04 December 2006

In Your Hands

Posted by at 2:50 PM
A young man caught a small bird, and held it behind his back. He then asked, "Master, is the bird I hold in my hands alive or dead." The boy thought this was a grand opportunity to play a trick on the old man. If the master answered "dead", it would be let loose into the air. If the master answered "alive", he would simply wring its neck. The master spoke, "The answer is in your hands".

02 December 2006

friggin' bastages! . . .

Posted by at 8:35 AM
To anyone who has ever damaged a parked vehicle inadvertently and then just drove away from the scene so to avoid their responsibility . . .

Shame on you!

That is all for now . . .

11 November 2006

give a hoot . . .

Posted by at 12:31 AM

I am very pleased with the outcome of the election. The system corrects itself just as the founding fathers designed it to
and intended it to
(lest we rend it in two).

A bone to pick, though:
As I drive around in my day, I see that no one has taken the responsibility or the trouble to take down all the placards and signs and banners still festooning the streets.

If you put up signs, go take them down. I mean, wasn't that you just a week ago ranting about personal responsibility and ethical conduct?
(and don't forget to recycle)



02 November 2006

01 November 2006

barefoot servants too . . . (a polaroid)

Posted by at 3:56 PM
I was interrupted by a door-to-door Gospel missionary earlier today, very clean cut and smiling. I somehow guessed that his ancestry was Filipino, I don't know why. Being kind of allergic to missionaries, I would have just dismissed him; I tried:
- "Hello; (big grin, not fake) I left a pamphlet on your door some time ago, did you get it?"

- "Whatever pamphlet on the door you left surely wound up in the recycle bin, I'm afraid. What was it?"
He opened a worn brown leather bag and pulled out what I immediately recognized as an issue of "The Watchtower".
- "Oh, so that's what you are selling! You are a Jehova's Witness."

- "Yes, and I noticed the question on your door. It happens to be the same question we are asking in our publication. Here."
I turned and looked at the pixelated printout of the political cartoon which I had taped to my front door a year ago. It is a complete list of the names of the 2,000 young Americans which up until that point we'd sacrificed in the name of the current occupation of Iraq (the number is 3,000 now - not to mention the civilian loss over there - G-sh help us). This conglomerate of tiny names is drawn crammed together tightly and arrayed so as to form one big sentence: "WHY?" I looked down at the cover of the magazine he offered me and he was right. Under a drawing depicting a stylized end of the world scene, somehow simultaneously apocalyptic and cheerful (the dichotomy is fascinating), was written the word "WHY?" in big bold yellow letters.
- "Yes, I see. Hmm..." (pause) "Are you suggesting that the war in Iraq is the apocalypse?" I brushed away the magazine, "save it for someone else, please. I'd only throw it in the recycle bin as soon as you leave; I promise you."

- He laughed, "but, have you considered why these things are happening?", and neatly returned the pamphlet to his bag.

- "Yeah - because we gave the keys to the government to some self-indulgent rich spoiled frat boys."

- "Well, have you ever read the Bible?"

- "Yes, I have. In fact, I have fourteen different translations of it. Listen, can I help you? I don't have a lot of time and I really have no interest in either your magazine or your church. Why do you even do this, anyway? You don't even know it's intrusive, do you?"

- "Well," and here he opened his Bible and quickly found a page, "I do it because Jesus commanded us in Matthew 24 to make disciples of all nations."
He raised the book up to me and pointed to the text, something he need not have done, as the passage in question was already highlighted and underlined.
- "Ah, I see. . . and. . . . who wrote this?"

- "Matthew."

- "Who's Matthew?"

- "Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples."

- "And he wrote this?"

- "Yes."

- "You're sure?"

- "Yes."

- "How do you know that?"
Here, he searched some appendix in the back pages of his Bible, hoping to find whatever rote response was appropriate at this point.
Finding none, he tried another tack.
- "Matthew 9:9", he said, vaguely remembering some favorite recent sermon, and flipped back some pages in his bible.

- "What about it? Is that verse gonna show me who wrote this book?"

- "Yes."

- "Ok, hold on; I'm gonna go get a Bible. Come inside for a moment."

- "Thank you."
While he waited in the living room, I went into my room, grabbed a couple of volumes from the top shelf of my history of Christianity collection and returned with an RSV translation and my three-columned synopsis.
- ". . . let's see ... Matthew . . . . 9 ...9; here it is. (pause) . . . okay . . . all this says is that Mathew, in the gospel that bears his name, was counted among the "chosen twelve", this doesn't tell me anything about who wrote the book itself. See . . . what I find astounding is not just the mission, but the certitude involved . . . . you readily accept that the guy who wrote this was one the guys that was closest to Jesus, but you can't tell me how you know that. If the author was such an intimate of Jesus, I ask two questions right off: (1)First . . . Why does he copy the words of the book of Mark (who is supposed, just as vaguely, to have been a companion of Peter in Rome)? Think about it, Mark wasn't there, right?, but Matthew supposedly was, yet Matthew chooses to copy Mark virtually verbatim, almost in its entirety (a fact made even more perplexing by Mark's deficiencies in the written Greek language - to choose to quote crude Greek seems doubly suspect). He embedded Mark's text in his own pentaform gospel like a wire underframe . . . do you even know about Markan priority? . . . and (2)second, why doesn't he explicitly state within the text itself that he is the author of this book? Wouldn't such a priviledged position among the twelve lend authority to its tenets and demands? Listen, kid, I could tell you about Iraneus of Lyons and about his quoting of Papias of Hierapolis, or I could tell you about Eusebius' opinion of Papias' abilities (he called him an idiot, pretty much), or I could tell you about the whole background history of the scholarship done on the origins of these texts . . . but you'd probably still keep quoting verses, wouldn't you?

- "How about this verse in second Peter, 'For the Lord . . . '".

- "See? Do you know who wrote that book?"

- "Peter."

- "Really? ... Suppose I told you that that book in all probability was not even written until about the middle of the second century. Jerome knew that its authorship was in doubt way back in 381 (and not the only book of questionable provenannce). Go read about it if you don't believe me. He talks about the differing opinions regarding the origins of these epistles without admonishing those who held these doubts. This is evidence that even as early as that late patristic age, there was no certainty as to the authorship of the books contained in the New Testament. We simply don't know who or where they come from, having only tenuous threads of vouched-for tradition. Yet, here we are in 2006, and you are more certain than even Jerome was about such things. It boggles the mind. (pause) But let's not digress. Can you tell who wrote Matthew and how we know he did? I have to get back to work."

- "Look at this verse in 2 Peter."

- "You haven't heard a single word I've said, have you?" I laugh; "Listen, why do you do this, anyway? What business is it of yours what I or anyone else believes?"

- "I do it because I love my neighbor."

- "You love me. . . . hmm . . . . and you want to do . . . exactly . . . what for me? Fix my thinking? Do you see how breathtakingly (and delusionally, I might add) arrogant that is to some of us that you are trying to evangelize? (pause)
Look . . . can I help you somehow?
Think about it, you are not going to suddenly instill the kind of fixation or the kind of reverence for the Bible that you have into me, and you're not going to suddenly make me profess adherence to yours or any other sect. So . . . that being the case, is there anything else I can do for you this afternoon?"

- "Can I come back sometime?"

- "Are you kidding? Is it some kind of self-imposed martyrdom of some kind? (laughs) Don't answer that, kid, it's rhetorical." I show him out, "Next time, I won't take it so easy on you."

After he left, I got back to work on what I was doing before the doorbell rang, i.e. making a leadsheet for tomorrow's morning session. ( * see below) Tonight, I will put up an accompanying sign underneath the WHY? poster on my front door. It will read:

"Irony of the day
Why ...Yes!!! , I'd love to hear why your religion is preferable to mine."

anyway, here's that chart. . .

. . .. to be played tomorrow morning with Ted, Rob, and Joe.

27 September 2006

Madeleine Albright @ Changing Hands

Posted by at 1:02 PM
Madeleine Albright

The former U.S. Secretary of State will discuss and sign her latest book, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs.

Sat., Oct. 7, 2-4 p.m.
Changing Hands Bookstore
6428 S. McClintock Dr.

480-730-0205 for more info

24 August 2006

Posted by at 10:02 AM

Road Song - Sedona 20 Aug 06

Drove 400 miles with my friend Frank. When the sun goes down in Sedona, there's nowhere else you wanna be standing. It's so pretty I can dig why Frank and James dig it so much.


05 August 2006

Posted by at 12:42 AM

Juana y Toño in the 1930s
(my grandparents on my dad's side)

22 July 2006

tiny miracles

Posted by at 3:06 AM

I flew to New York once because I heard that the innocence mission was doing a show there. Their shows are so rare, and I am such an admirer, that such a trip is not as bizarre as it might at first seem to the uninitiated reader; it made sense in my brain, anyway. Besides, I had previously lived in the Bronx, for a decade, actually, and have friends and family still there, so the pilgrimage was kind of a-long-time-coming anyway. - Just the timing was perfect now, y'know? A relative had also just passed away and I wanted very much to pay my respects to familial histories

So I went.

On the second day I was there (Monday), I found the small nightclub where the show would be, The Fez. I went inside and was quickly told that they show was in fact sold out. "Sold out!!?" I tried to explain that I had flown all the way from Phoenix to come to their club. "Isn't there any way?," I asked an unsympathetic manager. "I'm afraid not, sir," she said as dryly as a creaking hinge on a closing gate. I stared at her incredulously for a moment. In my mind, I ran the gamut between hating her cavalier attitude and then forgiving her for not giving a shit (this was New York after all). Oh, the irony! To fly all the way to New York City for a show which turns out to be sold out! Ha! You gotta love the poetry of life, so after laughing at my impending lame luck for a bit, I decide there and then to have a swell time in the city after all, despite this unexpected change of plan like a born-again quasi-buddhist. I love New York. I walked through Central Park the next day. Went to the museum of art. Met up with my old high school sweetheart for lunch down on Wall St. She works as a lawyer down there. She recognized me instantly, and I her. She took me up to her office on the bazzillionth floor of some iconic skyscraper, the same office where she was sitting when she heard the first plane crash into the twin towers about a block and a half away, back in 2001. I visited with her for awhile. I learned that she was six months pregnant at the time. Her near-ground-zero description of that day was surprisingly serene: After the explosion, everyone calmly made their way outside and walked away across the bridge where she then was picked up by a motorist who just happenned to be going to the town where she lives just a little more upstate. She was home within a couple of hours after the event, safe and unscathed. I listened to her story, amazed. That is her miracle to tell, though.

Anyway, on the day of the i.m. show (Wednesday), I decided to do something I had been wanting to do for ages, namely, to do some busking at Times Square Park. I borrowed my friend Karen's Washburn guitar (the same model as the one I once sold to Shamsi - sorry, Lyko), took the subway down to the village to live out my little dream.

This was a different Times Square than the one I remembered from my youth, where almost everyone who approached you was offering up drugs for sale. This was a squeaky clean post-Giuliani Times Square. Opinions vary, but I guess the proof is in the pudding, and I can't help but applaud him for cleaning what I would have sworn was uncleanable. I walked into the park passing people playing chess, lovers in the grass, curious scurrying squirels, people mumbling to themselves, and not once was I approached with drugs. I walked toward the central area, where I found a shaded place to sit, and I opened up the guitar case, tuned up and started strumming. Funny, but I remember being a little nervous for some reason at first, eventually I mustered enough courage to start singing a little. As I was grooving on an open E vamp, I started humming some of the weird improv-type chanting thing that I do sometimes. A Lucumi thing. It soon morphed into a Ruben Blades tune. I usually just pick whatever tunes are on my mind at the time when I play solo acoustically; if you ask me what tune I just played two tunes ago, I sometimes can't tell you, but I remember the first intelligible tune I sang that day was El Padre Antonio by Ruben Blades. It's safe to bet that I probably also sang an innocence mission tune that day, but god only knows which one.

After playing for a bout a half hour, I was awakened from my bliss by a pair of psych-ward escapees who apparently found this to be the perfect time in which to violently start hitting each other. Well, really, one guy was doing most of the hitting, but still, the other dude was somehow timidly resolute, he kinda stood his ground as best he could against his alpha male adversary's kicking up dust and leaves and sticks. well . . . Regardless, I wasn't gonna stick around for the finale, this was all happening a mere six or eight yards from me, so I figured that now was a good time to stop playing. I put the guitar back in its case (found about $25 there - not bad) and started walking toward the subway. It happens that I have to pass in front of the club where the show will be happening later that night. As I walk by, I laugh at my weird fortune again and stop to take a sip from my water bottle on this seasonably hot and humid New York August afternoon.

As I bring the bottle down from my lips, I notice a man whom I recognize walking up to me on the sidewalk. He walks right in front of me and he sees me smiling at him. "You're Mike Bitts (the longtime bass player for the innocence mission), aren't you?" I ask. He smiles back, "yes, I am." I shake his hand and proceed to tell him that I have loved the band for years. I made a comment about how I think the new single has a certain Burt Bacharach feel to it. He laughs and tells me that they were listening to a Bacharach recording on the drive up from Lancaster. "Are you coming to the show, tonight?" "well . . ." At this point I proceed to tell him my funny story of flying all the way from Phoenix just to find no tickets available. A serious look came over his face. He asks for my name and tells me to wait for a moment while he goes back into the club. I'm walking on air now as I wait for him to return, knowing already what the outcome will be. Sure enough, he reemerges from the club and tells me that I am on the guest list for the show. I thank him profusely and make my way back uptown to meet Karen and tell her about this.

Turns out that not only did I get to go to the show after all, I was on the band's guestlist. But there's more! When I meet up with Karen, she tells me that the guy she is dating, who works as a producer at one of the good radio stations in town, has put us on the guestlist as well (this is a multi-dimensional miracle - as any miracle worth its salt should be). There's poetry for you right there! Might not seem like much, but I know a tiny miracle when I see one.

Incidentally, the day after the show was the day of the huge power outage that blacked out almost the entire northeast corner of the country. That is another story about another miracle for another day, however.

13 July 2006

oh, yes (for a tempest-tossed friend)

Posted by at 6:31 PM
there are worse things than
being alone
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it's too late
and there's nothing worse
too late.

a Charles Bukowski poem

23 June 2006

Hieroglyph Canyon

Posted by at 5:24 AM
Hiked this trail yesterday. Fantastic place.

Ancient petroglyphs depicting longhorn sheep, which must have inhabited the area at some point.

14 June 2006


Posted by at 6:04 PM

Frisell at the Rhythm Room 13 Jun 06

An inspiring couple of sets by this master of American music. Hard to explain the feeling. A few years ago I was listening to Garrison Keillor's show one Sunday in which Randy Newman performed. After his song, before leaving the soundstage, Garrison shook his hand and, going back to the microphone, said something like, "I feel kinda like I just shook Cole Porter's hand". That's something like the feeling I have, kinda like having been there at the Five Spot in 59 watching Monk and Coltrane trading choruses.

It's good to be alive.

20 April 2006

review: Cesaria Evora at Mesa Arts Center

Posted by at 1:50 PM

I have loved the sound of this woman's voice ever since I first heard the opening verses of Sodade (on Miss Perfumado) many moons ago. On the 15th of this past March, I was fortunate enough to see her perform in the valley (my second time - I had seen her some years back in Tucson).

From the moment that she walks slowly limping out on the stage, you empathize with the splendor of her humanity. She looks like one of those earthMother figurines from prehistoric days. Her velvet voice would soothe any savage, whether beast or breast - no matter. I dare you not to fall in love with her.

that said . . .

The setlist consisted of tunes familiar to me. I think she might have standard setlists that she adheres to without much variation. I even wondered at the end of the show if it was the same setlist as the last time I saw her, right down to the encore (Bésame Mucho, although she nailed all the words this time).

Her advancing age shows through in that she is prone to flub a lyric now and then (when she does, she giggles at herself). She has a little table setup on the stage where she goes to sit when the fatigue of performance overtakes her. A glass of wine. An ashtray and some smokes. It's kinda cool to watch her defiantly light up right there on stage in a theater in a city where strict ordinances against smoking in public have been in place for well over a decade (Mesa is a HUGE Mormon town). I can almost see the shock and anxiety on the theater manager's face:

stage manager: Erm . . . Ms Evora, our theater fire codes dictate that we cannot allow smoking of any kind in this theater, we're sorry to inconvenience you.

Ms Evora's translator: (after a brief and calm string of phrases spoken between her and Ms Evora in the Cape Verde Portuguese dialect) . . . . She say "If you want to arrest her, then go ahead."

You go, girl!

Her band is an amazingly tight unit of what I gather are fellow Cape Verdian musicians. Personally, I think the show on the whole would benefit if she would allow her musicians some room in which to stretch their muscles beyond the tight and streamlined confines of the arrangements of the songs (they pretty much just re-create the recorded versions). There were some very brief moments during the set when I caught a glimpse of some of the amazing playing techniques these guys are capable of, which made me hope that they would continue down some interesting harmonic path. But no dice. The accordion player once erupted in a brief but gorgeous dominant 7th cascade of notes, for example, only to disappear immediately into the background, as if checking himself from further emotional outbursts. The guitar player, who looked no older than twenty-five, played exactly one solo and it was exquisitely slinky-sexy. These are fantastic players. I have a feeling that if she gave them some slack, some elbow room, the dynamic energy level of the show would soar. The sax player was great, but wouldn't it be nice to have some interaction with some guitar lines or some accordion?

Despite this limitation, her voice is so infectious that you don't mind too much.




13 April 2006

The Call

Posted by at 1:58 PM
Within the darkening world, no afterglow
No hem of sunset caught against the hill --
Within the dark we rise, and make to go
Our destined journeys, having but lain down
A moment by the path. What call came through
The heavy darkness, bidding us arise,
Though we are weary still?

It is the call
Of thine own spirit that will not wait on
Thy body's weakness. If the flesh should fail,
It is no matter; spirit cannot fall.

Willis Eberman



11 March 2006

Posted by at 11:36 PM

untitled © 2006

the year it didn't rain . . .

Posted by at 3:42 PM

. . . and thus ends the longest stretch of consecutive days without rain in recorded Phoenix history (143 days). It's been raining for about 24 hours straight now. The smell of it coming was amazing. This is the only place I know where people go outside to greet the rain.

I've been working all day long on an arrangement of Tonada de Luna Llena for live performance with my available think horses. I'm using Caetano Veloso's version as my model (it's on Fina Estampa, a gorgeous album in which he sings every song in Spanish that my friend Satu turned me on to some years back). I'm stretching phrases here and there and incorporating batá into it (Eleguá willing - winks). I can't wait to lay it on Ted and Adam. It'll be a powerful piece if we can pull it off.

In response to a request from Tim of the north country, it's my pleasure to sing another innocence mission tune into this condenser mike for y'all.


Mac The Life


03 March 2006

Posted by at 1:22 PM
After a lengthy debate with Rob's dad last night, I've come to the opinion that Karl Rove really needs to get off my beloved Earth. If McCain uses him for his campaign, I don't know if I can forgive him for doing so, especially in light of the treatment he got from the Rove and Bulsh gang in 2000. I'd be okay with him otherwise (which is not to say I will vote for him; he already blew it with me by resigning himself to being dubya's bitch then, all in the name of realpolitik - cash me out, please!).

Incidentally, I am in love with the student body that walked out of their high school in protest of the suspension of a teacher who dared to make comparisons between Bulsh and Hitler. Over a hundred students walked out. Makes me want to cry with hope . . . almost.



21 February 2006

A Knock On The Door

Posted by at 12:44 PM
They ask me if I've ever thought about the end of
the world, and I say, "Come in, come in, let me
give you some lunch, for God's sake." After a few
bites it's the afterlife they want to talk about.
"Ouch," I say, "did you see that grape leaf
skeletonizer?" Then they're talking about
redemption and the chosen few sitting right by
His side. "Doing what?" I ask. "Just sitting?" I
am surrounded by burned up zombies. "Let's
have some lemon chiffon pie I bought yesterday
at the 3 Dog Bakery." But they want to talk about
my soul. I'm getting drowsy and see butterflies
everywhere. "Would you gentlemen like to take a
nap, I know I would." They stand and back away
from me, out the door, walking toward my
neighbors, a black cloud over their heads and
they see nothing without end.

James Tate

14 February 2006

old african proverb

Posted by at 11:23 AM
He who forgives ends the argument.



10 February 2006

ghost drummer loop

Posted by at 6:57 AM
Image Hosted by

My first experiment in stop-motion gif animation, a self portrait as a spinning ghost.


01 February 2006

a desert worth its salt

Posted by at 1:54 PM
The Sonoran Desert.
I guess we are now into the longest dry spell in the recorded history of Phoenix, Arizona, something like 105 days without rain now.

And me with my ark all finished and ready to go and everything. How about that?

It felt good to wear sandals today.


25 January 2006

Phoenix Creative Music Movement

Posted by at 12:09 AM
I went down to Modified to see Theo Bleckmann (voice & accessories) and John Hollenbeck (drums and accessories) perform a weirdly cool tapestry of sound as a duo. They are on tour with Meredith Monk (she's playing Gammage on Saturday, pity that I have to work). I didn't know what to expect but I wasn't expecting freeform art music. It approached conventional music at points, but for the most part the rhythms employed were not pulsing ostinato figures so much but the ebb and flow of architectural forms. I liked the seamless way that moods blended into each another using only the voice, an effects unit, some children's toys, and a live drummer. Bleckmann has a knack for looping his versatile voice in harmonically interesting ways, now Celtic, now chaos, now child-like nursery rhyme. I dug it.
Ted and Jen were there. Emerson, Adam C, Chris from WC, Cynthia's friend Renee,
My old friend Al appeared out of the blue today, so he was there too. Says he's headed for Hawaii for a while to learn organic farming. He didn't quite like the performance as much as I did, but he's more into jam band stuff, so what does he know? It's okay, though; I love him anyway.


p.s. Impeach Bush now.

23 January 2006

symposium report

Posted by at 9:51 PM

I walked the kilometer or so to the ASU music building wearing my red suede shoes.

I arrived in time and seated myself second row, far stage right. The theatre has some steep-sloped stadium seating. Oldish but nice. It wasn't long after I nestled into my seat that , somewhere over my right shoulder, a cackling old lady began to audibly complain in anticipation, I think, of what she thought the lecturers were about to say. Apparently, she thinks debates about evolution and creation are a waste of time and money and she wants everyone within earshot to know she feels this way (I guess that it wasn't waste of time enough to keep her from attending, though). I turned to see who this weird creature might be and it didn't surprise me that she was dressed like a peacock, in an ornate multi-colored corsetted kind of dainty dress. The very picture of southwestern matriarchal plasticine chic. I wondered, almost audibly, if all fundamentalist madame fatales have this predilection for coquettishness in dress hair and makeup. I looked at her and I smiled (it's easy) and winked at her. I don't know what she might have read into my brief gesture, but she became quieter after that. Go figure.

The symposium was titled: Evolution and Intelligent Design: Science, Religion and American Culture. It was, to my surprise, very well attended. I'd estimate that between 1,500 and 2,000 people were there, ranging in age from about twenty to about eighty, the average being a rather mature fifty years old or so.

Linell E. Cady (Director, Center for the Studies of Religion and Conflict, explicit in her disdain for "intelligent design".) introduced William J. Grassie (Executive Director Metanexus Institute, chill scholar dude who might have at one time maybe surfed frequently or might have even grown some exotic hydroponic breed of something something in his closet at one time, laughs), who in turn introduced the moderator, Barry Ritchie (chair of the department of physics and astronomy, white haired scientist; though he wasn't wearing a lab coat, it is very easy to envisage one on him). Neither a debate nor a lecture, he established the simple form the night's program would take (30 min @, after which the moderator would ask some questions, followed by a brief period in which the audience would be permitted to ask a few questions) and then introduced the three panelists.

First at bat was Jon H Roberts (professor of history at Boston University, a cross between a bald Ned Flanders and my old english teacher). He prefaced with a brief history of the movement we now know as "intelligent design", touching on a few milestones.

In 1802, Foley published Natural Theology. Then in 1859, Darwin happened. Then there was a good quiet century for it to all sink in, with no one compelled to refute it or to want to. In the 1980s Michael Denton published Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Prof. Roberts pointed out that while a few sympathetic (apologist) writers at the time hailed this work as a milestone in scientific thought, on par with those of Galileo and Newton -- [this is funny] -- the vast majority of the scientific community was quite underwhelmed by Denton's book, and in fact, when it was received at all, it was received hostilely. A few years later, in the 90s, Phillip Johnson rejected the methodological naturalism which Darwin established as the norm which has been followed as the standard in the sciences ever since his day. Michael Behe wrote Darwin's Black Box, which explores irreducible complexity using biochemistry as its focus.
After this cursory preface he cut to the chase, enumerating three telling things that are relevant to the discussion:
1- Despite the fact that there is a virtual unanimity within the scholarly community (a consensus by any standard but an evangelical one) that the claims made by the proponents of "intelligent design" are specious, they persist in insisting that "equal time" be spent on their models in the curriculums of our schools.
2- These same people indirectly suggest that the scientific community is resistant to them for reasons other than academic ones, that the scientific stance is a closed one, impervious to any approach that is not naturalistic and thus predisposed to be "anti-god". This implies guile or even conspiracy.
3- If this be so, the handful of leaders of "intelligent design" propose, then the norms should be changed to accommodate other approaches. This is clearly an attempt to slip God in through the back door, to found some kind of empirical theology.

By pointing to these things, Prof Roberts categorically dismisses the concept of "intelligent design" as just one irrelevant squeaky wheel in the annals of science, a pesky mouse that will not stop roaring, but, in the end, a mere footnote.

The bottom line for him: In short, "intelligent design" is a philosophical claim, not a scientific position. Prof Roberts' position, though I don't think he was the best speaker, is the one closet to my own. I think that, when it comes to matters dealing with the origins of the cosmos and of life, the scientist must prefer confessions of ignorance to invocations of the supernatural, or necessarily fall outside of the scientific paradigm.

Next up was Holmes Rolston III (university distinguised professor of philosophy [my de-emphasis] Colorado State University, this guy is really old and laid back in a detached kind of way, appears to be lucid despite his advanced age and its accompanying slowness of speech and breath.) His presentation consisted of listing of what he considers the five unanswered questions in the Darwiwian evolutionary framework:

i- Regarding information: genetics deals with the transfer of information. Transmission implies a transmitter. Such encoding cannot be easily explained in the Darwinian models. This is essentially a derivative of the watchmaker argument.
ii- The contingent versus the inevitable: I think he was trying to say that sciences too readily accept contingency without a tangible reason for doing so. I have to add that this gentleman was very difficult to understand, not only due to the slow monotone laborious characteristics of his speech, but also due to the level of abstraction of the ideas he was trying to convey within the limited time period permitted. Sorry to say, but I would really hate to be enrolled in his lectures.
iii- Regarding possibilities: (I can only assume that he means in terms of natural selection here) He more or less asked: are all our possibilities always present? are they infinite? Are new ones possible?
iv- Cooption versus serendipity: can an organ evolve for a purpose other than that which it initially had? Is this a matter of luck or trial and error? Of design?
v- Anthropic biology: Is the universe "fine-tuned" for life? This is basically a rephrasing of the concept of irreducible complexity to me.
His bottom line, then, is: all of these questions remain unanswered by the Darwinian model. (These "unanswered" questions of such ontological scope need not be as much of an obstacle to the acceptance of the merits of the Darwinian model as he implies. For instance, in earlier times, when we had no way of knowing about the minute details of the subatomic mechanics involved in chemical processes, the simple Lewis Electron Dot Diagram was still a useful tool for the scientist. Just because the best model we had didn't explain all of the "behavior" we observed in the chemical laboratory didn't necessitate the discarding of the model as a whole. It was simply the best model we had at the time. Or consider the usefulness of Newtonian mechanics (to this day) despite our revised relativistic and quantum models. )

The third and by far best speaker of the evening was John F. Haught (distinguished professor of theology at Georgetown University, a jolly fellow). He posed his position as a question: in matters regarding evolution versus faith, what is at stake?

His answer: . . . in short, providence and ethics.

He argues that the universe is a purposeful one, that it is hierachical (i.e. in ascending order: matter, life, man, the Divine), that nature reflects goodness, that it is discontinuous by design (prone to accident in a good way). That it seem to be leading to some sort of capitulation (red flag! - eschatology, anyone? This kind of reversing the direction of causal relationships is what I like to call "making feet for the children's shoe industry"; which is no major sin, I guess, but neither is it scientific discourse).

To this end, he projected an image resembling a row of books on the overhead projector. A timetable of the history of the cosmos. Imagine writing the history of the universe in a thirty volume encyclopedic set in which each volume contains four hundred pages and each page represents one million years in the evolution of the universe. Here's an analogue diagram:

       ^ life begins  ^ cambrian

The dinosaurs finally appear somewhere around the middle of volume 30 and are suddenly extinct somewhere around the middle page 385. The course of human evolution takes place, in its entirety (so far), in the final brief paragraph or so of the very last page of that last volume (his model is very useful in bringing the enormous timeframe into perspective). This kind of chart, Prof. Haught proposes, implies that life in general, and human life in particular, seems to be headed toward some clear goal, which we, of course, cannot know but which seems to favor humanity somehow. Providence?

Is this a good basis for values? He prefers this as the foundation for ethics to the idea proposed by Stephen Jay Gould, who suggested that we now must base our ethics on our own dignity. I think Gould is right, which makes me think about the cooption that Prof Rolston had mentioned earlier. The highly developed ethical standards that developed out of our religious traditions can (and should) now be adapted and be put to use outside of their initial functions, in my opinion.

Prof Haught recognizes three common trends in the people's responses when asked about their acceptance of the Darwinian model of our origins:

1- Tepid tolerance - People who accept the basic fundamentals of evolution and think it is only troubling in places because of human ignorance. He doesn't like this position, because it does not "celebrate" evolution, but merely accepts it (this perplexes me; why is this so objectionable? Do fundamental laws of nature require tribute of some kind? What exactly does he mean by "celebrate"?).
2- Evolution as divine pedagogy - in which the more brutish aspects of the processes of selection are seen as a kind of "soul school" intended by the Divine to test our mettle, so to speak, a kind of "tough love" position. This, of course, is an attempt to solve the ancient problem of evil by positing that there is no problem after all, that evil is for our own good, to put it in simplest terms - it doesn't resonate well with me, so revolting do I find Augustine's concepts of inherited original sin.
3 - Biblical approach (I was wondering when he would come around to bringing it up) - which sees the processes as a continuing "promise" rather than a "design". This is a position in which the universe is seen as called into the future to become itself. Making feet for children's shoes again, all well and good from an apolalyctic paradigm, but, as such, a philosophical claim and not a scientific position.

After his presentation, there was a very minute two minute pause for folks to stretch their legs if they wanted to and then the question and answer period. The most memorable questions were one asking why no biologists were on the panel from a delightfully feisty woman, and one asking why no other religious traditions were explored other than the Christian one in the discussion. One young man asked the panel about the backwards looking possibilities of providence. Prof Rolston answered that an acorn is a backwards tree (my phrasing). Making feet! I found the analogy to be such a simplistic and disingenuously bad one (especially when stated in such an authoritavive almost haughty way) that I was tempted to stand up and mischievously ask a rhetorical question just then, "What came first, the acorn or the tree?" I'm glad I didn't, though. I mean, yeah, he was being patronizing and a bit obtuse, but maybe the old geezer has a right to be a little uppity after making it to such a ripe old age (who knows). I try to defer to older folks that way.

19 January 2006

Conflicts at the interface of religion and science

Posted by at 2:09 PM
A public symposium on

"Evolution and Intelligent Design:
Science, Religion and American Culture"

Sunday, 22 January 2006
7:00 PM

Evelyn Smith Music Theater
ASU Music Building

presented by

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict


Metanexus Institute on Science and Religion

in cooperation with

Harold & Jean Grossman
Chair of Jewish Studies

12 January 2006

Sodom : Bring the kids along

Posted by at 3:03 PM

I don't watch television. I dropped out of that scene sometime before our War in the Persian Gulf. I was determined at the time to do well in school and I guess that I was also inspired by all the bumper stickers of the day urging me to "kill your television". Drunk and particularly debaucherous one night, in fact, my friend Jan and I mustered the folly to actually heave a huge archaic walnut console model (I'll deny all of this in a court of law, by the way :) ) right into a swimming pool.

With glee. It's a habit I'm particularly proud of having kicked. It's not like I live in a bubble, though. Television is so pervasive in our culture that I probably absorb a great deal of it peripherally, like second-hand smoke, a contact high. It's ubiquitous: when I'm waiting in a waiting room, when I'm in an airport, when I dine out, and, quite honestly, in the homes of most of the people I know. I know people who never turn it off in their living room. I even know people who have some kind of set in every single room in their quite spacious home (including bathrooms and, although I can't confirm it, the pantry too - it's true). When I visit such friends, I try to behave pretty much as a good buddhist would if served a beef stew at a gathering of a friend who might not know that he is vegetarian. The good buddhist, being prone to not eat flesh, nevertheless does so in deference and respect and gratitude of his host's good intentions and hospitality. Which is to say that I accept that lemmings have a G*sh-given right to their cliff dive if they want, I guess.

My decision to drop out of TV culture coincided more or less with the emergence of this new communication medium, luckily (G*sh bless the internet and the twenti-first century). I stay informed through it, without censorship or partisan twists.

I was asked to keep an eye on my friend's pad while she was traveling in Mexico this week. I was interested in the Judge Alito confirmation hearings, so I switched on her t.v. set. Even managed to watch most of it.

Later that night I surfed around. On one particular comedy channel, I watched a couple of commercials that disturbed me, both were advertisements for the city of Las Vegas, and this is why I write this post. I'll try to paraphrase them:

An adolescent boy opens a hotel door and walks out, sporting a dishevelled head of hair and a proud boastful smirk which says he had a great time last night. He is surprised to see his dad coming home to the room next to his.
"Everything okay, son?"
Nervously incredulous, "Uh . . yeah, dad. Everything's fine."
Wearing a different kind of telling smirk, "Good . . . good." At which point dad enters his room and the caption which brings the commercial to a close is displayed:
"Las Vegas: What happens here . . . Stays here."

A woman is unpacking her suitcase. She is visibly anxious about something as she does so. Her husband comes in. She is obviously unnerved; she avoids his glance.
Sheepishly, meekly,"So . . .You girls went pretty wild in Las Vegas then, eh?"
Pauses penitently at her suitcase, then turns to him, doing her best to conceal her emotion, "Yeah," A forced smile, "we went pretty wild . . . y'know . . .. shopping and stuff".
She lists some expensive items that she purchased as some kind of decoy, knowing that he'll be distracted by the cost.
" You all had fun shopping, then."
Nervous shrug, "Yeah."

The caption comes on:
"Las Vegas: You can use the great shopping as your excuse".

These blew my mind. Not only are they selling infidelity and debauchery as recreational activites as they always have done unashamedly, but now they are also selling the guile and subterfuge that makes such activity easier to swallow. We've come a long way, baby.

Virginia may be for lovers, but Las Vegas is something else altogether.


03 January 2006

Posted by at 11:20 PM

Osvaldo Golijov - La Pasión Segun San Marcos

My favorite listening at the moment is Osvaldo Golijov's "St Mark's Passion". In the interest of full disclosure: the existing recording (which I downloaded at EMusic) is a sub-par recording - I had to boost it up on my own in Audacity by as much as 9db in some places and then reburn it, just to hear the dang thing - but I hear they are doing a performance at Lincoln Center in 2006, which I'm sure will be recorded as well. This particular version may be slightly lacking in hi-fi, but it is a recording of some truly fantastic original music nonetheless.
St Mark's is the crudest of the gospels in both its language and its portrayal of the passion and the agony, so I think it is well suited to the disparate washes of diasporAfrican and panAmerican and Iberian folkloric traditional musics that are the foundation of this work. This is art music based on a primitive source. It's gorgeous. It pleases me to see batá featured so prominently on contemporary music like this.

review by Anastasia Tsioulcas:
Taking as his inspiration Bach's famous Passion settings, Massachusetts-based composer Osvaldo Golijov -- born in a Jewish community in Argentina -- creates a sprawling work that is part music, part theater and part dance. Golijov gives audiences a new vision of Christ's death that embraces Bahian Brazilian drums, the Afro-Brazilian stringed percussion instrument berimbau, West African call-and-response singing, Cuban song, Argentine tango, Spanish flamenco and Jewish cantillation. The genuine drama and joy comes shining through this world-premiere recording.

Here's an 11 minute consecutive chunk of it:

On Mount of Olives
Face To Face
In Gethsemane

enjoy . . .

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