Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fredrik Deboer "To call things by their right names" looks to be the sequel to "the ground floor", warning the left that social democratic is not the same as socialist

Having read Deboer for a couple of years I kind of had an impression that "The Ground Floor" was a part 1 that was paving the way for a part 2.  It looks like part 2 arrived.

The basic condition of the American radical left, today, is a rising social democrat movement that, for complex (and predominantly social) reasons, insists on calling itself a socialist movement. Bernie Sanders, a jobs guarantee, DSA, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jacobin, Medicare for all – each worthy of praise, each fundamentally and existentially social democratic and thus not socialist.

Perhaps the order of the day is social democracy. A social democratic movement is a proud thing. I’d love to see it spread. But we must be able to call things by their right names. And while I understand the social conditions that make it hard for people to admit that they are not socialists, for the good of everyone – and especially for the good of their own movement – they should publicly accept their identity at social democrats. It is a necessary and inevitably step.

I am the sort of pessimistic person who doesn't think that either capitalism or socialism can ever exist in the real world, that these respective ideologies are unattainable in theory and promulgate massacre and mass death in practice.  The more I look back on the Cold War and the legacies of the partisan blocs the more impossible it seems to regard either side as "the good guys".  If I thought socialism could actually exist in the real world I might suggest people veer toward non-Marxist forms of socialism because they obviously have existed for a while.

But ... the reason I mention Deboer's post is that he seems aware of a problem that will come about, and has been in play for decades since the end of the Cold War, that reactionaries will broadbrush all forms of proposed socialism and the platform of social democrats as "socialist" and also as inextricably linked to Marxist thought, whether of a Leninist or a Maoist or whatever variety.  It will not be difficult for people on the right to trot out the various times in which class revolutions led to the liquidation of intellectuals and competent farmers and in some countries revolutionaries would decide to kill anyone who wore glasses as probably being a member of a decadent intelligentsia if they didn't already have a working class job.

My hunch has been Deboer is advising social democrats to call themselves by their real names and not pander to people who may think they're socialists because in the age of Trump that's the fast self-affixed labeled way to distance yourself from all things Trump.

Or as John Halle has blogged in the last couple of years, at some point any functional American left has to live with the reality of how power will be used if they ever get even local level political office, rather than endlessly vamp on the riff of purity of ideology.  The counsel seems reasonable since I know from my red state family and friends that they really do collapse liberalism with Marxism, socialism, communism, intersectionality, LGBTQ and all across the board.  If progressives want to make some kidn of long-term progress divesting themselves of the propagandistic dynamics of the DNC and GOP respectively might be a good idea.  Not having a totalitarian commitment to a panoply of ostensibly left or liberal causes might not be a bad idea, either.  Even Franky Schaeffer, hopeless blue state hack that he has become, managed to suggest in Crazy for God that the DNC shot itself in the foot by refusing to concede there could be pro-life people who might be very progressive on economic issues who would not sign on for a maximalist pro-abortion platform.

A lot of what passes for liberal or progressive causes may in the long run turn out to be the interests of the aspirational managerial castes who love the idea of having as much freedom as aristocrats and can pass this off as progressive by dint of the rainbow banner rather than addressing more traditionally working class issues.  In that sense I'm more sympathetic with the old left and even post-Marxist thought than I am with the new left.  I don't blame an old school Marxist like Adorno for regarding the nascent new left as being more or less like the fascists.  To look at how intersectionality advocates write Adorno's riff on how the resurgence neo-pagan polytheistic mythology was worse than the Judeo-Christian monotheistic mythology ... but I don't feel like slogging into that on a weekend, or at least not this weekend.

He had another post up I was planning to link to but it's down. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Francis Poulenc: Sarabande for guitar

after you watch that video for the score ... go listen to the Narciso Yepes version.

And here's one by Rob Mackillop (hi Rob, you may remember me from Delcamp here and there)

Poulenc wrote the Sarabande as a tribute to Ida Presti and if you're a classical guitarist and you somehow against all odds don't know her work ...

Olivier Messiaen, Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time)

I've written in the past about how one of the substantial shortfalls of Francis Schaeffer's "Christian worldview" narrative is that he has the reader assume (with him) that once the Christian worldview is cast aside music gets weird and ugly and that basically explains the Western European and American avant garde movements.

Nope. Great big nope.

If anything the fact that some of the farthest out composers of the last century were Catholic (like Messiaen) or Russian Orthodox (like Stravinsky, later in life if not always in his fiery youth) makes it hard to make any one to one correlation between a nebulously defined "Christian worldview" and whether or not a person was in the artistic avant garde.  Someone could be thoroughly parochial in matters of religion and innovative at a formal level in the arts.  If anything Stravinsky and T. S. Eliot made that easy to establish in the decades before Schaeffer began his trilogy.

The Intermede could sound pretty cool on a classical guitar if ... you know ... somewhere were to try transcribing it.  Not that you should, though.  Still, sometimes a guitarist can dream that Messiaen ever wrote for the guitar.  Meanwhile, if you want some 20th century French guitar music Poulenc did write that Sarabande.

which gets me thinking ...

William Byrd: Mass for 5 voices with a read-along score but it's chock-full of C clefs

Can't resist noting that even though the Kyrie is scored throughout in common time you could take the Christe eleison section (which starts at 0:34) and plausibly score most of that in 7/2.  I'm completely serious.  Anyone who tries to sell you on the idea that assymetric meter or assymetric phrase lengths was somehow a 20th century or "modern" development doesn't know nearly enough music or music history.   Just because it's scored one way doesn't mean that's what's going on in the music itself.  I've found it easier to score works in common time when the real divisions of meter and pulse included shifts from 4/4 through 4/8 with steady telescoping of riffs. 

Apart from that little observation the music/score read along video is presented without comment.

I love Byrd's music.  I did say I was going to try to get around to music more West than East to keep some variety going.

Ah, right, the playlist doesn't go in a straight line for the work.



Agnus Dei

Nobody has the Sanctus/Benedictus up in score form ... or if you want to just barrel through the whole thing in one go.

a variation on "if I had a million dollars"

Person 1:  When I was a kid I used to have a fantasy that if I had a million dollars I’d live in a mansion with wide hallways where everyone could travel around in electric go-carts
Person 2:  … that sounds like a retirement home.

somewhat "old" news but the creator of Ren & Stimpy added to the list of people accused of misconduct

A couple of years back we had ourselves a little blog post observing the 25th anniversary of a cartoon I never really got into but that people I know really loved when it was on air, Ren & Stimpy.

Well ... this year ...  somebody got added to the era of #MeToo and allegations of sexual misconduct.

Not much by way of further news since the report broke. 

an Atlantic article on the black vs white inheritance gap is a reminder that another minority couldn't even legally have its own probate processes until as recently as 2004

The numbers are staggering: White Americans with a college degree are on average three times as wealthy as black Americans with the same credential, and in families where the head of the household is employed, white families have 10 times the wealth of black ones. One estimate on the conservative end suggested that this wealth gap could take two centuries to close.
And the thing about wealth, says Tatjana Meschede, a researcher at the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, is that it’s “sticky”: It tends to stay with a family. That has serious repercussions for how much money people accumulate over the course of their lives, regardless of whether they attend college—something that is usually thought to make a significant difference financially.
A forthcoming study from Meschede and Joanna Taylor, also a researcher at Brandeis, in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, makes the point clearly. Building on a 2017 study of theirs that examined wealth accumulation among college graduates—as well as “intergenerational financial transfers,” like when a parent helps a recent college grad out with rent, or, say, gives her $1,000 a month to spend on whatever she pleases—the two looked specifically at how family inheritances, which are usually larger and tend to come all at once, factor into building and maintaining wealth.
The two researchers focused specifically on inheritances among families where at least one parent has a college degree. They looked at families like this in order to test the notion that higher education is some great equalizer.

and a no-prize goes to people who find the very idea dubious but ...

The differences that they found between black and white families were stark. “Among college-educated black families, about 13 percent get an inheritance of more than $10,000, as opposed to about 41 percent of white, college-educated families,” Taylor said in a release announcing the new research. More specifically, on average, white families that receive such an inheritance receive over $150,000 from the previous generation, whereas that figure is under $40,000 for black families.

Meschede and Taylor focused on inheritances of more than $10,000 because, they say, these qualify as “transformative” assets—meaning, they could significantly alter the course of a life. As Mark Huelsman, a policy analyst at Demos, an advocacy group, tweeted earlier this week after seeing Meschede and Taylor’s study, “the average family inheritance to a white college grad can pay off the average undergrad debt balance”—more than $30,000—“and have enough left over for a 20 percent down [payment] on a $575,000 home.” (And that’s if they have student debt to begin with.)

That head start on wealth provides lifelong momentum, Taylor told me in an interview. The median wealth held by black families with a college degree and student loans by the time the head of household is 65 years old, she said, is about $61,000, versus roughly $422,000 for white families under the same circumstances.

Getting a college degree can, in some cases, help close the income gap—as in, annual earnings—and, as I have written, can do wonders for socioeconomic mobility. But the enduring legacy of slavery, and centuries of de jure and de facto segregation have led to a wealth gap that is practically insurmountable. As my colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in 2014, the wealth gap “puts a number on something we feel but cannot say—that American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution.”

There have been proposals, including systems of reparations such as baby bonds for black families that are scaled to family wealth, to get kids started on an equal level. Those ideas seem to be on the right track—a college degree alone certainly can’t make up the difference.

The topic of inheritance and racial inequality can be more broad-ranging than just whtie and black.  I am still not really convinced by Coates' arguments for reparations.  Adolph Reed's argument against Coates' argument seems too compelling to me. 

For that matter, as I've written in the past, making the issue of race as black and white or white and black as some contemporary journalists make it can produce more heat than light.

Merely giving non-whites education by itself may do nothing.  To flip the script a bit, and having skimmed through Richard Reeves book about "dream hoarders", if higher education is as racist in its legacies as some believe it is ... what if we abolish legacy admissions?

Just abolish legacy admissions across the board. Here's an ee
 To the Editor:
Re “U.S. Rights Unit Shifts to Study Antiwhite Bias” (front page, Aug. 2):

With the Justice Department moving to challenge affirmative action in college admissions, we would do well to be mindful of important ways in which existing class and financial status benefit certain college applicants, mostly those who are white.

The simple truth is that prosperous communities, good schools and savvy guidance counselors constitute affirmative action for whites.

There is also one deliberate and robust admissions policy used at many colleges that in effect constitutes white affirmative action: That is the preference given in admissions decisions to the children of alumni of the college.

In a previous life, I was an admissions officer at Princeton. That college and others like it openly acknowledged that there was a separate pool for so-called legacies. That remains true today.

Being a legacy was no guarantee of admission. All the legacies I saw admitted were notably successful high school students and were fully capable of succeeding at a demanding college. But a significant percentage of the class was reserved for these legacies. I would say 5 to 10 percent of the admitted students were legacies who would not otherwise have been admitted.
This legacy pool has been — and remains — overwhelmingly white. It will remain so for years until the race and ethnicity of college graduates more accurately reflect those of the overall population.
Today the Justice Department would have us believe that whites face reverse discrimination in college admissions. But legacy admissions are just one example of the ways in which the college-admission competition to this day tilts white.
Not everyone agrees, of course and some make the case that the upper middle class is not really hoarding the American dream by way of legacy admissions.
Is the upper middle class really hoarding the American Dream?
With a title like that you could work out that the answer is going to be "no" simply on the basis of a convention that indicates that rhetorical questions are the refuge of a particular flavor of combative editorializing.

.... Contrary to Reeves’s argument — but included in his book — is one study finding that among children born into the richest fifth, only 37 percent remained there as adults. Roughly two-thirds dropped out. How much more downward mobility does Reeves want? He doesn’t say.

Similarly, some advantages claimed for the upper middle class are weaker than advertised. Access to the best schools? Sure, but that doesn’t cover all upper-middle-class students. Reeves reports that nearly two-fifths of the richest 20 percent of families live near schools ranked in the top fifth of their states by test scores. But that means that about three-fifths of these wealthier families don’t. It’s also true, as Reeves notes, that the causation works in the other direction: Good students make good schools.

It's not really much of a case for not getting rid of legacy admissions to me.  Saying that we should expand the upper middle class rather than restrict it seems silly.  What we should try to do is recover some kind of economic viability for people who do not have and will never get a college degree.  The very idea of making American higher education as it has developed in the last forty years into the solution for income inequality will exacerbate rathe rthan address that problem.

But, on the matter of inheritance and legacy .... having an inheritance by way of land or assets is not a foregone conclusion across all ethnic groups in the last fifty years of the United States.  Ever hear of the American Indian Probate Reform Acts?  No.  It dates to ... 2004.  Yes, this millennium, this century. 

American Indians couldn't even set up their own probate processes for a long time.  Even when discussing the difference between what whites and blacks could receive by way of inheritance it's possible to skim over every other respective color group on the spectrum along the way. 

Probating Trust Assets

The American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004 (AIPRA), which amended the Indian Land Consolidation Act (ILCA), was enacted on October 27, 2004. AIPRA created a nationwide Indian probate code and changed the way trust estates are distributed to heirs. AIPRA may affect ownership rights in trust or restricted land, except for land located in Alaska.

Understanding the American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004

The American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004 (AIPRA) was enacted on October 27, 2004. The Act amends the Indian Land Consolidation Act and amendments made in 2000 and this notice replaces the notice provided in 2001. This Act affects your ownership rights in trust or restricted land, unless the land is located in Alaska. Most of the provisions do not take effect for one (1) year.

AIPRA changes the way trust estates are distributed to your heirs after your death. This increases the importance and benefits of writing a will or doing an estate plan. AIPRA also improves your ability to consolidate your interests in trust or restricted land.

You can read more at your leisure.  As I've written about before, one of the reasons I didn't find Coates' case for reparations ultimately persuasive is because as inheritance goes American Indians were functionally barred from being able to create wills or establishing probate processes to give their children inheritance for the bulk of a century.  Institutionalized racism and white supremacy did not play out the same way across the board.  Slaves, regarded as property, were subjected to enforced breeding.  Native Americans were subjected to sterilization projects and massacre.  In that sense one of the groups was kept alive as property while another group was regarded as needing to be cleansed from the land.  It's not that the legacy of racism stopped being horrendous, it's that the kinds of arguments a Coates makes for reparations seem trapped within the logic of the evil, as Adolph Reed put it--it doesn't follow that the nature of the evil has to be given a response within the terms set by the evil.  That's an argument I find persuasive, particularly since the last century and a half had the Supreme Court and Congress working to very literally disinherit Native American groups. 

Alois Hába, String Quartet No. 5


I've been on a microtonalist kick in the last year or three.  I've blogged relatively in passing bout Ben Johnston's string quartets, which started off pretty good in quartets 1 through 3 and went to fantastic from 4 to 10.  For the first two thirds of the 20th century literature I'm an admirer of Bartok and Shostakovich first and foremost, and then I dig string quartets by Hindemith and Villa-Lobos as sort of the second-order string quartet awesome.  But ...

I've been listening to the Haba quartets lately and they intrigue me.  I still don't have any plans to be a microtonal composer myself but I find a lot of beauty in a selection of microtonal composition. 

And the sheer size of the microtonal repertoire is another reminder why I couldn't even begin to buy a number of Andrew Durkin's probably well-intentioned but ultimately lazy canards about the fuzziness of Western musical notation.  Sure, everyone knows it has limits, but when composers can write more than a dozen string quartets after breaking out of the constraint of the equal-tempered chromatic scale and those quartets can get recorded a few times (the composer who's the subject of this post) breezy claims that Western notation is kind of vague or imprecise seems itself a vague and imprecise claim.

Bruce Haynes has a book wherein he says earlier music theorists would say that a musical score is to music as a recipe is to a culinary experience.  You don't eat the recipe, you use the recipe to cook something delicious. 

Which is another opportunity to suggest that a lot of battles in musicology seem to be over the legacy of German idealism ... and maybe not even the legacy of German idealism across the board (because it's a mind-bendingly large range of literature) but the prosaic and provincial applications of those ideas and associated literary and artistic canons as mediated by Anglo-American scholars. 

Or as Alex Ross suggested, there's a point at which we might want to ask whether the racism we see and hear in Wagner's operas is partly really there and yet even more a reflection of the racisms of our own time.  Ross has a book about Wagnerism in the works and I'm curious to read it when it finally comes out. 

But, as usual, I digress. 

Well, let me digress some more.  As bad as people may feel the German legacy is I don't think it holds a candle to the actual imperialism of the British empire or the United States.  Germany was the nation that wasn't even a nation until relatively recently, quite a few years after even the United States emerged, let alone England.  Germany was also the nation that lost both "world" wars 1 & 2.  So ... in a way ... if we want to complain about cultural imperialism we might be better off complaining about British and American imperialism ... but that's perhaps my Native American side choosing to be an impudent sort for a moment.

Anyway ... hope you enjoy the string quartet and if not, well, no harm no foul. 

Antonio Jose - Sonata for Guitar

I am definitely planning on blogging about this sonata!  As much as I like and admire the Ponce guitar sonatas I often like this one more. 

Obviously I'm trying to bite off too much to chew, so to speak.  You can't just blog about a guitar sonata like this one, which is one of the more remarkable sonatas written for the instrument.  But it's one of the ones I hope to get to at some point in the next few years.   I'm partial to Marcin Dylla's recording of this work (who is such a great guitarist he's gotten me to enjoy the Ginastera guitar sonata which I have always hated and still kind of hate if anyone but a guitarist at his level is playing it!).  As in a few earlier cases, BC has posted a score-video, and so we're linking to it for educational purposes. 

A more in-depth discussion of Jose's sonata is in order but you regular readers already know how overdue I am to get back to blogging about Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues. 

Grażyna Bacewicz string quartets performed by the Silesian Quartet

If, like me, you're the least bit into string quartets and also have some appreciation for Polish music then the string quartets of Grazyna Bacewicz are quartets you should check out.  I've been listening to her quartets over the last month or so.  First heard of her work through the blogging/reviewing of Norman Lebrecht.  He may be a crankypants about any number of things but this tip is a fun one to follow.  And there's a handful of reviews to peruse at your leisure.

As for a recent recording, that's something you can sample over here at Youtube.

Bacewicz is one of the composers mentioned in the book Composing the Party Line, which I haven't been reading through as quickly as I thought because I'm distracted by a bunch of other reading.  But her work is a useful case study for demonstrating the gap between Cold War myths about how repressive the Soviet bloc was in contrast to Western musical scenes.  A repressive communist regime isn't necessarily going to be repressive all across the board.  Socialist Realism was more or less a dead letter by 1953-1955, as the aforementioned monograph discusses in early chapters. 

But I can write about that some more after I finish the book. 

scientists analyze 6,147 movie scripts and the emotional arc that makes the most money is called the "man in a hole" arc

A team of UK scientists believe they have found the formula for box office success.
After analysing data from 6,147 movie scripts and filtering it through a series of algorithms, the researchers have identified the emotional arc that makes the most money, called the “man in a hole” arc.
It could be gamechanging for both film producers and audiences, said Ganna Pogrebna, a professor of behavioural economics and data science at the University of Birmingham, who led the research team. “We know that when we talk about movie production it is a small group of people that make decisions for the viewers. We were essentially trying to listen to the viewer, to see what they actually want.”
The scientists categorised the movies according to six emotional profiles or clusters, which were previously applied to novels.

Ah, so one of the most literal iterations of "man in a hole" storytelling, The Dark Knight Rises, made at least a little bit of money.  For folks who want to see the study looks like it's over here

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Rick & Morty's Dan Harmon gets some headlines for an ill-advised skit brought back to the spotlight ... which gives me an occasion to briefly discuss why Rick & Morty seems overhyped

While I'd venture to say the most over-hyped and over-discussed prestige TV shows in live-action in the last eight years would be Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead then if I had to pick animated shows that I think are competently made but overhyped relative to their merits Rick & Morty is probably one of the more overhyped animated shows that's come out in the last few years.

Which is not to say I didn't find "Lawnmower Dog" really, really funny. 

But why on earth anyone would think of Rick as anything but a sorcerer-thug rather than the trite "smartest guy in the room" super-scientist eludes me.  There's no good way Rick can know something about the anatomy of a girl Morty has a crush on in season 1. 

I've managed to catch up to the end of season 3 of the show thanks to library DVDs and the show seems overhyped.  I' enough of an animation fan I try to catch some things if enough friends mention things.  Or I may get around to something that never got a local release, like the French language adventure tale The Long Way North.  I try to keep at least some tabs on French language animation, too, so I own Persepolis, The Long Way North, and thanks to some younger relatives am now relatively up to speed on Ladybug & Cat Noir.

So when I say Rick & Morty seems overhyped it's because it seems overhyped to me. Rick may be a blunt atheist who insists no gods exists and that science is the way to go but he's not a scientist.  Traveling across dimensions on adventures is something Doctor Strange can do, with magic.  To touch upon another Adult Swim cartoon that's been around longer, The Venture Bros has a sad sack divorced Doctor Strange homage in the form of Byron Orpheus whose wife left him for another man and who is raising his daughter by himself.  Orpheus and Rick Sanchez differ in the formal means of breaking the laws of physics.  One uses magic and the other uses "science" but both old guys are magicians. 

I don't tend to watch a lot of Adult Swim as it is.  The last time I tuned into Adult Swim content was for the glorious return of Samurai Jack and keeping up with The Venture Bros.

Now season 3 of Rick & Morty introduced the idea that the alcoholic, verbally abusive title character may not be a villain but he shouldn't be anyone's hero.  But given the way the second season ended ,with Rick handing himself over to authorities and confessing that he was guilty of doing "everything" to cops because he felt he would do better by his daughter rand her family turning himself in, there was no real reason to have a season 3.  Rick figured out how bad he was and gave himself up to be imprisoned.

But the thing about a show created by guys who used to work on Futurama, perhaps, is that there's gotta be a "psyche!" and a rug-pull.  It has to transpire that Rick did everything because he knew he would be imprisoned in a particular facility at which he could stage a coup to dismantle a governing organization he disliked. 

That's how TV works in comedic terms, you can't have something "bigh" happen without themeans to immediately or eventually reverse it so the status quo can be established.

There are long-form arcs in place if you've seen the show.  The rise of evil Morty as the monster who embodies Rick's vices is still incubating. Whether or not the show lasts long enough to see that plotline through remains to be seen. 

The Cernovich catalyst for the James Gunn headline (fired from Disney, thus not looking to be working on Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3) may or may not be connected to what's happened with Harmon.  At CBR there are probably a few comments about how the right is focusing on sexual content without objecting to violence.  Possibly ... although there's a sense in which all of these sorts of things could be construed as a witch hunt ...

but can it be a witch hunt if people don't lose their jobs?  Harmon and company are still probably on track to make a season 4 for Rick & Morty while James Gunn has been fired fired. 

Rick is basically a depraved old wizard with a god complex and while he's presented as someone who shouldn't be your hero the writers by and large can't bring themselves to present hi as villainous on the one hand or as a tragic figure or as an antihero because, to keep thing simple, that's not how comedies work.  By necessity of the genre whatever Rick does has to not ultimately impact things. 

In season 1 Morty tells his sister Summer that nobody exists on purpose and things don't necessarily happen for reasons and to come watch TV.  There may be people who find that deep or insightful but that's not only more or less a nihilistic take on the human condition ...

it's also, arguably, othe kind of materialistic skepticism that is the luxury of moderately formally educated white guys. 

If there's an element of seriousness in criticisms of white privilege or white male privilege it could be applied to people who can write shows on the order of Rick & Morty.   It's not like the show presents women in the most positive or complementary light.  Sure, if you cast Sarah Chalke as Rick's desperately emotionally estranged daughter Beth then you've cast someone who has spent her career honing characters who say and do self-destructive things without realizing it.  Her lines as Beth to Summer (Beth's daughter) were the most memorable parts of season 3.  Summer asks "Mom, am I hot?" to which Beth replies that that's not a category she thinks about for her because she's her mother and then, finally, "Summer, I'm you're mother, not an issue of Cosmo. It's not my job to say whether you're `hot'."

But Beth takes after her father, sneering contemptuously at anyone who she thinks isn't as smart as she is in professional fields.  She's also taking up her father's approach to alcohol while her children are aghast that she decides to divorce her husband Jerry (Chris Parnell, playing Cyril in another context) because she won't, as the old saying goes, leave and cleave on the marriage thing.  But by the end of season 3 Beth has somewhat implausibly changed her mind and decided she'd like her family back together and is apparently not going to complete the divorce process.  What makes it implausible is not just the mechanics of how the final episode was written but that nature of the season 3 opening ultimatum and Beth's response.  Jerry and Beth were presented through the two previous seasons as frustrated by each other but committed to each other; it may be that unplanned teen pregnancy led to Summer being born and the two kids getting married but Rick's resentment that Jerry ruined his daughter's chances at being a scientist are offset by the way that Beth, with all her vices, seems to in some ways like being a wife and mother.  Rick views marriage and the allures of erotic attachment mainly with contempt and tells Morty he should be into science. 

Not that Rick ever actually talks about science.  He keeps using his portal gun and tech to travel to other dimensions and alternate universes to have adventures.  I'm told that a fan anti-favorite from season 3 was an episode in which a psychologist is counseling the Sanchez family and explains to Rick and his daughter Beth and her children Summer and Morty that there's nothing adventurous about the maintenance work of relationships or daily life.  It's not an adventure to wipe your butt and wash your hands after you take a dump and the work required to cultivate and sustain interpersonal relationships and a stable role in society is more or less the same way.  Rick and his daughter Beth view that kind of work with contempt whereas Beth's kids (Rick's grandkids) aspire to those things. So does Jerry, and that is where there's a probably insoluable double standard in Rick & Morty as a show. They can't condone Jerry because, dude, he's voiced by Rick Parnell.  Jerry has to be the stupid conformist "normal" person that Rick resents as too stupid to ever be Rick.  But the writing does not go very far in showing how it's equally true that Jerry is the only one of the formally adult people in the show who IS willing to do the boring custodial work of cultivating and sustaining relationships.  If Morty has anything like a working moral compass (not that he does but if he did ... ) he got it from Jerry rather than Beth or, least of all, his grandpa Rick.

That may all seem abstract or fuzzy as a frame in which to discuss recent headlines about Harmon, but I'm suggesting that it's a fairly natural set of connections.  If Harmon thought that satirizing Dexter by inventing a guy who is supposed to prevent serial killers from killing by going back in time to sexually molest them as babies would be funny it's not clear why it should be funny, even if we grant the viability of a joke at the expense of a show like Dexter where a serial killer focuses on hunting down other serial killers.  I never watched the show.  I don't plan to. 

Now maybe the right-wing types who are incensed about this kind of humor just never watched Adult Swim anything. Maybe they haven't seen how consistently sexual humor and often of a deliberately overboard style permeates AS programming, whether Rick & Morty or Robot Chicken.

I'm not sure I care that the forces at working in bringing Harmon's skit back into the spotlight are described as far right or alt right.  For all we don't know these days there's enough depraved humor and conduct across the entire spectrum that double standards as to who gets to get away with saying or doing what seems moot. 

I admit to having never joined Twitter and having little to no interest in Twitter.  It seems that it's best to never be on Twitter than to say something for the record that you can't escape.  If James Gunn had never even been on Twitter to begin with would he have been fired?  Probably not? 

With this blog's history and range of focus I can tell you that back when mars Hill PR was trying to keep a lid on things with the Andrew disciplinary situation it was precisely through Noriega twitter feeds that I managed to connect enough dots to establish that Andrew Lamb was connected to the Noriega family at the Ballard campus of Mars Hill by dint of blogs by James Noriega and his stepdaughter's blog, as well as James Noriega's Twitter feed.  Why?  Because having attended the church for years and having been connected in some way or other to the church scene for a decade I knew this was a community o people that used social media prolifically.  The first person industrial complex content was strong at Mars Hill.  In short, I knew that the odds were pretty high that the people that MH PR said were needing privacy protected might have actually spilled the beans on social media with enough information to establish who, what, where, when and why months before Andrew Lamb's disciplinary situation garnered national headlines. I turned out to be right.  You can't call it doxxing if everything is already on the internet as a matter of public record, let alone if the information was volunteered by parties when they got interviewed by the Seattle P I or Mars Hill people.  But we live in an era that, as Terry Teachout has put it, has people struggling to have their practice catch up with the reality of consequences in social media use.

Since I think Rick & Morty should have ended at the close of season 2 I'm not going to feel heartbroken if the show doesn't come back for a while.  The way the show got from the end of season 2 to the start of season 3 was how I figured it was going to go, it amounts to psyche! 

Which is why the end o season 2 felt like a cheap con as it was.  Playing the pre-Cash version of "Hurt" as Rick turns himself in wasn't pathos so much as bathos.  It wasn't the kind of "moment" that could last if the show went on to have a season 3.  If, however, the series had ended then it would have had some actual weight to the thing. 

But that's not how American TV works.   

In an era in which entertainers get caught having made jokes about pedophilia while having publicly criticized other public figures the question that emerges may be implicit--if it's wrong to do something is it okay to joke about doing it?  If so on what basis is it okay to make jokes about things that, if done, would be considered evil?  For those who reject altogether the idea that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks then, well, you could say just about anything and until you do X talking about X doesn't mean anything yet. 

It may be that the gap between public grandstanding on an issue and documentable statements is less easily overlooked in our era.  It could well be that Harmon shouldn't feel any heat for stuff he did a decade ago.  Mark Driscoll had allies in 2014 who were willing to suggest that what he wrote as William Wallace II shouldn't be construed as how he felt in 2014.  That wasn't all there was to the public criticism of Mark Driscoll having written that stuff to begin with.  Again, for people who take seriously the saying that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks what WW2 was ranting about showed us what was in his heart and that gave at least some people reason to wonder how or why this guy was "still" a pastor or, more crucially, was ever thought fit to be a pastor to begin with.  The thing about a pseudonym is that in the age of the internet you cannot assume your identity will never come to light.  If you want to blog try to keep in mind that you're contributing to a mass medium.  Consider that if you put something up it could potentially be up there for "all time".  The more scandals (real or fabricated) come up about how people use Twitter the more it seems that it might be best to be willing to apologize for stuff, to make retractions and make them sooner rather than latter when things blow up.  That's arguably just a solid journalistic convention which may need to be brought back to go by the rarity with which retractions and corrections seem to get attention.

Billboard runs a list of the highest paid professional musicians for the earlier year

presented, for the time being (and probably for later), without comment

Monday, July 23, 2018

an Ethan Hein post that I wrote about has gone missing, the one about John Cage

Over the last seven years the various times in which I blogged about something and linked to content that vanished "normally" was something that I quoted in the media archives of Mars Hill, often something published with Mark Driscoll's name attached, that might vanish within days of a commentary I made using statements made in the Driscoll media.  As mark Drsicoll Ministries has kept moving forward some of those sermons reappear but substantially redacted so that large swaths of material I quoted from their originally published forms has been removed.
I haven't run into cases most o fthe time in which I reference a blog post on the topic of music that is up one month and gone the next.  But, sometimes, it happens.
Here was the blog post I wrote.
This was the blog post I was writing about that is now gone
This is the cached form of the page.
or ..
There was a direction some comments were going in as discussion went along I could sort of appreciate but didn't quite agree with.  Naomi had comments about the latently racist element of Cage's rejection of popular African American musical styles.  Cage was dismissive toward jazz throughout his life.  I am less certain that was indicative of Cage being a racist, not that I can establish that Cage was or wasn't racist because 1) I'm not a big Cage fan and 2) I'm certainly not a Cage scholar.   With those caveats out of the way I am still not convinced that the default mode we should take in criticizing Cage's dismissive views of popular music in general and jazz in particular should be construed through racial narratives.
What if, for instance, John Cage was a highbrow snob who disliked popular music because he distrusted commercial music regardless of skin color issues?  Cage could have been a snob who just didn't like pop music.  To put things another way, Cage may not have made it into the canon in his life but to invoke criticisms from Maoists like Cardew it isn't hard to imagine a criticism of Cage proceeding from a question about what class he served.  To be simple about it, Cage may not have disliked pop music because of racial issues but because he was having to cater to or pander to a patronage class and if that class had no use for popular musical styles Cage could ill afford to just declare that anything went, i.e. anything goes so far as using as much popular musical materials as you want. 
For instance ... :
naomi says:
Cage’s rejection of/lack of interest in black/african-diaspora musical traditions is an unfortunate blind spot given his own aesthetic interests. For ex. some of the later Coltrane stuff, such as Meditations & Ascension, or Coleman Free Jazz & so on, is just as rigorously constructed, experimental, & sonically grating (or “disinterested in the listener” or whatever) as anything Cage ever wrote. And Cage was not that invested in the classical music world either, which didn’t take him seriously during his lifetime. But his social circles were very much “high art”, specifically the fine arts—Rauschenberg, Rothko, Pollock, Duchamp et al—and he is taken much more seriously within the fine arts even today (there are drawings by Cage in art galleries around the world). That entire distinction between high and low art and all its latent white supremacy is therefore something he had to cling to to remain part of his community. Which is also unfortunate for musicians & listeners…. a Cage + Ornette collaboration would have been something to hear.

Also that’s fair enough re McClary—I didn’t read this specific article, but it’s a reasonable argument to make. I generally like her work, and appreciate her tireless trolling of the established academy, which has felled many a musicologist who, whilst attempting to retort angrily to her, revealed himself as an inveterate racist or sexist or homophobe et cetera >.>
Having linked to an article on sumptuary codes and online debates about cultural appropriation, it's not really a surprise if I suggest that I think what Cage did was more indicative of elitism or class vetting than a white supremacist thing.  High and low distinctions are not that hard to find in non-white cultures.  The caste system in India springs to mind.  For that matter the tiered status categories of pacific Northwest Indians springs to mind.
Nor does it seem to hold good that invoking a high low divide in which folk or popular art being distinct from high/classical art applies exclusively to whatever "white" culture is supposed to be.  Traditional Thai music (i.e. "classical" Thai music) can't be construed as defaulting to white supremacist ideology.  Since I've been reading up a bit here and there on Pacific Northwest Native American cultures and practices in the last few years strict rules about who can and can't perform X or Y song, or even hear it, doesn't have to have anything at all to do with latent or even explicit white supremacy.  I find it slightly annoying that contemporary scholarly discourse so swiftly defaults in some circles to assumptions that high/low distinctions might default to white supremacist views.  Maybe in some cases, sure, but the defaults taken up in online discourse have me doubting whether it's good to have such a literally and figuratively black and white set of polarities on these topics.   I'm not sure I buy a number of claims common in what seems to be the new musicology any more than I buy defensive claims made by "modernists" or even "traditionalists".
Since I mentioned Pacific Northwest Native American cultures on the topic of songs and who could hear them ...
When Dr. Ida Halpern recorded Pacific Northwest tribal songs she could establish that chiefs and others in the tribes owned slaves and could note that Pacific Northwest tribes had some strict rules about who could hear songs and share songs.  It was when the men and women who knew the songs realized the younger generation didn't want to learn the songs and that these songs would die with the generation that knew them that they agreed to work with Halpern to record the songs for posterity.  We can't forget at any step of that process that these were, within tribal terms, people of high status or, if you will, kinds of aristocrats. 
The assertion that high and low art has latent white supremacy might make some kind of sense if we only confined ourselves to a particular era of European history but, honestly, I don't take as given that high/low dualisms are latently white supremacist.  There can be dualisms about what music is appropriate to sing in church or a bar and fans of African American music may not need much reminding about how within African American music some music was considered inappropriate to sing for those who sought to spend a lot of time singing in churches.  That hardly means Son House or Charley Patton couldn't (let alone didn't!) record both sacred and secular song.  Breaching previously observed prohibitions about what was and wasn't appropriate to record or perform in the wake of new technological advances in recording and presenting music has been with us for millennia. 
It's possible to argue that Cage was too committed as a matter of branding and public relations to taking a low view of popular musical culture as part of catering to his patronage base without simultaneously insisting that this had to indicate racism on Cage's part at an implicit level; it is also not necessary to invoke latent white supremacist views for Cage's patronage base.  Some of them may well have been white supremacists but there are plenty of other ways to find fault with Cage without invoking statements of presumed white supremacism.  Xenakis' complaint about aleatory and indeterminacy was couched in terms of pointing out that your improvisers or going to improvise what they already know.  A Charles Mingus variation might be that you can't improvise on nothing, you're going to improvise on something. 
Now I did read the Lewis article Ethan linked to and it was an interesting read.  The definitions for Afrological and Eurological are much narrower and time-specific than online reactions tended to convey.  What sticks with me is that Cage comes across as though he was loathe to call improvisation improvisation as a point of class rather than race but it's a fair question why Cage and his associates seized upon aleatory and indeterminacy when they could have used the term "improvisation".  The arguments that improvisation in jazz was based on permutations of existing lexicons of formal and gestural clichés doesn't convince me.  I enjoy too much Baroque music to buy that kind of line.  Inventively manipulating conventions and received riffs is too central to the entire span of Baroque music for me to see a reason to drop that, and a similar observation can be made about jazz ... but partisans for one or the other style or era can tend to dig down into established critical/scholarly narratives in a way I just don't feel any obligation to do myself. 
Cage, however, did seem to find some necessity for using terms like aleatory and indeterminacy rather than improvisation.  Improvisation might be freighted with the baggage of being done within the context of an identifiable style.  Cage and others may have been committed to the old Romantic trope of tearing up the rulebook and figuring things out.  I've never been interested in tearing up rulebooks myself.   
The more I study music the more I get the sense that when 19th century pedagogues said what the guidelines were before admonishing students to not feel beholden to the rules there was a scholarly double bind at play.  On the one hand there were rules laid down as to what a good sonata was or what a good fugue was.  The presumption was that whatever Beethoven or Bach did was what was being conveyed ... though at this point jokes about the gap between what 19th century theorists prescribe and what J. S. Bach actually did are too numerous to need to do anything more than allude to.
On the other hand, artistic genius was held to be above pedantic rules and the genius was expected to break free of the conventions of scholasticism.  But the 19th century portrait of what musicians in the 18th century did was ... a bit skewed.  The rules that a student might be admonished to break were not necessarily rules that were laid down by 19th century composers or theorists so much as guidelines that emerged from within 19th century pedagogy.  Chopin could write what Hepokoski and Darcy called a Type 2 sonata in his B flat minor sonata and while contemporaries could sniff that he was too beholden to old school norms, didn't some consider the sonata too weird to make sense of it?  But that this "Type 2" sonata was, in fact, pretty normal can be established not just by reference to the famous Chopin sonata, a survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas shows that a Type 2 sonata form could show up as often as a "textbook Type 3 in Hepokoski and Darcy's taxonomy of sonata forms. 
Which is a roundabout way of saying that just because a range of scholars and writers think of Cage's disdain toward popular music reflected latent white supremacy is not a reason to consider that the case. If someone can prove from Cage's own writings that he was a white supremacist let them.  At the moment it seems we could propose that Cage was a snob and needed to be one based on the patronage class he needed to appeal to without getting anywhere near the idea that Cage or his patronage base were white supremacist as construed in 21st century scholastic or polemical terms.   
For my time and interest Coltrane and Coleman are way, way more fun to listen to than Cage!  Their work marks the end point for me in terms of the jazz I find fun to listen to.  I admire a lot of jazz from Armstrong up to Coltrane and Coleman and after that I, well, I really do like some George Russell stuff into the 1980s and 1990s but I guess I'd say that I couldn't get into Third Stream, Weather Report-type stuff and the Marsalis-type stuff.  If I had to think of some reason why that was it might simply be because by the 1970s and 1980s the boundaries between popular song and jazz as a self-identified art form became as non-negotiable and impermeable as the boundaries between "classical" music and popular song had already been for a generation or two.  A lot of what I love about a composer like Haydn, as I read the scholarship on his work and consider my own enjoyment of his music decade after decade, is that he treated the boundaries between "high" and "low" as more permeable than later theoreticians and music historians seemed willing to do with the rise of German idealism.
Which is a very roundabout way of my suggesting that we do a full frontal assault on German idealism rather than just assume that white supremacism is automatically involved. 
Cage as the apotheosis of Romantic ideology completely separated from any stereotypically Romantic musical sounds seems easy enough to establish but I figure I've probably written enough on this topic by now.  I don't have any complaints if people have complaints about Cage as composer or Cage as philosopher or Cage as musician but ... I do hope we can go back through contemporary criticisms of Cage to see that there were more ways to critique his work than a riff (however understandable, within a range of perspectives) that would say that Cage's dismissal of jazz reflected the latent white supremacism of "high" and "low". 
But then the whole post is gone from Hein's blog, just around the time I was finally getting around to writing some more thoughts about some things I agree and don't agree with about ways to proceed in criticizing Cage's stance on jazz.

it looks like the appeals court won't rehear Blurred Lines case, for those who kept tabs on this case

It's been a while since I made any reference to this case.  I found myself not all that convinced that what was at stake for Thicke and Williams was whether or not a style can be copyrighted.  Looking at this as a guitarist who plays classical guitar I don't come to the debates around this case as someone who's making work that is in a genre where a super-majority of the available work is near or after 1970s copyright law changes.  Classical guitar has a huge body of work that is, very often, public domain.  Critical editions come along with notes about left and right hand indications but that is a point of editorial expression more than the ideas that are comprised by the notes on the page in handwritten manuscripts or engraved publications from the 19th century.  I.e. the ideas vs expression continuum hasn't gone away and for classical music the issues don't come up in the way they might more readily emerge in a style like hip hop or other popular styles.  The intellectual property issues for taking ideas published in scores by Sor or Giuliani and recomposing them into newer styles are not the same as a few musicians encountering allegations that they used Marvin Gaye's work to build a song. 

The more recent  statements from the court, as reported, mention that the issue of access could be considered comparatively moot in the case of work by Marvin Gaye.  To unpack that a tiny bit, in cases regarding plagiarism one of the things that has to be established is that the alleged infringer had access to the infringed work.  The court basically said that the bar was higher for a musician as famous as Gaye than it would be for someone far more obscure, which is to say that Gaye's music is sufficiently universal in terms of whether you or I might hear it in a store or a public space that the burden of proof that the defendants couldn't have heard Gaye's work is a bit heavier.

I have to admit I haven't felt all that bad for these guys.  I don't really like the song, now that I've finally heard it. 

But that Marvin Gaye's estate and lawyers could be seen as the bad guys in all this was an interesting discovery to make.  Does this throw a monkey wrench into some elements of debates about cultural appropriation?  Not sure that it does because I'm not sure the cultural appropriation debates are made ientirely in good or bad faith. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

some dour thoughts on Helsinki and executive legitimacy and the legacy of the United States arranging for puppets and proxies ...

Because I've reached a point where I regard the United States as a kind of spent force in global power terms, a credit card that has been maxed out but has not yet had to pay its bills yet, the headlines about Russian hacking and the election hasn't exactly outraged me.  I don't think we were in a good spot in 2016 if the choice between the two parties was to vote for someone who could be described as a predator and someone who could be described as an enabler.  If anything the cumulative Clintonian legacy on foreign policy seems dangerously hawkish.  Even as someone who has self-identified as moderately conservative much of my life the Bill and Hillary Clinton legacy of bombing the former Yugoslavia or backing Gulf War 2 or the War on Terror ... I don't see that legacy as meaningfully separable from the neo-conservative militarism that, for a time, blue state voters seemed set against.

Not that I ever wanted Trump in office ... but it has seemed for decades we're stuck with the candidates that sufficiently powerful business interests were going to give to us.  No sooner had Obama been elected did I doubt we were going to get any rollback of military presence or that, crucially, if we did then the soldier might be replaced by a drone or a mercenary. 

So while a certain amount of panic about the way things went at Helsinki doesn't entirely surprise me the surprise is that some of my fellow Americans feel that the United States must be in the pocket of Russia.  Does the prospect of the United States being in the pocket of international corporations on the order of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, or a panoply of banks seem ... safer?  But let's just set that off to the side.

Let's just go straight to Slate, with a piece opining on how the real threat to American democracy isn't Russia, it's the American right.

There are people concerned that the way that Trump was able to win the Electoral College vote put the masses of urban, city-dwelling voters at the mercy of the electoral interests of rural hick Republican-voting farmer types.  Minority rule, in a phrase, is what has been mentioned in the wake of 2016.  It might be that we're stuck with a lose-lose scenario for minority rule.  Should the densely populated urban areas be able to dictate policy back to the rural fly-over regions?  Should a handful of what amount to city-states in electoral/districting terms be allowed to guide the course of policy across the entire United States?  Should a sheer population majority have the power and the rights to be a geographical minority rule simply because of herd values? 

There's no reason to be sure that the mass in the Milgram experiment suddenly has to be right just because we'd prefer cities to guide policy a la The Stranger's "The Urban Archipelago".  The big sort and its geographic and electoral implications seem to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy but in the wake of gerrymandering and district changes the result wasn't Hillary Clinton as president as predicted by comedians and entertainers but the era of Trump.

The question is, arguably, which minority rule is going to prevail, not whether or not some form of minority rule is going to start characterizing electoral dramas.

A few years back some were wondering whether Obama's election might foretell the irrelevancy of the Republican party.  There are probably fools right now who hope that one day the Democratic party could become the "right wing" party and that everything else would be to "the left" of the Democratic party.  People who are that ignorant of how history plays out might benefit from Richard Taruskin's macabre but humorous observation about how in the history of European nations the one thing the left and right agree on when you go far enough in either direction is that European nations need to exterminate more Jews.  There were plenty of men in 19th century Europe who espoused radical and progressive ideals who loathed Jews and wanted them removed or expelled or even exterminated from Europe.  Deciding that any of the bloodshed of the last century by the left and right could be dismissed on the basis of some no true Scotsman fallacy is not the way to go.  Or as Jesus said to some of his adversaries, by saying they would never have killed the prophets of old they testified to being the sons of those murderers.

So, ever since Trump was technically, legally elected it's been clear that for more than just some fraction of blue state voters that Trump was never legitimately president.  Sometimes a journalist will even spell out what is often merely implicit in online discourse:

Donald Trump is a natural-born citizen over the age of 35. Under the rules in place at the time, he received sufficient electoral votes to secure the presidency. American law does not provide for presidential election do-overs no matter what wrongs a candidate is revealed to have committed after the fact. Trump is the lawful president, but legitimacy is not decided by technicalities.
There’s a reason we have two different words for legality and legitimacy. Each new wave of information about Russia’s targeted assistance to Trump—and the Trump campaign’s acceptance of that assistance—subtracts from this presidency’s quantum of that second, higher quality. His supporters may not care. But legitimacy is important precisely because it shapes the behavior and beliefs of non-supporters. And in Trump’s case, those non-supporters are the large majority of the American population.
While Trump’s latest trip abroad provided some important insights into his worldview and ideology, which has long stumped observers, for many it simply confirmed once and for all that he is Putin’s puppet. Charles Blow, the New York Times columnist, wrote that “Trump is a traitor and may well be treasonous,” a sentiment that other Trump critics appeared to share. “Dear Allies - Call on Trump to resign,” MSNBC contributor Scott Dworkin tweeted. “The world can’t afford to have Putin’s puppet acting as if he’s president.” Even Hillary Clinton chimed in: “Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”

These and other critics couldn’t think of any other explanation for Trump’s behavior over the past week. (Last week, in a New York magazine cover story, Jonathan Chait floated a theory that Trump has been a Russian asset since 1987.) But there’s a more plausible explanation. Trump sees himself in—and aspires to be—the Russian president, not just as a nationalistic authoritarian but a distinguished culture warrior.

To be fair to the critics above, Trump’s behavior was indeed troubling. During the NATO summit, Trump insulted and alienated leaders of the United States’ closest allies, and it became clear early on that he had no intention of toning down his rhetoric. After declaring that Germany was “captive to Russia,” blasting other members as “delinquent,” and threatening to “go it alone” if other countries didn’t raise their spending, the president held a bizarre press conference on Thursday to declare the summit a success and once again refer to himself as a “stable genius.” The NATO summit was a success in at least one sense: As Alex Ward put it in Vox, the big winner of the summit was Vladimir Putin, who “wants to divide NATO.” 


Well, why wouldn't Russia want NATO divided?  Didn't the expansion of NATO and EU membership in the last twenty years annex a variety of nations that in the Soviet era could be construed as buffer states or part of the "Iron Curtain"? 

Yes, we can and should be considered about the power the executive branch has and yet by and large it's not clear to me that anyone has scaled back executive powers since Trump got elected, or before.  Years ago I had a conversation in which someone said that the problem with Bush 2 was that, if anything, he didn't have enough power. That was back in 2006 and I replied at the time that if this person, within ten years, was complaining about executive tyranny should a Democrat be the president, then this would signal to me that the person was less concerned with limited government and restrained governance than with Republicans having the power of the executive branch. 

Decades ago I had relatives who were fretting about UN helicopters and the likelihood that Bil Clinton would suspend the Constitution; declare an emergency or martial law; and appoint himself dictator for life.  During W my blue state friends or family had comparable concerns about W; when Obama was elected within DAYS of the announcement I got spam about how he was some Manchurian candidate puppet of communists at the behest of Muslims (why Muslims and communists would collaborate on such a project seems to have been something that would have to be assumed rather than explained at the time); and now, here in the age of Trump, blue state pundits seem to have returned the favor by deciding as a group that Trump simply can't be the legitimate president of the United States, however technically legal the selection process may seem.   It would be easier at several levels to have some sympathy for objections to fake news if it didn't seem as though the blue and red had their own pragmatic definitions of fake news.

Maybe having half my lineage being Native American has played a part here but the whole idea that merely saying "not my President" means anything at all seems ... absurd.  There is not a single thing that you can change by simply deciding that X or Y is not "your" president. 

So ... maybe Trump was legally elected to the chagrin of the establishment.  If so, then making a case that Russian hacking influenced the electoral college result in some way is a case that, by the mere fact of it being made at all, insists that we view the electoral process as illegitimate.  There's no take-backs on this kind of thing.  If it turned out that Russia hacked the 2016 election in a way that really influenced the outcome then it's a question that will hang over any and every subsequent moment of electoral decision unless we, you know, insist on making it impossible for such a thing as deciding to do something about it.

But I'm not sure that everyone who would be willing to claim the first half understands the necessarily war-mongering implications of the second half.

So now much of the foreign-policy establishment—I count myself a proud member, though not a letter signer—is a little angry. They didn’t vote for the man. They don’t like the man. He is terrible. But he did get the necessary majority in the Electoral College and, being Trump, his attitude toward all those letter signers has been—I win, you lose. So, to paraphrase Bill Clinton: That’s President Terrible to you.
But it’s Trump’s words that are terrible. His policies are, in the main, not. The United States has crushed Russia beneath escalating sanctions, pulled out of the dreadful Iran deal, armed the Ukrainian opposition to Putin, stood up to China’s theft of American intellectual property, actually bombed Syrian chemical-weapons sites, and increased defense spending. Sure, there’s plenty to dislike in Trump’s foreign policy, including his trade wars, his dismissal of allies, his toying with NATO, and his Obama-esque desire to skip out of Syria. But his stupid rhetoric masks a mostly normal, if not always sensible or desirable, foreign policy. And Trump’s national-security strategy is at least coherent when compared with the incoherent global retreat embraced by the last administration.


Yes, Trump is a shallow, vain, not terribly bright, lazy president of the United States. He might even have been interested in dirt Moscow scraped up on Hillary Clinton. And he will do some damage—which is to be expected, as our last few presidents have also done some damage. Maybe he will do more. But he can also do some good. He is not the anti-Christ, any more than Barack Obama was a Muslim, or Hillary Clinton was trafficking in children. Frothing conspiracy theories about Trump only drag everyone into that world. Nonstop outrage is exhausting and counterproductive.

Perhaps Twitter has dragged us all away from the considered responses this presidency requires.
Perhaps Trump is driving us all mad. But it’s time to get a grip.

Twitter ... if Russian bots on social media influenced the election then my first thought is that blaming the Russians for figuring out how to weaponize social media should have us reconsidering whether we use social media and whether it's a good thing that social media could be so influential as to be a target for Russian hacking, however that form of hacking may have transpired.

Given the data breaches at OPM or Target or ... just go back and look at all those data breaches.  Did anyone imagine that so many national-level corporate data breaches would just amount to "no impact" on an increasingly cyber-spaced political climate?  Here's hoping nobody would be surprised that Russian hacking would be on the horizon.  Whether it "worked" is not exactly the same thing.

But if it "did" work then it reminds me that years ago I was blogging about how what made 9/11/2001 daunting was that people with reasons to take aggressive and symbolic action against the United States didn't use anything like traditional warfare or weapons; they weaponized our commerce and transit systems against us.  I wrote a few years ago that the likelihood that this would happen again seemed low.  Whatever the "next thing" was going to be, it was probably not going to be some overt form of military action but some other way to transform our commerce system into a way to make things difficult for us in the United States and the perceived global legitimacy of the United States.

Well ... thanks to the polemics between blue and red and red and blue some of that work has been getting done without any foreign parties having to be involved at all.  If any time a red executive or a blue executive gets sworn in the opposing electoral demography swears that the victory may be legal but can't be legitimate (Obama wasn't born in the U.S. canard, for instance; or the GOP gerrymandered to a degree that should be illegal and Russian hacking means Trump should be impeached ... or impeach Bush ... I hope you're getting a sense of how long this has been going on over the last twenty years) then what countries besides the United States have to say can be moot.

But let's suppose that it were both practical and possible to hack an election in some way at a national level.  This is the part where it's become easier to go back and look up the ways in which the United States has transformed nation states into vassals and puppets.

... Donald Trump’s refusal in Helsinki to credit his intelligence agencies’ findings about Russian electoral interference has unleashed a nationalist fury in Washington unseen since September 11. In this moment—thick with accusations of “treason” and references to Pearl Harbor—discussing America’s own penchant for election meddling is like discussing America’s misdeeds in the Middle East in the wake of 9/11. It’s apt to get you labeled a traitor.

That’s a problem. Discussing America’s history of electoral interference has never been more necessary. It’s necessary not so Americans can downplay the severity of Russia’s election attack. It’s necessary so Americans can determine how—and how not—to respond. The less Americans know about America’s history of electoral interference, the more likely they are to acquiesce to—or even cheer—its return. That’s dangerous because, historically, American meddling has done far more to harm democracy than promote it.


and then we get to a matter of foreign policy and election history that could be easy to forget because it's twenty years old.

What many Russians, but few Americans, know is that 20 years before Russia tried to swing an American presidential election, America tried to swing a presidential election in Russia. The year was 1996. Boris Yeltsin was seeking a second term, and Bill Clinton desperately wanted to help. “I want this guy to win so bad,” he told Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, “it hurts.” [emphasis added]
Clinton liked Yeltsin personally. He considered him Russia’s best hope for embracing democracy and capitalism. And he appreciated Yeltsin’s acquiescence during NATO’s march eastward, into the former Soviet bloc.

Unfortunately for Clinton, ordinary Russians appreciated their leader far less. Yeltsin’s “shock-therapy” economic reforms had reduced the government’s safety net, and produced a spike in unemployment and inflation. Between 1990 and 1994, the average life expectancy among Russian men had dropped by an astonishing six years. When Yeltsin began his reelection campaign in January 1996, his approval rating stood at 6 percent, lower than Stalin’s.
So the Clinton administration sprang into action. It lobbied the International Monetary Fund to give Russia a $10 billion loan, some of which Yeltsin distributed to woo voters. Upon arriving in a given city, he often announced, “My pockets are full.” [emphasis added]

Three American political consultants—including Richard Dresner, a veteran of Clinton’s campaigns in Arkansas—went to work on Yeltsin’s reelection bid. Every week, Dresner sent the White House the Yeltsin campaign’s internal polling. And before traveling to meet Yeltsin in April, Clinton asked Dresner what he should say in Moscow to boost his buddy’s campaign.

It worked. In a stunning turnaround, Yeltsin—who had begun the campaign in last place—defeated his communist rival in the election’s final round by 13 percentage points. Talbott declared that “a number of international observers have judged this to be a free and fair election.” But Michael Meadowcroft, a Brit who led the election-observer team of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, later claimed there had been widespread voter fraud, which he had been pressured not to expose. [emphasis added] In Chechnya, which international observers believe contained fewer than 500,000 adults, one million people voted, and Yeltsin—despite prosecuting a brutal war in the region—won exactly 70 percent. “They’d been bombed out of existence, and there they were all supposedly voting for Yeltsin,” exclaimed Meadowcroft. “It’s like what happens in Cameroon.” Thomas Graham, who served as the chief political analyst at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the campaign, later conceded that Clinton officials knew the election wasn’t truly fair. “This was a classic case,” he admitted, “of the ends justifying the means.”
Why does this history matter now? Because acknowledging it begs a question that few American pundits and politicians have answered yet: Is the problem with Russia’s behavior in 2016 that it violated principles of noninterference in other countries’ elections that America should respect as well? Or is the problem simply that America’s ox was gored? [emphasis added]

During the Cold War, America’s leaders saw nothing wrong with electoral interference, so long as the United States was conducting it. ...


The author cited above could, if anything, have soft-pedaled the Clinton legacy a tiny bit.  If we assume, for the sake of thought experiment, that Russia "did" make a concerted bid to hack the election to put a corrupt or incompetent leader in the Oval Office, couldn't someone with a little history of global politics in the United States at least "consider" the possibility that making a point of trying to wreck the odds of a Clinton win in 2016 could be considered a form of payback for the placement of Yeltsin in power twenty years ago?  You don't have to think the least bit highly of Trump as a person or a president to get that in international politics and covert meddling that the old phrase "turnabout is fair play" could at least come to mind, if only once.

But ...

let's just stop a moment, step back, and consider the legacy of Gulf War 2 and the War on Terror and the fact that 9/11/2001 happened.  If the intelligence establishment, if the intelligence communities that sold us on the idea of WMDs and the necessity of war in Iraq managed to be, well, either wrong or dishonest about those things how sure can we be they're being honest with respect to allegations of Russian hacking?  If we're angry that with the election of Trump that an imperialist racist executive is calling the shots then, well, did we just forget how racist and imperialist Woodrow Wilson was?  Possibly?   Was the way that Kennedy and Johnson escalated our involved in Vietnam ... not militaristic or imperialist?  On the whole it has seemed that if you want a not-technically-war military action you go with Republicans but if you want an official war you had best go with Democrats.  The question isn't really about how militaristically adventurous the executive is going to ultimately be, if we look at the last century and a fifth, it's more a question of what technicalities will be invoked to justify that adventurism. 

I had enough friends in college who were from the former Yugoslavia and acquaintances from central and eastern Europe that the Clinton foreign policy legacy that always springs to mind for me is deciding to bomb in the interest of "human rights" but perhaps that was just NATO and EU adventurism of a sort; a commitment to a kind of Atlanticist Euro-American dominance that the East could see as the same old imperialism that Soviets were set against during the Cold War.  Whether you believe that or not isn't really the point here, the point is that what could be construed as a crisis of the legitimacy of Trump now may embody a larger crisis of the legitimacy of the United States that won't go away even if we lived in an alternative universe where the other Clinton was currently president. 

To fail to grasp the significance of U.S. meddling in Russian and neighboring elections over the last twenty years, but specifically during the Clinton administrations (and appreciate that history as relevant to recent allegations of Russian hacking) is to in some way to fail to grasp the "payback" element that any American could understand being involved "if" we can prove there was a hack and could also prove that the hack was in any way measurably successful.  It's not clear yet that those later parts can be established but if they could be the payback element becomes more and not less prominent in our consideration of what should be done next.   After all, if "we" gave Russia  Boris Yeltsin who could be thought of by at least some as a corrupt puppet beholden to corporate or even foreign interests then ... well ... couldn't Trump be considered simple "payback" should it be possible to prove there was a hack and that the hack worked?  Moreover, couldn't the payback be considered to be necessarily tied to the Clinton era backing of Yeltsin? Just a weekend thought experiment.  I'm rusty on a lot of policy issues related to foreign policy so I can't claim I'm as in the loop about this kind of stuff as I tried to be about twenty years ago.  It was interesting to live during what was the end of the Cold War and I was curious as to how foreign policy would be adjudicated in a post-Cold War America. 

That's not even counting the time the United States made an attempt to keep Bolsheviks from gaining power a century ago.
Now, sure, the communist legacy was monstrous but as the anger over  the possibility of Russian meddling in American election could show us, nobody likes the idea of their own civil conflicts or elections being decided in some way by the manipulations or outright aggressions of a foreign power.

The possibility that Clinton lost in 2016 and without there having to be collusion or hacking; that Clinton lost because after decades of the cumulative Clinton legacy involving foreign policy adventurism and elections rigging that even a faux populist could win against her is not something that those who are devoted to the Clintons would be willing to consider.  As someone who's never really liked or trusted the Clintons or liked or trusted Trump I don't write all of this because I think we "should" have someone like Trump in office ... but if Trump makes the United States look to itself the way it often looks to the world in the post-Cold War era we might have an opportunity to learn that whoever "they" are, they don't hate us because of our freedom, they can hate us because we pretend to love freedom for all when we are mainly concerned about freedom for us, whatever freedom is supposed to mean, and we have shown that we're not afraid to rig a few elections if it gets us the freedoms we feel we deserve regardless of the freedoms others might lose along the way ... if they had freedoms. 

I've written about this idea a few times but we may be moving back toward a multi-polar world in terms of global power politics. Why anyone in the United States should be shocked by this suggests a uniquely terrible form of American hubris--if we've exported our manufacturing base over the last thirty years; if we've shifted from production to "service economy" and "financial services" then we've outsourced plenty at the expense of profit.  Where are the new powers emerging?  Well, at the risk of being both pugnacious and glib about the point, the places where powers have emerged would sure seem to be in the regions to which "we" outsourced a lot of stuff because the company bottom lines made it seem it was cheaper to move all that stuff elsewhere.  Whether to the East or the South, we've moved things so that profit margins can improve and yet should those regions gain enough influence or political momentum to dissent from a Pax Americana "end of history" then ... why are Russians the bad guys?  Didn't we "win" the Cold War?  Didn't we effectively make Yeltsin our puppet? 

If people who could otherwise grasp that anti-Soviet Islamic groups who were given aid by the United States could turn on us and prepare a 9/11/2001 attack is it that much harder to imagine that "if" a 2016 cyber attack was staged by Russians that that, too, could be considered a form of retaliation for generations of U.S. imperialist intervention abroad? 

In the Hollywood depictions of the 1950s the paranoia of the Red Scare regarding Russian influence and communist influence is depicted as paranoid.  here we are sixty years later and it would seem that we're supposed to believe that after the end of the Cold War the Russian threat is even more pernicious than before?  I'm ... just not ... quite seeing that. 

By all means if it turns out the election was hacked we should confront some difficult truths about the corruption and corruptibility of our electoral system ... but if all of that becomes an excuse to take military action against Russia then, no, I don't think that's a good idea--if Democrats become the party of a new Red Scare that doesn't bode well for anyone's future. 

The only thing that may be scarier for Americans at this point is that "the end of history" has ended and we're looking at the re-emergence of a multi-polar world.  That uni-polar world in the wake of the end of the Cold War was, yes, a Clinton era ... but perhaps living in a world in which we are forced to admit other global powers exist could be good for us if we don't choose the path of trying to remain on top  After all the ways we've exported our industrial base abroad and outsourced even swaths of our service economy we can't make America great again and we can't pretend that it "is great" as a rebuttal to Trump voters if it turned out, after all, that Russians somehow hacked our election.  How great can America really be if Russian hackers with bots attacking Twitter could change the course of an election?  Either way it seems like it's lose-lose.