Making a Song at the Instant Album Party

A friend of mine invited me to an event called the "Instant Album Party", now in its second year. The gist is that they set up a practice space and a recording studio with their own and borrowed instruments and gear, and then spend a day record an album of songs, each created in 1 hour by randomly-selected people in heretofore new bands.

At first I thought I'd go to spectate, but I couldn't resist throwing my name in. I played trumpet when I was in grade school, have feebly attempted to teach myself slide guitar, and took a few months of singing lessons ten years ago. I've never been in a band or performed a whole song, save for some drunken karaoke nights. Basically no musical experience at all. So why not join a band?

I stopped in briefly at the very beginning of the party around 10:30 a.m. to drop off some audio equipment in case they needed it, and I put my name in the festive Christmas tin and tossed a couple fictional band names in the unfestive water jug. I returned at 3 p.m. and things were starting to really take off. The first band was drawn at 11:30 a.m. and at 1-hour intervals from there on. My caffeine buzz was starting to wear thin by the time my name got picked at 9:30 p.m.

So five of us guys (who for the most part had never met one another) are a band. We got four choices from the band-names bin and decided the best of them was "Brochures!". We headed to the basement Kenny played keyboards, Ben (or Ian) played drums with Justin backing up on both a tomtom and with vocals, and Ian (or Ben) played electric guitar.

While the other guys hashed out some melodies, I started scribbling furiously to try and come up with some lyrics. Earlier in the day, someone was telling a story that happened a short time after breaking up with his girlfriend, except he used the phrase "brokeing up" by accident. I commented that "brokeing up" really captures that initial feeling where present-tense and past-tense collide, and I decided to try and work that into the song. Aside from that, I just listened to the style of music and wrote down a bunch of lines. Within 10 minutes or so the words started to congeal into a simple 3-verse structure with a chorus.

I shared my ideas and did my best to match a melody to the music already created, singing my best on the microphone. We hashed through it a couple times and (owing largely to my lack of musical and band-performing skills) I had a hard time figuring out exactly when to sing. But it wasn't long before the hour was up and we headed to the recording studio.

Making it more difficult for recording was that I had to sing once for the band's sake, then again listening to the recording, and I just couldn't remember exactly how I did it the first time. Nonetheless, things sounded pretty good and Justin added a harmony to the chorus in a subsequent track. We finished at 11:29 p.m.

We got to name our song, and picking from the lyrics, we all agreed "There is no July" was the way to go. Presumably they'll put the new album on the same Shark Tank Shows where the 2010 album is available for download.

Anyway, it had dawned on me earlier that day that I finally had an answer to a question from my own (and something similar from anyone's) past: "how do I meet women?" Of course, in my case, if I were asked "well, why don't you?", I'd say I was afraid of the unknowable. So one of the big things to do, I think, is to practice boldly entering the unknowable future. That is — along the lines of fear and excitement like I've talked about before — making a habit of seeing new opportunities as something to excitedly experience rather than something to fear failing at. If I had lived like that at age 25, I'd probably be a few years "ahead" of where I am now. But no matter because every time I remind myself to push myself, the more of a habit it forms, and the better things get.

Watching END: CIV Resist or Die at the Flying Squirrel

I figured it would be interesting, so I headed over to The Flying Squirrel Community Space (285 Clarissa St., formerly the Flower City Elks Lodge) to see the essay film END: CIV Resist or Die. Filmmaker Franklin Lopez introduced the film by talking about how he was deeply moved when he heard Derrick Jensen speak and how he built his film around much of Jensen's work. Lopez said he was impressed by the impeccable logic laid out in Jensen's books Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization, and Endgame, Vol. 2: Resistance, which outline the environmental apocalypse in our midst as simply being caused by what we call "civilization". I'll narrow things a bit and discuss corporations and industry.

First, note that corporations, organizations, machines, and tools, if anthropomorphized, are psychopathic. In other words, these things behave without consciousness, hence without inherent morality. I know that corporations and organizations include people which do have morality, but the nature of the group does not reflect that individuality. In fact, because corporations and organizations have rules in place that prevent any one person from having any decision-making power, the effect of their individual morality is nullified.

Second, all corporations we create have as their highest priority (or if not, a high priority) to make money. The secondary priority of a corporation is to operate in its industry sector. There is no primary consideration to the value of human life, or of life in general, or of the resources life needs to survive. As such, if life-giving resources, life, and human life are an obstacle to those goals, the corporation will attempt to spend as little money as necessary to get past those "obstacles."

Third, corporations generally do not have an expiration condition. As such, they will continue to operate in the primary industry sector until there is no economically viable way to continue.

Finally, the economic and social system we have in place is generally taken as given. That is, what we call "civilization" cannot be changed directly.

The film looks closely at two industries: oil production and logging.

In the case of the logging industry, the cheapest path to financial success is greenwashing — giving the illusion of sustainability — as that is cheaper than actual responsible forestry. In one instance, a tribe of Native Americans attempted to stop a logging company from cutting down the forest on their sacred lands, but Greenpeace intervened and came to an agreement to permit logging of their lands. (Yes, you read that correctly: Greenpeace voluntarily did not stop the logging.)

More damning, though, is the case of oil production. The industry likes to claim there are nearly limitless reserves available. What they fail to mention is that unlike when oil was discovered bubbling out of the ground, the extraction of newly discovered oil is nearly a losing battle. In fact, if they were charged for the water destruction and the pollution from leaks and accidents, it would likely not be profitable. But the industry subsidizes itself by coercing agreements to use and pollute water without added cost — destroying the resources necessary for life in its driving need for further profitability.

The film refers again to Jensen's works to note that peaceful protests were coincident with violent ones. In other words, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not act in isolation — rather, they were the peaceful resisters in a sea of varying degrees of civil disobedience, property destruction, and bloodshed. As such, the power structures in place were able to engage them and make some advantageous changes, but only so much as to defuse their more violent contemporaries.

It's clear that peaceful protest alone accomplishes nothing. I have watched as wars were started with 250,000 people in the streets of Washington, D.C. in opposition. And I now see how natural gas companies are running roughshod over the peaceful protest of citizens only wishing to protect their water supplies from contamination. Without the teeth of violence, no change occurs, even if it is not those acting in violence who sit at the negotiating table in the end.

Derrick Jensen has an interesting quote about all this from Endgame, Volume 1. He opens by asking if the reader would have joined the resistance in Nazi Germany then says:

Now, would you resist if the fascists irradiated the countryside, poisoned food supplies, made rivers unfit for swimming (and so filthy you wouldn't even dream of drinking from them anymore)? What if they did this because … Hell, I can't finish that sentence because no matter how I try I can't come up with a motivation good enough even for fascists to irradiate and toxify the landscape and water supplies. If fascists systematically deforested the continent would you join an underground army of resistance, head to the forests, and from there to boardrooms and to the halls of the Reichstag to pick off the occupying deforesters and most especially those who give them their marching orders?

When, exactly, is enough?

Discussing Anarchism Against Racism, Sexism, and Homophobia

For the past three weeks or so, people have been meeting at The Flying Squirrel Community Space (285 Clarissa St., formerly the Flower City Elks Lodge) to discuss anarchism. Having not attended the earlier meetings, I can't really tell what constitutes anarchism (e.g. self-rule? using the self-organizing facet of humanity? not having a government?) but I couldn't help but attend the seemingly unusual topic of "Anarchism Against Racism, Sexism, and Homophobia".

I'd say there were about 15 people there, and most of them had attended the other meetings and read the associated articles — it's something of a free-school model. I think everyone expected a more lively discussion because the topics were so emotionally-charged, but the ground we covered between was fruitful and interesting.

In short, Capitalism depends on exploiting value to gain more than is spent. Through that, it seems to demand an underclass: a group of people who are considered lesser and therefore are free to be exploited. (In fact, the only way great wealth and power is achieved is by exploiting others.) And the way to identify the underclass is to tie the "underclass-ness" to a defining characteristic: woman, gay, black, Irish.

Anarchism, by eliminating the presumption of authority, denies the creation of an underclass. In other words, anarchism (when considered "self-defined rule") does not permit the creation of people having authority: it is up to each individual to grant that authority. So there is no way for an authority to declare that you are X and therefore shall be exploited; rather, you as an individual would have to grant an authority that power, and permit yourself to be exploited. Presumably you would never volunteer for that.

The trouble is that the system I live with (that is, in America) will always find a new underclass to exploit. Lately it seems Hispanic people and followers of Islam are the newest targets (not that they were ever considered equals). Although we have also exploited the Chinese in their own land to that end, and I suspect the next source of cheap labor will be on the African continent. I find it a distasteful cycle that I'd like to see end sooner than later.

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton Discuss Their Book "Picking Cotton"

A few months ago I attended a film screening sponsored by Restorative Rochester. Since then I signed up on their Yahoo! Group and have been lurking for a while. The group's goals revolve around "restorative justice" which — as I understand it — involves bringing victim and perpetrator together to find a sense of closure. The U.S. legal system is a correctional and punitive system that seeks to find a way to punish a perpetrator in a manner proportional to their crime — yet it ignores the wishes of victims in its rigidity.

Last week I decided to introduce myself to the group. I mentioned that I wanted to refrain from contributing in conversation as I want to try and give my legal-system thinking time to adapt to the possibilities of something else. In other words, I'd probably ask the same questions as anyone, starting with, "if you offer an alternative to punishment, won't that give criminals free reign?"

Anyway, lurking lasted all of a half a day. Kit Miller sent out an message that they were looking for additional people to join the group for a dinner with Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, and Ronald Cotton, co-authors of Picking Cotton at The Asbury First United Methodist Church (1050 East Ave.) I had intended to go to the lecture and discussion anyway, so I immediately agreed.

Ronald and Jennifer have the most awkward answer to "so how did you two meet?" In 1984 Jennifer was raped in her apartment. She had the presence of mind to study her attacker and memorized his face. Through the course of the investigation, the closest match was Ronald Cotton, and she confidently believed he was her attacker. He went to prison for 11 years until he was granted permission to have the DNA evidence tested and, as he had claimed all along, he was not the man who raped her. Eventually Jennifer sought to meet Ronald to resolve her fear that he was steeped in resentment toward her. As it turned out, she was mistaken, and they became friends as both were victims of the actual perpetrator who was later convicted of Jennifer's rape and six others after hers.

The first time I heard their story, I thought, "that's wonderful" (albeit in a heavily qualified way). A more common reaction is to be incredulous that there can be any healing and forgiveness. But what alternative to forgiveness is there? And in this case, it was neither Jennifer's nor Ronald's fault, so it seems obvious to me. I don't mean that I'm holier-than-thou, but even when I'm angry at a transgression against me, I cool very quickly and generally conclude that staying angry — or generally believing in the winner/loser model — offers less value than forgiveness and resolution. That said, I'm less amenable when the other party stays remorseless and confrontational. Thankfully that's usually not the case, especially when I can genuinely offer a solution through forgiveness.

The things that resonated most with me were about the ways our justice system failed. Racism and prejudice aside (not from Jennifer or Ronald, by the way), I was once again jarred by the unreliability of eye-witness evidence, I reinforced my opposition to the death penalty, and I am saddened that people justify the bad things they do by believing that they have some kind of credit for being a "good person".

On prejudice, I'll just note that the police, after hearing Jennifer's description and seeing her composite sketch, probably swayed the whole case by presenting Jennifer a 3-year-old photo of Ronald that better matched her description.

Having watched things like The Selective Attention Test, I'm amazed at how bad my perception really is. Like everyone, I live every day with the persistent, tenacious illusion that what I perceive is a perfect reflection of reality. Yet when I'm presented with something like that video, I'm always astonished. I keep that knowledge close at hand, however, and even if I fully believe in my perception, I deliberately apply uncertainty to the way I express my perception to others. Yet nobody teaches us that fact — that our perception is lackluster — so our justice system is still rooted in an ancient belief that an eye-witness is proof-positive. Thankfully, I think this is changing (even lawyers who claim this is true are not considered as deceitful as they once were).

Relatedly, would this not be the kind of case that warranted the death penalty? What if the real rapist had gone on to kill his other victims — and Jennifer was the only one who survived? It is far too big a risk to potentially kill an innocent person. In addition, they had mentioned in the talk that the DNA evidence from the case was slated to be destroyed 3 days before Ronald requested the test, so had the justice system acted at its normal geologically-scaled rate, Ronald would still be in prison, and all the good that happened wouldn't have.

And finally, my favorite topic: religion bashing.

Ok, actually it's only tangentially related. The fundamental problem is believing in the possibility that a person can be good or bad. It's as illogical as claiming a glass of water is happy or sad: it is not the kind of assessment that makes sense. Only individual actions, taken in isolation, can be considered good or bad. And even then, the moral judgement is largely based on the observer.

The trouble in this misattribution is that belief in morality within a person dilutes the perception of morality in their actions. And I'm talking about belief in the self: if I believe I'm a good person, then any action I do must necessarily be good (or at least better than a bad person who does the same thing). Likewise, if I think I'm a bad person, then it's in my nature to do something bad.

So how does this relate to religion bashing? Well Jennifer mentioned that when she doubted herself — when she doubted her actions were the most right thing to do — she remembered her religious upbringing and reinforced her belief in her inherent goodness, ergo the goodness of her actions. I think that the failing of religions is teaching "you are a good person". As I said, the nature of that statement is in error.

A better teaching would be that your past does not dictate your behavior — that there is not inherent good or bad in people, but that whatever you do or don't will benefit some and harm others. I get stuck at this point because no guideline is adequate. Everyone desires to do good (that is, for ones actions to have beneficial consequences): it's at the heart of what lets us as individuals and us as a society survive. Any attempt to codify that dilutes what it is to be human.