The Second Parchment

On Economics, Finance, Politics and Music

Category: Music

In Your Atmosphere


“I’m gonna steer clear, I’d burn up in your atmosphere…”


We Don’t Eat…by James Vincent McMorrow. His musical genre is similar to that of Fitszimmons, the healing type. Here’s the link to the music video. Click this (female cover, piano-based) and this (male cover, band + strings) for what I think are the best covers of the song. Pay a particular attention to the “we’d just be running down, the same old life, the same old story” line. The unexpected euphonious transition will make you smile, the same way Coldplay does it with their Charlie Brown’s “light a fire, a fire a spark, light a fire, flame in my heart.”

Side note: watch how John Mayer had his ‘Born and Raised’ album artwork meticulously crafted by David Smith.

Sheeran and Fitzsimmons


There’s a couple of songs that are currently nesting themselves in my head. I think they should nest in yours too. Listen to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Kiss Me’, ‘Small Bump’ and feel nostalgic by listening to his ‘The A Team.’ Before hitting the bed, let William Fitzsimmons ‘After Afterall’ and ‘I Don’t Feel It Anymore’ flow into your veins. Wake up early in the morning and take a shower to Michael Buble’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ while praying for the value of the Yen to stop declining to avoid this from happening.

Update: Jessica and I made a cover of Sheeran’s ‘Kiss Me.’

Morning Tunes

Here are some songs that I think you should listen to to start your day: ‘Life in Technicolor II’ – Coldplay. ‘Greenback Boogie’ – Ima Robot. ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’ – Michael Buble. ‘Skies’ – Alexandre Desplat.

On Les Misérables: Jean Valjean


I watched the musical and sang his lines in an NYUAD open-mic performance, but Jean Valjean, Victor Hugo’s imaginary character in his magnum opus Les Miserables, did not strike me as an exceptional fictional character until a few weeks ago. I was in a night train trip to Harbin from Beijing. I could not sleep, so I decided to sneak out of the compartment I was in with Hugo’s book in my hand. I sat on the train’s floor, accompanied by the dim lights radiated by the small towns our train occasionally passed through in a frosty winter night. I started reading. While Hugo curated all of his characters with an undoubtedly high degree of literary finesse, it was Valjean’s actions and musings that forced me not to sleep throughout the 12-hour journey.

Valjean is altruistic—‘blindly’ altruistic. (Note that I put the adverb blindly between two apostrophes to clarify that I’m not using the word ‘blind’ to deride Valjean’s character). He aids those in need without preliminarily assessing the ‘worthiness’ of giving money to them and tracing the factors that contributed to their penury. Valjean does not care whether his potential beneficiary is poor as a result of his/her unlucky, or possibly, morally unacceptable personal choices. Nor does he care about what Valjean’s potential beneficiary will use his donation for. Contrast his actions with most donators in the 21st century: a wealthy donator would seek assurance that s/he gives capital to the right people and that the capital s/he donates will be utilized accordingly. In the study of economics, such an action is called screening, performed to suppress the emergence of adverse selection in the ‘market’ of donations.

It does not follow, however, that being blindly altruistic is bad or irrational. After all, not everybody perceives that economic concepts can be extrapolated to the notion of altruism. Valjean is among one of these people. Hugo does not explicitly delineate the motives behind Valjean being altruistic, but I am convinced that his altruism is partially bolstered by his conviction that one can become a better person as s/he realizes his value or moral worth in front of his/her benefactor, God, or society. How could Valjean reach this conviction? The answer to this question might be that Valjean was once also poor, and he was aided despite his malevolent intentions to do things that are morally impermissible. There is a scene in which Valjean was caught stealing silverwares from a chapel by the national guards. When the guards dragged Valjean to the church, and reported the robbery to the bishop, the bishop lied to the guards and said that the silverwares were not stolen; they were gifts from the church to Valjean. Valjean was startled by this occasion. Unable to comprehend the bishop’s action, he resorted to praying and inquiring about the illogicalities he encountered. His contemplations rendered him resolute that he should escape from his world of crime. He started a brand new world the day after and became an altruistic, wealthy mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer revered by his people. Here, readers of Les Miserables would learn that although an economic approach to altruism is rationally appealing, it is not a perfect basis for aiding those in need. In Jean Valjean’s case, the philosophy behind helping other can also be pivoted upon faith—be it faith in the beneficiary, in God, or in other relevant media. Learning from Valjean’s fictitious journey, I believe that the acquisition of such faith should not be imposed upon; rather, it should be attained through self-revelation.

Valjean’s disposition not to segregate his beneficiaries is not fully correct, however. He does treat people with whom he is closely affiliated differently; his profound affection for Cosette makes Cosette the apple of his eyes. Musicals or movies adapted from books often unintentionally misrepresent the true character of the actors, but this is not true for Valjean in Les Miserablés. As depicted in Tom Hooper’s motion picture, Valjean caressed Cosette, fell in love with her the first night he met her in the woods where she was carrying a pail of the Thénardiers. (A Golden Globe-nominated soundtrack, ‘Suddenly,’ perfectly illustrates this particular scene). At first I was pessimistic. I initially thought that his love is superficial and unnatural, as he does it simply to repay his indebtedness and promise to Fantine, Cosette’s mother. But throughout the book, his love for Cosette never withers. In fact, it develops as Cosette grows into a prepossessing young lady.  He would do anything for Cosette, be it carrying a ‘dead’ corpse of her lover, Marius, whom Valjean himself initially detested, within the gloomy sewers of Paris or not spending hundred thousands of francs for Cosette and Marius to inherit after her marriage. His royal treatment of Cosette displays that Cosette’s happiness is transferable to his happiness; that whatever pleases Cosette pleases him. His actions to maximize Cosette’s utility might entail sacrificing himself and exposing himself to extreme risk, which means that Valjean values Cosette more than himself. He values Cosette more than anybody else living in Hugo’s Parisian realm. If we juxtapose this with the previous discussion, where Valjean helps the poor but in the same time provides Cosette with more resources, we found that Valjean acknowledges the equal moral worth of human beings but in the same time, believes that he should not have an equal moral concern for every individual. While he respects every human being, he chooses to be more concerned of Cosette than of himself and of other people. Not all fathers in our world have this characteristic that I think is morally permissible and commendable.

One last admirable characteristic of Valjean: he respects the traditional just cause for murdering, which is self-defense. He refuses to kill under the name of redemption; he refrains from pulling the trigger of his gun under an indirect threat. Those are not his just causes for killing human beings. He adheres to this philosophy even when he is faced with the perfect opportunity to kill—when Javert, his adversary demands to be killed. This, I believe, is an extraordinary display of chivalry.

Musical Lines

“So if you care to find me, look to the western sky. As someone told me lately: ‘Everyone deserves the chance to fly. . .To those who’d ground me, take a message back from me: tell me how I am defying gravity.” (Idina Menzel). “Tomorrow we’ll be far away, tomorrow is the judgment day. Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in Heaven has in store. One more dawn, one more day, one day more.” (The Cast of Les Misérables). “How can I leave her; where would I start? Let man’s petty nations tear themselves apart. My land’s only borders lie around my heart.” (Tommy Körberg). “Let me be your shelter, let me be your light. You’re safe: no one will find you. Your fears are far behind you.” (Michael Ball).

4 Divas: Music of The Month

The polls demonstrate that Governor Romney successfully unleashed his best theatrical performance during this week’s presidential debate, and that political aficionados can’t wait to see whether President Obama will resurrect his 2008 public speaking style for the next debate on foreign policy.

Now that we still have a couple more days before the debate starts, lets explore what the musical divas have offered or will offer us within that time frame:

1. If you haven’t already, listen to a song sung by  the goddess of music–Adele–carefully crafted for the latest 007 movie, Skyfall. Another grammy for Adele, guaranteed.

2. Jackie Evancho (the 12-year-old girl whose angelic voice and humility made me believe angels exist) released her new album 2 days ago. Her album’s title is ‘Songs from The Silver Screen.’ You won’t even think twice to buy the album especially if you’re fond of Disney or broadway.

3. Coldplay’s new concert film will be out on November 19th, 13 days after the presidential elections. Celebrate whoever wins the elections by watching the British band sing ‘Fix You’ in Abu Dhabi.

4. A friend of mine discovered a harrowing classical piece by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt called ‘Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten.’ The piece is dark and hypnotic that it seems to glorify the meditation of death. In a peaceful way.

Music That Will Make Your Day

Listen to Gustav Mahler’s Adegietto from Symphony no. 5, or let your morning slowly pass by with Vanille’s Theme composed by Masashi Hamauzu. Order omelette with Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto + Hurts Like Heaven (let them play sequentially) in the background, and cycle or walk to your campus with their Princess of China. Between classes and before lunch, grab your favorite instrument and sing with your falsetto Jason Mraz’s A Beautiful Mess as your mind visualizes a female person you love–your older or little sister, your mother, or the girl you danced with the other night.

Now that you’ve finished dealing with numbers, words, meetings and emails, go to the gym and row while letting Muse’s Knights of Cydonia rock your afternoon. Walk back to your room while humming to Frank Ocean’s cover of Strawberry Swing.

It’s evening already, so it’s time to rest your body. Be grateful for what you did over the day, be positive, and expect tomorrow to be brighter than today. Say good night to your roommates and to anybody you love within reach.

Lastly, sleep and smile with Ed Sheeran’s Lego House in your head.