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3 March 2010


Matins: Now this is more like it: the Coffee Party. Kate Zernike's account is almost too good to be true. (NYT)

The slogan is “Wake Up and Stand Up.” The mission statement declares that the federal government is “not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges we face as Americans.”

Local chapters are planning meetings in cities from Washington to San Antonio to Los Angeles (where there have been four in the last month.) The party ( is planning nationwide coffee houses for March 13, where people can gather to decide which issues they want to take on and even which candidates they want to support.

Lauds: Steve Smith writes, lucidly as always, about the Kronos Quartet. (We believe that everyone ought to have at least one album.) (NYT)

Mr. Harrington’s vision extended further still: raised on the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, he brought a horsehair-ripping version of “Purple Haze” into the Kronos repertory. From that point onward the group spent an increasing amount of its time playing arrangements of music from idioms not primarily dependent on scored composition, be it Indian raga, Portuguese fado, California surf rock or Mexican techno. Admirers said Kronos was making the string quartet medium palatable, even cool, for a rock-weaned generation. Detractors insisted that the flamboyant trappings were meant to mask technical shortcomings and distract from a shallow, kitschy repertory.

From either vantage point, the word “crossover” was hard to avoid. A loaded concept in classical music, the term is tossed like a tatty blanket over pop-oriented projects by Plácido Domingo and James Galway, quasi-operatic crooners like the tenor Andrea Bocelli and the English boy band Il Divo, and high-flown efforts by rock stars like Sting and Elvis Costello.

But crossover, by its very definition, implies a destination: a classical performer looking for a wider audience (and, perhaps, a bigger paycheck) among pop fans, a rock star eager to be taken seriously by a cultural elite. Mr. Harrington’s vision, on the other hand, had nothing to do with a destination; it was all about the voyage and the discoveries made along the way.

Prime: At New York, Justin Davidson reports on proposals to make New York safe from rising sea levels precisely by opening up to them.

The five teams produced innovative ways of returning New York to a time before we paved over mudflats and salt marshes, poisoned the waterways, and clogged up the coastline with landfill. In the last decade, the city has recycled swaths of waterfront wasteland into a ribbon of park and piers. The future could involve dismantling the seawall, ringing the harbor with wetlands, and embracing the city’s maritime identity. This seems at first like surrender—throw open the floodgates, let in the tides—but it’s more like jujitsu engineering. A mushy, absorbent coastline is nature’s defense against storm surges, and it doesn’t need a tryout: We know it works.

Sounds a bit like learning Cnut's lesson for real. 

Tierce: Melissa Healy confirms our suspicions: merely listening to music doesn't build better brains. (LA Times; via Arts Journal)

But for all its beauty, power and capacity to move, researchers have concluded that music is little more than ear candy for the brain if it is consumed only passively. If you want music to sharpen your senses, boost your ability to focus and perhaps even improve your memory, the latest word from science is you'll need more than hype and a loaded iPod.

You gotta get in there and play. Or sing, bang or pluck.

"The Mozart effect? That's just crap," says Glenn Schellenberg, a psychologist at the University of Toronto who conducts research on the effect of music and musical instruction.

Even the author of the 1993 study that set off the commercial frenzy says her group's findings — from an experiment that had college students, not babies, listen to Mozart — were "grossly misapplied and over-exaggerated." Psychologist Frances Rauscher, along with the rest of the field studying music's effects on the brain, has long since moved on to explore the effect of active musical instruction on cognitive performance.

The upshot of their work is clear: Learning to make music changes the brain and boosts broad academic performance.

The Editor is an enthusiastic whistler. Does counterpoint count?

Sext: Dave Bry may be getting to the bottom of his barrel of sins, and, frankly, he doesn't sound altogether penitential, but we found, after we read the story, that "No, you shut up" is a truly refreshing remark.

I was at the end of my rope the night that I finally saw her. It was a weeknight, Tuesday maybe, and later than usual, ten o’clock or so. Quiet out on Hudson Street, other than the dog’s barking, which had been going on for a half-an-hour. Quiet inside our apartment, too, other than my ranting about the social contract, etc., which had been going on for about as long. Emily was sitting in bed, trying to read or something. I’d staked out a position at the window, watching the dog, waiting for the owner. When she appeared—sort of waddling out of the deli-mart, a short, heavy-set woman with white hair, maybe in her 60s—and stepped to the lamppost and began untying the leash, I jumped up and ran into the bathroom, where the window in the shower provided a more direct angle from which to shout.

Nones: We never did understand how "North Atlantic" comprised the Black Sea: at Real Clear World, Daniel McGroarty reports on Russia's determination to restore its hegemony on the inland sea despite neighboring NATO alliances. (via The Morning News)

As if all this missile-flexing weren't enough, there's an economic dimension to the Black Sea conflict. The Black Sea figures in Russia's South Stream pipeline scheme to transit Russian-sourced natural gas as far west as Austria and Italy - itself a means of undercutting the much-discussed, much-delayed Nabucco pipeline billed as a western-backed way of reducing Russian resource dominance. Add to that the 2009 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Black Sea boundary dispute recognizing Romania's sovereignty over a swath of the Black Sea bed (Ukraine, much more pliable to Russian pressure, was the loser) which puts the undersea exploitation of sizable oil and gas fields in the hands of a NATO nation. For resource-rich Russia, Romania's gain is unwelcome competition - not so much in lost energy revenues, but in a diminished Russian capability to use its energy weapon against Europe. Expect a rear-guard Russian game of resource-denial aimed at European and North American companies that might provide an alternative energy supply to Central Europe and beyond.

Vespers: At The Rumpus, a long and occasionally bizarre interview with an interestingly strange lady, Paula Fox.

Rumpus: I read at one point you were writing a novella about the Cathar massacre in Béziers, France during the 1300’s.

Fox: Yes I started that. It interested me so. I read a lot about it. I was very struck by the inhumanity of each of us towards the others. The Bishop told  passing crusaders to kill Cathars in the village of but there were only 20 Cathars within a population of 200.  And the crusaders asked the Bishop, this is purported in the archives, they asked, what should we do with the others? And the Bishop said, “Kill them all, God will know his own.” And I thought that was a horrible statement. It’s just what the Jihadists state now. So we haven’t escaped, in some way, from the past. It’s still with us.

Rumpus: You might go back to it?

Fox: No, I don’t think so. It was one of those efforts one makes. It’s too much. I can’t absorb anymore. How did they comb their hair for example. I started it and I wrote about thirty pages. The literalness of life is such—unless you are Kafka, then you can write the way he did. Not that anybody else has ever

Compline: "Weaponizing Mozart": Haven't the Brits read A Clockwork Orange? (; via MetaFilter)

Tyne and Wear in the north of England was one of the first parts of the UK to weaponize classical music. In the early 2000s, the local railway company decided to do something about the “problem” of “youths hanging around” its train stations. The young people were “not getting up to criminal activities,” admitted Tyne and Wear Metro, but they were “swearing, smoking at stations and harassing passengers.” So the railway company unleashed “blasts of Mozart and Vivaldi.”

Apparently it was a roaring success. The youth fled. “They seem to loathe [the music],” said the proud railway guy. “It’s pretty uncool to be seen hanging around somewhere when Mozart is playing.” He said the most successful deterrent music included the Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, Symphony No. 2 by Rachmaninov, and Piano Concerto No. 2 by Shostakovich. (That last one I can kind of understand.)


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