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New major

I started college in earnest this year. I am currently a continuing ed student but have been accepted to UMass, Lowell for the fall as an "official" part-time student.

I had intended to go for Mathematics with a concentration in Statistics so as to move on to a Master's in Data Mining. The field fascinates me and is the logical extension of what I'm doing and enjoying now in my job. However I have no math in my transfer credits to speak of. I have pre-calculus, which I took ten years ago and did well in, but that's it.

Further, I am burdened by my previous college record to a certain degree. I spent one year as a music major at Shenandoah College (now Shenandoah University), and later spent what amounted to a year as an electronics student in the Air Force (for which I was awarded college credit). Being a math major would have relegated most of my previous classes to "free elective" status, and eliminated most of them from consideration. Somewhat discouraged, I started looking for curricula that could possibly incorporate as much of my existing credits as possible.

For those who don't know, UMass Lowell is a pretty strong engineering college that is very active in things like biomedical engineering and nanotechnology (so when the gray goo takes over the world, it will likely as not start from Lowell). I started looking at the engineering curricula when I found something that looked promising: A music degree in sound recording technology. I never thought UMass would have this (being, as it is, within spitting distance of Berklee), but there it was. After speaking to a few people, I decided to switch majors.

So now, pending a vocal audition, I will be a music major again after almost 30 years. I can't make the words on the screen express how tail-waggingly happy this makes me (no matter how many exclamation points I use-- which I won't). And the best part is that I need the math I'm taking anyway since calculus is required.

Book Review: Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver W. Sacks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars Oliver Sacks is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. He tells many stories of people with modes of perception radically altered by disease, injury, genetics, or even the unexplained. I thoroughly enjoyed his previous works such as "Awakenings" and "An Anthropologist on Mars" as well as his recent departure from neurology to autobiography in "Uncle Tungsten".

This book, dealing with the neurological impact of music, is a bit of a disappointment in several ways. The first that struck me is how much of a re-hash of his old books it is. He is constantly referring to cases covered (in much more detail, to be sure) in his previous books. As someone who has read them I found these reprises interesting, but only to a point. Far too much of the book is spent reviewing these and not really covering new ground, I can only imagine that for someone who has not read the referred works, reading this one might be very frustrating without the depth of background one gains from reading the more detailed account.

In Sacks' previous works, he puts the disparate pieces of the patients' stories together to paint a detailed and always sympathetic portrait of his subjects. Due I suspect to the terse nature of the retrospectives in this book, that never happens. To make matters worse, the last section of the book contains some anecdotes that suggest some of the conclusions he drew in the previous chapters may be incorrect, yet he does nothing to integrate these into the rest of the book. The reader is left with a collection of mostly unrelated anecdotes which Dr. Sacks does little if anything to integrate int a whole.

The book is not all bad. There are some new stories and even some of the old stories get some retrospective in light of new scientific data, and some of the analyses of composers and musicians are rewarding. These rewards are scattered throughout what, in the end, is a rather disjointed and scattershot book.

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Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slattery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a wonderful book that needs to be read by lots more people.

Brian Francis Slattery turns what could have been a run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic adventure into a great and varied tapestry of events that never loses contact with the ground. The stories are plausible, the mythology tight, and the characters as wide-ranging as the United States itself.

The story starts five years after an apocalyptic meltdown of the US financial system. Brian Slattery has a day job as an economist, so his accounts of the causes and effects of the collapse are chillingly realistic (and oddly prescient since he wrote this before the various crises of the past two years hit). The fact that the story he tells didn't unfold in real life is no comfort, because one always has the impression that it very well could have.

The story revolves around the Slick Six-- a disbanded band of outlaws for hire. The main protagonist, Marco, is an assassin haunted by his past-- not his past assassinations, but his abusive childhood. We follow Marco closely, but not exclusively, through his quest to reunite with his friends. What starts out as a personal mission takes on immense significance for the country as The Vibe (often referred to, but never explained) starts to influence the actions of the Six along with various people across the broken landscape to reach for something greater.

The Vibe deftly weaves those who are not aware if It as well as those who are-- from a caravan of hippies, to a revived Sioux Nation, to men grown immensely wealthy in the newly revived slave market. The characters are heroic and cowardly, lovable and despicable. This book is a brilliant, unvarnished expression of the American spirit. Very rewarding to read.

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Religious Agnosia

"Agnosia, from the Greek "not knowing," describes a collection of disorders where the ability to recognize objects or sounds or retrieve information about them is impaired, in the absence of other perceptual difficulties, including memory, intellectual capabilities, and the capacity for communication."

Encyclopedia of Neurological Disorders. Ed. Stacey L. Chamberlin and Brigham Narins. Gale Cengage, 2005. eNotes.com. 2006. 25 Nov, 2009 <http://www.enotes.com/neurological-disorders-encyclopedia/

For many years I've been struggling with what on the surface is a simple question: Do I believe in god?

The problem of God is manifold. "God" is one of the most overloaded words in the English language and, even if one limits oneself to the proper noun, it's not much clearer. I certainly do not believe in the god portrayed in the Bible, mostly because the New and Old testament gods seem to be very different things, and even if one limits one's definition to one or the other testament, that god seems to suffer from something of an identity crisis. Many will disagree with this and point to any one of a number of ways to rationalize the inconsistencies in the portrayal of God in the Bible. In the end, however, each of those portrayals-- however consistent-- are demonstrably false.

That doesn't mean I feel the Bible doesn't have glimpses of wisdom about the nature of what one might call God, or that there is no validity in anything the Bible has to say. I simply assert that, as far as God goes, the authors of the books that eventually came to be known as our Bible did not have in mind one, singular vision of what God was; and any attempt to twist everything to fit one self-consistent vision is futile at best.

However, atheism isn't really a good word for what I believe either. I classify atheists as two kinds: religious and non-religious. Religious atheists insist that there is no God at all and to believe otherwise is foolish. I can only see their point if one limits oneself to the aforementioned Biblical God-- one trap that most atheists of this sort. Religious atheists believe there is no God with what can only be described as religious fervor. Perhaps not ironically, religious atheists hate the insinuation that theirs is a religion; a position that only makes sense if you exempt their way of belief from being called a religion despite meeting all of the necessary criteria to be defined as such. Religious atheists are generally the worst in discussions because their philosophy is one of opposition to someone else's idea rather than an original position. Religious atheists are fond of pointing out the atrocities perpetrated in the name of God while seemingly forgetting the atrocities done against the name of God (Stalin, anyone?).

Non-religious atheists may not believe in God (or a god or gods), but they don't much mind if people do. The question of the existence or non-existence of God (or god, or gods) does not affect their philosophical view. Recently many of these types have been referred to (and refer to themselves as) agnostics. I find that term inaccurate, for the agnostic admits to not knowing, whereas an atheist (religious or not) feels s/he knows the answer is no. For the non-religious atheist, God doesn't exist. For the religious atheist, God must not exist.

I was thinking of calling myself agnostic, but there is an ambiguity in the language here. Agnostic means someone who does not know; but does that imply not knowing whether or not God exists, or the nature of that god (or god, gods, etc.) Miriam-Webster defines agnostic as "a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god." Even with that dual meaning, agnostic is not word I like.

I believe that everything is knowable-- even if it is not knowable at the present time. We don't have all the pieces of the puzzle, and even if we did we might not be able to put them together within a lifetime, but that doesn't mean it can't be done (or shouldn't be tried). Atheists of all stripes, agnostics, and especially conservative Christians want to lock God down to either champion him, limit him, or deny him. In the end, though, it's all the same ego-centric game of trying to understand all of existence simply in terms of our extremely limited perspective. We're like the blind men and the elephant in the famous parable-- except we are acutely unaware of our own blindness and are therefore totally unmotivated to do anything about it or even admit that there is something to be done differently.

That's how I decided to use the term religious agnosia. We're part of this whole living universe, and yet we believe that it is not alive. Some even are so self-centered as to believe that a god who created the universe created it for us and only us. There was recently a conference at the Vatican where the possibility of alien life was discussed and one of the topics was if Jesus died for alien races' sins too. There isn't a facepalm in the universe big enough to cover the unimaginable egotism that produced such a train of thought.

I believe there is an intelligence to existence itself. Matter is not dumb and inert without minds or egos to order it about (human or divine). It has consciousness, but not what we would call intelligence such as creationists would like to believe. We are part of it, but we have no more idea of the whole of it than a tea leaf knows the history of the East Inda Company (to borrow a prase from the late Douglas Adams). We need to know that we don't know a millionth of a percent about anything-- whether that's science or religion or God or whatever. As soon as we believe we an understand everything n it's entirety, we start to lose our focus and stop exploring.

Clarification on the new name

The name of my blog is also the name of my studio under which I'm doing most of my creative work these days.  Back when my son Marcus was living with us we thought it might be nice for he and I to collaborate on some music.  Since Emerson lived nearby, we thought it'd be cool for her to get involved as well.  I came up with the idea of calling the group "Broken Home" because of my divorce from Marcus' and Emerson's mother.  I then registered the domain ourbrokenhome.com because it was the only permutation of the name that was available that I liked.

Well, MArcus proved to be something of a lost cause and was eventually sent packing to the North Carolina Institute for the Perpetually Inebriated (a/k/a his grandmother's house), after which I decided that it was a great name for my studio, and kept it.

Add "update web page" to my growing list of things I haven't done yet.

New look, new focus.

Spending way too much time not really writing but posting the tweet-like statuses (statii?) FB uses, so I've decided to use this journal to muse aloud on my latest creative projects.

Currently, I'm working on music/soundscape work for a new version of The Bacchae-- the ancient Greek play by Euripides.  The director/adapter is Ted Guhl-- one of the founders of the Hole in the Wall Theater and simply one of the most interesting cats I've ever met.  His resumé includes things like working on films in places like Syria and stuff.

This project comes on after I worked with Ted on a play he directed by Jenny Lecce (Heaven).  I wrote a "soundscape" for that and I guess he liked it.  This is going to be something else though.  He wants music throughout and wants it very reminiscent of ancient music and also have the air of a relious/spiritual ritual.

I can do this...

I'm going to try and compose the whole piece through, as if it were an opera or an oratorio.  I've never put together a piece of that scale before; but I think even if I fall short of my ultimate goal I'll have enough music for Ted to use,  Also, he has two or three other writers working on the music so he can pick and choose if he wants.

In researching this project I ran across a wonderful site about a conference on ancient Greek music hosted by the Austrian Academy of Science.  I was so impressed, I bought the book and accompanying CD.  I hate these exchange rates!

Book Review: Lud-in-the-Mist

Lud-In-The-Mist Lud-In-The-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So much has been written about this book by so many brilliant writers that my saying anything about it would be completely useless.

Read it, enjoy it (you will) and then reflect that it was 1925 when this was written and how many of what have become the tropes of fantasy are contained in this easy-to-read, thoroughly entertaining book.

Oh-- don't buy the crappy 2005 Quality Books version. It's terribly edited with a lot of obvious mistakes. Go for the 2007 Wildside Press version instead.

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Watchmen Watchmen by Alan Moore

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
With all the hype around this legendary comic book, I was fully prepared to be wowed.

Color me disappointed.

Okay, it wasn't all bad. It did a very nice job of saying what it wanted to say-- that if comic book heroes were more fallible, it would truly suck. The trouble is that observation was obvious to anyone. The whole point of comic book heroes (indeed, of heroes of any kind) isn't that they have super-powers, but that their human frailties get in the way, no matter how many tall buildings they leap in a single bound.

What made these heroes compelling was that they rose above their baser instincts. In Watchmen, the message seems to be that no-one can overcome their human nature (which is understood a priori to be selfish and cruel) unless one gives up all human values altogether. It's a sophomoric view held by many an embittered liberal arts major and was all in vogue during the time Watchmen was written.

And therein lies the trouble with this book: It's an artifact. It's a good artifact, but an artifact nonetheless. It is an artifact of all of the worst excesses of left-wing paranoia at the height of the Regan years. Unfortunately the events of the late 20th to the beginnings of the 21st century have made those threats seem quaint in the aftermath of the Cheney administration.

All of this wouldn't be bad at all, had not Watchmen had the pretense of "serious literature" and called "the first graphic novel." No, it's a comic book, and there is no shame in liking comic books. Many comic book heroes were compellingly human characters. There's nothing compelling about the characters in Watchmen-- except perhaps how much they resemble reality show participants. I don't want to see what kind of heroes fucked up relatives and friends would have made. I want the ones who overcome their weaknesses-- not wallow in them.

If I want comic book heroes deconstructed, I'll read The Tick. It does at least as good a job with a lot more humor, and a hell of a lot more respect for its subject matter too.

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Initial meme th‌ing

Rules: It's harder than it looks (no it isn't-- Beldon) ! Copy to your own note, erase my answers, enter yours, and tag 10 people (or not, as you see fit). Use the first letter of your name to answer each of the following questions. They have to be real. . .nothing made up!

Continue Reading...

1. What is your name: Beldon

2. A four Letter Word: bomb

3. A boy's Name: Bart

4. A girl's Name: Barbara

5. An occupation: baker

6. A color: blue

7. Something you wear: bolo

8. A food: bread

9. Something found in the bathroom: bathtub

10. A place: Berlin

11. A reason for being late: bus late

12. Something you shout: Bastard!

13. A movie title: Benji

14. Something you drink: beer

15. A musical group: Beirut

16. An animal: bobcat

17. A street name: Broadway

18. A type of car: Buick

19. Something scary: Bubonic Plague

20. Ice cream flavor: blueberry

Dream of the times

Awoke just now from a long and complex dream. One scene seemed particularly relevant.

I was in what I refer to as my "dream city". There is a large transportation hub in the center of the downtown area similar to Penn station in New York. I was going to take a train to one of the outlying areas. While I was walking toward the turnstiles, I started hearing some shouting. I'm thinking it's just another subway preacher, and as I get closer and am able to understand more of what he's shouting, I'm sure of it.

When I get to the turnstile area, I see it's got a bunch these large lit display marquees, all of which have the same posters in them. As I pause to read them I realize that they're all about President Obama's energy plan. Something about when he does whatever it is he's going to do to the grid will cause a shift in magnetic field which will cause avalanches at ski resorts, horrific highway pile-ups, and all manner of mayhem. As I'm reading I realize too that the crazy guy ranting is saying exactly what the posters are saying and that they are all based on his rantings alone. But a news outlet has set up the posters and is asking passersby what they think about the issue.

I think that scene nicely sums up a lot of what passes for news nowadays.