Kids Don’t Live Here Any More

August 17, 2013 at 3:09 pm (By Tim)

In a few short days, we are going to be empty-nesters. James will be off to start college, and Tom will be back at Andover. At least Tom is vaguely local, but with everything intense at Andover, he will have little time for parents between holidays.

One thing I wanted to do today was clean out old links on my browsers. I found all the educational and fun sites for kids—Dinosaur comics, Disney, Hooligans, Geometry Magic, Beowulf, How Stuff Works, Kidsreads, J.K. Rowling, Baseball, Soccer, Chess, etc. Further down the list, sites like those became, SSAT Online, School Rating Blogs, Big Future-My Organizer, College Board Sign In, Music at Andover, Phillips Academy Student Account Center, and First-Year Experience – Ithaca College.

Clearing disk space on my laptop would a lot less messy if it didn’t involve wasting so many tissues on this runny nose and coughing fits I seem to get doing it.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

ADDED: More I intended to post on Facebook but is here instead:

I recall the day James was born. It was a perfect May morning. When I got home from the hospital that evening, a small thunderstorm had moved in. I remember lying alone on the bed, listening to the rain, wondering about the new future we had made.

I write this in the same room, next to the same bed, looking at the same window, and James will be leaving for college in a few days. His brother is off to boarding school shortly after. And, for the first time in 19 years, there will be no kids here. But what was before that May evening can never return, nor should it, nor do I wish it. Somehow, very improbably for us, we made four new lives.

To say we have been blessed is a commonplace. But I look at the world and know we have been blessed, and I thank God every day for that blessing on all our lives.

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Miss Spider’s Tea Party

May 4, 2013 at 2:51 am (By Tim) (, , , , , )


Miss Spider’s Tea Party, a charming children’s book in a series by David Kirk, was written well before the founding of the political group of the same name. In this book, Miss Spider hosts a vegetarian tea party for her insect friends. They are understandably nervous, but Miss Spider has learned to replace Nature with Kindness and literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. In this, she is a thoughtful, politically-correct, modern, liberal sort of arachnid. She plainly would never have anything to do with the political Tea Party, had it existed in her day.

The following video shows Nancy Pelosi, children, and Members of Congress, including the late Ted Kennedy, enrolling the Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007. This is a normal Congressional procedure turned into an occasion for a very off-key rendition of “Itsy-Bitsy Spider.” You can tell who comes from a large family, or at least was raised properly (not Speaker Pelosi), because they get the words right.

Miss Spider would certainly approve.

The following video, on the other hand, is the stuff of Miss Spider’s nightmares. In it, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey demonstrates for a group of impressionable schoolchildren his forthright and robust solution to the Spider Problem.

You’re a mean man, Gov. Christie.

Miss Spider would never vote for you.

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Green and the Number Seven

April 23, 2013 at 11:13 pm (By Tim) (, )

As something of the Official Bostonian on this site, I have had a few things to say about the Marathon bombing and its aftermath. Now, however, I’m done, and I won’t importune you any longer. But I do want to say one more thing—not that it’s original in any way. That is, this horrible event and the following week gave many of us a view of news reporting we might not have had otherwise. There have been some unexpected bright spots of sheer competence, but far more sinkholes of inadequacy.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to complain about them, not even the bloviating sophisticates in New York and other international locations who have no clue about life in Boston but write about it anyway.

No, I’m going to leave the subject with a quote from Garrison Keillor. Years ago, he was in the midst of controversy, mostly with the St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer Press (“Gastric Distress” as Keillor called it), and mostly about his morals.  I recall him saying something like the following on his radio show:

If you know the reality of a situation, the relationship between truth and a newspaper is like the relationship between the color green and the number seven. Occasionally you will see the number seven written in green, but you learn not to expect this.

I’ve seen a few green sevens, mostly painted in Boston, but far more blue, red, polka-dot and paisley ones than I like to think about. Time to pick another number.

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What, Oh What, Will the Talking Heads Say?

April 22, 2013 at 10:52 pm (By Tim) (, )

For those set a-worrying about Miranda warnings and Constitutional rights, there is this little PDF. I know—it could all be made up and a sham, as an army of conspiracy theorists are saying everywhere on the internet. But just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend this actually happened:


ADDED:  At the same moment yesterday this indictment was being presented in as prompt and vanilla-flavored a way as possible in a hospital room, I walked into the cafeteria at work. The TVs were on CNN, showing three pinch-faced talking heads on a three-way split, all decrying the lack of Miranda warning and what a terrible violation of rights this was, and that the Justice Department was not even going to allow defense counsel, and how could the Judiciary, of all branches, go along with this, and how terrible, terrible this all was, and we all should fear for our inalienable rights that George Bush…er…well…um….you know…(Obama) was letting people trample on, etc., etc.

Sometimes, the Theme of the Day doesn’t quite work. But, hey, there’s always tomorrow.

Sorry to sprawl on valuable real estate, but this is where our transcript gets good, if vanilla-flavored:

MR. FICK: Good morning, your Honor. William Fick
for Mr. Tsarnaev.
THE COURT: And you have had an opportunity to
speak with him?
MR. FICK: Very briefly, your Honor.
THE COURT: So you have your lawyers here.
THE DEFENDANT: (Defendant nods affirmatively.)
THE COURT: Mr. Tsarnaev, I am Magistrate Judge
Bowler. This hearing is your initial appearance before the
Court. We are here because you have been charged in a
federal criminal complaint.
At this hearing, I will advise you of your
constitutional and legal rights. I will tell you about the
charges against you and the penalties that the Court could
impose if you are found guilty.
You have been charged with (1): Use of a weapon of
mass destruction, in violation of 18, United States Code,
Section 2332a(a); and malicious destruction of property
resulting in death, in violation of 18, United States Code,
Section 844(i).
Mr. Weinreb, what are the maximum penalties?
MR. WEINREB: Your Honor, the maximum penalty on
each count is death, or imprisonment for any term of years,
1or life.
THE COURT: Is there a fine?
MR. WEINREB: A fine of up to $250,000.
THE COURT: I will tell you about your right to
counsel, and I will consider conditions of release pending
further court proceedings; that is, whether or not you
should be detained and what amount of bail should be set.
This is not a trial, and you will not be called upon to
answer the charges at this time.
If at any time I say something you do not understand,
interrupt me and say so; is that clear?
THE DEFENDANT: (Defendant nods affirmatively.)
THE COURT: All right. I note that the defendant
has nodded affirmatively.
As a first step in this hearing, I am going to tell you
about your constitutional rights.
You have the right under the Constitution of the United
States to remain silent. Any statement made by you may be
used against you in court, and you have the right not to
have your own words used against you.
You may consult with an attorney prior to any
questioning, and you may have the attorney present during
Counsel will be appointed without charge if you cannot
afford counsel.
If you choose to make a statement or to answer
questions without the assistance of counsel, you may stop
answering at any time.
This right means you do not have to answer any
questions put to you by law enforcement agents or by the
Assistant United States Attorney, Mr. Weinreb.
I want to make it clear. You are not prohibited from
making statements, but that if you do, they can be used
against you. You are not required to make a statement at
this initial appearance, and any statement you do make may
be used against you.
Finally, if I ask you any questions here in this
hearing or at any future hearing which you think might
incriminate you, you have the right not to answer.
Do you understand everything I have said about your
right to remain silent?
THE DEFENDANT: (Defendant nods affirmatively.)
THE COURT: Again I note that the defendant has
nodded affirmatively.
As I said earlier, you have the right to retain
counsel, to be represented by counsel, and to have the
assistance of counsel at every critical stage of these
You have the right to an attorney at this initial
appearance, during any questioning, at any lineup, and at
all proceedings in court.
You also have the right to have this Court assign
counsel if you cannot afford counsel or if you cannot obtain
Can you afford a lawyer?
THE COURT: Let the record reflect that I believe
the defendant has said, “No.”
I have provisionally appointed the federal defender,
Mr. Fick, to represent you in this matter….

What is a poor pundit to do when a Federal Judge reads this defendant his rights and has the temerity to release a transcript that gets posted on the internet?

Maybe wait 24 hours and make up something new?

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Dear Dzhokhar

April 21, 2013 at 7:11 pm (By Tim) (, )

Along with Kevin Cullen’s Boston Globe article I linked in the last post, this, to me, is an important piece. There is anger, but a refusal to hate, a Christian understanding of evil, the possibility of repentance, and what needs to be done, in fact, to keep everyone safe.

Dear Dzhokhar

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A Tale of Two Immigrants

April 21, 2013 at 8:55 am (By Tim) (, )

This, especially for non-New Englanders, is a must-read. I’ve commented on how tough it can be for newcomers in the Boston area. As a newcomer myself 30-odd years ago, I can tell you stories. But one point of Kevin Cullen’s piece is that the Tsarnaev brothers settled in Cambridge, one of the most open and welcoming places in the US. They did not find themselves in some tight little neighborhood, like I did, where nobody had moved in or out for 100 years, very common in Boston and environs when I showed up.

Of course, many things have changed in 30 years, one of which is Cambridge has gotten even more open and welcoming, for all the good it did here.

I hope this story stays up for a while. Linked to what is usually a paid newspaper site, it might not.

A Tale of Two Immigrants – Metro – The Boston Globe

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City of Fights

March 3, 2013 at 10:03 pm (By Tim) (, )

Yet another element of modern (I almost wrote that lamentable word, “civilized”) life that is Bad For You:

City lights.


They cause cancer, because sleep patterns are disturbed, and, well, Science has discovered that anything that is not just like Cro-Magnon life 40,000 years ago causes cancer.

This article enthuses over the new Paris that is proposed to be not so well-lit. There IS something to be said for Paris in, say, 1591 (one of my favorite years), when it was appropriately dark at night. Henri IV was on the throne, and all was right with the world. And it was a lot simpler to knife your opponents in a back alley and throw the bodies into the Seine at 2 AM. I don’t know if the French did anything similar, but at Venice in the same period, the Doge had special soldiers who collected the murdered bodies from the canals every morning. The average was about eight—a dozen or more on good nights.

As a traditionalist, I say, turn off those damn lights and bring back stilettos. They’re much quicker than cancer.

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Blogs are for Old People

February 25, 2013 at 11:37 pm (By Tim) (, , , )

This topic came up the other day on Facebook. Annie posted this, and in the run of comments, I said something like the following (edited):

Blogs have become a thing of the past for several reasons. I was made aware of one last year. I teach at a choir school, and I mentioned to the kids that I was thinking of starting a Music Appreciation blog for the school. My class broke out laughing and said in unison, “a BLOG?” launching into what sounded like a version of the “Internet Commenter Funeral” before I shut them up. One of them could even quote verbatim a blog insult he thought we both might know. At least I THINK he was. I shushed him up too quickly to have heard enough to confirm my worst suspicion. Anyway, that’s the image middle-schoolers (and my own high-school-age sons) have of blogs: Places where idiot adults go to insult one another. As one of my sons said, “Daaad, everybody hangs out on Facebook with their friends. If you really feel the need to discuss issues of the day with people you’d probably edge away from if you saw them in a crowd, there always are forums. Blogs are for old people.”

Annie then came back with two typically perceptive updates:

Young people always have to differentiate themselves from “old people,” but we always come crawling after them. Now that we too have infested Facebook, where will they go next?

The other thing about blogs is that that ecosystem has reached climax forest stage, where the big trees (such as Althouse, and you can name others) get the light before it can reach the forest floor, and seedlings languish and die unless they can get birds (tweet tweet) to carry them to new, open space.

But the thing that really got my attention was this link (via Tom Strong), wherein Josh Miller (who is,  from what I can tell, a fairly recent Princeton grad) reports on his tenth-grade sister, home in California:

View at

Something from it:

For me, Twitter is predominantly a link discovery service — admittedly, that is a simplified view, but it’s helpful for these purposes — so I followed-up on her Twitter comments by asking where she discovers links. “What do you mean?” She couldn’t even understand what I was asking. I rephrased the question: “What links do you read? What sites do they come from? What blogs?”

“I don’t read links. I don’t read blogs. I don’t know. You mean like funny videos on Facebook? Sometimes people post funny links there. But I’m not really interested in anything yet, like you are.”
She didn’t know what BuzzFeed was, and doesn’t visit fashion blogs! (Of course, the older brother thinks that would be a given.) I was floored.

Now, despite being a bona fide old person, I have a tenth-grade son, and I can categorically say he does not have the same tastes as Josh Miller’s sister. He’s an East Coast kid, and his own bona fides are as a prep school student. His internet time is limited by his need to get the grades to get a scholarship to one of the Ivies, or maybe NYU, if the musical theater thing works out for him. But he does have at least a little time to look at funny videos, link them occasionally, and be interested in things. Josh Miller’s sister is distinctly a Santa Monica kid and a flat-affect hipster by my son’s more earnest St. Grottlesex standards. Nevertheless, their online lives are similar enough to point to a future that does not resemble the past of us Old People, even those of us tech savvy enough to have spent too much of it on the internet looking for something it could not deliver. Seems the internet and the neurons of 16-year-olds are finally moving toward a future they were both meant for.

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The Universal History of Everything (musical)

February 23, 2013 at 4:19 am (By Tim) (, )

I’ve been resurrecting old blog posts, finding old media, checking old links, and generally getting ready to start a new music appreciation blog for the Choir School. But what turns up on Facebook, linked by an old acquaintance who’s the Music Program Director of our local public schools?

ESTE (This): La introducción perfecta (en español—pero, si usted no entiende español, ¿qué entiende usted?)

I realize this isn’t the “universal history of music,” but only one view of European-derived music. But that’s fine. It’s from my culture, and very likely the culture of most people who read this. I’m not at all ashamed it doesn’t include Chinese, Persian, or Indian music, not to mention all the other great kinds of music people have dreamt up in every corner of the globe since humans first showed up.

No, I’m not ashamed one little bit.

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As Time Goes By the Syntonic Comma

February 17, 2013 at 1:30 am (By Tim) (, , )

Intended as bon-bons, I’m afraid my relentlessly didactic musical nougats have not been as popular as I hoped. But unwilling to abandon a niche taste for classical music, I thought I might tempt you with a belated Valentine’s Day sweet:  Chiara Massini, my favorite harpsichordist, in a little video montage, accompanied by her playing “As Time Goes By” on a slightly out-of-tune harpsichord.

In my world, a kiss is still just a kiss. But afterwards, I’ll tell you how the harpsichord is tuned. It sounds like Valotti temperament, one of several common unequal tunings used in the late 17th and 18th centuries, gone off a little bit like Sam’s piano. It’s similar to Bach’s well-tempered system, but maybe a tad smoother. If you listen carefully, you can hear how some chords and maybe a note or two sound a little more out-of-tune than others. Ah, romance!

Even the best harpsichord goes out-of-tune after an hour or two of playing. They need constant tuning. It’s the nature of the beast. If you want something lightly-built and resonant to respond to the plucking of strings, instead of them being smacked around, as on a piano, the light and resonant will not stay in tune as well as the heavy and iron-framed.

So, the first thing you need to do if you want to learn to play the harpsichord is to learn to tune it. You will be doing that every day. Antique temperaments, in addition to the piquancy they lend to old music, are actually a lot easier to tune than piano-style equal temperament. This allows Ms. Massini to smile at us from the keyboard after less than 20 minutes of twanging strings, instead of the hour it would take the usual suspects to tune equal temperament. But there are no kisses to be found anywhere on an equally-tuned keyboard. There aren’t any smacks in the face, either, but, as everyone knows, those tend to go with kisses—except, of course, on the piano, which manages to combine smacking around with a firm rule against smooching in the Tuning Department. It’s also time to abandon this metaphor for growing inconsistent, stale, and excessively kinky.

And, frankly, I’d rather spend the 40 minutes flirting with Ms. Massini while she played, sad as I might otherwise be we never had Paris.

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