Saturday, March 17, 2018

From the Sports Desk

We here at the Sports Desk mostly post about football - usually college football and, less frequently, the pros, and usually the New England Patriots at that.  We don't talk about college basketball very often, if at all, around here but March Madness had descended upon us and we're actually doing pretty well so far with our bracket selections.

More specifically, we went 24-and-8 in the first round of 32 games. We were perfect in the West Division, but then again, we picked very conservatively, if unimaginatively,  in the West - No. 1 over No. 16, No. 2 over No. 15, etc., all the way down to 7 over 10, and the West generally behaved appropriately with no upsets up to that point.  However, we did correctly pick the one, very minor upset in the West - No. 9 Florida State over No. 8 Missouri, but that was just luck on our part.

Every year, or so it's said, there's always one No. 5 vs. No. 12 upset, and we had picked No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 West Virginia as this year's upset.  But that didn't work out for us - there were in fact no 12-over-5 upsets this year and we lost that game in the East Division, as well as No. 4 Wichita State's loss to No. 13 Marshall.  Further, we had picked Wichita State to beat Murray State and make it into the Sweet 16, so now we don't have a contender in that game at all, putting us one down when it comes to the Sweet 16.

But still, that's not too bad - of the 16 games in the East and West Divisions, we only lost two, and only one of eight potential Sweet 16 winners so far.   We were lucky that our two losses in the East were scheduled to play each other next, resulting in only one potential loss in the Sweet 16, not two.

In the Midwest Division, we went 5-and-3, but we didn't have the three picks that lost - NC State, TCU, and Oklahoma - winning their next games and entering the Sweet 16, so the damage was limited and out of the 24 total games in the East, West, and Midwest Divisions, we only lost one Sweet 16 spot so far.

Then we get to the South, where literally one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history just occurred.  No. 1 ranked and No. 1 seeded Virginia (31-2) lost yesterday to No. 16 seed U. Maryland - Baltimore County (wherever that is), the first time in NCAA history that a No. 1 seed lost to a No. 16 seed. Like most of America, except possibly for some (but not all) on the UMBC moms, we had picked Virginia.  According to CBS Sports, something like 26.6 percent of all bracket picks predicted Virginia to win it all - every game up to and including the National Championship.  There's a lot of people who's brackets just imploded with Virginia's loss. 

We didn't fare quite so badly.  We did have Virginia winning their opening game (duh, No. 1 seeds have historically gone 135-0 against No. 16 seeds), as well as making it to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, but we boldly picked Cincinnati to beat them and take the East Division's Final 4 spot, so the Virginia upset only cost us two future games, not 3 or 4 future games like a large number of people.  

Somewhat whimsically, we further picked No.2 seed Cincinnati (30-4) to win it all - the National Championship - and Virginia's loss certainly cleared the playing field for them, so to speak (and to use an analogy from another sport), so the upset may have done us more good than harm, even if it did count as a loss and cost us two future games. 

Overall and for the record, we went 5-and-3 in the South Division, having lost, in addition to Virginia, with No. 4 Arizona's upset loss to No. 13 Buffalo and No. 7 Nevada's OT defeat of No. 10 Texas.  But unlike Virginia, we didn't have either Arizona or Buffalo winning any further games, so as with the Midwest Division, the damage is contained.

So anyway, as noted above, all of that puts us at 24-and-8 so far in the tournament, and with only two teams (Virginia and Wichita State) that won't make it to the Sweet 16 and one team (Virginia) that won't make it to the Elite 8.  A good start and you may have done better, but don't tell us that you picked UMBC over Virginia, because we won't believe you. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dreaming of the Masters

Of all the musicians that I used to listen to back in the 1970s - Mingus, Miles, Monk, and the 'Trane, the Art Ensemble and Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders, Abdullah Ibraham and Julius Hemphill - none of them, none, compared to Anthony Braxton.

The 'Brax was the bomb, he was light years beyond anyone else.  His unique combination of complex, dense, almost Bachian composition with incredibly free improvisations were like no other. While everyone else was playing odd time signatures or abandoning structure altogether, Braxton's solos sounded like he was spitting out quadratic equations, when he wasn't sounding like moss growing on a tree or a ray of light refracting through a cloud of smoke or a petrified squid escaping from a jar of formaldehyde.  

His presence on any album changed that album for the better and I spent hours at used records stores and at street vendors digging through the jazz crates to find anything with his name on it.

Not that he was to everybody's taste.  My college girlfriend, a sweet Irish-American girl from South Boston, liked folk music and hated my taste in jazz, and Anthony Braxton in particular drove her up a wall.  For whatever it's worth, I found her seemingly endless record collection of sincere-sounding musicians with acoustic guitars as somnolent as she found my Braxton records annoying.  But who's to explain tastes?  

Anyway, Anthony Braxton's still alive and well and producing challenging and interesting music today.  In 1994, he was the recipient of a McArthur genius grant.  But here's a piece from back in 1975 to give you some idea of how far ahead - or outside - of his time he was (and still is).

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Time Travel

Time travel exists!

I have discovered a real-life, honest-to-goodness time machine - the meditation cushion. 

Yes, a mediation cushion (also known as a zafu) is a time machine.  The only problem is it only goes in one direction - into the future - and even then, only at the rate of 60 seconds per minute.

Still, pretty cool, huh?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Untimely Death of Time

Synchronicity: On the day after I post about my thoughts on time, the author of A Brief History of Time dies.

Irony: Stephen Hawking dies on Pi Day, no less.

Coincidence: Pi Day is also Albert Einstein's birthday (March 14, 1879).

Relativity: Hawking was born Jan. 8, 1942, 300 years to the day after the death of Galileo.

Yes, Stephen Hawking was born on the anniversary of Galileo's death, and died on Pi Day, the anniversary of Einstein's birth.  

I think I've covered this before, but I dislike the statement, "Life is short."  Your life, in fact, is the longest thing you'll ever experience, the longest thing you'll ever know.  Nothing, to you, will ever be longer than your life.  Intellectually, you might be able to conceptualize how long a century is, but until you've lived for 100 years, it will just be your imagination, a concept of an actual century but not the experience of an honest-to-gosh century.  And even if you do live to be 100, you still won't really know how long a century is, because a lot of your understanding will be based on memory, that most unreliable of narrators.  In the here and now, trying to grasp any long span of time is really just a combination of imagination, fantasy, and memory.   

Yes, time is in us, and yet somehow we keep continuously proceeding from this instantaneous "now" to the next instantaneous "now," nanosecond by nanosecond.  You can say that there's time, with a lower-case "t," that we actually experience, and then there's upper-case-T Time that's really only the eternal "now" yet somehow keeps refreshing itself, like celluloid frames in an animation.

So how do we resolve this apparent conflict between the lower-case-time within us and capital-T Time?  Zen Master Dogen once used the analogy of a person in a boat on a lake.  On the one hand, the person moves the boat by pushing along the lake bottom with a pole, and on the other hand, the boat is moving the person.  The person's moving the boat and the boat is moving the person.  So it is with us: our minds create the illusion of "time" out of memory and imagination to explain the sequence of an infinite number of instantaneous "nows," but on the other hand those instantaneous "nows" keep coming, one after the other, whether we conceptualize it or not.  

Maybe I'm not explaining this well.  Maybe I don't understand it and don't know what I'm talking about.  Maybe I wrote this in the past, even though it feels like "now" to me, and maybe you're reading this in the future, although it seems like "now" to you.  Maybe all I'm trying to say is that time is relative.

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.” - Stephen Hawkins (1942-2018, RIP)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What Does Time Mean To Me?

I don't think I perceive time in the same way as you do.  I have to qualify that statement with an "I don't think" because of course I don't actually know how you perceive time - or anything else for that matter.  Consciousness is subjective and your experience of perception may differ from mine.  Even further, I can't prove that you or anything else is even conscious at all, but many things other than myself seem to function in a way that suggests consciousness, so I'll make my assumptions and then behave accordingly.

But I think I already got off track.  I don't think I perceive time in the same way as you do, or as many other living things do for that matter.  Things may appear to usually proceed at a more-or-less steady pace, one second at a time, except of course, when you're stuck in traffic and time seems to slow down some, or if you're in a car skidding on ice and then time suddenly slows way down.  But most of the time, time proceeds fairly steadily.

I imagine that some other things sense a different rate to the passage of time than we do.  Take a housefly - buzzing around the kitchen at a speed too quick for me to catch it with my hands - or even hit with a swatter.  I can't not imagine that time for that fly goes slower - how else could it process all that information about what it's flying around so quickly, when it needs to veer left or veer right to avoid this obstacle or that and all without crashing into a wall?  And given that it only has a 24- or 48-hour life span and each hour represents a greater proportion of its life than a year does of mine - time must be far slower for a housefly than it is for a human.

As I get older, years pass faster.  While a year once represented a full one-tenth of my life (i.e., when I was 10), a year now represents a mere 1/64th of my life.  I see an old friend and realize we haven't talked in over a year, but to me it feels like "just yesterday."

So I don't think of time as a fixed rate at all anymore.  Sometimes it feels like it goes slowly and sometimes it seems to scream right past me.  And not only is a year not what it used to be, but I'm about ready to take on decades (should I last so long).  No, time is not a fixed-rate thing, and scientists confirm this with speed-of-light experiments and clocks circling the earth on jet planes.  

We often think of time as something outside of us.  It's like we're floating in a stream of time, which inexorably takes us forward into the future. But science has shown us that the stream, if it even exists, is hardly constant and is full of eddies and rapids, stagnant stretches and cascading waterfalls.  

I don't think there's a stream at all. Time doesn't "appear" to go slower or faster depending on age and activity - time is exactly as you perceive it.  When time seems to go slowly, it is slow, and when it seems faster, it is faster.  Our conscious minds create time and we're not floating is some external stream of time - time is what we make it.  We are not in time; time is in us.

One night in Portland, Oregon, while I was at a club (The Doug Fir Lounge) waiting for the show to start, an earnest-seeming young man near me was writing furiously in a journal.  I had to ask what he was writing about, and we got to talking about his metaphysical ideas of quantum particles and Heisenberg uncertainty.  He seemed to be having some sort of break-through experience and was trying to record all the revelations flooding into his mind (I live for these chance encounters).  I suspect Adderall and amphetamines may have had a role in his experience.   During our conversation, I got to state the line above ("We are not in time; time is in us") and Spencer Krug of the band Moonface (also Wolf Parade, but it was a Moonface show that night), who was setting up for their set on the stage near us, was within earshot and asked me what I had just said.

"We are not in time; time is in us," I repeated.

I'll never forget what musician Spencer Krug of the band Moonface (also Wolf Parade) then said to me in reply:


Monday, March 12, 2018

Five Greatest Songs of All Time (Revised Edition)

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that last week's list may not have accurately captured the five greatest songs of all time.  While a bit esoteric, they were all songs that I like and I was sincere with my selections, but in retrospect, well, let's just agree that while good and certainly interesting. they weren't the absolute best songs ever recorded.

I've re-thought it, and here are the five songs that are so perfect there's nothing that could be done to improve them, not even a little.  If one were to change as much as one binary bit in the audio stream, the songs would be that one bit worse. 

So here we go, starting with Acknowledgement from John Coltrane's master's thesis of an album, A Love Supreme, to Miss Nina Simone's smokey masterpiece I Put A Spell On You, to Patti Smith's ground-breaking and visionary punk manifesto Horses which still sounds urgent and hallucinatory 40 years later, to Hank Williams Jr.'s bawling and caterwauling at his best and booziest in Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, and Parquet Courts' Stoned and Starving, an indie-rock anthem so off-handed and casual that they can pull off rhyming "Swedish fish" with "licorice" and not sound self-conscious about it - one couldn't achieve that level of effortless slack even if one tried (the harder you try to sound effortless, the more forced you appear).  

Yeah, that's it - the five greatest songs of all time.  Case closed.  Sorry if your favorite band didn't make the cut.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


I have to admit, Daylight Savings Time really caught me by surprise this year.  I knew that I was up late playing video games last night, but I was shocked to see when I finally logged off that it was 4:30 a.m.  It was actually only 3:30 a.m., which is still pretty late, but not as bad as the sprung-forward clock on my computer implied.  But I didn't realize that spring had sprung and went to bed still thinking it was 4:30 a.m.

As per my usual Sunday-morning routine, but especially due to last night's late hour, I slept in this morning and then did the NY Times Crossword puzzle on my iPhone while still in bed.  When I finished, I was once again shocked to see it was already 1:00 p.m.  It was really only 12 noon according to my biological clock, which is still pretty late to get the day started, but not as bad as the phone's clock indicated. 

Of course, the computer and my phone were both correct and I actually had stayed up until 4:30 and then slept in until 1:00, but my biological clock was still an hour behind on Standard Time.

Don't get me wrong - I'm glad it's finally Daylight Savings Time and I wish that we observed it all year long.  I like it when it's still light when I get home from work.  I like it when both the sun and I get up at the same time.  I like it when it's summer.

I don't really know why we still justify falling back again in the autumn . . . farmers?