Archive | December, 2012

Kismet: The West Bank Latrobe Federal Brass Band

21 Dec

Can 140 years of Tasmanian tradition be given new life on the West Bank of the Hudson River?

Every year for the past dozen or so years Tony Hicks has put together a brass band to play Christmas tunes, first for the Hamilton Park Ale House, and then when Maggie opened her own place on Newark Street, Tony booked us there, Skinner’s Loft. It was a fun gig. Around 6:30 we’d line up outside on the street and play for half and hour or so. Then we’d come inside, have a beer or two, and play a couple sets in the upstairs dining room. The staff would wear funny Christmas hats and people would sing along with the band.

Good holiday cheer.

This year, alas, for whatever reason, Maggie decided not to do it. We decided, on the contrary, that we’d give her a freebie. Not the whole gig, but out doors on the side walk, we’d do that.

So, after a good half-hour devoted to finding a parking space I enter Skinner’s Loft and see Tony and Ed, another trumpet player, sitting at the bar. I join them and Tony starts telling us about the Latrobe Federal Brass Band, back in Tasmania, where he’s from. Along about the time he gets to telling us about a particularly opinioned character named Scudgy Clayton we decided it was time to play.

So we go outside, set up our music stands, break out our horns—Ed on trumpet, Tony on Euphonium (a $3000 horn he got for $50 in a pawn shop), and me on trumpet, and start playing, Hark the Herald Angels, Jingle Bells, and so forth. Before you know it an eight-year old Vietnamese kid lays a twenty on Ed’s music stand.

Whoa! That never happened before. So we play some more while dreaming of mortgage payments and new shoes and before you know it, another dollar, and another, a quarter, and by the time we’re done, $29.25. All unexpected.

By this time it was raining, not hard, but enough to be annoying. So we pack up, go back inside, lay the $29.25 on the bar, and Tony regales Ed and I with tales of musical daring-do in old Tasmania. Continue reading

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Democrats on the left, Republicans on the right.

18 Dec

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Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers – Newsweek and The Daily Beast

18 Dec

I find myself thinking a lot about the New Guinea people with whom I have been working for the last 49 years, and about the comments of Westerners who have lived for years in hunter-gatherer societies and watched children grow up there. Other Westerners and I are struck by the emotional security, self-­confidence, curiosity, and autonomy of members of small-scale societies, not only as adults but already as children. We see that people in small-scale societies spend far more time talking to each other than we do, and they spend no time at all on passive entertainment supplied by outsiders, such as television, videogames, and books. We are struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children. These are qualities that most of us admire, and would like to see in our own children, but we discourage development of those qualities by ranking and grading our children and constantly ­telling them what to do. The adolescent identity crises that plague American teenagers aren’t an issue for hunter-gatherer children. The Westerners who have lived with hunter-gatherers and other small-scale societies speculate that these admirable qualities develop because of the way in which their children are brought up: namely, with constant security and stimulation, as a result of the long nursing period, sleeping near parents for ­several years, far more social models available to children through ­allo-parenting, far more social stimulation through constant physical contact and proximity of caretakers, instant caretaker responses to a child’s crying, and the minimal amount of physical punishment.

via Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers – Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

The Newtown Tragedy and the Emperor’s New Clothes

18 Dec

We’ll get to that fairly tale in a minute, for it embodies a deep truth about living in society. But let’s first think about guns. That gun ownership has been such a controversial issue in American politics suggests that it speaks to our sense of who and what we are.

What kind of phenomenon is gun ownership? Obviously, it’s a fact about human beings. Some own guns and some do not. The question becomes: Is gunownership related to other characteristics of a person or not? It might be the case, for example, that gun owners are more likely to have blue eyes than non-gun owners. It that’s the case–and there’s no reason it is, this is just a hypothetical example–what’s that about? Is there a common causal factor behind blue eyes and gun ownership?

Polling data indicates that there IS a relationship between reported political affiliation and gun ownership: Republicans are more likely to own guns than Democrats. This has changed over time: Gun ownership has diminished considerably over that last 40 years among Democrats but NOT Republicans. What’s THAT about and is it correlated with anything else.

Nate Silver reports:

In 1973, about 55 percent of Republicans reported having a gun in their household against 45 percent of Democrats, according to the General Social Survey, a biennial poll of American adults.

Gun ownership has declined over the past 40 years — but almost all the decrease has come from Democrats. By 2010, according to the General Social Survey, the gun ownership rate among adults that identified as Democratic had fallen to 22 percent. But it remained at about 50 percent among Republican adults.

Later:

The poll makes clear that gun ownership is deeply embedded in political identity, and vice versa. Some other variables, such as whether a voter lives in an urban area, also strongly predict gun ownership. But the differences between the parties remain even after accounting for these characteristics.

And:

But the differences are most apparent in suburban areas. There, 58 percent of Republican voters said there was a gun in their household, against just 27 percent of Democrats.

It seems, further more, that “gun ownership rates are inversely correlated with educational attainment.” That is, the more education one has, the less likely one is to own a gun. Why? Continue reading

The Anarchist Soccer Mom: Thinking the Unthinkable

16 Dec

is this the kind of mental illness that leads to murder?

This post is by a woman whose son is kind, sweet, and brilliant most of the time. But when he loses control, he’s scary violent. And she can’t get adequate help for him.

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

via The Anarchist Soccer Mom: Thinking the Unthinkable.

Guns in America: Rights vs. Control

15 Dec

In the wake of the Connecticut shootings Nate Silver (NYTimes) has an intersting column about America’s “conversation” on guns as it is reported in the media. Here’s the core finding:

If the news coverage is any guide, there has been a change of tone in recent years in the public conversation about guns. The two-word phrase “gun control” is being used considerably less often than it was 10 or 20 years ago. But the phrase “gun rights” is being used more often. And the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is being invoked more frequently in the discussion.

After some interesting discussion of the data:

The change in rhetoric may reflect the increasing polarization in the debate over gun policy. “Gun control,” a relatively neutral term, has been used less and less often. But more politically charged phrases, like “gun violence” and “gun rights,” have become more common. Those who advocate greater restrictions on gun ownership may have determined that their most persuasive argument is to talk about the consequences of increased access to guns … For opponents of stricter gun laws, the debate has increasingly become one about Constitutional protections…

Their strategy may have been working. The polling evidence suggests that the public has gone from tending to back stricter gun control policies to a more ambiguous position in recent years. There may be some voters who think that the Constitution provides broad latitude to own and carry guns – even if the consequences can sometimes be tragic.

A pilgrim’s gotta’ have shoes

15 Dec

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Happy Pluralist Multicultural Pearl Harbor Day

7 Dec

At the beginning of the week, when I was thinking through my writing schedule—which had, once again, been perturbed by this and that, such as the dance competition I’d been to over the weekend—it seemed possible that I’d wrap-up the main line of my pluralism series today, Friday December 7. I picked the day because it was my birthday, one of those milestone birthdays, and so a good one on which to more or less (but not completely) wrap-up such a project.

And that goal seemed well within reach when I posted the penultimate installment, Facing up to Relativism: Negotiating the Commons, on Wednesday. However, I’ve decided not to do it. Oh, sure, I could jam it on through. I’ve got a fairly robust outline done and I know more or less what I want to say. But I’ve decided to hold off a day or two.

For one thing, Fridays have become a casual sort-through-things-and-see-where-we-are kind of day. Such sorting-out and stock-taking is essential to keeping several lines of activity in motion, but it’s antithetical to concentrating on any one of them. And writing that last post will require concentration.

After all, it WILL Be a summing-up of a line of thinking that’s occupied me for the past year and a half, a line of thinking that’s touched base with just about everything I’ve studied and written about over the years: literature, music, cognition, the brain, culture and cultural evolution, film (cartoons in particular), and graffiti. That’s a stew that would best simmer a bit before I deliver it to the table.

* * * * *

Here’s what I want to hammer home in that final post: the connection between pluralist ontology and the ethics and aesthetics of multiculturalism. Now that I’ve made the connection (in Wednesday’s) post it seems obvious to me. But I didn’t see it coming, and that despite the fact that I have spent a great deal of time sorting out matters of culture, identity, and nation. Continue reading

Dance to the Music: the Kids Owned the Day

6 Dec

It IS, after all, about them, no?

Here’s the scene: A middle school auditorium in suburban New Jersey. It’s late Saturday afternoon on the second day of a dance competition. The auditorium is filled—but only loosely—with young dancers and their parents, other family, and friends. They’re all waiting for the last performance of the competition.

Some hip hop comes up on the sound system and a few of the dancers begin moving to the music. Some of them are standing up from their positions in the audience and are dancing in place. A couple others, at the far left and far right down front, are dancing in the outside aisles. More start joining in.

Down front, in the center, the action photographer—the guy who’s there to shoot photos of each dance number so they can then be sold to parents—is sitting down front on his high swivel chair. He’s smiling, swiveling in the chair to survey the scene, and he starts clapping on the backbeat.

That’s me.

Now another hip hop number comes up and, in a whooshhh! dancers get up out of their seats, rush to the aisles, and the aisles are jammed with kids joyously dancing. Five, six, eight, eleven, fifteen years old, a few older. Even the dancers waiting in the wings on stage for the final number, they danced too.

All dancing. 100, 200, maybe more. Dancing.

It was wonderful.

It made the day

How so?

Competitive dance.

What’s that?

What it is is an industry. There are some 200 companies in the USA that hold dance competitions, regional and then, in some cases, national.

Oh, You Mean Like Dancing with the Stars, only for kids?

Something like that. I don’t really know how it works because I’ve only seen this one day’s worth. What was going on that afternoon is that various dance studios would enter students in the competition as solos, duets or trios, small groups and so on, and they’re divided into a bunch of age groups so you don’t have four year olds competing against fourteen year olds. Continue reading

What’s happening in Egypt now

6 Dec

This post is from a Muslim woman in Cairo who does not like what the current government is doing. The violence is not being adequately reported. Read her post. Here’s the first several paragraphs:

Open any international newspaper today and read a misleading, watered-down version of the truth.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters clash with protestors, Morsi’s backers and rivals battle in streets of Cairo, Egypt descends further into political turmoil – these are all spins on what is really happening here.

The truth is uglier and more unsettling. This is not about two factions battling each other. This is about a well organized and devious militant militia, with members that carry pictures of al Qaida and Bin Laden, who yesterday went to disrupt a peaceful protest with guns, ammunition and gas. I saw them attacking women and men of different backgrounds who stood opposed to them, in the most violent way.

This is not about Egypt being divided. Yes, we are a diverse and populous nation and we will not all agree on everything, socially or politically. But this is about one faction that wants to bring a war against everyone who does not belong to or endorse their version of Islam. I am a Muslim woman and they label me a crusader and an infidel because I do not support their view of Islam.

We stood in peace. We came as we had come on Tuesday 4th December to express our outrage at the draft Constitution that the President and his supporters want to pass and the sweeping powers he has accorded himself, but we came peacefully. Tuesday evening and the huge march towards the presidential palace, which thousands joined, provide ample evidence of that. Crowds of us assembled, stretching as far as the eye could see. We carried lights and flags; we chanted; the atmosphere was full of hope and unity. Like the best times of the Revolution, we felt a sense of possibility for the future of our country and conviction that only by challenging Morsi’s bullying, authoritarian tactics could this possibility become a reality.