Archive for October, 2010

Posey Poke

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

I take time off from watching the fourth game of the World Series to write about Buster Posey’s peg to second base to throw out Josh Hamilton, then head back to watch more, only to see him head into the dugout after hitting a home run over Hamilton’s head. He’s something.

Categories: Baseball

Simon on Sondheim

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Even if you’re not a fan of Stephen Sondheim (and I know some aren’t, but I don’t understand how that’s possible), you may enjoy today’s NYT review of his new book Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes. It’s the Sunday featured review, for which the editors called on Paul Simon. I read it, and write this, as I listen to the cast album from the Broadway revue Sondheim on Sondheim.

I just love the photo above of Sondheim at the piano in the mid-1930s, drawn from the book and reprinted in the NYT review. Speaking of which, here’s a review excerpt:

“Company,” one of my favorite Sondheim musicals, is often cited as another example of his cerebral, cold writing. The plot is a bitter examination of the “joy” of marriage and the existential loneliness of its unmarried protagonist, Bobby. Some have speculated that Bobby is an auto biographical stand-in for Sondheim, although he dismisses this as the trap of attributing the character of the art to the character of the artist. It’s harder to read autobiography into the words of a composer who writes for theater than it is for a pop music counterpart. A song from “the heart” of a character has to be truthful, but if it isn’t, it’s not the author’s lie — it’s the character’s. But if a pop singer or songwriter writes a love song, a song of regret or even a bit of inscrutable doggerel like “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” it’s autobiography. The lyricist in a musical is writing the art of the character. Both are pathways to a truth, but there is a profound difference in process.

To be fair to Sondheim’s critics, the heart/mind dilemma is a constant for many songwriters, myself included. If a writer composes a lyric with a complex thought or vivid image and fails to say it well, then the lines seem pretentious. If the songwriter goes for the heart and misses, then it’s sentimental. Sondheim is the farthest thing from a sentimental songwriter that I know, but his songs of the heart are shaded with rueful sorrow (“Send In the Clowns”) and translucent compassion.

Categories: Books, Music, Theater

Posey Peg

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

I should be watching the fourth World Series game rather than writing about it, but I just have to say — did you see that throw Buster Posey made to throw out Josh Hamilton attempting to steal second and end the 4th inning? It was perfect. Stunning.

Posey’s only 23, and he looks even younger. He’s had a sensational rookie year. I look forward to watching him for many years to come.

Categories: Baseball

Halloween Miscalculation

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

We seem to be a popular house on Halloween. Gail buys full-sized candy bars to hand out, and judging by the response of the trick-or-treaters, this makes us special. We were handing out a hundred or more a few years ago. But more recently, two and three years ago, we began to have leftovers.* So this year Gail bought less. We had about 70 available. Two little girls came around 5:40, then no one for a while, and then between 6:00 and 6:40 the candy mostly disappeared.

I took a moment at that point to count what was left — 13 bars. The doorbell rang again, I opened it, two swarms appeared in quick succession, and the 13 were gone.

We’ll buy more next year.

*Last year, we were away. Halloween is the day that we left Grenoble first thing in the morning, took three trains, and arrived in Venice around 7:30 at night. It was fun to take the vaporetto from Ferrovia (the train station) to our hotel, watching Halloween celebrants get on and off at each stop.

Categories: Holidays

Social Security Crisis?

October 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I wrote some 20 months ago about Jeff Madrick’s book The Case for Big Government. Yesterday he had a useful post at the New York Review’s blog on social security.

We all know that the deficit is increasing, the population is aging, and we are headed for a social security crisis. Along with Obama, we await the report of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, due in a month and sure to include recommendations to cut social security benefits while raising the eligibility age for receiving them. Republicans tell us we must cut spending while continuing to fight two wars, or maybe three. Oh, and spend more on protecting our borders and spying on each other. And cut taxes too.

Perhaps the only item on which Democrats and Republicans will agree, once the election is over and a new Congress is seated, is that social security must be cut. This is the context in which Madrick’s post is worth reading.

In view of all the rhetoric, voters may be surprised to find out how little Social Security will actually contribute to the future budget gap. In fact, most would probably be stunned.

The Congressional Budget Office, which produces dry, cautious budget projections, recently reminded Congress that Social Security as a percent of GDP will rise from 5 to 6 percent in 2035 and simply stay at that level for the foreseeable future. In other words, the much decried shortfall amounts to only 1 percent of GDP over three decades. And this may be exaggerated. As some observe, much will depend on the flow of young immigrant workers to America. The more workers contributing to Social Security, the smaller any future deficit will be. And the CBO projections tend to make overly conservative estimates about such immigration in the decades to come.

No matter. I have little doubt that Social Security benefits will be cut. And the wars will continue. I don’t see Obama rocking the boat and taking any stances counter to conventional wisdom until after the 2012 election, if ever. As Madrick says, “This is no way to run a government.”

Categories: Economy, Politics

Morgan Library

October 30, 2010 Leave a comment

The restored East Room

Next Saturday will mark three years since we last visited the Morgan Library & Museum. We were in New York to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday, and the next day we had to head back to midtown to return the tuxes Joel and I had rented. (I had realized a few weeks earlier that rather than bringing clothing from Seattle (me) and Boston (Joel), we could instead go to local branches of some national chain, get fitted, then do the pick up and return at a Manhattan branch.)

Joel had flown back to Boston that morning. Gail and I lugged the clothing down to the tux place, then I suggested we walk from there over to the Morgan, just a few blocks away. If I were blogging in those days, I would have reported on the wonders we saw, as well as the still new Renzo Piano addition. (See Nicolai Ouroussoff’s NYT review of the addition, a year earlier, here.) There are the glories of the permanent collection, of course. There was a special exhibition of some illuminated manuscripts, maybe from Turkey or thereabouts. And there was another special exhibition, of letters from Vincent van Gogh to Émile Bernard, complemented by paintings and drawings mentioned in the letters. Oh, here — a link to the show.

Anyway, it’s time to go back. Today the historic 1906 building that Charles McKim designed to serve as J.P. Morgan’s office and library reopened after a restoration. Here is the Morgan’s description of the project:

n 2010 the Morgan restored the interior of the 1906 library to its original grandeur. A new lighting system was installed to illuminate the extraordinary murals and decor of the four historic rooms. Intricate marble surfaces and applied ornamentation were cleaned, period furniture was reupholstered, and original fixtures—including three chandeliers removed decades ago—were restored and reinstalled. A late-nineteenth-century Persian rug (similar to the one originally there) was laid in the grand East Room. The ornate ceiling of the librarian’s office, or North Room, was cleaned, and visitors are able to enter the refurbished space—now a gallery—for the first time. New, beautifully crafted display cases throughout the 1906 library feature selections from the Morgan’s collection of great works of art and literature from the ancient world to modern times.

See also Holland Cotter’s account in yesterday’s NYT and the accompanying slide show.

Categories: Architecture

The Moral Ambiguity of War

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I read Anne Applebaum’s review in the current New York Review of Books earlier this evening of Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. I started the article while watching game two of the World Series, but soon muted the TV in order to give her my full attention. There’s much of interest, but let me draw your attention to this passage just before the end:

Finally, the arguments of Bloodlands also complicate the modern notion of memory—memory, that is, as opposed to history. . . .

For different reasons, the American popular memory of World War II is also due for some revision. In the past, we have sometimes described this as the “good war,” at least when contrasted to the morally ambiguous wars that followed. At some level this is understandable: we did fight for human rights in Germany and Japan, we did leave democratic German and Japanese regimes in our wake, and we should be proud of having done so. But it is also true that while we were fighting for democracy and human rights in the lands of Western Europe, we ignored and then forgot what happened further east.

As a result, we liberated one half of Europe at the cost of enslaving the other half for fifty years. We really did win the war against one genocidal dictator with the help of another. There was a happy end for us, but not for everybody. This does not make us bad—there were limitations, reasons, legitimate explanations for what happened. But it does make us less exceptional. And it does make World War II less exceptional, more morally ambiguous, and thus more similar to the wars that followed.

If only there were room for moral ambiguity in contemporary political discourse.

Categories: Books, History