Sunday, May 20, 2018

Post Toasties

I don't have the time to post what I want to talk about, and I don't want to talk about the things that I do have time to post. 

So maybe I'm better off not posting anything.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

In trying not to say anything partisan about current events or to speak ill and demonize those I disagree with, I lose a good 50% of the topics about which I want to post. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Dreaming of the Masters

Ever since the unfortunate passing of Cecil Taylor, we've been in a piano phase here at the Old School Friday desk of WDW.  In keeping with that theme, tonight we offer the late Paul Bley playing a lovely song written by his still-living ex-wife, the immensely talented composer Carla Bley. 

The song is titled Ida Lupino for the earthy, intelligent actor, director and producer, arguably Hollywood's first feminist icon. Martin Scorsese once described Lupino as “a true pioneer" and "a woman of extraordinary talents,” and described the films she directed as "remarkable chamber pieces that deal with challenging subjects in a clear, almost documentary fashion," constituting "a singular achievement in American cinema."

The version of the song Ida Lupino posted up above is a fairly straight-forward reading of the melody from 1965 by the Paul Bley Trio (Bley, Steve Swallow, and Barry Altschul); the version below is a more searching, 1973 solo piano extrapolation of the song's themes.  It helps to hear the trio version first to understand how Bley slices and dices it in the solo version.


Ida Lupino is a beautiful and hauntingly sad song that for reasons I do not understand can literally bring tears to my eyes when I hear it played.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I Did Promise Video

A couple times during my posts about this year's Shaky Knees Festival, I promised "Video coming soon," but then I forgot to post them.  

Until now.  Here's a couple short clips from David Byrne's triumphant set, including deep cut I Zimbra from Fear of Music (1979), a song I truly believed I would never hear performed live, at least not by Mr. Byrne.  We also have a clip from ray of sunshine This Must Be the Place

Hey, we also promised some Alvvays, so here's Molly Rankin still insisting that Archie marry her already.  Seriously, Archie, what's the deal?  She's been singing this song for years now. 

Anyway, this concludes our Shaky Knees 2018 coverage.  No need for long, multi-post unwrapping like with the Big Ears festival.  Not that Shaky Knees was any less compelling, it was just more immediately accessible and gratifying, and there's not a thing wrong with that.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Not that I was there, but someone who was told me that at the Tri-State (Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina) Environmental Law Conference this year, a speaker in the "Wellness" Section gave a talk on the benefits of mindfulness, and even led the conferees in a five-minute, silent meditation.

Well, this is good, except for the parts that aren't.  It may surprise you that I have an objection to meditation being taught to lawyers, but my concern is that much of the popular meditation being promoted these days is treated as a commodity, branded as "mindfulness," and held out as a miracle cure for a great many ailments.  In other words, almost the polar opposite of what Buddhism actually proposes.  Of course, I wasn't there so I'm not passing judgement, I'm just expressing my concern.

One of the objects of meditation is to let go of having an objective. True mindfulness is an escape from striving to attain something, even mindfulness, and just calmly, blissfully being - no cares, no worries, no aspirations, and not even any thoughts.

The titles of books on Buddhism can be pretty concise summaries of the contents of the books.  Buddhism Is Not What You Think is a very clever title by Zen teacher Steve Hagen, as it plays on the dual meanings of maybe you don't really know what Buddhism is and Buddhism is not a set of beliefs, ideas and thoughts.  It's not what you think, it's a process of letting go of thought (don't worry - they come back).  

However, in recent years people have embraced the concept of mindfulness as a worthy product of Buddhist practice, and many books have been written on how you can achieve mindfulness now, how mindfulness can solve all your other problems, and how a teacher's advanced state of mindfulness can be yours if only you just buy the book, or attend a seminar, or join a practice group.  Mindfulness is being packaged as a commodity, bought and sold, and advertised as a miracle cure-all.

In Buddhism, mindfulness is but one part of the Buddha's Eightfold Path, along with right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort and right meditation.  But today's mindfulness proponents have made mindfulness the goal itself, not a pathway leading to enlightenment.

The same could also be said about Zen Buddhists and right meditation.  The criticism of Zen is that it puts all of the focus on just one part of the eightfold path, meditation, and ignores all the rest.  Zen Buddhists counter that when one practices right meditation, one is necessarily practicing all the other paths - right understanding (understanding mediation as the essential pathway), right thought (which is no thought), right effort (sitting still without fidgeting), etc.  

But the critics have a point, and I maintain that the emphasis of mindfulness is guilty of the same single-mindedness.  Further, there is nothing more detrimental to attaining mindfulness than holding mindfulness out as a goal to be achieved, thereby implying that you don't yet have it and that it's something outside of you.  The more you clutter your mind with thoughts of "Oh, I have to be mindful," the less mindful your mind is for that very clutter.

So, I'm glad to hear of a ballroom full of lawyers practicing five minutes of mindfulness meditation,  Really. And I believe that no harm will come of it.  But on the other hand, I'm deeply suspicious of the current mindfulness movement, and the West's latest attempt to clumsily appropriate an Eastern ideology, and try to package, market, and commodify it.

There's always something to complain about, isn't there?      

Oh, and happy Ramadan, y'all!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

My Office Today

Today, we got to go to sample and monitor the response to rainfall of a rural stream adjacent to a cemetery in south-central Georgia.  I know, I know, dream job, but it's not always all glamour and prestige in our little world!  

We posted the first picture above to our Facebook feed, and among the puns that we've heard so far are "See you're in the dead center of town," and "Your co-workers are stiffs," and "See you're stuck in a dead-end job."


Monday, May 14, 2018


Elon Musk (center) and Grimes (right) at the Met Gala
Early in his book Enlightenment Now, author Steven Pinker bemoans the cognitive abilities of the human species.  "People are by nature illiterate and innumerate, quantifying the world by 'one, two, many' and by rough guesstimates," he writes.  "They generalize from paltry samples," he continues, "namely their own experience, and they reason by stereotype, projecting the typical traits of a group onto any individual that belongs to it."

Pinker goes on to catalog many other shortcomings of our species and of our minds.  "For every misfortune they seek a scapegoat," he claims, and "People demonize those they disagree with, attributing differences of opinion to stupidity and dishonesty."

As a example, we were recently scrawling through our Facebook feed, and saw a post that simply read, "Elon Musk is an asshole."  No further explanation was offered, no reason for the condemnation was provided.  Did she recently buy a Tesla which turned out to be a lemon?  Does she think space exploration should best be left to nation-states and not private corporations?  Does she disagree with Musk's recent warnings about artificial intelligence?  Or does she resent the fact that he's apparently now dating the musician Grimes?

Grimes at The Earl, Rocktober 2011
We may never know, but apparently the poster disagreed with something about Musk, demonized the person and not the position or statement with which she disagreed, and then publicly attacked the individual, not the individual's statement, attitude, or position.  This, Pinker would argue, is the very barrier that enlightenment needs to overcome in order to help the human race.

But before we cast the first stone, or fall into the same error and attack the Facebook poster and not her mistake, we have to admit we're guilty of the same thing.  In this blog and in other media, we've insulted and disparaged right-wing politicians with whom we've disagreed, claiming they were stupid or uninformed or worse.  And then we've taken that perceived trait and cast in on all members of the very large group of people who vote differently than we do, or view politics differently than us, or think differently than we do.

To be sure, we're not saying that they're right, or even that they have a point.  We're saying that it's very unenlightened to call the individuals stupid and otherwise demonize them, and then to project those traits onto their entire group.  Did we learn nothing from Hillary's "basket of deplorables" comment?

There are deplorable people in the so-called alt-right, and fascism and racism are deplorable.  But it's also wrong to label all those who disagree with us as "deplorable," just as the labels and prejudices they project on our side are equally - and almost assuredly more - wrong.

We've never met Elon Musk, and it's possible that he is, in fact, an asshole.  We don't know.  But if so, it's not because he's dating Grimes.  That part's cool.