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It was on April 3 and it was a great day, well worth taking the time off. There were several fascinating talks, but the two pieces which gripped me by the throat and held me were The DC Youth Poetry Slam Team and singer-songwriter Be Steadwell. Steadwell's song had me in tears, and I do not cry easily at theater.

I wish these had been up sooner. More will be added, probably in separate posts.
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One of the more interesting panels at yesterday's conference dealt with internet (and other) surveillance in daily life. While all of the panelists were interesting, Madeline Ashby, who was introduced to me via her story in the Hieroglyph anthology, was the one whose ideas intrigued me the most.

Her main point about the current atmosphere of surveillance was that most Westerners had been conditioned to believe that there was someone all powerful, constantly watching, constantly judging our actions. She then went on to quote Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Later, she was more explicit about how the concept of an omnipotent, omnipresent God made it easier for us to shrug off actual surveillance revelations.

While I don't think she's entirely correct, I do think she has a point. I know people who, like me, watch British TV mysteries and are surprised that US police can't just go to the CCTV footage. (London has more CCTV cameras than all the other countries in the EU put together -- or at least it did two years ago when I read about it. And yes, one city has more than many other countries. The UK population is the most observed in the free world.) I think that level of casual surveillance is appalling, but too many people think it's a great idea in crime prevention.

We accept surveillance because we're scared even when the surveillance can't help us. There may be some crimes prevented by CCTV on every corner, but hoodies and desperation mean that it doesn't really cut down on property crimes (which have gone up slightly in the US even as the violent crime rates have mostly gone down). What CCTV can do is help to identify suspects after a crime has been committed. In other words, it doesn't prevent crime.

Internet surveillance, especially the big net trawl model which seems to be in use by our intelligence agencies, has the same problem. Because it's so comprehensive, it can be difficult to use it in prevention -- although, to be fair, some terrorist acts seem to have been caught in advance -- but it is a very useful tool for putting together what happened later.

The problem is, it can be a very useful tool for finding a crime when a particular person has become a thorn in the side of a government or other entity with influence. I'm against online piracy, but I'm pretty sure I have at least a couple of suspect downloads somewhere, and I think something analogous is true for most users.

The idea that every panelist kept coming back to, but Madeline Ashby really emphasized, was that it's easy to find the crime once the government (or whomever) is motivated to look for it.
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I took today off when I found out there was going to be an event at the National Academy of Sciences about the role of Science Fiction in inspiring science fact (Can We Imagine Our Way to a Better Future?).

The Twitter feed is here. And an article from the BBC about the book project is here.

Neal Stephenson was asked in 2011 why fiction writers weren't providing the type of inspiration they had in the past. The result is the short story collection Hieroglyph. Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, Elizabeth Bear, Kathleen Ann Goonan (my favorite!), and several other writers whose work I'm now trying to get hold of appeared on various panels at today's conference in support of the book and the idea.

The event was live-streamed, but I don't know if the stream will be archived anywhere.


Mar. 28th, 2014 11:54 am
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Last night I attended a lecture with performances by Robert Wyatt on George Gershwin's life and work. The information about his life was fairly pedestrian, but I learned a couple of new things. The first was that his jawline was irregular because he'd been kicked by a horse. The second was that the Lullaby for Strings pre-dates "Vi's Song" in Blue Monday. The tunes are nearly identical and, for various reasons, I was under the impression that the Lullaby was the later setting.

Mr. Wyatt is not a brilliant pianist. He played the single piano version of the Rhapsody in Blue correctly, but without a great deal of variation. There are a couple of places of great warmth and poignancy in the Rhapsody and they were distinctly cool.

The bits that were best were where we heard new, for a given value of new, Gershwin music. Josefa Rosanska shared a composition teacher with George Gershwin (and they may have been an item for awhile) and she had two pieces called the Novelettes that were left to the Library of Congress upon her death. He played a few sketches from Gershwin's 1924 Composition book, one of which was clearly an inversion of one of the themes used in Rhapsody in Blue, and two of which were part of the Five Preludes (only three were published) which he performed in 1926. They were thrilling to hear, even in their somewhat unfinished states. He also introduced me to "Sleepless Night" in both its forms which is another unpublished work. Those moments were lovely.

As is so often the case when talking about Gershwin's music, no mention was made of the Second Rhapsody or the Cuban Overtures among the classical works and very little was discussed about the major transition in Gershwin's tunes that occurs when he begins to work with his brother Ira in 1924.

There were some notes about Gershwin's private life. A list of his known girlfriends, including his long-term relationship with Kay Swift, was included. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but no mention was made of the fact that, based on independent diary entries by several different people, it was a fairly open secret that Ms Swift was his domme. Other than bare mentions in a couple of biographies, no one has ever explored that dynamic and what it might mean to his music.

Personal anecdotes under this cut. )

I feel like last night had many missed moments. There were sheet music pictures that should have had some commentary, including one that was definitely drawn by Gershwin himself. I'm really glad I went to the lecture, but I also wanted so much more.

Some of my favorites:
Dave Grusin's arrangement of Prelude II
Solo Piano version of Rhapsody in Blue I was unfamiliar with the performer, Jack Gibbons, before this. (If it feels fast to you, remember, Gershwin's Piano Roll version is nearly six minutes shorter.)
The Second Rhapsody by Michael Tilson Thomas and the LA Symphony
The aria "My Man's Gone Now" performed by Florence Quivar I couldn't find the version I first heard, with Wilma Shakesnider.
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Once again I volunteered for this discussion at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. This doesn't mean I was on any of the panels, just for the record; only that I did things like make certain people had water, directed them places, and generally dogsbodied for anyone who needed me.

At the dinner (it was little bites by 30 different chefs stationed all over the museum) on Friday night, I ran into the son of one of the restauranteuses. H loves the ocean. He's looking forward to turning 8 soon, so that he can finally learn scuba, even if he can only do it in swimming pools until he's 16. He stated that we need to protect the oceans and the environment, even if it were at the cost of our own lives. He asked intelligent questions about the oil leak in the Gulf. When I mentioned Padre Island, H looked stricken and said, "The sea turtles!"

Look again at that number. A seven year old was one of the most intelligent people I spoke with in two days. The adults were knowledgeable about their own aspects of any given issue, and the Gulf leak was mentioned, but not pursued as it wasn't the focus of the conference.

But again, I was struck by the smugness of the people involved. In a predominantly black city, there were no black faces and few of any race other than white. One woman spoke contemptuously (to my ears at least) of the fact that most Americans made their decisions on which fish to buy on price point. The only comment I made was to her pointing out that in the current economic crisis, PRICE POINT was amazingly relevant to people. I used my own unemployment as an example.

One gentleman on the panel came up to me afterward and said he was out of the restaurant business because he was interested in making certain that the fishermen were not being exploited, the end-users got fish they could afford, and the resources were being husbanded.

I also had a dissatisfactory conversation with another volunteer who was shocked, shocked I say, that I suggested putting up fliers for Smithsonian programs in Libraries and Rec Centers in DC. Her point that these symposia need to sell tickets is fine. However, her statement that people who go to these places (i.e. the poorer, darker folks of the District) wouldn't be interested is a flat out lie.

When I came home on Friday night, two of my neighbors were discussing the Gulf leak. They noted the crime to the ecosystems, the problems of employment that may arise, and the way it will effect prices for gas, heating oil, and fish. One of them pointed out that unbalancing the ecosystems may spread diseases or allow insect invasions in other areas which could cause more and different issues. I know these men. One of them isn't a high school graduate. Both are unemployed. That doesn't make either of them stupid or uninvolved with the world and the issues around them.
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Seriously, I'm writing up my notes about a joint lecture given by a retired BAU member and the current head of the BSU. If you are interested in the FBI or Psychopaths, please check behind the cut.

Read more... )


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