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This Week's Featured Recording: for Friday, January 14    "Resignation" by Marteau  Based on an anonymous hymn tune (appearing in Southern Harmony, 1835), it is often set to the text "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" and it is in this guise that it was sung by The Chorale, a community choral organization whose founding director, Julie Beyler, died last November. I was on hand as a former accompanist of the group, to play for her memorial service, which took place at my former church in Illinois. This piano setting of the tune was one of the many musical selections that were a part of the celebration of her life and its impact on the people of East Central Illinois.

                







Building Walls    January 14, 2022



In the first part of 2021, this website's foreign audience began to drop rather alarmingly. I should mention that I usually drew about half my audience from outside The United States. There was a time when I was apparently rather popular in China, for instance, with a few recordings getting thousands of listens a month. Then the British newspaper The Guardian linked to a page of mine and I got some admiring email from some very nice English folk. I had no idea what it was about at first because the newspaper hadn't asked ahead of time! I must rather sheepishly admit that it does seem a bit more fun to find out that you have someone reading your site from Indonesia than North Dakota, though a person is a person and it really shouldn't make a difference how far away they are located. Occasionally I can see that one of my articles has been read in translation, which, given my own experiences with Google Translate, probably means that some of the sentences read like sheer nonsense. At least the music is the same in any language; how it is received, of course, varies in ways I can't imagine.

It took the better part of a year, and a tip from a friend abroad, to figure out what had happened. I kept suspecting the wrong party and thinking it had something to do with The Almighty Google, or to its analytics. There was a time when you could choose to target a domestic audience, but except for a brief experiment I've always tried to cast a wide net. I think that feature must be gone now, anyhow.

When I realized the culprit I felt kind of silly for not fingering it earlier. There is a theme in various sectors of my experience and it seems to be this: safety is important, so let's make sure none of the bad people get in. Which seems reasonable, except that it can also result in nobody else getting in either. I've seen, and frankly, continue to see this in physical spaces (such as where I work); in terms of a website, the security settings were up so high that apparently people from all countries that were not the United States were being blocked. Doesn't that seem a bit, well, xenophobic?

I thought so. My web host uses a security firm called Cloudflare, just like, it seems, the rest of the known cyberworld. When I suggested they not jack up the security settings quite so high, they readily agreed to do it. If I wanted to allow another country into the green zone, why, I should just tell them and they would include it. Where was I getting my traffic from in the past? This assumed I'd have to let other countries in one at a time. And even though the list of countries where English in the primary language is fairly small, it is still quite possible to leave some out by accident. And it assumes that people who might have to translate my articles, or would just like to listen to the music couldn't get in. Couldn't we look at it from another angle? Where are these threats mostly coming from? Well, they said, there have been lots of attacks from Russia and China (no surprise). Fine, I said, then let's just leave them out. I feel kind of bad about that, given that I'm sure there would be some legitimate traffic from China (at least, if the government would allow it). But, at least the rest of the world doesn't all get labelled as one great big security risk. There's still a fair bit of stereotyping going on, though.

It's not as though the internet is just one rosy, harmless place. For a while I tended to keep a close eye on my traffic, and I noticed that my site got occasional robot attacks. At first it was obvious. Suddenly 85 people from the same town in Russia were on my site at once. righhhht... These manifest as sudden spikes in traffic, and they never seemed to actually cause any harm, other than to inflate my apparent audience. Eventually, these attacks changed locations to friendlier countries (it is possible to appear to come from just about anywhere you are not if you know how), and later on they even sometimes appeared to come from the United States. Some of these were probably not attacks so much as web crawls by some company trying to gather data. For instance, I now know where the headquarters of Amazon is located. I don't know why they need to crawl my site weekly. But they need to remain omniscient, after all.

Once there was the guy who kept registering new websites with suspiciously similar names so I couldn't block him. If I blocked the site, he was back the next day with a new one. These sites all had "SEO" in the title, which is an IT term referring to how to get The Google, et. al, to notice your website and give it a high ranking so people looking for what you are selling find your site first. For whatever reason he always registered these sites under his real name, which you can lookup in a directory that the company in charge of domain names on the internet (ICANN) keeps. I tried reporting him, but...yeah. I'm sure that will do a lot.

This was a few years ago, and I can't even remember how I eventually blocked him for good. Anyhow, my point is that I'm not dense. Stuff happens out here. But if our answer is to put up the walls so high that nobody can get over them, then in addition to blocking some bad actors, you lose most of your real audience, too. That is not an acceptable solution. I would have a website if I just wanted to play the piano in my own living room just for my own pleasure. I mean, I do that, too, but...

It is a challenge to be inviting and friendly and still manage to protect yourself from people who would do you harm. We've all seen examples of persons who over-estimate the danger to themselves and wind up being a danger to others. And we are steeped in a culture in which casual hatred of people who are not in your "in-group" can once again be broadcast publicly. All of these decisions, made by both leaders and the people they govern, spread like tentacles, affecting everything.

I hadn't thought it was going to strangle my web traffic, but here we are. And if you are here, from anywhere, down the street or around the world, why, thank you. Pull up a chair and listen to some Schubert or something.





The Salieri Syndrome

Poor Antonio. He gets to be the poster child for also-rans everywhere. And blamed for a crime he did not commit, to boot. 

 

We save a special scorn for the losers of the championship games. The ones who never got there in the first place, or who can't manage to win as many games as they lose, we don't concern ourselves with. But we want to make sure the ones who challenge for the title feel our wrath, even if we have to torch Icaraus' wings ourselves.


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