Archive for October, 2007

Watson retired

James Watson has retired as head of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The New York Times has coverage. The CSHL press releases page is dominated by stories about Watson. When I was there, his administrative power was waning, and Bruce Stillman was already the top executive.

I actually am a little surprised that he was forced out. I never talked to him personally, but he was largely the same way six years ago when I worked at CSHL. I remember when the announcement went out that Watson would deliver a lecture. When I asked people who had been there a while about going, they gave me grinning replies that it would be interesting with undertones that told me I was in for a bizarre and uncomfortable experience.

He gave a startling talk about POMC. Intermingled with the facts, he gave his opinions about obese people, dark-skinned people and sexuality. I walked away somewhat stunned and embarrassed. Then he gave similar lectures at other places, including England and Berkeley. It stirred up trouble for him. The furor slowly died. I thought this time might be the same. No, he finally went too far.

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Michael M. on October 31st 2007 in General


David Brookscolumn in The New York Times discusses the wonders of technology in directing us.

Wherever there’s a Times reader selecting articles based on the most e-mailed list, I’ll be there.

I very rarely flip through the paper. I rarely even look at the front page of the web site. The most e-mailed list has been my guide for years. I can sit down at any web browser and type in from memory. The real URL has changed, but that one still works.

I, too, offload the maintenance of tedious information to machines when possible. I know very few telephone numbers, perhaps only 3. In fact, I largely lament that more advanced technologies are not here yet. Where is my always-on fast mobile network? Where is my head-up display? Where is my instant access to all my files from any location? Where are the data formats to permit seamless transfer of information across contexts?

I also agree with the unwritten message of Brooks’ piece. We tend to cluster well, and algorithms can predict our tastes and behaviors well based on already known information and past examples of other people. Each one of us is very similar to many, many others.

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Michael M. on October 31st 2007 in General

Frank Melton

I posted about Frank Melton last year. Now he has become outrageous enough that even New York blogger Kottke knows about him. Donna Ladd, author of the Reason article about Melton, is editor-in-chief of the Jackson Free Press. I mentioned her newspaper’s blog about Melton in my previous post.

All of this happens in the poorest parts of the town, by the way, leading one black newspaper here, the Mississippi Link, to call him the new Bull Connor, quite an accomplishment for a black mayor.

My friends unfamiliar with the dirty, dirty might be asking, “Is he really that ridiculous?” My answer is a firm, “No!” He is much worse. I doubt that enough of the truth is yet publicly available for an outsider to gauge how awful he truly is, and I include myself among the outsiders. Is the Bull Connor comparison accurate? I cannot say for sure. Bull Connor died before I was born. I hear that he was quite reprehensible, but I cannot know whether he was really as bad as Frank Melton. I have disliked Melton for years. I expect the majority of voting Jacksonians to catch on soon that perhaps Frank Melton is not so good, possibly even within the next decade or two. At this point, however, we can only speculate on whether Melton will win a fifth term as mayor.


Michael M. on October 25th 2007 in General

Bruce Molsky and Nickel Creek

Last night’s concert of Bruce Molsky and Nickel Creek made for a fine evening at the Pageant. I had thought about going, but I did not make plans. Tuesday afternoon, I finally made up my mind. I was able to buy a ticket at the door. For a show that had not sold out early, the place was packed. I am glad I made it in.

Bruce Molsky opened. Most of the audience seemed unfamiliar with him. The popularity of old-time fiddling remains confined to a niche. I have developed a taste for it, though. I checked out Lost Boy from the library a while back. I had an inkling of what I was in for. He won the crowd over. By the end of the night calls of “Bruuuuuuuuce” rang through the hall.

Most of the tunes were unfamiliar to me. I had heard “Peg and Awl.” He fiddled and sang it solo. His skill at singing and bowing simultaneously is superb. I can do it, maybe, on one tune. His great talent and work came through on how smoothly he did it. Mostly by himself on stage, he switched among fiddle, guitar and banjo. I think he was tuned open on guitar, probably to D, for most songs. He played a great old one called “Knoxville Blues” that stands out in my memory. His banjo playing was excellent, too.

The fiddling was fantastic. He is the best fiddler I can remember hearing in person. For me, the drive of his playing made it terrific. He kept adding touches to keep the beat driving. One was just the rhythm of the bow. The other was his use of drones. He worked these pedals on open strings accompanying the main melodies, rocking the bow to push the rhythm underlying the tunes.

He was not totally alone out there. Mark Schatz came out and played clawhammer banjo for a few tunes while Molsky fiddled, and Sara Watkins and Molsky delivered a fine “Sail Away Ladies.” He closed his set with one of the most famous fiddle tunes, “Cotton Eyed Joe,” back to mixing fiddle and vocals.

I am not extremely familiar with Nickel Creek. The music gets too noodly sometimes, but I can appreciate it. “Best of Luck” has tight harmonies that I enjoyed. “Anthony” and “Set Me Up With One Of Your Friends” were cute songs of strange romance. I think “The Fox” was the closer.

In a highlight moment, Bruce Molsky came back out to fiddle with Nickel Creek. The bassist Schatz stepped out front and jigged. Although I did not know it, he is musical director of the Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble. I mentioned my interest in that art this summer.

Maybe “The Fox” opened the encore. It was an excellent encore. Molsky came out for another tune. The covers were excellent departures. The Jackson 5‘s “I Want You Back” is just great pop music. They also played “Toxic.” You might know that Britney Spears is my homegirl. The version brought out the song in a way new to me. I heard things in it I never had before. Because Nickel Creek likes arrangements that are just a touch harsh and discordant, it was a fitting choice.

After seeing little on the concert calendar that called my name, a rich stretch is here. I have been active playing with friends, but I have not done much listening lately. This show was a good restart, and several more good concerts should follow it this fall.

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Michael M. on October 24th 2007 in General, Live, Music

Nashville Cats

Not all Nashville Cats are polished plastic. The New York Times ran this article about the underground music community in Nashville. Old Crow Medicine Show will play the Pageant November 2. They opened for Gillian Welch and David Rawlings just a few years ago at the now defunct Mississippi Nights. Checking out the listings, I saw that Bruce Molsky will open for Nickel Creek at the Pageant on October 23.

The title, of course, refers to the Lovin’ Spoonful song. The Lovin’ Spoonful, of course, refers to the chorus of Mississippi John Hurt‘s “Coffee Blues.” Hurt is one of John Sebastian‘s music heroes. Mine, too.

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Michael M. on October 22nd 2007 in General, Live, Music

Medgar Evers

This post on Kottke got the little cogs of my mind rolling. I was delighted that Demetrice chose Medgar Evers for comparison. Then I visited Evers’ Wikipedia entry and found Clyde Kennard’s. Kenard tried to enroll the first African-American student at Mississippi Southern College, now called the University of Southern Mississippi. Evers made a similar attempt at the Ole Miss Law School. As retribution, Kenard was imprisoned in Parchman on trumped up charges, and he died of cancer, for which he was denied adequate care, early in his sentence. At the end was this section about seeking a pardon for him.

Charles Pickering and William Winter led the legal team that got a posthumous pardon for Kinard. Winter is a former governor well known for his efforts toward racial reconciliation. I previously mentioned the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss. Pickering is more famous as a controversial nominee to a federal appeals court. That controversy was mostly manufactured political crossfire that caught Pickering in the middle. This interview transcript gives more evidence to that effect, including support from Charles Evers, older brother of Medgar. Charles Evers is a maverick in many senses, and his willingness to speak up is not surprising.

Ebony had a story about Evers back in the 1950s called “Why I Live in Mississippi.”

It may sound funny, but I love the South. I don’t choose to live anywhere else. There’s land here, where a man can raise cattle, and I’m going to do it some day. There are lakes where a man can sink a hook and fight the bass. There is room here for my children to play and grow, and become good citizens—if the white man will let them…

Byron De La Beckwith murdered Evers before he could live out his plans. As told in this story that aired on NPR‘s All Things Considered several years ago, friends of his did.

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Michael M. on October 22nd 2007 in General

Old-time performing

Last fall, my friend Robert Mallery took up clawhammer banjo. He took to it quickly. He knew that I had started fiddling the year before. Within a few months of beginning to frail, he suggested that we start playing together. It has been great. Fiddle and banjo form a pair. Although threads from two different continents that met on a third, their weave is tight. Continuing the tradition ourselves has been terrific. After many fun evenings in our living rooms, we played in front of others earlier this month.

We performed at a Coffeehouse held at the WashU Medical School. I fiddled and sang, and he kept the tunes driving on the banjo. While not without rough spots, it went well. Our audience was appreciative although they appeared a little bewildered. I know we had a great time. Here are the tunes we played. I have used the very fine Audio Player plugin for WordPress. The upload speed of my subscription is supposed to be fast enough for one listener at a time, but because “service” is an excessively generous term with Charter, I suggest using the plain links.

Old Joe Clark

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Little Liza Jane

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Greasy Coat

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Cluck Old Hen

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Soldier’s Joy

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Dog Treed a Possum Up a White Oak Tree

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My Folk School classes are ending. This past term, I took Intermediate Old-Time Fiddle with Steve Hall and Old-Time Ensemble II with Jim Nelson. Both are great area folk musicians. As in the past, my classes will play at the Schlafly Tap Room this Wednesday in the Folk School Student and Staff Showcase. I am especially looking forward to playing with the ensemble class. We have had a great time in class and in after class sessions at the VFW. The Grass Pack will play. At the end of the night, my teachers along with some other Folk School instructors will close it down as an all-star old-time band. It ought to be an evening of solid amateur and professional folk music.


Michael M. on October 15th 2007 in General, Live, Mine, Music, Recorded

Classmate makes /.

This /. article links to a recent research article in Neuron. Its first author, Michael Fox, is a classmate of mine in the Medical Scientist Training Program and in the Program in Neuroscience at Washington University. I am happy to see a friend publish a significant finding in a high profile journal. In a rather simple experiment, the authors showed that fluctuations in spontaneous brain activity accounts for a significant fraction of trial-to-trial variability in performing a button pushing task. Ars Technica published this summary also linked from the /. article.

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Michael M. on October 8th 2007 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.