Saturday, January 31, 2009


Once maybe twice I've attended operas in which one of the principal singers had lost his voice. In neither case was there a substitute available to perform the role on stage.

Instead, they found substitutes who could sing in the orchestra pit while the original performers would go through the motions on stage.

I don't remember if the on-stage guy actually lip-synched, but only those closest to the stage could tell anyway.

Nothing fake about it.  The work-around was announced to the audience beforehand.  This seems to be not completely uncommon.


At the inauguration, however, they did a little fakeroo.

We saw Yo Yo and Itzhak going through the motions but the audience heard a recording.  This was the equivalent of unannounced lip-synching, which for folks like Yo Yo and Itzhak must have been humiliating.

A brief announcement and a video of the quartet playing the piece indoors for Barack, which is, like,  the truth, would have been perfectly acceptable. The four musicians would have received the same ovation if they had merely waved from the balcony, instead of pretending to play.

Later Obama's people appeared to be admitting to a fib.


Last week in my stage band class I heard a couple of astounding admissions about jazz improvisation.

Our teacher, a working jazz guitarist, gave the following advice about improvising:

If you hit a really wrong note, don't ignore it, repeat it. By repeating it you make the audience think that the note was intentional and might be conveying some new subtle harmonic insight.

I don't know if this boils down to "Shit sells," or "Sell shit."

The other piece of cynical advice:

When in doubt, go chromatic.

Exactly as I suspected.

[Chromatic means using all the piano keys, black and white, in a scale, or, if you use both forearms to bang down on as many piano keys as possible at the same time, that is a chromatic chord.]

I don't feel so bad about not being able to "get" most jazz improvisation. Rather, I congratulate myself for not pretending to.

I'm not a particularly honest person, but I am extremely lazy.  When I look for possible solutions to a problem, I at least consider the possibility of simply telling the truth, not for moral reasons but because it might require less effort in the long run.

Back in the 1950-60's there was an improvisational acting troop in San Francisco called "The Committee." It seemed to appeal to the same audience that listened to improvisational jazz.

To me it seemed like a lot of waiting around for something good to happen, then ooing and ahhing when it did, like a meal of California cuisine with long waits between courses.

I got the impression that much of dramatic as well as musical improvisation was made up of pre-formed shtick-bits, or riffs or whatever, which makes it less improvisational.

The purpose of jazz improvisation is to disguise the repetition of musical ideas.

A typical song contains two musical ideas: the verse and the bridge. The verse is played twice, then the bridge, then the verse is repeated. AABA.

So, once-through a song can take as little as a minute or less. For most purposes this is not long enough, so the basic AABA has to be repeated multiple times.

In the above clip, Work Song doesn't even have a bridge. The tune consists of eight bars, played straight once at the beginning and once at the end, then each soloist goes through the eight bars twice.  Even with all this repetition, the number lasts less than four minutes.

Big bands had to improvise in order to keep the dancers dancing. Whorehouse pianists had to keep playing jizz music nonstop.

Bob Dylan bulked out his songs with additional lyrics, but he is an extraordinary poet.

I don't see how improvising music should be any easier than improvising lyrics, and almost no one tries to do that, unless you include the nonsense syllables of scat.

Recently taxpayers sunk another million bucks into a pipedream called the Fillmore Jazz District.


There used to be a real Fillmore Jazz District but the rich people bulldozed it and put up stucco buildings with aluminum-frame windows.

Ashamed of their handiwork, the rich are constructing a cultural Potemkin Village, about as genuine as a Las Vegas theme-hotel, to show their concern (with our tax dollars), and to show San Francisco's supposed jazz-hipness.

In the 1960's even us dirt poor college students could afford a hot cider at Both/And, a club on Divisadero, where, supposedly, Janis Joplin first heard Big Mama Willie May Thornton singing Ball and Chain.


We went there because it was cheap, sort of avant garde, and kids were allowed. I was way too stupid to know what I was hearing.

The jazz clubs in the faux Fillmore Jazz District are mostly unaffordable for all but the affluent, part of why they need infusions of public cash.

Ball and chain, indeed.

----- o -----


Obama's a smart guy but, gosh darn it, how was he to know that Wall Street executives are thieves?

His outrage, or his public demonstration of same, that Wall Street used $18 Billion of taxpayer bailout money to pay performance bonuses, was either disingenuous shtick, or else it indicates a scary naivete on the part of the leader of the free world.


I'm going with the shtick thing. Obama is shocked not that Wall Streeters would steal taxpayers money, but that they would do so in a way that they could be caught.

So Obama's outrage is an act. His claim that he didn't know that Wall Streeters are thieves, is, pretty much a lie.

We see the same stupidity claims in the confirmation of the tax cheats Obama has appointed to high office.

This guy Tim Geitner is smart enough to figure out how Credit Default Swaps work, but darn it, he's not smart enough to figure out how much tax he owes, and that's why he made some innocent mistakes amounting to thousands of dollars in his own favor.

And Tom Daschle, another smart guy who signed incorrect tax returns:  not only did he understate his income, he overstated his charitable contributions. These "mistakes" were in his own favor to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.


Daschle probably won't get away with pleading stupidity.  The overstating-charitable-contributions thing is pretty obvious fraud.

I wonder how many of Obama's appointees are so gosh darn dumb that they overpaid taxes by tens of thousands of dollars.  Innocent mistakes would result as frequently in overpayment as in underpayment.


Similarly Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling at Enron: they were smart enough to deserve tens of millions of dollars per year in compensation, but not smart enough, or so they said, to know that their company was insolvent.


Or Allen Greenspan who, under relentless questioning, recently admitted that his model had a flaw--he believed that corporate self-interest would effectively police individual misconduct--as if the notion of corporation-as-person were anything more than a legal fiction.

What a moroon!

----- o -----

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Amazingly, my Stage Band instructor, who attended the inauguration on Tuesday, showed up on time for our Wednesday afternoon class, none the worse for wear.

Lenny's enthusiasm still brimmed. He even said something about "a new era." And further cliche.

Lenny told us, regarding the weather in Washington, "We in the Bay Area don't appreciate our great weather!"

I'm thinking: I didn't go to Washington in January.

And he repeated the canned reaction, "It's too bad that the crowd booed George Bush."

I'm thinking: If George Bush didn't want to get booed he could have stayed in his hole.

There is no constitututional or statutory obligation for the outgoing president to attend the swearing-in of his successor--this is obvious when the succession is occasioned by death-in-office.


This was one time when Bush appeared in front of a crowd the makeup of which he couldn't control, the one time the public could express themselves directly to a man whose salary they've been paying for eight years.

And the booed the son of a bitch.

"Son of a bitch," is particularly appropriate in this case.


I think it's impolite to start wars of aggression based on deliberate lies. I think it's impolite to tap everyone's phones.  I think it's impolite to torture people and hold them indefinitely without charges.  It's even impolite to enable the crooks at Enron to rip off employees pension plans and millions of energy ratepayers.

You want impolite? Try the execution of Saddam Hussein.  You want impolite? Try waterboarding.

The problem with booing is that it's not nearly enough.  Bush belongs in prison pending war crimes prosecution.

Anyway, on the way to class I had to sit near the back of the bus, which in San Francisco public transit is considered thug turf.

As I sat there I imagined how I would respond to the intimidating misbehavior of poor black teenagers, I thought I might ask them:

"What would Barack think of that?"

As the nation's chief law enforcer, Barack Obama is now "the man."

Weird!  "The man," is now a black man.

If I ever come within earshot of George Bush, I'll  shout invective at him, including impolite words.

Boo indeed!

----- o -----

Monday, January 19, 2009


As one commentator in D.C. put it:  "It feels like Christmas Eve."

This inauguration-eve I'm feeling like a parent with no illusions about Santa Claus who is warmed nonetheless to see the children's enthusiastic anticipation.

Most of the exultation on the streets outside the White House comes  not from an irrational belief in Santa-Obama, but rather from the certainty of George Bush's long awaited departure. It's such a relief!

At this point even enemies are supposed to get a little sentimental about the departure of an adversary.

Not for George Bush.  George Bush is an asshole, has always been an asshole, and will probably always be an asshole.


There hasn't been an outpouring of national celebration like this since  the deaths Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, tyrants and torturers of Romania, whom the rebels executed on December 25, 1989 “as a Christmas present to the country.”


At least on cable news, the only remaining commentary about George Bush regards whether or not he should be prosecuted for war crimes.

Great legacy! Heck of a job, Georgie!

----- o -----

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Last Wednesday was the first meeting of my "Stage Band" class at City College and I felt the familiar trepidation of being unfamiliar.

Like other performance classes, Stage Band can be repeated numerous times, so twelve of the sixteen "pupils" were returnees.

The teacher, Lenny Carlson, explained the official requirements (not published in the catalog) which I would call "intermediate" skill level, ability to read, but not necessarily sight-read, and, I guess, play in tune and take direction.


Lenny Carlson is the real deal.  According to his bio Lenny studied with Joe Pass, a name even I recognize, and did some early work with Ry Cooder.  One of Lenny's compositions received a Grammy nomination.

One young newcomer was turned away because she wasn't advanced enough on her instrument.

Beyond the official requirements, one is more or less welcome based on configuration, and it turned out that my flute is welcome.

We have rhythm guitars, lead guitars, bass guitars, drums, piano, and a vocalist.

Wind-wise there are only saxes and flutes, five or six saxes and only two flutes, and, somewhat surprisingly, no clarinets and no brass.

The smoothness of the flute tones is nice against the rough texture of the reeds, and having two helps us compete volumewise.

Improvisational soloing is optional. It looks like we'll be playing pieces in standard pop format--once through straight, repeat one or more times for solos, then once through straight again to conclude.

So I'm all excited about trying improv, although I find most jazz improv to be as unpleasant as twelve-tone-row composition on the classical side.

Like cadenzas in classical, solos in jazz show off the technical skills of the soloists.  Since I have no particular skills to show off, except perhaps a decent tone, I'll have to provide simple ear-candy, which might complement the usual abstract tonal chaos (to my ear).

I'm working on a solo for Jerry Mulligan's Line for Lyons, which is a pretty familiar tune.

Here's a clip of Mr Mulligan playing it.


I'm worried about next Wednesday. Lenny, says he's going to the inauguration, which is Tuesday in freezing D.C., but will hop a plane that night and will be ready for band practice the next day.

I'm not exactly counting on it.

I'm guessing Lenny might be a party activist or something--he said he got tickets through Pelosi's office.  Lenny's no spring chicken but he's a lot springier than I.

There is so much enthusiasm about Obama!

The other number we did in the first meeting was Don't Get Around Much Anymore, which is usually played in cheerful up tempo, but the lyrics are sad--after a breakup one of the parties is depressed and stays home alone.

Some are going to Washington; some are staying home alone.

----- o -----

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I never knew The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll was about a contemporaneous event.  I thought it might be old Baltimore folklore.

The first two words of the song are, "William Zanzinger..."

According to this NYT story, William Zantzinger died a week ago.

I bet I'm not the only aging hippie who tears up before the harmonica intro is even halfway through.


----- o -----



Here's the lead sentence in WaPo's  coverage of Larry Craig's legal efforts kaput [emphases mine]:

After repeated attempts to clear his name, former senator Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) is giving up on his effort to withdraw his guilty plea stemming from his 2007 arrest in a Minneapolis airport bathroom in an undercover sex sting.

The article says Craig might open a consulting firm with his former chief of staff, but chances are good that the next news we hear about Larry Craig is that he has died.


And we know that his obituary will feature the fact that Craig was a public toilet sex creep.

Poor Larry had to utter, on national TV, one of the worst lines imaginable:

I am not gay.

Like, this will be carved on his tombstone

If Larry wasn't doing a sex thing in the airport toilet stall, then the only reason to plead guilty is because he was actually doing something worse.

For instance, a killer with dead bodies in the trunk of his car gets pulled over for rolling through a stop sign.  Even if the killer was sure he made a full stop, he's not going to dispute too much with the cop, lest it lead to a trunk inspection.  No, the killer signs the ticket, apologizes, and continues to the planned disposal site.

So, what was Craig doing, if not sex?

Espionage comes to mind.  Could Craig have been passing FBI files to a posse comitatus? Nuclear secrets to Iran? Misdemeanor mensroom sex would be a good cover story for more serious felonies, which he has presumably gotten away with.

Still, it's gotta be difficult for a gruff, businesslike, man's-man kind of guy like Larry Craig to keep up his dignity when everyone knows he's a fruit. Like, in Idaho!


Not only will Craig's obituaries mention the sex sting, his death will prompt many late-night jokes, great mensroom  in the sky stuff.

We're not supposed to laugh when a guy dies, but this will be irresistible.

There is, however, a way for the former senator to dull the sting. He should follow Tonya Harding's example, and cover up the one embarrassing event with many additional embarrassing events.

Tonya was in danger of being remembered for only one thing--kneecapping her ice skating rival.


But, thanks to her  irrepressibility, Tonya will also be remembered for managing a professional wrestler, and for her second sports career as a professional boxer.

And her numerous run-ins with the law have endeared her to many of us a a troubled, bad-lucked, but basically sympatico young woman.

The attack on Nancy Kerrigan is just one item in a list.

So, what could Larry Craig do?

For starters, how about Sumo for Seniors.


It's a natural lead in from  the "wide stance" defense. Wide stance is definitely an asset in sumo.

Larry could promote this new fitness sensation as a health program for older people, especially those who are overweight.

It's not just a physical health thing, but also a positive body image thing, a love-your-lard thing.

When Larry Craig starts showing up on Oprah to demonstrate Sumo for Seniors, wearing just a mawashi, no one will remember the mensroom thing.


William Shattner has totally redeemed himself through self parody. Heck, if Shattner faced the same circumstances he'd turn up doing bathroom fixture commercials.

Anyway, just as Tonya Harding has become America's favorite trailer trash, Larry Craig could transform himself from pathetic old closet-case into our favorite old perv, harmless, kind of amusing.

----- o -----

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Those who think that change in Washington comes easy, consider your own or your friends' New Year's resolutions.


On this feast of the Epiphany, the epiphany for most of us by now is that we're not going to keep our resolutions and we'll just forget about them until some future, more feasible starting point.

Obviously any important and sincerely motivated behavior change should begin immediately and not be delayed until some artificial start-date (an inauguration, for instance).

Whereas opposition to change is relentless.

Obama's attempt to bring change to the CIA by installing a competent administrator as its Director, is being opposed by San Francisco's own Dianne Feinstein.


DiFi, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee before which Obama's pick, Leon Panetta must appear for confirmation, states her opposition as a matter of some abstract principle, in this AFP/Yahoo story:

My position has consistently been that I believe the (CIA) is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time," she added.

DiFi wants a "pro" who, like herself, is criminally liable for the US torture program carried out by the Bush Administration.


Feinstein will do anything to cover up her role in approving war crimes.

Feinstein's opposition to Panetta has nothing to do with policy or governance, she's just covering her own Zionist ass.


Poor Barack! He's likened himself to Lincoln and to FDR.  We remember what happened to the last president who threatened to change the intelligence "community."

----- o -----

Saturday, January 03, 2009


My parents thought it stupid to spend much money on clothes for us kids. Through eighth grade I wore uniforms to parochial school: corduroy pants (one pair per year), short sleeved collared shirts (two per year) and a cotton sweater.

But with high school and adolescence came standards of fashion to which my parents wouldn't let me aspire. In this sense I was different, almost like a poor kid.


More important to my parents than clothing was speech.  Speech, they told us, is the clothing of the personality, and is much more a factor in attractiveness than clothing.

Incorrect pronunciation, and incorrect usage were much more damaging to one's image, they thought, than fashion inadequacies. 

Consequently I'm not snobbish about clothes but I'm a terrible snob about speech.

Instances so abound it's hard to think of any in particular.

I once knew a guy who thought "cry-seas" was the correct (educated) pronunciation of the word crisis (singular),

or the guy who used the word penultimate to mean "more ultimate than ultimate," as if the prefix pen- were an intensifier,

or all the moron pundits who use the phrase begs the question to mean "raises the question."

These are instances of failed verbal overdressing.


That's just usage. Worse is the realm of cringe words and cringe utterances, things a person should simply never say.

I heard a guy in a business situation tell a near stranger, "I'm not a specialist, I'm a bright generalist." Cringe.

A fairly neurotic woman in a very affected voice once told me, "I'm genuine." Cringe.

Or when Barack Obama told Hillary Clinton, "You're likable enough." Cringe.

Or when our adulterous boy-mayor's team came up with the slogan, "Volunteering is Sexy," we knew to bring hand sanitizer on visits to Room 200. Cringe.

Now we have Obama saying he wants to "Make government cool again." Cringe.

These are examples of creepy self-vouching.


As Nobel laureate Paul Krugman opines, we don't need cool government, we need good government.

It's cool to spend a trillion dollars, supposedly to benefit average Americans, but the task of making sure the money is spent well and actually does benefit average Americans is not cool at all.

Good government (goo-goo) involves such uncool things as accounting, auditing, enforcement, and reporting.

Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could set a tone by axing San Francisco's planned Subway to Nowhere. It's in Pelosi's district.  Even our loyal sexy mayor says the subway doesn't address our City's actual transit needs.

"But," Newsom shares some inside-baseball, "the money has been approved in Congress for the subway and we can't just take the money and use it for other transit projects, and we can't just turn the money down."

When pressed about his non-change cabinet picks, whose expressed views differ from those he himself campaigned on, Obama said, "As president, I will set policy and they will carry it out." Cringe.

----- o -----

Thursday, January 01, 2009


When a guy says he's never done or said a particular thing, he's usually prepared to deal with one contrary example, with:

Ok, one time I misspoke.

And we're prepared to cut him a little slack.

But three times, Rick?

Thanks to ng1260 for putting this together.

----- o -----

NEW YEAR 2009: $0.3 Million Baby

In the deepest darkness the old year dies and the new year is born.

We have a terrific new year's baby:


Poor little Tripp has but two grandmothers, one the object of ridicule, the other the object of a drug bust.

Three hundred thousand seems hardly enough.

Thanks to Huffington Post for the fleeting juxtaposition snipped above.

God bless us everyone.

----- o -----


According to the fabulous Judeo-Christian tradition, our one and only God has deployed  a reward/punishment system to regulate human behavior:

Behave well and receive eternal pleasure (heaven).

Behave badly and receive eternal pain (hell).

I'm not making this stuff up!

Christian preachers and artists have had much fun(?) enumerating and elucidating the multiform tortures of hell.


If God thinks that torture, or the the threat of it, is a good way to shape human behavior, then who are we to condemn it, or even to claim that torture doesn't work? To do so is to question God's plan.

According to cable TV documentaries, some early Christians known as Gnostics thought of Yahweh (the Judeo-Christian "God"), as a temporary and not all that lovable force, sort of like our sun.

We all live and plan our lives as if the sun will always be there, which is true for our practical purposes. Of course we know that the sun will eventually flame out and take our piddly planet with it.

So Yahweh seems permanent, but Gnostics and Hindus and Buddhists assure us: sooner or later the torture will end.

----- o -----