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Monthly Archives: May 2014
Earth moving in Folkestone
Two life-changing concerts this weekend, both including Finnish violin virtuoso, Pekka Kuusisto, and both in Folkestone as part of the annual Sacconi Quartet’s Chamber Music Festival.
The first was a concert in St. Mary and St. Eanswythe’s Church that included the Sacconi Quartet and the Chamber Orchestra of the Royal College of Music. With PK, they performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and knowing they would was the main reason for my attendance. PK’s recording of Vivaldi is the most exciting and thrilling I know. But this live performance was on another plane entirely. Usually The Seasons are twee and effete and smugly complacent. PK’s recording is not that, but rather raw and rustic. (See my comments here.) The live performance, in contrast, was sharp and edgy, thrilling and exciting too but in a different way entirely to the recording. If Vivaldi is usually suburban Barnet gemütlichkeit, then the recording is from the wild places of Cornwall or the Hebrides, and this performance was from the mean streets of Toxteth or Mile End.
PK’s playing as always was superb. He has an amazing ability to mimic the breathy tone of a flute, producing a sound sublime, something I have heard him do before in very different work. Yet, at other times it was if he construed the violin as a percussion instrument, not hitting it with his hand but striking the strings in a multitude of carefully-calibrated ways with the bow. Later, in the pub after the second concert, he agreed that this notion of the percussive violin described his intention. Violinists often see the instrument as a sort of uncanny extension of themselves, and here was an extension that was brash, direct, and forceful – someone who is here to live out loud, in Zola’s great phrase. How different to the twee Vivaldi of most other performances I have seen.
In addition, PK treated the work as a modern work, interpreting it afresh – moving around the stage, for example, to confront directly the other players in the various duets and rounds, having face-offs at various times, and interacting physically and with immediacy in accord with the temper of each phase of the music. The other performers responded in kind to his enthusiasm. The acoustics in the church were excellent, so that everything could be heard well. This was certainly the best musical experience of my life, and I feel immensely privileged to have witnessed it.
The second concert followed straight afterwards, in the primary school across the street. We were party to a violin and electronics meditation on Bach’s Partita in D minor, by PK and Teemu Korpipaa. The movements of the Bach were played without modification by solo violin, and interleaved with duo improvisations on what we had just heard. This was also sublime, and had the effect of elongating and deepening the emotions invoked by the Bach, an annotation that added to the original. It was clear the two had worked together before, and so the annotations were profound and heartfelt.
Cause and effect in human health
Despite what most of the medical profession would have us believe, they have very little understanding of the actual causes of or best treatments for the obesity epidemic currently sweeping the West. What little scientific evidence there is on the relationship between exercise and body weight indicates that increasing exercise leads to increased weight (presumably because more activity makes the exerciser hungrier). And the extensive scientific evidence on the relationship between dieting and weight indicates very strongly that this relationship is complicated, subject to contextual factors, and highly non-linear, with so-called “set points” that result in increased fat storage when calorie intake goes down significantly, for instance.
Continue reading ‘Cause and effect in human health’
Eggs William S. Burroughs
Eggs William S. Burroughs
Chop one onion and place it into a pan with 1 tablespoon of butter. Brown it.
Take the green part of 1 chicory salad (keep the white part for a salad). Chop it fine and add it to the onion. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add 4 chopped hard-boiled eggs, 1 clove of garlic that has been crushed into a little chopped parsley, 2 chopped peeled tomatoes, 1 more tablespoon of butter, 1 teaspoon of meat stock, 1 pinch of pepper, one pinch of salt, and one sherry-glassful of claret. Cook for 5 minutes.
Boil 2 handfuls of noodles for 15 minutes. Strain. Be sure they are free of all water. Place them on the bottom of a baking dish. Cover with the chicory, etc., and bake in a preheated moderate oven of 350°F for 15 minutes. Season to taste.
Henri Charpentier : Food and Finesse: The Bride’s Bible. Privately printed, Chicago, IL, USA. Recipe here. From Charpentier’s and Burroughs’ time in Chicago, in the early 1940s.
Just do it, already, Mr Prez!
Norm Ornstein in The Atlantic on criticisms of Bam that he’s not as good at cajoling and arm-twisting as was LBJ, not as good at shooting-the-breeze as was Clinton, and not as good at hard-ball negotiation as was Reagan. An excerpt:
But there was one downside: the reactivation of one of the most enduring memes and myths about the presidency, and especially the Obama presidency. Like Rasputin (or Whac-A-Mole,) it keeps coming back even after it has been bludgeoned and obliterated by facts and logic. I feel compelled to whack this mole once more.
The meme is what Matthew Yglesias, writing in 2006, referred to as “the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics,” and has been refined by Greg Sargent and Brendan Nyhan into the Green Lantern Theory of the presidency. In a nutshell, it attributes heroic powers to a president—if only he would use them. And the holders of this theory have turned it into the meme that if only Obama used his power of persuasion, he could have the kind of success that LBJ enjoyed with the Great Society, that Bill Clinton enjoyed in his alliance with Newt Gingrich that gave us welfare reform and fiscal success, that Ronald Reagan had with Dan Rostenkowski and Bill Bradley to get tax reform, and so on.
If only Obama had dealt with Congress the way LBJ did—persuading, cajoling, threatening, and sweet-talking members to attain his goals—his presidency would not be on the ropes and he would be a hero. If only Obama would schmooze with lawmakers the way Bill Clinton did, he would have much greater success. If only Obama would work with Republicans and not try to steamroll them, he could be a hero and have a fiscal deal that would solve the long-term debt problem.
If only the proponents of this theory would step back and look at the realities of all these presidencies (or would read or reread the Richard Neustadt classic, Presidential Power.)
I do understand the sentiment here and the frustration over the deep dysfunction that has taken over our politics. It is tempting to believe that a president could overcome the tribalism, polarization, and challenges of the permanent campaign, by doing what other presidents did to overcome their challenges. It is not as if passing legislation and making policy was easy in the old days.
But here is the reality, starting with the Johnson presidency. I do not want to denigrate LBJ or downplay his remarkable accomplishments and the courage he displayed in taking on his own base, Southern Democrats, to enact landmark civil-rights and voting-rights laws that have done more to transform America in a positive way than almost anything else in our lifetimes. And it is a fact that the 89th Congress, that of the Great Society, can make the case for having more sweeping accomplishments, from voting rights to Medicare to elementary and secondary education reform, than any other.
LBJ had a lot to do with the agenda, and the accomplishments. But his drive for civil rights was aided in 1964 by having the momentum following John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and the partnership of Republicans Everett Dirksen and Bill McCullough, detailed beautifully in new books by Clay Risen and Todd Purdum. And Johnson was aided substantially in 1965-66 by having swollen majorities of his own party in both chambers of Congress—68 of 100 senators, and 295 House members, more than 2-to-1 margins. While Johnson needed, and got, substantial Republican support on civil rights and voting rights to overcome Southern Democrats’ opposition, he did not get a lot of Republicans supporting the rest of his domestic agenda. He had enough Democrats supporting those policies to ensure passage, and he got enough GOP votes on final passage of key bills to ensure the legitimacy of the actions.
Johnson deserves credit for horse-trading (for example, finding concessions to give to Democrat Wilbur Mills, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to get his support for Medicare), but it was the numbers that made the difference. Consider what happened in the next two years, after the 1966 midterm elections depleted Democratic ranks and enlarged Republican ones. LBJ was still the great master of Congress—but without the votes, the record was anything but robust. All the cajoling and persuading and horse-trading in the world did not matter.
Now briefly consider other presidents. Ronald Reagan was a master negotiator, and he has the distinction of having two major pieces of legislation, tax reform and immigration reform, enacted in his second term, without the overwhelming numbers that Johnson enjoyed in 1965-66. What Reagan did have, just like Johnson had on civil rights, was active and eager partners from the other party. The drive for tax reform did not start with Reagan, but with Democrats Bill Bradley and Dick Gephardt, whose reform bill became the template for the law that ultimately passed. They, and Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, were delighted to make their mark in history (and for Bradley and Gephardt, to advance their presidential ambitions) by working with the lame-duck Republican president. The same desire to craft transformative policy was there for both Alan Simpson and Ron Mazzoli, a Senate Republican and a House Democrat, who put together immigration legislation with limited involvement by the White House.
As for Bill Clinton, he was as politically adept as any president in modern times, and as charismatic and compelling as anyone. But the reality is that these great talents did not convince a single Republican to support his economic plan in 1993, nor enough Democrats to pass the plan for a crucial seven-plus months; did not stop the Republicans under Speaker Newt Gingrich from shutting down the government twice; and did not stop the House toward the end of his presidency from impeaching him on shaky grounds, with no chance of conviction in the Senate. The brief windows of close cooperation in 1996, after Gingrich’s humiliation following the second shutdown, were opened for pragmatic, tactical reasons by Republicans eager to win a second consecutive term in the majority, and ended shortly after they had accomplished that goal.
When Obama had the numbers, not as robust as LBJ’s but robust enough, he had a terrific record of legislative accomplishments. The 111th Congress ranks just below the 89th in terms of significant and far-reaching enactments, from the components of the economic stimulus plan to the health care bill to Dodd/Frank and credit-card reform. But all were done with either no or minimal Republican support. LBJ and Reagan had willing partners from the opposite party; Obama has had none. Nothing that he could have done would have changed the clear, deliberate policy of Republicans uniting to oppose and obstruct his agenda, that altered long-standing Senate norms to use the filibuster in ways it had never been employed before, including in the LBJ, Reagan, and Clinton eras, that drew sharp lines of total opposition on policies like health reform and raising taxes as part of a broad budget deal.
Could Obama have done more to bond with lawmakers? Sure, especially with members of his own party, which would help more now, when he is in the throes of second-term blues, than it would have when he achieved remarkable party unity in his first two years. But the brutal reality, in today’s politics, is that LBJ, if he were here now, could not be the LBJ of the Great Society years in this environment. Nobody can, and to demand otherwise is both futile and foolish.”