Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Language of Rational Thought


     Can rational thought exist without language?
   It is doubtful. Anthropologists have discovered cultures that do not have a word for certain concepts have difficulty understanding the concept. Humans need to assign symbols to concepts in order to contemplate them. Language assigns symbols to concepts, so language is vital to rational thought.

"Goodbye"--Alabama


     Here we are...the final entry in country music month. It is also the final entry in music theme months. At least for now. Maybe if I can come up with another theme that could fill 30-31 days worth of songs, I will give it another shot. But it will definitely be a while before another shows up.
     The final song of country music month, appropriately enough, is Alabama's “Goodbye.” I first heard the song when lead singer Randy Owen performed it at dale Earnhardt's memorial service. It was an incredibly moving song. It still gives me chills now.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Politics of Socialization


     Is it possible someone's genes might influence his political leanings?
  There is bound to be some biological process that that stirs an ideological inclination within a person. I am inclined to think political leanings are more influenced by someone's socialization instead. Either a young person falls in line with what his parents believe or rebels and goes in the opposite direction. The influences that shape someone's political leanings are external.

"You Won't Mind the Rain"--Hank Williams, Jr.

     Country music likes to offer life advice.  Here is some of the best.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)


     Harlan Ellison, my personal favorite author of all time, has passed away. He was 84 and in failing health, so his death comes as no surprise. But the world still feels awfully smaller without Ellison it it. By all accounts, he went peacefully in his sleep.
     Ellison was one of a select few you can call a great writer. He did it all—novels, short stories, screenplays, social commentary, and journalism of all sorts. His writing all featured the covert message of what he believed was wrong with the world which offered you a chance to see from a new perspective. I rarely agreed with with him. While he often thought outside the box, he was consistently left of center and opposed to all religion. But I respected he pit thought into his positions while adding a cynical, acerbic wit to make it entertaining.
     Like many younger fans of Ellison, I first encounter his television work. Most notably, he wrote the script for my favorite episode of Star Trek, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” The episode is great itself, but so is the drama behind the rewrites from others that compelled Ellison to disavow the aired version while his original script won Star Trek its first of two Hugo Awards. I advise anyone who has not read the original script to track down the published copy from 1996 which also lays out the story behind the script's controversial history.
     I did not put a face to the name until Ellison was featured as a weekly commentator on the series Sci Fi Buzz. He also made frequent appearances on Politically Incorrect. These shows compelled me to seek out more of Ellison's written works with an emphasis on his social commentary. It was difficult in the mid-'90's with so much of his works out of print. Needless to say, the enjoyable reading I earned was worth the effort to seek out his writings.
     Ellison was not everyone's cup of tea. His writings can be harsh. Many believe he was a harsh person in general. I could see over the years how that was probably true. Even the obituaries from his friends I have been reading over tonight cannot help but speak of Ellison’s abrasive nature even as they praise his writing skill and life-log activism. I tend to agree with the assessment. Nevertheless, I will miss him.
    I usually end obituaries with 'godspeed,' but as Ellison was an outspoken atheist, I will simply say thanks for the countless hours of thought-provoking reading you gave me over the years. There is no one else like you around. There probably never will be again.

Carry On, Carry On


     Is the concept of you continuous or does the past you constantly fade into current and future you? In other words, since your atoms are constantly being replaced and your memories are constantly changing, how much of you remains?
    As a minor correction, your memories do not change. All of your old memories still exist. You just no longer have access to them. I suppose that means they are lost to you personally, so they no longer exist as far as you are concerned. But those memories do technically still exist.
    I could make this an overcomplicated existential treatise about the human mind being greater than he sum of its parts and whatever that greater element is surviving in tact beyond the physical changes. But a simpler answer is to consider the constant changes as a characteristic of mine so that the changes are a constant. Looking at it that way, I am always me no matter how different I am. I never stop being me simply because somethings changed.

"Ships That Don't Come In"--Joe Diffie


    Country music is famous for sad songs. Country singers pine for lost love, long departed family, and little yellow cars among many other things. Moping over them usually involves consuming copious amounts of alcohol either alone or with shared misery in a crowded bar. But what happens when the lyrical equivalent of 'I cursed my bunions until I met a man with no feet” comes along in the midst of it all? A lesson on counting your blessings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Anthony Kennedy Announces Retirement from the Supreme Court


     Anthony Kennedy, who has long relished his role as a moderate swing vote in a closely divided Supreme Court, announced his retirement earlier today. His stepping down from the Court has been all session. Liberals should have had enough time to shore themselves for the prospect of President Donald Trump getting the opportunity to fill Kennedy's seat with a solid conservative. Alas, the time allowed was not enough. The political left suffered a massive meltdown this afternoon from mainstream to social media.
     As expected, the hysteria centers on the paranoid notion abortion rights are forever in jeopardy. Because the modern, liberal woman's sole identifying characteristic of femininity is the ability to kill her unborn child. Over 54 million abortions have been performed since the Roe decision made abortion the law of the land in 1973. The left thinks it is time to panic because they may not reach sixty million.
   Should they? Probably not. Roe was reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992. Abortion rights were reaffirmed by a plurality vote that included Kennedy and the most existential mess of an opinion you will ever encounter written by Ronald Reagan's biggest mistake, Sandra Day O'Connor. Abortion rights are on solid legal grounds.
     Abortion rights are on solid intellectual grounds, as well. Support for abortion rights is the litmus test for intellectualism. Support for abortion rights is the only criteria by which a Republican can be considered “good.” I am not saying it is right, but I am saying it is true.
     The fact Trump will choose a new justice who could potentially remain on the Court for decades is just insult to injury for the left. Trump already stated he will choose the next justice from a list of 25 strict constructionists along the lines of Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia. He cannot go wrong with that, as far as I am concerned.
     Of equal concern is the prospect of Trump replacing the 85 year old constantly ailing and frequently napping Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There was quiet anger at Ginsburg for not retiring while Barack Obama was president so she could be replaced with a liberal. Expect a major and macabre health watch to occur regarding her for the remainder of Trump's tenure in office.
     The bottom line is you can expect the bloodiest confirmation battle ever witnessed in Washington. The holy cause of preserving abortion rights will be front and center even though the right to abortion is in no real danger. I will be keeping a close eye on the process—a tough task, as I only have one eye—and blogging as events warrant.

Survival of the Fittest


    What is the benefit of consciousness from an evolutionary standpoint?
     There is no consensus on what consciousness truly is, so this is a tough question with which to give a definitive answer. For the sake of argument, I will go with the simple definition of consciousness as awareness of self and one's environment. Self-awareness and the ability to recognize our environment certainly contributes heavily to survival.
    As evidence, look to the rapid progress of modern man over the last 5,000-8,000 years as opposed to prior to the this time period. There has been exponentially more innovation due to modern man's ability to adapt and conquer his environment. The ability has brought about an increased population of stronger, healthier, and longer living humans.

"Neon Moon"--Brooks & Dunn

     There is apparently comfort from loneliness in a bar.  Who knew?

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Escapism


     Why do humans have such a strong urge to distract ourselves from the real world?
     Because the real world is awful. How miserable would our lives be if we could not escape into a fantasy every now and then in order to recharge our batteries and gain a little peace of mind? The question implies it is a negative thing to avoid reality, but it is a ncessary and healthy thing to do in moderation.

"Wagon Wheel"--Darius Rucker


     Darius Rucker moved on from Hootie and the Blowfish to a solo career in country music. He has done well for himself in the genre by selling a huge amount of records and winning a few awards. As a loyal University of South Carolina alumnus, I feel obliged to include rucker in month the rock and roll and country music month lists.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Tabula Rasa


     If all your memories were erased, what kind of person would you be?
     If all my memories were erased, I would be a completely blank slate. I am the sum of my experiences. If all those experiences were taken away, there would be nothing but a shell of flesh that simply exists and nothing more. If you can call such a state existence.

"Working Man's PhD"--Aaron Tippin and "9 to 5"--Dolly Parton

     Country music considers itself music for the working man/woman.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Leaps of Faith


     Why are humans so confident in beliefs that cannot be proven?
     Humans are irrational, wishful thinkers who prefer things be the way we want them to be rather than the way they are. Most humans are in possession of a low amount of knowledge and poor critical thinking skills. Such a combination appears to compel humans to believe in a lot of fanciful things that can only be taken on faith.

"Drop Kick Me, Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life)"--Bobby Bare

     Country music often has odd ideas regarding theology. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Language of Thought


     How much does language effect our thinking?
    The research is not exactly conclusive, nut linguists generally accept people have a difficult time understanding concepts for which there is no word in his language. There needs to be some sort of symbol to associate with objects and concepts in order to contemplate them. Words are the easiest method to accomplish this task.

"Strong Enough to Bend"--Tanya Tucker


There was what appeared to be true that went wrong in Alan Jackson's "Here in the Real World" Then there was life going completely wrong until finding true love in Marty Stuart's "Til I Found You." Now there is true love weathering the storms of life. Have all the bases been covered by now?

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Validity of Deeply Held Beliefs


    There is zero chance all your deeply held beliefs are true. With that said, which of your beliefs are the likeliest to be false and which are the likeliest to be true?
     I am working under the assumption the question is referring to spiritual or metaphysical beliefs taken on pure faith rather than deeply held moral or political beliefs. You can believe abortion is an immoral act, but someone else can offer up a counter argument without either side agreeing on a definite answer as to whether abortion is an immoral act. Likewise, there is not a definite answer as to whether a certain ideology is best suited for running a government. These arguments are intellectual exercises without a solid conclusion.
     After all that, my answer to the validity of deeply held spiritual beliefs is not much better. I accept all my spiritual beliefs on faith with an equal chance any or all of them could be false. Do I doubt? On some level, yes. On just about everything at one time or another. Faith without doubt is just sappy sentimentalism. It takes more courage to continue believing when you have questions than it does to never question at all.

"Til I Found You"--Marty Stuart


     Alan Jackson's "Here in the Real World" yesterday was all about life going badly after a failed romance. Today, Marty Stuart's “Til I Found You” presents the other side of the coin. It is a song about a guy whose life goes badly until he finds the right woman.
     For every point, there is a counterpoint.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018)


  Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post and regular FOX news commentator, has died after a long battle with cancer. Krauthammer ended his column and participation with on air panels with FOX in August 2017 due to his battle with cancer. He announced in an open letter a couple weeks ago his illness had returned, leaving him only a few weeks to live.
   Krauthammer was a first year medical student when a diving board accident left him paralyzed. After a 14 month recovery stay in the hospital, he returned to medical school to eventually graduate as a psychologist. His true calling was journalism. Krauthammer wrote a weekly column that was syndicated in over 400 newspapers. He was a longtime editor at The Weekly Standard. He is most famous as a frequent panelist on various FOX News programs.
     Krauthammer's ideological leanings changed dramatically over the years. At various points in his career, he was considered a hardcore liberal with staunch anti-communist views to a moderate republican and eventually a neoconservative. I appreciated his viewpoints were not allied to a partisan ideology. He regularly demonstrated he was a thinking man.
     Krauthammer and I did not see eye to eye on a lot of things, but I appreciate anyone who can argue a contrary position to mine using facts and logical reasoning rather than towing a party line. There are not many political analysts out there with the courage and intellect to do that. He will be missed.
     Godspeed, Dr. Krauthammer.

Koko (1971-2018)


     Koko, the gorilla who learned over a thousand words in a variation of American Sign Language, died peacefully in her sleep on June 19, 2018. Koko was just two weeks shy of her 47th birthday when she died.
    Koko was born at the San Francisco Zoo on July 4, 1971. Koko suffered from a life threatening illness early in life and so was given over to Dr. Francine “Penny'”Patterson to be cared for by The gorilla Foundation. Patterson, an animal psychologist, began teaching Koko to recognize spoken English and a form of American Sign language. Patterson claims Koko could understand 2,000 spoken words and sign around 1,000.
     Koko entered the public's mind when she adopted a kitten in 1983. Koko has cared for many other kittens since then. She was also a fan of Fred Rogers and enjoyed a friendship with Robin Williams. When told of Williams' untimely death, Koko signed “sad.”
     There is some debate in the scientific community as to whether Koko truly understood language. She signed in single words. A sequence of words she signed were often open to interpretation as Koko had no grasp of grammar or syntax. Regardless, she was a unique animal. It is sad to learn of her passing.

Probably Not Wile E. Coyote


     How do you define genius?
     Genius is exceptional intelligence, creative ability, or natural talent in one or more endeavors to the point the subject matter or activity in which the genius is engaged advances with new concepts and/or manages achievements which are extremely difficult or nearly impossible to duplicate.

"Here in the Real World"--Alan Jackson


   Considering all that is going on in the United states right now, the last thing you probably need is a dose of reality. Today's country song is that dose of reality you probably do not need. For what it is worth, confronting the painful truth is better for you than being comforted. A lot of sad country songs do that splendidly.
     Many country songs touch on the harsh realities of life. This is true especially where romantic relationships are concerned. “Here in the Real World” is a melancholy comparison of the romanticised world presented in movies versus real life.
     “Here in the Real World” was the second single from his debut album in 1990. The song is in the style of the neotraditional style with a fiddle and steel guitar created a stripped down, somber mood. The quiet atmosphere is powerful, as Jackson is lamenting how a love he believed was headed towards a happy ending like on the silver screen instead failed to last.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Is There Anybody Out There?


  Would it be more frightening for humans to be the most intelligent species in the universe or far from the most intelligent species in the universe?
     It would be far more frightening to learn there is a more intelligent species out there somewhere in the universe. Less intelligent species tend to become dominated—and often slaughtered—bu more intelligent species. I would rather that not happen to humans. It is one of the reasons I am skeptical NASA should send messages from Earth on these expiration probes. Those messages are just as likely putting a bulls-eye on earth as it is making friends.
     All the above assumes there is anything out there period. I may be a huge science fiction geek, but I remain skeptical alien life exists.

"You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma"--David Frizzell and Shelly West


     We continue with the theme from yesterday, but move a little further east. Instead of compromising with a meeting in Montana like dan Seals and Marie Osmond, David Frizzell dream of Oklahoma with them back together. West, like Osmond, is an aspiring starle jaded by the urban cowboy craze sweeping Southern California. She has a real cowboy in Frizzell back home in Oklahoma. He wishes she was back there with him.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Man is a Unique Creation


    Assuming evolution is correct, if humans went extinct, could another species as intelligent as humans evolve?
     It is theoretically possible, but not likely. There is no animal species that needs to adapt to be as intelligent as humans in order to survive. Science and philosophy still do not understand exactly what makes human consciousness happen, but do know it is far beyond any animal species' ability to demonstrate.
     Bear in mind I personally think Humans were created in the image of God and are therefore unique among animals. There is no animal which will evolve to take stewardship over the Earth as God ordained humans to do.

"Meet Me in Montana"--Dan Seals and Marie Osmond


     Elvis Presley was a little bit country and a lot rock and roll. Here is Marie osmond, billed as a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, performing a duet with Dan Seals. It is probably fair to label him a lot country. Montana is romanticized often in country music for noth cowboys and lovers. In 'Meet Me in Montana,” Big Sky country is a compromise between aspiring singer songwriter and a Hollywood starlet.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Animal Self-Awareness Revisited


     How conscious do you think animals are?
   Animals are not very conscious at all. Only some higher primates, dolphins, and crows can recognize themselves in a mirror. Some individual animals within those species will still fail the mirror test even when other individual members of their species pass. So even this low bar test for conscious cannot always be met by species recognized as having at least some level of self-awareness.
     I am trying not to be a cynic and say not all humans appear to be self-aware, either.  But you may run with that statement on your own, if you so desire.

"Gentle On My Mind"--Elvis Presley


    Country music has a long history of embracing crossover artists. It is especially true if said artist started in country music, but moved on to bigger success in anther genre. Witness the deathgrip country still holds on Garth Brooks and Shania Twain in spite of their respective journeys into eccentricity. Country also likes to claim artists from other genres who do well on the country charts. Witness Darius Rucker, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, and most definitely Kenny Rogers. Elvis falls firmly in the latter category.
     It should also be noted country music fans can be brutal to artists from other genres who do not perform well on the charts. Just ask Mike Nesmith and Jessica Simpson about their short lived Nashville experiences. How many are even aware of their efforts these days? They have been pretty much blotted out from the history books.
     Elvis was a product of Southern musical roots, which meant he was a mix of gospel, country, the blues, and rock. It was only natural he would fit well within country music when he made the effort to do so. As mentioned above, country music remained loyal to him even as the King of Rock and Roll.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Cogito Ergo Sum...Forsit


  Is it possible to prove other people besides yourself have consciousness?
   It is not possible to definitively prove I have consciousness, either. Consciousness is defined as the awareness of self and one's surroundings. I have the perception of myself and my surroundings, but I cannot prove either are real and not just a virtual reality simulation for instance. I assume I and my surroundings are real, but I cannot prove them to be so.
    The problem doubles when it comes to whether I can prove someone else's consciousness. Not only may we both be part of a simulation, but the other person may lie about his awareness of himself and his surroundings even if we are not in a simulation. So who really knows the validity of consciousness in yourself or others?

"Look at You, Girl"--Chris LeDoux


     Garth Brooks claims 'worn out tapes of Chris LeDoux” as one of the only friends he has while traveling the rodeo circuit in yesterday's "Much Too Young" LeDoux was a true modern day cowboy who rode the rodeo from the late '80's until his retirement in 1986. He self-release a number of albums during his rodeo career, but did not achieve mainstream success until Brooks brought his name into the spotlight. LeDoux sang mostly about the cowboy life. Most of his songs on the subject are great. But my favorite song of his is the ballad embedded above.
     When LeDoux required a liver transplant in 2000, Brooks offered to donate part of his own liver for the procedure. He was deemed incompatible, but that is some dedication to fandom and friendship. LeDoux located another donor and went on to release two more albums before succumbing to liver cancer in 2005.
    “Look at You, Girl” may be my favorite LeDoux song, but his duet with Jpn Bon Jovi on Jpvi's "Bang a Drum" is a close second. Bon Jovi has been trying hard since 1987 to convince us a New Jersey boy can be a genuine cowboy. I do not know if he truly succeeded, but singing with leDoux certainly boosts his credibility.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Defining Consciousness


     How do you define consciousness?
     I am relieved I am asked to define consciousness rather than explain exactly what it is and how it works. Philosophers and neuroscientists spend their entire careers pondering those questions and come up with nothing concrete in the end. If you would like to endlessly wax poetic on a nebulous subject hardly anyone understands, you have stumbled across. Happy contemplating.
     Consciousness is awareness of yourself and your surroundings. The definition makes consciousness sound like a simple concept, but, as previously mentioned, the brain is greater than the sum of its parts. No one really knows exists. I think it is from a Divine source and cannot be duplicated, but that is my subjective theory. You can wrote some large books about other possibilities. Many extremely intelligent people have. But the odds you can find and prove the true answer are remote.

"Much Too Young"--Garth Brooks


     I made a tongue in cheek reference yesterday to Shania twain and Garth Brooks largely deserving either the credit or blame for the surging crossover success of country music in the early '90's. It seems only fair to offer up Twain and Brooks songs back-to-back to help guide one through making the judgment.
   Long before Brooks become a full fledged weirdo with his Chris Gaines act and even longer before becoming the Las Vegas lounge act he is now, he actually played a little country music. Over his skyrocketing career prior to going off the deep end, Brooks evolved from a country singer to a rock star in a cowboy hat. I actually like much of his songs through the mid-'90's. But his older stuff feels much more traditional.
   “Much Too Young” is a fine example. Brooks is an aging, beaten up rodeo rider—a common theme of his—whose wife has left him because of his obsession with the sport. He drinks too much and has an old Chris LeDoux tape for his only company. No wonder he feels old before his time. But do we all not feel that way at some time or another? Chalk it up to my disabilities or jaded soul, but I been much too old for my age for a long, long time. The song speaks to me more than it reasonably should.
     It would appear Brooks has expanded his war against bootleg recordings of his songs to online hosting sites, because the only version of “Much Too Young” on YouTube is the live performance embedded above. The sound quality is not that great, but it is a blast from the past 1989 television appearance, so there is that.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Animal Self-Awareness


     Is it possible some animals are self-aware and contemplate their ability to think?
     This question sets the bar too high. We cannot tell for certain what any animals is truly thinking. But it is safe to say even the most advanced primates do not ponder deep questions other than humans. If you set the bar a little lower, such as whether some animals can recognize they exist separately from other animals and the environment, then yes, some animals are self-aware.
     Higher primates, dolphins, and some magpies are generally able to recognize themselves in a mirror. Yes, the animal identifying a mirror reflection as itself is the test for self-awareness. When I noted the bar needed to be lowered in order to consider animals self-aware, I was not kidding. Even individual animals of the animal species named above may still fail the mirror test.

"From This Moment On"--Shania Twain


    After two cheating songs ending in murder, perhaps a palette cleanser is in order. How about a country that has become a wedding standard? “From This Moment On” is a beautiful song from the equally beautiful Shania Twain. Twain, along with Garth Brooks, gets a lot of the credit or blame, depending on your viewpoint, for the surge in crossover success for country starting in the late '90's. I have never been a music purist. I like what I like. So I feel comfortable in considering Twain my favorite female vocalist in country music.
     Twain has performed “from This Moment On” with as a duet with a number of artists ranging from Bryan White to the Backstreet Boys. I have yet to hear a bad rendition in any of the performances, but her solo version is still the best. It is the one embedded above. Wow. “From This Moment On” is twenty years old now.
     I like “From This Moment On”, but I am mostly posting it in stark contrast to the previous two songs. You cannot get much further apart from jealous murder over adultery than a pledge of lifetime devotion. But I am more in favor of "Forever and For Always". It is a more upbeat, catchy song. It all really depends on your mood.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Spark of Life


     If every neuron in the human body could be simulated by a compter, would it result in human consciousness?
     No. the brain and the computer function differently. Both can compute, but only the brain can understand. While there are still many unsolved mysteries about human consciousness, it is absolutely a biological process of biochemical reactions and electrical impulses. Even if the process could be simulated by computer, it would not function as the actual process. A simulation cannot causes anything real to happen.
     The bottom line is the human brain is greater than the sum of its parts. Regardless of what that extra something is—a Divine spark or the soul, if you ask me—it cannot be duplicated by a computer simulation.

"She Wore Red Dresses"--Dwight Yoakam


     Yesterday's song, "Pocket Full of Gold" by Vince Gill, was all about a man cheating on a woman. Today we have a woman cheating on a man. The results are exactly the same. It really does not pay to commit adultery in country music, folks. You will only wind up on the wrong end of a gun.
     Along with Gill, Dwight Yoakam is right up there among my favorite male vocalists in country music. I am not normally a big fan of rockabilly, but Yoakam does it so well, it is hard not to love it. He has had some great acting roles in the past, too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Our Individual Fantasy Worlds


     Why are humans so susceptible to magical thinking?
    Because we are escapists. Humans like to escape from the mundane, boring, and often painful lives we live. It is for this same reason we expect an unreal amount of success based on our talents or an impossible level of happiness because we would rather not think the future will be more of the same as our past and or present. Magical thinking is hope without reason. It appears to be a natural defense against despair.

"Pocket Full of Gold"--Vince Gill (with Patty Loveless)


     We got far into country music month before we hit on the first few cheating songs. There is a ton of them out there. So much so, country music is joked about as being all about love gone wrong songs. It is impossible to choose a representative song for the theme, so I am simply going to post my favorite now while scattering a few more out the rest of June. Because there is a lot of them.
     Vince Gill is one of the most talented country singers of all time. He is also my favorite male vocalist in country music. “Pocket Full of Gold' is a haunting song referencing the consequences of a married man hiding his wedding ring away as he looks for another woman. The song implies this is a habitual activity for him that will cost him dearly one day.
      “Pocket Full of Gold is not normally a duet, but Patty Loveless joins Gill for the performance embedded above. I like it too much not to share as the video for this song.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Happiness is a Warm Dopamine


    Is happiness just chemicals floating through your brain or is it something else?
     Happiness is a chemical reaction in the brain in response to a positive event. It is still happiness, though. There is no reason to somehow think emotion is somehow diminished because there is a scientific rather than a magical explanation for it. If something makes you happy, then you are genuinely happy.
     Now that you know you're happy, clap your hands!

"Speed of the Sound of Loneliness"--Nanci Griffith


     I mentioned last month I was a fan of crossover artist Nanci Griffith. I opted to wait and save her for country music month. Now comes the tough part of narrowing down which songs to select. I did not struggle too much in choosing her cover of John Prine's “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.” 
     To the extent I have ever been infatuated with Griffith, she is as cute as ever during this performance.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Nothingness Revisited Again


     There has always been something. Before there was something, there was nothing. Which of these do you think is more likely? The questions regarding reality and the universe are awfully repetitious. One would think there would be much more to ponder within those two subjects. Perhaps it is further proof philosophy is mostly useless.
     The theory before there was something, there was nothing is more likely. At least far as our understanding of the universe is concerned. Since the laws of physics only apply to the universe itself, we know nothing about the nature of what existed prior to the universe. If we could see outside the universe, we would have a better understanding of what existed before and what the universe is expanding into now. But since the universe is likely expanding into nothing, there was probably nothing prior to the universe.

"Jose Cuervo"--Shelly West v. "Whiskey Lullaby"--Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss


     You are getting two for one tonight. Tackling the subject of alcohol in country music could involve any number of songs with all sorts of meanings. I have chosen two that represent polar opposites. It should not be too difficult to fill in the gaps with related songs on the spectrum.
     The spectrum is good time partying with friends on the high end and the true costs of alcoholism on the low For the former, we have “Jose Cuervo” by Shelly West. It is a bouncy song about having a little too much fun with Tequila one night. For the latter, we have 'Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss. It is ethereal haunting song about drinking to forget pain, but winding up committing suicide over destroyed lives.
     Note the themes of the two songs are not mutually exclusive. West's over consumption of tequila causes her to wonder what happened the night before. Did she just make a fool out of herself or start a fight? The only thing she knows for certain is she slept with a man she does not know without protection. The song is upbeat, but the real consequences of the singer's actions are dire. Likewise, “Whiskey Lullaby” shows drinkers in denial attempting to have a good time, maybe convincing themselves they really are enjoying themselves, before reality comes crashing down.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Objectivity Revisited


     Is anything in life objective or is it all subjective?
     We have been over this quite a few times working through this list of philosophical questions. No, there is knowing that can be know objectively. We view reality through our own personal knowledge and experience. Ironically, someone's subjective view can be identical to the objective view, but no one would ever know it is. Weird, but true.

"The Man Comes Around"--Johnny Cash


     Not too many will argue rock and roll is not the devil's music. I am not here to declare country is God's music. There is plenty of evidence it is not. But a certain element of country likes to work christian themes into its songs. There are quite a few taking the apocalyptic route. As I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian environment, I am intimately familiar with the fascination of End Times prophecy. I stay as far away from it as humanly possible these days, but there is still some intriguing things about it.
     Case in point: “The Man Comes around” by Johnny Cash.
    The song was released by cash in 2002. It is one of the last, if not the last, songs he wrote before his death the following year. Many consider his cover of Trent Reznor's "Hurt" to be Cash's somber comment on his inevitable death. While it is certainly a haunting song, I give more credit to “The Man Comes Around.” The idea came to Cash in a dream in which Queen Elizabeth II called him “a thorn tree in a whirlwind.” Cash wondered if this was a Scriptural reference, and discovered a similar phrase in the Book of Job.
     “The Man Comes Around” heavily references the Bible. The spoken parts are read from the King James Version. The King James Version is a particular favorite for more conservative Christians because of its heavy Pre-Millennialist interpretations of the Book of Revelations. There is both a blessing for Christians who read Revelations and a curse on those who misinterpret it. Hence, I avoid the subject after reading the book in order to secure my blessing. But I present the song without commentary. The allusions are easy to reference, if you feel so inclined.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Justify the Victorious


    Justify won the Belmont Stakes this afternoon, thus winning the Triple Crown. It is the second Triple Crown in four years with the last in 2015. There has not been two Triple crown winners in a decade since the '70's. Justify is the thirteenth Triple crown winner over all. He also joins Seattle Slew as one of only two horses to win the Triple Crown undefeated.
   It has been a while since I followed horse racing. I became interested in the sport of kings around 1996 or so when Cigar was shining on the track. Some of the history surrounding, particularly the long running Kentucky Derby and amusing Hollywood connections in particular, is fascinating. It is a rich man's game, so I fell out of interest after a few years to the point I generally forget about horse racing until the Triple crown races. Those are still fun. Maybe Justify will spark a renewed interest for me.
   There is a tie to the current sociopolitical climate and Justify's championship run. Real life James Bond villain George Ssoros is part owner. Considering all the nefarious left-wing projects he funds, one wonder what he might be up to in horse racing? I assume the alt-right has plenty of theories floating around social media already. I shall keep an eye out for the best speculations.

The Order of Entropy

     Is there inherent order in nature or is it all chaos and chance?
     Nature was designed by God, so there an inherent order in it creation. But all things head towards entropy and decay until the end, so the inevitable destination of nature is chaos. If you look at the winding down as part of nature rather than the end, then you should see it all as part of a grand design. But I guess that is a matter of perspective.
    No, I am not a fan of Jordan Peterson. I never cared much for Rick Warren when The Purpose Driven Life was a big fad, either, for what is is worth. People go to such great lengths to deny random things happen that have no particular significance whatsoever. Just embrace the wild ride, folks!

"Deeper Than the Holler"--Randy Travis


     Over a week into examining what country music has to offer and I have yet to post a love song. Maybe the reason is country music is more famous for love gone wrong songs than the brighter side of romance. Randy Travis explains another aspect of why it might be tough for country love songs to exist in “Deeper Than the Holler”--country artists have to sing about the things they know. So travis does.
     Thankfully, he skips the whole “painting her name on a water tower” bit.  "Deeper Than the Holler" is not Travis' most famous love song, either.  As a bonus, here it is--"Forever and Ever, Amen." 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Seeking Truth


   What is the best path to find truth: science, math, philosophy, religion, or something else?
     You will not find absolute truth by taking any one path. Even as a Christian, I believe fallible interpretations of theology have corrupted Christianity so that relying grace is more important than relying on teachings. You can accept what is considered the current truth in any of the categories listed above, but be prepared for things to change.
     But which is best? It depends on what you value most. Just do not take it as the absolute truth all on its own.

"Okie From Muskogee"--Merle Haggard

 

     When your genre of music likes to sing odes to rosy images of small town life in the conservative patriotic South and Heartland, there is bound to be a culture clash with large and liberal metropolitan areas. As what may be the best example, take Merle Haggard's second appearance this month with “Okie From Muskogee.”
   Haggard used to say in interviews he wrote “Okie fFom Muskogee” in 1969 as a response to protesters objecting to the Vietnam War. He was upset young men were fighting and losing their lives for a cause—ambiguous though it might be—while a bunch of kids far out of harm's way complained about it. “Okie from Muskogee” was about how real Americans were patriotic, upstanding citizens.
     Or was it?
    Anyone who listens to the lyrics can surely tell both straitlaced, small town Americans and pot smoking hippies out in San Francisco are being equally spoofed. “Okie From Muskogee" is not quite the redneck anthem it is often made out to be. These days, the song is appreciated by much of the counterculture. It has been covered by pot smoking, hippie bands like the Grateful Dead and the flaming Lips among others.
    But country fans still claim the song as representative of patriotic conservatism. Take from "Okie fFom Muskogee” what you will.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Nothingness Revisited


    If the universe is finite, what lies beyond the edge?
   A void of nothingness It is the same void that existed prior to the universe came into being. This is all theoretical, of course. No one really knows what existed prior to the universe's creation or what lies beyond it. But it seems likely it was not much of anything.

"Sunday in the South"--Shenandoah


    Continuing the theme of mythic small town America, “Sunday in the South” by Shenandoah is a fine example of the specific subset of imagined small Southern towns.
   I grew up in a small town of about 7,500 people in South Carolina. Friday night football was the biggest thing around, Teenagers cruised the Sonic on weekends while adults drank themselves into oblivion in various bars and clubs. On Sunday morning, everyone met in church to compare outfits and pretend they are something other than what they actually are.
    You will not find any of that dichotomy of small town southern life in “Sunday in the South.” It is pretty much an ode to Mayberry of the '50's-'60's set to music. But there is still a bittersweet yearning for the picture it paints of a lazy Sunday morning in the South being reality.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Reality and Existence


      Is it possible for man to fully understand reality and existence?  It is tempting to make the analogy an any cannot comprehend the world, so why would a human think he can comprehend the universe, but that is ridiculous.  Anys lack the capacity to comprehend reality and existence.  Humans can do so.  the questions is can we understand it all?
     I doubt it. Man is such a small part of reality, it seems impossible to believe we could understand everything about it. Reality was created by God's infinite understanding. Reality surely reaches beyond our finite ability to understand at some point. As for understanding existence, we have already discussed our understanding of existence is subjective. If man cannot objectively explain why he exists, then he certainly cannot understand his existence.
     None of this is to say the effort to understand reality and existence is a waste of time. All knowledge and understanding has value. There is no way to know the utmost limit of our understanding, but we have not hit the ceiling yet. Why stop until we do? For that matter, why not try to break through the ceiling when we reach it?

"Americana"--Moe Bandy


     Another frequent characteristic of country music is patriotism. There is a lot of flag waving involved in country music. Along with the patriotism is the myth that Mayberry once existed—a idyllic small town in which everyone got along and there were no problems that could not be solved with the application of a little country common sense. Not a word of it is true, but these songs can certainly make you wish it was.
     There will be another song down the road which will allow me to talk about country music's strong support of the American armed forces. It is a while other topic in and of itself. I could not do the subject justice as a part of a discussion of patriotism in country music.
    I also could have gone the predictable route by using Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA.” As much as I like the song—i can get a chill listening to it in times when our nation comes together for a somber reason—it is overdone. I would rather reintroduce a more obscure, but no less uplifting song like Moe Bandy's 'Americana.” While it feels squarely in the genre of promoting a mythic small town America, the song makes you want to believe its true.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

By the Numbers


     Is mathematics discovered or invented? 
     Mathematics is invented. This is definitely true with the symbols and arguably true with the concepts. Mathematics is the language used to explain the universe. But mathematics has not been perfect. Much of it has been discarded over the years with new aspects being invented as needed. If humans were to disappear, mathematics would no longer exist.
     When dealing with mathematics, there is generally an attitude of “shut up and calculate.” The answer to mathematics problems is the same regardless of the origin theory you accept as true. Mathematicians leave the question of invention versus discovery for the philosophers to pointlessly argue over.

"Pancho and Lefty"--Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard


     The year 1983 was a good one for songs from the early '70's to be covered by bog country artists. Yesterday, we had “Amarillo By morning” covered by George Strait. Today we have “Pancho and Lefty” by the superstar pairing of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
    Like the romanticize of the rodeo life, there is a part of country music that likes to think of itself as outlaws. “Pancho and lefty” is probably the best example of this type song. While loosely based on the life of Pancho Villa, the song tells of a Mexican outlaw named Pancho and his partner, Lefty. Lefty appears to betray Pancho to the federales for money, then heads to the United States to live into old age while pancho is killed.
     Nelson portrays Pancho while Haggard is Lefty.
   “Pancho and Lefty” is a much covered country classic, but none compare to the version by Nelson and Haggard. The song is also cindered one of the wordiest songs in country. But it tells a story. What do you expect? It never drags at any point. It is poetic, sad, and one of my favorites.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Nothingness


     What do you think existed before the universe was created?
    God, of course. He exists outside the universe and enjoys a spiritual status that is not bound by the laws of physics. His status precludes Him from being the sole answer to this question. Mostly, anyway. The laws of physics were born with the universe. But there is more to the answer than God.
     Nothing existed before the universe. By nothing, I mean a void of nothingness. The same void theoretically exists outside the universe now. If the universe is expanding, it is currently into the same nothingness that existed prior to the universe. We will never for certain, because we know nothing about nothingness.
     Ain't that something?

"Amarillo By Morning"--George Strait


     It is a constant, particularly on the more western side of the country-western spectrum, that country singers romanticize taking part in the rodeo. Here we are only four songs into the month and two touch on the rodeo life. Those two will not be the last ones on the list, either. Not all rodeo songs are created equal. The late Chris LeDoux was a real rodeo cowboy before he made it as a singer. Garth Brooks has several songs about the rodeo, but the only thing he has ever ridden was a tour bus. 
     Somewhere in the middle—probably closer to LeDoux than Brooks—is George Strait with "Amarillo by Morning.” The song is frequently played at rodeos 43 years after it was originally released by Terry Stafford and 33 years after the more famous cover version by Strait became a huge hit. This should explain its status among true rodeo cowboys.
     “Amarillo By Morning” is not only considered the best rodeo themed song in country, but arguably on of the best country songs by one of the best country artists of all time. Needless to say, the song is a personal favorite as well.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Know Thyself


    “Know Thyself' is an ancient concept that predates Socrates by centuries. It is a key concept of of philosophy. With that in mind, what are the most important things to learn about oneself? Or is all self-knowledge of equal value?
     All self-knowledge is valuable, but not of equal value. It is certainly more important you learn you hidden talents than it is to discover your favorite ice cream flavor is strawberry. Well, I would weigh the former as a greater bit of personal knowledge than the former. You may prioritize said knowledge as you see fit.
     The most important thing to know about yourself is your own potential. You cannot fully take advantage of life if you do not know what you are capable of accomplishing. At least try to figure out your capabilities even if you never utilize them.

"16th Avenue"--Lacy J. Dalton


     Sixteenth Avenue is otherwise known as Music Row. It is one street in the section of Nashville where all of the record companies, recording studios, music publishers, and industry magazine offices are located. It is the only spot to go if you dream of making it big in country music, so there is a sort of romance to arriving there. The romanticized version of attempting to succeed in country music is exemplified in Lacy J. Dalton's “16th Avenue.”

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Past Tense


     What will your future self remember about your current self?
    My future self will remember a lot of existential angst along with pseudo-intellectual commentary on the doomed human race. He will probably wonder why I never wore a fedora like the other neck beard edge lords, but then he will recall how much I fancied myself an individualist.
     On the lighter side, he will remember I ate a lot of Papa John's pizza and Dr. Pepper in order to fuel my pretentious navel gazing..

"Everything That Glitters is Not Gold"--Dan Seals


     What is the greatest country song of all time? If you want to start a fight down South, declare your opinion on the answer, It does not matter what you say. 'Your Cheating Heart” by Hank Williams, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, or anything in between. Someone will adamantly tell you how wrong you are and how their choice is the undisputed best of all time. It is wisest not to make a declaration, so I will not.
     I will take a less hazardous path and declare my favorite country song within the ears I have previously outlined. “Everything That Glitters is Not Gold” has all the elements of a country classic. There is the rodeo setting, the broken home of love lost, and the sad tone throughout. I still get a chill while becoming immersed in the lyrics. On a personal level...well, looks can be deceiving. Sometimes brutally so.
     I remember the song from my youth. I liked the melody, but I did not earn a full appreciation for the lyrics until I was in my early twenties. By that point, I had been burned a few times by people who came out smelling like a rose. I learned a few hard lessons. Not much has changed in the couple d3cades since. In fact, I have only grown to understand the song's meaning on a deeper level.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Seeking Elusive Meaning


     Where do you think is the most worthwhile place to find meaning in life? Family, religion, philosophy, work, hobbies, the small miracles of life or something else entirely?
     Finding meaning in life is subjective. What is meaningful to you may not resister with me in the slightest. There is no way I can say definitely where best to find meaning. For all I know, there is no meaning to find. Plenty of people seem to get by with the most superficial views of life without bothering to look any deeper. They may be on to something with the tactic.
     I am a Christian, but have not found a satisfactory meaning of life within its theology. I still have all the existential question about the existence of evil and the presence of misfortune. Christianity is the ultimate truth, but is does not grant true enlightenment. There are plenty of Christians who would dispute me. Maybe they have an understanding I do not. But more likely they are experiencing a placebo effect from their beliefs.
     The closest I have come to finding meaning in life is by observing the human experience on both a grand scale and a personal one. This probably accounts for my love of history and my tendency to observe rather than interact with others. Granted, studying history and observing people has made me cynical and sarcastic, but at least I feel like I understand more. So there is how I find my meaning, for whatever it is worth.

"Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?"--George Jones


    There is no low effort title like previous May Music Month, but June will continue the theme of featuring a song a day with a few words on why the song is meaningful in some way. This time around, all the songs will be from country music. It felt like country songs should be separate from the rock and easy listening songs posted last month.
      I am from South Carolina. Aside from three years in Virginia, I have spent my entire life here. Country music is incredibly pervasive. Even if you do not like the genre, you are familiar with it. It is everywhere. Its pervasiveness explains my initial familiarity with it. My parents listened to country music while I was a child too small to develop my own musical tastes. As noted last month, I did not really come into my own until discovering rock and roll in the late '80's. So I am nostalgic for late '70's-early '80's country with highlights from the golden era.
      My interest in rock and roll waned as the genre died in favor of dance, pop, R & B, and rap took over in the early '90's. I am not the only one. There was a surge in the popularity of country during this time as ex-rock fans like me became refugees seeking a new musical home and aspiring rock stars they could wear a cowboy hat or deliver pizzas. For a few years there, country sounded a lot like the rock I enjoyed from the '80's. It obviously could not last as old school country fans rebelled eventually rebelled against the new sound by the late-'90's-early '00's. I abandoned it, too. I nearly dumped new music altogether, but that is probably obvious by now from the music I have already presented.
     So the country songs featured in June will be from the two distinct eras, For the sake of simplicity, I will call it the Neoclassic Era and the Second Urban Cowboy Era. Maybe someone has identified these time periods more appropriately. But I am writing from a personal perspective. Therefore, I am putting my own twist on it. Things should become clear as we go along and I ramble on.
     A good place to start looking back on favorite country songs is a country giant looking back on great country artists and wondering who is going to replace them as country music rolls on? George Jones' musical query “Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” came in the middle of the two eras I described above. My response to Jones' question is the old greats left some big shoes to fill, but the newcomers were worthy successors.