An introduction to fallacies, (for those who like to argue)

December 24, 2009

And what of the other fallacies? What of the fallacy to deeply offend. And having offended, contort the conversation to one justifying the offense. “To offend may be inevitable,” it must be written in a book of axioms, somewhere, “it cannot be considered before truth; has no bearing thereupon. Nor is there even validity to the accusation, since any may become offended by anything.”

What of the fallacy of regarding conversation as a sport of argumentation? A sport with no illegal moves, a skirmish; of giving one’s audience the disrespect of being prepared for any play, however foul, and having tactics at hand to deal in turn with each such play. How is it you can claim the skill of listening?

And what of the fallacy of ugliness? Are there people to whom such a fallacy does not exist? “and what is else, not to be overcome?” What about the obscene fallacy of comparing one’s own mediocre insights to those of some great scientist who sacrificed his life to give knowledge to mankind, by demanding their intrinsic worth beyond all pleasantries, or nearly as despicable the fallacy of overlooking the possible virtues in mediocrity and instead insisting on abject self-loathing, for yourself and your assembly? You who miss the point of life. Surely there is a fallacy of lack of grace, the inability to show compassion and curiosity, the unwillingness to strive for symbiosis, to elevate the value of life. The fallacy to stew in your own boredom and malcontent. It is this fallacy that pales your cliché checklist.

Ear Training/ Mnemonics

July 31, 2009

This is more for me than any of my readers (do I have any??)

At almost 32 years of age, and with more projects on my plate than I can handle, I’m considering beginning a serious new training in developing my musical ear. My theory is: one builds coordination between


And the more each of these is developed, or pairs of these, the higher functioning the musician. Most of us can sing relative pitches in our favorite songs, and I suspect that there are ways to develop perfect pitch, even if you’ve been told you do not possess it. So one necessity for becoming a successful (read: competent) musician is to develop fluency with an instrument you already possess with voice. This will take years and a lot of practice. I do not have the most developed ear, although I play difficult pieces on piano, and am slowly learning to read notes on guitar, as I learn chords and rhythm patterns. I am deciding on a single voice instrument and I will begin learning to play it as an extension of my voice, completely by ear. I’m split between recorder and oboe/English horn. The recorder extends whistling, in a sense. It is simple and easy to carry and is featured in a lot of baroque ensemble music I enjoy. The oboe has such a beautifully distinct sound, a very solitary sound too, and is beautiful to look at and hold. Judging from this beautiful range chart the tenor recorder and the oboe have about the same range, but the oboe wikipedia page shows the range of the oboe going a bit higher. As I have wanted to play double reed instruments my whole life I think I may go with an oboe.

A simple, well designed ear training program should be very easy to write and should be easily available, though I haven’t found one. I’ve been working with big ears today, working almost exclusively on the minor 10th. I have given each of the 9 minor 10ths a name, corresponding to something the interval reminds me of.

C to Eb LOW [self explanatory]
C# to E NAMELESS [the last one to be named]
D to F AWKWARD [don’t know why]
Eb to F# PENTATONIC [they’re both black]
E to G FUGUE #10 [bach, of course]
F to Ab MOZART [f minor broken chords in K333]
F# to A GOLDEN [trying to recognize the pitch A whenever I hear it!]
G to Bb STANDBY [G minor is my default key for improvisation]
Ab to B HARSH [this B sounds distincly more harsh than the other notes]

So this is one of my favorite things to do: invent far more theory than is necessary or relevant. I love mnemonics (see for lack of a word). I hypothesize that I will learn the difference in these 9 minor 10ths by identifying them according to the mnemonic that pops up in my head when I hear each. We’ll see how this goes. I want to keep expanding this, and soon I want to be able to sit down with an oboe and play any melody that I can sing, or that I’ve just heard. This is my goal.

While I’m at it, let me share with future me a note to Maggie about teaching Ella piano, along a similar vein.

My take: the method books are garbage. Analogy– SCALES and ARPEGGIOS:MUSIC as PUSHUPS:KICKBALL. What’s also garbage, in my snotty opinion, is books that teach insultingly banal songs to children, such as go tell aunt roady, pop goes the weasel, etc. Kids who learn from those books will appreciate that music is to be appreciated, but they won’t appreciate music. I think the music should be rich enough to be incentive by itself, and as children easily learn very difficult piano, the praise and attention incentive is also there with serious classical music, and is not there with the two line steam boat willy strut.

I started Ella reading a chopin mazurka. I was careful to find an A minor piece, as key signatures take some work, but my philosophy is a good teacher can teach advanced material because
a) there is something to take away from it, even if it’s not a polished piece. Especially if the teacher ENJOYS the music, and can share some of that.
b) kids, Ella especially, are super fast learners.
c) the teacher being proud is an incentive to a student like Ella, and being proud cannot be faked. Setting the kid up to surprise you a bit is a good thing.

I try to teach a whole lot at once, but mainly: proper fingering and reading intervals, occasionally I would discuss a symbol such as ff, or a sharp sign as need be. I found one thing absolutely critical:


so I will say at some point “big step down,” or “stretch and 2, stretch and 3, and finish the arpeggio” or “thumb goes under and walk up to 4”
The actual descriptions matter a lot less than the consistency, 1) in saying exactly the same thing at the same place, and then 2), if you can manage, try to be consistent about saying “big step down” about some fixed large interval, i.e., each time you come across it. The latter point is not necessary and having a few descriptions for the same interval is probably good.

I’ve found that using natural language like this fools my student into thinking I’m just talking them through it, as opposed to always saying “a 3rd down” “a 4th up” “3 consecutive major seconds down” which would get repetitive and tiresome. But the consistency allows the student the ease of having mnemonic devices, subconsciously handed to them.

I started actually jotting down phrases in the margins of the mazurka, so that the same phrase could be recalled a day or two later, at some specific spot. Also, I played with abbreviating and finally omitting some of the comments. They are training wheels after all.

Fluency of reading is important at this stage, so just allowing her to build that transparent relationship where she sees intervals and almost instinctively jumps the right amount is good. Discourage learning each of the notes and where they are on the keyboard, that skill is a detriment to her development. Encourage singing, identifying pitches, thinking ahead to work fingering out herself, and furnish her with questions and comments about what the musician is doing. If you can make that sort of dialog fun you will set her up to be a pupil with the brightest and the best teachers, because that is what they will do. I’d say finally never let her get bored with it, since there are a thousand things to be fascinated with, but also don’t be afraid to be less of her best friend and more of her teacher when you are teaching her. Teachers who respect their students have high expectations, and my hope for her is that she learn a bit of the self-discipline that is required to make it far into music.

I can send music for her to listen to. She might want to hear some pieces and pick something not too difficult to play. It’s important that she only play music she cares about.

My challenge now is to get good enough at oboe and get Ella good enough at piano that the above is more than just bullshit.

Blah Blah Blah

July 24, 2009

Blah Blah Blah
or why I hate ideology.

I spent many years around ideological people, mostly the young liberal revolutionary anarchist feminist variety. Occasionally a libertarian. The media will bombard me with ideologues and eggheads and flapper faces from the right, when it gets the chance (I made that last one up, it’s pretty meaningless).

I am an artist (read: aesthetics and quality of life are important to me), and a bit of a hedonist. I can spend a long conversation delighting in a completely alien political system. Here the conversation is interesting; it is bonding myself and my peers together; it will change the way I see the world in a minute yet permanent way. I can even get upset with or against my colleagues, as has happened, but I’m very critical of politics for the sake of politics and more so, of arguing for a completely different system, from the ground up. Finally, I am the most critical of those who act as if arguing is what will make it so.

I can understand radical collectives and political strata of subcultures on a variety of levels. Some are more favorable, of some I am more critical. I like that kids have choices in music that get them thinking about politics, for example. I am thinking of the band Crass. But I don’t have much patience for blatant hypocrisy, and usually ideology and blatant hypocrisy go hand in hand (the example of Crass not withstanding this allegation). Further on I will argue that it makes sense for us to care about those things we understand and can impact. If you have lived your life following a dozen newspapers and understand history and politics like few others, then your game might very well be extremely general and, from your propositions, might look as if from scratch. I abstractly respect Chomsky, for example, and Buckley and many others in the same weight division. I respect Tolkien too, and Raoul Dahl, though their game is much different, they have reasons to world build, as well, and they honor those reasons by being good at what they do. I’m a bit of an elitist in this regard. When someone with dubious education and questionable thoughtfulness espouses a radical solution to life on earth, I worry that details have not been accounted for. Furthermore, I look more at them and less with them, if you get my meaning. I’m more inclined to psychoanalyze, to the extent I can, the person and their motives. I’ll understand them more as a sociological phenomenon and less for their content. As well I should.

This here is a bit of a style guide I have offered in the face of what I am calling ideology. Some of it is just about politics and about conversations you’d rather not have about politics.

context determines importance— one cannot demand attention simply because the topic is of dire importance to someone. If you find yourself sharing a 12 pack and a stupid political conversation with a friend, where it would almost seem the fate of the world is dangling by the outcome of the conversation, remind them that the point of drunken conversation is fun, not world policy making. Because X is important it does not follow that discussing and deciding on X is automatically important. The factors contributing to race wars in Sudan are important. That I don’t know what those factors are is not. Am I making a case for ignorance? I don’t think I am, but we pick our battles and if yours is pontificating to random american party goers about Sudanese politics over beers then I think you probably picked the wrong battle. What’s all this talk about beer? Well, I like beer. It’s a battle I have chosen.

ethics is ugly— sitting around dreaming up hypotheticals that involve people in great pain is frequently gratuitous, unilluminating and often grotesque. For law makers, for citizens in general, occasions come up to discuss details which are unpleasant. Sometimes we indulge merely out of fascination. An airplane goes down in the Andes; some survivors eat others to live; a movie is made about it; you see the movie; after the movie you talk about similar dilemmas over a latte at the cafe–okay. Not everyone needs to know in advance what they think about cannibalism. See *to have a thorough ideology is impossible.* I have chosen a mild example, to avoid blatant hypocrisy. Fill in what your imagination (or experience) will. If you want to talk about something unpopular, go right ahead. I would and do. But with reason. Only certain demands on your audience are reasonable. Others are not. Weddings are frequently not the best place to settle the problem of AIDS deaths in Africa. I mean, maybe, but probably not.

“slippery slope”— when I hear this phrase I cringe. What is not a slippery slope? Binary, the difference between 0 and 1, for example. In natural language, in politics, in economics, in philosophy, we scrutinize the fuzzy boundaries. Take away the slippery slopes and you’re frequently left with something idiotic. Use binaries all across the board, by all means. I don’t argue that they are inherently too rigid. But for god sake don’t tell me something is a “slippery slope.” Instead, make a judgment. I think we’re so indoctrinated not to be judgmental that we try to delegate judgment to ideology. If I’m okay with A then I must be okay with B, and I am certainly not okay with B, hence A fails by “slippery slope.” Uhh, usually false. This must be a classic fallacy. So I’ll shut up.

“necessary evil”— another one I don’t have much appreciation for. I like solving problems. When I’m not all shits and giggles I like being effective and responsible. How can a solution like prison or the federal government be a “necessary evil?” It’s stupid, right? We don’t say “an umbrella is a necessary evil, because it’s better if it doesn’t rain.” You can, but I think it’s sad. I’d rather buy myself a styly umbrella and be glad I did, or go without and enjoy the rain. I’ll grant one necessary evil, just one: evil. It is necessary, because life is meaningless without it. There are no others.

style is not irrelevant–one cannot ask for an audience and then belabor their ears with incessant politics simply because the topics are important to someone (sound familiar?). You can distinguish idea from polished essay, as you can distinguish math from poetry. Sometimes you get clunky and awkward just to get an idea across, sometimes a beautiful idea. (Could I be guilty of hypocrisy with this very piece of writing? Probably on a few different counts). Still, style is something to aspire to. Style is respect for your audience and their quality of life. It’s the best way to ask for an audience. Style is Fun.

to have a thorough ideology is impossible— You might find webpages where diligently democratic citizens list their views on every political topic. This is like a bullet list, and depending on the sophistication it will have between half a dozen and a few dozen bullets. Abortion. Gay Marriage. Border Policy. Prison. etc. Okay, yay for critical thinking, but it strikes me as artificial that each of these people has a paragraph, a decisive paragraph, on each of what are being considered the topics that matter. I don’t think policy for a nation of 300,000,000 people is that simple. Policy for a household of 4 is complex enough that it can consume as much time and thought as you’ll give it. But other things… You know about things you care about, your passions; the place you work and its politics; medical conditions that effect extended family members, and policy around those medical conditions; something as trivial and insignificant as policies that your local museum holds that will be encouraging or prohibitive to your favorite artist(s). I happen to care about gay marriage. I have reasons to. I don’t care much about genocide in Sudan. ohhh, genocide bad. fat cats bad. military bad. Well, I am suspicious of people who care about everything and anything that sounds worthy of care. How can you care about something you don’t know about? By making things mind-numbingly simple, then you can enlist young angry people to join in. Likening political figures to Hitler, that’s one we all still enjoy. When a ballot comes out, that is an impetus in itself to care specifically, but even then I vigorously defend my right not to know enough about any particular topic to care.

Is that enough? and, I’m done.

God vs Human, in judgment

May 6, 2009

God vs. Human in judgment.

The atheist debates seem by and large to be rehashed arguments that all of us have heard or considered our whole lives. I’ve found some debates amusing, particularly Christopher Hitchens, who has a nice sharp sense of irony and a good sense of timing. Though, I have a hard time believing there are people swayed by these debates. Christianity has been built up to such a complex system of circular reasoning and non sequiturs that no amount of reasoning will convince a believer that they are completely misguided. Nor will any argument given with the authority of the bible sway an atheist or agnostic who has thought at all about these matters. However, there are a few questions which I have not heard posed to Christian apologists, and while I doubt they would hesitate to answer them, these questions are obvious to me and they do not seem amenable to simple answers.

1) What is Christianity without guilt? and how can a faith which demands guilt claim any worthwhile spiritual guidance.

I do not see how it can.

I find regrets in life, and frequently reflect on my shortcomings. I cannot say I live without guilt, though I try to. When I imagine an omniscient god who will judge me at the end of my life I imagine only a being which feels compassion. I can also imagine a malevolent deity, and I have no choice but to oppose such with what feeble might I have. But a god I trust in, a god who understands me inside and out, this god will not find evil in me that I myself cannot find, but to the contrary has felt each decision I have made and understands the reasons. No need for supernal lawyers, or a redeeming speech I might make soon after death. I have lived my own defense. I have worked with the scraps I’ve been given. So I picture myself taking the fifth amendment come judgment day, and I picture myself condemning any judge which does not understand me. This is my own circular reasoning which cannot be argued from me. To those of orthodox faith I suppose I damn myself with such self-righteousness. But I have never said “I am a sinner,” I have never excused a lifetime of gratifying myself against my better judgment to that ultimate cop out. I say, “if I am made, then I am how I was made; and if that creator does not have the highest compassion, then I will be righteous against it, for the sake of goodness, for the advocacy of myself who is innocent in the context of not-fully-compassionate gods.” In saying this, I can’t help but feel more devout than the majority of Christians. Not only am I allowing the possibility of an all-powerful deity but I am demanding it is on my side, in the deepest possible way. But what if it is not? What if it disapproves of me? What might it disapprove of? It could be a wholly alien entity to me, whereby it might disapprove of the clothes I wore or the structure of my face. It might loathe me for my adorning mixed fibers or eating shell-fish. It might have hatred for a single color of which I have worn, without scruples. What would I be to sympathize with such hatred for myself–such arbitrary hatred? Such a ridiculous scenario! What if its expectations came much closer to my own, for myself? Suppose god expected me to be ever the stronger in situations where I could exercise courage. What defense do I have then? None, we are in agreement, although we both know I was stronger than I might have been, if that is the issue.

I cannot understand a fear of judgment, and I go so far as to say those who fear judgment fear it because they judge themselves, and fail in their own eyes. Any god worth worshipping has the power to see not only from the outside but also from thine own eyes. If you fail in your own eyes, you fail in your creator’s eyes, no doubt. Although, in my religion, when I have this particular religion, my god forgives you with pity, compassion and understanding. The reasoning is circular, I admit: I expect from my god–per my image of godliness– total understanding. Could you worship a less pure god?

But I could not.

(more objections/questions to come…)

Art is Shit

February 17, 2009

This evening I came across a facebook group promoting recognition and discussion of Wikipedia Art, a self referencing work/Wikipedia page (notable because of the cultural significance of inviting the controversy it baits on wikipedia for not being notable or culturally significant) whose creators insist is conceptual art. Throughout the discussion is the tireless debate of what constitutes art. I was intrigued and even a little bothered by the undeniable assertion and the implication. (Maybe it is enough to admit it is “art,” but if that means anything, then some implication should follow: I should care; I should support funding for it; I should support recognizing it on par with any other work of art, etc). So I did what any good unwilling participant observer would do: I went to vandalize the page, to highjack the work and reclaim my agency in spite of (and in homage to (ah, the levels of irony!)) my being enlisted as participant. Alas, the page had been deleted without so much as an archive’s history of the deletes and debates that the artist cited to justify the work. I didn’t get to vandalize the page, but I had too much fun posting a response on the facebook group, which I’ll boastfully repeat for you:

Wikipedia Art

Demanding a contrapuntal dialog of vigorous affirmation and inherent denial, the artist insists on the de facto status of Wikipedia Art as conceptual artifact, creating a dissonant ontological reassignment from extinct referent to extant rhetoric. While indisputably manifesting itself, recursively, as Art, both in referencing itself and in referencing that which does not exist, the audience’s apathy is commandeered as medium. Where previous artists have relied only on the milieu of controversy to maintain a similar status, here, the indifferent critic is slightly uncomfortably forced to ask himself the question “why should I care?”

Cf. Manzoni, Piero “Merda d’Artista” (1961) ; Tetazoo, James “No Knife. A study in mixed media earth tones, number three.” (1984)

See, I don’t mind. I’m having fun. Denying meaning is a meaningful way to engage with a piece. So I am guilty of justifying this work as I mock it, fine. As much as the view that criticism is part of art preempts serious criticism and absolves artist, it can also liberate me as critic and justify my objections. I just need to play by the rules, such as admitting it is art and I am a part of it. And in admitting this, I stretch the boundaries of what is art, because now art is a cheap laugh, a strawman soaked in fuel, a can of shit. Art is that which invites the novice to momentarily pontificate and jeer and ultimately something that he can forget. I’m okay with that. I understand that people will always highjack the symbols of virtue for cheap gain. But the symbols can’t keep themselves up. They sink down, to the low down things they are stuck to.

(See Christianity, peace, the swastika, art, Country music).

A poem from Sep 2006

February 9, 2009

When skeptics scoff at claims of psychic threads
A voice of reason sounds its trumpet’s bell
“To delve into the depths of one’s own mind
One knows the thoughts that in like minds do dwell”

Introducing: the Remcorder and the First Oneironaut

February 1, 2009

Occasionally I have extremely vivid dreams. These dreams tend to be both visceral and intellectually complex. They are usually lucid. I wake from them with a collection of characters, settings, and ideas that are interrelated in a way that seems cohesive, but as the morning progresses the cohesiveness falls away and I am left only with a few jumbled details. I’m not in the habit of writing these down, though I’ve tried a few times, with varying success. Often, by the time I get to writing, there isn’t much left to salvage.

I also occasionally suffer sleep paralysis, which, for me, is the experience of being partially awake, but physically paralyzed by a stifling and pounding pulse of sound and light. The sound is deafening, and while it is happening I wonder if I might not psychosomatically rupture my eardrums. The visual is hypnotizing, usually concentric circles of shades of grey, collapsing in on itself with a rate of about two bands per second. It feels as though if I give in I’ll be smothered, so all my instinct has me resisting this dreadful pulse. I am familiar enough now, at 31, that I recognize this pattern with lucidity. It happens when I am extremely exhausted and simultaneously on edge. It happens in a very light mode of sleep. I’ve learned to override the instinct to resist. Instead I acquiesce, sort of looking my fear in the face, and allowing it to pass through me (to use Herbert’s litany). Meanwhile, I am aware of my surroundings, and frequently there is someone close to me I can hear and want very badly to communicate to. “Wake me, damn it!! I’m afraid I’ll die if you don’t!” I’ve even learned to wake myself, by gently rocking my body back and forth, until it is actually moving. When I wake up, I usually find that the people whose voices I heard so clearly, are not and were not around. That more of it was a dream than I had thought while was happening.

Both of these phenomena have led me to think about dream recording technology. With our knowledge of the brain as limited as it is, the only hope I see is a sort of Morse code recording device, worn either on the finger, placed on the upper arm, or attached to the eyelids.

This from a report by dream specialist Stephen LaBerge (see

Evidence of voluntary control of other muscle groups during REM was found by LaBerge, Nagel, Dement, and Zarcone (1981) while testing a variety of lucidity signals. They observed that a sequence of left and right dream-fist clenches resulted in a corresponding sequence of left and right forearm twitches as measured by EMG. However, the amplitude of the twitches bore an unreliable relationship to the subjective intensity of the dreamed action. Because all skeletal muscle groups except those that govern eye-movements and breathing are profoundly inhibited during REM sleep for, it is to be expected that most muscular responses to dreamed movements will be feeble. Nonetheless, these responses faithfully reflect the motor patterns of the original dream. Similar observations have been made by Fenwick et al. (1984).

Now, as far as I know, these specialists have only used a very rough Morse-like code to correlate certain REM states as detected by the EEG with reported lucid dreaming by the subject, at the same time, via the EMG. Their findings suggest that it would be difficult to send sophisticated signals, say, encoding actual sentences with something much more Morse-code-like. Yet the human’s ability to learn skills such as musical instruments or foreign languages suggests, to me, the possibility of training oneself to communicate from beyond wakeful consciousness.

I set to work to understand how a device, such as an EMG, would work (to buy one is beyond my means), and if a very crude homemade device would be accurate enough. I might start with a glove, with a gripped ball under the fingers, such that it fits snugly into the palm of a (my) relaxed hand and such that a circuit is completed upon a gentle squeezing of the ball (closer to a mango seed in shape than a ball, in fact). With interests in mathematics and language, I also set to work on a code, so that words could be communicated in the most efficient manner. It seems like for efficiency I would pay the price of learnability, since the most efficient codes would involve inventing a new language, or at least allowing for variable character length (e.g., “e” being the shortest) and possibly even variable escape codes to signal the ends of characters and words. This becomes an interesting exercise on its own, but the problem of actually recording words from the dream state requires only a first step: try to record a recognizable symbol, as was done in the study above.

I haven’t found the time to do this, but I have found time to daydream about authoring the first book of poetry written from dream. I’ve also thought about setting up a live website where visitors write words which are turned into signals and somehow sent to the dreamer (me) (maybe by sound, maybe by touch), so that the dreamer can respond. The first oneironaut! sending back messages from that great unknown frontier. I’ve even fantasized that occasionally I’ll have a mathematical idea in dream that is profound, and I might incorporate some mathematics into my coded lexicon, to record these.

The device might be called a Remcorder. Now, some ideas are worth acting on, and this may be one of them. Unfortunately I have my hands full with other things, so this idea is only worth the entertainment one gets from reading or hearing about it. However, if someone is interested in trying this, please let me know.