Bach and the national depression

I recently read a psychologist's observation that the nation of Iraq is suffering from PTSD. I agree, except for one thing--no "post" about it, it's still in a survival state.

I do believe, however, that America is sliding into PTSD from the last 8 years, the economy, the sinking ship of health care, and murder by proxy. Last weekend I felt a distinct shift in the O Fortuna. Velut luna. Status variabilis. It felt a lot like grief, loss. The old American dream lies in little plasticky pieces, shiny but devoid of any humanity. The almighty dollar sucked us all down the toilet. We forgot how to live in harmony with the earth and each other.

We are all going to have to learn to get in touch with our selves again, ask some hard questions, before we can reach each other. We have to put people first again. We've become so cocooned in stuff, stuff made up of the earth's dwindling resources. We don't have to live as voracious consumers. Geez, I'm beginning to repeat my old rhetoric from the 60's and 70's.

Actually, there are solid analogies. Regardless of whether one equates the Iraq and Viet Nam wars, the effects on America have been even more devastating. The attitudes are the same from some of the military--not all, thank goodness. Arrogant slaughter for financial gain. Purely and simply.

I wish everyone in this country could see what life is like outside the borders of the USA. There's no excuse for not, really, if the media would practice real journalism.

I heard Molly Ivins speak not long before she died, and she talked about the death of real American journalism, especially the print variety, newspapers, specifically. One of her points described how today's newspapers have lost touch with the local, the community. The reporting is superficial, and narrows rather than expands knowledge. Not to say there aren't brilliant writers out there, but what is thoughtful and rational and workable is overlooked for the sensational, the froth.

On the other hand, I had a fabulous conversation with a friend about Bach and his music. My friend attended the Bach Cantata Project at the Blanton, and commented on the use of biblical text throughout. It gave me an opportunity to describe the cantata as a form, which is easily translatable to a computer geek. It was mind-blowing to think of it in that context, after a lifetime of relating to Bach in a distinctly non-technological way, not counting the early synthesizered "Switched On Bach" of the 60's. Sensual to the core, at the same time appreciating the beauty of the exquisite interface between sound and mathematics.

It is only fitting that I was able to visit his last musical posting and gravesite--St. Thomaskirche in Leipzig--in my own elderhood. Looking back for decades of being completely surrounded by Bach, something for all of my musical capabilities. Keyboard, vocal, instrumental, monumental, playful, serious, solo, full orchestra and chorus and everything in between--he wrote something for every facet, every mood. Even though they were different periods, I think of Bach as an extension, an evolution of Shakespeare.

For words are music, too. Human sound lifted up. Music, particularly Bach's, physically resonates with the human body, making it an instrument. Which reminds me. AVAE's first concert is November 13 in Austin, November 15 at Round Top.

I had a teacher when I was in my 30's who said music was mathematics in technicolor. Now that I'm in my 60's, I have a deeper understanding of what she meant.


Bill Evans is my favorite jazz pianist

And a friend sent this gorgeous video of his hands, doing wonderful things to George Russell's Stratusphunk.
I fell in love with Bill Evans in 1963, the first time I heard Waltz for Debby with his trio. Chopin-esque in structure, with a jazzier harmony. Tres cool.


Wayne Wang puts new film on YouTube

That's a pretty revolutionary idea for a major director to release a new film on YouTube and NOT in the theaters. It's an extraordinary film.

While watching The Princess of Nebraska, a beautifully shot slice of life about a young woman who is four months into a student exchange program...and four months into something that can change her life. She finds herself in San Francisco, bewildered by how out of touch Chinese-Americans are with contemporary China and the digital native teenagers' milieu.

I'm not crazy about YouTube, but they have one feature I love, The YouTube Screening Room. You can watch/embed new film from around the world, and that's one of my passions. Even though I know video is a technical problem for many people, I'm tempted to embed more of it on FOP. I researched and embedded a lot of video at The Good Musician, and it can add dimension to words. I'm also mulling transporting to WP.


Monarch Butterflies Mean Fall in the Hill Country

Saw my first Monarch of the season on campus the other day hanging around the trash barrels outside JC. Sometimes the variety of wildlife on our campus is rather jarring. Like don't ever, ever pick up a dead bat. And there are jillions of bats in Austin, not only under the Congress Street Bridge. They're behind signs in every strip mall. They are under most every bridge up and down Lady Bird Lake (I love that!).

Hope there are more. Monarchs, not dead bats. I can remember an October in north Texas when the Monarchs coated the wisteria, trees, bushes, any leaf or twig for several days, then move on. That was in '54 or thereabouts. We see very few these days. Still, it's a gas that the Hill Country is on the flight paths of most all migrating songbirds and butterflies.

Here's a fantastic educational science site for elementary grades. That's where I got the photo of the butterfly, BTW. Excellent resource for any age :)

I had forgotten that the Viceroy butterfly mimics the Monarch, rather like a Monarch in clown face. Features just slightly overdone. This is a Viceroy--can you see the difference?


There's a Fungus Among Us

This big guy is about fourteen inches across. It only grows in autumn, when the humidity reaches a certain point, and when it cools down to the lower 90's/upper 80's in the day and the 60's-70's at night. It will continue to grow until it disperses its spores, or someone or something squashes it.

Texas has some of the strangest fungi. Somehow it's unexpected.

Gladly for Adlai

I recently posted on Blog Sisters about my earliest awareness of politics. In case you can't access that link, here's the post:

Originally posted in Blog Sisters, September 27, 2008

"You've really gotten us into a mess this time, Ollie!"
Comparing Laurel and Hardy to McCain/Palin is a stretch, but if the financial mess we're in now doesn't focus the country's attention on the sorry state of affairs from eight years of insanity, then we deserve to crash.

The presidential campaign of '52 was the first I was old enough to remember, and it seemed so exciting and patriotic back then. We'd just come out of the war, the country was booming, and yes, there were problems, though they seem elementary compared to now. After listening to Stevenson and Eisenhower speak, I expected that the academic would easily beat out the old war horse. That was my first lesson in the short-sightedness of the American public. When I questioned my parents why Stevenson lost, my mom said, "He was too smart for the average American to understand." It didn't make much sense at the time. Unfortunately, she was right.

What does it take for your average American citizen to wake up to the fact that we've shot ourselves in both feet, at home and abroad? I traveled in Central Europe this summer, and was impressed by the sight of wind turbines twirling in swirling wheat fields. We are so terribly out of touch with what's going on in the rest of the world--all we see through the MSM lens is strictly US-centric. We've been salted down, wrapped in cotton wool, and isolated from reality.

Same thing when I lived in Australia for two years. There's so much more going on out there than Americans know. It was a relief to live a life in which American doom and gloom and rotten capitalism was reduced to an 11:30-midnight slot every night, and to have the choice to simply not watch. I learned about countries I'd never heard of before. Saw island nations strip mined by American megacorporations, the population decimated when the silt from runoff ruined the fishing economy. Watched the New Zealand Navy surround the French islands where Chirac conducted an underwater nuclear bomb test. Did this news ever make it to the US media? My guess is the O.J. fiasco pre-empted news of any value.

For all our bluster and misplaced pride, the US has slipped into a Third World existence where we have higher infant mortality than a couple of dozen countries. Our education system is abysmal. Le Monde and other overseas newspapers were solidly behind Obama this summer, and doubtless still are. Even the old standby, American Express Travelers Checks, were in bad odor. If Europeans would accept them, they charged an exorbitant fee, telling us that by the time they got their money back from AmEx, the dollar would have devalued enough to justify the up to 50% fee.

I learned the hard way that when you finally leave an abuser for good, that's when they deliver the coup de gras. For the unpardonable offense of extricating yourself from a toxic relationship, the abuser seeks to get their last, hardest licks in. That's the one thing I fear for America. That the "October Surprise" will result in either martial law, another stolen election, or both.

It is so frustrating to see the rest of the world taking steps to strengthen their populace and economies, while our particular brand of capitalism only leads to an acute concentration of wealth in the hands of sociopaths, and the common wo/man is crushed beneath the wheel of greed.

OK, de-comissioning the soapbox for a while. Please go vote.

B-Political Blues

I love to hear Little Feat sing "A-political Blues." Here's a 1977 London video featuring Lowell George and Mick Taylor.

Then there's a 2006 version in Portland, Oregon with Paul Barrere doing the honors.

Well, I got the B-Political Blues
Just as blue as I can be
I got those B-Political Blues
Blue, blue as I can be
There's some big old bad politicians
Tryin' to make a fool out of me

I went down to the local courthouse
Put my ballot in the box
Went right down to the local courthouse
Put my ballot right into that box
But when all the votes were counted
Somebody tampered with the locks


45th high school reunion

Photo by Eryn Snowden-Rawley--it's the real thing

Growing up in the SE quarter of the US, I've lived a fair number of places and traveled throughout. As a consequence, I attended five grade schools (and I skipped first grade), two junior highs, and three high schools. By the time I got to my senior year, I was in a small, NE Texas school, with 60 in the graduating class. Now in addition to being 45 years ago, the only students I knew at all were in band.

I've since communicated with less than a handful of those folks, and I can barely associate the person with the matching school, let alone their names. I certainly wish them all the best. What I remember, of course, are clips of extraordinary events, and I haven't reviewed those particular tapes in a very long time.

Three very different bands, marching 8 to 5 and 6 to 5. No rifles or flags back in them days--twirlers and cheerleaders all the way, an occasional pep squad, which morphed into flags/rifles rampant on the gridirons of today. My loyalty and school spirit was based on the music. The color of the uniform didn't much matter.

In a way, it was difficult, considering the teen-age angst, the post-war cookie cutter existence. On the other hand, I really loved being a fringe dweller. Imagine--three dramas for the price of one adolescence. Spread over several states, I had the most delightful opportunity to see new things, hear new voices and music, and participate in distinctly different communities. I learned the value of observing and enjoying life from many perspectives. I learned to appreciate honesty, minimize the superfluous, and to step into the void, knowing that it would at the very least be an exciting adventure.

I didn't particularly like my senior year, going from a 4A to 3A band (I didn't give a shit about football--too busy in the stands and on the field), I had just gotten the piano chair in the jazz band, and I was going to be the sr. correspondent to the local newspaper. Poof--that all disappeared, and there was a twist at the new school. Something called "senior date" pretty much locked down the pairing up for the boy-girl events well before classes started. It was pretty grim, kind of like being on lockdown. I didn't mind not having a date, but I did get a little annoyed that somehow someone dumped someone else, and someone convinced them to invite me to the sr. dance, sort of like a "save face" scene for the boy, what with me being the safe, proper preacher's daughter, damsel in distress 'cause she didn't have a sr. date, who was rather taken aback that it was such a political thang, because the after-graduation party was a different story. The preacher's daughter got dumped, and the boy went to that party with someone else. Ho-hum. One of my five shortest relationships.

Notice that I'm hardly bitter about that--we graduated on a Friday night, and I started college Monday morning. Never looked back. The next two years were amazingly liberating, as I undertook to make up for lost time.

Sitting here in Austin, surrounded by some of the most open-minded thinkers in the world, I wonder what those former classmates are thinking about the current conditions of our country. Would we recognize kindred souls? Could we withstand the clash of radically different ideals? This is one of the primal issues that concern me about every class reunion: how far have we really come from violent racial hate? I use those words carefully. My grandfather told me tales of tarring and feathering black people, barely 20 years earlier. There was a sign that hung over the main street for decades. "XXXX, Texas. Blackest Land, Whitest People." As I recall, it was neon. It was still in place for several years after I graduated. New college friends plotted with me to take the sign down. One plan included something with a convertible and deep sea fishing tackle.

Two subsequent events make this issue particularly sensitive for me. My family is mixed. I only think about it when we run into a biased individual. The first incident involved a photo Christmas card of my daughter holding up her new baby cousin. A few years later, I was visiting an elderly in-law, and saw that she had carefully cut out the baby boy and stuck the remaining defaced photo of my daughter on her dresser mirror. I was gobsmacked. A tiny, premature, 4-pound infant was so difficult for her to accept she excised her denial and disposed of it. I get that it would have humiliated her to her friends. I also get that she was eaten up by hate.

The second incident was when I recognized disgust in the eyes of someone who visited me in my office. I have photos of my family around me to help de-stress at work. This person asked, "Who are those guys?" and when I told him, a wall slammed down. It didn't matter that the photos were professional comps, and that the gorgeous boys were models. That old sense of Texas tough guy, really only a mean bully, using disdain and contempt in an attempt to dominate the situation, especially when it involves a female, or persons with darker skin pigmentation. It was sickening and more than a little scary. Been through way too much of that shit to put up with it ever again.

So while I try to have as few preconceptions as possible, I would much rather go to my college reunion, which just happens to be in northern California, in an idyllic setting, full of peace-loving liberals, friends and fellow musicians with whom I'm still connected, and the very best place in the world for a little girl to grow up. I'd just as soon take a walk on Dillon Beach, hike up to the esteros, see if there are still scars from Christo's running fence. Buy a fresh abalone off a local diver, pick some dulse off the rocks, and build a fire in the shelter of a cliff. Greet old friends of nearly a decade, warm hugs and outpourings of humanity, caring, catch up on the 5 kids who were born at home in the bicentennial along with my daughter. Be free. Not worry about Americans plotting to kill other Americans.

I can't go back to those old shackles of high school.


October is National Disabilities Awareness Month

The 2008 slogan is "America's People...America's Talent...America's Strength!" Not too crazy about the exclamation point--the slogan is strong enough to stand without it. Good marketing strategy for Boomers and technology as well.

So let's deconstruct. "America" mentioned three times. Focuses attention on the fact that one in five Americans* has a severe disability. There are government online fact sheets with loads of data--the U.S. Department of Labor, that may be compliant but not necessarily usable. Small type font. Navigation background and link colors clash way too painfully to browse. The press release is the perfect example of a factual, cold, dry legislative writing style which is great, but doesn't invite further investigation--chalk it up as a reliable source to link, and move on. I got out as fast as I could bookmark it.

If you're looking for a ride that glides through the architecture like a Ferrari in the Hill Country, check out WorkWorld, the Virginia Commonwealth University Employment Support Institute program. This site is an excellent example of a well-designed, usable information architecture that zips you to the fact you want--quick and easy. It's comfortable, draws me in--larger font size, no retina-searing colors, well-labeled, you always know where you are and how to get back. Now what researcher in their right mind would not just love to have that experience every time we go source sleuthing?

*This U.S. Census Bureau fact sheet is awful to look at, but wowie--what a great compilation of statistics, in a user-friendly presentation. Note especially the numbers in Education, Plugged into the Net, and Serving our Nation figures. That's where I got the one in five factoid.

Back to the slogan. "People...Talent...Strength." I often think of all the returning Iraqi veterans who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). America will have more and more talented, strong folks needing to access the internet in ways that are easy to install from the get-go, and are good for everyone. We're all going to need it, sooner or later.

So take a few minutes to check out these sites, and see if you agree with my review. If you learn just one new thing about transforming disability into usability, that would be loverly.

Here's a random photo, apropos of nothing, I just like the cool blue and green glass sculptures against the limestone background. Austin Civic Center, SE entrance.