Archive for July, 2005

CVB Blueberry Hill archive

This post at StL DiatribeR has a listing of local concert recordings available at the Internet Archive. seems to be the organization distributing concert recordings. I attended the show that Camper Van Beethoven played at Blueberry Hill back in January, and it was great. The performance quality was high, and they played many of my favorites. The recording does not capture how good it was. I am still happy to have found it. I remember “Eye of Fatima (Pt 2)” as being my favorite song in the show. The rock is still there.

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Michael M. on July 30th 2005 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Kristin Gore’s Sammy’s Hill

Kristin Gore’s novel Sammy’s Hill, discussed in a previous post, has been released in paperback. Diane Rehm Show is featuring Gore in the second hour right now. Susan Page, guest host, asked the question I wanted to know off the bat. The main character reminded her strongly of Sarah Bianchi, a politico and a close Gore family friend. Gore said that Bianchi was a friend, but denied that her character Sammy Joyce is closely based on Bianchi. I was glad to hear the quesiton asked anyway considering its absense from the web.

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Michael M. on July 28th 2005 in General

GWB jokes

From McSweeney’s come the harshest GWB jokes I have seen. Some are hilarious. This post at Pretty War sent me to them.

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Michael M. on July 27th 2005 in General

Hepatitis C

A post on Lawrence Lessig‘s blog led me to a sad story on k5. The author of the story has hepatitis C, the blood borne liver virus. I know someone in real life with the disease. Now blood transfusions are screened for hepatitis C, but they were not in the past. The disease typically develops slowly, but it ultimately can be devestating and lethal. The author tells a story of how medications he purchased in Europe were intercepted by United States officials due to intellectual property laws. Drug companies are a notoriously difficult entities. They lead both to great healing and great harm. This case is troubling. See his site Hepatitis C Virus Action Now for more information.

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Michael M. on July 26th 2005 in General

Harry and the Potters August 9

This post at Barlow Farms reminded me about tribute band Harry and the Potters, and a comment informed me that they will be in Saint Louis soon. According to their listing of shows, they will play at the Schlafly Branch of the Saint Louis Public Library at 7 PM on August 9. They will play earlier on the same day at 3 PM at the Carpenter Branch. Unless something big comes up, I will go.

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Michael M. on July 26th 2005 in General, Live, Music

Moog and Carlos

I checked out Wendy CarlosSwitched-On Boxed Set from the library. Something I read on the web made me want to hear it. I bought the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange when I was in college, and I liked it without wanting to pursue the music much further. Now I have, and the music is good.

It led me to some Wikipedia research, including diversions rekindling an interest in musical scales and reminding me about Robert Moog. Moog led analog synthesizer development. Wendy Carlos played his synthesizers. I am also a terrific fan of Stevie Wonder, another innovator who played Moogs. The first instruments could play only one note at a time. Musicians such as Carlos and Wonder painstakingly built track upon track to create polyphonic pieces. Even with such limitations, the instruments pushed music quickly into new territory.

The Wikipedia entry also led me to sad news about Moog. He has glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an aggressive malignant brain tumor. I am familiar with this disease in two ways. I studied it in medical school the year after my grandmother died from what I think was GBM. My mother’s account of her discussions with the doctors matches. GBM progresses quickly, and it is very difficult to treat. There is a site about his experiences with this illness. I wish him well.

This piece on Fresh Air first raised my curiosity about him. I learned enough to employ the rarely popular correction of another’s pronunciation at a party when someone read a Moog t-shirt aloud and asked what it meant. Moog played “Summertime” at the end of the interview on a theremin!

I saw a fantastic performance of “Summertime” by Leon Bates and two singers. I must have seen some of his Gershwin program.

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Michael M. on July 26th 2005 in General, Music, Recorded

Death penalty revisted

Both this post on The Commonspace blog and this post on Arch City Chronicle pointed me to an article from The New York Times, “Executed Man May Be Cleared in New Inquiry.” Jennifer Joyce, Circuit Attorney of the City of Saint Louis, has begun investigating a murder case that resulted in the execution of Larry Griffin. I checked, and the crime site is only about half a mile from where I live. Now it is a neighborhood of brand new townhouses.

I wonder about the attitudes of John Roberts, the Supreme Court nominee, toward the death penalty. Roberts is Roman Catholic, and the catechism, while presenting capital punishment as legitimate, urges bloodless means when sufficient and claims that they are sufficient in nearly all cases today. Christoph Schönborn, blogged recently for other reasons, wrote an article to clarify some questions. I can imagine societies that might truly need to death penalty to maintain order and to protect people. We are not one of them. I expressed this opinion following a post on Barlow Farms raising questions on abortion. The discussion gave me a lot to research and consider. Antonin Scalia, a Catholic himself, has steadfastly supported the death penalty across many cases. I hope that Roberts, if confirmed, will push us away from capital punishment.

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Michael M. on July 26th 2005 in General

Mississippi cooking

According to this post at STL A La Mode, Sweetie Pie’s at The Mangrove, a new restaurant, is set to open soon at the corner of Manchester and Tower Grove in Forest Park Southeast. Former Ikette Robbie Montgomery started Sweetie Pie’s. I drove past there last weekend. A sign in the window advertised Mississippi cooking. Getting a little taste of home here can be a challenge. I am looking forward to its opening.

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Michael M. on July 26th 2005 in General

Missouri fun

I saw Chuck Berry play at Blueberry Hill last Wednesday. He plays there about once a month. After living here nearly four years, I finally went. It was fun. The crowd was composed largely of people who probably have been his fans for decades. Everybody seemed to have a good time.

He still puts on a good show. His playing remains strong. He was joined by a small band including two of his children. His song took many of the classic guitar parts, but Berry played some solos, too. A few were really good. The band would go into a chord progression to let him play, and he took off into his own world. I enjoyed seeing Chuck Berry improvise. He did not play every song I wanted to hear. With his history, I doubt he could fit them all into one show. He still does the duck walk, too.

I also camped and floated the Meramec River for a friend’s birthday. I went on another float trip last year on the Current River and had a good time. It was fun this time, too. Both are down in the Ozarks, and the mountains are scenic. We had a rope swing near our camp that was fun. I jumped in another place, too. There were a few small caves lining the river. One seemed to have a fresh spring because the water was extremely cold. The float was a little too long. We were ready for it to end well before it did, but I would go again soon if I could.

The experience got me thinking about the white underclass, called white trash, hillbillies, hicks and rednecks. I stopped at Wal-Mart in Sullivan on my way there. It took me back home, with customers not so different looking than ones I saw growing up. I always considered myself a little different from most Wal-Mart shoppers, and that fact reveals a little both about true differences and my prejudices. Anyway, they hardly were unfamiliar, and the experience even summoned nostalgia. There definitely were groups on the river and around the campground who were a little too loud, a little too poor and a little lacking in social graces. They were overwhelmingly, but not totally, white.

I never know how to feel. I have family and friends who had to endure the prejudices. I also wonder about the impact of classification on recreation. I know people who choose where to go and what to do based on whether it is considered redneck, and I suppose that I have, too. The conflict can be bigger when ethnic background clearly sets someone apart from the white people likely to be there. Eventually, I recognized it as a stupid prejudice. How is whether something is considered redneck material to anything? It is a free world, and we only restrict our own freedom with that outlook. Instead of looking at the social implications, we would be better off evaluating how fun an activity will be and how much harm it might cause. Floating is fun. I did see some harmful acts, but it was easy enough not to commit them. Being a little too loud can make for a good time. There is good country music.

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Michael M. on July 17th 2005 in General, Live, Music

Saying, doing, playing and singing

I have mentioned my desire to make songs with GarageBand and post them a couple of times. I sometimes hear music as I drift off to sleep. I tend to forget it without writing or recording anything. The shower is another one of those inconvenient locations that are conducive to imagining. The music is not bad, but not so good that I am doing a great disservice to anybody by letting it go. I also sometimes savor the selfish joy of secretly enjoying something ephemeral and unrepeatable. More often, the ideas are ordinary, and I am just too lazy and scattered to do anything.

A friend of mine is doing something. In a post on his blog, he linked to the new song he made in his basement, “When You Awake” (4 MB). It is a very catchy bouncy song with some good harmonies. I think one summer growing up he worked and worked all summer to save enough to make some song demos in a studio. I remember hearing them on casette tape when we were in high school, and they were good. Now he can make his own.

Now is a cultural boom.

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Michael M. on July 14th 2005 in General, Music, Recorded

Catholicism and evolution

Finding Design in Nature” written by Christoph Schönborn appeared recently in The New York Times. According to the blurb at the end, Schönborn is a cardinal who edited the Roman Catholic catechism. The essay is not an official church pronouncement, but he is someone whose opinions might provide some insight into the interplay of science and Christian faith. Unfortunately, some people behind the travesty that is intelligent design (ID) are lauding and coopting his message.

Leading Cardinal Redefines Church’s View on Evolution” followed it. The arguments covered in the article hinge on planning and randomness, ideas that are tied to will, intelligence and intent. As yet, science does not address all these ideas in a precise way. Is randomness a sign of intelligence? Is chance a sign of its absence? Is determinism a sign of intelligence? Is fate a sign of its absence? To my mind, none of these attempts to equate randomness or determinism with intelligence makes any sense.

“Unguided,” “unplanned,” “random” and “natural” are all adjectives that biologists might apply to the process of evolution, said Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown and a Catholic. But even so, he said, evolution “can fall within God’s providential plan.” He added: “Science cannot rule it out. Science cannot speak on this.”

Miller is an active opponent of the intelligent design advocates. The excerpt above reveals the real problem in this debate, and Miller zeroed in on it immediately. The article examines the controversy and the people instead of taking a serious look into the principles at play. The followup focuses on the conflict and lists catchy quotes rather than considering the multiplicity of meanings of ideas, ones deceptively similar looking, used simultaneously by very different groups in very different contexts to very different effects.

But it does not encompass the idea that the workings of evolution required the direct intervention of a supernatural agent, as intelligent design would have it.

What is “direct intervention”? Nobody knows. Here is the fundamental problem with this whole debate. When theological terms and scientific ones are forced into comparisons, nobody knows what he or she is talking about. Even worse, I have not read any admissions of this fundamental ignorance on the qualities of will. What are the natural processes corresponding to human intent? As a neurobiologist, I, along with many others, think that there are consistent patterns of brain activity when someone carries out a willful act, but nobody definitively knows whether there are. We know only a little about what they might be. Divine intent is a much deeper swamp. What is intelligence? Some ID advocates point the existence of things they (very badly) calculate to be highly unlikely as signs of intelligence. Is intelligence simply the happening of unlikely events? There is statistical chance, and there is the absence of will. Are they the same? Maybe so; probably not. We do not know what will is, especially not in a way that it is comparable to chance in mathematical terms.

If divine intent exists, will it show itself as a statistical pattern that meets some criterion? If it does not exist, will there be a failure of some statistic to reach significance? When some members of the intelligent design community argue, they summon arguments about irreducible complexity and the statistical likelihood of producing certain complex biological phenomena. Is God something like electrical potential? Do we just need the right instruments, experiments and analyses to find God? How is that idea not repugnant and disgusting to every person of faith? “We found God in the seventh decimal place of this probability distribution.”

In a creation that clearly follows patterns revealed by our scientific inquiry, is it a good theological move to ascribe God with the necessity of direct intervention that conflicts with those patterns? If God’s guidance of evolution consisted of direct action to kill or spare certain creatures or to edit certain genes, what is the conseqence on His omnipotence? Contending that God must have done one thing or another is flawed theological thinking. Could God will humans into existence through random natural processes? If not, is divine power limited?

ID is a theological disaster. Some people think ID is valid philosophy even if it is bad science. It is not. ID is bad in many of the possible ways an ideology can be bad. It is bad science. It is bad logic. It is bad theology. I do not understand why any thinking Christian would not see right through it. The worst advocates claim that the statistics of living organisms lead one to conclude that they are products of intelligence. To me, this approach constitutes an attempt at empirical proof to the degree that science provides proof. If God were provable, we would be robots. How can anyone truly have faith if the evidence is overwhelming? How could free will exist, especially respecting the choice to worship? Wake up, people of faith, and throw off the veils of these charlatans. Coming to know God through nature is very different from proving God mathematically.

If human existence is the result of God’s will, at least two possibilities exist for what divine will is. There is a big and important difference between thinking that the development of the human species followed natural laws that we can model and that it involved some acts that do not follow natural laws. It is the central point of this debate, and it is the reason many fundamentalists and intelligent design believers are so bad. The fundamentalists deny obvious observations. The ID crowd expect God to show up in empirical observations.

I hope that the Catholic position is one of wonder and faith, not the base bunk of ID. I want the Catholic church, for all its horrors, to have enough thoughtful people in it to avoid the awful missteps of ID. Despite the sound and fury of the responses to Schönborn, I hold hope that it might. Claiming that the human mind can see God’s wonder in nature is very different from claiming that measurements of bacterial flagella and computations of probabilities reveal direct divine intervention, one of the common ID positions.

Rather than parroting ID nonsense, I see the essay as a consideration of evolution and theology. Note well, unlike the response article, the concern with necessity as well as chance. The Catholic response appears carefully crafted regarding classic divine qualities such as omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence and completeness. If humans were necessary, God would have needs, but the doctrine is that God is forever complete and that God is without need. If humans developed by chance outside the will of God, then there would be things beyond divine influence, yet the doctrine is that God has power over all things. None of the coverage acknolwedges that many of the points made by Schönborn and John Paul II reflect the concern with God’s qualities and with how different interpretations of natural history speak to questions of those qualities much more than they concern whether God changed genes in protohumans in a way similar to an automobile mechanic switching out a part due to a safety recall.

I am deeply unhappy with the coverage of this conflict.

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Michael M. on July 11th 2005 in General

Love that chicken

I expected “Chicken on the Plate, Family on the Side,” the recent article in The New York Times about the restaurant Watershed to be bad. I remember the lame-o articles about barbeque in the city a year or two ago. For all the knowledge of haute cuisine, the national newspaper of record generally goes afoul when writing about any food I deeply love. The article touches gently on many points that summoned pleasant memories. For as long as she was able to cook it, I ate fried chicken on nearly every visit to my grandmother’s house that I can remember. I loved it. My record, I think, was six drumsticks, probably at around age eight.

I never knew that fried chicken was considered an African-American food until college. Just about everybody I knew loved it. One time in a folklore class in college, we watched a film about an old Texas bluesman. I forgot who. He was not Lightnin’ Hopkins, but somebody who ran with him a little. My classmates giggled when the film cut to a shot of his wife cooking chicken and biscuits. I was wishing that I could have some. I never really understood why they laughed, but it made me angry and a bit embarrassed. Maybe it was a stereotype being played out before their eyes. Maybe it was the decision by the creators to include that scene. I came to see so many tiny ways that my Southern upbringing had implanted tiny differences in me, and many of them stemmed from African-American influences. For all the effort Southern culture can put onto whites and blacks to show them their separation, the world beyond, without intending, caring or even knowing the difference, can overwhelm with lessons of similarity.

The article points to the relations that crossed color lines. I came along after integration, but I still knew people with some terrible attitudes. The strange facts are how many loving relationships, flawed though they were, crossed color lines and how often the parties were overtly bigoted. While the facts do not constitute absolution, an acknowledgment of them should precede judgment. Two people so different in so many ways getting along in the still uneasy wake of the worst times does not surprise me because I have seen others forged by people hardly so kind or open.

Besides the people, the location brought back memories. Watershed is located in a converted gas station. The Golden Hushpuppy is located in one, too, and it was my favorite restaurant when I was growing up. I love fried catfish. At times, it has been my favorite food, even over fried chicken, although the current wisdom of my rapidly advancing age tells me that the only rational choice between two such enticing wonders is both. I wish I knew good catfish around here. Hatfield and McCoy’s moved out to Saint Peters. Anyway, I know well the wonders that a converted gas station can produce. In fact, I love eating in gas stations, no conversion required.

Finally, I noticed that Peacock cooks in peanut oil, partly because of his south Alabama roots. I have family around there, too. Boiled peanuts are another of my favorite foods, and they are hard to obtain in STL. My efforts to introduce friends to them have been failures. I wonder what got me so hooked that does not do the same for the people I know here. I suspect a deficiency, if not an absence, of soul. In general, I love peanuts. As far as I know, everything having to do with peanuts tastes awesome. I bet even aflatoxin, despite its bad rap, tastes good.

I am going to fix myself a little snack.

Update June 5, 2008: I noticed this old post when searching for something else. The documentary we saw was A Well Spent Life about Mance Lipscomb. Previously blogged Les Blank made it. I also happened to mention Hatfield’s and McCoy’s again recently.

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Michael M. on July 11th 2005 in General

Alternative Freedom trailer

Alternative Freedom, a documentary in the making about the open culture movement, has released a trailer. Luminaries Richard Stallman, DJ Danger Mouse, Lawrence Lessig and more have been interviewed for the film.

Landmark Theatres ought to show it. I wrote the makers of Alternative Freedom to suggest the chain as a venue and received a reply that indicated interest on their part. Unfortunately, I do not know anybody in the Landmark organization, and I doubt much will come of writing to as a nobody. If anybody reading happens to have a contact, let’s get these groups together.

A post on Lessig’s blog clued me in.


Michael M. on July 10th 2005 in General, Movies

Walt Whitman 150

‘Leaves of Grass’ at 150: As Exuberant and Encompassing as Ever” is a beautiful essay published in The New York Times last weekend for Independence Day. I have not read any Whitman in a long time. I loved “Song of Myself” in high school. I do not know what happened to my interest in poetry. I still like songs.

The first paragraph requests that we imagine Long Islanders. I had forgotten about my Walt Whitman connection. I lived in a block off Route 110 in Huntington, just five miles north of the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center and, in the strange world of Long Island, Walt Whitman Mall. There is a mall right across Route 110 from the birthplace of the wild poet. The mall has verses on the outside walls. I ate at Legal Sea Foods there a time or two. Long Island is funny that way.

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Michael M. on July 9th 2005 in General

Folk School CWE jam Saturday

The Folk School of Saint Louis will jam this Saturday from 10 AM to 1 PM at GreenMarket in the Central West End. I am not affiliated with the school, but a few friends are. I should be. Playing is fun. Classes are fairly inexpensive, and there are several on instruments I have wanted to learn for a while. I have contemplated taking lessons several times without following through. This Saturday should be a good opportunity to find out more about the school. I love those old-time sounds.

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Michael M. on July 7th 2005 in General, Live, Music

KDHX podcasts

KDHX, the excellent radio station, has begun podcasting some of its programs. The schedule now has links to streams and podcasts. Only the talk shows appear to have podcasts currently. It is too bad because there is so much great music on the station. Perhaps there is a copyright fear regarding music podcasts. WFMU podcasts include some music shows, though.

Thanks to StL DiatribeR‘s recent post for telling me. I wrote Thomas Crone several weeks ago requesting that The Wire podcast, and I am happy to see it among the podcasting shows.

Update July 8: I also blogged about how KDHX should podcast a while back.

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Michael M. on July 7th 2005 in General

Evolution and the quantum revolution

How Quantum Physics Can Teach Biologists About Evolution” in The New York Times looks to the famous sea change in physics as a reference for biologists in the cultural battle over teaching evolution. I see more parallels with Copernicanism and Galileo, but the article still has an interesting take.

I see one error. Radiocarbon dating is limited to tens of thousands of years. I was disappointed to read, “They cite radiocarbon dating to show that Earth is billions of years old, not a few thousand years old, as some creationists would have it.” Nevertheless, it can identify objects older than 6000 years.


Michael M. on July 5th 2005 in General

Riding that train

I have a documented fascination with the tiny intersections of my own small life with huge myths. Simeon Taylor Webb, the man to whom Casey Jones spoke his last words, and I share a hometown. We memorized the beginning of “The Ballad of Casey Jones” in eighth grade, but nobody told us about the connection. This page has more information about Webb. Back in the late 1990s, I stopped a looked at the train tracks and visited the Casey Jones Railroad Museum State Park at Vaughan. Still, I never knew about Webb. It somehow delights me.

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Michael M. on July 4th 2005 in General

Godwin’s law

Godwin’s law, although not called properly, is playing out in our national legislature. The FAQ provides more information about Godwin’s law, closely related to Reductio ad Hilterum. This post at Boing Boing pointed me to the page for The Daily Show at CommonBits. Jon Stewart noted how many comparisons to Hitler have been made lately in public discourse. Here is the page for the clip. Just grab the torrent. In the Future, Everyone Will Be Hitler for 15 Minutes is a fantastic catalog of these events.

Jon Stewart may not have mentioned Godwin’s law, but Stewart’s segment was blogged on Godwin’s Law, Mike Godwin‘s blog.

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Michael M. on July 4th 2005 in General

This I Believe

Elizabeth Deutsch Earle‘s essays on NPR‘s Weekend Edition Sunday as a part of This I Believe struck me as unusual. Read past and present. As a 16 year old, she discussed her attempts to find a church and her desire to become a scientist. She did become a scientist, an accomplished plant biologist at an excellent university! It was wonderful to hear such a bright, ambitious girl and to find just how well she accomplished her goals.

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Michael M. on July 4th 2005 in General

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.