Fresh From delicious today

Listening Room 7 – Harvard Glee Club Foundation: Long may continue our unity and joy!
Very cool–a bunch of recordings from Don Loach’s Glee Club in 1978 at the Harvard Festival of Men’s Choruses. This is the one where someone walked up to Loach afterward asking which label the Club was on and was shocked to learn that they didn’t have a record deal.

Friday Random 15: Out of Rotation

I keep a playlist in iTunes, and on my iPod, that consists of highly rated songs (4 stars or better) that I haven’t heard in at least a year. It’s called Out of Rotation, and it always surprises me in a positive way. Today, when I needed a pickup after car trouble, it came through. Here’s the playlist:

  1. Johnny Cash, “Belshazzar” (Complete Sun Singles, Vol. 2)
  2. Liz Phair, “Chopsticks” (Whip-Smart)
  3. Pernice Brothers, “Waiting for the Universe” (Yours, Mine and Ours)
  4. Sonic Youth, “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style” (Murray Street)
  5. Ted Leo/Pharmacists, “The High Party” (Hearts of Oak)
  6. Yo La Tengo, “Nothing but You and Me” (Summer Sun)
  7. UNKLE, “Nursery Rhyme Breather” (Psyence Fiction)
  8. The Raconteurs, “Blue Veins” (Broken Boy Soldiers)
  9. The Raconteurs, “Intimate Secretary” (Broken Boy Soldiers)
  10. Pixies, “River Euphrates” (Surfer Rosa)
  11. Gillian Welch, “Revelator” (Time (The Revelator))
  12. Gillian Welch, “My First Lover” (Time (The Revelator))
  13. Chemical Brothers, “Elektrobank” (Dig Your Own Hole)
  14. Prince, “Wherever U Go, Whatever U Do” (Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic)
  15. Elvis Presley, “New Orleans” (The King of Rock ‘n” Roll: The Complete ’50s Singles)

The decentralization of publishing

Lately it seems I spend more time on Facebook and Twitter than on the blog. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it just reminds me that I need to make an effort occasionally to write longer form content, as fun and entertaining as it is to write bite-sized summaries of links on Delicious.

But when I think about how user-created content has changed in the last seven or eight years, it’s kind of amazing. We’ve gone from monolithic content management systems like Manila, Radio, and Blogger to what can only be characterized as swarms of lightweight, single-purpose applications: Delicious, Flickr, Twitter. The CMSes are still there–WordPress being, as far as I can tell, the leading personal CMS right now. But what’s changed is the assumed ability to suck content out of multiple services and put it into one place. Or multiple places: my posts to Delicious are picked up nightly by my blog and then syndicated into Facebook posts, for instance. Twitter content can appear in my sidebar. Flickr photos can be syndicated or blogged from within the application.

And then there’s Facebook. It manages, by virtue of its application ecosystem, to be all of the above: a swarm of lightweight apps, a walled garden… and an Outlook replacement. It’s astonishing how many people that I know now communicate with their friends primarily, if not exclusively, on Facebook. If they made their app sync events to the iPhone calendar, it would pretty much completely replace the traditional mail/calendar/address book troika for most purposes. Not all, and I certainly think that the platform has a long way to go before it replaces email. For starters, allowing us to download our inbox from the service would be a good idea; I don’t like anyone holding all my data and not letting me move it. But I bet someone’s working on an app to do that, if it doesn’t already exist.

On data portability: back in 2004, I insisted to a meeting of the Berkman Bloggers’ Group that there was a tradeoff between having all your content resident on your own server and using these decentralized apps. At the time it was a native photo management system vs. Flickr. What I didn’t take into consideration was how much harder it is to move content that’s resident in a CMS vs. decentralized in the cloud. When I switched this blog over from Manila to WordPress, it wasn’t the images that were in Flickr (and even on .Mac) that were the problem; it was all the image content in Manila.

We’re in a golden age for personal publishing right now. Which makes it all the more ironic that people are still fighting the blogging vs. journalism battle (previously linked here). While you’re doing that, folks, it’s turned into blogging and Twittering and Facebooking and Deliciousing and and and and. Never has it been so easy for people to share what they want to say with …

And that’s the other interesting part. Part of it is, of course, communicating with your closest friends, a la Facebook. Part of it is communicating with people who subscribe to my blog via RSS (all twelve of you, for whom I am very grateful). But a big part of it, for me, continues to be communicating with people who might find the site through a Google search (what I’ve called my time-delayed audience). And writing just keeps getting easier, because formats like Delicious and Twitter provide a proper channel for bite sized content, while WordPress provides a fantastic way to write longer form stuff.

Are respectful conversations about politics still possible?

I got an email forward from a relative today pointing to a pair of YouTube clips, one a part of a Barack Obama speech about sex ed, one an anti-abortion film, that included the tag line:

This is what’s going on in America.  This truth will make you bawl, and hopefully this truth will help everyone to see Obama for who he really is.
For those of you who are pro-choice, this presses in the reality of abortion.  Leaving a baby out to die and killing a baby in it’s mother’s womb are exactly the same. …

I watched the YouTube clips, and then did some research. And I decided that I didn’t want to just let this particular misrepresentation of Obama’s character stand. So I responded:

Thanks for forwarding.

I find it hard to imagine how the clip of Obama’s speech supports your email.

His speech is about teaching kids about abstinence, the seriousness of sex, STDs, AND contraception as part of a balanced program to make sure that they can make educated decisions about how to live their lives. (And the clip is taken out of the context of a larger speech; elsewhere he discusses the need to make sure that the mix of information is “age appropriate.”) I think that in this day and age that’s a responsible position.

Regarding the other clip, I’m not sure how Alan Keyes, a non-Illinois resident whom Obama defeated handily in his US senate race, is a reliable witness to Obama’s feelings about abortion.

I also don’t think you should casually dismiss Jill Stanek’s description of why Obama voted against the bill in question: he stated that the abortion practice described was already illegal under Illinois state law, and that the bill he voted down would have imperiled other abortion rights.

Finally, if you are going to listen to these clips, you should also be aware of Jill Stanek’s other beliefs, such as her belief that domestic violence is justified against women that have abortions, and that condom use in Tanzania should be discouraged. Furthermore, her most inflammatory allegation, that babies who were born despite attempted abortions were left to die in the Illinois hospital where she works, has never been substantiated:

I think we all should be listening to ALL sides and all voices during this election, and learn to recognize when we are being presented with an argument that deliberately distorts or excludes facts that might make the case weaker. This is our responsibility as American citizens: not to take everything that is presented to us as unquestioned truth, but to seek out other opinions and make up our own minds. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to hear some opinions I had not heard before; it prompted me to do my own research and come to my own conclusions.

For me, this is the key question: why do people accept what they get handed as already-formed opinions? Both sides do it: clearly Palin isn’t a complete monster, and clearly Barack Obama isn’t a baby-eating Muslim terrorist. But it astonishes me how little independent research it takes to knock some of the claims down.

I think that this is what’s killing politics in the US right now, and it’s the same thing that John Stewart said to the hosts of Crossfire: unquestioning repeating of talking points hurts democracy. It strikes it at its core. Our founding fathers believed that the people were capable of governing themselves, and some, like Thomas Jefferson, took the logical next step of planning education systems that would turn out people who could participate in government as informed parties.

But making a meaningful decision, even having a conversation, becomes impossible when we  agree to take our opinions via subscription, and won’t do the fact checking to confirm or deny what we’re being told.

In that spirit, I have to thank my friend Jeff Hawkins for a pointer to a list of debunked Palin rumors. I don’t agree with the list’s take on TrooperGate, and I notice that it doesn’t attempt to deny the thoroughly debunked claim that Palin stood against the federal funding of the Bridge to Nowhere, but I appreciate the reintroduction of a little balance in the debate. Cause here’s the thing: Sarah Palin doesn’t have to be a five-college dropout, or married to a guy who once had a DUI, or support shooting wolves from the air (though I’m a little concerned about the last one), for me to be concerned about her as a candidate. And I base that concern on her belief that our invasion of Iraq was “God’s will,” that we should go to war with Russia, the world’s only other nuclear superpower; over her ignorance of foreign policy–not even able to describe the Bush Doctrine!, and over what appears to be a very real abuse of power in the matter of the firing of her ex-brother-in-law’s boss.

And when I look at her in that light, I’m very concerned about her running mate’s judgment as well. And that’s the basis that’s driving my vote: my evaluation of the judgment and character of the person who’s going to be in the office and have his finger on the button.

The ineffable and the effable

Tonight we’re singing Beethoven’s Mass in C, which is one of those undeservedly underperformed works — at least, compared to the rest of the Beethoven corpus. Compared to the average early English sacred work, it’s practically ubiquitous.

It’s an interesting setting of the work for an interesting time. Beethoven wrote the work in 1807, and it’s hard not to hear the work through the filter of the political and cultural upheavals of the epoch. What role did the mass text have, what resonance and relevance, after revolutions ripped apart the old fabric of monarchies? You can hear some if Beethoven’s response in the setting of the Credo, which opens on an agitato string accompaniment and a low murmured “credo” from the chorus; as our director has remarked, it’s more question than declamation.

And yet there are oceanic passages throughout that speak to a deep tradition–the sacred chant and response of the Benedictus are probably the clearest connection to the old traditions. It is a work that repays close study, and performance.

My madeleine? Thunderstorms

This has felt like summer, for the first time in recent memory. Why? The last few days, we’ve had high humidity and thunderstorms. Bam. Takes me right back to Newport News or even DC. Mowing the lawn Saturday morning was a real Proustian moment: cloudless sky but with steadily climbing temps and thickening air. By the time I was done I felt like I was swimming in the air, it was so humid. And instantly I was back home, trying to rush to finish the lawn before the skies opened. Then there’s that rush of cool air against the skin right before the rain comes in.

How does my garden grow?

Quite well at the moment, thanks. I just posted some photos of our early flowers this year (remember, those of you who live south of here, we only really got spring about three weeks ago here in Massachusetts). The iris are going great guns this year, with almost all the plants bearing multiple flowers, and we had a few pleasant surprises, like our dianthus coming back voluntarily and the early coral-colored tradiscantia returning.

Those who have been reading for a while will remember that these are the iris that came from my grandmother’s garden. Yes, as usual, I seem to be repeating myself year after year. Oh well.