Monday, November 28, 2005

Hello, Hello

is the title of an album by Poe, 3 stars. In the chick pop category, I recently downloaded Frou Frou "Details", after hearing a track in "Garden State" (OK movie by the way). I thought it was Dido. Very nice tunes, very nice textures in the electronic backgrounds, 3 stars.

My 95 tracks of Fats Waller came in, most enjoyable. The 4 disk set came from Proper Records, and came with a very nice booklet, on the history of Fats and the sessions that the tracks came from.

Also got from a young coworker Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, eponymous. Very interesting, Radiohead plus David Byrne plus Velvet Underground? Makes me wish I had a 3.5 star rating in iTunes.

Read a short story collection by Charles Stross, "Toast". Very tasty, cute short stories. I remember reading the first one, "Antibodies" before. It contains that essential short story device, the last line kicker. It reminded me of when in college I wrote a literature paper on "Chun the Unavoidable" from Jack Vance's "The Dying Earth". Great last line kicker, I remember the professor hated it big time.

Following up on the theme that "Love makes the world go round", I also completed my Jared Diamond collection with "Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality". A lot of this is covered in "The Third Chimpanzee", but still a fun (and short, 146 pages) read. The explanatory power of evolution screams at you when you read something like this. I particularly liked the analysis of hidden ovulation in humans. There are two contradictory explanations:

  1. Confuse fatherhood to prevent infanticide; a new dominant male or mate won't necessarily kill a female's children if he is not sure they not his.
  2. Keep the father around to provide.
By looking at the evolutionary tree of the 68 primate species (11 monogamous, 23 harems, 34 promiscuous), Diamond is able to deduce that the common ancestor (9 million years ago) of humans (serially monogamous, with some harems), gorillas (harems) and chimps (promiscuous) used the harem model; that concealed ovulation evolved from this as part of the "confuse fatherhood to prevent infanticide" strategy, from which monogamy evolved to implement the "keep the father around" strategy.

Also an interesting chapter on male nursing. Seems that the hardware is pretty much there, and care of children by both human parents is shared enough that he thinks it may be an idea whose time is coming! Diamond's books are always a pleasure to read, very easy to understand, and always with a nice touch of humor.

I think, tho, that my evolutionary biology / cognitive science reading seems to have hit a wall. I guess it's time for "and now for something completely different" ...

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Finished "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" by Charles Darwin, 1872. Most of the middle of the book is fairly dull, going through the emotions by group and talking about which facial muscles are involved. One of Darwin's big points was the universality of facial expressions in showing emotions -- innate, not acquired behavior. But, Darwin's methodology was to write letters to people in the various parts of the British Empire and other countries and ask them, "Do the locals express surprise by opening their eyes wide, lifting their eyebrows, and opening their mouth?" -- anecdotal natural science, not much up to today's standards. Apparently Margaret Mead and the cultural relativists had a 20-30 year period where they had everyone convinced of the opposite. The pendulum is now swinging back to Darwin.

Sometime I will have to compare Darwin's list of emotions with those in "The Cognitive Structure of Emotion" by Ortony, Clore and Collins. Interesting too, not all expressions correspond to emotions, but rather to mental/emotional state -- say for instance, an expression of slyness, or rapt attention. Darwin also discussed:

  • Nodding your head yes and shaking your head no -- not particularly universal.
  • Shrugging -- fairly universal.
  • Shyness and modesty -- traits, not expressions.
  • Blushing -- universal, and unique to humans, always a function of other people.
Pauk Ekman, who is a "universality" guy and the maker of the 3rd edition of "Expression", also talked about "display rules" -- which do vary by culture and thus are acquired. These define to what extent it is acceptable in a culture to let your emotions show. In an interesting study, Japanese by themselves display the same emotions as others, put an observer in with them and they supress the display. Also interesting, some cultures clearly show one or more of the standard emotions, but don't have a concept or word for them -- Tahitians have no word for sadness, when they display the symptoms they describe it as sickness.

I have realized that I think that my generally very good catholic high school education included little if anything on evolution, and I took no biology in college. I did not know that Darwin in "Origin of the Species" defined two types of natural selection:

  1. Species selection (now also called ecological selection), the selection force that the ecosystem puts on a species to find an ecological niche;
  2. Sexual selection, the somewhat arbitrary selection criteria that males/females of a given species decide imply breeding fitness in the opposite sex.
So, from "Expression" re music, and "The Symbolic Species" re language and our big brains, traits that were sexually selected may have been the more important of the two in making the human race what it is today. Of course, the other advantages that came with big brains, tool-making, etc, definitely had lots of other survivability value.

Still, it's like "All You Need is Love", "Love is Like Oxygen", ... The dance between men and women may be the primary factor that drove the development of the human race and its culture and civilization. I feel like, if I were (much) younger, this might have been a major epiphany, a real moment of satori. Now, it's just like, "No, no, say it ain't so."

Oh well, maybe the women won't decide to do away with us after all, in honor of our mutual development of the race.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


What a retro weekend! 100 pages into Darwin's "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals". Way retro, 1st edition was 1872, lots of "the distinguished gentleman" type verbage, and, what a shocker: Darwin was a Lamarkian. He believed in inheritance of acquired traits. The father of evolution knew nothing about genetics -- he had Mendel's book on his shelf but never read it!

But, Darwin rocks. I have blogged before about books on music and the mind and how clueless they are, and that music doesn't seem evolutionary to me, and, how can it have such deep hooks in us. Then, on p 92 of "Expression":

"whether we believe, as I maintain, that the habit of uttering musical sounds was first developed as a means of courtship, in the early progenitors of man, and thus became associated with the strongest emotions of which they were capable -- namely, ardent love, rivalry, and triumph."
So, there you have it. Music is another peacock's tail like language, developed, probably by males, to woo females (only male birds sing -- altho I have had female cardinals in my yard doing something that sounded suspiciously like singing).

More fun facts from "Expression" when I finish it.

On to the retro music. 1st weekend acquisition, Os Mutantes, "Everything is Possible! The Greatest Hits of Os Mutantes". The song "Baby(1971)" was on the Luaka Bop "10th Anniversary: Zero Accidents on the Job" that my oldest daughter gave me a few years ago, and I really liked it, 4 stars. I had looked for more of their stuff and hadn't found it, but iTunes had this one now. Downloaded without listening -- then found, with Gilberto Gil (current Brazilian Minister of Culture and Open Culture prophet), they were mainstays of the Brazilian Tropicalia movement from '68-72 (my college years) -- so it's like mambo, samba and other Brazilian forms with fuzz tones and Sgt. Pepper, way bizarre. The lead singer, Rita Lee, has been recording for 30 years, she was apparently on MTV a couple of years ago.

Listened also to some Gilberto Gil, downloaded only one track, "Pai e mãe", which sounded like Jobim. Antonio Carlos Jobim, the father of bossa nova, has been a favorite of mine since high school (Jobim was probably part of the Brazilian music establishment that Os Mutantes were rebelling against). I have on vinyl a Jobim album whose first song is "Águas De Março (Waters Of March)" in Portuguese and whose last song is the same song in English. I played it for my daughters years ago and they were fascinated by it. The lyrics are a list of nouns: "A rock, a stick, a stone, ..." -- they decided they liked the Portuguese better. On CD I have a Verve Jazz Masters CD by Jobim which has Waters of March.

Early 70's apparently weren't retro enough. A few weeks ago while waiting in a rental car in Newark airport for a colleague's later flight to get in, on an NPR type station, I heard a song from my childhood, "Would You Like to Take a Walk" -- I remember it from a Warner Bros Merry Melody cartoon, sung by a Big Bad Wolf type. So, decided to find it on the web -- and of course suceeded, everything is there. Actually found the same recording I heard, by Annette Hanshaw, born 1901, record and radio vocalist from 1926 to 1936, when she decided to retire. So, have a CD with 25 of her recordings coming from Amazon. Interesting, read 2-3 online bios, all pretty much agree with the above dates except for, which had her starting recording at age 15 and retiring at age 24 -- they had her age wrong by 10 years. Could not find anyway on their site to let them know of their error.

Looked her up on wikipedia. What a great reference:

Annette Hanshaw (October 18, 1901 - March 13, 1985) was one of the first great female jazz singers. In the late 1920's she ranked among Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith and the Boswell Sisters. In 1936, she retired from singing and never attempted a comeback. The singer Helen Kane is said to have based her look on Hanshaw. Noteable is her influence in the Hyperreality theory of Jean Baudrillard. Since Kane based her look on Hanshaw, she purported to be the reality of the hyperreality character of Betty Boop.
Just what we need, another post-modern french philosopher, vying with the others to see how far they can get their head up their ass!

And while I was at Amazon, put a 4 CD boxed set of Fats Waller, 95 tracks, in my shopping cart. I was introduced to Fats by the keyboard player of the 1st band I played in in Cambridge. Possibly the greatest stride piano player ever, and made some unbelievably happy music -- maybe I just think so because it reminds me of those Merry Melody cartoons of my childhood.

Then, following the reference from the movie "Ray", downloaded "The Complete Capitol Recordings of Art Tatum" -- 29 tracks for $22, surely a bargain.

I was starting to feel bad about being too lazy to put links to all the above in here. But, google will find you many references to all of the above, sure beats a single link. If everyone gets as lazy as me, tho, will it hose google's search relevance algorighm?