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 . . .

© quixotic infidel (the) is powered by Blogger - Template designed by Stramaxon - Best SEO Template