Friday, May 27, 2011

us & them

I really hate and despise them with an undying passion.

They stole our _______!

At the Battle of _______ in the _______ Century, they used unfair tactics to defeat us. We can't rest until we get revenge, by fighting fairly, of course.

Their religion is absurd and offensive. Did you know they actually believe __________? And they won't be happy until EVERYBODY believes it!

It's not "politically correct" to say so, but science has proven them to be _______. And they smell weird.

They live like animals. Children, education, and the future don't mean anything to them because they live only for __________.

Their music is crude and primitive, and encourages people to _______.

Can you believe they eat _______? Think about that — they actually put _______ in their mouths.

They want to have sexual intercourse with our women.

There are so many of them because all they do is _______! If we're not careful we'll be submerged beneath a flood of ________!

If there's anything worse than a _________, it's a _________-lover. Those who sympathize with them are, knowingly or unknowingly, helping them, and are on THEIR side.

Yes, there are a few good _________s. But better safe than sorry.

Okay, so, we killed ________ of them. but it was in self-defense. Violence is the only language they understand.

We may seem prejudiced, but only because the media is obviously pro-_______.

They're the reason we're so unhappy. If it wasn't for them, we might be have the time and inclination to confront and deal with our own character defects. And I have no idea what you mean by "projection."

This is a re-working of something I found while randomly surfing the net some time ago. I'd credit the source, but I can't recall where I got it.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

body & soul

Ken Wiley, the host of our excellent weekly jazz history program on KPLU Public Radio ("The Art of Jazz," Sundays from 3 - 6 p.m.), calls this exercise "chasing a song."

"Body and Soul" was an immediate hit from its first appearance over America's radio airwaves in 1930. The melody by Johnny Green, spooky and ominous with its prominent minor chords, and the lyrics by a committee (Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton) are an over-the-top lament of a crushed heart, dousing listeners in a bath of bathos. Then as now, America loved a sentimental tear-jerker.

When played well the song is affecting, however, mainly because of its inventive and unusual melody. Its popularity insured that it would be covered by top vocalists and jazz artists, and it was recognized as a standard by 1950. The many versions of this classic give us an opportunity to "chase" it at length, and to compare and contrast the styles and approaches of many famous singers and instrumentalists.

One of the earliest recorded versions (1930), by the gorgeous and talented Ruth Etting, gives us the full vocal treatment of the piece, and includes the only appearance of the song's lyrical introduction I've ever heard.

The month after Etting's record, Okeh released Louis Armstrong's orchestrated rendition, which combines vocal and instrumental virtuosity in one of Satch's greatest sides. Of particular note is Armstrong's beautiful muted trumpet improvisation over the melody, laid down by the sax section, with which the song opens.

Django Reinhardt's version, recorded in France in the mid-30's, is strictly instrumental, and features the legendary guitarist playing what is undoubtedly one of his greatest solos ever, accompanied by his long-time partner, the great Stephan Grappelly. This song is one of the reasons Reinhardt's reputation continues to grow year by year, right down to the present.

One of the most famous recordings of the song was made by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins for the Bluebird label in 1939. Fronting an orchestra as Armstrong did, Hawkins uses the same approach as Reinhardt's, dispensing with the lyrics and improvising freely on the melody, but always with close attention to the song's chord structure. Hawkins's version was a big hit, unusual for a modernistic improvised jazz solo, and has remained immensely popular with jazz musicians over the decades. It was enshrined by its inclusion in the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry in 2004.

There are numerous other well-regarded versions of "Body and Soul" as well, most notably one by Ella Fitzgerald recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957, but I'll leave it to the reader to track them down and continue chasing this tune, as each is so inclined.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

low crimes

Since today's post deals with socio-politico matters, you'll find it at Catboxx under the title JAUCA.

These are momentous times we're living in, and the gravity of what goes on in the world today is discernible in both the large and the small acts of the principle players.


Monday, May 16, 2011


My friend Rich is an inspiration. His name is also descriptive, and though not wealthy he leads a rich life, working, tinkering (his most recent project is a restored Model-A), socializing, and mostly spending a lot of time with his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Depression, idleness, and moping are not in his nature.

His medical history has been a rough road full of potholes. Ten years ago he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had the diseased organ surgically removed in a standard procedure which, though common, is a terrifying bloodbath. Today he's cancer-free, but after the operation began showing symptoms of both diabetes and Parkinson's Disease, and today lives with both.

A few months ago he read in a magazine about a contraption that "fools the brain" of Parkinson's sufferers, and can cause the tremors associated with the disease to temporarily stop. Being the practical, hands-on kind of guy he is, Rich built one using just the description in the article to guide him.

Piece of cake.

He brought it into our morning yoga class today so we could try it out, a simple three-sided box, open at both ends, with a mirror mounted on one side. "Stick your right hand inside the box" he says to me. "Now lay your left hand on the table and look at it in the mirror."

I did, and my trembling right hand went slack inside the box. The muscles of the right forearm began to relax and in a few seconds were completely at rest. Apparently what happens is the brain "sees" the mirror image of the left hand as the right while the "real" right hand is invisible. Because the eyes and brain perceive the illusory hand at rest rather than shaking, the brain responds by making manifest what it sees as reality. There are some profound philosophical insights in that last clause.

"We are what we think." So opens the Dhammapada, purported to be the actual sayings of Gotama, the Buddha. "All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world."

An interesting detail of this little experiment is that the box can only short-circuit the brain if it is to one side or the other of the person using it. The mirror trick works because the thumb in the mirror image of the left hand appears to be pointing left when the palm is down, while the thumb on the "real," invisible right hand is pointing left. Also, the fingers appear in reverse order. If the mirror is in front of you, the mirror image doesn't reverse; the left hand is still on the left, with its thumb pointing toward the right.

The human brain is an inconceivably complex and mysterious organ, and the human mind a strange and frightening place. We should never go there alone.

Pencil drawing by M.C. Escher; German, 1930's.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

love and death

Impotence -- the kind originating in physical rather than psychological causes -- is one of the earliest harbingers of death, and generally precedes the final dissolution of a human male into his constituent elements by about 20 years. Since organisms don't require sexual potency to survive, it's one of the first functions cast aside by a dying body.

The physical consequences of impotence, other than the absence of an ability to participate in an act that's usually enjoyable, are negigible, but the psychological consequences are enormous. Only after he has become impotent does the aging male realize how much of his human identity is tied up in and inseparable from his sexuality.

Lately, I've begun to wonder why humans have evolved sexually precisely in the manner that we have. Most species of mammals are ready to mate for a few days every six months or so, but well-adjusted humans in their prime are ready to boogie 24/7. Also, most mammals don't have prominently visible genitals; females have vulvas which only swell to easy visibility (and access) when they're in season, and the males of most species demurely conceal their penises in sheaths most of the time. But human genitals, especially the male's, are quite prominent, and, when the desires supplied by nature have evaporated, unattractive. The genitals of a naked man look like something the designer added on as an afterthought, are disharmonious with the rest of the body's structure, and seem not to belong.

Or maybe my criticism of the creator is just sour grapes of the "life sucks" variety, who knows?


Friday, May 13, 2011

fearful places

A couple days ago I fell into a conversation about the growth of ethnic studies programs in high school and college curricula, and found most of the people participating motivated mainly by fear and anger. They seemed threatened by the existence of these courses, and zeroed in on boogeymen -- mainly Ward Churchill -- associated with them, although I don't know why they feel this way.

The history of race and ethnic relations in the U.S. is, like any other history, based on documents: letters, diaries, wills and other legal records, books written by the people under study, phonograph records, movies, etc. There may be lies in the documents, but the documents themselves never lie (unless they've been altered -- a whole other topic).

A case in point is the 1929 motion picture "On With the Show," billed as the first all-talking musical review in color (although all color prints have been unfortunately lost). The film itself is mediocre, a variety show whose acts are held together by a flimsy and unnecessary plot, but one scene in it might provide a trove of potential topics for an ethnic history class.

I don't think I've posted this link before -- Ethel Waters singing "Am I Blue" in the above-cited film. In addition to her inspired chirping, the specifics of the director's presentation of this dignified African-American songbird are most interesting. However, as always, I'll leave it to the students to draw conclusions, or not as the case may be, and limit myself to retrieving and presenting the documents.

Note: I would have posted this sooner, but Blogger was down for about 24 hours. That's OK, though, since unlike in the old days, time doesn't mean that much to me.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the old victrola

I think I need to look for a bigger place so I can have enough room for a victrola. It's not just lack of space that's kept me from getting a hand-crank phonograph, but also the knowledge that as soon as I get one I'll start haunting the record bins at the Salvation Army and antique stores looking for records.

There's a lot of stuff out there that you can only get on old 78's, and there's no other kind. They don't make 'em any more.

The treasures are rare, but are worth the hunt, and pop up in the most surprising places. Listen, for example, to this German-label gem from the twenties, The Peanut Vendor (Der Erdnußverkäufer), played by John Brigs und sein Jazzensemble, and flawless in its straightforward, simple love of beauty. I wonder how many known copies of this baby there are.


Sunday, May 08, 2011


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
--Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

Playing himself in his 2007 novel Diary of a Bad Year, J.M. Coetzee wrote: "I have no desire to associate myself with the people behind the Intelligent Design movement. Nevertheless, I continue to find evolution by random mutation and natural selection not just unconvincing but preposterous as an account of how complex organisms come into being. As long as there is not one of us who has the faintest idea of how to go about constructing a housefly from scratch, how can we disparage as intellectually naïve the conclusion that the housefly was put together by an intelligence of a higher order than our own?...

"It does not seem to me philosophically retrograde to attribute intelligence to the universe as a whole, rather than just a subset of mammals on planet Earth. An intelligent universe evolves purposively over time, even if the purpose in question may for ever be beyond the range of our idea of what might constitute a purpose.

"Insofar as one might want to go further and distinguish a universal intelligence from the universe as a whole -- a step I see no reason to take -- one might want to give that intelligence the handy monosyllabic name God. But even if one were to take that step, one would still be very far from positing -- and embracing -- a God who demanded to be believed in, a God who had any interest in our thoughts about it ("him"), or a God who rewarded good deeds and punished evildoers.

"People who claim that behind every feature of every organism lies a history of random selection from mutation should try to answer the following question: Why is it that the intellectual apparatus that has evolved for human beings seem to be incapable of comprehending in any degree of detail its own complexity?...I cannot see what evolutionary advantage this combination gives us -- the combination of insufficiency of intellectual grasp together with the consciousness that the grasp is insufficient."

Noam Chomsky explored a related topic in the introductory paragraphs of his 2003 political study, Hegemony or Survival? Referring to the work of contemporary biologist Ernst Mayr, Chomsky wrote that "Mayr estimated the number of species since the origin of life at about fifty billion, only one of which 'achieved the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilization.' It did so recently, perhaps 100,000 years ago...

"Mayr speculated that the human form of intellectual organization may not be favored by selection...beetles and bacteria, for example, are vastly more successful than humans in terms of survival.

"We are entering a period of human history that may provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than stupid. The most hopeful prospect is that the question will not be answered: if it receives a definite answer, that answer can only be that humans were a kind of "biological error," using their allotted 100,000 years to destroy themselves and, in the process, much else."

Happy Mothers' Day!


Friday, May 06, 2011

tweet counter tweet

May 5, 2011 -- 8:06PM, JohnQ wrote:

"Some have given former Pres Bush a lot of credit for the demise of UBL/OBL. Some have given him little to no credit.

Is he receiving enough credit or too much credit?"

A day later catboxer replied:

In my opinion, he's getting precisely the right amount.

Another chelloveck quoted a pretty good item from some bircher wrag which read:

Conservative economists, commentators, and politicians are blasting a draft Obama administration plan that envisions using Big Brother-like tracking devices on private cars to tax drivers on how many miles they travel.

The new tax scheme, designed to help fund transportation spending, would determine your mileage by installing electronic equipment on your car. This would involve monitoring your location and how far you’ve traveled.

And the inevitable reply:

What I'd like to know is why they're going through all this song and dance with tracking devices and electronic monitoring and whatnot, when they could achieve the exact same results by just raising the gas tax.

Plus if they did that they wouldn't have the expense of setting up this whole hypercomplex mileage gestapo. It would yield enough revenue to build trains with, and gas would be more expensive so people would drive less.

Well I could drive my kar or hop on a bus,

But if I catch the train I know I'll get there, and I must

Get to Sequim, West Kansas, Sequim, West Kansas here I come

They got some paranoid-critical women there, etc.

OK one more.

May 6, 2011 -- 12:05PM, KindredSai wrote:

I'm all for the US and UK ploughing money into Pakistan in terms of health services and education because it will reduce extremism.

And then the inevitable platitude issues from the catboxx (but it's a true one which makes it OK):

Now you're talkin.

Kind of like the old slogan "Make love, not war" in action. Works better than dropping cluster bombs on em and costs less too.

See that, Bob? We had er right the first time.

Painting by Salvador Dali: The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011


I was wondering in an idle moment, of which I have an abundance, what the total effect of substituting beans for meat would be. I don't mean just for me, but for everybody everywhere, all the time.

Vegetarians frequently cite their desire to be kind to animals by not eating them as the primary motive for their dietary restrictions. But there's a more practical reason to eliminate meat, or, at the very least, pork and beef, from the menu. The Scientific American reports that "according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), our diets and, specifically, the meat in them cause more greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and the like to spew into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry." What we're looking at is warming due to deforestation to open up grazing land and the heat produced by fecal contamination, not to mention the price paid in transporting millions of animals and industrially processing them into meat.

The world's billions of cattle also belch and fart constantly and prodigiously, releasing enormous amounts of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So the price of that hamburger is higher than you thought.

But wait! There's more! There's also cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Now how much would you pay? By substituting pinto beans for steak at dinner time, you'll eliminate an unhealthful dose of cholesterol from your diet and simultaneously add a significant helping of fiber. Some researchers, such as Mark Brick of Colorado State University, actually suspect that certain varieties of beans might contain ingredients that actually help prevent cancer and diabetes.

This becomes a political issue when you think about the possible savings in our enormous annual expenditure on medical care, which most experts agree is the single most critical element driving the ballooning national deficit.

Considering all this, here's tonight's menu. For one person, steam 1/2 a cup of brown rice. In another pot, boil 1/2 a cup of washed pinto beans. The rice takes about half an hour, the beans two hours. During the last 20 minutes of cooking, add six to eight ounces of fresh organic spinach to the beans. Then as you're eating it, consider all the implications of such a diet if 95 percent of the people on earth followed it all the time.

And one more thing -- if and when you do eat meat, keep in mind that chicken husbandry produces about 1/13 the environmental impact of an equivalent amount of pork or cattle raising.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

count it off

In 1623 Galileo declared that "Mathematics is the language of the universe," and he might have added, echoing the words of Pythagoras who preceded him by 2,000 years, that mathematics is also the music of the spheres. For music, with all of its emotions and passion, is based on the same kind of mathematical, clockwork-like relationships that govern the movements of the celestial bodies.

A musical note is a vibration, producing a measurable and predictable number of waves per second, and it's always the same number whether that note is plucked on a string or blown through a horn. If you shorten the string by half or reduce the empty space in the horn's chamber by the same amount, you'll produce the same note exactly one octave higher. Double the string's length and you get the same note an octave lower. The relationships among the notes get more complex from there, for example, if you shorten the string by one-third, you'll produce the fifth note in the eight-note scale determined by the original note. But no matter how complicated they are, the relationships between and among notes, including harmonies, are all by the numbers.

Some music is arhythmical, and marrying rhythms with tones combines two independent sets of mathematical relationships into an interdependent whole. Rhythm, after all, is just the musical counting of time, and the pulse which gives rise to the dance. Rhythms can be as simple as counting to two, or disarmingly complex even though natural-sounding. Have some fun here, seeing if you can discern the time signature of the Afghan National Dance.

Speaking of dance calls up another separate but related universe of mathematical relationships, one which translates numbers into muscular movements and numerically-expressed postures.

To paraphrase Gottfried Leibniz, melody, rhythm, and dance are "pleasures the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting."

This topic was derived from a random blog topic generator.

Photos: top left -- Wild Bill Davison (left) and Tony Parenti at Jimmy Ryan's Club, New York, 1946. Bottom right -- rembetika singer and dancer Marika Papagika, New York, early 1920's.


Sunday, May 01, 2011

hmm...vapour trails

As we labour away in our chosen fields of endeavour, the colours of others' intentions are not always clear. However, close inspection reveals the presence of vapour trails, as it were, left as residue of their pasts.

Cat Filosofico