Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Musician of State

Speaking of Brahms, Condoleeza Rice has astonishingly similar taste in classical music to me. The classical pieces on her list of top ten favorite musical pieces are Mozart's D minor piano concerto, Brahms' Bb major Piano Concerto, Brahms' Piano Quintet, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, and Mussorgsky's Boris Glazunov. I don't know the Mussorgsky opera, but the Seventh is my favorite Beethoven symphony, and as I said in my last post, the two Brahms works are my favorite pieces - probably the greatest piano concerto and chamber music piece of all time. Like Condi, I too want to learn the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto "before I leave this earth." I might not agree with her politics, but I like her music taste!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Four reasons why Brahms is my favorite composer

1. The re-entrance of the theme, played by the solo cello in F# major after the long hushed suspension, two-thirds of the way through the slow movement of the Second Piano Concerto.

2. The minor second in the piano after the long solo statement of the second theme in the first movement of the First Piano Concerto, just before the piano hands off to the winds.

3. The soaring soprano at "Die mit tränen säen, werden mit Freuden ernten" in the first movement of Ein deutsches Requiem.

4. The end of the first movement of the Piano Quintet.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Nature red in tooth and claw

Yet another lovely example of horrifying savagery in the natural world:
When Douglas W. Mock of the University of Oklahoma began studying egrets in Texas three decades ago, he knew that the bigger babies in a clutch would peck the smaller ones to death. Still, Dr. Mock was caught off guard by what he saw — or failed to see. He had assumed that the murderous attacks would surely take place while Mom and Dad egret were out fishing. ...

Instead, Dr. Mock witnessed utter parental indifference. The mother or father would stand by the side of the nest, doing nothing as one chick battered its sibling bloody. "The parent would yawn or groom itself and look completely blasé," said Dr. Mock... "In the 3,000 attacks that I witnessed, I never saw a parent try to stop one. It's as though they expect it to happen."

One researcher watched a nest of African black eagles for three days as the larger eaglet alternated between tirelessly stabbing at its sibling and taking food from its solicitous mother's mouth. There was prey to spare, but the mother did not bother feeding the second, abused baby. When the eaglet's poor, tattered body was finally tossed to the ground, the researcher calculated that it had been pecked 1,569 times.
Another reason to hesitate before too eagerly making the analogy between the "positive" results generated by natural selection and by pure, unfettered market forces.

PS: It also adds yet more to the "problem of evil" flaw in "intelligent design" - why on earth would God design hatchlings to kill each other by pecking? Surely the mother could at least have been designed to slip the unwanted hatchlings a bit of painless poison.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Blame Orwell

Language Log notes yet another example of the "X have no word for Y" Sapir-Whorf fallacy (in fact, they have a whole list of them, with the "Inuit have no word for robin" meme a particularly egregious example) - the idea that since a certain culture has no word for something, they must be totally incapable of conceiving of it, describing it, understanding it, etc. - a notion completely absurd on its face, given that a) people invent new words all the time, and b) you can just describe the thing with a phrase, not a word. For example, if I had never heard the word Schadenfreude, that doesn't mean I don't understand the concept of "taking pleasure in another's suffering."

I blame Orwell for the popularity of this trope. It's true that the hypothesis is named after Sapir and Whorf, but who's ever heard of them? On the other hand, almost everyone read 1984 in high school, along with its compelling - yet linguistically unrealistic - description of Newspeak as the language that would make it literally impossible to even think about concepts like "freedom" because there would be no word for it. 1984 posited that once Newspeak was fully adopted, the language itself would do the work of the thought police. But this makes no sense, since without the thought police (and crimestop, doublethink, blackwhite, etc), people could easily just talk about freedom using circumlocutions or a newly invented word. That is to say, Newspeak is functionally superfluous as a mind-control device. People have taken Newspeak too seriously as a real linguistic possibility, rather than seeing it for what it really is - just another symbol of a Party that wants power for its own sake, a linguistic analog of the "boot stamping on the human face - forever."