October 31, 2003

Iconic leaders   {Comments: 2}

Mahathir Mohammed has finally stepped down (also here) as prime minister of Malaysia after 22 years that combined strong economic growth with nagging political repression. Bizarre as some of his comments have been, he was a masterful politician who managed to build coalitions with the least likely groups to stay in power.

The articles don't say much about his successor; it'll certainly be interesting to see if Badawi, who's generally known as a technocrat, can display the same political savvy in a country with massive racial, class, and a religious rifts.

And other stories   {Comments: 5}

Language Hat links to a page with some stats on blogs, including their language. Apparently though the language-determining algorithm is slightly flawed; one of Language Hat's commenters explains that there at least 25k blogs in Russian on LiveJournal, but Blog Census only counts about 1k.

Cheesebikini thinks this important story is getting swept under the rug.

Ricegrad points out this authoritative-looking wine bibliography from ProfessorBainbridge... I wonder if the professor could recommend something good on Spanish wine.

And re a conversation I was having last night about the impenetrability of academic writing, here's an article from the Chronicle about what makes academic writing bad.

October 30, 2003

An actionable tort   {Comments: 0}

Atrios has been threatened with a libel suit over statements made about Don Luskin in Atrios's comments section. The story's getting a lot of attention from bloggers on both the right and the left, and it's just now starting to creep into the mainstream press.

Jack Balkin explains the legal issues here; essentially he considers it a nuisance suit, but interestingly enough it may require Atrios to make his identity public. It'll probably also mean retaining a lawyer - so if you use or appreciate the comments at Eschaton, locussolus, or any other blog, be sure to make a contribution to Atrios's legal defense fund!

Indigenous uprising   {Comments: 1478}

Daniel Drezner traces the causes (more here, with links) of the recent Bolivian tumult to fears about globalization and mistrust of the US - especially as regards the war on drugs. He sees the latter as the tragic result of flawed American policy and dismisses the former as simply irrational.

He's right on the first count - the war on drugs has been a disaster for Latin American perceptions of the US. But there's no reason to be mystified by the indigenous anti-globalization movement. These are people who have been exploited by the West for 500 years, primarily in the name of trade. Given that history, why would they want to participate in a global world? Where does the trust come from?

I'm completely in favor of liberalized trade, but in order to get there, the US and other developed countries have to make real sacrifices, and the prospects for that are dim. On the one hand there's protectionist hypocrisy - subsidies for agriculture and textiles - and on the other a complete failure to frame issues with the proper historical and cultural context. For instance, take this statement from Dan's article:

Beyond the energy issue, most analysts agree that the far larger source of tension among the Bolivian population was the U.S.-led war on drugs. As the Bush administration has scored successes in fighting Colombia's troubling mix of anti-government rebels and drug traffickers, coca cultivation spread southward into Bolivia and Peru.
Coca cultivation in what's now Bolivia actually goes back to before the Spanish arrived, and certainly isn't the result of any American policy. The volume may have incresed in response to economic pressures, but there are plenty of Bolivians who (legally) chew coca leaves or drink coca tea, and have for centuries. If you don't know that, how can you possibly understand Evo Morales's politics?

The developed world's hard line on trade isn't working, despite the steel trap arguments of our best economists. Maybe there are other issues we need to address, issues seemingly irrelevant to us but very dear to others.

Thanks to Randy Paul for the links.

MORE: Here's an illuminating article on the indigenous political movement in Ecuador.

October 29, 2003

Unregulated moods   {Comments: 1}

One of the worst things about moving to Chicago after 25 years in Indiana is that now I have a time change to deal with. I know people think hoosiers are kooks for not switching times twice a year, but it sure is easier! More importantly, now that it's been getting dark at 5pm, I've been getting depressed at 5pm. Coincidence, or serious public health problem?

By the way, does anybody have a good idea for a Halloween costume? Maybe I'll just be the solar wind...

October 28, 2003

Prescription drugs for Canadians   {Comments: 0}

Eight Forty-Eight had another story this morning on the Blagojevich plan to reimport prescription medications from Canada, and I have to respond. While I sympathize completely with the desire to drive down prices so medications can be available to all Americans, I just can't get over the gross dishonesty of this plan.

The whole thing is predicated on a flawed understanding of how prices work. There's a reason drug companies sell drugs for one price in Canada and another in the United States, and it doesn't have anything to do with the drugs themselves. For better or for worse, prices are in equilibrium - which means that you can't just start buying your drugs elsewhere without affecting the prices. If a block of customers the size of, say, the Illinois payroll starts buying drugs in Canada, drug companies will simply increase the prices there.

What does this mean? For one thing, estimates of the potential savings to the state are grossly exaggerated because they don't take into account the drug companies' inevitable reaction. Also, the plan will push prices up for Canadians, which seems downright diabolical.

But what's most disturbing about the plan is the fact that it completely fails to address structural problems in both our healthcare system and the pharmaceutical industry. Instead it opts for a quick fix that won't even fix anything, at the expense of our neighbors - who, by the way, have their house in order. When are we going to see someone step forward and show some real political backbone on this issue?

Snake oil   {Comments: 0}

Fistful of Euros has an interesting discussion going about why the French and Germans haven't contributed to the reconstruction in Iraq - the idea is that surely it's in their interest to contribute, because of the influence they'd get in return.

Problem is, it's not clear that France and Germany could ever get any influence on postward Iraq given the present political climate. Bush has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to act on his own. When he has gone shopping for other nations' support, he hasn't been ready to make compromises or concessions; on the contrary, his primary bargaining tactic has been to speak openly of American power and suggest that he's doing other nations a favor by allowing them to participate. Under these circumstances, other nations would be foolish to get involved... unless their interest is to further American hegemony.

October 27, 2003

The music that we once knew   {Comments: 2}

A couple tidbits about The Trio of Minuet: As I promised long ago when this was another blog, the opera was recorded and should be available before too long. In the meantime, it'll be aired twice next month on public television (WFYI) in Indianapolis - first on November 19th at 8pm, then on November 27th (Thanksgiving Day) at noon.

Also, I've just put up a link on the sidebar to the composer's notes and synopsis from the program. I'm hoping to add some pictures too, although I'm having trouble resizing the photos so they're presentable. Maybe this is an unavoidable problem with Microsoft Photo Editor? If anyone has a suggestion about how best to do this, I'd be grateful for a note...

UPDATE: So I went ahead and added the resized pictures, but I still think they look awfully jagged and unnatural.

Neither peace nor a future   {Comments: 1}

I'm glad some people (outside Bolivia) are reading the ouster of Sanchez de Lozada as the function of a hopelessly flawed American drug policy there. On the one hand there's the gross cultural insensitivity of trying to totally annihilate the coca plant, which has tremendous significance for indigenous peoples. On the other hand there's the complete failure on the part of the US to provide any alternative engine for growth - programs to create pineapple and coffee crops have just led to massive oversupply fiascos... and then there are those vicious American agricultural subsidies. All this in the poorest country in South America, the one with the largest obstacles (climate and geography, massive indigenous population, etc) to economic development. It's a wonder Americans aren't reviled the world over...

Thanks to Gary Farber for the links.

Just another myth or story   {Comments: 0}

Here's an interesting article on critical realism, the current philosophical reaction to postmodernism:

We cannot manage without a concept of truth. There is (as most of us thought all along) a pre-existing external reality about which it is the job of science to tell us. True, we must be cautious about claims to objective reality, alert to ideological distortions, and aware that the world is a messier, more complicated place than the accounts of physicists would suggest. This does not mean that such claims cannot plausibly be made. A central plank of critical realism is that science can no longer be considered as just another myth or story.
What's interesting to me about this is it doesn't deal at all with the question of causality, something our present scientific methodologies don't really treat. The critical realist seems basically to have conceded that causality can't be shown and sensibly chosen to continue anyway - something akin to faith, perhaps? As you can see, I'm not too excited about the movement; I see it as a kind of cult of science, one which will completely co-opt some fields of human endeavor and completely discredit others.

By the way: apropos of this post, should it be science or Science?

October 24, 2003

Lost in the stacks   {Comments: 0}

I love Amazon's new search capabilities... having the entire text available for search will certainly be a boon to researchers and educators. Somebody needs to help them get their search interface under control though: if you can't refine a search to exclude all that text, it's going to make simple searches a real pain in the ass.

October 23, 2003

God and country   {Comments: 9}

PG (who's also posting at En Banc now) wonders who in their right mind would move into one of Israel's West Bank settlements. What she's missing is the peculiar combination of religion and politics that has zionists believing it's their duty to settle that territory. It's interesting that the religious elements of the whole conflict are played down in the press, for both sides actually. We don't often hear about suicide bombers in the context of Islamic fundamentalism anymore (in contrast to al Qaeda terrorists, for instance), and we certainly never hear about the fanaticism of Israeli zionists. I wonder why.

City on a hill   {Comments: 0}

The architects for what you might call the centerpiece of the WTC memorial - the 1776 foot tower - can't agree on a design. It's hard to get any insight into the disagreement from the Times article, since there's no picture of David Childs's design, but one thing about the tower really strikes me as ugly: the name. They're actually calling it Freedom Tower, even after the country's hateful obsession with all things freedom (freedom fries, freedom toast, freedom ticklers...). I liked the name World Trade Center better; certainly it was more forward looking, and less insular.

October 22, 2003

Farms of the future   {Comments: 424}

Howard Dean is calling for wind farms and ethanol plants in Iowa (found the link at Apostropher). Wind farms seem like a good enough idea, although it's hard to find anything solid on their profitability. But these ethanol promises come around every election cycle, and the technology just hasn't been there - gasoline is just too cheap for ethanol to be a practical alternative. If Dean really wants to promote a biofuel industry a la Brazil, he'll have to allocate some serious funds for research and put a heavy tax on gasoline.

While I'm not opposed to biofuels per se, I'm not sure how necessary they are given the way the hybrid market is developing. My main interest though is in whether this could lead to the elimination of farm subsidies in the United States. If ethanol or windfarms could create a viable alternative income for American farmers, the benefits to the third world would be incalculable. But unfortunately, Dean's position on these subsidies is already clear.

But a dog's got personality   {Comments: 0}

The latest from my home town of Indianapolis:

Twenty pit bulls were removed from a feces-covered Westside rental home they shared with two families and three children, including a 2-week-old girl.
Please note that I grew up on the east side.
October 21, 2003

Pain, pills, and profit   {Comments: 1187}

I had a conv with a good friend of mine recently about his health insurance, and came away extremely frustrated and discouraged about the country we live in. My friend is bright, talented guy who happens to be bipolar, and at the moment he's unemployed and therefore uninsured. Since he's uninsured, he can't afford the therapy and more especially the medication that mitigate his condition. And like anyone who's bipolar and unmedicated, he has difficulty mustering the togetherness and consistency he needs to find a job...

I personally think some level of healthcare ought to be an accepted human right. But even if you don't agree, it should be obvious that a vital interest of society would be served by getting my friend his medication. This is a person who could be contributing something - say, economic production, if that's your thing - and yet somehow society has decided not to help him out. It's kind of fucked up...

Meanwhile, Gov Blagojevich here in Illinois has the big idea to buy drugs from Canada because they're cheaper there. The problem with this is it's a purely cosmetic measure - it serves the interests of Illinois residents at the expense of folks elswewhere. Importing medications from Canada will just raise the price for everyone - and probably bring down the Canadian healthcare system in the process.

Prices are different in Canada for a reason, and it's not the reason you keep reading about in the press. A Google News search today on "Canada drugs price controls" comes up with countless articles claiming drugs cost up to 50% less in Canada because of price controls. But the fact is, there are no Canadian price controls. Canada, thanks to its national healthcare system, is able to get better prices because 1) it buys in bulk, 2) there are fewer marketing costs, since advertising for drugs is illegal in Canada, and 3) the drug companies are engaging in perfectly rational price discrimination. This last point means Canadians are less willing/able to pay for drugs (probably because they have less income) so the drug companies price them differently to make the maximum profit.

There's no specific point here, except I suppose that these problems are responsive to government intervention... and more specifically, that the lack of government intervention has created skewed and therefore ethically and economically inefficient markets.

Type facilitation   {Comments: 0}

This site has some great info on dyslexia, in the context of a series of fonts that've been developed specifically to increase readability for dyslexic individuals. What might be obvious is that the fonts might also be more readable for people who aren't dyslexic. Less expected might be how beautiful these fonts are, given the introduction of elements specifically designed to interrupt symmetry. Props to Gapers Block for the link.

Verisimilitude   {Comments: 0}

The Onion has taken things to the next level with a couple of leads in this week's issue:

SACRAMENTO, CA—Political observers are struggling to understand exactly how, on Oct. 7, Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born, movie-star muscleman with no political experience, was elected to govern the state of California, the world's fifth-largest economic region.

WASHINGTON, DC—A White House administration official who can be blamed for leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to the press remains at large, White House officials announced Monday.

Unfortunately they develop the stories in the typical Onion fashion instead of going straight news, but I still love the way they're playing with your conflicting expectations as an an Onion reader and an incredulous American.
For a new novel?   {Comments: 0}

Next month is National Novel Writing Month, and PG is thinking about writing one on her blog. I may just do the same - I've been wanting to write some fiction, and a blog is the perfect medium for a time-constrained effort like this. I've been tossing around the idea of a weekend fiction feature ever since I put this new site up, but a novel would make it more of a blitz approach...

I've actually tried something like this before: I had a bet with a friend a few years back that I could write a novel in a week, and the prize would've been a dozen caramel apples if I hadn't gone down in flames. Maybe that doesn't bode well for another effort!

October 20, 2003

Quickly   {Comments: 0}

Sorry I've been MIA for a while - I was in Indianapolis for a couple days and then Louisville for the wedding (a spectacular and sentimental affair) of some good friends. A couple quick items:

Glenn Reynolds looks at the recent increase in gun crime in England and somehow comes to the conclusion that it's caused by gun control. Apparently he hasn't been watching this phenomenon. To me it looks more like the increased availability of guns (in spite of gun control laws) correlates with the increase in gun crime.

Nathan Newman says we can fix Social Security by removing the cap on Social Security (payroll) taxes. Currently once you've earned around $80000 in a given year, you don't have to pay any more, which is why many view it a regressive tax. That said, I'm not sure extending the tax is the best solution. For one thing, it creates a huge incentive (to the tune of $100B, according to Nathan's calculations) to adjust payrolls by going with alternative forms of compensation. It might make more sense to do away with payroll taxes altogether by folding them into income taxes, which are broader in reach. You can make an argument that the current setup, which puts half the taxes hidden on the employer side and gives you the impression you're paying into some kind of account, is simply deceptive.

And re this post, here's a feel good article about myoelectric limbs, a technology of which I was completely ignorant. It's not quite the same as putting electrodes into your brain, but it seems to achieve basically the same effect.

October 15, 2003

Manifold and various   {Comments: 4}

I've posted here about the latest development in the race for the Indiana governorship. Kernan has been totally mum on whether he'll run, but support seems to be coalescing around him anyway (although it doesn't look like Joe Andrew had much choice in the matter). His selection of Kathy Davis for his old job may have been a masterful political move, even though she was hailed as a non-political choice.

Here's a transcript of a CNN interview with Michael Newdow, the lawyer who's brought the suit over the pledge of allegiance. I got the link from Howard Bashman, who breaks out the most interesting part, explaining that Justice Scalia has recused himself and speculating on his reasons. On the face of it, this seems like a good development, but Scalia isn't exactly known for setting aside his political agenda when it's inconvenient. Is it possible he already knows how the court will rule?

Haggai has a couple of good posts on Kill Bill and the hysterical reviews it's received. I saw the movie the other night and thought it was spectacular... it's definitely his most playful film yet, but at the same time there are scenes more gorgeous than anything I ever expected from somebody like him. I will say though that I was truly shocked by the violence - it really was more than I was prepared for, and I can't remember ever saying that about a movie before. I guess it doesn't help that I'm squeamish about amputations.

And BigOldGeek bemoans the Sun-Times's decision to publsh the name of the poor fool who spoiled game six for the Cubs - along with details about his life and clues as to where he lives. He's right, this man is going to be in mortal danger in just a couple hours... as I write the Cubs are down 9-6 in the eighth.

October 14, 2003

God willing   {Comments: 2}

Turns out the Supreme Court will rule on whether the pledge of allegiance is an unconsitutional imposition on public school students because of the phrase "under god". It'll be interesting to see how the court rules - when the 9th Circuit decision came out, politicians and media alike were quick to distance themselves, which suggests the American people might not be ready to excise god from the pledge. But to me it seems very natural, and my own casual observations are that folks my age tend to agree, even if they're religious.

By the way, can anybody explain to me whether god should or should not be capitalized? If it's capitalized, it seems to me a particular kind of god is indicated, namely from one of the monothestic religions. But not to capitalize it where I didn't above seems wrong too, because - let's not kid ourselves - we're really talking Somebody in particular, right?

I wouldn't have any appointments   {Comments: 2}

The Cubs just lost game 6 after imploding in the eighth inning. I'm not what you'd call a loyal fan, but I defintely don't share this sentiment. I actually think things look pretty good for tomorrow night - Kerry Wood iced the last series, and I trust him to do it again...

October 13, 2003

How to read a monkey's mind   {Comments: 0}

The Washington Post has a fascinating article about new brain implants that allow the monkeys to control robotic arms with their thoughts. Implants that interface with the brain directly are not new - one of my professors at IU was at the forefront of cochlear implant development. But those devices are generally geared toward converting artificial sensory input, and are limited in that they must be introduced during the critical period when neuronal organization related is taking place. This is because the electronic signals produced by the implants are unrelated to those a human ear would produce, so the brain must learn how to interpret them.

With the monkeys, the interface actually reads electrical activity in the brain, and a computer learns to interpret the signals in terms of the relevant motor functions, so the critical period doesn't matter. Combine the two approaches, and you can create an incredibly lifelike prosthesis, be it an arm, a leg, an eye, or whatever bionic device your imagination can dream up.

Curious   {Comments: 1}

I wonder if these doctored/ghost-written letters from US soldiers are part of Bush's latest public relations jihad. Are there elements within the military that would launch such a campaign on their own?

Parlour games   {Comments: 5}

The Guardian/Observer has a list of the 100 greatest novels of all time. There's a lot that I agree with, including the one at the top, but as you might expect the list is weighed down with English lit. It's also light on the Russians... where are Eugene Onegin, A Hero of our Time, Dead Souls, War and Peace, and The Master and Margarita?

October 10, 2003

Peace   {Comments: 2}

Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi has won the Nobel Peace Prize. It's a very hopeful award - Ebadi is known for her human rights work, especially with women and children, and the committee wasn't shy about pointing out its hope that the award would inspire humans rights workers in the Muslim world. Provocatively (and correctly, I think) Ebadi doesn't feel there's a conflict between Islam and funadmental human rights.

I know I've been joking all week about all the Nobels here in Illinois, but there were plenty of rumors about a local contender for the Peace Prize, former Illinois Governor George Ryan. Ryan was nominated for pardoning or commuting the sentences of everyone on death row here in Illinois after several were found to be innocent. Of course, it's probably best that they didn't give it to him, since he was almost certainly involved in the contemptible licenses for bribes scandal here in Illinois, and there have been other allegations of corruption. On the other hand, the award has gone to some pretty engimatic characters in the past.

MORE: Ogged (of Unfogged) takes issue with the idea that folks should be awarded the prize for essentially political reasons - ie trying to inspire folks around the world with a choice rather than perhaps selecting the most obvious candidate. I don't have a problem with this myself - but it doesn't seem to be part of the committee's mandate. Hard to argue, really, when the process is so opaque.

Al Gore as the media   {Comments: 1}

I've never been a huge fan of Al Gore, but this new initiative to create a liberal media network to counteract the effects of Fox News gets him high marks. But now it's been a week since the first reports of the imminent deal, so things may have stalled. And in the meantime, there's this poll showing the American people still think the media is more liberal than conservative. Does this mean Americans actually believe Fox is "fair and balanced"? Or maybe they think the media is liberal because that's what Fox told them?

October 8, 2003

Creative constraints   {Comments: 0}

Via Metafilter here's a site admonishing all you creative writers to use certain predetermined fragments in your writing. It's supposed to help you get a creative start. Reminds me of OuLiPo constraints, except that they're usually a little more constraining - and also of a little conspiracy a few months ago to get folks to use the word "oulipo" in their blogs, to cause an artificial (?) wordburst.

The real mystery is what Lawrence Ferlinghetti has to do with the site - there's his picture at the top, and it's not clear who else the page's narrator could be. But it seems, well, improbable that a guy like him and a two-bit web writing contest could have anything to do with one another...

Out of towners   {Comments: 0}

BigOldGeek informs me (in comments to this post) that two non-Chicagoans have eked out a Nobel in economics, and neither one is Paul Krugman! So much for Brad DeLong's rumor mill - but a Krugman prize would have been sweet, even if he isn't from Chicago. I know I've criticized him off and on for his columns, but his trade work is the shit.

By the way, if like me you're wondering what all these winners are doing with their cash prizes, there's a great story here.

A large administration?   {Comments: 0}

The president's latest comments on the Plame investigation, courtesy of Dan Drezner:

I mean this town is a - is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators - full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is - partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. But we'll find out.
Our president is willing to throw $600 million at the search for WMD in Iraq, but he can't assure us he'll find the source of a leak in his own administration? At least we know the leak is actually there!
October 7, 2003

Philosophical differences   {Comments: 0}

Wesley Clark's campaign manager just quit:

Donnie Fowler, 35, told associates he was leaving over widespread concerns that supporters who used the Internet to draft Clark into the race are not being taken seriously by top campaign officials. Fowler also complained that the campaign's message and methods are focused too much on Washington, not key states, said two associates who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A lot of folks have criticized the Clark campaign for being too much informed by Washington insiders, with particular attention to the Clintons. The idea is that grassroots support and networking should be the motivators behind a successful campaign. In principle, it's pretty hard to argue with this. Since we (apparently) live in a democratic society where citizens can influence their government and its policies, we have to get involved in the political process, and campaigns that facilitate our involvement are better than those that don't.

What's less clear is whether a grassroots campiagn can win a presidential elections. The approach has worked for the Dean campaign because they've managed to tap into Democratic outrage. But a campiagn built on outrage is unlikely to win the general elelction, since it doesn't court the all-important independent voter. It's true that a Dean candidacy would electrify the Democratic base, but Bush would clean up in the middle. If a grassroots campaign somehow targeted independent voters, that might change the picture somewhat. The problem is that grassroots campaigns are usually built from the undiluted political ideologies on the wings, not the wavering ambivalence of the independent voter.

Anyway, I'm not arguing that Clark should spurn his grassroots supporters, and I don't necessarily think seasoned political operatives are better equipped to handle strategy than grassroots political operatives (although the Clintons do have a hell of a track record). I just think it's a little naive to assume that grassroots organization is necessarily better than a command and control structure, in terms of winning the election.

Hypertension?   {Comments: 4}

Yasir Arafat apparently suffered a mild heart attack over the weekend, which raises obvious questions about who will replace him - questions which had already been raised by Israel's expulsion and/or assassination plans. Might be a dream come true for Israel, which could see the end of Arafat without the political consequences and Palestinian outrage. But depending on how much control Arafat currently has over the terrorist apparatus, it might also lead to more violence, with less opportunity for negotiation.

Space is the place   {Comments: 0}

Scientists think there may be an ocean of liquid methane (or other hydrocarbons) on Titan. They'll know for sure next year when the Cassini spacecraft arrives there. There's very little on the implications of this, but in the past solid water has been thought to exist on Titan's surface, which in combination with the thick atmosphere and a transient heat source could provide conditions that would allow life. It's not clear to me whether this latest discocery makes that less likely.

Meanwhile, Scott Martens over at A Fistful of Euros discusses the latest moves by the French to build a space presence (en français), and points out the wanton proliferation of different names for spacegoers - astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts, and now spationaute. I don't have any better alternatives, but it's sure going to get complicated as more of these international coalitions pop up.

Illinois and the Nobel   {Comments: 6}

Illinois, and esp the University of Illinois, is really cleaning up in this year's Nobel Sweepstakes. So far three of the winners are Illinois researchers - two from U of I and one at Argonne Labs. Paul Lauterbur won a prize for his work on MRI, and Anthony Leggett and Alexei Abrikosov - along with Russian Scientist Vitaly Ginzburg - won for their work on superconductivity and superfluidity. And then there's always JM Coetzee, who's at least camped out here in Chicago.

It's cool to think of Illinois as a haven for hard scientific research. I guess Chicago has a pretty impressive research history, but two Nobels in one year is going to do wonders for the U of I's reputation.

October 6, 2003

Political motivations   {Comments: 7}

Ezra Klein over at Not Geniuses points out the new heights of hypocrisy surrounding the accusations of sexual misconduct by Schwarzenegger and their similiarity to charges against President Clinton. I've been all too aware of the bizarre reversals on both sides in my own conversations, and I'm glad to see others have been too.

By the way, Ezra also links to this impressive interview of Dick Morris by the talking dog.

The winnowing begins   {Comments: 0}

Bob Graham has dropped out of the presidential race, probably a good thing for everyone involved. Besides Clark, Graham may have had the best credentials to challenege Bush on Iraq and the war on terror, but he managed to make himself more of a critic than a visionary. Plus he has other liabilities - for one thing, he was the oldest candidiate, and also there are those bizarre diaries he keeps.

Sexie   {Comments: 4}

Saw Eddie Izzard for the first time Friday here in Chicago, and what a show. His conversational improvisations were absolutely incredible, and it'd be fascinating to see how the material changes from day to day. I'm kind of a sucker for improvisiations...

Apparently he's going to be playing Doctor Who when that series gets resucitated again in a couple years. Never seen it before, but it sounds like an appropriate role.

October 5, 2003

Sauce for the gander   {Comments: 0}

Via Metafilter, here's some of Dave Barry's column on the do not call list:

I am, frankly, tempted to reveal to you here that the American Teleservices Association seems to have a phone line working (at least for now) at 317-816-9336. But would it be right to reveal this? I mean, yes, you could call the ATA again. But the ATA surely doesn't WANT you to call again. It's inconvenient! And to insist on calling somebody who doesnt want to be called, even if you have the legal right to call, well, that's just plain rude.

So I am taking the high road.

Sorry to see it's an Indianapolis number - but I guess they have to camp out somewhere.
Miscellany   {Comments: 2}

Sorry for the past week's posting slowdown - I've been busy with the first week of classes, training for my new job (I'm working with a prof on an emotional competence assessment for preschoolers), and banging away on the piano. The first week of classes tends to be especially busy because students at U of C shop around so much - I myself still haven't figured out what it is I'm going to enroll in (eg I'm still tossing around the idea of taking Daniel Drezner's global governance class). Things should be a little more manageable this week.

I can't resist mentioning, apropos of this post, that I've recently encountered the pronoun she used as the unmarked third person singular in three separate contexts - once in a professor's lecture, once in a book on suburbanization, and once in the training materials for a survey related to the one I mentioned above. This would certainly seem to controvert Language Hat's claim that it's "useless as actual communication."

October 2, 2003

Grindhouse cinema   {Comments: 3}

Yes I've been looking forward to this, but with a little trepidation. For one thing, splitting the film in two seems like a bit of a ploy, esp when the first half clocks at "just over an hour and a half long". And the trailer makes it look like layered pastiche, which seems a little done after the latest Charlie's Angels installment. But reading that interview, I'm hopeful - Tarantino works best riffing in this space between aging genres and our all-referring pop consciousness. His little nods to other films aren't cute, in jokes, and they aren't solemn invocations either. He's just starting his work from the genres he knows best.

Scenes from provincial life   {Comments: 5}

JM Coetzee has finally won the Nobel Prize for literature.

October 1, 2003

Explosion in a cathedral   {Comments: 2}

Been having some issues with comments the past couple days - some have disappeared and I'm sorry if yours was one of those. Since I deleted and reposted the entries, the comments that do appear were manually readded by me, which means the dates are off - and I don't see any way to alter them post facto.

The Trio of Minuet   {Comments: 0}

In May of 2003, the Indianapolis Children's Choir, (in conjunction with the Indianapolis Opera) produced The Trio of Minuet, a children's opera in two acts on which I collaborated as librettist with composer David Sasso. Following are the synopsis and composer's notes as they appeared in the program.

The story
In Minuet, the townspeople are expert dancers; music is strictly prohibited. But three adventurous children – Madolyn, Wesley, and Doh – set out one afternoon and discover music for themselves in the sounds of the woods: the rustling of the fallen leaves, the raindrops falling through the trees, the whistling of the fall breeze.

Returning home, the three children are eager to share their discoveries with Moyra the Mayor, Dervish the Dance Instructor, and Philomena the Philosopher. They learn the hard way that music is forbidden in Minuet. But at the edge of town, their music catches the ears of Seemore and Melodia, who tell them about a land not far away “where music is the only method.” Encouraged, the children set out at once to find it.

On their way through the woods, they wake a creature. Silent, six-legged Susie, apparently a menace to the countryside, chases Madolyn, Wesley, and Doh into the River Glissando. Suddenly the children are all alone, far from home.

Frightened and soaking wet, they wander from town to town, listening for music and looking for a way home. Each town they come across teaches them a new kind of song. In Reverie, a babysitter sings lullabies all the time – day and night. In Turnip Stew, delightful music accompanies a display of culinary excess. And in a brief Intermezzo in the woods, a troupe of wandering jokesters sets riddles to song.

With each encounter, Madolyn, Wesley, and Doh learn something new about Susie. She is a lonely creature, the last of her kind, from a time when music was in the wind. When the children find out that Susie can only be soothed with a song, their journey home takes on added significance – as the children well know, the people of Minuet refuse to sing.

But before they make it back to Minuet, they discover the land that Seemore and Melodia spoke of, “where music is the only method.” There, they find beautiful music, but no dancing of any kind – only song. Not quite satisfied, Madolyn, Wesley, and Doh return home just in time to save their town from Susie: drawing upon their new musical talents, the children sing her a song, and she falls asleep. The relieved citizens of Minuet finally recognize the power of music, and the children, for their part, realize that music and dance belong together.

Why a children’s opera?
Two things have always struck me about children: their voices and their imagination. The voice of a child is the very first instrument, filled with sweetness and honesty but also capable of surprising nuance. Similarly, a child’s imagination is limitless in its innocence – children have the power to discover things beyond our experience as adults. It’s that unique imagination I wanted to tap into, and opera provided a perfect way to do so with children’s voices.

It was vitally important that the opera be performed by children. Both Paul and I had the privilege of singing when we were younger, and we know the power performing can have in the lives of children. From the beginning, we saw The Trio of Minuet as a wonderful opportunity to offer that experience to others.

Translating dance into song
The Trio of Minuet is an opera about a town that does not know how to sing. Thankfully for the composer, the heroes quickly discover music, but in the meantime, Seemore and Melodia teach us how to translate dance into song. As they keenly observe, “This is an opera, after all!”

As in any opera, we have attempted here to create a distinct personality in lyrics and music for the various settings and characters. Susie’s angry side, for instance, appears as a trio of timpani, triangle, and tenor saxophone, but we sympathize with her soft percussive timbres as we learn about her true nature. And the music in Minuet is simple and repetitive, while the children’s songs start with a spark of ingenuity and grow more creative as they learn about music.

For the adult
When we first decided to create a children’s opera, we wanted to set one of the most profound stories we know: Antoine de St.-Exupery’s The Little Prince. We were disappointed to find that, for very adult legal reasons (of which the Little Prince himself might disapprove), we were not able to adapt that story. Things worked out in the end, as we were compelled to create our own story. But in the spirit of The Little Prince, here are some notes about the opera “for the adult who needs a little help understanding.”

There's a little bit of everything in this story: silliness, suspense, romance, politics, and a recipe you definitely won't want to try at home. It all begins with a simple idea – children from a land of dance search for a land of song. But as the adventure takes the children from place to place, they discover a whole world of music, caricatured by entire towns devoted to sleeping, eating, and playing – the essentials of life!

Our heroes, like all children, are complex: they explore and they imagine; they discover and they learn. Their search for music – something to connect us all – leads them not only to discover others but also to discover themselves. The creature Susie teaches them perhaps the most important lesson of all – like the glaring eyes in the closet, she turns out to be a teddy bear when the lights finally come on.

The Trio of Minuet celebrates the power of the child's perspective. We hope it serves as a reminder of what we can learn from the child within each of us.

For more information about The Trio of Minuet, send an email to info@thetrioofminuet.com or just contact me directly.