Today on the Quietus, my interview with Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance

This interview was done a couple of months back around the time of the release of the RTZ comp but functions better now as more of a stand-alone collection of reflections on music, technology and art — and if that sounds too vague, trust me, this was some very thoughtful stuff. Part of it very much made me think of M. Matos’s Slow Listening Movement, but the issues touched on cover wider areas than that. To quote a section:

…the other day I came across the first Sun City Girls LP on a blog. It’s absolutely out of print, no way I will probably ever see it in a store or on eBay for a sum I could afford, so that left me with a clear conscience about downloading it for free. But I realized, how much pleasure would I get from it anyway? Why do that? Just to say I have it, that I have heard it? I decided not to download it because it would be much more enjoyable to at least share the experience with someone else. Maybe someone will play it for me one day. Until then, it’s just information.

And I do believe we are becoming addicted to information. You only need to look at those people who have hard drives filled with songs that they have never even listened to. They are not even collecting music. They are collecting information. And the more people become addicted to information and the faster they can obtain that information, the less they will be able to contemplate that information, and it is the contemplation of the information which makes it art.

And there’s much more besides, ranging from Paul Virilio to the value of community. Pleasure of an interview and I have to thank Ben again for taking the time and placing such thought into his answers.

Fighting the good scientific fight in the educational trenches

There’s a Florida teacher out there by the name of David Campbell, and he’s my new instant hero. And a big part of the reason why is because he’s like my dad.

Browsing the net this morning I discovered this NY Times story about Campbell, which I urge you all to read. I’ll quote just a small bit here:

David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote “Evolution” in the rectangle of light on the screen.

He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.

“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”

To explain a bit more why I thought of my dad when I read this story — Campbell’s a Navy veteran, an Anglican who regularly attends church services and a high school-level science instructor who teaches the evolutionary theory among other subjects. This is essentially my dad’s story as well, the only difference now being that he has since retired from teaching. Both men not only reconcile that supposed divide between faith and science, they embody the best values of both (admittedly I speak without direct knowledge of Campbell’s own practice of faith but I have a strong hunch it’s as thoughtful as his other work). In a slightly tangential way, it also puts me in mind of this excellent Discover magazine story I read the other week, “How to Teach Science to the Pope,” regarding the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and its related work, which among other things contains this lovely quote:

Expecting to hear a further defense of his faith, I ask [retired Vatican Observatory head Father George] Coyne what effect science has had on religion and, in particular, on the Bible.

“There is no science in the Bible. Zero, none,” Coyne says. “The Bible was written in different times by different people. Some of the books are poetry, some of them are history, some are stories.”

“Are you saying that the Bible should not be held up to scientific scrutiny?” I ask.

“That is correct,” Coyne says. “Absolutely.”

Returning to the subject at hand, this kind of work and thought that my dad did and that Campbell currently does is the kind of practical approach that enriches, extends and enlivens knowledge for a general population, education in the sense of continuing to learn. To my mind it is axiomatic, so to step back a bit and explain those axioms: when growing up, I did so learning in a household that implicitly encouraged knowledge of the Bible — I still remember reading adaptations of Biblical stories with my dad when I was eight or nine each night before going to bed, and I don’t recall doing so for any other reason than my own interest rather than being told I must learn — as well as scientific interests — I was a massive astronomy buff at around that same age, culminating but hardly concluding with the broadcast of that (literally) stellar encapsulation of deep physics and the structure of the universe, Cosmos, one of the landmarks of popular science. That its host Carl Sagan was well-known for his religious skepticism troubled my dad not at all, then again it never came up — I wasn’t raised in a household that divided the world starkly between a correct religious standpoint and an incorrect mundane one. For that I am grateful.

It should also be said that I encountered fundamentalism around that same time in a horrifyingly deceptive way — while I do not think she did so intentionally, a babysitter from down the street, the daughter of another Navy officer, once brought over some Jack Chick tracts with her. I believe she must have done so for her own reading, but seeing as they were ‘comics’ I guess I must asked after them and quite frankly got myself (and my sis, I think) all worked up, laden as they were with their melodramatic predictions of imminent doom. It was a fairly traumatic night to be introduced, very starkly, to that kind of mindset, with its combination of self-righteousness, sadism and that darkly American variant on the paranoid political style, the more so because the babysitter at no point questioned any of it, to my knowledge. I vaguely remember weepingly praying, in tears and shock, with her helping me along — and keep in mind again I’m nine years old!

Like I said, I don’t think she came over there that night with the idea of trying to convert me or anything — at least I hope not. I do remember hearing later that my parents and her parents ‘had a talk,’ as they say, and the situation did not repeat itself. Neither am I so blinkered as to think all fundamentalism expresses itself in the, shall we say, ‘imaginative’ fashion of Mr. Chick and those who think him a theologian. But almost certainly that’s where my sense of suspicion and, later, anger over this particular vision of the world grounded itself, as I was able to look back with a more thoughtful eye on what happened that evening. I had already confronted the simple idea of death itself a couple of years previously, when I was seven or so — I remember a series of evenings laying awake in bed starkly and sadly grasping it, and at least one sorrowful conversation with my parents about it — but this was something alien to me, something far harsher, and more to the point, as I reflected about it, something based in fear of the unknown, of the idea that there was something else out there other than stark moral simplicities. When confronted with larger possibilities — and advances in scientific knowledge kept expanding them for all over the decades and centuries — the result was regression and despair.

And yet — as noted, folks like Campbell, like my dad, like many others, denied that fear and regression, they incorporated and embraced and looked forward and out. Teaching on any level is a combination of the urge to share knowledge and the act of performing that knowledge, if you like — the discussion in the article about Campbell’s sense of how best to convey it to his students is familiar to me from my days as a TA back in the early nineties, on a much different level. It takes a certain type to always aim to be on, it’s a stressful job, however much one wants to think back to one’s own student days and remember little but being bored in a classroom on a hot early afternoon, say. It takes even more of a certain type to tackle what is still a touchy subject, to understate.

The construction of the article inevitably results in simplicities — Campbell and Haas are almost designed to be the central casting choices in a film version of this story, wise but concerned teacher deals with passionate, inflexible student — and inasmuch as upbringing determines type, it’d be easy enough for me to dismiss Haas if I didn’t note that, as the article says, he’s a fellow “whose parents had made sure he read the Bible for an hour each Sunday as a child,” and who had been struggling with his father’s passing the previous year and finding comfort in religion. Much different from my story, where my religious interest was encouraged but not required, and where I suffered nothing so traumatic at that age.

It would be easy enough for Campbell to dismiss Haas as well, if he were so inclined, but he does not do that — he is trying for something else, as he says at one point to the class as a whole in response to a challenge from Haas:

“Faith is not based on science….And science is not based on faith. I don’t expect you to ‘believe’ the scientific explanation of evolution that we’re going to talk about over the next few weeks.”

“But I do,” he added, “expect you to understand it.”

Again turning back to that Discover piece, consider how Campbell’s quote readily and easily squares with this statement, a religious statement of belief that understands and works with science and the application of the scientific method and the results gathered rather than trying to pretend it does not exist:

As a scientist who is also a Jesuit brother, [Vatican Observatory worker/Jesuit brother Guy] Consolmagno suggests that science poses philosophical questions that in turn spark religious inquiries.

“A hundred years ago we didn’t understand the Big Bang,” he says. “Now that we have the understanding of a universe that is big and expanding and changing, we can ask philosophical questions we would not have known to ask, like ‘What does it mean to have multiverses?’ These are wonderful questions. Science isn’t going to answer them, but science, by telling us what is there, causes us to ask these questions. It makes us go back to the seven days of creation—which is poetry, beautiful poetry, with a lesson underneath it—and say, ‘Oh, the seventh day is God resting as a way of reminding us that God doesn’t do everything.’ God built this universe but gave you and me the freedom to make choices within the universe.”

Turning back to Campbell again, his message to his students, to me, is as key a statement of purpose as any on this subject, and in this life. I have no patience with those who choose not to understand, or if you prefer choose not to make the attempt to understand. If I may draw a somewhat specious but hopefully relevant comparison — it is like doing nothing but reading political blogs and news sources that only reinforces one’s own point of view, instead of looking at other sides, other takes, and trying to understand them. In my trying to understand hard-right/conservative points of view, I do not find my own basic beliefs and interpretations changed, but in many ways strengthened both by the differences and, strange as it may sound, the commonalities, sometimes surprisingly so (it is noteworthy that there are many conservative bloggers who are religious agnostics or atheists that argue passionately, and strongly, for evolution and the scientific method, for instance).

To do all this requires activity, action, and the desire to share knowledge and encourage its pursuit in others. I trust I don’t flatter my dad in saying he always aimed for this — to my mind it’s just the truth. I’m assuming the same of Campbell — and I hope he does so for a long time to come. His is the kind of story that makes me proud and happy — and he’s not alone in this world doing what he does. A good thing indeed.


As discovered and shared by Matt on ILE today:

As a sample, here’s the map covering “books borrowed from public libraries” — and frankly the puny size of the US there displeases me. Go Russia (as they are the world leaders).

Thursday things

Because it’s Thursday and things are busy. So:

  • Yesterday I spoke a bit about transit and all that, and me not having a car. I think I’ve found the anti-me: ladies and gentlemen, Terence Jeffrey:

    Recent evidence that automobile use is declining in America and that some Americans are making significant — and in some cases not readily reversible — changes in their lives because of escalating gas prices should be worrisome signs for those who love liberty.

    No device is more in keeping with the American spirit than the automobile. Privately owned cars and trucks allow us to go where we want, when want. They are freedom machines.

    Well I can see how that…huh?

  • Mark Bittman, dietary hero, offers up more thoughts about meat reduction in one’s meals. Bookmark and review. One section:

    Forget the protein thing. Roughly simultaneously with your declaration that you’re cutting back on meat, someone will ask “How are you going to get enough protein?” The answer is “by being omnivorous.” Plants have protein, too; in fact, per calorie, many plants have more protein than meat. (For example, a cheeseburger contains 14.57 grams of protein in 286 calories, or about .05 grams of protein per calorie; a serving of spinach has 2.97 grams of protein in 23 calories, or .12 grams of protein per calorie; lentils have .07 grams per calorie.) By eating a variety, you can get all essential amino acids.

    You also don’t have to eat the national average of a half-pound of meat a day to get enough protein. On average, Americans eat about twice as much as the 56 grams of daily protein recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (a guideline that some nutritionists think is too high). For anyone eating a well-balanced diet, protein is probably not an issue.

  • Phoenix is rocking it on Mars:

    Last week, the lander’s robotic arm dumped a pile of dirt on top of one of its eight tiny ovens. But the soil proved to be so clumpy that it failed to slide down a chute into the oven. The team of scientists repeatedly tried breaking up the clods by shaking the instrument, called the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer.

    After six failures, the team at the University of Arizona and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge made one last effort, Boynton said. When the shaking halted abruptly, the team thought the machine had failed. Then they discovered it had stopped because the oven was full.

    As the scientists in Tucson cheered the result, Boynton put on the old disco tune “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” and started swaying to the music.

  • Finally, and sadly, it would be remiss of me not to point out the tragedy in Iowa where four Boy Scouts died. As an Eagle Scout whose Scouting days were very grand ones, I never thought during that time that I would ever actually face a life or death situation, despite what first aid training we received and all that. You’re young, you don’t think these things will happen — but they can, and did. There will be questions raised regarding if anything more could have been done regarding safety and training, and they should rightfully be raised — but from the sound of it, everyone pitched in as soon as they could following this disaster to help to the best of their ability until emergency assistance arrived. That is the meaning of the Scouting motto — ‘be prepared’ — and I need say no more.

Transitory thoughts

Two days in a row linking over to Balloon Juice might be a bit much but once again John’s touched on something dear to my heart:

The need for a giant vehicle penis is something I never really understood, and in fact I have lived for several years without a car in a place that has sub-optimal public transportation. To each his own, but cars are just not something that motivate me or interest me that much- when I think of a car, I think of an expensive pain in the ass. Others, to say the least, think otherwise.

There’s been a good discussion in comments on a variety of things in that post and I’ve thrown in a number of observations, as well as linking back to my earlier mass transit post from a month ago. As gas prices continue to climb and everyone starts wondering what’s up, there’s going to be more talk, always welcome.

An interesting sign of what may be yet to come in Los Angeles has just surfaced — businesses supporting a local tax to get improvements made? And why not?:

One of the key leaders in the business community in L.A. — David Fleming, chairman of the Los Angeles County Business Federation — told me late Tuesday afternoon that as an MTA board member he intends to vote to move the sales tax forward toward the November ballot. He just wants assurances that the money won’t be raided later.

Fleming has deep ties to the business community (he’s a partner at Latham & Watkins, the giant law firm, and former chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce) and lives in the San Fernando Valley.

He also was appointed to the MTA Board by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who wants to build the subway to the sea. If Fleming is a bellwether on support for the sales tax in the business community or the mayor’s office, that could translate to serious financial and political support for a campaign that must ultimately win two-thirds support from voters.

Fleming is one of many business leaders from across Los Angeles County that are gathering Wednesday morning at the City Club. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the proposed half-penny sales tax hike and whether it’s something that business wants to get behind.

“We did a poll of our members in the business federation and asked them what are the three things you want us to work on,” Fleming said. “We expected them to say taxes and regulation, but the number one issue was congestion.”

This is all welcome news to hear — it’s a tentative step, but a step nonetheless, that there’s a recognition on a wider scale that the worse things get, the more problematic it is for businesses that need to get out to clients and vice versa, that need their employees to come in on time, and so forth. It may be self-interest but it’s a paramount one that affects loads of people, and if the lawyers and high-powered money folks are getting frazzled by this, then some sort of shift in the wind is happening.

Meantime, the third and fourth parts of the LA Times stories on the state of local traffic and transit have run — on the impact of cargo freight and on the possibilities of better commutes in general — and again while they are taking a fairly mainstream approach to the subject, it’s at least good to see discussed with this level of attention, and there will be more such stories. The cargo freight story is good to note for this detail:

The problems are most apparent in Riverside, which has 26 railroad crossings. Individual delays of 28 minutes per train have been recorded.

In January, an ambulance was delayed seven minutes while rushing a teenage motorcyclist with a serious head injury to a trauma center. The youth, who was hurt in a dirt-bike crash, was unconscious and having seizures. He is recovering.

“Transporting someone with a broken leg might not be a problem,” said Peter Hubbard, a spokesman for American Medical Response, which provides the city’s ambulance service. “But a person with a serious brain injury or in cardiac arrest needs to see a neurosurgeon or a heart specialist right away.”

After the city threatened the railroads with fines and criminal prosecution last summer, railroad executives and Riverside officials agreed to work together to reduce delays for motorists.

It should not have to come to this extremity, of course, but if it will force the railroads to stop taking the presence of the tracks for granted — hard to do in a state whose power structure was essentially built on and served the interests of the likes of Union Pacific in the late nineteenth century (any good book recommendations out there covering the rise of UP, BTW?) — then the classic ‘prospect of being hanged = concentrating the mind’ effect has a place. The article’s conclusion lays it out simply:

Traffic congestion regularly delays about a fifth of commercial trucks in the region, increasing the cost of shipping by 50% to 250%, studies show.

“There is increasing concern in the region about moving goods,” said Joseph Magaddino, chairman of the economics department and the global logistics program at Cal State Long Beach.

“It does no good to off-load cargo in port if you can’t move it quickly.”

Something will give. Some things will. But will they all give in the best possible way together? That is the big question that we’ll all have to answer collectively.

Some more Monday murmurings…

I realize I’ve slowed a little bit on wholly original content on the blog as of late that isn’t music-related, but it’s not for lack of interesting things out there, trust me! But right now things are heading towards the end of another academic year here at work, and I’m currently balancing a slew of things all at once — wrapping up the spring quarter reserves, planning for summer, etc. — as well as looking ahead to my upcoming vacation out east, more about which at a later time. (Various get-togethers are already on the boil — here’s one of the two New York ones for reference!) For this reason I’m giving myself a little thinking break for here, as I’m wanting to concentrate on some of my paid writing work for this week among other things.

That’s not to say I won’t be chiming in with more today and tonight (more likely tonight) but for now I’ll just say a few things:

  • These two LA Times stories that are starting off a small series on transit issues — from yesterday, profiling some ‘regular folks’ caught in the 110 crunch on one particular day, and from today, regarding larger transit issues and times in general — are in one sense about what’s to be expected: “Gee, traffic sucks.” Flippancy aside, they underscore the nature of the choices made by people who live where they do and what they get — or put up with — in exchange for those choices. In that regard I’m no different but I am glad to have minimized my commuting times, strictly relying on mass transit, while maximizing a necessary relaxation. But, as the story further underscores, I have certain factors to hand — I’m not tied down to owning a particular property where it’s affordable, I have no outside considerations on a family front, my job setup is nearby in the first place — that not everyone has or, necessarily, wants to have.
  • A couple of things I’ve listened to recently and enjoyed very much, but won’t be reviewing (at least for now) are the Low Motion Disco album on Eskimo and Marina’s latest compilation of wonderfully crazed soul/funk/psych late sixties/early seventies numbers…from Germany…called The In-Kraut Vol. 3. There’s a version of “Whole Lotta Love” on here I can’t even properly describe.
  • To say that the current president has had his eye on history the whole time understates. To say that this is looking really ridiculous these days, even more so. This Washington Post story doesn’t provide much in the way of surprise but plenty in the way of seeing how he is left to see himself. Going to be one delusional lecture-tour circuit he’s going to be stuck on for the rest of his days, for sure.
  • And a quick Phoenix Lander update — shake, rattle and roll. Hopefully.

In celebration of the humble beetle

I bring this up because for the past few weeks around here I’ve noticed something:

“Oh wait, there’s another black beetle…man, how many of them ARE there?”

My Flickr stream has a couple of photos of the ducks that are always around in spring, but seeing all these beetles was a bit more surprising, if only because I’d rarely seen so many of these kinds of beetles around in droves. I kept idly wondering about it but it wasn’t like they were invading my apartment or the like so I wasn’t too bothered.

Happily, there is an answer to it all:

The Calosoma beetles, which experts identify as predacious ground beetles, are not dangerous to humans and pose no threat to vegetation; their large bodies and threatening mandibles, however, have some residents frightened.

This summer’s influx is caused by a combination of rainfall and warm temperatures, which increases the number of worms that the beetles eat, he said.

“Most people consider them beneficial because they’re eating insects that are considered pests, but some people don’t like them because they’re ugly,” Nisson said.

The last point has some validity, though I wouldn’t call them ugly, just, well, beetley:

Behold a beetle

If you can stand it, there’s pictures of this species plus others via this page, while my new favorite page discovered on the net is What’s That Bug. Hurrah for insects! But admittedly, hurrah for screen doors and windows too.