ddrummer realtime

free counters

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ants crawl into the holes in my computer and then crawl out from behind the “R” key or the number 8.

WHERE I WRITE #14: A Green Room in Gujarat
NEELANJANA BANERJEE BIO ↓ · July 27th, 2011 · filed under RUMPUS ORIGINAL


The wall in front of the desk is a greenish turquoise. The painters came and finished the whole flat in just a few hours, and you can see where the paint-soaked rag dripped a little. There are green curtains on the window and I keep them pulled, except when I move them aside to water the succulents on the windowsill. Or to watch the women carry baskets of rocks on their heads at the construction site across the street.

My desk was 100 rupees and is oblong and wobbly, only three perfectly stacked coins—one penny and two fifty-cent paisa pieces—will get it straight. My moleskine, a review copy of Aamer Hussein's The Cloud Messenger and Tantric Visions of the Feminine Divine, which I picked up at an overstuffed bookstore in Varanasi, sit on one end. Ants crawl into the holes in my computer and then crawl out from behind the "R" key or the number 8. I draw slanting lines around my desk with a magic insect-killing chalk named after my favorite scene from The Ramayana, when Lakshman draws a circle in the dirt around his brother's wife in order to keep her safe. Just like in the story, it doesn't really work.

Ahmedabad, Gujarat is dripping sweat and the crunch of grit between my back teeth. In May, it was 110 degrees for two weeks straight. The first night we're here, I wrapped a wet towel around my neck, and lodged another one under my breasts. The ceiling fan seemed to move like a propeller stuck in seaweed. Everywhere my husband touched me, the sweat pooled and I turned away, so he didn't see me cry. I wanted to go back to Kolkata, where we'd been for six months, or San Francisco, where I'd been for 10 years. I wanted a book locked in the storage place on Van Ness. I wanted to pull a hat down over my ears as I walked around Bernal Hill. I wanted to have chai with a poet I'd left behind in Kolkata. At dawn, I was still cataloguing my desires. My skin was covered with salt. My ankles were swollen. That's when I wandered into the green room and sat down at the desk in my damp underwear.

It was my idea to come to India. I wanted to sit with my grandmother and write down all the secrets that she never told anyone else. I wanted to find the tree, under which, my father said he first fell in love with my mother. I wanted to solve the existential immigrant mystery of whom I could have been if they hadn't left. But then my grandmother died. None of us were even there when they paraded her body around the village, so everyone could pay their respects. A stranger lit the flame to her funeral pyre. We had joked about it on the phone the last time I spoke to her. "Don't go anywhere," I had said. "I'm finally coming."

In San Francisco, I would sit at my cluttered desk in our apartment on Folsom Street and try to salvage something from the pages and pages of words I had churned out in graduate school, in summer workshops, trying to find some guidance from the piles of earnest, typed-up notes that were someone else's homework. But mostly I just stared up at the tin hearts and wooden Milagros I collected from trips to Mexico, or to visit my brother in El Paso. Annie Dillard says that when revising, you might have to bring down a bearing wall—the one holding everything else up. "What are you?" she asks in The Writing Life. "A woman, or a mouse?" I would sit in coffee shops on 24th Street, drinking pots of green tea as I tried to shatter the draft of a story—The Story, the one I knew needed to be broken open to survive, and in it's survival be possibly good, maybe even great. Mouse, mouse, mouse, I berated myself. I sat on the couch in the dank teacher's lounge at Ida B. Wells, which smelled of creamy salad dressing and roach motels, and scribbled down lines about the way the city tumbled down from the crest of Alamo Square. Before that, I wrote in furious bursts late into the night in my room on 20th Street in a house full of girls. There was a poster of Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" taped to the wall in front of me, so when I stopped writing I would look up and try to find all the dark-skinned creatures, who seemed sometimes evil and sometimes helpless. In the winter, I had to keep my coat on because my space heater would blow the circuit. Before that, I wrote at my desk in a crumbling newspaper office on Sacramento and Grant, after everyone else had left for the day. When I left, the streets would be sticky with the disinfectant they spray Chinatown down with every night. When I first got to the city, I walked 20 blocks to the brown crumbling ruins of Sutro Baths and wrote poems on the edge of everything I had ever known.

In Kolkata, my grandmother's absence had filled my lungs to bursting. We spent the first two weeks trying to buy a desk, but they were either too expensive or too cheap. I tried to sit and write at the kitchen table, but the woman who used to cook for my grandmother came everyday at noon and asked me an endless stream of pointed questions: You're so old, when are you going to have a baby? (She was 15 when she had her first of three daughters.) Does your husband beat you? (Hers does sometimes, but not too bad.) Where you come from, does everyone have electricity? (She's been saving up, but with three daughters to marry off, electricity is the last thing on the list.)

Eventually the guy we bought our cell phones from, who also runs an interior design business, sent someone over to build me a desk. It sits right next to my grandmother's altar, where she used to do an elaborate prayer ritual every morning for hours. To write, I sat in the chair she used to pray in, but the distraction persisted. The story was sealed tight against me, as though it had been shellacked with some magic solution. So, I pretended to write while my husband played his tablas in the other room, or when he went to teach music to children whose legs are different lengths because polio hasn't been eradicated here. Eventually, I gave up on The Story. Instead, I jogged around the lake behind the apartment where couples, who sat hunched on every hidden bench, looked at my sweatpants suspiciously. I'd walk three blocks to buy eggs, coconut juice, papayas, sweet yogurt and newspapers. I took the metro to North Kolkata to follow a poet around alleys that smelled like ink, lined with hundreds of independent publishing companies, churning out books in Bengali that I couldn't read. At dusk, I wandered around the campus of the medical college where my parents met. I visited my widowed aunt in the French colonial town where my mother grew up and watched a tiny boy try to teach himself to ride a bicycle twice his size on the field next to the house.

Back in my grandmother's apartment, I sat down at the desk and tried to submerge into the writing. I set an egg timer to five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes and wrote down fragments of what I saw on the crowded pathway of the Gariahat Market, or about that time on Valencia Street when we were on mushrooms and shot Ryan's crossbow into a building before dissolving ourselves in the tiny cups of poison at La Rondalla. I began a poem series about the dreams of street dogs. I started a novel about a self-storage space in Ohio, where a heroin addict, a Goddess, a cheerleader and a former Naxalite intersect. But nothing stuck. After the timer buzzed, I would wander to the window, where two crows had made a nest in the Neem Tree. I laid crackers on the windowsill and the male bird came. He would turn his head this way and that to look me in the eye.

But, on the other side of India, on the other side of the world, in the green room, I somehow found a way in. I write still half-asleep, my legs sticking to the particle-board chair. In the Green Room, I look up and five hours have passed. I leave the door open, but ignore the steady stream of people who come in and out of the apartment. I don't speak Gujarati, so I shake my head if someone walks by—the man who delivers water, or the woman who wants our trash to feed to her buffaloes. The inability to communicate is like a key in a lock. Or maybe it's the sweat lubricating everything. Or maybe it's all the things I want that are someplace else—that bittersweet taste of loneliness in the back of my mouth. Whatever it is, in the Green Room, the story starts to come apart like it's been submerged under water. Hunched and half-naked, I conducted a massacre, devouring babies, hacking paragraphs, peeling off sentences like sun burnt skin. And now, slowly, as the hottest months of my existence morph into a hesitant monsoon, I'm putting the pieces back together again.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What we seem to have done is to try to keep intelligence constant, rather than sacrificing it

PEOPLE FROM POLAR REGIONS HAVE BIGGER BRAINS

They're not more intelligent, but the bigger brain (and eyeball) size permits better vision in areas with less sunlight.

By Jennifer Viegas 
Tue Jul 26, 2011 07:00 PM ET 
( ) Comments | Leave a Comment
THE GIST
  • The higher in latitude a person lives, the bigger his or her brain and eyeballs will be, according to new research.
  • The larger brains and eyeballs lend better visual acuity in areas that receive less sunlight than equatorial regions.
  • The additional brain matter is needed for the extra visual processing.
Inuit children
Inuit children in the Arctic. Research shows that people native to polar regions have larger brains to accommodate better vision in their low-light native regions. Click to enlarge this image. 
Getty Images
People who live in high latitude regions have bigger eyeballs and brains than other individuals, according to new research.
The increase in brain and eye size allows people to see better in places that receive less light than areas closer to the equator, according to the new study, published in the latest issue of the journal Royal Society Biology Letters.
The effect is most extreme at the poles.
"Someone living on the Arctic Circle would have an eyeball that is 20 percent larger than someone living on the equator," co-author Robin Dunbar told Discovery News.
"People living at high latitudes have greater visual acuity than those who live at the equator," added Dunbar, who is head of the Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford.
"The whole point is that they need to have better vision to compensate for the lower light levels at high latitudes, as indicated by the evidence we provide that visual acuity under ambient/natural light conditions remains constant with latitude."
For the study, Dunbar and colleague Eiluned Pearce measured the skulls of 55 individuals from 12 different populations, focusing on the dimensions for orbital volume and cranial capacity. The people lived about 200 years ago. Their skulls are now part of collections housed at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the University of Cambridge's Duckworth Collection.
The researchers found significant positive relationships between absolute latitude, orbital volume and brain size. Eyeballs varied in size from around a quarter to a third of an ounce in volume.
The brains, in turn, ranged from about 40.6 ounces for Micronesians, on the low end of the size spectrum, and 50.2 ounces for Scandinavians on the high end.
Skulls from Arctic Circle residents were not included, but the researchers made the "20 percent larger" estimate based on their existing data.
The scientists are quick to point out that brain size isn’t necessarily correlated with intelligence.
"The point we’re trying to make is that the larger brains of high latitude humans doesn’t mean they're smarter, it just means they have increased the size of brain areas dedicated to vision, and this has increased brain size overall," Pearce explained.
As for the larger eyeballs, they permit smaller proportions of images to fall upon each photoreceptor field so that more details can be distinguished. The amount of light hitting Earth's surface as well as minimum day length decrease with increasing absolute latitude, so people living in such areas need the visual boost.
The effect has previously been demonstrated before in birds and other primates, but this new study is the first to show how it affects humans.
The findings could help to explain why Neanderthals and their ancestors may have had larger brains than us. Although possibly technically brainier, they were not necessarily any more intelligent.
Since higher latitudes come with colder temperatures, the researchers ruled out increases in eyeball and brain size due to more insulating fat. Only light exposure explained the size differences, even when climate was factored in.
The study demonstrates just how resilient and adaptable humans and other animals can be.sc
"As we see it," Dunbar said, "populations occupying higher latitudes have three options: keep eyes and the brain the same and accept poorer visual acuity, increase the size of the visual areas to keep visual acuity the same but keep brain size the same, or increase the visual areas, but conserve the size of the frontal parts of the brain, and do this by increasing total brain size."
"It seems we have done the third," he concluded, "since the frontal parts of the brain are the 'smart' areas in terms of IQ. What we seem to have done is to try to keep intelligence constant, rather than sacrificing it."

Your present exists at the mercy of many overlapping pasts. So where, then, is "now"?

The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile captured this striking view of the nebula around the star cluster NGC 1929 within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way separated by a mere 179,000 light years.
EnlargeManu Mejias/ESO
The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile captured this striking view of the nebula around the star cluster NGC 1929 within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way separated by a mere 179,000 light years.
The night sky is a time machine. Look out and you look back in time. But this "time travel by eyesight" is not just the province of astronomy. It's as close as the machine on which you are reading these words. Your present exists at the mercy of many overlapping pasts. So where, then, is "now"?
As almost everyone knows, when you stare into the depths of space you are also looking back in time. Catch a glimpse of a relatively nearby star and you see it as it existed when, perhaps, Lincoln was president (if it's 150 light-years away). Stars near the edge of our own galaxy are only seen as they appeared when the last ice age was in full bloom (30,000 light-years away). And those giant pinwheel assemblies of stars called galaxies are glimpsed, as they existed millions, hundreds of millions or evenbillions of years in the past.
We never see the sky as it is, but only as it was.
Stranger still, the sky we see at any moment defines not a single past but multiple overlapping pasts of different depths. The star's image from 100 years ago and the galaxy image from 100 million years ago reach us at the same time. All of those "thens" define the same "now" for us.
 
The multiple, foliated pasts comprising our present would be weird enough if it was just a matter of astronomy. But the simple truth is that every aspect of our personal "now" is a layered impression of a world already lost to the past.
To understand how this works, consider the simple fact, discussed in last week's post, that all we know about the world comes to us via signals: light waves, sound waves and electrical impulses running along our nerves. These signals move at a finite speed. It always takes some finite amount of time for the signal to travel from the world to your body's sensors (and on to your brain).
A distant galaxy, a distant mountain peak, the not very distant light fixture on the ceiling and even the intimacy of a loved one's face all live in the past. Those overlapping pasts are times that you — in your "now" — are no longer a part of.
Signal travel time constitutes a delay and all those overlapping delays constitute an essential separation. The inner world of your experience is, in a temporal sense, cut off from the outer world you inhabit.
Let's take a few examples. Light travels faster than any other entity in the physical universe, propagating with the tremendous velocity of c = 300,000,000 m/s. From high school physics you know that the time it takes a light signal moving at c to cross some distance D is simply t = D/c.
When you look at the mountain peak 30 kilometers away you see it not as it exists now but as it existed a 1/10,000 of a second ago. The light fixture three meters above your head is seen not as it exists now but as it was a hundred millionth of a second ago. Gazing into your partner's eyes, you see her (or him) not for who they are but for who they were 10-10 of a second in the past. Yes, these numbers are small. Their implication, however, is vast.
We live, each of us, trapped in our own now.
The simple conclusions described above derive, in their way, from relativity theory and they seem to spell the death knell for a philosophical stance called Presentism. According to Presentismonly the present moment has ontological validity. In other words: only the present truly exists; only the present is real.
Presentism holds an intuitive sway for many people. It just feels right. For myself, when I try and explore the texture of my own experience, I can't help but feel a sense of the present's dominance. Buddhism, with its emphasis on contemplative introspection, has developed a sophisticated presentist stance concerning the nature of reality. "Anyone who has ever mediated for anytime" the abbot of a Zen monastery once told me "finds that the past and future are illusions."
Yes, but ...
The reality that even light travels at a finite speed forces us to confront the strange fact that, at best, the present exists at the fractured center of many overlapping pasts.
So where, then, are we in time? Where is our "now" and how does it live in the midst of a universe comprised of so many "thens"?
 

Last rays of sun on the aft deck


Taken at Whale Song

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Swan" leaving for San Diego, Mexico and the South Pacific


Taken at Boat Haven (Port of Port Angeles)

Sammy had a sleepover on the top deck

Fingertips is a web site that scours the internet looking for the best free and legal MP3s. Each week, three songs are reviewed in detail.

Radiation City

“THE COLOR OF INDUSTRY”

This one hits the sweet spot in which DIY sensibility and serious pop know-how—not to mention the 20th and 21st centuries—magically blend. Even as the vocals are processed into an AM-radio-ish and/or’40s-cartoon-ish kind of tinny chipperness, the music feels stout and committed, with its precise, multifaceted groove, its purposefully constructed vibe, and the accumulated grandeur of what the band throws at us over the course of four minutes.
I call your particular attention to the interplay we hear between the rather cheesy organ and a swaying, swelling chorus of trombones beginning at 2:23—an entirely unnatural pairing that is made to sound entirely natural. When this gives way at 2:57 to, of all things, the warm strum of a simple acoustic guitar, the surprise might blow the mind except that it also strikes the ear as exactly what was then required.
Radiation City is a quartet from Portland, Oregon. “The Color of Industry” is a song from the album The Hands That Take You, originally self-released on cassette in February, coming out in a more standard release in September on Tender Loving Empire, the Portland-based arts collective/record label/retail store run by Jared Mees, last seen around these parts back inFebruary.
Mates of State

“MARACAS” – MATES OF STATE

For all its breezy boppiness and off-and-on funkiness, “Maracas” is one sturdy and involved piece of more-than-synth pop. Despite significant changes along the way in feel, structure, rhythm, melody, arrangement, and even vocals, the song pretty much flits by. You don’t have to notice much if you don’t want to; I saw a recent blog post elsewhere that called the song “dancey,” which, okay, great, I guess it kind of is. But also kind of isn’t. There’s not just one thing going on here; sections more or less bump into each other (for one example, how exactly does the intro introduce this song?), melodies don’t necessarily relate from one part to another, and in the end a whole is somehow created out of nothing you can quite put your finger on.
Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, together musically now for 14 years, and married since 2001, perform with such great offhand command that “Maracas” doesn’t sound written as much as discovered. Moments with an off-the-cuff feel become near hooks—such as Gardner’s vocal leap on the words “I’m taking you back” (0:59)—and the overall song acquires an elusive sort of momentum as we shift from funk to dance-rock, a move signaled by a synth break bordering on the goofy (2:00). The synth parts here are all a bit goofy, come to think of it, and this turns out to be a fine thing—I like when a band takes advantage of the synthesizer’s inherently (let’s be honest) silly sound.
“Maracas” is a track from Mates of State’s forthcoming album, Mountaintops, due in September on Barsuk Records. This will be the duo’s seventh full-length album, including 2010′s all-covers album, Crushes. MP3 via Barsuk. The couple lives in Connecticut with their two daughters. Gardner also writes on parenting issues in a blog called Band on the Diaper Run. Mates of State were previously featured on Fingertips in 2006.
Gabriel Kahane

“LAST DANCE” – GABRIEL KAHANE

This is one of the more challenging songs I’m likely to post here on Fingertips, where the emphasis is typically on easy-to-love immediacy. This time, I’m asking you to sit through a minute and a half of prickly, unsettled music—first a meandering melody, voice and electric guitar in a kind of convoluted fugue, next (0:48) a glitchy, horn-backed section with an equally uncentered melody, marked by brisk, blurty vocal runs. The lyrics are somewhat difficult to follow but appear to be about a woman whose husband has died and now finds herself back on the dating scene; the agitated music—far more resembling composer music than singer/songwriter music—exists, I’m guessing, to reflect her state of mind.
But then the character excuses herself from her date, locks herself in a bathroom stall, and starts singing. The music (1:35) breathes itself into different place, into something that seems like a chorus, and a deeply satisfying one at that. You the listener can relax now; the song is accessible from this point onward. This chorus-like element repeats five times through the remainder of the piece, and while still a tad complex—I, for one, can’t quite discern the time signatures in play here—this is seriously wonderful stuff, a sign of just what can become of pop music when someone equally schooled in classical music gets his or her hands on it. The hook—and there is one, in my mind—happens with the alternate melody line delivered at the end of each chorus repetition, when Kahane jumps from “All I want is your face” to “All I want is a last dance.” His is a warm, pliable voice—”untrained,” in classical parlance—and the repeated falsetto leaps happen easily and expressively, but with repetition gain an edge of desperation, suggesting the imagined but unreceived (because impossible) release the song’s lead character seeks.
Kahane writes stuff like this because he is not your everyday rock’n'roller. Son of acclaimed concert pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane, Kahane the younger has taking his classical training in a variety of post-postmodern directions, trafficking in art songs, musical theater, jazz, and something partially but not entirely resembling indie singer/songwriter fare, among other things. He was previously featured on Fingertips in August 2008, when his first, self-titled album of (perhaps a better label) singer/composer songs was about to be released. “Last Dance” is from his second such effort, entitled Where Are The Arms, which is arriving in September on 2nd Story Sound Records.
In advance of the official end of the Fingertips summer hiatus, I will ease back into the online present with a headlong dive into the past, via a new Flashback. This one seems somehow to align itself sonically with the languorous weather in which so many of us are engulfed—there’s an air of torpor and melancholy here, but also something of a sweet escape. Lie back and be engulfed.

Elanors

“SHE HAD A DREAM” – ELANORS

[from November 13, 2006]
Don’t miss the opening combination of insistent drumming and sugary strings, an uncommon juxtaposition that lends a curious vibe to this idiosyncratic and gorgeous piece of music. The Chicago-based duo Elanors, featuring singer/pianist Noah Harris and wife Adriel Harris on guitar and backing vocal, paint big orchestral pictures of a familiar-seeming yet singular variety. (For the CD, Elanors have borrowed two players from the band Judah Johnson, for whom Noah plays keyboards.) Brian Wilson comes to mind, partly because of the orchestral aspirations, but mostly because of just how in-its-own-world this song seems. Having spent a certain amount of time reacquainting myself with Pet Sounds in recent weeks, I was struck anew by how thoroughly peculiar a sonic reality it presents, a peculiarity rooted somewhere in the marriage of the songs he wrote, the voice he sung them in, and the instruments he employed and how he employed them. With Elanors, a similar sort of splendid peculiarity is in the air. Note for instance the drumming again, which with or without the strings is just plain unusual, keeping up as it does a unflagging but continuously inventive triplet rhythm, three beats for each beat of the 4/4 measure, until the very end (oh and don’t miss too that point, at 3:57, when the drum actually stops, just seconds before the end of the song; it’s almost a revelation). “She Had a Dream” is a song from the band’s second CD, Movements, released last month on Parasol Records. The MP3 is via Parasol.
ADDENDUM: The band seems to have been a one-off effort; Movements was the one and only album, and there is nary a word written about them online since the days of post-album promotion.

Blog Archive