If not for the camera…

Does it exist?

This person does not exist
from Thispersondoesnotexist. com

The murder of George Floyd pointed out one stark fact. If not for the camera, or in most of these cases, cellphone video, it would be difficult if not impossible, to believe that another person could be so devoid of humanity.

And if not for the phone footage taken by now-convicted murderer William Bryan, there wouldn’t have been an arrest of him, Travis, and Gregory McMichael. Travis shot and killed Ahmaud Arbury on February 23, 2020. But the McMichaels and Bryan weren’t arrested on state charges of felony murder until May after Bryan’s video was “leaked.”

So when Evanier posts a brief list of some of the folks convicted of murder but then exonerated, it makes one pause.

This reminded me of some passing comment a blogger buddy made. “If there’s no picture, it didn’t happen.” I don’t believe that, but clearly, many do. Certainly, in these cases, and many others, you have to go to the videotape, as it were. Also, I often muse on how what we see informs in a manner different from what we read.

There was one moment in the McMichaels/Bryan trial that, if I had read about it in the paper, I would have assumed it must have been mistranscribed. Laura Hogue, Greg McMichael’s attorney, blamed the victim. “Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made, does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts, with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails.”

Is it real?

“His long, dirty toenails.” My wife and I always watch the news after it is recorded on the DVR. I stopped the broadcast and had to play it again. This seemed to want to portray Ahmaud as “less than”, a common tactic and one, I suspect, did not go well with the mostly-white jury.

Googling for this piece, I came across an article from 2019. This Website Generates AI Portraits of People Who Don’t Exist. “NVIDIA got the world talking in December 2018 after showing off a new AI that can create ultra-realistic photos of people who don’t actually exist. Now there’s a website that lets you generate these imaginary portraits yourself. It’s called  thispersondoesnotexist.com” In fact, I purloined the picture on this page from the site.

It would be easy to go down a wormhole about deepfakes and how it is getting harder to spot. Maybe some other time.

Xmas music: It was the 1st of December

Thurl Ravenscroft.

GrinchMy wife plays Xmas music as early as she can, and certainly by Thanksgiving. I’m sure she does in her car.

Whereas I tend to wait until December 6, St. Nick’s Day, though I continue until January 6, Three Kings Day, or maybe even the 7th, which we called in Binghamton, Russian Christmas.

The solution, to my ear, is to take the Sedingerian solution and start on the 1st of December. Traditionally, that’s when he has started Your Daily Dose of Christmas. Which is actually Advent, but that’s just me being pedantic.

Child of Winter – Beach Boys. There’s a Beach Boys Christmas album from 1964, but this song isn’t on it because it came out a decade later. I heard this on a Warner Brothers Loss Leader, which the late Dustbury cataloged so well.

Santa’s Too Fat For The Hula Hoop  – The Pixies. No, not those Pixies. This cut featured Thurl Ravenscroft, who you might know as the voice of Tony the Tiger in those Frosted Flakes commercials.

You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Thurl Ravenscroft. From The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I LOVE Thurl’s voice.

Snoopy’s Christmas – Royal Guardsmen. I had a number of email conversations with John Burdett, drummer with the band. I even had the chance to connect John with an old friend. That was cool.

Linus and Lucy – Vince Guaraldi. I read a book about the musician. It was very good but very dense with detail.

Hamildolph – Eclipse 6. I must have gotten this from Kelly Sedinger.

12 Days of Christmas – Bob and Doug McKenzie. I have their whole album on vinyl.

Gone Hawai’ian

Mele Kalikimaka – Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters. An incredibly corny song that’s nevertheless been covered a few times.

Christmas Is A-Comin’ – Leadbelly. My father owned an LP on which this song appeared.

Must Be Santa – Bob Dylan. Must be.

All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey. I’m fascinated that, 25 years after its release, the song went to #1 in 2019, not on some specialized holiday charts, but on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Holly and the Ivy -· Nowell Sing We Clear. I saw Nowell We Sing Clear live in the Capital District at least thrice in the late 1970s and 1980s

Christmas Time  (Is Here Again) –  The Beatles.  The core of this song was on the Beatles 1966 Christmas record they sent out to their fan club. This track is on the Free as a Bird CD Single and I do have it, of course

Via Sharp Little PencilDing-a-ling, I Feel SO ChRiStMaS-eY! – Liza Minelli and Cyril Richard

So it begins.

Nov. rambling: down the rabbit hole

ancient board games

too-on-point
From https://wronghands1.com/2021/11/12/too-on-point/

Does the red pill have an antidote? Why do previously reasonable people go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, and what can be done to bring them back?

The vaccine tore her family apart. Could a death bring them back together?

Pharmaceutical messianism and the COVID-19 pandemic

Why WHO skipped ‘nu,’ ‘xi’ for the new COVID variant, omicron

Trump believed his press secretary when she told him he’d win ‘because’ of COVID

Nations Fiddle While the Earth Burns (and Floods)

Time’s Up– IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD, AND WE KNOW IT

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Union Busting and The Power Grid 

 Wealthy Americans get paid leave. Shouldn’t the rest?

The scary rise of private intelligence companies 

What your smart devices know (and share) about you

 Public-Private Partnerships Are Quietly Hollowing Out Our Public Libraries 

Parents are scrambling after schools suddenly cancel class over staffing and burnout. (It’s happened at least twice in Albany this fall.)

To Catch a Turtle Thief: Blowing the Lid Off an International Smuggling Operation

An Extraordinary 500-Year-Old Shipwreck Is Rewriting the History of the Age of Discovery

Land Back and The Third Reconstruction: A Truth Commission with the Shinnecock Nation 

Can a Doughnut Heal Our World?

Culture

etymologyAn Indigenous chef is putting her heritage on the menu with landmark restaurant 

French dictionary adds non-binary pronoun

Sesame Street debuts Asian-American muppet

Lee Elder, first Black golfer to play in Masters, dies at age 87

How to wake up early, even if you’re not a morning person

The link to Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library book talks 

Some People Can Literally See Time 

Your 2 Step Guide To Creating Mindfulness Gratitude Practice

Ancient Board Games, even more ancient than I am

Ken Levine’s 250th podcast: For Those Who Love Lucy

David Brickman and Stanley Tucci are not the same person

RIP, laugh track 

The Love Boat video shows every single guest in alphabetical order.

Now I Know:  What Does the Fox Spray? and How Ben Franklin Killed the Competition and The Boy Who Shared His Wish and  The Somewhat-Fake Sausage That Saved Lives

Heart-pulling Christmas commercials

MUSIC

How Great Thou Art, performed by Carla Fisk

A Pile Of Dust – Voces8

Fanny Mendelssohn 

Peter Sprague Plays Miles Davis

Romanian Rhapsody #2 by Georges Enescu

Come A Little Bit Closer – Jay and the Americans

Barnyard Boogie – From Acoustic Rooster’s Barnyard Boogie: Starring Indigo Blume

Overture to Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin

Future Past (Visualizer) – Duran Duran

Symphony No. 3 by Aram Khachaturian

J. Eric Smith: Be Thankful for What You’ve Got

Latke Recipe – the Maccabeats

Coverville 1379: Cover Stories for Lorde and Taylor (Swift) and 1380: Covering the 2021 Inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft – Carpenters

Composer Stephen Sondheim

colonel,and journal

Stephen SondheimAs much as I loved Stephen Sondheim as the composer of some of my favorite songs, I was even more taken by him as a teacher and raconteur.

He came to that first profession because he was fortunate to have as a neighbor Oscar Hammerstein II, as in Rodgers and. Here’s a story I’ve heard him tell. “In 1945, Sondheim presented his first musical, By George, to Hammerstein, who told him: ‘It’s the worst thing I’ve ever read. It was terrible, and if you want to know why it’s terrible, I’ll tell you.’

“Hammerstein taught him how to construct a musical. ‘I dare say, at the risk of hyperbole, that I learned more that afternoon than most people learn about songwriting in a lifetime.” 

Has anyone so talented been so hard on himself? His books Finishing The Hat (2010) and Look, I Made A Hat (2011) collect lyrics with Attendant Comments, Anecdotes, et al. They are very entertaining additions to my book collection. In fact, they reside perhaps a meter away from where I sit in the office. The former was my favorite book that year.

A massive body of work

wrote how Leonard Bernstein,  another of his teachers, kept him from using the obvious profanity at the end of Gee, Officer Krupke. Of course, as I’ve noted repeatedly, West Side Story is my favorite musical. Its creation and evolution from the stage to the movie have long fascinated me.

“The first show for which Sondheim wrote both the music and lyrics was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Comedy Night is a grand opening piece. I recall that from seeing a production of it back in the early 1970s. At some point years ago, I’ve actually sung the title tune from Anyone Can Whistle. My daughter was in a variation of his Assassins, which is difficult music indeed. I’ve seen the movie Into The Woods.

And I haven’t even mentioned Gypsy or Company or Follies or A Little Night Music. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for Sunday in the Park with George. As the Boston Globe asked, “Who else would write a musical about a vengeful barber whose victims are turned into meat pies (‘Sweeney Todd’)?”

Ken Levine notes an even earlier credit, on a television show. 

Words that rhyme

Here’s something I find intriguing. He believed “words that are spelled differently, but sound alike, such as rougher and suffer, engage the listener more than those spelled similarly, rougher and tougher… ‘I have got a rhyme in ‘Passion,’ colonel, and journal. Now, you look at them on paper, they seem to have no relation to each other at all. So, when you rhyme them, it’s, ooh, you know?'” I believe he is correct.

Mark Evanier has linked to Sondheim-related material dozens of times. As he noted: “If you have ever wanted to write songs or plays — or really anything — you will enjoy this conversation between Adam Guettel and Stephen Sondheim. It’s just two guys who write great stuff for the Broadway stage sitting around and yakking…”

Evanier also posted Send In The Clowns, sung by Bernadette Peters, generally considered the greatest interpreter of Sondheim’s work, with the composer on the piano.  And Everybody Wants To Be Sondheim, a “song written by — and performed here by — Alan Chapman.” In fact, just go to Mark’s site and search Stephen’s name.

Stephen Sondheim received nine Tony Awards, an Oscar, eight Grammys, the Laurence Olivier Award, the Kennedy Center Honors (1993), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2015). He was 91.

Lamenting to God, or Whomever

“prayers of the discontented, the disturbed, the distraught”

On November 14, our church held a day of lament. It reminded me, in case I had forgotten, that lamenting to God, or Whomever or whatever you believe in, is OK. More than OK, actually.

One pastor lead the Adult Education class and spoke about the book of Lamentations and, of course, Job, but also the Psalms. Over 40% of the Psalms in the Bible are psalms of lament.

Then the other pastor gave a great sermon on the topic. “What was going on in the lives of those psalmists. Life is not as they expected it to be. They call out to God for an account asking how long? and where are you? They are lamenting. They speak out of their experience, their reality – nothing seems to be off-limits. Thankfully we have this witness as part of our Bible. We have these lament psalms.”

This took place at a fortuitous time. I had been recently talking to a devout Christian, a hard-working person who was feeling a loss of faith because of a situation in life. And the situation WAS certainly unfair and debilitating and frustrating and worthy of lament.

My pastor quoted Old Testament scholar Kathleen O’Connor. “Laments are prayers of the discontented, the disturbed, the distraught. They protest God’s rule of the world, bemoan the speakers’ physical condition and whine about enemies. But remarkably, in the process of harsh complaint and resistance, they also express faith in God in the midst of chaos, doubt, and confusion.”

My own distress

I suppose it also gave ME a sense of comfort when I’ve complained, sometimes on these pages, of feeling distraught. Recently, it was about COVID-19, and the country’s resistance, to my perception, of ending the damn thing. Some people of faith have suggested that, if I had REALLY believed, I wouldn’t be distressed.

Now, I KNEW, instinctively, that this was… crap. But the class and the sermon that week created the framework for a more specific response. “We need these psalms – we need to lament. Lament psalms provide us a blueprint for how to lament – and how to lament well. We live in a society that doesn’t lament, at least not to God. To lament is to cry out, to express our despair.”

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

At least that Psalm ends with an upbeat thanks to God. Compare with the other scripture of the day, Psalm 88, which has no happy ending.

But yes, it’s all right to rail against God, or the heavens. “The psalmists aren’t afraid to do that.” Why shouldn’t we?

In fact, the First Church of Albany, along with the FOCUS churches, is offering a Blue Christmas service on Thursday, December 16 at 6:30 pm in person and on Zoom. It is for those who approach the coming holidays with heavy hearts due to loss or other reasons. You’re not alone.