Saturday, September 30, 2017

UNESCO Tentative List: Update

So in April the UNESCO World Heritage folks updated the tentative site list for the United States. This is a big deal, because the last update was in 2008, so it's been nearly a decade.

Anyway, here are the new potential sites. The ones I've seen are in Bold:

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Image result for big bend national park

Brooklyn Bridge, New York

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California Current Conservation Complex, California ("a contiguous conservation zone from Point Arena in the north to Point Piedras Blancas")

Image result for monterey bay national marine sanctuary kelp

Central Park, New York

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Early Chicago Skyscrapers, Illinois

Image result for rookery building chicago

Ellis Island, New York/New Jersey

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Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, Northern Marianas Islands

Image result for marianas trench marine national monument

Marine Protected Areas of American Samoa, American Samoa ("includes the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge")

Image result for National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

Moravian Church Settlements, Pennsylvania

Image result for moravian church settlement bethlehem pennsylvania

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Pacific Remote Islands (Baker, Howland, Jarvis, Wake, Johnston, Palmyra, Kingman)

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument covers 490,343 square miles (1.26 million square kilometers) to the far south and west of Hawaii, and includes Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, Howland Island, Baker Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll and Wake Island. The islands are home to many native species including corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, birds and vegetation. President George W. Bush named the islands a national monument in January 2009, and President Obama expanded the monument in September 2014.


1) That's a lot of water. I'm rather surprised four of the ten are marine sanctuaries.

2) Ellis Island shouldn't be its own site - it should be combined with the existing Statue of Liberty designation.

3) Big Bend is cool. It's a very nice park. It's reason for inclusion apparently is 130 million years of fossils, which is crazy, but not like, Grand Canyon crazy.

4) On that same front - half natural and half cultural... I have complained we don't have enough cultural sites. This doesn't do all that much to fix that deficit. Especially if three are in New York City and its environs.

5) Not long ago (in fact just a few days before the new list was updated) I put forward what I thought would be good cultural additions. One was the architectural heritage of New York, and this included Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, along with a bunch of New York's most famous buildings. All nine of Chicago's early skyscrapers on the tentative list are kind of... blegh. I get why they went with Chicago, but it really took off in New York, you know? When people think "skyscraper" they think of the Empire State Building, not the Second Leiter Building.

6) Bethlehem Pennsylvania? A 1740s colonial era Moravian settlement? I think the Russian settlements in Alaska would be more nifty, if you're going to nominate that sort of thing, but whatever.

7) However: at least the three New York City sites and Chicago's skyscrapers are all post-1776. We currently only have one confirmed site made after America's founding - the Statue of Liberty. And while the Chicago buildings get close, most all being built in the 1890s (one was completed in 1899), nothing was nominated from the 20th century in this batch, which is disheartening.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Proportional Senate?

What if we had a proportional Senate?

It's an idea popular out here in California. In this scenario America would retain an upper and lower house, but both chambers would be based on population. While the House of Representatives would be chosen by individual districts, in our version the Senate would still, as now, be voted on by the whole state.

So Minnesota, the most consistently Democratic state of all (and the only one to have voted Dem in every Presidential election since 1976) would get something in proportion to their Electoral College votes.  Oklahoma, the most reliably Republican state, (the only one to have voted Rep in every Presidential election since 1968) would likewise get something in proportion to their votes.

Now we want this upper chamber Senate to be smaller than the House, so we can’t use the Electoral College numbers – otherwise the amount would be larger. I think too the smallest states should retain two votes. So if Wyoming gets 2 Senators for 500,000 people then California gets…156.

Perhaps only one Senator per 500,000? Still, that leaves us with 78. Because, you know, California is 78 times larger than Wyoming. Hell, San Francisco is larger than Wyoming.

The problem, then, may be that the House of Representatives is too disproportionate. Constitutionally the proportion originally was one Representative for every 30,000 people. If this proportion held true today there would be 10,387 Representatives. An act in 1929 capped the size of the House at 435 Representatives, with a little over 200,000 people per Representative at the time.  Now each Rep stands for an average of 700,000 people.

Again, Wyoming gets at least one Rep, so you’d have 1 rep = 500,000 people in the House of Representatives. Then you’d have 78 Representatives for California, and not Senators. The total number of Reps in this model would be (using typical rounding up and down rules):

Alabama – 10
Alaska – 1
Arizona – 14
Arkansas – 6
California – 78
Colorado – 11
Connecticut – 7
Delaware – 2
Florida – 41
Georgia – 21
Hawaii – 3
Idaho – 3
Illinois – 26
Indiana – 13
Iowa – 6
Kansas – 6
Kentucky – 9
Louisiana – 9
Maine – 3
Maryland – 12
Massachusetts – 14
Michigan – 20
Minnesota – 11
Mississippi – 6
Missouri – 12
Montana – 2
Nebraska – 4
Nevada – 6
New Hampshire – 3
New Jersey – 18
New Mexico – 4
New York – 39
North Carolina – 20
North Dakota – 2
Ohio – 23
Oklahoma – 8
Oregon – 8
Pennsylvania – 26
Rhode Island – 2
South Carolina – 10
South Dakota – 2
Tennessee – 13
Texas – 56
Utah – 6
Vermont – 1
Virginia – 17
Washington – 15
West Virginia – 4
Wisconsin – 12
Wyoming – 1

So instead of 435 Members of Congress, we would have 646 – all proportional by population as the founders had intended. But not as unwieldy as the original ten thousand. Slightly larger, and far more fair.

Returning, now, to the Senate. Each State would need at least 1 Senator, but if proportional then of course you get the same number as the House, of 646. Instead let’s say you get one senator per million – and still round up for the smaller states, each of which has over 500,000. Here you’d end up with the following:

Alabama – 5
Alaska – 1
Arizona – 7
Arkansas – 3
California – 39
Colorado – 6
Connecticut – 4
Delaware – 1
Florida – 21
Georgia – 10
Hawaii – 1
Idaho – 2
Illinois – 13
Indiana – 7
Iowa – 3
Kansas – 3
Kentucky – 4
Louisiana – 5
Maine – 1
Maryland – 6
Massachusetts – 7
Michigan – 10
Minnesota – 6
Mississippi – 3
Missouri – 6
Montana – 1
Nebraska – 2
Nevada – 3
New Hampshire – 1
New Jersey – 9
New Mexico – 2
New York – 20
North Carolina – 10
North Dakota – 1
Ohio – 12
Oklahoma –  4
Oregon – 4
Pennsylvania – 13
Rhode Island –  1
South Carolina – 5
South Dakota – 1
Tennessee – 7
Texas – 28
Utah – 3
Vermont – 1
Virginia – 8
Washington – 7
West Virginia – 2
Wisconsin –  6
Wyoming – 1

And as such the total number of Senators would sit 336. What would its political makeup be?

Using 2016 Presidential Election data, let’s presume that all of the Senators would be from the same party in a state. If this were the case (which it wouldn’t be, but I figure it would sort of even out to be overall) the Senate would look like this:

134 seats for Democrats and 202 for Republicans, or 39% Democratic-held. That said, 2016 was a real shellacking for Democrats. Trump picked up every swing state and then some. If you go with 2008 Election numbers the Senate may be 216 Democrats to 120 Republicans – 64% liberal held.

All in all, would a proportional Senate help Democrats and liberals? The answer is…eh? 2016 was a particularly disproportionate picture of allegiances, as long-time large democratic strongholds went for Trump. But Obama’s ascendency was also unusual (Indiana voted for him – the first time they elected a Democrat since 1964!). The truth is somewhere in between – but of course that would mean the Senate calculus would potentially shift drastically every two years. Our proportional House of Representatives, though, would in an outlier Trump year be 290 Democrats and 356 Republicans, or 44% Democrats.

The current House is 44% Democrats. So that tallies. And the current Senate is 48% Democrats. So although the idea of a proportional Senate to help liberals take control is appealing under the current system they actually have more seats proportionally, and somewhat more control.

Of course this whole post if moot anyway. As the Constitution states at the end of Article Five:

“…and that no state, without its consent [emphasis mine], shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate”

This is, in fact, the only section of the Constitution therefore which cannot be amended.

Oh well.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Reflections on Music

This has been a very music-intensive month.

First off, my father and I have been working to convert vinyl to MP3. The albums are both LP-only: they've never been turned into CDs or released on iTunes or anything like that. The first is Eubie Blake, the great ragtime composer, the other The Eastman Winds Ensemble. Very different, but both very good. I discovered them because each year I check the National Recording Registry and listen to their long-form music inductees. At this point I've tracked down nearly all of them, with a few exceptions:

  1. The Cradle Will Rock OBC
  2. Precious Lord: Thomas Dorsey 
  3. Oklahoma! OBC
  4. Peace Be Still: James Cleveland 
  5. Azucar Pa’ Ti: Eddie Palmieri 
  6. The Continental Harmony: Gregg Smith Singers
  7. New Orleans’ Sweet Emma Barrett and Preservation Hall Jazz Band 
  8. Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues 
  9. Carousel of American Music 
  10. It’s My Way: Buffy Sainte-Marie
  11. People: Barbara Streisand (I thought it was just the song, but apparently it's the album) 
  12. Signatures: Renee Fleming 

Second, more substantially, a close friend had a baby, so I dug out an old cassette from my childhood of lullabies, and converted that to MP3. In punchline fashion I started to fall asleep while recording it. Songs I'd not heard since I was very young came back to me almost instantly, a Proustian madeleine moment. A couple I had rediscovered as an adult: Golden Slumbers, I learned, was originally a Beatles song. Autumn to May had been a hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary. Upon investigation some of the tracks are well known, like the Paddle Song / Land of the Silver Birch (a childhood favorite) which apparently is popular with the Canadian boy scouts. Others, though, I've never heard anywhere else. Remarkably, there is a track listing provided by World Cat so I guess the Library of Congress has a copy? Or something? Very odd.

Thirdly, for the past two weekends I have been going from my new home down near Monterey up to San Francisco for Taylor Mac's 24 Decades of Popular Music. I could write volumes on the premise, but a nice job has been done already on SF Gate here. So read that article before continuing... but just in case you're in a tl;dr mood the premise is: 24 hour show, covering popular music in America from 1776 to 2016, starts with 24 musicians onstage and wheedles them down to just Taylor Mac by the final hour, 246 songs, and 24 costume changes. Four, six-hour segments, with no intermissions.

That doesn't begin to cover the experience, though: it's 60% American history lesson through song, 40% audience-participation with 'Hair' overtones. Taylor Mac is in drag (when wearing clothes), there's nudity, burlesque, beer pong in the audience, knitters on stage, pole dancing, on multiple occasions Mac has gone up to the Mezzanine or Balcony for a spell to entertain the plebes - just as he has on multiple occasions rearranged the seating of the entire audience and asked many audience members to be on stage for up to two hours at a time. And then there are the Dandy Minions - his impish, clothing-averse helpers who go throughout the audience and ensure the crowd is participating, and made thoroughly uncomfortable. To paraphrase a statement Mac made during the show:

"I don't like audience participation, you know, because it always feels like they're trying to force their fun on me. And I'm like 'Fuck you I'm not going to have fun!' But when I make you do it, it's different, see, because I want you to be uncomfortable."

Perhaps 40% history and 60% revelry, then.

So I've now been on stage three times, and there's still a fourth six-hour part this upcoming Sunday evening. It's been a blast, and like everyone else I'm sort of stunned that he's able to keep going and remember so many songs, poems, and the overlying narrative. There have been parts I didn't care for (I still maintain hour 11's Mikado set on Mars was stupid) but others have been breathtakingly powerful, and left me astonished. Last night, at the end of the decade/hour which covered 1936-1946 Mac mentioned, almost off-hand, that the War ended when America dropped an atomic bomb on Japan, and then went into the most stunning and overwhelming rendition of 'Ghost Riders in the Sky' that the audience was silenced in reverie of a coupling of song and tragedy I'd never have dreamed of, but complimented each other perfectly. I've been to Hiroshima, and from now on I expect Taylor Mac's plaintive pitch-perfect cries of 'yippee kai-yay, yippee kai-yo' will come to mind whenever considering that devastating moment of post-modern America's birth, and the recognition of our tragic ascendancy to superpower status.

In short: I'm a fan of the show, and September's dedication to music has been most rewarding.


At one point Mac was onstage reading Joyce's Ulysses, and I had a thought which nicely sums up my feelings towards 24 Decades: What must it feel like to know you're a genius, reading the words of another genius, as you are in the midst of your own defining artistic endeavor? 24 Decades was one of three works short-listed for the Pulitzer, and has been critically acclaimed, yet it is of a type where you have to be in the room to fully get it, and in a very real sense will die with him - you can't do a revival fifty years from now. This is so very unlike Joyce's art which can be disseminated freely (these days) and will continue to be passed on. After reading the last pages of the book Mac paused, and smiled, and I think he was reminiscing on exactly that - but experiencing it in a way none of us in the audience will likely ever get to feel for ourselves. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Top 500 Albums: Part Five, Final Part

The final countdown, the top 100 entries of my Top 500 Albums!

Really, though, at this point they're all winners.

100. Prince and the Revolution, 'Purple Rain', 1984

99. Led Zeppelin, 'Led Zeppelin II', 1969

98. Pink Floyd, 'The Dark Side of the Moon', 1973

97. Curtis Mayfield, 'Superfly', 1972

96. Charles Mingus, 'Mingus Ah Um', 1959

95. Stevie Wonder, 'Innervisions', 1973

94. Led Zeppelin, 'Led Zeppelin', 1969

93. Bob Dylan, 'Highway 61 Revisited', 1965

92. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, 'Trout Mask Replica', 1969

91. Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco, 'Celia & Johnny', 1974

90. Arcade Fire, 'Neon Bible', 2007

89. The Chemical Brothers, 'Dig Your Own Hole', 1997

88. Joao Gilberto, 'Joao Gilberto', 1973

87. The O'Jays, 'Back Stabbers', 1972

86. Ted Hawkins, 'The Next Hundred Years', 1994

85. Jethro Tull, 'Aqualung', 1971

84. The Decemberists, 'The Crane Wife', 2004

83. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, 'I See a Darkness', 1999

82. Jeff Buckley, 'Grace', 1994

81. Roxy Music, 'Avalon', 1982

80. Quicksilver Messenger Service, 'Happy Trails', 1969

79. Cat Stevens, 'Tea for the Tillerman', 1970

78. Neil Young, 'After the Gold Rush', 1970

77. T. Rex, 'Electric Warrior', 1971

76. Paul Simon, 'Graceland', 1986

75. Van Morrison, 'Moondance', 1970

74. U2, 'The Joshua Tree', 1987

73. The Band, 'Music from Big Pink', 1968

72. David Bowie, 'Hunky Dory', 1971

71. Simon and Garfunkel, 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', 1970

70. The Beatles, 'The Beatles', 1968

69. Fiona Apple, 'When the Pawn...', 1999

68. Plastic Ono Band, 'John Lennon', 1970

67. Bob Dylan, 'Bringing It All Back Home', 1965

66. The Stone Roses, 'The Stone Roses', 1989

65. The Velvet Underground, 'The Velvet Underground and Nico', 1967

64. The Doors, 'The Doors', 1967

63. Joni Mitchell, 'Blue', 1971

62. The Bothy Band, 'Old Hag You Have Killed Me', 1976

61. Gustavo Santaolalla, 'Ronroco', 1998

60. Big Star, '#1 Record', 1972

59. Queen, 'A Night at the Opera', 1975

58. Sex Pistols, 'Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols', 1977

57. Carole King, 'Tapestry', 1971

56. Radiohead, 'The Bends', 1995

55. Beck, 'Sea Change', 2002

54. Neko Case, 'Fox Confessor Brings the Flood', 2006

53. Bruce Springsteen, 'Born in the U.S.A.', 1984

52. Sam Phillips, 'Fan Dance', 2001

51. Elvis Costello, 'This Year's Model, 1978

50. Alanis Morissette, 'Jagged Little Pill', 1995

49. DJ Shadow, 'Endtroducing.....', 1996

48. Modern Lovers, 'Modern Lovers', 1976

47. A Tribe Called Quest, 'The Low End Theory', 1991

46. The Beatles, 'Revolver', 1966

45. Pete Seeger, 'We Shall Overcome', 1963

44. Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, 'My Fair Lady' [OLC]

43. The Kinks, 'The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society' 1968

42. The Clash, 'The Clash', 1977

41. Talking Heads, 'Stop Making Sense', 1984

40. Led Zeppelin, 'Physical Graffiti', 1975

39. Richard O'Brien, 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show', 1975

38. Moby, 'Play', 1999

37. The Beatles, 'Abbey Road', 1969

36. The Rolling Stones, 'Exile on Main St.', 1977

35. Lin-Manuel Miranda, 'Hamilton', 2015

34. Anais Mitchell, 'Hadestown', 2010

33. Tangerine Dream, 'Rubycon', 1975

32. Les McCann and Eddie Harris, 'Swiss Movement', 1969

31. Woody Guthrie, 'Dust Bowl Ballads', 1940

30. Duke Ellington, 'Ellington at Newport', 1956

29. Clifford Brown and Max Roach, 'Clifford Brown and Max Roach', 1955

28. Ry Cooder and V.M. Bhatt, 'A Meeting by the River', 1993

27. Sasha, 'Global Underground 013: Ibiza', 1999

26. Ravi Shankar, 'Three Ragas', 1956

25. Cannonball Adderly, 'Somethin' Else', 1958

24. The White Stripes, 'Elephant', 2003

23. The Strokes, 'Is This It?', 2001

22. Jefferson Airplane, 'Surrealistic Pillow', 1967

21. Keith Jarrett, 'The Koln Concert', 1975

20. Nas, 'Illmatic', 1994

19. Love, 'Forever Changes', 1967

18. Nick Drake, 'Five Leaves Left', 1969

17. The Zombies, 'Odessey and Oracle', 1968

16. Allman Brothers, 'At Fillmore East', 1971

15. Daft Punk, 'Discovery', 2001

14. The Who, 'Who's Next', 1971

13. Guns n Roses, 'Appetite for Destruction', 1987

12. PJ Harvey, 'Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea', 2000

11. AC/DC, 'Back in Black', 1980

10. David Bowie, 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars', 1972

9. Led Zeppelin, 'Led Zeppelin IV', 1971

8. Stevie Wonder, 'Talking Book', 1972

7. Van Morrison, 'Astral Weeks', 1968

6. John Coltrane, 'A Love Supreme', 1964

5. Miles Davis, 'Kind of Blue', 1959

4. James Brown, 'Live at the Apollo', 1963

3. Marvin Gaye, 'What's Going On', 1971

2. The Beach Boys, 'Pet Sounds', 1966

1. The Beatles, 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', 1967

We made it! 500 Albums, ranked, for your pleasure.

FYI - By the time I posted this it was already updated and out of date.

Keep collecting, friends.