Thursday, December 31, 2009

Adorno and Music listening project


Adorno and Music

I have been on a little project to listen to the music that Adorno refers to in many of his works. I decided to use the new large collection Essays on Music, edited by Richard Leppert (University of California Press). I am also drawing from three of Adorno's longer works: Philosophy of Modern Music, Introduction to the Sociology of Music, and Alban Berg: Master of the Smallest Link.
It is a lot to listen to, of course, but as I read an essay or chapter, I am trying to listen to the music he is discussing. So I will add here little notices of things from time to time that seem of interest in the reading and link up to music, if I can (e.g., silence in Webern or Paul Whiteman's version of "jazz"). So far, listening to these works ---as well as some of the recently recorded works of Adorno himself--- has given me a better appreciation of Adorno in particular and Critical Theory in general.
See also this little video I put together on Adorno discussing popular protest music: Adorno, Popular Music, and Protest

Here is a list of pieces I found in Adorno. It is far from exhaustive and I have not yet listened to them all in the context of reading Adorno's writings.

Bach
The Art of the Fugue
The Musical Offering; Mass in B Minor; Well-tempered Clavier
Bartok
Out of Doors; String Quartet no. 4; Violin Concertos No. 1 & 2
Beethoven
Bagatelles, op. 33 & 126; Grosse Fuge; Leonore Overture; Mass in C major; Missa Solemnis;
Piano Sonatas 14,21,26,29, and 32; Symphonies 3,4,5,7,8,and 9; String Quartets op. 95, 127, 131; Diabelli Variations, op. 120; Violin Sonata no. 47
Alban Berg
Seven Early Songs; Piano Sonata, op. 1; Four Songs, op. 2; String Quartet, op. 3; Alternber-Lieder, op. 4; Clarinet Pieces, op. 5; Three Pieces for Orchestra, op. 6; Wozzeck, op. 7; Chamber Concerto; Lyric Suite; Der Wein; Lulu; Lulu Suite; Violin Concerto
Pierre Boulez
Structure 1A; Le Marteau sans maitre; Piano Sonata no. 3
Johannes Brahms
Symphoniy no. 1
Anton Bruckner
Symphony no. 7 and 8; Mass in F minor
Claude Debussy
Preludes, Book II
Hanns Eisler
Duke Ellington
George Gershin
Rhapsody in Blue
Paul Hindemith
"jazz"
Rene Leibowitz
Four Pieces for Piano
Gustav Mahler
Des Knaben Wunderhorn; Symphony 2,3,4,5,6,and 7; Das Lied von der Erde
Mozart
Marriage of Figaro; The Magic Flute; Symphony 39, 40, and 41
Giacomo Puccini
La Boheme; Madama Butterfly; Tosca;
Sergi Rachmaninoff

Prelude in C-sharp minor
Arnold Schoenberg
Gurrelieder; Verklarte Nacht, op. 4; Lieder, op. 6; String Quartet in D minor, op. 7; Chamber Symphony no. 1, op. 9; Das Buch der hagenden Garten, op. 15; Dance around the Golden Cafe from Moses und Aron; Funf orchesterstucke, op. 16; Erwatung op. 17; Die gluckliche Hand op. 18; Kleine Klavierstucke, op. 19; Hergewachse op. 20; Die Jakobsleiter; Pierrot Lunaire, op. 21; Lieder, op. 22; Klavierstucke, op. 23; Serenade, op. 24; Wind Quintet, op. 26; Suite, op. 29; Variations for Orchestra, op. 31; Von heute auf morgen, op. 32; Moses und Aron; Champber Symphony no.2 (op. 38a); Kol Nidre, op. 39; String Trio, op. 45; Phantasy for violin and piano, op. 47; String Quartets 1, 2, 3, 4
Franz Shubert
Symphony no. 8
Robert Schumann
Kinderszenen, op. 15; Kreisleriana, op. 16; “So oft sie kam” op. 90
Richard Strauss
Adriadne auf Naxos; Alpine Symphony; Elektra; Four Last Songs; Die Frau ohne Schatten; Ein Heldenleben; Der Rosenkavalier; Salome; Symphonia domestica
Igor Stravinsky
L'Histoire du Soldat; Petrouchka; Pulcinella; The Rake's Progress; Renard; Le Sacre du printemps; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphony of Psalms; Three Japanese lyrics
Richard Wagner
Die fliegende Hollander; Gotterdammerung; Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg; Parsifal;
Der Ring des Nibelungen; Seigfried; Tannhauser; Tristan und Isolde; Die Walkure
Anton Webern
Passacaglia, op. 1; Five Songs from Der siebente Ring, op. 3; Five Songs on Poems of Stefan George, op. 4; Five Movements for String Quartet, op. 5; Six Pieces for Orchestra, op. 6; Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, op. 7; Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, op. 9; Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 10; Three Little Pieces for violoncello and Piano, op. 11; Orchestration of the Ricercare from Bach's Musical Offering
Kurt Weill
Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny; The Three-Penny Opera

and to this I would add these:

John Cage
“She is Asleep” duet for voice and prepared piano;
As Slow as Possible; Music for Prepared Piano
Charles Ives
String Quartets; Songs, Vol. 1 and II.
Henry Cowell
Steve Reich
Octet; Nagoya Marimba; Music for 18 Musicians
Dagmar Krause
Songs of Kurt Weill; Tank Battles: Songs of Hans Eisler
Frank Sinatra A Hot Time in the Town of Berlin
Sidney Bechet High Society
Paul Whiteman

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Darwin's Beagle notebooks go online, but the Galapagos notebook is missing.


Darwin's notebooks from the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle are being placed online by the English Heritage society, which cares for Darwin's Down House. There is a problem, though, because one of Darwin's notebooks is missing and it is the Galapagos notebook. It is thought to have been taken from Down House sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. The BBC World Service story is here. The appeal from English Heritage can be read here.
Here is their description of the notebook.
Darwin used different types of notebooks and the missing Galapagos notebook is small, almost square, and bound in leather with a brass clasp. It is labelled on the outside with a rough itinerary in Darwin's handwriting, marked "Galapagos. Otaheite. Lima." It contains entries he made between March and November 1835 when he was in Chile, Peru, the Galapagos and Tahiti. Inside the front cover is written: "63.5 C. Darwin H.M. Beagle". About a third of the notes were written from the front with the rest starting again from the back of the book. Darwin usually crossed out each page when he had written up the contents, either in his diary or in one of his more formal notebooks. All the Beagle notebooks are mostly written in pencil.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Web Site Address: http:/node801.org


Since 1997, I believe, Geocities has been my website provider. Geocities was unfortunately bought by Yahoo! a couple of years ago and now Yahoo! has closed it down. So I am in the process of moving my site. While going to www.geocities.com/brbgc should result in you being forwarded to the new address, it might not work yet. The new site is not fully functional right now ["pending" yahoo calls it] but I hope to have it back by the weekend. The new address is the much simpler node801.org

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How homeopathy cures and other pseudo-scientific wonders


A remarkable video of Dr. (of optometry) Charlene Werner
as she explains homeopathy.
It seems that if you took high school chemistry and recognize Einstein's name, then you too have the background to understand everything she is talking about. Of course, if you have had more than that, then it might not make very much sense. We should all be glad to know that god sent Stephen Hawking as a messenger, but really that is beside the point. It is all about vibration, we are told, and that the universe has no mass.
PZ Myers' pharyngula blog has dedicated a couple of entries to this, and it seems that the original poster has been threatened with legal action for linking to it, so it seems natural to mention it here and link to it. Myers also has a link in his blog for a lecture by Lawrence Krauss that actually makes sense given what we actually know about the universe.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Music of the Week: Living Colour on Soundcheck

I remember going to a Living Colour Concert just before their first record and was hit (slightly) by a cab right outside the doors. It hurt quite a bit, but I stayed for the show anyway, and it was well worth it. My knee got better in a couple of weeks.
http://www.wnyc.org/shows/soundcheck/episodes/2009/09/11/segments/140477

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Music of the Week; Steel Pulse --- Klu Klux Klan

A concert performance of Steel Pulse Live at the Rainbow Theater, London, England.
September 18th, 1980.

Monday, September 28, 2009

David Attenborough's BBC Collection goes online.


Fifty of Attenborough's selected favorites are available to watch from the BBC.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/collections/p0048522
This is a great collection of work by an equally great naturalist.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Music of the Week: Battles - "Tonto"

Music of the Week this week is the band Battles. They have some very good stuff, but also one of the most annoying songs ever, which is I suppose the price to pay for some form of success these days. So I will not torture myself or you with their song Atlas, although the video for it is interesting as it features the band in a mirrored room not unlike the one on the cover of Fripp and Eno's No Pussyfooting. This band, though, reminds me more of Soft Machine, perhaps because of the placement of the drums but also because of the style of play and composition.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Herculine/Alexina Barbin & Caster Semenya

"In the midst of the happiness that intoxicated me, I was frightfully tormented. What was I to do, my God, what was I to decide on?"
--Alexina "Herculine" Barbin


Thus wrote the mid-19th century hermaphrodite Alexina Barbin not long before taking her own life. At the time Barbin was born, it was customary for the child to have their sex chosen for them at birth, and to simply be raised as such. By the time Barbin died, the question was in the hands of legal and medical authorities. Barbin was raised as a girl in a convent orphanage and in the convent. When she reached maturity, she chose to go into teaching, a profession which required an initial medical examination. During the routine and invasive examination it was discovered that she had both male and female characteristics. These attributes had apparently been missed in all previous medical exams, but when it was time for her to leave the protection of the convent, the diagnosis changed and with it an entire social apparatus emerged. Ultimately, Alexina, as she referred to herself, was forced to live as a man. After writing her memoir, she committed suicide in a Parisian hovel.

It is certainly difficult not to think of the current controversy over the runner Caster Semenya when reading back over this text, and to consider how little distance there is between the Alexina and Caster in terms of how they are being diagnosed and regulated, at least by some. This BBC "World Have Your Say" is interesting in that regard.

Michel Foucault brought Herculine's story to light with his book Herculine Barbin, which collected Barbin's memoir and associated medical, legal, and literary documents.
He wrote in his introduction:

"Do we truly need a true sex? With a persistence that borders on stubbornness, modern Western societies have answered in the affirmative. They have obstinately brought into play this question of a "true sex in an order of things where one might have imagined that all that counted was the reality of the body and the intensity of its pleasures.

For a long time, however, such a demand was not made, as is proven by the history of the status which medicine and law have granted to hermaphrodites. Indeed it was a very long time before the postulate that a hermaphrodite must have a sex ---a single, a true sex--- was formulated. For centuries, it was quite simply agreed that hermaphrodites had two. Were they terror-inspiring monsters, calling for legal tortures? In fact, things were much more complicated. It is true that there is evidence of a number of executions, both in ancient times and in the Middle Ages. But there is also an abundance of court decisions of a completely different type. In the Middle Ages, the rules of both canon and civil law were very clear on this point: the designation 'hermaphrodite' was given to those in whom the two sexes were juxtaposed, in proportions that might be variable. In these cases, it was the role of the father or the godfather (thus of those who 'named' the child) to determine at the time of baptism which sex was going to be retained. If necessary, one was advised to choose the sex that seemed to have the better of the other, being 'the more vigorous' or 'the warmest.' But later, on the threshold of adulthood, when the time came for them to marry, hermaphrodites were free to decided for themselves if they wished to go on being of the sex which had been assigned to them, or if they preferred the other. The only imperative was that they had then declared until the end of their lives, under pain of being labeled sodomites. Changes of option, not the anatomical mixture of the sexes, were what gave rise to most of the condemnations of hermaphrodites in the records of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Biological theories of sexuality, juridical conceptions of the individual, forms of administrative control in modern nations, led little by little to rejecting the idea of a mixture of the two sexes in a single body, and consequently to limiting the free choice of indeterminate individuals. Henceforth, everybody was to have one and only one sex. Everybody was to have his primary, profound, determined and determining sexual identity; as for the elements of the other sex that might appear, they could not only be accidental, superficial, or even quite simply illusory. From the medical point of view, this meant that when confronted with a hermaphrodite, the doctor was no longer concerned with recognizing the presence of the two sexes, juxtaposed or intermingled, or with knowing which of the two prevailed over the other, but rather with deciphering the true sex that was hidden beneath ambiguous appearance. He had, as it were, to strip the body of its anatomical deceptions and discover the one true sex behind organs that might have put on the forms of the opposite sex.....
....
Here is a document drawn from the strange history of our 'true sex.' It is not unique, but it is rare enough. It is the journal or rather the memoirs that were left by one of those individuals whom medicine and the law in the nineteenth century relentlessly questioned about their genuine sexual identity. ---Michel Foucault, 1980 [1978]. Herculine Barbin: Being the recently discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Pantheon Books.


from BBC News: "Makeover for SA gender-row runner"


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Music of the Week: Joy Division (Live)

Joy Division performing September 15, 1979. The songs are "Transmission" & "She's Lost Control." Ian Curtis was probably one of the few with a stranger dance style than David Byrne.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Music of the Week: Cape Verde's Cesária Évora - Carnaval De São Vicente

The Music of the Cape Verde islands does not get enough attention. Here is one of the greats: Cesária Évora.

Heineken Concerts 2000

Teatro Alfa / São Paulo
Cesária Évora: voz
Fernando José Andrade: piano
Antonio Domingo G. Fernandes: sax/percussão
João José Pina Alves: guitarra
Aderito Gonçalves Pontes: guitarra
Julian Corrales Subida: violino
Leonel Eusébio B. Hernandez: violino
Antonio Pina Alves: cavaquinho
Daniel Rodriguez: cello
Virgilio Julio Duarte: baixo
Carlos Monteiro: bateria

Monday, August 17, 2009

Music of the Week: Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros

Music of the Week Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, in 1999 singing Safe European Home by the Clash.

I know that it is strange to say, but in many ways, the Mescaleros rocked-out even more than the Clash, but I appreciate them both. Strummer was asked why they sang so many Clash songs, and he replied that by putting his name on the band and playing a couple of old songs, "The lads get twice as much for each gig."
They were the first Carbon-free band as well, planting trees and supporting reforestation projects to off-set their fuel and electricity use.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

'Dead' A-Bomb Hits U.S. Town, 1958.


Three years before I was born, an a-bomb happened to fall near my hometown in South Carolina. The pilots did not know that it had fallen until they landed at the nearby airbase and noticed that it was missing. My father took me by there a few times when I was a kid, and then I found this newsreel a few years ago at the Internet Archive (archive.org). One thing I like about the reel is that it is followed by a story about computer-assisted manufacturing, featuring Hughes Aircraft, who may very well have manufactured the bomb mounts in the plane. But not to worry in the computer-assisted factory of the future.
By chance we vacationed on Tybee Island last year, and I ran across this little story about another lost a-bomb somewhere just off the coast there. It seems that the proper authorities have never found this one!
It makes for a good reason to show Dr. Strangelove to my Intro. Cultural Studies students.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Music of the Week: Robert Wyatt Left on Man

Music of the Week: Robert Wyatt Live: Left on Man

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lectures by Richard Feynman online

The 1964 Messenger Lecture series was given by Richard Feynman and recorded by the BBC. Microsoft is using it to get people to use their new interactive software (which is rather clunky, I must say), but the lectures are worth the trouble of dealing with MS's "hosting" of the archive. Just ignore the MS distractions and enjoy these very accessible lectures. They are also important in considering the history and social context of science.
http://research.microsoft.com/apps/tools/tuva/index.html

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Exhuming Rwanda's Gorillas: Fossey's Legacy"

NPR is currently running this series on its website. Researchers are at work ehuming the remains of the gorillas that were studied by Dian Fossey. Erin Marie Williams records the field dispatches available at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106843731

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Music of the Week: Niyaz

This weeks selection is the song Azam Ali by Niyaz.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Interpreting Weill and Eisler: Dagmar Krause and Ute Lemper.

Once one of my students approached me and excitedly related how she had just heard Ute Lemper. My student (whose name I will not mention) was so happy to have found this new music that I only encouraged her to listen to more. Actually, what I wanted to tell her was to listen to Dagmar Krause's interpretations instead. It must be said that Ute Lemper's interpretations of Weill are very popular, and that they are just that, popular. They are finely tuned for the ear of the lover of a musical theater that is either without social content, or that has been, as in the case of her interpretations, often stripped of its social aspects.
This might seem too harsh a judgment, and it can be countered by:
1] the songs themselves always carry their social meaning; and
2] that the setting of these songs was in popular musical theater, and so to emphasize this aspect of the songs is more important than their intended content. The last objection is of course akin to those who make comments like "I never listen to the lyrics, I just like the beat." Such a level of interpretation seems legitimate and difficult to rebut precisely because it is so lacking in any worthwhile content.

Krause elevates what might be a mere show-tune to the level of a song. Lemper's emphasis is on the show-tune. Now one might say that these are show-tunes and so Lemper's performance is more "authentic." This is to a certain extent quite true, if one is looking for authenticity. But the authenticity of a time is also its illustrative of its ideological apparatus. And so to be more authentic is just as much to put on the ideological blinders of the period and place, and these affirmations of this period and place were beyond a doubt to be found on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Krause on the other hand brings out the negative, critical aspects of the songs, for Broadway was not the only context for the songs of Weill and Eisler. Some of course come before their engagement with Hollywood and the musical theater. All the songs have a negative, or critical, aspect that only Krause is able to reveal to the listener. The larger context for the songs are of course the era of the World Wars, with all its social and political upheaval. Krause's interpretation places the songs not in the theater, but in the social world.

The differences in Krasue's and Lemper's interpretation carries over into their voices. Krause again places these in a larger context by reminding the listener of her earlier performances with Henry Cow, and The Art Bears bands noted not only for their music, but for their politics as well. That some insist on referring to her voice as "highly original and idiosyncratic" or even "the voice of the angel of the Apocalypse" is due only to the distance these bands were from the conventions of popular music. Knowing these earlier associations, the very fact of her interpreting them moves the songs of Weill and Eisler away from the theater and back into the stream of music associated with Krause's earlier solo and group recordings. In doing so, Krause has changed what it means to authentically interpret these songs.

Below are to clips that illustrate the point.
For Ute Lemper you have to follow the link as it cannot be embedded.

Ute Lemper ~ Surabaya Johnny:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yxz81DtK_9k

Dagmar Krause ~ Surabaya Johnny: Unfortunately the only one from the records that I could find.


See Krause's
Supply and Demand: Songs by Brecht/Weill and Eisler (1986, LP, Hannibal Records)
Angebot und Nachfrage (1986, LP, Hannibal Records)
Tank Battles: The Songs of Hanns Eisler (1988, LP, Island Records)
Panzerschlacht: Die Lieder von Hanns Eisler (1988, LP, Island Records)
Voiceprint Radio Sessions (1993, CD, Voiceprint Records)

These is another performance of Lemper that shows the show-tune side of a Weill song: Ute Lemper "The Saga of Jenny" at the Internet Archive
http://www.archive.org/details/the_saga_of_jenny

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Music of the Week: Thelonious Monk Quartet - Straight, No Chaser - Paris, 1969



Thelonious Monk on Piano
Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone
Nate Hygelund on bass
Paris Wright on drums.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Music of the Week: the Lituus

The Lituus, a Roman instrument, has been recreated. Here is what it sounds like.
there is a story on the BBC site as well at

Cutting-edge computer modelling software has enabled a long-lost, trumpet-like instrument to be recreated allowing a work by Bach to be performed as the composer may have intended for the first time in nearly 300 years.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Music of the Week: Hatfield & the North live at the Rainbow c.1975

The legendary Hatfield and the North perform this week's music selection. The video is grainy, but the sound is fine.


Phil Miller (guitar)
Pip Pyle(drums)
Richard Sinclair (bass and vocals)
Dave Stewart (keyboards)

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Special Music of the Week: Thelonious Monk - Live in '66

Today deserves a song or two.

Thelonious Monk's television performances taped in Oslo and Copenhagen in 1966.
with Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone
Larry Gales on bass
Ben Riley on drums

I've automated the upload of this and the next few posts.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

BRBIII v. I.C. Wiley, c. 1977

White: BRBIII
Black: I.C. (Issac Cyrus) Wiley
c.1977
Opening: ELO A01 - Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack

1.P-QN3 N-KB3 2.B-N2 P-Q4 3.P-K3 B-B4 4.N-KB3 N/1-Q2 5.B-N5 P-K3 6.0-0 B-Q3 7.R-K1 0-0 8.P-KR3 P-QR3 9.B-K2 N-K5 10.P-Q3 N-N4


11.NxN QxN 12.B-N4 BxB 13.QxB QxQ 14.PxQ N-K4 15.P-N5 P-QB4 16.N-Q2 P-N4 17.R/R-Q1 N-B3 18.P-R3 R/R-N1 19.P-N3 R/B-Q1 20.K-N2 P-QR4


21.R-QN1 B-B2 22.R-KR1 R-N2 23.P-K4 N-Q5 24.BxN PxB 25.R/R-K1 PxP 26.RxP R-Q4 27.N-B3 B-N3 28.P-R4 R-B2 29.R-N2 P-N5 30.R-K5 R/2-Q2


31.R-N1 B-B2 32.RxR RxR 33.K-R3 K-R1 34.R-K1 K-N1 35.R-K4 B-N3 36.R-K5 RxR 37.NxR P-B3 38.PxP PxP 39.N-B4 B-B2 40.K-R4 K-B2


41.K-N4 K-N3 42.P-B4 P-R4+ 43.K-R4 K-R3 44.N-Q2 B-Q1 45.N-B3 B-N3 46.K-R3 K-R2 47.K-R4 K-R3 48.K-R3 K-R2

Draw Agreed ½-½

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Music of the Week: Carla Bley Reactionary Tango #1


Jazz Jamboree Warsaw/Poland, 24th October [1981]

Carla Bley - Piano
Steve Swallow - Bass
Arturo O'Farrell - Piano, Organ
Dee Sharp - Drums
Earl Mackintyre - Tuba
Gary Valente - Trombone
Vicent Chancey - French Horn
Steve Slagle - Alto Sax
Tony Dagradi - Tenor Sax
Michael Mantler - Trumpet

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Louis Agassiz and the Timetree of Life

There is a resemblance between the representation of Natural History by Louis Agassiz and the Timetree of Life. Of course, there is a vast gulf that separates them. Agassiz comes at the end of the era of dominance of Natural History and of polygenism, the scientific theory that the "races" constitute separate species. Agassiz was a proponent of polygenism and one of the most powerful critics of Darwin. It is difficult to see, but at the apex of his representation is a crown that rests atop the entry for Man. in the center are the four elements and an indistinguishable mass (God). In the Timetree, the Earth is at the center of the table and humans are just one small line in a vast natural world. One can actually see the decentering of humans accomplished by Darwin's work.


The Timetree of Life.
Stephen Jay Gould had a nice little "unpopular" essay on this topic "Cones and Ladders: Constraining Evolution by Canonical Icons." Gould mentions too the enduring influence of Ernst Haeckel's Tree of Life ---which is topped by "Menschen"--- on the common understanding of nature. Gould also held the Louis Agassiz chair at Harvard. While writing his "Mismeasure of Man," Gould found in the Agassiz archive the full text of a letter from Agassiz to his mother in which he described is first encounter with Negros. In 1846 Agassiz had arrived in the United States a noted Naturalist and needing to avoid some debts back in Europe. He immediately traveled to Philadelphia to meet Dr. Samuel G. Morton. Morton was the leading scientific proponent of polygenism and had amassed one of the largest crania collections in the world. Gould spent a great deal of time replicating Morton's experiments measuring their cranial capacity.
This is the text of Agassiz's letter to his mother as first published by Gould:

It was in Philadelphia that I first found myself in prolonged contact with Negroes; all the domestics in my hotel were men of color. I can scarcely express to you the painful impression that I received, especially since the feeling that they inspired in me is contrary to all our ideas about the confraternity of the human type [genre] and the unique origin of our species. But truth before all. Nevertheless, I experienced pity at the sight of this degraded and degenerate race, and their lot inspired compassion in me in thinking that they are really men. Nonetheless, it is impossible for me to reprocess the feeling that they are not of the same blood as us. In seeing their black faces with their thick lips and grimacing teeth, the wool on their head, their bent knees, their elongated hands, their large curved nails, and especially the livid color of the palm of their hands, I could not take my eyes off their face in order to tell them to stay far away. And when they advanced that hideous hand towards my plate in order to serve me, I wished I were able to depart in order to eat a piece of bread elsewhere, rather than dine with such service. What unhappiness for the white race---to have tied their existence so closely with that of Negroes in certain countries! God preserve us from such contact!

It was during this time that Agassiz met Samuel Morton, whom Agassiz recognized immediately as a scholar who was “after Georges Cuvier... the only zoologist who had any influence on his mind and scientific opinions.”



Haeckel's Tree of Life

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Electron microscope view of Ant (with zoom)


From the New Scientist "Short Sharp Science" blog
If you like ants, this will give hours of fun viewing. It might even be good for doing a bit of invertebrate zoology as well. I have sadly have not had an ant "farm" in many years. I once had one that was made from a tall window, about 5 feet tall, three inches wide, and 1 1/2 feet across. It was great but the thought that several thousands ants were living in my room really annoyed my house-mates at the time. Of course, it was great and I might build a new one sometime in the future.

Music of the Week: The Orchestra Baobab

The music of the week this time is the Orchestra Baobab, which was the house band of the Cafe Baobab in Dakar. Their cosmopolitan blend of music and vocals was way ahead and their influence can be heard in the late Talking Heads. It also went directly against the trend towards identity and separatist music that was to become the dominant style. So in part because of the political situation they broke up for a long period but reunited at the turn of the century.


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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Timetree of Life


The Timetree of Life is available online now. It allows one to trace the known evolution of species as well as calculate the time of divergence of two species. There is a companion book as well. See also the Encyclopedia of Life.
This is the description from the Timetree web site:

TimeTree is a public knowledge-base for information on the evolutionary timescale of life. A search utility allows exploration of the thousands of divergence times among organisms in the published literature. A tree-based (hierarchical) system is used to identify all published molecular time estimates bearing on the divergence of two chosen taxa, such as species, compute summary statistics, and present the results. Names of two taxa to be compared are entered in the search window and the results are presented on a separate page. Alternatively the last name of an author is entered to find divergence times published by that person. For those interested in published summaries of relationships and divergence times of major groups of organisms (family level and above), see the authoritative synthesis The Timetree of Life.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Music of the Week: Glenn Gould --- Webern Variations for Piano, opus 27

Glenn Gould plays Anton Webern's Variations for Piano, opus 27.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Music of the Week: The John Coltrane Quartet with Eric Dolphy

The musical selection of the week The John Coltrane Quartet with Eric Dolphy preforming "Impressions"



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Sunday, May 31, 2009

From Ancient Scripts & the Voynich Manuscript to Borges & Marx


There is a nice article in The New Scientist about eight ancient scripts that have not been deciphered. Decoding antiquity: Eight scripts that still can't be read.

There is a notable aspect of Borges writings that involves lost, forgotten, unread, fragmentary, or even imagined manuscripts. I always think of texts such as these or of disputed works such as the disputed Voynich Manuscript at the Yale Library.
It has been the object of dispute ever since it came on the scene in the late 1800s and the script/code has never been deciphered, though the work on it continues. It is in many ways the epitome of a Borgesian work. There are many works that we are accustom to thinking are complete, but are really fragments. One of the most famous, in some circles, being The German Ideology by Marx and Engels. The latter once wrote--- and this contributes to its fame--- that finding no luck with publishing the manuscript, and having worked out certain problems in it that necessitated that they move on to other topics and styles of exposition: “We consigned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice.”

The critical marks of the mice are visible in these pictures of two pages from the manuscript of The German Ideology. (Click on them to get the full image.)
One of the things that becomes important when teaching Marx is getting students to understand that much of his work was not completed (the German Ideology, Capital, vols. 2 and 3), or subject to frequent revision (Capital, Vol.1,), never published (the Dissertation On the Difference Between Epicurean and Democritean Philosophy of Nature), or published under censorship restrictions (much of his work, actually). So the disputes around the interpretation of Marx and the party struggles to define Marxism are rooted not only in the later politics of the revolutionary period, but in the huge archive of manuscript fragments that Marx left behind.
And of course, no one seems to notice the elaborate drawings in the margin, just as they ignore Marx's love of Shakespeare and Aeschylus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Music of the Week: Henry Cow -- No More Songs

This week's selection is one of the most intelligent and highly mobile bands ever, Henry Cow, live in 1976 performing No More Songs.
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Hanging of Amy Spain

While reading the history of my home town, Darlington, South Carolina, I came upon a section of letters regarding the hanging of Amy Spain, a 17 year old slave, in March of 1865. It is a truely remarkable story about which I want to compile as much documentation as possible, perhaps for a small volume along the lines of Herculine Barbin. Of course, the difference being that Amy Spain never got to speak or write her side of the story. All that remains are the accounts of others. The hanging was important enough to appear in Harpers Weekly of Sept.30, 1865, parts of the account then being disputed in the pages of Darlington's New Era newspaper. Amy Spain was owned by a prominent local lawyer and hero of the invasion of Mexico, Major A.C. Spain, who acted as her counsel at her trial before a rebel military commission. Amy Spain was entrusted with the care of the Major's two daughters, and he wrote that: "Amy's temper was hot, hasty, and ungovernable, yet to me, as her master, she was always dutiful up to the unfortunate time when she exhibited traits of character, adopted a line of conduct, used expressions, and committed acts which contributed to the violent termination of her existence at the early age of seventeen."
A.C. Spain had been called up in the final days of the war and, he said, left the care of his plantation in the hands of his "aged" father. Upon the appearance in town of a scouting party of Sherman's forces (I have almost narrowed down and after a bit more research think that I can identify which Union and Rebel units were in the area at the time), Amy Spain and many others thought that liberation had come. Unfortunately, from what I have read in the Union records, the main body of Federal troops remained outside the town because of flooded river crossings and so only dispatched a small detail to scout and retrieve supplies. The troops then returned and continued on into Florence (the site of a large prisoner of war camp which they were no doubt anxious to liberate) and to pursue retreating forces. Amy Spain had in the mean time declare that she was free and promptly took possession of many of the household goods of the Major, taking them to her own home and declaring that the fruits of slavery now belonged to the freed slaves. Unknown to her, Confederate troops had returned to the town and to help establish "order," arrested her for her "crime." The Harper's writer describes what happened next, though this is disputed by some.
Hanging of Amy Spain
Harper's Weekly
September 30, 1865, page 613

One of the martyrs of the cause which gave freedom to her race was that of a colored woman named Amy Spain, who was a resident of the town of Darlington, situated in a rich cotton-growing district of South Carolina. At the time a portion of the Union army occupied the town of Darlington she expressed her satisfaction by clasping her hands and exclaiming, "Bless the Lord the Yankees have come!" She could not restrain her emotions. The long night of darkness which had bound her in slavery was about to break away. It was impossible to repress the exuberance of her feelings; and although powerless to aid the advancing deliverers of her caste, or to injure her oppressors, the simple expression of satisfaction at the event sealed her doom. Amy Spain died in the cause of freedom. A section of Sherman's cavalry occupied the town, and without doing any damage passed through. Not an insult nor an unkind word was said to any of the women of that town. The men had, with guilty consciences, fled; but on their return, with their traditional chivalry, they seized upon poor Army, and ignominiously hung her to a sycamore-tree standing in front of the court-house, underneath which stood the block from which was monthly exhibited the slave chattels that were struck down by the auctioneer's hammer to the highest bidder.

Amy Spain heroically heard her sentence, and from her prison bars declared she was prepared to die. She defied her persecutors; and as she ascended the scaffold declared she was going to a place where she would receive a crown of glory. She was rudely interrupted by an oath from one of her executioners. To the eternal disgrace of Darlington her execution was acquiesced in and witnessed by most of the citizens of the town. Amy was launched into eternity, and the "chivalric Southern gentlemen" of Darlington had fully established their bravery by making war upon a defenseless African woman. She sleeps quietly, with others of her race, near the beautiful village. No memorial marks her grave, but after-ages will remember this martyr of liberty. Her persecutors will pass away and be forgotten, but Amy Spain's name is now hallowed among the Africans, who, emancipated and free, dare, with the starry folds of the flag of the free floating over them, speak her name with holy reverence.


The historical truth is, of course, impossible to establish, but I think the story should be better preserved.
According to all accounts, Amy Spain was executed and then buried wearing the clothes of Spain's daughters.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Freud's Library/Office

I was looking at the great new site redesign of the Freud Museum in London when I noticed something about Freud's office. Now I have to admit that the work spaces of my intellectual predecessors (in the sense that Borges mentions in his "Kakfa & His Predecessors") have always interested me more than biography. When the American Museum of Natural History put on it's Darwin exhibition, it was great that Darwin's study was on display. It was a nice contrast to the life-size video of Darwin's garden walk. It was neat, but the study was far more interesting to me. It seemed to complement his written works perfectly. The way it opens out onto his gardens is nice.

Emerson's study

Emerson's study, too, speaks just as much about his own complex relationship to nature. There is a great description of Marx from an January 5 1879 Chicago Tribune interview where the reporter writes of Marx's study:
Once into his library, however, and having fixed his one eyeglass in the corner of his eye, in order to take your intellectual breadth and depth, so to speak, he loses that self-restraint, and unfolds to you a knowledge of men and things throughout the world apt to interest one. And his conversation does not run in one groove, but is as varied as are the volumes upon his library shelves. A man can generally be judged by the books he reads, and you can form your own conclusions when I tell you a casual glance revealed Shakespeare, Dickens, Thackeray, Moliere, Racine, Montaigne, Bacon, Goethe, Voltaire, Paine; English, American, French blue books; works political and philosophical in Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, etc., etc.

The British Museum, in many ways Marx's study.









But I obviously digress.

Freud's office has some features that might be of interest. The prints behind the couch, The Lesson of Dr. Charcot and another of classical ruins which is unfortunately not reproduced on the site as of yet. Still, if we look at the room from Freud's position, the arrangement of the figures and antiquities on his desk is not unlike the arrangement of the students in the print of Charcot's lesson. Just as much as these figures inspired Freud, so too does he seem to be to them as Charcot was to his students, enlightening them as to their own meaning and value. Ernest Jones quotes Freud:
"I believe I am changing a great deal. Charcot, who is both one of the greatest of physicians and a man whose common sense is the order of genius, simply demolishes my views and aims. Many a time after a lecture I go out as from Notre Dame, with new impressions to work over. But he engrosses me: when I go away from him I have no more wish to work at my own simple things. My brain is sated as after an evening at the theater. Whether the seed will ever bring forth fruit I do not know; but what I certainly know is that no other human being has ever affected me in such a way."(Life & Work, p.119)

The ruins of Rome come up in Freud's work, such as in passage in Civilization and it's Discontents where he begins to compare the past of "the city with the past of the mind." He concludes that there is no point to doing so, though it is a rather half-hearted gesture. Of course this does not prevent him from later mentioning that the super-ego works like a garrison in an occupied city.

Of course, this is pure speculation on my part, but that is what this blog is for, as opposed to replicating my academic work.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Don't be frightened of cliches


Text from Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Small Game of Chess

I do not usually win against my many chess programs. That being said, I also do not believe that Chess programs "think". The problem with the computer is that, unlike a human, it can access every game ever played. It is like a human having access to every book ever written and every game ever played, and you have only what you can remember and tactics and strategies that you have learned. However, I play almost every day. The best program I have found is GnuChess and the engine associated with it called Phalanx. The following game was played against a weaker, but still passable, program.

Chess,MS - BRBIII [B50]
April 25, 2009

1.P-K4 P-QB4 2.N-KB3 P-Q3 3.P-QN4 PxP 4.P-Q4 N-KB3 5.B-Q3 P-K3 6.B-KN5 Q-R4 7.BxN PxB 8.N/1-Q2 P-N4 9.P-Q5 N-R3 10.N-N3 Q-R5

11.N/B-Q4 N-B2 12.Q-B3 B-K2 13.N-Q2 B-Q2 14.N/2-N3 R-QN1 15.0-0 P-KR4 16.R/B-K1 Q-R3 17.R-K3 Q-B1 18.K-B1 P-K4 19.N-KB5 BxN 20.PxB Q-R3

21.B-K4 K-Q2 22.Q-R3 P-R5 23.K-K2 Q-N3 24.R-Q1 R/N-N1 25.R-QB1 K-Q1 26.R-Q1 N-R3 27.R-KB1 B-B1 28.K-K1 B-R3 29.R-Q3 B-B5 30.B-B3 N-B4

31.R-Q1 N-R5 32.B-K2 N-B6 33.R-Q3 NxRP 34.R-R1 P-R4 35.R-B1 P-R5 36.N-Q2 N-B6 37.Q-B3 P-QR6 38.N-N3 P-R7 39.N-R1 R-N4 40.P-N3 PxP

41.RPxP B-B8 42.RxN PxR 43.QxP P-N5 44.Q-B4 Q-B4 45.QxQ PxQ 46.B-Q3 R/4-R4 47.K-K2 R-R8 48.RxR RxR 49.B-B4 B-N7 50.BxP BxN

51.P-N4 R-R7 52.P-Q6 K-K1 53.B-N3 B-Q5 54.B-R4+ K-Q1 55.K-Q3 R-N7 56.P-KB3 R-B7 57.K-K4 R-K7+ 58.K-Q5 R-K6 59.K-B6 RxP 60.K-Q5 R-B5 61.B-N3 RxNP 62.K-B6 P-K5 63.B-Q5 P-K6 0-1

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Darwin's Reach A Celebration of Darwin's Legacy Across Academic Disciplines Thursday, Friday and Saturday March 12, 13 and 14, 2009



I will be doing a talk at this conference on the 14th. It should be good --- the conference, of course, not my talk.
It is a bit ironic that my kids confirmed to me that Darwin's names has never been mentioned in school science class so far, and this in New York City's PS/IS187. Anyway, here is the blurb and link to the conference program. --- BRBIII

---------------------------

The Hofstra University Library, Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Hofstra Cultural Center present a conference:
Darwin's Reach
A Celebration of Darwin's Legacy Across Academic Disciplines


Darwin’s Reach examines the impact of Darwin and Darwinian evolution on science and society in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin and the sesquicentennial of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859).

The central theme of this academic conference is an exploration of how Darwin’s ideas have revolutionized our understanding of both the living world and human nature.

Keynote speakers include:

Frans de Waal, Ph.D., Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University; author of Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape; preeminent researcher on primate social behavior

Niles Eldredge, Ph.D., Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History; curator of the Darwin exhibition; author of Charles Darwin - Discovering the Tree of Life and numerous other books on the subject of evolution

Judge John E. Jones III, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, who ruled against the Dover (Pennsylvania) area school board’s attempt to introduce teaching on "intelligent design" into school science classes

Jay Labov, Ph.D., senior advisor for education and communications at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.

William F. McComas, Ph.D., Parks Family Professor of Science Education, University of Arkansas; 2007 recipient of the Evolution Education Award sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS)

Online registration is available for this conference.
Conference Coordinator:
Carol D. Mallison
Hofstra Cultural Center
E-mail: Carol.Mallison@hofstra.edu

Sunday, March 8, 2009

One group of Chimps found to modify tool.


In another of what is becoming an increasing number of specific studies, chimps in one group of chimps in the Congo have learned to modify their sticks to greatly increase the amount of food (termites in this case) that they are able to collect. This recent study appears in Biology Letters.

The lead researcher Crickette Sanz, from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said: "They have invented a way to improve their termite-fishing technique."

Dr Sanz told the BBC: "We found that in the Goualougo Triangle in the Republic of Congo, the chimpanzees were modifying their termite-fishing tools with a special brush tip."

To make their rods, the chimps first picked some stems from the Marantaceae plant and plucked off the leaves.

"They then pulled the herb stems through their teeth, which were partially closed, to make the brush and they also attended to the brush by sometimes pulling apart the fibres to make them better at gathering the termites," Dr Sanz added.

Further research revealed that a stem with a frayed tip collected 10 times more termites than a pointed probe.

Dr Sanz said: "The chimps seem to understand the function of the tool and its importance in gathering termites."

So far, the team have only found this behaviour in chimps in the Goualougo Triangle.

The apparent absence of this in populations in eastern and western Africa suggests that it is not an innate skill found in all chimpanzees.

Instead it seems that the Goualougo primates are learning the crafting techniques from other chimps.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Something Wild?

When I spent a few misused months reading about serial killers, I often noticed that the common refrain from those interviewed was that the killer was such a nice person, though a bit odd. Seemed so much like us but not quite "all there," etc. There is a subtle link here between this fascination that we humans have with our own dispositions toward certain types of social behavior, and how we tend to see the creatures that share many of our social habits and genetic makeup --- from altruism and compassion to killing and ruling.
So it was interesting that Charles Siebert touched on some of these issues in his piece on human attempts to anthropomophize great apes.
"Something Wild" by Charles Siebert, New York Times
It is a good article, and it will be interesting to read Siebert's forthcoming book.
Of course, anthropomorphizing an animal is quite an old habit for humans. Take a look again at any of the cave paintings left by some of our ancestors while resisting the need to read them in spiritual or religious terms as we understand such ideas now. We can anthropomorphize apes precisely because they are so like us, and because we are embarrassed by what we are, we tend to attempt to change them rather than see that many of our behaviors are just as brutal, if not more so because of the massive scale at which we go about killing each other as well as other forms of life. So one way of saying that "we were never really so bad" or that "All the good things were there from the beginning" is to force apes to be human in the sense that we misunderstand what it means to be human.
As I have often noted in my studies, the views that we have of apes today are remarkable similar to the views that we held of slaves in the past. And the uses we put apes to today, as well as our justifications for such barbarity, are justified by language quite similar to that used to justify the treatment of slaves, whether that treatment came from "benevolent masters" or the worst of the slavers. But as Darwin noted, the slave reminds the master of the master's inhumanity.
It is precisely because they are so like us and yet so different that some humans want to make them human (aka "civilized"), as though civilization has only given us the good stuff.
A couple excerpts:

Chimps are, like us, given to occasional violent outbursts, but they have exponentially greater strength. Chimps also have, like us, minds enough to lose and memories that can hasten the process. Wild chimps “recruited” by poachers for entertainment watch as their mothers are gunned down — the only way a chimp mother would ever relinquish a child. Chimps born in captivity are spared that experience, but they suffer the same premature separation from their mothers, isolation from their normal social groups and often mistreatment from trainers and keepers, all traumatic events that have been shown to cause deep psychological scarring and, as in human beings, can lead an animal to overreact to the slightest stimuli: the look in someone’s eye, the color of someone’s hair or, as with Ms. Herold’s friend that day, hair done up in an unaccustomed style. These are, in short, deeply conflicted beings, evolutionary anomalies that only we could have created: chimps with names and yet no recollection of trees.

Lucy, Travis and all the others died for the same reason that Tulp couldn’t draw the actual being seated before him: our ongoing inability to see animals outside our own fraught frame of reference. The chimp that Tulp, in fear of science, preserved as a mythic human, Temerlin tried to make a human, in science’s name. Lost in the shuffle of either agenda were the animals themselves, creatures we still can’t regard and respect for what they are and just leave alone.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chimps, Humans, and Social Life

One year, the final essay question for my course "History of Science and the Origins of Race" was one inspired by my simultaneous reading about the Hobbit (Homo floresiensis) find and Karel Capek's War with the Newts. The question was essentially this: Since it seems that modern humans and Homo floresiensis coexisted, imagine if we were to discover some populations of Homo floresiensis and discuss some of the social, scientific, and political implications of such a discovery. Do we grant them human rights, or do we enslave them, experiment on them, or perhaps do we keep them in "reserves" or sanctuaries? Of course, areas reserved for them as sanctuaries from us.
In Capek's 1936 book, intelligent newts are discovered on an island. First we trade with them, then we enslave them, and of course they revolt against us and chase us from the seas. It is great satire and quite funny as well as raising serious questions.

The responses to my essay question were really quite good. It seemed to encourage the students to think about what it means to "human" and the separation between species. Because a portion of the course was given over to the discussion of the classification of human variety, they were by then familiar with the Polygenic theory of human origins, which held that the different types of humans, organized by their "racial" characteristics, had originated in five different places on the globe and at five different times. Africans, being the most recently created, were therefore the most socially and physically primitive. It was the theory that first established the importance of American natural historians and the theory that Darwin was arguing against in the Origin of Species (notice the singular "Origin" of the title). In the Descent of Man, Darwin actually states that if his work has done anything, he hopes it is that the Polygenic theory would now die an silent and unnoticed death. A feat his work accomplished.

So when I read the story today in the New York Times ---Pet Chimp Is Killed After Mauling Woman--- about the events in Connecticut, I could not help but be reminded. What if "Travis" the chimp had survived? How would it have been treated? Should it have been put down as a wild animal? But it had lived all its life as a human. The story in the Times and the one on the BBC World Service refer to his many human-like behaviors, the unexpected attack from a chimp that had never displayed any aggression, his appearances in commercials, the use by his human of xanex to attempt to calm him, his being treated for lyme disease, that Travis dressed himself, and that Travis fled the scene and returned to his bed to die of his wounds.
There is no doubt that it is a terrible story all around and the woman who was attacked is in critical condition, but it does raise many issues beyond whether primates should be kept as pets.

I was also reminded of these studies and observations that have emerged over the past few years:

The first, Ancient Chimps 'used stone tools' notes that while "Chimpanzees were first observed using stone tools in the 19th century. Julio Mercader and colleagues found stone tools at the Noulo site in Ivory Coast" that are 4,300 years old.
The second, gorillas are observed using tools such as a stick to help them judge the depth of a stream while they are making their crossing. Wild Gorillas Seen to Use Tools One of the gorillas is pictured here.

The third, and one that reminded me of the events in Connecticut, when a group of construction workers entered the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone they were attacked by a group of chimps led by their male "Bruno." One worker was killed and the others were badly injured. More than twenty chimps along with Bruno escaped, but were tracked down and returned to the sanctuary. The WorldService story has a picture of Bruno snacking on some fruit. Police hunt Leone 'killer chimps'

And finally this one, which is to me a bit more chilling, though I am not sure why I find it so. Perhaps because it is one thing to use a tool and another to use a weapon..... well, perhaps. Chimpanzees 'hunt using spears' Anyway, females seem to be taking the lead in developing the use of spears. This is a picture of one of the spears.


The news stories contain the links to the actual journal articles.
Recently, Spain has extended some basic human rights to primates and the EU is set to follow the example: When Human Rights Extend to Nonhumans

If you like, go to the Great Ape Project page and sign on to the Declaration on Great Apes

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Darwin, Slavery, the HMS Black Joke, and Seaman Morgan.

HMS Beagle

During the same stay in Brazil that brought Darwin face to face with the horrors of slavery, he was for a time left behind in Rio while Captain Fitz-Roy and the HMS Beagle retraced the previous months voyage down the Brazilian coast. Capt. Fitz-Roy wanted to confirm that Bahia was to the east of Rio and remap that portion of the Brazilian coast. Upon the return of the HMS Beagle, Darwin was so overjoyed that he later wrote an unusually long entry in his Diary. The night before, he met one of his shipmates, King, who had come ahead. Darwin learned from King
"...the calamitous news of the death of three of our ship-mates. — They were the three of the Macacù party who were ill with fever when the Beagle sailed from Rio. — 1st Morgan, an extra-ordinary powerful man & excellent seaman; he was a very brave man & had performed some curious feats, he put a whole party of Portugeese to flight, who had molested the party; he pitched an armed sentinel into the sea at St Jago; & formerly he was one of the boarders in that most gallant action against the Slaver the Black Joke. — 2nd Boy Jones one of the most promising boys in the ship & had been promised but the day before his illness, promotion. — These were the only two of the sailors who were with the Cutter, & picked for their excellence. — And lastly, poor little Musters; who three days before his illness heard of his Mothers death. Morgan was taken ill 4 days after arriving on board & died near the Abrolhos, where he was lowered into the sea after divisions on Sunday — for several days he was violently delirious & talked about the party. — Boy Jones died two days after arriving at Bahia, & Musters two days after that.— They were both for a long time insensible or nearly so.— They were both buried in the English burial ground at Bahia; where in the lonely spot are also two other midshipmen" (1).
Darwin was obviously taken with this Morgan, especially given the contrast with Captain Fitz-Roy's support for slavery as a "civilizing" institution. The story of the HMS Black Joke is a little different, though. The British navy's frigates could not match the speed of the average slaver, and "the smaller ships were mostly "Sepping brigs (2), which everyone agreed sailed like haystacks, compared with the clean lines of the slaving schooners." So said Christopher Lloyd in his The Navy and the Slave Trade (1949). When it happened that the slaver Henriquetta was captured, it was bought by the Royal Navy in 1828 and renamed the HMS Black Joke. Until it was scrapped in 1832, with a crew of 34 and just one 18-pound gun, the HMS Black Joke, whose name can not help but make possible all sorts of puns itself, captured nine slavers, including the 18 gun El Almirante after a 31 hour chase and battle. In their 16 months of active duty against the slave trade, the crew of the HMS Black Joke freed 466 enslaved Africans from those nine ships.

Later, Darwin relates the discovery of a Mate on another ship, the Unicorn:
May 28th & 29th Captain FitzRoy hired a small Schooner to go to the Rio Negro to bring Mr Wickham in order that he might take command of our Schooner. She arrived yesterday, & to day Mr King, who came with Mr Wickham paid me a visit. — They are heartily tired of their little vessels & are again as glad to see the Beagle as every one in her is to see them. —

30th, July 1st & 2nd Have been employed in arranging & writing notes about all my treasures from Maldonado. — The Captain informs me that he hopes next summer to double the Horn. — My heart exults whenever I think of all the glorious prospects of the future.

3rd–7th All hands of the Beagle continue to be employed in working at the Schooner (for the future the Unicorn). My occupations likewise are the same & I do not stir out of the Ship.

8th It was discovered to day that one of the Mates, belonging to the Unicorn, had formerly been in the President, a vessel supposed to be piratical & which brought the English man of war, the Black Joke, to action. It has, since the Trial, been suspected that this same ship took & murdered every soul on board the Packet Redpole. — Captain Fitz-Roy has determined to take the man a prisoner, to the Consul at M. Video. I have just been astonished to hear the order, "to reeve the running rigging, & bend sails". And we now a little before 12 at night have weighed anchor & are under sail (3).
According to Nora Barlow's note: “The 'Black Joke' was sent out by the Admiralty in 1829 to intercept slavers in West Africa” (4). There are a couple of explanations for why Darwin would get elements of the story reversed or wrong. It is clear that he enjoyed some familiarity with the crew of the Beagle. He mentions in his accounts arguing with Fit-Roy over slavery and as a result being banished by him from the cabin, only to be invited to eat with the crew. Perfect opportunities to hear tales told by an experienced crew like the Beagle's, who knew him well enough to nickname him “Philosopher.” Darwin does seem to have the story correct by the time of the incident with the Mate of the Unicorn, though. A painting of the Black Joke attacking the slaver El Almirante comes from the Royal Naval Museum.


It is little wonder that someone who hated slavery as much as Darwin would mention the passing of Morgan. It says something about History that all we have of Morgan is this brief mention. Perhaps, too, it was people such as Morgan who prompted Darwin to write that contrary to the claims of some Darwinists and followers of Spencer:
“I felt that I was walking on a path unknown to me and full of pitfalls; but I had the advantage of previous discussions by able men. I tried to say most emphatically that a great philosopher, law-giver, etc., did far more for the progress of mankind by his writings or his example than by leaving a numerous offspring. I have endeavored to show how the struggle for existence between tribe and tribe depends on an advance in the moral and intellectual qualities of the members, and not merely on their capacity of obtaining food”(5).
In the Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin brought into the open all of the events he witnessed in the slave countries, but also reveals how he still continued to suffered from the horrors of what he had seen there. His son's statement that even decades later his father endured nightmares of Brazil has a more than adequate foundation in Darwin's own writings. Here is a writer who noted every detail, who centered his work upon his own observations and those of others, who even notes the sound of the sands near Rio Madre when trodden upon by his horse, but who at times leaves out details of his own experiences because the memory so easily enrages and horrifies him. The contrast between the Brazil of infinite tangled banks and the horrific land of slavery found its way into Darwin's work. Even if he could never leave behind the Brazil of his nightmares, he was glad to sail away, never to return.
On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master's eye. These latter cruelties were witnessed by me in a Spanish colony, in which it has always been said, that slaves are better treated than by the Portuguese, English, or other European nations. I have seen at Rio de Janeiro a powerful negro afraid to ward off a blow directed, as he thought, at his face. I was present when a kind-hearted man was on the point of separating forever the men, women, and little children of a large number of families who had long lived together. I will not even allude to the many heart-sickening atrocities which I authentically heard of; -- nor would I have mentioned the above revolting details, had I not met with several people, so blinded by the constitutional gaiety of the negro as to speak of slavery as a tolerable evil. Such people have generally visited at the houses of the upper classes, where the domestic slaves are usually well treated, and they have not, like myself, lived amongst the lower classes. Such inquirers will ask slaves about their condition; they forget that the slave must indeed be dull, who does not calculate on the chance of his answer reaching his master's ears.
In this final passage, Darwin refers not very approvingly to Malthus and Spencer while reaffirming his own repudiation of slavery. The final sentence is often quoted, but it is rarely rendered in its full context. The possible reasons for this omission are numerous, and like similar omissions, it is not often noticed. History is made of omissions and the fragments of everyday human life.
“It is argued that self-interest will prevent excessive cruelty; as if self-interest protected our domestic animals, which are far less likely than degraded slaves, to stir up the rage of their savage masters. It is an argument long since protested against with noble feeling, and strikingly exemplified, by the ever-illustrious Humboldt. It is often attempted to palliate slavery by comparing the state of slaves with our poorer countrymen: if the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin; but how this bears on slavery, I cannot see; as well might the use of the thumb-screw be defended in one land, by showing that men in another land suffered from some dreadful disease. Those who look tenderly at the slave owner, and with a cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter; what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! Picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children -- those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own -- being torn from you and sold like beasts to the first bidder! And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one's blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty: but it is a consolation to reflect, that we at least have made a greater sacrifice, than ever made by any nation, to expiate our sin”(6).
Darwin writes of witnessing just such events as the selling off of family members while in Brazil. It was Darwin's own blow that the slave mentioned in the previous passage was afraid to defend himself against, but Darwin said he had not raised his hand to hit the person, but in frustration because of their arguing about passage across the river. The encounter profoundly effected Darwin. He was shocked to find himself in the position of being seen as a slaver in the eyes of an actual slave. Slavery, he notes, can quickly make anyone, no matter how civilized or progressive, into the most brutal and inhuman master. Moreover, no matter one's personal view of slavery, the institution itself taints everyone in such a society, slaver and abolitionist alike.

During the voyage, Darwin also gave up hunting, which had been a favorite past time before the expedition.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. He and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. November will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Darwin's Origin of Species sold only 50,000 copies during his life. In comparison, George Combe’s Constitution of Man (1827), a phrenological guide to life and conduct, sold 350,000 copies and remained in print from 1828 until 1899.
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1 Darwin, Diary, June 4, 1832.
2 “Sir Robert's important improvement in giving to line-of-battle ships a circular bow, we have already slightly touched upon his ingenuity has since produced a more surprising, and an equally important, change at the opposite extremity of the ship, a circular instead of a square stern. ... It having occurred to the philosophic mind of this ingenious architect, that, by not removing the solid bow in the wake of the second deck, in order to substitute the usual flimsy fabric, called the beak-head, the ship would acquire additional strength. in that part of her frame, as well as afford some protection to her crew when going end-on upon an enemy, the circular bow of the Namur was allowed to remain. The advantages of this important alteration struck every one who saw the ship when finished ; and subsequently, as we shall hereafter have occasion more fully to relate, every ship in the British navy was ordered to be constructed with a solid circular bow instead of a beak-head.” James, William. 1837. The Naval History of Great Britain. Apparently, though, this improvement made the ships slower than the slave schooners, who had to deliver their “cargos” before too many of them died. The best that one could hope for in terms of the self-interest of the slavers moderating their treatment of their captives was to be delivered into the hands of the master quickly before dying at sea. It was no doubt unclear to many below decks which alternative was preferable.
3 Keynes, R. D. ed. 2001. Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4 Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. Edited from the MS by Nora Barlow. 1933. New York: MacMillan Company.
5 Letter 241. To John Morley. Down, March 24th, 1871.
6 Darwin, Charles R. 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Journal and remarks. 1832-1836. London: Henry Colburn.