Monday, November 28, 2016

Tennessee, Land of Crazy People

* * * * * RANT ALERT * * * * *

I am of course extremely depressed by the election result. I am trying to ignore it as much as possible. I'm definitely taking a few months off. I've unsubscribed from maybe 50 political mailing lists - my inbox is much smaller now - and muted most political tweeters for 30 days.

Only time will tell whether this election will be the turning point in history which puts us on a direct line to Hunger Games, or maybe a good correction in the US as the world's only superpower, or who knows what. Meanwhile ...

My wife had some time off work, so we decided to spend a couple of nights (November 17 & 18) in Nashville. We stayed at the Hermitage Hotel downtown - very nice, old detailed architecture that my wife loves. The first afternoon there we walked around downtown and wound up at the Tennessee Bicentennial Mall State Park. We were taking a rest sitting in front of a fountain feature when we were approached by 2 women. They were in their 30s, white, attractive, well groomed and well dressed. The younger 1 was pushing a stroller with a baby in it. Here's the gist of our conversation.

Older of the 2: "Can we talk with you?"

Me: "Sure."

Older of the 2: "We wanted to share stories of faith and spirit with you. We are both ministers."

Me: "Arrggghhh! I'm an antitheist, I definitely do not want to share stories of faith with you."

Younger of the 2: "What's an antitheist?"

Me: "It's someone who believes that religion harms the human race - that we would all be better off if people quit including nonexistent supernatural beings in their decision making. Please go away and leave us alone." I was at this point making "go away" motions with my hands.

Older of the 2: "OK, well then, where are you from?"

My wife: "Lexington, KY"

Older of the 2: "OK. Have a nice day."

These 2 women's affects were both very laid back and spacey - kind of like they were stoners. I guess they were high on religion. My wife and I were both annoyed at this intrusion of unreality into what had heretofore been a pleasant afternoon.

That evening we had dinner in the hotel's restaurant, the Capitol Grille. The dinner was OK but nothing special. We were eating at 6:30 and the place was pretty crowded. Our server told us that it was because there was a 7:30 performance of "Book of Mormon" at the Tennessee Center for the Arts, which was 2 blocks up the street.

A few tables over, a couple in their late 30s or early 40s came in. The couple was fairly attractive. The woman had very expensive looking thick curly blond hair past her shoulders and was wearing an evening dress. After a while they were joined by another similarly aged and dressed couple. The woman in this couple was a brunette.

My wife and I both noticed that both men seemed to be totally focusing in on the blond, who is expounding vivaciously. We kind of felt sorry for the brunette. Then during a lull in other conversations, we hear some of what she is saying: "with Jesus's love", "ephesians" ...

At that point, I'm like, crap. Are these people all crazy? This is what is important to them???

And I immediately flashed on this behavior as evolutionary sexual selection. I usually characterize sexual selection as "because chicks dig it", but here we have a woman, proudly flashing her peacock's tail of all the brain cycles she apparently can afford to waste on theories of imaginary superfriends. She was doing it in what appeared to be a courtship / mate selection environment. And the males seemed to be eating it up!

A "peacock's tail" is the archetypal example of a feature of a species that is an extravagant waste of energy, which serves to demonstrate how fit the individual is to be able to waste that much energy, implying that they are obviously superior breeding stock.

Year's ago, I got really discouraged and cut way back on following evolutionary psychology and cognitive science as I kept seeming to find that so much of what we hold dear - our minds, language, music - were all peacock's tails. They were all sexually selected. They may have had some species survival value but that was overwhelmed by the "because chicks dig it" aspect. So it really is all about who are the cool kids in middle school. I found this very depressing. So I think we can add religion to this list.

I have speculated in the past that religion may have species selection effects, in that it increases the survival potential of a group by creating a mechanism which allows for the justification of killing other humans. This may be more or less significant than the sexual selection effect.

This was particularly painful after the presidential election. 80% of white evangelical christians voted for Trump, who appears to be mostly amoral and completely lacking in common human decency. So these same people wanting to share "stories of faith and spirit" and expounding on "Jesus's love" probably voted for this evil man. If I ever had any doubts about evangelical christians being full-of-shit hypocrites, they are all gone now. I'll also bet that most of the audience at this performance of "Book of Mormon" were evangelical christians, who would laugh uproariously at this completely blasphemous play. Blasphemy, the victimless crime.

For many of them, the abortion issue overrides all else. This is yet another example of the harm caused by delusional thinking based on religion rather than facts. Driving in the south, you see the billboards with a fetus thinking, "My heart is beating at 14 days." Well, in pretty much every animal with a heart, it starts beating fairly early in development. So what? The question about development that has meaning is, when is there enough brain to support a human personality? The answer to that question is, around 20 weeks, which is around the time that abortion decisions do indeed become harder.

Oh wait, I'm forgetting the soul. Once the zygote? blastula? fetus? has been given a soul by god, then terminating the pregnancy is murder. I believe Steven Pinker has pointed out that is a totally slippery slope. Who exactly can identify the time of soul implantation? If you take the extreme case and posit that is at the time of fertilization, you still have problems. The genetic material of sperm and egg does not fuse instantaneously. And once it has fused and formed a zygote, a large percentage of zygotes fail to implant in the uterine wall or otherwise spontaneously abort. So I guess god wasted those souls? Or murdered them? Well, we know god does not have any problem with letting children die in countless horrible ways.

My overall conclusion is, believing in nonexistent beings and nonexistent souls makes it much harder to make rational decisions. It reminds me of my older brother, who was an officer in the US Navy for 20 years. He is a bright guy, but at other times seems to be somewhat of a doofus, which I have always attributed to his time in the military. When you belong to an organization where refusing to follow the orders of a superior, no matter how stupid or irrational, can lead to imprisonment or death, I don't believe you form the best problem analysis and decision making skills. Religion is 10x worse than that.

I generally avoid being stridently antitheist. Of me and my 6 siblings, only 1 of us still practices religion, despite having been raised by a devoutly catholic mother. But I have cousins and a few friends who are religious, and, overall, I try to avoid poking sticks in people's eyes. But this election really drove home to me how harmful religion mostly is. The good news is, Pew Research says that 20% of Gen Xers are unaffiliated religiously, and 26% of millennials. So once again, it's on the youngsters to save our old white butts. Come on kids, you can do it!

Friday, November 04, 2016

New Stuff

The Old Fart's Blues Jam had been going on Sunday evenings, primarily outside, at Shamrock's on Patchen Drive. The attendance wasn't that great, I think primarily due to the fact that it was so damn hot through July and August. They quit having the jam when football season started.

To get my playing fix, I started playing as a duo with Steve Konapka, aka Fuzzy, at Coralee Townie's Monday night open mic at Willie's Locally Known. They have a great house PA and a soundman working the board - what a luxury to not have to worry about levels.

Steve is an incredibly versatile harp player. He's been coming over most weeks for a 2 hour session where we work up songs. It is so interesting to see how he will try 2 or 3 different harps to figure out which one sounds best. He also plays a chromatic harp ala Stevie Wonder. We've got around 30 songs worked up and add another 5-10 every time we get together. It's been a lot of fun, and we will probably audition for a paying gig at Azur, and maybe other places.

Meanwhile, the Jam has restarted at Life BrewPub off of Richmond Rd. They also have a board out front. I've only been once, sang some killer harmony with Brent Carter and Matt Noelle on "Thunderbird".

Prior to that, I talked to Willie about having the jam at his place. A little receptive, but not too much. They have live music 7 days a week, and he seemed discouraged at the level of local support they are getting. I think we have a problem with not enough music buzz around Lexington. The Herald-Leader music critic Walter Tunis has been here forever - he started in 1980, we moved to Lexington in 1981. He does a great job, but I think we need like 4 of him. I may have some ideas on that.

I have a new source of music in - Steve has been loaning me some CDs. Just what I needed.

  • Jeff Beck, "Loud Hailer". The world's greatest living rock guitarist teamed up with a new female songwriter and vocalist for this effort. The songs don't do much for me. 3 stars.
  • Antonio Carlos Jobim, "Jobim", 1973. I ripped this from vinyl after talking with fabulous young guitarist Jeff Adams about how the 1st track "Águas de Março" was basically a list of nouns, and the last track "Waters of March" is the same song in English rather than Portuguese. Many years ago my daughters listened to both several times and decided they liked the Portuguese better. This is probably my favorite Jobim song. 4 stars for those 2 tracks, 3 for the rest.

  • Thank You Scientist, "Stranger Heads Prevail". Not sure where this came from. Prog rock performed with great virtuosity, a little Zappaesque. A little more energetic than I really like at this point, but still, 4 stars. Here's a live version of "Caverns".

  • Poco, eponymous, 1970. Continuing with our Poco theme, I think this album came out right after "Picking Up The Pieces", blogged last time. Here's a fast and a slow, both of which I remembered well.

  • Of Montreal, "Innocence Reaches". The disco / glam just keeps on keeping on. Maybe not as good as some earlier work, but still very good. 4 stars. Here's a very instructive video of "it's different for girls".

  • The Byrds, "(untitled)", 1970. Ripped from vinyl. The 1st Byrds album of the Clarence White era. It was 1 live disc and 1 studio disc. The live disc is a reminder of how bad live albums used to be engineering-wise. I saw this lineup in Boston in maybe late 1972 or early 1973. Clarence White was a really interesting player. I did not know until nosing around while ripping this album that he died in July, 1973, age 29, struck by a drunk driver while loading equipment into a car. Most of the live songs suffer from the engineering, and the only real notable of the studio songs is "Chestnut Mare", still fun to listen to. 4 stars for it, 3 for the rest.

  • The Head and the Heart, "Signs of Light". Very pleasant vocals, very listenable, but no real standout songs. 3 stars.
  • Various, "All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman", 2014. Lent to me by Fuzzy. A great lineup of artists doing Allman Brothers songs. 26 total tracks, and not a bad one. 4 stars.
  • Bon Iver, "22, A Million". A very experimental sounding album, very interesting. Reminds me of some of the work of the world's greatest living composer, Björk Guðmundsdóttir. The songs have lots of weird typographics in their titles. 4 stars. Here's "10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄".

  • Regina Spektor, "Remember Us To Life". I like Ms. Spektor's work, but I find some of her vocal stylings annoying. 3 stars.
  • Van Morrison, "Keep Me Singing". Wow, Van the Man keeps on putting out great albums. Very nice tunes. 4 stars. Here's "Every Time I See A River".

That catches me up to the end of September. I keep meaning to do this more often but ...

Wednesday, November 02, 2016


I went on and forged ahead with the "The Dandelion Dynasty #2": "The Wall of Storms", by Ken Liu. I was prepared to be disappointed with it, but it twisted and turned its way into being even a more compelling read than the 1st one. And, added to the enlightment, we have Science! There is nice content with characters using the scientific method and explaining as they go. Here's a nice description of wave phenomenon:
One showed me that light was like waves, ant the other showed me that deviation from an expected pattern of interference could be used to detect minute variations in thickness.
Liu also uses other storytelling techniques, with a couple of longish backstories injected into the main narrative thread. Ha ha, I also liked where he quoted from a tale that involved a queen waiting 10 years for her husband to return, borrowing from Ulysses and Penelope of Greek myth.

I should have mentioned that, although the setting is feudal, it is definitely more Chinese than European. There are rival schools of philosophy, the dominant one of which appears to be an analog of Confucianism. Checking briefly on Chinese philosophy, the other fictional schools do not seem to adhere closely to the real world.

One thing he did in a few places that I questioned was to include passages in their native language like the one below. Are we supposed to read these aloud like poetry?

“Mogi ça lodüapu ki gisgo giré, adi ça méüpha ki kédalo phia ki. Pindin ça racogilu üfiré, crudaügada ça phithoingnné gidalo phia ki. Ingluia ça philu jisén dothaéré, naüpin rari ça philu shanoa gathédalo phia ki.”
This and other recently published sci-fi novels seem to have updated to common zeitgeist features that echo recent positive developments in our world (the 1st 2 anyway):
  1. Gender roles are fluid and/or feminism is rising.
  2. All sexual orientations are welcomed.
  3. Characters die - the "Game of Thrones" effect - although most of the time the authors do not kill off characters as heartlessly as Martin does.
This novel ends in a less resolved state that the 1st one, which I think is the norm for trilogies. I'm looking forward to the next one. Meanwhile, I just purchased Liu's short story collection, "The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories".

Here are the new vocabulary words from the book:

  • kennings - a compound expression in Old English and Old Norse poetry with metaphorical meaning, e.g., oar-steed = ship.
  • chiaroscuro - the treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting.
  • pleonasm - the use of more words than are necessary to convey meaning (e.g., see with one's eyes ), either as a fault of style or for emphasis.
I'm feeling like reading more escapism before economics (tension builds as the election approaches), I'm on the magazine stack now.