January 22, 2013

Jazz has been shaped not only by musicians, but also by non-musical forces

Filed under: Books, History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:42

Robert Fulford talks about some of the unexpected changes in society and how they impacted the evolution of Jazz music:

Marc Myers, who writes for the Wall Street Journal and blogs at JazzWax.com, shrewdly 
explains this process in his new book, Why Jazz Happened (University of California Press). He describes how events ranging from city planning to inventions in sound technology altered the nature of jazz during three decades beginning in 1942. In those 30 years jazz changed from an accompaniment to dancing and drinking to a concert-based performance art directed at careful, even scholarly listeners. Myers can give at least half a dozen reasons why this happened, beginning with the suburbs.

In California the sprawl of the cities did more than shrink the audiences for artists like Teagarden. It also redefined the way jazz musicians worked together. In New York they saw each other often, since most of them lived within a few subway stops. In California they were physically separated and saw each other less often. They had to plan their rehearsals and recordings with care. 
Arrangements became more important to them. And by the end of the 1950s West Coast jazz had its own smooth, orderly, distinctive style, music created by geography.

The G.I. Bill, by which the U.S. government paid the university costs of veterans, had an even larger effect. Under the G.I. Bill John Lewis spent years at the Manhattan School of Music and later founded the Modern Jazz Quartet, the most elegant group of the era. Dick Hyman studied music at Columbia and became a superb all-purpose arranger and pianist. Dave Brubeck learned techniques of composition from Darius Milhaud, a renowned French composer, at Mills College (And Brubeck never let you forget it.) Pete Rugolo, Nelson Riddle and Jimmy Giuffre made themselves musically literate with the government’s support.

They and their students and colleagues became a new community of broadly educated musicians, the first generation of that kind in jazz history. The government, by accident, altered the tone of an art form.

A single genius-level engineer changed the possibilities of jazz form more than anyone else. He was Peter Goldmark, a Jewish Hungarian immigrant who became the star of CBS Laboratories. His name doesn’t get mentioned in Why Jazz Happened, but Myers nevertheless pays tribute to his accomplishment. In 1948 Goldmark introduced the LP, the 33-1/3 rpm disc, which became the worldwide standard until the CD replaced it in the late 1980s.

Before Goldmark, musicians had been limited to single discs running three minutes. Improvisation had to be carefully limited. The LP record allowed them to write or improvise at much greater length.

The broken window fallacy in Middle Earth

Filed under: Books, Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:36

Yes, even in the Third Age, there were Keynsian apologists:

Over on the Guerrilla Economist blog, Ust Oldfield discusses the economic consequences of the dragon Smaug on Tolkien’s fictional universe, Middle Earth. He argues that the net effect on Middle Earth’s economy may well have been positive. Both Dwarves and dragons hoarded the gold, so there would have been no monetary shock from the rapid withdrawal of so much precious metal from the economy. The Dwarves were then forced to offer their labour and skills to the outside world as refugees, contributing to the economy at large.

Perhaps. But there is something wrong with this picture. Ust neglects to mention that much of the Dwarven kingdom of Erebor and nearby Dale were utterly destroyed. Thousands of years’ worth of accumulated physical, human (or should that be Dwarven?) and social capital incinerated. In order to have a net positive effect on the economy of Middle Earth, the Dwarves’ integration with the wider economy must outweigh this massive destruction of wealth. This is unlikely, to say the least. For a start, the human city of Dale existed because of its trade with Erebor. Therefore the Dwarves were already engaging in peaceful and mutually beneficial exchange with the rest of Middle Earth. The Dwarves’ actions as refugees can only have created less value if their highest-value, voluntary choices were forcibly eliminated.

British army facing next wave of cuts

Filed under: Britain, Government, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:14

The British army has to reduce down to a slim 82,000 troops by 2015, and the cuts coming down later this year are part of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR):

Up to 50 brigadiers and other senior officers are expected to be axed as part of a sweeping round of army redundancies that will result in up to 5,300 troops leaving the forces over the next year.

In what is thought to be the biggest tranche of redundancies faced by the army since the early 1990s, infantry battalions are likely to be worst hit as the military reorganises itself for the post-Afghanistan era.

Special forces units will be spared any losses, but officials made clear that this round of job cuts would take “a large slice out of the army in one go”.

Separately, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) also admitted more medical staff from the army, Royal Navy and RAF staff were likely to face redundancy later this year.

Some of the details from the SDSR were discussed in 2010. I also posted that I suspected SDSR actually stood for “Slashing Damage to Strategic Resources

The free (and un-free) markets in water

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:58

Water is often described as a “natural monopoly”, because most of us only encounter a water bill from a municipally owned water utility company. But there are other markets for water where the price varies exactly the same way as it does for other commodities:

Earlier this year the Aurora Sentinel reported that the city will sell $9.5 million worth of water to an energy company. Why? Because the company is offering four times the price offered by other customary buyers. Potential profits in oil and gas make the water highly valued by drillers. Of course, this valuation is subject to change along with the prices of oil, crops, and all of the other resources required to produce them. If oil prices decline relative to crop prices, drillers will bid less for the water and farmers more, and water will flow to its most highly valued use. In other words, when markets are allowed to work, it’s a beautiful thing.

Public utility customers aren’t used to, and don’t really understand, how a free market works when it comes to water. Because a local water utility is seen by most economists as a natural monopoly, retail costs are fixed at low levels despite potential fluctuations in supply and demand. These low costs are accomplished not only through price fixing, but also through rationing (i.e., the public utility regulates when and how much water can be used, rather than consumers responding to true prices).

Water rationing usually affects what the utility considers a low-value use of the good, such as lawn watering. You are permitted to water your lawn only during certain hours, on certain days, and for a certain amount of time. Even if you have a prize-winning English garden in the middle of a desert and would gladly pay more for water, you aren’t given that opportunity. The guy next door with the dandelion lawn, whose sprinkler spends more time spraying the sidewalk than the grass, has no incentive to be more careful with his water, except when he’s forced to follow the directive of the local authority and water his sidewalk on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m.

Because there is no price incentive for the average public utility water customer to respond to, there are very few creative conservationists. Instead, public utilities resort to ridiculous advertising campaigns aimed at persuading their customers to use less of their products. You’ve probably received the flyers or seen TV ads sponsored by your water and electric utilities offering tips on how to use less. A more direct way to economize on water and energy use might be to let prices fluctuate for public utility customers like they do for customers in the wholesale market.

The obscure, unremembered — but bloodiest — battle in England

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:42

Unless you paid very close attention to British history, you may not even have heard of the bloodiest battle in England:

Consider, for example, Towton — the bloodiest battle on English soil, in which most of our nobility and their retainers took part and in which 28,000 people are said to have died. Since the population of the time was not much more than three million, that’s the equivalent of a battle today costing the lives of half a million.

If you were on the wrong side, that was it: curtains. Even if you survived the fighting you faced the greater horror of being ‘attainted’. This meant being hanged, drawn and quartered, while your goods were confiscated and your heirs disinherited in perpetuity. Such was the fate of 60 Lancastrian knights and gentlemen (including 25 MPs — so it wasn’t all bad…) after Towton.

As with the Norman Conquest and the first world war, the war’s victims numbered disproportionately among the English upper classes. ‘Out of 70 adult peers during this period, over 50 are known to have fought in battles they had to win if they wanted to stay alive,’ notes Desmond Seward, in his superb The Wars Of The Roses. Entire noble families were exterminated. In one campaign alone — 1460 to 1461 — 12 noblemen were killed and six beheaded, over a third of the English peerage.

And there was no way of opting out. If you were one of the 50 or 60 great families, you were too prominent politically and socially, and your private army was too valuable, to permit your remaining neutral. This, in turn, meant that your myriad kinsmen, retainers, and hangers-on had to follow you into battle, whether they liked it or not. As a government spokesman told the House of Commons in 1475, ‘None [of us] hath escaped.’

Update: Colby Cosh sent along a link to this Economist article from 2010:

Towton is a nondescript village in northern England, between the cities of York and Leeds. Many Britons have never heard of it: school history tends to skip the 400-or-so years between 1066 and the start of the Tudor era. Visitors have to look hard to spot the small roadside cross that marks the site of perhaps the bloodiest battle ever fought in England. Yet the clash was a turning point in the Wars of the Roses. And, almost 550 years later, the site is changing our understanding of medieval battle.

In Shakespeare’s cycle of eight plays, the story of the Wars of the Roses is told as an epic drama. In reality it was a messy series of civil wars — an on-again, off-again conflict pitting supporters of the ruling Lancastrian monarchy against backers of the house of York. According to Helen Castor, a historian at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, the wars arose from the slow breakdown of English government under Henry VI, a man who was prone to bouts of mental illness and “curiously incapable” even when well. As decision-making under Henry drifted, factions formed and enmities deepened. These spiralling conflicts eventually drove Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, to assert his own claim to the throne. York was named Henry’s heir, but he was killed in December 1460. His 18-year-old son, Edward, proclaimed himself king just before the battle of Towton.

That set the stage for a vicious fight. Edward had his father and brother to avenge. After killing him, Lancastrian forces had impaled York’s head on a lance and adorned it with a paper crown. Following years of skirmishes others had scores to settle, too. In previous encounters, efforts had been made to spare rank-and-file soldiers. At Towton, orders went out that no quarter be given. This was to be winner-takes-all, a brutal fight to the death.

The result was a crushing victory for the Yorkists and for the young king. Edward IV went on to rule, with a brief interruption, until his death 22 years later — a death that triggered the final stage of the conflict and the rise of a new dynasty under Henry Tudor. The recorded death toll at Towton may well have been inflated to burnish the legend of Edward’s ascent to the crown. Yet there can be little doubt it was an unusually large confrontation.

The archaeological details of the battlefield excavations are quite interesting. Gruesome, but interesting.

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