It’s About Winning

This article has been published at the Huffington Post and can be seen here.

What I realized yesterday after I saw the cover of a newspaper filled with cheering American faces at the capture of the Boston suspect is that the reason these crimes are ignored and expanded is that Americans as a whole (for the most part, minus some small dissent) agree with the policies. Ours is a bloodthirsty, punitive, and judgmental nation. Full of hypocrisy, we pound our chests in glory at the murder of those we feel have sinned against us, while concurrently seeking to murder ourselves, using revenge as justification, regardless whether there is accuracy in those beliefs, and in spite of our own atrocities against other nations. Our leaders are simply symbols for all of us.

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Lifting Their Legs on the World

When I was a girl, my family took car trips around the country. I know there were many long, uninterrupted and rather boring stretches where my sister and I complained and asked, “Are we there yet?” Five minutes later, “Are we there yet?” I used the time to read, still a favorite pastime, or to stare out at the landscape.

Yet as time has ebbed, it isn’t the long drives I remember so much, it is the places along the way. I have several ethereal, out-of-context memories, such as an intersection in the middle of nowhere stopping us at a light in the middle of the night. I was in the backseat. It was dark. We were in the desert. That is all I know. Or the Native American roadside stand in New Mexico or some other southwest place, selling strange toys and dolls covered in actual fur. We stopped at a place to go to the bathroom, and I was given a plastic pony covered in grey felt. It was short and fat, a Thelwell style thing. I can’t remember if I was given the pony before or after my crying fit, the one that seems as if it lasted hours, because I hadn’t gotten something I wanted. I remember the stickiness of the car seat, my raw facial flesh from the salt and water and rubbing. It was cloudy, but it was also hot — our cars never had air conditioning. It seems unlikely my parents would have given it to me after crying in such a manner, but I also seem to have some vague notion of there being some unfairness too, and so I was given this trinket. This episode was obviously linked to some emotional overflowing, and therefore this is the reason it sticks in my brain. I know it was summer and I was 10 or 11.

Mostly though, I remember the places: the museum at the petrified forest, the fluorescent lights shining on off-white, speckled formica tile, the bits of hardened wood under glass on tables, and the signs explaining the geological phenomena. I remember a roadside dinosaur we could climb inside. I remember campsites in far flung places, usually the desert, because we traveled every summer to visit my grandpa and uncles and aunt in New Mexico. I remember Los Alamos and the mesa stable, walking out and looking over the cliffs at what seemed to be vast canyons. I remember the Grand Canyon, and the Great Hoover dam and its unbelievable, terrifying, breath stealing bridge. I could see the water, trapped on one side and then far, far below, the canyon on the other, empty of water. I would marvel that the water caught on the far side could be that deep. I remember the Glen Canyon damn, and riding wide boats among the sheer rock faces. We roamed wax museums, and visited the pretend old west in Carson City, Nevada. We stopped at roadside attractions showing the path of the pioneers along the Oregon trail, and visited ghost towns that had thrived in the heyday of the gold rush. I remember passing billboard after billboard, announcing the coming attractions, as well as signs you had to read as you passed by. Roadside poetry. So it went. Summer after summer, we took our yearly drive. Sometimes in the winter we also visited, and skated on iced-over ponds, or hiked through snowy forests.

Last summer, I took my daughters to Europe. We trekked through several cities. I found myself feeling sadness and a little frustration that in city after city, the same corporate shops dotted the landscapes. Museums were large, crowded, and expensive, certainly not the best option for my then 2 year old. I could not find a small chocolate shop in Antwerp. A shop owner in the Netherlands told me it was because the multinational corporations had driven up the cost of real estate and all the small shops had gone out of business.

When Milla was three, we trekked to our annual family reunion in South Dakota. It was the first time I had been to the small pioneer cemetery where one part of my family has been buried since settling on the plains in the mid-1800s. Many of those buried there were born in Scandinavia. I have a great, great, great aunt who was one of the only white people Sitting Bull befriended. She brought food to them because the American government was purposely starving them. She ignored the prohibition against it and fed them. There is a book about her. These hardy (and hard) people moved from a very cold, harsh place to another cold and harsh place. Some of them were run off their Scandinavian farms by political unrest in their countries. For this, I think some of them identified with the Natives on those plains and perhaps this is why they became allies.

The trip was a complete and utter disappointment on one level. I expected it to look like South Dakota. I expected a “South Dakota-ness” to the place. No. It was Target. It was Walmart. It was Burger King. It was the same ugly, conforming corporate crap we have where I live. Later I traveled to several other US cities. The same thing.

Something erased these individual places and made them homogenuous and boring. I know what it is: capitalism. Capitalism took away the South Dakota-ness, and the Oregon-ness, and the Arizona-ness and replaced them with bland, ugly sameness. There are no little shops selling trinkets made by locals. If there are, they are now in the upscale, “artsy” places and the people making things sell them for a small fortune to tourists whose tours are to shop. Tour brochures in motels feature the “best” malls and the “best” shopping. Going to places and finding things to do that are not shopping is difficult. Oh, you can pay a fortune to ride on some guided boat, or to rent some piece of equipment you likely own at home such as a bicycle or kayak, but it’s rare to go to places and find things about that place that you can’t find in every other place all over. Even Europe has lost its uniqueness in each city. Family trips are taken to destination resorts that are exactly the same as every other corporate resort. Even the lines are the same. All that might change is the weather. Too bad the corporations can’t control that.

Bill Bryson, in his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid describes rides in cars visiting places in the US. I’ve read many memoirs where the author remembers such things. I have also read stories where such summer trips played a key role in the plot. Driving around in the backseat as a child is a key cultural memory for those of us born between the 1930s and early 1980s.

Since taking vacations as an adult, I have spent many trips trying to find places like those I visited as a child, unusual places that I can take my children that define the place they are in. I’ve been frustrated by the search. I’ve raged against travel brochures that feature shopping as a tourist attraction. What, so I can buy the same shit made in China that is sold all over the world and then lug it home? I drove across the country in 2009. Every single roadside, every single town was monochromatic, exactly like the one before. Nothing had its own identity.

In another favorite book of mine by Bryson In a Sunburned Country, Bryson describes a town called Alice Springs, Australia, near the site of an Aboriginal holy place at the base of the MacDonnell Mountain Range. It is overrun with McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a Kmart. He says that Americans have created “a philosophy of retailing that is totally without aesthetics…” He also says it is totally irresistible, but I do not agree. I absolutely hate it and I do resist it. I avoid these places like the plague.

I’m currently reading Roger Ebert’s memoir Life Itself. In it, he describes perfectly how we are losing the identities of the world’s places. He describes his love of London, his visits there for thirty years, spanning from 1966 to 2006. Every year he went at least once, many even more. Yet in the last decade, London is losing itself because of the corporations “lifting their legs along London’s streets.” Oh, my good man, what an apt description. In it I had an Ah ha! moment that identified what has been missing from my vacations and visits to places that are not home. I thought it was something about me, that maybe I have lost my luster, and that this is why I haven’t been able to fully enjoy these places I’ve gone. I had an expectation of that feeling of newness, visiting something different from myself that I experienced as a child vacationing in the backseat of our family car.

Yet it wasn’t me at all. It was this erasing of individual identities from the places in the world. It was all the hideous conformity, with no regard whatsoever for the place that had been there. It’s the chasing of the almighty dollar.

We have to do something to change this. We have to stop the reign of capitalism. Something has to shift. People have to believe it is possible before we all become Stepford robots keeping up with the Joneses to buy ugly, plastic junk that destroys our planet. We need to go out of our way to find the few places that still exist where homogeneity isn’t the rule and take our children to these places.

Last summer I visited my friend in Ephrata, Washington. There isn’t much there; Walmart took care of that, although some small shops are trying to make a go of it. Yet they are shops, not tourist destinations. My friend took me for a drive out to the Columbia Basin plateau, a site of magnificent geology, where lava flows and massive floods created incredible landscapes. Up on the edge of one of the cliffs over a coulee there was a little museum telling the story of the geology, the ice age, and its effect on the land. My 13 year old actually read the information on the exhibits. It reminded me of the places we visited as a child. These places do exist. Find them. Take your children. Give them memories that are worthy of reminiscing. Don’t let us all turn into monochromatic robots, shopping our way around the world.

Why I Won’t Vote ~by W.E.B. Dubois

by W.E.B. Dubois

On October 20, 1956, W.E.B. Dubois delivered this eloquent indictment of US politics and why he would not vote in the upcoming Presidential election. Dubois condemns both Democrats and Republicans for their indifferent positions on the influence of corporate wealth, racial inequality, arms proliferation and unaffordable health care. The article appeared in The Nation.  This article is absolutely fitting today and sums up my feelings pretty much exactly.

Why I Won’t Vote, by W.E.B. Dubois

This article was republished in Hartford Web Publishing.

Since I was twenty-one in 1889, I have in theory followed the voting plan strongly advocated by Sidney Lens in The Nation of August 4, i.e., voting for a third party even when its chances were hopeless, if the main parties were unsatisfactory; or, in absence of a third choice, voting for the lesser of two evils. My action, however, had to be limited by the candidates’ attitude toward Negroes. Of my adult life, I have spent twenty-three years living and teaching in the South, where my voting choice was not asked. I was disfranchised by law or administration. In the North I lived in all thirty-two years, covering eight Presidential elections. In 1912 I wanted to support Theodore Roosevelt, but his Bull Moose convention dodged the Negro problem and I tried to help elect Wilson as a liberal Southerner. Under Wilson came the worst attempt at Jim Crow legislation and discrimination in civil service that we had experienced since the Civil War. In 1916 I took Hughes as the lesser of two evils. He promised Negroes nothing and kept his word. In 1920, I supported Harding because of his promise to liberate Haiti. In 1924, I voted for La Follette, although I knew he could not be elected. In 1928, Negroes faced absolute dilemma. Neither Hoover nor Smith wanted the Negro vote and both publicly insulted us. I voted for Norman Thomas and the Socialists, although the Socialists had attempted to Jim Crow Negro members in the South. In 1932 I voted for Franklin Roosevelt, since Hoover was unthinkable and Roosevelt’s attitude toward workers most realistic. I was again in the South from 1934 until 1944. Technically I could vote, but the election in which I could vote was a farce. The real election was the White Primary.

Retired “for age” in 1944, I returned to the North and found a party to my liking. In 1948, I voted the Progressive ticket for Henry Wallace and in 1952 for Vincent Hallinan.

In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no “two evils” exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party. On the Presidential ballot in a few states (seventeen in 1952), a “Socialist” Party will appear. Few will hear its appeal because it will have almost no opportunity to take part in the campaign and explain its platform. If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by “force and violence.” Anything he advocates by way of significant reform will be called “Communist” and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state. These things are on every Communist program; these things are the aim of socialism. Any American who advocates them today, no matter how sincerely, stands in danger of losing his job, surrendering his social status and perhaps landing in jail. The witnesses against him may be liars or insane or criminals. These witnesses need give no proof for their charges and may not even be known or appear in person. They may be in the pay of the United States Government. A.D.A.’s and “Liberals” are not third parties; they seek to act as tails to kites. But since the kites are self-propelled and radar-controlled, tails are quite superfluous and rather silly.

The present Administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind. Stevenson promises to maintain or increase this effort. The weight of our taxation is unbearable and rests mainly and deliberately on the poor. This Administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. It runs smoothly like a well-organized industry and should do so because industry runs it for the benefit of industry. Corporate wealth profits as never before in history. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing. Our crime, especially juvenile crime, is increasing. Its increase is perfectly logical; for a generation we have been teaching our youth to kill, destroy, steal and rape in war; what can we expect in peace? We let men take wealth which is not theirs; if the seizure is “legal” we call it high profits and the profiteers help decide what is legal. If the theft is “illegal” the thief can fight it out in court, with excellent chances to win if he receives the accolade of the right newspapers. Gambling in home, church and on the stock market is increasing and all prices are rising. It costs three times his salary to elect a Senator and many millions to elect a President. This money comes from the very corporations which today are the government. This in a real democracy would be enough to turn the party responsible out of power. Yet this we cannot do.

The “other” party has surrendered all party differences in foreign affairs, and foreign affairs are our most important affairs today and take most of our taxes. Even in domestic affairs how does Stevenson differ from Eisenhower? He uses better English than Dulles, thank God! He has a sly humor, where Eisenhower has none. Beyond this Stevenson stands on the race question in the South not far from where his godfather Adlai stood sixty-three years ago, which reconciles him to the South. He has no clear policy on war or preparation for war; on water and flood control; on reduction of taxation; on the welfare state. He wavers on civil rights and his party blocked civil rights in the Senate until Douglas of Illinois admitted that the Democratic Senate would and could stop even the right of Senators to vote. Douglas had a right to complain. Three million voters sent him to the Senate to speak for them. His voice was drowned and his vote nullified by Eastland, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who was elected by 151,000 voters. This is the democracy in the United States which we peddle abroad.

Negroes hope to muster 400,000 votes in 1956. Where will they cast them? What have the Republicans done to enforce the education decision of the Supreme Court? What they advertised as fair employment was exactly nothing, and Nixon was just the man to explain it. What has the Administration done to rescue Negro workers, the most impoverished group in the nation, half of whom receive less than half the median wage of the nation, while the nation sends billions abroad to protect oil investments and help employ slave labor in the Union of South Africa and the Rhodesias? Very well, and will the party of Talmadge, Eastland and Ellender do better than the Republicans if the Negroes return them to office?

I have no advice for others in this election. Are you voting Democratic? Well and good; all I ask is why? Are you voting for Eisenhower and his smooth team of bright ghost writers? Again, why? Will your helpless vote either way support or restore democracy to America?

Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No, it is dogged hope. It is hope that if twenty-five million voters refrain from voting in 1956 because of their own accord and not because of a sly wink from Khrushchev, this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest. Yet if we protest, off the nation goes to Russia and China. Fifty-five American ministers and philanthropists are asking the Soviet Union “to face manfully the doubts and promptings of their conscience.” Can not these do-gooders face their own consciences? Can they not see that American culture is rotting away: our honesty, our human sympathy; our literature, save what we import from abroad? Our only “review” of literature has wisely dropped “literature” from its name. Our manners are gone and the one thing we want is to be rich – to show off. Success is measured by income. University education is for income, not culture, and is partially supported by private industry. We are not training poets or musicians, but atomic engineers. Business is built on successful lying called advertising. We want money in vast amount, no matter how we get it. So we have it, and what then?

Is the answer the election of 1956? We can make a sick man President and set him to a job which would strain a man in robust health. So he dies, and what do we get to lead us? With Stevenson and Nixon, with Eisenhower and Eastland, we remain in the same mess. I will be no party to it and that will make little difference. You will take large part and bravely march to the polls, and that also will make no difference. Stop running Russia and giving Chinese advice when we cannot rule ourselves decently. Stop yelling about a democracy we do not have. Democracy is dead in the United States. Yet there is still nothing to replace real democracy. Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the money-changers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let’s vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.

Interview with the Author of The Cello Suites, Eric Siblin

Described as “part biography, part music history, and part literary mystery,” The Cello Suites weaves together three narratives:  the disappearance of Bach’s cello suites in the eighteenth century, Pablo Casals’s discovery and popularization of the music, and author Eric Siblin’s quest for the truth behind the suites today.  Mr. Siblin graciously agreed to an interview, and we spent over an hour discussing his book, the music, and the beauty of the cello.

LG:  I was fascinated by the Walter Joachim story.  That was one of my favorite parts of the book.  It was just timed so perfectly, and it seemed incredible to run into somebody with that kind of personal history.  I was really curious about how that acquaintance went, how long it lasted, and what it was like to run into someone with his background.
ES:    Walter seemed like the music fleshed out before my very eyes.  It was wonderful to stumble upon him.  When I heard about his story I was just amazed and spellbound that somebody living a few blocks from where I was living had such a profound connection to the music, and somebody who I was crossing paths with every week, but not knowing, had turned out to be such an embodiment of the music.  It was just delightful to get to know him.

Unfortunately it happened late in his life.  I think I met him in October and I think by Christmas he had passed away.  So I didn’t get that much time to hang out with Walter, but I would regularly bump into him on the streets, the main street that he lived on, Monkland Avenue, and I would walk with him either to the cafe and have lunch with him, or escort him (because he walked with a certain amount of frailty) back to his high-rise apartment, and started to do some interviews with him as well with a tape recorder, but had only gotten up I think to 1938 or something, when he passed away.  It was fairly short-lived my encounter with Walter, but it was really pivotal for the writing of the book because firstly, it just spurred me on and got me quite enthusiastic, and secondly, Walter urged me to take up the cello, so that also gave the idea of the book a shot in the arm.

LG:  Yes, the timing seemed really fortuitous.
ES:    Yeah, so it was wonderful timing and terrific to meet him at that stage.  It was perfect to meet him period.  He had a real joie de vivre, and he was a great raconteur who would regale me with stories of music history, his own life story, which was fascinating, and music gossip, cellist gossip.  It was great.  And he was right, by trying to pick up the cello, in a really rudimentary way, it was also gave me insight into the music and helped me, and helped the book get written, I think.  I never sat down at the outset and thought, okay, what solid ground do I have to cover in order to turn this into a book?  What activities can I do to make it readable?  It was really an organic process that stemmed from own genuine curiosity.

I was really trying to connect-the-dots that comprised the music, and often it was by happenstance.  The case with Walter, was one.  There were other times.  I was in Europe once doing other work and I would inevitably look around to see if there were other connections where I happened to be to the Cello Suites.  Sure enough, often something would pop up.

For example, I was in Brussels a few times, and I would not otherwise think of going to Brussels to research the Cello Suites, but I was there for other work reasons and I would look around, and Brussels produced a few different scenes that made their way into the book.  One, the first cellist I interviewed was living not far from Brussels in Belgium, Mischa Maisky, and I interviewed him.  Then it turned out when I was researching Cello Suite No. 6 and grappling with the sort of mystery of the five-stringed instrument in Cello Suite No. 6, I learned of this fellow Dmitry Badiarov, a Russian immigrant luthier who was building violoncello piccolos, and had strong opinions about Cello Suite No. 6.  In fact all the Cello Suites from his point of view were written for the violoncello piccolo.  So I got to go hear him play and interview him.  On another occasion I wandered into this store where I found a business card advertising a store called Prelude.  Following my nose I had to go there.  That was another serendipitous happening.

LG:  Did you ever have imagine walking into some unusual little store and finding the actual Cello Suites?
ES:    Oh, I suppose you could file that under fantasy.  I’m not sure that I ever expected it to happen, but kind of operating at the fantasy level, I think when I felt it most vividly was when I was in the little shop called Prelude.  I certainly didn’t set out to go to that shop with the idea of finding anything.  But I had that sort of magical feeling that you’re sort of stepping into your own fantasy in a way and your own book where a 13-year-old Pablo Casals stumbles upon the Gruetzmacher edition in Barcelona in a second-hand bookshop.  You know how that scene was so pivotal I think for Pablo Casals, for the history of the music, and in my case for imagining there was a story in the music.  Here I was at sort of the end of my journey, kind of walking into, literally, a prelude of my own imagination.  That was a really neat feeling.  I can’t say that I seriously expected to personally find the manuscript.  To do that, I think you would have to be rooting in castles and be very familiar with German history.

LG:  And with the war, so much got damaged.
ES:    Yeah.  People do look for Bach compositions and things do turn up fairly regularly, but I never seriously thought that I would be the one to unearth it, beyond daydreaming.  I did think that well, if somebody else found it while I was writing the book, that would have been interesting.

LG:  While doing the research you said that you were often there on other trips, so was the book a sideline project you were working on while you were living your regular life and doing your regular day job?
ES:    Yes, very much so.  For most of the time I was a freelance magazine writer and an independent documentary film maker, during that period.  It began when I was still writing for the daily newspaper The Montreal Gazette, but I quit that job while the book was being researched.  I had a day job throughout the process and was writing in my spare time.  [I’m glad the book took time to write] because there was such a learning curve for me that I think if someone said to me here is fifty-thousand dollars, write this book in one year, it wouldn’t have been a very good book. It certainly wouldn’t have been as developed as the book that got written, because I benefitted from having all this time.  The ideas had time to marinate in my head, and I had time to just stumble upon people like Walter and accident upon business cards that advertised a shop called Prelude and make sense of what was essentially a pretty complicated story if you factor in eighteenth-century Europe and history and the slow unification of Germany, and the militarization of Prussia, and the Spanish civil war, and the life of Bach.  There were a lot of dots to connect so I think it is good that I had a lot of time to do it.

LG:  And Dimitry Badiarov, the fellow who believes the suites were made for a 5 stringed instrument, did he play all of them for you?
ES:    No.  I heard he has a recording out that just came out recently, but I haven’t heard it.  No, he did not play them all.  He is in Holland.  He just feels that Suites 1- 5 were written for a 4-string violin piccolo, and the last suite was written for a 5 string violin piccolo.  Part of his argument is that nowhere in the Anna Magdalena manuscript is there a reference to a cello.  He could be right for all we know.  It is one of the reasons this music works so fabulously well on so many different instruments.  If you had only heard all the suites played on the lute, you would say, “Well, yes, this was a composition for the lute.”  You wouldn’t even think of the cello if you didn’t know any better.

LG:  I found especially interesting your description of taking cello lessons.  It gave me a little boost to me in my own playing because to me so much of the time it just sounds bloody awful, and I wonder why am I doing this?  But then I have moments where it sounds beautiful and I can feel it in my body, and I realize this is why I’m doing it. I was curious about your cello lessons, how much you learned, and how much you played, and why you stopped.
ES:    I am a firm believer in amateurs.  I think today society is kind of a almost instructing us to be spectators, not players or creators in life, and we get so taken up with the wizardry of virtuosos in all the arts that people don’t feel they can be good enough to play, or never develop the desire so I think picking up the instrument at any age, or any art form, is a terrific thing to do.  I play guitar so I don’t play any other instrument, so learning the cello as you mentioned, as you alluded to, is kind of a daunting thing after a certain age.

I think the bowing in particular is a real challenge.  It was kind of like a combination for me of calligraphy, golf, and archery, none of which I know how to do, and so that was tough, but my left hand was okay because I play the guitar.  After getting over the trauma that there are no frets on the fingerboard, it wasn’t as bad as I might of feared.  There is something really quite special about finding your way to the correct note, real or imagined, just intuiting the intonation.  If you’ve never done it before and you’re used to frets, you would tend to think this is absurd, I don’t have a hope in hell of landing in the right spot, but you do, and it feels great.

Likewise, the great sort of rumbling and reverberations of this majestic instrument running through your whole body is a thing of great visceral pleasure, I think. So even though it doesn’t sound great at times, and you’re forced to play really Mickey Mouse material at the beginning, I think that the progress inevitably proceeds and it feels wonderful. That was my experience, and certainly when I got to the point where I could play some bonafide Bach ditties from this book called Bach for Cello, it’s great.  However watered down and basic those pieces are you still get a sense of Bach’s music in the phrasing.  The genius of Bach’s phrasing somehow comes out, and for me that was really exciting.

I didn’t stick with the instrument right to the end of the book, I think for reasons of time.  I realized that I wasn’t going to learn a Cello Suite very quickly, and I at some point quite spontaneously got the idea that I could try to tackle this on guitar.  I have just been a folk rock guitarist.  I never played classical guitar.  I took the cello notes and transposed them on the guitar.  It was kind of goofy.  I was playing essentially baselines on guitar, that mimicked the beginning of the first Cello Suites.  And then it didn’t take very long to learn that in fact there were bonafide arrangements of the Cello Suites for guitar, so I bought some guitar tablature, which I don’t read, I don’t have facility for reading for guitar.  I am used to doing what is called guitar tab, so slowly, measure by measure, in a real painstaking way, I was able to figure out the prelude of the first cello suite, so that sort of displaced the cello experience for me.  Also I didn’t own a cello, I was renting a cello, and paying for lessons, and doing a lot of things in life, so that is how my cello lessons came to a close.

LG:  How far did you get with them?  Did you move out of first position and were you doing vibrato?
ES:    No. I didn’t get beyond just those first few pieces in that book Bach for Cello.  Ultimately it was a feeling that I’m a respectable guitar player, but I was really a beginner at cello, so I decided to devote what time I had in life to playing an instrument I was fairly good at, so that is what put me off. If I were ever to get a cello somehow, I would love to pick it up occasionally.  I have actually dreamed about some of those Anna Magdalena notebook pieces.

I might get back to it someday in retirement.  It was a case of spreading myself too thin.  I don’t have that much time for music playing and I can do more with the guitar.  I’m more ambitious with the guitar and I learned a few other classical pieces on the guitar.  I still play popular music.  It wasn’t a total irreversible conversion.  After I wrote the book I found myself free to listen to all sorts of music which is what I do now, which includes Bach and the whole gamut of classical music.

Another thing I really liked about Bach was that if you try to get a sense of Bach, if you look at the people Bach was influenced by, and then Bach’s career, and his sons, and all the musicians Bach influenced, it is a pretty nifty way of getting a crash course in classical music.  Also I had the career of Casals and the cello repertoire to add to that, so it was a great way of getting up to speed with something that I think intimidates people.  How do I start with this colossal, sometimes intellectually intimidating, vast body of work, you know?  People don’t know where to start.  In my case I feel really fortunate that I had this really terrific, little spring board that I jumped on.  I was just so genuinely and intrigued about the real story.

LG:  The letter that Bach wrote to try and secure a position, and they are so obsequious, it grates against a modern mind. I thought it was funny too how he seemed to say, “This job doesn’t pay enough.”
ES:    We have to be forgiving in someways because there are certain conventions that were de riguer, that were practiced and expected in those days.  They are kind of unseemly.  In fact, when you read about the life of Bach, he wasn’t some kind of wimp who was cow-towing to whatever authority happened to be around.  He was kind of a rebellious type who really stood up for his own rights, particularly in the workplace, and his art.

He really knew the value of the currency that was used in those days.  Some people have called him a bit of a cheapskate, but on the other hand, when you have 20 children and you’ve got a really demanding job that includes the music in a substantial city like Leipzig, and running the music of a Lutheran boarding school and churches, on top of busily cranking out what is going to be the greatest output of music for all time, you’ve got a lot on your plate and you have to check the bills and see how much money is coming in.  He didn’t lead the sort of lackadaisical life of a sort of romantic and happily impoverished artist.  I think that helps explain part of his genius.  He wasn’t sitting around thinking what music is going to be popular or going to be considered a masterpiece.  He was really busy in the here and now. He must have really been living in the moment, I think, he was so busy.  It has a nice ending, his story.  Even though he wasn’t considered famous in his lifetime, and he has been rendered ultra famous by posterity, a man who had his nose to the grindstone and was just doing his best on a day to day basis ended up producing this music that had such everlasting allure.

Let’s Just Change History

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell stood on the senate floor and basically just made up a new history.  The New Deal didn’t work, he said.  Unemployment was at 15% in 1940.  The programs couldn’t have worked.

Um.  Considering unemployment was at 25% in 1933, a 15% unemployment rate seven years later is a significant reduction.  If one examines an economic graph, improvements and growth are seen throughout the 1930s (except for one small blip in 1937 when President Roosevelt took Republican advice and started cutting rather than spending, causing a downturn in economic growth.  Thank goodness he paid attention and ignored their clamoring a year later).

We as American citizens need to start taking responsibility for what is going on in this country.  We can blame government all we want, but we get the government we deserve.  If we do not know history, if we cannot argue against outright changes to history because we don’t know what happened, and we can be manipulated and controlled in any manner by those in power.   Mitch McConnell wants to claim the New Deal didn’t work, even though it has been accepted history for nearly 8 decades that it did?  If we don’t know any better because we aren’t educated, than how can we refute him?

Democracy requires responsiblity.  It requires an effort on the part of citizens, an effort beyond watching screaming heads on Fox News, or anywhere else for that matter.  If we don’t start taking this responsibility, it doesn’t matter who is President, the United States as we know it will be over.  History is clear on that.

Worst. President. Ever.

I was just commenting to a friend yesterday how many blogs I read are reposts of stuff the authors saw elsewhere and how my blog is rarely reposts of others’ writing or videos. I went back through my blogs and found a couple of times where rather than writing, I’ve directed readers to something else (Bunny Foo Foo, et al). Mostly though, my blog is my own. However, I read something today I thought so concisely stated my thoughts exactly, I had to post it here. I’ve included the link at the end of the post if you would like to go to the original page.

From Harper’s Magazine, written by Scott Horton:

“It would be difficult to identify a President who, facing major international and domestic crises, has failed in both as clearly as President Bush,” concluded one respondent. “His domestic policies,” another noted, “have had the cumulative effect of shoring up a semi-permanent aristocracy of capital that dwarfs the aristocracy of land against which the founding fathers rebelled; of encouraging a mindless retreat from science and rationalism; and of crippling the nation’s economic base.”

America’s historians, it seems, don’t think much of George W. Bush.

Now in all fairness, historians should wait a while before passing judgment on a president’s who served recently, much less one still in office. But the current incumbent is a special case. After all, 81 percent of Americans, according to a recent New York Times poll, believe he’s taken the country on the wrong track. That’s the highest number ever registered. The same poll also says 28 percent have a favorable view of his performance in office, which is also in Nixon-in-the-darkest-days-of-Watergate territory.

But, as George Mason University’s History News Network reports, the historians have a different measure. They want to stack him up against his forty-two predecessors as the nation’s chief executive. Among historians, there is no doubt into which echelon he falls–his competitors are Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Franklin Pierce, the worst of the presidential worst. But does Bush actually come in dead last?

Yes. History News Network’s poll of 109 historians found that 61 percent of them rank Bush as “worst ever” among U.S. presidents. Bush’s key competition comes from Buchanan, apparently, and a further 2 percent of the sample puts Bush right behind Buchanan as runner-up for “worst ever.” 96 percent of the respondents place the Bush presidency in the bottom tier of American presidencies. And was his presidency (it’s a bit wishful to speak of his presidency in the past tense–after all there are several more months left to go) a success or failure? On that score the numbers are still more resounding: 98 percent label it a “failure.”

Historians Rate George W. Bush a “Failure”

This marks a dramatic deterioration for Bush. Previously he wasn’t viewed in the most positive terms, but there was a consensus that he wasn’t the “worst of the worst” either. That was in the spring of 2004. In the meantime, Bush has established himself as the torture president, the basis for his invasion of Iraq has been exposed as a fraud, the Iraq War itself has gone disastrously, the nation’s network of alliances has faded, and the economy has gone into a tailspin–not to mention the bungled handling of relief for victims of hurricane Katrina. In 2004, only 12 percent of historians were ready to place Bush dead last.

Here are some of the comments that the historians furnished:

“No individual president can compare to the second Bush,” wrote one. “Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world’s goodwill. In short, no other president’s faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large.”

“With his unprovoked and disastrous war of aggression in Iraq and his monstrous deficits, Bush has set this country on a course that will take decades to correct,” said another historian. “When future historians look back to identify the moment at which the United States began to lose its position of world leadership, they will point—rightly—to the Bush presidency. Thanks to his policies, it is now easy to see America losing out to its competitors in any number of areas: China is rapidly becoming the manufacturing powerhouse of the next century, India the high tech and services leader, and Europe the region with the best quality of life.”

http://harpers.org/archive/2008/04/hbc-90002804

Death and Loving

Ah, Valentine’s Day, Valentine’s Day.  This is the first year I can ever remember when I haven’t either wanted a romantic Valentine’s Day or the not wanting it isn’t sour grapes.  There have been a few of those years, ones where I pretended to myself that I didn’t care but deep down it hurt that there wasn’t someone special to remember the day for me or I had someone who was careless about such things.  Right now, I am honestly happy just being who I am and love having my little girl as my Valentine.  As a result, this is a really nice Valentine’s Day, at least thus far.

Milla is so sweet.  Last night the two of us took heart cookie cutters and cut beeswax hearts for her classmates.  We then wrapped them in tissue paper and tied them off with yarn. As is often the case in these sorts of projects, I had the assembly line going.  There have been moments in the past where I go off half-cocked trying to be Martha Stewart mom and decided to make 28 Valentines from scratch.  16 Valentines in and 4 hours later I’m ready to slice my wrists with the scissors and poke the glue sticks in my eyes.  One year we hand-cut hearts from construction painting paper, then watercolored hearts on each one, then I helped Milla sign her name to each one.  It was fun for the first 8 or so, then Milla was getting mad because she was sick of signing her name and I was getting mad because there was paint on the ceiling and walls and we were both ready to kill each other so I’ve learned my lesson.  I’m not the Martha Stewart of mothers.  Now I know when it comes to large crafty projects making multiples of anything, go for the assembly line approach.  These kids won’t know the difference and ninety-percent of them will likely end up in the trash anyway.

So last night Milla and I lined up the wax and started cutting the hearts.  Then we piled them up in twos.  Then we cut the yarn for the tissue paper.  Then we cut the tissue paper into squares.  Then we wrapped them and she tied.  At one point she tried tying bows but that deteriorated after about 3 sets because it was a huge pain in the ass.  The yarn kept getting caught on her fingernails and she’d pull the whole lump out of my hand and we both got irritated so we quit that.  We managed to complete the entire project in under an hour, so that was all good.  Of course, we got to school this morning and it turns out her teacher doesn’t do a Valentine’s Day exchange, but with my luck if we’d skipped it there would have been an exchange and I would again look like the mother that couldn’t.  I’m good at that.

Valentine’s Day is kind of a weird holiday.  In some regards it seems almost like Mother’s Day; designed entirely by the greeting card industry to make people spend money.  But it has a really cool history and dark side that appeals to me.  There are all these legends about who St. Valentine may have been, but in all of them, he’s rescuing someone and doing all these good deeds and as a result, he gets killed off.  I suppose that’s the nature of Sainthood, but I find it somewhat ironic that his life is held up as the namesake for a holiday about romantic love.  Isn’t the murder of St. Valentine for all his good and loving deeds kind of a perfect analogy on some level for the way we lose ourselves in romantic love?  It’s all good if both sides are party to the celebration, but more often than not I think it all ends in despair.  And even when both sides are happy about things and ultimately stay together, the romantic part inevitably ends.  And most sane people I know are glad that it does.  It’s almost like death in some ways to be in that place where you’re so in love you can’t eat or sleep or think or do a damn thing and you might as well be dead.  It’s a good thing that part ends or we’d never get anywhere.

Another interesting consideration in the history of St. Valentine is when it’s celebrated.  Some say the mid-February date is to commemorate St. Valentine’s death.  However others argue it was an active choice on the part of the Christian church to obliterate a pagan festival called Lupercalia.  It was one of those native festivals where people prepared their homes for spring and celebrated fertility through a festival to the Roman God of Agriculture.  Well, we certainly couldn’t have people worshipping any Agriculture gods, now could we?  That would be idolatry.  So the Christians murdered off the local religion with a nice little holiday of their own.  How special!  I do find it quite fascinating that in all the history surrounding Valentine’s Day there is quite a lot of death.  And loneliness too.  As I understand it, St. Valentine spent his last days in prison before being put to death.  There he was trapped in his lonely heart and then he was killed.  Wow.

On that special note, I think I’ll sign off.  Someone I know told me he likes my blogs because I just go on my rant without making a point.  Yep.  That’s me.  Pointless.  Ha!  Well, I have a point today, and that’s to enjoy the beautiful girl I made while in the throes of romantic love that ended with a sputter.  Her father and I may have our differences, but if I could go back and choose whether or not to toss that condom across the room (Yes, mom.  That’s what happened.  It didn’t break like I told you.), I would do it again in a heartbeat because the love I have for her is better than any romantic love I’ve ever experienced.  I suppose that’s the point, though, isn’t it?  To fall in romantic love so you breed, have children, and ensure the continuation of the species.  Who cares if the species grows up, falls in love, and ends up killed over it.  As long as the breeding took place and the children were born first, it’s all good, right?  Kind of senseless and weird, but it must work or we wouldn’t have a population explosion.