An awful lot of computer-related talk in 1995, but we managed to cover some subjects that are worth preserving.

Childhood Experiences with Audio

There are some pleasures of childhood that can never be regained. Good sound was one of those for me; when I was little we had a hi-fi player at home, but at some of the big movie houses there was fancy stereo sound. Sound like that was fun for some people, but it absolutely sent me to heaven. That state of affairs lasted for quite some time; as late as my high school days I didn't have any sound equipment at home that could match the quality of sound you got at a movie theater. But eventually I got home sound that pleased me -- and by that time the sheer erotic thrill of high-class recorded sound had diminished. The big blockbuster movies nowadays have absolutely wonderful sound, but it doesn't give me that jolt any more -- although I imagine they would have left me utterly orgasmic at the age of seven. I will never again recapture the visceral feeling that "How the West Was Won" had for me, sitting there in that big Cinerama theater in Dallas. That was probably the most sonically impressive experience of my childhood. There was a summer stock theater in Fort Worth where we lived, and we would see whatever productions they did every summer. That was about my only experience hearing a live orchestra in those days -- my parents didn't realize that I could have benefitted a great deal from going to orchestra concerts. Or they knew it, but couldn't justify making that many trips to Dallas. I have little doubt that the orchestra of that summer stock theater was second- or third-rate, but it thrilled me anyway.

Later on, when we were living in Denver, I got to hear the Denver Symphony from time to time. I can readily understand the impact of a modern composer on a young listener since I still haven't forgotten the impact of the Prokofieff Fifth Symphony the first time I heard it. It wasn't so much the piece itself as it was the sheer sound of the thing; all that percussion towards the end. I wish we had gone to the symphony more, though; there was a lot of stuff that would have sent me to Cloudcuckooland that I never got a chance to hear live when I was young enough for sonic eroticism. Daphnis and Chloe. Petroushka. Pictures at an Exhibition. Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. I was incredibly turned on to modern music, or at least what I considered modern. It was the sound itself, the modern orchestra with all its goodies. I tended to enjoy Broadway music equally primarily, I think, due to the frequently gaudy orchestrations. I loved gaudy orchestral sound the same way kids tend to go hog wild over Kool Aid or cereal which is 99% sugar.

I wonder if it is possible to rekindle some of that once one becomes an adult. I'm not sure if I would want to rekindle the part about liking Kool Aid, but regaining that really visceral thrill would be fun. I don't suppose it is really possible, though -- the search for lost childhood pleasures. I suppose that the price would be far too high to pay; those things were so thrilling primarily because I hadn't experienced them very much before. So take away the long experience and it's quite possible you'd get back the thrill -- or at least as much of it as duller senses would allow.

Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles"

I re-read Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" today; it has been a long time since I went through them. I've always liked not having to worry about them in terms of science since they weren't scientific to begin with, really. Even though we know more about Mars, he was still constructing an essentially fantasy world anyway so one doesn't have to worry about the fact that there's less oxygen, there aren't any canals, and so forth. But in terms of their actual content, they have dated dreadfully. I can't say that I think they are as good as I used to think. The concepts seem rather threadbare, the prose a bit overdone. His fantasy Mars remains every bit as compelling as ever, though; the sandships streaking across the desert, with their tall blue sails and the silver-masked Martians, the flame birds pulling the golden chariots through the skies, the chessmen-like ancient cities dreaming by the edges of the ancient canals. The Martians are seen as a symbol of perfectability, even though most of the early stories portray the Martians as virtually indistinguishable from humans in their behavior patterns. I admit it doesn't work all that well -- the Martians of the earlier stories just don't have enough grandeur to match their civilization. Later on, as only a few of them remain, they acquire that sort of stature. In that, they are exactly like the Indians, which is what they were based on. At least Bradbury doesn't subject us to a lot of puling about "the environment" since he seems to understand that the building of the canals and such can hardly be seen as the acts of a species which does not harm its environment. The Martians have definitely shaped their world. Yet the comparison between Indians and whites is still there; the Martian cities are beautiful and eternal, whereas the American-built human settlements are cheap, ugly, and decaying quickly. For a set of stories which are considered humanistic, they take an incredibly dim view of human nature throughout. I find myself a little sorry that the human race doesn't just completely die out, instead of having it start over again on Mars in the last story.


The big advantage to being a pianist is that we can usually play louder than everybody else, except for the brass players, of course. So no matter what happens, we will be noticed. Also, pianos are big instruments, taking up lots of room on the stage and in general making a major nuisance out of themselves. Thus pianists may be bad, but never ignored. It has its compensations.

Professors and Democracy

How many professors view their graduate students as handy slave labor, ready to be used at the drop of a hat? Under the guise of the student's "learning" something, the student winds up doing a lot of the professor's dirty-work research, or even winds up doing the professor's assigned contract work for him so that professor can go off and do something else.

Then there was the archetype of the ignorant, bad teacher, Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby. Teaching by example as he would say: "Winder. W-I-N-D-E-R, noun substantive, a casement." And then off the boys go to clean all the windows. Abusive as hell. Then at the end of the novel comes the moment of truth when Nicholas, Frank, and their party return to Yorkshire, to Dotheboys Hall, trash the joint and the boys all get out. But they wind up roaming the countryside, hopeless, helpless, starving and freezing, no better off than they were before, possibly worse. One particular hell replaced by another. Dickens didn't have an answer, either, so he didn't try to take the easy way out.

A static society is a dead society so reform and change must happen in order to keep it alive. Yet reform without careful thought to the consequences is not to my mind preferable to stasis. Some of my biggest personal objections to "reform" administrations is the rush in which they are trying to change things just to make it seem as they are doing something. First Clinton was making these moves, and now the newly empowered (sort of) Republicans are making the same kinds of moves, just on slightly different topics. There is quite possibly too much power in the hands of the electorate; instead of government we seem to be heading into mob rule.

That sounds odd. At least it sounds odd to me. Having been raised by teachers telling most proudly and insistently about the virtues of living in a pure democracy, I find that as an adult I am more and more uncomfortable with the idea of pure democracy. As the ability to communicate with elected representatives becomes instantaneous, less and less are elected representatives able to act from their own conscience and beliefs, and more and more do they have to show a quick response to the dictates of the electorate. An angry electorate slaps them harshly, voting them out of office and voting in term limits. But who exactly is to blame in all of this?

At this point I am beginning to wonder if I need to start reading Jefferson much more carefully. I suffer under no delusion that I really know what I'm talking about. I am not a student of political science nor of political history. Towards the end of his life he began to have fears about democracy. This isn't surprising; he wasn't at all in favor of common-man democracy in the first place, and the Jacksonian revolution must have horrified him. As a wealthy landowner he seems to have viewed a country in which only the property owners could vote, and even then primarily for elected representatives who then were pretty much free to act upon their own beliefs. So the common man was by and large cut out of the governmental process outside of some slightly better than token participatory actions.

I can't trust purely participatory democracy because of its willingness to bow to the winds of current fashion. So much of that sort of attitude seems to have governed the thoughts of lawmakers over the last twenty years, with even more such thinking lately. But what exactly do I want? Plutocracy? Senators and representatives absolutely free from any responsibility once we vote them into office? Monarchy? Isn't this trusting human nature far too much? On the other hand, isn't handing over the reins of government to the general population trusting human nature far too much? No answers, only questions. Town meetings are nice ways for people to blow off steam and let their feelings be known. But I don't think they are the proper place for the actual taxes to be set or the laws made. That big, overbearing man with the loudest voice will manage to get his way about it most of the time, by convincing those who are more passive that his ideas are the right ones--even if they don't really agree with him.

Liberals and Conservatives

Given that the label of "liberal" is frequently applied to people who are just about as cocksure, rigid, and dogmatic as any to be found on earth, it seems to me that any useful description of a liberal has to embrace such people. In other words, make the word fit the observations, and not the other way around. Using Bookshelf a bit more, I used "liberal" as the search term and came up with Lenny Bruce: "The liberals can understand everything but people who don’t understand them."

Then I tried a slightly different tack and found: "Conservative. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.", courtesy of Ambrose Bierce. That seems to fit my view much better overall. But it argues fairly strenuously with Russell since both sides are viewed as being dogmatic; the liberal is just as sure something needs replacing as the conservative is sure it doesn't.. And I suppose nobody can top this one: "We who are liberal and progressive know that the poor are our equals in every sense except that of being equal to us." Lionel Trilling, bless his cynical little heart.

The real difficulty I suppose lies in having just two words with possibly the "moderate" sitting there in the middle. There is so much either/or-ness implied in forcing analog situations into uncomfortably digital ones. Some things simply don't digitize so easily. I suppose I would be described as a conservative by many due to a number of my stances: reduction in welfare, less government regulation, less centralized government. Yet all three of those stances make it clear that I therefore think change is needed: cut this, reduce that, etc. I am certainly not enamored of the existing status quo by any means. On the other hand, I am strongly in favor a woman's right to an abortion. Definitely a liberal stance--but at the same time, it requires no change since a woman is legally entitled to have an abortion under existing law. Thus favoring abortion is favoring the status quo.

I am in favor of school prayer, just as I am in favor of no school prayer. What I am NOT is in favor of either prohibiting it altogether or requiring it. In this area, my opinion is clear: BUTT OUT. If there must be a law, then it must be a law telling all governments, all associations, all teachers, all administrators, to BUTT OUT. So that might make me a conservative (when you get right down to it I'm describing the extant situation for the most part) or a liberal (on the other hand, most schools practically prohibit prayer, so change would be needed.)

Mormon Heaven

The only part of my family line that I have strongly traced is my father's mother's side, the Higdons. That part was done up exhaustively by my aunt Opal, as part of her Mormon genealogy stuff. Apparently I have a lot of ancestors on the Higdon side who have been converted to Mormons posthumously, in absentia. I think I mentioned one of my oldest ancestors in America, George Higdon, who died of exposure sleeping off a drunk in a ditch by the side of a road, in the 18th century. I can still imagine how angry George was the day Opal's genealogy was printed, and he went up into Mormon heaven, where he can't get a drink. I wonder just what will happen when Opal goes up to Mormon heaven, and meets up with George. Something tells me he'll have some rather firm words on the subject.


We are living in a somewhat ascetic age which is paradoxically the result of overabundance. No society gets all concerned about cholesterol levels as ours does unless the luxury is there to do it. Otherwise, you just eat whatever is available and you don't worry about fat and cholesterol. Of course it isn't a big problem in such societies since nobody is eating much anyway. But the more abundance we have, the more the naysayers keep saying to be careful. OK, so we get fat and get heart disease and all such things. But in a society with food being as almost overwhelmingly abundant as in ours, we prize the skinniest-looking people, the ones who look downright underfed or malnourished. I look at some of the young girls in my class and I wonder what is keeping them alive, there's so little to any of them. Teeny little everything and they don't eat enough to keep a caterpillar alive.

Is it a kind of mutual societal flagellation or is it just being sensible? Faced with an overwhelming amount of food available the obvious temptation is for everybody to start pigging out right and left. In some ways that's exactly what we're doing since apparently almost 3/4 of American adults are overweight. However, I wonder a bit about that since "overweight" over some poundage or other that somebody has declared as "normal". If 185 pounds is considered the normal, ideal weight for a man of 5 feet, almost 11 inches tall, then I am absolutely the normal ideal weight for my height. If they say 160 pounds, then I'm overweight. It seems clear enough to me that adjusting the "normal" figure by a few pounds could have dramatic effect on those oh-so-startling figures being discussed right now. But we definitely live in an affluent nation, so we can afford to carry extra poundage around. The experts can hum, hem, and haw about it. However, they've been humming, hemming, and hawing about it for 20 years, and during the last 20 years, apparently Americans have gotten overall fatter, not leaner. Sounds to me as though the "experts" need to change their tune.

It is an interesting state of affairs: on the one hand we're being told that Americans are more "fitness" conscious than ever. On the other hand, apparently more Americans are overweight than ever. The two don't jibe together. If 75% of American men are overweight, then it stands to reason that 75% of American men are not knocking themselves out to lose weight. Therefore the "fitness" movement is very, very small, or very, very unsuccessful.

Apparently we are drinking less as a society than we used to, but alcoholism rates remain as high as ever, if not higher. Thus I wonder about those "drinking less" figures. I can tell that fewer people are smoking since you don't see much of that happening these days. But the American Cancer Society is bitching and moaning that hardly anybody is quitting smoking--despite the obvious evidence around you everywhere you go. Out of a community of some 350 people at the Conservatory who are there every day, there are maybe a half-dozen smokers. I compare that to the situation of 20 years ago and see that the change has been dramatic.

Liz Taylor and Fame

This evening I sat through a documentary on the life of Elizabeth Taylor. Well, not really her life, but a chronicle of her marriages more than anything else. The movies were brought in, but none of them were really given much attention. I suppose in a way that is the right thing to do; it isn't Liz the actress who is of such interest. As an actress she has had some good moments but is hardly worth all the fuss made over her. Liz the embodiment of Hollywood is another matter. Watching her in short form like this, with everything squeezed in between the commercials, makes it look as though the only thing she really knew how to do was to follow the prevailing styles. When it was fashionable to be the virtuous, virginal movie teenager, she was virtuous and virginal. When it was fashionable to have extramarital romances, she had them. When it was fashionable to act like a slut, she acted like a slut. When it was fashionable to drink too much, she drank too much. When it was fashionable to check into the Betty Ford Clinic, she checked in to the Betty Ford Clinic. When it was fashionable to get fat and then reduce, she got fat and then reduced. When it was fashionable for movie stars to marry politicians, she married a politician. When it was fashionable for stars to become secretive, she became secretive. When it was fashionable for stars to take on political issues, she took on political issues. When it became fashionable to start publicly worrying about AIDS, she started worrying about AIDS. In trying to think through events of the last forty years or so I can't say that she impressed me as being an originator or mover in any of those ideas--she just went with it at the time. She was probably more sincere about her AIDS foundation than any other project, but still it was terrific press coverage for her.

Unfortunately the TV documentary played right into the unspoken point; it was as banal and predictable as she herself has been for most of her career. At the end the authors even descended to the level of the "we'll never see her kind again" sorts of cliches. Three flavors of talking heads: gossip columnist (Liz Smith), friend in the industry (Roddy MacDowell), and a biographer (some screaming queen trying desperately to pass as Serious Heterosexual Scholar and failing utterly.) But there I was, watching it, even though I knew what I was doing was a real waste of time and energy. I decided to see it through to the end, no matter what.

The price of fame, I just can't see why anyone would want it. There are gigantic wads of money to be had, I suppose, but people get those gigantic wads of money without the parapazzi everywhere. Living in the kind of fishbowl of a Liz, Jackie, or Di would be my idea of pure hell. Money, sure--why not--but the rest of it, no. Yet no matter what they might seem to say about it, you could tell that all three of them sopped it up, each in their own way. Jackie might have seemed to be camera-shy, but she was as publicity savvy as is Michael Jackson. Make it more valuable and they'll want it more. But you don't make it more or less free (Liz and Di) and they'll still want it. Others try to achieve that level of tabloid fame but never quite make it. At least not to that incredible level.

Angels in America

It would appear that Angels in America is the sort of play that every yuppie in Walnut Creek has heard about so they all think it is going to be something special. Of course it isn't going to be but they don't know that. Here I am, Mom: I'm in a theater in San Francisco watching a production of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about AIDS. Wow, how cool I am. What passion might have remained in the thing drained out once it had been embraced by the pinstripe brigade. At that point the production quality needn't be very high since the pinstripe brigade doesn't see much live theater and has very little notion of quality. Well, Sturgeon's Principle (95% of everything is crap) holds true for theater as much as any other medium.

Yet I'm not sure what "good" means to me any more in any area except music. My tastes in movies are fairly low. I prefer novels for entertainment value rather than novels which contain great truths or messages. The problem with such novels is that their authors never can seem to write a simple declarative sentence. My theatrical tastes aren't really all that much higher, even though at least I don't sit there at a production of King Lear thinking: "golly gee whillickers, they shoor do talk funny." I am at least a well-educated boob. Yet I wonder just how much of my tastes are necessarily low or just because some dweeb with a doctorate has made a solemn pronouncement that some such author or filmmaker is supposed to be good. I've attempted Henry James on a number of occasions and given up in disgust. I liked "Buddenbrooks" but hated everything from then on--and it wasn't as though I was absolutely drooling over Buddenbrooks. I don't like Fellini or Antonioni or Truffaut or Renoir or any other of the self-satisfied and smug cinema artistes. In short, the literati and cinema buffs have their heroes but I find them dull. As a rule I take this to mean that I am not sufficiently highbrow but a lot of the time I figure that they are simply full of shit.

I suppose there really isn't anything new under the sun. There are only so many plots, only so many situations. There are new things to be found within those situations I suppose, but only new a little bit here and there. When you get right down to it, the newness is more with the observer than with the writer--it doesn't matter if it's plot X198B as long as the viewer isn't aware that it is a rehashed old plot. I've noticed that some of the critics miss this particular point when it comes to Disney movies. They point out that "The Lion King" is a fairly old story, and Disney already did it once with Bambi, anyway. But the coming-of-age story isn't old hat to a kid, and a kid doesn't really know or care if Disney already told the same story in Bambi. Everything old is new again for each new generation. So tell me, class, why does the little boy in "The Red Pony" dream about wild ponies galloping across the prairie?

Adopting April

I'm not absolutely sure if I intended to adopt a new kitty today or not; I think I was willing to look at a few and see where the spirit moved me. I did know that I've been thinking about the thought of getting a new cat for some time, though--carpet be damned. I've really, really missed not having one around. So I talked to Sean today and we decided to make a trip over to the SPCA; although I was toying with the idea of adopting a thoroughbred it seemed that it would be a better thing overall to adopt a grown cat who needed a good home. After all, I'm offering what can best be described as utter heaven for a cat.

So down we went to the SPCA. I was surprised by the quality of the place; I was expecting something dirty, small cages, a lot of essentially miserable animals. What I found was a clean, well-lit place, with lots of cheerful volunteer helpers, professional vets. Big cages--enough room for a person to be inside with the cat. Each cage has a big climbing exercise structure. The entire place was free of odors, the cats were clean and healthy. Where they needed medical treatment this was very clearly marked, together with as much case history as possible. Well-fed, well-cared for cats. In short, definitely not my picture of an SPCA.

Lots of cats--big cats, little cats. No kittens since it isn't really kitten "season" right now, but lots of cats. We kept going from room to room and cage to cage--the setup is very clever in that each individual room has about six large cages in it, so there is enough isolation to give the animals a good feeling of security. There was one in particular who caught my eye--a little gray cat with medium long hair, a smallish head with pretty emerald-green eyes. She had a quiet but very charming personality. So we kept looking but eventually I asked one of the helpers if I could see the cat--her name is Madame Bovary. Lousy name. Anyway, I got into the cage with her and we sat for a bit, then she decided to make friends. And make friends she did; she decided I was OK by her and let me pet her, cuddle her, and so forth. We were friends in short order.

I really wasn't planning on adopting a kitty TODAY but there she was and there was no question but that this was the right kitty for me. So she got herself adopted. The name has got to go, though. Madame Bovary ain't no good at all. I haven't thought of anything new yet; give it time.

I can only imagine what a frightening experience this must be for a kitty. She hasn't been emotionally hurt by her experiences as far as I can tell but at the same time she's been at two shelters--Pleasant Hill and now San Francisco. The San Francisco SPCA is a really terrific shelter but still this means she has been yanked around quite a bit. Then these people come along and put her in a box and take her and put her in this strange place. She must be terrified. I put her in the back bedroom when I got her home, which I figured would be a good place since it is quiet and cool. Furthermore, it has some good hiding places; in particular there is an enclosed space formed by the back of my bed and the wall, about five feet long and 1 1/2 feet wide. It is completely enclosed with only one entrance between the platform part of the bed and the nightstand, so it is a very secure place. She found it immediately as I figured she would--a properly quiet and hidden place where she can cope with the stress and fear she must be feeling. I've put food, water, and a litter box in the room so she'll be able to use my bedroom as a kind of safety place until she has a chance to become acclimatized to the entire house, and accustomed to me for that matter. It may take her a while since she is an adult cat. Still, she is very affectionate and trusting, so I think she'll be able to cope without too much difficulty.

The SPCA has a rating system for cat temperaments--with a 3 being your standard cat kind of temperament: petting OK and all that, but don't go overboard. A "4" means that the cat is considerably more touchy about being handled. (Necho would have rated a 4, I think.) This kitty has been given a rating of "2". Thus she is considerably more gentle and more amenable to being handled--to which I can attest. She is healthy--she had a full medical checkup a week ago and is OK. Slightly over eight pounds weight, had all her shots and all that a week ago as well. There are earmites and I have medicene for those; she continues receiving treatment for four more days. I'll be taking her to my vet right away, of course, to make sure that there isn't anything else to worry about. She is fresh from a flea treatment so no worry there, either--but of course that is always a concern here in the Bay Area, this being flea heaven.

Sean just called; Tom had a suggestion that we name her April. I have to admit that is a superb idea. Here it is April 1, after all. I'm quite drawn to it--it fits her, since she is a gentle, sweet kind of kitty. So unless something strikes me as even more interesting, I think April it will be. Boy, it's a good name.

And I'm feeling rather drained overall--she got under my skin very quickly. I suppose I am easily bonded to by a kitty but the bonding was really quite effortless in this case. Now having already dropped some emotional baggage into this kitty I am already experiencing some identification with her--concerned for her fears and wanting to help her out of them. But it is definitely a draining experience.

Score Reading

It is one of the real oddities of the modern musical profession that any number of musicians are actually only partially literate in musical notation. This is of course the direct result of the proliferation of recordings. Records have been a boon for the most part but they have had some unfortunate side-effects. One of these has been the near-extinction of the high-quality amateur musician, who has now become a passionate record collector. The other has been the general lowering of basic musical literacy among professional musicians. When the only way to become familiar with the latest Schumann symphony was to sit at the piano and play it from the published score, then musicians in general were all pretty good at score-reading--which means that they were clef-fluent, could do multiple transpositions, and so forth. The 19th-century music critics were to a man adept and fluent score readers. That includes George Bernard Shaw, by the way. Most ordinary, everyday musicians could sight-read at a level that many musicians would be flabbergasted by nowadays. So we have definitely lost some skill along the way.

And there is some resistance on the part of music students to acquire the skill. I can understand it in some ways: after all, the odds of our returning to a pre-recording kind of musical culture are more or less nil. So there is far less need for really fluent score reading on the part of the everyday musician nowadays. The conductors and composers continue to need it desperately, of course. So the rank and file musicians are exposed to it, but not deeply. We don't require honed score-reading skills for any student save conductors and composers, but the everyday instrumentalist students do need to at least have a very minimal competency. There will always be those who want to acquire full ability, no matter what the competency requirement. I was definitely one of those--I still remember being sat down at the piano and given the Schubert Ninth Symphony to play for an examination. Go to it, they said. So I went to it.