Saturday, June 1, 2013

Blue Lu Barker: He Caught That B&O

My AfterLife As A Blog

Please, Don’t Feel You Have To Share, I Insist.

A friend was recently talking with me about my beloved old Latin teacher who used to give me free lessons at his home to make up for the holes in my education. I think they were actually an opportunity for him to reminisce over his long past days in the classroom and to show off. He had been a great classics scholar and he was an even greater show off. My friend who remembered my teacher and his wife, also a formidable, retired scholar, told me that he used to be at their house late in the afternoon and was frequently invited to share their daily 4 PM glass of sherry with them. Huh, sherry? I had my lessons at eleven on Saturday mornings and the most I was ever offered was a cup of Lousiane coffee. And “offered” is only a conventional way of putting it. Mrs. L. didn't offer, she commanded you to drink. And not only did she force the chicory tainted brew on you, she had a scruple against drinking coffee black. So despite weekly protestations of lactose intolerance, she automatically filled the cup a third with milk before she poured. On bad weeks she put in sugar too. Experience quickly taught that it was better to risk cramping and bloating than to leave the cup untouched.   Sometimes hospitality isn't far removed from hostility.  Or incarceration.

It’s the same way with those kind souls who insist on “sharing” their music with the world. Not musicians, generally, but consumers who everywhere you go have some kind of sound either blaring and thumping or oozing out to the general world. Musicians generally hate this kind of sound attack. It’s impossible for musicians, trained to listen, to ignore, even if it’s just the kind of spreading pool of sound from Muzak.

Like second hand smoke, public music is an infringement on those who can’t avoid it. I've got no problem with anyone listening to what they want to, at home and with those who also want to hear it. At the very least, there should be a law against the mobile moron mobiles that should be assumed to be a danger and are, beyond doubt, a violation of privacy. The inescapable pop music crazy quilt that covers our world is driving us nuts. Sometimes it’s a temptation to do bodily harm. It’s not only a symptom but a mechanism of social decay and downfall. If Nero had been able to amplify his lyre, those fleeing Rome as it burned would certainly have had that to deal with too.

Composing For Beginners

Forget theory, forget everything about paper. Paper and theory will just keep you from composing at this stage. Never forget that music is sounds, not a recipe for making a cake and not the symbols drawn on a page.

If you play piano, choose any five finger position, five notes. If I might suggest, don’t begin with c,d,e,f,g. Start with d,e,f,g,a or the five white keys up from e or f. Play with those trying to find melodies, harmonies, etc. that please YOU. You must please yourself first, if you try to please someone else you might as well let them write that music because it won't be your music. Make some of your pieces start and end on the same note some of them start and end on different notes. Use all of the notes of the five, for the last note in different pieces.

Watch out for repeating yourself, if you find a figure, rhythm, etc. that you keep coming back to, try to avoid it for a while. Write down those things you find that you really like, work on those. If you know what it means, watch out for 6/8 and 9/8 rhythms, getting into a lilt is alright on occasion but it’s a banality trap if you don’t watch out for it. Don’t be afraid to change meters either. Don’t be afraid to try anything because it’s too far out or too far in.

When you've had enough of those five notes, find another five notes with a different pattern of half and whole steps (different mode) or add another note to the five you had in the beginning. Proceed as above until you gradually add more notes.

Virgil Thomson advised composers with writers block to compose one piece of music a day. One whole piece a day. He said eventually you would find the music you wanted to keep.   Improvising, remembering what you've improvised long enough to repeat it and get it closer to what you want, you can compose lots of pieces.  Maybe you should record the sound of your stuff you like at this point instead of writing it down.

And if your instrument isn't piano, use what you have. If you don't have anything, get a plastic recorder that plays in tune and use that. Use recordings of second parts if you want harmony.  Record one of your melodies you like and try to fit a second line to it.  Don't worry about rules yet, you've got to find out what you like.

After you're tired of these five note melodies, expand to six notes, then seven, then more.   Work those notes hard like you did the five.

When you're done with seven notes, you're probably ready to start writing stuff down and working that way, but never forget that the dots and lines on the page are just recording the sound of the music.  The music is the sound, not the note names, not the rules in theory books.  Theory books can help you expand and organize your ideas but they can't tell you how to write your music, you'll be continually violating some rule in some book to write the music you want to.  No one followed those rules all the time, even the composers whose work the rules are based on.   Keep up and expand your improvising, looking out for figures and patterns that you keep repeating, you don't want to get caught in that trap.

Update:  When you start studying theory, I'd advise beginning with a beginning book that teaches you counterpoint or to play from thorough base.  Jeppesen's Counterpoint and Schoenbergs, are some of the best for modal and major-minor counterpoint, respectively.  Or, if you begin with harmony,  Helen Keaney's book is a good way to start.  It can help you concentrate on playing sounds instead of writing out harmonization on a base, which isn't very useful if you don't have the ear training to hear what you're writing down.   If you play a guitar or other fretted, plucked instrument, there are books but I've never taught anyone how to improvise an accompaniment on one so I can't advise one.  Here's a free online resource that seems to have some sound advice.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Melba Liston: Insomnia

This could be my families' theme song.  We've all got it.

Melba Liston  


True Confessions vol. 2

Can't top my scandalous confession of last week, but on top of being an Esperantist, I've been developing an addiction for the checkers.   I have been the most occasional of occasional players, often getting beaten by my young nephews and nieces before they became too sophisticated to play board games with their old uncle.   One nephew had the makings of a real checkers sharp when I played with him when he was young enough to need a sitter.  I'd lost so many checkers we had to play with quarters and nickles,  he figured out part way through one game - which he was winning - that we might play for the pieces.   I won't say he cleaned me out but he did pretty well.

Here's a real addiction, the Youtubes of the mild-mannered master, Checkers Cycle.  I've been watching one about every day for months.

Here is the irrepressible Profound Moves, another great master player who has an entirely different style, playing with "Jimmy", another master.

There are Youtubes of Checkers Cycle replaying games by the greatest master of all, Dr. Marion Tinsley.   If you want some idea of how great a player he was, here's a description of him playing against what was the most advanced computer chess program of the time.

In one game, Chinook, playing with white pieces, made a mistake on the tenth move. Tinsley remarked, "You're going to regret that." Chinook resigned after move 36, fully 26 moves later. The lead programmer Schaeffer looked back into the database and discovered that Tinsley picked the only strategy that could have defeated Chinook from that point and Tinsley was able to see the win 64 moves into the future.

Daniel Dennett And His Shifty Methods

For all of their self-publicized objectivity and rigorous standards of reasoning, there are some rather breathtakingly naive ideas that have gained currency in the contemporary culture of atheism and among some of a vaguely scientific bent.  Few of these are as astonishing as the assumption that the theorized genetic basis of religious belief necessarily leads to the conclusion that religion is just the undesirable artifact of evolutionary biology and God is bunk. QED.  For a person who doesn't believe in  God or who is making a career in the burgeoning pop culture field that champions these kinds of ideas, that assumption seems to be immediately grasped because they think it confirms their preexisting preferences.  But that is certainly not the most necessary conclusion, nor is their heart’s desire the only conclusion that can be drawn from it using their own level of rigor.

First, the proposition, most often associated with Daniel Dennett, is glaringly lacking in rigorous analysis. It assumes that a proposed creator God who created the entire universe, planets, solar systems, galaxies, clusters, dark matter, energy, the entire shebang, and who also keeps it in motion, wouldn't have any say in what happens in the puny little molecules that make up our genetic inheritance. Perhaps they think that such a God would just have to grow forgetful under the burdens of considering the big picture.

Not only COULD such a creator God’s role be proposed in any such genetic basis of belief, but to leave out that possibility is entirely dishonest in a PHILOSOPHICAL* discussion of the matter. It is hard for me to believe that doing so could be just a rather astounding oversight for a philosopher to make. If you’re talking God, you don’t get to leave the possibility of God out of the picture just at a point when doing so best suits your conclusion. It certainly wouldn't be by a careful philosopher who was thinking about the subject. When talking about “God”, God isn't an unimportant detail in the argument.

Rather charmingly, Dennett and his cubs seem to not realize that even if they were to conclusively prove that faith was controlled by genetics that could lead someone so disposed to take that as the strongest physical evidence ever found that there was a God. Not only a God but a God who wished that people should know of his existence, or at least to have that option open to them as a recessive or latent possibility**. They could be handing the I.D. types, not their death sentence, but fulfilling their greatest desideratum***. I say charmingly only because Dennett, one of the proponents of that other PR disaster in the making, “The Brights” idea, seems to have a bad habit of handing ammo to the other side.

Note: From experience, you can be certain that one of the things that might come up in a discussion of this issue is the matter of “wish fulfillment” to impeach one side of the argument. That is, again, rather an astounding gap between the pretense of the self-identified “realist” side of things and life as it actually is. There are few, established, well accepted ideas found by scientific research which were not fervently desired by their discovers and promoters. And there are a lot of ideas that, found by mistake, lead to an equally fervent desire for confirmation and extension. Wish fulfillment in and of itself doesn’t prove sloppy thinking or dishonesty, though it can certainly be a motive in both. The falsity of an idea isn’t based in whether that it’s considered to be desirable by the person who holds or promotes it but that it has been disproved. If that wasn’t the case then even the idea that there is a genetic basis of religious belief would have to go, since it seems to be pushed most strongly by those who have a well known axe to grind on the subject. And, like many of the ideas of this school of speculation, it’s pretty much a construct made of words and assertions. And , as seen above, many of them are rather shaky in themselves.

* That is philosophical, not scientific, so don’t bother bringing that red herring up. Questions of a God have no place in any part of science.  Science is incompetent to address them.  Philosophy can and does deal with many things that fall outside of science, whether or not anyone likes that.  But it can't do so by lying about the nature of the discussion for opportunistic reasons.

** God help us, the strict predestinarians would have a field day with that one.

***I, personally, am doubtful that there is any such genetic mechanism but I’m not a biological determinist to begin with.

April 25, 2007

This was still the early period of my writing about these issues,  before doing most of the research that made me far more critical of popular and, later, more sophisticated atheist writing.  I believe it was a reaction to hearing Dennett on the radio with Terry Gross.  As I remember, it was the first time I'd heard Dennett in discussion and I was pretty shocked at how flimsy and even ridiculous his arguments were,  all of them were based in shifting the meanings of words and opportunistic elisions.  In learning more of him, it would seem to constitute his most obvious intellectual practice.

Today I have many more examples of Dennett's polemical and rhetorical distortion of terms, which form a considerable part of his intellectual methods.   The point that they want to leave the possibility of their being wrong and that there is a God at points in the argument that suits them is a major one when addressing the idea of God.  I don't think I've ever come across philosophers of Dennett's reputation who aren't prepared to play the devils advocate, to address the opposing hypothesis in this question.  The one constant in popular and even a lot of formal advocacy of materialism is the insistence on a double standard.  There is to be no serious consideration of the possibility that there God is real allowed in academic discussions.   In that they remind me of nothing so much as the present strategy of the Republican Party who insist on similar ground rules.  It would be as foolish for religious people to give them their own way on that as it is for Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats to have allowed that strategy to work for Republicans.

That God would be impotent at the molecular level when God is believed to have created the molecular level of matter just as much as the intergalactic scale of things is absurd.   Religious people should point out that is what they believe as soon as atheists start going on in this way.   When you are talking about God the Creator of the universe, you either discuss that God created it at all levels or you haven't really discussed God the creator and produce a flawed conclusion that no one is required to take seriously.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Melba Liston solos with the Quincy Jones Band My Reverie

Great trombone playing, great arrangement.


Science Without Physical Evidence, Dawkins Brings Us Back To The Middle Ages.

"Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question." Richard Dawkins, quoted by H. Allen Orr in the New York Review of Books, Jan.11, 2007.

The first thing to notice about this odd passage is “Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide....”. Why “whether”.  Its an absolute fact that there is no physical evidence available. None. No medical records, not even skeletal fragments. No physical remains of the woman or son or possible father in question are available nor is their possibly surviving lineage known. It's unlikely in the extreme that those will ever be identified. Why try to obscure the fact that there is none of the evidence necessary to examine the question with science when it is indisputable that there isn't? So, Dawkins proposes examining the question scientifically without any physical evidence. He proposes determining the paternity of a child without anything to go on, whatsoever.*

Perhaps somewhat more understandable, since it’s Dawkins, he says that you can deal with the assertion of something that is claimed to have happened miraculously, outside the usual order of things and exactly once in the entire history of the world in the remote past, with science. With the claims made by those who believe in the Virgin Birth, even argument by analogy can’t address it. When an event is claimed to be unique, there is no possibility of making a comparison with another or even every other event proposed to be similar. Any scientific comparison with any other event would be irrelevant to the claims of a miracle unless you had physical evidence of it**

The total lack of evidence and the claim of uniqueness renders it clearly and most certainly NOT a question science can deal with. And this from the Oxford University Professor of The Public Understanding of Science. Certainly among the first things to understand about science are when there isn't enough evidence to practice it and when there is. That is something that hasn't stopped Dawkins in the past, however.

Much as it must frustrate those who would like to deal with some religious questions with science, much cannot be. They might not like that fact but that is just too bad. When the physical evidence necessary to study those is lost to history or non-existent, that is simply impossible. Pretending that you can proceed without the evidence it is dishonest and, beyond doubt, unscientific. You can believe or not believe the claims but using the prestige of the name science to back up your assertions can be done honestly only under specific conditions. It also carries a serious responsibility.

No one has to believe in the Virgin Birth, this short piece isn't about that. This is about how one of the most famous and arrogant personalities of science can get away with saying something so stunningly absurd. With his status in contemporary culture, it’s just amazing that a person holding a position like Dawkins’ conveniently ignores something so basic to science.

If biologists are content with having Dawkins being the face of their science, they are exchanging short term glamour for long term problems. It is growing clearer that in the political climate in democracies that science can’t support the dead weight of extraneous ideologies unnecessary for it. I will make a prediction that you can check out later, if Dawkins truly becomes the face of evolution it will continue to face fierce opposition by many of those he insults gratuitously. Its research funding will not be secure. In the face of his arrogant condescension, a large percentage of the public will not understand the science or want to.

* While it might be fun to point out, going into the need to give God a paternity test only heightens the apparent absurdity of Dawkins claim that this is “a strictly scientific question. Science not only can't deal with these kinds of things, it makes a mockery of science to try it.  It is also worth noting that making up science with no supporting evidence is one of the chief criticisms of Richard Dawkins' official work in science.  He's been doing that for going on four decades.

**  Your only hope to determine the accuracy of a claim of a miracle is to look at whatever evidence of the specific event is available and see if the claimed result happened. Modern claims of, for example, miraculous cures of physical diseases could, very possibly, be investigated by science but only by examination of the physical evidence. Without that, science can’t be used to investigate the claim.

June 23, 2007


This issue is one I've gone around with on a number of other blogs, at one point the atheists would bring up my having written this post, it became rather infamous among them.  One of the more interesting of those was at the mathematician Jason Rosenhouse's blog, well, interesting in that Rosenhouse went totally silent when I asked him how you could use mathematics to debunk the Virgin Birth as it was believed in by those who believed it.  I believe I asked him a number of times to tell his fellow atheists how that could be done or to admit it couldn't be done.  Unless he did so when I wasn't around, he never supported the contention that you could do that.

Kevin, maybe I’m just taking Richard Dawkins briliant advice, now that he and Coyne are even going after their fellow atheists like E. Scott.

[Note that the web address I gave here has apparently been changed to the one linked to above.]

I’m wondering, for the true faithful-faithless, Jason Rosenhouse, tell us how to apply probability mathematics to the odds of there being an only begotten Son of God the Father miraculously conceived and born of a Virgin. Now that the assertion by your fans has been made, I want to know what the math would look like. Remember, it’s a miraculous birth that happened once in the history of the world.

and in a later comment:

Jason Rosenhouse, I really think as a mathematician you owe it to your readers to clear this point up. Can the Virgin Birth, as it is laid out in traditional Christian belief be the subject of mathematical probability. Would you be willing to put your name on an attempt to do so. Either you should say how it could be done or you owe it to your readers to say it’s not possible.

You wouldn't want them to linger in logical error would you? Or isn't that the goal of the new atheists? To dispel error?

More generally, are you proud of the non-science converts to the new atheism as they express themselves on the blogs? Is their understanding of science and logic the one which is the goal of the new atheists? I will be posting this on my blog. It’s not a challenge yet but it could be.

Rereading that comment thread, this is a more concise statement of the problem, bringing up an issue that hadn't occurred to me when I wrote the post above.

The only thing this discussion is proving is that the new atheism is anti-scientific and illogical.

If want to debunk the belief that “ Jesus was the only begotten Son of God The Father, Born of the Virgin Mary” you have to deal with what is believed, which includes that it was a miraculous event that happened once in the entire history of, at least, the world.

I've gone into why science couldn't do refute that, specific, belief without having any physical evidence.

Now you want to talk about other stories of virgin births in history to try to wriggle out of the unscientific claim that you can debunk the traditional Christian belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus.

OK. What part of the Virgin Birth of Jesus could be debunked scientifically. There is one part that could be debunked but I don’t think the new atheists would care for how that could be done.

You would have to find one or more verifiable, natural, virgin human births to refute the claim that A virgin birth happened once in history. Which would mean that the one Christians believe in was not the only virgin birth.

But that still leaves the birth of Jesus untouched because there is no way to prove that Jesus was not “the only begotten Son of God the Father” conceived miraculously by a virgin. His birth could still be the only one that fulfills all of the points in the traditional description. Science could only refute part of it by finding another miraculous, unnatural, virgin birth, which science can’t do.Well, there could be a way to test a modern claim like that, but not without a court order and a lot of tabloid style research.

You can’t scientifically refute a belief by changing the proposition you attempt to debunk or you’re not debunking the proposition. That’s a fundamental requirement of logic and science depends on logic. You have to discuss the proposition as it is claimed. And, unless you can show how it could be done without altering the proposed miracle in this case, I’m afraid, you’re not going to be able to touch that with science, not without violating the requirements of science.
The only possible way to do it with science would be to have actual, physical specimens from Jesus and his mother and, perhaps, the real human father or a very close relative of his.

It’s scandalous that the new atheists on a ScienceBlog aren't bothered by such an obvious and clear cut call by their own for the violation of the requirements of science and logic. It’s scandalous that scientists wouldn't point out that they want to. 

These are called “ScienceBlogs” for some reason, aren't they?

More Just So Stories

Gina Kolata of the New York Times New Service began a recent piece in the usual way, with an explanation steeped in the current fashion for explaining everything as being an expression of an ancient and adaptive genetic heritage:

Everyone knows men are promiscuous by nature. It's part of the genetic strategy that evolved to help men spread their genes far and wide. The strategy is different for a woman, who must go through so much just to have a baby and then nurture it. She is genetically programmed to want just one man who will stick with her and help raise their children.

Surveys bear this out. In study after study and in country after country, men report more, often many more, sexual partners than women.

Which is an odd way to start when you go on to read the rest of the article which is about the surveys which show that heterosexual men, on average have had about three to four more sexual partners than heterosexual women. You might have seen similar “scientifically conducted” polls bandied about on the blogs, on TV and perhaps even mentioned as yet another prop for biological determinism of gender roles.

However, there is a huge mystery about all this. Who are the extra women these men are having sex with and why are they apparently keeping silent about it. Otherwise, it just couldn’t figure.

- It's about time for mathematicians to set the record straight, said Dr. David Gale, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Surveys and studies to the contrary notwithstanding, the conclusion that men have substantially more sex partners than women is not and cannot be true, for purely logical reasons," Gale said.

Dr. Gale goes on to give a simple demonstration with equation anyone with fourth grade math could master. But not most of those in the media and even on some "Scienceblogs".

"By way of dramatization, we change the context slightly and will prove what will be called the High School Prom Theorem. We suppose that on the day after the prom, each girl is asked to give the number of boys she danced with. These numbers are then added up, giving a number G. The same information is then obtained from the boys, giving a number B.

"Theorem: G(EQUAL)B

"Proof: Both G and B are equal to C, the number of couples who danced together at the prom. QED."

Despite all the confident assertions that the reported disparities are “proof” of a genetically programmed difference between mens' and women’s brains apparently the original reporters of those illogical numbers know that what they’re reporting is bogus. Ms. Kolata continues:

Sex survey researchers say they know that Gale is correct. Men and women in a population must have roughly equal numbers of partners. So, when men report many more than women, what is going on and what is to be believed?

"I have heard this question before," said Cheryl D. Fryar, a health statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics and a lead author of the new federal report "Drug Use and Sexual Behaviors Reported by Adults: United States, 1999-2002," which found that men had a median of seven partners and women four.

But when it comes to an explanation, she added, "I have no idea."

"This is what is reported," Fryar said. "The reason why they report it I do not know."

While they’re noticing these seldom mentioned lacunae in today's common received wisdom perhaps they might want to notice something else.

Despite the reservations I've expressed here about polling and, even more so, the reporting of polls and surveys I do know one thing with absolute certainty. The methods of polling today are much, much more reliable than those of the Paleolithic period, the period about which the stories like the one at the top of this piece, are told with such confidence by biological determinists. We have no idea at all if our early ancestors were swingers, none. If men today, most of whom seem to be able to count, at least on their hands, are unsure about how many women they have had sex with, why would men at the dawn of humanity be more credible? Even with the techniques of modern polling? Maybe cavemen were liars and it is the propensity to lie about such things to people like pollsters (and other interviewers) which is the actual heritage we have from them. At least we know with some confidence that the lie is real.

In the end of Ms. Kolata's article is this:

Ronald Graham, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of California, San Diego, agreed with Gale. After all, on average, men would have to have three more partners than women, raising the question of where all those extra partners might be.

"Some might be imaginary," Graham said. "Maybe two are in the man's mind and one really exists."

Maybe the stories of evolutionary psychology need to be subjected to similar levels of scrutiny.

P. S. For all anyone knows it could have been males with strong pair bonds who had a competitive advantage in the Paleolithic period. Maybe men who spent their time hankering after the, one assumes, sparse population of women instead of working were less likely to reproduce. Maybe women thought guys like that were creepy lounge lizards. It seems to me that the evolutionary psychologists, who, perhaps, have more leisure time to spend among college students less than half their age could just be projecting their longings back in time. Stranger things have been known to happen.

Corrected and expanded from my original August 15, 2007 post.


Our very-very old mother has taken a turn for the worse.  I'll try to post a new piece on the weekend or early next week.  Until then it'll be pieces from the archives of my old blog and other blogs I wrote for.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lessons Learned from Le Sacre du Printemps

I found out the hard way that modern Pagans don't especially like it when you bring up the documented history of human sacrifice by various Pagan cultures.  Especially touchy is the mention of the documentation, eye witness accounts, legends and archaeological evidence that human sacrifice was endemic to those religions today grouped together as Pagan.  I'd rather doubt that the people in those groups would have done that, themselves, especially accepting being grouped with what were likely to be their nearest rivals.

In that particular discussion, some of the things that got a hostile reaction were the Yule practice of the Norse to murder nine of each kind, including human beings.   The eye-witness account by Ibn Fadlan of the murder of a young slave woman so she could be burned with the corpse of one of the chief thugs in late Pagan Central Europe is chillingly horrific, and though it is bitterly rejected by some scholars and many modern Pagans, there is certainly no disputing that human sacrifice of that kind is documented in excavations.

Human sacrifice is documented even within the surviving literature of a number of those societies.  To deny that is as foolish as it would be for Christians to deny the Crusades or the anti-Semitic pogroms that blight the reputation of the religion that succeeded those cultures, in those places.  That is despite the explicit rejection of human sacrifice in the scriptures of Christianity and Judaism.  With the exception of the oddly out of place story of Jeptha's daughter - which reminds me of nothing so much as the murder of Iphigenia by Agamemnon with much the same motive, victory in war.

The acceptance of murder, its normalization, actualization, its mandatory practice, is the most meaningful and important measure of a culture's depravity of lack of it.  So it is necessary to be as brutally honest about that as necessary.  We don't get to hold any one group to a double standard, either for or against.  No one is intellectually or morally required to accept a double standard.  Insisting on one is to hand your adversaries an absolute basis for rejecting what you've said.


For obvious reasons,  I always think of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring  in tandem with Shirley Jackson's most famous story, The Lottery.   The stories of both are of a spring fertility rite centered around human sacrifice in two agrarian societies.  One in ancient Russia, one in near contemporary New England.  Jackson's story is especially disturbing for someone who grew up under the town meeting system of government, as I did.  The features of that most visible and recognizable winter-spring rite are evident in Jackson's lottery.  Part traditional, old-family based direct democracy, part petty bureaucratic determination to be seen as doing it the right way as passed down through inbred generations, most of the participants, presumably, blood relations.  All knowing that they are most likely not going to be the loser of the lottery but aware that they could be.  I didn't have the experience of not knowing what was going to happen at the end of the story,  having had a plot spoiler tell me before I read it, but, then, the people in the story, save the very youngest, did too.  Jackson's story is famous for her control of dramatic tension and horror, showing how the most banal and, officially deemed, fair act can become a program of horror, of betrayal of even husband and child against the wife and mother, the perversely asserted instrumental justice on the basis of everyone supposedly having a fair chance of being the one murdered that year a perfect model of how a program can overrule real justice, decency, the direct experience of a human life, even the love of a husband and child.   If anything, the scenario for Stravinsky's dance in which a young girl is chosen to dance herself to death is less horrific.  Say what you will, Shirley Jackson knew how to tell that  story.


I've been listening to various performances of Stravinsky's music for all of my adult life both in recordings and live, twice.   I have never seen a live performance of it danced and the first time I saw anything of choreography put to it, it was Paul Taylor's striking but definitely not Stravinskian crime mystery made to the two-piano version I posted last week.  That, if rapidly receding memory serves, was on the great series Dance in America way back a' when PBS was something like an important educational force.   I liked it and would certainly go see it live.  It was far less an abuse of Stravinsky than Disney's, and, unlike Uncle Walt, I'd imagine Taylor would have made good on paying the royalties.

I'd never seen anything like the original story with the orchestral version until I saw a bootlegged video of the Joffrey Ballet's reconstruction of the original dance by Vaslav Nijinsky.

According to the legend of the first performance, a lot of the motivation for the all-out riot was the choreography.  Stravinsky is responsible for some of that with his disdainful account of the audience reaction to seeing a bunch of bizarrely costumed "knock-kneed Lolitas" performing what was asserted were Nijinsky's outrageous movements.  Nijinsky, as told by several of my university teachers and a number of authors was a mentally disturbed and erratic dancer who should never have been given the job.  That he ended his days in an asylum only added to the attractive insanity that the legend of the riot has become.  Though it was hardly Nijinsky's first controversy, if not riot.  His choreography of the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, with it simulated masturbation, was a warning to Stravinsky and the producers what was likely to happen.  I wouldn't be surprised if they knew they were ordering up a scandal.

I don't know anything about dance notation except that I know there is such a thing, at least a couple of systems of it.  I have no idea how much of Nijinsky's intentions are preserved but expect that the people working on the reconstruction were competent and honest.  That some of it had to be imagined, filling in gaps in the record is certainly not something unknown to other artistic reconstructions, in some cases, Mozart, Bartok, the composers or their survivors assigned people to finish what they knew they couldn't.

The Stravinsky-Nijinsky-Joffrey Rite of Spring is extremely compelling, though a lot of that is intrinsic to the score.  I'm not a judge of dance but I can say when something is moving and disturbing and provokes a confrontation with the most important issues.  After watching the quite imperfect video copy it made me think about the reality, the horror, the depravity of human, especially child,  sacrifice in a way that I'd never really considered before.   You can see it here:




Shortly after seeing that, I saw a documentary about the recovery of the mummified victims of child sacrifice in ancient South America.  It  restarted the internal controversy over human sacrifice in a far more extreme form.

Of course, both Stravinsky's and Jackson's stories were made up, they didn't actually deal with an account of a real human being communally murdered or, "dancing herself to death" in a real spring fertility rite.  They are entirely imaginary.

The same can't be said of those victims of human sacrifice, who were clearly murdered in some kind of rite or act of a ceremonial, presumably religio-political act.   Murdered in obviously ritual, traditional practices that were customary and, so, done more than once.  The seeming conventionality of it, makes it seem like the same people had practice in doing it.

Just why these victims were murdered can only be imagined, there is no real evidence of that. The only  exact information of those murders can only be known from the physical evidence that isn't either opaque or ambiguous tells us.  With such clearly complex acts, the thoughts behind them, both the official explanation and beliefs and the individual motives and thoughts are unknowable because we don't have the articulations of those by the people involved.  All of that is the product of interpretation, filtered through  many more layers of distorting filters of the kind I mentioned below, last week.  If you want to believe the explanations of those given by modern scholars,  I can't stop you but I can't see how any of it could be considered as even far less reliable a record of some reality than those of Stravinsky or Jackson.  It, as well, is made up.   As the great author of anthropological fiction, Ursula Le Guin said, she was very familiar with the environs and people she created for her stories.  Facing that the product of your imagination is fiction instead of a purported recreation of once real, unknowable lives seems to me to increase the amount of truth possible in the effort.   Denying that  your attempt to recreate the entirely undocumented thoughts and motives behind them is fiction diminishes its honesty.

As important as the unknown aspects of this are, the impossibility of recovering those doesn't mean that what can be definitely known about them is unimportant and without definite information.

For me, confronting the images of the real, preserved corpses of the victims of sacrificial murders, having the methods used to murder them, especially young children, forensically described, of the presumed poverty of some of the children due to their obvious dietary deficiencies, etc. elicited a far stronger feeling of horror and anger than watching the reconstructed dance did.  Real anger.  It still does as I'm writing this .

The goal of a work of art is generally to provoke an emotional, physical and intellectual response, one that the creator of that art wants to provoke.   And it was always my goal to be able to do that as a performing musician, in service to the intentions of the composer and in my own ... well, enough said about that.

But in this case, on this subject, the artists chose to deal with issues that are unusually important and which transcend the bounds of art into the most real of real of real life.   And history and archeology are transcended as well by the reality of time and our position in it.  There is nothing to be done today  for those children murdered in, presumably, priestly rites.  There is nothing to be done for the slave girl murdered in Ibn Fadlan’s horrific account, murdered by two rope wielding thugs and a sort of homicidal priestess so she could accompany the thug chieftain into the next world, no doubt to be his slave there as well.

The really important, the really dangerous and really compelling fact is that human sacrifice is as common as war, slavery, industrial and recreational objectification and exploitation, prostitution, marketing, rape, risking infecting sex partners, cutting of food aid, medical aid, and a million different ways of using up real human beings, men, more women, and even more children, many of them sacrificed to idols of cash and other money, many of them to, mostly, male sexual and psychological domination turning other people into commodities, never forgetting that commodities are intended to be consumed, always based on a differential in power, strength, physical, intellectual, and that which can be had by corrupting politics and the official organs of justice.

Quite often the mechanism and systematization that allows that unimpeded use has no more of a basis than tradition and the social coercion of what will be thought if you resist what people expect.  That tradition is so strong that it can lead people to volunteer to be sacrificed.   R.O.T.C.,  Football, boxing, being a jockey, a beauty queen, a sex machine, a porn actor.... the list of venues of human sacrifice in the United States, Europe, every single place in the world, today, is extensive.   Admitting that those, especially the most respected of them asserted to be for the greater good of society are essentially the same as the most horrific of human sacrifice in past societies, read about, the subject of documentaries of the kind that used to be seen on PBS, is rare.  I can easily imagine that pushing that reality, especially about those most respected forms of it, will get you labeled as a crack pot.

Perhaps confronting that terrible reality leads to insanity.  Stravinsky's ballet premiered the year before the massive human sacrifice of the First World War, something that shattered Stravinsky's world view to the extent that he dramatically changed his language to what would later be called neo-classicism.  Some critics say he was seeking to recover the order that the rioting audience, and maybe he believed he had been departing from in Le Sacre.

But Stravinsky's music was a more abstract thing than Nijinsky's choreography - at least if the reconstruction is accurate.  The horror of the communal murder of one of its members, the leering men, women, girls, witness to their own depravity, and the victim a willing participant, trained in the habit of this annual rite from infancy, participating in her own murder by tradition, by sacred custom and for the greater good was all made as real as could be possible in Europe in the next five years.  Nijinsky's direct premonition of that would have been enough to drive anyone mad.

Maybe that's why people don't face what is all around them all of the time, restricting that to a ghetto in the distant past, or some other place or to acts of pure imagination.  Our species is drenched in blood.  It's a lot better to voluntarily sacrifice yourself in resisting that than it is to sacrifice your humanity in voluntarily ignoring or  following those customs. Refusing to participate in murder is, of course, the place to start.  Making the decision that murder really matters and insisting that it is always called murder is as important.   Doing that is keeping witness, to serve the victims of all of the murders, all of the sacrificial murders done on whatever excuse.   That is all we can do for them now, that is what is most important.

Just Because For Some Reason It Feels Right Right Now

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

E. E. Cummings

A Quote About WWI For the Day After With Commentary

"You got nothing out of the war except the "flu" and prohibition." Victor Berger

I was at my mother's house Sunday night, her current favorite program about British midwives in the 1950s wasn't on.  Instead there was Gary Sinise's vulgar, Hollywood style spectacle of military worship and war promotion.   It was billed as a Memorial Day concert but there are different ways to memorialize war dead,  an enormous percentage of whom are civilians.  Whom it is obviously unpatriotic to notice as they constitute a collective mountain of bodies.  I'm old enough to remember when Memorial Day was a more general remembrance of all of the dead.  But, then, it was the 1950s and the idea that peace was unpatriotic hadn't completely filtered into the rural town I lived in.

Gary Sinise is someone whose existence would be unknown to me except he decided to build his career on the worship of the military and war and Republican politics.  It's not an unknown career strategy in Hollywood.  John Wayne is, of course, famous as the embodiment of the American warrior who never got around to enlisting.  It seems he really, really wanted to join up to fight WWII but he always had just one more picture to finish and so the studios used their connections to dodge him being drafted.  That is the form of passive draft dodging that has always been available to the rich, the connected and those who are profitable for such.  I remember the reaction of my aunt when she heard someone making the excuse that Wayne had four children to support and was in his early 30s during the war.  "That didn't keep them from drafting my husband and we had to live on his pay."   Believe me, they weren't in the Wayne family income bracket.  Sinise is also the voice of the virtual tour of the Reagan Library, another Hollywood style super-patriot who, while officially enlisted, doesn't seem to have ever been in any danger of seeing combat, except maybe with the script girl.  His eyesight was given as the reason he spent the war in show biz, something that I heard several veterans scoff at. I wish I could have asked the veterans of that war I knew more of what they thought of that, though a lot of them had no use for Reagan.

You can learn something from looking at the war record of that and other generations of razzle-dazzle super-patriots and comparing how the media talk about them and how it talks about people such as George McGovern and Kurt Vonnegut, both of whom had real instead of celluloid wars.   The men who I knew who were in hard combat, especially those who were conscripts or who didn't choose it as a career have generally been anything from skeptical about war to entirely cynical about the military and the governments who send people to fight wars.

I've seen my country gradually adopting an official style of memorializing those who fought in wars called by our politicians that is more suited to a dictatorship.   A mix of dishonest sentimentality, hypocritical piety, falsified history and the most vulgar, cloying and putrid of Hollywood-Las Vegas styled patrieroticism for clearly bad motives.  It is a propaganda  forthe military industrial complex, it is PR for the ruling oligarchy whose need for cannon fodder is one of its few remaining uses it has for the people of the United States.  It's gotten far worse in the past thirty five years, especially since Ronald Reagan was promoted to the presidency by the media which then genuflected to him and the unofficial though very real illegal wars he engaged in in Central America and elsewhere.   It was another actual veteran of the Second World War who I heard lament that with Reagan's actions in Central America, the United States had devolved into a terror state.

Memorial Day has been stolen by the war promoters, it's time we took it back.  Noticing the civilian dead in wars is a necessary step in doing that.  Cancel the next concert, it's an atrocity.

Victor Berger couldn't have known it when he said that in the early 1920s but The People got something else out of WWI.  It got the conditions that led to the Great Depression and then, beyond any doubt,  an even bigger war in WWII.   With war, you reap what you sow.   Corpses.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Melba Liston - Blues Melba

Melba Liston And her Bones: You Don't Say 1958

Melba Liston - Trombone - Arranger
Bennie Green,        "
Al Grey,                "
Benny Powell         "
Kenny Burrell - Guitar
George Joyner - Bass
Charlie Persip - Drums

It's Called Style

I was going through my old files and came across this magnificent piece of early 1960s era modernism.  I'd intended to post it just because it deserves to be seen.  And here it is.

Recreating Lives From Fragmentary Evidence

The larger stone, behind the American Legion Flag holder:

George S. Butler 
Son of George and Sara
1843 - 1862 
Buried in Maryland.

Another stone beside it:

George S. Butler 
Son of George and Sara.
1865 - 1924

No other stones beside it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Carla Bley Big Band - On Stage in Cages

Wonderful, maximal music.

News You Can Use Probably As Early As This Memorial Day Weekend

Since I've slammed the idea of computer intelligence so much this week, I thought it was only fair and balanced to tell you this story someone told me.  Names have been changed for obvious reasons.

Jack Spenser was at the Portland Mall.  He went into the electronics store to look at microwaves.  He's a bachelor, you know.  While walking through the store he heard a young salesman talking with a customer.

"Oh, this computer can tell you anything you want about anything.  If you can type it in, it can tell you."

Jack's a bit of a wag so he said,  "I'll bet you a twenty it can't tell me where my father is right now."

So the clerk said,  "Here, type your question in." 

So Jack typed, "Where is my father right now?"

Immediately the computer said, "He's fishing in Moosehead Lake".  

"Ha!  Jack said,  Hand over the twenty.  My father's been dead and burried in the Oak Hill Cemetery for three years."  

The clerk was nervous but he said,  " Maybe the computer's confused.  Try phrasing the question differently."

So Jack typed,  " Where's Roger Spenser right now?"

The computer said,  "Roger Spenser's been burried in the Oak Hill Cemetery for three years and your father just caught a big 'un."

Christian Wiman Interviewed by Kirsta Tippett

The poet Christian Wiman is giving voice to the hunger for faith — and the challenges of faith — for people living now. After a Texas upbringing soaked in a history of violence and a charismatic Christian culture, he was agnostic until he became actively religious again in his late 30s. Then he was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable blood cancer. He's bearing witness to something new happening in himself and in the world.

Here's the hour radio program.

Here's the uncut interview.

Our father played harmonica, mostly diatonic but he was learning chromatic harmonica near the end of his life.   I'm sure he'd have liked this.

Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser

The Mark Snyder Quartet, Mike Turk

Our Father Hardly Ever Talked

Our father hardly ever talked about being in battle as a marine during the Second World War. Hardly anyone I've known who was in combat talked about it. The ones who did were usually drunk. He did tell me once that he knew he had killed three men. Though he knew they would have killed him and that they were part of one of the most murderous invading armies in history, he regretted having to kill them. When he was 23 our father was hit by a fragment of a mortar shell and almost died. His wounds left him entirely blind, somewhat deaf and with loss of some function in his arm. That made him the target of job discrimination.

In tandem with the discrimination, his disability also marked him in our area as a "war hero”. We grew up with our father being a war hero as part of our background music. I remember someone being scandalized when, as a teenager, I whined about how unreasonable he could be. “But he’s a blind man!” was the stunned reaction. A war hero is just your father when that’s what he is and you’re a teenager. And being a war hero doesn't do anything to mitigate solid stubbornness.

His presence at Memorial Day parades was expected and prominent. Going against stereotype, he and my mother were and remained very liberal. Roosevelt Democrats, and more Eleanor than Franklin at that. He despised Oliver North for hiding behind his uniform and accepting immunity. As a marine, he hated MacArthur. He never encouraged any of us to enlist in the military.

When he was in his sixties, my father started having problems with his liver. The doctors couldn't find anything specific but the markers in his blood weren't good. The symptoms made it necessary for him to spend most of his last year in the hospital. Finally they diagnosed cancer of the liver and they sent him home after arranging an appointment with an oncologist. About the same time they tested him for hepatitis C, the test was positive. Going over his medical history they figured out that he must have gotten it when he was given a blood transfusion at the field hospital after he got hit 45 years earlier. They didn't know about hepatitis C back then, no other explanation was ever found. He died the next week. The dying goes on a long time after the treaty is signed.

I never heard him say "semper fi", not even to other marines.