Saturday, October 22, 2011

Remembering Records

I heard a report on the radio about a company that would put all of your CDs on to MP3s, saving you the trouble of lugging all those heavy CDs around when you moved. I guess it is the latest technological “transfer”. When my oldest son was born, we invested in a very state-of-the-art Super 8 mm movie camera. Took lovely 3 minute film strips. Not a couple of years later, videotape cameras came into use. Friends and family took all their old filmstrips and had them reprocessed into videotapes. Now you could watch the family grow up Christmas after Christmas, all on one videotape. I hope that, if you did this, it was on VHS and not Beta! Now all of those old VHS tapes are being copied onto DVDs.

So, this change of media is nothing new; it just happens more rapidly. I started thinking, with the CDs onto MP3s, whether a CD collection was as bulky as a record collection. Surely, not. Obviously the CDs themselves are much smaller than 12-inch LPs; the jewel cases may be a bit thicker than record jackets, but their smaller size must compensate for that. I assume that everyone knows what 12-inch LPs (records) are. Vinyl disks? The things that DJs scratch back and forth with special turntables? Regular turntables – oh yes, I have a very nice Bang and Olufsen Beogram with an arm that goes across the record rather than pivoting. Very pleased with it when I got it a few years before CDs came out. But, then again, I still have records that I can play on it. I don’t, but I could. I’m sure.

So, mostly for the nostalgia of people who are old, I want to point out that LPs, those 12” vinyl disks,  are called “LP” for “long playing”, because they could have as much as 30 minutes of music on each side (but rarely, more often in the low 20s). They were also known as “33s”, because they were designed to play at 33-1/3 rpm, as opposed to their predecessors, 78s, which (you guessed it!) played at 78 rpm. 78s pretty much had one song on a side; not only did they rotate more than twice as fast, the new 33s were 20% bigger (12 vs 10 inches) [note: calculation error. They're actually 44% bigger; like pizzas area of records increases by squaring the radius, so a 12" record has an area of 36π while a 10" only 25π].  and had more closely spaced grooves. They required a different needle (a diamond needle, usually) than did the 78s. Most record players, or “changers”, had a double needle so you could rotate the correct one into place, along with a switch to adjust the speed to 33, 78, or in the middle, 45 rpm. 45s were the 7 inch disks with the big hole in the middle (presumably so you wouldn’t put it on a regular spindle and wreck the record by playing it at 78rpm); they had one song on a side also, but were a lot smaller, lighter and easier to store than 78s. If you didn’t have a 45 spindle, they sold plastic adapters that you could put into the big hole and put it on a regular spindle, but you still had to change the speed. 45s were the records that everybody I knew bought and collected from elementary school up through high school; you could buy a box to carry them around in, to parties at other people’s houses. I bet there are still some in a box at my father’s house.

What I know are at my father’s house are a bunch of 78 rpm albums. Those of you old enough to remember records but not 78s probably never thought about why a record is called an “album”, since it is only one record in a sleeve, but 78s actually came in albums, like a picture album. Because you could get so little music on one disk, if you recorded a symphony or an opera (or even a group of songs by a single artist or group) you had to have a bunch of disks, most commonly 4. So between the two cardboard covers with the information on them were several paper sleeves, each of which had a disk in it. And, to hear the whole album (particularly if it was a symphony or an opera, say) you piled the disks on a long spindle that had an apparatus that would drop down the next disk when one was finished. And when all were done, you turned the stack over to hear the rest. Thus, confusing to me as a child who didn’t much listen to symphonies, side 1 is on the flip side of side 8, side 2 is with side 7, 3 with 6, and 4 with 5.

78 records, while vinyl, were an older fashioned kind, not somewhat flexible like 33s, but rigid and thick. And brittle after a while. At one time when I was, probably, a young teenager, my father decided to get rid of a bunch of old 78s, many of which had cracks, and discovered that they would (pretty much) break when banged on my head. Not too hard, you understand, and good preparation for smashing beer cans on my forehead a few years later! Luckily, he didn’t break them all. Some of the albums most fixed in my brain are still there in the cabinet. They would probably be scratched a reedy and thin (remember these were all monaural, not stereophonic), but they would be great. I know that Josef Marais and the “Songs of the South African Veldt” is still there, as is “Songs of Free Men” by Paul Robeson and another album of songs of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, the Americans who fought on the (losing) side of the Spanish Republic against Franco’s fascists, along with the other members of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-38. One disk had a label stuck on it that said, in Spanish “the noises on this recording are due to the electrical interruptions resulting from the bombings”.

We also still have, I am pretty sure, Robeson’s recording of “Ballad for Americans” by John LaTouche and Earl Robinson (and produced by the recently-deceased Norman Corwin), which, according to the Wikipedia entry, “In the 1940 presidential campaign it was played at both the Republican National Convention (by white baritone Ray Middleton) and that of the Communist Party”. (We also have Odetta’s rendition, on both LP and CD). And Burl Ives. And a recording of “La Boheme” featuring Victoria de los Angeles as Mimi and Jussi Björling as Rodolfo, one of my mother’s favorites. And, of course, as I was reminded the other day listening to a talk on the history of the NY Yankees, the Brooklyn Baseball Cantata, by George Kleinsinger, performed by Robert Merrill (available on YouTube as Part 1 and Part 2).
And, in case you’re wondering, while I did have a child’s 78-only record player (“Tubby the Tuba” and Tex Ritter cowboy songs), no, I don’t go back as far as wax cylinders or gramophones with conch-shell-shaped speakers. And, to be honest, if saving CDs to MP3s saves weight, think of the weight-saving benefit for 78s!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tahrir or Tienanmen? "White Shirts" or Brown? Occupy Wall St and the NYC Police

This is a guest post by Herbert Freeman.

This week has suddenly exploded with opinions from various establishment figures across the political spectrum about a homogenous encampment in the financial district that has existed for about a month and has been an object of scorn and ridicule and physical abuse until now.

NYC Police Commissioner Kelly, instead of evasive defense of the abuses of his “white shirt” police commanders, in the face of the multiple videos, that throw the lie back to his face is now whining about the cost to the department.  Perhaps we should thank him for increasing the pay to his patrolmen and using them to increase the size of the participants four and five-fold.

Mayor Bloomberg, in his normal arrogant deviousness, first deliberately misconstrued the protest as an attack on the ordinary wage earners in the financial sector, rather than the institutions that employ them.  His new attack is that his tax base is being damaged, though the protesters are trying to increase his tax income by having the privileged pay a fair share.  This, at a time when he not only has enlarged the unemployment rolls, but the callous immorality in high places, that the protesters deplore, the concept of “Get Mine First, To Hell With the Rest,” has slopped over into several areas of his own city administrations.

Now the pundits are starting to devaluate the movement, by analyses which tend to show that “they don’t really know what they want.”  This, of course, is most common among those sharp observers, who never saw a housing bubble coming, and denied the possibility of a recession, while it was in full swing, as ordinary market fluctuations.

On the other end of the pendulum, are the psychics, who ponder is this like a left-wing Tea Party reaction?  Are these the same people (or their grandchildren), who protested the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Afghanistan War, celebrating its 10th birthday with no end in sight?

Perhaps, they say, it’s like the youth and student protests in Tianenem Square, that Occupation there was good because it was a protest in China or like the street protests, also in a square, in Bahrain, that was bad because it jeopardized our oil interests. Maybe like the ones in Syria (that was good, they aren’t our ally), or Tel Aviv on Rothschild Boulevard
(that was bad because they are our ally in destroying Middle East peace).

How about the Arab Spring in Tunisia (good), Cairo (the jury is out), Yemen (bad, we control the oil).  But the real question should be how do we handle peaceful (but sometimes disruptive) dissent in the most advanced democratic nation in the world, with strong constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly?

These demonstrations, which are showing signs of growth in other areas of the United States and Canada,  gave birth in the heart of New York City, the largest and most advanced city in terms of this country’s economy.  We also happen to have the largest police army and prison system.

Is it possible to conceive that in this forward-looking metropolis, the port of call for millions of immigrants from hundreds of ethnicities, seeking liberty, the right to express their opinions, and economic security and even advancement, that the security forces responsible for public safety, would respond, not unlike they did in Syria and Bahrain, though to a lesser extent?  In terms of constitutional violations, and illegal conduct on the part of the government structure, the principle is exactly the same.

There is an additional psychological factor that disturbs me greatly, although I have no training in this field.  The reversal of roles between the foot soldiers and the “white shirt” commanders in handling these confrontations should alert us to many other possible problems for our citizenry.  The deliberate entrapment of demonstators on the bridge to Brooklyn, engineered so as to arrest as many people as possible on insignificant and very possibly false charges, in an effort to stifle the growth of the protest, is disturbing. Disturbing not only for the political content of the decision by our police force, but by the ignorance it shows of their understanding of what its effect would be.

The decision (and it was certainly a decision) to have the “white shirt” commanders be the first to attack the cornered marchers, was an apparent attempt to justify the actions of the original stupid commander who first sprayed four women behind the police nets.  Even if the demonstrators shouted derogatory remarks (possible but not certain) that is still free speech, not a criminal behavior and less still an attack.

But more frightening, was the psychotic attack by the “white shirt” commander swinging his baton with both hands as hard as he could against American young men and women, who may or may not have knocked over a barrier. Just consider that this man has access to .50 caliber machine guns, according to recent conflicting press releases from our mayor and police commissioner.

Would you trust this man, or the other “white shirt” commander who dragged a woman over the police netting to knock her to the ground, and kneel on her while cuffing her in an unnecessarily violent position? Or the one videotaped beating a young man's head against a car bumper? A young man whose "crime" was apparently possession of a professional-grade video camera. Stopping videotaping of their abuses is apparently a very high priority of the police (although in this case, someone else caught it on their camera).

Would you want to trust them in a real civil disobedience event, or a terrorist attack, or even to even to be responsible for raising children? I certainly wouldn’t!  If some of you are thinking that I use the term “white shirt,” very often to imply that there is a similarity between their mind-set and that of other military-style groups in European history, let me make it clear. You are absolutely right!

I attended the rally in Foley Square last Wednesday, and was impressed by a woman who carried a sign saying, “I’m 87 years old, and I’m mad as hell.”  I was so proud of her, and then realized that next month I will be 87 years old and I can be justified in being “as mad as hell.”  I physically cannot camp in “Liberty Park,’ but I intend to visit often, bring food, money, and hope to sit with them, and perhaps learn something.