Saturday, March 12, 2016

Viva Digital Music Old and New

I've been a fan of CDs from the very beginning. I hate surface noise, pops, scratches and the like, none of which are an issue on any form of digital media. When CDs first appeared in the U.S. classical music enthusiasts were the early adopters, In the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida area an almost exclusively classical CD only shop opened bringing in imported classical recordings. It was funny because while some audiophiles were (and still are) attacking the sound of CDs and claiming vinyl is forever superior the most demanding music fans in terms of sound quality were the ones adopting digital technologies early on. The same thing happened when MiniDiscs appeared in the early 1990s. A classical station in the area even did a special program dedicated to playing classical releases on MD. Somehow, though, vinyl is hip again. I really don't get that at all.

Today's file based equivalents are lossless digital modes, most especially FLAC (Free Audio Lossless Codec), which is an Open Source and works on almost any computer and a growing number of portable devices. FLAC won't displace lossy MP3 files until higher capacity SSD storage devices become both very small and very cheap. MP3s take up far less storage space and sound good enough to a lot of people. FLAC players have been on the market for home stereo systems for a few years now but they are still very much a specialty item. Some units from China with built in amplifiers are really inexpensive these days.

Getting back to CDs, which young people often dismiss as old tech: sales are way down and both used copies of albums and new multidisc sets have become very inexpensive. It's often cheaper to buy the physical disc and rip the music yourself than to buy a digital download of the same music. You then have the original source as a backup in case your favorite music playing device or hard drive dies. It's the best of both worlds: old school physical releases with artwork and often extensive information and the convenience of file based music.

Anyway, those are my ramblings from a discussion on Facebook about digital vs. analog media for music. For me its digital over analog every time.

Monday, February 15, 2016

An Open Letter To Senate Republicans

Dear Honorable Senators:

I'm a registered Republican in North Carolina. In light of the current threats our nation faces and what I view as the failure of President Obama's foreign policy I had planned to vote Republican this year in the presidential, senate and congressional races in my state and district. The reaction by many of you, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is causing me to rethink the wisdom of such votes.

Our Constitution gives the duty of nominating justices to the Supreme Court to the President. It doesn't say anything about suspending that duty when elections are almost a year away. It doesn't say anything about the political party or ideology of the President having to match that of a majority in the Senate. Your duty, as senators, is to advise and consent, one would assume based on the merits of a particular nominee. To make a statement that no nominee will be considered for nearly a full year to give our party a chance to capture the White House first is not only an unprecedented action in our history, but I firmly believe it subverts our system of checks and balances. It subverts the Constitution you are sworn to uphold.

I am still very cognizant of the uniquely dangerous external threats our nation now faces. However, I see your proposed action as an internal threat to our system of government and our democracy. Those supporting the idea of blocking any nomination for the next year claim they are waiting to allow the people to decide. The people did decide by electing President Obama not once but twice, and by a sizable margin each time. His term is not up. Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, an election year, and by a 97-0 vote.

If you choose to carry out your threat I honestly feel I have no choice but to vote Democratic in November, and to do all I can to explain why I, a moderate Republican, have made that choice. I would have no choice but to do everything in my power to persuade others to do the same. I am hoping that, in your wisdom, you decide that the best course of action is to give whomever President Obama nominates a fair confirmation hearing and a vote based on qualifications, not an ideological litmus test, as has been done in the past.

Caitlyn M. Martin
Eden, NC

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Jewish Defense of Planned Parenthood, Reproductive Rights, and Opposition to Imposing Conservative Christianity on America

With regard to Planned Parenthood there is a lot of right wing propaganda out there which ranges from distortion to outright lies. I am one of an admittedly small minority of Republican women who will say, without reservation: I stand with Planned Parenthood. I strongly oppose the efforts to defund the organization. It is already illegal for ANY federal tax money to be used for abortion. In the case of Planned Parenthood federal funds are used for the other 97% of what they do, which is all about women's health. You know, like cancer screening and contraception. Some Christians also object to contraception. The ready availability of contraceptives reduces abortions, something I see as a good thing.

I'm also a Jewish American. In mainstream Judaism life begins at birth. That's why abortion is legal in Israel. There are times when it is simply a medical necessity. In Judaism abortion is NOT murder. That is a Christian religious view. I wrote about this seven years ago, quoting Orthodox Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in a piece titled A Religious Argument For Being Pro-Choice .

Christian interpretation about what they believe to be G-d's word isn't likely to convince pro-choice Jews. In a recent debate on a pro-choice Jewish friend's Facebook page I put it just this way: Jews are not Christians. We do not share your beliefs. As Rabbi Telushkin pointed out in his book The Ten Commandments of Character, an unborn fetus is simply not a baby in the Torah. In Judaism the Torah (law) takes precedence over Nevi'im (prophets) in all things. Christians reorder and reinterpret our scripture in utterly unacceptable ways to Jews, holding Nev'im and Ketuvim (writings) as equal to Torah. The verse, Jeremiah 1:5, often quoted by anti-abortion, anti-choice advocates does not override Torah.

My message to those who want to impose Christian views on others, including Jews who believe entirely differently about abortion, is straightforward and entirely secular. In the U.S. we have a country where one of our founders, the principal writer of our Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, called for "a wall of separation between church and state". So long as that wall holds Christian fundamentalist views cannot be imposed on the rest of us, hence Roe v. Wade. Christian religious views on abortion are not supported by science or medicine. You want to deny women a sometimes necessary, sometimes life saying medical procedure based on your religion? Sorry, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its wisdom, says no.

Once again, to my conservative Christian readers: please understand that your religious views are not universal and are not accepted by mainstream Judaism. You most certainly do not speak for G-d in my view. My politics may have turned to the right in other areas, and I may have also returned to the Republican Party, but that doesn't mean I need to give up my own religious beliefs or my belief that America is strongest as a tolerant country accepting people of all faiths and imposing no religion upon its citizens.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Compelled To Speak Out

Earlier today, on Facebook, I posted this news story: Jewish woman will be the White House’s first openly transgendered staffer. Anyone who knows me knows that I've remained socially liberal even while turning to the right on foreign policy and security issues. I strongly support LGBT rights and, while I've become a harsh critic of President Obama, in this case I give him a lot of credit.

A friend who read my post sent me a blog post from a conservative Christian attacking the LGBT community, and transgendered people in particular. The blog is called "Compelled To Speak". I felt compelled to respond to it. Here is what I wrote:
"You're right on only one level: gender is not a choice. Sex is the physical thing, what parts we are born with. Gender is what's between the ears, determined by neurochemistry in the womb based on the science I've read on this and experts I've talked to. Sometimes someone, from birth, has a gender that does not match their sex. It isn't a choice nor is it a desire. It just is and is a part of G-d's creation. Even Rev. Pat Robertson has acknowledged this. It certainly isn't sin. It does not contradict the passages from the Hebrew Bible you quote in translation.

Your comparisons to bestiality and pedophilia are both ignorant and hateful. Since you post this as a Christian I wonder how you reconcile this with New Testament scripture:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.-Matthew 7:1-2

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. - John 8:7"

I could have thrown more at her but I feel this was enough to make my point. There is nothing Christian about condemning and judging others.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

'70s Israeli Progressive Rock: Sheshet

I grew up on the progressive rock of the '70s. Mostly we heard US and UK bands in the States, but some European bands, particularly Italian bands like PFM, Le Orme and New Trolls recorded songs in English and had a following in the U.S. Israeli prog? Not so much. First, it never was a terribly popular sound in Israel from what I can gather, and without a big commercial success in their home country these bands just didn't get exported. I only discovered them in recent years and a few were truly exceptional.

Sheshet is my personal favorite, a band that was as good as anything that came out of the US or UK. They had Yehudit Ravitz for a vocalist and acoustic guitarist and Shem-Tov Levi on flute and vocals. He also wrote most of the music, which is an amazing mix of the softer side of progressive rock and Canterbury scene style jazz, plus unique touches of their own. Prog bands always needed exceptional keyboardists and Sheshet had one in Adi Renert.

The 30th anniversary deluxe edition, released in 2007, is a two CD set currently available from Amazon. The first disc is their self-titled debut album, which was exceptional from beginning to end. Some tracks have Yehudit Ravitz singing lead; others have group vocals. Some of the album has Hebrew lyrics but there is also a lot of wordless vocalise. I always loved when Annie Haslam did that with Renaissance. It takes a talented singer to pull that off well and Yehudit Ravitz is up for the task. The one track that was a single in Israel is All Thumbs Samba, a track which really is a samba with Hebrew lyrics. Despite the very different sound from the other tracks it has enough depth added to make it fit seamlessly into the album.

Their second and final album is the soundtrack to the film "The Stretcher March" (1977). It's filled with lovely prog instrumentals and more vocalise. The 30th anniversary deluxe CD reissue of Sheshet's self-titled debut includes all the original, previously unreleased music from the film on a second bonus CD. (The three tracks that appeared on both albums are only on the first disc.) It includes two versions of the theme song from the film. The disc opens with an instrumental version and finishes with a vocal version, with Gidi Gov singing lead. The one set basically gives you everything the band ever recorded. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Notes: Photos from the CD booklet. This review was originally written for Amazon with some minor differences. Also published on my pro-Israel/Zionist blog.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Occupy Wall Street: The Final Implosion and the Impact on My Politics

It seems Occupy Wall Street has finally imploded and died. I say good riddance to bad rubbish. Yes, I supported Occupy for a period of weeks, much to my shame. Once Occupy got away from a populist economic message and went off into far left nonsense it was doomed. Huge clue: Marxist teach ins don't fly in America. Neither does the over the top anti-Semitism that came to pervade the so-called movement.

The fact is that Occupy has been dead for a couple of years now. Those in the hard core left-wing social media bubble don't realize it because they've supported one another and somehow think lots of other people agree with them. These, of course, are the folks who think President Obama is a corporate sell out and who either stayed home during the 2012 elections or supported Jill Stein for President. How many votes did she get? Getting 0.36 percent of the vote is not making an impact. You see my point. Occupy had become another piece of the extreme left wing, and hard left politics are terribly unpopular in the U.S.

Occupy did have an impact. It made income inequality an issue Democrats and even some Republicans are still talking about. It deserves some credit for that. However, a "leaderless" organization (or rather disorganization) which tried to make decisions by "consensus" was doomed to failure from the start. An organization like this needs leadership, real leadership, that can keep it on message and keep that message narrowly defined. That's how things can get accomplished and how progress towards the worthwhile goals that Occupy started out with can be made. Right now the name Occupy is poison to anyone not on the far left. If you really want a populist, non-partisan movement with broad based support you need focus, first and foremost.

I had been drifting from right to left politically for a very long time when I joined Occupy, willing to devote time and resources to what I saw as a worthwhile movement against corruption, undue corporate influence and for needed economic reform. Since that brief period, since I became more tuned into left wing media and what the left stands for, I've been moving in the opposite direction. I fully expect to vote Republican for the first time in a quarter of a century in the 2014 elections. That's the one positive change Occupy did make in my life. Congratulations! I don't think that was the intent of the movement but it sure convinced me that was the correct and moral direction for me to move in.

[Drawn from a debate on Facebook,]

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why I'm Not Boycotting the Olympics

A lot of my friends are boycotting watching the Olympics. Some are opposed to the anti-gay law passed in Putin's Russia and the oppression of the LGBT community. Some are opposed to the desecration of the site where Circassian people (who are native to the Sochi area) were massacred in order to build ski slopes. Some are opposed to the senseless killing of dogs, mostly strays, so that they don't bother those attending the Olympics. Some are opposed to Russia's hideous human rights record in general. I am opposed to all of those things. They are all horrible and the Olympics should never have been held in Russia. I blame the IOC for choosing sites in countries that have no respect for human rights and that is where protests should be focused.

I am not boycotting. I watched last night. It was on broadcast TV (I have neither cable nor satellite) so there is nobody anyone can count or any way bean counters can tell that I watched for ratings purposes. Nobody in Russia benefits from my watching. Advertisers can only make a negative impression on me by cashing in on the Olympics so they won't benefit either. I love figure skating and I support Team Israel and Team USA.

I enjoyed watching the first part of the first ever figure skating team competition. The Canadian couple of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford is awesome and had an amazing performance, as did Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. Scott Hamilton called his performance "sick".

I also think NBC and Bob Costas deserve huge kudos for their coverage of the anti-gay law. First, they spent a lot of time on the subject and called a lot of attention to it. Their two Russian analysts were amazingly good. One, Vladimir Posner, the former Soviet spokesperson, said it best: "Russia is a homophobic country." The law has the support of 85% of the population. He also made clear that Putin doesn't give a damn what anyone in the West thinks. Posner also pointed out that Putin is "an autocrat, not a democrat" and that the protests against the law are by "urban, liberal intelligentsia" and not the masses, who are, as he said, homophobic.

That kind of coverage does Putin and Russia no favors, and it was smack in the middle of prime time between figure skating and skiing segments. I'm glad I watched it. The anti-gay law was presented in an entirely unfavorable way. I'm sure the bigots in the audience hated that coverage.

What I am doing is using a rainbow flag with the Olympic rings as my Facebook profile picture to show solidarity with the LGBT community in Russia, and I urge everyone who cares about human rights to do the same.