Michael A. Covington    Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
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Ichthys

Daily Notebook

Popular topics on this page:
Guitar records found after 40 years
Songs of the Day, Sept. 21 — Oct. 18
Is your truth different from my truth?
Astrophotos:
Jupiter
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2021
October
31

Reformation Day and Halloween

On the anniversary of Luther's 95 Theses, I invite my fellow Christians, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, to join me in praying for Christian unity and faithfulness to divine revelation.

And on Halloween, the eve of All Saints' Day, I wish everyone a wholesome celebration of this opportunity to poke fun at whatever scares us, and generally clown around, while avoiding ungodly entanglements.

(More about that here. In particular, I caution against swallowing stories that Halloween "is really" something other than what anyone actually intends or understands it to be. Some of the "origin of Halloween" stories that are circulating this year are flatly false, and for others, all we can say is that if something is not remembered or intended by anyone, it is not part of their intentions today, regardless of what might have happened in the past.)

2021
October
28

Bronchitis 2.0

Avid readers will recall that I had some kind of bronchitis right after Labor Day and kept coughing until at least October 12 — and then, after easing off for a few days, the cough came back. This past weekend, it got a lot worse and I finally was able to get to an urgent care center (via telemedicine). I'm out of work this week, but the antibiotic has helped, and maybe this time the infection will actually go away. I see my regular doctor on Tuesday.

In September, I couldn't get into an urgent care center (there was then 20 times as much COVID in our county as there is right now!) but I did get a negative COVID test.

This has been quite a drag. Through most of September and October I was able to do essential work, but with no energy left over for anything else. And because of COVID precautions, a person who coughs is not welcome in most public places.

One reason I've been blogging so much about music these past few weeks is that I haven't had the energy to do astronomy, electronics, or photography. And we have not been able to go meet our new grandson!

In what follows, I'll catch up by blogging, here, some things I've posted on Facebook recently. Given ongoing technical, ethical, and legal problems with Facebook, I am not as confident as I used to be that I can rely on it long-term.



Local wildlife

Picture

This Joro spider, one of many invading my yard, reminds me of the flag of Maryland. (Look it up.)



Is your truth different from my truth?

(From Facebook.)

Melody Mauldin Covington and I are reading, together, Tom Morris's excellent book Philosophy for Dummies. (You don't have to be a dummy to read it. It's based on the intro philosophy course he taught at Notre Dame.)

One point he drives home is that epistemological relativism ("what's true for you need not be true for me" or "we each have our own reality") is NOT a serious theory accepted by philosophers anywhere. It's something we hear from cranks trying to avoid facing facts or logic.

This is important, because lots of people seem to have heard of epistemological relativism and think it is some kind of new, widely acknowledged insight or discovery. It is not.

(Morris explains that it is used as a straw man in philosophy courses — a theory you're supposed to refute — but some students latch onto it as if it were tenable.)

I do need to deal with a couple of details. First, some statements of fact are relative because they are about different people or situations, even if they don't sound like it. "Broccoli tastes bitter." "No, it doesn't." If we're talking about different people's taste buds, these are not a contradiction.

Second, in the 1970s it was widely said that moral or value judgments are relative because people get to choose their own values. That doesn't hold up very well, because it obligates you to say that the most horrible crimes aren't objectively wrong, they're just not to your personal taste, and other people have a perfect right to like them.

I was extremely honored that my Facebook posting about this was taken up and shared by — Tom Morris!



We don't have to watch those videos or read those web sites

(From Facebook.)

Our time and attention are finite resources. When studying controversial issues, we are not required to watch every video and read every web site that anyone ever makes. Our job is to seek out reliable sources of information and use them. We will listen to challenges that are taken seriously by knowledgeable people, but we aren't required to listen to everything everybody ever says.

To believe that the earth is round, I do not have to personally watch and refute every flat-earth video anyone shoves at me. The earth certainly does not become flat the moment someone throws at me an argument that I don't have time to decode and refute!

Videos, in particular, are mainly for persuading the UNqualified. Real science is communicated in writing. A video demands your undivided attention for a long time and makes it hard to pause and pursue references. Real science is concise, can be skimmed, and has links to references.



The real world or a story?

(From Facebook.)

A question I have found useful, to get people back in touch with reality, is:

"Are you wanting to know what is true in the real world, or only what is true in some kind of story you're entertaining yourself with?"

This applies to politics, medicine, and many other things.

I should add that the question is more for challenging the audience than for challenging the person arguing. People who are changing their opinions never concede anything in direct argument. Instead, they go away and reconsider quietly.



A handful more Songs of the Day

On Facebook, I've discontinued Song of the Day until I get better. But here are the last few that I posted before stopping:

Oct. 19: Rick Wakeman, piano arrangement of "Stairway to Heaven"

"Stairway to Heaven" improved? Or just cut?

Before I continue the classical series, let me share something striking that I just came across.

Rick Wakeman has come out with a piano arrangement of "Stairway to Heaven" that leaves out the two things I didn't like: the unfinished, disconnected lyrics, and the loud hard-rock passage near the end.

This isn't some popularizer trying to make elevator music. This is Rick Wakeman, the Mozart of rock music, the man whose name is synonymous with progressive rock. So what he did deserves attention. He can't be accused of not understanding the song.

I am one who appreciates Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" (1971) but does not think it is altogether first-rate. The loud hard-rock passage struck me as having been put in just to show it's 1971. (Or maybe to make the song depict the emergence of hard rock; I don't know.) As for the lyrics, they are haunting but do not entirely make sense. They are best understood as (1) three or four short poems rather than one whole; (2) unfinished material offered for us to complete in our own minds. Of these, (2) is a quirk of mid-century modernist poetry, and I am glad it is no longer fashionable. The fact that the composer of the lyrics won't say what they mean — maybe can't say — is a bad sign, although, again, it's a mid-century thing, the artist making the audience do the work.

"Stairway to Heaven" was some people's first encounter with music that is more than one three-minute-long song and puts together more than one musical theme. For them, the wide world of symphonic music awaits.

For the rest of us, is this "Stairway to Heaven" or only part of it? If the latter, it's the good part.

Oct. 20: Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), Canon in D Major

Pachelbel's Canon. A canon, like a round, is a song that harmonizes with time-delayed copies of itself. So you will hear (and see) this one start up three times, and all three copies harmonize with each other.

We think of classical music as something that has been around forever, but in fact, this piece, though composed in the late 1600s, was seldom heard from maybe 1800 to 1970. It is part of the great rediscovery of baroque music that took place during my student days. I was excited to get to hear great music that hardly anybody had heard for a century or more. Previously, there had been a move toward bigger and bigger orchestras, and neglect of music composed for smaller groups.

Oct. 21: Jean-Joseph Mouret (1682-1738), Rondeau ("Fanfares")

Mouret's Fanfares broke upon many of us as the theme music for Masterpiece Theatre. It is now used often as a processional at weddings and academic ceremonies. This is an example of French Baroque music, another piece that was abandoned shortly after its own time and then rediscovered in the 1960s.

Oct. 22: Beethoven, "Ode to Joy" (Symphony No. 9)

This is one of the very high points of classical music, and it was the first piece of it that got my complete attention, around eighth or ninth grade. It's the ending of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. This is a nicely chosen 14-minute excerpt.

Beethoven himself never heard this, as he had gone completely deaf by the time it premiered.

You may recognize this tune, either as the hymn "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee," or as the recessional of a wedding (ours!), or as the European Union anthem, or as a high-school band number, or even (I'm not kidding) as a 1970 song by teen idol Bobby Sherman (which is not where I first heard it, I assure you, though I did hear it).

Oct. 23: Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710), "Canarios"

This is a short guitar piece that you may have heard as part of something else (e.g., in a piece by the band "Sky" c. 1980, or elsewhere).

2021
October
18

Songs of the Day, Sept. 21 — Oct. 18
A whirlwind tour of my taste in music, or part of it

On September 21 I started a series of Facebook postings titled "Song of the Day" to share music that I like (and show the world what kinds of music I like). In many cases I added commentary that people have found useful. I want to preserve these in the Daily Notebook too, and I'll do it in batches like this one. Hang on to your hat — this is a long entry!

There may come a day when the YouTube links do not work. If that happens, you can still search for the music elsewhere by name.

Sept. 21: Pierre Bensusan, "Près de Paris"

A beautiful piece of French folk music.

Sept. 21 (again): John Rutter, "Beatles Concerto"

This is what happens when the greatest living English composer takes on the challenge of doing Beatles instrumentals.

Sept. 22: Sons and Daughters, "Let the River Run"

Startlingly good performance of a Carly Simon classic.

Sept. 23: ABBA, "Arrival"

I'm going to start a series of instrumentals by groups normally known for vocals. This is one by ABBA. (Strictly speaking there are voices in this one, but not words.)

Melody taught me to look for instrumentals on vocal albums. They are often quite good (because the musicians are doing what they like to do) and not at all well known (because they're not promoted and don't make the hit parade).

As I continue this series, you're going to hear some surprises.

Sept. 24: Allman Brothers, "Jessica"

Quite different from yesterday's ABBA number, this is another example of an instrumental by a group that normally does vocals. These people can really play guitars...

Sept. 25: The Doobie Brothers, "Steamer Lane Breakdown"

Yet another instrumental on an album by a vocal group. There are many good bluegrass instrumentals out there — but this isn't who normally performs them. You can see that the musicians enjoy what they're doing.

While a series of instrumentals by vocal groups could go on forever, I think I'll move on to something a bit different tomorrow.

Sept. 26: Mocedades, "Pange Lingua Gloriosi"

It's Sunday, so we'll have a piece of sacred music. But that doesn't mean it's not unusual.

Here is what the Spanish group Mocedades did with a well-known Gregorian chant. I rather like it. You remember them for "Eres Tú," which made the charts in 1974. Here they take on one of the top hits of the 13th Century.

(No song for Sept. 27.)

Sept. 28: L.A. Express (album)

Song of the day... or rather album... of jazz fusion instrumentals.

This was the warmup band for a Joni Mitchell concert that I went to with a group of friends in early 1976. I liked the music but thought I'd never hear them again, and of course our minds were on Joni Mitchell. Actually, the L.A. Express released an album soon afterward, of more or less exactly what they had played before the concert. (I remember the song "Stairs," which sounds like a train slowing down, and I remember quipping to someone, "The L.A. Express has come to a station.")

Sept. 29: Donna Summer, "Nether Lands"

Getting back to the theme of better-than-original performances: the late Dan Fogelberg's "Nether Lands" is one of Melody's and my most favorite songs (hers first). We think this performance by Donna Summer is better than the original — Dan composed a song that was almost beyond his singing ability! This is from the tribute album, and we think it has the same instrumental track as the original.

"Nether lands" refers to the lower (nether) lands seen from the top of a mountain. This is not about the land of the Dutch.

Sept. 30: Händel, "Water Music"

Some people only hear this kind of music at Christmas and think of it as holiday music. Actually, there's plenty of baroque music to enjoy year-round. And this is a better-than-original performance too, I'm fairly sure; I wasn't actually around to hear the original in 1717, and they didn't record it.

On one of our very first visits, Melody displayed her keen awareness of my musical taste and her wry sense of humor by playing a record of this for us after we had gone swimming. Right — swimming and then Water Music. I had never heard this particular piece but instantly liked it. Actually, it was composed for a procession of boats, not swimmers, but good enough!

Oct. 1: Loggins and Messina, "Be Free"

This is a good example of what Loggins & Messina are good at: elaborate guitar work (especially the long instrumental passage in the middle of this song) and reflective lyrics.

They had several big hits that don't sound like this at all, nor like each other. Who would guess that "House at Pooh Corner," "Danny's Song," and "Your Mama Don't Dance" were all from the same pair of musicians?

Unlike those big hits, this song is an example of what I like about their work. In my opinion, the quality of their other songs is somewhat variable, and especially the quality of Kenny Loggins' singing. But this is a good one.

You may notice an offensive word near the end (a couple of lines after "life is but a dream"). It's amusing to see how lyrics web sites garble that part. But the song isn't trying to be offensive; it's expressing contempt for something very contemptible (drug dealers on the street, one of the barbarous things the narrator wants to get away from). So I'll grant it to them.

Oct. 2: Sky, "Toccata"

This music bridges the gap between classical and rock. Melody heard it on the radio in Atlanta while I was off in graduate school, bought the album, and sent me a tape of it. It is not a pop arrangement of a classical piece; those have been around forever. No; here the rock musicians are adding their own creativity in a worthwhile way.

This kind of music is one of several things called "progressive rock." We had sampled music of this kind before (Emerson, Lake & Palmer; "Yes;" Rick Wakeman), but "Sky" was the first band that we felt had really found their style. We like every track on every album they made.

The piece is derived from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Oct. 3: Bach, "Lobe den Herren"

Sacred music for Sunday. You have probably sung a simpler version of this song out of a hymnal. Listen to Bach's full arrangement. (Give it a minute or two if you don't recognize it.)

Oct. 4: Fernando Sor, "Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9"

THIS is the music that Melody heard playing in a bookstore a couple of years before we got married. It was part of a vinyl record set, and she didn't point it out to me at the time because she didn't want to hint for an expensive present. But we talked about it recently, and I tracked down the records and gave them to her just 2 days ago. (Not the record set whose cover you see on YouTube, but another containing the same recording of this piece.)

Oct. 5: Mannheim Steamroller, "Embers" ("Fresh Aire IV")

As newlyweds, Melody and I were walking by a record player in a Radio Shack in California when we heard this. Mannheim Steamroller was giving the world a new kind of music, derived from jazz and progressive rock, and 100% pleasant to listen to (Chip Davis stated that as one of his goals, and it told me that maybe the 1970s were finally over).

This is a small sample of their music, which covers a wide range of styles and tempos, but we like all of it.

Oct. 6: Harry James, "Ciribiribin"

As a child, I often listened to my father's jazz records, especially an album titled "Great Band Themes and Songs that Made Them Famous." On it was, among other things, this.

Oct. 7: Glenn Miller Orchestra, "Battle Hymn of the Republic"

Even more out-of-the-way than yesterday's. Can you imagine dancing to the Battle Hymn of the Republic? Yes, it's possible. If it's 1943 and your day job is saving the United States, you might even want to.

Here is Glenn Miller's dance arrangement of it. This, too, was on my father's jazz records that I listened to as a child. The arrangement I heard (from Bobby Krane's "Tribute to Glenn Miller") was, as I recall, a little tamer, without any clapping.

Oct. 8: Paul Mauriat, "Love Is Blue"

Paul Mauriat's "Love is Blue" topped the US charts in early 1968 (the spring of sixth grade for me). It caught my ear then, and I've liked it ever since.

Rarely is an instrumental performance of a song better than the original. The 1960s were full of instrumental covers of songs, and most were much duller than the original songs. Paul Mauriat, however, regularly took song tunes and made them into better music, elaborating them in such a way as to extend, not just decorate, what was already there.

Oct. 9: Herb Alpert, "A Taste of Honey"

I said yesterday that not many musicians can be relied on to improve a song when making it into an instrumental. One who can is Paul Mauriat (yesterday's Song of the Day). Another in my opinion, is Herb Alpert. His trumpet isn't just singing the lead vocal — he made this song into something original.

A correction: This one was actually an instrumental first, but not Herb Alpert's. Lyrics were put to it (and sung by the Beatles in 1962). I still think Mr. Alpert deserves credit for improving the song.

Oct. 10: Regimental Brigade of Scotland, "Amazing Grace"

Sacred music for Sunday. This bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" actually made the U.S. Top 40 in 1972, and we were bemused to hear it on the radio interspersed with much less dignified songs such as "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog." I bought the album; this may be the best bagpipe-playing I've ever heard. But I am told bagpipe purists object strongly to backing up a bagpipe with a military band.

The composer of the hymn was, in earlier life, a slave trader, but became an anti-slavery activist after he turned to Christ.

Oct. 11: Los Incas, "El Cóndor Pasa"

For Columbus Day or Indigenous Heritage Day, something with Native American roots. You've heard this after Simon and Garfunkel put lyrics to it; here is the original.

South American folk and popular music carries on many Inca traditions without a clear boundary between native and European-style music. This is not, as has been thought, an Inca folk song; it was composed for a zarzuela (musical theater) in 1913. It is closely based on traditional music of the Andes, of which there is still plenty being composed and performed.

Oct. 12: Neil Diamond, "America"

We haven't had a Neil Diamond song yet. Here is one of my favorites. If you're an American and this doesn't resonate with you, you've missed something important about what our country is.

Oct. 13: Herb Alpert, "America the Beautiful"

We usually hear "America the Beautiful" performed by a large choir, orchestra, or band. Here is Herb Alpert's lone wistful trumpet. And that's a lot like how it feels to be an American these days.

Oct. 14: Al Hirt, "Java"

A great opportunity was missed by not making this the theme song of a certain programming language.

Oct. 15: Carpenters, "Only Yesterday"

If you don't remember the Carpenters, you've missed some of the best music of the 1970s. But there's nothing that marks it as a product of the 1970s — they could have sung it in any era, and it's not a bit old-fashioned today. Back then, it was a welcome relief from music marketed to divide generation from generation.

Herb Alpert (recently featured here twice) had a hand in forming the record company (A&M) that published them.

Oct. 16: Mocedades, "Eres Tú"

My favorite 1970s love song is this one, which is in Spanish. Below is my translation of the Spanish lyrics, which are not much like the English words that were put to the same song. The Spanish band Mocedades ("Youth") is from Basque country and has also sung the song in Basque. "Eres tú" means "you are" or "it's you." "Hoguera" is anything from a fireplace to a bonfire. In a few places I'm translating less literally in order to preserve elegance and head off misunderstandings.

Like a promise, you are, you are,
Like a morning in the summer.
Like a smile, you are, you are,
That's how you are.

All my hope, you are, you are,
Like fresh rain in my hands.
Like a strong wind, you are, you are,
That's how you are.

You are like the water in my fountain,
You are the fire on my hearth.
You are like the flame of my campfire,
You are the wheat in my bread.

Like my poem, you are, you are,
Like a guitar in the night.
All my horizon you are, you are,
That's how you are.

You are like the water in my fountain,
You are the fire on my hearth.
You are like the flame of my campfire,
You are the wheat in my bread.

This translation is of course dedicated to Melody, who is all of these things, and more.

Oct. 17: Cat Stevens, "Morning Has Broken"

Sacred music for Sunday. The hymn "Morning Has Broken," which dates from 1931, became a pop music hit in 1971 when Cat Stevens sang it (with no less than Rick Wakeman as his accompanist; the instrumental parts and the key changes add a lot to it). Cat Stevens is a good singer but at the time had no explicit connection to Christianity and later converted to Islam. Nonetheless, he really put this beautiful hymn on the map, and it now appears in many hymnals.

Note also that Rick Wakeman has just released a piano instrumental of this song with an even more elaborate, though very similar, arrangement.

Oct. 18: Bach (attrib.), "Minuet in G"

I'm shifting toward classical music (broadly defined) this week. And with that in mind...

One of my favorite short pieces by Bach turns out not to be by Bach! Although included in a notebook Bach presented to his wife Anna Magdalena, this was actually composed by Christian Petzold. It is widely used by people learning the piano (I even played it myself during the brief period that I took piano lessons), but here you hear it played by an orchestra.

You may have heard the tune in the popular song A Lover's Concerto (1965), with an altered rhythm, or in a rather flamboyantly ornate arrangement by Ferrante and Teicher.

There! That brings us up to today. I'll continue to post songs daily on Facebook and round them up periodically here.

2021
October
12

Jupiter

Picture

A serviceable picture of Jupiter, though not a great one. Stack of the best 25% of about 5000 video frames, Celestron C8 EdgeHD with 2× teleconverter, ASI120MC-S camera.



Life in wartime

I'm finally (almost) over the bronchitis that I came down with on Labor Day. (Almost, because, for me, bronchitis always diminishes asymptotically, and there will probably be slight signs of it for another month.)

COVID in Georgia is falling fast; the reported infection rate is down to 1/5 of peak, and this is a trailing indicator, so it's actually lower than that. We don't know if this is the beginning of herd immunity or just some kind of natural cycle — COVID waves seem to have a limited length. It's probably some of both. The fourth wave was as big as the third, but 80% to 90% of the victims this time were unvaccinated. We still have enough unvaccinated people to support a serious wave, unfortunately. And we don't know if this is the last wave; probably not; but we hope the next wave will be smaller.

I've been able to work in the UGA Science Library a couple of times recently and have enjoyed being in a library; I find it energizing to be surrounded by people who are getting things done and aren't asking me to do any of them! We wear masks when moving around but not when sitting alone at a table.

2021
October
6

Two things just happened to Facebook

Facebook has just had both technical and ethical problems. Here's the technical problem:

Picture

That is, Facebook was, for a while, off the Internet.

The ethical problem, as revealed by "whistleblower" and former employee Frances Haugen on Oct. 3-5, is this:

Facebook selectively promoted inflammatory postings, showing them to more people than other types of postings.

Crucially, when Facebook promotes some postings in preference to others, it is exercising editorial control. It is no longer just a message service for its customers. It has responsibility. This is all the more the case when Facebook's own research shows that it knew of the harm being done — and that's exactly what Ms. Haugen revealed.

Selective promotion is not inherently wrong — many users would want the computer to show them more popular postings in preference to less popular ones when there isn't room on the screen for everything. The problem is that Facebook management knew that they were promoting misinformation and hate, not just popularity, and chose to profit by doing so.

It's like a newspaper choosing to print something inflammatory or even pornographic on a certain page in order to get more people to see the ads there.

Crucially, the issue is not censorship. Ms. Haugen is not whining that Facebook won't tolerate some crank, quack, or extremist. No; the problem was Facebook selectively promoting inflammatory material, not censoring it.

The principle of ethics is that even if you didn't intend harm, when you find out you're doing harm, you have a duty to stop.

And that is something computer geeks, in particular, often have a moral blind spot about. Back in my incident-handling days, I often talked to adolescents who felt that if something worked mechanically, they had no moral responsibilities associated with it.

Ms. Haugen was on TV on Sunday evening. Then, on Monday, starting around 9 a.m. local time at Facebook headquarters, Facebook disappeared from the Internet. To be precise, Facebook was no longer nameserved — www.facebook.com was no longer the name of a web address — and that was due to a change initiated at Facebook itself, not by an outside attack. After several hours, Facebook came back.

A good technical description was published by Cloudflare, which first thought its own (important) nameservers were malfunctioning, since it did not seem possible that Facebook would voluntarily remove itself.

According to Facebook, the outage was due to a change made by accident which left remote workers unable to reverse it because they could no longer connect. Whether we trust Facebook's claim that it was accidental is up to us.

Facebook needs competitors. I would like to use a service that actually is what Facebook claimed to be. I'm going to look at alternatives. Crucially, I am not looking for a sanctuary for extremists that Facebook "censors." I am looking for a company whose terms of service are reasonable and are actually what the public is told they are.

2021
October
5

Happy birthday, Melody!

2021
October
4

40 years late is better than never

For Melody's upcoming birthday, I gave her a boxed set of phonograph records that she had noticed when we were in a bookstore a year or two before we got married, but she didn't point them out to me then because she didn't want to seem to be angling for an expensive present. Now she has them, and I also did a full digital conversion and cleanup so we can listen to them on our computers.

Picture

The precise piece of music that caught her ear was Fernando Sor's Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Opus 9, performed by John Williams, which you can hear at this link. That performance has been included in many collections.

The boxed set that I found is Murray Hill Records S-4194. It fits the description and begins with the piece of music Melody remembers, and it's the only set of records fitting the description that was available at the time. But one doubt remains. Melody remembers rather different cover art, with a big gold star on a blue background. It could have been a different edition or even a different set of records. Since it never turned up, we now think it was a promotional display which Melody took to be the album cover but which actually wasn't. Nonetheless, we're keeping our eyes open.

[Note added October 28:] The story gets better! On eBay I scored a new-in-box unopened, sealed copy of the same set of records. I'm going to redo all the digitization.



Cough, cough

For a solid month, since Labor Day, I've been fighting bronchitis, and finally I'm on the mend, though still not surging with energy. I got a negative COVID test, but of course the cough was unwelcome in public places, so I worked at home for more than three weeks.

Now it's time to scramble and do all the things I got behind on!


If what you are looking for is not here, please look at previous months .