Sunday, July 5, 2020

YouTube Highlight: AuthenticSound


Authentic Sound is a delightful channel run by Belgian musician Wim Winters. Besides his marvelous playing he discusses musicology, history, instruments, and performance practice. 

He raises matters that performers often don't want to dwell on because they require a lot of work to sort out before you can settle on a reasonable reading of the score, and that non-performers (like me) just won't think of.

Here he is on a passage of Beethoven:


There's so much fun and insight here to dig into, you can disappear if you have the time.

You can also find Mr. Winters at his site https://www.authenticsound.org/

A Theory on Social Media Stress


1. Social Media attracts dissatisfied people.
2. Dissatisfied people are often emotionally immature.
3. The traits of emotionally immature people, particularly
  • lack of empathy
  • avoiding anything that causes anxiety
  • luring/antagonizing people into role-relationships and enmeshment
  • fussing to get attention
  • logical reasoning disappears under stress of criticism
create a backlash of blocking/ignoring from mature people and a firestorm of intensifying reaction from other emotionally immature people.
4. Mature people self-segregate into communities and immature people grow resentful until the tenor of the site is so stressful it's not enjoyable for anyone.

Some Site News


1. Optics Tech Solutions

I took a long break from writing since Summer 2018, more or less right as I started my IT business. As such I haven't yet mentioned my business here on the blog. 

I'll work on finding a suitable place here for a little advertisement for it, but if you are interested in my tech services, you can find my business website at


I'd very much like to help you, dear readers, but I won't bother you by hocking my work here left and right. You can email me regarding any tech business-related inquiries— should you have any—at nick@opticstechsolutions.com 

2. Blog Email Address

The official email for the blog is aplvblog@gmail.com

3. YourITStartup

If you scroll way down on this page and look at the left sidebar, you'll find an ad for youritstartup.com, which is a guide that I put together for starting your own IT business. It's my humble attempt to pull together my experience and expertise and make what didn't exist when I needed it: a guide to get your IT business of the ground. It's all free but unlike this blog, ad-supported. 

I hope it may be of use to you or perhaps someone you know.

4. Comments

Finally, I'm aware there is a backlog of un-posted comments. Please accept my apologies. For some reason there was no longer any email listed for Blogger to send me notices about comments, so I had no idea any were posted. I'm slowly sifting through them to delete the spam comments. I'll post a notice when I'm through all of them and have made my replies. Thanks to all of you taking the time to post and again: my apologies.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Thought, Heraclitus and Paul Klee's Cat and Bird


I picked up by chance a children's book one fine art, on the cover of which is Paul Klee's 1928 Cat and Bird. At once I was taken in by the ingenious picture. It reads precisely like a child's drawing—the bird is one the mind of the cat—with all of the simplicity and immediacy you see in what children draw. 

On the other hand there is something philosophical about it: we're not only seeing what the cat is thinking, but as such we're also seeing him thinking. Considering such and in addition the extreme close up of the face with the eyes, ears, and nose converging on the object of thought, the painting seems to be about thinking itself. 

And maybe that's what thinking is: this burning rough image in the head that's kindled by our senses—by our lusty sense of smell and our wide greedy eyes and our perked up ears—that take the world in and set it aflame in our minds. 

I also find my own mind brought to several lines of Heraclitus by this little cat. 

I recall Fragment 10* that nature (φύσις) likes to hide. Indeed there is something fugitive about nature suggested by this picture, namely in the fact that we don't see the objects perceived by the cat, only the bird on the mind of the cat. (Maybe he smells a nearby bird, maybe a smell reminds him of a bird, maybe the thought is exciting him to sniff... so maybe there is no bird, and yet there is this thing in the mind of the cat that seems to be a bird. Or perhaps there is no bird and we have (or the cat has) concocted the image of the bird. Or is the image implanted?

But what does a cat know? Maybe he's mistaken. Or are we? Is it not a bird? Or is this inquiry backwards: is the bird the nature of the cat? Is thinking our nature? 

In any case our inquiries seem constantly to dance around the issue, with nature ever retreating from our invitation.

From Fragment 31 I recall that "thinking is shared by all," on account of the strange sense of fellowship in thought I feel with this cat. There is something both grand and sad in this shared cogitation, grand in its universality and sad in its limitations. It's the same mix of sadness and grandeur I feel looking at the famous paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, of which Klee's bird too reminds me.

The wideness of the eyes and fixity bird make me think the cat's gaze and thought are permanent, and I'm reminded of Fragment 122, "How will one hide from that which never sets." 

Perhaps our gaze and thought are permanent too, but if we return to Fragment 10—that nature likes to hide—we are locked in an eternal dance of hide and think with the world. And Klee's Cat and Bird in its playfulness and profundity not only captures just that, but creates it.

*Following Kahn's numbers and translations from "The Art and Thought of Heraclitus." 1979.



Friday, June 19, 2020

The Great Epi-Twitter Meltdown


Doctors were probably the last group of professionals broadly trusted across all stripes of society. Now, there seems to be no group whom everyone trusts. We have to thank for the destruction of that last bastion of trust the doctors, many of them epidemiologists, who first vehemently clamored for an urgent nationwide shelter-in-place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, only to make exceptions to those restrictions for the nationwide protests and riots following George Floyd's death. So abrupt was their change of mind that one can't help doubt either their intelligence or integrity. Even the most moderate of doctors danced delicately around the issue, refusing categorically to say that protests were as bad an idea as many other activities which were effectively banned and that they too should be at least discouraged.

This hypocrisy I mention for the sake of a complete preface, though I confess it is not surprising to observers of leftist reasoning. More interesting by far, though, is the logic by which many doctors justified their authority to prognosticate on matters non medical: all matters are medical.  That is in effect the reasoning behind their self-authorized declaration that "racism (and white supremacy are a public health crisis."

This is a very bold statement that represents a very serious problem: doctors and scientists don't know what science is. 

Worse than that, they have taken a partial explanation of scientific process, usually referred to by text books as "the scientific method," to be a full definition of science, scientific paradigms, and the philosophy of science. This preposterous notion of the "scientific method" is one of the 20th century's most pernicious myths.

It is a myth that has found its absurd conclusion in "the scientific method" becoming the only means of inquiry and admitting no bounds or rules. Further it is thought since science tests observable phenomena, observable phenomena must be all there is to test. Any discipline of learning that does not operate by analyzing data and any premise not residing in a materialist understanding of the world is inherently invalid and less important than even the worst scientifically-arrived at conclusion.

By varying types and degrees of this absurd reasoning, doctors and scientists have created a monopoly for themselves on everything, which has led to the recent and inevitable public declarations of excommunicating conservatives from political discourse and of the all-reaching authority of doctors and scientists. 

There is also the personal and political angle to all of this, which is that doctors and scientists, who  not only politically trend to the left but also were the left's last reserve of authority that could be brought into the battle against Trump, really enjoyed the COVID limelight and flexing their muscles against Trump, the right, conservatives, republicans, and the religious, whom they see as having usurped and brought down America from the pinnacle of reason-governed utopia that Obama raised out of the wreckage of the Bush administration. 

It was in fact during the Bush era that I remember scientists inveighing with increasing regularity about "the people in charge of this country" with reference to the administration's positions on global warming, as it was still called then, and stem cells, in particular. Doctors too weighed in on Bush's personality—he could utter nothing without evidencing his duncitude—gleefully pschologizing him as they have done with Trump with predictable verdicts. Most recently of all, doctors have begun publicly  to weigh in on Trump's physical health—which they say is ailing—making diagnoses about the president via videos of him.

They have obviously overreached, but I do understand their frustration and desperation to assert themselves, partially because I agree that many and large segments of the right are opposed to science. Conservatives too often: lean on tradition even when good science (and history and theology) contradict it (i.e. on circumcision), use bad arguments (i.e. against climate change), use of common sense not only beyond its limits but overtly instead of logic, repeat conspiracy theories (too many to count, but recently: pizzagate and former President Obama being a Muslim), argue from authority, misquote or selectively quote sources, especially the Bible. . . and on and on and I completely understand why liberals think the right has run amok with unreason. It has.

However, look at the writing not of the fanatical, but of even moderate, progressive, even-tempered folks of the sane leftwing-scientist-doctor-atheist mold, and their works—works of prominent and highly intelligent people—are not only riddled with but founded on errors of history and philosophy. 

Left and right the liberal tradition has been run into the ground, which is why the ground troops of the illiberal right and illiberal left are now in a hot war. Meanwhile, the illiberal intellectuals on the right and left are both arguing, very differently of course, that it is the intrinsic problems and contradictions of the classical liberalism that have led to the current crisis, which is now observed to be a full-blown crisis of both politics and, more gravely, philosophy.


Monday, June 15, 2020

POTUS 45



The endless cavalcade of fulminations to the contrary, Donald Trump, his rise to the presidency, and his presidency are not separately or altogether complicated or inexplicable matters.

My thoughts about him are twofold, one positive—that is to say, something that I know about him—and one negative—that is to say something that I believe is unknown and potentially unknowable. 

First, Donald Trump is a canny opportunist

Canny derives—so the Oxford English Dictionary tells—either from English's can "to be able" or from the Scotch can "knowledge, skill," but more precisely to my point here is the OED's brilliantly precise definition of, "having a constant eye to the main chance." Equally relevant is the entry's reference to canny having been used as an insult by English writers against the Scottish and connoting, "a low prudence or roguish sagacity."

That is Donald Trump to a t.

He is also a master of duplicity, that is to say, of deliberately giving two impressions. More particularly, he gives two impressions knowing which people will believe which impression and knowing in what moral, political, or practical position those people will be after taking that position. It is in this manner that he forces confusion, by forcing positions as a magician forces a card, as well as conflict, by making statements that he knows will pit certain people or groups against each other, leaving him the better off.

In addition to that talent for direction and misdirection is Trump's unpredictability. In conversation he could reply to virtually any statement or question with a fact or with something completely made up, with an insult or with a laugh. Then he might follow up by doubling-down or changing his response entirely. He might do something on the spur of the moment or wait many months. He might praise someone, then fire him, or vice versa. No one knows whether he'll put up a fight or compromise, or both, or whether he'll change his mind after. 

Moreover, no one knows which of those three positions—the fight, the compromise, or the change of mind—is his actual one, so no one knows what to expect either from future statements or policy. This unpredictability has neutered his opponents, who still struggle to predict, let alone pin him. 

Besides, by now he has made so many such statements that it's possible to connect the dots in virtually any way, and thus in no especially persuasive way in particular, rendering even reference to his own words a hopeless game of gotcha! 

Second, I have little clue as to his principles, purposes, premises, or goals. I'm sure he has them, but I don't know what they are. I've only heard two people fruitfully speculate on this matter: first, Michael Malice pointed out that Trump only ever seemed rattled by the suggestion that he wasn't as reach as he boasted, and second Kanye West proffered that Trump is a good bet to be successful because he has an ego and so wants at least to be perceived as successful. 

Beyond that to policy, I don't know whether the flurry of confusion and conflict that is the facade of his administration conceal policy goals, and whether those goals are particularly conservative, or whether policy is merely a shell game of maximizing momentary advantage. (Yet, to me, so poor is the mechanism of government that in any case differences of result might be hard to discern.)

Combine these things—that Trump can force the hands of his opponents while concealing his intents—and you have someone in many ways impervious, especially cloaked in the powers of the Chief Executive.

Of course it doesn't hurt Trump's position one bit that his detractors have spent their credibility in pursuit of his destruction and humiliation. Trump thrives on the spasms of frustration, the staged contempt, and the null self-aggrandizement by which his frenzied critics—democratic politicians of all levels, members of the press, partisans, and antique republicans—have demonstrated that their massive coordinated years-long all-hands-on-deck all-stops-pulled-out attempt to take him down has led only to their sudden extinction. An extinction that has culminated in plain, undisguised, enthusiastic support for coast-to-coast riots of destruction, violence, and civil disturbance. It's painfully plain that support of the riots is code for, at a minimum, declaring Trump's illegitimacy as POTUS, and at a maximum, support of an insurrection.

That sudden revelation about the left is likely to be Trump's lasting legacy. The left liked having righties it could kick around while still extracting civil compliments and compromises from them, but now we see what the left is willing to do when threatened not with aggressively right-wing policies, but with uncertainty about the future of its dominance. Trump sidelining them—gleefully, lustily, and via one of their own vaunted platforms, Twitter—was more than it could bear, and while Trump has them tangled up for now, whether after him the deluge, I do not know.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Lorin Hollander w/ Fred Rogers


Pianist Lorin Hollander in conversation with Fred Rogers, from Rogers' Old Friends...New Friends (1978)



Sundered Boughs



The LarchI don’t know if you have had the same experience, but I can never decide how best to get rid of a weed.  Should I spray it with some chemicals and patiently wait for it to expire in a few days, or carpe the diem and pop it out of its cozy wormy earth spit spot? Or maybe just slice through with the weed-eater, knowing they’ll grow back but guiltily satisfied with the newly and neatly buzzed surface of the grass? What I seldom settle to do, however, is rip them out of the ground with a sudden clenched reflex of terror, which is what I did when a branch fell from my tree as I was weeding the nearby florae. 

As is widely known, branches fall when they are cut, and as is widely expected, the public utility contracts arborists to cut branches so the boughs do not grow to interfere with their power lines. What is not expected is that a branch should be partially cut by said arborist and left to snap off suddenly, and fall of course, at the provocation of only the gentlest puff of breeze that would have hardly spread a dandelion seed. 

So naturally after the aforementioned demonstration of Newtonian physics I released from my grip the mustard flower that I had unintentionally squeezed into a verdant pulp and, wiping my hand clean on my shirt, I inspected the branch and the other sawing and scissoring done by the expert team. 

Well it turns out they spiked their way up the tree, which came as a surprise to me because it’s widely known, to trees as well as people, that such spiky ascents damage trees and expose them to disease. So little did I expect when I saw the feller chivvying up my maple that he was impaling it and chipping off bits of its protective bark. And to think not a drop of honey out of the thing.

To share this recollection with you is, however, to give short shrift to the tale of when they the week before drove a cherry-picker through part of my property, without notification, leaving a particularly sad-looking welt upon the lawn and upon which my mower bounces each time I go over it. I’ll completely pass over all tales of damage done to others related to me, as hearsay, though I daresay there are a few known to me, and to trees of course.

What is unknown to me, however, is whether this shoddy arbory is the result of incompetence or indifference. I of course consider that the contractor is perhaps ill-compensated by the public  utility for what is surely a large task needing to be done in a relatively short season. Maybe the contractor is simply not paid enough to send out enough crews to get the job done more professionally in the same span of time. Perhaps, though, the contract is a lucrative one, and perhaps the contractor perpetrates this ramshackle job with impunity knowing that few citizens will notice, fewer will complain, and none will pursue the matter to the uttermost end of squeezing restitution from the municipal lemon.

In either case it seems I ought to be prepared to pony up more money, either to the public utility to better compensate or compensate better arborists, or to arborists directly in the hope that they, responsible for their mistakes, will do both a good job and a good enough job that the city contractors will stay far afield from my trees. Those are reasonable alternatives, though they won’t protect from crews passing through to get to adjacent properties. For my part though the boughs now break, I’ll be not afraid of death and bane, till maple wood clocks me on the brain.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Movie Review: Mary Poppins


Directed by Robert Stevenson (1964)

The quintessential Disney classic, Mary Poppins is best remembered for its spectacle of dance, animation, and music, most loved for the inimitable prim cheekiness of Julie Andrews, and most praised for the ingenious special effects that blended its many parts together into a marvelous whole. It's not really thought of as an especially well-plotted movie or a movie fraught with meaning, but it is. 

There's a purpose to the splendid gaiety, to the jolly holidays that stretch out from walks in the park and to tea parties that bubble up to the ceiling, and it's all smartly set up with a carefully constructed opening as clear or clearer than that of any high-minded drama.

When Mrs. Banks upon entering her stately Edwardian residence conscripts her housekeeping staff into singing an anthem to female suffrage–Sister Suffragette, which few seem to realize is played as satire–and has to be forcefully reminded about the well-being and whereabouts of her children by her exasperated, quitting nanny, we get the gist.

When Mr. Banks, after unwittingly helping his children's recently former nanny into a cab, enters his regal domicile and does not inquire about his children but rather sings a haughty paean to patriarchal grandeur, we know him. And knowing the parents, we know the plight of little Jane and Michael Banks.

When their new nanny, Mary Poppins, enters from the sky via umbrella, primped and proper, neat as a pin, Jane and Michael know new things will be afoot with their pert and perky nanny. Who doesn't sense that change is in the air is Mr. Banks, whose hardheadedness is foreshadowed in his very first appearance when, walking past the house of his neighbor the retired Admiral Boom, who has a massive ship's rostrum affixed to the top of his house, Banks responds to the Admiral's meteorological warning that Banks might be steering into a bit of bad weather, with an oblivious smile. The proud banker knows that the British pound is the envy of the world but not much else.

So while Jane and Michael follow Mary Poppins' prescription of both fun and discipline, of learning to get your feet wet and to take your medicine, and when they sing and dance and smile past the breakfast table, Mr. Banks balks at the unseemly hullabaloo. He doesn't like the chipper staff and cheery kids and even the chirping birds, for they have disrupted his stern ordering of the household with their lightheartedness. His reaction is epitomized in my favorite moment in the movie wherein Banks, fuming to his wife about the disruptive house-wide uproar unleashed by the new nanny, blurts out in exasperated exclamation, "And when I sit down at a piano, I like to have it in tune!" and his wife replies, "But George, you don't play." Banks enjoys the peace of mind that his domestic order brings him and thus he enjoys his family insofar as they participate in and reflect that order, but the order is all for its own sake and not for the people who make it.

This theme of rejecting order for order's sake and work for work's sake is also the subtle subject of the film's famous fantasy scenes with Mary and the kids, in which everyone enjoys leisure and diversion with no purpose besides itself. We see it in the carousel-ride-turned-derby, in Mary and Bert's tea-and-cakes lunch served by penguins (a marvel of animation), and in the kids' visit to Mary's Uncle Albert, who is liberated from his earthly confines by irrepressible laughter. Each adventure lifts the spirits and imaginations of the kids, a fact which continues to elude Mr. Banks, who just can't see past the nose on his face to put down work for some play. 

Banks' obtuse preoccupation with work comes to a head at the bank when little Michael doesn't want to deposit his tuppence to fund railways in Africa, but wants to feed the birds in front of St. Paul's. Michael wants to do a simple thing, a kind thing, for its own sake, not make a practical investment in future profits, which frustrates his father, infuriates the board of directors, and precipitates the most unexpected bank run in history.

At this point in the movie, though, we're fairly wondering about the logic of Mary Poppins' plan to save Mr. Banks. After all, she has no reason to the think at any point that he's realizing the winds have changed, that his children are happy and growing, and that he has remained the same. She even has to trick him into taking the children to the bank with him, an outing she must know is going to be a fiasco. The reason for Mary Poppins' indirect method of saving Banks is that she knows his change must come from within and must come from his choice to embrace his children over his work. A stern talking-to and a serious discourse will not persuade him. He needs to see the choice before him, a choice that will need to be made once the incompatible elements—the kids and the bank—are brought together. 

With such purpose, Bert's scene with Mr. Banks, in which the chimney sweep more or less explains everything, is terribly out of place. First, we didn't need the first two hours of the movie if someone is just going to explain everything to the protagonist at the end. Second, we're not really sure whether Bert is getting through to Banks or Banks is coming to his senses or whether he's just confused. The scene is played rather cagily, on purpose I think, because they wanted to explain a little but didn't want to end the movie at this point. Third, why is Banks listening to the chimney sweep, whom he doesn't know and who doesn't know him? 

It's an unnecessary exchange too, because the scene would have played brilliantly as a monologue, in which Banks reminisces about his old life amidst its symbols: his pipes, his fireplace, and his chair. Then when the children come in as before with their tender, honest apologies—and return the tuppence—but this time break his heart, it would be clear that he is coming around and we would be prepared for movie's masterful finale, in which Banks makes a last journey to the job to which he has dedicated his life and from which he knows he will be fired. As he retraces his steps we read Banks' long-awaited self-examination through the film's music, the Feed the Birds tune. What song was once tender and nurturing from the lips of Mary Poppins is now melancholic as Banks passes through the park where his children have played not with him but with their countless nannies, and when at last he finally diverts course—a recollection of Admiral Boom's advice—and approaches the the steps of St. Paul's, Feed the Birds has become a mournful dirge. We are struck by the gravity of what will pass: his pride and former life and self-image, or his family.

Banks has not made up his mind quite yet, though, and his coming catharsis is not destined to be a tragic one. When he enters the bank and is summarily fired and stripped of his symbols of power—his hat, red carnation, and umbrella—he finally realizes the absurdity of his intense commitment to his job and responds to his humiliating sacking not with spirited self-defense or recrimination, but with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! The whimsical refutation shows that Banks has finally given up his forceful molding of the breed and let his children reform him. Banks is embracing his firing with joy over his newfound freedom, freedom with which he rededicates himself to his family. 

Finally returning home, he patches his children's long-broken kite with newspaper (a symbol of his former preoccupation, his work) and as a perfecting touch, his wife follows suit and adds to the kite a proper tail, her suffragette ribbon (a symbol of her former preoccupation, her political cause.) At last the mended family together dances off down Cherry Tree Lane arm-in-arm and the kite takes flight, a symbol of their restored unity. 

All of that to the tune of the Sherman Brothers' Let's Go Fly A Kite, the use of which song integrates the film's theme of laying down purposeful work for purposeless, even frivolous leisure, with what that reorienting ultimately brings about: the salvation of Mr. Banks and the restoration of his family. And what better phrase epitomizes frivolity than "Go fly a kite!" which in this marvelous, ebullient finale is raised from a slur of abuse to a jolly exhortation to lay down your labors, embrace your family, and celebrate life.