Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Word to the DFW Crew

Somebody please go dance your socks off with Z-Trip at Suite. I can't. I have two exams the next day.

Things that Make Me Go "Hmm"

This passage contains one of the most apt (aptest?) metaphors for time that I've ever encountered. I thought I'd share it with you; this comes from William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily."

"They held the funeral on the second day, with the town coming to look at Miss Emily beneath a mass of bought flowers, with the crayon face of her father musing profoundly above the bier and the ladies sibilant and macabre; and the very old men --some in their brushed Confederate uniforms--on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years," (emphasis mine).

Augustine argued that one couldn't measure time because it's always slipping into the past--it "pertains to non-being." A few hundred years later Einstein came along and explained its slipperiness as relativity to space. Those guys dealt with the mechanics of time, if you will, but I think Faulkner tells us something about the meaning of time. He tells us how time works not in objective terms, but in subjective terms--as it pertains to the only creatures that consciously experience it: human beings. We all experience time like those old men; only the size of our meadows differs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Monohybrid Cross to Bear

Here's the problem that's been getting me down at least since the Cup came to Austin to visit: How in the hell do I reconcile biology with theology?

As a child, I was taught a literal, miraculous, six-day account of creation. God spoke the world into existence one literal twenty-four hour period at a time. If one takes the Bible literally (whatever that means), it seems like a stretch to take "evening and morning" to mean anything but a calendar day. Evolution was dangerous and at the same time a mere "theory."

But in scientific parlance, a "theory" is a pretty big deal. A theory "summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing." Evolution is not just one hypothesis, but a unified system of hypotheses, each supported by evidence. And as it turns out, the evidence for the evolutionary theory is overwhelming. Bacteria evolve to become drug-resistant, alleles become fixed or lost, DNA mutations occur at predictable rates (varying across locii), natural selection lurks in every corner, etc. In any case, I don't think I want to debate the merits of creationism vs. evolution vs. intelligent design here. The point is, I'm convinced. Perhaps more to the point, it's depressing to be convinced.

But before I tell you why it's depressing, I feel like I have to make a preemptive defense against anyone who supposes that maybe the liberals at Richland College and the University of Texas have somehow corrupted me and stolen my faith. Not so. I don't remember when I began to doubt creationism, but I do know that I chucked a literal interpretation of the Genesis account in church. I took a Genesis Sunday school class a few years ago taught by a DTS professor. Forget geology, paleontology, and biology. A close textual criticism of Genesis lends some pretty strong evidence to the notion that the Hebrew creation story is fundamentally theological--not historical--in nature. Thank God--I think we're all better off with a Bible that aims to teach us something about the Creator rather than the creation.

It would seem I've answered my own question. The first few chapters of Genesis employ myth to teach the truth of YHWH's cosmological authorship. So science and theology are discrete disciplines, and gosh darn it, they probably complement each other somehow. But things start to get sticky right around Romans 5: "For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." If you're a DTS professor teaching a Sunday school class, you solve the problem by saying that yes, evolution occurred, but there was an actual Adam. Science meets theology and the two play nicely.

But the scientific community begs to differ. Probably the population of Homo sapiens sapiens that displaced all other hominids consisted of about a thousand individuals. No literal Adam. Can we have original sin without Adam? (Do we even need it?) And what about H. floresiensis or even H. sapiens neanderthalensis? Were they not created in the image of God? Do we push Adam farther back in the fossil record, perhaps even before hominids developed the genetic basis for language? Does it seem likely that such a creature could sin?

Maybe what really gets me down is that the magic rug of teleological biology has been yanked from underneath me. There is no "purpose" in biology, only "function." And H. sapiens is just one link in the chain. Hard to draw a line between the morally accountable "us" and the animal "them." Even harder to make sense of a theology that seems to lean heavily on sin entering the world through one actual man. I mean, if there's no Adam, I feel bad for Paul for making that embarrassing analogy. (Oh, and Never mind Scriptural inerrancy while we're at it, but can we still have infallibility?)

So, theologian and arm-chair theologian friends, what do you got for me? If you're a six-day creationist, I wonder, could you suppose for a moment that the Evolution wins in the end?

Because the BIG question is this (assuming, as I do, that Evolution turns out to be not just theory, but reality): if Christianity can't tackle the evolutionary theory head on and come up with a theology that accounts for it, then what is it worth?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mo' Music Mo' Music Mo' Music

...and mo' everloving music.

Welp, I saw the Shackeltons again tonight. They played an altogether too-short show at Beauty Bar here in Austin--just a little over an hour of rockin' and emotin'. Even with an encore, I think the smallish-but-enthusiastic audience would have stayed for another forty or so. I would have.

What I didn't realize when I saw these guys the first time is that two of the band members aren't even old enough to drink. That's right, bassist Justin and drummer Sean were sporting big black Xs on their hands tonight. Justin graduated high school this year, and Sean's only 17. The latter played most of the show in nothing but boxer-briefs. Not sure how that relates, but it seemed significant.

I'm gettin' behind these guys. I've seen 'em twice. I bought the CD. Dallas people, get on board with me for the sake of your own souls. The Shackeltons play the Double Wide tonight (Tuesday the 22nd). Give 'em some love.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Break for Book Meme

The 123 Book Meme (thanx TRP):

1. Open the nearest book to page 123 (No 123? Get a bigger book.)
2. Skip the first five full sentences
3. Post the next three

And away we go:
"Hence, by repeated and serious reflection, try to acquire a firm and felicitous habit of being on guard against the springs and inner promptings of your false and deceptive modalities. No endeavor is more worthy of a Philosopher. If we distinguish the replies of inner Truth from what we say to ourselves on our own, if we distinguish what comes immediately from Reason from what comes to us by way of the body or on occasion of the body, if we distinguish what is immutable, eternal, necessary from what changes at every moment, in short, if we distinguish the evidence of light from the vivacity of instinct, it is almost impossible for us to fall into error."

From Nicolas Malebranche's Dialogues on Metaphysics.

Friday, April 11, 2008

SXSW Recap: Day 3

Or: "One Helluva Night in Austin"

Black Joe LewisDay 3 actually started during the day. I met my buddy Ben White and a few of his coworkers down at the Hotel San Jose to hear Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears. With a name like that, it has to be good, right? Yes, especially if every member of the band wears a Star Trek uniform. With songs like "Bitch, I Looove You," Black Joe Lewis's James-Brown-infused blues kept us smiling.

Once one has listened to funky soul-blues in a small venue, what's the next logical step? How about a hip-hop show with 20,000 people in attendance? We walked down to Auditorium Shores for an evening with Talib Kweli and Ice Cube. That's right, Kweli--the lyrically creative, socially-aware rapper--was opening for the star of Friday. We missed Kweli and caught some in-between act. Didn't matter, because when Cube took the stage, it was on.

Now, the extent of my previous contact with the Ice Cube oeuvre had been the films "Three Kings" and "Barbershop." I didn't know much about his musical contribution to the world. But early on in the show, Cube posed the question, "Nigga, we started this gangsta shit, and this the mothafuckin' thanks I get?" Now that I could relate to. Seriously. Dr. Dre drops that line on "2001" when he's commenting on what gangsta rap has become since his days with NWA (Niggaz With Attitude, of "F*** the Police" fame) with Easy-E. Then I put it together: Ice Cube was the third member of NWA. OK, I guess he has some credibility.

Not that his set was meaningful, but it was really fun. The performance was laced with so much profanity it became comedic. The attempts at dramatic effect only upped the comic ante. AtIce Cube one point in the show, Cube implored the audience to "get your dubs up!" (make the west-side "W" hand sign). All the lights went down except for a spotlight on Cube. When they came back up, there were two ten-foot-tall inflatable hands on stage making the W-sign.

Nobody really wanted to stay for the whole show, so our little group disbanded. My disappointment at not seeing the whole show would turn into the promise of an extra-fun evening, however, because when I left the Shores, I hopped on a bus to get back home, and that bus was where a certain happy sub-plot of my SXSW experience started. I think I'd rather tell you the details in person, but let's just say that there's even more to South By than great music and free booze.

Let's get back to the music (and the booze). Ben met me at the Moon Tower for what I'd been told would be the best night of them all. I was certainly looking forward to it; the Cool Kids were gonna play a set. I had heard of the Cool Kids, and I had seen pictures of them, and sometimes that's enough to know a group's going to be legit. The Cool Kids dress like it's 1989: real Nike hightops, slim-leg jeans (or sweat pants), neon colors, etc. Ben and I moved up to the barrier. Mikey and Chuck came out and ROCKED. Well, technically, they rapped. Their beats are nice and fat, and theirThe Cool Kids rhymes are carefree and funny. Even their guest MC, Mickey Factz, could hold his own. Ben was impressed. I was eager to buy the CD.

In between shows, on a drink run, I spotted a guy, a white guy, standing off to the side sporting a huge afro and dressed in footie pajamas. This was no small dude, either; he had to have been six feet tall. And these were no regular footie pajamas, they were ass-flap pajamas, the holy grail of PJs. I told Ben what I had seen. Turns out, Mr. Pajamas was part of the next group.

He went by the name of Fat Jew, and he along with Fonda and Machine comprise Team Facelift. Team Facelift's music played less like hip-hop and more like party fuel. You might say they are to hip-hop what early Chili Peppers were to rock. Their beats bumped and so did the crowd. And everything that came out of their mouthsTeam Facelift proceeded entirely tongue-in-cheek. They pleaded "I wanna have your baby" as sincerely as if they didn't know that men can't get pregnant. And all the while, Fat Jew's butt-flap hung unfastened, revealing the flesh-colored boxers underneath.

Next up: Crystal Castles, a guy-girl duo. He provided huge beats laced with alternatively sweet and chaotic 8-bit blips and boops. She sang from beneath a hooded sweatshirt with an abandon that the strobe lights and sound system amplified to incomprehensible proportions. This was the loudest show I have ever heard in my life. I wore earplugs and the beat still managed to punch me in the brain. Ben moved to the back. I made for the bar. Crystal Castles blew a fuse, and the stage went silent for about thirty seconds before a couple of roadies ran back and reprimed the aural violence. Would have been a great show, I'm sure, but I could not hear it for hearing it.

Finally, at about 4am, DJ Z-Trip took the stage for the final set of Moon Tower '08. Every record he threw on upped the adrenal and emotional volume. He started out with typical DJ fare, but quickly moved on to more meaningful mashups and sophisticated programming. I mean programming in the sense that Z-Trip seemed to be constructing a plot, a dance narrative with broad strokes of ecstasy entwined with moments of quieter passion. At one point, the beats hushed and Cash's "Ring of Fire" trumpeted forth. Gradually, Z added beats until the crowd was jumping even more than before. When he threw on "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the crowd whipped into a frenzy. We were soaked with other people's drinks. No matter, we kept dancing. (And by "we" I don't mean Ben and me; he had left to take care of his dogs.) Z-Trip could do no wrong; every track he played fit the moment perfectly. I understood why he went last. This DJ's musical epic was not just a story in itself; it was the climax of the meta-Moon Tower. At about 5:15, with no signs of stopping, Z put on Rage's "Bulls on Parade," and the crowd went absolutely nuts. He knew exactly what he was doing. We received another round of flying drinks and a few body checks. It couldn't get any better; we made for the exit.

About an hour later I got a text message from Anthony, who had been valeting downtown all night. "Wanna go for a ride in a Porsche?"

photo credits
Black Joe Lewis: Birkley3030
Ice Cube: RickyRicky
The Cool Kids: Miss35mm
Team Facelift: USB TourCo

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

SXSW Recap: Day 2

I think I stayed in bed until noon on Friday; I didn't even try to go to any day parties. The Auditorium Shores concert didn't interest me, either. And even though nobody I knew could make it for Night 2 of the Moon Tower, I sure as hecks wasn't about to miss out.

When I got there at around 11pm, the line was about 100 deep. TABC had made a surprise visit and was hanging around to make sure only adults got free adult beverages. Friday night got rolling with American Bang, a Nashville band so good I broke the promise I'd made to myself that if I ever found myself at a show where a dude in a band rocked shirtless, I'd leave on principle. No, I stayed, and American Bang reminded me of just how much of a good time a good-natured, no-frills rock concert can be. Between shows I met the singer from Delta Spirit whilst talking to some Red Bull friends.

My favorite new band of the night were the Shackletons, a kind of neo-punk band from Chambersburg, PA. I stood in the front row for this one. I've always found small-town Pennsylvanians to be some of the most agreeable people on earth, and by golly, the Shackeltons didn't disappoint. Adding to the greatness of the music was the ecstatic, trembling performance of singer Mark Redding. He spent half the show bouncing around on the precariously tipsy subwoofers that stood immediately in front of the stage - talk about tension. They held, though, and at one point he reached out and shook my hand.

White Ghost Shivers took the stage next. These guys I can't say enough about. They are at the top of the Austin music heap and draw huge crowds--and their music sounds like it should be about 80 years out-of-date. Instead, it's entirely fresh. They call their style "hokum," a mix of Dixieland jazz and Vaudevillian theatre. The theatre is the thing; listening to a recording of the Shivers doesn't capture the sheer joy of the performance. It's more musical revue than anything. The Cast of Characters (among others):
-Cella Blue - Vocals and skirt-lifting
-Smokebreak Slemenda - Vocals and lead guitar (actually, he never ever takes a smoke break; he plays the entire show with a lit cigarette stuffed between his pick-hand fingers)
-Shorty Borgasm - A seven-foot tall banjo player with a predilection for fake moustaches and the brier.
I've seen the Shivers twice now, and I would gladly pay to see them again.

Anthony showed up at about 3:30, but was only able to catch Dragonette, the last act. Time of departure: 4something.

A couple of day 2 highlights @ my Tumblog.