Friday, March 19, 2004

Madonna: Ray of Light

Madonna: Ray of Light
Blissless and I are in sync this time (see her comments). I really like this album. I like the tempo and mellow melodies. What a voice, soft and warm, yet at times assertive. I was pleasantly surprised, as this is my first significant exposure to her music.

As Stephen Thomas Erlewine at AMG indicates:
... During 1997, she worked with producer William Orbit on her first album of new material since 1994's Bedtime Stories. The resulting record, Ray of Light, was heavily influenced by electronica, techno, and trip-hop, thereby updating her classic dance-pop sound for the late '90s. Ray of Light received uniformly excellent reviews upon its March 1998 release and debuted at number two on the charts. Within a month, the record was shaping up to be her biggest album since Like a Prayer. ...
From what I read and what blissless told me, Ray of Light is atypical of Madonna's previous work. But with a four year hiatus between this and the last one, change like this doesn't surprise me. Nevertheless, I am piqued to hear more, so Madonna and Like a Prayer are next.

I don't know if this is going to help. I've just retrieve my copy of Aaron Copland's What to Listen for in Music from storage. Hopefully, a reading will make my future comments on music more informed.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Radiohead: Hail to the Thief

Radiohead : Hail to the ThiefI'm so stupid. It was in the end a simple HTML code. Instead, I wasted half an hour futzing with something more complicated resulting in broswer window behavior that I didn't want. Anyway, click on picture on the left for the expected result.

Blissless was right. I don't like Radiohead. Well, as least most of the songs in their Hail to the Thief album. Neverthless, of the ones she thought I would like, here are my brief comments:

3. Sail to the Moon. (Brush the Cobwebs Out... (Greenwood/Greenwood/OBrien/Selway/Yorke) - 4:18
mellow ... melodic ... OK, but I didn't enjoy it as much as she thought I would

6. Where I End and You Begin. (The Sky Is... (Greenwood/Greenwood/OBrien/Selway/Yorke) - 4:29
nice beat ... OK

9. There There. (The Boney King of Nowhere.) (Greenwood/Greenwood/OBrien/Selway/Yorke) - 5:23
nice beat ... could do without the vocal ... my favorite of the six

10. I Will. (No Man's Land.) (Greenwood/Greenwood/OBrien/Selway/Yorke) - 1:59
pace too slow ... too depressing ... ugh!

11. A Punchup at a Wedding. (No no no no no no (Greenwood/Greenwood/OBrien/Selway/Yorke) - 4:57
nice beat but pace is slow

13. Scatterbrain. (As Dead As Leaves.) (Greenwood/Greenwood/OBrien/Selway/Yorke) - 3:21
started promising but ...
In all, I probably like them better without any of the vocal accompaniments. At least Radiohead sounds less intense than Fuel, closeyoureyes's favorite. I wonder if age has anything to do with this, the older I get, the more mellow my music gets. Any funeral music recommendations?

Anyway, thanks Blissless for intruducing me to Radiohead. Hey, at least I tried.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

How Do We Know Who We Are?

I think Magnolia would like How Do We Know Who We Are?: A Biography of the Self as well:
"The terrain of the self is vast," notes renowned psychiatrist Arnold Ludwig, "parts known, parts impenetrable, and parts unexplored." How do we construct a sense of ourselves? How can a self reflect upon itself or deceive itself? Is all personal identity plagiarized? Is a "true" or "authentic" self even possible? Is it possible to really "know" someone else or ourselves for that matter? To answer these and many other intriguing questions, Ludwig takes a unique approach, examining the art of biography for the insights it can give us into the construction of the self. In The Biography of the Self, he takes readers on an intriguing tour of the biographer's art, revealing how much this can tell us about ourselves.
He has a memorable account answering the question (pp. 85-86): Can others know us better than we know ourselves?

During a morning walk, I silently rate how well I know myself, then ask my wife to rate how well she knows me on a scale from zero to one hundred percent. I estimate I know myself seventy five percent; she says she knows me ninety percent. "That’s ridiculous, you can’t know me better than I know myself" I protest, thinking about my private and often taboo thoughts. "But I do," she replies. Annoyed, I blurt out, "Now why did I ask such a stupid question?" She smiles, then says, "Do you want me to tell you?"

This anecdote highlights a number of important issues. By initially asking my wife to rate her knowledge of me, I make the assumption that the real me, my essence, is represented by the sanctum sanctorum of my private mental life, which, unless I choose to reveal it, is inaccessible to all. By her response, she makes the assumption that knowledge about my secret and forbidden thoughts is irrevelant to her knowledge of me. Whatever the reasons, I find it disturbing that someone can claim to know me even better than I know myself. It’s a threat to my sense of autonomy. The only consolation I have is that I’m in good company After his wife made a similar claim, John Cheever lamented in his journal, "It seems so unnatural."

In general, what we mean by knowing ourselves is an awareness of our own mental processes that may or may not precede any action, or in the absence of his awareness, knowledge of the mental processes that may or may not follow any action, letting us reconstruct for ourselves why the action happened. It is our awareness of these mental processes (whether or not they actually are necessary for these actions) that sustains our belief in personal options and freedom choice. We reason that if our thoughts and behaviors are linked, then they must be causally related, especially if one precedes the other. We resist the possibility that our thought processes may simply represent ad hoc justifications or post hoc rationalizations for doing what we’re inclined to do, accentuating our performances like accompanists at a recital.

Since those who believe they know us can’t read our thoughts unless we reveal them, they have to rely on other clues about us. We may experience our actions as purposeful, but others often perceive them as dispositional traits that determine how predictable we are, The implications of this are important. If we are completely predictable to others, then we represent nothing more than biological servomechanisms, automatically responding to environmental stimuli according to our instincts or psychological programming. Total predictability means strict causality, and strict causality means the lack of free will. When there are no surprises, then strict cause-and-effect or stimulus-response must be at work, negating the theoretical existence of a sovereign, independent, and potentially spontaneous self.

I tell my wife that she is probably bored being married to someone so predictable. She wisely denies that, saying it’s comforting to her to know how I will behave. Then she offers a sop to my ego by saying that anyway I’m not totally predictable. On rare occasions I can surprise her.

Fortunately for my pride, the issue of being totally predictable is more theoretical than real, probably because all the relevant variables about people never can be known. No matter how well we know others, they always have the potential for some unexpected, out-of-character response, if not in action then in their
fantasies or thoughts. For example, a farmer who engages in the same routine day in and day out, attends church regularly and does whatever he is supposed to do, one day goes in the barn and, in Richard Gory fashion, puts a bullet through his head. A former member of the Ku Klux Klan and a strict Baptist like William 0. Black, after appointment to the Supreme Court, turns out to be one of its most liberal members. Lovers who at one time are willing to die for one another later turn out to be bitter enemies. Once sentenced to prison, a White House aide
becomes a born-again Christian.

Predictability, then, is less of an absolute than a probability statement, much like weather forecasting. Knowing others, in one sense, means that we’re able to make reasonable guesses about how they are disposed to act: their habits, their customary responses, and their typical patterns of behavior under varying circumstances. When they are capricious, volatile, or unstable, they keep us emotionally off-balance. The more important others are to us, the more important it is for us to know what to expect from them. So when they don’t behave as we expect them to, we try to find ways to increase the accuracy of our forecasts. One of the ways we do this is to construct plausible narratives to explain their behavior.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Survival of the Prettiest

I couldn't resist, after reading CatherineM's March 14 post "Ping-Pong, The Bitch is Dead". It's a tough world out there.

I came across Nancy Etcoff in an article she wrote in the March 17, 1994 issue of Nature called "Beauty and the beholder". It was one of several on this very interesting subject. So, when her book came out, I naturally had to read it, especially before her scheduled talk at the Harvard Coop some weeks later. Besides, although we never met, Nancy was a former neighbor. I had wanted to introduce myself to her.

Unfortunately, right after I got the book, I landed in the hospital. Don't read this book in a place like that, it might spoil your enjoyment of it.

Anyway, I got out of the hospital a few days before her talk. Not feeling well enough, I didn't go. Consequently, I missed the opportunity to ask her a very important question - "Why are there not pictures or photos in a book on beauty?". Well, after all these years, maybe I'll send her an e-mail and ask.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Some parts are better than others

And this one is for Magnolia's "Parts Are Parts.":

Sexual Selection and the Biology of Beauty

Abstract. Sexual selection arises from the advantages that individuals have over others of the same sex and species in mating competition for reproduction. This process may give rise to extravagant sexual characters that are directly detrimental to survival, but beneficial to mating success. Current theoretical and empirical findings suggest that mate preferences are mainly cued in on health including developmental health. Beautiful and irresistible features have evolved numerous times in plants and animals due to the immense selection pressures mainly caused by females, and such preferences and beauty standards provide evidence for the claim that human beauty and obsession with bodily beauty equals similar tendencies throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. The beauty, cosmetics and plastic surgery industries are therefore only surface phenomena that supports this evolutionary interpretation. Human beauty standards reflect our evolutionary distant and recent past and emphasize the role of health assessment in mate choice. Given these findings, it is extremely unlikely that human sexual behavior or mate preferences will change to any significant degree during the future, even in the presence of totalitarian measures.