Humperdinck’s Dornröschen

Album cover for DornroeschenEngelbert Humperdinck is best known for his opera Hänsel und Gretel, and his Königskinder (royal children) is heard now and then. More obscure is his Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty), which I just finished listening to on the Naxos Music Library. I can’t say it’s an undiscovered masterpiece, but it’s interesting enough to merit a few comments.

The Prelude nods without subtlety to Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream overture, and the first act is the familiar Sleeping Beauty story, up to the point where everyone in the castle goes to sleep. The king is amusingly overconfident, and the evil fairy Daemonia has an impressive part, spoken in rhythm rather than sung.

In the second and third acts, things get weird. A hundred years have passed, and Prince Reinhold has learned about the Castle of Thorns and sets out to wake Sleeping Beauty. Daemonia likes him too much to kill him outright, so she sends him into an astrological realm. On his return, he has somehow acquired a Ring of Power (or perhaps more than one; it’s sometimes plural), and the music starts taking a Wagnerian turn. Daemonia tries to seduce him with her magic, but the ring enables him to resist her. He comes to the castle and fights Daemonia offstage, as Mercury provides a blow-by-blow description. After Daemonia dies, the thorns recede, he wakes Sleeping Beauty and everyone else in the castle, and we have the happy ending.

It’s musically enjoyable, and I followed along with an online piano score.

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The Helva Peters CD project

An IndieGoGo campaign has started to produce a CD of Helva Peters’ recordings and help pay her medical expenses.

In the early nineties, Helva often sang at conventions in the northeast and MASSFILC gatherings. At the time she had a very impressive voice and gave a moving interpretation to her own songs as well as songs by others. She can be heard on the Wail Songs tapes Shoot the Moon, The Programmer and the Elves, and Let’s Have a Filk Sing, as well as the CD set Balticon Tapes (all out of print). Since then, various health issues, particularly Multiple Chemical Sensitivity aka Toxin-Induced Loss of Tolerance, have taken their toll on her, though she still sometimes comes to filksings.

Things have lately taken a more serious turn with her; she now has Stage IV cancer, and family sources are advancing her money for a trip to Tijuana, where she believes a treatment not available in the US will be more helpful to her. She’ll be piling up a lot of expenses and would like to be able to return at least some of that money.

At the same time, it would be a wonderful thing if more of her old recordings became better known to filkers. This project’s goal is to produce a CD from them and raise money that will help her meet her expenses. Harold Stein will produce the CD. All proceeds after costs of materials, which will be minimal, will go to Helva.

Please support the campaign and help spread the word.

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Naxos Music Library

It’s no longer possible to browse for classical CDs at a store, and the stores that still carry some CDs won’t have anything more impressive than “Mozart’s Greatest Hits,” so I decided to look at streaming services that specialize in classical music. After looking at a few other places I dropped in on naxos.com, where I’ve bought some CDs before. They have the Naxos Music Library, which offers on-demand streaming of a huge number of CDs. At $21 a month, it’s not dirt cheap, but I listen to enough music to justify it, so I subscribed.

Album cover for Lucia di LammermoorOnce I was able to use it, it was great. It really does have lots of recordings of lots of composers; they claim over 100,000 CDs, and I can believe it. They have every work I’ve looked for so far. A nice feature is that they didn’t just make the tracks available; they’re grouped by work, so that if, for example, a CD has three Haydn symphonies on it, you can pick each of the symphonies by checking one box and playing your selections. You can also pick individual tracks or just play the whole CD. There’s textual information about most works. You can browse by composer, artist, genre, or label, or do a keyword search.

There are some areas for improvement. The most critical is that it uses HTTP, not encrypted HTTPS, for logging in. There is no excuse for any paid service not to use HTTPS for login. (Update: I’m now seeing an HTTPS URL. I’m not sure whether they added it or it was a Firefox issue. Firefox tries really hard to hide secure URLs, showing me only HTTP auto-completes even I start typing a URL with “https:”.) They use worldpay.com for processing payment, and it does use HTTPS, though it weirdly limits passwords to 12 characters. (Storage is cheap, guys!) The sound quality for the standard subscription is described as “near-CD” quality, but it seems to fall noticeably short to me, and I don’t have especially sensitive ears. You can get higher-quality audio by paying more. Some CDs are copyright-restricted; I found this to be the case with several recordings of Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord,” written in 1877. (That may explain how the chord got lost.)

Album cover for Mozart divertimentosThe most annoying problem was in trying to log in. After I registered, my login failed. The registration process told me it could take up to an hour for my account to become active, so I didn’t worry too much. Later I came back to naxos.com and tried again; still nothing. I tried clicking the “Forgot password” link, and was told that there was no account with my email address.

After a few hours with no better results, I decided it was time to write to customer service. I pointed out that I’d received an email acknowledgement, so I couldn’t have mistyped my email address. This was in the evening; I got a reply early the next morning, so give them points for promptness. However, the reply merely said that my account was working, so I must have been entering my login information wrong.

Eventually I figured out that I had to go to naxosmusiclibrary.com to log in; accounts on naxos.com apparently are entirely different. I was able to log in from naxosmusiclibrary.com without any trouble. Surely this is a common enough mistake that customer service should have suggested it.

In spite of the problems, I think so far this is a great deal. I’ve been rediscovering works that I haven’t heard in decades and exploring areas that I hadn’t ventured into before. It was especially pleasant to hear Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony (the uncut version) for the first time in decades; it has some of his best channeling of Tchaikovsky. Just make sure not to reuse a valuable password when you register.

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Consumer alert: North American Power

In today’s mail was a “First Notice” from “North American Power,” addressed to a person I’ve never heard of. (I’ve lived here for over ten years, so if it’s a past resident, their records are really old.) A “first notice” from a company I’ve never done business with is ample reason for suspicion, and some quick research turns up more grounds. An article dated just a few days ago, from a Rhode Island author, says that the outfit is offering a “teaser” rate without making it clear that it will go up soon and that it’s been the object of hundreds of BBB complaints. It provides a link to a report that the Maryland Public Service Commission fined North American Power $100,000 for deceptive practices, including impersonating a PSC representative.

I know I won’t ever deal with this company. What you do is up to you.

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Killing Tsarnaev would be too lenient

I think that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should get the severest penalty possible: being locked up and the key thrown away. Death would be too easy.

He wants to die, so that he’ll collect his payoff from the god Holy Murder quicker. Or at least he wanted to when he was running from the police, according to a note that he wrote:

I’m jealous of my brother who has received the reward of jannutul Firdaus (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions. I ask Allah to make me a shahied to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. Allah Akbar!

If I believed in Hell, I might have a different opinion, but letting him die thinking he’s going to collect a huge reward and then suffering no further consequences is just too easy.

Note from Tsarnaev, with bullet holesWhat about the deterrent value of killing him? Islamic terrorists aren’t deterred by death. They welcome it. They kill themselves along with their victims so that Holy Murder will give them their virgins right away. I find it strange how many conservatives haven’t grasped this. Here’s a piece from Fox News:

If we don’t send Islamic terrorists to death row here in the United States, to me, that sends a message to the outside world — and to any terrorist — that we’re weak. …

If we don’t send Islamic terrorists to death have we really won?

Gretchen Carlson really seems to think that Islamic terrorists are deterred by the fear of death. I just don’t see how anyone who’s followed the news this century can think that. If anything, his death might encourage some other killer to “avenge” his “martyrdom” on more innocent people. But there’s at least some reason to think they’d be deterred by the prospect of a miserable existence where they can’t do any harm or imagine they’re collecting any reward. The prison he’s likely to go to is Hell enough for anyone.

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The Tyranny of Silence

Jyllands-Posten page with Muhammad cartoonsI’ve just finished Flemming Rose’s The Tyranny of Silence, a book that needs to be widely read. Rose is an editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published twelve cartoons portraying or relating to Muhammad in 2005. This provoked fury not just in fanatical Muslims, but in political fanatics for the “right” not to be offended. An assailant invaded the home of Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists, and tried to kill him. Rose and the cartoonists were subjected to threats and verbal abuse, though none of them have been killed.

In discussing the “Cartoon Crisis,” Rose takes a broad look at the issues of free speech, with examples from Calvin to the present day of deadly violence against heresy. His examples show that Muslims out of power in their own countries are often the targets; when fanatics have gotten rid of all the unbelievers, there’s nothing left but to turn on their own people. This has led to the upside-down situation where people like Raif Badawi, who criticize the Saudi government’s brutality, are “oppressors,” and the Saudi rulers who sentenced him to a thousand lashes are the “victims.”

We can see an important thread in European thought which isn’t much found in American thought. Many in Europe believe that freedom of speech in the Weimar Republic allowed Hitler’s rise, and that “hate speech” laws would have prevented it. In fact, there were laws restricting attacks on people’s religion; the Nazis simply adapted by focusing entirely on racism, on which there was no ban at the time. Today much of Europe has laws against Holocaust denial, yet levels of anti-Semitism are much higher there than in the US.

Today, those who are most violent are granted the strongest claim not to be offended. A museum director declared, “We have no right to offend one another. You don’t have the right to say what you want about other people.” The context was an exhibit that had provoked threats of violence from Muslims. In the next breath she said, “we show a lot of extremely offensive stuff here, and we’re not a fearful gallery.” The people you have no right to offend are just the ones who might kill you, and that has nothing to do with fear.

Something besides fear is involved, though. I’m afraid it’s the idea that Muslims just can’t be expected to behave like civilized Europeans and shouldn’t be held to blame for their violent responses. This amounts to regarding them as animals who just are naturally going to bite you if you touch them the wrong way. This is a horribly condescending view and can only encourage increased hostility in both directions. Rose doesn’t talk about the European movement to keep Muslims out, but it comes out of the same attitude.

The current state of the Middle East is a lesson in what happens when dogma ousts freedom of speech. No one is safe, regardless of their beliefs. A lot more people will die before the lesson sinks in, though.

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The libertarian case against a Boston Olympics

It’s heartening to see the growing grassroots opposition to the proposed Boston 2024 Olympics. People are recognizing the games for the cronyist scheme they’ve become, a way to make money not by offering what people want, but by having government connections. I’d like to focus here, though, on the effect a Boston Olympics would have on personal liberties.

We can look at a couple of past Boston events for an idea of what can happen. The 2004 Democratic Convention was a disaster that turned Boston into a ghost town for a week. Commuter rail service from North Station was completely shut down. Southbound access to Boston by I-93 was closed. Military police questioned people carrying shopping bags in T stations. An ugly, small “free speech zone” was set up to restrict protest. Meanwhile, convention delegates got their own special subway cars. Economic activity ground to a halt as people just gave up on going to Boston.

Even the Boston Marathon has become an occasion for stepping on people’s ordinary activities. The police conducted warrantless bag searches on public streets.

On March 30 Obama visited UMass Boston, and the entire campus was shut down for a day to Make Way for His Majesty.

Aside from the general tendency of Boston officials to turn any big event into a chance to flex their muscles, we know what previous Olympics have been like and what’s planned should they be inflicted on Boston.

Mayor Walsh agreed in writing to ban criticism of the Olympics by city employees, though he later reversed this position after public outrage. Over 55 kilometers of roadway lanes, both primary and secondary, will be handed over to the Olympics’ exclusive use.

More clues come from past Olympic games. In 2012 the UK’s Ministry of Defence turned residential buildings into missile bases near the Olympic site. Outrageous restrictions were placed on the words advertisers with no connection to the Olympics could use. Prohibitions on words like “games,” “2012,” “gold,” or “London” were enforced not by the normal legal process but by Olympic security personnel.

The Guardian described the condition of London:

In addition to the concentration of sporting talent and global media, the London Olympics will host the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces seen in the UK since the second world war. More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.

During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence.

In Rio de Janeiro, the city government has broken its promise not to use eminent domain for next year’s Olympics. Boston’s government has made a similar promise and is facing opposition by people who don’t want to relocate; how much would you want to bet that Boston politicians will stand by their word?

It wouldn’t be fair to put too much emphasis on Sochi; that’s Putin’s Russia, after all. The Olympics belongs there. But David Zirin writes in The Nation:

I have covered every Summer Olympics since 2004 in Athens, Greece. In other words, every Olympics since 9/11, when security concerns morphed into turning Olympic sites into police states. At each site I’ve seen debt, displacement and the militarization of space, alongside spikes in police harassment of the most vulnerable citizens. The 2004 games in Greece brought 50,000 paramilitary troops into the streets and arrived at 200 percent over budget, the precursor to a debt crisis that plagues the country today.

It’s been harder than I expected to research this piece. People have gotten so used to being shoved around by the government that it’s not even news. I probably would never have heard of the UMB closing if it weren’t for Twitter. Search results show just how heavy the propaganda efforts for the Olympics have been. This makes it all the more impressive that so many people are having none of it.

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Fear of choice

Lately a lot of people have shown they’re hysterically afraid of other people’s freedom of association. They’re convinced that if people are free to choose whom they do business with, they’ll make evil, disgusting choices. From what I’ve seen, most people in business don’t care who their customers are as long as they pay, but many people are apparently convinced that most other people are bigots — and that only the government which the bigots elected can stop them.

Curiously, many of these people think that it’s a good thing to discriminate against people based on the state in which they do business. Many of them also think that investment funds should be free to discriminate on the basis of value judgments other than return on investment. I don’t know how they explain this discrepancy.

One explanation is that they want people to be free to do things they agree with, but not things that they don’t agree with. To put it another way, they want power over others. But how can you claim any moral superiority if your goal is just to make others follow your wishes?

I’m in business for myself, and I want to be free to choose whom I deal with. If this is my right, it’s also the right of other people to make the same choice, even if I don’t like their standards. What would I do if I were forced to write software for a purpose I despised — say, for a website like the long-dead eyada.com, which entertained people by making threatening software-assisted phone calls under false names? I’d do the worst job I could. So would anyone else compelled to do business with someone they despised. What kind of service do you expect to get out of forced labor?

If you’re really disgusted by the choices people make, there are more effective and honorable ways to answer them than force. There was the case a few years ago of Jessica Ahlquist, who successfully fought the prominent display of a Christian prayer in a public school. There were threats of violence against her, and some local florists gave in to vague fears and wouldn’t accept orders for flowers for her. (Cranston seems to be a strange center of religious mania in an otherwise highly tolerant New England.) But her supporters raised $62,000 for her education, leaving the owners of Twins Florist and Flowers by Santilli to look like the cowards they are.

Some people just want order and authority because they’re afraid of what people will do if left to their own choices. If they were less afraid and more confident in the power of good ideas, they might discover that persuasion accomplishes good things that force never can.