Rout of the Rebel Angels, by William Blake

A Dog Starv'd

A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
      -- William Blake,
     "Auguries of Innocence"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Krazy Kaptioning - Part 1: Macy's Parade

[Closed captioning. Ever use it? If you're hearing-impaired, or live with someone who is, you almost certainly have had the experience. It's great, alerting even normally-hearing people to sounds and dialogue that they couldn't otherwise hear. That said, there are still some (mostly amusing) aspects to it. I'm expecting this to be a regular feature here, hence the optimistic "Part 1." We'll see!]

When I was growing up, when my hearing was less of an issue, I loved watching parades on TV. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, of course, but also (because this was in the Greater Philadelphia area) the Mummers' parade, and so on. Marching bands, y'know. Baton twirlers. The smiling faces of the crowd, flushing pink in the cold air and in the excitement and anticipation of whatever the holiday might bring.

Something happened in recent years, though, which has made the parade-watching TV experience very strange. I'm speaking of the Macy's parade in general here, and in particular of the Broadway-number performances that now make up the bulk of the "parade" (even though the performances occur when the performers are not parading, but planted statically in the street outside the department store).

By the time this nouveau tradition set in, my hearing was already at the point where -- unaided -- the sound pretty much reached my ears in this sort of amorphous wall of sound. I could see the pretty girls, and the handsome guys, and also some pretty guys, smiling smiling smiling. But the general effect of the sound was, like:
muted muted muted
louder louder louder
muted muted muted...
and so on.

So last week I'm watching the parade. Or rather, the TV is on in the living room, and I'm making the same pie I've made for 20 years: sour-cream pumpkin, and periodically going through the living room on some feline-related task, or whatever. The sound, however, is not on -- and the closed captions are. And that's when I realize the other big change that's happened in recent years -- namely, the apparent dessication of Broadway song-writing talent.

Yes, yes, I know. The Macy's parade isn't where you should expect to find extremely clever, baroquely interwoven lyrics. But really now.

One of the acts (and God and the families of all these young people please forgive me) in particular made me stop and stare at the lower half of the screen, unable to believe that the captions really said this:
We're... making magic!
Making magic!
Making magic!
We're making magic!
I kid you not. Man, I can't tell you how much I wish I'd turned the sound on, and the captions off, before encountering that clunker of a lyric. Lerner and Loewe must be spinning in their graves.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Big Rivers and the Mainstream

The text for today comes from Cyril Connolly (who died exactly 33 years ago); the source is his The Unquiet Grave, a collection of philosophical thoughts and observations which he published under the pseudonym "Palinarus":
The river of truth is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between them, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the mainstream.
Not a bad thing to keep in mind as we debate -- "argue for a lifetime" -- the relevance of the mainstream media.

While we're on the subject of Cyril Connolly and the mainstream, another of those weird little convergences of coincidence... The Wikipedia article on Connolly includes this tidbit:
In April 2007 the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography marked the twentieth anniversary of The Simpsons in its online newsletter, with approximations for the Simpson family from its list of subjects: Cyril Connolly was selected as the equivalent of Homer Simpson, being judged "a man who, like Homer, never wrote a great novel; whose genius, like Homer's, lay in failure; a man notable for his 'greed, his sloth, his gourmandizing, his inconsistency and melancholy.'"
I have no idea if this is a legitimate assessment of Connolly's work (or of Homer Simpson's, for that matter). But coincidentally, last night -- at least in our area -- the Fox TV network ran two episodes of The Simpsons, back to back, the second of which was a repeat of an episode called "You Kent Always Say What You Want." The episode is one of several in which the show lampoons the Fox TV network, especially cable's Fox News. (Always entertaining, these episodes are, given that the show itself airs on Fox.) Worth keeping an eye out for, should it show up again in repeats -- or of course, on DVD.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Jailhouse-Snitch Sweepstakes

Image copyright 2005 by 04evil (Karolina Michalak) at sxc.huYou probably thought (foolish child) that government's fascination and affiliation with gambling went no further than state-sponsored lotteries, or that the nadir of this affiliation had been reached with the current misAdministration's "Most-wanted Iraqis playing cards" of 2003.

Not so.

Prosecuting attorneys consider one of their best resources in investigating major crimes to be the use of so-called "jailhouse snitches." The idea behind this resource is that prisoners go to jail and, eager to establish a respectable place in the prison pecking order, boast among themselves about their exploits. When a particularly thorny major crime comes up for which the evidence is insufficiently convincing, a prosecutor can turn to the prison population for help, then. Help us convict this guy, goes the argument, and we'll see if we can get your sentence reduced (or conjugal visits arranged, or whatever the inducement might be).

You can probably see the potential for abuse here. If you reward people for telling tales on one another, people will tell those tales whether they're true or not -- particularly if the institution from which you've recruited is housed in penitentiaries (not exactly the most trustworthy bunch to begin with). Indeed, defense attorneys often will attack the prosecution's case if it relies overmuch on such "and then he whispered to me" sources. Which doesn't count for a whole heck of a lot, of course, if the jury believes the prosecutor's version of events.

Anyway, we here in Florida are nothing if not blessed with ingenious solutions to the complicated problems attendant on criminal investigations. Thus, some wizard in the Florida Department of Law Engorgement, er, Enforcement has come up with the Florida Cold Case Homicide Card Deck -- an idea long overdue.

The (ha ha) deal is to print up, on playing cards, descriptions of various unsolved cases which have otherwise run into a brick wall of one kind or another. Distribute 100,000 decks of these cards among Florida's currently more than 90,000 state prisoners. For each tip leading to an arrest, the source can receive between $1,000 and $50,000. (The lower end is what the state alone will pay; anything above that is made up for from other sources, like the victims' families. The tips themselves are submitted in a way which keeps the source anonymous, while still enabling them to be identified through a third party in order to receive the reward.)

A column (fee may be required in order to view the whole thing) in today's Tallahassee Democrat says:
Since the first decks of cards were distributed to inmates three months ago, 72 tips have already come in to the tip line from correctional institutions statewide , but quite a few more clues have come in... bypassing the reward and going directly to law-enforcement officials, including state attorney's offices.

“It has surprised us how many tips have come in from inmates who just want to do the right thing,” said [Wayne] Cross [director of the Florida Attorney General's Heartland Crime Stoppers program].

I'm surprised, too, and skeptical that the sole reason inmates would tip off authorities and bypass a reward would be for altruistic purposes. Maybe they don't trust the system to keep them anonymous when they collect their reward (though it's actually a pretty good system involving a secret code and a trusted friend), or maybe being in the good graces of a state attorney's office is worth more than the reward -- but I've probably been watching too many reruns of “The Wire.”

The bottom line is any tips gleaned from the prison population, or the general public, might help take a murderer off the streets and help a victim's family find some peace of mind.
Aside from my trouble with the word "might" in that last sentence, I also have difficulty with the idea -- as presented in the column, anyhow -- that rewards are available not just for convictions (problematic enough), but for simple arrests.

The FDLE page about the cards includes a quote from Voltaire: "To the living we owe respect; to the dead we owe the truth." It's a good quote, but we'd do well to remember to respect the living -- including those arrested on the basis of this program -- as well as to offer true, honest-to-God truth (and not some hired weasel's version of it) to the ghosts and survivors of the dead.

Interested in owning your own set of the cold-case cards? Purchase here. Two different decks available!

Update, 2:45pm: More information about the program is available at -- where else? -- the Poker Pro Magazine site.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Hinge Around Which a Song Swings

So-called 'hinge note': partial screen capture from Audacity audio editor, showing a portion of 'Je M'Ennuie'I'm not, Lord knows, a musician. But I do like to listen to music, and every now and then I can't help noticing something interesting.

I've been listening to one of my and Mrs. FLJerseyBoy's favorite soundtrack albums, from the 1991 film Henry and June. As you may know, the action in the film takes place in France (Paris, mostly) during the 1920s. (For purposes of this blog entry, that's really all you need to know about the film. If you're interested in finding out more about it, of course, you can always check the Internet Movie Database, and/or Wikipedia.)

Given the time and place, it's only natural that the soundtrack consist of 80-year-old music, whether by the original performers (like "I Found a Million-Dollar Baby," sung by Bing Crosby) or updated but still in keeping with the film's context and tenor.

Among the updated items on the soundtrack is the thirteenth, called "Je M'Ennuie." (Translated to English, this is, literally, "I'm bored." Perhaps it's got some idiomatic nuance beyond that, if you use the phrase in France.) This is a laaaaaaaannnguorous instrumental, arranged by Mark Adler for a trio: a throaty muted trumpet in the foreground, intro and background by a piano, and very subtly, for the most part, a drummer using brushes on the cymbal. It's that "for the most part" which interests me -- or rather, the exceptions to the rule.

When I started listening to this song the other day, I was in the car, alone, and sitting at a traffic light. Languor aside, it's a quite melodic tune, and it's easy to get into the gentle swing of it. It's also hard to ignore that trumpet, which is given such a major role that you almost forget the other instruments are there.

A little less than a minute into the song, the pitch is swinging like an autumn leaf in still air, groundwards: back and forth, down and down. And then all of a sudden something amazing happens: in the space of less than a second, everything stops, is silent, and the drummer wakes up and taps, very lightly, on his cymbal.

When I heard this the other day, my face broke into a big grin. I'm not sure why. The closest I've come was when I described the epiphany to Mrs. FLJerseyBoy; I referred her to the Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice in Wonderland. The following excerpt is from the book's Chapter 7; the Dormouse has been asleep (although occasionally singing or otherwise interjecting, while not really waking up) during the whole party:
"Suppose we change the subject," the March Hare interrupted, yawning. "I'm getting tired of this. I vote the young lady tells us a story."

"I'm afraid I don't know one," said Alice, rather alarmed at the proposal.

"Then the Dormouse shall!" [the Mad Hatter and the March Hare] both cried. "Wake up, Dormouse!" And they pinched it on both sides at once.

The Dormouse slowly opened his eyes. "I wasn't asleep," he said in a hoarse, feeble voice: "I heard every word you fellows were saying."
That's what the drummer is like at this point in the song: he suddenly wakes up, claims to have been participating all along, and immediately falls back into a slumber. At that point, the trumpet and piano -- but especially the trumpet -- goes right back up to the top of the stairs and begins another swinging descent, to a repeat of the whole cycle.

The illustration at the top of this post is a partial screen capture taken from the Audacity sound editor program; it shows a segment of the song, from about 1:36 into it and running to 1:40 or so. This is the second appearance of the suddenly conscious drummer (not the one which hit me in the car); the cymbal tap is that last flare in the wave, to the right, just to the right of that fat bump of a note (and subsequent silence) from the other two members of the trip.

If you'd like to hear a sample which includes this "hinge note," I've got one in three formats:
This sample actually includes not only the portion illustrated above, but a decent section before it -- starting at around 1:25 -- to give you an idea of the "falling leaf" effect and the general rhythm and tone of the song. Here's the, uh, waveform -- is that the word? (like I said, IANAM) -- of the full sample, from which the illustration at the top is taken:
(As above, but depicts a longer sample)

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