I stole this idea from Barb Knowles who got it from Paul who got the idea from Aaron who stole it from Jess. (Whew! It all reminds me of the Tom Lehrer song “I got it from Agnes”–quite possibly the dirtiest song ever written without using a single off-color word. But I digress.)

  1. Blogging
  2. American football
  3. Pizza
  4. Economics
  5. The color red
  6. History
  7. Desert landscapes
  8. The movie Lawrence of Arabia (combines 6 and 7)
  9. Writing
  10. The book A Confederacy of Dunces
  11. A good scary story.
  12. Gilbert and Sullivan operettas
  13. Political theory
  14. Hazelnut coffee
  15. Conspiracy theories
  16. Well-written, metered, rhyming satirical poetry.
  17. The number 17
  18. Thunderstorms
  19. Friendly political debates
  20. The sound of howling wind.
  21. The unutterable melancholy of a winter sunset in a farm field.
  22. Pretentious sentences like the one above.
  23. Knights of the Old Republic II
  24. Halloween
  25. The book 1984
  26. Niagara Falls
  27. The song “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”
  28. Pumpkin-flavored cookies. coffee, cake etc.
  29. The book The King in Yellow
  30. Hats
  31. Chess
  32. Trivia competitions
  33. Numbered lists
  34. Mowing lawns
  35. The smell of fresh-cut grass
  36. Black licorice
  37. Beethoven’s 3rd,5th and 9th symphonies
  38. The color light blue.
  39. Exercise machines
  40. My iPad
  41. Feta cheese
  42. The movie Jane Got a Gun
  43. Etymologies
  44. Gregorian chants
  45. December 23rd
  46. The story “The Masque of the Red Death”
  47. Mozzarella sticks
  48. Leaves in Autumn
  49. Long drives in the country
  50. Fireworks
  51. The song “You Got Me Singin'”
  52. The book To Kill a Mockingbird
  53. Constitutional republics that derive their powers from the consent of the governed.
  54. Strategy games
  55. Puns
  56. Ice skating
  57. My Xbox One
  58. The smell of old books
  59. Hiking
  60. Tall buildings
  61. Bookstores
  62. Gloves
  63. Rational-legal authority, as defined by Max Weber
  64. Bagels with cream cheese
  65. The Olentangy river
  66. The movie The Omen
  67. Far Side comics
  68. Planescape: Torment
  69. The song “Barrytown”
  70. Reasonable estimates of the Keynesian multiplier
  71. Stories that turn cliches on their heads.
  72. Editing movies
  73. Really clever epigraphs
  74. The movie “Chinatown”
  75. Ice water
  76. Deus Ex
  77. Silly putty
  78. Swiss Army Knives
  79. Anagrams
  80. Wikipedia
  81. Radical new models for explaining politics.
  82. Weightlifting
  83. Lego
  84. Madden 17
  85. The song “The Saga Begins”
  86. Trigonometry
  87. Writing “ye” for “the”
  88. Well-made suits
  89. Popcorn
  90. Pasta
  91. The word “sesquipedalian”
  92. The movie Thor
  93. Blackjack
  94. The movie The English Patient
  95. Pretzels
  96. Cello music
  97. Bonfires
  98. The story “The Hound of the Baskervilles”
  99. Soaring rhetoric
  100. Astronomy
  101. Getting comments on my blog posts.

{Sung to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General“}

I am the very model of a charismatic candidate,
I have thwarted ev’rything the GOP has planned to date.
From starting as a dark horse, I’ve become the odds-on favorite
Saying I will build a wall and then force Mexico to pay for it.
And though Establishment Republicans think I am despicable
Ev’ry charge they level at me has proved totally unstickable.
And even though I’ve said disgusting things about my progeny
And made so many statements that are dripping with misogyny–
By thwarting ev’ry action that the GOP has planned to date,
I’ve proved myself the model of a charismatic candidate.

My “Apprenticeship” in showbiz has undoubtedly done well for me–
I am so telegenic, all the major networks fell for me.
My domineering manner plays so well when I’m debating folks
It doesn’t even matter that I sometimes tell degrading jokes.
Believe me, folks, I’m so very, very big-league entertaining
That I have no need coherent policies to be maintaining.
I’ll be so much like Reagan, it will make your head spin, I insist–
Heads will spin so much it will all be like the film The Exorcist.
Since I’ve thwarted ev’rything the GOP has planned to date.
I am the very model of a charismatic candidate.

 
In fact, when I know whether Judges “sign” on “bills” or not
When I’ve decided what to do with all the immigrants we’ve got–
When I’ve some idea what is and isn’t Constitutional–
When I’ve proved my economic plans are not delusional
When I have shown I will not always act impulsively–
When I behave towards women just a little less repulsively–
In short, when I have turned into my very living opposite–
You’ll say a better candidate has never run for office yet!
Though all my civic knowledge is just stuff I learned in real estate,
I am sure a brand-new wall will make our location really great.
And since a country is the only thing I’ve yet to brand to date,
I am the very model of a charismatic candidate!

[For the record, my use of this ad does not imply endorsement of the candidate it advertises.  My 2016 endorsement was already made four years ago.  I endorsed Russ Sype then, and I still say he is the best candidate now.]

I had never heard that song until I saw Sanders’s ad above.  It is a good song, and I normally am not even a big Simon and Garfunkel fan.

What I find interesting is that there are a number of lines in the song that fit the 2016 candidates, on both sides:

  • “I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”: Trump
  • “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike”: Christie
  • “We’ll marry our fortunes together”: Bill and Hillary Clinton
  • It’s not in the ad above, but the line “Michigan seems like a dream to me now” is in the full song, and could fit either Clinton or Sanders after last week.
  • Again, not in the ad above, but it also includes the line “Be careful his bow tie is really a camera”. I am not sure why, but this somehow fits Cruz, even though he doesn’t wear a bow tie.

 

‘To ev’rybody’s prejudice I know a thing or two/ I can tell a woman’s age in half a minute-and I do!/ But although I try to make myself as pleasant as I can/ Yet ev’rybody says I am a disagreeable man/ And I can’t think why!’–W.S. Gilbert. King Gama’s Song in Princess Ida, Act I.

As long as we’re playing the “name the literary genius with shocking prejudices” game, let’s talk about one of my favorites, Sir William S. Gilbert.

Andrew Crowther recently wrote a great piece in The Guardian, examining the oft-leveled charge that Gilbert was quite sexist.  Crowther’s opinion is more or less mine, which is: yes, Gilbert was sexist, but his female characters weren’t just caricatures–there is more nuance to them than critics realize.

One thing to note is that I don’t get the sense Gilbert was any more sexist than the society he lived in was.  (Contrast with the subject of my previous post–H.P.Lovecraft was an extreme racist even by the standards of his time.)

That doesn’t excuse Gilbert, of course, but it makes it more understandable why he thought the way he did.  Moreover, I have never gotten the sense that Gilbert hated women.  He didn’t see them as equal to men, but that’s different than flat-out misogyny.

The best way of addressing the issue of the unpleasant old spinster characters that feature in many of the Savoy operas is to play the men as shallow cads.  This isn’t that hard to do.  Frankly, I don’t think Gilbert liked romantic tenors any more than he liked spinster ladies. Want to make Ruth in Pirates sympathetic?  It’s not too much of a stretch to play Frederic as a shallow imbecile–the entire plot hinges on him being one anyway.

Also, I’ve never thought Princess Ida was just a satire on women’s education–Gilbert pokes fun at it, sure (he was a satirist, after all) but he also mocks men as being dumb, brutish oafs.

None of this is to say  Gilbert is innocent of sexism, but just that the plays must be understood in the context of their time, and sexism unfortunately comes with the territory.

Should the plays be re-written to be less offensive?  There is precedent for that, as the “N word” was removed from both The Mikado and Princess Ida. But it was an easy re-write, as it occurred only in passing in a couple of songs.  The sexism is a harder task, since it involves whole characters.  I agree with Crowther: reinterpretation is the best solution here.

Like all great writers, Gilbert wrote about human nature, and I believe that his wit was so sharp, and his insight so keen, that he sometimes unconsciously saw through the prejudices of his day to essential truths.  Take this song from Princess Ida:

Is it mocking prototypes of the so-called “man-hating feminist”, or is it mocking  anti-feminist men–“pick-up artists”, who try to cloak their misogyny but nonetheless think of women only as sexual objects?  It’s a little of both, I think.  It works perfectly well as either.

In keeping with my criticism of the lyrics of old songs, let me talk about Marty Robbins’s 1959 country hit El Paso.  It’s about a cowboy who falls in love with a dancer named Faleena.

My love was deep for this Mexican maiden/ I was in love, but in vain I could tell 

The old “you love her, she doesn’t love you” problem, eh? Yeah, that’s no fun.  So far, a good, solid tragic tale of unrequited love.  But then, our narrator relates, one night a guy comes in and starts flirting and drinking with Faleena.  So how does our tortured love-lorn hero handle this?

So in anger I challenged his right for the love of this maiden/ Down went his hand for the gun that he wore/ My challenge was answered–in less than a heartbeat/ the handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor

Wait… so he killed the guy who, for all he knew, might well have been Faleena’s actual lover or husband?  “Challenging his right” when he himself had none?  That seems… borderline psychotic.  Ok, so it’s a crime of passion and he says he regrets it but still, it’s a bit extreme.

Having done this “foul, evil deed”, our “hero” skips town and flees to New Mexico, only to decide he can’t stand to live without Faleena, and so he rides back.  (This takes Robbins about as long to sing as it took you to read it–the song has some pacing issues here, and you’re left with the impression he rode away and then immediately turned around and rode back.)

When he returns to El Paso, the citizens are waiting for him and they shoot him as he rides back into town.  It’s unclear what length of time he’s been gone, but apparently they recognize him instantly from hundreds of yards away and are waiting to kill him.

Finally, as he lies dying, he sees Faleena, who kisses him as he dies in her arms.  (Some have suggested this is just his imagination, which would indeed be the only possible way this makes any sense. Why would she kiss the man who apparently killed her boyfriend?)

It’s a testament to how pleasant the music, and Robbins’s voice, make this song sound that it’s such a hit.  Lyrically, it’s not a love song at all, but rather a song narrated by a psychopath.

In my previous post, I wrote something that I’d like to enlarge on a bit.  I mentioned how the alleged Bob Dylan conspiracy required a bunch of people to be involved in a conspiracy that would not come to fruition until long after they were dead.  I realized this might be a good rule of thumb for determining how likely a conspiracy is to be true: “are the alleged conspirators going to be around to reap the success of their conspiracy?”

In a lot of these Illuminati/Freemasons/CIA/Assorted Other Shadowy Group conspiracy theories, there is at least a strong insinuation, if it is  not outright stated, that it is all part of some centuries-old plot.  And that has always struck me as really unlikely because it requires these conspirators to not only know which actions will have which consequences centuries later, but also care enough about how it develops after they’re dead.

Most real conspiracies (here are some) are conspiracies that generate immediate results for the conspirators. They’re not doing it to achieve some long-run goal decades later.  And while I’m not saying that all conspirators care only about themselves–ideologues of any type will often justify whatever they are doing by saying “it’s for future generations”–I am saying that it’s one measure of assessing a theory’s plausibility.  There needs to be something in it for the conspirators, not just for future generations of conspirators.

Conspiracy theories like the Dylan one, which are supposedly about making money, strike me as especially unlikely, since people generally have a preference to have money sooner rather than later, and especially have a preference to have money before they are dead rather than after.  This is one of the finer points of decision theory.

Contrary to what many of you may think, I do not listen only to Gilbert and Sullivan.  I occasionally listen to musical artists whose works were written as recently as this millennium, if you can imagine that.  One of my favorites is the late Warren Zevon. He was not a very nice person, to put it mildly, as I discovered from reading his ex-wife Crystal’s biography of him, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. But he wrote some great songs–here is a list of my ten favorites.

  1. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner“. (1978, with David Lindell)  This tale mixes two of my favorite subjects: mercenaries and ghosts, and is coupled to a well-crafted narrative of war and betrayal.  The opening notes give me chills every time I hear them. It was fitting that it was the last song Zevon performed publicly, during his final appearance on the David Letterman show–I think it is his greatest.
  2. Mohammed’s Radio“. (1976)  I go back and forth on whether I prefer the studio version or the live version that appeared on Stand in the Fire.  The former has better lyrics, but the latter has better energy.  Either one is brilliant, however.
  3. Transverse City“. (1989, with Stefan Arngrim) This song is also the title of Zevon’s most unjustly neglected album. For the life of me, I don’t know why people didn’t like it. (Maybe the horrible cover art?) In any case this song is a very unsettling journey through a cyberpunk landscape.
  4. Mr. Bad Example” (1991, with Jorge Calderon) Again, this was also an album title, and this song was definitely the standout (though it’s a very fine album).  An amusing saga of outrageous misdeeds that probably didn’t seem quite so outrageous to the late Mr. Zevon himself.
  5. Ourselves to Know“. (2000)  This haunting song will creep into my mind at the oddest times.  I am not a religious person, but I do find the Crusades imagery the lyrics evoke to be curiously powerful.  Zevon at his most reflective.
  6. Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)“. (2002, with Mitch Albom) I played hockey as a kid–not very well, though. Like the enforcer hero of this song, I “wasn’t that good with a puck”.  It’s one of the few inspirational sports stories I don’t find tedious.
  7. Turbulence“. (1989) Another one from Transverse City.  I love his topical political songs, and this one also contains some very nice Russian singing.
  8. The Envoy“.  (1982) Note that this is the title track of what is by far Zevon’s worst album.  There are only about four songs that are not awful on it, and this is the only one that is really “good’.  I half suspect he made the whole album just to get this gem published.
  9. “Bad Karma“. (1987) This is a great song for when you are feeling down. It won’t make you feel better exactly, but it will kind of make you laugh.
  10. My Ride’s Here“. (2002, with Paul Muldoon) It sums up Zevon’s body of work perfectly; capturing both his witty, humorous side and his melancholy gloominess.  I suspect you don’t get the full effect of it unless you are pretty familiar with his other stuff going in.

I get uneasy when I read academic literary analysis that focuses heavily on what elements of a story are supposed to symbolize.  Symbolism is definitely a device that artists use, and to some extent all art is trying to say something about “life, the universe, and everything” by using its own elements as representative of some larger idea.

So, we know symbolism is used.  What we don’t always know is what the author was symbolizing or why, and unless they explicitly say so somewhere, the only way to figure it out is through educated guesswork.  And sometimes, we don’t even know if s/he was trying to symbolize anything.

This being so, it’s awfully easy to make up almost any symbolism you like and call it an analysis.  Let me give you an example of what I mean, with a faux-analysis I just made up of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Grand Duke:

The Grand Duke is an allegory about the failure of democracy.  It shows the rightful ruler of the state of Pfennig-Halbpfennig deposed by the rabble (actors–commonly considered a “low” occupation then.) The actors, on taking over the government promptly seek to “revive the classic memories of Athens at its best”. The ancient Greek theme is chosen to represent Democracy because it was in ancient Greece that Democracy was created.

The ultimate theme of the story is how Democracy–a.k.a. mob rule–ruins the Aristocracy.  The fake aristocrats hired by the Prince of Monte Carlo are the most obvious example of this.  In the end, order can only be restored when the rightful ruler is placed back in charge.

This interpretation does rely on actual evidence from the play–the actors who take over really do dress as ancient Greeks, the commoners who attempt to impersonate aristocrats are portrayed as buffoons, and the opera ends on a happy note only when the original Duke resumes his reign. So, I think this is a theoretically possible interpretation.

Is it actually likely that this is what W.S. Gilbert had in mind when he wrote it, though?  Highly doubtful.  It seems much more likely that he had the characters remake the government in the image of ancient Athens because he had worked up a clever song about it, and he made the Prince of Monte Carlo’s entourage an uncouth band because he thought it was funny.  Anyone familiar with the piece will have  a hard time believing it was trying to make any major statement about forms of government.

People say authorial intent doesn’t matter, and to an extent they’re right–I can believe that people would insert certain ideas in stories without being conscious of it.  But when you have symbolism that, however “logical” it seems, takes you so far away from the obvious character of the work in question that it gives you pause.

I remember reading about the theory that L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was an allegory about the Populist movement.  There is a lot of detail in this theory, and it is pretty thorough, but there’s no evidence that Baum intended it.  According to Wikipedia “it is not taken seriously by literary historians”.  I wonder why.  They take flimsier theories seriously.

As you know from this post, I enjoy alternate interpretations that run contrary to the creator’s ideas.  but still, no matter how plausible you make the case, at a certain point you have to acknowledge it when your interpretation takes you far from what the author originally meant.

Yeah, speaking of things that need re-working, this Wagner thing could have used some editing.  I won’t hash over all the details, but at the end of act II of Götterdämmerung (“The Twilight of the Gods”)there’s a part where Brünnhilde, Hagen and Gunther are planning to eliminate Siegfried.  You’d think you could show them deciding on this in a minute or two, but they just go on and on repeating the how and why of it over and over again!  The acting and singing is marvelous, but gotterdammerung, we heard you the first hundred times!

I think I understand why it’s like this, mind you.  Wagner’s operas were written for live audiences sitting in fancy clothes in uncomfortable seats, not television viewers, as there was no such thing as television.  The opera seems to be five hours long, and though there are periodic intermissions, I think they needed to give audience members a chance to get up now and again.  You could go out for a stroll, come back, and you haven’t missed any new developments.  This was probably necessary for the 19th-century opera-goer.

But I am a 21st-century television viewer.  I can sit and watch TV for hours, as long as something new is happening fairly frequently.  This was roughly five-hours long and I wasn’t even terribly interested in the outcome, and yet I still watched it.  So it can be done.

My take on this whole production is that the stage was cool, the actors/singers were all excellent–but the thing was just too long and repetitive for television.  They should have gone ahead and done the live performance, and then used the same cast and filmed a miniseries for PBS to show instead.  Maybe that’s too much strain on the singers, though, I don’t know.

I’ve been watching the New York Metropolitan Opera performance of Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” on PBS.  Apart from Gilbert and Sullivan, I’m not a huge opera fan, but I thought it might be interesting.  Who doesn’t like “The Ride of the Valkyries”?

Unfortunately, I don’t the like the other music in it so far nearly as much as that famous piece.  And because they sing in German, it’s subtitled, and I can’t help but feel that a lot is lost in translation.  The plot of the first part, Rheingold, seems to be that Wotan–who is the King of the Gods, or something–can’t pay his bills.   I know that somewhere down the line, there will be a magical ring that makes people all powerful.  So far, I will say that I think I like it better than a certain other, later story that concerns much the same thing, but it’s still hard to follow.

The performance is amazing, however.  I don’t understand how people manage to sing while suspended in the air or climbing up steep ramps.  It’s quite impressive.  I watched the documentary “Wagner’s Dream,” that they showed earlier in the week about the making of the production.  To be honest, I think I found it more interesting than the actual opera.