Sunday, September 25, 2011

God - That Which Is?

Here a thought: the name of God given in the bible is "Yahweh". I understand that the exact meaning of that word is unknown, but I've read that it can be interpreted as "that which is." If "is" means what I think it does, then it would be hard to deny the existence of "that which exists". Sort of a "cogito ergo sum" for theology -- "That which is, IS!!!" If you suitably define your terms, anything is possible! Good is bad, recession is boom, mediocre sophistry is philosophy. <= (warning... this is sarcasm.) Given this definition, I suppose I'm a believer, though I'm not sure we can know what "that which is" IS, relative to anything else.

On the other hand, it's not difficult to be "atheist" with regard to an anthropomorphic god -- the one on a throne in the clouds with white robes and all -- or any variation of that, regardless of whatever philosophical accessories are attached. But I wonder if we would even be considering the possible existence of "god" if it were not for the taint of these personified images seeping down from our superstitious, royalty worshiping ancestors!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Political Syllogism

I. (A) If Republicans block President Obama's economic plans, then (B) the economy will not improve.
II. (B) if the economy doesn't improve, then (C) the people will blame President Obama.
III. (C) If people blame President Obama, then (D) they will vote for his opponent in the election.
IV. (D) If people vote for President Obama's opponent, then (E) Republicans will take the White House.

Obviously... Republicans want to block any plan that might improve the economy. If you really want to know who to blame for the continued malaise of the economy, look no further than the GOP.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Refresher on Rhetoric and Reasoning

I didn't write this... it was posted on an AOL music forum in 1992. Lots of flame wars were breaking out in early days of social networking. This is a really good synopsis of rules of debate and logical fallacy. If this were a disease and could become an epidemic, we could all be well again!

---------------------- THE ORIGINAL POST -------------------------

When arguing a case or examining the arguments of another, look for these common fallacies. Avoiding these problems makes a case stronger. Further, finding these fallacies in other's statements can make your rebuttal easier. Argue the point, but don't belittle the person.

The "Straw Man" fallacy is committed when an arguer distorts an opponent's argument for the purpose of more easily attacking it. This often happens when someone quotes another member out of context.

"Circular Reasoning" occurs when stating in one's proof that which one is supposed to be proving.

The "Missing the Point" fallacy occurs when the premises of an argument appear to lead up to one particular conclusion but then a completely different conclusion is drawn.

The "Red Herring" fallacy is committed when the arguer diverts the attention of the reader or listener by changing the subject to some totally different issue. Sticking to the topic of each individual folder will minimize the impact of this fallacy.

The "Hasty Generalization" fallacy occurs when there is a likelihood that the sample is not representative of the group.

The "Ad Hominem" fallacy occurs when an arguer's post appeals to feelings or prejudices as opposed to logic. It also occurs when an arguer moves a discussion to a personal level through character assassination or personal attacks.

The "False Cause" fallacy occurs whenever the link between premises and conclusion depends on some imagined casual connection that probably does not exist.

The "Amphiboly" fallacy occurs when the arguer misinterprets a statement that is ambiguous, owing to some structural defect and proceeds to draw a conclusion on this faulty interpretation. Again, this can happen when someone is quoted out of context. If a statement seems unclear, ask the person about it.

The "Composition" fallacy is committed when the conclusion of an argument depends on the erroneous transference of characteristic from the parts of something into the whole. In other words, the fallacy occurs when it is argued that because the parts have a certain characteristic, it follows that the whole has that characteristic, too. However, the situation is such that the characteristic in question cannot be legitimately transferred from parts to whole.

The "Suppressed Evidence" fallacy is committed when an arguer ignores evidence that would tend to undermine the premises of an otherwise good argument, causing it to be unsound or uncogent.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Default Ain't My Fault

It's not easy to get a grip on this "debt ceiling" thing, but here's a thought experiment.

Suppose you're the CEO of a corporation. In many ways, the buck stops at your desk. But, you answer to a board of directors and there are certain decisions that must be made with the consent of the directors.

Business has been tough in the recession. Though you've done your best to control costs, there are some expenses which have resulted from investment in equipment and facilities while business was brisk. Like all busniesses, you financed expansion by borrowing. The payments on the loans are still due regardless of your current business level.

The problem right now is that you're up against the credit limit that's been established. You need to fulfill current orders and to receive the revenue for these orders which will allow your business to continue, and hopefully to weather the current storm. But, you can't pay for the raw materials, front the payroll, and keep the electricity on without borrowing a bit more money. The bank is willing... but...

You go to your board of directors and half of the directors absolutly refuse to allow you to borrow more money.

You argue that without the added debt, you won't be able to fulfill the orders, there will be no more revenue, and your creditors will deem you in default. Your only recourse at that point, will be bankruptcy. Most of your employees will lose their jobs, your existing customers will go elsewhere. This will be the death knell of the business.

Our country is a really big business. None of us want to go into debt further... it truly is a crisis. We do need to raise revenue, cut expenses and control our debt. What's going on in Washington right now, though, is NOT the way to do it. It's reckless and irresponsible to talk about refusing to raise the "debt ceiling." If you believe in free market, then you have to believe that MARKET forces, not POLITICAL forces, will set our debt ceiling.

As the CEO in the fable above, when the economy improves, I will do my best to repay the debt -- the interest is a drain on our finances, and any debt limits business mobility. If a directors opposed my request to extend our credit, I would suspect that they had ulterior motives... perhaps they've invested in a competitor, or bought into a hedge fund... or maybe they're just after my job!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ten Rules for Musicians

1. Play the song, not just your instrument.
2. Know the melody and HOW to play it. If you don’t know the melody, you don’t know the song.
3. Know the lyrics and what the song is about.
4. Listen to the other players, particularly the drummer and bass player.
5. Participate in the groove.
6. Pay attention to the band leader.
7. Give it 100% from load in to load out.
8. Don’t denigrate your band mates. For sidemen, make the front person sound good. For front persons, make the sidemen sound good.
9. Load your gear for money… play for the love of music.
10. Always eat the free food.
11. Never believe that any complex topic can be summed up in ten rules!

Important Pop Music? Really?

Question recently asked on Facebook:

Do you agree that most of the important white pop music of the 20th century has been based on white musicians imitating black musicians?

This is a complicated question because it comprises several nested questions, each of which is complex in its own right.

Question 1: What is “imitation” and what is influence.

In my life, it has been a de facto assumption that Elvis fashioned his vocal style from Otis Blackwell (“Don’t Be Cruel”), Little Junior Parker (“Mystery Train”), Arthur Cruddup (“That’s All Right Mama”). Led Zepplin went so far as to copy a Willie Dixon tune and claim authorship (“Whole Lotta Love”). And fergit about Vanilla Ice, fer cryin’ out loud!

However, the lines are not clearly cut. For example, Jimmie Rodgers undoubtedly heard and admired early rural delta blues performers. But, conversely, great bluesmen such as Muddy Waters and Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett professed to be fans of Rodgers’ music, the latter even suggesting that his “howl” originated in attempts to mimic Rodgers’ “blue yodel.”

To further smear the yard lines, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, and other great R&B artists have been heavily influenced by early exposure to country roots music. Willie Dixon allegedly referred to Chuck Berry as “a hillbilly.” “Maybellene” was based on “Ida Red” which had been a hit for Bob Wills and was well known to Chuck.

And while on the subject – Ray Charles was little more than a talented Nat Cole impersonator in his early career. Chuck Berry, quite openly, copied entire phrases from T-Bone Walker. Is there really a difference between a developing “white” musician admiring and absorbing influence from an established “black” musician, and a young black, likewise, admiring and imitating another performer, whatever the color?

It is clear from even a cursory examination of the behavior of record labels such as Chess, King, Sun and others who recorded both black and white artists, that there was: 1) a conscious and concentrated effort to promote white artist recording material written by black artists; and, 2) a purposeful effort to shortchange the black composers. However, they did the same thing to their more ethnic white artists.

These same labels also funneled other “ethnic” music – a term which applies equally to African-American and Hillbilly -- to mainstream performers seeking what all business seek: profit. Is Pat Boone’s “Tutti-Frutti” significantly different than Nat Cole or Ray Charles cover of “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. (Yes… I recognize that Pat Boone’s cover is not so good… that’s not the point here.) Or to stay within color lines – Patty Page covered the great Pee Wee King/Red Stewart standard, “Tennessee Waltz”; Guy Mitchell covered Melvin Endsley’s “Singin’ the Blues”, as well as Harlan Howard’s “Heartaches by the Number; The Andrews Sisters had a hit with “Crazy Arms”. Likewise, Mickey and Sylvia hit with Bo Diddley’s, “Love is Strange” – and, reportedly, it was the stuff of lawsuits; and on the subject of Mickey & Sylvia… their recording, “Darling (I Miss You So)” not only sounds like The Everly Brother’s “Lucille” – it IS the Everly Brother’s recording of Lucille! How this happened, no one seems to know… how convoluted is that? And while not too far from the subject of Bo Diddley, isn’t the “Bo Diddley” beat REALLY just a guitar rendition of the “clavé” beat (click click click -- CLICK CLICK), lifted from yet another ethnic music.

It’s difficult to separate what is influence and what is imitation. All learning, and social order itself, is based on some form of imitation and influence. There is nothing intrinsically exploitative about either imitation or influence. . I would offer that the best musicians don’t imitate. Instead, each musician absorbs certain elements of the environment. They refashion these building blocks into their own voice. The process often follows this course: imitation often becomes influence, which becomes allusion, which becomes style, which becomes one’s own personal voice.

But, back to the original question, that most of the important white pop music of the 20th century has been based on white musicians imitating black musicians.

Question 2: What is the “important white pop music of the 20th century”.

I know what music I like, but it’s hard to assess what is the “important” pop music. Pop music, like all pop culture, is disposable. “Important pop music” is arguably an oxymoron. In every decade of the 20th century, there was music that was wildly popular, and influential in its time, but notable only for being forgettable. For example, “Chickery Chick” performed in 1945 by Sammy Kaye, among others, stands out as utterly unremarkable, except in silliness – yet still, it was a number one hit, ousting Bing Crosby’s “It’s Been a Long Long Time”, in my opinion, a much better song.

In the late 70’s, KC and the Sunshine Band, Alicia Briges, The Commodores, Donna Summer, crooners of all colors slathered disco mayonnaise across America’s radio sandwich. Who imitated whom? Who really cares?

And, if you actually lived though the 50s’ and 60’s, you know that it was not all great rock ‘n roll masterpieces. Sure, there was “Johnny B Goode”, but there was also “Johnny Get Angry”; there was “Summertime Blues”, but also “Theme from a Summer Place”; and replays of Nat Cole’s 1950 version of “Mona Lisa” were more frequent than Carl Mann’s 1959 Sun records rocker.

Often times, the “IMPORTANT” music has been relegated to the corners of society, to be swept out by cultural janitors who turn it into tomorrow’s lucrative pop music: Led Zepplin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix mined the blues – with respect, but with great commercial success, too. Likewise, Austin roots musicians are musical dumpster divers, gleeful when a dusty, little played gem by Wayne Kemp or Ray Pillow turns up on YouTube. John Lomax, A.P. Carter, and others made a lifetime out of ferreting out “important” folk music, which became the basis some great, money-making pop-folk hits such as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, or Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier”, the former a hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, the latter, best known as an album cut for Donovan in 1967.

The difficult question is whether this music treasured by musicians is any more “important” than Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach”, Perry Como’s “Hot Diggity Dog Ziggity”, The Merry Macs, “Mairzy Doats”, The Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out”, Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful”. It’s hard to argue that these, and other chart busters, influenced following generations of musicians in the manner of Nat Cole, Hoagy Carmichael, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck D & Public Enemy, and other innovators. However, the music may be equally important in a larger sense in as much as these blockbuster hits shape surrounding pop culture. While diverse ethnic groups may be eager to claim their influence in some areas, it’s unlikely that charges will be levied that Leslie Gore stole “Sunshine and Lollipops” from Sleepy John Estes, or that Frankie Avalon ripped off Mississippi John Hurt when he recorded “Venus”. But are these musical works important? Who is to say?

Question 3: Are there original and influential white artists?

After the advent of the phonograph, radio, and later, TV and the internet, it would be impossible to find musicians who developed in isolation sufficient to prevent influence across ethnic borders. In my own life, I can never go back and “un-hear” Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Freddy King, James Burton, Chet Atkins, Joe Pass, B.B. King, Joe Maphis, Ralph Mooney, Merle Travis, Nokie Edwards, Duane Eddy, Frank Plas, Link Wray, Herb Ellis, Hank Garland, Grady Martin, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Chuck Berry, Jörgan Ingmann, Mickey Baker, Bo Diddley, Jody Williams, Scotty Moore, Jimmy Bruno Sr.… or any of the dozens of guitarist that helped form my paradigm in my early years of studying guitar. Now, if a young guitarist were to hear my performance and, poor guy/gal, to be sufficiently affected to imitate, would he/she be influenced by black or white musicians?

All good musicians follow a muse that has no ethnicity and no color. We pay homage to the great musicians that taught us. We honor our influences by playing what’s in our hearts and giving it 100% effort EVERY TIME!

As all good questions are answered, so is this one answered - with simply more questions.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Agnosticism and Faith

This is a comment on a blog with appears in a related blog at this URL:

Big Thick Glasses Blog

Mr. Thick-Glasses (or may I call you just Big?) I have just a few additional notes, both elaboration and extension.

Many religions posit an interactive deity -- one to whom you can pray (talk), a creator, an overseer, punisher of evil. Clearly this common, naive concept of “God” is an extension submission to human royalty, supplication to a king – evidenced by the use of the term “Lord” to refer to god. This god is omniscient and omnipotent; eternal, yet temporal; loving but swift and unwavering in justice. The problem – if not a logical contradiction – in these positions is that all attempt to a circular dodge to the examination of faith and reality: you have to believe because the religions authoritative document(s) (Quran, Bible, Vedas, etc.) say you must! If you can’t believe – you’ll go to HELL! Yikes… better safe than sorry, right?

It’s these “isms” that I find “offensive”. They trivialize the concept of truth and spirituality. Prayer (meditation) is often reduced to a public spectacle, or, at worst, sort of a verbal wish list, a celestial email to Santa Claus. I don’t want to pretend, though, my being offended is a philosophical rebuttal of any of religion. I simply think of these types of religious belief as little more than superstition… I rejected most of these notions long ago and I don’t think these ideas are generally the object the current discussion.

I suggest that I can’t accept or reject something that “can’t be expressed in term of my experience.” I’m using the term “experience” in a very broad way. My “experience” is all that may be communicated to my conscious, examining being though means of communication and extended means of communications. This communication could be verbal, or symbolic. Clearly, quantum physics is NOT intuitive. However, we use the language of mathematics to extend our communications. We STILL express a hypothesis, suggest experimental means of verification, and reach a conclusion for belief or disbelief, not just based on articles of faith, but on the basis of how closely the experimental results confirm the expressed hypothesis.

I also suggested that, as an agnostic, I can't get past the question of what it is that one does or does not believe in. By this, I mean that if the hypothesis can’t be expressed, then how are we to find any path to belief or disbelief. The very words “belief” and “disbelief” have no meaning in this context.

To use your example of a “Marpled Fleezer”: I ask you, “What is a Marpled Fleezer?”

Expert that you are in Marbled Fleezerism, you respond, “A Marpled Fleezer is a diforbled gloozy noogie.”

Clearly, I can neither believe or disbelieve based upon this information… it’s logical gibberish.

However, maybe you can convince me that a Marpled Fleezer is predicted by the results of some process of logical deduction, calculation, induction. You further sway me to agree that if “Marpled Fleezer”, then “diforbled gloozy noogie”, which is also a concept which can be described to me though some means of communication which is within the realm of my understanding, assuming I possess the required discipline to understand the medium of communication. Now, I have the prerequisites for belief or disbelief.

So… what is it that we’re talking about in which we having a belief or disbelief. If we eliminate the “naïve” god concepts, (which would almost certainly land both of us in the atheist columns of most theist scorecards), we’re still left with these suggestions: “god == the ultimate reality”, or “god == the truth” or “god == everything” or “god == whatever”.

To reach a real belief in any of these “god ==” equations, we need to find some language to describe the right hand side of the equation –using “language” as I’ve defined it in the previous paragraphs: some means of communication which is within the realm of my understanding, assuming I possess the required discipline to understand the medium of communication.

I think that any possible right hand term for the “god equation” will result in insurmountable problems in terms of our communications tools. I’ve likened it to the situation of a couple of silicon atoms in a microprocessor. Supposing for a moment that silicon atoms have a consciousness and problem solving abilities, these advanced silicon atoms manage to map out their place in the microprocessor and can predict the state of neighboring atoms at particular times. Their complex theorems and calculations describe completely their confined universe. However, what the silicon atom philosophers and theoreticians could never comprehend is that the computer in which they reside is being used by a human to compose a poem expressing love for another human! How could they possibly incorporate this into their body of belief… they not only would not have a means of expressing the concept, they would have no path for arriving at a description of “human love” from the atomic activity of silicon atoms.

We can possibly understand our place in our universe. We may discover all there is to know about our cosmic neighborhood. But we can’t describe something which is beyond the limitations of our ability to communicate and postulate a hypothesis.

Despite my Postulatory Agnosticism, I’m inclined to an intuitive belief in some spiritual center. I don’t really know why and beyond a possible discovery of some physical explanation for why my body makes me feel that way, I don’t expect ever to establish the empirical truth of this belief. Nor do I really have a way of expressing what this is that I intuitively believe in… but it makes me feel good to entertain this belief. That’s “faith”.