Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Semper Fi!

I was trying to figure out why Google Analytics was showing an active interest in my national site for coming from the IP address for Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Then I saw that the piece I wrote about a Naxos recording of Gerard Schwarz conducting the United States Marine Band was responsible for a surge of hits coming to that site. By way of comparison, the hit rate for that article is the same as the one for my latest report on the Mode Records' Feldman Edition recordings. Semper fi, Morty!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Political Citizenship at the Expense of Social Citizenship?

In the new issue of The New York Review of Books, Gordon S. Wood concludes his otherwise positive examination of Danielle Allen's Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality on a critical note. He observes that the equality that Allen is defending is a political equality and suggests that political equality may have been achieved at the price of a more social approach to citizenship, arguing further that the latter took priority in the minds of the Founding Fathers. It is easy to see how the combination of the Internet and the specialization of media channels has created a more level playing field for the expression of political opinion. The problem is that, on that level playing field, every voice now has a megaphone; and ultimately the loudest voice prevails.

On the social side of the balance, Wood says the following about the Founding Fathers:
The confidence that Jefferson and the other revolutionaries had in society alone flowed from their assumption that every person, regardless of rank or education, had a natural social or moral instinct that tied them by affection to their fellow human beings. This social and moral sense, this natural feeling of affability and benevolence, became for the revolutionaries a modern substitute for the austere and martial conception of virtue that had sustained the ancient republics.
In the world the Internet has made (and is making), it is hard to find many instances of nouns like "affection," "affability," and "benevolence," all of which seem to have been briskly swept away by a sense of values in which the marketplace is all that matters. To be fair, that vision of "Jefferson and the other revolutionaries" did not fare very well after the French Revolution; but one of the unanticipated consequences of globalization appears to be that the globalization of trade has been accompanied by a globalization of "uprisings of rage." The result is that, on a global scale, we are no longer "concerned citizens," in either the political or the social sense. We are just rabidly self-centered consumers, wanting to make sure that we "get ours;" and all others be damned.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Apple Shoots Itself in the Foot (if not higher)

Was I being a bit too hyperbolic with my "Beavis and Butt-head" accusation? I don't think so. Apparently, the current state of OS X download software is so bad that it is getting in the way of beta testers trying to download Yosemite!

The Wikipedia Fight Club Goes to Congress

Back in March of 2008, it seemed worthwhile to call attention to the extent to which editing of the content of Wikipedia articles was succumbing to a "fight club" mentality. Things have calmed down considerably since then to the point that, when used properly, the whole idea of a wiki can actually prove to be a beneficial resource. Meanwhile, Wikipedia has been more proactive in trying to detect and prevent malicious use of what would otherwise be a source of useful information.

I was therefore amused to read this morning the following lead sentence in an article by Technology Reporter Joe Miller for BBC News:
Wikipedia administrators have imposed a ban on page edits from computers at the US House of Representatives, following "persistent disruptive editing".
Of course reading this report would not be any fun without at least one example. My favorite would have to be updating the page for Donald Rumsfeld to describe him as an "alien lizard who eats Mexican babies." Miller makes it clear that this is more likely the work of Congressional staffers, rather than the Congressmen themselves (although there is always the possibility that one of those staffers basically takes an overheard remark and then tries to turn it into "Wikipedia truth"). Ultimately, this story is not so much about the integrity of Wikipedia as it is about the Congress as a workplace, since it carries the suggestion that the workplace is closer in spirit to Animal House than to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!

Is Anyone Talking to Hamas?

It is hard to tell if anything constitutes progress, even when it comes to declaring little more than a temporary ceasefire in Gaza. The latest report on the hostilities posted this morning on Al Jazeera English (a combination of wire sources and Al Jazeera's own reporters) suggests that Secretary of State John Kerry has not communicated directly with Hamas, going instead through his "counterparts" from Qatar and Turkey. That same article also quotes Haaretz, the closest thing to a "fair and balanced" (in the literal, rather than Fox, sense of those words) account of the news to be found in Israel, as saying that Kerry has presented a ceasefire proposal "to both sides," without saying whether this involved direct communication with Hamas or yet another instance of communicating through some third party.

I remember the first time there was a publicly direct meeting between Israeli and Arab leaders. Menachem Begin, regarded at the time as the most hawkish Prime Minster ever elected to that office in Israel, agreed to meet with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The meeting was hosted by President Jimmy Carter. Carter appreciated that differences can only be settled through face-to-face encounters. Is it worth asking whether Kerry, or any other member of the current Administration, has ever had a face-to-face meeting with a representative of Hamas? How about a telephone call? The BBC seems to have achieved both telephone calls on their radio service and face-to-face appearances on television. Is it the United States or Hamas (or both) that has decided to be averse to such an encounter?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Catching up with Albéniz

I owe some of my most interesting repertoire discoveries to one of my mother's relatives. He was a true consumer of vinyl recordings, often buying things just because he liked the look of them in a record store. When he discovered that he did not like the music on those recordings, he would unload them on me. This was usually to my great advantage. As I wrote on my site, my first exposure to the symphonies of Gustav Mahler came through Westminster recordings of Hermann Scherchen's interpretations; and, when the opportunity came to write about these being reissued on CD, I could not resist.

Another one of those hand-me-downs was a ten-inch vinyl of the music of Isaac Albéniz called Spanish Dances. I did not pay much attention to the liner notes; so, as a result, it was some time before I realized that these were all orchestrations of Albéniz piano compositions. It did not take long for me to get hooked on Albéniz' music as he actually wrote it, so I cannot say that I felt any pain in giving up Spanish Dances when I finally sacrificed all of my vinyls to Rasputin. However, now that Naxos has a project under way to record and release all of Albéniz' piano music, many of those tracks leaving me feeling as if I am reencountering old friends. Needless to say, there is very little that Albéniz wrote that I have the skill to play; so there is also the delight of listening to him interpreted by a pianist who has both the technique and the feeling to do so far better than I could ever hope to do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fear and Loathing in Software Development

I noticed that Apple announced that the next version of OS X will soon be available in beta. Given my past experiences, I definitely know better than to mess with a beta version; but I also find myself apprehensive as to what Apple will think will be the next round of "improvements." I cannot help but remember listening to an author promote his latest book by including the joke that Fry's had only two salesmen: Beavis and Butt-head. These days I wonder whether or not they have a new job as the entire OS X coding team.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mozart and his Texts

I have now finished that previously mentioned paper, "Mozart and the Philosophers" by Alfred Schutz. The basic contention of the paper is that, while Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart probably never really studied philosophy (as a counterexample Schutz cites Ludwig van Beethoven as a reader of Immanuel Kant), he had a better intuitive sense of philosophy than those who subsequently wrote about him, Schutz's examples being Hermann Cohen, Søren Kierkegaard, and Wilhelm Dilthey. I came away with the general impression that Schutz had idealized (and perhaps idolized) Mozart even more than the philosophers he was criticizing.

I also have a feeling that Schutz did not quite get his facts straight, particularly with regard to Mozart's attitude towards the texts he set. Schutz gave the impression that Mozart did not pay very much attention to the words, even in his operas, figuring that it did not matter very much what those words were as long as they advanced the plot in the proper direction. Schutz then added the following:
Moreover, Mozart did not hesitate to change the dramatic structure of his operas, here inserting an aria for a favorite singer, there leaving out one not suitable for the performer, and even dropping for the Viennese production the last scene of Don Giovanni, where the survivors rush in after the hero's disappearance, merely because the opera would have been too long by reason of the numbers added for that performance.
Other sources tell a different story about the conclusion of Don Giovanni. The story is that Mozart wanted to end the opera with the Don being dragged down to Hell. Unfortunately, this did not go down well with the moralists. It was not enough that vice be punished; virtue must also be rewarded. Thus, Lorenzo Da Ponte came up with a text in which all the other (living) characters talk about going on to live a better life (which, in Donna Anna case, means not rushing to the marital bed with Don Ottavio). Mozart's setting is a perfectly ravishing sextet, yet another shining example of how he could work with so many different voices without compromising the individuality of any of them. However, the signs seem to be that his heart was not in this one, since, for him at least, it was an anticlimax to the way in which he thought the Don's story ought to be told.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On the Density of Human Waste

Would Archimedes have discovered specific gravity sooner had there been flush toilets?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Music Description Recapitulates Philosophy?

I noticed that yesterday, while writing an piece about the performance of George Frideric Handel's HWV 55, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato as part of the 2014 American Bach Soloists Festival, that I let slip the phrase "listening experiences in which one’s sense of 'inner time' seems to stand still." This was probably an inevitable consequence of the fact that I had been reading the paper "Mozart and the Philosophers" by Alfred Schutz, in which Schutz cited Henri Bergson's concept of durée, which is basically the psychological sense of time, rather than the physical sense of time defined by, for example, the steady ticking of a clock. I realized that, by now, I have gotten so used to this terminology that I tend to use it without citation. Thus, the above hyperlink is not about Bergson but about how Verdi could achieve the same effect and how he probably learned it from his bedtime reading (which were the scores of the string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven)!

This reminded me of an observation I had made when I was an undergraduate mathematics major. While there were these books of sample problems and how they were solved that could be a valuable reference for engineering students, they did not take you very far in pure mathematics. I realized that getting to understand pure mathematics was a matter of building up your working vocabulary. It was all very well to be introduced to abstruse terminology, such as "eigenvalue" or "Skolemization;" but what really mattered was whether or not your internalization of the concepts had an impact on how your actually did your mathematics. (For Ludwig Wittgenstein this was true of language in general, rather than just specialized terminology.) This also had a parallel in music theory: The truly advanced music theorist knew how to work "Neapolitan" into any paper (s)he wrote in a manner that really made sense in the context of a harmonic progression.

To be fair, the context of the phrase I quoted in that first paragraph was then qualified through comparison with a ticking clock. I like to think I am in this game to provide readers with thoughts they can understand, rather than trying to convince them that I know more than they do. Another memory from my undergraduate years was a physics recitation instructor who liked to say:
Remember, there is always someone who knows more than you do!
Nevertheless, I think it is important that no single discipline has a lock on all verbal terminology that may serve us. Every now and then we have to raid someone else's larder. I think what I like about the way in which I work is that I am as like to direct my rant at Bergson as I am at Henry Miller (or, in the case of another recent article, Wayne's World)!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Smart Technology and Dumb Mistakes

ABC7 has a really interesting online story about a new technology for dealing with epileptic seizures. Not only can it detect the onset of a seizure before the patient is aware of it, but also it can emit an electrical pulse to counteract the seizure before it has time to take effect. The only problem with the story is the headline:
I suppose writing for television news means that you only have to worry about getting it right phonetically. To add insult to injury, I was able to determine that the same spelling error went into the metadata for this article, probably because it was harvested from the headline!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Does Money Buy Happiness?

Hannah Gregg, of ABC7 News, decided to revisit the 2009 study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Denton, which established that income of $75,000 was the threshold of emotional well-being. Granting the fact that the study was controversial, she decided to see what would happen if she tried to adjust this so-called "Happiness Benchmark" to account for economic factors, such as inflation. Her conclusion was that the benchmark had, indeed, risen and was now at $83,000. She also prepared a state-by-state breakdown, applying her calculations to individual states to determine what it would take to be happy there. As might be guessed, California clocked in above the average at $95,325.

Idle curiosity drove me to look back on my tax forms for last year. Since my wife and I are both in retirement, I figured that, at the very least, it might tell me something about how effective our "wealth management" practices were. I discovered that our household was above the national figure and below that for California.

Needless to say, I do not take any of this particularly seriously. Obviously, when revenue shifts to a stock portfolio, you start thinking more about income than growth. In 2006, I decided to set up a spreadsheet through which I could track the difference between income and expenses on a month-by-month basis. It turns out that, while, at this fine monthly level, that difference fluctuates between positive and negative, over the long term we have been pretty successful at keeping it positive. We refer to the cumulative difference as a "cushion."

One result is that we tend to think of large expenses in terms of their impact on that cushion, bearing in mind that it has become sort of a rainy-day resource. This means that we tend to spend less than we did when household income was significantly higher than the benchmark. However, I do not think that either my wife or I would say that we are less happy because we are spending less. To the contrary, I think that one of the results of moving over to retirement income is that we are more likely to be happy with what we have, rather than what we want.

I wanted to report on this exercise because I believe that emotional well-being is an important factor. However, I have to worry about the reasoning behind the effort of Kahneman and Denton to reduce it to a single number. Indeed, I have argued in the past that such "bottom-line thinking" is responsible for a lot of really bad social decisions, the most serious being those concerned with health care. Even worse is when that bottom line is a dollar figure, rather than some other quantitative measurement.

Then I realized that I was flying in the face of nature. A consumerist society is all about having what you want and having a bottom-line dollar figure that will allow you to get it. It is a bit like a casino in which the tables are rigged against you. You can never have enough money to be happy; but, as John Oliver noted on his HBO program last Sunday, you are manipulated (by what is sometimes called "consciousness industry") into such an unrealistic state of optimism that you prefer the remote chance of breaking the casino's bank to the dangers of the more likely outcome that the casino will break you. The possibility that happiness can be found by walking away from the casino, rather than walking into it, never really arises, simply because those who have the wealth can spent it on propaganda to convince us that no alternative is even remotely thinkable.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sometimes Nature Solves the Problem

This morning the BBC News Web site ran a story (which I had not heard on World Service Radio) about a great white shark in Australia that choked to death as a result of swallowing a sea lion. I found this interesting in the context that Australia is currently carrying out a shark cull (no doubt a product of the same keen minds that just decided to repeal their carbon tax). Still, I should not pick exclusively on Australia. Contemporary man has inherited centuries of philosophy that establish him as the sole agent to determine the destiny of the world. Those who espouse such balderdash need the occasional reminder that nature sometimes takes care of things without man's intervention, and no example could be more vivid than the fate of that great white shark.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Orwell Would be Amused

While I am not particularly interested in what happened to Google executive Forrest Hayes that led to his death, I have to say that this story is creating all sorts of amusing repercussions in how the media are trying to cover it. I first learned the news through a story that Alan Wong filed on the ABC7 Web site, which was run with the headline:
Needless to say, this story was "hot" enough to escalate to the ABC News national desk. However, a funny thing happened along the way. Here is today's headline for a story filed by Colleen Curry:
Apparently, Alex Tichelman's "profession" is now only "alleged." Is this the work of editors or lawyers? The same applies to a "background" hyperlink in Curry's article. The text and link appear in the article as follows:
Woman Allegedly Injected Google Exec With Heroin, Left Him to Die
Those who follow the link, however, will encounter this headline:
Prostitute Injected Google Exec With Heroin, Left Him to Die on Yacht, Police Say
I suppose there is some journalistic code of ethics that you cannot report sleaze without whitewashing it with a bit of journalistic legerdemain; and, if that includes rewriting the past, then so be it!

The Deeper Values Below the Surface

Malise Ruthven’s article in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, “What Happened to the Arab Spring?” is definitely worth reading. Without taking any particular side, it is an enlightening analysis of just how many value systems have come into play when it comes to relations between the “Western world” and the territories in the Middle East and Mediterranean Africa. What particularly got to me, however, was seeing one of my favorite oxen gored:
Since it first appeared in 1996 the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera twenty-four news channel has defied taboos on the public criticism of governments—with the obvious exception of Qatar itself.
Al Jazeera English continues to be one of my preferred sources of news, particularly when it comes to items that inspire posts to this site. The bottom line is that I accept that there will be some level of opinionated bias to even the most seemingly objective news report; so, since I know the sorts of biases to expect from “Western” sources (such as the United States and, for that matter, the BBC), I figure I should seek out biases in other directions. Thus, while I have read enough about Qatar to take Ruthven’s sentence seriously, my reaction is to treat anything from Al Jazeera the way I treat any other news source, to see if someone else has something different to say on the matter.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Comcast Will Be Comcast

Jokes about the impossibility of getting Comcast to cut the cord have become so legion that they even invade the comic strips. Fortunately, according to an Associated Press story, Ryan Block had the presence of mind to record his prolonged and frustrating conversation and then upload the recording to SoundCloud. By turning the affair into a public display, he got Comcast to admit that they were "embarrassed." The Associated Press article even claims that Comcast will call Block to apologize. I suspect that, even as I write this, there are odds-takers negotiating bets as to whether or not that telephone call will end up being about persuading Block to keep his Comcast service.

A Surprising Endorsement

Regular readers, particularly of my articles, should know by now how often I appeal to the epithet that jazz is "chamber music by other means," occasionally alternating it with Duke Ellington's more universal proposition:
It's all music.
Today I discovered another source of support in a rather unlikely place. It appeared in an article entitled "Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationship" in the second volume of the collected papers of Alfred Schutz. I have been drawn to Schutz for some time, particularly due to the phenomenological stance he takes to the study of those "social relationships." Thus, when I found a citation to a paper entitled "Making Music Together," simply knowing that Schutz was the other was enough motivation for me to find it and add it to my reading queue. Sure enough, in the process of developing his thoughts about what makes music-making a uniquely communicative experiences, I encountered the sentence:
And there is no difference in principle between the performance of a string quartet and the improvisations at a jam session of accomplished jazz players.
I have no idea to what extent Schutz himself was a practitioner when it came to making music, whether it involved performance, composition, or even my own struggles with using descriptive text to report on someone else's performance. Like the source of his inspiration, Edmund Husserl, his verbiage is often thick and elusive. He circles around his subject matter, almost like a shaman trying to psych it into submission, rather than taking a more classical Aristotelian approach to taking things apart and then reassembling them. One almost has to read him as an alternative approach to poetry (a reading strategy I have also applied to Ludwig Wittgenstein).

As a result, I suspect it will take a bit of time before I can adequately summarize just what I have been getting out of reading this essay. Ironically, the next paper in the collection is entitled "Mozart and the Philosophers." It goes without saying that this is the next one on my personal reading list! However, while reading Schutz can be an arduous journey, I have encountered enough his papers to accept that this was just how he wrote. There is nothing wrong with having to put in a bit of work before finally figuring out what a paper has been worth reading.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Our Psychopathic Future

While I was not particularly impressed by the pilot episode for Extant, I have to give the writers credit for daring to imagine a future in which the progress of scientific research resides (possibly) entirely in the hands of the private sector. On the other hand Chris Duckett has an article on ZDNet this morning, which makes it clear that such a future is much closer than the entertainment sector might imagine. One need read no further than the Summary to get this message:
The organisations that are looking to invent, and dominate the next era of computing are, at their heart, based on advertising revenue, and in the process of owning the future, these companies and their device-based competitors will treat the personal information of consumers as a prized commodity.
Duckett invokes Joel Bakan's metaphor that corporations are "institutional psychopaths" to underscore that fact that the future of technology has now narrowed its vision to nothing more than more people buying more stuff.  Of course we must always remember that we would not have an Internet had it not been for the major commitment of government resources, most of which came from the Department of Defense. This suggests that any individual seriously committed to truly basic research has to decided to whom (s)he will sell her/his soul. Will it be to some large institution concerned only with "selling it" (to borrow a phrase from Consumer Reports) or to an equally large institution always looking for better ways to "blow shit up" (drawing this time from Generation Kill)? Either choice seems destined to lead to psychopathology.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Battle for the Waistline

Over the last twelve hours BBC World Service Radio has been giving heavy exposure to a story about Michelle Obama's campaign to bring healthier food selections to public school cafeterias. Meanwhile, the Web site for the San Francisco ABC affiliate decided to run an article about all the different kinds of food you can get at a state fair across the country, almost all of which involve deep-frying as part of the preparation. It is the sort of article for which just looking at the photographs will probably send you off for an extra hit of Lipitor. Who would have thought that the battle over obesity would have included a skirmish between the BBC and ABC?

(Also, before anyone contributes it in a comment, I know full well that British cuisine is not the best source of options for a healthy diet!)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Productivity for What?

The headline for Mary Jo Foley's latest post to her All About Microsoft blog on ZDNet is:
Microsoft CEO Nadella: 'We will reinvent productivity'
What does this mean? On the surface is seems to mean that Steve Ballmer's "devices and services" mantra will be replaced by "productivity and platforms." Foley included the following quote from Satya Nadella:
At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.
The thing about such proclamations is that a flood of buzzwords can be meaningless as easily as it can be prophetic. Foley's article does not suggest which way this particular tower will be leading. However, there was another sentence later in her piece that gave me pause:
Bottom line, we will continue to innovate and grow our fan base with Xbox while also creating additive business value for Microsoft.
Was this meant to suggest that the Xbox will have more impact on future worker productivity than, say (for the sake of argument), Office?

The bottom line is that you cannot go off and claim you are improving productivity without some sense of the work practices that need your benefits. It is very hard to tell from Foley's piece just what those work practices are or, for that matter, whether they are now the sorts of work practices we need to worry about in a country that still has not gotten itself out from under its unemployment crisis. This may ultimately be a problem for which the solution will reside in a domain other that innovative technology, meaning that any Kool-Aid from Microsoft will be either an ineffective placebo or a seriously toxic substance.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ernestine Still Calls the Shots at AT&T

AT&T no longer has anything to do with "Ma Bell." SBC decided to take over the name when they bought the company. Nevertheless, the cruel mindlessness embodied in Ernestine the Operator (as created by Lily Tomlin) is still with us. Today I received electronic mail from AT&T informing me that I had not paid my bill in full. This could only be resolved by contacting their Call Center, whose operator informed me that I had paid in full but that a new charge had been added yesterday. This involved a California tax on 911 services that should have been on the statement as of last January, meaning that it took them about half a year to update their billing software. The amount they added after the fact was $0.24, and I was assured I could pay it upon receipt of my next statement. I still remember Ernestine's words:
We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Possible Insight from Genetics

The headline for an article by Helen Briggs, Health Editor for the BBC News Web site reads:
Same genes 'drive maths and reading ability'
In the body of the article, Briggs makes it clear that these results are far from conclusive. Nevertheless, they may provide a way for us to refine the questions we ask, even if the answers have yet to be resolved.

One way of looking at the results is to ask where there is commonality between the ability to read and reason with text and the ability to do the same with mathematics. Several years ago I did some tutoring; and I realized that, for this particular student, an equation was just a string a symbols whose only structure lay in the left-to-right ordering. The idea that it was necessary to "parse" the equation as part of understanding it (and, therefore, solving it) seemed to be absent. In a similar respect reading with understanding requires getting beyond the string of words to the recognition of how that string is structured.

Gerald Edelman recognized that there was a "cognitive leap" that had to be taken between the ability to identify objects and the ability to identify structural relationships among those objects. He called the first stage "perceptual categorization" and the second "presyntax." The idea that there may be genes associated with the capacity for presyntax suggests that we may also wish to ask whether or not there are also brain regions with a similar association. At the very least, scientists should be thinking about how to design experiments to explore this matter in greater depth. After all, the capacity for reading the symbols of text and mathematics should also apply to reading music notation!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Wait for Catastrophe?

If I was informed correctly that Medicare covers only one annual physical examination over the course of my lifetime, then I am now convinced that the United States Government does not give a damn about whether I lead a healthy life to keep my medical expenses under control.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Putting the Blind Men in their Place

I am glad to see that CNET seems to have decided that the best way to cover an interview with Larry Page and Sergey Brin conducted by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla was to assign the story to Chris Matyszczyk. Among those who write for CNET, Matyszczyk is not only probably the best at knowing bullshit when he encounters is but also the most adept at explaining to even the most naïve of his readers why it is bullshit. All that was missing from his assessment of this encounter was the metaphor of three blind men feeling up an elephant, the perfect example of what happens when you have individuals so drunk on their own Kool-Aid that each thinks he has both total information and the solution to all problems.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sound, Fury, and Indigestion

Once, purely through an accident in my travel schedule, I happened to find myself in Williamsburg, Virginia on the Fourth of July. I remember this because it was the only time I found myself in a celebration of the Fourth of July whose major objective was the reading of the Declaration of Independence. (To be fair I have heard this subsequently on National Public Radio, always with the participating of "name" actors; and I have attended at least one reading outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. However, Williamsburg was the one place that directly associated the Fourth of July with the date on the Declaration.)

Since then I have been in a variety of different cities on July 4. Inevitably, it is all about the fireworks, often with "warmup" activities getting under way on the evening of July 3. However, if all of that sound and fury pushes the significance of the date into the background, they are nothing compared with Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, which is 99 years old today. It is almost as if this celebration of gluttony has earned itself the position of one of those rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Nevertheless, it is understandable. After all, reading the Declaration of Independence says nothing about the "American way of life" being committed to consumerism above all else.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"It Is Happening Again"

So Rhona Mitra is playing Doctor Rachel Scott in The Last Ship. This comes right after her having played Major Rachel Dalton in Strike Back. Those who shared my guilt pleasure in following that latter series know that Major Dalton did not survive the latest season of programs. Will Mitra be carrying the shadow of death with her into Doctor Scott's story? Enquiring minds want to know!