Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 61 (AMS01 edition)

Typing from Quebec City. Official conference opening tomorrow--but yesterday/today was one long travel day, broken up with occasional fitful naps (never got more than 4 hours sleep in the last 48).

Tuesday AM: teach class, write blog posts, meet with students.

Tuesday afternoon: Mac Tire gives us a ride to airport. Two laptops, two pullmans, 1 bouzouki--which can't be let out of my control control because the damned thing is built like a Stradivarius and would never survive the airport baggage gorillas, 1 hot-rodded Regal Style-0 resonator guitar--basically a drop-shipped Korean instrument, but pimped out with bone nut and bridge, hand-spun aluminum cone, new tuning machines, and a fantastic pickup. Sounds huge, and sweet. Need both for the "cabaret" that Dharmonia and I are anchoring, she as featured vocalist, me in the rhythm section; bouzouki for Irish trad jigs, reels, & songs, National for our own Delta blues set and then the B.B./Albert finale: "Born Under a Bad Sign" and "Sweet Sixteen." This ain't your daddy's AMS meeting: the musicologists will get up and play a program that spans Dowland to the Dixie Chicks, George Strait to George Gershwin. Hell, it ain't even A. Peter Brown's AMS meeting anymore.

National is packed in an uncrushable hard-foam case, and is so resilient that, providing the gorillas don't whiplash the neck joint, it pretty much can't be harmed. My old friend Blind Arvella Gray from Chicago, who--after being hit in the face with a load of birdshot and losing both his vision and three fingers on his right hand--jumped freights to Chicago and made his living as a street-singer for fifty years, used to say "I like me them National steel git-tars, 'cause when I'm crossing the street an' I get hit by a bus, it don't hurt the git-tar." So the Steve Smith bouzouki gets carried on but the National gets checked through, with crossed fingers.

Four flights:

  • Lubbock--Dallas (puddle-jumper Embraer 170 whose overheads are too small, but one we know, and the flight attendant is fine with putting the 'zouk in the closet)
  • Dallas--Chicago, arrive 9pm (Super M-80: overheads are plenty big, though the plane is full and the latest seat-space-shrinkage leaves no room for knees if you're 6'5")
Shuttle to Chicago airport hotel, where at least there's a decent restaurant with healthy food (Dharmonia and I have overnighted en route in Chicago before, and wound up spending 30 bucks on a cab just to get to a mediocre seafood place) but which is hosting about 6 different conventions, and has no bar, so all the conventioneers all get drunk 'n' loud in the restaurant instead. About 4 hours sleep in a room that costs nearly $50 an hour as a result.

3:15AM wakeup call to get the 4:00am shuttle to clear Security (for some rubber-band-powered regional airline called "Shuttle America") for 6:00am departure to Montreal. Passports, check 2 pullmans and 1 National again.
  • Small regional jet (Embraer 170 again), about 90 minutes to Montreal. Fog-out (not even dozing, much less sleeping) on the flight, trying to stay awake because sleeping just wakes us up groggy. Arrive Montreal, walk a very long way through an enormous, spit-cleaned, but (at 7:30am) totally deserted airport. Clear passport control (where the Mounties are able to pull up the evidence that 11 years ago and 2500 miles away, we did a concert for pay in Vancouver), clear customs, collect all checked luggage, recheck all checked luggage (pullmans and National), wait in tiny regional-departures lounge for a 35-minute flight that most Quebecois would drive instead--so the plane will be deserted.
Chicago-Montreal, and now, Montreal-Quebec, are where we start encountering the "faces vaguely remembered from previous AMS conferences" syndrome. Dharmonia is OK with names and I am excellent with faces, but putting names to faces is a real problem. And so you feel guilty when you remember having a drink in past years with someone, or, hell, going to graduate school with someone, but you can't remember their names.
  • Final leg Montreal-Quebec: tiny little prop-jet 26-seater. Overheads are way too tiny for the bouzouki, so you tell the tri-lingual (English, French, Spanish) flight attendant in your bad monosyllabic French that the instrument is "very, very fragile" and watch anxiously as he carefully walks it out and--for a change--sets it down right side up on the cart awaiting loading-in to baggage compartment. Some change from the US, where the desire by airlines to force musicians to buy additional seats for instruments leads the baggage gorillas to intentionally mistreat instruments.
Arrive QC airport, where we catch a cab for the run into the city (only $CAN30, fixed rate) and get a running commentary on all the multifarious advantages of living in a small, old, pedestrian-based, essentially European city from our New Jersey-transplanted cab driver, who sums it up by saying "good-looking women, cheap hash, good beer." Check into the conference hotel (where ordinarily we'd already be seeing many familiar faces, but this time we're a day early, and so the place is pretty much deserted, and despite the fact that it's awfully early for check-in--around noon--they have a room) and we schlep up to the 13th floor in the elevators, and done the hallway to a last corner room (hey, that's nice, will likely make it quieter), and unlock the door and roll in, and see this:

That's the old city, and a chunk of the old walls, and the Vieux Village beyond, and the river and the mountains beyond that. Will take more photos walking around tomorrow, and provide more of a key for the architectural history, but suffice it to say that the city feels more like Boston's Beacon Hill, or Amsterdam of the canals, or Regensburg. It's a city that was laid out for pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic, and there are still 18th-century houses (shops below, apartments above) on cobbled streets, 2 blocks walk from the 5-star hotels, and a few doors down from the patisseries and charcuteries and Breton crepe places and Mets Vietnamese et Tunisienne et Leban and all the other colonial cuisines that came with the French from the "Third World" to the New World, and yes, there are an awful lot of good-looking women (remarkable how the American propensity for morbid obesity declines when everyone walks everywhere up and down hill, and walks to and from the greengrocer or the the coffee-roaster or the tabac shop twice a day) and there is a definite aroma of good bud in the air and there definitely are good wine shops.

And a hot- and cold-buffet vegetarian restaurant three blocks from the hotel, cheap as hell, with free wireless, as the Quebecois schoolkids in their Harry Potter outfits are led from restaurant to restaurant by their teachers, who obviously have Hallowe'en afternoon off for just this kind of trick-or-treating;

And you walk back up the hill that leads from "Lower Town" back to "Up Town" where the hotel is (reminded again of Beacon Hill's cobblestone side-streets and brownstones);

And you think, "Jesus, why do Americans live the way they do?" And of course the answer is that Americans live the way we do because our government, and the multinational corporations that lash our government officials like prating donkeys, and the media corporations that strap on the kneepads when Dana Perino even looks at them funny, and our own fucked-up past history of rugged-individualist rhetoric versus lard-assed coach-potato reality, let us live this way.

In the wake of WWII, when Burma, Hong Kong, and India were already going, and Nigeria and the other African colonies were clearly on the way out, the British (in contrast to the French, whose selfishness, greed, and unjustifiably national hubris led them to hang on, and to the Indochina war) accepted that their days as an Empire were over. And they rationed, and they rebuilt, and they downsized, and they changed their focus from owning to understanding. And the result was an explosion of youthful creativity, of public education, of popular and high-arts innovation, of literature drama and film, of popular music.

To invert and paraphrase a line from Ridley Scott's Gladiator, yet another in his string of cowardly imperial apologiae, but which boasts a beautifully-intense performance by Russell Crowe and a leonine last bow from Oliver Reed,
"Empires should know when they've ended."
The Brits knew it--they knew the Americans (and maybe the Russians) were going to take over in the post-War period.

Too few Americans know it--too few recognize that the Chinese--and maybe, briefly, the oil-producing nations--are going to take over in the post-"American Century." If we were smart, or less lazy, or fearful, or ethnocentric, or ignorant, or morbidly obese, we'd maybe bow out of Imperial dominance gracefully. But I fear we won't.

Sitting in the Montreal departure lounge for QC, we ran into old friend Paul F, who we knew at Indiana and is now a singer and choral conductor in the Bay Area. We are introduced to his traveling companion, NG, who we've not met but seems to be a perfectly personable and smart-as-a-whip young musicologist. Only after she excuses herself for a moment do we realize, with Paul's prompting, that NG is the person whose US visa crisis has been identified on the front page of our professional organization: she is the person who, returning from a research trip in France, was denied re-entry to the USA to resume her teaching post in California with no explanation, and has been teaching via videolink from Wales for the past year, while the US State Department (under direction of that failed Soviet scholar, failed pianist, and failed Secretary of State Condi Rice) has completely refused any explanation, much less any advice, for the situation. NG's lawyer is convinced that the entire situation is a case of simple mistaken identity, which the State Department and Homeland Security are too embarrassed to admit--and so they have put NG's professional and personal life on hold for over a year.

This is criminal, though it is only the tip of the genocidal iceberg that these fascists have imposed upon the globe for the past 7 years. But when the person is standing in front of you--chipper, friendly, obviously smart as hell, with the man she gets to see once or twice every six months because she can't return to her home in North America--you realize both the mindless and soulless indifference of the Bush-era government and, in addition to the horror of physical and emotional suffering they've inflicted worldwide, the catastrophic (and no doubt intentional) limitation of access to the rest of the world's experience which Homeland Security and the US mass-media have imposed on us. They want us to be ignorant, they want us not to see the blown-up children in Baghdad and the child soldiers in Darfu and the anti-US marches in Paris and Belgrade and Dublin and Toronto, they want to silence not just the critical voices but any other voices than their own. And they'll bomb and torture and rendition and censor and exile and bribe and lie and intimidate and extort in order to do it.

So what do you say when NG, a person whose brains, collegiality, and obvious ability to make a lasting contribution to the quality of intellectual life in this country have been blocked by the firewall of the Bush administration's Goebbelsian "Big Lie," is standing in front of you? After swallowing down the sense of shame you feel at being governed by such criminals, you hold out your hand, and say,

"You have a lot of friends. And I swear to you that we will keep fighting for justice."

And then you hope like hell you'll live up to it.
[Oh, and as for why I thinly-anonymize NG? Because she's caught quite enough shit from "my" Gubmint, thanks--and while I'll go up against them any time on my own, I don't have the right to expose her to any more crap from some Bob Jones University-Barbie with "the Google" and a Bush-administration patronage appointment and too much time on her hands.]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sports, race, dance, and class: BoSox rule

Warning/disclaimer: This entry is partisan, over-written, and hyperbolic. I fully recognize this. But it’s also an experiment in trying to articulate in effectively evocative language some of the layers of signification some sporting events can evoke, particularly when they involve teams with a long history based in a city with a complicated past which ties into complex American tropes. Such events tend to wake some deep echoes. And, I'm the first to admit I'm no sports blogger; for that, go here. But you can't grow up in New England and not have some deep (and deeply ambivalent) connection with the Sox. Elsewhere, your mileage may vary.

The first time I actually saw Jonathan Papelbon’s notorious Riverdance/pogoing/Tony Montana - if - Travolta - was - a - tight-jointed - Cajun - instead - of - a - narcissistic - and - fey - Hollywood - scumbug dance was actually after the BoSox had won the 2007 World Series, digging themselves out of a 3-games-to-1 deficit against the California Angels and then beating the Colorado Rockies “like redheaded stepchildren”, to quote the blogger and BoSox fanatic Tits McGee. As Mike Lowell said of Terry Francona—the old-school tobacco-chewing impassive manager who took them to their first two championships in 90 years: “they never panicked: management never panicked, coaches never panicked, the players never panicked.” I honestly believe that’s why, even when the Angels picked themselves up off the asphalt in Game 4 and made a run, having previously been dusted like school-kids, I never believed the Sox were going to lose even a single game: not even when the Angels pulled within one and Francona had to yank Okajime in the 8th and send in Papelbon.

It was that loose, focused, calm that drove those seven win-or-go-home games: when Josh Beckett came in against the Angels in Game 5 and, like a gunfighter, pitched the Sox out of elimination, blowing past the Angels batters as if they were swinging at shadows, and, when California’s Lofton, embarrassed (I think) by a previous-inning fielding error, decided to charge the mound, Beckett just stood there and waited. You could feel Lofton pulling back, hoping that his coach and team-mates would intercept him before he got to the mound, because you knew that if Lofton was stupid enough to get within reach, Beckett would clean Lofton’s clock with his fists, as he just done with his arm. Lofton was leaning backward even as he was "running" forward.

You could feel that calm in the veterans, especially Ramirez (who’d jog deceptively slowly toward the deep base hits but always get to them, and who provoked a lot of bullshit false fury among Boston writers when he observed, before Game 5 with the Angels, the reality that it was a fucking game and that even if the Sox lost there’d be another year); in Mike Lowell—the Sam Elliott of the American League—who calmly, like Virgil Earp at the OK Corral, stood tall in the firestorm and gunned down pitchers and base-runners alike; and even in Big Papi David Ortiz, whose hitting was pretty much horrific, but who understood that just by standing up in that batting box like a dog team’s Alpha Male, looming over the Rockies pitchers even though they were 60-feet-six away, he could pull his team into line behind him.

You could feel it in the rookies, who built on the veterans’ deadly calm but played with the ferocity of talented kids who always knew they could hack the Big Show but hadn’t ‘til this year had the opportunity to show it: in Dustin Pedroia, the kid who in the WWII movies would have had to fill himself up on bananas and water just to make the minimum weight, but stood against pitchers half again as big as he and blasted them off the mound by sheer force of desire; in Jacoby Ellsbury, who must have had every DinĂ© person in Four Corners (and maybe a few of the Ancestors too) glued to the screen and singing the old songs as he faked-out fastball pitchers like buffalo and ran down long doubles as if they were deer; in Dice-K Matsuzaka, who after an abysmal performance in Game 2 against the Angels, sat and stared silently into his empty locker for an hour, mystifying the brain-dead ethnocentric Boston sportswriters, who were too ignorant to recognize the depth of the samurai's code of bushido—and who redeemed his honor in Game 3 against Colorado; in JD Drew, who shook off a bad month and, in another win-or-go-home situation, blasted out a season’s worth of RBI’s with a grand slam when the team most needed it; in Bobby Kielty, who, in the final game in Colorado, led off the opening at-bat of the first inning with a solo blast over the left-field wall—and at that moment even the Rockies knew the Series was done: you could feel the last air go out of their dugout;

And you could feel it in Papelbon, the tall bony nut-job who loves ribbing the sportswriters and dances like a spastic Irish chicken but who, when he stands up on the mound, stares down the pitching alley like he’s zeroing in a gun-site. He might be one of the scariest-looking pitchers I’ve ever seen—you know he’s thinking, not about hitting the zone, or even the batter, but about pitching right through him. You can tell the hitters are petrified—they’re just glad he doesn’t actually have a gun. There’s a mentality to a closer: the really great ones like having the entire weight of the game, the series, or the season on their shoulders. They like having an entire stadium of opposing fans screaming for their heart’s blood. They’re like duelists—to them, every single at-bat is mano a mano single combat.

And so to Papelbon. He may act goofy off the mound, but when he came in to close the deal in the 8th inning of Game 4—with this time the Rockies in the bottom of a deep hole—there was really no question about the outcome: he was going to blow them down, and the only real question was how brutal the obliteration would be. And in the event it was pretty brutal: he wasn’t impeccable, but (with the assistance of Ellsbury’s great long pickoff against the wall, and Coco Crisp’s consistent legs in center) the outcome was never in doubt. It wasn’t in any way anticlimactic, but it damned sure felt inevitable.

And then there’s the dance. As I say, I never saw Papelbon do it until after the Series ended, though of course the sportswriters have hardly ever talked about him without mentioning the dancing (just like Joel Lester's lymphoma or Mike Lowell's testicular cancer or Manny being the space cadet or Pedroia’s size or whatever lazy-ass bullshit peg they can employ in place of, you know, actual insight). But after they won, I got out on the Web and found numerous examples, mostly uploaded by fans taping from their TVs, and which show up and then fade off YouTube like dandelions after rain.

It’s pretty disgusting, but it’s also pretty funny: you can tell that there’s some imitation Riverdance in there, but also some Appalachian clogging and some Cajun two-stepping, and some (as I said) sub-Tony-Montana busting-of-moves. Yet, watching Papelbon out there on the diamond, with his team-mates goofy-assed around him and the ecstatic fans bum-rushing the field, you’re reminded of some older resonances:

Boston is an immigrant city, a city of docks and factories and (now) banking and high-tech. There’s always been massive intra-ethnic tension—hell, massive and blatant neighborhood-by-neighborhood racism—and it’s usually been focused between those most recently off the boat and those next-most-recently. It’s always, ever since the massive influx of the Famine Irish in the 1840s, been the peoples at the bottom end of the economic scale, those most recently arrived, who’ve represented the biggest economic threat to those with a half-generation’s foothold in the New World. And so the Nativists fought the Irish and the Irish fought the Italians and the Italians fought the Jews & Poles and the Poles & Greeks fought the Chinese and the Chinese fought the Vietnamese and the Vietnamese fought the Hmong and the Hmong fought the Somalis and Nigerians and on and on and on.

But all that intra-ethnic strife—all that marching and picketing and name-calling and political pandering (I still remember the notorious Louise Day Hicks, a thick-headed shrew from South Boston who ran for Mayor on an anti-“forced”-busing platform in the early ‘70s)—was actually smoke & mirrors, because it’s always been about class. And greed. And the sophisticated ways in which the wealthy--the Cotton Mathers and Adams’s and Beacon Hill patricians and bankers and developers and ship-owners and codfish aristocracy—have used the most contemptible and opportunistic wedge issues to drive divisions between the poor, and to distract the poor from the realization that the real war is not between one ethnicity and another, between one neighborhood and another, between one immigrant group and the next—but between the rich, who will do absolutely anything to hold on to power and privilege, and everyone else, over whose faces they’ll walk to keep control.

And Papelbon stands up, in Rockies stadium, a mile higher in altitude and over 2000 miles away from both his birthplace and his home town, in the stadium of a team whose leadership and ownership have been not-shy about claiming Jesus as both their inspiration and their source of strength (nothing wrong with that—but such a claim, in George W. Bush's 21st American political environment, carries certain implications and, typically, entitlements), and as the Dropkick Murphys, a good loud snotty-attitude trad/punk Irish band from Boston, begin to blare over the stadium speakers, he starts to dance.

And it’s goofy and silly and faintly disturbing and about as terpsichoreally effective as most jocks usually are—but there are other, older echoes there: of the longshoremen and shanghaied sailors dancing on the wharves and foc’sles, and the shillelaigh-wielding Paddies mocked (and feared) in the pages of Punch and the New York Herald, and the blacked-up singers, fiddlers, and banjo-players who built the canals in the North and the levees in the South, and were Barbardozed away from the Gaeltachtai of Ireland to work the sugar plantations of the Caribbean, and the Cape Breton Islanders who were deporting out by the post-Revolution retreating British colonials and shipped off to the swamps of Louisiana, and of Johnny Rotten howling “God Save the Queen” to a crowd full of drunken cowboys in Texas on the Sex Pistols’ final tour, and John Lennon (Liverpool Irish himself) standing up at a Command Performance in 1963 and telling the Royals to “rattle their jewelry” instead of clapping along. It’s the liminal, coarse-voiced, bird-flipping ferocity of the Underclass, who’d ride sports or music or machine politics or crime out of the slums and into a place of power—and dance defiantly while they did it.

Too much meaning to put on the goofy “excessive celebration” dance of a gangley Cajun with a rifle for an arm and two left feet?


But if you’re from Boston, or of immigrant stock, or you know the history of that place, in your head or in your bones?

Maybe not.

"The Office" (Workstation series) 60 (gettin' up on the road edition)

Pre-launch morning: Dharmonia and I depart this afternoon to points north for the annual gathering of our particular musicological tribe, which I'm going to try to blog live (more or less). It's usually--actually--pretty enjoyable, if only for the opportunity to see old friends and to get the research/scholarship batteries recharged. I know a lot of academics who treat conferences (once their own presentations are done) as an excuse to sightsee, go to restaurants, and booze it up late at night, basically on their department's tab.

That's not really our thing: because we live hell west of nowhere on the Great Flat, the chance to hang with a lot of other research colleagues, and hear what they're doing, is quite welcome. Of course any such conference is riddled with all the behaviors that tend to make people think of academics as spoiled ivory-tower aesthetes:

  • the questioner in the after-paper discussion, usually a junior person trying to be visible and make an impression, who has obviously spent the entire presentation, not listening, but composing his/her own impossible abstruse and jargon-ridden question, not to elicit an answer, but in order to display her/his own erudition or to take the presenter down a couple of pegs;
  • the questioner, usually a senior person, who asks grumpily why the presenter didn't cite the senior's own scholarship--no matter its irrelevance to the topic;
  • the breakout sessions and task forces organized and self-promoted by members of various self-perceived under-represented demographics;
  • the overage-in-grade seniors who seem to think the conference is like Vegas: that every kind of social misbehavior (drunkenness, theft, adultery, harassment) will be left and forgotten in the conference city--but never is;
  • the juniors who, because they were stars in their graduate programs or won an organizational award for research, think that teaching skills are beneath them;
  • the hoverers in the book room who walk in on the opening Tuesday and get their dibs in the desk copies before anybody else is actually in town
  • And so on and so forth.
But there are also brilliant, inspiring people, the quality of whose erudition, the incisiveness of whose thought, the generosity of whose spirits, the courage of whose intellectual and political stances, the stamina of whose 30- or 40- or 50-year careers and intellectual contributions, all provoke a valuable dose of humility and gratitude. Sometimes they're old comrades-in-arms who had your back in the worst firefights or who walked the craziest parts of the path with you. And sometimes they're even youngsters who you yourself trained and whose dedication, virtuosity, effort, and go-for-broke commitment to the profession give you the kind of lump in your throat that parents must feel when their grown kids change the world for the better.

I always come back from this conference worn out, glad to be home, sick of hotel food and beds, but with thousands of words of notes to carry me through the next year of teaching and, usually, the next half-decade of research ideas. Conferences can be lonely when you're young, are beating the bushes for a gig, don't know people, haven't anyone to hang out with in the hotel bar.

I'm not looking forward to 24 hours of travel to get there. But, to paraphrase Kevin Murphy, when Dharmonia's with me I can have a good time waiting in line to buy gravel. I can damn sure have a good time in a foreign city with Dharmonia and the members of my tribe.

Now playing: Jeff Beck - Freeway Jam

Monday, October 29, 2007

Like red-headed stepchildren

As in "Sox beat Rockies like..."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fuzzy people 22 (I can haz chunes edition)

Mister Man in aftermath of VMC concert weekend.

Thanks to Chipper for the "fuzzy people" appellation.

Catching up

Sorry for the decreased posting, the last few days. We were occupied with this:

Vernacular Music Center Concert Series Oct 27 8pm HRH: Michael Black (Celtic music) FREE ADMISSION

On Saturday, October 27 at 8pm in Hemmle Recital Hall on the TTU campus, Michael Black will present a solo concert of Irish traditional focused around the singing tradition of the Black Family, a legend in Irish music, and his new solo compact disc on the Compass label. The event is co-sponsored by the TTU Vernacular Music Center, the School of Music, and the Caprock Celtic Association.

Through the generosity of Director William Ballenger, admission for the general public to this event is now FREE!!!

About Michael Black:

Michael Black of the legendary singing family of Rathlin and Dublin now resides in San Francisco. As a banjo player and an accomplished guitarist he has worked with many Irish artists including Paddy Keenan, John Whelan, Nollaig Casey and James Kelly. More recently Michael has emphasized his solo career, playing at venues throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Michael was a special surprise guest at the 2006 Caprock Celtic Christmas, bringing down the house with his renditions of traditional ballads and singalongs, and we are delighted that he returns for a full evening’s concert.

Michael’s first solo CD, released in July 2007, was produced by John Doyle of Solas and features a variety of songs from shanties, to a song in Irish, anti-war songs and a number of chorus songs. Musicians on the album include John Doyle, Liz Carroll, Liz Knowles, Seamus Egan, John Williams, Chico Huff, Dirk Powell and backing vocals include John Doyle, Mary, Frances, Martin, Shay, Eoghan Scott, Danny and Roisin O’Reilly.

Review quotes:

“A gifted, accomplished, sensitive ballad singer with diverse, discerning taste in songs…Part of a famous Dublin singing family…An effervescent glee hard to resist…Songs unflinching in their political and social message.”

“Singing is an absolute good. This CD proves it.”
--Earle Hitchner in The Irish Echo
and this (Michael Black in front of Google Earth image of Rathlin Island, his home place):

And this (Dr Coyote teaching 110 college freshmen to dance the "Threes" and "Sevens"):

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Skills vs Data in the undergraduate classroom

Originated as a comment over on Terminal Degree:

The students that we teach in the 21st century have a radically different capacity to process data versus acquire skills. This does not mean that they are less smart or less literate than were undergraduates 30 years ago--but the capacity of their intellects and the nature of their literacy are vastly different.

It's an ongoing adjustment, from our side as teachers, to re-order our sense of (a) the volume of material versus (b) the level of comprehension, skills, and command we expect of the undergraduates. At our campus, we are continually refining our realization that skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking critically) are a hell of a lot more important than data. At this point in the continuum of knowledge access, it's more important that undergrads know how to think about and where to look for data, than that they retain that data in their brains, absent references sources. This is tough for us as educators, because (at least my generation)/we come from a learning style that said you had to have both critical skills and command of data. In a changing educational environment, and with students whose learning and data-processing modes are so radically different, we can't expect that same level of data. Nor--if our job is to equip them for this world, rather than the world of 20 years ago--should we.

(3) Now to the current situation, and how you can help these kids maximize their retention and skills and minimize their stress. Here are learning/memory tools that seem to work well with our population and which the students can be shown how to use (they must create on their own, however--this aids retention). These can be described, demonstrated, drilled, and assigned in class:

  • Traditional memory jogs which still work but which the youngsters don't tend to be taught: flashcards, mnemonics, acronyms;
  • Memory tools that play to their essentially post-literate, highly-visual processing: timelines (a great tool, as they teach chronological organization in a visual way); color-coding different related topics; diagrams and "knowledge-clouds"; iconography (hugely important: they are very visually literate and their retention of data, when that data is linked to a visual image, is massively better);
  • Interactive and dynamic tools: study-groups, mock quizzes, team-against-team, "scavenger hunts" ("find me three examples of visual images that demonstrate the idea of Heroic Romanticism");

(4) Now to strategies about writing. One word: MODELS. The reason they cannot write (synthesize, read critically, organize their thinking, formulate a cogent argument, etc, etc) is because they are no longer taught in secondary school how to synthesize. They are taught to short-term-memorize random information and regurgitate on standardized tests.

They are remarkably acute at recognizing, following, extrapolating from, and expanding upon a model. This is how they build facebook sites; this is how they learn to take digital photos; this is how they learn to use an iPhone: they watch and imitate.

For the paper: take a class session and show them a paper blocked out into chunks (Intro containing abstract and thesis statement: Lit Review: Articulation of "need": Methodology: Examples with discussion: Conclusions including "implications for followup and parallel research"). The whole paper might be only 7 pages; each chunk I've cited might be 2 or 3 paragraphs only. But you would have a "telescoped" or miniaturized paper which could serve as a model.

Go into class and bring up a blank slide that just says

"Introduction: thesis & abstract"

And then talk it through, improvising several examples on unrelated topics. Have them take notes. Then go around the room and call on students to come up with a thesis statement about their topic (they'll all volunteer, because they see it might help jump-start the actual writing). Tease out and refine. Rinse and repeat.

This has two advantages: (1) it demonstrates the process by which an idea gets turned into a thesis or statement of an investigative problem; (2) it shows the students that this is essentially a mechanical process which can be imitated. And, it models the process (rather than simply describing it).

If all of the above measures are still insufficient to address student anxiety or lack of time, this is where you punt: if in your estimation, they simply and through no negligence of their own have too much to do, you have the right as the teacher to waive some portion of the paper assignment.

One year, for some concatenation of reasons, I came to the conclusion that my second-semester sophomore class simply had too much to do--that I was going to be dealing with some stress-induced nervous breakdowns if this continued. So I ran them through the 6 or 7 stages that preceded the final draft (thesis--abstract--short bib--background paper just giving factual basis--full bib--first draft) with the explicit message that all of this would lead up to the final draft, which would be the for-credit assignment.

Then, after we had completed all preceding stages and it was time to discuss the final draft, I went into class and told them that, this time only and in recognition that it was being a very hard semester for everyone, I had made the command decision that, provided a student had completed all previous stages in a timely and complete fashion, the final draft could be optional. Only those who had completed all previous stages could avail of this option, and any who wished to complete the final draft for extra credit were permitted to do so.

This had several results: (1) almost all the skills-building had already been completed in the preceding stages; (2) the final draft was the most unfamiliar and thus threatening stage; (3) it gave those who really wanted to write a paper the option of doing so and earning deserved extra credit; (4) it sent the message that meeting your obligations and deadlines can buy you leeway; (5) it meant that I was reading only final drafts that students had really cared about and worked on.

The potential loophole--that students who had not been conscientious would try to write the extra credit final draft to eek out a grade--was closed because those same students typically would not have completed the preceding stages.

There was the issue in subsequent years that students would hear through the jungle telegraph about the mythical semester "when Dr Coyote canceled the final draft", but it was fairly easy to disabuse those future students of false hopes.

I did this because I believe it's part of our larger job as educators to recognize that teaching the students sometimes admits of our *changing* a requirement if, in our expert opinion, that requirement is net-counterproductive.

Now playing: Frank Zappa - Moggio

Magistra Mac

Mac Tire passed her Master's exams. Give it up!
Now playing: Gus Cannon & His Jug Stompers - Minglewood Blues

"The Office" (Workstation series) 59 (academic publishers edition)

Funny how things hang up, and motivation goes down--and then things move, and motivation goes up. The Buddha taught us to follow right actions and "make positive effort toward the good", without becoming attached to results. He taught this not because things never work out--despite the teachings of my childhood--but because attachment to results leads us to want to do those things which we think will work out, and to avoid/ignore those we think won't. This is fallacious, because we don't know what's going to work out, and we don't know what or where positive effects will result from our positive actions. The simile I use with students is that an action (positive or negative) is like a stone cast into a pond: you don't know where, or on what, visible or invisible shores the ripples will be felt--you just know that they will be. So do you want the ripples of your actions through the universe to be positive or negative?

This perspective simultaneously creates humility (you can only cast a pebble into this pond) and at the same time responsibility (you can cast a pebble or not, and its positive or negative impacts will always be felt--so which is it gonna be?). When the 1960s anti-war and social-justice movements both flamed out (in the psychosis of the Weather Underground and the drug culture) and also blossomed (in the magnificent work of Women's and Gay Liberation and of the environmental movement), the difference between flame-out and bloom was caused by the presence or absence of a sense of the spiritual impact and price of activism. You could not change the world for the better if you could not change yourself likewise. And if you changed the world without changing yourself, then your achievement would bloom into the deadly nightshade of egotism and greed. It's the spiritual content of "think globally and act locally"--the western equivalent of the beautiful Buddhist metaphor of Indra's Web, in which every consciousness is an individual jewel, the myriad knotted connections that flow between every consciousness, and that reflect throughout the entire warp and weft a shock, of joy or suffering, at any point in the web.

Two days ago an academic publisher, who had implied they'd be interested to take a musicological project I've worked on for the past two years, basically blew me off--told m that the press's list had changed and that my project would no longer be suitable. Of course that threw me into a fit of the blues, and I spent at least 20 seconds thinking "Fuck it--find another project." Then I shook it off, pulled up the original approach letter, and re-edited to create two versions for two other publishers who'd been recommended as better targets. Sent the emails yesterday morning, and within 90 minutes had very positive and enthusiastic replies from both editors. I'll meet with both next week.

A good lesson in "take positive action without expectation of results." If only so as to avoid ridiculous mental gyrations. Just suck it up, do the right work with the right intention, and trust that the universe will provide the right shores upon which your pebble's ripples will touch.

Now playing: Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die

What television could be and could do

My hero, David Simon, on the best program television has ever done:

Simon makes it clear that the show’s ambitions were grand. “ ‘The Wire’ is dissent,” he says. “It is perhaps the only storytelling on television that overtly suggests that our political and economic and social constructs are no longer viable, that our leadership has failed us relentlessly, and that no, we are not going to be all right.”
There it is.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The bottom frickin' line

My candidate:

You should not be president if you do not acknowledge the divisions that threaten our economy, our society and our soul.
--John Edwards

That's the bottom fuckin' line.
Now playing: Brass Monkey - The Maid And The Palmer

"The Office" (Workstation series) 58 (attendance edition)

We show up.

That's how we succeed. We roll over, get out of the rack, feed Mister Man, shower in a cold house (40 degrees out and the furnace is off), towel off quick, shovel down the oatmeal, get to campus for the yoga class or the blog post or the low-brass techniques class.

We get on the cross-trainer, run through pre-dawn streets (fuckin' Junior thinks he's going to define a "legacy" by extending Daily Savings), wash the dishes, scrape the windshield, catch the bus, get on the bike, get our asses in gear.

We make it to rehearsals, prepare our lectures, read our notes, do our quizzes, submit our midterm grades, read our mail, meet with students (or teachers), design our courses, submit our textbook requests, serve on committees committees committees, fundraise for the public radio station, produce radio shows, administer non-profit arts associations, organize CD release parties.

We rake leaves, take out the trash, clean the bathroom, call the heating-and-cooling guy, wash the dishes, sweep the kitchen, turn on the alarm, swerve around idiot drivers who are half asleep, get to work.

We stand up under the shitstorm of our alma mater (just as dysfunctional now as when we left 8 years ago), prepare new repertoire, problem-solve recital programs, host guest artists, organize stage and front-of-house crews, rehearse as accompanists, transcribe horn charts, keep up with the discipline's literature, board debark board debark board debark board debark board debark way too many airplanes, produce our passports, swallow our disgust at our own country's knuckleheaded ethnocentrism, deliver papers, recruit new colleagues, speak truth to power, give money to progressive causes, march against war, rant at fascists, laugh at goofy user-generated art.

We stand up in class, model behavior, insist on integrity, demonstrate critical thinking critical reading critical writing critical speaking, speak for the humanity of art and knowledge, coach private lessons, hold hands and offer Kleenexes, advocate for colleagues, recruit for our courses, juggle textbook costs/benefits, cuss the Greenspanian cowardice and the Cheneyian greed and the Bushian privilege that sank the dollar and is costing poor students millions it doesn't need to, trade stories of student nonsensicalities, choke up at their gratitude, watch them fly away to fieldwork jobs interviews postdocs teaching, give away little pieces of our hearts.

We stand up.

We show up.

We help the world keep spinning in the face of samsara.

[This post is dedicated to Dharmonia.]

Now playing: Ba Cissoko - Mamaya

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"We're goin' to the Show!"

Last night I watched 'til midnight EDT from N Florida.

Tonight (after 3 hours sleep), I'm watching 'til 11pm CDT from W TX.

My boys is goin' to the Show!

Blogging lite: back from the road

Lecture, master-class, duo concert.

Far north edge of the South Atlantic.

4AM wakeup call after three hours sleep--but it was worth it to see the spanking the BoSox laid on the Indians to tie it up 3-3.

We're back from the road

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

rt + sngk + shp: Fun with transitive verbs

Hopelessly brief and hurried snark-hit, in lieu of time-enough to write something:

NOUN: 1a. Any of various long-tailed rodents resembling mice but larger, especially one of the genus Rattus. b. Any of various animals similar to one of these long-tailed rodents. 2. Slang a. A despicable person, especially one who betrays or informs upon associates.

NOUN: 1a. A vessel of considerable size for deep-water navigation. b. A sailing vessel having three or more square-rigged masts. 2. An aircraft or spacecraft. 3. The crew of one of these vessels. 4. One's fortune: When my ship comes in, I'll move to a larger house.

INTRANSITIVE VERB: 1. To descend to the bottom; submerge. 2a. To fall or drop to a lower level, especially to go down slowly or in stages: The water in the lake sank several feet during the long, dry summer. b. To subside or settle gradually, as a massive or weighty structure. 3. To appear to move downward, as the sun or moon in setting. 4. To slope downward; incline.


"rat(s)" (pl.) + "sink" + "ship" + "[]" (you supply the transitive verb) =

From CNN:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison will not seek re-election after her current Senate term and may leave before her term ends in 2012 to run for Texas governor, a spokesman for the senator says.
I'll bet the Honorable Hair-do is quakin' and shakin' right about now.

Pass the popcorn!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fuzzy people 21 (Mister-Man edition)

Thanks to Chipper for the "fuzzy people" appellation.

"The Office" (Workstation series) 56 (maiden-voyage edition)

Another jammed day. This past weekend was taken up with:

Friday "fall break": which is only a "break" for students who checked out mentally around Thursday noon--for faculty and staff, it was a full work-day during which we all desperately tried to catch up);

Remarkably excellent pub session Friday evening: in a music town like Lubbock, it's a real watershed when the local music-heads, who've been going out to hear live music ever since Stevie Ray and B.B. played the barbecue joints around town, discover trad music and decide they want to hear it in the pub: when the cackling guinea hen who's talking through the quiet song gets shushed by a woman who's listening, and the guinea hen's male companion says something snotty, and then the massive ex-Marine who's also listening says "Excuse me?" and the guinea hen and mate depart swiftly. We sang songs all night long, and we toasted English Dave at the end;

Saturday work-day, during which I blew off a volunteer obligation because I fuckin' forgot it (shit), but during which the late-afternoon teaching session had some good new youngster players--it's always nice to grow the next generation, in case I get hit by a bus;

Sunday: three rehearsals--one for the loud band, a second with Dharmonia for a duo gig in Florida, a third with the Celtic Ensemble. All three good: by the fourth rehearsal, the loud band is starting to sound like we know each other plays--and we've already got a demo in the can. Nice to be in a situation where all four disparate personalities are gettin' their goodies without anybody having to bend too far--and great players!

Dharmonia rehearsal also great. It's a remarkable sensation to revisit a repertoire with a brother/sister musician that you learned together 20-25 years before, and realize again that the music you created at age 20 was actually good music. We didn't have the chops to execute it, in 1980--but by God the ideas were sound. Nice to have the chops now to play it the way it was intended to sound then.

Celtic Ensemble is working out really well. Our annual calendar has evolved so that the Fall semester is the break-in-new-talent, work on a small/light calendar, deal with the various service obligations (Madrigal Dinners, Celtic Xmas), and mostly get people up to speed period. Then, we hit hard in the Spring semester, doing a January concert of the Fall repertoire, and then jumping into a much more complex and elaborate repertoire for a second concert in late Spring. Also working on a bunch of morris dance stuff and lucky enough to have a motivated core group of dancers for the morris side.

Then the maiden voyage of the loud band: quintessential West Texas Sunday night barroom jam session: wall-to-wall bikers, burnt-out fraternity boys (on the downward slide since they eked out their 2.0 GPA and barely graduated), and a roomful of the kind of top-notch musicians who, around here, have been blowing out great music in bars ever since the 1940s. There's a reason that the great musicians who are born and raised in the Lubbock area wind up getting out as quick as they can: the music scene is excellent--because chock-full of great unknown players--but also incredibly demoralizing because the audience, while digging the music, is overall pretty much indifferent to the musicians' or scene's ongoing well-being. They're good diggers, but their ability to absorb pretty much any idiom outside the familiar grooves is pretty much nonexistent.

We played Meters and Bob Marley obscurities--and the band played great--but pretty much the only people who responded were the other musicians: the bikers were waiting for the next shuffle, and the burnt-out frat boys only recognize "I Shot the Sheriff" because they blared it out the windows of their boozing halls. But we played good--and there's something really gratifying about playing music as one-among-equals with your students. I started playing bars around 1976 or '77, before several of these guys were born, but I don't want to be the authority figure. As I said to the bass player, "There's no way you're calling me 'Dr Coyote' in the context of the band, because if you have to turn around and tell the rhythm guitar player his time is bad, it's not fair that you'd also have to call him 'Doctor.'"

It's also a pretty wonderful experience to be able to play all the diverse musics I rehearsed on Sunday, knowing that my job description, whose teaching--research--service ratios I insisted upon tailoring, includes "performance" and "vernacular musics" as principal research and teaching areas. So it's all research and it's all part of my job. In two weeks I'm going to go off and anchor the house rock band at the international gathering of my discipline's tribe. Some difference from the snotty "why is he even enrolled in our musicology program?" questions I got during my graduate study, because I had the temerity to argue that the music of someone other than Joseph Haydn might be eloquent, beautiful, and merit study. Regardless of the dishonest and spiteful actions of individuals who tried to chase me entirely out of this field, I and we are here now. The world of academic scholarship done caught up with us.

I'm reminded of a button Dharmonia gave me years ago, which I eventually had to stop wearing around my grad program's Musicology dept, because it made the guilty-conscienced social misfits on the faculty too uptight:
"Laugh while you can, but we will be in charge someday."
It's a strange (but very welcome) sensation to spend 20 years (1987-2007) with your head down in the tumpline, feeling like a Sherpa slogging up an Everest of requirements, seminars, exams, accreditations, dossiers, annual reports, and various other hills to climb, only to emerge out on the flat near the summit, and realize that all those years paid off--that you really are in charge.

Now playing: Albert King - Blues At Sunrise

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 55 (sabbatical-jam edition)

Too danged much work to do for this to be a sabbatical. Something ain't working right. Dharmonia and I leave Wednesday AM for a gig in the Great Southeast (lecture, master-class, duo concert), returning on a 6AM flight and then the week after that for the discipline's Gathering of the Tribes, where among other things including crossing a border we have to talk to junior-post recruits and play Led Zepplin and Robert Johnson in the Saturday cabaret, before returning on a 6AM flight. And there's the CD release part(ies) schedule, and the Search Committee, and the 100 Study Abroad Scholarship applications to read (no way I'm going to opt out of helping give kids money to study abroad) and keeping track of various newly-minted faculty's first semester experiences, and teaching the various studio lessons for my trad-music specialists, and supervising the various Honors, Master's, and PhD research and thesis projects, and the Guest Artist coming in Oct 27, and the annual Celtic Christmas coming up, and running the Celtic Ensemble and its various gigs, and I have to get back to the "100 Greats" project.

I'm crunching away on research, and also keeping up with (too much of my) department business before I take over in January. But shit is starting to slip: I blew off a public-radio on-air volunteer stint this morning because I didn't get it into my planner and






Friday, October 12, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 54 (landscape edition)

Blogging light today. Trying to take advantage of the newly-minted "Fall Break": really, just a way to rationalize giving the kids the three-day weekend they're going to take--physically or mentally--for the football match with the arch-enemies down the road.

Around here, the boosters--mostly a corrupt bunch of promoters, advertisers, real-estate developers, and good ole boys who've controlled economics in this town for at least the past 40 years--have coined a slogan which attempts to turn the sow's ear of the landscape (flat as a griddle and about as topographically interesting) into a silk purse. The slogan reads:

"Lubbock has more sky."
Or, more clumsily but more accurately,
"Lubbock's landscape is in the sky."
Which is mostly bullshit designed to elide the above topographical reality. But on some days you've got to admit the accuracy of the bullshit slogan.

Yesterday was one.


Late afternoon:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Iron Man

You know what's bizarre? This guy actually was my favorite superhero as an adolescent, and the Hulk and The Thing ("It's clobberin' time!") actually were my next favorites.

Your results: You are Iron Man: Inventor. Businessman. Genius.

Iron Man
Green Lantern
The Flash
Wonder Woman

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Now playing: Peter Bellamy - Derry Gaol

"The Office" (Workstation series) 53 (music-socialization edition)

On campus again, at the satellite Office in the Student Union adjacent to Music. As I said to a colleague from another department (portrait from the back above), "I like to be within sprinting distance if there's a fire I need to put out."

Recent thoughts prompted by a discussion elsewhere on the lily-white status of too many middle-class summer music workshops, and the (healthy) culture-crossing that can ensue through the learning of music:

>But, I knew context already, from years of immersion in culture and dance and stuff like that. If you don't have that, a >compete "other culture" experience can be daunting.
Agreed. I'd expand upon this, to suggest that, for those who are interested in crossing-culture, music(s) are often a comparatively and intentionally accessible path to do this. This is because all music requires learning--not only learning, of course, because environment, cultural inheritance, context, and nurture play key roles, but explicit learning nevertheless. And in the performative arts, as with other apprenticeship-based models, approaches to teaching have been developed in each tradition. If you want to learn blacksmithing, or midwifery, or gardening, or welding, or storytelling, or dancing, or music, learning has to take place. And in oral/aural cultures, that learning/teaching has typically been on a demonstration-imitation-critique model. It is the height of ego- and ethno-centrism for any musical tradition (most commonly, since the Enlightenment, the "Classical" tradition) to presume that its own pedagogical methods are the most highly-developed or appropriate tools for teaching other musical traditions. This insistence upon employing western-Classical pedagogies and analysis has led to outrageous distortions of the musical values (and value) of other musical traditions.

This is why, when I teach world traditions to young people, I have to perform an act of translation. By definition, teaching one culture's youngsters about another culture's music requires compromise: you cannot teach the indigenous tradition entirely using the indigenous methods, because your students don't have the cultural frame or experience to benefit from that indigenous pedagogy.

But historically, the above has been the excuse to swing the pendulum much too far in the other direction: toward the abstraction, adaptation, and distortion of the indigenous tradition in order to make is accessible to the target student. "Oh, my students are all music readers; they could never learn (or even worse "they don't need") to learn something by ear." This betrays a complete misunderstanding of the indigenous tradition's priorities--and this misunderstanding leads to a distortion of the indigenous music itself.

And at the root of that misunderstanding is an implicit but nevertheless real presumption of cultural superiority. E.g., "well, those 'Other' people have to learn by ear because they haven't developed their capacities for notation as much as We Ourselves have."

Many years ago, I was giving a chant workshop with my medieval ensemble at a small northern Midwestern college. We had been hired in, as part of a concert weekend, to give this workshop to members of the uni's concert choir, and we proceeded as we always did: by teaching the choir a fragment of chant--by ear--and then beginning to add in improvised organum (improvised parallel harmony at the fifth above or fourth below)--also by ear. It was sounding good, and the kids were self-evidently fascinated by the experience that this musical sound, which most of them associated with the head-smacking monks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, could be improvised, and that they could do it--when the pole-up-the-butt Conductor leaned over to me and said, in a patented snippy-Conductor voice, "just where are we going with this?" I whispered back that this was the historical performance practice and the prick said "well, my students are very competent readers and I hardly think we need to waste time doing this." So we wrenched the fucking thing back toward--not the kids'--but the professor's comfort zone. And the music, and the cross-cultural learning, fell flat.

In my observation and experience, and despite the racist presumptions of too many western teachers, musical traditions evolve pedagogical techniques that are perfectly tailored to teach the musical information that particular culture prioritizes. African music evolved a pedagogy which was perfectly adapted to convey its musical priorities. That European musical aesthetics heard African music as inadequate is indicative of the inapplicability of those aesthetics to such music; not of the relative value of that music. Irish traditional music, Mississippi Delta blues, Pakistani Qawwali, Hindi classical music, Spanish flamenco--all these and others have evolved pedagogical methods as uniquely adapted and beautifully different as the musics those methods teach.

Learning another culture's music using the indigenous pedagogy can also teach you about even more than just where to put your fingers, or your ears.

It can be difficult to understand social, ethical, or behavioral expectations in another culture not your own: because these are typically taught over several decades of a young human's development, and mostly by indirect observation (eg, "No, don't point the soles of your feet at another person," or "No, don't dip into the food dish with that hand"). In the performance arts, on the other hand (as in blacksmithing, midwifery, etc), some elder has to take you in hand and show you where your fingers go--or at least you have to sit at the feet of that elder and watch his/her fingers, in order to teach yourself.

All socialized learning is like this, of course: but music, because it is a specific set of skills within a discreet area of expertise, and not one engaged in by every member of the population, is an area in which it is permissible to be a beginner. A 40-year-old outsider who doesn't know not to point soles or to dip with the wrong hand is regarded as socially maladroit at best. In contrast, a 40-year-old outsider who doesn't know how to play the qin is regarded as harmless and permitted to be a novice. Moreover, music, because it is a slightly more formalized type of expression (in contrast, say, to conversation or body-language), tends to have a slightly more formalized, sequential, incremental and developmental learning sequence. You can be a novice, and be accepted. And as a novice in music you tend to be shown relatively clear and logical paths toward greater expertise.

This has larger implications for outsiders who wish to learn insider social behaviors and values. If musical aesthetics and behaviors reflect their culture's values, to whatever extent, then we can reverse the inference, and suggest at least that learning to participate appropriately and insightfully in another music culture can in turn teach you how to behave appropriately in terms of that culture's social, cultural, ethical, and spiritual values. Thus, both young insiders and adult outsiders both can be socialized using music's tools for development.

This is why learning music has sometimes been used as a tool by those wishing to cross cultural boundaries. And why, in my opinion, learning a culture's musical procedures and values can make you a better person.

Bonus image: sunrise on the South Plains.

More below the jump.

[And a music shout-out to Elder Brother, who last night quoted (from Bombay, via email) the following line from Toot Hibberts's version of "Maggie's Farm": "[s]he's sixty-eight but [s]he says [s]he's fifty-four." My elder brother is building and budgeting low-income housing units for poor people worldwide. I'd say he hasn't wasted his half century. Happy Birthday, big brother!]

Now playing: toots hibbert - maggies farm

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

We have fed you all a thousand years

No-one is more short-sighted and historically-amnesiac than a politician looking out for his own self-interests and his patrons' pocketbooks:

Thousands of anti-war protesters will mount a peaceful challenge to a ban on marches outside parliament today, unless there is a last-minute compromise with the police. Hundreds of extra demonstrators are expected to swell the protest after police and Palace of Westminster authorities agreed to stop the march in Whitehall with a measure drawn up to counter Chartist agitators 150 years ago.

If the scum who run Brown's government and guarantee its power had an ounce of historical awareness, they'd know that governments trying to repress lawful protest against illegal wars (against foreign oil-powers, against the powerless, against the disenfranchised) are always doomed to (eventual) failure. Just ask Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Sam Adams, or Gerrard Winstanley:
The club is all their law, stand up now, stand up now,
The club is all their law, stand up now,
The club is all their law to keep men in awe,
But they no vision saw to maintain such a law.
Stand up now, Diggers all.
It may take decades, generations, or even centuries for the wheel to go round, but fascism always fails. And, a reminder to those who are top of the heap now, and the jackbooted thugs who support them and the cowardly greedheads who enable them:
You poor take courage
You rich take care
This earth was made a common treasury for everyone to share
The Chartists sought freedom for the poor and the landless. Not entitlements, just opportunity: universal suffrage for all adult males (instead of only for those who owned land); voting by secret ballot (so that individuals could vote safely without fear of retaliation); eligibility for election to Parliament without the necessity of owning property; annual elections (so that if they were sold out by those who had campaigned for votes, they could turn those bastards out). Though it took over half a century, every one of these demands eventually came to reality.

The British ruling class hated and feared them: when they marched on London in 1848, the middle class was so terrified of this peaceful petition to Parliament that they deputized 150 thousand "special constables" (e.g., vigilantes) to "keep the peace" (there's a great, suitably mocking description of this farcical force in the opening of George MacDonald Fraser's Flash for Freedom). They were dispersed that day, but half a century later--though the marchers could not have known it--every one of those principal goals had come true. Repression of the people's right to free and full participation in their government failed then; it's gonna fail now.

This is a song written for just those Chartist marches.

A hundred years, a thousand years, we're marching on the road
The going isn't easy yet, we've got a heavy load, oh we've got a heavy load
The way is blind with blood and sweat, and death sings in our ears
But time is marching on our side, we will defeat the years, oh we will defeat the years
We men of bone of shrunken shank, our only treasure doth,
Women who carry at their breast heirs to the hungry earth, oh heirs to the hungry earth
Speak with one voice, we march, we rest, and march again upon the years
Sons of our sons are listening to hear the Chartist cheers
Oh, to hear the Chartists cheers

Now playing: Chumbawamba - Chartist Anthem

"The Office" (Workstation series) 52 (minstrelsy-summary edition)

[originated in a post to the Black Banjo list; an excellent resource well worth checking out. This is essentially a summary for a musicological but non-specialist audience. As I tell my students--as it was said to me--"you need to be able to summarize your research to Legendary Senior Scholar in the :30 seconds it takes you to ride the elevator of the conference hotel down to the ground floor"]

I am working on some research which may be of interest in this discussion. You will all be familiar with the painter Wm Sidney Mount and his "The Banjo Player." What is perhaps not so well known is that Mount grew up on the North Central coast of Long Island, an area which had a substantial free-black community and housed the oldest AME church on the Island. This is the same area from which free blacks would row across the Sound to sell fried eels and other street food on the wharves of the Lower East Side. Mount's brother was a dance teacher, he himself was a fiddler, flute player, and collector, and his unpublished sketchbooks are full of depictions of black and white musicians and dancers interacting. As a few of you know, I am working on a book based on this material and I believe the material will reveal a much wider and more diverse interaction of black and white musics, both rural and urban, both African and Anglo-Celtic, in this period.

Further to Tony's comments about Pinkster and other Northern seasonal celebrations: we are pretty sure that the earliest blackface minstrels like GW Dixon and TD Rice, and the Black musicians they learned from (notably, "Bobolink Bob," a whistler from Long Island), interacted on waterfronts all up and down the Hudson and along the northern canals. Pinkster was very significant in upstate NY, and the masking, tunes, dances, and so on that it created probably traveled down-river to NYC and Long Island. I have found documentation in primary sources which confirms that Anglo-Celtic tunes, light-classical English songs, various types of dances, and blackface minstrel tunes (including the archetypal "Possum up a gum stump") were performed in theatrical pieces on NY stages by 1828.

[quick-hit musical observation based on re-hearing the tune int he .sig: Eddie van Halen was an absolute fuckin' genius--as both guitarist and riff-architect--and he and his brother played together like they were two lobes of a single brain (and 1/2 a brain apiece is just about the right ratio for rock stars), and Sammy Hagar (515o vintage VH) had absolutely endless pipes, but Jeezus was Sammy an imbecilic lyricist. He makes Diamond David Lee Roth sound like Cole Porter.]

Now playing: Van Halen - Summer Nights

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fuzzy people 20 (Athena edition #02)

A pair of burrowing owls adjacent to the TTU Art Museum. When I moved to get more of a close-up, the male (on the left) flew up, but the female scurried down into the burrow, looking at me over the rim. Probably got some young 'uns down there. A colleague confirms that they often take over prairie-dog holes. Cute little fellers.

More below the jump.

The appearance versus the reality of bad-assedness

Curmudgette nails it:

We are now a country that worships at the altar of Jack Bauer and venerates idiocy as long as it looks really bad-ass.
There it is.

The authentic bad-asses in our history, the ones who, when the chips were down, did what had to be done, even at the price of bad karma or even life itself--Ethan Allen, Daniel Morgan, the 54th Massachusetts, William Tecumseh Sherman, Gall, Crazy Horse, Alvin York, Lawrence Joel, Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon--would bitch-slap into insensibility AWOL Junior, Five-Deferment Dick, Mr Torture-via-television, Little Billy Kristol, Child-Molester Rush, and every other chickenhawk who talks bad while 3000 miles behind the combat zone.

And then piss on them.

[ETA 10/9/07 0200 GMT]: Quantzalcoatl points us toward Tom Tomorrow.

Monday, October 08, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 51 (scorched-earth + fuzzy people edition)

We're still reeling in the aftermath of the full-tilt Janissary Stomp Traveling Medicine Show:

"Step right up, friends, and partake of our nostrums, lotions, potions, and powders! View the Pantheon of Instrumental Esoterica and the Aurophone Talking Machine, the Magical Voice of the Mediterranean Basin! The Prospectus For Investors in The Border Ruffians and Sand Mountain Hillbillies Upper Trigrissippi Colonial Development Corporation! The Senior Members of the Young Men's Oriental Association of Talpa Common Room, with a special magic-lantern-illustrated lecture (Gentlemen Only) by the Honorable Professor of Musicological Prestidigitation Landes; the premiere of a new epic narrative poem in hijaz mode by the Reverend Doctor Thompson, gentleman scholar of comparative religions (mystic-transport and serpentine glossolalia specialization), and author of the classic gustatory travelogue Pork Alternatives across the Muslim World! All yours for only 2-bits, one-fourth of a dollar, families admitted at a special reduction of costs! Final Behind the Turmeric Curtain ballyhoo (adults only) at 11pm, with raki, baklava, and exotic tobaccos complementary to the first 100 ticket-holders!

Step right up, and leave your inhibitions, expectations, and limitations behind!

We had just about as much fun in 72 hours as you can admit in a public forum.

Meanwhile, Mister Man found it more restful to sleep outside, curled up in the hose. Thanks to Chipper for the "Fuzzy People" appellation.

Pictures below the jump.