Matt's Reading Suggestions for Political Theory

You won't often see me get onto a soapbox on my blog here, but with the whole political atmosphere as of late I have seen too many posts on social media and elsewhere from people who have taken a few words from a political philosophy, put it onto a meme and then expanded that to encapsulate and summarize what an entire political theory is. That sort of stuff annoys me to no end. If one wants to disagree with a political ideology they should take the time to try and understand what that theory is, where it came from and why it's ideals came to be where they are. 

My undergraduate degree was political theory, and while that seems like a sort of useless degree to have in a practical world, I feel like being exposed and reading the works of political theorists has made me an extremely well rounded person and one who can empathize with various points of view. These political theories, philosophies, and movements were born out of a need. They didn't just spring up out of nowhere so there is always at least some degree of legitimacy to what they are trying to convey. Some, in fact many have not stood the test of time, while others ebb and flow in their prominence around the world depending upon various political and socio-economic conditions in the world. While none of them are the Truth, all of them hold some bit of truth and reasoning for why individuals and societies believe what they may believe. 

So with that in mind, I am going to outline a couple of the works that I have found to be the most influential upon me. Hopefully, you will read some of these yourselves. And please, in the future, don't just Google something and take the first sentence or two of Wikipedia and use that as your education on a topic. All of the books here also have volumes of work worth of discussion and critique upon them so I won't go and try to summarize in detail what they are about. Instead I'll try to mention the main topic from each book that is typically drawn out and discussed in conversations.  

Most of the books I will recommend are probably in the public domain, so I will try to link to their ebook and if it is available the audiobook. 

Finally, before I get into my list I want to point everyone to another resource which i feel is way more useful than Wikipedia for a lot of these topics. The Internet Encyclopedia or Philosophy, is a great place to go if you need to get your summarized version for some of these books. Most of these are going to be hard to read so some sort of companion is truly helpful. 

Learning the Mandolin

I am teaching myself to play the mandolin. I have been toying with the idea of learning a new musical instrument for a while now, but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to latch onto. I was confident that it would be a stringed instrument since that would be completely foreign to me. 

Megan has stated that she has wanted to learn how to play the violin, ahem, fiddle, for quite some time. One idea I had was to try and find a potential companion instrument, with the hopes that we could one day play together. 

Various instruments ranging from violin, cello, viola and banjo have all been under consideration. All would allow me to play some folk music and some Irish music as well for Megan. 

The mandolin emerged as the top contender a couple of months ago. Not only is an entry level mandolin dirt cheap, but I was surprised to find the wide range of music that the mandolin can cover. Being in the lute family the musical repertoire ranges from medieval court music, to just about every folk genre you can find. It seems to have a particularly strong presence in Italian, Irish and American (Bluegrass) folk music. 

So, mandolin it was. My first couple of days with it were productive, but also a real challenge. My form needs a significant amount of work and many of the notes get a metallic "twang" to them, I think due to my bad finger positioning. Through the book I have purchased and also a fantastic website called MandoLessons.com, I have been able to get down the basic notes, understand the basic fingerings and learn my first three chords. 

I hope there is a lot more to come. 

Music Listening: Vinyl - Tour de France - Kraftwerk

I have a couple of recent vinyl pickups which I will be posting here over the next couple of weeks. The first one up is the album Tour de France from Kraftwerk. This is a 2009 reissue of the album and I received this as a birthday present. If you do not know who Kraftwek are, they are an electronic music group from Germany who has been around since the 1970's. They are early pioneers of techno and the Berlin techno scene. Their music is sometimes quintessentially identified as "robot" music since the beats and rhythms are very mechanical. The group is also known for their live performances and visuals. 

This album follows in their standard music profile so if you know that you like or dislike Kraftwerk then you will know what you are getting here. The opening tracks on side A, Tour De France Étape, are probably the best tracks on the album. They are a relaxing, almost downtempo collection of synthetic textures. 

The album also features a really nice 20 page artbook, which is a collection of typographic images. It is a nice touch for those out there who are collectors of that sort of stuff. 

Great album and certainly a good evening listening type of album to put on while reading or relaxing. 

DM'ing My First Dungeons and Dragons Session

This past Friday I had the opportunity to be a Dungeon Master for my first session of playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Go ahead...Chew on that....Yup, it is the same D&D that you saw stereotyped when you were a kid. 

I always had a fascination with D&D. I was a nerd at heart growing up and I almost certainly would have played D&D as a kid if my friends played it. A few years ago I got my first taste of roleplaying when I decided to try out Pathfinder when visiting the Wandering Dragon game shop in Plainfield. 

Pathfinder is an RPG system much like D&D. I played a few times at the shop, but it sort of fell by the wayside when there weren't a lot of people organizing games. 

D&D came around about three or four weeks ago when a group in Elmhurst was looking for some people to play. I jumped in and went to the first session. Unfortunately, the DM who was supposed to lead the session never showed up and the three of us who were there were left wondering what we wanted to do. Luckily the Elmhurst library happened to have the D&D 5e starter set on their shelves so I popped it open and we dove into trying to do that first game on a whim. I found that I enjoyed the session while reading through it. 

And that is how I found myself a couple of weeks ago volunteering to lead a regular session on Friday nights in Elmhurst. 

I was nervous all of last week. I only had about two days to try and figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing. I had papers and print outs and books and all sorts of paraphernalia crammed into a book bag.

The night started last Friday and we were away. I couldn't tell if I had enough stuff with me. Did I print up the right sheets? Did I bring the notes I needed? Did I have too much stuff? 

Thankfully the group we played with was pretty good.  Everyone had the same idea of just telling a story and having a good time. The night turned out to be a success and Megan even jumped into the fun and had a good time. 

Friday night ended with a huge sigh of relief and I think everyone had a good time. My first DM experience was a success. I think I may end up doing more of this. 


Légère Artificial Clarinet Reeds - I'm Never Going Back to Cane

Anyone out there who is a woodwind player knows the nightmare that is having to deal with reeds. They are expensive and finicky. You are lucky if you get a couple in a box of ten that are good. At one point I used to be one of those individuals who would sit there an sand my reeds, tweaking them to try and get them to be better. It was a pain and it honestly never worked. 

I have had my eye on various artificial reeds now for a while. Reviews are mostly positive about them, but you always see purists who just won't have anything of them. I noticed that someone in my section was playing on a Légère reed a few weeks ago and she said she loved it since she picked it up. That was it for me after dealing with another night of a sub-par feeling Vandoren. 

I ordered a Légère the very next day. It was not cheap, around $30 on Amazon. When it arrived two days later I put it on my clarinet and the different was noticeable right away. It was immediately responsive when playing and I knew right then and there that I would probably never play on a cane reed again. Why had I waited so long to get one of these? 

Now, playing on the Légère does feel a bit different than a traditional reed. First off, the surface is incredibly smooth and my bottom lip was sliding all over the place. The overall reed characteristics are also different than a normal reed. The tone is for the most part excellent, but if you aren't careful with your embouchure, the open holed notes like the middle G, A and Bb can sound very "plasticy". The rest of the notes above the break and in the low register sound great though and with a little bit of careful playing the open tones sound fine as well. 

I initially had some trouble playing the high register notes well above the staff, like the high E, F and G. I think I may have been biting down on the reed too much, causing it to stop vibrating. I think most of that will just come with some time on the reed. 

I'll also have to see how long the reed really lasts. Will it last a year? More? Less? We'll see, but I am super pleased with my initial impressions.