Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Faire Folk

E. J. Jones is one of the better-known pipers among the renaissance fair circuit and beyond, branching out and playing with several different bands and in several different styles. On The Wandering Stars, he joins with some bandmates from Brizeus to play a range of tunes Jones said he has picked up over a long career of performing and listening. "These," he says in the notes on the CD, "are the tunes I would play for an audience that had never heard the pipes before."

Leaving aside both the tragedy of the thought of an audience that had never heard bagpipes and the joy of their moment of discovery, Stars offers a good variety of sprightly and contemplative songs that work not only with the Great Highland pipes most of us think of when we say "bagpipe," but also the Scottish smallpipes and the Northumbrian uillean pipes. The latter two usually have a more low-impact sound.

Jones' aim showcases the pipes as an instrument working with other instruments, which is probably the reason he brings in the smaller pipes. The bouzouki that lends "Berwick & Keelman's" an almost Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flair would have been lost behind the full throat of the Highland pipes. and those same smallpipes join with a whistle on the title track to lend it a beautiful delicacy. He focuses mostly on the pipes' use as accompaniment for the kinds of songs people would dance to, rather than the martial or memorial anthems we often associate with them. That kind of music lends itself to some more complex playing, which helps to distinguish Jones' own playing skills.

People who think of bagpipes only in terms of the majesty of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and "Amazing Grace" or the defiance of "Scotland the Brave" might not imagine them as a tool for exploring this much lighter and celebratory side, but in the hands of the right craftsman that's exactly what they do. The Wandering Stars is an excellent work from someone who knows how to highlight multiple sides of this odd instrument and it's enjoyable to listen to him and his friends do it.
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Tullamore have been entertaining faire audiences and folk music lovers for many years (though they all, as they are my friends, are splendidly ageless) and this year brought out a new album recorded at their favorite venue, O'Malley's Irish Pub in suburban Kansas City, Two to Get Ready.

For this second album recorded at the pub, the trio chose some songs that have joined their repertoire more recently as the meat of the album; fans who have seen them play over the years will find a lot of newer tracks here. They, as well as old favorites like "She Was the Belle of the Ball," feature the same great vocal blend between hammered dulcimist Mary Hanover and violinist Rachel Gaither Vaughn and guitarist Mark Clavey's encyclopedic knowledge of folk music history. Buying a Tullamore record in digital format cheats you out of a good half of the pleasure, since their CDs are accompanied by extensive liner notes that outline the history of the original song and of the band's story with it.

Tullamore also mixes traditional folk songs, like Robert Burns' poem "Geordie" with modern ones such as George Hunt's "Lighthouse." And although their main well is Celtic-influenced, they include many traditions ("Jambalaya," for example, is a set staple and was on Six Strings and Coffee Beans.) The dulcimer lends an interesting air to the moonshine ballad "Run Rufus Run," but Vaughn's violin and Partonesque vocals set it firmly in the Kentucky hills from whence it came. She also brings a Mexican flavor to "The Rangers of Gonzalez," with the same instrument and Clavey adds a Spanish touch to his guitar work in the same song. Both lend good atmosphere to the story of Irish immigrants in a fight during the Texas War of Independence.

Two highlights a wide range of emotions in its music, from the sad laments often associated with the Irish ("Paddy's Lamentation" and "One of Ireland's Children") to the dreams of lost glory held by the Scots ("Culloden's Harvest" and "Over the Water to Charlie"). "Belle," mentioned above, is a jaunty story of courting that welcomes the airy touch of Hanover's dulcimer.

Since I do know members of the band, I suppose if I ever buy a Tullamore album I don't like I'll probably have to skip reviewing it; fortunately they seem to be kindly avoiding placing me in such a bind.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Matter of Conscience

The Barry Goldwater/L. Brent Bozell collaboration The Conscience of a Conservative sits with Ronald Reagan's 1964 speech nominating the Arizona senator for president as one of the twin pillars of the modern conservative movement. They gave conservative thinking an energized new direction -- in addition to talking about all of the things that conservatives didn't want changed, they began to explain why.

Goldwater's 1960 book made one of the strongest and clearest connections between conservatism as a philosophy of government and the idea of freedom -- he and others like him were conservative in their views and politics because they believed that those kinds of policies and positions were the best guarantors of freedom for the most people.

In several of the essays, Goldwater makes it clear that some of the changes proposed by the liberal folks of his day were not necessarily wrong. But the means by which they were to be achieved, on the other hand, were. Social and cultural change through the courts system or by executive fiat was wrong because the U.S. Constitution did not allow it; social and cultural change through legislation and black-letter law was right because the same document did allow it. And that point mattered because the constitutional checks on power were designed to keep citizens' freedoms from being subjected to the whims of one person or a small group of people. What judicial action gave, judicial action could take away. Segregationists who thought their cause won when Associate Justice Harlan B. Brown said it was OK in his Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 found out it could be lost in the very same way when Chief Justice Earl Warren said so in 1954's Brown v. Board of Education.

Conscience also lays out briefly why Goldwater believed that most matters like this should be settled in individual states: The Constitution says so, when it enumerates the powers of the federal government and says all other powers are reserved to the states or to the people. He held this belief not because the feds are automatically wrong and states are automatically right, but because states and people that give up to the federal government their ability to decide things for themselves don't get it back. And the person who cheers a federal regulation that runs their way may find themselves much less cheerful when a different administration changes that regulation in a way they don't like.

Goldwater only briefly touches on economic issues that are another bedrock of modern conservatism, not saying much more than the idea that taxes should rise to fund what the government wants to do ain't no way to run a railroad. His chapter on the menace posed by the Soviet Union has the unusual pairing of being dated and timely at the same time -- worldwide Communism is perhaps not the threat it was in 1960, but a newly aggressive Russia might be, and there are plenty of other ideologies just as threatening to freedom floating around people's heads today as then.

Goldwater elsewhere wrote of his skepticism about much of government at several levels, and Conscience could do with some reminders that state governments can rival Uncle Sam in dull-witted cupidity. He also could have reflected some more on how some of the goals of people who opposed him fit in well with the conservative idea of defending and advancing freedom, and so pointed out the common cause they shared.

This edition is part of the Princeton University Press's "James Madison Library in American Politics" series, and features manuscript editing by Goldwater's granddaughter CC Goldwater. It also opens with a foreword by well-known conservative columnist George F. Will that lays out some of the impact Conscience had in American conservatism in the years leading up to Reagan's 1980 election. And it inexplicably includes an afterword by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who uses Goldwater as a tool to blast modern conservatism's social dimension and references the respect Goldwater showed for his uncle, John F. Kennedy, despite their political rivalry in order to decry the lack of civility in public political discourse. This essay, published with the book in 2007, predates Kennedy's own contributions to civil discourse, such as grabbing a reporter's mike from her hand and ranting into it and calling for the arrest of people who disagree with his positions on climate change. But it's contemporary with his 2007 remarks saying oil company executives should be treated like traitors. And it features Kennedy misidentifying family therapist and radio personality James Dobson as a clergyman in order to slam the religious element of modern social conservatism. Twice.

On second thought, I take back the "inexplicably." Kennedy's essay, following Goldwater and Bozell's several short chapters, is an excellent example of the degradation of political discourse brought to us by modern political voices. But probably not in the way he would think.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

ποτ πουρί

In honor of the coming likely collapse of the Greek economy, we have put our "potpourri" title through the mighty Bing translator to give us the Greek word. Folks with a little knowledge of the Greek alphabet will probably notice that the translation is as much transliteration as anything else, as Bing claims "potpourri" in Greek is "pot pouri."

-- Hello! We're the movie industry, and we really don't have any ideas anymore!

-- Dark matter is the name for the mysterious substance that probably makes up most of the solid material in the universe. It's used to explain why galaxies that spin fast enough to fly apart don't, and why the universe expands at the rate it does. But to date it has only been theorized and never detected, so other theories might explain the universe we observe. Including one that says we just don't understand gravity properly. I fully admit I don't understand gravity properly, but I'm not willing to take the blame for there being no dark matter. So I'm rejecting that theory out of hand.

-- Every time a baseball highlight shows a pitcher after some batter has turned his throwing mistake into a fan souvenir, I get the feeling the pitcher, standing around and holding the new ball, would have no problem in a rule change that didn't require the batter to touch all three bases.

-- There are four kinds of introversion. Well, there may be five, but we don't want to talk about it.

-- Found at Real Clear Science, Peter Ellerton writes about why people lose arguments. He suggests it has to do with allowing your opponent to frame the issue away from the point you want to make, or with falling for rhetorical tricks that leave you with no ammo in your fight. He doesn't list that one of the reasons "Why You Will Lose Your Argument," as the headline says, is that you are wrong. But he's not alone in leaving out that possibility.

-- This writer at Wired suggests that it's NBC's fault that the show Hannibal, which features the cannibalistic serial killer made famous by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs as its lead character, had low ratings and was canceled. On the one hand, if that's true, I'm pretty sure I should send them a gift for making modern television slightly less of a pure cesspool of venomous ordure than it was before the cancellation. On the other hand, NBC bought and aired the show in the first place, so perhaps the proper response is that given to the dog when it learns to crap on the paper: Congratulations for meeting the bare minimum requirements for living indoors among civilized people.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Avengers of Oz: Age of Tin Man

This Tin Man doesn't seem to be interested in acquiring a heart.

On the other hand, Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion head on Thor's body seems to work pretty good.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Missed You in Church

Ordinarily, I'm a big believer in individual privacy and I don't like the idea of extensive and intrusive surveillance. But a program called Churchix uses facial recognition software to see who did and didn't show up at service last Sunday, and I must confess I am intrigued.

I expect someone to create another program soon that will offer excuses for skipping. At least half of them will involve kids' softball tournaments, dance classes or whatnot, another quarter will come from "not feeling like it" or a "mental health day" and the last quarter will have some kind of valid reason like illness or travel abroad.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mrs. Peel, We're Needed...

Patrick Macnee, the last man in the world who could wear a bowler hat properly, passed away Thursday at 93.

Macnee starred as John Steed, who was never without his hat and umbrella, in the British television series The Avengers. Steed worked with several partners as a pair of "agents extraordinary" who avenged "extraordinary crimes against the people...and the state." The best-known, and in the minds of many, the best bar none of those partners was Mrs. Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg. Rigg was the martial artist booty kicker of the pair, decked out in mod catsuits and swinging 60s fashions while Steed retained jacket, tie, umbrella (concealing a sword, of course) and the classic bowler.

Macnee rarely lacked for work, lending his own wit to whatever character he played and pretty much personifying English reserve, style and class in most of them.

And now, at last, those living in the afterlife may have instruction on the proper way to wear the rounded-top bowler hat. Which is good, because eternity's a long time to go wearing your hat the wrong way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Take Me Out...

Some observations on attending today's mid-day contest between the Oklahoma City Dodgers and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox:

-- Day baseball is perhaps the best sporting event ever conceived in the mind of humankind. I've always had a little interest in attending that outdoor game the NHL stages every winter, and one day I'd like to take in a match at Centre Court in Wimbledon, but baseball outdoors in the sunshine is truly from the thoughts of God.

-- OK, I exaggerate a little. But it's still darn cool.

-- The young lady behind me was of an age where one does not last long watching a baseball game, and sometime in the bottom half of the first inning she began whining her desire to return home, to go to Dallas and go swimming (?), to have stayed home and not come, to have ice cream, and three or four other alternative activities I have forgotten. Since she punctuated her statements by kicking the seat in front of her -- which was coincidentally the seat I occupied -- I was on her side and was not far off from offering to find whatever adult had so wronged her by bringing her here and convincing him or her remove her forthwith; said adult apparently being seated away from this group of children. Fortunately her captors came with her parole and did remove her. I hope they skipped the ice cream, though, as she seemed a young person who could do with a bit less of it and a bit more of those alternative activities.

-- Although school is out for the summer, there were several children's groups taking advantage of the daytime game from different daycares, YMCAs, church day schools and such. I will give you three guesses as to what happened when the big screen "DodgerTube" display between innings showed Princess Elsa singing "Let It Go."

-- Apparently nobody hits .300 any more.

-- Equally apprently, there's not a lot of pitching at the AAA level of the Los Angeles Dodgers or Milwaukee Brewers organizations. The Brewers' Sky Sox affiliate gave up three runs in the second and two in the fifth, while the Dodgers gave up two in the first and four in the ninth. With two outs. To lose the game. Oh well. The worst baseball game I ever attended was better than not attending one.

-- Yes, Dr. H, I remembered my sunscreen.