Archive | December 2012

Pranks and what shouldn’t have been

I’ve been reading about the 2DayFM DJs and their prank call to the hospital in which the Duchess of Cambridge was staying for treatment. Much as you’d expect, there are some parts of the media calling for the severe discipline of these two young people and another part rather pompously justifying their actions and telling the rest of us to just calm down because they’re not really to blame.

Blame is the thing, though, isn’t it? I imagine the family and friends of the nurse who seems to have taken her own life as a result of this debacle would feel like blaming someone for what happened, if only to help make sense of what would otherwise seem a senseless loss.

Blame seems to be apportioned in increasingly stupid ways in this case. You could blame the two DJs for making the call, but then they are just a couple of people trying to be amusing for our benefit, or at least the benefit of their employers’ advertising revenue. They claim they weren’t trying to be invasive of privacy, in fact they claim they were surprised their inept antics weren’t spotted immediately and the call terminated. They also claim that the decision to air the call was made by people higher up the chain of production, which is undoubtedly true, and so it’s really not their fault that any harm resulted from the call.

So yes, it was the 2DayFM management that are really responsible for the call being aired, but of course they claim that they haven’t broken any laws so really they’re not in the wrong. They tried, they claim, five times to contact the Hospital and couldn’t get through to anyone. The Hospital claim they received no calls. To my mind, at least, the decision by management to opt to seek forgiveness rather than permission and air the call anyway was cavalier, to say the least. Irresponsible, definitely. But their actions can be justified by the fact that they are simply trying to make their product stand out in a competitive marketplace. So it’s not exactly their fault, either.

The nurse who took the call and forwarded it through to the nurse treating the Duchess could be blamed for making an error of judgement. People will tend not to, quite rightly, because we’re all entitled to make mistakes and after all, this is the BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY we’re talking about here. The pressure of dealing with the Monarchy in person, combined with the pressure nurses are under just in their everyday course of duty must have been huge. Hence, if this error of judgement really led to that nurse taking her own life as is being suggested then it’s hardly surprising. I’m not much of a monarchist but I am a professional person and I would feel pretty awful if I allowed a breach in privacy like that to happen. So she’s not really to blame, either.

Then who is to blame? Everyone seems to be looking around for someone to pillory over this incident, but unsurprisingly they are looking in the wrong place. Instead of looking all around, they should be looking within. We’re all to blame for what’s happened. Every time we partake of the culture of celebrity we’re enabling these kinds of events to occur. Every time we gossip about people we don’t know personally for no reason other than that the details of their lives seem more interesting than our own, we enable these kinds of events to occur. Many Australian journalists are making merry with the irony of the UK media being up in arms over this in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry. It’s as if they’ve never seen hypocrisy before. So much of the media is occupied with gossip, celebrity or otherwise, that it’s all some people ever talk about. Numerous people make a living out of making the regular lives of people sound salacious and entertaining. Of course even more people feed off this information, become absorbed by it. The really awful part of it all, apart from the “dumbing down” of society that seems to be accompanying this trend towards gossip (which, I acknowledge has been happening for at least a few centuries – and ironically really took off  during the “Enlightenment”), is the fact that an industry has been created merely to perpetuate the process. Huge sums of money are being wasted on this kind of information. Who benefits from it? Am I a better person for knowing who, or indeed what, “Snooki” is? Of course not. The only people who benefit are those who profit from it. Everyone else is just a greasy little cog in a dirty big machine.

It’s absurd. That’s the best description for it. Not only does the inane nature of popular media result in moronic pranks like the one that sparked this all off, subsequent moronic behaviour acts as tinder to set the incident ablaze. When lives are threatened, damaged and lost because we live in a world where there’s apparently nothing better for people to think about than taking the piss out of other people they’ve never met and shouldn’t have any business interfering with, it is absurd. That the people who actually profit from this absurdity actually refuse to see that there’s anything wrong with that, and indeed retort that they should be able to do whatever they like to whomever they like and can pay for the privilege, that’s absurd.

Where is the meaning in any of this? Why should we tolerate it? Comments are welcome.

Bass is best #1

I’ve been trying to think of a way that I can introduce an element of my own musicality to this blog, besides the earlier post I wrote on another blog. In particular, I want to talk about bass, and why I love it so much.

I’m going to refer to this love of mine as “bass”, rather than limiting myself to any one particular bass or bass-clef instrument, because in reality a great many different forms of bass have influenced my appreciation of the low notes.

So what’s likely to happen is I will put links to other people’s media and tell you why I love that particular  bass part, musician or instrument. If you’ve managed to find your way to my blog because of an interest in fishing, then Hi there! As much as I do enjoy fishing I don’t know enough about it to write anything very meaningful on the topic.

For this first entry, which will be a little more lengthy than the ones I have planned for the future, I will begin by describing my earliest musical memories. In my family it’s common knowledge that the kind of music that first caught my imagination was what I described as “funny music”. At the tender age of what must have been very young (I don’t know exactly but by the way my elder sister giggles about it I’m thinking probably two or three years old) I was exposed to what I now understand to be Trad and Dixieland Jazz. I know what I loved about it; I loved the raucous, unbridled sounds of all those instruments playing what often seemed not only distinct, but unrelated parts together in a glorious cacophony. The shuffling drums, the noodling clarinets, the piercing trumpets and the occasional joyous vocal part. But most of all, it was the trombone that really caught my attention. The versatility of sounds it produced, especially muted, and the sliding between notes that gave the lines such fluidity and added a little element of sound that cut in over everything else. The trom part in the chorus of Tiger Rag, for example, still elicits some of the same frisson of joy I first experienced upon listening to it all those years ago. I had one cassette tape of funny music that I listened to for a good couple of decades before I had to admit defeat and accept that I couldn’t possibly repair it any more than I had already. It was called Trad, Dixieland and all that Jazz by the Adrian Ford Big Band. So the trombone was my first bass love, I suppose, even though in that early jazz it wasn’t limited to holding down the bottom end, as there was often a tuba or double bass to do that job. Even back then I was acutely aware of the walking bass lines that meandered through the murky lower frequencies of those songs, and now that I own and play a double bass I have an appreciation of just what a mammoth task it must have been to try and penetrate the huge sound being generated by the rest of the band.

My parents’ record collection was a mish-mash of music that didn’t stray too far into the 20th Century. I don’t remember all of it, but I do seem to recall musing one day that perhaps the most contemporary compositions were West Side Story and I’m sure there was an album by The Seekers in there too. I only listened to the Bernstein. I once asked my Mum what her favourite music was, and after giving it considerable thought she replied “Church music”. So there’s a hint. My Dad was into musical theatre. Lots of Gilbert and Sullivan. So funny music did the trick, along with listening to pop music on the radio (usually past my bedtime, with the volume at its lowest setting and my ear pressed up to the speaker). I will write a post later about how some of the records featuring various “classical” music performances also gave me a bass buzz.

The other source of bass inspiration came from television theme songs. I’ve thought about it, and I’ve narrowed the list of the most influential down to five. Here they are:

So, #5: The Sesame Street Pinball animation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1y5ZP1E_Vzs&feature=fvst

I know it’s technically not a theme song, but it featured often enough in classic Sesame Street and was influential enough on me to make the list. This version has the steel drum solo, which was amazing but I recall solos being taken on a variety of instruments during the middle section. But what a bass line! Funky and syncopated… I’ve since learned that these little interludes started in 1976 and that it’s in fact the Pointer Sisters on vocals. This link will refer you to a letter from Walt Kraemer, the composer, that was written in response to enquiries about this piece. Rumours abounded at one stage that it was the work of Herbie Hancock, or even Frank Zappa. Anyway, probably the oldest TV bass earworm for me.

#4: Monkey

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mBk-WJ31BE

This series had some great bass lines, and the theme tune is one of the best. It has some complexity to it, whilst sitting on the rhythm for most of the verse it’s then let free to explore its own little rhythmic melody before the chorus, with those disco-esque octave runs. I love it, quality music all the way through.

#3: Grange Hill

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SlvZF6k5bE

I loved this show as a kid, and its theme still stands out as being a really bass-heavy song. The actual melody is pretty sparse, and that almost sleazy doubled-up bass line grooves along very nicely indeed.

#2: The Goodies

Bill Oddie’s influence probably needs a post of its own. All I should say is “Needed, needed, Oh Goody that’s niiiice” and people in the know will get my meaning.

#1: Dr. Who

Undoubtedly a big part of the reason I also came to love electronic music, the theme to Dr. Who, in particular the renditions from the late 70s and early 80s, stands out as one of the truly triumphant bass lines. Properly creepy, too. The new Dr. Who (or Dr. Who Lite, as I like to think of it) theme just doesn’t do it justice. If your pants weren’t scared off by the opening credits you weren’t watching Dr. Who.

Honourable mention: Blake’s 7. Also really creepy, made excellent use of the brass contingent of the bass family.

Dishonourable mention: Seinfeld. Yes, I can play it. No, I won’t play it.

What Evil is

So anyway, is there some sort of scale of badness that culminates at “Evil”? I think it’s generally accepted that evil is the worst kind of bad but I still feel that it’s not terribly well defined. In a strictly dichotomous sense, it’s the opposite of “Good”, but there are numerous superlative terms that exceed “good” in their representation of goodness. If we go back to the concept of a scale, then it might be possible to talk about Good and Evil in strictly paradigmatic terms, so that on one end is the most Evil thing/act imaginable, and at the other end the most Good thing/act imaginable.

Presumably, then, in the middle is “Neutral”, neither Good nor Evil. I’m struggling to think of something that would fall under that category. Beige, maybe. The vacuum of space. Ricky Ponting’s retirement. I really don’t know.

The thing about this scale (which, incidentally is making me think of this which is very distracting) is how it can be made divisible. How much easier is it to define “slightly good” than “slightly evil”? How much further up the scale of Good is “Fantastic” than “Wonderful”? This, at least, is relatively easy to answer. What’s happened is those two words in particular, but also “Awesome” and “Brilliant” and others, have ended up being misappropriated by lazy and unimaginative language users and mixed into a slurry of words that in some sense or other relate to the relative goodness of something. That’s not what they meant originally, it’s just how they’ve come to be used.

So let’s return to the paradigms: At one end of the scale is the most evil thing/act of which one can conceive, and at the other is the most good thing/act of which one can conceive. Now, St. Anselm, in his Proslogion presented his ontological proof of God’s existence. The gist of it, if you can’t be bothered following the link to Wikipedia, is that if God is something than which nothing greater can be conceived, then surely it’s greater if such a thing exists in reality. Ergo, God exists in reality. QED. Atheists and other philosophers (such as myself) like to poke fun at this argument in all sorts of imaginative and entertaining ways. But then atheists also like to quote Epicurus in somewhat unfair terms because it suits their needs. Both arguments fall down in similar ways but you know those kooky atheists, they just don’t care. When there’s a cheap shot to be had, they’ll have it, by gum! (Just as an aside, the sport of atheist baiting, whilst generally thought to be outlawed under anti-trolling legislation no-one really takes seriously, is actually a wholesome sport the whole family can enjoy. Why not give it a try?)

I don’t know how helpful it is to draw a comparison between Anselm and our scale of Good and Evil, except to say that by using this same logic, if the most Evil thing of which one could conceive actually happened in the world, then it would actually be the most Evil thing, and therefore the real definition of Evil itself. The same applies to the notion of Good.

“Ah ha!” I hear you exclaim, “This notion of what is Good and what is Evil is entirely subjective! There’s no way humanity could possibly agree upon what’s most Good or most Evil!”

Well, quite.

Let’s take humanity out of the equation, then. Let’s try and conceive of what is Good and what is Evil in a universe minus humanity.

Tricky… How about just trying to conceive of the universe minus humanity?

Can’t be done. Mr. Descartes told us that at the end of the day, the mere presence of a “thinking thing” to ask the question “So, this is nothingness, eh?” proves that it’s not really nothingness.

So, the “Problem of Evil“. When taken out of a human context, it ceases to be a problem. It’s quite possible to conceive of a universe existing without human beings around to observe it, but utterly impossible to conceive of a universe in which either Good or Evil exist without human beings around to make judgments about the goodness or evilness of things.

Good and Evil are not creations of God, they are concepts created by humans. Some humans at some points in history have believed actions they took to be entirely Good, whereas others thought they were Evil. Taken out of human context, they are merely actions. We don’t call tigers evil for killing and eating furry animals, even human animals, furry or otherwise. But Hannibal Lechter? Evil as an EVIL THING. Strangely, cannibalism in “primitive cultures” generally isn’t seen as evil, just “primitive”. Hitler is generally attributed responsibility for the deaths of around six million people, and is thought to be Evil personified. The Spanish ‘flu pandemic claimed nearly 50 million lives but isn’t considered evil. Why? Because we believe Hitler was motivated to do bad things, whereas the ‘flu virus is just a virus, and doesn’t have motivations.

Perspective is everything.

So, in the end, what has been the point of this little ramble? Just to address these ideas of Good and Evil and give them some perspective. Calling someone or something (e.g. a country or government) Good or Evil is meaningless, because those terms rely upon a moral point of view that is far from universal. Besides, you can’t have one without the other, and in the space between these two opposite concepts are innumerable other concepts that better and more effectively describe the world around us. We’re better off trying to explore those concepts and the vocabulary that go with them, than to try and paint the world in black and white.

Ramble on!

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