Tuesday, January 16, 2018

calm and centered

The second annual Women's March is coming through our town on Saturday. B. has signed up to be a Safety Monitor, which means she can participate while being stationed at a particular spot, in her case in the park where the march is terminating, instead of walking a mile, which would be hard on her feet. She's received the same training and handouts given to the Peace Ambassadors, who are the front-line people for dealing with conflict and counter-protesters.

One of the handouts describes "The CLARA Method of De-Escalation" and particularly interested me, because it shows the very rare grasp of how to deal with angry people. (I'm referring here not to counter-protesters, who have a pre-arranged agenda, but to people who've gotten spontaneously angry just because they're PO'd about something.) The name is an acronym for 5 steps: 1, Calm and Center; 2, Listen; 3, Affirm; 4, Respond; 5, Add Information. A similar though not identical text to the handout is on p. 8-9 of this online PDF.

The handout says that most people tend to start with step 4, especially with hostile opponents, but in fact step 4 - which is "answer the question; respond to the issue the person raised" - would still be better than what most people do, which is the exact opposite of all five steps. The usual escalation of conflict technique, refined to perfection by employees of organizations whose procedures are designed to produce frustrated and angry patrons and customers, is: 1, Get Angry Yourself; 2, Don't Listen (pay no attention to the substance of the complaint; this shows that you don't care about the problem); 3, Deny Them Agency (by the time-honored technique of ordering them to calm down before anything else happens; this shows further that you're not interested in the substance of the issue and are only concerned with establishing your own dominance); 4-5, well, you don't even need to get to that, because by now you've riled up the other person so much that you can order them out of the building or slam down the phone, and thus be rid of them, which is all you really wanted anyway.

The CLARA handout says not to proceed beyond step 3, Affirm, "until the speaker has calmed down and seems willing to listen." This is so exactly right! What steps 2 and 3 do is show that you are interested in their complaint and that you do care about dealing with it. If you do that, they will calm down spontaneously. Really, it works! Remember that they didn't start out angry: they got angry out of frustration that their issues were not being dealt with. If you order them to calm down, you're just reinforcing that. Even if you can't solve the problem, showing concern or suggesting amelioration or workarounds can work wonders.

I'm far from a master of interpersonal communication, but when I've been the face of an organization and therefore responsible for speaking for it - as a reference librarian, or running a convention - I've employed these principles for dealing with complaints, a sort of home-brewed version of CLARA, with great success.

The one caution I would give concerns step 3, Affirm. This says, "Express the connection that you found when you listened ... The exact words don't matter." This is wise, but it can easily - too easily, I fear - be assimilated into a pop-psych technique of affirming by repeating back to the person what they said. That only works if it's done with exceptional skill; mostly it's either parroting the exact words (prefaced with "So what you're saying is ...") or some idiotically simple analysis ("You sound really angry"). What these fail to show, what you have to do, is that you've not just heard them but assimilated, understood, grasped the meaning of what they said, by putting it through your own mind and taking the next responsive step.

Monday, January 15, 2018


It seems appropriate to post something that is largely going to repeat a post I put up on this holiday a few years ago. And I'm going to have to change a link to go to the Internet Archive to do it. But it's worth it.

I commemorated MLK day by reading Dr. King's 1964 interview with Playboy (published in the January 1965 issue).

In the interview, Dr. King makes a lot of the same points he'd recently made in his Letter from Birmingham Jail and elsewhere, but why not, they needed to be repeated, and still need it today. His rhetorical style tends to the oratorical even in a one-on-one interview, but he doesn't put on a self-abnegatory show when asked to address personal matters, and he's willing to consider tactical and practical considerations as well as high moral ones. He also has the invaluable ability to issue the necessary caveats to his generalizations without getting sidetracked, sounding imbalanced, or otherwise losing the point. The same is true of his historical comparisons to causes not directly involving blacks; see, for instance, his reference to the Holocaust. I am also struck, mostly because I don't meet a lot of people like that and am always struck when I do, how thoroughly his theological training and his calling as a minister permeate the entirety of his thinking. This is an intellectual and moral force you're reading here, the way that Lincoln was one. Now you can see why King's name is also in our commemorative pantheon.

King has an interesting theory defending the morality of civil disobedience, which I've rarely seen stated so forthrightly, and towards the end he brings up the matter of social welfare spending, which is where I think he'd be most dismayed by the situation today. There's much else I could say about this, but I'll close here and just refer you to the interview for more.

Friday, January 12, 2018

English suites no. 19

No title could possibly sound duller and more academic than Four Pieces for Orchestra by Simon Jeffes. It's the kind of title you'd expect on some horrifying chunk of atonal modernism from the Second Viennese School. But nothing could be more unlike what you are about to hear.

Though Jeffes was classically trained, he wasn't really a classical musician. He was a free spirit who tried all the established forms of music, both classical and popular, of his time, and was dissatisfied with all of them. One day in 1972, in a delirium from food poisoning, he dreamed that he heard the words, "I am the proprietor of the Penguin Café. I will tell you things at random."

Through some logical process he was capable of discerning, this inspired Jeffes to found a scratch band called the Penguin Café Orchestra, to play little experimental pieces of his own composition. Its membership was variable, but a typical PCO lineup included a few violins and cellos, guitar and ukulele, perhaps some winds and a trombone, a drum kit, and a portative organ. It made quite an impact in the odder and more eccentric circles of British music before disbanding on Jeffes' early death from cancer in 1997.

Anyway, the Four Pieces for Orchestra are simply arrangements for full conventional orchestra of four of the PCO's greatest hits. There's a bit of "world music," a bit of pop, a bit of minimalism, a bit of a lot of things. If the minimalist repetition of the first movement gets to you, don't give up: the two slower movements that follow are quite different.

At least two of these pieces have achieved further life. I was reminded of Jeffes' work recently by hearing "Perpetuum Mobile" as the music closing the fourth episode of the HBO Handmaid's Tale. And "Music for a Found Harmonium" has actually entered the folk process. The title tells what it is, some noodling that Jeffes improvised on a harmonium he found abandoned on a street in Kyoto, Japan, during a PCO tour there. But what Jeffes didn't realize is that his tune was ideal for adaptation into an Irish reel. The all-star Irish band Patrick Street so adapted it: listen to this, it's hot stuff!

Since then it's been picked up by Irish and Irish-style folk musicians everywhere. (These guys have got a little surprise for you just after four minutes in.) Or, if you want to know what it sounded like when the Penguin Café Orchestra played it:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Davis and Davies

Drove up to UC Davis today for some library research. It's easier to get in than either Berkeley or Stanford, and has some things they don't. It also has an entire viticulture collection, which strangely was one of my destinations.

Since I don't get there often, I marveled again at how exceedingly difficult they make it to figure out how to pay for your parking.

I picked today for this expedition so that it could be concluded by sidling over to Davies Hall in the City for an SFS concert. I had dinner in the less-known, but better, of the two seafood restaurants in the little mill-port town of Crockett, and set out the last 30 miles in at 6:30. Took just under an hour until I pulled into the garage parking lot two blocks away, which was doing pretty well.

The hall was not very full, and got emptier after intermission when the program took an esoteric turn and introduced Schoenberg. Emanuel Ax, who's 68 and looks older, nevertheless retained an elegant touch at the keyboard throughout two piano concertos, one by Mozart (K.449) that's rather fetching, and Schoenberg's, which isn't. Schoenberg is a bright and colorful orchestrator, to be sure, but that's all I found attractive here.

MTT bookended the lot with two war ponies, the Leonore No. 3 and Till Eulenspiegel. (Ludwig van Beethoven and Richard Strauss, respectively.) Leonore's trumpet call from the tower was played from the top balcony, out in the hall with the door half-open for the first, softer, appearance, and inside for the second.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

King Albert the Not

This is just a little historical notice that's come to my attention.

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, her eldest son, Prince Albert Edward - who'd been known throughout his life to his intimates as "Bertie" - took the throne not under the name Albert, but as Edward VII. He gave a gracious accession speech explaining why. "He did not, he said, undervalue the name of Albert," which had been his father's name, "but there could be only one Albert," that late father of his. "He intended, therefore, to be known in future as Edward, a name borne by six of his predecessors." (Philip Magnus, King Edward the Seventh, p. 271)

One occasionally sees statements that this was Victoria's intention, that there should be only one Albert, her beloved husband. But if that were the case, why did she name her son Albert?

In fact, that's the opposite of the truth. Victoria had named her son and heir Albert (for her husband) Edward (for her father), and insisted that he name his eldest son and heir the even more self-aggrandizing Albert Victor, with the full intention that they would reign as the double-barreled Albert Edward I, Albert Victor I, and likewise down through the depths of time. (Magnus p. 85) This plan was thwarted when Albert Victor died young, but Victoria's stamp remained: she wanted all her descendants to bear the name Albert or Victoria (or Victor or Alberta) somewhere within their often-numerous forenames, and during her lifetime this was largely adhered to. (Did you know that her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II's full given name was Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert?)

It's well-known that the easygoing Bertie chafed at his parents' formidable fit-for-a-king upbringing. It's clear, too, though nothing is said explicitly, that he also chafed at being smothered by their names. There's several pieces of evidence for this:

1. Bertie "avoided carefully making any promise" to his mother about what the regnal names should be. (Magnus p. 85)

2. The common use name that Albert Victor's parents, and the boy's subsequent intimates, used for him informally was neither of these, but Eddy.

3. The interesting fact that the ukase decreeing the use of the names Albert and Victoria did not survive the Queen's death. All 3 of Bertie's sons bore the name Albert somewhere among the forenames, and all 3 of his daughters Victoria likewise, but of his grandchildren, the 6 born before the Queen's death all had Albert or Victoria, but the 3 born afterwards all didn't. This pattern was not entirely consistent among Victoria's other descendants, but it roughly held.

4. And Edward VII's accession speech, gracefully phrased as a tribute to his father but which served to get him out of the shadow of the name.

Victoria herself could have guessed this would happen. At the insistence of the then-Prince Regent, she had been christened Alexandrina Victoria, Alexandrina for her godfather, the Czar Alexander I, and Victoria as a sop to her mother whose name that was, but after infancy Alexandrina was entirely dropped and she was known purely as Victoria. (Julia Baird, Victoria the Queen, p. 17)

Edward VII's successors George V and Edward VIII had the "Albert" buried in their middle names somewhere, but at the latter's abdication, another first-named Albert-called-Bertie came to the throne. So what did he do? Followed his grandfather's example, chose the previously-used one among his middle names, and reigned as George VI.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

English suites no. 18

This entry is not a retelling of ancient music. It's pastiche. It's the musical facet of a 1950s scrub-brush-clean image of medieval or Renaissance times.

William Walton began his career in the 1920s as a continentally-oriented urbane sophisticate of a composer. He was the kind of person who hung out with the Sitwells, and indeed his most famous early work was a setting of Edith's verse.

But later his image changed to something more insular and home-grown. It may have been the exceedingly popular heartily English march Walton wrote for the coronation of George VI in 1937 that inspired Laurence Olivier to commission Walton to create the music for all three of Olivier's epic Shakespeare films of 1944-55.

The Shakespeare Suite (so titled by the conductor who put it together a few years later: Walton held that film music should stay in films) is a compilation from the incidental music to Olivier's Richard III from 1955. At most it's pseudo-Shakespearean, a major part of what marks the movie as a product of its time. But it's good stuff. It follows an epic and rather long prelude, mostly taken from the title music, which you can go back and listen to also if you like. But it's the suite that has the charm I'm looking for in this series. This is a rather broader and calmer performance than the one on the soundtrack.

The movements are titled: Fanfare (7:44), Music Plays (8:22), The Princes in the Tower (10:18), With Drums and Colours (13:14), I Would I Knew Thy Heart (14:38), and Trumpets Sound (18:28).

Sunday, January 7, 2018

you never live it down

A thought that occurs to me on looking at today's celebrity obituaries.

Here's actor and comedian Jerry Van Dyke. Can they mention his even more famous brother without implying that Jerry spent his career in Dick's shadow? They can. But they can't avoid naming the biggest embarrassment in Jerry's career: My Mother the Car. Almost as embarrassing is this personal admission: I watched that show.

And here's astronaut John Young. Not one of the biggest celebrities among the early astronauts, he was nevertheless an important pioneer in spaceflight. They mention he walked on the Moon, they mention that he was the first-ever commander of a space shuttle flight. But they don't mention that he was the first to fly solo in lunar orbit, or the second pilot ever to dock his spacecraft in flight (the first was Neil Armstrong). That stuff gets left out. So what do they expend more words on than anything else? The corned-beef sandwich. On the first manned Gemini flight (another pioneering checkmark for Young), he hid a take-out corned beef sandwich in his spacesuit pocket, and pulled it out in flight for his commander, Gus Grissom, to take a bite. Though this was not the first sandwich to fly in space, NASA threw a fit over crumbs floating around and getting in sensitive equipment. Young never lived it down. Even death did not release him.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

English suites no. 17

It's another 20th-century retelling of Renaissance music: Edmund Rubbra's Improvisations on Virginal Pieces by Giles Farnaby. Rubbra (1901-1986) was a generally seriously-minded modern composer who occasionally broke out into charm like this; Farnaby (1563-1640) was an Elizabethan composer who contributed extensively to the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, a collection of keyboard music which was a source for both this work and Richard Strauss's opera Die schweigsame Frau.

The pieces are: Farnaby's Conceit (0.00), His Dreame (3.33), His Humour (6.26), Loth to Depart (8.51), and Tell Me, Daphne (12.44).

Friday, January 5, 2018


There are certain medical procedures which have a reputation in the popular culture as being outstandingly painful or agonizing to go through. I can now add a third one to the list that I found no more than ... definitely uncomfortable. I wouldn't welcome it, but there was nothing searing about it.

1. Prostate exam
2. MRI
3. Root canal surgery

On the other hand, there's something non-medical that we're always told is easy to do, and ought to be easy, but which is instead always difficult, frustrating, time-consuming, even infuriating; and that thing is:

1. Electronic device migration

By which I mean, setting up to your preferences, learning the new protocols of, and transferring your programs and data to a new computer, cell phone, or other electronic device. The programs I use at work, which all manipulate a database format that has been standardized for literally fifty years, are the same way: they don't import the data from the old program accurately, and they require entirely new ways of accessing and editing it. (One of many reasons I dread the prospect of getting a smartphone, on which migration to a new device is likely to be frequent and, past experience suggests, particularly nightmarish.)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

theatre review

An inspiration took me to go see the national touring company of the recent Broadway musical Something Rotten! The nearest it was coming to me, at least on this round, was Sacramento, so thither I went today. Sacto is a two-hour drive from here at the best of times, which dictated a weekday matinee for me. I feared it would be somnolent, but an appreciative audience of all ages (including children: perhaps schools are still on winter break?) and a skilled cast with energy and enthusiasm assured it was not.

As a meta-show about Shakespeare, filled with deliberate anachronisms, this work occupies a conceptual space close to Shakespeare in Love, only less clever and less light-handed. The principal characters are a pair of journeyman play-writing brothers in 1590s London, struggling to make their way in a show biz dominated by Shakespeare, who is depicted as an acclaimed glam-style rock star with all the patina of unique renown that the real Shakespeare didn't acquire until he was more than a century dead. This Shakespeare pleases rapturous fans by giving rapper-style concerts consisting of repeating famous lines from his early plays. He also, it appears, has plagiarized most of his output, especially from our heroes.

Frustrated, one of the brothers consults a soothsayer, asking him to identify Shakespeare's greatest as-yet-unwritten play, so that he can plagiarize it back. The soothsayer's crystal ball is cloudy, and the best he can come up with is something about a ham omelette, so that's the topic of what the brothers put on. The crystal ball also produces a number of lines and references from far-future musicals, from The Sound of Music to Cats, which also find their way into the production, puzzling the recipients rather in the manner of the Roach in Dave Sim's Cerebus receiving intimations of (as of the date the story takes place) yet-unwritten comic book superheroes.

It was fast-paced, and silly, and bawdy, and full of rocked-up songs that were energetic without being either memorable or dull. I did learn, however, that the co-author was responsible for the screenplays of the movies of The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Spiderwick Chronicles, which are not achievements I would point to with pride. This musical was at least better than those. I am not at all unhappy I saw this, but going to Sacramento for the likes of it is not a thing I would wish to do very often.