The Rat
Monday, March 30, 2009
      ( 10:09 PM ) The Rat  

While most laud the arrest of Duch and four other senior leaders for their roles in the late 1970s regime which killed up to two million people, they also worry the court can do little to fight impunity in Cambodia.

After Duch's trial, the court plans to prosecute former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith.

But analysts were dismayed about allegations of interference by Prime Minister Hun Sen's administration, after the Cambodian co-prosecutor opposed pursuing six more suspects on the grounds it could destabilise the country...

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:09 PM

      ( 2:38 PM ) The Rat  
Fiedler. Incidentally, we have some facilities here for people who—for people who are spending some time with us. Facilities for diversion and so on.

Leamas. Are you offering me a woman?

Fiedler. Mm.

Leamas. I don't need one.

Fiedler. You had one in England, didn't you? The girl in the library.

Leamas. Oh yes, yes. She was a Communist too. She believed in free love. At the time it was all I could afford.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:38 PM

      ( 12:38 PM ) The Rat  
FOIE GRAS, SCALLOPS SNUCK INTO OPERA HOUSE. You know I would totally do this.

Sources said that Michaud also brought along a concealed bottle of 1986 Krug Clos du Mesnil, which he surreptitiously uncorked during the loudest point of Princess von Werdenberg's aria at the end of Act I.

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:38 PM

Wednesday, March 25, 2009
      ( 11:14 PM ) The Rat  
BEYOND AWESOME. From Audrey Hepburn's screen test for Roman Holiday.

# Posted by The Rat @ 11:14 PM

      ( 6:13 PM ) The Rat  
INTERESTING PC. ON HYPEROPIA. Also see this article on compulsive frugality in Japan.

Consumer psychologists call it hyperopia, the medical term for farsightedness and the opposite of myopia, nearsightedness, because it’s the result of people looking too far ahead. They’re so obsessed with preparing for the future that they can’t enjoy the present, and they end up looking back sadly on all their lost opportunities for fun.

It’s hard to imagine this excessive foresight being much of a burden for, say, Bernard L. Madoff. Nor for the optimists who took out balloon mortgages (and the A.I.G. executives who insured them). But hyperopia does seem to affect a wide range of people in some circumstances, to judge from clever experiments with people shopping for bargains and redeeming prizes.

Splurging on a vacation or a pair of shoes or a plasma television can produce an immediate case of buyer’s remorse, but that feeling isn’t permanent, according to Ran Kivetz of Columbia University and Anat Keinan of Harvard. In one study, these consumer psychologists asked college students how they felt about the balance of work and play on their winter breaks.

Immediately after the break, the students’ chief regrets were over not doing enough studying, working and saving money. But when they contemplated their winter break a year afterward, they were more likely to regret not having enough fun, not traveling and not spending money. And when alumni returned for their 40th reunion, they had even stronger regrets about too much work and not enough play on their collegiate breaks.

“People feel guilty about hedonism right afterwards, but as time passes the guilt dissipates,” said Dr. Kivetz, a professor of marketing at the Columbia Business School. “At some point there’s a reversal, and what builds up is this wistful feeling of missing out on life’s pleasures"...

# Posted by The Rat @ 6:13 PM

      ( 12:53 AM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:53 AM

Tuesday, March 24, 2009
      ( 9:54 PM ) The Rat  
...You will have seen for some time what I'm driving at. I believe Figaro to be so satisfying an experience not just because of the tunes or the jokes, agreeable as they are. Rather it is because the texture of the music is so highly wrought—works at so high a level of tension—that the energy thus generated presses us through the opera's considerable length with an unremitting sense of expectation and delight. The opera remains exciting because of the tensions generated by the music.

Why, after all, did the audience at the first dress rehearsal of Act One, in 1786, go so wild at the end of 'Non più andrai' ('Say goodbye now to pastime and play'), its final number? Of course, it's something of an applause-catcher in itself, with its trumpets and drums and shouts of 'Cherubino, alla vittoria!' But in its context it carries a more formidable effect.

Every number in the first act has been pitched at a high level of excitement. To start with, over half of them are dramatic ensembles of one sort or another, in which the action sweeps forward. But even the solo songs are highly energised. The elegant measure rhythm of the minuet becomes explosive in Figaro's 'If you are after a little amusement.' Horns and plucked strings combine to paint a remarkable picture of suppressed resentment. The off-beat clarinets and chromatically rising strings of 'Is it pain, is it pleasure?' vividly convey Cherubino's constant state of sensual arousal. And the trumpets and drums of Bartolo's old-fashioned peroration build up the tension of the moment when joined with the furious pace of his patter. Even the little chorus, quaintly pastoral though it is, becomes a dangerous weapon in the struggle between Figaro and his master.

At the end of all this screwing up of tension comes 'Say goodbye now to pastime and play.' Here, the tune is simplicity itself, merely outlining the chords on which it's based. The phrase lengths are evenly balanced, and mostly grouped in pairs. There is no chromaticism; and the modulations are of the most obvious kind. The rondo form is simple and clear. Everything in the song is straightforward and direct. And thus, with a rush, the tension of the whole Act is released. The simple idea of a vigorous, martial tune, combined with its placing at the end of a complicated Act, makes its effect doubly strong. Music and drama fuse together in a moment of theatrical power possible only to opera.

No wonder the audience at that dress rehearsal, obscurely recognizing this, leapt up with cries of congratulation; and the little man, smiling ecstatically, bowed again and again from his seat at the harpsichord. To have brought off so complicated and subtle an effect and to do it with such apparent simplicity and ease is a mark of the highest skill. Doubtless Mozart, if not his audience, knew that perfectly well.

And I must not forget that this skill is here addressing itself to the purposes of comedy. For Figaro is extremely funny; and funny because of the intensity and energy of the music. Whether it is the accompanying triplets of 'I bid you good-day, ma'am' surging to the top of the texture as the two women exchange insults; or the deliberate, constant, almost menacing tread of the fandango bass as letters are passed and fingers are pricked; or the horns—cuckold's horns—jeering at poor Figaro as he inveighs against all women—it is always the power of the music that makes the comedy...

—Stephen Oliver, 'Music and Comedy in The Marriage of Figaro'*

*This is the best explanation I've seen of why that rehearsal audience, and other critics since, have gotten quite so excited about 'Non più andrai'—not that it's bad, but I always wondered why so many people seemed to single out what seemed to me one of the simpler compositions in the whole work.

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:54 PM

Sunday, March 22, 2009
      ( 11:17 PM ) The Rat  
In my whole life, I've seen fewer plays than you might imagine or than I'd like to admit. Oh, I used to go as a kid. I was taken—and thrilled to be taken. Saw all the great ones, from Werner Krauss to Kachalov. This hand that touches you now once touched the hand of Sarah Bernhardt—can you imagine that? She had a wooden leg and she was playing vaudeville, and I was brought backstage, aged four or five, I guess, and led into a bower of dark-red roses where that marvelous old lady sat in her wheelchair refreshing herself from a tank of oxygen. That hand I took was a claw covered with liver spots and liquid white and with the pointy ends of her sleeves glued over the back of it. When she was young, Mademoiselle Bernhardt had taken the hand of Madame George, who had been the mistress of Napoleon!... Peter—just three handshakes from Napoleon! It's not that the world is so small, but that history is so short.
Orson Welles

# Posted by The Rat @ 11:17 PM

Saturday, March 21, 2009
      ( 12:07 AM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:07 AM

Friday, March 20, 2009
      ( 9:34 PM ) The Rat  

A few decades ago, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan had five nine-hour-long chat sessions where they discussed plot ideas for a story about an archaeologist/adventurer who was handy with a bullwhip. The three spoke, sometimes in short, garbled sentences, and sometimes in wild, minute-long monologues that were positively dense with ideas. The conversations were recorded, transcripts were made and, based on those transcripts, Raiders of the Lost Ark was written...

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:34 PM

      ( 8:21 PM ) The Rat  
WOODSTOCK WHISTLES 'O MIO BABBINO CARO.' Lord knows I've snarked about Puccini in my time, but I have to admit I still love watching this clip ...a good deal more than I enjoy actually sung versions, really. (For one thing, it's a huge letdown when you learn how utterly unconnected the music is to the psychology of the words being sung—but then, that's one of my reasons for aforementioned snarking.)

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:21 PM

      ( 7:59 PM ) The Rat  
MOZART-OPERA RORSCHACH. I do, of course, sympathize with the Elvis Costello (attrib.) line re "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture"; nevertheless, I'm quite taken with the following passage by H.C. Robbins Landon (with long borrowings from Bernard Levin), in his "Commentary on the Score" in the 1983 ENO guide to Così fan tutte. This is partly because, like both authors, I remain unable to admire the other operas (even Don Giovanni) as thoroughly as I do the Nozze—but even more because of the attention Landon devotes to the quality he hears in these works, which he terms "forgiveness." I could make huge lists of reasons for my addiction to the Nozze, but one of the foremost among them has to be that, even from the very first night I heard it (i.e., long before reading Landon/Levin), the music seemed to me to speak above all of forgiveness—or, put another way, of reconciliation. And by that I don't only mean a reconciliation of musical lines, or of persons or plots—here, unfortunately, my ability to explain this terribly coherently breaks down, so that if you were to ask me, "Reconciliation of what?" the best answer I could manage would be (and this despite my longstanding agnosticism): "—Of everything, I guess." Below, all brackets and ellipses are Landon's.

Recently Bernard Levin has broadcast some perceptive remarks on Figaro. He has equally perceptive things to say about Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute and Così. He says, 'somehow it seems that most Mozart lovers do have a particular preference among the four.

'And since each of the four operas has its own quality, which is clearly differentiated from the qualities of the other three, I do not think it is too odd a fancy to suppose that each of the four is loved best by people who respond to its particular quality... [As for
Don Giovanni] it is the romantics among us, and also, even more I think, those who secretly yearn to be among that bright, brave band but dare not, who respond most readily to the operatic Don Giovanni, a man who, even while giving orders for a party, is thinking of the women he will conquer at it...; [while as for The Magic Flute] it breathes wisdom, peace and a grave certainty, and those whose hopes of heaven are sure, will be carried along in ecstasy on its broad river to the apotheosis of its ending. But amid the nobility and profundity of The Magic Flute something is crowded out: it is the fully human response to the fully human situation... [Concerning Figaro, we read that] it seems to me to constitute the pinnacle of Mozart's achievement, precisely because it is the most personal and intimate of these four masterpieces.... It speaks of love... in phrases of melting beauty, of purity and innocence, of unselfishness and rapture, of—above all—humanity, and the superhuman feats of which humanity is capable when inspired by love, the most human of all feelings just because it mirrors the other love that gives humanity its ultimate meaning.'

I agree that
Figaro is Mozart's most perfect opera. Personally I consider it the greatest opera ever written. Nevertheless my personal favourite of the four great Mozart operas has always been Così. Of it, Mr Levin writes as follows:

'Though it is absurd to call it immoral, [
Così] does have a disturbing quality of cynicism.... Who loves cynicism? Well, cynics obviously; but they are, happily, few and the lovers of Così fan tutte many. True, it is musically the most perfectly constructed and worked out of the four operas, but of course it is much more than the music... It is an opera which requires a streak of pessimism in those who respond most fully to it. Pessimism, mind, not cynicism; the cynic rejoices in disaster, the pessimist merely expects it. Which leaves the cynic to tell the pessimists in the audience, over the protests of the two lovers, that fidelity among women is like that fabled bird, the phoenix—everyone has heard of it but no one has seen it!'

If I may take gentle exception to this, I think that for once there is a slight but definite division of intent between da Ponte's text and Mozart's music. Da Ponte, as you might imagine, is a perfect cynic, but Mozart is not a perfect cynic, and he involves himself far more than the text warrants in the fates of the ladies when their roles are reversed. This is partly because Mozart always shows a special perception for the problems, aspirations and motivations of women, and partly because in order to convince the audience of the new state of affairs, he has not only provided the finest music for the most untruthful situations but almost seems at times to have persuaded himself to believe the lie.

Hence I believe that the particular poignancy of
Così fan tutte is because the necessity for forgiveness—that omnipresent Mozartian grace—is present not only at the end of the opera but all through the scenes of deception, when we know—although the ladies do not yet—that their actions require more forgiveness than does any other action, perhaps, in any other Mozart opera. The emotions generated are therefore doubly powerful and the cynicism of the libretto is in part gainsaid.

# Posted by The Rat @ 7:59 PM

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
      ( 12:00 AM ) The Rat  
Orson had a fascination with the contradictory elements in people and their behavior, perhaps because he himself was such a contradictory person. I saw him once on a TV talk show late in the seventies and the attitude he expressed about me over the air was not that of a friend. I dropped him a note saying I had tuned in to see how he was feeling and guessed I had found out. The next day an envelope arrived from Welles that contained two separate letters he had written to me plus a note. The top letter was a terse, cool two paragraphs saying, in effect, that I deserved a touch of bad-mouthing and shouldn't be so hypersensitive. The second letter was much longer, abjectly apologetic, deploring his own actions as a form of betrayal. The note he attached said that since each letter had validity he had sent both.
—Peter Bogdonavich, new introduction to This Is Orson Welles

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:00 AM

Monday, March 16, 2009
      ( 9:34 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:34 PM

Saturday, March 14, 2009
      ( 5:45 AM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 5:45 AM

Friday, March 13, 2009
      ( 10:26 PM ) The Rat  
I'm one of those people who believes that if I'm very good in this life I'll go to France when I die.
—Marlon Brando (attrib. on this page)

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:26 PM

Thursday, March 12, 2009
      ( 10:39 PM ) The Rat  

For residential customers in the U.S., the average price of electricity has recently been at $0.115 per kilowatt-hour. This works out to almost exactly $1.00 per Watt-year:

Leave a 100 Watt light bulb on for a year, pay $100.

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:39 PM

Friday, March 06, 2009
      ( 8:48 AM ) The Rat  

As if being covered in inch-long, needle-sharp spikes weren't protection enough, Saguaro National Park's signature species is getting some additional protection.

By injecting radio frequency identification tags (RFID) into saguaro cacti, park managers hope to stem a rash of cactus thefts from the park...

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:48 AM

Thursday, March 05, 2009
      ( 9:19 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:19 PM

      ( 8:23 PM ) The Rat  
RAT BOMBS, and other Insane Military Attempts to Weaponize Animals, via

Though The True Stories Behind 5 Famous WTF Images is cooler, really.

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:23 PM

Wednesday, March 04, 2009
      ( 2:25 PM ) The Rat  
With the development of brain imaging in the 1990s, it became possible to actually visualize the brains of musicians and to compare them with those of nonmusicians. Using MRI morphometry, Gottfried Schlaug at Harvard and his colleagues made careful comparisons of the sizes of various brain structures. In 1995, they published a paper showing that the corpus callosum, the great commissure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, is enlarged in professional musicians and that a part of the auditory cortex, the planum temporale, has an asymmetric enlargement in musicians with absolute pitch. Schlaug et al. went on to show increased volumes of gray matter in motor, auditory, and visuospatial areas of the cortex, as well as in the cerebellum. Anatomists today would be hard put to identify the brain of a visual artist, a writer, or a mathematician—but they could recognize the brain of a professional musician without a moment's hesitation.
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:25 PM

Monday, March 02, 2009
      ( 9:25 PM ) The Rat  

Florida wildlife managers have launched an experiment to see if they can keep crocodiles from returning to residential neighborhoods by temporarily taping magnets to their heads to disrupt their "homing" ability.

Researchers at Mexico's Crocodile Museum in Chiapas reported in a biology newsletter they had some success with the method, using it to permanently relocate 20 of the reptiles since 2004.

"We said, 'Hey, we might as well give this a try," Lindsey Hord, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's crocodile response coordinator, said on Tuesday...

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:25 PM

      ( 9:19 PM ) The Rat  
MAN STUFFS KITTY INTO BONG TO CALM IT, POLICE SAY. For me, what really makes this story is that they keep saying "kitty" instead of "cat."

A man who tried to mellow out his kitty by stuffing her into a homemade bong comprised of a garden hose and a clear plastic box is facing criminal charges.

Lincoln-area authorities cited 20-year-old Acea Schomaker on suspicion of animal cruelty Sunday morning after catching him smoking marijuana from a contraption with cat inside and a 12-inch by 6-inch base...

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:19 PM

      ( 5:14 AM ) The Rat  
A WEIRD ACT TO FOLLOW. On the phone yesterday:

Ratty's mom. 'Oh, and before I forget—in late August, I'm going to... er... what's it called in English... Mongolia. Southern Mongolia. Wanna come?'
Ratty. '!'

Really, I'm at the point where I don't even ask why anymore—the answer's just going to be something like, Because she's not building a new ward for the schizophrenics' home that month, or, Because her sherpas were bored...

# Posted by The Rat @ 5:14 AM

Sunday, March 01, 2009
      ( 9:26 PM ) The Rat  
HOW AN ORCHESTRA SAVED VENEZUELA'S CHILDREN (this article's from November, though I just read about them in the Guardian a couple days ago).

For more than 30 years an extraordinary music project has been running in Venezuela in an attempt to transform the lives of the nation's poorest children. The catchily-titled Fundación del Estado para el Sistema de Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela—the Sistema for short—has been using classical music to tackle the social problems of a country where 60% of the population live below the poverty line. By offering free instruments and tuition through a network of after-school centres all over the country, the Sistema has kept thousands of children away from the drugs, alcohol and gang-related violence of the streets and has led to the creation of 30 professional orchestras in a country that had only 2 before it started. Currently, 275,000 children attend the Sistema's schools and many of them play in one of the 125 youth orchestras.

At the pinnacle of the system stands the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela under its music director Gustavo Dudamel who is himself a product of the Sistema...

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:26 PM

      ( 2:32 PM ) The Rat  
In the early sixties, a roommate who worked at Vogue started coming home with stories about the new editor. On her first day, Mrs. Vreeland swept into the copy room and bellowed: 'I want everybody to write with quill pens!'

On another occasion, she was laying out a photo spread of little silk and satin zippered evening jackets which was to be emblazoned with the words, 'The Windbreaker,' when she was informed at the last moment that 'Windbreaker' was copyrighted and not hers to use. She roared into the copy room again: 'Quick! What's another word for breaking wind?'

Yet another time she had a two-page photo of a nude sunbathing with a black straw hat on her derriere, and a caption that read, 'Spend the summer under a Big Black Sailor.' This issue apparently made it to the stands before it was apprehended. She was completely innocent of the double entendre, of that I have no doubt. There was nothing double about Mrs. V. She was totally straight ahead.

—Mary Louise Wilson, preface to D.V.

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:32 PM

      ( 8:24 AM ) The Rat  
FOR STOLEN SALTCELLAR, A CELLPHONE IS GOLDEN (from early 2006). Even in the context of what was, from end to end, a remarkable trip, meeting Cellini's Saliera in person certainly made for one of the high points of my 12 days in Vienna and Prague... the more so as I hadn't been aware it was ever recovered following its theft in 2003. (I was actually saying to myself, "Shouldn't there be a discount off that 10 EUR admission, now they've lost the Saliera?..." when I almost walked smack into the thing.) I still hope to post a bit about the trip, but for now just wanted to put up this link... am dusting off Cellini's Autobiography too, easily one of the most entertaining memoirs I've ever read. (Had to giggle, just now, when I spotted the Amazon review characterizing the author as "Not too blessed with modesty...")

I must say, though I'm extremely thankful the Saliera was recovered—if it actually were true that Mang stole it on a whim, I would think Cellini himself would have loved the wit of that.

The art robbery took place in the early hours of May 11, 2003, when Mr. Mang climbed a scaffolding that had been built around the museum while its facade was being sandblasted and broke in through a second-floor window. Police officials said he had first seen the sculpture while on a guided tour of the museum, but their accounts of how he decided to steal it differ. In one account, he noticed the scaffolding around the museum and, having had a bit too much to drink, decided to climb up and steal the Cellini. But others, including Mr. Seipel, say that the job was well planned and could not have been pulled off on the spur of the moment...

Also have a look at the related NYT slideshow.

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:24 AM

      ( 7:19 AM ) The Rat  
That self-indulgence, almost operatic at times, seemed to me to be inseparable from his charisma, which was the charisma of genius. Irving Penn captured that quality in his matinee-idol portrait of Bernstein, published in Vogue in 1948: Here he is, not yet completely at ease in his white tie and tails; his unlined face a mix of deep-seated insecurity and unbridled self-confidence; his bearing somewhere between the 25-year-old prodigy who captured the world by stepping in at the last minute for Bruno Walter to lead the New York Philharmonic and the larger-than-life maestro memorialized in his New York Times obituary as 'Music's Monarch.' To a young boy, he was a formidable figure. My memory is filled with images of him presiding rabbinically over hotly debated Passover seders; leading frenzied performances of Christmas carols; dominating cutthroat marathons of Anagrams, jotto, and other harrowing word games. When he chose to focus on you, Bernstein could make you feel as if you were the only person in the world. I remember, during a party at his apartment in the Dakota, a crowd of admirers hovering nearby while he and I had a long, heated discussion about Nabokov, with whom I, at seventeen, had recently become obsessed. At some point, my parents signaled that it was time to go, and I told him that I was leaving. His eyes flashed and he smacked me across the face, saying, 'Fuck you—we were really talking.'
—Adam Green, 'The Godfather,' Vogue, February 2009

# Posted by The Rat @ 7:19 AM

      ( 5:19 AM ) The Rat  
HEH. Just stumbled on a thread at Amazon entitled "I'm a Wagner addict. Now what?" From the OP:

Since plunging facefirst into my first Ring Cycle at the age of 16 (about three years ago), my life has never been the same. Time was I'd laugh and point at those in the stuffy opera-going crowd, or, if I was feeling sensitive, I might just stare and wonder what they saw in opera, the most consistently trashed and parodied form of "high art" that exists (hold a Hoffnug cartoon in your mind's eye for a moment).

These days, though, I'm the one scrabbling for tickets and searching the nether regions of the internet for bootleg Kleiber-conducted recordings. I have over 100(!) Wagner recordings on my shelves, including 10 Rings. The addiction shows no signs of flagging.

Growing up, I knew nothing about opera (of course, Wagner's not
really opera) and next to nothing about classical/Romantic music—I could play a little Mozart and Beethoven on my clarinet, and that was about it. I'm wondering why and how this happens to people like me, and I'm curious about how other people deal with this addiction, which is why I started this thread...

# Posted by The Rat @ 5:19 AM

A page I'm starting to get the overlords at to stop $#@! bugging me

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