Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Minuit Chretiens ( Warning: Film Spoilers ahead)

Minuit, chrétiens, c'est l'heure solennelle,
Où l'Homme Dieu descendit jusqu'à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.

This Christmas Eve I went to my aunt & uncle's church; my uncle was playing the organ for their Christmas presentation. The message was good and interesting; their pastor preached on the origins and history of the famous French carol, "Minuit Chretiens", known here as "O Holy Night". Some of what he said seems to have been apocryphal, or at least, not in Wikepedia. It wasn't the first song to be sung on the air after the invention of AM radio, for example; I don't know if the church really rejected it, as was suggested tonight, after learning the composer was Jewish and that the man who wrote the lyrics had recently embraced Communism, but it fits. I have always liked this song. It's beautiful when sung by someone who can sing, and its message is very Christian. No jingle bells here.

Le monde entier tressaille d'espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.
Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance.
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempte

Literal translation:
The whole world waits in hope/during the night that gives it a Savior. People, down on your knees, await your deliverence//Noël, Noël, here is your redeemer/NoëlNoël, here is your redeemer.

Le Rédempteur a brisé toute entrave:
La terre est libre, et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n'était qu'un esclave,
L'amour unit ceux qu'enchaînait le fer.
Qui lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C'est pour nous tous qu'il naît, qu'il souffre et meurt.
Peuple debout! Chante ta délivrance,

The Redeemer has broken all obstacles:
The land is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those who chained iron.
Who will tell him our gratitude,
This is for all of us he was born, he suffers and dies.
People standing! Sing your deliverance,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur!

But that's not what I wanted to tell you.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Messiness isn't the problem

Okay so I was listening to Monica Crowley today. She made an interesting comment about the mess that is Obamacare, at least now as people scramble to get on the website to try to apply so many problems. She said "this is what socialism is like. Of course it's a mess. Whatever you try to impose socialism, it's always a mess."  The statement told  me   two things about Monica Crowley. First off, she was nowhere near Leningrad or Moscow in the spring of 1992. I know this because she would've remembered the messiness it comes with unmanteling socialism.  She doesn't remember seeing cars full of  worthless rubles lying in the field rusting away. She doesn't remember people protesting on the street because they were learning that their pensions, guaranteed to them since babyhood, no longer existed.  She does not remember the crime wave filling  the vaccuum that communism left behind.

Secondly, she is very naive about our health system, which is about as non-socialist as Lenin dressing up as Saul Alinsky at a party hosted by Lillian Helmann and Kate Hepburn on halloween.

Even completely private health insurance plans change the economic relationship between patients and care in a way that distorts the value of services rendered, and that artificially or temporarily  protects buyers from experiencing the cost.  I say "artificially" because even though the insurance company may pay the bill, the patient is saddled with increased costs in the form of deductibles, copays, or in the worst cases, being dropped from the plan.

And I say "temporarily" because it seems like the contemporary system was a house of cards, particularly when the government stepped in to forbid companies from avoiding the sickest of patients in order to decrease their risk.  An insurance company can no more survive if required to "insure" everyone than a car insurance company can afford to give as cheap and comprehensive policy to riskier drivers as they can to statistically safer drivers.  But insurance had another self-destruct command along with it:  higher prices for care.

This was more clearly a problem after Medicare was enacted in 1967.  Medicare has famously lax means for policing itself.  I've talked a little about my work before, but I work in a hospital identifying and getting insurance authorization of people needing inpatient psychiatric care.  Or I get authorization if the payor (insurance or whatever charitable or public fund is available) demands it.  This is about 99% of the time.  The one insurance that NEVER and I mean NEVER requires precert is Medicare.   Like the honey badger, Medicare don't care.   Medicare recipients may have a secondary insurance that I need to call and get authorization, but the Medicare itself is uninterested in whether the patient really needs the and because it is a vehicle of politics and not of risk, decisions are made about it in order to scratch backs, not save money or ensure good care.  This helped drive prices up for all insurances.

If health care was still delivered on an individual basis, that is, with the practitioner and patient or family bartering for the best price, one that gave the practitioner a fair reimbursement but that the patient could afford, I can't help thinking things would be better.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why Are You Still Here???

Not you, I mean.  I mean disgruntled employees.

So, OK, I hate Facebook....not because I don't think it's an awesome invention, and not because I don't like my family or friends, who seem to have abandone their email and phones to join what they apparently feel is a joyous cacophony in order to communicate with the rest of us.  Which is me.

Friday, October 18, 2013

To Russian, With "Enough" ( and "Through" and "Bough")

I've just started working my way through a textbook on Russian again.  Maybe I'm a hopeless optimist, maybe I'm just stubborn, but I can't seem to leave it aside, as hard as it is.

I've been studying languages for a long time.  I have a degree in German.  French, Spanish...they all came very easily to me.

Russian is sneaky.  You think, oh, this is gonna be a breeze! after you see that the alphabet isn't that hard.  They give you that, then they painstakingly show you how to write cyrillic cursive, the only problem with which is being able to read your own cyrillic cursive; then they give you some vocabulary and useful phrases.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Russian Nightmare

Russia is a country where tragedy and angst are guests that never leave.

That is not to say that Russia or Russians hold no amount of humor and light, I'm sure.  I've never been there, but I collect Soviet "anecdotii" (jokes), wickedly sarcastic and funny views of the burdens Russians and others endured throughout that era.

Now, it is not a Communist economy the people have to fear, but
another Russian tragedy, and it is the direct result of State[i] intervention....albeit intervention that is no doubt backed by a sincere wish to "help people."

A designer drug called "Krokodil", a sort of home-made desomorphine  is making the rounds in the slums of Siberia and Ukraine.  As far as I can see, "Krokodil" is suicide in a syringe.  It is made from codeine--available over the counter in Russia--iodine; and something called red phosphorous, right in the user(s)' home in a pot on the stove.  The high from  Krokodil lasts about an hour and a half, and supposedly painful withdrawal symptoms set in right away so the ability to avoid injecting more is probably nil.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

1) Collect Underwear; 2) ? 3) Make profit

One of my favorite South Park episodes is about the Underwear Gnomes.  It is also about Rob Reiner as a prototype of Mayor Bloomberg, going around trying to force people to stop smoking, and that's a funny plot, but the subplot is funnier.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to Speak German (for anglophones)*

(*people who speak English, not angels on phones or people who only use their phone when they are inside a triangle.)

Speaking German is, indeed,  particularly easy if you can speak or read English, in part because if you didn't, you wouldn't have been able to understood anything I've written so far.  We could even make horrible fun of you if we wanted. Nya, nya, silly non English speaker.

So now that we've got past that, how does one speak German?  It is very easy.  There are 2 main steps:

1)  Speak English, except with a German accent.

Don't know a German accent?  Search Hulu for old episodes of "Hogan's Heroes".    Listen to David Hasselhoff  or Heino (only for educational purposes, of course.).  Watch "Wings of Desire" or "Das Boot" in the original German.  Download a German pop mp3 from the 80s, the only decade in the history of Germany during which American youth listened to German pop music (Look for names like Nena, Kraftwerk, Peter Schilling, usw.  (usw is German for etc).  )

If you mention you are looking for examples of German accents and people tell you about videos of a funny looking little man with a mustache who made speaches to large throngs of people and says "den Deutschen Voelk" a lot, DO NOT LISTEN TO WHAT THIS MAN SAYS.  First of all, he was Austrian and had a very silly Austrian accent.  Second of all, his grammar was at best questionable.  Thirdly, he was a vegan and we all know what kind of havoc the vegans cause when left to their own devices.  You don't want to go there.  Trust me.

2)  Pronounce everything.  For instance, pronounce Fahrvergnuegen "Fahr-fair-g[hard g]-new-g[hard g]-en," not Fahrferngully or something like that.

3) Put all verbs at the end of the sentence.  Or, if you are reading aloud, "All Ferbs at ze end of ze Sentence pootten!"

Now you are ready to speak German!

Would you like to learn to speak French?  It's easy.

Just don't pronounce ANYTHING.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tax Dirge, or What I Did on My Payroll Tax Vacation

Each year I put together a song mix that gives me solace and a chance for catharsis as I do my taxes.  Here is the story of this years' list.

At the end of 2012, we were informed our “payroll tax holiday” was coming to an end.  What payroll tax holiday?  I didn’t know we were on a holiday, did you?  Well, then our first paychecks of the new year came around, and it became obvious that, if we weren’t on holiday before, it sure was over now.

Still, as I pull all my receipts and forms together, planning my little trip to a village near Pinckney with all of them to get “TAXES FROM HELL!” stamped on the envelope, I fondly remember those days last year when I got paid a little bit more.  And then I remember that that means I’m paying more in taxes, so it doesn’t matter.

Regardless this year I’m presenting a tax dirge that reflects that sentiment.  Listen to these songs as you work through that ritual that all working Americans share, and if you get too depressed, just remember:  the Canadians will have to do the same damn thing in May, and their taxes are higher.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to read music?

This is sort of a continuation of my rant against what is called "Praise and Worship" music in the Christian world.  It is called "Praise and Worship" music, but it doesn't sound like that; it can sound like a couple of hamsters singing Dave Clark Five oldies, it can sound like elderly hippies reliving their Newport Festival days (post electric, of course), it can sound like someone scratching their fingers on a chalk board, but it has never sounded like praise and worship music, or any kind of music, to me.

And as I have said before, I have nothing against pop music.  If Beyonce songs or Barbra Streisand songs or especially Ramones songs were being sung by "worshippers" who had some talent, that might be fun!  And if the words of those were changed into something that is meaningful to Christians, great!

Nor am I suggesting that "Praise and Worship" ers lack talent.  I see their talent whenever they let the odd hymn slip into their repertoire. I've heard singers who can belt it out like Marian Anderson and I've heard guitarists accompany a funky version of "Jesus Loves Me" that rivals not onnly Phil Keaggy, but Eric Clapton segue into a piece that recalls all the spiritual oomph of a spoonful of Splenda.   I just don't like the songs. The melodies are predictible, the lyrics inane and repetitive.  Bob Franke, a folk songwriter who is a Christian (as opposed to a Christian folk-song writer) coined a phrase, "Jesus-is-my-girlfriend music."  Yup, that's what it sounds like.  A bunch of metrosexual young men and a few bubbly, smiley young women singing "Lord I love you, i just love you, Lord I love you, I just love you....."

And even though the melodies are hopelessly predictible (I've never had trouble singing songs with the band whihch I'd never heard before, I guess where the next note is and there it is!), no one sings them.  No one sings them because they don't know them if they're over 30, and no one besides me is foolish enough to risk singing the wrong note.  Even though most churches have some way of "teaching" the songs (which involves Power Point, an overly enthusiastic "praise and worship leader", and featuring the same song weekly for awhile), people don't learn it.  You will never here a great congregation spontaneously erupt in a chorus of "Blessed Be Your Name" the same way they will sing "Christ the Lord Has Risen Today" or "How Great Thou Art."  Now, maybe that's because people over thirty often grew up hearing the older songs every Sunday morning.  But there was one huge difference:  they had hymnals.

Hymnals are very handy.  If you've never seen one before, think of a book with a bunch of tunes written into it.  Not just the words, not just the letters of the guitar chords, but the tunes.  On what is called staff paper.

Oh, you say, I grew up in church that sang hymns, and I never learn to read music.  Yes you did.  It's not all that hard.  When you were standing by grandma and looking at the words and notes to "Nearer My God to Thee", and you weren't quite familiar with it, it soon became obvious that as the notes got higher on the page, so did grandma's voice.  I was lucky enough to have a grandma who sang alto, and if I sat between her and my mom, I could see that her voice sometimes went down when mom's went up....and that the top notes (moms) and second to the top notes (grandma's) corresponded.   I'm not saying that you could have gotten up in front of an audience at Carnegie hall and tried to sight read a new song, I'm just saying that  the business of hymn singing, which often involves picking up that hymnal book thingy and looking on as you or the next person sings, exposes us to the fundamentals of reading music. When you combine the act of listening to a melody, one that might be quite unpredictable and therefore more memorable, with those fundamentals, it's a lot easier to learn how to sing hymns.

More importantly, Praise and Worship music doesn't do that, and until it does, I think it is doomed to be music that is performed for an audience rather than something a congregation sings together.  

Saturday, January 05, 2013

When did Bonhoeffer know? and how?

I'm not going to say anything in particular about the recent mass shooting that everyone else is talking about in the last month, except to say I don't know what needs to happen to prevent things like this from happening.  In fact, I don't know how we'd know if such a tragedy was prevented.

Statist culture, and in particular, liberal culture, can defy logic.  But to really reach the heights of nonsense, it takes a union.  And the politicians indebted to unions.