And Now, 40 Minutes of Joy

I’m in England at the moment, because it’s probably the cheapest place to buy a round-the-world ticket. (Bangkok was a close rival, last I checked.) While I’m here, I’m doing a bit of paid work but mostly just a lot of driving between various spots I’ve wanted to see for a while. Pics here if I get a minute.

But much more urgently, because time is already running out for you to hear this wonderful thing: two nights ago, I’m driving back to my hotel, and Radio Three starts playing a live broadcast from Albert Hall of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain doing Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3.

The piece was begun in the waning days of World War II, in the wake of some of the darkest hours of the 20th century — and its final version was completed shortly after the Allied victory, with a premiere in 1946.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear frequent echoes of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man — but in the fourth movement, after struggle and sturm und drang and darkness, the Fanfare itself emerges, finally, clear and triumphant. It’s glorious in any rendition.

But something about this particular performance stirred me to tears. Suddenly I’m still driving, but I’m also crying quite hard with joy. Maybe I’m just exhausted from travel (already?), but these kids — these teenagers — somehow seemed to get the whole emotional arc of the piece, most of all Copland’s concluding musical statement of hope for humanity.

Anyhow, it hit me just right, and if there’s any chance some of you guys might feel that, too, I hope you will.

I had to pull the car over, if you must know. And I wasn’t the only one so moved — if you stick around for the end (around the 45 minute mark), the ovation continues for six full minutes — and it’s still going when the BBC finally breaks away.

The BBC will only keep the .ram file of the recording online until Saturday. So between now and then, if you have 45 minutes or so to spare, and you’re curious, get your computer to some quality speakers or at least a decent set of earbuds and listen up.

(btw, there’s about 5 minutes of chit-chat at the start, as the previous program ends and the Albert Hall broadcast ramps up. That’s worth a listen, too, if only to set the mood. So: ears at the ready, start the file, close your eyes, hop into my rented Vauxhall Blindspot as we drive the M26 through a drizzle at dusk… and enjoy.)

Taking Another Lap

A happy development: looks like I’m going the long way around the planet again. A new writing gig (to be described when the time comes) means that I’m actually getting paid to go places I want to see. Pretty neat.

The details aren’t all worked out, but this one should involve between 12 and 15 countries, including lots of places I’ve wanted to see for years. (And yes, many of them I first learned about during the frenetic cramming-for-Jeopardy! period of my life described in Prisoner of Trebekistan.) I’m hoping to touch base with some friends I met last time around, too.

As always, I’ll share with the rest of the class — pics, stories, etc. — as time allows.

If this is your first visit, I hope you’ll pop back in sometimes when you get a sec. Thanks for visiting.

PS — the first time around, I stumbled across some guy giving Free Hugs in an outdoor shopping mall in Sydney. So I figured what the heck, gave him a good one, and moved on. Had no idea I was being filmed. The video came out about a year later, and sure enough, I can be spotted lumbering through at the 1:12 mark.

Hope the planet is just as benevolent this time, too.


One of the Most Beautiful Renditions of the National Anthem You May Ever Hear

There are a lot of reasons good people can feel frustrated with our country’s leadership and many of its major institutions right now.

But we should never lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of Americans themselves are (like people almost everywhere else) unbelievably good-hearted when given half a chance.

This happened a while back, but I just saw it this morning: the Boston Red Sox recently had a Disability Awareness day, and a young man with autism named Peter Rometti was chosen to sing the national anthem. Halfway through, he started to struggle, stammering and laughing nervously and losing some of the words.

Stick around through the awkward bit.  Watch how 38,000 total strangers responded.


McCain’s Adultery Counts About As Much As His Lobbyist Money

I’ll probably never like John Edwards politically again, despite my own recent kind words. The adultery per se isn’t the issue to me, since (a) personal issues just aren’t that important, from either party (you won’t find much on this site about Larry Craig et al), and (b) Edwards rarely made “family values” his main thang, anyway, unlike the more self-righteous foot-tappers of the world.

(Incidentally, I’m also not pretending that I’m more moral than the next guy. Right this second, in fact, I’m getting a Swedish massage from a manatee named Delilah while fantasizing about three Civil War generals and an East German swimmer. So I’m hardly in a comfortable position to judge. In fact, I’m hardly in a comfortable position per se.)

But Edwards knew what he’d done and what it meant. Which means his entire presidential campaign was an attempt, best case, to bet the medium-term future of the Democratic party on his own ability to continue covering up an extramarital affair. Indefinitely. That’s the sort of reckless arrogance only a true leader can muster, I guess.

(Higher, Delilah. A little higher. Now… touch the swimmer.)

But that said, McCain is a known adulterer, too — and unlike Edwards, he is still running for president, actively posing when convenient as an advocate of all things Family.

I’d much rather see the campaign focus on the economy, foreign policy, energy, education, and so on. Incompetence, corruption, and/or hypocrisy on these issues will sting us all vastly more than some tawdry personal dalliance.

But just saying: given the eagerness with which total nonsense gets trumpeted against the guy, even when it’s often mutually exclusive — He’s an elitist! Under the twisted sway of middle-class blacks in a Christian church! Where he’s a secret Muslim! Manipulated by Jewish banker George Soros! So of course his German rallies remind us of Nazi propaganda! His empty rhetoric is why he doesn’t wear a flag pin! And none of this is contradictory in any way! — what would the media do if Obama were found to have cheated years ago on his wife, the way McCain did to his first wife?

Obama’s candidacy would be toast that day.

But McCain cheating? That’s just how mavericks do.