Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.

"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
- Art Buchwald

I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Ill Wind.
Today I want to introduce you to a wonderful short piece of classical music ... and then "ruin" it for you.

Among Mozart's most delightful melodies -- and here I'll pause to let you ponder the magnitude of that claim -- is the third movement Rondo of his Horn Concerto in E-flat major, K. 495, written when he was 30 years old.

Here it is, in what many believe is its finest recording ever: A performance by Dennis Brain (at age 32, only four years before his death) with Herbert von Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra. It's from 1953, and it's in mono, but the performance is worth it. (I found some concert videos where you could also watch it being played by others, but the performances just aren't as good.) It's only about three-and-a-half minutes long, so sit back and enjoy.

Lovely, isn't it? All of Mozart's horn concertos are good, but this piece is just so delightfully catchy. Sometimes it gets stuck in my head. I don't mind.

Many years ago -- back when Detroit had a full-time classical music radio station -- I heard a recording of two British performers named Flanders and Swann singing a humorous song set to this melody. I was never able to identify what it was called, so I couldn't find the recording. But I never forgot it.

"Did you try Google?" I hear you saying. Like I said, this was many years ago. As in pre-Google. You know, the Pleistocene era.

Anyway, while listening to a recording of the original Mozart piece today, it occurred to me that, indeed, I had never used Google to look for their comedic version. So on a whim I typed what I thought was a phrase from the chorus into it. It wasn't correct, but it was close enough.

And so now, from a gentler era of comedy, I bring you Flanders and Swann performing Ill Wind in their final stage performance (for U.S. television) in April 1967. I've pasted the lyrics below to make it easier to follow. Thanks to the YouTube poster I copied them from.

As a commenter on the YouTube page wrote: "Can never listen to the Rondo without recalling this whimsical performance. I'm a horn is very hard to play the horn while laughing." Given his well-documented sense of humor, I think Mozart would approve.

Note: This will start on cue at 23:48. Let it play until 28:56 ... and at the end you'll hear how the Dennis Brain recording above figures in! Or let it play a little longer and enjoy "Have Some Medeira, M'Dear" (which I first heard performed by Tony Randall on the Tonight Show years later) ... and then "A Song of Patriotic Prejudice" (Calculated to offend practically everybody, this song, Flanders observes).

Ill Wind

I once had a whim and I had to obey it,
To buy a French horn in a second-hand shop.
I polished it up and I started to play it,
In spite of the neighbours who begged me to stop.

To sound my horn,

I had to develop my embouchure.
I found my horn,
Was a bit of a devil to play.
So artfully wound,
To give you a sound,
A beautiful sound,
So rich and round.
Oh the hours I had to spend,
Before I mastered it in the end.

But that was yesterday.

And just today,
I looked in the usual place.
There was the case,
But the horn itself was missing!

Oh where can it have gone?

Haven't you, hasn't anyone seen my horn?
Oh where can it have gone?
What a blow, now I know,
I'm unable to play my Allegro.
Who swiped my horn?
I bet you a quid somebody did.

Knowing I found a concerto,
And wanted to play it,
Afraid of my talent at playing the horn.
For early today to my utter dismay,
It had vanished away like the dew in the morn.

I've lost that horn!

I know I was using it yesterday.
I've lost that horn, lost that horn,
Found that horn gone.
There's not much hope of getting it back,
Though I'd willingly pay a reward.

I know some hearty folk,

Whose party joke's pretending to hunt with the Quorn.
Gone away, gone away.
Was it one of them took it away?
Will you kindly return that horn?
Oh where is the devil who pinched my horn?
I shall tell the police!
I want that French horn back.

I miss its music more and more and more.

Without that horn I'm feeling sad and so forlorn.

I found a concerto and wanted to play it,

Displaying my talent at playing the horn.
But early today to my utter dismay,
It had totally vanished away.

I'd practised the horn and I wanted to play it,

But somebody took it away!
I practised the horn and was longing to play it,
But somebody took it away!

My neighbour's asleep in his bed,

I'll soon make him wish he were dead,
I'll take up the tuba instead - WAA WAA!

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Can't miss concerts (that I will miss)
Never in my life have I wanted more to be in New York.

 As part of their celebration of the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven, Carnegie Hall has John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique performing all nine symphonies in five concerts, in order, tonight through Sunday. He gave a talk last night.

The ORR plays on period instruments using techniques of the time. While there are many great recordings of the Beethoven symphonies, the Gardiner/ORR set is my all-time favorite. Hearing them performed live would be ... awesome.

A short promo video from Carnegie Hall:


The New York Times recently interviewed Gardiner about their approach to playing Beethoven. Note that this includes a playlist of their recorded version on Spotify. (You can also find some of their recordings on YouTube.) An excerpt:
So in a sense Beethoven’s orchestra never really existed; it was a figment of his vivid aural imagination. The performances he attended and went through the motions of conducting were with pickup orchestras made up of rather unmotivated Viennese musicians sight-reading this new, incredibly complicated and challenging music on only one rehearsal.
It wasn’t until shortly after Beethoven’s death that his symphonies were really scrupulously prepared for performance. And that was by the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire in Paris in 1828 to 1831. For the first time they were rehearsed properly, with clear phrasing, articulations and unified bowings for the string players. This was an orchestra made up of Conservatoire professors and their pupils. They approached Beethoven very seriously, and their performances seem to have made a huge impact on the musical world. Berlioz was present, Wagner for some, Chopin for some others. 
When we started the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique 30 years ago, our aim was to see if we could actually reconstitute or reconfigure that imaginary orchestra that Beethoven had singing in his inner ear, but never truly heard. Our model, if we had a model at all, was this Paris orchestra. 
While writing this, I discovered that they will be performing the cycle in Chicago next week at the Harris Theatre -- beginning on Feb 27 with Nos. 8 and 9, for some odd reason. While it's not Carnegie Hall, Chicago is closer and cheaper ... but I still can't make it. :(

If you live in or near New York or Chicago -- or London, for that matter -- and you love Beethoven, I think these would be spectacular. Go. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Modern dilemmas.
I went out for lunch to McDonald's today. 

Once I had my food, I had to decide where to sit: in the main area where two TVs were playing Fox News, or a smaller area where the only booth left was next to one with a whiny baby.

Fox News or a whiny baby?

I went with the whiny baby.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016
Mencken was right.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
          -- H.L. Mencken

Friday, September 25, 2015
The Big Short: The Movie
Michael Lewis' book The Big Short (Wikipedia summary) was a fascinating look at a few people who saw the 2007 financial crisis coming and profited from it. Lewis has a talent for explaining complex financials and making them understandable, and he had some interesting characters to write about in that book.

Now the movie is coming this December, co-written and directed by Adam McKay, best known for his collaborations with Will Farrell (who is not in this movie, as far as I can tell). Hmmm. The cast looks pretty impressive.

I really hope this movie is worthy of the book. Fingers crossed. The December release is a good sign of confidence by the studio.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2015
When boards go bad.
No matter how badly people in your college -- or almost any organization, frankly -- they almost certainly didn't act as fiscally irresponsible as the recent presidents and board of trustees of the New York City's legendary Cooper Union school. (via Metafilter)

PS: 26 months between posts ... yikes.

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Thursday, July 04, 2013
In defense of Huey.
Earlier this year, I was listening to the NPR show Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me while I washed the dishes, and Huey Lewis turned up for their regular "Not My Job" segment. And I thought, Huey Lewis, really? That's cool, but why? For the answer, which stopped me in my tracks, let's go to the transcript:
And now, we reward people for a lifetime of accomplishment with a few minutes of awkwardness. Huey Lewis and the News was unique among the big time bands of the 1980s in that they did not suck.
SAGAL: The band is re-releasing their iconic album Sports, in honor of its 30th anniversary. We are delighted to have Huey Lewis join us now. Huey, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
The 30th anniversary of Sports? That's not possible!

Oh, but it is.

I thought of writing something then, but never got around to it.

Last month, the band came to suburban Detroit, as part of their tour where they're playing the entire album. I discovered this when I ran across -- well, who knows if it was an actual article or blog post or whatever at the Detroit News website. I can't find it now, but the author referred to their music as "cheese."

I was ticked. It was pop, sure, but pop doesn't necessarily mean bad. "Let's see how people describe whatever you listen to in 30 years, kid," I thought. Didn't write about it then, either.

Then yesterday I ran across "Huey Lewis's Old, Weird America" at Grantland, which turned out to be a really interesting read, and I decided, okay, I really should do this. So here we are.

Do you remember how big Sports was? And what 1983 was like musically?
While Sports isn't usually mentioned among the most popular musical blockbusters of the '80s, it belongs in that company. Of the album's nine tracks, five charted in the Top 20: "I Want a New Drug," "The Heart of Rock & Roll," "Heart and Soul," "If This Is It," and "Walking on a Thin Line." (One of those songs might be playing on the "cool FM" oldies radio station in your town at this very second.) Sports was one of only five no. 1 albums during all of 1984, the fewest number in history. The others were Michael Jackson's Thriller, the Footloose soundtrack, Prince's Purple Rain, and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. Huey Lewis held the summit for only one week, but Sports sold 6 million records in '84 alone (on the way to topping 10 million), good for second on the year-end sales list behind Thriller.
My personal testimony: Sports was one of the two first compact discs I ever purchased. (The other was a recording of Vivaldi's L'Estro Armonico by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, if you're curious.) This was at the Harvard Co-Op when a group of us were visiting friends in Boston in 1985. I didn't even own a CD player yet; that purchase would come a few months later, but my friends had them, and I'd record a cassette of the CD so that I could actually listen to it.

While I don't attend a lot of concerts, the band is also one of only three musical acts that I've seen more than once. (The others are Randy Newman, who I would happily see again, and the Moody Blues -- when was the last time you thought about them?) What can I say, I found them really entertaining.

So now it's 2013, I'm staring a big birthday in the face, and we're years into the next audio format, MP3. And I still listen to Huey Lewis and the News in the car.


Friday, December 28, 2012
“Who sent Obama here to destroy America?”
The National Review magazine sponsored a 2012 Post Election Cruise for the week after last November's election. Their readers no doubt anticipated celebrating the results of that election with the magazine's columnists. But things didn't work out as planned, so what was it like? New York magazine's Joe Hagan has the story in "Blues Cruise." Come for the schadenfreude over the grief and finger-pointing, stay for a glimpse into the self-delusional thinking of some dyed-in-the-wool conservatives.

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After all the discussion about guns lately, "The Simple Truth About Gun Control" is one of the best (and well-documented) articles I've seen.  

See also: Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States

(both via The Big Picture)

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2012 in charts and graphs.
As someone who appreciates good charts and graphs and finds politics and economics interesting, I enjoyed this Washington Post Wonkblog post:
As 2012 draws to a close, Wonkblog asked our favorite professional wonks — economists, political scientist, politicians and more — to see what graphs and charts they felt did the best job explaining the past year. Here are their nominees.
Mind you, they're not all equally impressive, but most of them make excellent points.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012
Today's trivia.
John Tyler (1790-1862), the tenth President of the United States (1841-1845), has two grandsons alive today.

As 83-year-old Harrison Ruffin Tyler explained to New York magazine:
Both my grandfather — the president — and my father, were married twice. And they had children by their first wives. And their first wives died, and they married again and had more children. And my father was 75 when I was born, his father was 63 when he was born. John Tyler had fifteen children — eight by his first wife, seven by his second wife — so it does get very confusing. I really do not know — it’s amazing how families drift apart. When I was a child, I did know most of the descendents, but as you get more generations down the line, it’s hard to keep track of everybody.
As I'm sure you recall from history class, Tyler was William Henry Harrison's running mate ("Tippecanoe and Tyler too!"), who succeeded him upon his death from pneumonia only a month after being sworn in. Tyler is not highly regarded by historians; as Wikipedia notes, "A survey of 65 historians, conducted by C-SPAN in 2009, ranked Tyler as 35th of 42 men to hold the office." (Tyler was preceded by Herbert Hoover and followed by George W. Bush in that ranking, as you can see from the list here.)

But I digress. It's the sheer length of time that's amazing. The next president with one or more surviving grandchildren is James Garfield, who served 40 years later (again, according to Wikipedia).

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Monday, December 17, 2012
The man who never returned.
One of my small joys in life occurs when I make an obscure reference and someone gets it.

Today at work I got an elevator that had descended, in order to go up from the 4th floor, where my cubicle is, to the 10th floor, where I needed to return something. There was one guy already on when I got in, and we started going up.

"Wait a minute," he said, "I was going down to 3."

I looked at the buttons and they appeared to confirm what he said -- 3 was lit, yet we had gone back up from 4.

By this point we were reaching 10. I said something like, "Well, good luck, I hope you don't end up riding this elevator forever."

"It's okay," he said. "I have a nickel."

How many people (not in Boston) would catch the reference to a 53-year-old hit song by the Kingston Trio? (Lyrics and origin)

"Hey, very good!" I said, or something to that effect.

I was in a better mood for the rest of the day.

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Sunday, October 07, 2012
Baumol's disease and how it affects us.
I'd never heard of "Baumol's disease" until I read this Steven Pearlstein column about it. It turns out that we're all affected by it.

It's not a physical ailment. Instead, it explains why the costs of some labor-intensive professions such as education and health care will always increase faster than the rest of the economy. (In short, because they can't keep up with the productivity increases of the rest of the economy, despite demand for them increasing (along with their pay rates.)
Not only should we not be surprised, argues Baumol, but we shouldn’t be that concerned. Given the large productivity gains in the goods producing sector, he says, we cannot only afford the higher prices for things such as health care and education, but still have plenty of money left over to pay for more food, more cars, bigger houses, more clothes and more home appliances. The idea that we can’t afford medical care or higher education, he argues, is just an “illusion” reflecting some fixed notion of what percent of our income should be devoted to such activities.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can and should do to bring down the price of medical care or of a college education.
Pearlstein predicts, as others have, that economic growth will slow as proportionally more workers shift to these labor-intensive sectors of the economy.

And there's this:
From a political perspective, Baumol’s most important insight is that government spending must grow as a percentage of the economy. Most of the services that are provided by, or financed by government — health care, education, criminal justice, national security, diplomacy, industry regulation, scientific research — are those that suffer most acutely from Baumol’s disease. That’s not because of incompetence or self-interest on the part of public servants or even the socialist instincts of Democratic politicians — it’s in the nature of those activities.

To demand, as Republicans do, that government be held to some historical average as a percentage of the economy stubbornly ignores this reality. It would condemn the country, as John Kenneth Galbraith once put it, to a future of “private affluence and public squalor.”
(Pearlstein's on a roll; his previous "manifesto for the entitled" was a trenchant summary of the nonsense spewed by and about "job creators.")


Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Fundamentally overused.
I read about this a few weeks ago but didn't have time to post it. As a writer, I know it's easy to fall in love with a few words and overuse them. Someone should point this out to Newt Gingrich (who is, at least in theory, also a writer).
By now, we've all become familiar with Newt Gingrich's habit of using a few choice adverbs to make the things he says sound just a bit more intelligent to his listeners. Profoundly. Deeply. Frankly. But none of them are as vital to the Gingrich lexicon as fundamentally (along with its cousin, the adjective fundamental). While this appears to be Gingrich's favorite word in the English language, you could also argue that he uses the word so often, and so reflexively, that it's become virtually meaningless to him. In a single 2008 address to the American Enterprise Institute, he used the words fundamentally or fundamental a total of eighteen times.
Using Nexis and news accounts, New York magazine's Dan Amira found more than 400 occasions from 2007 to the present where Gingrich used a form of that word.

If Gingrich's campaign actually goes anywhere (which I doubt), perhaps this should become the basis for a new drinking game.

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