Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Superficial Extremes: A Consequence of Too Much Information

When too much information (the Internet) is presented to too many people (smart and stupid alike) the result is going to be that most people will understand only a fraction of what they see. The result of this, it seems to me, is that the less intelligent (and there are more of these than those who are more intelligent) are going to pick up the surface message and run with it. This results in superficial extremes of thought and action.

For instance, I was teaching a class about comparison and contrast writing the other day, and I showed two videos. One was of civilians respectfully and calmly resisting an invasion of their privacy by the police. In this video, the citizen who was stopped at a drunk-driving checkpoint refused to present ID, because he was neither suspected of nor observed in doing anything illegal. The officer let him go on his way without any fight.

The message here is that this person chose to "call BS" on the police and to hold his ground so that they did not violate his privacy. Apparently, he was within his rights, because the police let him go on his way.

So, if you put a few videos like this on the Internet, those without insight or without the necessary intelligence to see the real message are going to react with superficial extremes. Case in point: the second video I showed my class. in which a man is pulled over for doing 60MPH in a 35MPH zone. When asked for ID, he refuses, even after being told he was clocked at way over the speed limit. Through a series of events, starting with the driver rolling up his window and ending with him spitting on the police officer, the officer pulls him out of the car and tried to cuff him. As he is being subdued, the driver begins chanting. "I do not consent. I do not consent..."

In this guy's walnut of a brain, he had processed reasonable resistance to an invasion of privacy into the notion that the police may not detain or arrest anyone who does not want to be detained or arrested. All of the middle-ground has been bypassed. All questions of probable cause or lawful orders by the police have been graced over by this guy because he is not equipped to understand the real substance of the information he has been presented by reasonable, rights-conscious citizens. (And, also because he, too, want to be an Internet star.)

Take this all as a metaphor for any other number of concepts presented on the Internet, from the "science proves" posts to the "top ten reasons" articles to the analyses of reasons that millenials support Bernie Sanders. Those unequipped to deal with the information they are handed are going to go to superficial extremes of thought and action.

If "science proves" that coffee is good for you, you can bet legion of idiots will begin hooking up the intravenous, 24-hour drips within the span of five minutes.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Listen to My Stuff!

Basically, I just realized I could do this from my account on CD Baby... I mentioned my new CD some weeks ago. It is a collection of piano music, mostly impressionistic things -- stuff meant to capture my own version of "the American experience." As I say in the liner notes;

This is a collection of piano pieces that I have written over the last fifteen-ish years. The “American Sketches” were begun with the piece “Little Boy, Right Field,” which I improvised one summer evening after having biked past a Little League baseball game. It occurred to me, then, that my American compositional predecessors (no comparison of artistic worth implied) like Copeland, Hanson and GrofĂ© had tried to capture the more dramatic aspects of America: canyons, massive cities, mountains and rodeos and the like, but, inspired by the little fellow watching the butterflies in the most boring (and intrinsically insulting) of all children’s baseball positions, I thought it would be cool to capture impressions of a more intimate, everyday American experience; hence, the  suite of piano pieces that I call “sketches” were begun and slowly completed over the course  of a life that demands more from me than just composition. Some of these do move through cities to vast beaches, but most resonate in suburban streets and on summer porches. I hope these “sketches,” along with the other pieces in this collection, make you feel something.

So, just listen, if you want, but also feel (more than) free to download any and all tracks you wish. The actual CD is available at CD Baby and you can also download from iTunes and Amazon, but I'm not getting rich on this, so no guilt for just listening here. I hope you like what I am up to. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Three Random Things

Thing the first: 

I just listened to an interview with President Obama. It was a wide-ranging interview, but, of course, the questions made their way around to the controversy over the nomination of a replacement, on the Supreme court, for Antonin Scalia.

What I found interesting is that Obama felt compelled, based on questions from the interviewer, to defend the fact that he wants to nominate a white man for the job. He went on to defend his strength in appointing or nominating of women, minoritires and openly gay men and women... So, here we have the first black president and he finds himself in a positon of having to defend the choice a white man that he thinks is the best person for the job.

That one's got to give you pause. I am not sure if there is a machete sharp enough to cut through this jungle...

Thing the second: 

The other day I heard report on the radio. This one had to do with a movement to make "automatic brakes" standard equipment on cars. (These would be brakes that would apply themselves if the driver should happen to not be paying attention when an obstruction comes up.) An expert in the field said that automatic brakes bring us one step closer to self-driving cars.

I find it quite telling that, for decades, the dream of sci-fi writers and fans alike has been a time of flying cars but that the future's reality is going to be cars that drive themselves. We dream big: soaring through the air in cars that fly...but our true nature comes out in the end: cars that drive themselves. In the sociological rock-paper-scissors game, laziness smothers ambition as paper suffocates the rock.

Thing the third: 

I will blame a time of high stress for this, even as I confess it, but, the other day, I got angry at someone and called him (under my breath) an "arrogant castrato." I say this because I think I may legitimately lay claim to being the first person ever to use that particular phrase in English. Perhaps the experts at Oxford know better...

It has been a week of most frustrating proportions, but, it, like all things, comes to an end...

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Thoughts On the Passing of Sir George Martin

I have noticed, in my years in music, a clean division into two camps of thought. On one side, there are the formally educated musicians, and, on the other, the self-taught. I work and have interracted with both; in fact, I am both: formlly trained in some areas; self-taught in others. These two camps of musicians usually have very strong opinions about one another and those opinions usually keep a distinct border between them.

Sir George was a classically-trained musician who had the good fortune to have met a group of extremely talented but musically (at least, compositionally) self-taught -- if I'm not mistaken, completely musically illiterate -- boys from Liverpool. He also had the good sense not to be a snob about it. He recognized their talents and he brought more out of them than they could have brought out of themselves. He became a mentor when he could have been a bully. He was a teacher for them, as if evidenced by Paul McCartney's statement on the very recent occasion of Martin's death:

"...I brought the song 'Yesterday’ to a recording session and the guys in the band suggested that I sang it solo and accompany myself on guitar. After I had done this George Martin said to me, "Paul I have an idea of putting a string quartet on the record". I said, “Oh no George, we are a rock and roll band and I don’t think it’s a good idea”.  With the gentle bedside manner of a great producer he said to me, "Let us try it and if it doesn’t work we won’t use it and we’ll go with your solo version".  I agreed to this and went round to his house the next day to work on the arrangement... He took my chords that I showed him and spread the notes out across the piano, putting the cello in the low octave and the first violin in a high octave and gave me my first lesson in how strings were voiced for a quartet. When we recorded the string quartet at Abbey Road. it was so thrilling to know his idea was so correct that I went round telling people about it for weeks..."

Martin was, in my opinion, the key to the Beatles' innovation in pop music. Sure, "the lads" were deeply talented young men, but it was Martin's knowledge that made things happen... (I recall Lennon talking about having heard a weird instrument in a BBC radio broadcast; he called George Martin who explained that it was a piccolo trumpet and that is how the piccolo trumpet wound up on the song "Penny Lane." One of, I am sure, immumerable examples.)

I know so many musicians who think training is bad -- that  is homogenizes musicians. I suppose it can. The variety of, say, singing voices in pop music can be a direct result of people not knowing "how to sing," though. Formally-trained snobs, often think "doing things properly" is everything, but, sometimes music from the heart, however "wrong" it may be, can be wonderful. Martin knew the benefit of staying open to great music, no matter the source. 

On this blog, I come back to balance a lot. George Martin could not have done it on his own; the Beatles could not have done it without him. We follow our own paths in music, art and in life. Often, grand results come out of both accident and flexibility. The Beatles are a great example of that. 

Rest in peace, Sir George. Thanks for guiding the lads to greatness. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Donald Trump:

Well, it didn't happen. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was sure that, maybe after one of your most ridiculous actions -- say, for instance, your hesitation to disavow the KKK -- that you were going to turn around and announce that your whole campaign was just a social experiment; that you were going to say: "Look how far you let me push you, American people, to support the most negative and insensitive views! Look how you let me appeal to your reptilian brain instincts! Let this be a lesson to you: Don't let fear and hate drive your decisions. I am officially dropping out of the presidential race. It has all been an act. How could it have been enything else? Just don't forget how you almost voted for a guy who was clearly running a campaign that alluded to Hitleresque ideas..."

But, much to my surprise, it looks like you are actually serious. You really do think your views are okay. You really do think you could shoot someone and get elected. You, like, really do hesitate to distance yourself from even the most heinous of people because of a fear of losing votes... And you are self-absorbed enough to think you can get away with constantly referring to how smart and great you are and then to say that you don't know anything about David Duke and white supremacists. My sixth grade son knows about the KKK. Don't they teach those things in the Ivy League you like to brag about having attended? Maybe I need to check the curriculum.

Astoundingly, you really did say and really did mean that, in order to defeat ISIS, "you have to take out their families." As John Oliver points out, you really are a potential president who advocates war crimes in public, without shame or apology -- not that an apology can erase that barbaric statement. What will you try to get away with if you're in office, with secret organizations of espionage at your service?

Well, I don't think you are smart at all, despite your insistance. I think you are good at making money through appealing to the lowest of human instincts or bullying others into submission. That doesn't make you smart, that makes you a one-trick pony and that certainly does not make you a reasonable presidential candidate. You don't think; you react and you cater to the low desires of the drooling mob.

I never write about politics, directly, on my blog, but you have forced my hand. I don't care who stops reading me because they like you. I don't care if friends abandon me because of my view. This is that important. I will vote for anyone but you. This election is easy. I have no confidence or interest in Hilary Clinton. I think that, despite her being the first real possible female president (which is something that needs to happen, soon), she is the same-old, worn-out, underhanded and shifty "white male politician" we have had for years. But if it is you against her, I will vote for her. If it is you against Daffy Duck, I would vote for Daffy.

Anyone is better than you. If the American public is a body, then you are its brain tumor. You came from that body's internal chemistry of ignorance and prejudice. You befuddle its thoughts by jamming its synapses and you, if not extracted by the vote, might realistically cause its death.

See, here is what and why you are: You are the result of the slow and steady diminishment of tact, manners and ethical backbone in our society. No one thinks old-fashioned values are important anymore and no one cares about their disappearance because, after all -- what harm can it do to lose these antiquated ideas? Comportment is a cliche, right? Respect for woman and everyone else? Pfft. Well, we are seeing the harm: people are actually considering voting for a classless, self-centered, misogynistic, narcissistic spoiled brat of an adult who thinks "winning" is everything -- more even than holding on to the ideals that make us human (and specifically, that make us better than the terrorists).

Being the president is not the same as negotiating business deals to get you more money; it's not the coaching of a high school basketball team that you can inspire with worn-out sayings off of posters with pictures of muddy cleats on them. It's okay for two guys in a bar to say that we should "blow up" so-and-so country; it's not okay for the President of the United States. The fact that Christians would vote for you just show me how far off the track of Christ some Christians have wandered. What would Jesus do? Well, I know for sure he wouldn't sacrifice basic human values and respect for life in order to avoid dangers that are only possible.

You are success without sophistication. You aspire to the highest office in the land, but feel no obligation to comport yourself in a manner that does the office credit. And no one seems to care.

Well, I do. You are not a gentleman. It doesn't sound like a big deal to you, I know, but I think the president should be a gentleman. You are not funny or entertaining to me anymore. If elected, you will be the worst choice this country has even made for its highest office.

My decisions about you are not made as a result of media spin but based on what you said and did, in plain view of the world, so I don't want to hear the "liberal media bias" argument. In fact, I am not "liberal" and I do hold many views some would see as "conservative," so this does not come from an agenda. I've evaluated your words and actions for months; this is what I think, not what my gut tells me. You can't get to that with me.

Any success you gain is yet another historical proof that masses of people are easily blinded by bluster and the stoking of their engines of hate with shovel-full after shovel-full of the blackest coal.

With an absolute lack of respect,

PS: If you ever do read this, don't forget to tweet about my being some loser/nobody and how my invalidates my thinking. Maybe you could call me a "dego" and say that I should go make a pizza...

PPS: I think America has been great since day one; flawed, but great, and I'm astounded that anyone wants a president who thinks it is not a great country...or is this just another example of your simplistic mind: the inability to think beyond generalities and say specifically what needs to be improved.