Your Lying Eyes

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28 June 2012

Roberts Says Health Care Law OK

This was a smart and prudent thing for the Chief Justice to do. Healthcare in this country is a mess and while this law also is a mess and was passed under shady circumstances - in the waning days of a lame duck congress bypassing normal Senate rules - Congress should have wide discretion in tackling the problem. The individual mandate does not impose a disproportionate penalty on those who forgo healthcare coverage.

01 June 2012

He Gave an Order

A cyber-attack program, aimed at Iran's nuclear development capabilities, initiated in the Bush administration and developed by a small group within military intelligence, owes its effectiveness to the astonishing leadership abilities of President Obama. That's according to a lengthy article in the NY Times. Obama Order Sped Up Cyberattacks Against Iran crows the headline.

When one of the "worms" the program had developed escaped into the general cyber-community and became known in 2010, Obama grabbed the reins.
“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.
Those lucky guys in that room, getting to witness greatness at work before their very eyes - the leg tingles. And don't discount the momentousness of the President's vision.
Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games [the code name for the program], was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade.
You see, Obama's helmsmanship is up there with Truman and Eisenhower - don't kid yourself. Well, I don't want to ruin it for you - read the whole thing - there's more, much much more. You don't want to miss this gripping tale of decisiveness, boldness, and penetrating vision. A story about espionage, code-breaking, immense technical hurdles, rogue agents, multi-agency and international cooperation and intrigue and unintended consequences - why would you think it would be about anything besides Obama?

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It was 45 Years Ago Today

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released 45 years ago today. Among the tons of ink and gigabytes of pixels that have been spent discussing this seminal work, perhaps none were more controversial than those in the notorious review by Richard Goldstein in the New York Times. Mr. Goldstein, remarkably only just turning 23 at the time, wrote of his general disappointment with the album. I have been unable to find a copy of the review in any form other than the pdf behind the NYT paywall. For the curious, and in the interest of fair use, I am providing extended, annotated excerpts below. Though I believe it to be a powerful work and to-date one of the most unique sounding works of recorded music I have heard, I believe the young Mr. Goldstein made some excellent points.
The Beatles spent an unprecedented four months and $100,000 on their new album, “Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band” . Like fathers-to-be, they kept a close watch on each stage of its gestation. For they are no longer merely superstars. Hailed as progenitors of a Pop avant garde, they have been idolized as the most creative members of their generation. The pressure to create an album that is complex, profound and innovative must have been staggering. So they retired to the electric sanctity of their recording studio, dispensing with their adoring audience, and the shrieking inspiration it can provide.

The finished product reached the record racks last week; the Beatles had supervised even the album cover – a mind-blowing collage of famous and obscure people, plants and artifacts. The 12 new compositions in the album are as elaborately conceived as the cover. The sound is a pastiche of dissonance and lushness. The mood is mellow, even nostalgic. But, like the cover, the over-all effect is busy, hip and cluttered.
The cover was truly mind-blowing, but additionally it was a gate-sleeve, with cardboard cutouts inside and, most remarkably (and usefully) of all, the lyrics to all the songs were printed on the back. This was all unprecedented.
Like an over-attended child, “Sergeant Pepper” is spoiled. It reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, assorted animal noises and a 41-piece orchestra. On at least one cut, the Beatles are not heard at all instrumentally ["She's Leaving Home" - Paul singing double-tracked over an orchestral arrangement - YLE]. Sometimes this elaborate musical propwork succeeds in projecting mood. The “Sergeant Pepper” theme is brassy and vaudevillian. “She's Leaving Home,” a melodramatic domestic saga, flows on a cloud of heavenly strings. And, in what is becoming a Beatle tradition, George Harrison unveils his latest excursion into curry and karma, to the saucy accompaniment of three tambouras, a dilaraba, a table, a sitar, a table harp, three cellos and eight violins.

Harrison's song, “Within You and Without You” [sic] is a good place to begin dissecting “Sergeant Pepper.” Though it is among the strongest cuts, its flaws are distressingly typical of the album as a whole. Compared with “Love You To” (Harrison's contribution to “Revolver”), this melody shows an expanded consciousness of Indian ragas. Harrison's voice, hovering midway between song and prayer chant, oozes over the melody like melted cheese. On sitar and tamboura, he achieves a remarkable Pop synthesis. Because his raga motifs are not mere embellishments but are imbedded into the very structure of the song, “Within You and Without You” [sic!] appears seamless. It stretches, but fits.

What a pity, then, that Harrison's lyrics are dismal and dull. “Love You To” exploded with a passionate sutra quality, but “Within You and Without You” [sigh] resurrects the very cliches the Beatles helped bury: “With our love/ We could save the world/ If they only knew.” All the minor scales in the Orient wouldn't make “Within You and Without You” profound.
To my ears it's a bit wearisome as well, but the little interlude with the Indian instruments playing off each other provides enough heat to keep it interesting.
The obsession with production, coupled with a surprising shoddiness in composition, permeates this entire album. There is nothing beautiful on “Sergeant Pepper.” Nothing is real and there is nothing to get hung about. The Lennon raunchiness has become mere caprice in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Paul McCartney's soaring Pop magnificats have become merely politely profound. “She's Leaving Home” preserves all the orchestrated grandeur of “Eleanor Rigby,” but its framework is emaciated. This tale of a provincial lass who walks out on a repressed home life, leaving parents sobbing in her wake, is simply no match for those stately, swirling strings. Where “Eleanor Rigby” compressed tragedy into poignant detail, “She's Leaving Home” is uninspired narrative, and nothing more. By the third depressing hearing, it begins to sound like an immense put-on.
The album as a whole has an ironic feel - nothing to be taken too seriously, with the exception of the overbearing Harrison tune. The underlying concept of "Pepper" is one of a put-on, mostly not meant to be taken too seriously. Consider the source material for the 4 Lennon songs: a child's drawing, an antique circus poster, a cereal commercial, and a newspaper.
There certainly are elements of burlesque in a composition like “When I'm 64,” which poses the crucial question “Will you still need me/ Will you still feed me/ when I'm 64?” But the dominant tone is not mockery; this is a fantasy retirement, overflowing with grandchildren, gardening and a modest cottage on the Isle of Wight. The Beatles sing, “We shall scrimp and save” with utter reverence. It is a strange fairy tale, oddly sad because it is so far from the composer's reality. But even here, an honest vision is ruined by the background which seeks to enhance it.
It's hard to imagine how else it could have been played though. The 20's arrangement is needed to maintain the goof, and it had to sound as good as the rest of the album. The song clearly fits well with the "Pepper" concept.
“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is an engaging curio, but nothing more. It is drenched in reverb, echo and other studio distortions. Tone overtakes meaning and we are lost in electronic meandering. The best Beatle melodies are simple if original progressions braced with pungent lyrics. Even their most radical compositions retain a sense of unity.
But the imagery is remarkable - it's a children's song (though ruined as one by the LSD link).]
But for the first time, the Beatles have given us an album of special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent. And for the first time, it is not exploration which we sense, but consolidation. There is a touch of the Jefferson Airplane, a dab of Beach Boys vibrations, and a generous pat of gymnastics from the Who.
Part of the constant changing the Beatles pulled off was to continue to adapt to changing tastes and adopting what they were hearing elsewhere. Clearly Pepper owes a great deal to Pet Sounds and "Good Vibrations" and probably to the other mentioned influences, but does anyone listen to the Airplane or mid-sixties Who albums anymore?
The one evident touch of originality appears in the structure of the album itself. The Beatles have shortened the “banding” between cuts so that one song seems to run into the next. This produces the possibility of a Pop symphony or oratorio, with distinct but related movements. Unfortunately, there is no apparent thematic development in the placing of cuts, except for the effective juxtaposition of opposing musical styles. At best, the songs are only vaguely related.
The segues also tend to blend musically, key-to-key. The best is the seamless transition from the last chicken cluck of "Good Morning, Good Morning" into the distorted electric guitar intro of the "Sgt. Pepper Reprise".
With one important exception, “Sergeant Pepper” is precious but devoid of gems. “A Day in the Life” is such a radical departure from the spirit of the album that it almost deserves its peninsular position (following the reprise of the “Sergeant Pepper” theme, it comes almost as an afterthought). It has nothing to do with posturing or put-on. It is a deadly earnest excursion in emotive music with a chilling lyric. Its orchestration is dissonant but sparse, and its mood is not whimsical nostalgia but irony.

The remainder of the review concentrates on this remarkable song. Geoff Emerick, the album's Grammy-winning engineer, has a terrific, edge-of-your-seat retelling of the making of this song in his book "Here, There and Everywhere".
With it, the Beatles have produced a glimpse of modern city life that is terrifying. It stands as one of the most important Lennon-McCartney compositions, and it is a historic Pop event.

“A Day in the Life” starts in a description of suicide. With the same conciseness displayed in “Eleanor Rigby,” the protagonist begins: “I read the news today, oh boy.” This mild interjection is the first hint of his disillusionment; compared with what is to follow, it is supremely ironic. “I saw the photograph,” he continues, in the voice of a melancholy choir boy:
He blew his mind out in a car
He didn't notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They'd seen his face before
Nobody was really sure
If he was from the House of Lords

“A Day in the Life” could never make the Top 40, although it may influence a great many songs which do. Its lyric is sure to bring a sudden surge of Pop tragedy. The aimless, T.S. Eliot-like crowd, forever confronting pain and turning away, may well become a common symbol. And its narrator, subdued by the totality of his despair, may reappear in countless compositions as the silent, withdrawn hero.

Musically, there are already indications that the intense atonality of “A Day in the Life” is a key to the sound of 1967. Electronic-rock, with its aim of staggering an audience, has arrived in half-a-dozen important new releases. None of these songs has the controlled intensity of a “A Day in the Life,” but the willingness of many restrained musicians to “let go” means that serious aleatory-pop may be on the way.
Well that never really happened, though sonically music certainly got a lot more challenging in Pepper's aftermath, but probably not as a result of "A Day in the Life". Unless you count Lennon's own work - Revolution 9 and Plastic Ono Band. But it never caught on beyond the fringe, for obvious reasons.
Ultimately, however, it is the uproar over the alleged influence of drugs on the Beatles which may prevent “A Day in the Life” from reaching the mass audience. The song's refrain, “I'd like to turn you on,” has rankled disk jockeys supersensitive to “hidden subversion” in rock 'n' roll. In fact, a case can be made within the very structure of “A Day in the Life” for the belief that the Beatles – like so many Pop composer's – are aware of the highs and lows of consciousness.

The song is built on a series of tense, melancholic passages, followed by soaring releases. In the opening stanza, for instance, John's voice comes near to cracking with despair. But after the invitation, “I'd like to turn you on,” [sic] the Beatles have inserted an extraordinary atonal thrust which is shocking, even painful, to the ears. But it brilliantly encases the song and, if the refrain preceding it suggests turning on, the crescendo parallels a drug-induced “rush.”

The bridge begins in a staccato crossfire. We feel the narrator rising, dressing and commuting by rote. The music is nervous with the dissonance of cabaret jazz. A percussing drum melts into a panting railroad chug. Then Found my way upstairs and had a smoke Somebody spoke and I went into a dream

The words fade into a chant of free, spacious chords, like the initial marijuana “buzz.” But the tone becomes mysterious and then ominous. Deep strings take us on a Wagnerian descent and we are back to the original declaration, “I read the news today, oh boy.”

Actually it is difficult to see why the BBC banned “A Day in the Life,” because its message is, quite clearly, the flight from banality. It describes a profound reality, but it certainly does not glorify it. And its conclusion, though magnificent, seems to represent a negation of self. The song ends on one low, resonant note that is sustained for 40 seconds. Having achieved the absolute peace of nullification, the narrator is beyond melancholy, But there is something brooding and irrevocable abut his calm. It sounds like destruction.

What a shame that “A Day in the Life” is only a coda to an otherwise undistinguished collection of work. We need the Beatles, not as cloistered composers, but as companions. And they need us. In substituting the studio conservatory for an audience, they have ceased being folk artists, and the change is what makes their new album a monologue.

Their days were numbered once they stopped touring, for sure. Let it Be was McCartney's idea to go back to touring and be a real band, but there was little interest, and the other Beatles grew tired of his overbearing direction. John lost interest in the Beatles and George was branching out into relationships with outside musicians (like Clapton) which he soon found more rewarding.

Forty-five years later, the more memorable songs are "With a Little Help From My Friends" (a mostly-McCartney song written for Ringo unmentioned in the review and made into a big hit by Joe Cocker), "Lucy in the Sky", "When I'm Sixty Four", and "A Day in the Life". Like Pet Sounds, Pepper stands out among other sixties albums in its remarkable sound and the perfection of its execution, along with its collection of good-to-excellent tunes. Other Beatles albums had better songs as songs, but no other collection was so flawlessly recorded.

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