Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Doggone Girl Is Mine

A student in my Music and Philosophy class, writing her weekly album review on Thriller discusses "The Girl is Mine" and says this:
The only thing that can get on your nerves is the repeated lyrics "the doggone girl is mine", I mean couldn't they come up with any other adjective besides doggone? Doggone is okay for Paul McCartney but not for Michael Jackson!

Is she right about that last sentence?


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

baby mustache

Amidst all the clamor to name cute young animals, I've neglected a task of my own: naming my new mustache. It's about ten days old, but it's already exhibiting really plucky behavior.  It often wakes me in the night with unspeakable demands, which we then laugh about in the morning as I strain coffee through it.  It can't get enough coffee!  Anyway, it's starting to get embarrassing; my parents are asking pointed questions, there are forms to fill out, online profiles to complete...  Little help?

baby elephant

The naming of cats is a difficult matter; it isn't just one of your holiday games. So I'll push David's post down with a picture of a baby elephant from the St. Louis zoo! (cue the Mancini soundtrack) I don't know the name of the baby elephant, but I'll bet our loyal readers can come up with some suggestions...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Our New Kittens!

We just got these two. They're from different litters but are inseparable. They're both around 6 months old. The gray one is SUPER affectionate, and loves to play fetch. You throw a little red ball and he pounces on it and then brings it back for you to throw again. The striped one is a little more shy and hid under the bed for most of the first day we brought him home, but then came out at night to wrestle with his friend and then sleep on our feet. And occasionally nip at them. Actually, they're both feet biters. But they don't bite too hard. Just saying "hello! Night time = play time! play with me! Oh, did you think you were going to get some sleep tonight? Oh no! not at all! hee hee hee!"

Okay, the thing is, we don't have names for them yet. (The names they had were gawd awful.) Anyone have any suggestions?


City Museum - St. Louis

Probably the coolest place I've been so far in St. Louis is the City Museum, which is not at all what it sounds like. Housed in a 600,000 square-foot downtown building, the museum is an interactive playground and amusement park made out of unique, found objects. A crazy industrial artist named Bob Cassilly opened the museum in 1997 and keeps adding things, such as an aquarium, pipe organ, and a labyrinth of underground caves.
This photo doesn't really do justice to the vast outdoor play area known as MonstroCity. Bridges, spiral staircases, slides and catwalks are all linked together so that you can climb in and around everything. There are old chimneys, salvaged bridges, construction cranes, and even two abandoned planes woven into the glorious mess. At one point, I was climbing on my hands and knees through spiral metal tunnel you see at the bottom of the picture, hundreds of feet above the ground. Truly an awesome experience!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Notes on studio recording

Let's quickly back up and give both of our loyal readers a contextual lens through which to view the importance of the studio work we're doing now. And by "importance", I mean not so much that this endeavor will prove to be important in The World of Music, it's just important to us. At least for now.

The studio is a funny place for musicians. It can be intimidating to confront the fact that you are committing an otherwise fluid and intangible element (music) to an indelible medium (tape, or in this case, a hard drive). There's a lot of pressure on an artist (often self-imposed) to create the definitive version of a song or to perform the song "cleanly" and without mistakes. This can be antithetical to the personality of the music (and in our case, that of the band), leaving fun and experimentation to wait eagerly in the car with the windows rolled up.

Add to this pressure the fact that musicians usually pay for studio time by the hour, day or week, so the more time you spend fretting about the music, the more money you end up spending. Time really is money, thereby building stress about use of time, thereby adding tension to the performance, thereby forming a cycle of paralytic anxiety that can make the recording process less of a creative adventure than a divisive and frustrating obligation.*

Which brings us to Pete's.

First, we're not on a schedule, we record when we're available. There's no album release date looming over us, we're recording these songs because we're excited to do it, so the motivation is organic and genuine. Second, the more relaxed pace allows us to record part or all of a song and let it sit for a while if we want. We can come back to the recording, add or cut stuff, tweak it or just leave it alone and call it good. Some would say "giving the song breathing room." I don't know who really says that, but they're probably dirty hippies.
Third, Pete's studio is quite affordable, allowing us to focus on making good recordings instead of watching our finances dry up by the minute.

With these three elements in place, we can get to the business of making sounds that are pleasing to us, which itself is a challenging process that entails getting the art out of our brain, through our fingers and windpipes and into the computer. Easier said than done, often, But that's another story.

So regarding JohnA's question: Wednesday's recording session was a hoot as usual. To quote a recent e-mail:
"We did octa-bass for Magic Mouth and laid out the basics for What They Do. We ate some Oreo Cakesters which gave JohnO RLS and I burned my French Bread pizza (again). Evan came later to give some mustache support and not eat dinner, Kirk did not have a stroke and and David wore his ninja hoodie, which gave his performance an elusive but deadly quality."
If that makes any sense?

* This is by no means an indictment of the studios we've worked at in the past. We had lots and lots of fun recording both our previous albums and have nothing but warm feelings for everyone involved. Seriously.

Did someone say "side project plug"?

Okay, I'll throw my hat in the ring here. I'm playing a (mostly) solo show at the Rendezvous tonight, 8pm. Special guests include my friend Ben Heege on bass, Sarah Roberts on vocals, and some guy named David on the banjo. Yay!

Now we can go back to our studio updates. Um, what happened in the studio on Wednesday?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ask me about my theatre project!

Printer's Devil/Sgt. Rigsby & His Amazing Silhouettes present: A Boy in the Beastly City


Yep, it's my first non-"Awesome", non-sketch comedy actor-ing in almost four years, and it's scratching an itch I didn't even know I had.

For those who don't recognize the name, Sgt. Rigsby (& His Amazing Silhouettes) is the alter-ego of writer/shadow-puppeteer/twisted genius Scot Augustson, who's been mounting his whimsical two-dimensional puppet plays for about ten years. This is my first time voicing a multitude of the characters populating his perverse universe (uniperverse?), but I've been a long-time fan, so obviously I'm beside myself (and only now do I realize how ridiculous my late-'40s mustache looks).

The quick rehearsal process basically consisted of making cartoon voices and sound effects and giggling like small children. Which isn't unlike "A" practice, I realize, but this here is a story about a young boy who ventures to a big city full of colorful dangers in order to rescue his big-testicle'd monkey friend. Four actors sit at a table festooned with old-timey mics and foley effects, and we voice all 50+ characters who are manipulated by two puppeteers behind an ornate shadow-screen facade. Surprises and hijinks, laughter and tears, living and loving and learning, all that.

So, you know, come on down to Theatre Off Jackson, in the International District, Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30pm from January 24 - February 16. Then we'll all go get a drink at a karaoke bar. You can click the link above the photo for lots more info.

Here ends the side-project plug: we'll return you to updates from the studio shortly.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another day in Studioland.

Kirk lays down some smokin' typewriter licks.

Just spent a lovely couple days at Dubtrain. Got a lot more done than we thought we would. Highlights: Getting to record with most of us in the room all together at one time, listening to Sgt. Pepper songs, and recording a cat meow in just the right place. Lowlights: Watching the Packers lose during a dinner break yesterday, and the fact that Pete won't let us live at the studio.

-John A

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lost + Destruction

Writing from inside the studio on our first day working on the next album. Thanks to all who came out to Jules Maes last night. Most likely, your journey to the great Georgetown saloon was like this:

Step 1: "Where is Airport Way again? I can never remember."
Step 2: "What is this road closed sign? Well...let's just take the next road over."
Step 3: "Another road closed sign? Oh hell, let's just drive through this one."
Step 4: "Okay, we can't get through this blockade. But I can see the Jules Maes sign up ahead!"
Step 5: "Holy crap! They're destroying that building! Let's get some beers and watch!"

On behalf of Jose Bold, the Half Bros., and "A", thank you for venturing into the unknown to git down with us.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ice Carnival!

Well, it's 10 degrees here in St. Louis. (That's Fahrenheit; minus 12 in Celsius). Perfect weather for the University City Ice Carnival, brought to you by the Delmar Loop Merchants Association! Here are some things you may want to know: 1. Ice is nothing more than frozen water. 2. A can of Red Bull will not freeze solid, but will attain a delightfully slushy state. 3. Be careful if you decide to lick an ice sculpture!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Kunjabunja update

This Wednesday, 44 kunjabunjas were made when we should have been practicing for tomorrow's show at Jules Mae. To listen to them, go to, click on the SEARCH tab, and search by date (January 16, 2008). The titles of the kunjabunjas we made are:
Car Wheels And Pole
Fund Question
Hot Beef
Loyal Servant
The Mirror Was Broke
Nighttime Express
Prepare For The Beginning
Sweat Sweat Powder Powder
Another Day At Sea
Catapult Going Up Or Around
Comas Can't Help Cobras
The Future Indicates Rolling Witchhunts
Hey Little Woman
How I Run My Bank
Ice Cream Store Homeless Man
I'm Going to Put It In the Laundry
The Knob Twinkled Brightly Although Sunday Never Comes
Ladyboy Come Back to Me
My Straps Snapped Back Part 1
My Straps Snapped Back Part 2
My Straps Snapped Back Part 3
Nighttime Again Stop Please
Okay Okay Okay No Ones Gotten Anywhere With Skin
Paradox From The Planet Ocks
Parking Standards Have Go Parking Face
Pick Any Safe Place Ralph
Ramma Samma Damma Damma Capricorn
Somebody Stop Making Love to Me and My Folds Camera
Two Wards Plus Forwards
38 Cancer
We Are In The Crosshairs
Turn Over Arrow Rover
Sign of the X
No More Feelings of Superiority
Farynx Larynx Pie
Bike Lane Savior Where's Your Grammar?
Stripes of Fancy
Stripes of Fancy II
My Finger Hurts My Finger Hurts It Doesn't Okay
Gone Is The Kirk Gone
Foot Boat Step Flakes
Yes Elbow Lowdown
The Church of Group Recycling


P.S. The kunjabunja site doesn't work so well with Internet Explorer. Actually, no one should ever use IE. It's terrible. Instead try Mozilla Firefox.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Stuck in the middle

Once again, Wednesday finds me with nothing much to say and little time in which to not say it. So here's the Stranger saying something instead:

(Jules Maes Saloon) The last time "Awesome" played Neumo's, opening for BOAT and Harvey Danger, I wrote about the show on Line Out, although I didn't write about the "Awesome" set, because I'd showed up too late to see it. A Line Out commenter commented: "It's tragic that this article didn't address the amazing show that is/was "Awesome." When seven slightly older guys take to the stage and only one of them is holding a guitar amongst the trumpets, clarinets, saxophones, mandolins, banjos, etc. etc. etc., you may panic, but it was so much fun and so funny...." For years I've been given a hard time for writing about "Awesome" too much; suddenly I'm getting a hard time for not writing about them enough. They have been twice shortlisted for a Stranger Genius Award. Their fans include Jonathan Safran Foer and Miranda July. Their sound is a mix of bong pop, prog rock, light (white?) soul, and carnival-falling-down-a-stairwell. This is the first time they've ever played Georgetown. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE
The show occurs this Saturday, January 19 at the historic Jules Maes Saloon. Come help us welcome Basil back to the rhythm section, enjoy the Half Brothers cd-pre-release show, and delight in Jose Bold's reprise of his December Songs. What to expect: lots of us drifting on and off stage throughout the night, happily adding to/puckishly distracting from the proceedings. What not to expect: a carnival falling down a stairwell. (We couldn't secure a permit.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Music & Philosophy

The Music & Philosophy course I’m teaching this quarter at UW-Bothell meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Thursdays we make music (like this). On Tuesdays we talk about the Philosophy of Music. Today’s class was devoted to John Cage’s most famous piece, 4’33”. I started the class by performing it for them. I’d worked out an arrangement for harmonica, and although my skills on harmonica are notoriously terrible, I played no wrong notes. (Here’s an MP3 of the performance.) Then we talked about an article by Stephen Davies that argues that 4’33” is not music. The article assumes, following Cage, that the content of 4’33” is to be understood, not as absolute silence (which is impossible anyway) but as whatever noise happens to be in the room during the piece; breathing, shuffling feet, coughing, etc. Davies’s argument, in a nutshell, is this:

1. Anything that counts as music must (at least) be organized sound.
2. If something is organized sound, then it must preclude some sounds as not belonging to the piece.
3. If a work precludes certain sounds from being a part of the piece, then this opens up the possibility of there being ambient sounds that are not part of the piece.
4. But in 4’33”, there can be no ambient sounds which are not part of the piece. All ambient sound heard during a performance of it is part of it.
THEREFORE, 4’33” should not be understood as music. (Davies argues that it is more properly understood as non-musical performance art.)

I argued that premise 4 is false. 4’33” does in fact preclude certain sounds, and this makes room for the possibility of ambient sounds that are not part of it. For instance, it precludes the performer from playing notes on his instrument. If I had accidentally played a note on my harmonica, this would have been a noise that was not part of the performance. 4’33” also precludes all sounds that do not occur during its duration, and any that are unable to be heard within the performance venue. This makes choice of venue important to the content of the performance; an outdoor performance sounds very different than one in a standard concert hall. Cage wants us to pay attention to sounds that we otherwise don’t pay attention to. He also wants us to expand our notion of what sorts of sounds count as music. So he precludes traditional kinds of music from 4’33”. Thus, for instance, if someone who worked at the concert hall was blasting Beethoven’s 5th from his office during a performance of 4’33”, this music would distract from the audience’s ability to hear the sounds that they are supposed to be listening to. In this case we would consider Beethoven’s 5th as ambient noise that is not part of the work; something we should try to tune out so that we can listen to the content of 4’33” proper.

This class is going to be so much fun.


Monday, January 14, 2008

The Big Time

I am officially living the dream of being a working musician. Today I performed for the largest audience that I've ever been in front of before. At The Convention Center. Playing Louie Louie.

It was a crack team of musicians - myself, Evan, my Half-Brother Rick (torso pictured above), and Alana, Todd, and Brendan from Miss Mamie's White Boy Band. The event was a conventioneer's convention. How very meta.

This photo doesn't do justice to the magnitude of the whole thing - The room, the projection screens, the stacks of high-tech gear backstage - it was just massive.

The kickoff to the convention featured such Seattle luminaries as The Total Experience Gospel Choir, Teatro ZinZanni veteran Kevin Joyce, the Pike Place Market Fish Throwers, and Tom Skerritt. ("Please! Have your convention here in Seattle, hometown of Tom Skerritt!")

Mr. Skerritt's entrance to the stage was accompanied by the song "Danger Zone" from Top Gun. We saw him wince shortly before going on.

Our big moment was introduced by none other than Governor Christine Gregoire. After a brief speech about how fantastic the Pacific Northwest is and how everyone should spend their money here, she announced that the 'house band' was going to play Washington's unofficial state song. The curtain was pulled, and thus our one minute and 20 seconds of glory began. The horns, after playing the first part of the riff on stage with us, then strutted off the stage and wove through the crowd toward the exits in back, joined by members of the Seahawks Blue Thunder Drum Corps. The room was so huge that Rick, Todd and I had to try to ignore the one-second delay of the horns' melody bouncing back up to us. Once they had exited, the curtain was drawn and the song was over.

Quite the surreal experience being paid so much for doing so little.

These are times

I look at the desk and I watch it watch me. It smirks harder than I do. It knows about what I'm not doing, and worse, what I'm about to do. I see myself walking in between the grains in the wood, a washed-out ravine. The sky is nursery-school blue, and there's a rock in my shoe. When I brush my hand along the sides of the walls, some of the clay crumbles into my palm. It's got the consistency of the filling from a Nutter Butter, but it smells like moss. I taste it, and start to grow. I'm at my desk, watching it watch me. I click to open a new window.

"When you tire of one side the other serves you best"

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Messiaen + Visconti + Radiohead

= Thursday night at Town Hall. For the second half (the music of Radiohead) I'm joining a cast of fantastiks -- cellist Joshua Roman, clarinetist Bill Kalinkos, violinist Amy Iwazumi, pianist Grace Fong, vocalist Sarah Rudinoff, and drummer Doug Marrapodi -- on guitar and theremin.

It's no carriage house, but it'll do.

Best Quote of 2008 (so far)

"The fondness I feel for Tuesday can only be surpassed by many different types of carriage houses."

Every now and then, Basil reminds me of how funny he is.


It's my day to post.  I didn't sleep right last night.  I'm nostrils-deep in "committee work" at my jobbyjob.  So without further ado:  Laziest Post Ever.

Happy birthday, Dave Matthews.  Maybe I'll run into you at Lighthouse Coffee someday and tell you how much my dad used to like you.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Hello 2008!

In honor of the new year and my first gig with the boys since the kid was born, both of my bass guitars got a tune-up and new strings thanks to the fine staff at American Music
This is not really important besides being a new blog post that isn't a philosophy dissertation. Seriously, who gave David that meth rock and let him loose on the internet? If I wanted to read I'd buy a newspaper. 

And even then, I'd probably stick to the comics and the crossword. 

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Blimp and the Savoryists

I’m out on this long stretch of road, driving the old silver Honda. The day is hot, and things that don't stay green year round aren't. I'm not sure why I'm out here by myself. I guess I went to check out some beautiful and rarely seen area and Jen stayed at the camp. The camp is some hippie-ish nature preserve (sort of like Esalen or Indralaya) near Mt. Rainier. I think I was there giving a philosophy talk there or something. So I'm driving by myself on this long straight road, heading back to the camp from whatever beautiful place I just checked out, and the car starts to die. So I’m coasting down this long straight road. I don't want to be caught out in the sun because heat makes me panic. Suddenly I'm under a cloud and I think, "Oh good, I can park the car under this cloud.” But then I look up and it’s not a cloud, it’s a blimp. And the blimp is only slightly larger than a school bus. It’s only about 20 feet above me, and coming closer with every second. It appears to be deflating. It starts to deflate all around the car and I don’t want to get trapped underneath it, so I aim the car to the side of the road and narrowly escape. I get away from the blimp, but I’m thinking if I get trapped out here I might walk back to them and see if they have any water or air conditioning. I’m hoping I can coast the car at least to the main highway where I might get cell reception and I can call Jen to come get me.

It occurs to me that there’s a better way to coast: I climb on top of the car, lying on my belly, sort of like body boarding. The wind is in my hair and it’s really fun, but then I think, Oh shoot, I might need to steer. So I jump off, run along side the car, open the door, and roll down the window. Then I jump back on the top lying down and I can reach my left arm down through the window and steer if I have to.

I manage to reach the main highway and I pull the car to the side of the road, just narrowly missing going into busy traffic. Almost immediately a convertible car pulls over to help. (At first I think it’s a jalopy hot rod, but then I see that it’s a Miata or something modern like that.) Two gray haired old women are in the front and a gray haired old man is in the back. They stop their car facing away from me, so they’re all swiveled around in their seats, smiling at me in a “we know something you don’t” kind of way. The man talks to me:

“So, car trouble, eh?”

“Uh, yeah, guess so,” I reply. I’m just hoping they’ll leave me alone so I can call Jen.

“You must be from the camp!” He says. I can tell by the way he says it that they have no respect for those damn hippies at the camp.

“Well, I don’t know much about it, I’m just visiting. I never knew it was even out here until recently.” I’m trying to distance myself from those camp people, and somewhere in the back of my head I feel bad about it. Why should I care what these strangers think?

There’s a pause. The man is still smiling at me.

“So what’s your day trade?” He says.

“My what? Oh, my trade, during the day, my, uh, job. I’m, well, I’m a philosopher. I mean, I teach philosophy. At, uh, college.” This is always an awkward conversation for me. You never know what people are going to think of you. All three of the old people’s smiles get bigger. They look at each other and then at me. The old man beams,

“I knew it! I’m also a professor. Over here at Jules College.”

“Uh, where?” I think I must have mis-heard him.

“JULES COLLEGE,” he repeats. I’ve never heard of it, and I realize it must be one of a million community colleges out here in the back woods. I don’t want to offend him so I pretend I know it.

“OH! Jules College. Right. Um, great! Cool. Uh, yeah, so, er, what’s your field, or department or whatever?” When are these people going to leave me alone?

“Philosophy.” he replies.

“Oh! Hey, that’s… that’s great. Uh, yeah. Great.” Oh no. Not another philosopher. I surreptitiously reach for my phone. I’m going to try to text Jen while I’m talking to this guy. I try to be polite: “So, uh, what area do you specialize in?”

“The Climatists.” The who-what? They sound like philosophers that study climate or something. I’ve never heard of this particular philosophical movement, but instead of just admitting as much, I try to bluff and play along.

“Oh, cool. Uh, yeah, right. The Climatists. So, uh, they’re a kind of Pragmatist, right?” I’m just guessing. I have no idea.

“Oh no,” he replies, “They’re Savoryists.”

I have no idea what the fuck a Savoryist is. By this time I’ve got my cell out behind my back. The screen on which I am furtively texting has blue clouds scrolling past it, which apparently is the indication that the reception here is crappy and my message may or may not go through. My text says:


It’s actually quite common for one philosophy professor to have no worldly idea what another is talking about. This is because philosophy is so fractured. One of the major splits is between “Continental” and “Analytic” philosophy. Although the split was taking place in the 19th century, it became much more entrenched and pronounced right before and during World War II. By the 50’s and 60’s, (some) philosophers on either side were having a hard time understanding each other, and misunderstandings were all too common. Continental philosophy gets its name because it was the philosophy done primarily on the continent of Europe (as opposed to the island of England): France and Germany especially. On this side of things, you get philosophers like Husserl, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Camus, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre and you’ve also got views like phenomenology, neo-marxism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, the ideas of The Frankfurt School and um, lots of other ideas. And because I got my doctorate at a philosophy department that was very analytic, I know almost nothing about these philosophers and ideas, even though many of them will sound familiar to the average person on the street. Analytic philosophy (done primarily in England, the US and Australia), as separate from continental, came to prominence in the 30’s and 40’s, and some continental philosophers still think that all or most analytic philosophers hold views that were held by some analytic philosophers from back then, most notably the views of Carnap and the Logical Positivists of the Vienna Circle. So the stereotype of the analytic philosopher is a person who thinks that all philosophical problems can be solved by a logical (or “conceptual”) analysis of language. Analytic philosophers were also heavily influenced by and involved in the advances in logic and set theory, and so way back then (like in the first third of the twentieth century) it was thought that these new tools would help solve all the old problems of philosophy. It was also thought that these tools could help move philosophy into a more scientific mode, so that old problems of philosophy would either be shown to rest on conceptual mistakes of language or be recast as a problem that empirical science (as opposed to armchair philosophy) could provide the explanations for. Contemporary analytic philosophers don’t believe anything that simple, but they still like to think of themselves as being committed to a certain rigor and clear-headedness that prevailed when the science of logic was held to be the analytic philosopher’s primary weapon.

Someone recently e-mailed me asking my take on this famous quote by Nietzsche. Nietzsche is studied by both analytic and continental philosophers (but probably more by the continentals), so this might be a good way to explain the difference between continental and analytic. The famous quote is this: “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

Here’s a caricature of a continental philosopher’s take on that quote:
“Yes, of course that’s true. Everything that is put forward as a ‘fact’ is really only that person’s interpretation of the world, filtered through the ultimately distorting lenses of culture, class, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc, etc, etc. There is no ultimate, special, unbiased way to look at the world. There is no such thing as THE correct view of the world. Is abortion moral or immoral? This question is ridiculous! It depends on what moral framework you adopt, what culture you are from what experiences you have had. To assume that there is a single answer to this or any other question is to assume that there is One Correct Viewpoint. And those who have held the view that there is One Correct Viewpoint have typically been the ones pushing an imperialist agenda, forcing all the others of the world to adopt their supposedly One True View, the FACTS. We must abandon that old conceit and instead let a thousand flowers bloom: every view is just as correct as every other view.”

Here’s a caricature of an analytic philosopher’s take on that quote:
“First of all, the view is self-refuting. Is this idea [that there are no facts, only interpretations] itself a fact, or just another interpretation? If it is a fact, then the view contradicts itself and must be false. If it is just another opinion, then it’s not universally true, but only true for Nietzsche and those who like to say it too. (Just as “chocolate ice cream is gross” is true for me but not for many others.) In this case, there is no reason to take the quote seriously. Secondly, we should make a distinction between realms of discourse in which there are no facts of the matter (only opinions) and those realms in which there are. For example, many people agree that there are no aesthetic Facts and that it would be ridiculous to, for example, claim that there is a Fact of the Matter about whether the music of Stevie Wonder is better or worse than the music of the Beatles. But that does not imply that we should say the same thing about, for example, scientific claims, or even ordinary common sense claims like, “trees exist.” We run the risk of sounding like we are spouting gibberish if we really try to claim that it is merely a matter of opinion whether trees exist or whether the Earth is flat or round. Moral claims may be controversial, but surely there are SOME objectively true moral claims. For example, “It is wrong to be wantonly cruel to innocent children for no reason.” -- Do we really want to say that this is just a matter of opinion? Should we say that whether the Holocaust was good or bad is a matter of opinion? Is there really no right or wrong in our going to Iraq? Are questions of morality no different than questions about what kind of ice cream is good or bad? This kind of moral relativism insulates one from having to make difficult decisions, and can lead to apathy, and intellectual laziness. Thirdly, we must make a distinction between there BEING facts, and our KNOWING facts. We are limited fallible beings and we don’t always get the answers right, and we often disagree with each other, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t answers out there. I may never know whether there are an even number or odd number of hairs on my head, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no fact of the matter. Denying that there are facts makes discussion and disagreement impossible and pointless. Yes, of course our culture, gender, class, upbringing, etc. affect the way we think about things, but we shouldn’t blow out of proportion the amount of ‘bias’ that these things produce. Surely none of that stuff gets in the way of my being able to see that trees exist. And also, one way to compensate for the possible distorting or biasing effect of our varied backgrounds is to TALK to each other and try to understand, as best we can, the alternative perspectives. Then we can help each other overcome these biases and get closer to the facts. According to the relativist, there’s no point in anyone talking to anyone because there’s (a) no facts to talk about, and (b) no way around our biasing backgrounds, so we probably don’t really even understand each other anyway. That’s a view that has little evidence for it, and let’s face it, it’s awfully dismal.”

Ah well. This Tuesday classes start up again. This quarter I’m teaching a Philosophy and Music class and an Ethics/Religion/Meaning-of-Life class. It should be fun.

And I now have the record for longest “Awesome” blog post.


Friday, January 4, 2008

sneaking into the Muny

In the heart of Forest Park, in St. Louis, is a huge outdoor theater called the "Muny". I think it's short for municipal. They do big musicals here during the summer, like Miss Saigon and The Producers. It was cold and windy today when I walked through the gates. I was surprised not to see anyone around, anywhere. The doors to the auditorium were locked, but the loading dock gate was open. I walked through, and found myself backstage, surrounded by creaky old stage machinery. I walked out on stage, and stood on top of a giant turntable, no doubt installed for a production of Les Mis. I jumped down over the orchestra pit, and climbed the stairs to the back of the ampitheater. Just as I was about to ascend the spiral staircase to the followspot tower, a man yelled at me. "Hey!", he said. "You have to go back". I waved at him, and jumped over the concrete wall, landing outside the front entrance. A woman sitting in her car in the parking lot looked at me, and continued talking on the phone.