Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lennie Tristano You Don't Know What Love Is

Sebastian's Voodoo

If I Were 16 Again I Know I'd Try To Learn This

And fail.

St Patrick Day and Alcohol

Our demented teabagger governor has signed the emergency bill that will allow bars in Maine to open early on St. Patrick Day, the emergency seems to be it falling on Sunday this year.  As he has declared that he will hold all other bills hostage until he gets his way on a bill involving using the funds from the state alcohol contract and paying off the state debt to hospitals, this bill apparently was enough of an emergency that it overrides his tantrum on that topic.

I have always hated the American way of observing St. Patrick Day, getting drunk, having obnoxious "roasts" and otherwise doing anything but honoring St. Patrick's life, in the slim detail we know that in.  The American observance would be more fitting for a day dedicated to his foe, Coroticus, who he excommunicated , than the modest "unlearned sinner"  he more than once described himself to be.

Patrick had been enslaved in Ireland for six years before he escaped and returned home where he studied to become a priest.  His intention was to return to convert the Irish to Christianity.   From his experience of slavery he became among the first, if not the actual first, effective abolitionist, convincing the Irish to give up slavery.  Only that would make him an important figure in the history of civil rights and justice, earning him veneration.  That is the tradition of St. Patrick that is real and not based in absurd myths, that is what is worth remembering about him.  St. Patrick day as a day of anti-slavery activity is something I could get behind with the greatest enthusiasm.

St. Patrick Day, American style, is a celebration of the opposite.  I've written before about my brother dying from alcoholism, which makes all of the alcohol based revelry seem a bit other than jolly.  As an atheist, my brother's most often resorted to excuse to not try Alcoholics Anonymous was his unwillingness to put himself in the hands of a "higher power".   It is frequently echoed in the pseudo-leftist blogosphere when the topic of AA comes up.   So while rejecting what he saw as slavery to a God he didn't believe in, he put himself in the hands of the ethanol molecule.  He, as the disease took over him, became the devoted servant of alcohol, who couldn't get away from it.  Driving to the liquor store to be there to join the others waiting in their cars for the 10:00 opening. Driving back to drink a half gallon of vodka sprawled on a couch in front of TV,  almost every day for more than two years.  I won't go into details about how he lived in those years except to say that it would match some of the worst descriptions in literature.  

My brother liquidated his retirement in order to pay his bills and buy cheap vodka.  My other brothers and I took that as a sign that he had resigned himself to dying before he would retire.  He lost his job before he died.  Alcohol enslaved him as completely as the worst slave holder could, it totally dominated his life, consuming him as it did.   Having watched that as recently as the year before last,  it kind of dominates my thinking on the early bar opening, the green beer, the drunken revelry and a bunch of Boston politicians obliged by dreary custom to do bad imitations of Dean Martin, making obnoxious jerks of themselves as they do.   It's enough to make you ashamed of being Irish.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Deep Night: Art Tatum

Art Tatum Piano
Buddy DeFranco Clarinet
Red Callender Bass
Bill Douglass  Drums

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I know You're There

I'm curious to know who it is who reads these posts.  I know someone does, having gotten the occasional e-mail (, and even the occasional comment.

Last week I looked at the blog stats, something I'd sworn to never do and was surprised to see I do really get readers.   As I don't have the kind of blog that has a commenting community and some of my pieces are kind of long and involved, I'm wondering who reads it and what they get from it. Whether or not I find out, it probably won't change what gets posted,  I usually write things based on what seems important that isn't covered elsewhere.  Often it's a way for me to figure things out.  There isn't anything like putting your thoughts down and reviewing them to bring your thinking into some kind of order.

Whoever you are, I hope you're finding it worth while to read these things.  It's got to feel like work, at times.  Sorry for the editing.  I'm not very good at that.

Pope Francis

Know nothing about him, not unlike those on the blogs who are saying the typical stuff you'd expect.   Really, talk about Catholics and the self-congratulating liberals all turn into Ian Paisleys and Bob Joneses.

I'm not expecting great changes, which you weren't going to get from this crop of cardinals.  Not unless it turns out that he surprises them, perhaps himself, as well.   Like that he's gone with Francis, one of the most justly loved saints.  Like that he ditched so many of the trappings of office when he was cardinal.  That could bode well.   Especially like that he's not a Vatican insider hack.  I'm especially glad he's not Dolan.

Anything better than worse than Ratzinger is on the way up.  They say he's got some pastoral interest, which would be different.   If he allowed married men to be ordained it would probably be about as radical as any probability.   Will he?   Who knows?   They didn't expect John XXIII to change much.  I expected great things from John Paul I.

Marc Cary's Focus Trio - Minor March

Having a really hard time getting going today.   This should fix it

Jimmy Giuffre Trio - Time Machine [1959]

NPR IS Pushing The Six-Word Story Bunkum

The Real Story Behind Hemingway's Famous Story 

Parents bought too many shoes, outgrown.

Critique of The Six-Word Story Game

Hemingway is overrated Tolstoy is not.


On NPR's  Hemingway Haul Out Today Reheard In The Third Hour

Reporting's expensive.  Recycle Hemingway's six-word, again.

Freudian Postscript:

Six words?  Like "six-shooter"?  Manhood failed?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ralph Towner & Gary Burton - Goodbye Porkpie Hat

A Quiet Kid Observed At A Distance

September, on the fresh playground looking at the weeds, till those are ground underfoot, then just walking around, master of camouflage, unseen, standing beside his body.

Then on the cold, bright October, in the smoky, low, angled morning sunlight, brisk in the morning wind, a quickened face sparked by fall.

Grey afternoons as the dark clouds pass by, smoke in the papery sky, walking on the sidewalks, blown with clean air. Contained, could be thinking of anything. You easily imagine it’s something good. Always alone. Confidence to move in the town based in his experience that he is invisible.

How many late afternoons sitting in the dry office, waiting for a ride. So familiar the old oak office chairs aren't less remarkable with this kid sitting in one, doing homework again. Sometimes while mid-problem, with pencil in hand, looking at the page to balance the equation, as if time rests for the consideration, then checks the work with quick confidence. Goes on to the next one. Office brat, though not a brat. Liked well enough. Once in a while someone notices and smiles at the serious face.

Home, there’s an older brother to live up to, they seem to like each other. A good kid, a loner you worry about from time to time. But who you expect will turn out all right. You hope so.

c. 1978  first published on Echidne of the Snakes

Monday, March 11, 2013

Brahms Variations op. 18

Note to my readers

I'm going to take a few days off.   I'm finding dealing with the death of my husband difficult and need some time away from research.   Please feel free to read my archive.

Update:  Since someone asked, it was his sister who said that I should say he was my husband since we were together for a lot longer than a lot of straight married couples.   I like what she said so I will.

Answer To An E-mail

You will really know you're over a blog you used to frequent when someone e-mails you to tell you they're talking about you and you don't care enough to hit the link.  I don't care.  Hope you're well and doing something worthwhile with your free time.  I have been.

yours truly,

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"staunchly supportive despite all" The New York Times Review of Books Review of Mother Country

In the days as the Fukushima reactors were melting down,  there were a number of blog fights on the topic at Eschaton blog, where I hung out quite a lot.   I was involved on the anti-nuclear side.   One of the the pro-nuclear antagonists, and in his case that word is a massive understatement, was one,  Chris Tucker,  a typical example of the frequently encountered angry atheist whose religion is scientism.   Some of us brought citations from The Union of Concerned Scientists, George Kistiakowsky, other specialists I don't specifically remember to the argument.  Tucker brought an xkcd cartoon asserting that the dilution of nuclear pollution in the general, background radiation,  make it innocuous,  harmless.   As an aside, I wish I had ten bucks for every time some college educated  disciple of scientism had turned to the authority of xkcd or the like to, as they believe, clinch an argument.

When I pointed out that the cartoonist included a disclaimer at the bottom that his drawing shouldn't be mistaken as a serious reference,  Tucker, who was prone to enraged tantrums, had one.  He had a number of them over the coming weeks at a number of us, as our predictions of meltdowns and pollution became lines in news stories, stories that were clearly pushing a nuclear industry line of minimization of the risks of what many scientists, some of them prominent figures in nuclear science, warned of.

Believing that the truth merely has to be true in order to justify telling it,  I'm going to tell the rest of the story.   It would probably be called out of bounds and, somehow, outrageous to note that in the weeks after that, Chris Tucker announced that he had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and that he  was reported to have died after several months of reportedly drastic therapy, the modern medicine he expressed a rather bleak hope in.  It will be seen as unseemly to note this outcome to his story, though I, for the life of me, can't understand what is unfair about noting the extreme coincidence and irony of him very possibly serving as an example of what we were talking about mere months before.   I will tell it to stand in for those people who will die of thyroid and other cancer deaths, the people who ingested or inhaled nuclear materials from the Fukushima meltdowns and will die of it, many of whom didn't promote nuclear energy on a leftish blog, sitting on North America as the Fukushima reactors were melting down, as it were, before our eyes, remotely.


I mentioned the New York Times review of Mother Country in my post yesterday.   It was one of the cases when that most august of book reviews assigned someone with a clear, ideological agenda against the subject of the book to review it.  Typical of scientists who want to shift attention from the argument,  Max Perutz, began his review by putting the case Marilynne Robinson made against the Sellafield operation which was intentionally and knowingly  and openly pumping nuclear wastes, including plutonium, into the ocean.

Here in Britain we are all criminals: guilty of conniving at a crime against humanity committed by a government that is polluting the Irish Sea, the British Isles, the entire globe with the radioactive discharges from its nuclear plants at Sellafield, a village in northwest England, on the Irish Sea.

Just to start, Perutz clearly lied about what the book said.   As I've shown this past week, in one of the most detailed indictments ever given in a book of the type, Marilynne Robinson took enormous care to show that the large majority of Britains were innocent of the pathological indifference and selfishness that allowed the Sellafield plant.   Even if the New York Times reviewer and eminent scientist, Max Perutz, had entirely neglected to read the long first section of the book, the second section that deals with Sellafield is largely concerned with showing how it was the British people, themselves, who were the first and most numerous victims of the criminal acts of the British government and the industrial-scientific elite which lied to them and duped them.  

Having attempted to achieve the discrediting of the book by absurd exaggeration, Perutz immediately went in for the kill by noting that Robinson was a novelist, as he continues to mischaracterize a very detailed and carefully stated case.

According to Marilynne Robinson, the author of the novel House-keeping and now of the book under review, “The earth has been under nuclear attack [from Sellafield] for almost half a century.” This book is aflame with indignation at the diabolical practices of the British Atomic Energy Authority, at the irresponsibility of our National Radiological Protection Board, at the careless indifference of our venal members of Parliament and of the British public, at the American press for failing to warn unsuspecting tourists of the deadly dangers threatening their health if they set foot on these poisoned isles, and the American government for wasting its armed forces on their protection.

The effrontery of non-scientists in questioning what scientists do is a common and frequent resort in these kinds of confrontations.   Especially, but not exclusively,  those scientists with a financial and professional interest, what for most of us constitutes a likely impeaching SELF-INTEREST.  It is interesting to note that a short review in arts section of The Times,  the editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Len Ackland noted the same passage to an entirely different tone:

Sellafield, located in Cumbria on the northwest coast of England, is the sprawling industrial complex where Britain produces deadly plutonium for war and for profit. In the process the Irish Sea has been turned into a radioactive cesspool, untold damage has been inflicted on the human and natural environment. ''The earth has been under nuclear attack for almost half a century,'' in Ms. Robinson's words. She seeks to expose why this outrage has been allowed to happen.

I will take a step into the present to point out that even according to the British government, Sellafield today is the ongoing and developing disaster that Mother Country warned of almost a quarter of a century ago.  Since it is part of Perutz's discrediting operation to fault the book for concentrating on Sellafield,  citing that concentration on that outrage instead of on the American sites that were also releasing nuclear pollution,  I will point out, in passing, that in the American context, the cult of national security could stand in place of the British class system in providing cover for the same kind of outrageous, criminal behavior in the United States.  History seems to be vindicating the case Marilynne Robinson made in a way that it hasn't Perutz's review, it is also vindicating those who have been making similar arguments about the Hanford and other sites, to a similar reaction presented in the name of science,  here.

Perutz's hatchet job on Mother Country, appearing in the extremely influential New York Times Review of Books, probably had a similar effect on its suppression that the lawsuit did in Britain.  Being the land of the First Amendment, the means of suppression here take a peculiarly American form and a bad review in the NYTRoB probably is more effective than the suppressive British libel law* in achieving that end.

I will grant to the Review of Books that they published a response by Marilynne Robinson, with a reply by Perutz, and further exchanges with other letter writers.  One by David J. Brenner, Ph. D.
Assistant Professor Center for Radiological Research Department of Radiation Oncology
Columbia University, New York City was a succinct refutation of Perutz's major scientific assertions in the review,  claims related to the xkcd cartoon mentioned above.  Since, as published, his letter ends in ellipsis, it makes you wonder what else he had to say which the NYTRB didn't think was fit to print.    A further letter from Jay M. Gould, Director, Radiation and Public Health
Project, United Church of Christ, pointed out further problems with the pro-nuclear case Perutz made.  All of those and Perutz's responses are still worth reading.   

I suspect fewer people read the exchanges than read the original review and that those had far less of an influence in the reception of the book by the audience for such books.   The role that the review had in the de facto suppression of what is an important book is worth considering.  The Review, as all other influential book reviewing bodies, at times, assigns books to people with a known bias, as it did in this case.  I don't believe that assignment isn't done without an intention.  

Marilynne Robinson was clearly aware that her status as a lay person instead of within the hierarchy of science would be used against her.  She was clearly aware that her status as a novelist would be used against her.   In the first paragraphs dealing directly with Sellafield she made what is as clearly true a case as possible justifying her book:

Having come finally to my subject, Sellafield, I am forced to confront the epic scale of my narrative.  My inability to invoke a suitable muse is really my only deficiency in treating this great subject.  To the objection that I know very little about plutonium,  I can reply that I know better than to pour it into the environment.  On these grounds alone I can hope the British nuclear establishment will learn something from my work,  so that I may repay them for the insights they have given me into the nature and prospects of humankind.  

The point that anyone can know enough about plutonium so as to know better than to pour it into the ocean is sufficient to support the case against doing that.   The fact is that even scientists have to rely on nontechnical literature to inform them of things their professional competence doesn't prepare them to understand.  The decisions of voters depend on that kind of information. That plutonium is, in fact, being pumped into the environment isn't denied by Perutz and other nuclear industry apologists, they have to rely on denying the science that indicates it is dangerous.  As Robinson pointed out in her reply to his review:

Mr. Perutz’s argument, an argument which this eminent man clearly intends as a daunting and chastening demonstration of the scientific mind in action, suggests that scientific discourse is not what it claims to be, or what we must all wish it were. His essential tactic is to dissociate radiation from cancer and environmental damage, and to imply that an unsavory mix of hysteria and ignorance is the whole cause of my indignation.

and later:

And look at what Mr. Perutz concedes: Britain reprocesses wastes from its own and foreign civil reactors, and, in the course of producing plutonium, flushes plutonium into the sea, where a quarter ton of it has now accumulated. Plutonium and caesium 137, the only materials Mr. Perutz chooses to talk about in any detail, “were expected” to have no harmful effect because one is insoluble and the other highly soluble in water. After thirty long years these expectations were at last found to have been disappointed—there is plutonium in the surf and the wind, plutonium is highly concentrated in fish and shellfish, which people are allowed to eat. Children in the region of the plant develop leukemia at a rate ten times the national average. A government committee has considered that exposure to plutonium is a “conceivable explanation.” The government concealed information about the Windscale fire in 1957. The factories at Sellafield have produced misleading information about their discharges. When radioactive effluent is found on the coast, the government must be told to warn the public and to clean it up. The plant is shoddily built and technically primitive, characterized by “scandalous malpractices” which have shaken public confidence. The functioning of the plant through its whole history has been based on naive assumptions about the “harmful biological effects of radiation and the possible buildup of radionuclides in living creatures.”


As can be said of religion, there really is not a single thing that is "science" about which you can make accurate, unconditional universal statements.  Science discovers good and useful things that enhance and extend life, it informs us of how we could try to save environments and species and, in fact, our own species. It produces a lot of information which is mainly valuable because it is fun instead of useful for anything.  It also produces weapons, biological, chemical, bullets and bombs of increased killing power, it produces oil wells, pumping secret poisons to frack for gas and environmental toxins that probably will be bemoaned in the same media that is promoting them.  What science has given to us with one hand it has taken, and more so, with the other.   When any criticism is made of science, as in all professions, there is a circling of the wagons and they blast away at their critics with everything they've got.   Much of that effect is enhanced by massive funding of public relations by the industries and the governments that the malignant science is produced for.

In order to kill a book dealing with a technical,  scientific or scholarly topic, one of the most effective things is to give it a general air of unreliability with the casual, slightly informed reader who would likely pick it up or buy it.  The kind of person who reads The New York Review.  A bad review of the kind noted above can kill a book in that way.  I think reviewers know that they have that power.  They may not with movies or sensational garbage that can flourish on bad reviews, but for a serious book on a serious topic, which would never be likely to make any best sellers list, that power is a serious impediment to our intellectual life.  In the case of this book, it was a danger to the ability of an informed people to make political decisions and the lives of many millions of people.

* As unsuccessfully resorted to most infamously and, luckily, ineffectively, by David Irving.

Update:  After trying to justify those broken lines in the text a number of times, trying to tease out the HTML to fix them, I'm giving up.   Please excuse the spaces.