Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Re: Modern Music, A reply to a debate on Keith Ukrisna’s Facebook Wall

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Not much that I can add here, but my answer will be long. I agree and disagree with both sides. It definitely takes more depth to understand the music we are referring to but is it better than Lady Gaga or whoever? I certainly think so, and have worked to have others see it as superior also, but why is it? In the end I think all sound that can affect emotional response is as Eric said — determined by the individual who values it. @Jesse: Classical music was never really popular.

So why has “our” music (I am trying to avoid calling it classical or instrumental, so you guys don’t criticize me) attained this level of respect and establishment? I would say it is because of intellectual consensus coming from the higher echelons (whether in wealth or education) of our society, and their influence on us. European courts — the members on average would most likely have had more wealth and better educations than the rest of their society — where the original proponents, and to this day are emulated. Also, lets not forget the even more important ecclesiastic use of music throughout history. I feel that both of these social structures put what we may now call “academic music” on a pedestal, and kept it largely away from a general audience. For better or worse, this music is scholarly music, because the complexity it has attained beyond what other western forms have, makes it hard to produce in some instances. This complexity compels composers to pick up their pen and paper (or Sibelius) in order to manage their respective form, rather than just simply jam toward an almost finished product. This seems like a lonely process. At this moment neither listener criticism, patronage, or technical demands on musicians needs to matter to the composer, therefore tempting them to break into unheard theoretical frontiers. I wouldn’t call this bad, as most of the historical music that we remember now does the same; but if I had a time machine to prove my point, I would safely bet that even during the heyday of classical music, very few actually listen to it, most likely less than now, even though we complain about the tiny concert attendance. There I’m excluding the occasional spikes in interest that’s found from time to time. I doubt you will hear a folk or street entertainer playing Bach, or a blind violinist playing Mozart as Pushkin wrote in “Mozart and Salieri” — well, maybe some Mozart. Therefore, academic music is still “elite” and “popular” music equivalent to that of the street jester, but one who is now able to reach a wider audience. What America or the World thinks of elitism is not my problem.

This theoretical complexity in academic music is most likely what creates a consensus among intellectuals such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Sal Macchia and Bob Eisenstein (they probably never thought anyone would ever use them in the same sentence as Scalia) — and us through them or our upbringing — believe in the superiority of this kind of music over pop music. The complexity indeed makes it harder to understand and receive gratification from.

I can make an assumption that most of us who are posting on Keiths thread are in college or already hold at least a bachelors. According to the 2010 National Center for Education Statistics pie chart (, only around 30 percent of Americans have a bachelors degree or higher! Add another 9% to include those with Associate’s degrees and you still get less than half. As I always say, if you are still doing undergrad in college, you might think that most people at least get a bachelors. In reality, most of us are in college because our families are either highly educated, or value education, and being in such a minority puts us into an elite class, whether we want to be there or not. Why are we surprised when we say that our music requires depth of thought and maybe some learning but nobody seems to understand it?

Although here is where I have a problem with a lot of modern music and its composers:

1. We deify living composers uncritically, putting them with Bach and Beethoven, without having them naturally achieve recognition or withstand the test of time; only because they are “modern.” I believe this results from having been spooked by the stories we are taught in music history about how some now widely accepted masterpieces, premiered to a negative reception. Because we are told to like, or maybe actually like one composition or another, the critics at those compositions’ premiers look pigheaded and backwards. We have forgotten their arguments and they are now on the wrong side of history. We really don’t want to end up like them, do we? That’s why we take every precaution possible to accept even the worst that the world of composition has to offer — just in case. Certainly, this makes us lose something that is truly important. A critical ear towards music, I believe, creates real understanding of it. I too would have rioted at the premier of the “Rite of Spring.” The Pulcinella Suite was the direct result of my past life’s angry letter; scared that S.O.B. into Neoclassicism. .

2. There are few incentives for composers to write good music. Back in the day, there where patrons, employers, churches, theaters, and most importantly — an audience. Now, besides Hollywood and a few other things, there is no incentive for a composer to compose anything to serve a purpose other than his own self gratification. Music can both gratify the audience and the composer. The audience needs to set the bar high, the composer needs to raise his own standard and appeal to both. I am not saying that composers need to strive for Lady Gaga popularity — that would be detrimental to quality because indeed it is easier to understand simpler, formulaic or bad music — but if nobody hears the composition, or thinks it is worthwhile, it is as if it was never written (unless this composer writes on paper and it is found 100 years later for some reason). It would be similar to a professor who has researched and written but has never published.

3. Demanding or assuming that the audience holds at least a Ph.D. in Music Theory. This I think is the most important rant that I have. Many composers seem so fixated on their “mental masturbation”-like quest to break new ground in theory, they have forgotten that the goal of music — is, has been, and will always be about human emotion and experience. It’s true that the great composers contributed to theoretical developments, they nevertheless directed their music towards some purpose: sacred, emotional, etc. Was Tchaikovsky preoccupied with music theory while composing? I’m certain that he knew theory front to back but saw it only as a tool rather than an end. With the notable exception of Berlioz (whom I despise) — and I’m sure there are some composers that we have forgotten — composing music for theory’s sake seems to be a 20th century phenomenon. Indeed, it is harder to come to understand academic music, but it should be crafted so that it can be understood, at least on a basic level, through feeling — not by studying scores.

4. Finally (unless I can think of something else later), the cultural effects of the previously mentioned criticisms have, in my view, resulted in the death of humanity’s soul. Even the most educated today listen mostly to popular types of music. Even those who say they like classical music, few actually know what they are talking about and do not know how to “feel” as listeners, or even “emote” as performers. So there are people who listen to one note for half an hour and call it music. Anybody seeing this but had not been versed in the finer points of liberal political correctness would immediately call bullshit.Through our human progress, we have become “Laputians,” doing complex math and listening to the “music of the spheres,” while unable to build a house or make clothing.


A New Battlefield

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2011 at 7:29 am

Krauthammer eloquently states how Barack Obama’s speech no longer reflects someone who called for consensus and a new era of politics. Obama has re-staked his claim on liberal ideology that has been surprisingly missing in the past couple of years. Now, Obama is attempting to shore up his base early, knowing that if he continues on his path of moderation there would be too much that his own base could use to cast him as a traitor. I do not know how long this push to the left will last, but I feel that he realizes that if he does not change his rhetoric back to election-like partisanship now, but begins campaigning at the usual time of incumbent presidents, he would be very disadvantaged — since the Republicans have spent his whole presidency winning numerous ideological battles.

But we cannot miss the fact that his move is an act of desperation. Therefore, whether a person against Obama is in favor of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget or not, cannot disagree that Ryan’s budget has completely reconfigured the budgetary playing field in the Republicans’ favor. The extreme demands of the House budget proposal forced the Democrats to propose a budget that also contains massive cuts. The compromise forces the Democrats into concessions that previously would be unheard of. Although the cuts are not to the same extent, the general trend of both parties shows voters that the need to cut the budget is a generally accepted fact. Because of this, I’m willing to predict that even the most extreme Republican side will be seen as favorable by voters, without knowing what the cuts are going to be.

I am still certain that Barack Obama will win re-election, since the GOP will probably not find an electable opponent as internal ideological rifts become more prominent, I suspect Obama’s second term will be revolutionary in how conservative his actions will be. Not having to worry about re-election, Obama will try to avoid fights with congress and disagreeing with the people so as not to go down in history with a low presidential approval rating.

I believe, Paul Ryan and his House Budget proposal incredibly moved the entire ideological midpoint far to the right.

Alan Gross imprisonment reveals Obama’s foreign policy ineptitude

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2011 at 4:54 am

By: Dmitriy Shapiro | April 05, 2011

Distracted as we are by the unprecedented domino-like toppling of a multitude of the Middle East’s oppressive regimes and dictatorships – and President Barack Obama’s waffling on issues arising from our George W. Bush era interventions (should we try terrorists at home or not?), we’ve left our small Communist neighbor, the Republic of Cuba, under much less scrutiny than usual.

Raul and Fidel Castro have rightfully seen this as a window of opportunity to deal a blow to the United States – much like their “Axis of Evil” mentors Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korea under Kim Jong Il – by capturing an American civilian contractor and throwing him in jail without any guarantee of imprisonment length or trial date.

Maybe this is the first time you’re hearing of this – don’t be ashamed if you are, this story has not grabbed the public’s attention quite like the American nationals that were captured in other, more loudmouthed nations. Maybe that this captive, 61-year-old contractor Alan Gross, is neither young nor related to a celebrity. Gross, captured in December 2009 – apparently a good year for capturing Americans – has been wasting away in a high-security Cuban jail ever since, with little media or international scrutiny. Only recently, miniscule pressure from the U.S. forced the Cuban government to finally try and sentence Gross – 15 months after his detention.

The verdict delivered by the Cuban court on March 12 sentenced Gross to 15 years in jail for attempting to implement a “‘subversive’ program paid for by the United States that aimed to bring down Cuba’s communist government.”

Allegedly, Gross, a contractor for a U.S. Agency for International Development backed networking firm Development Alternatives, Inc, based in Bethesda, Md., whose mission statement is “to make a lasting difference in the world by helping developing nations become more prosperous, fairer and more just, cleaner, safer, healthier, more stable, more efficient, and better governed.”

It is not hard to see why working for this firm could arouse suspicion in anti-democratic nations throughout the world, but what actual threat could the Cuban government have received from Gross’ work to warrant such a prolonged internment and a 15-year sentence – pretty much a life sentence for a man of his age and health. Gross, a Jewish-American, was working to enable a small Cuban Jewish community access to the internet in order to communicate with other communities within Cuba as well as around the world. His work included the distribution of laptops, satellite phones and other hard/software to this tiny, peaceful and aging community – hardly a subversive revolutionary force.

Having recently awakened to the call of humanitarianism, the Obama administration has recently granted Gross’ case a small portion of their attention and sent bumbling foreign affairs flunkey, Hamas-apologist and diplomatic third-stringer ex-President Jimmy Carter to meet with Raul and Fidel Castro to secure Gross’s release. After publicly embarrassing and subverting U.S. foreign relations on the Cuban media circuit – appearing on television and radio shows to blast the U.S.’s Cuban embargo and calling for the U.S. to release five Cuban spies that are being held for delivering information to our Middle Eastern enemies – Carter hobnobbed with the Castros like the old friend he is. According to an APF report, Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote, “Because he has the experience that managed the release (in 2010) of an American in North Korea, maybe he can do the same here, but the Cuban government is harder.”

Really? “Harder” than North Korea? Jimmy Carter did successfully free English teacher Aijalon Gomes, a Boston native, after Gomes had crossed over the North Korean border. Yet for what the U.S. deemed a priority – the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee that same year, the administration sent the significantly more prestigious former President Bill Clinton.

Not surprisingly, Carter left Cuba on March 30 without securing Gross’s release, stating that he wasn’t expecting that outcome.

Cuban President Raul Castro and his venerated brother Fidel have made a mockery of American foreign policy. They, along with the world’s other dictators, are seeing the Obama administration’s foreign policy as a joke – as was predicted by Republicans before and after the president’s election. The liberties taken by the nations that President Bush called the “Axis of Evil,” had not disappeared as expected by Obama’s supporters, but only increased, a trend demonstrated by the rise in the kidnappings of American nationals by non-terrorist states for diplomatic leverage. Meanwhile, our actions in Libya, highlight that finally, humanitarian considerations are now factoring in this administration’s logic, although quite arguably, the wrong kind of logic.

But Gross’s crime of providing internet access to a small and marginalized segment of Cuban society – him claiming that he had not realized the hardware he was given was paid for by USAID – invokes another, larger problem.

Many have pointed to how powerful the effects of free communication via the internet empowers the population of a repressed state by observing revolts in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and others. The story of the previous decade is of government infringement of such freedoms.

No doubt that the restrictions put on media, search engines and general internet use empower repressive regimes to control information to maintain their power. This is not surprising – leaders have always tried to restrict the freedom of information. What’s more appalling is that the post-President Bush U.S. has not challenged any of these present incursions when such power is being used by nations to avoid the fate of their fallen comrades. In a recent opinion column, Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer slammed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a statement describing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sounding more like Hugo Chavez than an American dignitary. “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

If suppression of free media, restrictions on internet use and violent crackdowns on protesters are Clinton’s idea of reform, then either the Democrats have allied with the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party or the Obama administration thinks Bashar’s actions could teach them to handle their Tea Party opponents. As Krauthammer and others point out, the current administration is displaying a very flawed moral logic.

While President Obama basks in the limelight of the false coalition he built against Qaddafi on shaky moral and constitutional grounds, Gross remains imprisoned and in poor health, wondering whether he will ever see his family again, especially his 88-year-old mother and 26-year-old daughter who are both suffering from cancer. The lack of outrage and sympathy being shown by the administration is vile and contemptible. Alan Gross, his family and supporters can only hope that the media will awake to better expose his case so that the American public can once again strong-arm Obama into action as it did in the previous election.

April Fool’s joke article? or is it?

In UMass CFACT on April 1, 2011 at 7:07 am

Recent activities that were done by my UMass CFACT (Collegians For A Constructive Tomorrow) have been memorialized in this CFACT Collegians blog post.

CFACT UMass Tree Planting and Litter Clean-Up
[ 0 ] April 1, 2011 | rsorba

CFACT UMass Tree Planting

Anderson "Ed Lopez" and I next to our newly planted trees.

On Saturday March 27, 2011 CFACT Umass took some time to clean up the local foot hills and plant some pine trees.

“The local hills make a great place to hike and hang out. The problem is that a lot of people will leave trash and trample young trees,” said CFACT UMass Chairman Dmitriy Shapiro.

“This was the first tree I have ever planted,” said CFACT member Ed Lopez. When my friends and I hike up here I can check up on my tree now and make sure it’s doing o.k.

Ed Lopez diligently planting his first tree ever!

The trail leading up to the crest of the hill is known for being littered with trash so the CFACT students decided to bring some trash bags up along with them to clean it up.

Fighting litter, political corruption, and homosexuality under the CFACT banner.

The trip lasted about three hours and everyone left feeling a sense of accomplishment. “I feel like a good steward,” said Dmitriy. “I do too!” replied Ed Lopez.