Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Elderly Politicians

I just read this Guardian article, which talks about how there is mounting pressure for Silvio Berlusconi to step down before the next election. The main reason? He is too old, even if he did have a facelift.

The strange thing is that Berlusconi is only 69! It's interesting that here in the U.S. there is really no age limit on politicians. When Reagan ran, there was some fuss about his age, but it obviously didn't stop him from two terms in office. And people like Senator Thurmond are allowed to totter around the Senate well past the point of senility. I wonder why the difference between here and Europe. I have no problem with older politicians, per se, but it seems like in the United States some people value it as a positive quality in and of itself.

Let's Get This Party Started

Gad. Posts like this are why I can barely stand to read the liberal blogosphere. I appreciate that the Daily Kos has often been an effective progressive tool, particularly in holding Democrats accountable to their progressive constituents.

However, I can't stand this whole discourse promoted by Kos, that those pesky single-issue groups like NARAL need to be quiet for the sake of electing more Democrats. (And this isn't Kos's first posting on the subject.) The simplest criticism to make is that it is really easy for Kos and bloggers like him--a group of people composed almost entirely of white men--to call for groups to subsume their beliefs for the larger cause. If abortion is illegal, it's not going to be Kos who gets pregnant and needs one. It's really easy for somebody who lives a really privileged life to call for everyone to hold back on their own "personal" issues so that our beloved party can gain a few seats. People such as myself, who believe strongly in "single issues" don't do so just to be difficult. It's because these issues that seem so inconsequential to Kos actually affect people's real lives, and that's much more important than the Democratic Party gaining another senate seat. I don't care about politics because I want the Democrats to "win," I care because I hope there will be meaningful change someday. I'm not afraid to say that Dianne Feinstein has caused a lot of harm to a lot of people, and just because she is a Democrat doesn't make it any better.

The other problem I have, with that post and many other similar strategies, is that there is an undercurrent of anxiety beneath them which says, "the Republicans are winning, therefore we need to adopt the strategy that makes them win." I firmly believe that in politics, the message is the medium. I've always had a problem with PETA not so much because I disagree with their politics (often that too!) but because they take their tactics and iconography from the anti-abortion movement. The disgusting posters with pictures of foxes skinned alive are not at all different than disgusting posters of fetuses. Actions by PETA and the anti-abortion people never actually challenge the dominant order in a meaningful way, they just try to horrify you into blind submission.

I don't want our entire movement coalesced around media friendly leaders. I don't actually think that a disciplined party leadership is a good thing. We don't need a tight, focused message. I don't want a pseudo-fascist college organization along the lines of the College Republicans. I don't want old-boy networks of any kind, or pandering of any sort. The Democratic Party's greatest strength is its fractiousness. Where there is conflict and diversity of opinion, that means real human beings are around.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Dr. Atomic!

i am going to see Dr. Atomic at the San Francisco Opera! Wahoo!

If anybody wants to come, there seem to still be inexpensive tickets left for this performance, Oct. 22.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

America's Next Top Wesleyan Grad

I apparently went to college with this girl.

(And supposedly she is family, too!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Don't you wish that the leader of our country could carry on a long and literate conversation about the merits of different productions of Parsifal?

Speaking of Parsifal, I'd really like to go see this.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Four Saints

I'm probably the last musicologist in the world to realize this, but the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Steing opera Four Saints in Three Acts is really fun. I've been reading about it all summer, in a variety of different contexts--Nadine Hubbs does a long analysis of it in The Queer Composition of America's Sound, as does Daniel Albright in Untwisting the Serpent. So, I figured that it would probably make a good addition to my fifty item list as one of the ten musical works, and bought both a recording and the vocal score.

Finally got around to listening to it tonight (just the first act so far), and it is fabulous! Very witty and campy--my favorite is when the chorus keeps getting the word "anoint" confused with "annoy". I don't know Thomson's music well, and had been curious to see how he would set Stein's libretto. He does it very straight, in a lot of chorales and hymn-like settings that give you both a sense of dry midwestern-ness but also a touch of poignancy. Occasionally there are little hiccups that remind me of the similar hiccups in the fast sections of Glass's Mad Rush, and make me realize that additive processes owe a lot to Stein.

On to the second act!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Notable Aspects of Returning to Los Angeles After Three Months Away

1. In my absence, three new restaurants have opened up within blocks of my apartment, and one rather major building has been demolished.

2. In my immediate neighborhood, when I encounter a group of tough-looking muscle-bound drunken young men, I don't need to worry.

3. My local Subway has changed from Pepsi to Coke. Rock on!

4. My own-hipness-relative-to-surrounding-hipness ratio has gone down by about 300% in just 24 hours.

5. Three months of the Chronicle of Higher Education is about two feet worth of paper.

6. Smog! The glorious smog! I have missed you.

7. One of the aforementioned new restaurants is actually a new coffee house. Very, very, exciting.

Now, to unpack.

The Eagle Has Landed

I am safely back in Los Angeles, by way of Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Cincinnati. The last leg of the trip was spent luxuriating in first class, which was quite lovely, although it was an older plane and therefore it was not quite as fancy as it could have been. I did get to watch Herbie Fully Loaded. Hard to believe it was directed by the same woman who did D.E.B.S. Kudos to Violet Vixen for picking me up at LAX.

Now, back to the grind.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

In Transit

I write from Atlanta, where I have an unexpected five hour layover on the way back to Los Angeles--my first flight, from Philadelphia was slow in leaving, and it was enough to make me miss a tight connection. Now I get to trickle home across the country, from Atlanta, to Cincinnati, to Los Angeles. Sigh.

I had a lovely night last night in Philadelphia with my sister. She took me to see The Teachings of Chairman Rick, a short cabaret which sets speeches by Rick Santorum to music. It's a cute idea, and even if it wasn't quite as clever as it could have been, it had a nice community vibe going on--three actors and one musician playing the songs in the ballroom of the local gay and lesbian community center, with "Santorum for Dogcatcher" t-shirts for sale in the lobby. The best moment was probably the "Teri Schiavo" number, which juxtaposed Santorum's speech from the Schiavo case with an earlier speech on the Iraq war. For that number, Santorum was played by a young gay black kid who solemnly recited the increasingly paradoxical statements while the other two cast members sang a "Teri Schiavo" ostinato in tritones.

Santorum is up for reelection in 2006. To help defeat him, go to

Or, you can just buy one of those Dogcatcher t-shirts.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Being back in east coast cities like Washington D.C. and Philadelphia always makes me reevaluate how I think about race. If I have one serious complaint about Los Angeles, it is that in LA, if you are white person in comfortable circumstances such as myself, it is really easy to avoid seeing black people. To be blunt.

Los Angeles has an extraordinary amount of diversity, and I always have appreciated the way that the racial makeup of LA really problematizes simple binaries of black and white. But still, the fact of the matter is that the diversity I encounter on a daily basis, in the classroom and in my neighborhood, is not the kind of diversity that challenges me or makes me feel uncomfortable. In West Hollywood there is a sizable immigrant Russian population, and at UCLA the largest racial group is Asian American, but neither really exist outside of my own personal comfort zone.

It's partly the fact that I am at a somewhat elite university, and live in fairly wealthy and definitely white neighborhood, but it is more than that too. In Washington, I have lived for many summers in a very wealthy neighborhood, Dupont Circle, that, like West Hollywood, is home to a lot of well-to-do gay white men. And yet, in D.C., and also in Philadelphia where my sister lives, one encounters different people constantly, in every aspect of your life. In fact, you have to work really hard not to.

It's not the case that all my friends in Los Angeles are white. They aren't, and there is frankly a ton of diversity among them, especially along lines of class, geography, and sexuality. But one of the things I value most about living in a city is the random, and often forced, encounters with difference. I always find it helpful to resort to theory to think about it: Samuel Delaney makes a distinction between what he calls "networking" and "contact". Networking is simply meeting other people through your job, or your school, or through other friends--the end result being that certain people are channeled in your direction, and others are channeled away. Contact, on the other hand, is the urban phenomenon of just plain running into people that you never would have met otherwise. Delaney believes so strongly in contact as a social force that back when he lived in New York City and taught in Massachusetts, he used to commute to work on a Greyhound bus rather than drive by himself--just so he could run into more random people.

I love Los Angeles. I think the possibility exists for more contact there. And I also know that I should probably blame my own self rather than geography--I could choose to live in a different neighborhood, for instance. But even if it is selfish, I wish Los Angeles would make it harder to isolate myself.

Maybe I just need to ride the bus more.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Geek Rant Pt. 2

There seems to be some sort of robot that automatically posts a spam comment every time I do a blog post--see the comment on my previous post. And not only that, but it is in the guise of hurricane relief. The nerve! Probably the only way to stop it is to disallow anonymous comments. I'm just deleting them for now, but I leave you the previous comment for your perusal.

Geek Rant

I really, really hate tech support. Mary's mother just bought a laptop--her first home computer in a long time--and we were very excited, both because it was a shiny new 12" Powerbook, and also because she got DSL and a wireless router to go with it.

However, I have spent all week struggling to get the wireless network to work. There are two problems. The first is that although it cheerfully says that the router should work fine with Macs, there is absolutely zero instruction on how a Mac owner is supposed to set up the network. The instructions tell you to use some Windows setup assistant thing to get it going, and because it is a third-party router, not an Airport, there's nothing I could do about it.

Secondly, the tech support people have absolutely no training. It was perfectly clear that the woman on the phone was simply listening to my problems, and looking up the answers in the same manual I already had handy. And it was even worse when Mary's mother called by herself--the Verizon tech support people swore it was a problem with her computer, so she drove all the way out to an Apple Store because Verizon told her it was Apple's fault. It wasn't, of course. I eventually figured out how to manually configure the router myself, and it's all working fine now, but grr!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Hot Hot Hot

Washington, D.C. is hot. Hot hot hot. I'm not surprised, of course, but it is a rude shock to go from the 30 degree nights in the Adirondacks to the 90% humidity of our nation's capital swamp.

Today Mary, Anne and I visited the Hirshorn to see the Visual Music exhibit that I had missed when it came to MOCA in Los Angeles last year. I was a little apprehensive, having seen mixed reviews, but it turned out to be pretty darned fabulous. It was basically in three parts: early abstract art like Kandinsky that "aspired to the condition of music", mid-century experimental filmmakers like Fischinger and the Whitney brothers, and then more recent computer-based sound installations. The first part seemed a bit forced (although I do like my Richter), and the third was predictable, but it was really amazing to see all of these very rare experimental films. The Whitney brothers were particularly interesting. Like a lot of their crowd, they were inspired by Schoenberg to find, basically, visual serialism. So they decided that a point of light was more or less the equivalent of a tone, and then did a bunch of crazy abstract maneuvering of points of light, in the manner of tone rows. All of this before computers, so they built these gigantic mechanical contraptions involving pendlums, stencils, and other assorted detritus. I hope I can buy some of their films on DVD or something, it seems like not only an important modernist artificact to know about, but also a really good teaching tool for discussing, say, Milton Babbit.

Only one more week in DC, and then I am back home!