Archive for May, 2011

Bernard Greenhouse

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I was sad to read yesterday that cellist Bernard Greenhouse died on Friday. He was a founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio, which I saw many times in my last few years in Boston.

The NYT obituary explained that when the trio was founded in 1955, the piano trio literature was not widely performed.

Piano trios faced their own obstacles. For chamber-music lovers, the string quartet, with its evenly married sonorities and vast repertory, was the ensemble of choice. The sonic challenge entailed in combining a violin and a cello with a piano, akin to pairing gentle breezes with a thunderclap, was something performers were rarely willing to take on.

As a result, there were few high-level piano trios at the time the Beaux Arts began. Those that did exist were generally shotgun affairs, created when three prominent soloists converged in the recording studio and dissolved immediately afterward.

Though born of similar circumstances — it was convened primarily to make recordings — the Beaux Arts was different. Its players remained together, dedicated to performing the neglected trio literature, which encompasses works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak and Shostakovich, among others.

After making its debut at Tanglewood, the Beaux Arts became a fixture of concert stages throughout the world; in New York, it performed regularly at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It seems I fell in love with chamber music at a good time, given that my favorite chamber pieces of all were the Brahms piano trios. Speaking of which, watch the video below, featuring not the Beaux Arts Trio (I couldn’t find them), but Eugene Istomin, Isaac Stern, and Leonard Rose. Not a bad alternative.

Categories: Music

The King’s Speech

May 15, 2011 1 comment

We don’t see too many movies. Gail would be happy to, but I never seem eager to get to the theater. Unless it’s new Bond or Pixar. Last year was our worst year ever for Oscar-nominated movies. But I realized yesterday that they must all be out on DVD, so off I went to rent The King’s Speech. Best movie. Best director. Best actor. Best screenplay. Must be worth watching. After dinner, we fired up our movie system and entered the world of 1930s Britain.

The audience response hereabouts wasn’t so good. Joel took off halfway through. Gail split her attention between the movie and her iPad. I stayed true to the end, fascinated by the buddy story of King George VI and Lionel Logue. I think the depiction of their relationship was well done. And Geoffrey Rush was superb as Logue. Helena Bonham Carter was pretty good too. (Say, did you know she’s the great-granddaughter of Herbert Henry Asquith, the British prime minister early in the twentieth century?) It could be, though, that the movie is not so easy to take seriously at home, without benefit of the big screen. Can the king’s stuttering really be the major issue facing Britain during the depression, as war approached? In September 1939, in the wake of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, was everyone really so concerned with how the king would handle his speech about the coming war? Maybe so. I don’t know. Yet, much as I enjoyed the story’s narrow focus, it did seem a bit frivolous by the end.

Coincidentally, earlier in the day, I was reading about King George VI’s youth in a book I had just started two days before. Or maybe not coincidentally, now that I think about it. that could be what made me think to see The King’s Speech. More on the book in another post.

Categories: Movies

War Criminals Ascendant

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s bad enough that in the wake of Bin Laden’s killing, Bush’s old torture crew came out of the woodwork to take credit. But worse, we’ve had guest appearances in the news this past week from criminal Secretaries of State.

I don’t know why Condi Rice thinks she deserves a free ride for her lead roles in lying about the basis for the Iraq War and sanctioning torture. But there she was a week ago, holding forth at Stanford Law School about international relations. She did not go unchallenged, as you can see in the video above. Whatever a viewer may think about violations of the rules of decorum, at least the protestors got their facts right.

And now Henry, shameless violator of international law, is back, cashing in yet again with a new book On China, reviewed by Max Frankel in today’s NYT.

I know Condi and Henry will never be held accountable. I know they will not show remorse for their actions. But why must we continue to reward them?

Categories: Politics, Torture, War

Sentence of the Week

May 15, 2011 1 comment

Usually, my sentences of the week are bad ones. This one’s a good one.

Earlier this afternoon, one of Roger Angell’s occasional baseball posts appeared at the New Yorker blog site. In writing about New York Yankee Jorge Posada, who at 39 is having a bad season and chose not to play yesterday, Angell added a variation to his decades-long theme that baseball is just darned hard:

For this fan, one of the compelling traits about baseball at its top level is its insatiable difficulty, which shows itself most ferociously to arriving rookies and to older players, no matter how celebrated, on their way out.

Of course, occasionally a player has a stretch that fools you into thinking it’s easy. Like Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Alas, it didn’t last.

Categories: Baseball, Writing

Domestic Drones

May 12, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been a little quiet on the political front lately. I apologize. It’s so hard to keep up with all the developments. The killing of Osama. Obama’s subsequent announcements that he is ending US military engagement in Afghanistan, closing Guantánamo, and initiating a truth-finding inquiry into Bush administration torture enhanced interrogation. Where to begin?

What? I was dreaming? All of it? Not quite? Oh. So we killed Osama, then days later shot missiles from a drone over Yemen in an assassination attempt on Anwar al-Awlaki, the US citizen yet to be tried or convicted of any crime? Got it.

Gotta love those drones. Are they cool or what? On Monday, emptywheel reported on the provision in the House Armed Services Committee Mark-Up for next year’s Defense Authorization including “funds to build drone hangars at four bases in the Continental US.”

This follows the news she reported last month that

a bunch of people claiming to be interested in jobs inserted an amendment into the FAA bill requiring the FAA to allow for drones in US airspace. … Aside from jobs, what’s remarkable about the push for drones is how amorphous the purpose of the drones are. Here’s Candice Miller, one of the sponsors of the amendment, describing the need:

My amendment is designed to help expedite and to improve the process by which FAA works with government agencies to incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs as they’re commonly called, into the National Airspace System. Currently, Mr. Chairman, law enforcement agencies across the country, from Customs and Border Protection to local police departments, et cetera, are ready to embrace the new technology and to start utilizing UAVs in the pursuit of enforcing the law and protecting our border as well.

However, the FAA has been very hesitant to give authorization to these UAVs due to limited air space and restrictions that they have. I certainly can appreciate those concerns; but when we’re talking about Customs and Border Protection or the FBI, what have you, we are talking about missions of national security. And certainly there’s nothing more important than that. It was a very, very lengthy exercise to get the FAA to authorize the use of UAVs on the southern border. While they’re finally being utilized down there, we are certainly a long way from fully utilizing these technologies.

That is, we’re talking about CPB (which has used the drones for some years), but also the FBI, local police departments, and “et cetera” using the drones.

You know me. I’m no conspiracy theorist. But I’m no fool either. If they’re not watching us yet, they will be soon. Count on it.

Categories: Politics, War

Pull = Latin America

May 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, is also a regular contributor to the Language Log blog. A recurring theme in his posts is his unraveling of the possible sequence of events leading to a particularly bizarre occurrence of Chinglish, especially as found in printed English translations of Chinese on signs.

Today’s example, the first in a Mair post in some time, is as good as they come. Look closely at the sign above and you’ll see the English words Latin America on the hotel shower door.

What in the world is going on here? One big Chinese character and all those Roman letters beneath it:


All right, let’s go through this methodically. La 拉 simply means “pull,” and that is what the sign is telling the person who is about to enter the shower. If you want to get into the shower, PULL the door. Simple enough.

So how did the injunction to “Latin America” come into the picture? Some oaf who was charged with making the sign managed to find lā 拉 in their dictionary and must have been overwhelmed by the plethora of English glosses: pull, drag, draw, haul, help out, implicate, play (a stringed instrument), chat, a verbal suffix, and so forth. Bewildered, they would have spotted near the end of the entry for lā 拉 that it is also an abbreviation for Lāměi 拉美, which is in turn a short form of Lādīng měizhōu 拉丁美洲, which means “Latin America”.

Why didn’t the oaf choose the first and simplest definition, “pull”? I suppose that they thought that the English (Roman letter) part of the sign is for foreigners, so it might be smart (!!) to use the only obviously foreign definition in the dictionary: Latin America. That’s the best defense I can give on behalf of the individual who made this sign. Actually, it’s not really a defense, merely one possible explanation for this mind-boggling choice. I suppose it’s also possible that they didn’t understand any of the English glosses, and simply felt that the longest one must be the most informative.

Be sure to look at past Mair posts on Chinglish. They are always fascinating. For instance, here’s another one.

Categories: Language, Translation

Pipes and Drums

May 12, 2011 Leave a comment

I mentioned in my last post the painfully premature death last Friday of our cousin Jeffrey Birt. His funeral was yesterday. I don’t intend to recount it here. I’ll just say that I now know who I would like to make an appearance at my funeral. The Seattle Firefighters Pipes and Drums. Yesterday’s service was moving enough as it was, but the effect of their rendition of Going Home as they marched in to open the service and Amazing Grace to conclude it was beyond words.

Categories: Music, Obituary