Saturday, August 28, 2010

Another Zoo Concert

Vickie and I went to another concert at the Zoo Amphitheatre in OKC - this one put on by Buddy Guy, Al Green, and B.B. King. I admit that I mostly went because of Buddy Guy, but also because I wanted to see B.B. King live.

In my clearly biased viewpoint, Buddy Guy was the hit of the show. I don't have his exact setlist but it included:

1. (I'm your) Hoochie Coochie Man (Muddy Waters cover)
2. Someone Else is Slippin' In
3. Skin Deep
4. Nobody Understands Me but My Guitar
5. Strange Brew (Cream cover)
6. Drownin' on Dry Land (Albert King cover)
7. Boom Boom (John Lee Hooker cover)
8. She's Nineteen Years Old (Muddy Waters cover)
9. Love Her With A Feeling

Buddy Guy was the "warmup" - I suppose he's less "famous" than Al Green and B.B. King, but he started the show when at least half the seats were empty and lots of people were still coming in. Continuing the theme from my last concert, we were in a section where a lot of folks were just sitting there. One guy in front of me never even applauded a single time!! Was he there against his will? I just don't get it.

Anyway, Buddy started with Hoochie Koochie Man, and there's a line that goes:
Gypsy woman told my momma, before I was born
You got a boy-child comin', gonna be a ...

and he just stopped, obviously waiting for the crowd to respond. I shouted "son-of-a-gun!" ... and I was the only one in the crowd I heard responding. So Buddy stopped right there and told the crowd that he'd done the same thing in Germany a while back and the crowd in Germany didn't "fuck it up like you just did!" As happened with the Dylan concert a few weeks ago, it seemed that nothing was going to get the crowd to come alive and get into the show, and especially this crowd, which seemed remarkably not into the blues!! Buddy even came out into the audience while playing his guitar - that got some response. He's 73 years old but still a high-energy performer and can play the hell out of his guitar!!

When he was done, there was an extended break while Al Green set up. I'm not that big a fan, but when he started highlighting a lot of old Motown tunes that I'd grown up with, I noted that the crowd seemed to rev up quite a bit. Must have been a fair percentage of OFs (Old Farts) like me in attendance. Anyway, Reverend Al put on a good show and demonstrated the shownmanship that the best performers had. I was enthusiastically applauding at the end.

When B.B. King finally came out, he had quite a band with him. I was reminded of the recent Bob Dylan concert I attended. When both these veteran performers began their careers, they were accompanying themselves only with their own playing skills on stage, while literally (or figuratively) sitting alone on a stool upon the stage. This was a band with horns, a drummer, 3 guitarists, etc. A large rock band. The tunes that I liked the most were those where it was mostly the King himself playing nearly alone. He wound up the show exactly at the mandatory Zoo curfew of 11 pm, even though he evidently wanted to play on, and many of us would have preferred that he play on. B.B. King is now 84 years old, and my chances ever to see him live again are diminishing rapidly. I'm very glad I attended and got the chance to see him live - he can still play, he can still sing, he can still entertain. Even if I'm not his biggest fan, I loved the moment for what it was. I, too, wished he could have gone on for more time, but the Zoo curfew has to be honored.

On a side note ... it was Friday night and I was interested to see how many Hawaiian shirts were being worn (including mine, of course). Friday has always been Hawaiian shirt day in the meteorology department at OU, but apparently that tradition is wider than I thought!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Given the frequency with which my thoughts have turned to this topic in the past 30+ years, I'm somewhat surprised to note that I've not expounded on this before in a blog or Web essay. Perhaps I have and simply lost track of it. Anyway, I'll try to keep this short - a colleague has noted recently that the so-called "National" Weather Center (NWC) here in Norman has failed to become a paragon of inter-organizational communication and collaboration. This comes as no surprise to me.

Back before the new building, when the OU School of Meteorology (OU SoM) and the NOAA components in Norman still were separated by about 4 miles, collaboration was quite evidently infrequent. This had come as a huge surprise to young, idealistic me when I first arrived in Norman for grad school (in 1967) - not only was collaboration infrequent, but there was a strong miasma of mutual disrespect. These attitudes were still firmly in place when I returned to NSSL in 1986 after having been gone for 10 years. I believe them to have persisted to this very day, and that they will continue indefinitely unless something radically different happens. I won't go into all the details here, for the sake of brevity and to avoid plowing up old ground - but the history of disrespect is real and can't be swept under the rug. Old wounds still fester and poison the air. Dismissing this as "the past" (as has been done by some unnamed NWC unit managers) is simply unmindful of our history, and so the mistakes of the past continue to be made over and over again.

The issues that separated the OU SoM and NOAA organizations in 1967 (and before) have not changed. I believed at the time the new building was being proposed that 4 miles separating the units was not the cause of the general absence of collaboration, so moving the units together would not result in the sudden dawn of a new day with regard to their interaction. Lo, and behold, it seems my forecast was correct.

Considering in the broadest possible perspective, there's virtually nothing that management can do to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. They can discourage it, but they can't encourage it. Why? Because scientific collaboration comes out of two things not in their control:

1. Mutual respect between (among) the potential collaborators
2. Recognition of a convergence of interest around some project that would advance both sides

Collaboration comes from the bottom up, and can't be imposed from the top down. When the desire for collaboration is mutual and strong, management can place barriers in front of it or they can encourage it, but mere distance won't be an issue if the potential collaborators are determined to make something happen. Putting people together in close proximity doesn't have any necessary impact on this "organic" growth of mutual self-interest. It might make some aspects of it slightly easier, but it doesn't create a desire for collaboration in any way. If collaboration was the justification for building the NWC edifice, then it was built on a fallacy, and is now living a lie: the lie that it representing any significant change in the collaboration among its units.

The general absence of mutual respect in the Norman weather community has virtually precluded widespread collaboration here for as long as I can remember. This doesn't mean that isolated incidences of collaboration have not sprung up. For instance, as of this moment, I have a wonderfully productive ongoing collaboration with two OU SoM faculty: Profs. Lance Leslie and Michael Richman. But as a "community" we have been and continue to be a failure with regard to mutualism.

In an even broader sphere, true interdisciplinary collaboration (e.g., between meteorologists and sociologists) is uncommon for several reasons:

1. Mutual disrespect and misunderstanding
2. An inability to recognize and seize upon instances of convergent interests
3. An absence of funding support for interdisciplinary projects
4. Career advancement in specialized disciplines typically is not enhanced by interdisciplinary projects
5. Bureaucratic barriers to interdisiplinarity

Interdisciplinarity is inevitably an orphan. Most everyone pays it lip service, but whenever and wherever individuals try to advance it, they're blocked by the narrow-mindedness and parsimony of their disciplinary peers and supervisors. Why waste time and resources messing around with them (in a tone with a clear implication of contempt for them), when we have so much to do in our own sphere?

Distance doesn't preclude collaboration. Proximity doesn't guarantee it. When collaboration does occur, it can be a very rewarding experience, no matter what it might or might not do for your career. In fact, if advancement of your career is your primary goal, then .. you're not very committed to your profession. Hmmmmm ...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Evil people

A recent spoof about Fox News (concerning whether they were evil ... or stupid) on The Daily Show got me to thinking about what it means to be an evil person. One place to begin is at, which offers the following for the adjective "evil":

1. morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked: evil deeds; an evil life.
2. harmful; injurious: evil laws.
3. characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous: to be fallen on evil days.
4. due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character: an evil reputation.
5. marked by anger, irritability, irascibility, etc.: He is known for his evil disposition.

Unfortunately, the preceding definitions don't make it entirely evident what "evil deeds" might be. Of course, when the issue of "morality" comes up, this is virtually guaranteed to create controversy, since there are conflicting opinions regarding the morality of various acts. For example, it is generally accepted that killing is immoral - unless you're killing the "enemy" for your country, or the heretics, infidels, and apostates identified by your religious denomination. Thus, it seems that even the believers in moral absolutes find it possible to violate the dictates of their nation and/or religion.

Whenever the subject of "evil" comes up, the name of Adolf Hitler eventually intrudes into the conversation. Perhaps
Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili ("Stalin") might also surface in the discussion eventually. Most everyone would agree that these men were evil incarnate - together they combined to cause many tens of millions of deaths, with Stalin accounting for more than Hitler, actually. I could go on naming people (mostly men) whom most would agree were evil: Charlie Manson, Jim Jones, Kim Il-Sung, Pol Pot, and so on. Of course, such folks also had their proponents at the time. At the time the deeds were being done, these "evil" people were perceived (at least at first) by their proponents as doing good things. (I'm reminded of the saying "Extremism in defense of Liberty is no vice!") Such proponents might say their leaders were just a bit too carried away with enthusiasm for their programs, but they weren't evil programs! Evil deeds are often justified as being necessary, despite their cruelty, in order that good will come of it! Historically, this is the argument of all evil people.

Many evil deeds are done by people who believe themselves to be good, because they feel they're in the right and their actions are justified by the good ends they serve. It's often said by evil people that the end justifies the means, after all. Such people don't imagine themselves to be evil, but their deeds proclaim it! Evil people almost never see themselves as doing evil. Rather, they believe themselves to be a force for good, willing to do the unthinkable to reach some goal that makes their evil deeds worthwhile.

Thus, most evil deeds are committed by people who have some cause that renders justifiable any action, no matter how evil. Murder, racism, slavery, torture, rape - all are done by ostensibly good people who have rationalized their evil actions. When the acts become horrific enough, we decide that such people are criminal sociopaths - criminally insane. Unless, of course, they're our national and/or religious leaders; in which case, the adherents line up to bathe themselves in the agony being inflicted on others, to show their unity behind the cause that justifies the deeds. Or they stand by silently, saying nothing, perhaps for fear of becoming victims themselves or perhaps because they can't decide what to do. Massively evil deeds require the active or passive cooperation of many, many followers, as well as the evil leaders. An evil leader can carry out his evil acts only with the explicit or implicit cooperation of his nation (or sect). At the Nuremburg war crimes trials, we repudiated the notion that "I was just following orders!" is a valid excuse for perpetrating evil deeds ... or did we?

So long as people choose to let demagogues and fanatics make their decisions for them, do their thinking for them, and determine their agenda, such people are liable to commit evil deeds, thereby becoming evil without even thinking about it. It seems in today's world, we have vast numbers of demagogues and fanatics on all sides. In a war between opposing fanatics, moderates will be forced to choose: with us ... or against us. What choices will you make?