The Overflow, Backwash, Backlog, Logorrhea, Ad Hoc, Anyone-Can-Use, No-Word-Limit SPEAKEASY

December 2, 2007

Oliver Sacks and ‘Soul’ – a post for ROS

Filed under: Radio Open Source Conversations — Nick @ 9:26 pm

I’d prefer that Sacks himself weigh in on this soul question, but I’m hardly optimistic. Instead, or in the interim at least, here’s my layman’s conjecture.

Chris’s quote of Sacks seems to me to be using the metaphysical concept of ‘soul’ more metaphorically than literally:

Thus, in answer to questions about the existence and integrity of the Self in severe mental disease, I believe that though one can be “beside oneself” or “lose oneself” for years on end, the Self itself is still present, always present, intact, entire – however withdrawn or buried it may be. I think that all psychotic distortions and splinterings of the Self are relatively superficial, even though they may dominate the clinical picture. I think the ravages of physical and mental disease are both superficial; that there is something unfathomably deep beyond their reach; that this is the best and strongest and realest thing we have; and that once upon a time this was called the Soul. [my emphasis]

Yes, I could be mistaken (a chronic risk when trying to distinguish metaphoric intent from literal), but the way I read it, Sacks is offering a plain-English sketch of a neuro/psychological feature, an “emergent property”, perhaps, of human consciousness: the “self”, the sense of “I”-ness, the central-processing center of our brain/nerve/senses matrix, the executive-level indentity-reference-point (and Decider), if you will, common to most if not all humans.
I say “most if not all”, because I’m not as sure as Sacks seems to be that every human’s sense of self can survive any or all neuro/psychological abnormalities and/or traumas. For example, if we can’t communicate with the profoundly retarded, we can hardly be certain those persons have anything resembling our commonplace sense of personhood/identity/uniqueness. If a sense of ‘Self’ is absent (or too minuscule to measure), does that mean the ‘soul’ is absent too?

I doubt Sacks meant this. I guess instead he was using ‘soul’ as a common-concept/conventional-wisdom analogue to what he means by the ‘Self’, or as a kind of metaphor for it—but since ‘soul’, in its most common meanings, is putatively immortal, it can’t be an exact analogue, I expect—especially coming from a self-described atheist. I’m no less atheistic than Sacks; and, when it comes to ‘soul’, I’m completely agnostic: “without knowledge”. I’ve never understood what the noun ‘soul’ purports to name. Perhaps Sacks is equally agnostic on ‘soul’ – hence his inability to answer Chris’s question. (Inability differs substantially from unwillingness. And as for ‘squeamish’ I think ‘armadillo’ had it right by understanding it as ‘politeness’. I doubt Sacks would have treated a question about the link between ‘music and Samsara’ any differently.) Which brings me to this—

ghostofdali writes:

After all, one thing we’re sure of is that the “soul” is located in a different place from the brain. We can’t say it’s in the heart anymore, but it’s still around someplace.

I’d like to ask ghostofdali – and Chris too, and anyone else interested, ftm – for a definition or description of ‘soul’. If you’re certain this thing exists (albeit not necessarily where it resides within a human being) then you must have some sense of its properties or identifying characteristics. So please tell me: what, exactly, are its properties? Characteristics? Its telltale ‘footprints’, if you will? How would a soul-agnostic (like me, or perhaps Sacks) recognize it? What clues or evidence should an open-minded scientist (like Jonah Lehrer) look for if she wanted to discern it? Do all persons have one? Animals? If, heaven forbid, a future mischief-maker armed with the know-how and technology to clone a human-chimpanzee hybrid did so, would a soul inhabit (or emerge within) the poor, misbegotten being?


May 15, 2007

‘Killing No Murder?’

Filed under: Radio Open Source Conversations — Nick @ 7:26 pm

But the soldier’s view (of a battle) will also be much more complicated than the commander’s. The latter fights his battle in a comparatively stable environment – that of his headquarters, peopled by staff officers who will, because for efficiency’s sake they must, retain a rational calm; and he visualizes the events of and parties to the battle, again because for efficiency’s sake he must, in fairly abstract terms: of ‘attack’ and counter-attack’, of the ‘Heavy Brigade’, of the ‘Guard Corps’ – large, intellectually manageable block of human beings going here or there and doing, or failing to do, as he directs. The soldier is vouchsafed no such well-ordered and clear-cut vision. Battle, for him, takes place in a wildly unstable physical and emotional environment; he may spend much of his time in combat as a mildly apprehensive spectator, granted, by some freak of events, a comparatively danger-free grandstand view of others fighting; then he may suddenly be able to see nothing but the clods on which he has flung himself for safety, there to crouch – he cannot anticipate – for minutes or for hours; he may feel in turn boredom, exultation, panic, anger, sorrow, bewilderment, even that sublime emotion we call courage. And his perception of community with his fellow-soldiers will fluctuate in equal measure.

In circumstances of extreme personal danger, in short, the wishes of the commander, which the individual soldier apprehends in the most abbreviated sense – ‘Forward!’ or ‘Form up!’ or ‘Fire at will!’…will influence his behavior to only a marginal extent; and the commander’s ‘win/lose’ conceptions will have no relevance to his personal predicament. ‘Battle’, for the ordinary soldier, is a very small-scale situation which will throw up its own leaders and will be fought by its own rules – alas, often by its own ethics.

The fighting (described below, from an account of the Third Battle of Ypres) had resolved itself into a struggle for possession of a belt of German pillboxes, which commanded the surrounding desolation almost completely. The witness is an Australian officer… On September 20th, 1917, he came upon,
(inset quotation)
a wide circle of troops of his brigade surrounding a two-storied pillbox, and firing at a loophole in the upper story from which shots were coming. One man, coolly standing close below and firing up at it, fell back killed but the Germans in the lower chamber soon surrendered. The circle of Australians at once assumed easy attitudes, and the prisoners were coming out when shots were fired, killing an Australian. The shot came from the upper story, whose inmates knew nothing of the surrender of the men below; but the surrounding troops were much too heated to realize this. To them, the deed appeared to be the vilest of treachery, and they forthwith bayoneted the prisoners. One (Australian), about to bayonet a German, found that his own bayonet was not on his rifle. While the wretched man implored him for mercy, he grimly fixed it and then bayoneted the man.
(inset quotation end)

‘The Germans in this case’, the official historian platitudinously continues, ‘were entirely innocent, but such incidents are inevitable in the heat of battle, and any blame for them lies with those who make wars, not with those who fight them.’

The second incident is narrated by…a young officer in a Kitchener battalion which had just taken part in one of the attacks which formed part of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

(inset quotation)
Blake’s face was slack and haggard, but not from weariness. He greeted me moodily, and then sat silent, abstracted in some distant perplexity. ‘What’s the matter, Terrence?’ I asked.
‘Oh, I don’t know. Nothing – at least. Look here, we took a lot of prisoners in those trenches yesterday morning. Just as we got into their line, an officer came out of a dugout. He’d got one hand above his head, and a pair of field glasses in the other. He held his glasses out to Smith, you know, the ex-sailor with the Messina earthquake medal – and said, “Here you are, Sergeant, I surrender.” Smith said, “Thank you, sir,” and took the glasses with his left hand. At the same moment, he tucked the butt of his rifle under his arm, and shot the officer straight through the head. What the hell ought I to do?’ …
‘I don’t see that you can do anything,’ I answered slowly. ‘What can you do? Besides, I don’t see that Smith is really to blame. He must have been half mad with excitement when he got to that trench. I don’t suppose he even thought what he was doing. If you start a man killing, you can’t turn him off again like an engine. After all, he is a good man. He was probably half off his head.’
‘It wasn’t only him: another did exactly the same thing.’
‘Anyhow, it’s too late to do anything now. I suppose you ought to have shot both on the spot. The best thing is to forget it.’
(inset quotation end)

The third extract (recounts a British battalion) fighting in a mountainous region of Italy in 1943…

(inset quotation)
We ran straight into a large body of Germans, and after a few burst of Bren and Tommy gun fire, about forty ran out with their hands up. Elated by this, we proceeded to winkle (machine-gun) them out at a great pace. Wheeling round the next corner, Lance-Sergeant Weir led his section in a charge against another group of Germans. These Germans were ready and met them with long bursts of fire… Weir was shot through the shoulder, but the bullet only stopped him for a moment, while he recovered his balance. He led his men full tilt into the Germans and they killed those who delayed their surrender with the traditional comment, ‘Too late, chum.’ (Italics supplied.)
(unquote, John Keegan, The Face of Battle, pp.47-50)

Killing machines. Militaries convert humans into disciplined killing machines, who cannot be ‘switched off’ as easily as the insulated commanders might always like. I’m particularly haunted by the following lines:

While the wretched man implored him for mercy, he grimly fixed it and then bayoneted the man.

‘The Germans in this case’, the official historian platitudinously continues, ‘were entirely innocent, but such incidents are inevitable in the heat of battle, and any blame for them lies with those who make wars, not with those who fight them.’

I don’t suppose he even thought what he was doing. If you start a man killing, you can’t turn him off again like an engine.
I suppose you ought to have shot both on the spot.

And the whole of the third inset quotation.

April 5, 2007

The Civility Dilemma on Planet Gendera

Filed under: Radio Open Source Conversations — Nick @ 4:03 am

The following comes courtesy of the wonderful writer Allison, who blogs (much too infrequently) at:

On the planet Gendera, it takes an XX and an XY Genderian to reproduce. And the hormonal differences of the XX’s and the XYs are such that they create physical power imbalances and vastly different experiential perspectives. The XYs are endowed with much greater physical prowess and for millenia have wielded that power over the XX’s and treated them like second class citizens.

Imagine that, at one time, though the XXs were charged with all the duties of raising the species and supporting the work of the XYs by keeping the homefires burning, the XXs couldn’t even own property or have a say in how society would best function. Most cultural decisions have been made by the XYs since the beginning of the species’ existence. In recent years, some changes have occurred. XXs are allowed to vote for public servants. They can own property. They can even get jobs in the open market – though their work is likely to be valued at 70% of that of the XYs.

This progress has been seen as so cataclysmic, that the XYs think that the XXs should feel that everything is equitable now and quit talking about it. But the XXs know that so many things are still not equitably represented. Artistic works are appreciated based upon a cultural norm created by the XYs. When XXs speak in public they are subjected to violent speech and subjective criticism that has nothing to do with the content of their speech. Well, if they are not ignored altoghter. XXs have lived in a world dominated by XYs for so long, that they have internalized the value systems of XYs and it would take many, many generations of respect and validation for the authentic XX expression and value system to emerge. But XXs know that this process has not even begun. For if an XX writes under a name that sounds like an XY name, the writing is received and responded to in a very different manner than if the same writing comes with a name that sounds like an XX name.

But the XXs can’t get this point across. Because the XYs are comfortable with the way things are and don’t have any pressing need or motivation to put up with change – especially change that requires self-reflection and accepting another viewpoint as valid even though you will never be able to actually see from that viewpoint yourself. So, when XXs try to make the point that Gendera does not reflect a dual experience, – say, as in stories only being told by XYs – a dual point of view, and that one half of the species is subjected to behavior that nullify their existence, they are simply subjected to exactly that which they are trying to cry out about.

And imagine that an XX is in a forum populated, even hosted by, XYs that present themselves as open-minded individuals committed to increasing the civil in civil society. And even in this forum, the perspective of the XXs is allowed to be dismissed or ignored. Imagine in this forum that it is acceptable for XXs to state what it is like to be an XX and then XYs are allowed to say, “No, it isn’t. We’ll tell you what it is to be an XX.”

How can a society be civil if it is refuses to accept as a truth the perspectives expressed by it’s own members?

Respect. Fundamental to a civil society. What a concept….

Based on the experiences of the XX’s in Gendera, Gendera has never had a civil society.

Thank goodness it’s only fiction….

Allison rocks.

April 4, 2007

A Purely Hypothetical Cautionary Tale for ROS Users

Filed under: Radio Open Source Conversations — Nick @ 3:34 am

The following is a purely hypothetical cautionary tale for ROS users to ponder.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Let’s say you one day realize you’ve been won over by a new blog-site: a place to read and to leave your own thoughts. Its (hypothetical) hosts are kindly and indulgent; its contributors remarkably savvy, well-spoken, and insightful. Your opening few posts receive both praise and dissent. The praise encourages you to continue; the dissent prompts you to improve your articulation and to hone your thinking. It’s a positive experience, and you are learning – and making noticeable strides as a writer.

One day (hypothetically) you attract a positive response to one of your least commonplace opinions, and you strike up a correspondence with the appreciator. At first it flourishes – you debate and spar, but always with affection and respect. Throughout this process, your thinking evolves – you begin to perceive that the patterns of your thoughts aren’t well-represented by the vocabulary and grammar of the language you grew up using. Nor are they compatible with your correspondent’s strong beliefs.

You try – in ‘good faith’ and with great difficulty – to explain your evolving comprehension of how your mind processes perceptions and assigns levels of credulity to these perceptions, analyses, and assessments. Your correspondent however does not try to understand your hard-to-articulate thoughts.
He does not use ‘?’.
Instead he takes it upon himself to correct you.

His prose, you reluctantly come to admit, is machine-gunned streams of declarative sentences that lecture, while asking nothing. No matter how hard you try – even offering novel concepts to better explain your internal understandings, your correspondent—who has never met you face-to-(hypothetical)-face—kindly lectures his “self-deluded” friend.
He insists that he knows how your mind works – that your understandings of your thinking can’t possibly be accurate.

Meanwhile, your posts on the blog of the kindly, indulgent hosts attract the usual amount of attention – but also lots of ‘corrective’ attention from your ‘friend’. Indeed, he seems especially (albeit not exclusively) attracted to your writings…

In growing despair – not despair of your own self-understanding but of the future of your correspondence – you begin to include in your missives a series of entreaties asking for an equal and even-handed exchange of personal meanings. Indeed, you even receive one from your correspondent that answers many of your questions about his mind’s patterns and habits – but that do not represent your own. Meanwhile, your own reciprocal offerings are rejected as “more self-delusion.”

You recall the brilliant and hilarious Monty Python ‘Argument Clinic’ sketch, wherein Michael Palin, seeking a lesson in extemporaneous debate, instead gets a clinic from John Cleese on contradiction. And, as you increasingly feel that you are, at best, only staging the same ‘argument’ (contradiction) over and over and over and over again in different iterations but with no discernable progress, you recall the old saw, “Insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different result.”
You decide you don’t want to go crazy. (Hypothetically.)

One day (hypothetically) you wake up realizing that your ‘friend’ hasn’t respected your thoughts, or any of your own ‘good faith’ attempts to bridge the impasse, or worst of all, you.

In exasperation, you feel compelled to sever the correspondence – only to receive yet another condescending response.
You blow up. The fury of it – building gradually over the months of the relentless disrespect – shocks even you the next day.

Even so, it’s over. It’s off your chest. You’re free to return to exchange of opinion and insight with writers less arrogant. Writers you sense are much more respectful – even when they spiritedly disagree with you.

Then, your former friend reacts again to your material – and to only your material – even after your severance of the private correspondence.
“At what point,” you ask yourself, “ought I begin to feel like I’m on the receiving end of an intellectual style of (hypothetical) cyber-stalking?”

Now then, ain’t it great that this whole pathetic little melodrama is nothing but fiction? 🙂

Thanks for taking the time to read this purely hypothetical product of my imagination!

March 5, 2007

A Time Machine, and a morally bizarre daydream…

Filed under: Radio Open Source Conversations — Nick @ 5:43 am

I was imagining what I would do with a time machine – but not a machine with unlimited range. Instead, this speculative time machine has a range of one century only. Now, if I could make only four stops (temporally speaking) using this machine, when would I choose to visit?

Keeping in mind that this is nothing more than a daydream concocted while running four miles listening in my Walkman to Gene Krupa & his Orchestra…

First, I’d wait until my life was nearing its actively pleasurable end; then, from least important to most important:
4. I’d make a stop in 1936 America to attend a performance of Benny Goodman & his Orchestra fronted by the Swing-perfect vocalist Helen Ward.
3. Another stop in either 1939 or 1940 to attend a performance of Duke Ellington & his Orchestra fronted by the sublime singer Ivie Anderson.
2a. A third stop in 1942 to attend a performance by Gene Krupa & his Orchestra fronted by trumpeter Roy ‘Little Jazz’ Eldridge and the MATCHLESS vocalist Anita O’Day.
2b. A flight across the pond to 1942 Europe. There I would pick up a Pole, a Jew, a Russian, and a Greek.
1. Once in the time machine, the five of us would stop off in 1912 Vienna. I’d show them how to return themselves to whenever they might choose without my having to be operating the machine.
Next, we’d locate a certain Austrian postcard painter, and I’d say, “There he is, fellas. Do whatever you want to him” – and then I’d probably pop right out of existence, since after the four of ‘em encountered the historically important painter, it’s unlikely my parents would have met.

But then, millions and millions of people ‘alive today’ suddenly wouldn’t be. So, what’s the ‘greater evil’?

What would you do? (Anyone?)

A Swing Era shuffle – 1932 – 1946

Filed under: Radio Open Source Conversations — Nick @ 4:14 am

This one’s another 120-minute (+) shuffle, but this time from a 113+ hour playlist. Note that even though this shuffle is dominated in places dominated by Duke and Benny Goodman, the variety of the other artists puts both Duke’s and Benny’s work into its proper historical perspective. (And yes, I selected the first song deliberately, not randomly. 😉 It’s a Swing set, after all. But everything after it was genuinely ‘shuffled’.)
“Shuffle” can beautifully offer this sort of historical perspective. “Shuffle” serves as a surrogate “radio” for me, 60 years after the era.

“Shuffle” has in fact helped me better appreciate the many different musicians, bandleaders, and singers of the pre-LP era. This same benefit applies to the Be-Bop era of the later 40’s, to the early 50’s, late 50’s, and even the early 60’s when ‘albums’ weren’t yet designed to be coherent entities but as opportunistic collections of musical material gauged as not quite good enough to be released as singles!

And an observation: this shuffle (and its ‘Classic era’ companion on this site) randomly omitted many other artists/combos in my collection. In fact, as I type on while readying this for posting, I’ve heard several major figures (like Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Andy Kirk, and Glenn Miller) that didn’t play until after the 120 (+) minute time-frame I’d arbitrarily set. But, the beauty, of course, is that they’re all in there, emerging from this computer’s hard drive not ‘on cue’ but unexpectedly and (usually) delightfully.


1. “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” – Duke Ellington & his Orchestra, Ivie Anderson – vocal, 1932
2. “Ramblin’ On My Mind” – Robert Johnson, 1937
3. “Concerto For Cootie” – Duke Ellington & his Orchestra, 1940
4. “It’s Up To You” – Stuff Smith & his Orchestra, Stella Brooks – vocal, 1940
5. “Dusk” – Duke Ellington & his Orchestra, 1940
6. “That’s What You Think” – Gene Krupa & his Orchestra, Anita O’Day – vocal, 1942
7. “The Madam Swings It” – Gene Krupa & his Orchestra, 1939
8. “All Over Nothing At All” – Ella Fitzgerald & her Savoy Eight, 1937
9. “Wrappin’ It Up” – Benny Goodman & his Orchestra, 1938
10. “When The Roses Bloom Again” – Benny Goodman & his Orchestra, Peggy Lee – vocal, 1942
11. “C & A Blues” – Big Bill Broonzy, 1935
12. “Snootie Little Cutie” – Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra, Frank Sinatra – vocal, 1942
13. “When Buddha Smiles” – Benny Goodman & his Orchestra, 1935
14. “Groovin’ High” – Benny Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian, 1941
15. “Karussell” – Willi Stech und sein Grosses Unterhaltungsorchester, 1943
16. “I Found The Thrill Again” – The Mills Brothers, 1936
17. “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed” – Louis Prima & his New Orleans Gang, 1936
18. “There’s No You” – Jo Stafford (vocal), Paul Weston & his Orchestra, 1945
19. “Shoot The Likker To Me, John Boy” – Artie Shaw & his Orchestra, Leo Watson – vocal, 1937
20. “Clothes Line Ballet” – Fats Waller, 1934
21. “Sweet and Slow” – The Mills Brothers, 1935
22. “Ghost of a Chance” – Mildred Bailey & her Orchestra, 1939
23. “It’s Up To You” – Gene Krupa Jazz Trio, 1946
24. “In A Little Spanish Town” – Miff Ferrie & his Ferrymen, 1944
25. “That Old Black Magic” – Ina Ray Hutton & her Orchestra, Stuart Foster – vocal, 1943
26. “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” – Chick Webb & his Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald – vocal, 1938
27. “Polka Dot Rag” – Noble Sissle & his Orchestra, 1934
28. “New Orleans” – The Casa Loma Orchestra, 1933
29. “Otto, Make That Riff Staccato” – Gene Krupa Jazz Trio, Carolyn Grey – vocal, 1946
30. “Steeple Chase” – The Ramblers, 1944
31. “Green Eyes” – Gene Krupa & his Orchestra, Anita O’Day & Howard Dulany – vocals, 1941
32. “In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree” – Claude Hopkins, 1934
33. “Blues Jazz” – The Casa Loma Orchestra, 1932
34. “Boog It” – Cab Calloway & his Orchestra, 1940
35. “Lover, Come Back To Me”, Billie Holliday, 1944
36. “Something New” – Count Basie & his Orchestra, 1941
37. “Blue Murder” – Danny Polo & his Swing Stars, 1937
38. “Avalon” – Benny Goodman & Friends in concert at Carnegie Hall, January 16th, 1938
39. “More Than You Know” – Billie Holliday, 1939
40. “Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar” – The Andrews Sisters, 1940
41. “Show Your Linen Miss Richardson” – Benny Goodman & his Orchestra, Johnny Mercer – vocal, 1939
42. “Night and Day” – Quintette du Hot Club de France (w/ Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grapelli), 1938
43. “Trust In Me” – Mildred Bailey & her Orchestra, 1937
44. “Georgia On My Mind” – Fats Waller, 1941
45. “Japanese Sandman” – Dicky Wells & his Orchestra (w/ Django Reinhardt), 1937
46. “Stormy Weather” – Duke Ellington & his Orchestra, Ivie Anderson – vocal, 1940
47. “Let Me Off Uptown” – Gene Krupa & his Orchestra, Anita O’Day & Roy Eldridge – vocals, 1941 (The first recorded “inter-racial” duet)
48. “Sunday” – Benny Carter & his Orchestra, 1941

This list isn’t here to promote the artists listed – well, okay, in part it is, but not primarily.
Nor is it here to demonstrate my taste in music, since most jazz aficionados will likely recognize that the lister has the indiscriminating tastes of a gourmand rather than refined tastes of a gourmet. That’s in part because I am a gourmand in my musical tastes, and also because I’m a novice appreciator of ‘Classic’ jazz and Swing. Which implies the real point of this list:
The music of the back-to-back first and second ‘eras’ (‘Classic’ jazz & blues, and Swing) of recorded popular music was performed by bands or artists with fairly consistent styles. Each commercially available song was limited by the 78rpm platform to a maximum of about 3 and a quarter minutes. If one listens to a compilation CD of these artists’ 78’s, one hears a very enjoyable but very consistent sound. After three or four plays the novelty fades.

The jazz of this era wasn’t meant to be played exactly the same every time – it was meant to be DIFFERENT every time! This doesn’t mean that the old 78’s were meant to be thrown out after a single airing. But consider that many if not most Swing Era jazz lovers had access to live music – in dance halls more commonly than in ‘concert halls’ – and that the records they consumed were in some ways advertisements for the bands that toured the nation.
Without a time machine, we of this century have no chance to experience the bands of that era “in concert” (apart from a few rarities like Benny Goodman’s seminal 1938 Carnegie Hall show, preserved now on CD). Consider next the limitations of the sound reproduction technology of first two eras of popular music on record. Then ask yourself if you’d rather hear compilation CDs of those artists “in order” forever – or if instead you’d love unpredictable, fresh sequences of those many outstanding artists’ surviving performances.

My interest in both ‘Classic’ jazz and Swing was minimal until I began to toy with the possibilities of using the ‘shuffle’ option to mix them into a ‘cocktail’ – producing a different taste every time, even though each cocktail shares the same roster of ingredients. My Classic jazz and Swing CD collection grew, in only a few brief months, from a pair of infrequently played novelties to several dozen multiple-disc box-sets and many other single discs.

The moral? “Shuffle” didn’t hurt my appreciation of the art of the 1920’s, 30’s, & 40’s – it stimulated it. Without the “Shuffle” option, I’d have likely remained largely ignorant of the glorious musical gems of these magnificent artists.

If others are applying the ‘Shuffle’ paradigm to other, inappropriate arts, well, that’s their problem. Shuffle isn’t the problem. No musical listening option can be ‘bad’ for music. Instead, if “popular culture is destroying art”, I suggest that television is the likeliest culprit.

(See: Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and Amusing Ourselves To Death)

March 4, 2007

A Classic Era Jazz & Blues shuffle – 1917-1931 (more or less)

Filed under: Radio Open Source Conversations — Nick @ 9:32 pm

Here’s a 120-minute shuffle from a 23-and-a-half hour playlist. NONE of these songs could ever have been envisaged as elements of ‘albums’, since albums didn’t exist until the advent of 33 1/3 turntables. Note the variety of performers in this 1/12th slice of my admittedly modest ‘Classic’ collection (and yes, it’s currently heavy on King Louis Satchmo & the supreme Duke E.: the 20th century American Mozart).

1. “Chimes Blues” – Louis Armstrong, 1923
2. “Some Of These Days I’ll Be Gone” – Charley Patton, date uncertain
3. “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” – Louis Armstrong, 1931
4. “Hit Me In The Nose Blues” – Ozie Ware & The Whoopie Makers (with Duke Ellington), 1929
5. “St. Louis Blues” – Warren Mills & His Blues Serenaders, 1929
6. “Muskrat Ramble” – Louis Armstrong, 1926
7. “Mean Old Bedbug Blues” – Bessie Smith, 1927
8. “Misty Mornin’” – Duke Ellington & his Orchestra, 1928
9. “The Blues I Love To Sing” – Duke Ellington & his Orchestra, Adelaide Hall – vocal, 1927
10. “Just an Hour of Love” – Benny Meroff & his Orchestra (with Bix Beiderbecke), 1927
11. “There’s A Cradle In Caroline” – The Broadway Bellhops (with Bix Beiderbecke), 1927
12. “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” – Louis Armstrong, 1927
13. “Tiger Rag” (1) – The Mills Brothers, 1931
14. “Auburn Ave. Stomp” – J. Neal Montgomery, 1929
15. “King Porter Stomp” – Jelly Roll Morton, 1926
16. “Move Over” – Duke Ellington & his Orchestra, 1928
17. “Humpty Dumpty” – Frankie Trumbauer & his Orchestra, 1927
18. “Casa Loma Stomp” – The Casa Loma Orchestra, 1930
19. “Double Check Stomp” – Duke Ellington & his Cotton Club Orchestra, 1930
20. “Sail On Little Girl” – Leadbelly, date uncertain
21. “Doin’ The Frog” – Duke Ellington & his Cotton Club Orchestra, 1928
22. “How Come You Like Me Like You Do?” – Florence Bristol, 1924
23. “Morning Sun Blues” – Mary Johnson, date uncertain
24. “Prayer of Death” (Part 2) – Charley Patton, date uncertain
25. “Pick a Bale o’ Cotton” – Leadbelly, date uncertain
26. “Things About Comin’ My Way” – Mississippi Sheiks, date uncertain, but no later than 1931
27. “Lazy River” – Hoagy Carmichael & his Orchestra, 1930
28. “Swamp Blues” – Fletcher Henderson & his Orchestra, 1927
29. “Song of Dawn” – Jack Hart & His Band, 1930
30. “When the Levee Breaks” – Memphis Minnie, 1929
31. “You Rascal You” – The Mills Brothers, 1931
32. “Blues of the Vagabond” – The Harlem Footwarmers (Duke and his lads by another name), 1929
33. “Sugar Foot Stomp” – Devonshire Restaurant Dance Band, 1927
34. “Come On Boys Let’s Do That Messin’ Round” – Blind Blake, date uncertain
35. “Dry Bone Shuffle” – Blind Blake, date uncertain
36. “Bessie Couldn’t Help It” – Billy Cotton & his Band, 1930
37. “The Blues With A Feeling” – Duke Ellington & his Orchestra, 1928
38. “Leaving Blues” – Leadbelly, date uncertain
39. “I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle” – Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, & Fletcher Henderson, 1925
40. “Black And Tan Fantasy” – Mills’ Ten Blackberries (another Ellington guise), 1930
41. “Grandma’s Farm” – Big Bill Broonzy, 1930
42. “Pail In My Hand” – Edna Wilson, 1926

February 26, 2007

Opinion, Judgmentalism, and Suffering

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nick @ 9:58 pm

1. Lumiere, I’m afraid I don’t quite grasp the first part of your 8:50 PM, Feb. 24th. I do get the second part though: allow me to assure you that I’m not advocating the abandonment of opinion. I’m saying, in fact, that opinion is the dominant form of human understanding, and that ‘objective truth’, if it is even a possibility, is very, very rare. Yet we all too often present our opinions and our wishes (‘belief’ descends from the Anglo-Saxon ‘to wish’) as ‘facts’ – as ‘truths’.
I’ve posted a longer response (which I felt too tangential for posting into this thread) here. Any and all are invited to read it and comment.

Also, you wrote: “one begins with an opinion and through confrontation gains insight” – and I think that’s one avenue toward larger personal knowledge and insight. It doesn’t have to be the ONLY avenue, however. I see now this morning (PST) that you’ve indicated to Allison that you view social interaction as a series of confrontations.
My immediate response (not fully thought out) is that confrontation can be one manner of social interaction, but so can cooperation – even between strangers. I’m quite eager to read Allison’s response to you.

2. Next, Lumiere wrote: “Is being judgmental evil?”
Depends on your morality: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” – Matthew 7:1
You’d think that would shame ‘good Christians’ like Falwell, Robertson, etc., away from their moralistic judgmentalism, wouldn’t ya?

Here’s some pure Nikosian opinion:
Matt 7:1 is my favorite (of a very short list) of Bible quotes. It’s wise, I think, as a variant of “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t accept for yourself.” Judging others (even though we all do it at least a little) doesn’t strike me as a profitable use of mental energy, let alone preferable. At the very least it’s ethically questionable, especially since not only is our judgment itself an exercise in subjectivity, but, and worse, we can’t objectively know the subjective experiences of those we are judging. We might not only be self-righteously mean in our judgments, but our pre-judgment assessment of their existence might be so ignorant that our judgment is flat-out wrong.

I have earlier implied that I’ve first hand experience of having been judged by Christian moralizers. Here’s a bit more detail: my family moved to a working class ‘burb of Detroit heavily settled by Southern Baptists. As a fifteen-year-old just entering the workforce, I had few options, and most of those options were owned, operated, or managed by other residents—notably Baptists—of the neighborhood. Lumiere, you wrote,
“Anyone who lives a neighborhood knows it is always open season on societally-sanctioned moralizing. Hey, I moralize them right back – there is nothing they can do about it – my moralizing is bigger and better than theirs!”

This sounds playful even and fun, but it might not apply to shy teens dealing with very self-righteous adults who hold economic power over you. Not every neighborhood is the same. Not every experience of being judged by the self-appointed neighborhood morality-police is as casual and harmless as yours.

But wait: I’m not asking for or expecting pity. I learned a great deal from the experiences, not least of which was that the Baptists out to covert me were dead wrong about my ‘being miserable without Jesus’. Despite the bosses’ pressure, the peer pressure from coworkers, and the steadily growing social scorn, I knew, even as fifteen-year-old ignoramus and naif, that their Holy Jesus would effectively straightjacket my curious mind. The misery would have come after my surrender of credulity to their beloved mythology.
Besides, I’ve no lasting scars. And I earned a perspective on the real-world effects of religious conceits rather different from the reflexive respect most people afford those conceits. I’ll return to that shortly.

3. First, though, I’ve been thinking about the word ‘suffering’. Like the feel of sunlight-on-skin I wrote about off-site (linked above in this post), suffering is subjective, not objective. But also just like the all the common human sensory experiences, like the feel of sunlight-on-skin, suffering is not hard to detect by observers. Simple human sensibilities can usually detect suffering in others. We all know it, just as we all know the feel of sunshine.
Less readily detected however, might be the chain of influences causing the suffering. In the case of the Nazis and the Holocaust, the causal chain is easy to finger: beliefs we largely call ‘anti-Semitsm’ and the myth of ‘Aryan racial’ superiority, which classed the Jews and Slavs as ‘untermenschen’. This set of influences is easy for us to deem ‘evil’.

But had the Germans won WWII, would the very same massive atrocities be judged ‘evil’ by the subsequently victorious lords of Europe? Hardly. “Untermenschen”, I suspect, would be an enduring and ‘valid’ concept—self-evidently ‘true’ according to Nazi conceptualizations of the world. And no Jews (or Russians, who Hitler intended to starve to extinction after herding them all into a massive concentration area surrounding Moscow) would have survived to test the ‘truth’ of the concepts.
All that Nazi-caused suffering? Meaningless. Ignored, censored out of history, or simply forgotten.

My point, I think, is that for humans to ignore or repress the simple sensibilities that can usually and so easily detect suffering – which is a necessary precondition for the workings of empathy or compassion – something has to occur that alters the natural linkage of intellect and emotion. I strongly suspect that ‘something’ is the acceptance of beliefs—in particular, beliefs that the world we perceive tangibly—empathetically, concretely through our senses alone—is incomplete, and that ‘greater truths’ lie just out of sight.
How do we access those ‘greater truths’? Well, by the One True Way, of course! Be it ancient myth surviving as contemporary religion, or Nazi-like racial fantasias. Or by siding with the ‘good’ against Manichean ‘evil’. (Think about Bush and his comic-book ‘Axis of Evil’.)

Here’s another case: a sixteen-year-old mother—out of wedlock—and cast out of her parent’s home. Or a girl or boy with HIV.
Suffering? Probably—wouldn’t we anticipate it?
Assuming that these children are suffering, what’s the causal chain that helped to create the suffering? We’d have to inquire, case by case—it’s not as obvious as the Holocaust, right? Yet this sort of suffering is utterly commonplace in today’s world, but instead of being a horrific, deliberate scheme by believers of scientifically baseless ‘racial superiority’, it’s a result of millions of simple biological realities, and of accidents…and yet of beliefs, again, too.
Right now in this country, teens are bearing babies, or contracting HIV, not because of ‘evil’ but because of a large politically powerful fraction of the voting citizenry who believe – in contravention of the available scientific evidence – that newly fertilized zygotes are ‘sentient’. That they have, presumably borne on the tiny sperm that penetrated the gigantic ova, a scientifically unverifiable supernatural entity called a ‘soul’.
The suffering of these young mothers shares with the suffering of the young HIV victims another pervasive cause: a reluctance to fund, or sanction, let alone maturely discuss, sex education.
Belief in God, in the Bible, in the Qu’ran, in morality, in evil, and even in the fantastical idea that HIV only happens to those who ‘deserve it’.
In two words: religious fundamentalism.

As concerned citizens of our nations, or, and better, as concerned and compassionate denizens of our world, do we have a duty or responsibility to work against the spread of suffering?
Maybe not. Maybe it’s a subjective judgment call. I don’t know.

I do know that I feel a duty to contribute my own little pittance against the spread of suffering. I’ve had my share of lows and low blows, but on the whole an ordinary, comfortable American life, and right now have the time (a little) to write about the meta-issues – like beliefs – that I suspect to be the actual originators of so much of the world’s suffering.

My argument against religious fundamentalism is simply this: “Your God is the One True Way? Fine, then prove it. Empirically. Otherwise stay the hell out of the public policy debate. Your children and grandchildren will thank you. And so will we non-believers.”

If, as science consistently suggests, sexual activity is normal, healthy, and inevitable, why should we allow moralistic opinions descended from the unverifiable supernatural to argue otherwise? Why do we award equal voice to the unverifable supernatural and to painstakingly verified science alike?

If I’m right that beliefs are straightjackets that impede free thought, and that conspire to cripple empathy as well, and thereby comprise most of the root causes of what we commonly deem ‘needless human suffering’, then calling those beliefs into question shouldn’t be the scandalous taboo it currently is. Instead, it seems to me to be the only decent, responsible thing to do.

November 13, 2006

Anyone can post in this thread

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nick @ 5:49 am

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