25 July, 2007

Coultergeist parodied...

Roger Ebert creates a delicious parody of a Coulter interview:
CALLER: Hello, Ann? I’m calling to ask why you were so mean to my mother.

ANN (runs fingers through hair): I don’t suppose your mother has a name?

CALLER: Mildred Quaker. And you said she was mean and ugly, but you never even met her, because she died years ago.

ANN (tosses back blonde hair): I happen to know that, darling, because I tripped over her tombstone in a cemetery and got grass stains all over myself. Was that my fault? When these Quakers insist on being pacifists who can be buried anywhere they want to be?
That's just a taste...the full "interview" can be found at Ebert's website. Although as Ed Brayton notes, it's difficult to determine if this is a parody or not, given that Coulter is self-parodying...

HT: Dispatches from the Culture War

Funny O' The Day

From Saint Gasoline via Friendly Atheist.

22 July, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Okay, the seventh and final volume in the Harry Potter series was released on Saturday. I purchased my copy at 7:30 pm, sat down to read about 9:00, read through until I finally went to sleep at 02:00 am, and then read off and on pretty much all day today (except for playing tennis this morning and attending a birthday party for my nephew this afternoon, finally finishing up around 9:30 this evening. All 759 pages.

No spoilers here and no review either, other than to say that it was worth the wait! I think I'll wait a couple of weeks, and then post a review complete with what I thought was going to be in the book and what actually ended up being in the book. For now, let me just say that apparently I'm psychic..

Update: rather funny take on possible alternate endings (absolutely no spoilers!) as written by such literary luminaries as Mario Puzo, George Lucas, Joss Whedon, Terry Gilliam & others. HT: Whedonesque.

19 July, 2007

What, such a low rating?

This site is certified 42% EVIL by the Gematriculator

Anonymous 4 concert

The vocal quartet Anonymous 4 performed last night at the Eastern Music Festival here in Greensboro and it was an unqualified delight. The only fault I could find with the entire performance was that the house (Guilford College's Dana auditorium) wasn't sold out.

Well, perhaps that's not the only fault. The group is best known for their interpretations of Mediaeval and Renaissance music, but their last two CD's (American Angels & Gloryland) have been performances of early American hymnody and "gospel" songs and it was from this repertoire that last night's concert program was drawn. Concert attendees who bought tickets expecting to hear the music for which the group is best known were perhaps disappointed at the choices (although the source of the program was listed on the EMF website); indeed, I did notice that several people left at the intermission.

No matter. The concert was, as I said, simply delightful. Although they generally perform a cappella, the group was accompanied last night by guitarist Scott Nygaard and mandolinist/violinist Darol Anger (the instrumentalists were also featured in a couple of pieces without the singers, to great effect). With or without their accompanists, for they did occasionally sing unaccompanied, Anonymous 4 were their usual fabulous selves. The blend of these singers simply must be heard to be believed. At times, it's almost possible to imagine that one is listening to a single voice. It's not that their pitch is perfect (indeed, there were a scant couple of off-tune moments), but that they match timbre and color so beautifully.

I wish I could give a blow-by-blow, so entrancing was the sound, but unfortunately there was no printed program or announcement of most of the pieces. However, all of the concert seems to have been drawn from the music presented in their last two CDs. They sang in duets, trios, and the full quartet as well as having a couple of pieces presented by solo voices and although their genesis as an ensemble may have been early music, it is clear that these women can sing just about anything and make it sound good, so great is their talent and control of their instruments. I was especially pleased to hear that they take as much care to present this music in its accustomed idiom (complete with the requisite focussed somewhat nasal timbre as well as the vocal "catches" one hears in folk and gospel singing) as they do when singing the expected ornaments and vocal "tricks" of early music. And they make it sound so easy, so fluid, so natural. A real treat and although I can't say I wouldn't have preferred a program of early music, I'm truly happy to have had the pleasure of hearing them live, regardless of the repertoire.

Jerry Hadley, 1952-2007

A friend sent me an email today to let me know that Tenor Jerry Hadley, thought by many to be one of America's most versatile and important opera singers, died yesterday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Hadley had been receiving treatment for depression and was found unconscious in his home on July 10 where it appeared he had shot himself in the head with an air rifle. He was taken to hospital where it was determined that he had sustained severe brain injury. He was taken off life support on Monday and died yesterday. He was just 55 years old.

A tragic end for such a great artist. I am not overly familiar with his voice, having only a couple of his lesser recordings (Mendelssohn's Elijah, and Beethoven's 9th Symphony), but from those I can understand why the tributes to him are pouring in. He made his onstage operatic debut in 1979 as Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor at the New York City opera, while it was under the direction of Beverly Sills. The story of that debut has become famous as the most "catastrophe-laden" on record:
Somehow, the scabbard got itself lodged in the rungs of my chair, and I didn't realize it. So I sat there, singing "M'è noto. Si! M'è noto!" He got up and walked across the stage, and I followed him, dragging my chair with me. Even to the novice audience member, that looked wrong. So a couple of the supers came over and very nicely took the chair off the sword and - I don't know what made me do this, but I glanced up to see how the boss was taking all this, and I couldn't see Beverly anymore. What I could see was this shock of red hair leaning on the front rail of the bow. She was laughing so hard she couldn't sit up!
The link above will take you to Fanfare, where you can read the whole unbelieveable (nevertheless true!) hilarious account.

As a rule, opera singers don't tend to commit suicide. Despite the often cheerless and even downright depressing stories that make up the drama of grand opera, they seem to be some of the most joyous individuals I've ever met. Still, we are all only human and the trials and tribulations of life can seem to be unendurable for even the happiest of us. Farewell Jerry; you will be missed.

17 July, 2007

Another cool gadget I must have!

Behold, the Chumby!

It's an alarm clock! It's a stock ticker! It's an iPod boombox! It's the weather channel! It's a live traffic display!

It's all of these things. The Chumby can be set to display a plethora of information from the internet using WiFi and broadband internet to connect via a series of widgets that the user can configure via Chumby.com. It's also completely "hackable", as the creators put it, so new widgets can be created. Even more, one can actually create or modify the case using plans available from the manufacturer.

When the devices become available (soon!), they'll retail a little steep (around $200) but there are no monthly connection fees, so once you've bought it, the service is yours for no additional $$.

I'm not too fond of the overall design, but given that a new case can be created I can easily see myself getting one of these. Woohoo!

12 July, 2007

Tone Deaf?

Neurophilosophy has a brief article regarding an interesting study reported in the latest issue of Nature Neuroscience about neurophysiology and tone deafness.

In the Nature article, the authors report the results of studies they completed to determine the relationship between tone deafness and brain processes. Amusics (the technical term for someone with tone deafness) are unable to differentiate between pitches in any given sequence. Oddly enough, this inability seems to be generally limited to actual music; amusics appear to have little or no difficulty discerning pitch differences in speech (being able to detect the rising pitch that accompanies a question, for example). The authors appear to have found significant correlation between an individuals inability to discern pitch differences and a corresponding inability to perform tasks relating to spatial processing (e.g., visualizing the rotation of an object), leading to the conclusions that the brain appears to process pitch differentiation in a manner similar to that in which it process spatial differentiation and that deficiency in the ability to process spatial differentiation will lead to amusia.

What a fascinating revelation! Unfortunately, the Nature article is available to subscribers only, but the post at Neurophilosophy has some additional detail and is well worth a read...

07 July, 2007

George Carlin on religion

'Nuff said...

The Golden Compass

The first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is being made into a movie! The Golden Compass is set for release in December of 2007 and from the information available on the movie site, it could well turn out to be an epic film on the same level as The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. The story is certainly deep enough (Pullman drew his inspiration from Milton's Paradise Lost), the author's world is every bit as rich as those created by Tolkien or Lewis and the cast list looks top-notch (Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, & Sam Elliot, among others).

The movie site hints that movies based on the other two books in the trilogy (The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) will follow and if so, I predict that if the production values in this trilogy are as high as those in LoTR or Narnia, His Dark Materials could well equal those in terms of appeal and staying power. At any rate, I do wonder how the novels' philosophical themes will fare in the adaptations. The director has stated that the movies will not "dumb down" the books for the purpose of making them into movies. The novels have extremely sophisticated takes on the problem of evil, meta-ethics, the nature of authority, and Man's purpose and I hope those are preserved in the movies. It might dampen their mass appeal, but it would be wondrous to see.

If you enjoyed such books as LoTR, Narnia, Harry Potter, or fantasy in general, you must read Pullman's trilogy. I simply can't recommend it enough.

Follow the link given above to see more about the movie and/or view the trailer!

05 July, 2007

Beverly Sills, 1929-2007

The irrepressible diva succumbed to lung cancer on Monday, July 2d. If memory serves, I first heard her on a Met radio broadcast in the early 80's and subsequently listened to many, many of her recordings over the years. Although in later years her voice began to show some strain from constant performance, her earlier performances were magnificent (I have the original cast recording of Moore's "Ballad of Baby Doe" and it is simply delightful). It was not without cause that she is credited with bringing American opera singers to the notice of both European and American opera companies, opening doors for young American-trained singers in what had previously been an arena dominated by Europeans. Her leadership at the New York City Opera was instrumental in rescuing a company in distress and turning it into a viable business. In addition to her arts and business acumen, she was apparently a truly generous and vital person. Her first autobiography, "Bubbles: a Self-Portrait", is an enjoyable read, rich with anecdotes and charming insight into the trials, tribulations, and joys of both a professional singer and real human being. She is survived by two children (by her first husband), three stepchildren (of her second husband, Peter Greenough, who died last year), a brother, and the enduring legacy of her contribution to the world of opera and the arts.

New York Times Obituary (from which the image accompanying this post is taken)