Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reviews: Sophies World, and Yes, Airports.

Book Review: Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

I've actually only read one other book like this in my life. _Ishmael_ by Daniel Quinn. As a textbook of philosophy, this is a work that would easily satisfy any course of Philosophy 101 in college. Gaarder takes the river of thought from the beginning of human thought to almost the present day (as present day thought is not easily seen through the minds of historians) in a flowing narrative of examples, reality-bending tricks, and metaphor.

As a novel, the characters are vividly constructed, and while the reality of the situation is odd, at best, the realization that it's "just a book" plays wonderfully into the ideas of Berekly in that, reality, and the world as a whole is "just a dream." The interplay of book and reality, of book being reality, and the "Neverending Story" effect of stories and realities within realities, makes the book one to be read multiple times. As indeed, the facts and ideas in this book cannot be understood in just one reading. It is a book that investigates the totality of life, and finding more questions than answers, cannot help but leave, at the end, you wondering about reality itself.

Music Review: Mr. Squirrel's Yes, Airports EP.

One of the things I appreciated most about the book above is the way Gaarder weaves reality and fantasy, bending the real world to demonstrate the malleability of reality and the way we perceive it. The master of this craft can use words much as a painter would use a paintbrush on a canvas, creating and playing with words until the work is just right. Ray Bradbury did this quite a bit, especially with Dandelion Wine. An artistic marvel.

In a sense, this is what Piers is doing under the name Mr. Squirrel. I can picture him, late at night, in a studio with piano, guitar, synthesizer, Pro Tools, and any other various instruments, creating a sound and a rhythm that fully comes from within the mind, swimming up through some vast subconscious sea. Much like a painter would a blank canvas, or an orchestra director would do with his baton.

The "Yes, Airports EP" is four tracks of trance type music, which is basically repetitive chords and beats that wax and wan, much like breathing does. The best Trance music exactly imitates the tempo of breathing, makes the tune more internal. There are such pieces that I have heard...very relaxing. Some of Timid's pieces on OCRemix, for instance.

Anyway, each of the four tracks are taken from a specific emotion, or feeling, which can easily be identified in daily life. For the first, the first seconds sound like an Airport, but then rescinds into a percussive section of Indian and Disco music, along with a child's record that one would hear in Elementary school. A very late night, indeed. Perhaps the mix of thoughts in a dream... or whatever.

The second deals with the Early morning, which works really well, especially with the lyrics, "I've got to get this right, I only got this time..." maybe a late night session, tension, emotions, all mixed up, but of course, an undercurrent of the relaxing flow of the music above it.

The third piece, Nothing but Pebbles, is probably the weakest track, mainly because the percussive nature seems to stop the overall flow. (Yes, sort of like pebbles, so I get it, but...) It started working for me around the 3:50 mark, when the melody and the rhythm seemed to easily coincide with each other.

The last track, Macchu Picchu, is wonderful, on a personal level, because I love Meso-American stuff, and the exotic and mystical lost city of the Incas is very well personified with the sci-fi tones, the Spanish guitar track, and the Incan flute. Was the Incan civilization visited by aliens, as the tracks on the Nazcan plain might seem to indicate? The romance of the lost civilization is one that will draw people to climb the steps of the abandoned city.

Overall, a great first album. It's worth listening to his other works, available on Myspace, Soundcard...etc... You can easily find those tracks, and links to purchase this album (and the second one, which I haven't listened to, yet) here:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Admitting You're Wrong, In and Out of the Pool

It's summertime, and the hot and humid Georgia days are beating down upon you, and you fervently wish for the icy days of winter when it was easier to cuddle up in a blanket and watch football (or read a book, whatever is your pleasure). But there is, in summer season, a respite from such heat--the swimming pool.

So let's say a friend of yours lives in an apartment building, and the landlords have seen fit to install a pool, complete with slides and a deep end (a pool without a deep end is worthless, the fear of losing your footing on the ground is akin to flying, a point where up and down become possible. And besides, it's well worth it to dive to the bottom and pick up the quarters people have lost outside their suits.)

So, you jump in (which is not how I do it, but that's another story), and there is instant relief from the heat. Ahhh.... and the wind blows and cools your shoulders, and the warm water relaxes your muscles. All of your muscles. :)

And suddenly, as it happens with everyone who swims, you have this incredible urge to Pee. And there's no way you're going to get out of the pool (you just got in) and trot to the restroom. So, you just let nature take its course.

Now, reason why I said this (and come on, admit it, you've all Peed in a Pool in your lives.) is that now we have to deal with what's right, and what is wrong. Assuming it's wrong to pee in a pool (people and animals pee in lake water all the time, and there's no chemicals to get rid of it, but that's another matter), you've now done something wrong, and you have to hope that no one swims by and finds that place slightly warm and possibly yellow. If they do, then everyone starts accusing everyone else, and all you have to do is keep quiet, and it will soon be over.

Unless the owners of the apartment building have put in that dye that makes it quite clear who did it, as now your swim trunks are now covered in liquid blue dye, and it contrasts the red on your face.

Getting caught doing something wrong is a hard place to be in. And over the past couple of weeks, we have seen people react in every possible way when they are found out. But it's interesting to see what they do, and more importantly, how people react to the apology (or lack thereof). Sometimes not saying anything is the best thing, and sometimes apologizing is the best thing to do, but no one will accept it. It also depends on how the media decides to handle the apology, whether they want to smear you all over the pages, or let it drop. So lets take a look at three people who have "Screwed Up," and see how everything worked out.

Michael Phelps: Heroic Olympic swimmer who eats 5 tons of food a day, and won 8 gold medals in the Olympic games in Bejing. And then he became a normal 23 year old teenager (and lets face it, with all the working out he did and all the practicing, he didn't have much of a teenage life). Yes, he went to South Carolina and smoked Marijuana out of a bong, and someone took a picture of it. It was stupid of him to do that, but what other 23 year old guy hasn't done something stupid. Even I did something stupid in college. Sure, it was illegal, but nothing like drugs or anything. I walked across the railroad bridge over the river just south of the college. Dangerous and foolish, cause there wasn't much I could have done if a train had come through. But it didn't, and I was safe, and I wrote a poem about it. But I digress....
Phelps screwed up, and he got caught, and during sweeps month, no less. That is the main difference. Phelps peed in the pool during the hours when media vultures were looking for any blue ink anywhere in the pool. February is the time when the media goes looking for everything wrong in the world, and then they blow it up to the size of Mount Everest. The interesting thing, I think, is the reaction to Phelps' actions, and the picture (which the news continues to show at every given moment.). Most people don't care. It doesn't matter to them. Sure, the media and some people like to put sports legends on pedestals, and then laugh with a manicial glee when someone pushes them off. So if you look at someone like A-Rod, who, it was discovered in 2001 took Steroids while playing for the Rangers, was on a pedestal playing for the Yankees. And because it was the Yankees, people have taken perverse pleasure in destroying his whole career for things he did 7 years ago. With A-Rod, the problem is something that affected his playing, and is something that, presumably, everyone was doing. So again, what does it matter if A-Rod screwed up, because everyone else did. And if everyone got a question wrong on Jeopardy! they all lost the same amount of money. It's a level playing field. But I digress again. So:

Phelps screwed up... no one cared except the media, which thought it majorily important.

Tim Geitner: Sec. of Treasury currently under Obama. He forgot to pay self-employment taxes during the time he worked for an International agency in the past few years. And he's going to be running the IRS??? And he admitted that he screwed up, and paid back the taxes (although he said it was an accident, something the Tax software didn't catch. sure... right..) And the media, after some criticism, decided that it wasn't a big story and let it fall through the cracks. But if you polled the people, I bet you could find that most people thought he should have been kicked out and another more responsible person should be running the Treasury. Just nuts, if you ask me. So:

Geitner screwed up.. and everyone cared except the media, who let the story wash away with the tide.

And lastly, there's Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois, who in his infinite wisdom, decided to sell Obama's Senate seat on Ebay. Well, sort of. Thing is, that's illegal, and immoral, since profitting off of a seat made to serve the people isn't what the founding fathers had in mind. To make things worse, the FBI and other agencies had ink detector in the pool, or in other words, they wire-tapped his phone, so they recorded all of his conversations. And they confronted him, and he denied it all. They impeached him, kicked him out of office for good. So:

Blagojevich screwed up... and everyone cared including the media, cause it was a big deal, but he denied it all, and he was punished and kicked out.

The point being is that, it all depends on what the problem is as to whether or not you need to apologize or deny it all, whether or not the media will think it a big deal, or not care (also, it depends on whether it's sweeps month, but that's another story). So the morals of whats right or wrong vary depending on the situation. This is not philosophically or relgiously accurate, and it makes for an interesting arguement. But of course, the easy answer is to make sure you don't pee in the pool in the first place. Go before you go.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Civil Disobedience in a Bath Towel

[This one's a little rough, needs more polishing, I think.]

It was one of those moments when the Tetris pieces fell into place. Honestly, I didn't realize it until just recently, when I was looking at my beliefs and trying to figure out when they started.

I had been a member of the College Republicans for the first couple of years. It was a natural fit, for various and asundering reasons, and I needed that group at the time.

I looked at the Democratic side, to the Progressives and the liberals, and I saw that their beliefs were totally contradictory to mine. To them, men are evil, and only government can regulate sanity and legality (Locke, not Hume). To the Democrats, there is no reason to assume that people can live responsibly according to what is right in the universe, because Greed and other vices will always corrupt. So the government steps in and provides the boundaries for them. This was clearly not what I wanted to believe at all.

At the time I was in college, it seemed that the Republicans could think ideally, that optimism and faith in human nature makes it unnecessary to regulate much beyond the essentials of government (defense, safety, some finances...etc..) . If the individual is good, and society bad, (Hume) then the individual, knowing what is right and wrong, should be able to live out his or her life without interference from society.

Assuredly, the conservative ideals that govern the Republican party are much more pro-individual than those of the Democrats. So therefore, shouldn't Thoreau, whose book Walden preached more on simple living, on individual freedoms, on speaking your mind no matter what (and Thoreau spent a night in jail for not paying his taxes in protest of the Mexican-American war) be a conservative philosopher? Isn't Romanticism a conservative movement?
But let me go back a few years. There are Eureka moments, as I said, when you leap out of the bath water and go running down the street, elated, that some revelatory thought had turned a light bulb on. Much like Jessica Fletcher did at 52 past the hour, or House does most episodes that saves a life.

I remember back in my college days, sitting in the classrooms, listening to professors and soaking up knowledge like a sponge. I felt sometimes that river of knowledge was high above me. I could only hope to reach up and find a nugget to grasp onto, hold it next to me, and not let it go. Unfortunately, time and memory has a terrible effect on this, and most of what I learned in Art History has slipped away from me. Doesn't help in Jeopardy!, I'm afraid.
There was a core of professors that I would sit anamored with the knowledge that they contained, and the skill in which they could weave the words and music and pictures into something amazing. To me, there is no trio of teachers in this world better or more suited to take those willing minds and throw them up into the air, if only to catch those few nuggets and bring them back into ourselves. I'm talking about Geogia College & State Univ.'s liberal arts programs. Dr. Viau, English, Dr. Yarborough, Art, and Dr. Pepetone, Music.
Now, back to the questions above. I had started to think of the individual as a being who, knowing right from wrong, and desiring good, could live out a virtuous life without the need of a government to back it up. At the end of "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau talks about an ideal society, where the best government is one who governs least (and then goes on to talk about governments who govern not at all). Isn't one of the core planks of the Republican party a government that governs as little as possible? Therefore, Thoreau's beliefs would be essentially conservative.

So I went to Dr. Pepetone and asked him this question. Isn't Romanticism essentially a conservative movement? He suggested that we go to Brewers (which is not there anymore, alas) and talk about it over coffee (I think I had tea.) I honestly don't remember what we talked about there. It's now a blur. But I remember thinking that, I'm right, and there's something important about this thought, but I didn't understand it at the time.

One of the parallels Dr. Pepetone made in his lectures was that the Romantic movement of the 1860's was almost identical to the "Hippie" movement of the 1960's. Both were a time of exploration, an expansion of music, art, both abstract and extreme, usage of drugs, sex, open and uninhibited. And it's obvious that both time periods are very much alike. It's easy to see why both periods were both liberal in thought. So obviously, there's a disconnect here. And it makes sense.

The philosopher Hegel believed that all ideas begin with coming together of two polar opposites: the Thesis and the Antithesis. Merging together, there comes a new thought: the Synthesis. The idea that Romanticism is a Conservative one is correct, but not if you think of it in terms of the current two-party system, Republicans and Democrats. Because the individual must be able to govern himself, without the moral code placed upon him by Republican control*, and he must be able to exist without all of the other Government regulations brought on by the Democrats. Thus the true Romantic is a Libertarian, the Synthesis of the two parties that have fought in this country for so long.

*(Republicans are very willing to let individuals speak their minds, own guns, practice religion, etc... But, when it comes to matters of ethics, in matters society believes are wrong, Republicans step in and use the power of the government to regulate and control. Why couldn't the government just stay out of people's private lives? Let us travel down the paths we believe are morally right, according to our own beliefs.)

That coffee "lunch" with Dr. Pepetone was the first time I realized that the Republicans didn't necessarily have everything right, and now, seeing how they have acted recently, throwing free enterprise out the window, I certainly see the benefits of having a Libertarian government over the other two. The problem is, however, that such idealism is almost impossible to continue, especially with the uneducated, the unstable, and with people who don't necessarily see right from wrong. This is where the government must step in. We will never have a pure Libertarian government, because no matter how ideal it is, that government, as Thoreau pointed out, is far beyond our current understanding.

But that is our goal. It's what keeps me coming back to faith in human beings, even after the Ponsi schemes, the deception, the greed. Because if we don't believe in the goodness of humans, there's nothing to work for. There's no sense in bettering our lives. We should not let the politicians or the preachers sail our ships for us. We should sail ourselves, ever striving, and never yielding.