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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Academic Freedom

Here's an interesting one.

An "academic freedom syllabus" that sees academic freedom exclusively as administrators caving in in "knee jerk" fashion to the right. She repeats that phrase "knee jerk" so many times. And "alt right."

Most of the time, academic administrators are repressing freedom on their own accord, not because of some external right-wing threat. They are doing so when faculty challenge the administrators, or to satisfy some not right-wing constituencies of students, or in a misguided attempt to enforce Title IX.

They are creating "free speech zones" and speech codes.

The so-called "progressive stack" is very dangerous. If someone has the academic freedom to call on students according to a hierarchy of race and gender, why wouldn't another professor have the right to call on students according to a "regressive stack"? This professor might say, well, "since my colleagues are using the progressive stack in their classes, I need to counter this by calling on the most privileged first, etc..." Well, that would be outrageous, but if the progressive stack exists, then wouldn't the same academic freedom justify the regressive stack.

Of course, some would point out that the regressive stack is already being practiced. I can see that perspective too.  So we could go around in a circle with this argument. I would counter that then the regressive professor could say that he is just following the status quo then, so he can't be disciplined for doing what he has always done. Because academic freedom.

 I think this should be debated and if anyone can prove me wrong I would be happy.


Jonathan uses me myself and I pronouns.

When addressing Jonathan please use you pronouns.

A Short Cultural History (A Fragment)

Meanwhile the great edifice crumples, creating danger zones where

sharp edges create an "attractive nuisance." Once, these

borders were policed by well-meaning bureaucrats.  The culture

coarsens and grows bewilderingly nuanced at the same time. "Shit happens"

on the one hand, and, on the other, infinite gradations of identity, in the small gap

between two otherwise indistinguishable genders. The response

was supposed to be that that the most subtle and the least subtle among us

"lack all conviction." But it isn't so. Those working against the obesity epidemic by day

would join in protests against "fat shaming" in the evening but if you thought

there was a contradiction in this you would be very wrong. That's just one example.

I'm speaking off the record here. I can't even mean what I say anymore....

Friday, October 27, 2017

You can't plagiarize by accident

Suppose there is a language with ten nouns and ten intransitive verbs.  Speakers of this language only use two word sentences like "lion sleeps" or "man eats."  So there are 100 possible sentences in the language. The chances that two sentences will be identical, then, is 1 in 100.  The chances that two consecutive sentences will coincide are 1/1000. And so on.  (Image two people in rooms 100 miles apart who are asked to write essay in this language.) Of course in a corpus of billions of words you will find identical stretches of language, and these will occur according to the probabilities we can easily calculate.

Now let's say that the language gets many more types of words, and more in each category, and that sentence length is indefinite, and patterns of syntax more varied.  Now we have 20,000 words, not 20, so I can't even run the percentages any more: they are too vast. See two short stories by Borges, "Pierre Menard" and "The Library at Babel" for more insight into this. See Chomsky on the creativity of language.

In our musical system there are twelve notes. I used to wonder why we didn't run out of new melodies. After all, the possibilities are finite. It is true that many melodies contain identical sequences of notes in some stretches, but it is not hard to write new melodies.

The idea that your language forces you to say certain things and not others, then, needs to be re-examined. You can follow all the rules of syntax and still come up with original combinations.


Plagiarism by accident happens when you literally copy and paste something and leave the quotation marks off, and then come back to your text and lose track of whose language is whose.  It is an accident but it is still your fault. Aside from the carelessness of not marking the language as quoted, there is another issue: you should have a pride in your prose that would make someone else's language stick out when inserted therein.  Sometimes I look at a guest post by Thomas on this blog and think for a second or two: oh, that is strange, I don't write like this, before realizing that, no, I don't write like that. Thomas writes very well, but differently than I do. There are posts I don't remember writing, but I recognize them as my writing.

 I guess poets with cookie cutter styles might have this problem.    

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Associate Deans

We used to have associate deans for humanities, social sciences, hard sciences.  Now we are going to have associate deans for "academic innovation and student success" and things like that. This means that we won't know them as well, because they are not in charge of various sets of departments, but of broadly defined conceptual values.  There will be one for diversity, maybe one for sustainability.  

I see this as part of the trend toward emphasizing less academic functions of academia, though the dean is making these positions 25% ones rather than 50 to save money. So the dean will do as much work, probably, but be paid half the amount for the administrative work sh/e does.

Humor and wit in music

Music can be funny or witty, but how so? It might be interesting to look at various kinds of musical wit. I'm reminded that scherzo means joke, so we might think certain movements of longer works are meant to be playful. 

Then we have intertextuality, like a quotation in a jazz solo. I think Parker quotes "White Christmas" in a solo on "Ornithology." 

There is irony, as in the use of excessively simple or saccharine melodies that we don't feel are to be taken seriously.  Parody as well.  

The frustration of expectations, or misdirection, or surprise.  The use of odd juxtapositions. 

Funny timbres and tonalities, dissonances. It might be funny to use a kazoo.  

I think Haydn is funnier than Mozart, and Monk funnier than Mingus, though the latter can be witty as well. Ellington is witty in a sophisticated way. 

I never went in for the PDQ Bach stuff for some reason.  

It takes some sophistication to hear humor in music, because many people approach music, especially classical music, with a deadly earnestness. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


This is the prose of the contemporary academy:

A situation that took place in a sociology classroom earlier this week has been brought to my attention and I felt the need to communicate to you about it, particularly as it pertains to our value of inclusivity.
A professor is reported to have presented materials and made comments about which some students have expressed concern. We are taking the matter very seriously and are gathering the facts to determine if and what action is warranted.
The classroom is an environment in which students and faculty can and should discuss challenging topics and ideas, which makes it all the more important that we gather and fully review the facts in this case.  
As we review this situation, let me say unequivocally that SUNY Geneseo has a steadfast and uncompromising commitment to diversity and inclusivity. We work diligently to sustain an inviting and supportive environment for people of all gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations, races, religions and other identities.   
I use this opportunity to remind you that our Interim Chief Diversity Officer robbie routenberg (capitalization style intentional) is available as a resource to the campus community. I would also encourage any students who have support needs to contact Lenny Sancilio, dean of students, and Dillon Federici, coordinator of LGBTQ Programs and Services.

Who will edit the editor?

Not plagiarism, but simply bad writing:
Her lines are clear and concise, distinguished by rhyme, sound, punctuated with her signature dash and exclamation marks, half-rhymes and surprising line-breaks. She accepted her private isolation and agoraphobia and chose to commune with humanity through her poems.  
I don't know if Dickinson's lines are "clear." To say they are "distinguished by rhyme, sound" is to say very little, since almost all lyric poetry rhymed in the 19th century. That is not a "distinguishing" characteristic. And sound?  What can this possibly mean?

"dash and exclamation marks"--why switch between singular and plural instead of saying "dashes and exclamation marks"?

Then we get "half-rhymes." That is fine, but are they meant to be punctuation too? Why repeat "rhyme" twice in the same sentence? Isn't the use of half-rhyme more distinctive? And Dickinson is not particularly known for surprising line breaks or enjambement. Shouldn't we just say it concisely--that she mostly uses the ballad stanza, defamiliarizing it through slant-rhymes and eccentric punctuation?  

And "commune with humanity."  I don't like that. And "private isolation"--as opposed to public isolation I suppose?

A page later, she is talking about how Dickinson is "relatable," as though she (Bialosky I mean) were a 17-year old.  Her writing is extremely dumbed down.

We find clichés like "limp as a rag doll" and "the black cloud of depression." Seriously?  Could no-one have edited the editor a bit?

Why I won't use an oppression stack in my class

I could look at graduation rates and see that males are graduating at a much lower rate than females in my university.  Should I favor men in order to even the odds? Of course not. Even though some of the worst students I have had are white males...  

I had two students dominate, or at least predominate, my two classes last semester.  One was an African American male, the other was a white female. I didn't try to shut them down, but I did make sure that they weren't the only people speaking.  

I have Latino students who speak better Spanish. They are at an advantage, since class is only in Spanish. Should I call on the more because they are more oppressed, or less because they are comparatively advantaged in this particular situation?  

There isn't some huge competition to participate. Many students, the majority in fact, don't want to say anything at all.  I'll still make them say something from time to time, but I want to be a professor, not a dentist.

Should I call more on students who do not seem as gender normative? So I am supposed to make a judgment about someone based on their external mannerisms? Their skin color? Their last name? Should I favor Asian over whites, or vice-versa? How should I treat Jews? International students? Should I ask for students' or parents' tax returns to see how well off they are?

If my students knew I was calling on them more or less based on their race / gender / perceived gender identity, would they like it? Yes, you seem like you're gay, so I'll call on you more than the guy sitting next to you. Wouldn't then the straight white guy with an invisible disability make his own claim? To announce that you were going to do this would be disastrous. The woman who tweeted that she would call on white males only "if she had to" is practicing overt discrimination. Of course the right wing picked up on it, but that does not make it right. Sometimes seemingly progressive ideas are simply terrible.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Other plagiarism arguments

People overly concerned with tracking down and denouncing plagiarism have defective characters.  They are small-minded, reactionary bullies.

Since the fine people accused of plagiarism will likely feel bad about it, the main reaction should be to feel sorry for them / defend them against "lynch mobs" and "witch hunts."

Nobody is that original anyway.  We should be humble and not take these things too seriously.

Originality is over-rated in the first place.  It is a just "fetish."

Authorship is a fetish too.

Let's talk about something else for a change.

But... Trump! Weinstein!

Capitalism is bad. Nobody should own poetry. (Property is theft, per Marx.).

Poetry should belong to everyone.

Illiterate blues musicians....

The poem I stole from you was not that great anyway.  Who do you think you are?

Since there is no real money in poetry, the idea that it can be "stolen" is ridiculous.

In the distant past, most poetry was anonymous.

Poetry is not a real job.

The internet.

Copyright is a recent invention.  

We all write in the same alphabet so there are limited things we can express.  

Since nobody reads poetry, we shouldn't care about who the authors are, whom we are not likely to be reading. The stakes are too low for us to care.

It's all in a gray area, so let's approach the problem through a more nuanced view (which ends up holding nobody culpable).

Andy Croft

This kind of thing drive me crazy:

Personally I have never been remotely interested in“plagiarism” scandals, which always seem to me to demean everyone involved,like excitable children accusing each other of copying. All poets writing in English use the same language, the same alphabet and the same grammatical structure. We are all inheritors of the same literary traditions. We all drink from the same well. No poet should be so lacking in humility as to think that they can ever write anything that is “original”. All any of us can ever hope to do is to restate in a contemporary idiom what has already been said, probably by much better poets than we can ever be. An original poem is as impossible as an original colour. Which is perhaps why, for all the current emphasis on poets finding their “voice”, so many contemporary poets sound the same...

 This is so fallacious it beggars belief, but I see people making this argument all the time. We know, mathematically speaking, that the chances of two people coming up with the same 8 word sentence is infinitesimal.  Because, well, math. It's not the alphabet that's preventing originality.

The fallacy is conflating originality 1 (unique sentences and paragraphs never existing before) with

originality 2 (something original in a more profound sense)

Originality 1 is very easy to achieve, and just involves not copying things verbatim, writing the ideas that come out of ones own brain.

Originality 2 is impossible to achieve, therefore let's not bother with 1 either?

I despise this discourse of humility.

This also

And why should the poetry world suddenly be the focus of these questions about ownership. Why now? Why poetry? Why not the worlds of, say, ventriloquism, athletics, topiary or pottery? Who benefits from the importation of this legal vocabulary into poetry?   The current moral panic over “plagiarism in poetry” seems to me to derive from several overlapping elements—the post-Romantic privatisation of feeling and language, the fetishisation of “novelty” in contemporary culture, half-hearted notions of intellectual property, the long-term consequences of Creative Writing moving from university adult education onto campus as an academic subject, the professionalisation of poetry, and the creation of a large pool of Creative Writing graduates competing for publication, jobs and prizes at the same time as a catastrophic decline in the number of poetry publishers.

People like to know who came up with the words of a poem, poets don't like their work stolen.  It is very simple.  It is not a moral panic at all. This also commits the famous "why now" fallacy.  There is no "why no" because there are always plagiarism controversies, whenever someone plagiarizes and gets caught.  And the list of factors listed didn't all happen at the same time either so they have no explanatory power.  

Friday, October 20, 2017


I wrote a contrafactum to rhythm changes today. Or I should say that one just occurred to the fingers of my right hand as I was playing, after working out some bass lines. I didn't do anything with the B section of it.  I'm thinking that should be improvised.

I did decide to use the chords D7 / G7 / C-7 / B7 for the bridge (instead of C7 / F7), and to make a few other minor reharmonizations in the A section.


Here are some ideas about Monk on or around his 100th birthday. People talk to me about Monk sometimes, or I read something they've written, and I tend to think I know a tiny bit more about Monk than other people (aside from jazz musicians or musicologists expert in him, of course), having listened to him since around 1975. Someone tried to tell me recently that Monk could not read music. This was uncomfortable for me because I don't like to show up ignorant people in person and I was accused of "pissing on my parade."

 I tend to emphasize not his eccentricity but his musical uniqueness, though you could argue his uniqueness as a musician stems from the fact that he is not a conventional thinker.

I don't try to compose like Monk when I write music, because my mind moves in much more conventional directions. I did write a contrafactum to Bemsha Swing once though.

1) Bebop but not bebop. Stylistically, Monk is not very boppish in his playing if we think of Bud Powell as the standard way of playing in this style. Every other bop pianist sounds like Powell more or less. Monk's playing is one of a kind. You can tell that he began as a stride pianist, because he can revert to that. You can tell that Monk felt time differently than many other musicians, and his use of rubato can be extreme. Because he was not a conventional bop pianist (though a founder of bop) his influence is felt in the jazz avant-garde.

2) Humor. A lot of people don't hear musical humor because it can be relatively subtle. Monk can be very funny. There's a version of "Lulu's Back in Town" on a wildly out-of-tune piano that's hilarious. Tunes like "Brilliant Corners," "Friday the Thirteenth," "Ugly Beauty" or "Boo Boo's Birthday" are very witty too. Playing a standard in a Monk style can be inherently funny because of the disparity between

3) Melody.  As a player and composer Monk is all about the melody.  He has wonderful melodies like "Monk's Mood" or "Crepuscule for Nellie."  I like Andrew Hill a lot, a pianist-composer similar to Monk in some ways, but Hill's melodies are not catchy the way Monk's are.  As an improviser, Monk likes to embellish the melody rather than play endless scales over the chord changes.  Ornette is another great melodist, of course, whose music would be played more if it had standard chord changes.

4) Structure. He liked to work in 12 bar blues and in 32 bar song form. He could do everything he needed to do without modifying these forms. "Bemsha Swing" has a form even simpler than a 12 bar blues. Harmonically, he could be simple or very complex, depending on the circumstances.

5) Ugly Beauty. Monk's all about the beauty of the music. We can hear lyrical tenderness in "Round Midnight," "Crepuscule for Nellie," "Reflections," "Pannonica" or "Monk's Mood." But what about the dissonance and percussiveness? That just deepens the beauty by making it more complex.

6) Emotion and Intellect.  Barthes talks about the dichotomy between the head and the heart as a cornerstone of a kind of bourgeois ideology. I don't know if I am responding to Monk with the thinking part of my brain or on an emotional level, because his music transcends that division completely.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Poetry Foundation: 

Poet Stanley Plumly was born in Barnesville, Ohio, and grew up in the lumber and farming regions of Virginia and Ohio. His father was a lumberjack and welder who died at age fifty-six of a heart attack linked to his alcoholism. 


Stanley, Plumly, my poet-teacher, was born in Barnesville, OhioHis father was a lumberjack and and welder who died at age fifty-eight of alcoholism

Another probable source?  


Also, not a plagiarism, but really?  "Influenced by European poets like Lorca and Neruda..."  (p. 124).  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


With the Bialosky scandal I realize that my memoir of reading poetry is irremediably academic, in the sense that, much as she think of herself as a "thinky person," she is really not, ni mucho menos. As a poet, she is the type who thinks a good poem has a lot of words like shimmering and glittering. A pretty poem with pretty words. She is not an intellectual person.

More bizarro scholarship

Bizarrely, Bialosky thinks that Wallace Stevens's poem "The Snow Man" is about children building a snow man.  She tries to make this connection to the poem in order to make her book about poetry a "memoir," but the effort is very clumsy, because, well, the poem is not about that. That is just the title.

Reasons not to harass

I don't want to paint myself as especially virtuous in a self-serving way,  because I can be an asshole like anyone else, but I am not that guy, that particular sexually harassing asshole.

The main reason I don't harass women is that I want them to like and respect me, and, when appropriate, to find me attractive. In my experience, women talk badly about sexually harassing men and do not like them.

In the times when I have not been married or in a relationship, I am not very good at making even appropriate advances. The idea of making an advance that is inappropriate is horrifying to me. My work involves contact with attractive 21-year old women, and harassing them is one of the only ways in which I could lose my job (one of the only ways as a tenured professor). Through no virtue of my own, these women are not particularly attractive to me, since I am an older woman type of guy.

There are a lot of guys like me, I'm sure. There are a lot of reasons not to do it. The main reason, though, is that it is not the way to get women to like you: engaging in behavior that they think is odious.