September 2008

November: On Tour with Ray Davies

In November, Dessoff backs Ray Davies in a four-city East Coast tour featuring choral versions of The Kinks’ greatest hits.

Friday 11/18, Montclair  @The Wellmont Theatre
Saturday 11/19, Philadelphia @Temple PAC
Sunday 11/20, New York  @The Beacon Theater
Wednesday 11/23, Boston  @The Wilbur Theater

New Year’s Eve: A Child of Our Time

rose_st_john_the_divineOn December 31, Dessoff will join George Mathew
and the Ubuntu-Shruti Orchestra
at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, performing Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time in the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace that Leonard Bernstein founded over a quarter century ago.

Tickets on sale soon.

Dessoff’s Midwinter Festival 2012

This season, The Dessoff Choirs inaugurates its Midwinter Festival, a series of concerts and events that frame choral masterworks in a larger cultural and historical context.

The first year’s theme is Refracted Bach. Come and explore how J.S. Bach absorbed myriad musical styles and how later composers have been inspired by his astonishing legacy.   Tickets and discount ticket packages.

January  21 
WHY BACH MATTERS A lecture by George Stauffer
February  3  STILE ANTICO The Dessoff Choirs @ St. Paul the Apostle
February  7  Robin Holloway’s GILDED GOLDBERGS @ Weill Recital Hall
February 11 SING-IN: Cantatas Reflected in the B Minor Mass @ Immanuel Lutheran
March 3        Bach’s B MINOR MASS Dessoff & Arcadia Players @ St. Mary the Virgin

May: Lux Æterna, Music for Choir and Organ

ChrisOrganThe concert season wraps up at The Church of the Epiphany on May 12 with music for choir and organ. On the program, Benjamin Britten’s festival cantata Rejoice in the Lamb, anthems by Purcell and Howells, and more.

A pairing of great subtlety, richness, and power, this combination of Dessoff voices and the “king of instruments” is sure to surprise and delight. Tickets.

Sign up today [click here] to receive the latest updates on Refracted Bach, Ray Davies, and our entire season!

Mark your calendar as Dessoff turns 87 with a year of choral music as varied as the seasons.

* We kick off in November, with Dessoff backing Ray Davies in a four-city East Coast tour featuring choral versions of The Kinks’ greatest hits.

* Ring in the new year on December 31st at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, as we join George Mathew and the Ubuntu-Shruti Orchestra, performing Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time in the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace that Leonard Bernstein founded over a quarter century ago.

* Attend the events of our new Midwinter Festival centered on a cornerstone of Western choral music, J.S. Bach’s glorious Mass in B Minor. Building up to the Mass, the Refracted Bach festival includes a lecture by renowned Bach scholar George Stauffer; pianists Steven Ryan and Catherine Venable in recital at Weill Concert Hall; a Sing-In of the Bach Cantatas reflected in the Mass; and Stile Antico, a concert of choral and instrumental works that influenced Bach and that Bach inspired.

* Join us as we conclude in May with Lux Aeterna, a celebration of modern & contemporary works for choir and organ.

Click here to learn more about our concerts or to buy tickets.

Updated October 19, 2008 is wrong when they say Obama “mischaracterized” an aspect of McCain’s health care plan.

In last night’s debate, Obama said that under McCain’s proposal, “Your employer now has to pay taxes on the health care that you’re getting from your employer.”Factcheck says Obama got it wrong, and Factcheck says that employers would not “be taxed on the value of health benefits provided to workers.

“Factcheck is forgetting about FICA, a 15%+ payroll tax split between employers and their employees. The employer tax rate on wages and taxable benefits is around 7%. Absent a new loophole for employers in McCain’s plan, if health benefits become taxable, well, they become taxable, and they will be taxed.

Under McCain’s plan, employers that provide health care benefits will have these three choices, none of which is likely to help fix the health care problem:

  1. Increase their health care budget by 7% to pay the new McCain tax (which is separate from any inflationary rise in health care costs)
  2. Reduce health care benefits to employees by 7% in order to stay even
  3. Stop providing health care benefits to employees, since those costs will rise even more rapidly than earlier predicted

Personally, I think payroll taxes are a good thing, but they should apply to benefits only when those benefits are surrogate wages (company cars, houses, stock, golf memberships, and so on). Until we have government health care, employer-provided health care benefits should remain untaxed, for both the employer and the employee.

If Obama got something wrong here, it wasn’t a fact. Obama missed the opportunity to point out that under the McCain proposal, both workers and employers will be taxed on the value of employer-provided health care benefits.

[Added on October 19, 2008] After the debate, a McCain spokesman said McCain never intended to impose payroll tax on health benefits. A recent Wall Street Journal article by Laura Meckler shows that McCain’s camp hasn’t been clear about this., among other publications, claims McCain’s plan will not impose payroll tax on employers for what they spend on employee health benefits. Perhaps they’re right, but they don’t give any convincing evidence. They note that the McCain-Palin web site “now says this,” but I disagree. Here’s the paragraph I assume is referring to, with my annotations:

Employers will have the same incentive to provide health insurance as they do today since they will continue to deduct the cost of health insurance they provide to employees. Nothing will change. [These costs are, and will continue to be, deductible expenses from the employer’s income, and thus not subject to corporation tax. Corporation tax is a different tax than payroll tax, and there’s been no debate or question about the corporation tax liability.]  In addition [The phrase “in addition” means something new is coming into discussion. In this case, it’s the issue of payroll taxes. The words “in addition” tell us that the previous sentence was not about payroll taxes.], payroll taxes will be protected from taxes under the McCain plan. [Huh? The promise that “payroll taxes will be protected from taxes” sounds nice, but I don’t know what it means. This is either a typo or an intent to mislead.]

This McCain paragraph doesn’t say anywhere that health care benefits will remain exempt from the employer’s payroll tax. It suggests only that they will remain exempt from a different tax, the employer’s corporation tax. The words “payroll taxes” appear in the paragraph only in a context having nothing to do with health care benefits (“taxes will be protected from taxes “).

Given how easy it would be for McCain to have made a clear statement about this, I think McCain plans, or is at least leaving open the possibility, to impose employer payroll taxes (not corporation tax, not individual income tax, and not employee payroll tax) on health care benefits paid to employees.

In a tour de force of apologetic paragraphs, New York Times columnist David Brooks denounces as “baloney” the idea that “the McCain on the campaign trail is the real McCain.” Believe the last “half-century of evidence,” not what you see today.

It’s all perfectly in character for the longtime McCain supporter until out of the blue, WHAM!, he delivers the knockout punch line. “[I]t seemed worth stepping back to recall the fundamentals — about McCain.”

McCain: his fundamentals are strong. I can’t believe Brooks missed the irony, and I hope in the days to come he decides not to be subtle.

From the Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire” today (notes added):

The two presidential campaigns have issued competing timelines of events today leading up to McCain’s call to cancel the debates. Here is Obama’s version:

“At 8:30 this morning, Senator Obama called Senator McCain to ask him if he would join in issuing a joint statement outlining their shared principles and conditions for the Treasury proposal and urging Congress and the White House to act in a bipartisan manner to pass such a proposal. At 2:30 this afternoon, Senator McCain returned Senator Obama’s call and agreed to join him in issuing such a statement. The two campaigns are currently working together on the details.”

Shortly after, the McCain campaign released their version:

“Senator Obama phoned Senator McCain at 8:30 am this morning but did not reach him. The topic of Senator Obama’s call to Senator McCain was never discussed [1]. Senator McCain was meeting with economic advisers and talking to leaders in Congress throughout the day prior to calling [2] Senator Obama. At 2:30 pm, Senator McCain phoned Senator Obama and expressed deep concern that the plan on the table would not pass as it currently stands. He asked Senator Obama to join him in returning to Washington to lead a bipartisan effort [4] to solve this problem.”

Translator’s notes:

[1]: “Never discussed”: If Obama did not reach McCain, nothing was discussed. Note that the following is equally true, though understandably the McCain camp chose not to include it in their press release: “A McCain plan to withdraw from the race and apologize for his repeated lies was not discussed.”
[2]: “prior to calling”: Before 2:30, but in all likelihood, not at 8:30, when Obama phoned with the joint statement idea, or the McCain statement would have been specific. Had the McCain camp been cleverer, they wouldn’t have mentioned the exact time of the call at all, because the single mention draws attention to the later non-mention.
[3]: “lead a bipartisan effort”: Here is the McCain camp’s best use of rhetoric in the release. (“Best”, of course, is relative, and does not imply lack of sleaze.) They have rhetorically taken Obama’s good idea (“issuing a joint statement”), kept the concept (“<verb> joint <good thing>”), and concocted a replacement readers might believe is theirs (“lead a bipartisan effort”). The indefinite article “a” emphasizes that there was no earlier mention of a bipartisan effort, and it may be true there wasn’t. But McCain surely knew at this point that Obama had suggested a joint statement, and I bet they talked about it. 

So this is the likely sequence of events:

  • Obama called McCain at 8:30 am.
  • McCain hears the phone ring, sees it’s Obama, and lets the call go to voice mail. There’s no conversation.
  • McCain listens to the voice mail and knows that Obama came up with a good idea before him (McCain).
  • Later on, McCain has a few meetings and phone calls.
  • At 2:30pm, McCain called Obama, who answered.
  • McCain and Obama discuss doing something together.
  • Obama’s camp issues a press release about all this.
  • McCain’s camp reads the Obama press release. They immediately realize how damaging it would be to ignore, since it hits them hard: Obama had a good idea, and first; McCain didn’t answer an 8:30 call, so where was he?; and regarding any bipartisanship between the candidates, Obama is in control and decisive.
  • The McCain team scrambles its writers, and “shortly” afterwards, they issue their own press release crafted to address the strong points of the Obama release as fast as they can. They choose not to lie outright. (You can get in trouble when you make up lies in a hurry.)

The Journal, which is no way “in the tank” for Obama, is appropriately cynical.

At, you can browse and search a list of the 86,800 most frequently used English words (ordered by how frequently they appear in the British National Corpus). Brilliantly, the creators of WordCount kept track of the words people search WordCount for, and they added “QueryCount”, where you can browse and search a list of the 71,632 most frequently searched-for-at-WordCount English words (ordered by how frequently their frequency ranking was sought). I’m sure they’re keeping track of searches at QueryCount and have thought of creating QueryQueryCount, a list of English words in order of how frequently the frequency ranking of their frequency-ranking’s-being-sought ranking was sought, and make that list searchable, and so on. How would the limit of (Query^n)Count behave?

In the news today: Governor Palin’s Yahoo! account was hacked. But could it be a hoax? Or could it be Act I of a staged stunt by Palin supporters? I won’t hazard a guess, but I will point out something strange: One of the eye-catching phrases in the message headers posted on is “CONFIDENTIAL Ethics Matter.” That phrase is sure to get some attention, but for now (i.e., 15 minutes before this post) Google returns only five hits. Three were from today’s news, and the other two were from the .doc and .pdf versions of Alaska’s “Executive Branch Code of Ethics.” Crafty, or just plain weird?Confidential[Added at 19:42: The header data from one of the Palin family pictures on says the photo was taken with a Blackberry Curve 8310. Blackberry…Blackberry… wasn’t that in the news yesterday, too?]

Do not make things easy for yourself by speaking or thinking of data as if they were different from what they are; and do not go off from facing data as they are, to amuse your imagination by wishing they were different from what they are. Such wishing is pure waste of nerve force, weakens your intellectual power, and gets you into habits of mental confusion.

Mary Everest Boole, in “Philosophy and Fun of Algebra” (1909)