May 262010

To apologize for many weeks now of old (i.e. poorly recorded) and (in the case of the “classical pieces”) near unlistenable material, I’ve now newly encoded and posted the entirety of my “Mark Lint and the Fake Johnson Trio” album:

This is probably my single strongest collection of tunes. The recording quality is decent (i.e. digital 8-track, not 4-track cassette like the MayTricks stuff), and we put A LOT of time into the arrangements and mixing, though I of course didn’t have my current computer magic whereby I can fix things out of tune and/or time, so it’s hardly a professional masterpiece. It was also a transitional time for my voice between its nasally, unsupported origins and its current state of relative strength, meaning that people have criticized my singing on this. Still, it’s a dream compared to the older stuff, and the songs are, again, a bit stronger on the whole than what I’ve produced more recently, I think.

“The Fake Johnson Trio” was a band name I came up with because I wanted it to sound like a jazz or folk thing but with an obviously fake name, and actually using the name “Fake” was the most absurd way of doing that. This was my attempt, unlike the MayTricks, to do marketable “alternative” rock, conceived in 1994 or so when grunge was still alive and well. I would deny or at least subvert my sensitive side to put on a manly, jaded air and use big drums and distorted guitar and all that obvious, cliche stuff. This would undoubtedly make me the big bucks.

Well, it still turned out to be a weird niche band, but I like it, and it’s the culmination of the my first three or four years in Austin building up a tight ensemble, though the recording itself was not completed until said band had safely broken up, meaning that I ended up playing the majority of bass parts myself even though that was not my role in this band and we used a few different drummers, only a couple of which I’d played these songs live with, and I dragged in a fleet of singers to do various backing parts so it wouldn’t just be me singing against myself.

Note: Among the many session musicians on this is one Hal Thorsrud, who now teaches ancient philosophy at Agnes Scott college in Georgia.

May 252010

Here’s a talk by philosopher David Chalmers presenting a general framework to determine whether a dispute is “merely verbal.” This process also helps to unearth core disagreements and concepts, e.g. commitments by one party to the existence of normativity, consciousness, truth, or other fundamentals that the other side may wish to simply deny.

I found this helpful both for the pragmatism discussion (he even talks about William James a bit here) that I’m currently editing and on the philosophy of mind discussion (Chalmers is a significant voice in that area) that we’ll be having next.

May 252010

Enough said:

Rand clearly thought of herself as one of these creators. In an interview with Mike Wallace she declared herself “the most creative thinker alive.” … Two years later, Rand told Wallace that “the only philosopher who ever influenced me” was Aristotle. Otherwise, everything came “out of my own mind.” She boasted to her friends and to her publisher at Random House, Bennet Cerf, that she was “challenging the cultural tradition of two and a half thousand years.” … She falsely claimed that twelve publishers rejected The Fountainhead before it found a home. She styled herself the victim of a terrible but necessary isolation …. Far from needing explanation, Rand’s success explains itself. Rand worked in that quintessential American proving ground—alongside the likes of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Glenn Beck—where garbage achieves gravitas and bullshit gets blessed. There she learned that dreams don’t come true. They are true. Turn your metaphysics into chewing gum, and your chewing gum is metaphysics. A is A.

Garbage and Gravitas | The Nation.

And don’t forget:

May 212010

Slate reviews the latest excretion of pseudo-scientific, evolutionary psychology-based aspirational ethics, as incorporated into a marriage self-help book:

Tara Parker-Pope, the earnest health reporter for the New York Times, promises a new wrinkle in the self-help genre with her book, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage. Her basic premise is that there exists a vast, underappreciated repository of “objective, evidence-based advice” about marriage that has not gotten its due. Science, that old bore, is finally going to be deployed into the battlefield of marital harmony and disharmony. Enough with the touchy-feely already: Let’s see what the rats (and voles and chimpanzees) can tell us about finding and keeping Mr. (or Ms.) Right.

Here, like so many before her, Parker-Pope enters the creepy retro-future world of Gene Worship. … Parker-Pope falls for the one about the vole and the fidelity gene.

The point is this: The human genome is not a department store of traits where each gene can be separately purchased, so that shoppers can mix red hair with shyness, or resistance to breast cancer with a sweet alto voice. Genes don’t come out clean with nothing attached. Everything is attached to them. They operate in a web of unimaginable complexity, not along a simple plot line. The AVPR1A gene, for example, when not responsible for your marital happiness, also is involved with blood pressure regulation, renal absorption of salts and fluids, and who knows what else. The body is a wonderfully contrary machine. Merely referring to AVPR1A as “the cheating gene” perpetuates damaging oversimplification.

Another problem with almost-mindless cheerleading for the power of genetic research is that it is wildly out of sync with the actual pace of scientific progress. The real scientific world decodes reality at the rate of a few millimeters per century. But the alternative world that gene studies and books like this one inhabit moves at the speed of light from a vole gene to a kissing gene to a cheating gene. Parker-Pope is trying to move Oprah World into the bright light of science. But she’d be better off leaving well enough alone. You just can’t marry the self-help book, which forever has been free of information, to the field of genes. It’s the intricate place where the real dreamers live.

May 212010

Regarding space and time (and responding to Erik at

Kant is explicitly worried about the same thing that troubled Leibniz, which is there is a discord between mathematics and the concrete — what we consciously see and touch in the world “out there.” Leibniz was concerned with the paradox of the continuum: that points can have no extension (otherwise an infinite number of points couldn’t lie on a line), and yet can’t be done away with without getting rid of everything important to mathematics (e.g., that two lines always intersect at a point — requiring aforesaid infinity). Hence this idea of an extension-less element being important to a branch of science (geometry broadly conceived) is troubling — it suggests that science in fact falsifies the world. And it is on par with Hume’s argument about causality. Kant explicitly notes in the Prolegomena that Leibniz’s paradox goes away with his view (actually Leibniz successfully handled it as well with his version of phenomenalism).

It goes away because the intuitions are constructive, not merely extractive. These are unconscious, a priori constructions, not merely a matter of what we see consciously. And so when we come to what has been constructed within space and time and analyze it, we get things that could only be mind-related out of it, e.g. points and other abstractions that don’t seem to belong to the world.

So in fact Kant’s argument is meant to deal precisely with the case of parallel lines and the fact that we don’t consciously “see” this sort of thing but get it only at the level of analysis of what’s grounded in intuition. So I think the criticism misses the point here: again, Kant’s spatial intuition is meant to deal with precisely these sorts of criticisms by dealing with space as a mental construction from which we get abstractions rather than as something that comes in through the senses — and so vitiating the problem of a conflict between what’s really in the world and what’s just in the mind. So we’re better off saying that the parallel postulate or the definition of points are grounded in intuition, not that they are themselves “intuitions” that require us to see invisible points or infinite lines.

When it comes to Dedekind, number theory, and the axiomatization of geometry, I think the fact that you can violate a postulate and still yield a consistent system actually lends support to the Kantian position in one way and vitiates it in another. Because it goes to show that the premises of every axiomatic system can either be arbitrarily chosen our must have some other source. It is just this source that Kant calls “intuition.” The axioms cannot themselves be analytically derived from anything, or they wouldn’t be axioms … unless we get interference from other systems. Which is to say that a posteriori observations can come into conflict with intuition.

I think the accurate criticism of Kant is to say that he didn’t conceive of the possibility of Geometric axioms being related inferentially to other areas of the physical sciences. Meaning that they could be modified by being grounded not in intuition but in back-calculation from the sciences to produce a geometry that satisfies another set of observations. To take a slightly related exmaple concerning the speed of light: You’ll see that in Einstein’s Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, he preserves the seemingly inconsistent assertions of Galilean relativity and the constancy of the speed of light by warping space. If the speed of light is constant relative to all frames of reference, then it is the distances and times that go into speed that must differ between frames. So we have to alter something possibly grounded in intuition for the sake of meeting another empirical observation. (I’m not sure this is a violation of Geometrical intuition exactly — how do we categorize Galilean relativity?).

Kant didn’t conceive of the possibility of other empirical observations coming into conflict with spatial intuition. In other words, he didn’t conceive of an inner conflict in his system between scientific inquiry (grounded in the understanding) and spatial intuition. The system is also iterative: empirical observations framed (partly) by one set of intuitions can come back to demand modification of those intuitions — as a back-calculation that solves other problems. That’s the way I would frame the criticism of Kant’s views on space and time — not that he chose the wrong system of Geometry (since Euclidean geometry is applicable to everyday experience), but that he didn’t leave open the possibility of a conflict between scientific experience (at the level of the understanding) and spatiotemporal intuition; which is to say, he didn’t understand that intuitions of space and time have their limits of applicability when it comes to the sciences. The understanding rules with an iron fist.

May 192010

Continuing this thread, a multi-movement horn trio: “Ron Visits the Land of Insanity.”

I think these undoubtedly very talented music school players practiced this once together before coming into my class to try to get through this, and I put them through some mighty indignities including trombone parts written much too low and choreographed coughing. I see I’m going for a Gothic soundtrack kind of thing; I recall my TA telling me afterward, “If you have strings play chord clusters like that, they’ll sound like magic, but horns doing that just sounds like horns playing chord clusters.”

My guesswork regarding chronology is growing slightly firmer, though without actual printed evidence: This and Week 20′s entry I now think came from Fall 1991, with that project being the mid-term and this the final, but then again it could have been Spring 1992.

May 182010

Is it anything Like the Tao of Pooh?

Andrew Sullivan quotes Slavoj Zizek’s latest:

Earlier generations of women politicians (Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, up to a point even Hillary Clinton) were what is usually referred to as “phallic” women: they acted as “iron ladies” who imitated and tried to outdo male authority, to be “more men than men themselves.”…Jacques-Alain Miller pointed out how Sarah Palin, on the contrary, proudly displays her femininity and motherhood.  She has a “castrating” effect on her male opponents not by way of being more manly than them, but by using the ultimate feminine weapon, the sarcastic put-down of male authority — she knows that male “phallic” authority is a posture, a semblance to be exploited and mocked.  Recall how she mocked Obama as a “community organizer,” exploiting the fact that there was something sterile in Obama’s physical appearance, with his diluted black skin, slender features, and big ears.  Here we have “post-feminist” femininity without a complex, uniting the features of mother, prim teacher (glasses, hair in a bun), public person, and, implicitly, sex object, proudly displaying the “first dude” as a phallic toy.  The message is that she “has it all” — and that, to add insult to injury, it was a Republican woman who had realized this Left-liberal dream…No wonder that the Palin effect is one of false liberation: drill, baby, drill!

Is that to say she is the object of the Lacanian pervert (or rather, that the GOP enjoys being her object)?

May 142010

My involvement with non-Western philosophy has been pretty limited overall, and one fellow I’d not run into was 13th century Persian mystical love poet and philosopher Rumi, though I see now I have a book with a couple pages of Rumi aphorisms in it in the “Contemporary Sufism” chapter such as “To the ignorant, a pearl seems a mere stone” and “Counterfeiters exist because there is such a thing as real gold.”

Well, my former bandmate Lee Abramson has now released an album of music whose lyrics are entirely by Rumi: Rumi Music. Lee’s story is interesting enough that I feel pretty queasy about trying to convey it. When I knew him best, in Austin during my grad school years, he was a definite character: droll sense of humor, kind of a harsh libertarian, unsentimental attitude, and aggressively voracious. One of his semi-novelty songs from 1993 or so that periodically goes through my head went like this: “I’ve got a chinchilla, he’s so damn cute when he hops around his cage; I understand his boredom, and he understands my rage!”

Well, as you can read here, he got ALS about five years ago, which is bad, as in no more getting out of a chair, or eventually even speaking, and a pretty short though indeterminate life expectancy. After being depressed a while about this, he channeled his sitting-around energy into learning a lot about music composition and electronic music, and in 2008 came out with an album under the moniker Ace Noface, which was a “piano rock” album with fairly acerbic, self-probing lyrics contemplating the end of life and religion, asking himself “have you done more harm than good?” Needless to say, lots of people write soulful albums after getting divorced or whatever, but this situation presents a much less common source of inspiration that provides good grist for both the musical and the philosophical palate.

With Rumi Music, he’s reached a more peaceful place. Programming a dense musical layer with one finger, one click at a time, and having his massage therapist sing the melodies (which he wrote) over it. He describes it as “Enya meets the Whirling Dervishes,” and to me it sounds like jazz-inflected, slowish techno. Very interesting stuff, and to me a natural progression of the previous album, though with more musical exploration and less (by the nature of the project) revealing of himself through lyrics. Go ahead and give it a listen. (I’d say track 9, “The Beauty of the Heart” is my favorite; I really like the tone palette at work there.)

May 142010

Reading Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, which is sort of a post-publication Cliff’s Notes to his Critique of Pure Reason.

Do we have any business doing metaphysics, which is by definition about things that we could not possibly experience?

Kant says that yes, we can, to a limited extent, but that everyone before him did it wrong, because they didn’t understand how our minds interact with the world to create experience. He insists that once you read his book, you’ll never be satisfied with such “twaddle” again!

LEARN about the faculties of Sensibility, Understanding, and Reason! THINK about whether geometric truths are justified by our intuition of space (maybe) and arithmetic is grounded in our intuition of time (probably not). DOUBT whether we actually impose causality on our experience as Kant says! MARVEL at our guest participant, Azzurra Crispino, as she augments the number of speakers on this episode to a PERFECTLY SQUARE number! GAWK as your world is turned up-flicking-side down by Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” (a term we neither use nor explain in this episode)!

Read the book online or buy it.

End song: “Subjectivity” from the 1994 album “Happy Songs Will Bring You Down” by The MayTricks.

May 122010

A Drug Raid Goes Viral – Reason Magazine.

Shooting the family’s dogs isn’t unusual, either. To be fair, that’s in part because some drug dealers do in fact obtain vicious dogs to guard their supply. But there are other, safer ways to deal with these dogs than shooting them. In the Columbia case, a bullet fired at one dog ricocheted and struck another dog. The bullet could just as easily have struck a person. In the case of Tarika Wilson, a Lima, Ohio, SWAT officer mistook the sounds of a colleague shooting a drug dealer’s dogs for hostile gunfire. He then opened fire into a bedroom, killing a 23-year-old mother and shooting the hand off of the one-year-old child in her arms.

May 122010

A Drug Raid Goes Viral – Reason Magazine.

Shooting the family’s dogs isn’t unusual, either. To be fair, that’s in part because some drug dealers do in fact obtain vicious dogs to guard their supply. But there are other, safer ways to deal with these dogs than shooting them. In the Columbia case, a bullet fired at one dog ricocheted and struck another dog. The bullet could just as easily have struck a person. In the case of Tarika Wilson, a Lima, Ohio, SWAT officer mistook the sounds of a colleague shooting a drug dealer’s dogs for hostile gunfire. He then opened fire into a bedroom, killing a 23-year-old mother and shooting the hand off of the one-year-old child in her arms.

May 122010

If Star Trek’s Data were to write about the soul, it might be this self-parodyingly soulless:

Soul talk is expressive in the same way as other nondescriptive utterances, like “oh my God” or “ouch” or “yuck” or (with head nodding to music) “Yeah, that’s funky.” There is no clear referent for those. They don’t seem to refer to or represent anything—they seem somehow pre-representational (or presentational). Soul talk, like other emotive talk, bears little relation to the goals of scientific language, and probably can’t be assessed with that language. Like other expressive forms, soul talk in ordinary folk language won’t have much theoretical interest, because it is rarely, if ever, trying to explain a phenomenon. In the same way that a poem is not trying to explain a phenomenon, soul talk is equally uninterested in induction, hypothesis, prediction, and corroboration. Instead, soul talk tries to express our hopes and aspirations (“I hope I see my family again in the afterlife”) or to identify inspiration (“This song really speaks to my soul”), or to express feelings deeper than friendship (“I’ve finally found my soul mate”), or to scare people into doing something (“Your soul will burn in hellfire”), and so on.

via Soul Talk – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

While the use of words like “soul,” is non-descriptive, not all non-descriptive utterances are merely “emotive.” As we saw in our discussion of Wittgenstein, logic is non-descriptive (and hence strictly speaking meaningless (or “senseless”). Continue reading »

May 122010

Here’s another, earlier music composition class piece of weirdness: “Argument Leading to Death.” I’m thinking now that my week 19 entry was likely from the early spring of 1993, while this one was from late fall of 1992 in the previous semester’s class. I think I decided it would require less effort this time around if for the class performance I just brought in a tape of something I’d put down at home, and this was it.

I’m playing electric bass here, and my roommate Sanj Ghogale (now a doctor in the navy) is playing alto sax. Sanj has been my friend since early high school and played in my high school band The Backdrop, whose small body of work I will eventually post. We recorded this on my 4-track recording, which gave us the advantage of being able to punch in a lot, which means that instead of playing the song all the way through, you just play a phrase (or more) and then stop, then you can punch in and do the next part. This is a totally routine way of doing things in the studio (for parts like backing vocals, anyway; it’s not so easy with, say, drum kit) and really lets you perfect your parts, or even make them up as you’re recording. In this case, I had sheet music written out, so this was merely a matter of us being able to get the recording created without having to practice very much. Still, I guess this is proof that I did start playing bass by reading music in orchestras, and this may have been the last time I ever really had to read a part written out on a staff as a bass player.

Is anyone actually enjoying these pseudo-classical pieces? I’ll admit that while I seem to treasure to the point of fetish even a lot of my old songs that were too crummy to have ever been recorded, I’d totally forgotten about this until I went just now through my tapes, and the same goes for last week’s entry. Listening back to this very loud on headphones, though, I kind of like it.

May 092010

This week I’ve dived into digitizing old cassette tapes and waded through a couple of unlistenable options before coming across this thing that you might find interesting. “What happens in music composition class stays in music composition class,” goes the old saying, but I’m letting out some of the hell: a song called “Patriotism,” composed in (I think) 1992 and performed in class with me singing (my TA advised me afterwards that I should really use a real singer for these things) and a classmate named Jeanne (whose name I didn’t know the correct pronunciation to, and so never called her anything) playing piano.

You may, if you listen to this tune, notice that it is really f’in weird. It uses a text that I believe I chose semi-randomly from a book I owned but had not read; by Googling I see that it was Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd (1956). The melody jumps all over the place and the rhythm has lots of odd stops in it, so the combined effect is of a mad poetry reading. Well, such were the expectations of what constitutes “serious” music in a music school composition class in the early ’90s (I can’t say whether this has changed since then). If you use regular tonality and rhythm, then you’re doing fake Mozart, like writing a poem where you only quote lines from other poems with minor variations off of them (which describes most rock lyrics, come to think of it). Think of tonality like a language; if you want to say something worth saying, i.e. that hasn’t already been said before many many times, then you have to put things together in different combinations, though you’re still using the same tricks in making it non-random than you would ordinarily: you (well, this is the way I did it, anyway) make things more major to arrive at a resolution, you use rhythms to convey energy level (even if in this case the energy is frantic and whimsical, like paint splashes on an avant garde painting). Unlike the extremes of 12-tone anti-melodic, anti-harmonic, mathematically determined music, this is still supposed to be expressive, though maybe not that fun to listen to.

So, anyway, this is the first time I’ve aired one of my six or seven music school creations (only a couple of which I have recorded; posting hand-written sheet music is probably not as fun for you readers). I’ve hung a lot of my “cred” on this over the years, i.e. that I was a composition minor (unofficially… I took a lot of music school classes), and so I had to actually write notes down and learn some theory and how to write parts for horns and strings and things. Truth be told, my exploration into that whole area was interesting and informative for me, but pretty limited: a matter of four or five courses writing two or three pieces in each, never for more than a few instruments, and I never got to the point where my brain was really connected to the notes on paper, enabling me to just write down melodies in my head without the aid of a piano or conversely to sight read or interpret scores with any particular effectiveness. Since leaving undergrad, I only recall one occasion where I actually used my writing/arranging skills: I got a chance to arrange a simple string quartet part for a song used in my wedding ceremony.

Nonetheless, other people may explain the complexity of their artistic world view through extensive experience with drugs; I had this instead.

May 022010

…Almost done polishing the turd that is this old demo. Here’s a Pink Floyd-y song of mine called “To Valerie,” written for a girl by that name in my second month or so of college (fall of ’89). I believe it was elicited when I went to knock on her dorm room and a male voice said “Go away!” so I went and recorded a demo of this by myself and delivered the tape to her room then and there, presumably with the guy (who was presumably her older boyfriend from before she started school, whom she would soon break up with, not that that helped my chances) still in there making out with her. Just pathetic.

Though this is one of the most stylistically derivative things I’ve ever written (if you’re familiar with late 70s Pink Floyd, you’ll get it), it was one of the longest lasting tunes in the MayTricks set list, one they even played a bit (I think) after my departure from Ann Arbor for grad school in Texas (the band changed its name to “Fingers,” got another bass player, and played for another year before they got sick of each other; strangely, I was acting as glue between these strange personalities). Yes, it’s dark, and desperate, and doesn’t have much of a beat to it, and so is really not appropriate for bar/party/dance situations. I still periodically think about making the lyrics less embarrassing, smoothing out the drum part and reintroducing it into the set.

I never particularly liked this demo version because of the general out-of-tuneness between the guitars and in the vocal, some rhythmic problems (which I’ve improved somewhat for this remix), and mostly because our fill-in rhythm guitarist of the day changed my main guitar part (the one that starts off the song) to what you hear here; the part on “So Chewy” is what it’s supposed to sound like. Still, the lead guitar and keys make it a more thorough Pink Floyd rip-off than our later version, which is the spirit of the tune, after all. The weird vocal effect throughout is caused by my singing while we were doing the instruments getting picked up by the drum mics, so you’re essentially hearing me double-tracked throughout. The giant vocal reverb washes that emerge a couple times during the song (e.g. going into the guitar solo) were on the 1991 version, not something I added now.