November 2006 Archives

Mai Oui!


Dear Internet,

I love you dearly. But I love my Wii slightly more.

-Molten Boron

Appy Polly Loggies


Sorry for recent unresponsiveness; I was in Chicago all last weekend with infrequent internet access. I got home yesterday afternoon, went straight to class (for which I was late and sat in the back), spent last night reading for today's classes, went to 5 hours of class today, did laundry, bought hornbooks and ran necessary errands around the neighborhood, and am now packing to leave for the airport at 4 AM to fly to Arizona for Thanksgiving, where I will be until Sunday.

While I'm out: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "It is impossible to understand a piece of music without actually playing it yourself." I once got into a bitter argument with a friend over this. What are your thoughts?

The North Farce


Baby's Got Pack

I'm packing for my trip to Chicago. The plan is to leave tomorrow afternoon, stay there Thursday night and all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, then return to New York Monday morning.

I have been through Midway before, and memories of the long, winding bag-check lines have given me heavy incentive to pack light. Unfortunately, the weather in Chicago is forecast to be fairly cold this weekend; highs in the low 40s, lows in the low 30s. That's on the cusp of snow weather. Since I'm planning to spend the weekend gadding about town, I'll need outerwear if I want to spend more than ten minutes outside. This means hat, earmuffs, scarf, gloves, and jackets light and heavy. I could wear all this to the airport, but New York's weather forcast for tomorrow is clear with highs in the mid-60s. I would look quite the fool trundling about in full winter kit. Still, packing all of my winter gear would probably put the kibosh on any plans to pack light and move fast.

I'll figure some way out of this spot, but I renew my contention that packing is my mortal foe.

In other news: Jesus Fucking Christ, Gilmore Girls, what the Hell are you thinking? Tonight we learn that Lane, whom I was previously annoyed at for not even considering an abortion, is having twins. And now that they've shown us a sonogram of the twins, had her tell Mrs. Kim, and now that we've seen her pregnant, there's no possible way they'll have her abort the unwanted children. Gluh.

And I don't even want to talk about the ending. For Pete's sake.

Urge to Merge


This Immoral


We're now learning about back-end triangular mergers in Corporations. It's not nearly as fun as it sounds.

Also: What if the Hindenburg had flippers?


I recently purchased David Dubal's The Essential Canon of Classical Music. It seems like it'll be worthwhile, though I haven't really started in on it yet. The goal of the book is to collect what are considered the most essential works of concert music.

Dubal divides music into 5 eras, Early Music, The Baroque Era, The Classical Era, the Romantic Era, and the Modern Era. For each era Dubal picks out the composers who are generally considered the most influential. He arranges them in rough chronological order, and for each he provides a 4-5 page biography, followed by discussion of what he considers the most essential works by the composer, with each of these works getting about a page. At the end of each composer's segment, he provides a list of the composer's other significant works. Once he finishes with the Big Important composers for an era, he goes back and does a survey of 20-30 minor composers, folks who contributed one or two pieces that entered the canon. He briefly discusses them and points to other pieces you might like.

It seems like a fine self-study guide. It provides the broad context of the era, some background for the composers, briefly touches on the work, but it mostly serves to point readers to the Big Important Works and leaves it to them to explore and draw their own conclusions. Dubal is also careful not to say "these are the only pieces worth listening to." These, he says, are the most representative, the most outstanding, the most revolutionary, the most significant, but they're not the Alpha and Omega of concert music. These are a jumping-off point for further listening. So, if you're working through the Early Music section and you find you like Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea, you can go from there to listening to Orfeo or one of Monteverdi's other operas.

What's interesting, though, is a notable omission that I picked up on shortly after I bought the book and browsed through the Table of Contents. Dubal doesn't include Pachelbel. Pachelbel doesn't get a biography, which isn't surprising, but he also doesn't even merit a paragraph in the Minor Composers section. He gets one mention, offhandedly, in a minor Baroque composer's paragraph, indicating that he was one of several composers influenced by the composer being discussed.

There's a pretty clear reason for this: Most people who make it their business to know a lot about concert music don't think Pachelbel's Canon is very good. There are a lot of reasons for this. It's not very technically proficient, which is unfortunate because strict adherence to technical forms is the dominant characteristic of the piece. It's repetitive; you can mix-and-match the middle segments without noticing anything's amiss. Now, it's supposed to be repetitive, but a lot of more proficient Baroque composers found interesting ways, working within the same constraints, to play around with the repeating bass line and actually go somewhere with it. It's even misnamed; it isn't a canon, it's a passacaglia.

But it's popular. It's popular and it's concert music. And, arguably, it's highly representative of its era. The Baroque era didn't produce a lot of Bachs, but it did produce a lot of composers who produced workmanlike pieces that strictly adhered to a prescribed form, which is exactly what Pachelbel's Canon is. I personally don't have the visceral hatred of the Canon that a lot of classically trained music people I know have. Fundamentally, I don't think it's a bad piece, it's just not a great piece. And I think what infuriates people who are more invested in these things than I is that it's a very pedestrian piece that has attained popularity beyond its merits.

So I'm a bit concerned that Dubal decided to write the Canon out of the canon. Given its popularity, given that it's what a lot of people think of when they think of concert music, and given that it's a fairly representative example of Baroque forms, it seems like it merits at least a paragraph in the Minor Composers section. I realize that a canon is supposed to be determined by elite consensus, rather than popular tastes. Nonetheless, it seems that this is an area where the elite consensus is resisting inclusion of a piece that, while not particularly noteworthy in the big-picture sense, is still important simply because it's become representative of its era in the popular mind. The piece is not, perhaps, significant in and of itself, but its present popularity has made it significant.

So, while I'm excited about Dubal's book broadly speaking, I'm not inclined to trust him completely in terms of his selections.

I Am Off My Sleep Schedule

Staying up late on election night has fowled up my sleep schedule. This left me with several hours last night/this morning when I couldn't get to sleep. This gave me the opportunity to answer a question that has surely been burning in everyone's brain since the results of the election became known: What will happen in the incredibly unlikely event that there is an exact tie in the electoral vote on election night, 2008, and simultaneously absolutely no seats in either house of congress changes parties that night?

First, an overview of hour Our Big Dumb Electoral System handles ties. In the event that no candidate receives an absolute majority of votes in the electoral college (Possible if a third party actually wins electoral votes, and also possible if the two major-party candidates split the elecoral college vote down the middle, getting 269 votes each) the decision of who will be president is thrown to Congress. But it's thrown to Congress in a really goofy way.

We first throw out the entire vote by the people as a whole; that whole election we just had doesn't count. That's why, in 1824, John Q. Adams, a member of the House of Representative, became President by a vote of his House colleagues, despite having come in well behind Andrew Jackson in both the popular and the electoral vote. It's like we're having a whole new presidential election, where the only people allowed to vote are Congresspersons.

But the goofiness doesn't end there. It's not a strict one-congressperson, one-vote election. It's an Electoral College style vote: We take a vote of all the congresspersons from a given state, then whichever candidate gets the majority wins that state's whole vote. And, as another concession to our founders's anti-democratic impulses, we have a Senate-style Wyoming-is-just-as-important-as-California equalizing system: Every state gets exactly 1 vote. Moreover, in order to win a candidate must receive an absolute majority of states. If no candidate receives (with the current number of states) 26 states, they hold another vote, and another, and another, until someone does have a majority.

The fun doesn't stop there! The President is voted on by the House, the Vice President by the Senate, so a split ticket is highly possible. Moreover, if, within a state's delegation, the votes for the two candidates are exactly even the state is considered deadlocked and abstains. But that doesn't reduce the number of states the candidate needs to win; you need 26 regardless of how many states deadlock. Deadlock wouldn't be too common in the House, but it'd happen quite a bit in the Senate, making VP selection rather thorny.

So: In the event of a tie, the President will be determined by the party that has the majority of House members in a majority of the states. The Vice President, in theory, will be determined by the party that has both senators in a majority of the states. As a practical matter, so many states will have split Senate delegations that the number of abstentions means neither party will have a majority, so the VP will be picked through massive Senate politicking.

So, what result from our current Congress? Let's find out!

Assuming straight party-line voting, the Democratic candidate would win the presidency, with support from the states of Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The Republican Candidate would get support from Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.

The states of Arizona, Kansas, and Mississippi would be deadlocked. New Mexico, right now, could swing either way: It has three house seats, one is definitely Democratic, one is definitely Republican, and the third is currently close and being recounted, with the Republican enjoying a lead of a couple hundred votes.

So the Republican would get 20 states (21 if they get New Mexico), the Democrat 26 states (27 with New Mexico).

The Vice President would be quite goofy; there are 17 states with two Republican senators, 18 with two Democratic senators, and 15 with split delegations. So the Democrats would have a slight advantage in the struggle to convince people to vote for their candidate, but it could really go either way.

Conclusion: Our system is dumb. Also: This is another reason not to get too excited about third-party Presidential candidates. Barring a big reform of the system for handling less-than-majority electoral college votes, any candidate successful enough to win electoral votes massively increases the chance that Congress will pick the President.


Well, without wishing to jinx it, it rather looks like come January the United States will have its first female Speaker of the House and its first Mormon Senate Majority Leader.

The House is very important, as changes in House membership tend to be glacial. I'm much more interested in the Senate, however, as it's the body that acts on judicial nominations. There's a very large difference between a barely-Republican Senate and a barely-Democratic one, and hopefully it will mean a significant moderation in the candidates nominated.

Now all that remains is to wait on Montana and Virginia. I think that the coming recount battle in Virginia could offer a great deal of fun for left-leaners, if approached in the proper spirit. Now the proverbial shoe is on the other foot, as the Democratic candidate with a narrow lead in the first count prematurely declared himself the victor, and the Republican candidate is left to look like a petulant loser, whining about unfavorable results.

Also, George Allen is an idiot who can't get through a sentence without vomiting out a football metaphor. I guarantee that he will be on TV tomorrow blathering nonstop about how we're at fourth and inches and need to make the on-side kick after our quarterback sneak and then we're going into overtime to give some tight ends a pounding.

If I might be permitted to kibitz briefly on California elections? I cannot recommend highly enough a vote of No on Proposition 90. And not just because I recommend a vote of No on all propositions as a matter of general principle.

Prop 90 is one of several measures on state ballots across the country reacting to the Supreme Court decision of Kelo v. New London, Connecticut. Kelo is complicated, but basically says that the Federal courts will afford state and local governments great leeway in determining what a public purpose is for eminent domain takings. Eminent domain lets the government seize private property for public use, provided they compensate the original owners. Eminent domain has a long, boring history in the United States that I won't get into. The point is that generally to be a taking the government has to literally take your property away from you, it has to use it for the public good, and it has to provide you with compensation.

Kelo held that government should be given broad leeway in determining what the public good is. In that case, they seized a bunch of houses to turn over to, God, I forget, some big damn chemical company I think. Whatever. Anyhow, they were taking people's land and giving it, in part, to a corporation. The case was more complex than that and the city's action was a lot more reasonable than the one-sentence summary makes it seem, but the rule that came out of Kelo was that the Federal courts won't throw out a taking unless it's egregiously not for public use.

People got mad about this, understandably. The thing about federal eminent domain law, though, is that it's a floor, not a ceiling. You can't have fewer rights vis-a-vis your state government than the Federal courts give you, but you can get more rights. Thus: State constitutional amendments and laws to tighten the eminent domain standards.

Prop. 90 addresses some concerns of Kelo, providing a strict definition of Public Use that requires the government give a specific, articulated statement of what public use the property will be used for. It gives the property owner a cause of action in courts, allowing them to take it to a judge to determine if a use is, indeed, a public use. It also gives property owners the ability to go to a judge to determine what Just Compensation is, and guarantees the highest reasonable value when determining compensation. And it requires government to sell off property when it's no longer being used for its articulated public use, and to give the prior private owner the right of first refusal in that sale.

All well and good. You might disagree with some parts of that (I do), but it's nothing to get too exercised over. Then we come to the sneaky bit in the definitions section of the law. The proposition would amend Article I, Section 19 of the California Constitution to add, among other things, Subsection B, Clause 8, which would read:

(8) Except when taken to protect public health and safety, “damage” to private property includes government actions that result in substantial economic loss to private property. Examples of substantial economic loss include, but are not limited to, the downzoning of private property, the elimination of any access to private property, and limitations on the use of private air space. “Government action” shall mean any statute, charter provision, ordinance, resolution, law, rule or regulation.

Prop. 90 doesn't just change the meanings of Public Use and Just Compensation; it dicks around with what constitutes a Taking. This makes it so that state and government regulations that could adversely affect the value of a piece of property are now accounted as takings, appropriations by the government for which you must be compensated. Most directly, this means essentially any zoning laws would become takings. Right now the very house you sit in could be used as a widget factory, were it not for meddling government zoning laws. Why, the fact that you can't turn your house into a widget factory in the middle of your quiet residential neighborhood is just as though the government ripped those potential future widget-related dollars straight out of your wallet!

And those are just the easy cases. It's not at all hard to read this law as requiring that any government rule or regulation, anywhere that affects anybodies profitability be judged a taking that requires compensation. Minimum wage laws? Taking from rightful business owners. Clean air laws? Taking from lawful car owners and plant operators.

And the trick is that the bill isn't compensating you from the actual losses you suffer from regulation; it's compensating you for your expected future economic losses. So it's not "I have to re-tool my plant to comply with environmental regulations, and that will cost money," it's "Complying with environmental regulations will result in my plant being less profitable than it would be otherwise, and I should be compensated to the level of profits I would be making if the law weren't in place at all."

There are a lot of ways to fix Kelo, but Prop. 90 is a notably bad one. It's using the anti-Kelo movement as a cover for sneaking in anti-regulatory measures that would probably be more harmful to California's treasury than Prop. 13's property tax limitations.

In other news, I can't get Beethoven's 7th Symphony out of my head, which is not entirely unpleasant. Also: Did you know that the fourth movement of Beethoven's 2nd Symphony was written as a musical simulation of Beethoven's gastric distress? Now you do!

Apolitical Politics

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On the eve of American elections, I thought I'd discuss another nation's electoral system, in an entirely non-partisan sort of way.

So: You know who has a really cool electoral system? Germany. It's an incredibly clever system that combines the best of proportional representation parliamentary systems and American-style first-past-the-post single-member districts. It's somewhat complicated to explain, but bear with me.

First, the broad structure. Germany has a Federal system, ala the United States. It's divided into 16 self-governing states (Or Bundesländer). One cool thing about this, by the way: 13 of those are traditional States in the American sense of "vast tracts of land with cities and countryside and such." But three of them are just cities that get counted as states in themselves. It would be like if, say, New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago each got two senators each, separate from New York, California, and Illinois. The three lucky cities are Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg. The other 13 states, which I will recite because I memorized them in high school German class, are Brandenburg, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Schleswig-Holstein, Niedersachsen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Saarland, Hessen, Thüringen, Baden Württemberg, and Bayern.

Each state selects representatives to send to the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. Bundesrat representatives are selected by the state governments, like US Senators were before the Seventeenth Amendment. So people only select their Bundesrat representatives indirectly, based on who they put in charge of their state government. Each state gets equal representation in the Bundesrat. The Bundesrat's powers, however, are heavily circumscribed; they basically only have a say in matters where the federal government needs cooperation from state governments. So the Bundesrat is basically just the state's emissary to the federal government.

The big show, as it were, is the Bundestag, the lower house. There are roughly 600 seats in the Bundestag. Half are single-member districts, and the other half are proportional balancing seats. Germany is divided into 299 electoral districts, just like American house districts. When you go to the polls, you place two votes. First, you vote on which candidate you want to represent your district, and they have regular American House-style elections, with parties putting up candidates in each district who try to sway voters based on the force of their personality.

After choosing who in the local election the voter wants to represent them, the voter is then asked which party they want to cast their vote for. This determines the party representation in the final parliament.

Here's where things get tricky. First, they go through each of the electoral districts and figure out who won in each one. Once that's done they have half of the parliament's seats decided. They then look at the party votes. They figure out what percentage of the population voted for each party, figure out how many seats out of 600 the party should therefore get, and distribute the other 300 seats to make the party totals match their portion of the vote.

It's a bit confusing because the 300 proportional representation seats are designed to balance with the 300 single-member-district seats, rather than being a separate pool. An illustrative example: Suppose in an American election the Republican Party wins precisely 51% of the vote nation wide, while the Democrats get 49%. Suppose, astoundingly, that the vote is exactly evenly spread throughout every district; the Republicans receive 51% of the vote in every individual election across the country. Under the American system, the Republicans would win each individual election and thus have 100% of the votes in the House. The German system would handle it differently. First they would look at each race individually. The result would be 299 Republicans elected from the Single-Member District pool. Then they'd look at the party vote, 51% to 49%. 51% of 600 is 306. The Republicans already have 299 from the single-member-districts, so of the remaining 300 balancing seats they'd get 7 while the Democrats would get 293. The final make-up of the Bundestag would be 306 Republicans and 293 Democrats, exactly in proportion to the national popular vote.

What's neat about this is that it means that you get the practical outcome of parliamentary voting, so parties can't be screwed by gerrymandering, rotten boroughs, and run-of-the-mill aberrant vote distribution. At the same time, each individual district gets to have a representative in the Bundestag that they voted for in their own separate election. You have the national political advantages of a parliamentary system, complete with viable third parties and coalition building, coupled with the local representation and the ability for the voters to pick individual politicians that you get in the American system. At the same time, you don't have to worry about local personalities and idiosyncratic district campaigns determining national politics.

This isn't to say the German system is perfect, but it does seem to have been the beneficiary of being a late-mover on the whole democracy thing, affording it the opportunity to craft a system based on the experience of what had worked well and what hadn't in countries that were a bit more enthusiastic about popular participation in government.

Book Review: Farthing


This novel is for everyone who has ever studied any monstrosity of history, with the serene satisfaction of being horrified while knowing exactly what was going to happen, rather like studying a dragon anatomized upon a table, and then turning around to find the dragon's present-day relations standing close by, alive and ready to bite.

-the preface to Jo Walton's Farthing

Farthing, by Jo Walton, is an English murder mystery set in an alternate history universe. In the world of Farthing, several months into the Battle of Britain, prior to Germany's invasion of Russia, a faction within the British Conservative Party successfully negotiated a peace with Hitler behind Churchill's back. The novel takes place in 1949, in an England that has learned to peacefully co-exist with the evil that rules the Continent.

Farthing is the name of the country estate where most of the novel takes place. It is also the nickname given to the politicians who gather there, the "Farthing Set", who were responsible for making peace with Germany. As the novel opens, the Farthing Set is gathering at the estate for the weekend to prepare for an important party vote. Among the guests is Lucy Kahn, nee Eversly, the daughter of one of the more influential members of the group, and her husband David, a jewish banker whom the members of the set, including Lucy's parents, openly despise for his race. During the night Sir James Thirkie, the man who personally negotiated the peace with Hitler, is murdered. He is found in his bed, his shirt stained with blood, a knife protruding from his chest. He is pinned with a yellow Star of David badge, of the kind Jews are forced to wear in Europe. David Kahn is immediately taken as the prime suspect.

The story is told from two perspectives. Chapters alternate between a first-person narrative written by Lucy Kahn and a third-person narrative focused on Inspector Carmichael, who is sent by Scotland Yard to investigate the murder. It's an interesting technique that allows the reader to get a more full view of the main characters, by letting us see them as others see them and as they see themselves. At times it's a little jarring, though never obtrusively so, to skip back and forth between two very different characters with very different styles. Mrs. Kahn has a highly prolix and discursive style. Inspector Carmichael's chapters have the matter-of-fact brusqueness of a police procedural. Both, however, are lovingly written and intimate; it is a tribute to how well the characters are developed that every time you finish a Carmichael chapter you feel vaguely annoyed to be leaving him for Mrs. Kahn, and every time you finish a Kahn chapter you feel annoyed to be leaving her for Carmichael.

This novel is published by Tor, a science fiction label, and is to be found in the science fiction section at bookstores. Yet it is as much an English country house murder mystery as it is alternate history. The characters do not spend a lot of time chatting about the recent past; the events of the prior nine years are casually mentioned as they come up naturally in the course of the novel, but we are never plunked down to a history chapter on What Went Differently. The novel is written as a mystery novel first, and it is the murder that absorbs the characters's attentions throughout.

Yet it would be inaccurate to say that this is simply a mystery novel that happens to be set in an alternate timeline. The alternate history is more than a setting, it's an important element in the novel's development and larger themes. The book isn't just science fiction and it isn't just a mystery; the two genres are so seamlessly integrated that classifying the book as one or the other seems to do it a disservice.

The novel is rather brief, 320 pages in a hard-bound book with fairly large print, and makes for quick reading. The chapters are short, ten pages on average, and the story is absorbing. I read nealry the entire book in the course of a pair of several-hour sessions; I found it very difficult to tear myself away from it once I had gotten involved in it.

Right now the book is only available in hardback, for a fairly steep $25. Nonetheless, it is good enough that I'd recommend the hardback edition as well worth the price. It was released fairly recently, so I don't believe a paperback edition is forthcoming anytime soon.

A word of caution: The world of the book is frightening in its realism. Walton does an excellent job of showing us how we accomodate evil in our daily lives by showing us how the England of Farthing has just sort of learned to live with Nazi Germany in its backyard. She does everything very subtly, never jumping up and down or beating us over the head with it. The characters in Farthing, even the pure ones acting from righteous motives, never stop and say "I can't believe we've allowed this incredible evil to continue!" They just sort of accept it. Reading Farthing forces the reader to think hard about what sort of evils she might have just learned to accept, as though there were nothing wrong with them.

In any case, Farthing is an excellent, thoughtful novel, well-written, and worth picking up. I highly recommend it. I would argue, however, that Farthing is not, perhaps, the best novel to be reading on the eve of an election about which one is particularly nervous.

One Tiny Political Post and That's It

Does anyone else of a leftish inclination feel somewhat nervous about this coming election? I know all the news about it is unabashedly good end every sign points to Democrats taking control of at least the House and quite possibly the Senate as well, but then I think back to the weekend before the 2004 election and how excited I felt then and how everything looked great through election day and right up until Democrats lost the presidency and lost seats in both houses of congress. For the last day every time I look at politically-related news, even as everything looks good, I get the same schpilkis I had on election night two years ago.

So what do people think? Anyone else feel put off by all the good news lately?


The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the back page of its Pursuits section in today's weekend edition. The subject is a recent report by the Magic of Music Initiative, a project started about ten years ago to study concert attendance at symphony orchestras and to attempt to find a way of reversing the fall in the fortunes of American concert halls. The study has uncovered a lot of useful background information on the listening habits and preferences of Americans, and simultaneously has reached a lot of dispiriting conclusions about pragmatic solutions to the problem of flagging concert attendance.

So what doesn't work in terms of driving up concert attendance? In short, everything. The study determined that none of the current outreach and advertising methods employed by symphony orchestras has a positive effect on attendance.

Free concerts are one of the most frequently used methods, and while they may be well-attended they don't result in greater paid concert attendance. The majority of attendees at free concerts are subscribers who already pay to attend concerts regularly. Those who go to free concerts and don't regularly pay to go to the symphony are almost never converted to paying customers by free concerts; they merely become regular attendees of free concerts.

Educational outreach is similarly ineffective. Symphony orchestras have tried to offer free or cheap lectures to the public on classical music, in the hopes that it would make the symphony less intimidating and spark an interest in concert attendance. Here, the imbalance between regular attendees and neophytes is even more stark than in free concert attendance: nearly everyone who attends these lectures is already a paying symphony attendee, taking the opportunity to broaden their understanding of the music.

Youth outreach generally doesn't work, either. Young Persons Concerts, orchestra performances at elementary and middles schools, and general exposure to live classical music seems to have no effect on concert attendance later in the lives of children thus exposed. The one slightly positive thing that the study uncovered is that playing an instrument does seem to have an impact on symphony attendance. 74% of regular concert attendees played an instrument or sang in a chorus as a child. Unfortunately, the correlation doesn't work in reverse; if you're a concert attendee, you probably played an instrument, but playing an instrument doesn't mean you'll become a concert attendee. So expanded hands-on music education offers a means of growing the pool of potential people to lure to concerts, but offers no lessons on how to actually get butts into seats.

So what works? Nothing. At least, nothing tried so far. The study did, however, produce interesting background research on American musical tastes and has given some idea of what aspects of the concert experience are problematic and what aspects aren't. The most hopeful finding: The music itself isn't the problem. 60% of Americans expressed an interest in classical music and in learning more about it, and a third of Americans make listening to classical music a part of their daily lives. But while that 60% purchases classical music recordings (owning an average of 16 CDs each), only 5% of the 60% actually attend concerts.

So the interest is there, but orchestras have thus far failed at turning that interest into attendance. The report posits several possible avenues of exploration in the future. The first is greater community outreach. Right now, the principle audience for orchestras is white, old, and wealthy. Symphonies need to do a better job of becoming a part of their community, rather than an island of high culture removed from its surroundings.

As an aside, this strikes me as a very confused and hand-wavey solution to the problem. Supposedly education doesn't work, free concerts don't work, and there's no need to change the music on offer because people are already interested enough in it. I'm not sure exactly how symphonies are supposed to integrate with their communities without offering free concerts, free education, or a selection of music designed to appeal to the local community.

The study also suggests that the venue is the problem. People enjoy classical music on the radio, and classical music CDs, but that doesn't translate to actually jackassing to a concert hall and paying for a ticket to listen to live music for several hours. Perhaps the solution is to perform shorter works or to charge less for tickets.

There's also another element that isn't really addressed by the study, but that I think might underlie a lot of the problems. Classical music is, you'll be shocked to learn, fairly conservative. It's been a long time since a new piece of music has entered the canon. That's not to say that new works aren't being composed, just that they seldom get much play by orchestras.

One of the techniques that various symphonies have tried to increase attendance by younger audiences is to increase the proportion of new pieces performed. The Magic of Music study determined that this doesn't work. It alienates older audiences who want the so-called Three Bs (Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms), and younger people aren't particularly drawn to the new pieces (Because they haven't heard of them, because nobody performs them). So playing new music just hurts symphonies and, according to the study, orchestras ought to stick to the classics.

While that might be true in the short run, I think it's part of what's slowly strangingly classical music. One hundred years ago new pieces were being composed, performed, and, if audiences liked them, they entered the canon. There was a strong willingness to experiment with new music. That has stopped. A new piece hasn't entered the canon in over half a century.

The problem is that new music isn't particularly profitable. Essentially nobody is walking around saying to themselves "I never go to concerts because they never play music by bold experimentalists like Kaaija Saariaho, or even stuff by Phillip Glass or John Adams." Playing new music annoys regular attendees and doesn't bring anyone new in.

But playing new music is vital for the continued existence of classical music. Classial music has been made into an antique, an oddity to be studied carefully and not to be tampered with. Nobody gets excited about new pieces being performed, and that means that classical music lacks a vibrancy that popular music possesses. It's hard to attract a new listener with the prospect of the orchestra's five millionth performance of the same Brahms concerto that they play ten times a year.

The problem is the overall aesthetic. The lack of new music means that classical music is pitched to people not as a vital art form, but as a history lesson. That puts it at an advertising disadvantage; where popular music functions on a simple "attend concerts because you enjoy them" pitch, classical music sets itself up as "attend concerts, not because they are enjoyable, but because they are good for you and you'll learn something from attending them." Playing new music isn't a short-term means of attracting a new audience; it's a long-term way of transforming classical music from a high-brow academic pursuit into a normal form of musical expression and enjoyment.

But of course, the problem is that playing new music is something of a luxury. As mentioned, new music pushes out present customers and doesn't attract new ones, at least in the short term. And right now, orchestras are barely surviving with the old patrons. They can't afford to take a loss for the greater good of classical music by playing a bunch of new music that may never catch on.

I'm interested to know what people think about attending symphonies, particularly people who don't right now. Why don't you? This is not intended to be accusative. If, for instance, you're just not interested there's not much to be done about that. But if you are interested in classical music, why hasn't that translated to attending concerts? Too expensive? Too intimidating? Too long? Not enough interested friends to go with? Or does it just never occur to you to look into it?

Lawyer or Hit-Man: You Make the Call

Another thought from Rigoletto: there's an interesting line mid-way through Act III that I found myself laughing out loud to, for reasons only tangentially related to the play.

Some brief background on the situation: Scarafucile is an assassin who has been hired by Rigoletto to kill the Duke. The Duke has been lured to Scarafucile's inn by Scarafucile's sister, Maddalena, who has used her feminine wiles to seduce him and put him to sleep. However, in the process she has fallen in love with him, and is now pleading for her brother to spare the Duke's life. Her brother is having nothing of it; killing the Duke means 20 Ducats. Maddalena then suggests that Scarafucile could leave the Duke alive, wait for Rigoletto to return, then kill him and take his money. Scarafucile is outraged:

"Kill the Hunchback? What the devil are you thinking?
Am I a thief? Am I a robber?
I have never betrayed one of my clients!"

These lines, I feel, can be seen as showing the lawyerly code of professional responsibility distilled to its essence: Lie, cheat, omit, even if it means inflicting great harm, even unto death, to others, but never, ever betray your client!

Graffiti at the Met


I went to the bathroom during the first intermission at tonight's performance of Rigoletto by the Metropolitan Opera Company. All of the urinals were occupied, and even though all I had to do was pee I decided I'd rather wait for a stall than wait until the requisite number of urinals were abandoned for me to properly take my place (keeping in mind the essential one-urinal buffer zone). I'm glad I did. Inside the door to the stall I occupied was a sign that originally read "Please do not throw paper towels in the bowl." Somebody had defaced the sign by adding "to" after "in," so that the sign was now grammatically correct: "Please do not throw paper towels INTO the bowl." Upon exiting the stall I quickly surveilled the others around me; they each had the same sign, but only mine had been corrected, indicating that it was the work of some vigilante grammarian and not some Met-wide policy of cheap correction. To whoever you are, you Zorro of prepositions, wherever you may be, I salute you!

Still Not Mature


We're discussing Special Litigation Committees in Corporations. One of the overarching ideas in Corporations law is the Business Judgment Rule. The details of the rule aren't important, what is is that in notes you abbreviate it is BJR. When it comes to Special Litigation Committees, Courts in Delaware have to assess the business judgment of the SLCs and exercise their own independent business judgment. Which led me to write the following in my notes on Joy v. North:

"The court didn't trust the corporation's BJ, so it decided to perform a BJ of its own."

After writing that sentence, I re-read it and burst out giggling. This is not a wise move when professors are discussing important matters of business judgment.

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