Humor and other depressing things

A little joke:

A man visiting the Kotel – Western Wall – noted an old man praying diligently, all day. He was there every day. Finally [he] went to the old man and asked “What do you pray for”? “For world peace, harmony, the brotherhood of man…”

“Do you get a response”?

“No. It’s like I’m talking to a wall.”

(Via J Greely.)

Joseph Moore recommends a little booklet about some aspects of the CCP virus by a former NY Times writer. The substance won’t be new to those who’ve been following William Briggs, but it’s a handy compendium of information you probably won’t see in your newspaper.

There is a certain slogan popular today that will not be appearing on this website.

Just wondering: is the final stage of every form of government kakistocracy?

W. Heath Robinson expects an apology

Spare room

In a Heath Robinson device, everything has a clear purpose, no matter how strange it appears. For example, there is a clearly discernable logic to the profusion of cables, pulleys and bellows in his “Spare Room,” above, from this year’s HR calendar. It may not be realistic — I wouldn’t want to sleep in that bed — but everything makes sense. (The same is true of the inventions of Heath Robinson’s American counterpart, Rube Goldberg.) Comparing Neil Ferguson’s incomprehensible mathematical model to a Heath Robinson device slanders Robinson.

Bonus calendar picture: Uncle Lubin in color.

Uncle Lubin

Today’s quotes

Via Francis W. Porretto:

MINAS TIRITH (AP): The League Against Cultural Appropriation has filed suit against both the Texas Rangers of Major League Baseball and the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League for appropriating the cognomen of the Dunedain of northeastern Eriador, which is often called Arnor by the irredentist movement. The AP’s representative in the palace press pool sought the opinion of King Elessar Telcontar, who wore that moniker as “Strider the Ranger” before his ascension to the throne, but so far his press secretary has declined to comment. (Queen Arwen Evenstar’s publicist told our stringer to “Come back when you can ask in proper Sindarin Elvish.”) More on this story as it develops.

Via Glenn Reynolds:

Before this decade is out, some smart Democrat is going to realize that if they would have treated Trump like an ordinary President, he would have behaved like an ordinary President, that they have only themselves to blame for making him extraordinary. And if we’re very lucky, the rest of the Democrats will ignore and ostracize this insightful Democrat, and remain stuck on stupid for another 30 years.

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.

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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.

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Miyazaki does Chesterton

Is Miyazaki’s vision fundamentally conservative? Perhaps.

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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.

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

Sudden, violent comedy

Wonderduck points out that we’ve had Monty Python for fifty years now. I discovered them late. Their show didn’t arrive in Kansas until years after I quit watching teevee. It wasn’t until a friend handed me the scripts for the shows that I found that they were pretty good. Reading the scripts alone doesn’t give you a complete idea of what they were — “Ministry of Silly Walks” seems like a dumb little skit on paper, but John Cleese perambulating transforms it. However, the words to “The Spanish Inquisition,” “The Cheese Shop” and a good proportion of the other skits are funny on the page as well as in performance, and that is still largely how I know them.

Enjoy the Pythons now, because in the very near future the punchline to all jokes, not just “how many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?” will be “That’s not funny.”

(The title is from here.)

Miscellany

Chainmail Bikini is back online.

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Art or garbage? It’s hard to tell sometimes.

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Derek Lowe recently added nitro groups to his “Things I won’t work with” category. You don’t need to be a chemist to enjoy his Lowe’s appreciations of azides, FOOF and other exceeding noisy or smelly substances.

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William Briggs:

“Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.” This is, as everybody knows, Conquest’s Second Law. It is a true law, as all modern experience shows. But it says nothing about the pace or rate of the flight from Reality and Tradition.

A rock thrown upwards at the top of its flight is stationary. For a moment it neither goes up nor down. Then, a fraction of a second later, it begins it descent, but slowly, slowly. The speeds picks up, the rocks plummets faster and faster. It eventually crashes to the ground.

That’s the progress of rocks, a good but imperfect metaphor for the “progress” of human institutions. The imperfection comes in recalling a law Conquest didn’t mention: motus in fine velocior. Things accelerate toward the end. A falling rock has constant acceleration. Human failure is a force that feeds on itself.

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100 things Mark Evanier learned about the comics industry….

93. If your character wears a cape, it should be more or less the same length in every panel and it should not get shredded more than twice a year.

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Dr. Boli has completed his serial, Devil King Kun. From the 20th installment:

“Actually,” said Weyland, “good people generally don’t try to conquer the world. It’s not done, you know.”

“But if you don’t conquer the world, then won’t the evil people take over every time?”

“We generally prefer to let people choose their own government, and trust them to make the right choice.”

“Well,” said Miss Kun, “I’m willing to be good, but I’m not willing to be an idiot….”

The story begins here.

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Saw Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion a couple of years ago and when a bloke in the audience shouted out for ‘Toad’ Baker asked if he’d ever had a drumstick shoved up his nostril.

The lovable Ginger Baker has been hospitalized, critically ill. Here’s an 1970 interview with the easy-going drummer, and a more recent look at the gentle soul.

Update: Ginger Baker has died at the age of 80.

Professor Mondo, a drummer himself, on Baker in 1990:

The other thing that struck me was that Ginger looked like a mad wizard from a fantasy novel, impossibly aged, but terrifyingly powerful. He was three years younger than I am now. I think both his mistakes as a human being and his phenomenal talent aged him in dog years.

See also Shabby Road for an overview of Baker’s life.

Have a Spoonful of Cream.

The sky below

When I last visited the botanical garden, I took the fisheye lens instead of the macro. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the panorama tripod head with me, so all the garden panoramas came out too glitchy to post. The above was salvaged from one of the waterlily pond.

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A few odds and ends:

Zappa fans might find this old advertisement oddly familiar:

See also Ronstadt, Zappa and the Remington Electric Razor.

(Via .clue and Dustbury.)

Odds and ends

VCV Rack

Back in ancient times, synthesizers such as those played by W.W. Carlos and Keith Emerson were assembled from various single-purpose modules, linked together by a multitude of short cables. To change the sound, the musician rearranged the cables and fiddled with the controls on the modules. It was laborious, but with perseverance you could make something like Switched-on Bach or Tarkus. Eventually these modular monsters were replaced by compact synths with fixed architectures, which were easier to program and to transport. Later ones added polyphony and memory for patches, so the musician could play chords and recreate sounds instantly.

Although many of the later synths were immensely useful and desirable, none ever sounded quite like their forebears. Emerson’s modular Moog in particular was legendary. During the past 20 years or so, there’s been increasing interest in modular systems. Notably, the Doepfer “Eurorack” format has become prevalent in certain parts of the electronic music world. A musician can buy whatever modules he wants from a variety of manufacturers and combine them as he pleases. Unfortunately, purchasing modules gets expensive.

However, if you have a reasonably powerful computer, you can run the VCV Rack, a virtual Eurorack. The basic rack, including all you need to make funny noises, is free, and there are many more modules you can download to play with once you get the hang of it, most of which are also free. It’s available here.

I spent several recent lunch hours fiddling with the VCV Rack, and a couple of things quickly became apparent. First, it’s not easy to get an interesting sound out of it. The early synthesists had to work hard to make their music sound good.

Second, videos are the worst way to teach anything. There’s very little text documentation for the rack, so I sat through a number of videos explaining the basics. Good grief, they’re such a waste of time. In principle, videos should be perfect for this job — you can see the connections being made and hear the sounds that result. In practice, you get a guy rambling for half an hour trying to explain something that could have easily been summarized in three minutes. Advice to anyone making an instructional video: before you plug in your microphone, make a detailed written outline of what you want to cover. Better yet, write out what you want to say and skip the video entirely.

*****

Charles G. Hill brings tidings from Japan of a man who “married” a holographic representation of the vocal synthesizer “Hatsune Miku.” Hill linked to a video featuring Miku’s voice which is apparently extremely popular but which doesn’t show what the software is capable of. Here are a couple that better illustrate how a pathetic dweeb could become fixated on the computer-generated image of an anime-style girl: Miku in concert; Miku on a desktop.

Vocal synthesizers, of which Vocaloids are the most successful, occasionally come in handy for those of us with lousy voices. I’ve made use of Miku myself. Others include Plogue’s Alter/Ego and Chipspeech, and Wolfgang Palm’s Phonem.

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Francis W. Porretto wonders if anyone remembers Vaughn Meader and David Frye now that their targets are gone. The First Family was before my time, but I do remember hearing one particular skit by Frye frequently at the left end of the FM dial.

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It’s been scientifically established that nearly any pop song can be improved by remaking it as a polka or surf tune. In a similar vein, J Greely recently wished that the cast of Dr. Who had turned a recent episode into a Bollywood musical. I haven’t seen that episode so I can’t say for certain, but I expect that would indeed have been an improvement. I suspect, in fact, that most television shows would benefit from being transformed into Bollywood musicals. (Just wondering: are there any Bollywood musical production numbers featuring surf guitar?)

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This is terribly unfair, I know, but Cardinal DiNardo in the picture above looks very much like how I visualize Wormtongue when I read The Lord of the Rings.

Psittacosis

It’s Squawk Like a Parrot Day. Here are the Bonzos with an appropriate tune.

Addendum: If it’s pirates you want, here’s a set of variations on a tune named for Gráinne Mhaol, alias Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Ireland.1

Saa! Kaizoku no jikan da! Let’s not forget Marika Kato.

There are many space pirates in anime, and a surprising number of the are women. Their speech sounds like normal Japanese, and none of them gargle their rrrr’s.

Fiddles in snow

Girls und Panzer is on Crunchyroll, and I have the discs as well. However, for the eighth episode I always watch the fansub. One of the highlights of the franchise is the Russian team singing “Katyusha.” Thanks to imbecilic copyright laws, the song is missing from the American edition of the show.1

There are many recordings of the tune available, though none suggest tank girls in snow. I recently discovered that Alexey Igudesman, of Igudesman & Joo, composed a set of variations on “Katyusha” for solo violin. Here’s a performance by Irina Pak.

Not familiar with Igudesman & Joo? Here’s an introduction. If you don’t have time for the whole thing, skip to the Rachmaninoff section starting at around 40 minutes. There’s plenty more on YouTube.

Before there were I&J, there was P.D.Q. Bach. Peter Schickele is still making discoveries, such as the Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra.2 Here’s a performance with Jeffrey Biegel. While Biegel is certainly up to the technical demands, he’s not quite enough of a large ham to make the performance convincing. Perhaps with a bushy beard and another 50 pounds he could pull it off.