Wednesday, January 31, 2001

360 Degrees: Perspectives on The U.S. Criminal Justice System

"Over the past year, we have been collecting the stories of inmates, correctional officers, lawyers, judges, parole officers, parents, victims, and others whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system. In tandem with a new series on National Public Radio, Prison Diaries, we've conducted interviews and given inmates and officers tape recorders so they could keep audio diaries of their experiences in prison.

"Each story is focused around a specific case and is told from the perspectives of the people involved. As you listen to the stories, you can explore each speaker's personal space by navigating 360 degrees-up, down, and
around-prison cells, offices, judges' chambers, and living rooms.

"To address many of the issues affecting our nation's growing prison population, we will add new stories throughout the year..."

Tuesday, January 30, 2001

The Juggler, by Richard Wilbur

A ball will bounce, but less and less. It's not
A light-hearted thing, resents its own resilience...

Monday, January 29, 2001


"Imagine you had cells in your brain that could read other people's minds. Well, you do. And they could be the key to human language, empathy, even society..."
(from New Scientist)

MIRROR NEURONS and imitation learning as the driving force behind "the great leap forward" in human evolution
By V.S. Ramachandran (from

S. Narayanan's ICSI Homepage contains papers about "Reasoning About Actions in Narrative Understanding", and "A Computational Model of Reasoning About Events". The approach (which models both the generation and understanding of action) is a very good match with "mirror neuron" findings (as witness a presentation, as yet unposted, to the International Conference on Mirror Neurons and the evolution of Language and Cognition, Dalmenhurst, July 5-9 )


Baslow attended an "innovative" college on Long Island in the early 1970's. It was not an "experimental" college. The faculty had decided (it was said) that the word "experimental" conveyed left-leaning implications which were best avoided. It was, instead, "innovative".

One did not major in a subject, one "concentrated" in a broad subject-area: "Social Science", "Natural Science", "Humanities", or "Liberal Arts". One could "emphasize" a sub-specialty by collecting enough courses in it. One took two courses each trimester, attending 90-minute classes in each, four days a week. There was much independent study, much library work.

It met Baslow's needs well, at the time. He was laboriously making his way out of the carnival funhouse that was his family, having managed to pull himself together after several "nervous breakdowns" over the preceding five years. He had sheltered himself, as best he could, from the craziness of the late 1960's by becoming something of a hermit (emerging from his bedroom only to forage for food in the kitchen, to go to the bathroom, or to walk to the local library). He seemed to himself to be..."wrong"; his family seemed most definitely "wrong"; the world seemed to be more and more "wrong".

The "innovative" program allowed Baslow to spend much time in the University library, following his interests, and thereby earning credit. He found himself more and more interested in what he thought of as "linguistics" -- although he meant by the term something much broader than what most theoretical linguists of the time seemed to understand. He cobbled together an emphasis in "linguistics" which resembled no linguistics program of which he was then aware.

Baslow was much impressed with Noam Chomsky's work. It was important, he thought, to understand and appreciate the implications of "Transformational-Generative Grammar" as it was then sometimes still called. He did not think, however, as Chomsky evidently did, that linguistics should consist of nothing but the study of such grammars.

Baslow included, under the rubric of "linguistics", the work of many people who did not call themselves linguists. He thought of Erving Goffman, in his most recent work, as something of a linguist. He thought of Harvey Sackes, Emmanuel Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson, the Conversation Analysts, as being linguists. He thought of much of the work that was called "Cognitive Anthropology" and "Ethnography of Speaking" as being, essentially, linguistics. He ranged broadly in his reading...but did not achieve much depth. Chomsky would have dismissed much of what Baslow wash interested in as "performance", whereas theoretical linguists should concern themselves exclusively with "competence".

Baslow couldn't shake the idea, however, that a proper definition of the word "language" had to include the fact that people stood around, in mutually focussed interaction, talking to each other. They instruct each other, negotitate and argue with each other, tell each other stories, make promises, and recount what other people (at other times, in other places) have said. They thereby form a network of talk which collectively instantiates the abstraction "language".

The "competence" Chomsky had undertaken to describe was almost certainly a part of how they constructed this elaborate edifice. Baslow was convinced, however, that there were other parts that also deserved the name "linguistics".

Saturday, January 27, 2001

(You'll have to scroll down a bit to get to the article)

"In sum, the project of understanding human thought and reason is easily and frequently misconstrued. It is misconstrued as the project of understanding what is special about the human brain. No doubt there is something special about our brains. But understanding our peculiar profiles as reasoners, thinkers and knowers of our worlds requires an even broader perspective: one that targets multiple brains and bodies operating in specially constructed environments replete with artifacts, external symbols, and all the variegated scaffoldings of science, art and culture. "


Baslow remembers with fondness the Study Hall many, many years ago, when he first read this essay. He would break out laughing unexpectedly for the rest of the day. In "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses", Mark Twain demonstrated just how much he took exception to that hapless author's work.

Thursday, January 25, 2001


You may, if you choose,
forego the pleasures
of intricate songs
unraveling, of music
unencumbering itself
of sound...


Summoned onto the dancefloor by a cough...

moonblue revelers' subtle gestures of annoyance...

...elbow their innocence into our midst...

...sailors singing the song of everyday, pour
out into the street...


Roused (belatedly) to action by Natalie Angier's article in the New York Times Magazine of January 14th, Baslow has decided to out himself. He is an atheist.

This is not a cause, with him. He doesn't spend a lot of time advocating or promoting atheism. It is simply one of his beliefs about the nature of the universe.

He is, however, somewhat alarmed at the increasing pace at which explicit religious discourse is infusing political discourse. It is one thing (and a quite acceptable thing, as far as Baslow is concerned) for religious philosophy to inform one's political outlook. It is quite another thing to presume that all right-thinking citizens must be religious.

It is dangerous nonsense to maintain that only religious people can conduct their lives in an acceptably moral way. It is simply wrong to maintain that religious people are, in the aggregate, any more morally responsible than non-religious people.

It is offensive to suggest that one must be religious to be American.

Thursday, January 18, 2001


Baslow has written to you, Dear Reader, about every member of his immediate family except one: his youngest. She is nine years old. She is tall for her age, quite poised, very smart, kind-hearted, mostly stoic, ethical, good-natured, and artistic. She is also a bit of a mystery.

Although she often is quite gregarious she always reserves a part of herself; has done this since she could talk. She seems silenced, flummoxed almost, by praise. If something is wrong it is often a difficult job to get her to say just what it is.

She is engaged, at this point in her development, in an extended exploration of the aesthetic of cuteness. She draws PowerPuff Girls, variations on PowerPuff Girls, wide-eyed cartoon critters, etc. She plans elaborate theme parties (her birthday is at the end of March) and has drawn up a schedule of activities. She is already sifting through ideas for her next Halloween costume.

Occasionally Baslow and Mrs. Baslow catch a glimpse of a darkly satirical aspect of their daughter's outlook.

She told her mother that, for Halloween, she wanted to be a "dead model".

"A dead model?" inquired her mother, somewhat taken aback. " How did you come up with that idea?"

"Look at models' eyes." responded Baslow's youngest. "They already LOOK dead."

Wednesday, January 17, 2001


Baslow lives at the very top of Manhattan, in Inwood, a part of Manhattan with which most Manhattanites are not familiar. It is scenic in an entirely different way than is Midtown or the Lower East Side or Wall Street. It is hilly. There are houses, real houses, cheek-by-jowl with eight-story apartment buildings...quite a rarity in Manhattan. One local park has (small) caves and a plaque marking the spot where Peter Minuit believed himself to have purchased the island from the local Native American tribe. A few blocks away is Dyckman House, the last remaining farmhouse in Manhattan, built in 1785.

The producers of Law and Order have fallen in love with Baslow's neighborhood. This evening, crossing Broadway on his way home, Baslow encountered yet another phalanx of trucks (equipment trucks, dressing-room trucks, catering trucks, etc.) ranged between 211th and 214th. Baslow ambled over to where the action was...a scene was apparently going to be shot at the 211th Street entrance to the A train.

This is the fourth time Law and Order has filmed here, three of them in the last few months. Once, they filmed right outside Baslow's building, forcing all the occupants to exit by the back way to get to work in the morning. It hasn't been too inconvenient (except, sometimes, finding a parking space) but, on the other hand, most of the fun stuff happens while Baslow is at work or having dinner.

Baslow chatted, for a minute, with a crew member guarding the perimeter of the filming area. Baslow was reminded of the time, when his offspring were very little, when The Devil's Own was filming in the neighborhood. The babysitter, seeing the filming, steered the offspring over to the site. They spied, in the distance, Harrison Ford. "Who's that?" asked Baslow's oldest, pointing at Ford. "Harrison Ford," he was told, by a member of the crew keeping spectators at bay. Baslow's oldest knew Ford only from Star Wars. "Harrison Ford is OLD!" blurted Baslow's oldest.

The crew member leaned over and said "Time passes, kid."


Baslow wants to know: What is difference in meaning between the words "crisp" and "crispy"? If there is no difference in meaning can they be used interchangeably? Consider these contexts::

1) He paid for the groceries with several ___________, new ten-dollar bills.
2) Blotto Cereal Flakes stay _____________ in milk.
3) Blotto Cereal Flakes are sweet and ____________.
4) He bit into a _____________ apple.

What's the rule here? Is there a rule here?

Tuesday, January 16, 2001


Baslow had occasion to see Steven Soderbergh's Traffic over the weekend. He was impressed. Baslow especially appreciates films which leave him with a lot of things to think about. He found Traffic most rewarding in this respect.

There were, to be sure, a few things Baslow would have preferred to have seen handled differently. These, however, would have required the film to be even longer than it is, longer than many moviegoers would have found tolerable. Baslow imagines that there must have been some painful editing sessions. He hopes that excised material has been preserved and that we will be allowed to see some of it when the DVD is issued.

One of the things that interested Baslow (which he has not seen mentioned very prominently elsewhere) is Soderbergh's use of couples to tell his story. Think of the couples (in the broad sense) we get to know: Monty and his partner Ray, Javier and his partner Manolo, Robert and Barbara Wakefield, Caroline Wakefield and Seth Abrahams, Helena and Carlos Ayala, Manolo and Ana Sanchez (significantly, never seen together). These pairings allow Soderbergh to point out, by contrast, all the loyalties and treacheries, affections and animosities, temptations and fidelities, which collectively undergird the use, sale, and combatting of drugs.

Something to think about.

The links below offer a sampling of reviews available on the Web.

Todd McCarthy, Variety
Tor Thorsen,
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
Jay Carr, Boston Globe
Paul Clinton,
Charles Taylor, Salon
Bill O'Driscoll, Pittsburgh City Paper (feels the film reflects pernicious racial attitudes)
Kevin Maynard, Mr. Showbiz
Hap Erstein, Access Atlanta (feels the film, while good, is overrated)

Friday, January 12, 2001

Not Much

Baslow's spouse, who normally consults with clients in their homes, holds a support group every other Wednesday and has office hours on Fridays. On these occasions, Baslow and spouse try to go downtown together, a little early, to spend time with each other at Starbucks before they go to work.

Time together is hard to carve out. Their apartment is small (by prevailing middle-class American standards) and the offspring seem always to be occupying all available space.

Starbucks, by contrast, is just about right. The music, usually jazz and swing from the forties -- or even thirties , is not played too loud. The small table induces intimacy.

Baslow usually orders just a double shot of espresso but, on special occasions, will indulge in one of the more elaborate concoctions. Baslow's spouse is most fond of their Maple Oat Scones and Ginger Biscotti.

It isn't much. It isn't a night out on the town. They lean into each other and remind themselves that they were a couple before they were even sure they could have children. They gossip and joke. They worry. They commiserate. They speculate about the future.

It isn't much. It is enough.

Wednesday, January 10, 2001


At this very moment Baslow's older offspring is endeavoring to whistle. He is attempting a tune by the Beatles (who are, in his mind, a relatively recent discovery). He is essaying, to be specific, a tuneful rendering of "Can't Buy Me Love".

He is failing; he is failing badly, failing painfully.

On a scale ranking fidelity-to-that-ethereal-ideal-known-as-"the melody", where five represesents the greatest and one the least, Baslow the younger is earning, at best, a one-and-a-half.

Baslow apprises him of that fact.

"Shut up!" he advises Baslow, smiling, and then challenges "Can you do it better?".

Baslow does.

"Shut up!" the younger Baslow emphatically urges.

Baslow leans in and says "You understand that I have been feeling a strong urge to say the same to you?".

They arrive, in that moment, at a measure of mutual understanding.

Saturday, January 06, 2001


Dear Enchanted:
You have imagined Baslow all wrong. Baslow is old. Baslow is fat. Baslow is bald. Baslow is very often unpleasant to be near. Really, you must find out MUCH more about people before you go around making the sorts of suggestions you have made...
Dear Curious:
Baslow lives in New York City and does not drive a car. Indeed, Baslow cannot drive a car. He has no license. He doesn't know how to drive.
Dear Freaky:
Yes, Baslow does take drugs. None of them, however, are drugs that affect his mood or his outlook, except insofar as Baslow would feel much better if his stomach WOULD JUST SHUT UP!
Dear Party Girl:
Thank you ever so much for your invitation. Baslow regrets that he has hitherto neglected to mention that he loathes parties because parties are cultural machines for defeating thought.

(There are, of course, such things as 'wine-and-cheese parties' and 'dinner parties'. These, however, surely subsist at the very edges of the conceptual neighborhood mapped by the word 'party'. One simply doesn't think in terms of a wine-and-cheese party when, for example, someone is dubbed 'a party animal'. One cannot straight-facedly claim to have 'partied all night' on the basis of having attended a dinner party -- however long it went.)

No, dear Party Girl, no. Parties are loud and liquid things, uprorariuous occasions of cerebral abandon. Baslow will not be in attendance.
Dear Enchanted:
My, you are persistent! Baslow, please understand, is NOT the stuff that your dreams are made of. Surely you can find someone else, someone more appropriate, to whom to direct your attentions.
Dear Skeptical:
In a very literal sense, you are correct. Baslow does not exist. Baslow is not real. He has hardly ever found that to be an impediment.

Notes toward a poem, or something

Joke told twice one night
puffed ashes
{Red steamboat whistle}
through the leaves of the trees
on the banks...

Gone again down this Mississippi
to catch himself a purer sense of comedy
{Paddle-wheel river slipping loosely underfoot}
{Moon towed alongside}
rising in fits that mottle the sky...

Whisper 'Mr. Comedy!'
{'Your Highness'}

Tuesday, January 02, 2001

CHAPTER 1: In Which Baslow Contemplates His Online 'Presence'

Baslow has delayed posting anything too personal to his blog until now. He has wanted to learn a little about the technicalities of blogging, first. He has intended, also, to establish himself in his initial postings as someone 'in the world', so to speak, someone whose interests reach beyond the particulars of his existence.

On the other hand, Baslow acknowledges the fact that any knowledge of the world he possesses has been acquired by way of "the particulars of his existence"; he knows the world through his body; he comprehends its particulars by means of his unique passage through them.

He sings the body electric. As it were.

Monday, January 01, 2001


Official Web Site

Brief bio from Basta Records

Scott performing his swing music
Reckless Nights & Turkish Twilights

Beau Hunks' meticulous re-creations
Raymond Scott: The Chesterfield Arrangements
Celebration On The Planet Mars
Manhattan Minuet

Don Byron performs
Bug Music: Music Of The Raymond Scott Quintette (among others)

Electronic music
Manhattan Research Inc.
Soothing Sounds For Baby: Vol. 1
Soothing Sounds For Baby: Vol. 2
Soothing Sounds For Baby: Vol. 3

Articles and Reviews
Review of "Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights"
Eehhh, what's uptempo, doc?
Review of "Manhattan Research Inc." at Googleplex
Baltimore City Paper review of "Manhattan Research Inc."
The Clavivox and the Electronium-Scott
Raymond Scott at Record Collector's Heaven
Article about Scott in UNo MAS magazine
The Secret Life of Raymond Scott, Musical Genius (PiC Press)
From the archives of the American Ballet Theater (!)
Review of "Soothing Sounds for Baby" at Juxtaposition Ezine

TV Party's Look Back
Episode Guide
Episode Titles and Air Dates
I want a squirrel
just like the squirrel
that buried Dear Old Dad.
He was a nut --
but the only nut
that Mother ever had.
Little oaks from giant acorns grow.
Much the same obtains with humans, so
I want a squirrel
just like the squirrel
that buried Dear Old Dad