Does Music Make Us Human?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about music and exploring some new stuff this week. That in turn got me off thinking about how we relate to music. (Yeah, it being Saturday Night Safety Dance night helps.)

I’ve mentioned that I have pretty eclectic tastes in music. For my generation, rock, of course, but I’ll also listen to a lot of punk, new wave, country & western, classical, motion picture scores, big band, Broadway musicals, swing, and electronic music (a la Jean Michel Jarre).

Earlier this week I got bored listening to my usual Sirius-XM channels and bounced between “favorite” channels for a couple hours before finally settling on my usual alternative music (Channel 33, “First Wave”). I still was restless when they came on with a promo for a live event on another channel. I know that The Younger Daughter is a big fan, so I switched over.

EDR (“Electronic Dance Music”) is most certainly not for everyone in my age group, but I found that I liked it a lot. I can hear a lot of influences from punk and alternative, as well as electronic music from the 1970’s and 1980’s (Jarre) and early part of this century (Paul Oakenfold). Yes, it’s loud and might sound repetitious to a certain degree at first, but then, sometimes so do Bach and Ravel. After listening for a while it really does grow on you.

With all of that running through my head as the background soundtrack for a pretty hectic month, I got to thinking about how central music is to our lives. Granted, I’m not an expert on other cultures, but I have traveled a bit and I’ve always heard music. Asia, Europe, North America, there’s always music not too far away. It might be blaring from a passing radio, or whispering from a hundred different earbuds on a crowded subway, but it’s there. Television soundtracks, movies, and commercials are saturated with it, even when you don’t understand a word of the language. It’s so pervasive that you don’t even notice it.

Other creatures sometimes respond to our music, particularly birds. That shouldn’t be too surprising since their primary means of communication is very similar. We also refer to the languages of the whales as “whale songs,” but I’m not completely sure if it’s because they are songs or if we just hear them that way ourselves.

But music is a part of every culture going back hundreds of thousands of years. Cave paintings show drums and flutes, and song is mentioned back to the earliest records of civilization.

It may be that all humans make music, but it may also be that music helps to make us “human.”

Given that, I wonder what will happen when we inevitably make contact with non-human intelligent species.

Will music be a part of their culture and civilization as well? It would be different of course, but could it be a valuable trade item, a way for the children of different suns to learn about each other? We’ll swap an hour of Mozart, Beethoven, and the Beatles for some of Xn’ghtrxp’s and Pneiiifwxqa’s finest compositions? It might even help us to not instantly see them as a threat to be eliminated. Better yet, it might help them do the same regarding us.

Or will they listen to our music and just be totally baffled by it? Could it be that our finest symphonies and rock operas are nothing but random noise to them, beyond incomprehensible? (My dad always referred to rock music that way, but he probably meant something different.) Maybe they’ll get together after meeting us and wonder how any species that worships variations in atmospheric oscillations could ever be considered sane!

In turn, could their greatest art, their defining act of beauty, be just as meaningless to us? Maybe they stand perfectly still and emit odors of precise strengths, compositions, and ability to linger. An olfactory performance of Xn’ghtrxp’s finest might bring them to tears of joy, while we wonder how a skunk rolled in rotting Limburger and roses came to be their crowning achievement.

Something to ponder.

(And no, I haven’t been smoking, toking, drinking, or snorting anything at all. I’m this weird every day.)


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Filed under Music, Science Fiction

Really Weird Cars

It’s been said (well, I say it a lot) that if you spend enough time on the Los Angeles freeways you’ll see just about anything.

I’m not talking about Teslas, for example. True, you’ll see more here in a day than you might see in a year in Dallas or Miami, or even New York City. In fact, just about every kind of exotic car you’ll see sooner or later.

That doesn’t even begin to talk about what you see people doing while they’re supposed to be driving. Texting is small potatoes around here. We’re talking about reading a newspaper or book or a script (I’ve seen lots of scripts being read at “maximum freeway speed”). Or having a laptop out & running while working on some document on it – while driving. Or the lady who was nursing while driving. As well as the activities that will lead to childbirth…

Even with that attitude, yesterday I saw something that caught my eye, something that really stood out.


There was this guy…


…and this one.

They were travelling together but obviously as a pair. I mean, honestly, if they weren’t together, what would the odds be that the only two cars on the planet painted like this were together right then?

That’s got to be the oddest paint job that I’ve ever seen. If camouflage was their goal it worked like a charm — they were hard to see.

While I refer to them as “the only two cars on the planet painted like this,” in thinking about it some more I’ve come to realize that there must be more. Someone might do something this elaborate as a one-off, but if they’re going to do two that look identical, there’s probably a process that’s repeatable. (Is it all an elaborate decal? Maybe?) Whatever, there sure can’t be that many.

Is there an intended purpose to this scheme, other than just trying to turn heads? Is it supposed to confuse police radar or make you hard to see from the police chase helicopters? It’s hard to see how that would have a reasonable chance to actually succeed.

One had what looked like Michigan plates, the other might have been carrying diplomatic plates. (Here you see more of the latter than the former.)

It was definitely eye catching!

(And for the record, I wasn’t doing anything particularly dangerous or stupid when I took these pictures. I was at a dead stop at the time and had been that way for a while. Traffic really sucked, these guys and I had been playing follow-me-follow-you for several miles at about a walking pace at best.)


Filed under Distracted Driving, Los Angeles, Photography

Flash Fiction: Trash Night

This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge is to write 100 words. There isn’t a comma and an extra digit missing – one hundred words or less.  Any subject, any genre.

Alright, ignore the fact that Friday is trash day here. I assure you, this story is fiction, 100% made up. Fiction, damn it! (And exactly 100 words!)


The night air had a bite, the stars clear. I carried my bag of trash to the curb for an early morning pickup. In the shadows next door my neighbor was doing the same. He had always been strange, quiet, and distant.

In the dim moonlight it looked like his bag might be squirming. Were those muffled sounds coming from inside the white plastic, non-human sounds?

Our bags both went into the black bins. I started to say something, but he turned to stare at me. Were his eyes glowing red?

I waved nonchalantly and went back into the house.


Filed under Science Fiction, Writing

Nibbled To Death By Ducks

And not the “good” kind from Anaheim, and by “good” I mean that they’ll be a roadbump on the way to the Stanley Cup for my beloved LA Kings…

No, some days it’s like trying to put ten pounds of pickles into a five-pound pickle bag. (I really wish I knew where I had learned that phrase, it’s so useful and descriptive!) Today was two or three of those days.

Tomorrow will be another day. No one died or even got seriously injured here. There was just a full share of busy, frustration, harried, discouraged at times, and the desire to attack certain problems with a chain saw instead of a coping saw.

But surviving it does mean that we’re another day closer to opening day! How can the opening of baseball season not cheer you up?

There were three launches today (Florida, Russia, Japan) off of this rock, so that’s excellent. Wouldn’t it be great if the industry got to the point where there were three launches (or more) every day?

When I was a kid my brothers and sisters (and they were legion) would tease me by calling me “Pauly-anna.” (Guess what movie was shown about twice a year in living color on the “Wonderful World Of Disney” show? I learned to hate the move because of that, but had, and still have, the hots for Hayley Mills.) Tonight a little Pollyanna attitude might be a good thing.

The dog’s got to go out. Again. Another duck calls.

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Filed under LA Angels, LA Kings

Sunset + Clouds + Moon + Venus

It’s not Hawaii or Tahiti, but for LA it’s not bad. Can you see Venus in the twilight?

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography

The Puppy Called…

…and she would like her attention span back. (This may be rambling. Or insane. Or nonsense. Or all of the above.)

I was going to say “the kitten called” but then I remembered that today was “National Puppy Day.” Everyone and their cousin has been posting pictures of their dogs online all day. (I didn’t.) On the other hand, most of the people I saw on Twitter and FaceBook who were posting pictures of their dogs were the people who post pictures of their dog about ten times a day anyway, so it’s not clear that there was anything special about today for them.

That all got me to thinking — who determines that today is “National Puppy Day?” Or that tomorrow is… Well, I don’t know what tomorrow is. The only list I could find, which is titled as being unofficial, is on Wikipedia (which is about as unofficial as you can get). It doesn’t have anything listed for tomorrow, but it didn’t have today listed as “National Puppy Day” either, so the reliability of the data is low. Or possibly the gullibility of all of the rest of us is extremely high.

A little more searching proves that there are more extensive sources on the internet than Wikipedia. (Big surprise!) The Checkiday website (probably a clickbait site, but most certainly less so than Buzzfeed) seems to be up to their armpits in wacky and unofficial holidays. They’ve got today as “National Puppy Day,” as well as “National Chip & Dip Day,” “National Melba Toast Day,” “Near Miss Day,” “OK Day,” and “World Meteorological Day.”

None of this answers the question of who’s in charge. In fact, it’s worse now, since there are apparently also “World” fake holidays. Who’s in charge of those?

“Near Miss Day?” Are we talking about just barely dodging that lunatic on his cellphone on the 405, or are we talking about having her say “no!” when you get down on one knee only to find later that she turned out to be a serial killer? Big difference there.

Tomorrow is “National Agriculture Day,” “National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day,” “World Tuberculosis Day,” and “American Diabetes Association Alert Day” according to this website.

The source or authority behind the last one I can understand. Which gives me an idea.

Shouldn’t these “holidays” all be required by law to have their sponsor or corporate backer listed as part of the name? So we would have (for instance) “Pedigree’s National Puppy Day,” “Doritos National Chip & Dip Day,” “Nabisco National Melba Toast Day,” “Tulsa Chamber of Commerce OK Day,” and the “United Nations Full Employment for Weather Forecasters Society World Meteorological Day.”

Perhaps when a holiday gets to a certain level of notoriety, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, they can do away with that full disclosure information.

Or we could offer naming rights opportunities! “Amazon’s Christmas,” or “Butterball’s Thanksgiving.”

Or maybe we just assume that ALL of them, from “National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day” up to Christmas are all sponsored by Hallmark. Probably not too far off on that one.

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Out Of VNY This Afternoon

First of all, the Moon & Venus pictures I spoke of at the end of yesterday’s post (which somehow became this morning’s post) aren’t here because by sunset we were socked in solid. You can’t argue with Mother Nature!

Earlier in the day I had a couple of times heard a couple of low, rumbling growls that I recognized. Twice when I heard the “sound of round” I went running out (“Oooh, airplanes! Airplanes!” Some things never change, nor do I want them to) to find “290,” our yellow SNJ flying overhead. That’s a good thing. Both of the CAF SoCal’s SNJ’s were at Van Nuys Airport (VNY) this weekend, along with our P-51, all accompanying “Fifi” on her tour.

When planes based out of VNY are selling rides, they often (but not always) end up over our house at the west end of the San Fernando Valley. If they’re selling 30-minute rides as is common, out of VNY a typical route is a straight-out departure on Runway 16R, a right turn over the Santa Monica Mountains toward Malibu, a turn to the north over the Santa Suzanna Mountains, then back east along the 118 Freeway and the north edge of the Valley to VNY. The northbound leg from Malibu to Santa Suzanna Pass takes them pretty much right over us.

Google Earth San Fernando Valley Annotated

Image: Google Earth

It was great to see “290” flying. It’s always great to see any plane fly, and if it’s a warbird it’s even better, and if it’s one of our warbirds it’s even more better. Plus, not to be crass, but flying in this situation means rides sold and revenue coming into our Wing to keep it operational. That’s a particularly good point for me, since I’m the CAF SoCal Finance Officer.

While I saw “290” twice, I could hear a louder, deeper rumble which indicated “Fifi” was nearby, but we never saw her. Until just before 5:00 PM…

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…there she was, looking as graceful and beautiful as always.

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Even better, The Long-Suffering Wife and The Long-Suffering Second Daughter got a chance to run out into the front yard and see her flying by. Neither one had seen “Fifi” in the air yet, although The Long-Suffering Wife had seen her on the ground when she was at Camarillo two weeks ago.

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Better yet, eighteen seconds later another incredibly distinctive, higher pitched growl (see addendum below) could be heard coming north up from Malibu.

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Hot on “Fifi’s” tail and closing fast was “Man Of War,” our P-51. Where “Fifi” was lumbering along in a stately manner, MOW was ripping along at a good clip and disappearing behind the trees across the street, as all good P-51’s do!

It was almost like 1944 out there! (If you could ignore the Southwest and Alaska Air 737’s going overhead into Burbank.)

[LATE ADDENDUM: Just as I was going to hit “Publish,” the music started up on the “One Six Right” website where I had gone to get the link. Jeez Louise, folks, go and watch this! I’ve seen the film over and over and the film’s opening sequences still get to me every time. Go the the site, watch the free clip (which is the 3:00 opening to the film) — if you’re not choked up and ready to go take flying lessons immediately when the black & white scene changes to color at the 2:02 mark, then maybe we just can’t be friends. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about when I mention the P-51’s “incredibly distinctive, higher pitched growl,” then wait for the 2:22 and the 2:34 marks – remember to TURN IT UP LOUD!]

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