Friday, January 31, 2014

Until the Diva Sings

Sometimes I encounter articles that just make me want to beat my head against the wall.  I have heard from an apocryphal source that this activity burns 100 calories/hour, if done vigorously.  This  interview with Danielle de Niese is one such.  In this, she talks about the 'traditional stereotype' of opera singers as fat ladies, and claims that 'opera is just like any other popular music.'

First of all, this stereotype of the opera singer as a non-glamorous performer is simply not based in reality.  Back in the early days of the moving picture, Geraldine Farrar was a beloved silver screen star with name recognition on par with Rudolph Valentino.  Of course, at the time, opera singers were the popular singers, if for no other reason than that they were the people getting recorded back in the earliest days of the phonograph.  And as recently as the 50s, we have icons like Maria Callas, of whom Camille Paglia claims stood in as a modern substitute for ancient fertility goddesses. We should all feel free to disagree with Camille Paglia, but La Divina did have her fame, fortune, and audience worship.

This isn't to say that it's not a good thing for an opera singer to speak out against rampant stereotyping.  Stereotypes are bad.  I would, however, prefer it if La de Niese was more accepting as fatness as a thing rather than being so eager to equate opera with Beyoncé.  The article actually does address that larger body types in opera do happen, with a large school of thought that says this is necessary for the voice.  With a quote from Dame Kiri te Kanawa and an acknowledgment that some opera singers do face fat discrimination.  Which is awful.  People who create beauty are beautiful.  I deeply believe this.  Our opera singers represent beauty in a glittering beautiful staged world, and they are beautiful.  I am going to take a minute here to share my current fangirl crush and smalltown Georgia lady, Jamie Barton, kicking ass at the Cardiff singer of the world competition.  You cannot tell me she is not beautiful and glamorous.

At least the other quoted people in the article are both more sensible, and have more power over an opera production than this diva.  Kasper Holten, director of the royal opera, says "it’s not so much about being super slim and looking good on a superficial level, as having charisma and the ability to add colour to their voice,” he said. “If they feel good about their body and are comfortable, they can express themselves on stage.”  Yes.  That.  

Back to La de Niese's statement that opera is 'just like any other music' and her performances 'could be Beyoncé; show.'  No.  If I wanted to go to a Beyoncé show, I would be going to Beyoncé shows, but I don't.  I am the person who shows up at an opera house in an evening gown and long gloves and orders champagne for the intermissions.  Beyond a glamorous ambience, I go to opera because I want to hear glorious music that has withstood the test of time, performed by people spend their lives training their voices to high levels of technical ability.  When the non-operatic popular singers can sing bel canto with a full orchestra and not necessarily microphones, I may agree that opera is just like popular music, but until then, I will maintain that the coloratura soprano performing Mozart is superior musically to Beyoncé and company.  Viva Sumi Jo.  

La de Niese is correct on one account, she correctly points out that opera was originally for the masses, and like the majority of human art, is "about love, lust, relationship, betrayal; all things we can relate to today."  I would probably have just said that opera is about sex and death, but this works too.  She is also correct in that people don't necessarily know how to approach opera, or classical music in general, really.  I have noticed that some people, not familiar with the genre, come to opera not knowing anything about it, sit in pious churchlike, noninteractive silence expecting to be magically transported to heights of classical music-induced ecstasy, and then complain the music is boring.  One would really never approach any other kind of music this way.  To get back to the Beyoncé comparison, I'm assuming all her fans show up at her concerts knowing everything she is going to sing very familiarly and fully prepared to sing along.  They also know personal details about Beyoncé and feel a connection with her.  As humans, we like things we are familiar with and opera is no exception.  Most people will probably like it better when they know the music and know things about the composers.  

I think La de Niese is probably trying to do something good, but I think she is going about it the wrong way.  Enough with the fat shaming, and let's have a little more respect for the musical excellence of opera as compared with the contemporary popular singers of the U.S. Even as a marketing strategy, this is not good.  Opera is not good because it is just like something else, it is good on its own merits.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Jelly Roll Cake Round 2! Fight!

Today's opponent is a standard white jelly roll cake with a raspberry filling and a white chocolate glaze.  Except that I think white cakes are boring, so I poured in blue food coloring.  

For this battle, I decided to actually follow internet directions and upend the cake into a towel, rather than attempting to roll it with just the parchment paper it baked on.  In the spirit of following directions, I liberally besprinkled the towel with confectioner's sugar before upending the cake onto it.  This resulted in a powdered sugar related incident that led to the sugar being everywhere in the kitchen.  Even in the toaster.  Particularly in the toaster.  

Nonetheless, onward!  My homemade raspberry jam may have been too runny, as also, was the white chocolate glaze.  The glaze was not my fault.  The directions said to add water until the desired consistency was reached, and I had no idea what that would look like.  Whatever.  I sprinkled the top with raspberry sugar shipped to me by a very dear friend, and the cake is blue.  So it has that going for it.  

My rolling technique is still very crude, and I still can't avoid
breaking the cake a little. 

I don't think I won against this cake either, for all it was tasty.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Caturday Post: All Kitties Like the Sun

My mama sent me this photo of my little old (19 years) Miriah, enjoying some time in a sunny spot.  Also this guide to having a cat design your home.  Note the need for a sunning room.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Customized butt-kicking for goodness in Baldur's Gate (with apologies to those who play neutral and evil alignments)

A great computer game has a lot of little details to do right.  In Baldur's Gate, the list of details done right staggers me every time I stop to think about all the programming behind them.

For instance, I can customize my character portrait with any (properly formatted and named) .bmp.

I can also customize NPC (non-player character) portraits.

And I just figured out I can even customize modded-in NPCs!  My virtual reality has just gotten better than my reality by another factor of 2.  And extra extra thanks to all the wonderful people on the internet who take the time to make the detailed, realistic NPC mods that I'm having so much fun with right now!

These are just a few more of the reasons in my list of why Baldur's Gate is my favorite computer game of all time. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Things that Annoy Me about Measurements

  • The U.S. uses some bizarre, illogical, and underivable system of measurement rather than metric.

  • The U.S. also uses 110v, rather than 220-240v the way, oh, most of the rest of the world does.  I realize switching to 220v would be impossible, but a lady can dream of a world with standardized power.  And outlets.  Especially outlets. In the meantime, the soldering iron I used precious luggage space to bring back from China isn't going to work here.  

  • When looking for a sewing pattern for a tablet cover online, all of the helpful artsy people who publish patterns do so in terms of only the major brand name tablets and ereaders, meaning various generations of Kindles and Ipads.  In the name of freedom from brand name dependance, how hard would it be to use the actual bloody dimensions? 

Friday, January 17, 2014

In Which I Attempt, and Fail, to Level Up at Baking

I am trying to learn the secrets of the jelly roll cake.  My first attempt, while not a complete loss, wasn't really a win either. I made a lemon cake with lemon custard.  While I was suspicious of the internet recipe for not including butter, the lemon cake part of the cake was good and fluffy and lemony.  But then I put in too much custard, so it oozed out when I rolled the cake up, I broke the cake a little rolling it up, oh, and I'm weak at custard, didn't spend long enough stirring, and it has a very sharp taste.

Nonetheless, dear friends, onward!  Once more into the breach!  What jelly roll cake shall I measure my skills against next?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nutcracker: A Better Princess Tale

The typical narrative of European fairy tales is a princess who needs rescued by a prince.  At least, when the tale is not about the evilness of dwarves or Jews (We tend to ignore the nastier parts of our traditions. This is known.  It is faithfully continued by Disney.

To be fair, I've heard Disney is doing better with its princesses from a feminist standpoint.  I wouldn't know; I refuse to patronize Disney's offerings due to their continual lobbying for a longer copyright period and the way they block Japanese animated releases in the U.S.  Also, the last time I tried to play a Disney DVD, it turns out they don't play nice with Linux because of their demand that the user download InterActual player.  Stallman's curse on the purveyors of DRMs!  Turing bless the makers of libdvdcss!

I said all that, not just because Disney, like the TSA, is an entity I won't pass up an opportunity to say bad things about, but because I recently saw The Nutcracker. It's not the first time, but it had been some time.  Nutcracker is an inversion of your prince rescuing princess trope.  Our prince needs rescued himself, because, well, he's been turned into an anthropomorphic novelty kitchen tool.  This may be the pinnacle of incompetence.  After our eponymic character is restored to human form by Clara, he then must engage in an epic battle with the Mouse King.  He loses.  Clara saves him by beating the Mouse King to death with her shoe.  It's hard to get less distress-y than that as a damsel, while at the same time it's hard to get more rescued as a prince.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Caturday Post: Sharing

My cats have many skills.  Sharing is usually not among them.  That is, in fact, why I leave one of my shirts in their morning sunny spot, to make a clear delineation between kitties.  Otherwise, there is strife.  This morning, however, for at least 10 minutes, all was harmonious in the sun.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Could These Things Possibly Be Related?

On my news feed this morning, Morogoro is reporting lots of primary school dropouts due to pregnancy and also a shortage of contraceptives other than male condoms.  It is likely that a lot, if not all, of pregnancy cases here are from, rape.  I mean, given the power without accountability held by teachers plus this is primary school, so it seems likely.  So obviously, male condoms aren't going to be the most helpful here.  Eradicating the rape culture would be great as well, but without an education (and pregnancy is automatic end of line for education, isn't that sexist?), these girls aren't ever going to be able to get to a better life, so as a stopgap, I'll advocate for contraceptives and legalized abortion over eradication of rape culture.  Not that I'm a position to actually do anything about any of this, but it's at least a good thing to say.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cake in a Mug!

This is by far the cutest thing I have ever made.  Months ago, my mama emailed me a recipe for red velvet cake in a mug and I finally tried it.  It took about 10 minutes, most of which was spent hunting for the red food coloring (which I clearly should have used more of), and then 2 minutes to microwave.   I put sprinkles on it to make it cuter.  My only problem with this is that I actually don't like red velvet cake very much.  There is no butter in it, and I believe that in cooking, the secret ingredient is butter.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Caturday Post: Enter a Mouse

We have a mouse.  Its burrow comes in somewhere in the laundry closet.  This explains the cats' undue interest in the laundry closet recently.  Last night we had some squeaking and scratching and a sighting: a little gray self-animate kitty toy of the family Muridae.

Droll Scaramouche looked at the mouse.  The mouse squeaked.  Droll Scaramouche ran away.
It squeaked at me!
 World-conquering Tamerlane batted at the mouse.  He seemed a little puzzled as to how to go about fulfilling his destiny as a bloody conqueror.  The mouse took advantage of his confusion to run away.
Crinkle balls are easier to conquer.
Clearly the only thing to do is get another kitten who will take on a mouse for us.         

Friday, January 3, 2014

In Which Customer Service Continues to Deserve Its Abysmal Reputation

This morning I went to pay my bills, and I hit a snag.  For me, paying bills means logging into my banking site and filling in how much and when and clicking buttons to make it happen.  But my insurance company has a really long name (38 characters) and the bank's website will only accept 28 characters for a name.

Hmm.  I'm only a dabbler in programming, but that shouldn't be more than one line in html, right?  A quick query to Stack Overflow confirms this:

<input type = "text" maxlength = "38">

or whatever maximum number of characters you want to accept as input.  Next a call to customer service: can you please alter one line of html in your website?  Answer: absolutely no chance.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Close Encounters of the Anti-Nerd Kind

I have a habit of eavesdropping on people around me when I am in public places.  It's a natural thing to do.  Natural, of course, doesn't imply much of anything, but I do it.  I was in a bookstore the other day, browsing idly through 2014 calendars, when I heard a woman behind me reproaching her daughter for wanting to buy a "nerd" calendar, because there was "only so nerdy that she [the mother] could be."

The calendar in question was a periodic table of the elements calendar.  Now as far as the sciences go, chemistry is possibly the most easily accessible.  Computer science, for all that I support it, doesn't generally look interesting, biology has way too many spleens*, and physics is really hard even assuming a frictionless universe.  More to the current point, I can't think of any other science in which the central tenants can be presented in such an easy and logically organized way as the periodic table of elements.

But while thinking all this stuff, I was sort of paralyzed with indecision.  Do I defend intellectualism, and how it shouldn't be derided** as nerdiness?  If so, how?  I have no kind of relationship with these people, and while it is a popular conceit of the evangelically religious that people are just waiting for the right word (or tract) from complete strangers, I think that that is rarely, if ever, true.  Also, while it is easy, and a bit fun, to judge people based on snippets of contextless conversation fragments, for all I know there are mitigating circumstances.  Maybe this lady has cancer and has just had radiation explained to her in exhaustive detail and she's upset and scared and in no mood to think more about chemistry.

So I did and said nothing and went to complain to the internet about those who feel free and unashamed to openly deride knowing stuff in a world the luxuries of which were developed by people who dedicated their lives to knowing stuff.  Not to mention people who decline to invest in the future by discouraging younger people from knowing stuff.  I hope the daughter in this situation pursues her interest in things chemistry despite a lack of support.

*For the record, I have nothing against spleens, being as they are a useful sort of organ, and more power to those who want to study spleens.  I, however, find them a wee bit icky.

**I am not convinced that I want to reclaim nerdiness as a good term for a variety of reasons. I know quite a few people who use it as a good term, and I won't argue about it, but I am becoming less and less likely to self-identify as a nerd.