Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Apple #353: Thanksgiving

So I'm getting ready to go home to visit my family for Thanksgiving, and I'm wondering what I should do a Daily Apple about. And I realize, I've already got Daily Apple entries for just about everything you might encounter on your typical Thanksgiving Day.

The only thing I don't have is an entry about Thanksgiving Day itself.

I find Thanksgiving Day confusing. For one thing, there are so many different days and years that people claim was the first Thanksgiving, and that's mostly due to the fact that there were lots of different settlements sprinkled here and there on the Atlantic Coast. And then, was it first declared a holiday by FDR, or by Abraham Lincoln, or by George Washington. One could make a case for any of those three.

Pretty soon, it all starts making about this much sense.

And then what did they eat (not pumpkin pie as we know it, that's for sure). The answer to that depends on when you say the first Thanksgiving happened. Some of the very early ones took place in the summer when people were overjoyed simply to have survived the killing winter. So if you say the first Thanksgiving was in the summer, there would have been various kinds of summer crops and grains, prepared in ways that aren't that familiar to us anymore. But if you say the first true Thanksgiving was when Lincoln proclaimed it so, in November, then the food would have been very different.

And of course it's also fraught with all kinds of discomfort because what was a celebration for white settler folk wound up meaning terrible devastation for native folks.

See? It's just not an easy or even a particularly nice topic to wrestle with on these here Daily Apple pages.

To me, what gives Thanksgiving Day meaning is not its complicated and sometimes unsettling history, but the time I spend with my family. It's kind of funny when I think about it because, in practice, Thanksgiving Day is a holiday devoted to sitting around with your family and friends, eating food and watching TV. And then later, going to the movies. It's what most of us probably already do with our families anyway. Yet this day says, "No, you must stop everything else you're doing and go hang out with your family and friends. And there must be turkey!"

Now, I know for some people, this time of year can be tough. Families may be broken up. There might be somebody missing from the table this year. You might not get along with everybody in your family the way you'd like to. It's not all happy cranberries and sugar and good times. I know this, believe me. But so do a lot of people. That may not seem like a comforting thought, but, well, here, let me show you.

Sisters Pamela and Ella and their deceased sister, Marjorie in the photo.
(Photo by Luis Sanchez, from the Cincinnati Enquirer)

In 2007, the Census Bureau surveyed 116 million households in the United States. They found out that:
  • 78 million of those households contained families or married people.

  • 37.5 million households were "non-family" or people who live together but are not related or married to each other.

This is Joey and Hina and Weifei.
(Photo by Anna on Picasa)

  • About half of households had a married spouse present.

  • 17 million households are headed by a divorced person; 11 million by a widow or widower.
  • 22.6 million households are run by someone who never married.
  • Most of us live in families of 2 or 3 people. 

This is David with his family

  • If we don't live with our families, we tend to live by ourselves and go visit.

This is Desiree Taggart's family -- or, as she says, only some of it.
(Photo from taggartsmyname's blog)

  • Some of us live with families as large as 6 children or more.

  • A few of us also live with families to whom we are not related.
  • For those of us who run the house and have children, slightly more than half live with our children. Slightly less than half live apart from them.

This family lives in Guam
(Photo from Zenhabits)

  • Some of our households -- about 7.5 million of us-- live with at least one family member who is 65 or older.

Okay, so here's my point. All of these households, in my mind, are families. Blood-related, adopted, married, or not. These are families. Relationships. And they all look different.

But we're all going to take a day, and go be with the people who gave birth to us or to whom we gave birth, our siblings, our nephews, our step-parents, our foster children, our spouses, our aunts, grandparents, cousins-in-law, great step-nieces, our friends, and we're just going to hang out. Spend the day. Eat some food. Watch TV. Be with each other. And I think that's nice.

(Photo from Andy Macias' Family Photos)

Happy Be With Each Other Day.

US Census Bureau, America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2007
Purple Slinky, Strange Facts about Thanksgiving, November 3, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Apple #352: Skating at Rockefeller Center

So earlier today, I was watching highlights of the football games that happened today on NBC, and at one point, either just before or after a commercial, they showed people ice skating at the rink in Rockefeller Center in New York. I thought, That might be fun. I wonder how it actually works. I mean, how do you get there, how much does it cost, do you bring your own skates?

These people found out how to go skating at Rockefeller Center, and they're actually doing it!
(Photo from Wired New York)

  • Most years, the skating rink opens in late October through early April. Basically, when it's cold enough for the ice to stay frozen.
  • It's open every day, usually from 8:30 in the morning until midnight.
  • One site recommends going before 4 pm on weekdays, or else early in the morning on weekends because that's when it's not as crowded.
  • That's an issue because the rink is fairly small; only about 150 skaters can be using it at one time.
  • You pay by the session, and each session lasts an hour and a half.

This little girl is bundled up and ready to get on the ice.
(Photo from the Hudson and Abella photo gallery)

How Much
  • The cost depends on what time of year you go, whether you go on a weekend or a weekday, and how old you are.
  • Oh, and it's cash only, folks.

Time of Year
Age Group
November 7 – 20, M-TH
Children / Seniors
November 7 – 20, F-SUN
Children / Seniors
November 21 – January 9
Children / Seniors
January 10 - April, M-TH
Children / Seniors
January 10 - April, M-TH lunchtime (11:30 – 1 pm)
January 10 - April, F-SUN, and holidays
Children / Seniors
  • Looks like the best time to go is lunchtime during the week, after the winter holidays.
  • Be sure to check The Rink at Rockefeller Center for any possible changes in rates or times, especially if, by the time you're reading this, it is no longer 2008/2009.
  • They also have group rates for large parties, birthdays, etc. You can also pay for skating lessons.
  • If you want to propose to your sweetest on the ice, you can do that too, but it'll cost you around $200. As far as I can tell, you and your honey can have the ice all to yourselves for as long as it takes them to play your favorite song while you propose and then skate one "victory lap" around the ice. Then you have to get off the ice, go into the lounge, and drink a champagne toast.
  • If you want to rent skates, they cost an additional $9 per session if you go before January 10. The cost goes down a whole dollar to $8 per session starting January 10.

How to Get There
  • I'm guessing that, since New York is an enormous city, driving yourself there is the worst possible idea.
  • Since I don't live there, I'd have to fly there first. So I'll assume I'm coming from Laguardia Airport.
  • If I took a cab, Yahoo Maps tells me it's just under 9 miles, and would take 17 minutes. I regard that time estimate with a big fat dose of skepticism.
  • To get from the airport straight to Rockefeller Center, I'd have to take the bus and then the train. Which bus depends on what time I get to the airport, and which train depends on which bus I got on. The whole trip ( to go 9 miles) would take about an hour. Yeesh.
  • If I were taking the train from elsewhere in the city, I'd take either the F, B, or Q trains to the 47th-50th Streets/Rockefeller Center stop.

What the stop looks like on the map in Manhattan.
(You can download the complete DK Eyewitness Map to New York direct to your Blackberry for $19.99)

The Skates

(Image from Summit Sports)

  • Whether you choose to rent skates on site or bring your own, selecting a pair of ice skates that will fit your feet is crucial. Even an hour and a half's worth of skating can give you some wicked blisters if your skates don't fit right.
  • Generally, skates fit one size to one and a half sizes smaller than your street shoes. But different manufacturers' skates fit differently, and some "recreational" models are sized to match street shoe sizes. So you're just going to have to try them on.
  • I can, however, recommend things to do when trying on your skates to find the right size:

Pay attention to where your heel hits in the heel cup and where your toe hits in the toe cap.
(Diagram from Summit Sports)

  1. Make sure you're wearing the kind of socks you'll wear when skating. Some moms say you should wear extra-thick socks, or even two pair of socks. Hockey players and figure skaters think that's a terrible idea, and they wear no socks at all, or very thin socks, which gives them a greater feel for the ice and actually less slippage in the skates.
  2. After you put the skate on and before you lace up, kick the heel of the boot onto the floor a few times to get your heel as far back in the skate as possible. Then lace up the both skates to be snug, but not so tight that your foot is throbbing. At the turn to the ankle, you'll want to lace up tighter.
  3. Once they're tied, stand up and bend your knees. You should feel your toes just brushing the toecap, but not pressed all the way to the end.
  4. When you find a pair that you think is a good fit, keep the skates on, walk around the store, really get a feel for them for about 15 minutes.
  5. Skating aficionados say it takes about 2 to 5 hours of ice time to break in your skates. So if you've just gotten new skates, definitely break them in before you go off for your special trip to Rockefeller Center.
  6. Best ways to break in your skates? Skate in them. Next best is to wear them, bladed but with skate guards on, around the house. Go up and down stairs, do deep knee bends. It's best to keep these sessions brief, so you'll have to do the breaking in over several occasions.

Maybe after a successful journal, with the properly-fitting skates and just the right skating dress, this could be your Apple Lady. Except about 19 times less graceful.
(Photo from some now-mysterious location on

Patina Restaurant Group, The Rink at Rockefeller Center
NYC Tourist, The Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center (note that dates and prices are three years old)
New York City Transit Trip Planner
Scott Noble, Ice Hockey Skate Buying Demystified
Summit Sports, Selecting a Hockey Skate
eHow, How to Fit Ice Skates

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Apple #351: Fire Departments

This past week, I've been thinking about the fire department. It started this way: I was smashing up some garlic to put in my tomato sauce, when I heard a fire engine siren outside. My house seems to be located on some fire department thoroughfare because fire engines drive past all the time. But on this particular day, I thought, "There's a fire somewhere, and they're already on their way to take care of it." I was able go on smashing up my garlic and know that somebody was putting out a fire for somebody else.

Let me put it another way. Back in the day, if somebody's house caught on fire, everybody in the neighborhood would run to it and try to put it out. A lot of times, despite the neighbors' best efforts, they weren't successful. They couldn't round up enough water or people to combat the flames. People didn't know the best places to pour the water. And most likely, they didn't know how to go into the burning building and drag out someone who was trapped in there.

Detail from the Hand-in-Hand Fire Company brochure, which was given to residents of Colonial Williamsburg to reassure them that this particular fire company would do a good job. Those guys are using a very early pump which I think is supposed to get water to go up the tube and out the horn, into the window where the flames are escaping. But is the seat of the fire really in that window? And all those guys holding hands with buckets are standing still. Is anyone off getting more water? And how far do they have to carry it? All questions that could mean life or death.
(Image from Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Resources)

Now, we have this totally advanced system where somebody sees a fire, calls 911, and people who are trained in putting out fires are sent to that location as fast as possible. These experts put their lives at risk, spray enormous quantities of water and other fire retardant materials as appropriate onto the fire, they rescue people from burning buildings, and they put out the fire. I mean, these people are saving lives (as well as property), and we have it down to such a system that it's almost routine.

Firefighters on ladder 175 in Brooklyn assist a woman down the aerial from her apartment on the 3rd floor. The fire is on the 2nd floor.
(Photo by Britton Crosby)

I know there was a lot of admiration for fire fighters immediately following September 11, 2001, and I fully agree that those fire fighters demonstrated their heroism magnificently. But it has occurred to me, perhaps all over again, that our method as communities of responding to fires is so quotidian and yet it is also quite marvelous.

Here are some facts about fire fighters and what they do.

(Photo from, sourced from Kortney's blog about life in emergency services)

  • About every 19 seconds, somewhere in the United States, a fire department is responding to a fire.
  • As of 2006, 1.1 million people worked as firefighters in the U.S.
  • Only 28% of those firefighters held those positions as careers -- they are paid, full-time firefighters. They tend to work in departments that protect 25,000 or more people.
  • 72% of U.S. firefighters are volunteers.

These fire fighters in Olivia, Minnesota, are all volunteers.
(Photo from the website of the City of Olivia, Corn Capital of the World)

  • Most of the fire departments staffed with volunteers are in small or rural areas and protect fewer than 25,000 people.
  • About 4% of firefighters are women, 9% are black, and 7% are Latino or Hispanic.
  • Regardless of the time of day or season or region, fire departments typically arrive at the scene of a fire within 5 to 11 minutes.
  • In 2006, fire departments across the country responded to a total of 24.4 million calls.
  1. Over 15 million of those calls were for emergency medical aid.
  2. 2.1 million of those calls were false alarms. Those included "mischievous false calls," unintentional calls, bomb scares, and fire alarm system malfunctions.
  3. 1.6 million calls were for actual fires.

Fire truck driving through smoke in the Santa Monica Mountains in October 2007.
(AP Photo by Reed Saxon)

  • Looking at responses to fires only, most calls for firefighters occur between 3 and 6 p.m. and they are most often called to structures as opposed to outside locations or to vehicles.
  • In 2007, 102 firefighters died while on the job.
  • The number of firefighter deaths has been very slowly declining since the 1970s (excepting the 340 firefighter deaths at the World Trade Center).
  • The majority of injury-related deaths and non-fatal injuries that firefighters sustain are due to overexertion or stress.
  • The majority of firefighter deaths are due to sudden cardiac arrest. In other words, this job exacts a heavy toll.

(Photo from A Firefighting Career)

  • The deadliest fires in US history, resulting in the highest number of firefighter deaths are:
  1. World Trade Center in New York City on 9-11-2001, when 340 firefighters died.
  2. A wildland fire known as Devil's Broom in Silverton, Idaho, in 1910 when 86 firefighters died.
  3. Another wildland fire in Griffith's Park in Los Angeles in 1933 when 29 firefighters died.

Fighting the wildfires in California in 2007, at Palomar Mountain
(Photo by Wally Skalij, sourced from The New Jew)

  • Other than the World Trade Center, there have been very few high-casualty fires in the past decade. The most recent high-casualty fire was in 2007 in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Super Sofa Store and warehouse.

Fire at the Super Sofa Store engulfing the store and the warehouse.
(Photo from the Charleston Post and Courier)

Chief Rusty Thomas directing his firefighters to combat the fire.
(Photo from the Charleston Post and Courier)

  1. An employee was trapped in the building, and by relaying his location to the firefighters by telephone and by pounding on the wall, they located him, cut an opening in the metal skin of the building's exterior, and removed him from the building.
  2. Meanwhile, other firefighters went into the building with hoses, looking for the "seat" of the fire. The following is from the National Fire Protection Association's official account:
While suppression efforts were underway, the fire grew rapidly and began spreading from the center of the building, through the showroom and eventually toward the front entrance. This rapid fire spread was followed quickly by structural collapses within the showroom areas. The combination of the fire spread and the collapses trapped firefighters within the showroom portion of the building, killing nine.

After the fire is out, firefighters are still waiting to hear about their co-workers who are missing.
(Photo from the Charleston Post and Courier)

  • The earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906 is considered the second-largest fire loss US history. In this reckoning, they calculate loss in terms of dollars of property damage.
  • Here's how the top three fire losses break down:
  1. World Trade Center, $33.4 billion in 2001, adjusted for 2007 $39.2 billion
  2. San Francisco earthquake & fire, $350 million in 1906, adjusted for 2007 $8.0 billion
  3. Great Chicago Fire, $160 million in 1871, adjusted for 2007 $2.9 billion

Most of the calls firefighters get are for fires at residences, like this one in Maryland. All the occupants got out safely, none of the firefighters was hurt, and though the house sustained a lot of damage, the fire was put out. The person who took this photo remarked that the event didn't even make the local news.
(Photo by Obinna)

Okay, so that's all the bad stuff about fires. But what about the number of lives saved? The number of people rescued from burning buildings or smashed cars? The number of injured people rushed to the hospital in time to receive medical attention? Apparently, nobody keeps track of the good things that firefighters do. They keep track of the number of people who die or are injured and how those deaths and injuries happen, so that they can figure out how to reduce those deaths and injuries. But I sure do wish somebody would keep track of the number of lives firefighters save.

Firefighters rescuing a woman injured in the first World Trade Center attack in 1993
(Photo from Daniel Sheehan's site about the WTC Bombings 1993)

  • The best I could find on this score is that in 2004, of all the runs (responses) that firefighters made to fires, about 26% of the time they provided aid to people at the scene. The report where I found this doesn't get at all specific about what "aid" means, but I think it mainly means medical attention but is not limited to that.
  • In about 74% of those fires in 2004, no aid was provided. That usually means that the extra aid was not necessary, but it could also mean that aid was refused.

Firefighters rescue a 73 year-old woman trapped in her car in Bayonne, New Jersey. It took them 20 minutes to extract her. Her only injury was pain in her left leg.
(Photo by Chief Rogers, sourced from Bayonne, New Jersey Local News)

  • Finally, here is the Fireman's Prayer. For those 4% of firefighters who are women, I hope somebody writes an updated, gender-neutral version.
When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage;
Give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor and protect his property.
And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life;
Please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife.

The point is, firefighters are there to help. And they do.

Firefighters train by saving each other.
(Photo from Susan Kuklin's blog)

National Fire Protection Association, The U.S. Fire Service, FAQ/Facts and Lore, and various reports
US Fire Administration, Structure Fire Response Times
National Fire Protection Association, Firefighter Fatalities in the United States -- 2007
National Fire Protection Association, Fire Department Calls and False Alarms, April 2008
US Fire Administration, Fire Department Fire Run Profile, December 2007

Karajan - Beethoven Symphony No. 7

Monday, November 10, 2008

Apple #350: Ludwig van Beethoven

This weekend I went to see a performance of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. It was absolutely fantastic. I had forgotten how vivacious, rich, stirring, and energetic that symphony is. I mean, the thing does not ever quit. I loved seeing the way the members of the orchestra had to work their tails off to match the vigor of the music they were playing.

Apparently, Beethoven himself once called it his "most excellent symphony." Here are a few other responses to the symphony by various composers and music lovers:

  • Emanates an immense joy
  • Full of bliss and pleasure of life
  • An apotheosis [supreme model of excellence] of dance
  • Dead good it is, even better than the Fifth . . . and a right bit of fun
  • The Allegretto. . . is one of the world's best-loved pieces of music
  • One can hardly decide what to think more astonishing: Beethoven’s amazing creative fantasy; the impeccable form; the amazing talent in using all the musical resources in developing the themes; or his compact, luscious, sumptuous instrumentation.

To put it another way, after it was over, I remarked to my friend who'd gone to the performance with me, "That is balls-out music."

Here it is, for your listening pleasure, as you read. I recommend turning up your speakers.

[In case the YouTube thing isn't embedded properly, you can get to the 7th's 2nd movement here.]

In general, I love the Beethoven. I don't know what it is -- his instrumentation, the vigorous rhythms, his genius in passing a phrase back and forth and mirroring it throughout a piece, the way he can shift moods in the transition from one note to the next -- but I always feel filled up when I listen to his music. It's as if all the hidden curves and corners of my soul that had gone untouched by anything else for a very long time were suddenly filled with his music. Magnificent.

Most of us know that Beethoven went deaf and that, by the time he wrote the 9th Symphony, he could barely hear at all. You've probably also heard the story that, at the conclusion of the 9th's initial performance, someone bodily turned him around to face the audience so he could see the standing ovation his work was receiving. But what are some other things about Beethoven's life that are maybe not so well-known?

  • Biographies will state when Beethoven was baptized (Dec 7, 1770), but they don't ever give his birth date. That's because nobody knows for sure what it was.
  • Even Beethoven was confused about his age. Before one performance when he was 7 and a half, his father introduced him to the audience as being 6 years old. So for years Beethoven insisted even to his family that he was younger than he actually was.
  • Beethoven was one of 7 children, but only he and two of his brothers survived childhood.
  • Though Beethoven lived in Germany and Austria for much of his life, his name was not German but Flemish (Dutch). The "van" does not signal nobility, as "von" does in German names.
  • Beethoven's father taught him about music and to play the piano. But his father was also an alcoholic and when he got home from drinking in the middle of the night, would wake up Ludwig and force him to practice.

People think this is Beethoven's father, Johann. He looks stern enough to be.
(Image from LvB, the Magnificent Master)

  • In 1802, Beethoven wrote a letter to his brothers about what it was like for him when he first realized he was going deaf. In this letter, now known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, he said that his deafness nearly drove him to despair and suicide.

. . . what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life -- it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me.

  • Not long after he wrote this letter, he started working on his 3rd symphony, the Eroica. People interpret that symphony today as describing a struggle, a death in a funeral march, followed by a rebirth in the scherzo movement, and finally a glorification.

Beethoven in 1803, after he had faced the fact that he was losing his hearing.
(Portrait by Hornemann, Image from Wikipedia)

  • A faithful reader asked me, hey, if Beethoven had tinnitus, couldn't that have been cured? So I looked into it, and here is what I found:
  • According to what I read, a lot of things can cause tinnitus. Wax build-up can make you hear your own internal head-sounds, and that gets called tinnitus. Get somebody to suck out that excess wax and bingo, you're cured. However, tinnitus can also happen when the nerve endings in your ears are damaged due to lots of different causes – exposure to loud noises over an extended period of time, too much aspirin, diseases of the inner ear, aneurysms, or head trauma. Some people today think that maybe when Beethoven’s dad whacked him in the head so many times, that may have caused his tinnitus. So Beethoven's tinnitus may have been of the incurable sort, even by today's standards.
  • Beethoven knew a Czech inventor named Maelzel, who made all sorts of devices to try to help Beethoven hear in spite of his tinnitus. Maelzel also invented the metronome, and many of Beethoven's compositions include specific notations about the speed at which he meant for his pieces to be performed.
  • In addition to his deafness, Beethoven also suffered from terrible stomach pains, which historians today think was probably lead poisoning.
  • He also had a volatile temper, (a "tumultuous personality" according to Goethe), and often turned angry and bitter at friends one day, only to write them apologetic letters assuring them how much he valued their kindness and compassion the next. Many people today suspect that he might have suffered from bipolar depression, which resulted in this volatility.
  • He also had little reverence for titled aristocracy. There is a famous story about Beethoven and Goethe going for a walk together and encountering a group of dukes and duchesses and various sorts of fancy people. Goethe made way for them, but Beethoven did not. He strode through the center of their party and they had to move aside for him. When Beethoven and Goethe met up on the other side of the group of noblepeople, Beethoven told Goethe he was too servile, and Goethe decided that Beethoven was "completely untamed."

The untamed Beethoven, around 1819
(Portrait by Stieler, from Ludwig van Beethoven, Magnificent Master)

  • After Beethoven's hearing loss became more profound, he "conversed" with people by writing down what he wanted to say in a notebook, and his interlocutor responded the same way. It is believed that over the years, he amassed some 400 notebooks like this. Unfortunately after his death, violinist Anton Schindler was entrusted with these notebooks, and he destroyed almost half of them in an attempt to preserve a favorable image of the composer.
  • One of the ways he earned his living was as a music teacher. Many of them were attractive young women, and he fell in love with several of them.
  • Though he fell in love several times in his adult life, for one reason or another, it never worked out and he never did marry. (One woman, to whom he was engaged, was named Giullietta Giucciardi.) In some instances, he was not aristocratic enough to suit the family of the women he loved. In others, he changed his mind and decided that he and she were not suited to each other.
Much as you love me - I love you more. . . . Is not our love truly a heavenly structure, and also as firm as the vault of heaven? . . . No one else can ever possess my heart - never - never - Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves. . . . Oh continue to love me - never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.

Antonie Brentano, the woman whom many scholars think might have been the intended recipient of Beethoven's letters never sent.
(Image from LvB, the Magnificent Master)

  • One of the young students he loved was an 18 year-old named Therese. He was 40 at the time. He was so smitten, he asked a friend of his to get a copy of his birth certificate from Bonn, a preliminary to marriage arrangements. However, everything went wrong. At a party thrown by Therese's father, Beethoven was supposed to perform a new bagatelle, but he was so drunk he was unable to play it. He scrawled on the music "Fur Therese." When the manuscript was found many years later after Therese had died, his writing was so illegible, it was misread as "Fur Elise."

Therese Malfatti, the young woman for whom Beethoven wrote the erroneously-known "Fur Elise," is seated at the piano in this portrait with her family.
(Image from LvB, the Magnificent Master)

  • In 1823, when Beethoven was in his 50s, he completed his 9th symphony. According to manuscripts that survive, he had first begun work on it 7 years previously.

Beethoven in 1823, a year before his completed 9th Symphony was performed.
(Portrait by Waldmuller, from LvB, the Magnificent Master)

  • The performance of the 9th, called "the Academy," was a tremendous and now-famous success. He sat near the conductor and gave the conductor the tempos he wanted. At the end of the performance, the audience gave him a standing ovation, but his back was to the audience and he had no idea of their reaction. One of the sopranos who had performed, a woman named Caroline Unger, took his hand and turned him to see the audience.
The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovation gestures. The theatre house had never seen such enthusiasm in applause.

At that time, it was customary that the imperial couple be greeted with three ovations at their entrance in the hall. The fact that a private person, who wasn't even employed by the state, and all the more, was a musician (class of people who had been perceived as lackeys at court), received five ovations, was in itself inadmissible, almost indecent. Police agents present at the concert had to break off this spontaneous explosion of ovations. Beethoven left the concert deeply moved.

  • However, despite such enormous acclaim, the 9th symphony was not a financial success. And then pretty much everything in Beethoven's life hit a downward spiral:
  1. His health was continuing to decline, though he did have three surgical operations which tapped his dwindling funds.
  2. Added to his list of ailments was insomnia, and probably the physical decline associated with years of alcohol abuse.
  3. His nephew, of whom Beethoven assumed an obsessive-like control, tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. Some sources say his nephew, Karl, tried to kill himself because of his outsize gambling debts; others say it was because the courts awarded custody of Karl to Beethoven, instead of to his mother. Whatever the reason, Beethoven felt the blow and gave up trying to raise Karl. That was good for Karl, but Beethoven took it as a failure.
  4. Finally, he was also pretty much broke. He did have some money, but he was trying to save as much as possible to pass on to his nephew. His rooms were "shabby" and he spent money only on food.
  • The day he died, there was a terrible storm. But it wasn't just any storm; there was thunder, there was lightning, and there was a whirling snowstorm. Beethoven died with his fist clenched and raised toward the heavens while lightning flashed against the snow. Tempestuous, even in death.

Beethoven conducting his 6th symphony in 1808.
(Image from LvB's Biography)

  • He wrote 138 pieces of music that were published during his lifetime. Some 205 additional works have been found and were published after his death.

P.S. Your Apple Lady is aware of the tendency in Hollywood movies to denote a villain's villainy by showing him listening to classical music. Not all Hollywood villains like classical music, but lots of the "smart" ones often do. And you can bet that if somebody is listening to classical music, he or she is a bad guy:
  • Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
  • Alex in Fatal Attraction (she's the one who puts Madame Butterfly on the stereo).
  • Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange absolutely loves Beethoven.
So let me state here, unequivocally, that your faithful Apple Lady is no villain. I am not hatching nefarious and demented plans while listening to classical music. I really like the Beethoven, and I think it is reverse-elitist, stupid, and by this time just plain cliched of the movie-makers to keep making their villains listen to classical music. (This blogger and his readers have some intriguing thoughts on the link between movie villains and classical music, and also Nazis.)

Classical Music Pages, Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 7, Opus 92
All About Beethoven, Symphony No. 7 and Beethoven's Life
NPR All Things Considered, Admirers of the Allegretto from Beethoven's 7th
Beethoven's website, Ludwig van Beethoven's biography
Wikipedia, Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven, The Magnificent Master
Buzzle, Biography of Beethoven
MSN Encarta, Ludwig van Beethoven

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Apple #349: Voting

I love voting.

My state is one of several that allow for early absentee voting, and today I voted.

I figured that on Tuesday, my polling place would be super crowded, and I also thought I might like to volunteer in some way on that day. So I decided I'd vote early. I decided to go to the absentee polling place today, thinking that on a Sunday afternoon maybe there'd be fewer people than on a Saturday. I figured wrong.

The actual task of filling out the ballot, actually voting, took about four minutes. But it took me six hours and fifteen minutes of waiting in line to get there.

Yes, you read that right. 6 hours, 15 minutes.

The photo I had originally posted was of an enormous line that snaked back and forth in a giant public building. But the person who took that picture took down her site. :) So here's a picture of people in line waiting to vote in Tulsa, OK in 2008. This isn't even close to the packed-house madness in my community, but this is still a lot of people who want to vote.
(Photo from NewsOn6)

There were volunteers handing out free food -- pizza, apples, snacks, and water -- and they also set out chairs for us to sit on as we moved through the enormous line. But I was still very hungry by the time I got home, and my feet and my knees are really tired from all that standing on cement floors. I've eaten dinner now, but I haven't had enough of lying down with my feet up, so I'm going to go do that some more. Tomorrow, I'll tell you some tidbits about voting.

In the meantime, hooray for voting!

[time passes]

Okay, it's tomorrow. Here are some of the reasons I love voting.

For starters, it's quite rare.
  • The Economist Intelligence Unit, which keeps track of countries all around the world in a way that very few other organizations do, has an index of democracies in the world.
  • Lots of countries say they're democracies, and everybody has slightly different definitions of what a democracy is. If you look up the word in several different dictionaries and encyclopedias, I'll bet that you don't see the same definition twice.
  • The Economic Intelligence Unit says that in order for a country to qualify as a Free Democracy, it has to meet five criteria:
  1. Holds free and fair competitive elections on a regular basis
  2. Upholds civil liberties to protect basic human rights
  3. Government is functional -- that is, it does what it says it's going to do
  4. The people are actively engaged and openly question their leaders
  5. Citizens freely participate in their government.
  • The EIU profiled 167 countries in the world and found that only 28 countries meet the criteria of Free Democracies.
  • Those 28 countries, by the way, account for only 13% of the world's entire population.
  • In some other countries that the EIU calls Flawed Democracies, people might get to vote, but maybe the voting is compromised in some way, or it doesn't amount to much in the end, or not very many people participate.
  • In another category, Authoritarian Regimes, citizens really don't get much say in their government at all. 55 of the 167 countries were judged to be in this category.
  • Put another way, 38% of the entire world has little or no say in their political system.

Freedom House's 2008 map of democracies in the world. Dark blue countries are those identified as free electoral democracies. Dark red are considered not free and not electoral democracies. Light shades of either indicate partially free democracies.
(Map sourced from Wikipedia)

Lots of people worked and fought for a long, long time for the right to vote.

Let's take just the history of the United States. I realize this leaves out several thousands of years of global history, but I can't cover the political history of the world here. I'm just trying to illustrate a concept.

The Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, basically said that Great Britain was not a Free Democracy, and so this group of people was going to establish its own Free Democracy.

Signing of the Declaration of Independence. Sure, it's a lot of white guys, but notice the crossed swords and flags on the wall. Even they had to fight for their rights.
(Image sourced from justmytruth)

In between then and now, there were literally wars -- the Revolutionary War, the Civil War -- when people fought and killed each other over their rights and the rights of others. In addition, there were also marches, protests, arguments, fights, riots, people getting thrown in prison, and all sorts of less violent battles in which people struggled for their rights and the rights of others.

So here's a timeline of the Constitutional Amendments related to voting rights. What I think about, more than the dates themselves, is the time in between the dates. I think about, in those intervening years, all the work that went on to achieve the next milestone, and how long it took to get there.
  • 1776 - The United States is established
  • 1869 - Men of all races are allowed to vote
  • 1919 - Women are allowed to vote
  • 1962 - Nobody can be kept from voting for not paying a poll tax
  • 1971 - All citizens over the age of 18 may vote
Those dates, by the way, are when the amendments were proposed. In some cases, it took individual states a long time to get around to ratifying a particular amendment. North Carolina, for example, didn't ratify the amendment getting rid of the poll tax until 1989.

 Lots of states took a long time to ratify the women's right to vote. Mississippi didn't ratify the amendment until 1984 -- a full 65 years after it was proposed.

To most of us, this might seem like a pretty commonplace act.  But actually, this is the culmination of centuries of struggle.
(Photo from the grio)

It's all you.

Sure, when politicians are campaigning, people try to persuade you to think this way or that way. They tell you things to try to get you to agree with them, or to disagree with the opposition. They show you pictures, they play stirring music, they might call somebody else names, or they might call you names -- all to try to get you to think what they think. But in the end, when you get your ballot and you go to mark your vote, there's nobody else in there with you. It's just you and the ballot and the pen.

(Photo from Pick's Picks of the Day)

No matter what anybody else tells you beforehand, you get to say what you think. Not the guy standing next to you, not your mom or your dad, not your spouse or your child, not your so-called friend who pushes you around, and not the people on TV either. Just you.

You get to walk up to the table, ask for your ballot, and fill it out. It doesn't cost you any money, and you get to say what you think.

It matters.

Living in a free democracy as we do, what you say matters. People will listen. Yes, a majority vote is required, but your vote will be counted. It will add up, and your choice will be heard, and things will happen as a result.

After the election and the results are in, somebody will start a new job. Somebody else will pack up his or her desk and go do something else. Your community might start picking up trash better than it used to because everybody decided that ought to be done in a different way. Your city might change the way it runs its schools because the majority of your city agreed that it should. The way your state manages its water resources might change because you agreed that it should. The way our country operates in any given way might change because we voted so.

In how many other aspects of your life do people in power ask you what you think, you tell them, and things change because of what you said? That's what voting is.

Laza Kekic, The Economist Intelligence Unit, Democracy Index, 2007
US Constitution Online, Ratification of Constitutional Amendments
US, The Declaration of Independence
Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 42 Explore, The Topic: Revolutionary War