Pat Metheny – Orchestrion Review

Orchestrion. Sounds like the Pat Metheny Group, but it’s not.  Pat’s going solo on this one with a band full of bots.  And he’s touring with them too.  I’ve got my tickets for the May 20 date in Boston.

Ok, I’ve read the liner notes on the Orchestrion CD and have seen several videos of Pat explaining the concept and I understand what’s he’s done, but not how he’s done it exactly.  Briefly here, he had some instruments designed for him that are solenoid based and operate like pneumatics.  He programmed the instruments to play the compositions.  He then improvises with his guitar over the mechanical ensemble, which includes a bottle organ, basses, bells, marimba, vibraphone, drums, pianos and more.  No Lyle, Steve or Antonio.

My question.  When these bots solo on stage, do we clap? I will.

If you are reading this review, you probably already have the CD, and will instantly know what I mean when I say the music on Orchestrion is self- referential, which for me, as a Pat Metheny fan for many years, is a good thing.  I was worried that the music would be inaccessible or overshadowed by the technological aspects of the project.  Kind of like hearing the signature Synclavier when Pat recorded with it for the first time.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but over time, came to enjoy that expansive, Sun Ra type exploration.   But I was pleasantly surprised, and as is true with most of Pat’s compositions, true for me at least, with each listen, I hear more, and the more I hear, the more I like.  What is immediately noticeable are the references to other works including Secret Story, Off Ramp, Day Trip, Speaking of Now and on the last tune, a combination of the motifs in The Way Up and elements of a tune from Imaginary Day.

Orchestrion is another masterpiece and I can’t wait to watch and listen to Pat pull it off live.

Dems Who Voted No To Health Care Bill

How did your representative vote on the Health Care Reform Bill? Surprisingly, 34 Democrats did not stand with the President and voted no.  I compiled some interesting facts on some of these naysaying Democrats and the states from which they hail.

2 of the 3 Arkansas Democrats voted no.  Marian Berry and Mike Ross.  In the Land of Opportunity, 20% of the population has no health insurance at all according to the Center for American Progress.

Not to be outdone by Arkansas, Alabama’s entire House delegation voted no – 2 Democrats and 5 Republicans, a state in which 21% of its residents are without health insurance.

Two Barts voted in favor of the health care reform overhaul: Bart Gordon of Tennessee (who voted no the first time around) and Bart Stupak of Michigan.  One of Mr. Stupak’s constituents by the way is filmmaker, author and activist, Michael Moore.

There are no Republican members of the House in Massachusetts.  Of the 10 Democrats, 9 voted yes.  Only Stephen Lynch voted no, directly snubbing Ted Kennedy’s family and legacy.  Many from Lynch’s congressional district voted for Scott Brown in the special Senate election.  Lynch could be looking to replicate Brown’s success by focusing on fiscal restraint and job creation.  Lynch justified his vote against health care reform by saying essentially that what’s good for the country is not necessarily good for his constituents, who mostly have health insurance.  He argued the bill didn’t go far enough.  But that’s a tough message to sell to the constituent who believes affordable health care should be a right for all, not just Massachusetts residents.  Lynch is rumored to be interested in running for the Senate in 2012.

3 of the 8 Democrats from North Carolina including former NFL quarterback  Heath Shuler voted no.  A young Blue Dog Democrat, he may have more in common with his Republican colleagues.  Interestingly, he received pac money from pharmaceutical companies including Merck, Novartis and Gloxosmithkline who stand to profit considerably from the legislation with increased business and subsidies.  On the other side, he received contributions from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, giants in the health insurance industry that might not be as enthusiastic about government regulations.  If he’s re-elected, I’d say Shuler is a better politician than football player.

Democrats from 24 states voted no.  Alabama and North Carolina tied for the most Democrats in opposition with three.

Half of the states in the original Louisiana Purchase had 1 or more Democrats who voted no:  Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico, South Dakota and Minnesota.

“Liberal” Massachusetts was the only New England state with a representative who voted no.

Climate Change in the NCAA Tournament

If these Sweet 16 teams win two more games, we’d have a final four like never before.  Talk about climate change!

A preview of the Sweet 16 match ups:

Midwest – Northern Iowa (9).  MSU’s leading scorer is hurt.  UNI’s leading scorer is not.

West – Xavier (6).  Xaiver made the Sweet 16 last year.  Kansas State did not.

East – Cornell (12).  The Big Red have home court advantage over top seeded Kentucky.  And they may have a secret press weapon – 6-7 blogging Forward,  Jon Jaques who writes for The Quad, the New York Times college sports blog. Check out Jon’s latest entry.

South – St. Mary’s (10). Baylor has yet to play a team seeded below 11.  They will face their toughest game so far with the pressure of winning close to home.

If Lynch Votes No I Will Say No To Lynch

Congressman Lynch of Massachusetts, my representative, has vowed to vote no on health care reform after voting to support the first bill in November. He made his announcement Friday morning, giving his constituents little time to respond. I called his Washington office on Friday a number of times, but the phone lines were busy, or perhaps off the hook. I finally got through to his Boston office and spoke to a legislative aide to voice my concerns. The aide said that the Senate had stripped down the bill and that it looked nothing like the original House bill. Lynch himself said in an early morning interview on the local news that the bill didn’t go far enough. He said in the Boston Globe that this “is a very good bill for insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. It might be good for Nebraska, I don’t know. Or Florida residents…But it’s not good for the average American, and it’s not good for my district. Or for Massachusetts.” He went on to say that the bill will not drive down costs. I disagree. The purpose of the health insurance exchange system is to provide some competition. The Washington Post reported that the CBO estimate was that the bill would cut the deficit by 130 billion over the next ten years. Hey, I live in Congressman Lynch’s district and I say that deficit reduction is good for me and my family and for all of us in MA and the rest of the country. I told the aide I was calling on behalf of the average American who worries about rising premiums and for the millions who have no health insurance coverage at all. The alternative to the bill is nothing. To say that the bill falls short, is to say that nothing is better than a start. This is it. This is the last shot. The Republicans have no interest in health care reform. If they win back the Senate and House in the midterm elections, you can bet that health care reform will not be on their agenda at all. It’s not their issue.

I’m deeply disappointed in Congressman Lynch. I would be horrified if my congressman were responsible for defeating health care reform. But Republican Senator Scott Brown was pleased to hear of Lynch’s opposition. The two may even get the chance to work together in the Senate if Lynch runs for the Senate in 2012, as is rumored he may. Whether he runs for the U.S. Senate or for re-election in the House, one thing is certain, if he votes no on health care reform, even if it passes, he will not get my vote.

New Republican Chant: No We Can’t

On State of the Union with Candy Crowley, House Minority Leader John Boehner made it clear that he supports the concept of competition and that he knows something about it growing up with 11 brothers and sisters.  However, he does not support a system of health insurance exchanges because he doesn’t know what would be in the plans.  Never mind that the point of a national exchange is to expand access to more Americans.  Or that a competitive marketplace of private plans (the public option is gone) would give Americans affordable choices.   Instead, he referred to health care reform as the 2,300 page bill that would increase costs – the ultimate Republican talking point – the thing designed to scare everyone.  But the costs are already rising exponentially in our current system.  The health care industry has made a fortune.   I don’t begrudge them a profit, but our health and well-being should be their number one priority, not profits.  Americans should demand some accountability. How about some choices and competition in a marketplace?  Cheaper premiums?  And the point implied about expanding access is another scare tactic- that it’s bad to provide more uninsured Americans access to health care because that is tantamount to socialism, the meaning of which has been twisted and used as propaganda to whip up mass hysteria.

Mr. Boehner is not satisfied that the President has incorporated 4 ideas from Republicans saying they were just crumbs sprinkled on top of a massive bill that Americans don’t want.  But Americans do want reform.  Especially the uninsured and those who can barely afford the premiums they pay now.   And Crumbs?  That’s an insult to the Republicans who offered the ideas which included strengthening language to investigate fraud, waste and abuse in federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  A crumb?  That’s more like garlic bread.  And beefing up tort reform to reduce medical malpractice suits, which is universally agreed upon as a good idea.  A crumb?  I would suggest that’s something more like a fresh baguette (though the Republicans might object to this being too French inspired and therefore unpatriotic).  Another concern raised by a Republican is the already low Medicaid reimbursements to doctors and the added financial burden this would cause should the pool of recipients increase.  Obama agreed to look for ways to responsibly consider raising the reimbursement rates.  And Republicans would like an expansion of Health Savings Accounts to which the President responded favorably. Crumbs?  Hardly.  And the public option.  The Obama Administration abandoned it.  This is no crumb, this is a 5 course meal with unlimited drinks.

Republicans don’t want the exchange mechanism because the health insurance companies likely don’t want any additional regulations, or maybe they don’t like it because it is a good idea and they don’t want the Obama Administration to have a legislative victory.  The Republican leader is leading a new Republican chant of  No We Can’t.  Now that’s putting America first.

A Quick Review Of What I Read in 2009

Ok, these aren’t the deepest reviews, I admit, but if you just want an  impression of a particular book from a random stranger, and you appreciate brevity (because you could have Spark Noted it or gone to the Wiki) you came to the right place.

Candide – Voltaire.  Downright disturbing.  The illustrations in the edition I read magnify the creepiness.

The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov.  I think you need to be Russian to understand all the cultural references.  Closest comparison to something else I’ve read is the Gods, the Little Guys and the Police by Roberto Costantini.

The Gods, the Little Guys and the Police – Costantini.  If you like Greek mythology and magical realism and are interested in the period of the dirty wars in Argentina in the mid 70’s and early 80’s, pick up this little masterpiece.

Democracy Matters – Cornell West.  Because democracy matters – or at least it should, especially relevant now as our nation seems as divided as ever.

The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann.  A masterpiece.  I sipped this one sentence by sentence like a fine port wine and it took me about 4 months to complete.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes Volume II, started in 2008, but I can only read one or two stories at a time.   I think I like Doyle’s writing style more than the adventures…or maybe I have ADHD.

The Civil War, A Narrative Red River to Appomattox by Shelby Foote.  I started the third in the series in 2008 and am only on page 390 with 670 to go.  I pick up this book every couple of weeks and try to read ten pages or so, but with all the battle strategy minutia, I tire quickly.  I keep plodding along because Foote occasionally pens a memorable line or sketches a fascinating  psychological profile of one of the principle figures.  It may take me another 2 years to complete the book, or 20.

A Must Read Bengali Novel: Pather Panchali

I’ve read books about Indian history, books set in India and a book on the life of Gandhi, all written by outsiders.  V.S. Naipaul’s India, a book I just completed, is a critical look at post-colonial India in the 70’s.  Naipaul, a Hindu born and raised in Trinidad traveled to India in 1975,  during a State of Emergency that would last for three years, to chronicle a country struggling with social and political unrest under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.  Naipaul writes of a crippling caste system which preserves and perpetuates poverty.  He gives an unflattering critique of the Hindu concept of dharma (truth to oneself) that he believes has prevented India from breaking the chains of colonial oppression and launching a cultural and technological renaissance.  While I don’t have the expertise to weigh in on the issue, I can say with some certainty that the India of today is not the country it once was in the 70’s and that Naipaul’s premise seems to have been proven wrong.

I’ve read E. M. Forster’s, A Passage to India and Kipling’s Kim, set in Lahore, then a part of India prior to Independence and the Partition of Punjab.   Both novels written by Englishmen capture a period of time in India during British colonial rule.

Until recently though, I had never read any authentic Indian literature.  Thanks to a friend who has traveled extensively in India with her family, I have just completed the Bengali novel she gave me upon return to the country,  Pather Panchali, Song of the Road by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. The back cover describes it as a masterpiece.  And it is.  At the risk of diminishing its beauty, I have to compare it to the Sandra Cisneros’ classic, House on Mango Street or to the brilliant film, Cinema Paradiso.  The work is a loose collection of stories from the perspective of Opu and Durga, the children of a poor Brahmin family struggling to survive, plagued by poverty, mother nature and the cruelty of unsympathetic neighbors.  We experience rural village life in India through the two young siblings.  Though poor and relentlessly teased, Opu and Durga find joy and wonderment in everyday life.  Their adventures are as captivating as those found in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The book may not be in your local library, but it is available for purchase on-line and is a must read.  And if you can find a copy of the film based on the story directed by the famous Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, buy it, or Netflix it.  The film marked Ray’s debut in 1955 and it won a number of international awards including recognition at Cannes.  In addition to countless National Film Awards, Ray won an honorary Academy Award in 1992 and has made  several “Best Directors of All Time” lists.

Pather Panchali, Song of the Road.  Pick up a copy and you’ll soon be singing its praises, as you shed a few tears trekking through the rural Indian countryside with young Opu as your guide.  And if you are patient, you just might see a train or learn to fly.

Air Traffic Controller In Control

The news that a JFK International Airport air traffic controller allowed his two young children to clear several planes for departure and takeoff at one of the world’s busiest airports made all the headlines this past week.  Newscasts lead with the story, and late night programs had a field day with it.   People (not me) were left with the impression that our skies are unsafe, adding to the sense that our borders are unprotected, that our streets are unsafe and for those on the right that our country is going down the path of socialized medicine.  Folks are scared.  The fear mongers are working feverishly to convince us all that a terrorist might be just around the corner and that only a well-armed neighborhood militia like that being organized in Bossier Parish, Louisiana can protect us from a government that cannot be trusted.   I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future the tea party “movement” begins to call for states to secede  from the union.

So what’s all the fuss about bringing your kid to work?  If you have a job,  wouldn’t you want your kids to see what you do everyday?  Big deal if if dad whispered to his kid to say “ready for takeoff”.  It’s not like he handed over a group of planes on the radar screen to the 9 year old and said “ok Jr., bring ’em in.”  And the pilots who received the supervised instructions had no problems with them (probably knew they were coming in advance), even thought they were cute and delivered with professionalism.

Should those kids have been in the booth?  Probably not.  Should the air traffic controller be reprimanded? Yes.  But he shouldn’t lose his license or be fired.  And I think the media should tread lightly on this story.  There are two children who are victims in this, who are no doubt embarrassed by the actions of a loving father who made a lapse in judgment.  Ok, I know, we don’t need air traffic controllers having lapses in judgment, but lighten up America.  Stress is one of the biggest problems that pilots and air traffic controllers face.  Injecting a little humor into the day with a harmless supervised command over the intercom system only brought smiles to faces, not danger to the skies.