Thursday, January 19, 2017

Expect the Unexpected

You may have heard: a new U.S. president is being inaugurated.  You know who I'm talking about.

Many confused people and a lot of confusing pundits have been pouring out endless verbiage trying to predict the future under this new guy.  We all have a burning desire to know what he's going to do before he does it.  We need predictions NOW!

What, we ask over and over again, can we expect from the next four (or, more likely, eight) years?

The easy answer is, of course: "expect the unexpected."  That's exactly what we should have done during the election and history repeats itself, don'tchaknow?

Except, I hear you reply, that answer is unsatisfying and unhelpful.  Douglas Adams, in his Mixed Meters-approved The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, agreed with you. "This advice has annoyed many Hitch-Hikers in that it is ‘A’ - glib, and ‘B’ - a contradiction in terms." he wrote.

Okay, try this instead: "expect the worst".

We liberals know that things are not going to be pretty under the new administration.  And the good guys, by which I mean the Democrats (who are the best good guys we can expect these days, such as they are), have been left nearly powerless to fight back.

What's the best way to oppose the new president?  Sorry, I have no clue.  If you're reading this hoping for suggestions on how to persevere during the coming dark times, I apologize in advance.  Nothing useful will be found below.

Also, a word to the wise, don't expect this essay to end on a hopeful note.

There are some things I confidently expect will happen in the U.S. during the next four (or, more likely, eight) years.  For example, we need to expect that racism will be come much more obvious.  And hatred.  There you go . . . expect racism and hatred.

Also discrimination.  Expect racism and hatred and discrimination.  And bigotry.  Racism and hatred and discrimination and bigotry will become conspicuous throughout America under the new administration.  Just like it was, for opposite reasons, in the previous administration.  Bigotry, I sadly predict, will seep from America's pores.  It will ooze from orifices we forgot existed.

Expect that the new president and his administration will in large part be responsible for this reemergence of American racism, through sins of either commission or ommision.  Expect the new federal government to fight racism with half a heart (or less) and one hand tied behind its back (or more).

Expect that his racist supporters will respond to being called racist by calling their accusers racist.  Expect schoolyard name calling.  Expect that pretty soon everyone will have been called racist by somebody.  Expect Barack Obama to be blamed for everything.

Expect dog whistles, a lot of racist dog whistles.  Expect all their deplorable dogs to howl on cue when they hear the whistles.  When accused directly of whistling for his dogs (i.e. saying stuff that invites intolerance), or when actual blatantly hateful stuff comes directly out of his mouth, expect the new president to feign offense.  Expect him to tell us, over the sounds of baying hounds, that he never intended the thing he said to be interpreted that way.  "I never meant it like that" will be the new presidential plan for promoting equality and tolerance.

That's one thing to expect.  There are others . . .

Expect wealth transfer.

We need to expect that the rich, and only the rich, will get richer.  Expect to hear constant repetitions of the Republican dogma that tax cuts for the wealthy will trickle down in the form of jobs for average Americans.  (This dogma is pure bull shit of course.  It will not be seriously challenged while Republicans rule the roost.)

Expect billionaires to run the government for the benefit of their friends.  Expect kleptocracy.   And nepotism.  Expect tariffs.  Expect trade wars.  Expect deficits.  Expect cutbacks at the SEC.  Expect Wall Street and big banks to make out like bandits.  Expect another market crash.

Expect earnest sermons explaining that the free market will solve every problem.  Expect government rules designed to protect average people from rapacious capitalists to become a mere historical curiosity.

Expect the economy to get much worse for most people.  Expect that 99% of Americans will get screwed and half of those people will have no idea who is doing the screwing.  Expect increased inflation, unemployment, homelessness and hunger.  Do not, under any circumstances, expect to see his tax returns.

Expect Republicans to continue being wrong on every single issue facing America today.

Expect the Republicans to screw up.  

Expect kakistocracy.  Expect incompetence.  Expect infighting and confusion.  Expect mistakes.  Expect a long period of on-the-job training.  Expect lots of turnover in the cabinet.  Expect royal fuck ups.  When these fuck-ups finally get corrected (or, more likely, are papered over) expect the president to take full credit for fixing problems he himself caused.

Expect lots of Republican men to get caught in troglodyte-style sexual scandals.  Expect lots of grabbing of things which shouldn't be grabbed.  Expect decreasing moral standards.  Expect their ends to justify their means.  Expect those caught red-handed to chant hosannas of "I have sinned but now I'm saved.".

Expect heads in the sand.  Expect many cans to be kicked down the road.

Expect tweets.

Expect a growth industry in explaining his tweets.  And doctoral dissertations on his tweets.  And university courses.  And scholarly books and articles.  Finally, expect "The Collected Tweets", hardbound and softcover, self-published.  Also, expect Twitter to crash and burn as a company.

Expect double talk, shitloads of double talk.  Expect explanations that make no sense.  Expect pre-formed, think-tank-tested rote talking points.  Expect misleading answers to complex questions repeated over and over again.  Expect to hear the President of the United States talk at a fifth-grade level.

Expect narcissism.  Expect him to take offense.  Expect revenge.  Expect an enemies list.  Expect the IRS and FBI to harass his enemies for him.  Expect him to gloat when he wins.  Expect him to testify in civil lawsuits.  Expect many presidential vacations.

Expect incomprehensible shifts in foreign policy.  Expect him to favor those foreign countries where lots of blonde people live.  Expect to hear an awful lot about Vladimir Putin.  Expect that our president will be easy to provoke.  Expect some wannabe Osama bin Laden to attack unexpectedly.  Expect innocent people to die.  Expect knee-jerk reactions.

Expect that it will become increasingly difficult to distinguish real news from fake.  Expect that you won't be certain what the real facts are on countless important issues.  Expect half the population to use Snopes as a swear word.  Expect his press conferences to be a joke.  Try not to think about his State of the Union address.  Expect him to redecorate the White House.

Expect the polls to be less and less accurate.  Expect him to pay careful attention to his ratings.  Expect him to take credit he doesn't deserve and to announce imaginary accomplishments.  Expect reality television to become reality.

Expect him to be all over the map, literally (as in being the globe-trotting pomp and circumstance world leader of the world's most militant super power) and figuratively (as in saying whatever contradictory shit pops into his head the moment he thinks of it).   Expect his speeches to make early-symptoms-of-Alzheimer's Ronald Reagan look like a university physics professor cogently explaining string theory so well that even you can understand it.

Meanwhile . . .

Expect the Democrats to screw up too. 

Expect permanent outrage from the Dems.  Expect futile gestures.  Expect a circus of ineffectual protest.  Expect them to say pretty much anything to disparage those damn Republicans.   Expect them to tell us that everything his government does is dangerous and threatening.  Expect irrational expectations.  Expect bubbles.  Expect to hear predictions that he won't finish out his term until nearly the end of his second term.  Expect great disappointment.

Don't, under any circumstances expect the Democratic party to come together over issues.  Or at least be very surprised and relieved if they manage that trick.  Instead, expect them to waffle on the issues while they play petty politics.  Expect contradictions.  Expect double talk, shitloads of double talk.

Which issues will the opposition party ignore? Here are a few: protecting the environment, a living minimum wage, universal healthcare, income and wealth inequality, making college affordable, protecting the rights of minorities, women's rights.  I'm sure there are many more.  Expect that promoting positive issues aimed at improving the lives of average Americans will be the only way to defeat him, you know who I mean.

Instead, expect to actually hear the Democrats talk a lot about how Russia stole the election.  Expect to hear about how the new president is a really bad dude.  Expect to be reminded endlessly that he lost the popular vote.  Expect that all that may actually be true, if irrelevant.

Don't expect anyone to mention that we live in a republic not a true democracy.  Expect that negative talk will not change anything.  Sadly, expect that you have not heard the last of Hillary Clinton.  Expect neo-liberalism to retain full control over the Democratic party.  Expect Wall Street and big banks to make out like bandits.

Expect eventually to face facts.

Expect that realism will be a late-comer.  Like it or not, if you're a U.S. citizen, he is going to be president and that means he'll be your president.  We only get one president at a time and you're going to get used to him somehow.  Expect normalization.  Expect massive normalization.

I know you're saying "Nope.  Not me.  No normalization for me."  Good luck with that.  Expect your hopes to die.  Expect to be unhappy all the time.

Expect that the liberal hatred of the new president will not last as long nor be as intense as the conservative hatred of President Obama.  This is because the right wing confirmation bias is better funded by billions of American dollars spent by the evil Koch brothers and their ilk.

Expect bad news every day.  Expect a steady stream of new, gob-smacking, face-slapping, out-of-left-field news items about him and his sycophants and the stupid things they say and do.  Expect shocking, disgraceful, scandalous, dreadful, appalling leaks about his personal life.

Expect him not to care that he's a laughing stock who makes no sense to a majority of Americans. This is because his fans, the Deplorables, will always forgive the stupid things he says and does.  Expect them to ignore the most bizarre presidential behavior as long as the high court gives them freedom of public hate speech.  They mostly care about Supreme Court justices who are younger, handsomer and more conservative than Antonin Scalia.  They want a justice system which allows open expression of intolerance, racism, sexism, hatred, discrimination and bigotry to be an American right.  Expect them to get it.

Expect to hear the most horrific awful things about gay wedding cakes and transgender people who need to pee.

Expect a cult of personality.  Expect all the news will be about him - every news item, story, cartoon, movie or television show will remind you of the guy with orange hair and tanning salon skin.  Expect everything, every fuckin' thing on the planet, eventually, will turn to trump.  Yes, I'm using the phrase "turn to trump" as a euphemism for "turn to shit".

Expect all predictions will be wrong, including these.  Expect that there will be no comforting way to predict the future.  Expect that you won't know what to expect next.

In other words . . . expect the unexpected - which, as glib and contradictory as Douglas Adams said, is still the safest prediction.

Finally - - expect him to be lucky.

Reflect on the fact that this man, the one who will be the leader of the free-market world, has had a lifetime of lucky breaks.  He was lucky to be born blond and wealthy.  He was lucky to became a billionaire despite six bankruptcies.  And he nurtured his uncanny, almost supernatural talent for hucksterism and publicity all the way into the Oval Office, a place where, by any reasonable standards which I can fathom, he simply doesn't belong.  To me that story seems really really lucky -- fantasy-story lucky.

And here's a surprising suggestion:

I suggest that you pray for his luck - although I have no clue who or what you should pray to.

Yes, you read that right.  Pray that his epic personal luck holds.  Believing in prayer is no more or less irrational than believing in luck.  What have you got to lose?

He's never going to be a qualified president.  You might as well at least pray that he'll be a lucky president.  His election to the presidency turned his luck into our luck.  And we, as a nation, will need lots of luck while he's the president.  The less real harm he does, the luckier we will be.  If he screws up, everyone will suffer, so we'll all be lucky if he doesn't screw up.

Meanwhile, expect him to screw up.  When that happens, expect the worst.


One more (I can't resist):  Expect lots of baby boomer pop stars will die of old age.

Douglas Adams suggestion "Don't Panic" was good advice.  Douglas Adams was a smart guy.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wine Bottle Sizes

I have a hard time throwing things away.

Today I've been spending time trying to sort through piles of papers in my office in hopes of finding some empty desktop space underneath - actual empty physical space.

In one pile I found this small piece of paper clipped from a Wired Magazine - dated November 2012, more than four years ago.

I saved this because I thought it would make a nice subject for a blog post.  I tossed the rest of the magazine and have since stopped my subscription to Wired.  There's just so many articles a guy can read in one lifetime making the point that computers and the big businesses they inspire will save the world.  (It's not true no matter how futuristic you think you are.)

Anyway, here's that scrap of paper . . .

And here's the same list in list form:

Containers for wine and spirits (by liters):

  • Magnum: 1.5
  • jeroboam: 3
  • flagon: 3.785
  • rehoboam: 4.5
  • Methuselah: 6
  • Salmanazar: 9
  • Nebuchadnezzar: 15
  • rundlet: 68.2
  • tierce: 159
  • barrique: 225
  • hogshead: 239
  • firkin: 318
  • butt: 477

Only "rundlet" fails Google's online spell checker.

Most bottles of wine and booze in the stores around here are 750 milliliters, or half a Magnum.

Why, I wonder, are some of these items capitalized and others not.  If only names are capitalized, who is Magnum?  Here's an actual picture of Nebuchadnezzar that I found on line.

And here's our cat, Spackle Puss inspecting the magnum of beer - oops, excuse me - the Magnum of beer gifted to us on New Years.

We also had a Magnum of champagne gifted to us on Thanksgiving.  I guess Magnums are the thing now, huh?  Thanks to Mark and Peter for the magnanimous gifting.

Now that the clipping from the magazine is safely preserved for eternity here on Mixed Meters, I've tossed the physical paper into the trash.  A very very small amount of empty space in my office has thus been created.

Here's an MM post with a picture of a skunk hunt.  Same deal - the picture got tossed in a cleanup after it was preserved in online pixels.

And here's another post called Desktop Stilllife - with pictures of cats and a video with music.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

A year, a parade

This New Yorker cartoon by Paul Noth made me guffaw even before I read the caption.  I share it with apologies to any relevant copyright legislation.

The humor here for me is a Pasadena thing.  Pasadena marks the solstice with fantastic flower-covered flat beds and horse patrols and pretty girls and marching bands and minor celebrities moving inexorably down the middle of our main drag.  Maybe the coffin has a minor celebrity in it.  (This page has a list of all the grand marshals - how many can you identify?)

In 2017 the parade is on January second because New Years Day falls on a Sunday and, you know, the Christian god has his rules.  Parade goers start marking their territory at noon on the day before the parade and some of them bring signs to show us where their heads are at.

For example, this guy.  I snapped him about 2:00 today.

Here's the text on his sign with links:
Lucifer is the original divider.
And the angels which kept not their 1st estate, 
but "left" their own habitation. . . (Jude 6)
One third of the angels under lucifer fell. (Revelation 12:4)
- Rules for Radicals - Alinsky was dedicated to Lucifer.
And on the T-shirt:
Make America Great Again - Revelation 12:24-28

Dire.  Crazy. Frightening.

Meanwhile, here's a musical theater reference to lighten your mood:

And the lyrics go on from there:

You are 16 going on 17
Baby it's time to think
Better beware
Be canny and careful
Baby you're on the brink

You are 16 going on 17
Fellows will fall in line
Eager young lads
And rues and cads
Will offer you food and wine

Totally unprepared are you
To face a world of men
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of things beyond your ken

You need someone
Older and wiser
Telling you what to do
I am 17 going on 18
I'll take care of you

Sounds like perfect Republican paternalism to me.

Anyway, happy new year if that sort of thing makes you feel better.

Mixed Meters has covered the Rose Parade before.  Never with much enthusiasm.  Click here to see all MM posts marked "parades".

And view this video to see more sign carriers (starting at about 1’45”):

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Post-rational Jingle Bells

Humans need holidays. Otherwise our lives would get just too bleak.

And what could be more bleak than the winter solstice in the northern latitudes?

Consider the facts . . .
  • There's not nearly enough sunlight.
  • It's cold cold cold every day.
  • Snow everywhere.
  • Spring will never come.
How did those pre-Europeans cope with such adversity?  They decided to kick back near a fire to overeat and overdrink.  Maybe sing some cheery songs.  After they'd done that for a couple years - or a couple of centuries - they had themselves a solstice holiday.

Of course, the nature of this particular holy day has changed over time.  Pagan holiday became Christian holiday became Capitalist holiday.  Whatever.  It's a holiday no matter what your religion.  And it comes just when you need it most, during the dark time.  Go ahead.  Turn on all the lights.  Drink too much.  Give useless gifts.

This year - given our recent presidential election - a lot of people (including myself) really need a good holiday.  Current events have stopped making sense for us.  And there's no expectation that the news will be getting better in the future.  It's going to be an awfully long time before America's political winter is over.

I've dubbed this the "post-rational" period of history - everything seems beyond reason.

And when life makes no sense, you need holiday music that makes no sense.

That's why I'm offering you my piece called Post-rational Jingle Bells.  It's just another installment of my yearly series of incomprehensible Jingle Bells arrangements, a Mixed Meters holiday tradition since 2006. 

Click here to hear Post-rational Jingle Bells by David Ocker - © 2016 David Ocker - 322 seconds

Curious about the picture?  Here are a couple Mixed Meters posts on the subject of bio-geography:
Stalking the Christmas Penguin
Stalking the Christmas Penguin 2
Christmas Zoology

You may be surprised to learn that one or two other musicians, besides myself, have dealt with the Jingle Bells Question.  Here's a version narrated by the composer Juan Garcia Esquivel directly from his Space Age Bachelor Pad.  I particularly like the line "There is a lovely view of Venus tonight."

Here's a Mongolian folk ensemble playing the tune.  It looks genuinely cold where they are. Watch for a guy with a rifle.

Finally, to hammer home the post-rational aspect, here is a Walmart commercial.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No Escape From The Bubble

Much to my embarrassment, back in May Mixed Meters correctly predicted the winner of this presidential election.  What could I have been thinking?  (It was actually a sort of magic realism: I could avoid the worst possible outcome by predicting it would happen because I've always made incorrect predictions before.)

Michael Moore accurately predicted the outcome for better reasons.

Like so many Americans, I was caught up in The Bubble before the vote.  Admit it, so were you.  We took shelter in a comfortable cocoon of news and opinion, endlessly reinforcing what we already believed.  We thrilled at stories about how Arizona might go Democratic and shivered at predictions of how racist the Republican would be if he got elected.

Yes, we all believed those damn polls.  Both sides did.  Obfuscatory statistical sports-minded double talk became source material for countless predictive think pieces.   After reading those we turned to Facebook for our news.  That's where they pick new things to show us based on the items we've previously liked.  Click like on one item and get another one almost the same.  Facebook shows you stories that your "friends" have liked; maybe you will as well.

I doubt there is a more perfect way to stay in The Bubble than by reading a news feed controlled by computer algorithms designed to discard uncomfortable contrary opinions while simultaneously showing you enticing advertising.  Capitalism wants you to be happy while you spend money.  Capitalism didn't care how this election turned out.  Capitalism wants profits.  Either candidate would have been good for business.

Hillary Clinton, after running for President for like a quarter century and being the unbeatable presumptive next President of the United States not once but twice, the candidate who got more votes than her opponent (over 2 million more at this point), still lost the election.  Thinking that Hillary would be the inevitable winner is a sure sign that you were in The Bubble.  Yes, this is a real book.

Clinton simply couldn't communicate with many American voters as well as the guy who talks at a fifth-grade level.   She looked like a deer caught in the headlights every time they asked her to explain those emails.  The other guy blamed her for just about every problem in the U.S. today and it all stuck to her like glue.

I think Clinton needs to confess.  She needs to contritely tell the country that she is completely at fault for this huge election loss.  She could post a YouTube video saying how sorry she is, taking complete repsonsibility and announcing her complete retirement from politics - hanging up her pantsuit as it were.

Her first sentence could be "I want to tell the American people that I screwed up."  She should not mention James Comey or emails even once.  No excuses, Hillary.  You were at the top of the ticket.  You called the shots.  You get the blame now in the same way you would have gotten the glory if you had won.

At the end of the video you could add a few heartfelt warnings about how little boys and girls should not be too obsessed with gaining power at all costs.  That would be good too.

The sooner she does this the better.  Bowing out this way, formally, would be very helpful as the Democrats prepare to fight future political battles.  A full-throated mea maxima culpa from Hillary Clinton could help the Democrats get off to a new start.  If she doesn't do this the Dems are again going to imitate that old joke by lining up in a circle and fighting their battles with one another instead of with the enemy.

I'm hoping that a new start for the Democratic party means a lot less status quo.  At this point anyone with the name Clinton is synonymous with status quo.  (Chelsea, I'm talking to you.)  Please, no more Clintons.

Meanwhile it's now three weeks after the election and we're aghast at how the guy who won the election is shaping his new administration.  It looks really bad.  Civil liberties are going to take huge hits.  Income inequality is going to get worse and worse.  Access to healthcare is going to get more difficult.  America is going to continue intervening in foreign countries where we don't belong without knowing what the fuck we're doing.

And guess what!  We — the losers, the liberals, the left-wingers, the democratic hacks, the unions, the minorities, the identity groups, everyone who supported Clinton willingly or reluctantly, all of us together — we're mostly all back in The Bubble.   We actually never left.  We're thrilling at stories about how a recount might change the election and shivering at predictions of how racist the Republican will be once he's in power.

And Facebook is still showing us news items that we agree with because it wants us to click on ads.  Clicking on ads, buying stuff is what Capitalism wants us to do.  Capitalism was always going to be the big big winner in this election no matter who happened to become the 45th President.  This would have been obvious to anyone who managed to escape from The Bubble.

The above is not a really great rant as rants go.  Rants are supposed to be wild and profane and accusatory and out of control.  I've had too long to think about what I wanted to say.  Nothing I've said is all that original.  I needed a blog post this month.

There have been many people furious at the outcome of the presidential election - far far more furious than I - who have managed to work up great, eloquent rants.  They rant with the best of them.  I've enjoyed these rants and want to share them with you here.  Also, by posting them to Mixed Meters I might discover them again after a few years.  By then we'll have much more to be angry about.

I hope you enjoy these too.

Someone named Alex Pareene wrote this rant, Fuck Everything and Blame Everyone, in something called The Concourse.  Here's some quotes:
"Blame the party, and blame the Clintons, and blame nearly everyone in the upper echelon of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, ..... for not understanding that she was uniquely vulnerable to an opposition campaign based on the clearly true premise that the system is rigged in favor of the powerful and connected." 
"Blame Russia, and Julian Assange, and James Comey, but don’t forget the actual army of authoritarian whites that constitute some or most of our national security services, police, and armed forces. Remember that there is surprisingly little demographic or ideological difference between the average American police force and the apocalyptic white militia movement, besides that one has the imprimatur of the state." 
"Finally, feel free to blame yourself. I have no clue what the fuck else to do."

Here's a video rant entitled Aftermath by Tess Rafferty.  Here's a good quote:
"You voted for Trump - I am tired to trying to see things your way while you sit in your holier-than-thou churches slash white power meet-ups refusing to see things mine. Did I just lump you in with white supremacists? No. You did that to yourselves. You voted for the same candidate as the KKK. You voted for a candidate endorsed by the KKK. For the rest of your life you have to know that you voted the same way as the KKK. Does that feel good to you? Here's a hint - it really shouldn't, especially if you call yourself a Christian. 
I'm tired of pussy footing around what offends your morals while couching what offends mine. Because racism and homophobia and misogyny and xenophobia offend mine. Let me say it right here that if you voted for Trump I do think you're a racist, I do think you're homophobic, I do think you're a mysogynist. Racism and homophobia and misogyny are all a spectrum - and you're on it."

The next one is by Johnathan Pie, an English stand-up comedian commentator.  This rant is called President Trump: How & Why...   Here's a couple quotes:
"She'll do. That was the feeling. What did they think was going to happen?  People keep saying to me how did this happen. They're dumb founded.   But it's so simple. The left did this. This is my fault, people like me. When are we going to learn? The left have given up putting any argument across at all to the point where Clinton is considered left - liberal."
And my favorite bit of sarcasm ever:
"It's almost as if the political acumen of Beyonce and Jay-Z count for nothing."

Monday, October 31, 2016

Shooting Hummingbirds.

I made a video of hummingbirds buzzing about our backyard.  I'm fascinated by hummingbirds, tiny bundles of iridescent fluff with high-speed aerobatic talent.

Weve installed a number of feeders - I call them "hummingbird traps" - to encourage these mini-birdies to choose our backyard as the place to hang out.   And this year has been a banner year for quantity of hummers in the backyard.

Don't imagine that we've had hummingbird swarms (like you might see on YouTube).  I'm grateful just to see five or six of the little fighter-pilot critters all dive bombing at once.  That represents a big population increase over previous years.

In a moment of weakness I resolved to get a stop-action picture of a hummer in mid-flight.

What's more, I would use the point'n'shoot in my pocket to take the picture.

Frankly this turned out to be quite a challenge given that I was using a camera which literally fits in my jeans.

My criteria were pretty simple: I wanted a picture of a hummingbird in flight showing its wings in focus without any blurring.  This was a difficult task given my limited patience, expertise and equipment.

It became immediately apparent that there was no way I could get an in-focus shot while the bird was flying.  They're just too fast.  I would have to wait with my camera trained on one of the feeders, poised for instant action when a bird decided to drop by for a wee drink.

My point'n'shoot's fastest shutter speed is 1/2000th of a second, barely up to the challenge.  And there needs to be full sunlight to get a decent picture at that speed.

Did I mention there is going to be a video?  If you make it through all these still pictures and silly comments you can watch the video.  Or you can just scroll down.

Also don't forget that you can click on any picture to see an enlargement.

Our hummers are mean little critters who try to chase the other thirsty hummingbirds away from the sugar juice in the feeders.  It's just simple sugar water.  I mix the magic potion myself (Secret formula: 1 part granulated sugar and 4 parts tap water.)

In fact, this is the first year I can remember having multiple birds on a feeder at the same time.  They're fighting over sugar water!  It must be high energy stuff.  I suppose they get their protein and fiber from eating insects.

Watching these bird brains' high velocity antics as they pursue one another over who gets the soft drink made me turn to video.

Yeah, my pocket point and shoot does video too.  No, not great video.  What did you expect?  Did I mention that the camera fits in my pocket?

Anyway, I edited together short clips of birdies feeding on sugar drink as they anxiously keep a lookout for enemy hummers who might swoop down on them at any moment and chase them away faster than a human eye can blink.   It's a tough life being a hummingbird.

I think this next shot is my best picture of stopped hummingbird wings.  Too bad the head is obscured by the metal post of the feeder.

The final still is my luckiest shot.  You can see the bird and the feeder and you can see the shadows in the lower left.  Got that?  Now look closely at the light fixture in the upper left corner and you'll see both the bird and feeder reflected upside down in the glass.  Three in one.  Cool.

I remember mentioning something about a video.  It will give you some idea of what the hummingbirds in our backyard are up to these days.  They're really into sugar water.

(A word of warning - in order not to scare the hummers off most of the video was taken with high zoom magnification.  That means there's a lot of camera shake.  Sorry about that.  Someday maybe I'll find a tripod that I can carry around in my pocket.)

Birds Who Don't Know The Words 2 - by David Ocker - © 2016 David Ocker - 167 seconds

Previous Mixed Meters stories about Hummingbirds:
The story of Red Thor, a hummer who thought he owned our driveway - (also a crow).
The original Birds Who Don't Know the Words from 2007 (my first attempt to add music to a video) 

Our backyard has been a fertile source of inspiration for Mixed Meters over the years.  Here are posts with music videos inspired by the back of our house:
The Mister and Mockingbirds - listening to the birds while watering the ferns
Breezes in the Danger Garden - like hummingbirds, plants can eat insects
The Parrot Duet - two parrots on a wire plus a piano and a trumpet.  And some drums.  And another bird.
All my videos with my music are available here.

My friend Eric Peterson has a blog called The Odd Sock in which he publishes lots of fascinating nature photos all taken in his neck of the woods.  Eric has unlimited patience, remarkable technical expertise and the proper equipment for taking pictures.  That's why his shots are so much better than mine.  I recommend that you check out his pictures.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dildos on Mixed Meters

September 15 was the eleventh anniversary of Mixed Meters.  I must have started this blog for some good reason.  Right?

In my very first post I admonished myself to keep things short.  I've failed at that quest many times.   In one early post an anonymous commenter said that I "went on and on and on about it..."  ('It' was a hip hop song which quoted the Dies Irae.)   Dude was right.  "Going on and on" has become a motto around here.  Thanks, Dude.

I really appreciate everyone who reads my blather, either here or via email.  Getting comments is a pleasant bonus.

What's really amazing is not that I'm still posting.  I'm amazed that I haven't found an excuse good enough to get me to quit.

It's been remarked that Facebook has killed blogging.  True enough.  Many things which I used to post here I now post there - and they disappear completely in a few days.  If I link Mixed Meters posts to my Facebook page they might get a few extra comments on Facebook.  FB, however, doesn't increase the traffic here much.

Incomprehensibly Google tells me that Mixed Meters keeps getting hits anyway.  Google, as you know, owns Blogger and competes with Facebook.  They provide me with this fine web forum for free.  Thanks, Goog.

What's more, they've been keeping track of my hit totals since 2010.  Last month MM registered the highest monthly hit total in that entire time, double the amount from the previous August.  Why?  I have absolutely no clue.  Certainly not because of all the great articles I've been posting.

In 2008 I joined something called Google Adsense, where the Goog posts ads on my blog which they think will interest you, my dear readers.  Every time you click their ad a small sum of money is paid to an account in my name.  Over 6 or more years I had gotten over $25 in credits.  Hey, don't laugh.  It's the biggest revenue stream in Mixed Meters entire history.

The trick - and there's always a trick - is that in order to get paid in actual currency, my earnings would have to reach $100.  And that would take, give or take a long time, another 24 years or so.

Recently I learned that this is not the incredibly sweet deal I thought it was.  Google Adsense, for all its largesse, does have a few rules.  And one of those rules is 'family friendly'.

Last February (the February in 2016) an email arrived calling my attention to one particular page - an archive of all seven posts I made in September of 2007.  Their complaint was pretty non-specific considering the variety of subjects I addressed that month.

Google ads may not be placed on pages with adult or any kinds of non family-safe content. This includes, but is not limited to, pages with images or videos containing:
  • Strategically covered nudity
  • Sheer or see-through clothing
  • Lewd or provocative poses
  • Close-ups of breasts, buttocks, or crotches
Were they complaining about my piece of music named after my dog's genitals?  Maybe.  Maybe they didn't like this picture of a topless Hawaiian goddess:

Or this historical, usually strategically blurred, photo (from my article comparing judicial punishments for Abu Gharib prison and Nazi death camp officers):

Or this musically relevant photo of nude people doing couples yoga on a Paul Horn concert poster which I had found in Leslie's papers:

I'll never know exactly which post that month triggered the warning, only that it took 8 and a half years for me to get the news.  I opted to ignore the notice.

Then in June another warning, this time for a specific post from an even earlier date:    This time their complaint was more specific:

Google ads may not be placed on adult or mature content. This includes fetish content as well as sites that promote, sell or discuss sexual aids. Examples include, but are not limited to:
  • sexual fixations or practices that may be considered unconventional
  • sexual aids or enhancement tools such as vibrators, dildos, lubes, sex games, inflatable toys
  • penis and breast enlargement tools
So Google objected to my discussion of the legality of saying the word dildo in Texas.  I was inspired by this video clip from a film called The Dildo Diaries. Watch for a good laugh at the Texas legislature's expense.  It features Molly Ivins, a political reporter who had a knack for finding humor in narrow-minded politics.

These days, 10 years later, I have no clue whether it's still illegal to say the word "dildo" in a Texas sex shop, though, apparently,  at least parts of this particular law have been declared unconstitutional.  I do know that Molly Ivins, then the reigning champion at exposing Texas hypocrisy, has since died.  I hope someone is carrying on her work because it's a sure bet that Texas politics are still jaw-droppingly crazy.

Anyway, after the second notice I decided to make Google happy and remove the ad from Mixed Meters.  It represented my blog's only source of income.  Now it's gone.

Had I kept the ad, sometime around the year 2040 — when I'll be nearly ninety years old — if Mixed Meters still exists then — if the Internet still exists then — if I'm even capable of writing blather then — I might have earned $100 from Google as payment for my 35 or so years of blog writing.  That would have been a sweet moment of validation.   And I'm giving it up to preserve my right to write about dildos if I want to.

Hey, that's the Mixed Meters blog news for another year.  Thanks for reading.

The subject of penises used to come up a lot on this blog to the point that I created a "penis" label.  Click here to see all my blog posts marked "penis".  Google Adsense would have been shocked by that.

Read more Crankshaft.
Buy stuff that says No One Cares About Your Stupid Blog.
Buy the complete Dildo Diaries.
On my original dildo post you can still watch the Dildo Song video and the links to OhMyBod and The Phallic Logo awards remain active.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins

Music students who are fans of opera - or who, like me, were friends of fans of opera - inevitably get exposed to the singing of Florence Foster Jenkins.  Imagine a late night, a group gathered in someone's dorm room, everyone's well stoned listening to all kinds of music.  Eventually, without explaining, someone plays Florence's album.  Hilarity ensues.  It's better when you don't know what to expect.

If you aren't familiar with Florence's work, here's a recording.  Enjoy:

It's natural to wonder whether Florence Foster Jenkins was having a little joke on her audiences.  No, apparently not.  All evidence suggests that Florence was completely serious.  I mean, she was no Darlene Edwards.  Florence was, at least in her own mind, a serious artist.

And that's just the beginning of her tale.  The whole story would make a good movie.

Oh right.  That movie is out now.  It's entitled Florence Foster Jenkins and stars Meryl Streep as the eponymous prima donna.  Since Florence seems like a perfect patron saint of Illusory Superiority (which is the pop psychology trope I have recently adopted as a feeble excuse for not fulfilling my own lofty career expectations), I was tremendously anxious to see it.  I dragged Leslie off to a local theater last week.   Here's the trailer.

I think the essential point is that Florence Foster Jenkins is a love story.  Bad singing is just the hook.  Florence and her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (played by Hugh Grant) had a non-traditional marriage.  Theirs was clearly a loving supportive relationship.  Co-dependent even.  I ended up rooting for Bayfield to help Florence succeed.

It's a good movie because of the acting.  Streep makes you feel that this might have been what the real Florence was like.  And she mimics Florence's singing exceptionally well.   Grant is perfectly cast.  Simon Helberg, who plays the accompanist Cosme McMoon, escapes his Big Bang Theory persona and holds his own against these two formidable talents, although I found his high voice annoying.  On the other hand it was a pleasure to watch an actor actually playing a piano instead of faking.

I even liked the sound track by Alexandre Desplat - especially the Rota/Fellini-esque cue as the crowd streamed into Carnegie Hall.   The best musical moment, in my opinion, happened just after the scene where Florence and Cosme play a Chopin prelude together.  The scene cuts outside while the music transforms perfectly into the John Kirby arrangement of that same music; sad, mournful and very 40's. 

Another oft-mentioned moment shows Florence singing while we hear her presumably as she heard herself.  It's excellent singing, also sung by Meryl Streep.  Here's where I suspect the common perception of Florence Foster Jenkins goes slightly awry. 

It's been suggested that Florence's hearing was affected by the mercury treatments given for her syphilis.  The movie shows her enjoying Lily Pons' excellent singing.  It's possible that what Florence actually heard when she herself was singing was the same thing she heard when she listened to Lily, both performances would have been scrambled by a maladjusted auditory system.

In my twisted version, we would have heard Lily Pons in concert through Florence's ears rather than hearing Florence through Florence's ears.  And in Florence's ears, Lily Pons would have seemed (to us) just as distorted and out of whack as Florence actually sounds.  Maybe everything sounded different to Florence - her own audio universe.  Florence set her own standard for excellence.  Music sounded like that to her and she loved it.

It would be fascinating to learn the results of whatever audiometric tests Florence might have taken.  (I've not heard of any.)  You can anonymously test your own hearing right online - pitch acuity or tone deafness.  Give it a whirl.

Like most movies Florence Foster Jenkins has a villain - a critic from the New York Post named Earl Wilson, portrayed by actor Christian McKay.  His big line is "Music will not be mocked."  On the other hand, maybe the real villain is any classical music fan, professional critic or not, who is just too serious about this stuff.  (And, I've never understood how newspapers in the 1940's could run reviews of concerts the next morning - while newspapers of today can't.)

If you're interested in the real story behind the movie, here are two good sources I've found.  The first is at a site called History Versus Hollywood.  Also watch this documentary "Florence Foster Jenkins: A World Of Her Own" by Donald Collup.  It's excellent.  I enjoyed all the first person reminiscences about Florence and the real life confirmations of some of the stranger scenes in the movie.

Also don't miss the picture of Cosme McMoon with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In this documentary, starting at about 1'14", several actual reviews of Florence's Carnegie Hall recital are read.  I've transcribed them here:
NEW YORK POST by Earl Wilson  Hey you music lovers, I heard Madame Jenkins.  Mrs. Florence Foster Jenkins, 76, a widow lady of our town, has a great voice.  In fact she can sing anything but notes.  Lady Florence, or Madame Jenkins, as she likes to be called, if you are thinking of her as an artiste, indulged last night in one of the weirdest mass jokes New York has ever seen.  I witnessed it.  She gave a quavering recital at Carnegie Hall on a stage filled with flowers to resemble an expensive mortuary.  She hired the hall.  She filled it with three thousand people with an acute sense of humor who paid about $6000 for the privilege of snickering squealing and guffawing at her singing, which she took very seriously.  
I sat in row T and around me I heard people saying "Shh.  Don't laugh so loud." "Stick something in your mouth."  "We were jackasses for coming."  "She didn't hit three notes in that one."  "Now that one wasn't bad at all."  But Mrs. Jenkins today can brag that she probably packed in more than Lily Pons could.   "Bravo!" roared the playful listeners.  She heard some of them laughing.  It came, she said, from those hoodlums.  Which hoodlums?  The hoodlums planted in the audience by her enemies of course.  When she walked onto the stage in white and with a large white ostrich fan, she looked like a plump apparition.  The mirth exploded when she took her place beside some flowers as big as a small tree.  From all over the house came the laughs - at the wrong time.  "I'm no music expert," Irving Hoffman (who isn't, either) remarked, "She hit only a few notes."  The rest were promissory. 
It was a great show she gave.  Her accompanist, Cosme McMoon, leaped up and kissed her hand in courtly fashion after several numbers. She got herself mixed up flinging some rose petals and singing Clavelitos.  The first one she undertook to throw stuck to the end of her finger.  She kept trying to pitch it off and it was like some one frantically trying to divest oneself of some flypaper.  Even the rose petals were playing.  And, incidentally, she walked away with about four G's last night.  Maybe the joke's on us.  None of us walked away with anything except dizziness, a headache and a ringing in the ears.  
NEW YORK SUN by Chester Thompson -  It was largely a recital without voice.  For the tones Madame Jenkins produced were tiny to the point of disappearing.  Most of her singing was hopelessly lacking in a semblance of pitch.  But the further a note was from its proper elevation, the more the audience laughed and applauded.  And the upper notes, when they could be heard, had an infantile quality.   But the audience always backed up its laughter with thunderous applause and everybody had a pleasant evening.  
WORLD TELEGRAM by Robert Bagar  The quarter tone touch.  Of all the singers appearing before the public today, only Madame Jenkins has perfected the art of giving added zest to a written phrase by improvising it in quarter tones, either above or below the original notes.  Think of the difficulties involved in making this possible.  She was exceedingly happy in her work.   It is a pity that so few artists are, and the happiness was communicated, as if by magic, to her hearers, who were stimulated to the point of audible cheeriness, even joyous laughter and ecstasy by the inimitable singing.  A night of nights in the musical annals of this fair city.    

So, what's the moral of the story?

It would appear that Florence Foster Jenkins was, as so many of us are, a devotee of the magical power of music - there's a strong positive psychic payback for listening, creating or performing music.  She had ample determination and resources to overcome any obstacles to participating in music making.  It was her right to pursue something that made her feel good.

As long as she followed her bliss in private, for her friends, things were okay.   Florence's problems really began when she opened herself to public criticism.  It can be difficult to accept the negative judgements of others.  The public simply does not hear things the same way you do.  Discovering this could kill you.

And yet, decades later, Florence is still fondly remembered.  Her recordings still give us pleasure - much in the same way the audience got pleasure, as reported by these music critics, at Carnegie Hall.  Besides this movie there are books and plays about her.   Despite her naive cluelessness, her alternative musical interpretative style represents a very real, very unique talent.  And that talent has been clearly validated by her audience over the years.  Hers was the power to transmit happiness.  The danger, either for music critic or coloratura soprano, comes when you take yourself just too seriously.

It's not impossible that Florence's fame will continue to grow.  That has happened to other great musicians.  J.S. Bach comes to mind.  The question is not so much what they accomplished during their lifetime but how we, the listeners, regard those accomplishments right now.
the happiness was communicated, as if by magic, to her hearers, who were stimulated to the point of audible cheeriness, even joyous laughter and ecstasy by the inimitable singing.

Here's a photo of the crowd at Florence's Carnegie Hall recital:

As far as I can tell, this movie actually looks like the 1940s in New York City - in full color yet. Yeah, a few bloopers are listed on IMDB, the biggest being (I think) that parts of the story were compressed into a much shorter time span.  The bustling New York street outside Florence's hotel is actually in Liverpool and who knows how much digital cleanup was required to send the exterior of Carnegie Hall back in time.   Period costumes and technology and set design - all good.   I laughed at Florence's battle with a roll of old-fashioned cello-tape.

In this video Meryl Streep mentions that the she recreated Florence's entire Carnegie Hall recital for a live audience and that it can be found in the extras section of the DVD.  I'm looking forward to that. Also, in the same video Donald Collup talks about Florence's hearing problems, including tinnitus (a ringing in the ears.).

The actors Nina Arianda and Stanley Townsend who played the comic characters Agnes and Phineas Stark, real "New Yawkers", deserve a mention.  The least musically "authentic" scene in the movie - in my opinion - was Florence's singing lesson with vocal coach Carlo Edwards played only for laughs (by actor David Haig).  One wonders if, in real life, anyone ever suggested to Florence that she might want to practice matching pitches.

In this program of Florence's recital, note the name Pascarella Chamber Music Society.  When I was studying at CalArts (in the 70s) there was a gentleman on the faculty named Cesare Pascarella.  He and his brothers apparently performed quartets while Florence changed costumes.  I guess those of us who knew Cesare were only one handshake away from Florence herself.

You can see other pictures of Florence here

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Last Strawberry Plant

Years ago Leslie optimistically planted some strawberries in our back yard. The plants did not thrive in our hot dry summers, although one of them has survived against all odds.  We thought it too would soon be a goner.

Recently that remaining plant was moved a few feet so it sits under an avacado tree. This new spot seems to have given it a new lease on life.  It still doesn't produce much fruit, but the plant is flowering and is showing potential.

Here is the entire strawberry crop from the last two weeks.

The plant is in a big cloth pot.  The bricks and the dog have nothing to do with this story.

I noticed a praying mantis on one of the leaves.

I shot some video of Mr. or Ms. Mantis.  Watch in hi-def for less than a minute.  Keep your eyes on the scurrying ants.

The music is the opening from my piece Allegro (Winter 2013 short version) from The Seasons.

Read about another fruit on Mixed Meters: In which I remember the Great Cranberry Scare of 1959