Miscellaneous quotes

Theodore Dalrymple:

… I have often thought of starting a society for the prevention of cruelty to vegetables. I do not mean by this the terrible way the British used to cook vegetables, boiling them for hours to an unseasoned, indistinguishable, tasteless mush without discernible consistency; I mean the prevention of the suffering to which modern research suggests that plants are capable of experiencing. Pity the poor potato, from its soil untimely ripp’d! The tortured tomato, the assaulted asparagus, the beaten bean, the raped radish! I would start a movement to picket greengrocers and florists, throwing manure over them, haranguing them for their complicity with cruelty to the plant kingdom. Do they know nothing of the mandragora, have they never read Romeo and Juliet, never heard “shrieks like mandrakes torn out of the earth”? Shakespeare knew that plants suffer. Is it not time we caught up with him?

Shamus Young:

I think the rise of ADD, ADHD, LD, dyslexia, and all of the other alphabet soup syndromes are just a rise in the number of square pegs being jammed into round holes. Some kids have exceptional mathematical ability and are weak with language. Others are good at language but fumble with numbers. Most are balanced between the two. School seems to be designed around the idea that everyone learns at the same speed using the same techniques at the same age, and everyone who fails to fit this model must therefore have some sort of “problem”.

To me, the number of kids with learning disabilities is a measure of the rigidity of the education system, not the students.

William Briggs:

I use mathematicians as an example, because mathematics as a discipline has long been associated with Truth and Reality. Toss these out and you toss out the meaning of math: whence proof without Truth? And indeed, the Heterodox study found mathematicians had the lowest left to right ratio, which was still 5.5 to 1 in favor of Democrats. In contrast, Anthropology, which used to have the same ideals as mathematics, the ratio is 42.2 to 1.


He says people laugh at him for this, but he thinks Bing Crosby’s movies ruined the Church by setting up ridiculous expectations of priests in Going My Way and Bells of St. Mary.

“They anesthetized people’s common sense. Anybody who couldn’t see that was phony couldn’t see anything. And yet they became cultural icons of the Catholic clergy, that you could do no wrong. I don’t think any sane priest thinks they can do no wrong; I know there are priests who do think they can do no wrong but they’re not sane. I think that this idea somehow that there was this kind of ethereal clergy did violence to us. I think it’s part of the cultural baggage that we came out of the horrific World War II with, trying to find some peace and security, and in fact not doing that at all.”

Searching for further lost chords

zplane claims that its deCoda is “… the tool for music practicing, transcription and instrument practice. deCoda can decode any song so the user can learn to play it in minutes.” I thought I’d check it out.

It had little trouble with simple stuff harmonized with triads, e.g., plain arrangements of Celtic tunes. It seemed to recognize only four types of chords, though: major, minor, augmented and diminished. Sevenths were absent.

I gave it Masumi Itou’s “Soramimi Cake,” the opening of Azumanga Daioh1 and a memorable, quirky tune in its own right.

As deCoda sees it:

It looks reasonably close. However, there are still just four types of chords. I wonder just how sophisticated the “advanced chord and tempo detection algorithms” are. (Here’s a piano transcription of the tune for comparison, and a video with a cutesy animated score.)

Here’s a brief collection various types of chords.

In order, there is a basic G7 to C cadence; Scriabin’s “mystic chord,” first arpeggiated and then up an octave; C6/9, first with the notes spaced out and then condensed in a high octave; the “Tristan” chord, the second time as it appeared in a Beethoven piano sonata; the “Petroushka” chord[s], followed immediately by the “Symphony of Psalms” chord; the “Elektra” chord; the “μ” chord popularized by Steely Dan; and the four sus4 chords Ron Jarzombek based “Suspended on All Fours” on.

And deCoda flunks the test. Once again, all it sees are the four basic triads. It misses the seventh of G7. It calls the mystic chord (C, F♯, B♭, E, A, D) a “C” when it’s arpeggiated and an “F#” when it’s not. It gets partial credit for calling the C6/9 “C” or “Am,” since it contains both triads. Calling the Tristan chord (F, B, D♯, G♯) “Fdim” is close but not quite right. It’s at best a quarter-right on the Petroushka chord, first labeling it as “D#dim, then catching the C triad but ignoring the F# one. I was surprised that it got the Psalms chord wrong; it’s just an Em triad with the G’s emphasized, but Stravinsky’s eccentric voicing fooled the algorithm. It’s at best half-right on the Elektra chord (E, B, D♭, F, A♭), which does include the notes of D♭m, but there’s more to it than that. deCoda missed the added ninths of the Steely Dan2 chords and the suspensions of Jarzombek’s.

I was interested to learn that silence, as in the penultimate measure of the test, is a G diminished chord.

So, is deCoda worthwhile? If you have a well-trained ear, no. Otherwise, it might be a useful tool if sheet music for the tunes you are interested in is hard to find, and the music is not too complex.

Timely notice

2020 is a leap year starting on a Wednesday. If you save old calendars to display when the dates line up correctly again, you’re out of luck unless your collection extends back to 1992. However, calendars for 2014, 2003 and 1997 will be correct in 2020 for January and February1, and those for 2015, 2009 and 1998 will work for the rest of the year.

The year in review: arts and letters

Books I did not read in 2019

What did I read, listen to or watch during the past year? Let’s see….

Published, released or broadcast in 2019

• Books

Hellbender, by Frank J. Fleming — A very silly post-apocalyptic fantasy revolving around a mysterious cube on which are drawn bunnies. The characters are mostly flakes, and the story about “warfs” (war orphans) in the haphazardly totalitarian Confederacy of Astara after the Third Digital Rights War is too complicated to easily summarize. However, the author, friendly Frank Fleming 1, is clever and funny, and the book is always entertaining even at its most confusing. A representative paragraph:

“Donuts!” Lulu jumped up from the couch. “I always said one of these days you’d do something useful … or accidentally kill us all. And it was the former!”

• Movies


• Music

There was Winfield in September, and a few concerts during my visit to St. Louis. If you’re ever in that area, see if Dave Black, Roger Netherton or Joey Koenig are playing anywhere.

• Television

American? Ha.

Japanese: The only show I watched all the way through was Endro. It’s featherweight fluff, but it was fun. I also managed to watch about half of the first season of the similarly light Iruma-kun, which is something like Hayate goes to Hells. I sampled most everything on Crunchyroll that wasn’t obviously drivel, but I didn’t get beyond the second episode of anything else.

Too often, watching anime felt like doing homework. My CR membership recently expired, and I doubt that I’ll renew it. This is the first time in several years that I didn’t order a Japanese calendar. I may write a few summary posts about Japanese animation (don’t hold your breath), but I’m pretty much done with the form.

So much for 2019.

So, what else did I read this year? Mostly old favorites: J.R.R. Tolkien, R.A. Lafferty, Gene Wolfe, Tim Powers, G.K. Chesterton, Tom Holt, Cordwainer Smith, etc.

New to me this year

The Elementary Particles, Michel Houellebecq — The token important book for the year. I was prompted to read it by the perspicacious, flaky Rod Dreher. Here’s Houellebecq on Lovecraft:

Lovecraft, for his part, knew he had nothing to do with this world. And at each turn he played a losing hand. In theory and in practice. He lost his childhood; he also lost his faith. The world sickened him and he saw no reason to believe that by looking at things better they might appear differently. He saw religions as so many sugar-coated illusions made obsolete by the progress of science. At times, when in an exceptionally good mood, he would speak of the enchanted circle of religious belief, but it was a circle from which he felt banished, anyway.

Few beings have ever been so impregnated, pierced to the core, by the conviction of the absolute futility of human aspiration. The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition toward chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. The skies will be glacial and empty, traversed by the feeble light of half-dead stars. These too will disappear. Everything will disappear. And human actions are as free and as stripped of meaning as the unfettered movement of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure “Victorian fictions”. All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact and radiant.

Lovecraft wrote about unimaginable horrors; Houellebecq writes about human behavior. There is some overlap. I might read Submission sometime, and that will be enough of Houellebecq.

Less important, but more enjoyable:

The Conan stories of Robert E. Howard — If all you know of Conan is Arnold Schwartzenegger and Frank Frazetta, you don’t know Conan. Dr. Mauser discovered Howard at about the same time I did and reacted similarly. See John C. Wright for extensive commentary.

The Moon Pool and The Metal Monster, A. Merritt — Science fiction from almost exactly a century ago, still quite readable, albeit a bit purplish in its prose. Blame Joseph Moore for piquing my curiousity.

A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs. I figured I ought to read something by Burroughs to see just how bad a writer he was, since people still read his books despite the contempt of the literati. Surprisingly, he’s not bad. He’s not Howard’s caliber, but he can tell a story.

Honor at Stake: A Catholic Action Horror Novel, Declan Finn — Blame Moore for this one also.

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain, Richard Roberts — Blame J Greely for drawing my attention to this. The daughter of superheroes discovers that her own wild talent makes her best-suited to be a mad scientist. It’s fluff, clever and entertaining. There are hints that the sequels could be darker.

… and that’s enough for 2019.


As Pixy points out, “There was no year zero.” Therefore, today is the “Last Day Of The Second Last Year Of The Second Decade Of The First Century Of The Third Millennium.”

Robbo reiterates, “As we all know, Wednesday is January 1, 2020. 2020 is not the first year of the next decade. It is, instead, the last year of this decade. Those failing to recognize this will be set upon by rabid honey-badgers.”

In other words, everyone compiling “best/worst/whateverest of the decade” lists is jumping the gun.

Further year-end notes:

The Babylon Bee proposes a reformation I can get behind.

• Dave Barry’s summation and dismissal of the year can be found here — but you have to allow ads to see it, grr.

For the birds

Here’s a medley of three traditional Spanish Christmas carols, “El Cant dels Ocells,”1 “Fum, Fum, Fum” and “Campana Sobre Campana,” done with a handful of sampled instruments and soft synths. The first two are from Catalonia, the third from Andalusia. As usual, I’m not entirely happy with it, but today is the deadline for posting holiday stuff. (It shouldn’t be — properly, one should sing the carols during the interval between Christmas and Epiphany — but by December 26 most people are sick of the songs.)

Tangentially related: Christmas cards from Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol.


Oncidium Tsiku Marguerite

Oncidium Tsiku Marguerite arrived back in May in spike. June came, it got hot, and the plant went into shock. It just sat there, the spikes not developing, until October, when the weather finally cooled a little. This week it finally bloomed. The flowers are not quite an inch long, and have a light sweetish fragrance. They’re a a bit pinker than I expected, but I’m not complaining. There are a few more pictures here.

Modular chicken

I was curious to see what you would get if you took an old fiddle tune and gave it the Terry Riley treatment. Here’s “Cluck Old Hen,” chopped into little phrases, the pieces treated like the elements of Riley’s “In C.”1 All the sounds are the AAS Chromaphone.

And it’s okay, I guess. “Cluck” is not a complex tune (though a good fiddler will add some piquant slides and double-stops), mostly four-square rhythmically and only slightly odd melodically. The result of the manipulations is pleasant-sounding but not really interesting in itself, like wind chimes.2 It might be useful as background music, but it’s unlikely to hold the attention of an active listener for long. Riley’s piece sustains interest as well as it does in part because the 53 phrases it’s made of vary widely in length and rhythm, producing complex patterns when combined.

One minor point: This was the product of an evening’s work from beginning to end. In contrast, writing music the usual way, note by note, measure by measure, takes much longer. Sometimes a mere eight measures is a very good evening’s work.

For a very different version of “Cluck Old Hen,” see The Waybacks.

Miscellaneous artsy-type stuff

Many years ago, Daniel Pinkwater and Tony Auth colloborated on a newspaper cartoon, Norb. It did not catch on and disappeared without a trace. I recently stumbled over a collection of its Sunday strips, which you can view here (start with page one). It’s an absurd serial, somewhere between Terry and the Pirates and Firesign Theatre, but sillier.

Gahan Wilson, whose macabre cartoons were the best feature of many editions of National Lampoon, passed away last month. There’s a memorial here with a selection of his work. You can find much more online.

Robert Samuels’ analysis of a still life including a chessboard, carnations and a lute leads him to observe that

… both fields [chess and music] have become so professionalised that their function as social activities is easily lost or forgotten. In an age when my performance of a Bach Prelude and Fugue can be immediately compared by anyone with a mobile phone to that of András Schiff, and when my playing of a complex chess endgame can be immediately shown to be full of errors by chess software on that same mobile phone, we need (or at least I need) reminders that music and chess alike are ways of interacting with other people. They are, properly, the pursuits of friends. Our play is part of our human flourishing.

I came across a tribute to dancer Herman Cornejo, who amazed me as Puck in The Dream, Frederick Ashton’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This particular video is useful in that it slows the action down to show the viewer exactly what impossible things Cornejo is doing. It demonstrates that a good dancer is among the very best athletes of any kind.

(It also demonstrates how bizarre ballet can be. Many years ago my aunt was mortified at a performance of Le Spectre de la Rose when her then-boyfriend bellowed with laughter at the appearance of the “Rose.” I can’t say that I blame him.)

Continue reading “Miscellaneous artsy-type stuff”

Odder ends

Beware: the Social Justice Kittens have returned.

Perhaps you might prefer bears.


I have a nice not-so-little steak thawing in the refrigerator at the moment. I don’t think I’ll mind missing the traditional turkey dinner tomorrow. Meanwhile, a certain Roman Catholic boy for art is celebrating the holiday in his own way.


Miyazaki does Chesterton

Is Miyazaki’s vision fundamentally conservative? Perhaps.


Being a major 20th-century American poet was a hazardous job — in one anthology on my shelves, of the forty poets included, three (Berryman, Plath, Sexton) and possibly a fourth (Jarrell) were suicides, for 10% fatality rate. Apparently, being a K-pop star is also a dangerous occupation.


Addendum: Don’t read this out loud. (It is a good alternative to lorem ipsum, though.)