Saturday, November 18, 2017

A farewell symphony

Last week I saw a poster near our subway stop informing me that the Prague Symphony was playing Mahler’s 9th symphony. A heavy piece like that was not what Kate was looking for so soon after getting back from a trip to the States, but our friend Ewan was interested, so he and I went on Thursday.

It was the third time I’ve heard the piece live. I know the piece from recordings, though a recording rarely gets the same kind of focused attention as a live performance.

The nice thing about hearing performances of a piece multiple times over several years is that you hear different things in it each time. Part of that is simply that each performance is literally different, but think about how you find new things when you re-read a book. The book is literally the same, yet you can find in it connections or meanings you’d missed. The same thing happens with a piece of music.

My first hearing of this symphony was also here in Prague, six-and-a-half years ago, as I wrote about here, when I happened to see a poster on a lamppost advertising an upcoming performance by my old youth orchestra.

The second was in July, 2016, with the Boston Symphony, at Tanglewood, with my father, as well as my aunt and a friend of hers. It was the last concert I went to with Dad.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A modest proposal

So now it's Al Franken's turn.

And there have of course already been calls for him to resign.

And counterarguments that it's misguided for the Democrats to unilaterally disarm by having their own lions step down if the Republicans aren't going to hold themselves to the same standard.

So I have a modest proposal.

To me it's obvious that what Franken did was wrong, but also that (based on what we know at the moment) there is a meaningful difference between what he did and what it seems Roy Moore did.

A slap in the face is assault.

Dropping someone to the ground with a punch in the stomach, then kicking them in the head is also assault.

The law correctly treats the second one as being more severe than the first.

Similarly, having a pattern of slapping people over many years is more serious than slapping someone once.

So it's hardly special pleading to argue that Franken's behavior (based on current knowledge) is bad but not as bad as Roy Moore's.

Nor is it ridiculous to make such distinctions.

The difficult question is what political consequences there should be.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

No, no stereotypes here

Garrett has been invited to a classmate's birthday party tomorrow. Kate asked me to help him find a birthday card (she'd looked around and wasn't finding the kind of selection she'd been hoping for).

We passed a neighborhood bookstore this afternoon, but they close at noon on Saturdays.

So I looked up paper-goods stores, and the ones in the neighborhood also seemed to be closed.

"We'll stop in at the nearby tabák [a shop that sells, cigarettes, newspapers, snacks, etc.]. If they don't have any, we'll ask for where we might find them.

So we went to my "regular" tabák, the one where the proprietor was so jovial about showing me the cigarette pack with the picture of the guy apparently suffering from smoking-related impotence. And he had a selection of cards, some even viable for an almost-13-year-old to give a 13-year-old.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

What's weird about Olomouc

I was curious about Olomouc, the former capital of Moravia in the eastern part of the Czech Republic, so I turned to Wikipedia. Or rather, to Wikipedie, the Czech version of the online encyclopedia.
From Wikimedia Commons.
The "SPQO" is just like Rome's "SPQR", except with
Olomouc in place of Rome.
It’s no surprise that most of the time, the Wikipedie entry about something Czech is more fleshed out than the Wikipedia entry.

In this case, that’s less true.

The English-language page has a nice historical essay on the city.

The Czech page doesn’t bother having an essay and instead gives a list of dates with sentence fragments identifying important events.

Perhaps it does this to leave room for the first section, which is about the city’s name.

After a few paragraphs about the contested origin of the city’s name, the section goes on:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The gratuitous "we"

I'm glad to have Jeff Flake speaking with some clarity about just what a destructive force the Trump administration is.

It's true he's still making some ... interesting choices. The other Republicans in the Senate need his vote to pass their budget and their tax cuts. If he thinks elected officials need to stop normalizing an aberrant occupant of the Oval Office, he's in a unique position to force them to do so. "I will vote for your bill, but you need to call out the president and you need to carry out a real Congressional investigation."

Particularly if he and Bob Corker were to act together, they could really

They don't seem to be doing that, opting instead for saying scathingly true things about Trump, then voting for Republican priorities without demanding anything from their colleagues.

So my admiration for Flake's honesty is tempered by what looks like his unwillingness to bring his principles to life.

My respect was further tempered by his op-ed in today's Washington Post.

Flake recounts Joseph Welch's bracing words, calling out the indecency of Sen. Joe McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings.

Monday, October 23, 2017

An easy out

I just heard on NPR a story about yesterday's elections in Japan, where people are well and truly frustrated with their situation.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is unpopular, but he was re-elected, because people didn't see a feasible alternative. That in turn fed an understandable frustration with politics and discouraged many people from going to the polls.

125,000 people gave their votes to the "Support No Party" party - "Its signature issue is that it's sick of politicians."

That was a piece of last weekend's elections here in the Czech Republic as well.

And many U.S. voters last fall cited Trump's status as a non-politician as a reason to support him, while Hillary Clinton was hurt by being characterized as a consummate politician.

On the one hand, people's frustration is understandable. While "the economy" is doing reasonably well, the median household has not had a great run of it over the last 40 years, and the median person intuits that government has something has something to do with that, whether through misguided action or the lack of necessary action.

But the call to look beyond "politicians" is, ultimately, lazy.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


The title means, "Election!"

I wrote this post Friday and Saturday, while the voting was going on, but then wasn't able to get it posted until now, when the results are in.

They don't look good. A party with an authoritarian streak came in first with about 30% of the vote, and 39% of the seats in parliament.

The Thatcherite party was second with 11% of the vote and 12.5% of the seats.

The most vigorously anti-foreigner (and anti-EU) party was fourth, with 10.6%. Several parties have understandably said they won't enter a coalition with this SPD party, but that gives more power to the biggest party.

It's a mess.

"Enough already!
We won't back down to the people making a boogieman out of Europe."
A poster for the TOP 09 party on a trolley-stop shelter near our apartment.
They were the only party I saw that made a major point of being pro-E.U. They barely squeaked into parliament.
Parties with a strongly skeptical or outright negative view of the E.U. took over 50% of the votes.

Yesterday and today the Czech Republic is holding parliamentary elections—like many places, they have more than one day of voting, and one of those days is for many people not a work day.

The country is a land-locked nation in the middle of Europe with no particular importance in itself for the U.S., but there are two reasons Americans might want to spare a little attention from the unfolding disaster at home and look this way.

One is that there are implications for the European Union, and that is something that matters for the U.S. But first I want to look at the local political scene for what it suggests about a two-party system vs. a multi-party system, and the role that new parties play. And it’s not clear that we in the U.S. have the worse end of the deal.