Saturday, May 19, 2018

You Tried to Turn Me Off but You Couldn't Even Turn Me Down

Stephen Miller:

This is a formula to kill artistic freedom – yes even by artists we may find deplorable, like R. Kelly or Kill, Baby, Kill. Every artist should take a step back at who Spotify is entrusting to carry out its new content policing.

Furthermore, modern artists should go to YouTube and dig up the footage of Frank Zappa and Dee Snyder testifying in front of Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985. If Spotify continues down this path, then artists need to realize they have the power to make Spotify suffer the same fate as the Tipper Gore group – an extinct laughingstock and stain on the history of free expression through music.

If you're just joining us, we're reading an article on Fox News's website defending freedom of expression in...uh...popular music against new demands for censorship from...um...religious fundamentalists, a.k.a. rainbow-haired, pussyhat-wearing feminists, who are being supported, at least implicitly, by milquetoast liberals who see nothing wrong with organized pressure campaigns by moralistic zealots attempting to create obstacles between artists and willing audiences since only government can officially "censor" anyone. Well, the neo-Whigs who think that "It's the current year!" counts as a persuasive argument will have fun making sense of this one, at least.

If there's any reactionaries out there who can write a decent melody, the stage couldn't be more perfectly set for you to position yourself as the newest phase in rock 'n' roll rebellion by giving this generation of church ladies the middle fingers and mockery they're begging for. And best of all, they'll give you all the free advertising you can handle. They won't be able to help themselves.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Grey Walkers

The sale was going to start at 9:00 a.m. Saturday, but numbered tickets were going to be handed out starting at 6:30. We drove up on Friday and arrived a little before 3:00 p.m. to put a couple of boxes in line to hold our place until the next morning, then we went to visit the arboretum and take a leisurely stroll around campus.

We arrived back at the arena the next morning around 6:00 and made a little small talk with some of the other members of our itinerant biblio-tribe, then collected our numbers. Most people got back in their cars to drive into town for breakfast, but as we've done for the last couple years, we used the opportunity to grab a prime parking spot. It was only two miles down to College Corner, and we're always up for a good walk. We took off at a brisk pace, wanting to have plenty of time to eat and get back in line.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning. Maybe not by most people's standards — there had been a torrential thunderstorm around midnight, and the skies were still slate-grey, though merely overcast. No threat of further rain. Temperatures in the low 50s, with a slight breeze. For me, there couldn't be more gorgeous weather for a walk. It made my heart sing. And campus walking, especially early on a weekend morning after graduation, is one of our favorite things to do. It's a pleasant feeling of kenopsia to walk past such stately buildings and perfectly manicured lawns with hardly any sign of human activity anywhere.

Shortly after we had crossed the street and passed the stadium, the Lady said, jokingly, "We're being followed." She spoke truly, for there was an older couple not far behind us. I'd been vaguely aware of them back there since we left the parking lot, but now they were close enough that we could hear them. Before they caught up to us, though, they veered left and headed down near the tennis courts and swimming pool, while we continued down the sidewalk along the main road. The speed of their pace and the purposeful manner of it made me suspect that they were also heading down to the Corner for breakfast and they knew a shortcut. Several minutes later, our parallel paths converged, and they were indeed a little bit ahead of us. "The stalker has become the stalkee," I whispered, but a few minutes later, we had to admit that despite our respectable clip, we were, in fact, getting dusted by a couple of sprightly greyhairs.

They went into the waffle shop where we had eaten last year, but we continued for another half-mile to a different one, where I discovered that a three-cheese omelette with a few fun-size hash brown patties and a couple slices of toast provide enough fat and protein to keep a fellow feeling energetic and sated for almost seven hours, despite four miles of walking and a day's hard work.

After finishing breakfast, having made such good time, we went back up the main lawn and past the library, taking a more relaxed amble this time. When we turned back onto the main thoroughfare again, though, we saw our fellow saunterers coming up via a perpendicular sidewalk. This sort of serendipity, this brief membership in a transient club of four, we felt, had to be acknowledged, so we turned toward them as they came into earshot and offered a hail-fellow-well-met. The Lady asked if they were also at the sale, which they were. They said they were surprised, because they thought they were the only ones who ever walked into town. We responded in kind. We asked if they were locals, seeing as how they seemed to know their way around. The wife said, "Well, he was a local, from '71 to '75." "A lot of the buildings are different now, though!" he added. We fell into step together and chatted the rest of the way back to the sale.

By my math, if he was a freshman in 1971, that would make him 74 or 75 years old now, and I assume his wife was about the same. They told us that they bike about 30 miles every other day as well, near their home in Amish country. "No matter how tired I am, I never let myself get passed by an Amish buggy!" she asserted. I had to laugh in appreciation of that competitive spirit. Other than the grey hair, you wouldn't guess they were anywhere near that age. Spry and athletic, they could have easily passed for being in their early fifties.

I don't have any grand conclusion to the story. I just thought it was inspiring to meet such a role model. Hopefully the Lady and I will still be that fit and active at the same age, still strolling around campuses early on summer mornings.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

I Fear That I Am Ordinary, Just Like Everyone

It's almost as if our crazy love of dreaming big is a last-ditch survival mechanism to cope with our day-in, day-out awareness of how small, pointless and ineffectual we turn out to be. For all but a minuscule few, life is about recognizing just how little change you can effect, from politics and economics to public opinion and popular tastes. It often seems to impossible to change even one person's mind, especially a partner or relative. We indulge our big fantasies despite what appears to be endless, intimate evidence to the contrary. Why do we do this? What are we, crazy?

— James Poulos, The Art of Being Free: How Alexis de Tocqueville Can Save Us From Ourselves


I remember being a teenager and buying one of Robert Fulghum's books at a B. Dalton (back when malls had bookstores instead of cellphone-repair kiosks). The cashier commented on it, saying that she had tried reading it, but "it just seemed to be a lot of stuff I already knew." Even at the time, I remember thinking, well, yeah; why would you expect that truth should be something completely exotic and abstruse? Some of Fulghum's stories are twee, no doubt; but some of them are hilarious, and others contain minimalist insights and observations that blossom into the universal truths that, yes, we all already know, but somehow fail to honor in practice. Truth often is ordinary. The effort we put into rationalizing it away is what's extraordinary. Part of getting older, I think, is finally getting tired of creating complexity and complications where none need exist.

The Lady and I were talking on a hike about a podcast she'd listened to with an author who'd just published a book based on the claim that willpower is feeble in comparison to having a properly structured environment. The truth, of course, is that both personal discipline and a supportive environment are necessary to achieve goals in the most efficient way, but the precise proportions of each depend on individual circumstances, and they can't be reduced to an abstract, universal formula. But that's boring, and it can be summed up in a sentence. To write a book like that, to get attention and distinction, you have to take a strong stand on one side or the other. With truisms, there's nothing to do but accept them. A strong either/or partisan argument gets our adrenaline pumping. A stubborn opponent sharpens our wits and concentration. We feel so much more alive and engaged when we're fighting, even if we're fighting over a completely manufactured disagreement. At least then, we're not alone with our thoughts, forced to admit how rarely we do the things we know we should and how lame our perennial excuses are for not doing them.

When I look back at my decade or so of writing online, I notice that the years where I did my best work were the ones I spent with some sort of challenge. For a couple of years, I was writing for that most inspiring of reasons, to impress a girl. For a few years after that, I was writing in order to make sense of what would come to be known as the Great Awokening, while coming to terms with my own evolving political perspective. Having achieved both, I can now afford to write for the pure enjoyment of playing with words, while making tentative, experimental attempts to develop as a writer and a thinker. In one sense, that's liberating, but that same sense of pleasant weightlessness can also make you feel adrift and alone, unable to connect to a culture dominated by angry, partisan adolescents of all ages who are determined to make the entire world fit onto the Procrustean bed of their narrow political obsessions. Without an argument to join, without a sacred cause to crusade for, without any desire to be noticed and appreciated, I'm forced to acknowledge how plain my pleasures are, how banal my tasks and routines are, and how very much I have in common with people I formerly scorned in my supercilious youth. It's often said that the story of humanity has been a sequence of increasing disillusionment. Copernicus demoted us from our place at the center of the universe. Darwin relegated us from our special status above the rest of the animal kingdom. Freud then informed us that we weren't even the masters of our own minds. Now, even within the privacy of our self-image, it seems the final humiliation is the recognition of our own individual ordinariness, a recognition itself so common as to need no famous spokesman. Thankfully, the consolations of simple, earnest joys more than make up for it.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Rolling Green


We realized, to our chagrin, that we hadn't been hiking since last September. First there were my two hospital stays plus eventual surgery. Then the new business got rolling and ate up a lot of our time. And even we aren't quite mad enough to get up before dawn on a winter morning and go walk for several miles along a mountain ridge while our several layers of clothing put up about as much resistance to the howling, frigid wind as your grandmother's password does to identity thieves. But we've hiked this trail twice in the past week, and it's great to be back. No bears yet, but lots of chipmunks, plus what appeared to be a beautiful pair of orioles, a pileated woodpecker, and one bald eagle! The long-term forecast is calling for a cooler-than-normal spring in the mid-Atlantic; 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. We've got a lot of lost time to make up for.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Obiter Dicta, no. 48

If Schopenhauer had a religion in his youth, or at any time in his life, it was music. It was in music that he found intimations of a realm beyond the human world. The nature of things, he came to think, was ineffable. Language could not capture the reality that lay behind changing appearances. But what could not be spoken could still be sung or played.

— John Gray, Seven Types of Atheism

As Mark Sandman sang, "Music is like our prayer; it helps you reach somewhere." Likewise, my faith is the substance of rhythms hoped for, the evidence of melodies not heard.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Noteworthies (37)

• Tim Rogers, "Jordan Peterson and the Return of the Stoics"

• Wesley Yang, "The Passion of Jordan Peterson"

• Kyle Smith, "Ezra Klein’s Intellectual Demagoguery"

• Theodore Dalrymple, "Reading the State of Britain with Roger Scruton"

• Ben Sixsmith, "My Favorite French Intellectual"

• Patrick Freyne, "Where Do Atheists Get Their Values?"

• Michael Brendan Dougherty, "The Church of Grievance"

• Joe Berkowitz, "If You Think You Hate Puns, You're Wrong"

• David Thompson, "Annihilation Of Bourgeois Life Delayed Somewhat"

• Songs I'm enjoying this week: while listening to Google Play's "Psychedelic Indie" station, I discovered "Comb My Hair" by Coast Modern (sorta like Tame Impala sharing a ride and a singalong with the Flaming Lips), and "Boys Latin" by Panda Bear (sorta like techno-Gregorian chanting)