet to die naturally, there’s always an element of playing God and presuming to know what the pet’s own wishes might be. Euthenasia seems selfish because one doesn’t want to take care of a sick pet, but so does keeping a pet around to salve our consciences. One can only make a decision that seems right for everyone involved, including the pet. Everyone we told seems to think we did the right thing, and I’m certain that many others would agree. If only we could reach such a consensus about our fellow humans, who actually can communicate their final wishes to the appropriate people.

A few hours after we saw Arabella for what would be the last time, Diane mentioned that Arabella might have “told” her that she wanted to go. (A few other “coincidences” occurred, though I won’t detail those here.) I want to believe that Arabella somehow knew that we would have to make a difficult decision about her, and that she tried telling us that it would be okay. I also want to believe that she has entered another realm, and that we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

Shapin’ Up

June 22, 2007

Since last Monday, I’ve settled into marginally routine visits to the nearby 24 Hour Fitness. That excludes the five day lag that occurred on account of a rather busy weekend. Still, I have gotten to the point where I look forward to visiting the gym. The attendees at the main desk have started to recognize Diane and I, right down to the unexplainable difficulty of scanning my temporary pass.

Generally, we walk past the muscle machines on the first floor, ascend a metal staircase, and begin on a treadmill or elliptical. I prefer the elliptical machine since it allows you to exercise a number of muscles and get a good cardio workout. (Yes, I’ve started using the word “cardio” in everyday conversation. “Ripped” and “psyched” will soon follow.) My iPod weighs too much to hang comfortably from a belt clip, so I set it on a slim bar on the elliptical’s control panel. I suspect that I’m in the minority when it comes to music choice while working out. Many may choose something with a good beat, but I prefer opera or classical. At a deeper level than the usual workout fare, a bit of the old Beethoven can summon forth the will to keep moving. Sometimes, I have no iPod, but I can invoke phantasmic snippets of music to make my workout easier. The prospect of better health helps as well.

The treadmills, ellipticals, and exercise bikes overlook the bottom floor. They also face several flat panel televisions that provide a riot of visual stimulation. From my (usually nightly) visits, the viewing fare generally includes two news channels, reruns of second-tier television shows, so-called “reality” series, and programs on Spike TV. Last night, Spike broadcast a Total Nonstop Action (or, subtly enough, TNA) Wrestling tournament. Despite the profound levels of testoterone found in such programs, I didn’t feel the motivation to become as musclebound as the performers (er, contestants) on that show. In fact, I almost fell off the elliptical laughing when someone poured a whole can of foaming beer on the face of a downed wrestler who apparently went by the moniker Rhino. Like some deranged Lazarus, Rhino suddenly rose from slamdown-induced unconsciousness and went berserk, throwing chairs out of the ring and knocking over a table. I don’t know why I found it so funny, but the whole idea of a guy going nuts like that seemed rather absurd and cartoonish. But then, what else would one expect from pro-wrestling?

Feeling inspired by Rhino’s antics, I wandered over to a “horseshoe” configuration of weightlifting machines. I figured, if I ever encountered a situation like the one shown on TNA, maybe I had better start bulking up. However, I don’t think I could reach Rhino’s proportions. Besides, Diane doesn’t like such a look, so I’m aiming for something more moderate. Last night, I only used the machines designed for upper body muscles. My legs are already in excellent shape (probably from carrying a few extra pounds), and I hoped to use one of the “ab” machines. I tried one the night before, and it was much easier than mustering the sense of balance required for the various “ups” exercises (sit-, pull-, and the like). Unfortunately, one of the regular meatheads monopolized the machine I liked, so I tried unsuccessfully to use a different one. At that, Diane and I went home.

We probably won’t get to the gym until sometime this weekend, but I hope to try out some other abdominal exercise machines. I’m sure that some purists look down on them, as do those who swear by free weights or machines without footrests, but the machines work just fine for those like myself. Perhaps one day I’ll move away from the machines, but getting myself on the path to fitness seems more important.

Latest dispatches

June 21, 2007

Partially due to the impending move next month and related changes on my mind, I’m still “at sea” in writing a decent posting on a topic related to librarianship, academia, or technology. My last posting promised to continue examining Gorman’s latest critique of Web 2.0, but I think I said everything that needed said (at least from me) and others have written much better criticisms that sound about right in assessing it. So, below are a few supposedly “random” things that I would like to share, and about which I have some opinions.

Reverse Victimology

The Chron (a good abbreviation for The Chronicle of Higher Education that I found in ACRLog) has an interesting article by John D. Barbour, a professor of Religion at St Olaf. He discusses his dealings with a very conservative student who acted as a provocateur in his class, and who turned in mediocre work. Barbour is a liberal, and he still contemplates whether it impacted how he graded the student. However, don’t expect David Horowitz (himself a former Marxist) to use it to illustrate the apparently rampant liberal bias that runs roughshod over academia. In fact, Barbour worried that his views of the student’s performance reflected his own prejudices, even though he comments that he has encountered plenty of thoughtful conservative students in his classes. As a result of his concern, and in the interest of fair-mindedness, Barbour believes in retrospect that he gave the student a better grade than he deserved.

As those familiar with academia know, conservatives look askance at the rhetoric and stridency of “victimology,” an unflattering umbrella term employed to deride various [Name of Group] Studies programs, and to conflate what they represent with the spectre of political correctness. Ironically, Barbour’s story illustrates how some conservatives can appropriate the same victimiology they deride as a tool against liberal professors. In the case of Barbour’s student, he may have done so unwittingly. Nevertheless, some conservative groups (such as Students for Academic Freedom) have had their own chilling effect on academic discourse.

Considering broader issues related to this story, it seems approrpiate to discuss my own political journey, which was impacted by experiences during my undergraduate years. Coming from a small town in the Midwest, I began as what one might best describe as a Garrison Keillor Democrat. As an undergraduate, I got introduced to more radical ideas I wouldn’t have heard in my hometown. I worried that perhaps I wasn’t “liberal enough,” so I ended up taking on (or perhaps just trying on) ideas to prove my liberal mettle. Over the years, I have worked through and rejected many of the more absurd notions that made me wonder about “the real reasons” why I might enjoy certain things. For example, the notion that Beethoven’s Ninth represents an act of rape should be (and has been) called on for the subjective lunacy it represents, and for trivializing the very real acts of sexual assault that cause very real suffering. Still, spectral versions of these ideas from college make me contemplate how the world “really works,” even if I do not ascribe to more radical and deterministic views of the world.

So, there’s a sketch of my political views. I have kept them concealed for a number of reasons, but Barbour’s article prompted me to engage in full disclosure (at least from a quick “Red/Blue” perspective) to give my regular readers an idea of how my political views may affect my views on other topics.

Dogs

This is so sad. Michael Stephens‘ dog Jake passed away just a day before Stephens defended his doctoral defense. As one who has a dog, the news about Jake resonated with me. It made me think of Arabella; she’s getting on in years, but she remains quite spry when activated by the doorbell or the prospect of a Caesar meal in “meaty juices.” At least for a few days, her “accidents” probably won’t seem quite so awful. They’re a drag to clean, but they indicate that Arabella remains a part of our lives. I guess these feelings reflect what Karen Schneider says about the value of social software. They may allow us to become known to the greater world, but they can serve the deeper purpose of fostering interconnectivity to us all.

Referral

Part of what prompted me to write today was a posting in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Blogosphere, which recommended my blog. I hadn’t written in about a week, and my postings have strayed a bit from professional stuff, so it seemed appropriate to come up with a decent posting. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Steve Sherlock for the referral, too, especially since my blog has remained relatively quiet lately.

Just for Fun

Well, for me and fans of the composers Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss… another cartoon from Soho Dog where the composers “re-enact your favorite music moments.” The most recent one comes from the first Indiana Jones film, Unfortunately, I don’t recall which scene this refers to, but it’s still exciting to see that someone can play upon the traits of the two composers for comic effect. Recently, I figured out how to contrast their views on money, and to bring in Wagner’s views to boot:

    Mahler didn’t care about makin’ bank
    Strauss did care about makin’ bank
    Wagner cared about takin’ others’ bank

Well, I thought it was funny.

For the health of it

June 14, 2007

(Yep. That’s original.)

My previous posting mentioned a couple of health-related matters, including my father-in-law’s hospitalization and my latest commitment to getting in shape.

Fortunately, my father-in-law is out of the hospital after his series of fainting spells. However, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s remains. According to the doctor who took care of him, vertigo is another symptom that can indicate Alzheimer’s, even if other symptoms do not manifest themselves. Given the choice between home health care and putting him in a nursing home, the former seemed like the better solution for a number of reasons. Granted, he hasn’t reached the advanced stages yet, but my mother-in-law will need some help since she has quite a few health concerns herself. (Oddly enough, my father-in-law started yardwork as soon as he got home.) Since I have to work on Sunday, we hope to see them either Saturday or next Tuesday to celebrate Father’s Day.

In the meantime, Diane and I commenced our visits to 24 Hour Fitness on Tuesday night. Diane and I got on treadmills for the first 30 minutes, with iPods to get us going. On mine, I played a bootleg recording of Karita Mattila performing the title role of Richard Strauss’ Salome at the Opéra Bastille in 2003. Not the greatest sound quality, but the performance has the intensity necessary to get one moving, whether physically or emotionally. (Peter Conrad and Tim Ashley, both of whom saw Mattila as Salome in Paris, both attest to that.) I started getting into the workout as the “Dance of the Seven Veils” progressed, and I hit running speed at the beginning of the final scene. Just over 200 calories burnt in 30 minutes, before Diane and I progressed to the “horseshoe” layout of various weightlifting machines designed to build muscles throughout the body. I’m starting at close to the lowest levels, trying to build muscle gradually. No way do I want to conduct myself like the grunters, groaners, and gaspers who want to bulk up. I’d rather improve my health and cultivate something like a Classical physique over time. I’ll leave it to others to try looking like The Governator or Cartman on Weight Gain 4000, if they so desire. Up-to-date equipment makes the exercise experience at 24 Hour Fitness more pleasant than other gyms or exercise rooms I have visited, though I suppose some purists would find it too “busy.”

As regular readers may have noticed, my postings have pretty much engaged in personal navel gazing. With the impending move, I haven’t had time to really read and comment properly on various trends in academia and librarianship. However, I hope to write something professional soon, most likely in relation to the latest hullabaloo surrounding two blog postings from Michael Gorman entitled Web 2.0: The Sleep of Reason (Parts 1 and 2). As those in Libraryland may already know, Gorman excoriated blogging a few years ago, and I suspect that some bloggers don’t seem ready to forgive and forget.

From my own reading of Part 1, Gorman begins by expressing some legitimate concerns about people turning away from authority. He focuses mainly on the realm of science and medicine, though he also mentions the bugbear of bloggers as “citizen journalists.” However, when he later lays out a Manichean view of “scholarly and educational publishing” vs. “the often-anarchic world of the Internet,” Gorman loses ground and concludes with some final paragraphs that do not make sense to me. I haven’t decided if they’re self-contradictory, or if I believe that Web 2.0 actually can facilitate a more decentralized form of intellectual rigor (albeit without the same overall consistency of scholarly and educational publishing).

Although it hasn’t overthrown dominant power paradigms, Web 2.0 has altered the definition of authority by giving more people (such as myself) the chance to share facts and opinions through less “official” channels. As in the past, we still have folks like Gorman writing from a position of authority. However, unlike belated editorials with commentary from just a few people, practically everyone has a chance to write a response immediately. Some may be trolls seeking attention by writing something “shocking,” while others may have thoughtful responses that equal (or even exceed) the length of the original posting. Now seems the best time to mention the marketplace of ideas, an ideal realm in which the troll shrivels away, while the thoughtful but “officially” disenfranchised person grows in stature among others in various realms of the blogosphere. This notion may seem idealistic, but Web 2.0 at least offers broader opportunities for more people to participate in discourse on any topic, and to develop a deeper worldview that accomodates a broader definition of what constitutes authority.

Connected to Gorman’s apparent faith in medical authority, please see my wife’s posting on anti-depressants and weight gain. The story may seem “anecdotal” (whatever that means), but it shows how the most authoritative and educated people can make lazy assumptions that actually ignore the scientific method. After reading this story, that tinfoil-hatted UFO conspiracy nut who spends all day on the liberry innanet might start making sense.

(More detailed commentary on the Gorman postings when I have the chance… probably when the whole thing becomes passé.)

Commemorations

June 12, 2007

Monday (11 June) marked a couple of commemorations. I’ll begin by mentioning that it marked the 143rd birthday of composer Richard Strauss, whose name appears in roughly every other posting since I’m a major “fan” of his music. Although 143 doesn’t have the same symbolic significance as other numbers, Alex Ross commemorated Strauss’ birthday anyway by posting a photograph of the composer from 1945, just after the Allies liberated Germany from the Nazi regime.

Prior to the photo, Strauss had played cat-and-mouse with Hitler and his cronies during their 12 years of madness, ranging from an appointment by Goebbels to the presidency of the Reichsmusikkamer to a fall from disgrace in 1935 after collaborating with Jewish author Stefan Zweig on Die schweigsame Frau. In addition, his daughter-in-law Alice was Jewish, so he tried using his name to protect her and her family (including his grandchildren).

Since many of Germany’s greatest minds left before things went from bad to worse, some have assumed that Strauss supported the Nazis. Strauss probably could have left quite easily with his reputation, but the evidence of his being pro-Nazi seems based on leaps in logic (and, at least subconsciously, likely conflated with Hitler’s liking of Wagner’s music). Besides, Strauss was at least a generation older than many of the major figures of National Socialism, and his sense of historical persepctive likely added to his political naivete; after all, regimes had come and gone in Germany, and he initially viewed the Nazis as hardly any different. The Nazis and their horrors finally did pass, leaving a reminder of the perils of unchecked power. Strauss remained on earth a few more years to give the world a few more great works (including his Metamorphosen and Four Last Songs), leaving a legacy of numerous orchestral works, operas, and lieder that explore humanity with a vivaciousness achieved by few other composers.

Health was also a major topic yesterday, so it seems suitable to commemorate that as well. I had my last dental appointment in Texas, which means that I will need to find someone good in North Carolina. I recall a Seinfeld episode where Jerry commented that everyone thinks their dentist is the best. I can say the same about mine, without the emptiness implied by Jerry. With his team of hygenists, my (now former) dentist does quite excellent work. On an amusing note, something about him also reminds me of Dr. Phil. It may be his look, his manner, or even his voice, but one almost expects him to say, “It’s not what you’re biting. It’s what biting you.” Anyway, things have progressed quite well with my teeth since the “scaling” a few years ago, and I left yesterday with a flouride treatment for good measure. (Of course, if my essence starts to feel drained, I’ll get suspicious…)

From oral health to overall health… On an unfortunate note, my father-in-law had to go to the hospital due to fainting spells. He has had them before, and he has started to forget things more over the past few years. The doctors believe that he has Alzheimer’s, but Diane and I think it’s something different; he has some apparent early and later symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but some things seem too inconsistent with such a diagnosis. We do hope that he’s at least better for Father’s Day, especially with this being the last one before we move.

When I go to the dentist, I have my blood pressure taken before the cleaning. (They use a wrist monitor, which is preferable to the one that cuts off circulation to half your arm and brings you to the brink of passing out.) It’s usually quite low, something I attribute to not liking things too salty and to taking CoQ-10. However, it was a bit higher than normal (131/87). The hygienist asked if I was undergoing anything stressful, which prompted me to talk about the move. When I told Diane about this, she mentioned something that she has broached to me several times before: that we go to a gym and do some exercising, especially with the weather here getting too hot. After some discussion (colloquially speaking), I came to my senses and tried pushing bad memories of gym class and little league baseball from my brain. We decided to sign up for month-to-month membership at a nearby 24 Hour Fitness, built just a few months ago. Several months ago, Diane actually went to another one further down the road to sign up for a temporary program, and ran away screaming as the counselor tried pressuring her into some signing up for something she didn’t want.

Despite what happened to Diane at the other location, as well as the MAD magazine-inspired moniker I gave it in reaction (“24 Hour Fatness”), we thought we’d give it a try. A counselor named Darren (whose voice reminded me of a young Jack Nicholson) took care of signing us up, and he jumped through a few hoops so we could get the month-to-month membership for the remaining six weeks of our residency here. Diane thought he was a lot nicer than the one at the other 24 Hour Fitness. I felt comforted by the fact that he made fun of the “meatheads” who frequent the gym, and who lift weights with their backs. (Darren wryly commented that they’re probably trying to build muscles in their gluteus maximi, which makes sense if you think about it.) Darren also gave us a tour of the place, which has multiple optical illusions: it looks bigger on the outside than on the inside, which is quite substantial, but mirrors all around make it look larger yet again. Diane and I will probably go after a steak dinner tonight, which seems appropriate in anticipation of the venue. I also hope that, like my previous attempts at starting physical fitness regimens, I will feel more alert and better able to get a decent night’s sleep (and maybe shed several pounds, too). I will say that I’m looking forward to using an elliptical, treadmill, or stationary bike, which seem to do the job. Now that I have an iPod, a decent workout should seem less arduous with wonderful music for accompaniment. It may bring this posting a bit too close to a “full circle,” but I think that listening to Strauss should get everything pumping.

Revelations

June 7, 2007

A few postings ago, I obliquely wrote about a trip Diane and I made last month to North Carolina. Now that things have become “official,” I can tell more about its purpose. Back in April, Diane received a job offer from the School of Library and Information Sciences at North Carolina Central University in Durham. After much discussion, she and I decided that it was the best decision in the long run for a number of reasons. The decision didn’t come easily by any means, because it would require stretching our financial resources to accommodate moving, selling or leasing our current house, and obtaining a house in Durham. Furthermore, I would need to find employment there. (During the trip, I interviewed at an institute that provides an intellectually stimulating and contemplative atmosphere for scholars in the humanities.)

Regarding our housing situation, we decided to go with leasing in both instances. We were lucky enough to see and secure a very nice house for a reasonable monthly rent in the southern part of Durham. (Our lease officially begins in early July.) For our current house, we learned that closing costs and realtor fees would make selling prohibitively expensive, so we will go through a leasing agency. We will likely lose some money on property taxes, but it seems like the better option at present.

As I mentioned in the posting about our North Carolina visit, the area is quite lovely. After just a few days there, we felt at home already, and we didn’t feel like going back to Texas. Practical matters like our current jobs and getting the house ready for the move, as well as picking up our dog from my parents-in-law, made us come back.

Of course, there are a few things I’m not too keen about with regards to Texas. Traffic gets crazy in the metropolitan areas, summers get too bloody hot, and I feel like a bit of a political outsider (except when we visit Austin). Still, I have developed quite an affection for the best that Texas has to offer, and I will miss all that when I leave. The first thing I can think of is the relative ease of traveling to various places in Texas for which I have a special affection, including Austin (which Diane and I managed to visit at least two or three times a year), the coastline along Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and the natural beauty of the Hill Country (west of Austin for those who know little of Texas geography).

Besides missing favorite getaway spots, I will also miss the culinary delights found in Texas. Kolaches and kolbasniks at the Czech Stop in West (opposite the Czech Inn on I-35). The various independent restaurants found throughout Austin (Romeo’s, The Clay Pit, Zen, Amy’s Ice Cream) and in the Metroplex (Texas Pit Bar B Q, Thai Tina’s), as well as chains found almost exclusively in Texas (or not available in North Carolina), such as La Madeleine and Blue Mesa. We also won’t be able to see operas and concerts at Texas’ best performing arts houses (and I’ll miss the Dallas Opera’s production of Salome next year), but moving to the east will place us within reasonable driving distance of a number of other opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera itself.

Despite what we’ll miss in Texas, Diane and I will move to a relatively calm area with a number of great educational institutions whose names scholars and sports fans will recognize. Cultural opportunities will abound, and we will have a nice blend of independent and “big box” stores to fulfill our more mundane needs. (The area has four Whole Foods stores, too, so we can continue eating organic at home quite easily.) Melding the quotidian and the cultural, we encountered quite a few shops with a decent selection of classical and opera.

Although quite a number of issues need sorted out and plans need to be made, I look forward to making North Carolina my new home.

The path to Idiocracy

June 5, 2007

Fans of Mike Judge (creator of Beavis and Butt-head, King of the Hill, and cult critique of corporate craziness Office Space) have likely heard of Idiocracy. As writer and director of that film, Judge once again proves himself as one of the funniest people in America, cloaking caustic social satire behind crude humor and dimwitted characters. It actually came out last Fall, but don’t feel out of sorts if you heard nothing about the film. Fox actually dumped Idiocracy into just a few markets with little marketing and promotion, and it quietly disappeared from theaters shortly thereafter. Office Space met a similar fate when it came out in 1999, but it has developed a huge following among those who deal with various absurdities in the workplace: technology that gets the kerflooey, micromanagement by multiple bosses, working overtime to make up for the “rightsizing” of other employees, mastery of bureaucratic lingo over accomplishing real work, and so on.

Idiocracy has yet to receive the same cult affection as Office Space, but it shares a few similartities. As an example, it examines our frustrations when technology doesn’t work. However, unlike Office Space, Idiocracy takes place 500 years in the future. Selected by the military for a hibernation experiment on account of his “avergeness,” Everyman Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) remains in stasis for much longer than anticipated after the experiment gets shut down. Luckily (marginally speaking), he awakens from his sleep due to the Great Garbage Avalanche of 2505. As Joe starts wandering around, he realizes that people have become… well, not-so-bright, as the title indicates. In addition, technology pretty well takes care of the most important tasks (when it bothers to work), and even the most venerated of professions have become parodies of their former selves. Joe learns this when he wanders into St. God’s Memorial Hospital, and ends up in a rowdy courtroom for not having a barcode tattoo that would have enabled him to pay for his diagnosis by a Dr. Lexus (provided that Joe had a bank account, of course). In fact, many characters in Idiocracy are named after products and companies, including Joe’s lawyer Frito (Dax Shepard), who obtained his law degree at Costco. Joe also learns that he is the smartest person around, along with a prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph) who was part of the same hibernation experiment. With Frito’s assistance, they eventually avert a national crisis whose solution would seem obvious to the rest of us, but not to a population that puts its faith in the power of the sports drink Brawndo (with electrolytes).

I would tell more, but too much would give away the satirical genius of Judge’s film. Admittedly, its projection of a future filled with dimwits seems a bit exaggerated, but the film works best if one views it as an x-treme caricature of the present. In fact, something that happened this weekend to Diane and I actually inspired this posting.

En route to getting a new laptop for Diane, we stopped at a Texaco near our house. As you may know, pumps at some stations have automated squawk boxes that try peddling some “points” program while you fill up your vehicle. Of course, you can press a mute button to stop the message, but it seems annoying to have something else pitched to you while you’re already purchasing gas. (Since Texaco sponsors the Metropolitan Opera, why not play some lovely music instead of a sales pitch? I can just envision a tie-in album entitled Pumpin’ to Puccini.) In Diane’s case, she had to push the mute button a few times before the squawk box actually shut up. After filling up the tank, we drove up to the station’s car wash. On the keypad at the car wash entrance, Diane entered the five-digit code to activate the car wash, which included a “4.” Unfortunately, that digit didn’t work, so she backed out and pulled up to the store to get a new code. We drove back to the car wash entrance, Diane entered the new code, and the keypad read the “1” in that code as a “2.” With the vapid cheerfulness of a second-rate game show host, the keypad helpfully pointed out, “Sorry, but that number is incorrect.”

As Diane grew more infuriated at the machine, I thought of the scene in Idiocracy where a woman unsuccessfully tries ordering a colorfully-named size of fries at an automated Carl’s Jr. kiosk. (In the future depicted in Idiocracy, characters throw around “colorful” language so casually that one no longer has to worry about mispronouncing Fuddruckers anymore.) I pointed out the parallels between that scene and our predicament to Diane, who was amused but still infuriated about the machine failing twice.

When we went back to the store after the second keypad failure, Diane asked for a refund. One of the clerks said that we couldn’t get one because we paid at the pump. However, the other clerk there (probably a manager) pointed out that we could get a refund, but not in cash… or something like that; it was throughly confusing. Somehow, that didn’t work out either, and Diane said that she would just come back later to get her car washed. Remembering what happened to the woman at the Carl’s Jr. machine in Idiocracy, I’m not so sure; next time around, the keypad could have a self-defense upgrayedd (er, upgrade). Considering the present-day craziness that Idiocracy extrapolates and exaggerates 500 years hence, this would come as little surprise.

Eight things

June 1, 2007

For the biblioblogosphere’s latest meme, bloggers list eight “random” things about themselves. Before I start with my own list, I would like to mention that the best “randomness” more or less expects people to make connections between things that seem disconnected (as in the case of this AOL customer search history). The works of the Monty Python troupe immediately come to mind. Judging from their humour, they all seem like pretty sharp guys, and I don’t think they just threw things together in their skits and films just for the sake of doing so. However, I have come across a few fans who try aping Python’s “randomness,” but the results come across as depressingly superficial since their random acts are generally apropos of nothing.

Now that I have irritated a few stoners and slackers who think I have something sticking up my “bum,” here’s a list of eight random things about myself. Actually, my list consists of eight somewhat odd and unusual things that seem most likely to puzzle and amaze those who think they know what The Pragmatic Librarian is all about:

    1. I have a horizontal scar across the bridge of my nose. However, it didn’t involve some misguided attempt at emulating Hemmingwayesque or Palahniukian machismo. Around the age of 18 months, I managed to pull a dining room chair on me, and it scraped some skin off my nose. My mother somehow managed to patch the skin back in place. Photographs from around that time show a rather unhappy near-toddler with a purplish line across his nose. After 33 years, it looks a lot less ghastly.

    2. Others say that I sound just fine, but what I hear on audio recordings jars with the quasi-mellifluous tone I hear internally. I have tried finessing my voice to sound somewhat like James Mason, though I know well enough not to try a full-on British accent. No matter what I do, I seem stuck with the same Midwestern nasal honk that makes me shy away from hearing recordings of myself. (Lately, I’ve developed this theory that the accident mentioned above contributed to my voice, but my older brother has a similar sound.) Oddly enough, my French teacher in high school said that I had the best French accent she had heard from a student in years.

    3. If I ever have an opportunity to visit a city in Europe, my first choices would consist of Berlin and Vienna. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows my cultural proclivities, but probably unusual for those who would list the usual suspects as first choices (London, Paris, Rome, etc.).

    4. I have multiple versions of many of my favorite works in classical music and opera. One or two versions sometimes suffice (Sinopoli’s spacious account of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, Bernstein’s earthy rendering of Bizet’s Carmen), but not for all composers. Enter the Mahler, Strauss, and Wagner sections of my CD collection or iTunes account, and you may just have a rough time getting out.

    5. For those of you who perceive me as a man of refined tastes, I will mention a few caveats. Around the age of 11 and 12, I developed an affinity for giant monster slugfests from Japan, as well as pro-wrestling; the latter included the WWF, as well as the no-budget WWA broadcasts out of Toledo (under the title Bruiser Bedlam). All this wore off after a few years as I got interested in things like classical music, and as I worked on changing my “image” to seem more appealing to the ladies. (That didn’t work until many years later.) Still, I have bemused memories of those days. As for Godzilla, Diane’s only experience with him was the 1998 US-made version, which she despised. I told her that the oversized iguana didn’t have the same grandeur and personality as the “real deal” from Japan, so we’ll probably screen one or two of the better Big-G movies sometime. Even today, I still meander into less-than-refined stuff, including old episodes of the animated quixotic misadventures of a certain dimwitted adolescent duo from Highland, Texas.

    6. I have a weakness for chips (potato, tortilla, etc.). For that reason, we rarely have chips in the house. I get a small bag of organic potato chips every so often for the pantry for “emergencies,” but that’s pretty much it. As for fruit, I have yet to develop a liking. I find most of them rather bitter, and they can take about as long to eat as a regular meal. When I do eat fruits, I usually find myself scrunching my face because of the taste. However, I do like a few fruits, such as Fuji apples and grapes. I sometimes forget to eat them, but our dog loves grapes, so I have fed those to her so that they don’t end up fermenting in the fridge. Unfortunately, I recently found out that grapes aren’t all that good for dogs, so I refrain from doing that now (and we’re really careful with onions and chocolate, of course).

    7. Although I currently have a strong sense of neatness and order in my surroundings, my room was a huge mess when I was a kid. Various film and television action figures (as well as their vehicles) populated my floor, closet, and even my dresser. I would set up elaborate confrontations between heroes and villains, especially in my reimaginings of Star Wars. Since one could never have enough Stormtroopers, I would recruit members of Cobra (from the G.I. Joe animated series) to enhance the Imperial military’s numbers. At various times, certain areas of the house would double as villainous lairs, including the dining room table and the main bathroom. For the latter, the sink doubled as a carnivorous sealife pool for bungling minions (enter my Indiana Jones figure as James Bond). Never did I use my parents’ room as an evil lair, however, which would have prompted a visit to the shrink.

    8. I have two nieces who will turn 14 and 11 this month. Unfortunately, other than a few pictures and some video from several years ago, I have never seen them. The details of why remain unimportant (I’m not entirely sure myself), but I hope that Diane and I will have a chance to meet them someday. In the meantime, I at least have their picture on my desk, just as a reminder.

Looks like I’ve done my part for this meme. Now it’s your turn, if you have a blog and haven’t written eight things about yourself already.

Where’s Pragmatic?

June 1, 2007

As some of my subscribers may have noticed, I haven’t submitted a posting in three weeks. The last one appeared on the first day of the road trip Diane and I took to North Carolina. As you may have guessed, I have reasons for not posting, but I’m not at liberty yet to explain why. However, as a courtesy to both my readers and other parties, I will just say that the purpose of the trip relates somewhat to my lack of postings, though perhaps not necessarily in the way you might be thinking. Feel free to speculate, but just remember what Ossie Davis’ character said in Do the Right Thing: Those who know, don’t tell, and those who’ll tell, don’t know.

Anyway, enough of the Obi-Wan Kenobi stuff… Now that I have more or less explained my hiatus, I shall resume my semi-regular postings. I should begin by saying that I’m shocked about what happened to Walt Crawford as a result of the RLG/OCLC merger, though I suppose it should come as no surprise. Besides, who are we to question The Invisible Hand and its Infinite Wisdom? Echoing the sentiments of many others in the biblioblogosphere, I hope that Walt can find an employer who actually appreciates what he has to offer the profession.

About the trip, Diane and I enjoyed visiting North Carolina, where we spent time in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. It has a lot more trees and less traffic than the Dallas-Fort Worth, and it doesn’t have the temperature extremes one finds further north or south. The area offers quite a bit to do, especially with a number of excellent universities closeby. Only the most jaded of superficial jetsetters would find Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill boring… an apt projection strategy for one lacking personality or intellectual curiosity. As for myself, I look forward to seeing the area again.

On the road

May 12, 2007

Since Diane and I both work in academia, we have taken trips in mid-May following Spring finals. This year, we are en route to North Carolina for business and pleasure (a bit more on this in subsequent postings). At present, we are staying at the Sleep Inn in Meridian, MS, near the border of Alabama.

Diane and I enjoy taking road trips, even if they can get a bit wearing after several hours. Despite the lack of trunk space, we decided to take my Civic Hybrid to see how much mileage it could get under constant highway driving conditions. So far, we have gotten between 42 and 44 miles per gallon. As for luggage, we decided just to cover what we couldn’t fit in the trunk under a blanket.

On this trip, we didn’t play any music until after lunch. We began with a brand new CD that arrived from Amazon yesterday, whose arrival I awaited with great anticipation. It has soprano Nina Stemme singing the final scenes from two of Richard Strauss’ operas, as well as his Four Last Songs. The disc begins with the final scene from Salome, Strauss’ 1905 shocker about the titular character’s insatiable desire for the prophet Jochanaan. Under Antonio Pappano, the Orchestra for the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) plays briskly, and Salome’s final paroxysm has the spine-tingling and transcendental effect one expects from the best performances. The disc follows with two excerpts from Strauss’ 1942 opera Capriccio, including the ethereal Moonlight music, as well as the final aria sung by the protagonist Madeleine, who has to decide between two suitors: a librettist and a composer, symbolizing the eternal debate about the preeminence of words or music in opera. The mood differs substantially from Salome, but the Capriccio excerpts have the vitality one expects from Strauss’ music. The disc concludes with four songs Strauss wrote in the final few years of his life. He didn’t intend them as a cycle, but they have been performed as such since their premiere in 1950. As one listens to the songs, one can’t help but muse upon the distance in years and mood between them and Salome. Nevertheless, Strauss worked his magic with orchestration a final time with those songs, and the opening notes of Im Abendrot (At Sunset) never fail to open the tear ducts. (Never good while driving, but I managed somehow.) Some critics, likely with an ax to grind and taking his disparagement of organized religion as a cue, have dismissed Strauss’ music as lacking in spirituality. However, his final songs certainly have a spiritual element that I find difficult to ignore.

The music mood differed the rest of the trip, and we played music from Diane’s iPod. We listened some excerpts from music performances on David Letterman’s show (rousing stuff with the Dave Matthews Band, Aretha Franklin, and Lenny Kravitz), and we wound up our trip with a complete run-through of U2’s The Joshua Tree. Then on to the crazy traffic loops around Meridian. For a relatively small city, it’s quite confusing to maneuver around, especially at night. Getting to Red Lobster for dinner wasn’t easy, and trying to find a Wal-Mart where Diane could get yogurt was even worse (we managed to end up in the countryside somehow afterwards). Nevertheless, we made it back to the hotel, and settled with Letterman. We couldn’t miss tonight, with Dave’s mom being on and all.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Atlanta should prove a bit more exciting, so the odds of a posting tomorrow seem quite slim. However, if excited enough, I’m sure I’ll crank out something…

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