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Four Years

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Oops. The fourth anniversary of Ron’s View passed unnoticed. I started it on a Sunday evening, a few hours after the conclusion of the 2008 Ryder Cup, which served as the subject of my first post (not counting a two-line welcoming post). Since then, I’ve associated blog anniversaries with Ryder Cups, and this year’s competition doesn’t start until Friday. But four years ago, with a different calendar, it ended on September 21. Thus, the anniversary snuck up on me. It was yesterday.

How to celebrate? Well, at the least, I can celebrate that the subject of the post that followed my Ryder Cup post four years ago has faded into well-earned oblivion. I won’t have to spend the coming fall — which started today — obsessed by her special blend of ignorance and small-mindedness. Hooray for that.

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Categories: Blog

Those Pesky Republicans

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Poll tax receipt

You gotta love ’em. Having discovered in Florida twelve years ago that if you manage vote counts, you can win an election with fewer votes than your opponent, they have moved on to passing state laws that make it hard for people in lower income levels to vote. This in the name of minimizing voter fraud, even though they have no evidence that the claimed fraud exists. Or, to quote the first two paragraphs of a report by Wendy Weiser and Vishal Agraharkar of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School:

“Ballot security” is an umbrella term for a variety of practices that are carried out by political operatives and private groups with the stated goal of preventing voter fraud. Far too often, however, ballot security initiatives have the effect of suppressing eligible votes, either inadvertently or through outright interference with voting rights.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with investigating and preventing voter fraud, despite the fact study after study shows that actual voter fraud is extraordinarily rare. But democracy suffers when anti-fraud initiatives block or create unnecessary hurdles for eligible voters; when they target voters based on race, ethnicity, or other impermissible characteristics; when they cause voter intimidation and confusion; and when they disrupt the voting process.

It’s the return of the poll tax, in disguised form. If you can’t tax voters directly, just make them take a day off from work to get newly required IDs. Then harass them at the polls. As Charles Pierce explained at his Esquire blog a few days ago,

the problem with enacting this whole brand-spanking-new style of Jim Crow voter-suppression laws throughout the land is that you have to keep the basic Jim Crowishness of them on the downlow. Which means you have to build and maintain the charade that these laws have nothing to do with suppressing the votes of the Blahs, the Browns, and the Poors, and everything to do with fending off the legions of liberal thugs who are planning to climb on their dilithium-crystal-powered transwarp buses and vote in all 49 states this November. Among other things, this requires you to construct a Potemkin system by which the various suspect classes can obtain the new ID’s that they shouldn’t need to get in the first place.

Elizabeth Drew, the veteran political reporter, put the issue in stark terms in a New York Review of Books blog post yesterday, which I highly recommend reading in full. I’ll quote her closing, which leaves no doubt about how strongly she feels on this issue.

Having covered Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and more recently written a biography of Nixon, I believe that the wrongdoing we are seeing in this election is more menacing even than what went on then. Watergate was a struggle over the Constitutional powers and accountability of a president, and, alarmingly, the president and his aides attempted to interfere with the nominating process of the opposition party. But the current voting rights issue is even more serious: it’s a coordinated attempt by a political party to fix the result of a presidential election by restricting the opportunities of members of the opposition party’s constituency—most notably blacks—to exercise a Constitutional right.

This is the worst thing that has happened to our democratic election system since the late nineteenth century, when legislatures in southern states systematically negated the voting rights blacks had won in the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Categories: Politics

Mozart at the Gateway

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment

I wouldn’t have predicted a week ago that I’d now be reading Christoph Wolff’s Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788–1791. But I am. I’ve seen it mentioned favorably, most recently a Briefly Noted review in the August 27 issue of the New Yorker. Last night, while struggling to choose from my growing list of other books, I decided to give it a try and downloaded the opening sample from Amazon. Having just finished that sample, I have now downloaded the rest.

Wolff is a musicologist at Harvard, known especially for his work on Bach. Here is the description of Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune at the book’s website:

A fresh look at the life of Mozart during his imperial years by one of the world’s leading Mozart scholars.

“I now stand at the gateway to my fortune,” Mozart wrote in a letter of 1790. He had entered into the service of Emperor Joseph II of Austria two years earlier as Imperial-Royal Chamber Composer—a salaried appointment with a distinguished title and few obligations. His extraordinary subsequent output, beginning with the three final great symphonies from the summer of 1788, invites a reassessment of this entire period of his life. Readers will gain a new appreciation and understanding of the composer’s works from that time without the usual emphasis on his imminent death. The author discusses the major biographical and musical implications of the royal appointment and explores Mozart’s “imperial style” on the basis of his major compositions—keyboard, chamber, orchestral, operatic, and sacred—and focuses on the large, unfamiliar works he left incomplete. This new perspective points to an energetic, fresh beginning for the composer and a promising creative and financial future.

The site also contains praise from famous musicians: Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Alfred Brendel. And conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, with this over-the-top comment:

For years I’ve been wondering and the question becomes ever more cogent, what puzzling new language Mozart used for his three symphonies and even the Magic Flute. It is a new Mozart, and we cannot simply continue as before. Why? What is it? What does it mean today? To the performer, to the listener? Now I found a helping hand in Christoph Wolff’s unexpectedly novel book. We musicians, used to helping ourselves, gratefully embrace his assistance.

I’m only a short ways into the book, so I’m not in a position to evaluate Harnoncourt’s assessment. Not that I would be anyway. I love Mozart’s final symphonies, but I hardly expect to make much sense of Wolff’s analysis when I get to it. I did enjoy one passage from the Prologue, which I’ll quote.

The setting: Mozart has written to his wealthy friend Michael Puchberg to ask for a loan, sending Puchberg a copy of the German translation of John Mainwaring’s biography of Handel. As Wolff explains, the “book was not a meaningless gift. It describes the life of a famous man Mozart would ultimately want to be compared with … . In addition, Mozart also seems to have used Mainwaring’s discussion of Handel’s excessive love of food as a paradigm for his own situation so that Puchberg, who knew what indulgences and extravagances played such a decisive role in his friend’s need of money, might better understand the special needs of a great artist.” Wolff then quotes from Mozart’s letter:

Those who have blamed [Handel] for an excessive indulgence of this lowest of gratifications [his eating habits], ought to have considered, that the peculiarities of his constitution were as great as those of his genius. Luxury and intemperance are relative ideas, and depend on other circumstances besides those of quantity and quality. … For besides the several circumstances just alleged, there is yet another in his favor; I mean his incessant and intense application to the works of musical art. This rendered constant and large supplies of nourishment the more necessary to recruit his exhausted spirits.

Constant and large supplies of nourishment. I like that. If only I were a genius, so I could merit them.

—–

I started this post two nights ago. In the meantime, I’ve gotten much further into the book, and I continue to enjoy it.

Categories: Books, Music