Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Senate to Future: F$@k You!

In a bold move to make the famed $700 billion bailout bill more palatable to house republicans, the Senate made it horrible.  In a bill that aims to add probably the largest single portion ever to the nation's multi-trillion-dollar debt, the Senate actually introduced . . . TAX CUTS!

Yes, that's right, as long as we're spending almost three-quarters-of-a-trillion-dollars we don't have, to bail out a bunch of shortsighted, rich pricks, we might as well blow an even bigger hole in the budget.

The tax cut bonanza includes language to prevent the Alternative Minimum Tax from effecting 20 million middle-class Americans, 8 billion dollars in tax relief to midwest disaster victims, and 78 billion dollars in additional lard to extend other tax breaks (unnamed in the article) and fund renewable energy.

On their own merits, arguments could be made for these provisions.  The AMT has been malfunctioning for years and hitting people it was never meant to.  Disaster victims are swell people and could use help getting back on their feet and not all renewable energy is as big a boondoggle as ethanol (no specifics on where that funding is going or what the other tax breaks are).  The point is, when you're taking out a couple thousand dollars in debt in the name of every man, woman and child is this country, you should at least be sensitive enough not to add to the insult, especially when the bill still doesn't contain any direct help for people losing their homes in the crisis this bailout is actually supposed to address.

I hope this blows up in house republicans' faces.  First they claim that they tanked the bill in a fit of pique because Nancy Pelosi blamed the financial crisis on the president.  We need this thing or we don't and if any of these guys actually thought they were consigning the U.S. financial system to total collapse on account of bruised feelings, I'd very much like to break more than their egos. It's more likely, though, that they just didn't want to admit that the government could actually be a solution to a problem the private sector created.  The Senate's hoping a little deficit-financed tax-cutting will buy them off.

In any case, these people need to go.  What is needed right now is a pragmatic solution negotiated with the best interests of the public in mind.  What we've got has already been held hostage to petty partisan scores and ridiculous ideological inflexibility.  This is unacceptable.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eine Kleine Unpleasant Musik

Mads (UW Madrigal Singers) is launching headlong into modernism this semester with Vinko Globokar's "Kolo," written in 1988.  "Kolo" is as much a piece of performance art as a piece of music.  The choir plays the "archaic mass" to trombonist Mark Hetzler's "isolated modernist man."  We'll be circling, whooping and all manner of things on the stage of Mills Hall.  A more fitting venue than the brutalist (a descriptively named movement in modernist architecture) Mosse Humanities Building one would be hard pressed to find.

The piece opens and closes with a lovely chorale but most of it is thoroughly unpleasant.  The archaic mass is somewhat unkind to our trombonist hero.  There's truth in Globokar's portrayal of a large mass of people (particularly a choir) displaying disdain toward a modernist.  The genre never gained really wide public acceptance and, even now, there's been some dissention within the ensemble about performing a modernist piece but is it necessary that the ensemble like the piece when that wasn't necessarily the point?

As with all musical/artistic genres it's difficult to clearly date and define modernism but it's a movement that came of age in the middle of the twentieth century in a world that had just experienced two horrific world wars.  Large parts of Europe, Asia and Africa were decimated as humankind witnessed its capacity for inhumanity reach new heights.  In the coming decades, artists and composers became interested in communicating some of the darker emotions and realities that had been so prominent in the first half of the century.

Public response was . . . mixed.  Modernism certainly held considerable sway (though not total dominance) in the academy for the better part of the twentieth century.  Lay acceptance was not as general.  Audiences, especially in symphony halls, are likely to hear much of the same repertoire today as was heard a century ago.  Newer pieces in those venues are also likely to be by composers who bucked modernism in its heyday (Copeland, Barber, etc . . . ) or neoromantic composers of the post-modern period.

As time passes we can view modernism with more sympathetic eyes.  With a little perspective, the visceral and the primal can be appreciated for what they are and, with an open mind, we can start to appreciate what the composer was trying to say to us.

So what's the point of this gross oversimplification of a century of music history?  Only that beauty need not be the sole aim of art. 

Returning to the venue, perhaps the Humanities Building holds a caution.  There is certainly validity in the artistic exploration of negative emotion and general "ugliness."  That being said, people will generally find unpleasantness to be . . . unpleasant.  Attempting to chain people to a brutalist aeshtetic statement for forty years made architect Harry Weese no friends at the University.  Kolo, on the other hand, is twenty minutes long.  I think peple will be willing to Give Mr. Globokar at least that long to make his point.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why is Wisconsin Public Television so spastic?

I've been a bit of a nerd since I was a kid.  Since about the time I was thirteen, I would plop myself down in front of Wisconsin Public Television on idle weekends and watch woodworking programs.  New Yankee Workshop, This Old House, I even used to watch Hometime.  

Now that I'm a member of productive society, I've built myself a mythbox (open source Tivo . . . nerd, remember?) and that has had some consequences.  I've meant to donate to WPT to show my appreciation for my weekend shows but it's difficult.

In earlier days, I would invariably turn on WPT one Sunday afternoon and find, to my horror, that there was a pledge drive.  Instead of Norm Abram, I'd see some self-help guru spouting his worthless BS *for hours* or maybe I'd find Andre Rieu gassing some room full of unsupecting Vienna blue-hairs with the fumes from his industrial hair-care products.  My favorite part was when they would cut away to some green-screen shot of him hacking artlessly away at that violin in front of an alpine lake, his naugahyde face grinning emptily at the camera.  I think he's an android.

Anyway, nowadays I see none of the horrible fill-programming Wisconsin Public Television rolls out to extort people into ponying up if they ever want to see the good shows again.  I see nothing at all because my Tivo isn't set to record crap.

Thus have I not remembered to send my gift to WPT and tell them to keep the woodworking on the air and thus do I now see no woodworking programs in the month of guide data my computer keeps on hand (except one measly TOH on WPT cable which doesn't come in well enough to record).  I could call and complain but I haven't actually given them any money.  I could donate and complain but they might just use my money to air more Wayne Dyer.  I'm screwed.