I bought my first CD on 8 May 1988, a little more than 32 years ago: Mozart's Mass in C Major K.317, performed by the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and Chorus under Eugen Jochum. I've bought a few more since then. And not all of them have gotten the love they deserve.
So, since I'm home anyway, I decided two weeks ago (on the 8th, no surprise) to listen to all of them again. After two weeks I've gotten up to #41, Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto, by the Vienna Philharmonic with director Hans Knappertsbusch and pianist Clifford Curzon. This immediately followed #40, the Beatles' Help!, and begins a string of classical CDs (Beethoven again, Brahms, Dvorak, Mozart, Debussy) before hitting a classic Simon & Garfunkel album (Bookends) at #47.
Listening to all of them in order really brings me back to high school and college. Early on, I concentrated on filling up my CD library with the essentials. So the early CDs bounce around the classical canon (Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart) and the popular canon (The Beatles, Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens), and things really don't branch out until the early 1990s when friends started getting me into more modern stuff.
Keep in mind, I had vinyl and cassettes back home, so some of these purchases and gifts replaced the obsolete formats and also let me listen to them in my dorm, where I had a small CD boom box that could make mix tapes but no turntable or any other decent equipment. I also worked at the campus radio station, where I had access to just about anything I could think of. So the eclectic and somewhat narrow list of titles for my first hundred or so CDs wasn't all I listened to.
Now, 32 years later, I don't buy CDs much. In fact, a lot of the later titles in my "CD" library are actually purchased downloads and have no physical form at all beyond the array of magnetic particles on various hard drives and backup disks. Those are a long way off, however; I'm only up to October 1988.
Updates as the situation warrants.
On 18 May 1980, forty years ago today, the Washington-state volcano Mt St Helens exploded, killing dozens of people who had been warned to evacuate days earlier:
I was 150 miles away on May 18, 1980, when Mount St. Helens blew, but my bed shook and the windows on my Oregon A-frame rattled.
I rushed to my radio station and its clacking Associated Press wire machine, and pulled up a pile of wire copy from the floor. The reports coming in from southwest Washington state were hard to believe....
Despite two months of earthquakes, ashfall, and a growing bulge on the north side of the mountain, the night before was quiet. That morning was tranquil. The cone-shaped mountain had a white mantle of snow.
U.S. Geological Survey geologist David Johnston was [10 km from the mountain]. He had a car and camper and was calling in reports to the USGS command post in Vancouver, Wash. The day before, he convinced visitors from the University of Washington to leave. They wanted to camp with him overnight. "It's too dangerous," he told them.
The death toll reached 57 and included ham radio operator Gerry Martin and USGS geologist David Johnston. All but three of those killed were outside the "red zone" established by Washington Gov. Dixy Lee Ray. Geologists had pushed for a larger area with mandatory evacuations. But pressure to shrink the danger zone was intense from cabin owners, campers and hikers, and logging companies, including Weyerhaeuser, the timber giant that owned private forests in the area.
National Geographic explains what we've learned since then:
The volcano’s defiant position out of line perches it atop a zone of rock too cold to produce the magma necessary to feed its furious blasts.
“There shouldn’t be a volcano where Mount St. Helens is,” says Seth Moran, scientist-in-charge at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington.
Four decades after Mount St. Helens’ eruption, scientists finally are unearthing some clues to its curious position. In one of the most comprehensive efforts to trace a volcano’s roots, the Imaging Magma Under St. Helens project, or iMUSH for short, used a slew of analyses to bring these subterranean secrets to light. Overall, the volcano doesn’t follow the textbook picture of a peak sitting above a chamber of molten rock. Instead, it seems, a diffuse cloud of partially molten blobs lingers deep below the surface, offset to the east of the edifice, toward the neighboring Mount Adams.
Most of the Cascade volcanoes—and others around the world—take shape above the spots where the plunging slab descends to roughly 62 miles deep, where temperatures get high enough for magma to form. But the situation is different at Mount St. Helens. Standing tens of miles to the west of other volcanoes, the infamous peak perches a mere 42 miles above the subducting plate.
Mt St Helens remains active, having erupted most recently in 2008.
Today I'll try to avoid the most depressing stories:
- The North Shore Channel Trail bridge just north of Lincoln Avenue opened this week, completing an 11 km continuous path from Lincoln Square to Evanston.
- Experts warn that herd immunity (a) is an economic concept, not a health concept and (b) shouldn't apply to humans because we're not herd animals.
- Wisconsin remains in total chaos today after the state supreme court terminated Governor Tony Evans' stay-at-home order, approximately two weeks before a predictable, massive uptick in Covid-19 cases.
- Delta Airlines has decided to retire its fleet of 18 B777 airplanes years ahead of schedule due to an unexpected drop in demand for air travel.
- The pro-contagion, rabid right-wingers flashing placards saying "Be Like Sweden" clearly have no comprehension of Sweden's efforts to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
- US retail sales declined 16.4% in April, pushing the total decline since February to nearly 25%, the worst decline in history.
- Wired has a portrait of Marcus Hutchins, the hacker who stopped the WannaCry virus from killing us all and then went to jail for his previous activities designing and spreading malware.
- Andrew Sullivan tells the story of Samuel Pepys, "the very first pandemic blogger."
Finally, Vanity Fair has reprinted its 1931 cover article on Al Capone, which seems somehow timely.
Just when you thought the Republican Party couldn't become more anti-science and pro-profit (at the expense of workers), the Wisconsin Supreme Court just struck down Wisconsin's stay-at-home order on a 4-3 party-line vote.
If only that were all:
- Jennifer Rubin points out that "Trump's abject hypocrisy shows us where he's failed."
- Not only has Trump "lost the plot," he "has no plan," according to two articles this week in The Atlantic. How is this news cycle different from all other news cycles?
- The US Supreme Court listened to arguments this week about the electoral college and Trump's tax returns. It seems likely the nation will lose both cases.
- The judge presiding over Michael Flynn's case has asked a retired judge to brief him on whether to hold Flynn in criminal contempt for perjury, after the Justice Dept. sought to end its prosecution of Flynn.
- The City of Chicago has ordered food delivery services to disclose the fees they charge restaurants so consumers have more transparency. Restaurants have complained about price-gouging from GrubHub and others.
- Meanwhile, Uber is in talks to buy GrubHub. If we had a functioning FTC, this would never happen.
- David Kamp brings back my childhood with his paean to Zoom, the children's television show I watched religiously when I was a kid.
- Anthropologists have found a 45,000-year-old midden containing homo sapiens tools, bones, and jewelry in a cave in Bulgaria. It's evidence of the earliest modern humans in Europe.
- The New York Times has an oral history of Mad Max: Fury Road, which the author calls a "modern action classic." (It's one of my faves as well.)
Someday, we'll all look back on this time, laugh nervously, and change the subject.
I read the news today, oh boy:
Finally, the USS Nevada, a battleship that survived World War I and Pearl Harbor until the Navy scuttled her in 1948, has been found.
Writing for the Washington Post, Michele Norris has had enough of white dudes toting firearms at "peaceful" protests:
We’ve gotten far too accustomed to the image of white protesters carrying paramilitary-level firearms in public spaces. The presence of guns — often really large guns — at protests has become alarmingly normalized. It is time to take stock of what that means.
Accepting and even expecting to see firearms at protest rallies means that we somehow embrace the threat of chaos and violence. While those who carry say they have no intention of using their weapons, the firepower alone creates a wordless threat, and something far more calamitous if even just one person discharges a round.
Is this brazen display of force about the right to own firearms or the right to make armed threats for political purposes? Just asking, because the latter is not a “right” that can be equally asserted. The protests are purportedly about reopening America. A parallel goal is realignment — using the Second Amendment to conduct regular and routine shows of force to intimidate elected officials into enacting a political agenda.
Polls show that most Americans prefer a go-slow approach to reopening most businesses. The armed protesters in places such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina represent a tiny minority. Some surveys put the most insistent open-now crowd at less than 10 percent. But the weapons make their influence seem larger — and they know that. We see protests punctuated by guns almost every day. It has become routine. We have normalized something that should be shocking.
This sort of thing has happened before, in other times and places, and it hasn't ended well.
The US unemployment rate exploded to 14.7% in April as 20.5 million people officially left the workforce, with millions more people leaving full-time work and others not even trying to find new jobs. April's job losses were more than 10 times the 1.9 million reported in September 1945 as the US demobilized from World War II.
Once you've absorbed that, there's more:
Finally, today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Nazi army finally surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe. Germans celebrated the event today as a day of liberation from the Nazis.
Yesterday I started Federico Finchelstein's new book A Brief History of Fascist Lies, and it may have kept me awake longer than I wanted last night. Finchelstein's central thesis is that for fascists, truth was a matter of faith, not of empirical fact, and this truth was made incarnate in the fascist leader:
Fascism defended a divine, messianic, and charismatic form of leadership that conceived of the leader as organically linked to the people and the nation. It considered popular sovereignty to be fully delegated to the dictator, who acted in the name of the community of the people and knew better than they what they truly wanted. Fascists replaced history and empirically based notions of truth with political myth. ... Fascism aimed to create a new and epochal world order through an incremental continuum of extreme political violence and war.
At root, fascists believed fantasy, and disbelieved reality that didn't fit their myths:
In their search for a truth that did not coincide with the experienced world, fascists resorted to making metaphors reality. There was nothing true about ideological falsehoods, but their adherents nonetheless wanted to make these lies real enough. They conceived what they saw and did not like as untruth. [Emphasis in original.] ...
For Mussolini, reality had to follow mythical imperatives. Too bad if people were not initially convinced; their disbelief also needed to be challenged. The mythical framework of fascism was rooted in the fascist myth of the nation.
In other words, arguing facts with a fascist had no effect because facts didn't matter to them. Only their beliefs mattered. A psychologist might call this "malignant narcissism."
I'm only a quarter the way in, but I'll probably finish it tonight. Finchelstein has given me a missing piece in my understanding of the creeping authoritarian nationalism plaguing the world right now. As he says in his introduction, "Populism is fascism adapted to democracy;" however, "populists merely want to diminish the power of representative democracy, whereas fascists wanted to end democracy."
Even the first couple of chapters has given me a lot to think about. I'll write more as I think about it more.
On 4 May 1970, Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on unarmed students at Kent State University outside Cleveland:
The sky was cloudless, the spring air warm and still. As the morning wore on, the growing crowd of students, now numbering in the thousands, became feisty, and some taunted the soldiers. Just after noon, a group of guardsmen suddenly huddled together, retreated briefly, wheeled toward the right, turned in tandem and fired at the students for 13 seconds.
The students were not only unarmed; most didn’t realize that the guards’ rifles held live ammunition. Four students were killed: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. Nine others were injured. After 50 years, we still don’t know why the guard turned and fired.
While Kent State was not the only instance of violence against student protesters, it immediately became a byword for state-sanctioned violence. Campuses nationwide erupted in protest. Krause, Miller, Scheuer and Schroeder became martyrs, their deaths memorialized by the band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in their song “Ohio.” The tremors were felt all the way to the White House; according to H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, they precipitated the sense of political paranoia within the administration that set Watergate in motion.
The May 4 shootings were viewed very differently by conservatives and liberals; most conservatives endorsed the National Guard’s actions and at best wrote off the shooting as a tragic accident, at worst as the protesters’ just dessert — a position that liberals and the left found unimaginable. “Just as many consider shootings by the police to be ridding the streets of ‘thugs,’ the killings at Kent State were also celebrated by many. ‘National Guard 4, Students 0,’ or ‘They Should have Shot 400’ were commonly voiced views,” Professor Grace wrote, finding a vicious split that is echoed today over everything from climate change to the Kavanaugh hearings.
We also need to recognize the way that Kent State is viewed through race. The students shot on May 4, all white, became martyrs; most people have forgotten that less than two weeks later, Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green, two students in Mississippi, were killed by police officers in the wake of a false rumor about the death of a civil rights leader. And while Kent State stands out as an exception — National Guardsmen killing white college students — over the years, state authorities have killed far more African-American protesters than whites.
The Guardian says the shootings "marked the start of America's polarization."
We're finally on our own.
The Hulu biopic "Mrs America" gives you the founding matron of the modern Republican Party, in all her crazy:
It tells the story of the 1970s battle over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that pitted feminists such as Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) and Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba) against a woman named Phyllis Schlafly who would become the godmother of modern conservatism. Schlafly, who is portrayed with icy hauteur by the sublime Cate Blanchett, was a walking paradox: This champion of “homemakers” was herself a liberated woman who devoted most of her energy to political activism, not to looking after her husband and six children.
Schlafly specialized in incendiary — and far-fetched — claims that passage of the ERA would eliminate alimony, child support and single-sex bathrooms and force women into combat. “Mrs. America” shows television host Phil Donahue challenging her assertions. The fictional Schlafly replies with a tirade comparing the feminists to the Bolsheviks and predicting that before long we would be “living in a feminist totalitarian nightmare.”
Schlafly pioneered the kind of incendiary, irrational rhetoric that galvanized much of the conservative movement during its early years — and, sadly, continues to excite it today. There was always a big difference, however, between what activists like her said and how Republican officeholders acted. Even the most conservative presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were far more moderate.
Meanwhile, between Vice President Mike Pence refusing to wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic (to "look people in the eyes," which is odd if you know how masks work) while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doing everything he can to piss off everyone who lives in a town of more than 2,500 people, one starts to see hope that these raging incompetents and nihilists could leave office next January. This, while Covid-19 deaths in the US have officially passed the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War (though unofficially we seem to have passed that mark a few weeks ago).
I wonder what Nero's favorables were?
We won't have won, of course, because nearly half the country are incompetent nihilists. But we might at least get a breather.