Saturday, August 18, 2018

links for the weekend on art galleries protested, museums as emblems of imperialism, churches with bad and very bad men in the news,

art galleries are moving out of Boyle Heights.  This has been an intermittently burbling news story over the last few years as anti-gentrification groups have targeted art galleries and art collectives in their campaign against what they regard as a harmful influx of real estate development and gentrification in a neighborhood.

If you've followed this story over the last few years one of the subplots, so to speak, is that art galleries and artist groups that have had LGBTQ interests have tried to set up venues but the anti-gentrification side is, for want of a better way to put this, not buying it.  Gentrification that wraps itself in the rainbow banner is still gentrification. 

Not everyone is convinced the museum paradigm itself is viable or fair these days.

'I.e. nothing expresses the colonialist mentality of the Western powers like a museum in which the artifacts of the empires they plundered and conquered get shipped to a place where they can be severed from their social or cultic contexts and regarded as, whether visitors realize it or not, trophies of imperial success. 

But then I'm reminded of something the Native American author Sherman Alexie once wrote and said about Native American as distinct from American Indian, that the term reflected a kind of self-pitying self-exonerating white guilt that makes little difference to Indians.  If you can identify them by tribe, do so, and if not, call them Indians but "Native American" seems more about whites feeling better about themselves in the now than about being of much help to actual American Indians.

Of course Sherman Alexie's future as a publicly recognized writer is a bit in flux this year.  Men who have positioned themselves as better than the men they were around sometimes turn out to be worse than self-advertised to be.  That ... might as well be a transition into the news about Willow Creek.

A whole lot of people at Willow Creek Church stepped down/are stepping down.

in other church related stuff, formerly Catholic-now-Orthodox Rod Dreher has been blogging a lot about the graft and deception and abuse that he has said spurred him to abandon Catholicism.

he links to a 1,356 page grand jury which ... you may or may not wish to read. 

Being a Protestant I admit to not having an immediate stake in how things play out but it does trouble me that a bureaucracy looks to have dedicated itself to its own preservation over against the welfare of people used and abused from within the powers available in the bureaucracy. 

Now it's not that any team, religious or secular, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox, liberal or conservative necessarily has any advantage merely by dint of ideological stance but that's not really what the take-away seems to be.  The take-away is that the machinery becomes self-perpetuating and to get all Fritz Lang's Metropolis about it, Molech's gears consume humans and it just keeps going and people keep the machine going.

As the Russiagate story continues there's occasionally an author who asks point blank if today's Russiagate might correspond to the dawn-of-the-century WMD search.

What I find disconcerting about the Russiagate situation is that assuming a collusion or a hack can be established and all the dots can be connected what, exactly, is the United States supposed to do?  We're not technically in a declared war with Russia so it's hard to see how "treason" fits.  That leaders are in the pocket of corporate international and multinational interests doesn't even seem controversial if you just write the sentence out without attaching personal names.  It may be troubling that we could turn out to have a POTUS whose receipts of purchase could turn out to be more publicly established than usual but I guess I've gotten middle-aged enough to have a jaded and grim sense that power seems to be bought and if the scandal is that we actually find out a few names of who bought who  the scandal might just be that it became a matter for record. 
The question that nags me is whether there's anyone who "isn't" bought off in such a way.  
The likelihood of impeachment seems remote.  It's not that it's impossible.  I can imagine it, it's that if the worry is that Russia has jeapordized the integrity of the electoral system then regarding Trump as a traitor or a bought-off president doesn't seem all that new.  I've had conservative relatives and friends claim something like the idea of a president bought off by foreign interests about Obama.  It's not that the charge isn't serious, it's that it's so readily made for partisan reasons it's a bit hard to feel ike this isn't a replay of what Republicans did with Clinton twenty years ago, in the sense of the political theater of it.   
But let's say it all gets proven.  What is the US supposed to do?  We're not at war with Russia but are people pursuing the case that Russia colluded with Trump against the Clinton campaign think that we should be?  To use the word "treason" in the way people have used it about Trump is "just" similar enough to the way Republican and conservative pundits brandished the word against anyone who was not on board with the War on Terror or Gulf War 2 that it seems ... like a bad idea. 

As Friedersdorf put it recently, the media gatekeepers that made Trump a star may have regrets about him now but they were the ones who gave him the celebrity he was able to wield to get elected:

Starting in 2004, the NBC television network and the producer Mark Burnett worked to make Trump a primetime reality-TV star, casting him as an accomplished real-estate mogul making decisions behind a boardroom table, using all the artifice of their industry to make him look good. The image they cultivated for Trump on that show was arguably the most powerful factor in shaping the perceptions of his supporters. 
As early as President Obama’s first term, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News was boosting the racist conspiracy theory that Obama was a foreign-born usurper—and the notion that Trump, the nation’s leading Birther, was a credible candidate for president. “During one of Trump's frequent appearances on Fox & Friends, the network started teasing the idea of Trump in the Oval Office,” Media Matters noted. “While asking him for his opinions on Libya policy, on-screen text asked, ‘What Would President Trump Do?’”...
Gatekeepers created President Trump. It is not clear whether he would’ve won the presidency or not in a marketplace of ideas less heavily influenced by the choices of elites at NBC, CNN, and Fox News, not to mention Breitbart and political talk-radio hosts who abuse gatekeeping on their shows to keep their audiences in information bubbles.

While there may be meat to Russiagate the turnabout aspect of regarding Trump himself as beholden to foreign usurpers may seem a bit too ... consistent with a pattern I've felt like I've been seeing over the last twenty-five years--the government isn't legitimate unless the elected president was wanted in the job by the people who are saying "not my president", whether blue or red.  Native Americans have discovered that it doesn't matter how much you say "not my president" or "not my Congress" or "not my Supreme Court", they have the power to decide a bunch of things that you can petition or appeal but that may not change for, oh, roughly a century.  The American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004 comes to mind ... .  Not that people shouldn't complain when they feel it's necessary.  I have never bought the idea that if you didn't vote you don't have the right to complain.  Your right to complain about the political process doesn't come from whether or not you have the franchise already and also make use of it..  Your right to complain has something to do with the First Amendment. 

Friedersdorf larger point is that the gatekeepers failed.  As quoted above gatekeepers in media decided (or, if we insist on a passive formation, allowed) someone like Trump to become a celebrity promulgating tendentious claims about a few things.

The consistently thought-provoking Damon Linker posits in his latest column that Western culture’s dominant view of technology rests on a lie: “the notion that the world would be a better place without gatekeepers.” 

Conventional wisdom holds that “if only the most powerful information-dissemination technologies ever devised were left open to all—unregulated, uncontrolled, ungoverned by authorities who make decisions about what's acceptable and what isn't—the world would be a much more free and thriving place, the thinking goes,” he writes. “But for this to be true, human beings (individually but perhaps especially collectively) would need to be far more capable of exercising wise judgment.”

In fact, he argues, we need gatekeepers: 

That can be difficult for individualistic, egalitarian citizens of liberal democracies to accept. We have long been taught to revere the marketplace of ideas. Let a million ideas bloom, and through competition with each other, the best will thrive and spread while the worst die out under scrutiny. But this is not what happens in our shared digital lives.

In terms of theories of the press this is the libertarian theory of the press writ large. Even before I'd read anything by Daniel Kahneman on cognitive biases I was skeptical about the libertarian theory of the press in practice, back twenty odd years ago before the internet became what it has become.  The probability of McCarthy-style Red Scares has probably increased astronomically rather than declined.  We're grappling with what seem to be the capacity of media to catalyze paranoia across the spectrum but what we don't seem able to come to terms with is how this can look within any given realm of the spectrum.  The right can have its conspiracy theorists and progressives can be concerned about the Family or the Kochs.  There may be something to those worries even if those fears may be in some way out of proportion to the world itself.

Trump wouldn't be the first president who's thought of as the lap dog for foreign usurpers.  That was said plentifully about Obama.

I have written in the past about how Trump seems to embody the vices of the Hollywood that let him become a star.  It's not that I like Trump at all, it's that it has seemed as though when Hollywood has lamented that a TV fixture has become president that the figure was a Trump and not a Jon Stewart or a Trevor Noah or maybe a Rachel Maddow.

In order for someone's star on the Hollywood walk of fame to get defaced it has to be there to begin with.  Since you have to pay 40k to get the star you want there ...

It can seem as though with the post-Weinstein reports of how Hollywood has worked in the last thirty years (or always) the trouble with the outrage expressed about Trump isn't that he has said and done bad things, it's that he was not the kind of celebrity who was "supposed" to win high office. 

That we're facing a renascent multi-polar world in geopolitical power seems like a necessary and obvious realization to make.  The United States "may" have faced a threat in the form of Russian hacking attempts but given the way fundraising and "dark money" have worked in purely intra-national politics (if that's even possible now) how sure are we that the Russia in the Russiagate is necessarily the biggest or final concern? 

Even if we're rid of Trump we're not getting a Clinton presidency now or in the future.  The tunnel vision I sense from those that just want us to be rid of Trump is that we may not be thinking through the implications of proving a case that Russia hacked a United States election.  The very idea of why they might want to do so from a perspective other than a ... well ... Russiaphobic one doesn't seem to be on the table.  I thought that when the Berlin Wall came down decades ago we could finally live lives in which it was taken for granted the Cold War was actually over.  The Russiagate headlines and opinions make it seem as though that thought was either optimistic or that perhaps there is a sense in which the Russian story is the WMD of our time, a story that is firmly believed the evidence for which doesn't seem to be quite as conclusive as people who are not already bought in might find entirely convincing.  I remember Powell's about face on the probability of WMDs years ago and while I'm not sure all of the present stuff means we'll end up in a war with Russia it's hard to think of what else people can expect Congress to do if the collusion stuff were to be proven to have occurred. 

Which I guess is my way of saying that the people who want Russiagate to blow the id off of Trump's presidency don't come off as though they're thinking about this in the wake of us/U.S. not finding a ton of WMDs, in the wake of the War on Terror, in the wake of all sorts of things that have seemed like bad policy moves. 

It makes sense that people would regard it as terrible if someone at Trump's level suggests that Chinese students could be or probably are spies.

It's not that higher education couldn't be a ripe recruiting ground for spies within the U.S. just from an intra-national standpoint, it would make sense that other nations would have an interest in students as spies.  But it feels strange that worrying about Russians can coexist with a sense of outrage that Chinese people could be regarded as national security threats.  It's personally unnerving since I've had friends of Chinese and eastern European lineage for decades and I wouldn't stop to think any of them are spies.  But the Russian hacking headlines can sometimes leave me with a feeling that it's "okay" for some people to dread Russia or joke that we should start learning Russian on the one hand, while lamenting Trump's tweets and speech about people of color.  Is there just some special handbook of what types of paranoia are legitimate and what kinds aren't?

The idea that the United States could actually do well in a full on conventional war seems ... dubious.  We've had an all volunteer force for so long and relied so heavily on sheer technological advantages that people could ignore that that kind of hubris was part of how things went badly in Vietnam.  To give just a for instance, some absurdly optimistic engineers and forecasters got this idea that missiles would render guns an obsolete technology and so why bother installing guns on fighters?  Then in actual combat it transpired that missiles are long range assets and short range liabilities, as in the short range where an enemy plane can open fire on your plane and you've got nothing comparable to return fire. 

How sure are we as a nation we haven't reached a comparable moment of folly in terms of technology?  Just because we've spent the last few decades doing point to point incursions doesn't mean we're prepared for an actual traditional war kind of war. 

Nor should we operate under the assumption that Republicans are the only hawks.  If we look at the last century the Democrats have a remarkable track record of executives getting us into the hottest possible shooting wars or escalating our military interventions abroad for more or less ideological reasons.  Surely people remember that Christopher Hitchens, was it, loathed JFK as a hawk?  One of my siblings joked that Republicans are the ones who take up not-declaration-of-war military adventures but that if you want a real bona fide declared war Democrats are the winners every time in the last century.

In perhaps the same way that Republicans pretend to be about small government the Democrats pretend they are the peaceable party. 

Theoretically nobody wants a hot war, not when nuclear weapons are still in play, not when biological weapons are still an option.  But there's only so many things you can say before a face-losing gambit has to be taken up or face is lost.  We may well have already lost enough face with Trump being in the executive branch that there's no turning back the clock on that issue. 

Turning back to the academy (not that one) I'm remembering a friend who shared that she was looking into grad school in music and visited NYU.  She rejected that program for a few reasons, if memory serves, but the most memorable one was that she heard some of the faculty say what she regarded as inexcusably racist remarks about Asian and Asian American musicians.  Now this was a friend I made at Mars Hill, so it might be pertinent to mention that in light of the way people tend to think of Mars Hill as having been chiefly a white church as though that also meant white nationalist.  There were not a ton of people of color there but the PNW is pretty white and has a lot of white supremacism in its legacy regardless of the ostensibly blue electorate.  The older I get the more I find it exasperating that white progressives and conservatives keep trying to scapegoat each other for a shared legacy of racism but I'll get back to the NYU point, the friend wasn't exactly a liberal sort but she regarded the offhand comments she heard from people at NYU as inexcusably racist.  I forgot about those concerns but it seems NYU got in the news within the education scene.

So, on the matter of NYU.

Whether it's Hollywood or higher education it's possible to maybe grade them on a curve compared to what the Catholic Church has hidden but it's seeming like the institutions are smelling really bad across the board, like there's some kind of rot everywhere but it only stinks to those who lean over to smell what seems stinkier in someone else's backyard.  Not that we have to grade on a curve, exactly.

It would be hard to ignore altogether how the university systems we have in the West are indebted institutionally and intellectually to ... medieval Catholicism.  It might be tough for academics in the West to regard themselves as part of an alternative to whatever they regard as abusive in Catholic hierarchical governance if a comparable root and branch issue in connection to power can exist within a liberal arts college. 

Having not so long ago read a piece by Lisa Ruddick about what she regarded as a troubling tendency within academia to lionize or celebrate modes of sexuality that stick to capitalism even though they could be construed as impersonal and exploitive ...
To elaborate, our profession often speaks affirmatively of sex when it either “shatters” a person or violates social norms.[6] Any one lover could presumably be traded for another, so long as the requisite effects occurred. What is discounted is the idea of valuing a lover for the one being he or she is, with the inner richness and consistency that could make for an “integral” relationship. And while I have focused on the academic devaluation of love, I could as easily have considered the ways in which current criticism discourages readers from experiencing poems as integral objects, the ways in which it occludes the author’s mind as a potential integral object, and the ways in which it discounts the invaluable human capacity to experience life itself as an integral object.[7]

The greedy institution has a stake, altogether, in impoverishing its members’ object worlds. It promotes a hollowness, which can then be compensated with the satisfactions of status and affiliation within the group. Perhaps this is a tendency of all professional life. But when, as has happened in English, the soul-sapping quality of professional collectives finds an alibi in the anti-individualist ideology of left postmodernism, we have the conditions for quite a bit of mystification and malaise.
Finally, a small subset of work in ELH glamorizes cruelty in the name of radical politics, though this motif abates after 2006, perhaps because of a change in editorial leadership. The piece I find most troubling is an article on a short story by Henry James. This article proposes that if one faces a choice between having sex with children and protecting them, “perhaps one should let oneself desire the child, and—relinquishing the gratifications of protection—let the child die.” Sexually precocious children should “perhaps” be allowed a death of “innocence” that will supplant the pleasures of childhood with “other pleasures” delivered by adult lovers. James’s short story supposedly conveys this moral. But the lesson is said to apply in real life as well, wherever adults might be tempted to issue “calls for the protection of children.” The story is said to reveal “the dire results of protecting children from desire”—anywhere. For today’s anti-pedophile perpetrates the “potential violence” of “speaking on [children’s] behalf.”

There is a place in academe for scholarship that responsibly weighs the benefits and costs to children of sex with adults. But the present piece offers no empirical findings. Instead, it manipulates postmodern commonplaces to argue that people who try to shield children from “the depredations of influence and seduction” are imputing to children boundaries that they do not have. Children cannot be “corrupted” sexually because no child has a core of selfhood that has not already been thoroughly penetrated or “influenced” by society and language. We are asked to acknowledge “selves’ constitutive corruption.” For the mere phenomenon of influence is apparently so destabilizing that it “throws into question the attribution—particularly to oneself—of substantive depths, of ‘inner’ selves or meaning behind appearances.” A haze of familiar antihumanist abstractions thus eases in the practical conclusion as to the pointlessness of trying to protect children’s “‘inner’ selves” from violation.

At least some academics have expressed worry that there's a subset of academia that celebrates sexuality that can be construed as anti-capitalist that ordinary people on the street might regard as exploitive and evil.  It doesn't seem out of place to remember someone once wrote "there is none that is righteous, not even one."  But that force of that observation isn't in what's said in the quote, it's the observation that nobody seems to even want to become better.  The prophetic condemnation wasn't some "nobody's perfect" bromide but a condemnation of the listlessness and self-satisfaction of exploitive and decadent people who were assured that, well, why would disaster befall them? 

John Halle had a bit of blogging commentary on something to keep in mind, now would not be the time for people in the liberal arts to imagine that sexual harassment is less common in the liberal arts than it is in STEM.  There's at least some studies that indicate that in spite of a liberal arts wing that believes the hard sciences are the domain of patriarchal harassment, it's the liberal arts and humanities where there seems to be the most reported sexual harassment and misconduct.

the liberal arts may have inherited a kind of unexamined clericalism it can't recognize in itself even though it could easily recognize the same vice in a more formally and traditionally clerical culture.

an up and then down post by Fredrik Deboer "I have not been oppressed"

The post, as advertised, self-destructed (deleted).

I sometimes get the sense that within what's nominally and self-referentially described as the left (as distinct from the lazy broad brush of "cultural Marxism" that the right tends to assume any and all "left" must somehow be) are capable of as much intra-team debate and fury as ... the Reformed.  Not that leftists are going to be debating over infralapsarianism and supralapsarian conceptions of the Fall in hamartiology, obviously, but it can seem as though capitalism, despite its relatively recent vintage as an identifiable dynamic in social and economic terms, is functionally Original Sin by another name.

And for all I don't know about Marxist literature there might really be ideas that correspond to what infralapsarian and supralapsarian refer to.  I'm a musician by hobby and an office drone by day.

But that those who think of themselves as left have battles and squabbles over who is Truly Left in more or less the way Internet Monk used to write about battles and squabbles over who is Truly Reformed I'm not surprised that Deboer has been "publicly shamed."  He wrote quite a bit about it in a post that's now deleted but seems worth quoting.

I have not been oppressed
(this post will self-destruct)

How do you honor the friendship and humanity in someone expressing sympathy for your plight, while not accepting the idea that you’re suffering? I’m not sure. Perhaps I should just accept that some people care about me and leave it at that. But.

I am someone who has been, you would have to say, publicly shamed in the way of the internet. My shaming was weird and messy and different from the “one stupid Tweet” variety, but it was real. And the fashion now would be for me to try to make that shaming a part of my definition, to turn it into a marker. But what really have I lost? What has shaming cost me?

I have permanently left social media. I avoid certain parties. In my activist life, it’s sometimes awkward to meet other organizers who know me by reputation (which is exacerbated by living in New York). One leader of a group told me not to attend their meetings – entirely preemptively, as I hadn’t done so in the past. And, in a broader sense, I have left the odd 21st century version of public life, though how that actually changes anything in my life is hard to say. That’s about it. That’s the extent of the damage.

I don’t doubt that, had I been around to see things go down, my demeanor towards all of this would be different. (To this day I have not seen a single tweet from the night before I went to the hospital.) But my observation would have to remain the same: there is not a widespread shaming regime in public life that results in serious personal hardship for its targets. Shaming happens in a few high-profile cases, rather than constantly, and the consequences are typically minor, even if the experience is unpleasant. In fact I would say that we are now several years removed from the peak of social media shaming, both in terms of volume and effects. I know it will disappoint some to hear me say that, but that is my honest perception of the facts before us.

I will sometimes ask people to name those who have been publicly shamed in the classic internet sense. (I do not include the consequences of #MeToo accusations as they are a separate topic, given that they involve actual criminal behavior.) How many of them are there really? What actually has happened to them? The number of people who have had serious negative consequences for internet shaming are vanishingly small. I acknowledge that there are occasional professional consequences, and I have sympathy for anyone who becomes unemployed (out of labor solidarity principles first). But if you go looking for specific examples of such things I think you won’t come up with much. Even Justine Sacco got another good job fairly soon after her ordeal.

Does that mean that I think that Sacco should have endured what she did? No. Does that mean that the Sacco affair was productive? It was not. I’m sure there are exceptions and for those people my perspective will offer little comfort. I do think that the basic state of “the discourse” is unhealthy, and I particularly think that we badly need to expand the conversation beyond its current sclerotic perspective.

But to engage fruitfully, people of conscience must speak honestly about the actual consequences of current dynamics, rather than their perceived consequences or emotional consequences. That would entail recognizing that people having their lives ruined through shaming is thankfully quite rare. It would entail seeing the “Intellectual Dark Web” as people who mostly risk losing some publishing opportunities in a certain limited range of “respectable” periodicals, rather than as people who are risking their lives or livelihood. It would entail recognizing that, while it seems like the end of the world as it happens, some anonymous Twitter account calling you a bad person only hurts as much as you let it. Some guy on Twitter claimed that my book contract is for a pro race science book and that inflammatory falsehood apparently blazed around media Twitter for awhile. I survived. I have not been oppressed.

The openness that I would like to see in public debate is, ultimately, only an epiphenomenon. The first cause is empathy, communicative empathy. Not to lend sympathy to ideas that you find repugnant, but to explore whether they really are repugnant in the first place. Not a false civility built on bullshit norms but a commitment to reading carefully and responding carefully in turn. An empathetic discourse is one in which ideas are truly heard before they are responded to, not out of some vestigial attachment to “hearing both sides,” but out of the knowledge that no response – even unequivocal rejection – can have meaning before true understanding has taken place.

Ultimately, those of us who would advocate for a return to empathy in public discourse must practice empathy as we debate with those who are not. Getting a new perspective has allowed me to see that, too often, I have responded to hectoring with hectoring in kind, that my unhappiness about the way people talk online has not inspired me to talk differently. I still see bad messaging in other people’s projects, but I can no longer fail to see it in mine, and frankly it makes me glad to not be writing regularly. There is a better conversation to be had, but you can only have it by having it. Practice a more empathetic mode of address than your opponents, and maybe things will change. Or if you’re like me, and you find that your engagement has become fruitless, you can leave. Billions of people spend every day without thinking about what people are saying on the internet.

I am approaching middle age. I was first hospitalized for the first time when I was 21. The list of what I’ve lost due to my disorder is long and mostly private. My last breakdown entailed many destructive behaviors, the large majority of which were not on the internet. Afterwards, with antipsychotics once again in my system, I was forced to come to terms with what my life moving forward would be. Among other things it means I take six medications in the average day. I have had to rebuild my life’s basic rituals. This is heavy stuff. Some people knew all that and, with only the best intentions, saw fit to express sympathy not so much for my mental health crisis but for people attacking my character on social media. That strikes me, to put it mildly, as a mistake of priorities, even as I feel warm gratitude for those who care about me in this way. The mistake of priorities is not theirs, but of a culture that has had its attention – its very definition of self – capture by a remorselessly efficient set of technologies designed by billion-dollar firms to do just that.

I tell people to be prepared for disappointment when they first leave social media, as there is no great awakening. But then one day it’ll suddenly occur to you that you no longer experience life as an endless newsfeed, and it’s a blessing. I have been publicly shamed. I live a pointless but comfortable life. I’ve got a good job. My dog is still alive. I no longer go to bed worrying that someone might be coming for me while I sleep. I am free of the internet addiction that dragged on me for a decade of my life. I’ll be alright

I don't use Twitter and have no use for Twitter.  Anyone who does use Twitter has to come to terms with the extent to which whatever they put on Twitter is out there for the whole world to see and may be judged or retweeted in ways they can't even begin to imagine.  As Terry Teachout wrote years ago, we're into an era of social media in which use has rapidly outpaced considerations of how to responsibly use the media. Teachout has been a professional writer and journalist for a while so he has had a lifetime to think about what he does and doesn't want to publish for the public record.  I would still venture to guess most people who use social media have not thought through the implications of their usage.

I wonder if people have thought about how much the platforms like Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook know about them.  In a younger and more idealistic phase of my life I would have figured that if you have nothing to hide there's nothing to worry about but that was back when I had never stopped to consider that there can be all kinds of things that have to do with your flesh and blood existence that are not anyone's business but you and your family and your doctor.  In other words, some idealistic 20-something who isn't already connected to health care is probably not thinking about all the things that can be thought of in our day and age as HIPAA violations.

Which was the inspiration for one of the only knock knock jokes I've come across in the last ten years I thought was funny.

Knock knock
Who's there?
HIPAA who?
I can't tell you that.

I'll admit to liking esoteric jokes and though this one didn't seem at all esoteric to me, writing it out ... yeah ...

Deboer's post reminded me of so much of the stuff I was thinking about as I blogged through 2012 to 2014 about the former Mars Hill.  I would sometimes see comments in sites I would visit that suggested that somebody needed a rebuttal on the order and in the tone of what they were doling out.  I.e. a guy like Mark needed someone to respond to Mark the way Mark responded to people.  Obviously I didn't see it that way.  I made a point of refining a style and a substance that I believed was a suitable counterpoint to what Driscoll was doing.  He was the camera eager speaker drawing from stand up comedians and I was going to write long-form discussions as a journalistic chronicle.  He was taking cues from Doug Wilson and I fashioned my approach on a fusion of Joan Didion and Jane Austen.  He still tweets and still blogs and, well, I still blog, too.

What Deboer touches on that I'll state more directly is that social media is a spectacular instrument for horizontal propaganda and sociological propaganda, per Jacques Ellul's taxonomy of propaganda types.  People took up social media as an instrument to catalyze change but whether on a proverbial left or right there may have been a tunnel vision at work.  We think that what we want to do isn't going to be what others are going to do, too.  As I've joked in the past my "Aesopian language" can be your "dog whistle" depending on whether we agree but the actual circumlocution as a method of exclusion/inclusion hasn't changed.  Say "shibboleth" ... .

As this blog as a long and not necessarily storied history of demonstrating, purged content doesn't mean the content isn't or can't be preserved.  To have preserved purged content at the peak of Mars Hill's 2013-2014 meltdown period took work but it was thoroughly possible. 

I've been beating this drum for a few years now, I suppose, but it doesn't matter where you are on the spectrum, it's no surety that you won't demean and belittle people.  The emergence of what's called the alt right suggests that in media terms and social media terms it's what we got when people on the right decided to appropriate the irreverent snark of contemporary liberalism, maybe without the credentialing, of course--but the result seems to have been that the alt right is mortifying to the sorts of liberals who in the last twenty years did not stop to consider how the antics of a Jon Stewart or a Stephen Colbert or whomever might come across if deployed by someone with a conservative or reactionary spiel.  Now, it seems, we've got some ideas what that woudl look and sound like. 

Now if people find it ghastly and unfunny I can appreciate that sense of unhappiness ... but one of my relatives, the one who introduced me to Jacques Ellul, was telling me about a passage in which Ellul pointed out that Marxists had a bad habit of complaining that so-and-so was ideologically wrong from the start and that was the problem, the problem couldn't possibly have been the ghastly conduct of the ideologues.  There may need to be a reckoning among the left or the liberal about the tactics and the vitriol of the alt-right and right if only in the sense that if it seems they are lamely copying things from the left/liberal playbook maybe there were things in that ostensibly left/liberal playbook that shouldn't have been in there for the alt right to appropriate to begin with. 

a belated consideration or question about whether or not John Cage was more or less racist than was customary for a white man of his time and place

The article that was sent my way by Ethan Hein (thanks, again, for linking to it) provides a survey of paradigms of improvised music in post-1945 activity characterized by jazz musicians on the one hand and by advocates of indeterminacy or aleatory on the other.

There's no contest for me that the bop and bebop players and composers are more entertaining for me to listen to than Cage.  I still enjoy the prepared piano music, so I'm not trying to bash Cage as such, and I recall when I moved into the Seattle area that Cage was sort of venerated around these parts even if I'll never entirely warm up to him.  But I want to be as fair and fair-minded about his legacy as possible; and I think if you read a book like Douglas Shadle's Orchestrating the Nation you can get some perspective about what composers and philosophers like Cage were reacting to. I might dare to suggest that even if we were to turn to someone like ... Schenker ... that there'd be a world of difference between what the European academic legacy might have to do with him and what Americans have done with him.  There's a monograph by Nicholas Cook on precisely that subject I have been tempted to pick up but I'm resisting the temptation ... for now.  I'm trying to read in other directions that I don't want to bore you with just now. 

But I do reiterate my concern that 20th century musicology and associated 21st century debates can seem to forget that improvisation was an actual 18th century practice.  I adore the music of Haydn and I have written a few times at this blog that I believe Haydn's life and work could be taken as an example for someone whose work can mediate the "high" and "low" styles for 21st century composers interested in amalgamating vernacular and art music traditions.  Charles Rosen has said that Mozart pulled off the hat trick of a simultaneously popular and learned style.  I know Rosen would have scoffed at the idea but, honestly, I really like a number of Clementi sonatas better than a lot of Mozart I've heard.  And among guitarists I know that the received wisdom is that Sor and Giuliani are more profound than Wenzel Matiegka but I love that I can recognize so many Haydn themes in Matiegka's guitar sonatas so, ... wait, I've veered way off the topic of John Cage. 

I was just trying to say that improvisation was so prevalent in Baroque music and also in Classic era music that I have worried that contemporary debates about jazz vs. aleatory can forget that there's centuries of improvised music in the Western tradition.  My admittedly non-scholarly take is that jazz brought back a slew of wonderful performance practices and possibilities that had been cast off since roughly the end of the Baroque era and that, for me, the Western musical tradition in which equal-tempered instruments or something very, very close to it constitutes a single unified field of musical work regardless of the skin color of the people making the notes on the pages.  So I can admire Stevie Wonder in more or less the same way I admire Haydn. I can admire Blind Willie Johnson in more or less a similar way to the way I admire Bartok.  I trust you get the idea. 

What I am not so sure about is an implication or direct allegation that John Cage, living in the era of so many great black musicians and composers, was eager to distance himself from all of the popular music because of racism.  It's possible but let me get to a comment on the deleted post that stuck with me.

This might be a question that would be most properly taken up by a scholar like Kyle Gann but back when Ethan Hein's post on why he couldn't get into Cage was up there were a few comments about Cage, whiteness, and his relationship or real or perceived lack thereof to jazz and black musicians of his time.

naomi says:    

 July 12, 2018 at 4:57 pm
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

The post got deleted but this comment in particular got me wondering whether Cage was overtly racist.  My gut (which, of course, has no scholarly value at all) is that he was probably not overtly racist.  I wasn't aware until recently that Cage did a one-off collaboration with Sun Ra, which was touted by local review at Second Inversion.

Not being a fan of Cage and having only an occasional yen for Sun Ra I would pass on the album but the audio samples also didn't exactly win me over.  I skipped many of the vocal tracks and only listened to the Ra stuff, by and large.

But ... technically Cage and Ra had, if not a collaboration, a dual presentation.

The idea that the distinction between high and low art has latent white supremacy puzzles me.  My dad was Native American and he loved the guitar playing of Andres Segovia, whose anti-Semitism and open sympathy for fascism has been fairly readily chronicled.  The Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest had slavery and tiered classes of people.  The idea that repressive stratified castes is something unique to white supremacy is not something I hope scholars or people riffing on Cage will be too committed to. 

It's not as though there are no people within the black community who allege that someone isn't black enough in terms of skin color or in the embrace of cultural signifiers.  It's not like there are no jokes among native American groups as to who the real Indians are and who the "Twinkies" are.  As carefully observed boundaries go is a "high" and "low" boundary necessarily white supremacist?  Let's put it this way, in black musical life there were informal rules about what music you sang in church and what music you sang in bars.  If you can't consider respecting the boundaries between sacred and profane music to be a matter of "high" and "low" art for black musicians because "high" and "low" distinctions are innately white supremacist then there's possibly a wholesale failure of nomenclature going on somewhere.  Or as Alex Ross put it in a piece about Richard Wagner and our era, the racism and dualities we impute to Wagner may reflect our own era more than the things he actually said, did and wrote. 

The performative codes are not necessarily a sign of being authentic members of an ethnic group.  George Walker has talked about how the biggest assumption made about him as a black musician and composer is that he must play jazz.  His work is closer to Stravinsky and Hindemith, which is one of the reasons I enjoy his five piano sonatas and yet obviously no one familiar with the work of George Walker would say he sounds like jazz. 

It's possible for someone to be "just as" racist as is typical of their time.  I could see it being possible that Cage was "as" racist as anyone else with white skin could be in his day and age.  What I can't quite imagine is that he would be "more" racist than was usual for his time and place the way that Martin Luther wrote anti-Semitic rants that were considered offensive even to other people who in our age would be considered at least moderately anti-Semitic, which is another way of saying that Luther's anti-Semitism was considered so bad in his own day that people who were otherwise "normal" anti-Semites thought he'd gone overboard.  Cage does not seem like he was that kind of anti-jazz partisan, particularly if he did an event with Sun Ra. 

The 1987 album might suggest that Seth Colter Walls wasn't wrong to propose in a piece at Pitchfork that, "By contradicting one of Cage's rhetorical excesses, the album gently improves our understanding of the valid connection between divergent careers in American experimental music."
It doesn't seem hard to propose (as a few already have done) that John Cage and Sun Ra were both peripheral enough to their respective mainstreams that a shared concert would make sense. 

To put it in more colloquial terms, people can say a lot of things but we also have to pay attention to what they do, too.  Maybe John Cage was "as" racist as anyone else from his generation might be expected to be here in 2018 but I wonder whether 21st century American scholars can do some more work to explain that that's supposed to mean. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

genius and the permission of abuse "what do we do with the science of abusive men", a piece over at Slate

Even if he were a genius, we’d still be left to wonder how one might disentangle his accomplishments in science from his abuse of other people. This is just the most extreme example of a common problem, though. What about the other brilliant, Monstrous Men in Science? In recent years their ranks have swelled with bold-faced names. A number of these research legends have now resigned their academic posts and been humiliated before their peers. There’s no consensus, though, on how their misbehavior might affect the status of their past research.
It’s tempting to conclude that science ought to operate by different rules, in this regard, than other domains of creativity. When artists are alleged to be abusive, that information can be used to reinterpret all their work. A painting by Picasso is shaded by the artist’s well-established harmful tendencies with women. Woody Allen’s movies, watched again, show signs of cruelty and cynicism. Louis C.K.’s comedy of male enlightenment comes off, in retrospect, as naked propaganda for his decency. We’ve assumed, in all these cases, that the artist and his work are intertwined.
In science, though, we tend to treat the monstrous man as if he were composite: a brilliant Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego, the asshole Mr. Hyde. A researcher’s accomplishments and his depredations must be unrelated; after all, a finding is a finding, however vile its instrument. When James Watson, who co-discovered the structure of DNA, said that women are “probably less effective” as scientists, and that black people are unintelligent, his outrageous bigotry did not reshape the natural world and force the double-helix to unwind. It only showed he was a jerk.
Yet even when it comes to molecular biology, I’m not sure that one can really tease these strands apart. It’s true, DNA is double-helical; that’s a fact about the universe, free of human values. But the discovery of DNA remains a social construct. Who came up with the idea, and how important was it? What accolades did that person merit for his work? The answers to those questions will always be subjective, and just as vexing, in their way, as those one might ask about Picasso, Polanski, or Pound.
And really, Watson’s outing as a sexist (and a racist) is hardly unrelated to the story of his science. It offers up some very useful context for his apparent theft of scientific credit from a female colleague, Rosalind Franklin. So, too, might STAT have used Anderson’s history as a child-abuser to better understand his work. When the details of his landmark research into gene therapy are inspected in the ugly light of his conviction, they seem to hint at something deeper in his character: Not his brilliance but his narcissism.
Elsewhere he’s described as a child prodigy who was slow to develop “people skills.” These same purported traits—his God-given brains and social awkwardness—have been adduced in favor of his innocence. At trial, Anderson told the prosecutor that he has an IQ of 178; that number also shows up in a recent article in the Beverly Hills Courier that takes his claims of persecution at face value. Anderson’s wife has said that his apparent confession, recorded in a confrontation with his victim, resulted from his lack of people skills. “It was frightening. … He just wanted to get away,” she told Wired’s Jennifer Kahn. Later she compares him to the troubled mathematician John Nash: “Only when one understands how different geniuses are can they be understood.”
His colleagues, too, have used his purported genius and strange temperament to explain away the accusation that he raped a child. The Courier quotes Anderson’s Harvard roommate (and fellow genius) Jared Diamond: “I think it’s very unlikely that he’s guilty,” said Diamond. “French has character traits … that make him very prone to be na├»ve or do foolish things.” The STAT piece notes that, ahead of his sentencing in 2006, several hundred prominent scientists wrote letters to the court “vouching for his integrity and character.”
His trial judge didn’t buy into this special pleading. In fact, he cited Anderson’s “intellectual arrogance”—not his genius—as a factor in his punishment. That’s what makes it so disturbing to see the article in STAT, which seems to take its subject’s view that he’s a genius, a “world renowned scientist” who just happens to have spent a dozen years in jail and now must wear an ankle monitor. Monstrous men of science shouldn’t get to frame their own identities, and they shouldn’t be allowed to fog their misbehaviors. Here’s another, better way to see the subject of this story: He’s not a scientist who ended up in prison; he’s a child-molester who ended up in science.
Ah, but on no account should we consider the possibility that a “puritan” response might be appropriate … that one's life and beliefs both actually matter.

Sorry, a little hobby horse there.  I just ... I just can't shake the sense that if you were to poll a bunch of Americans with a loaded question of whether they'd prefer to be a decent mediocrity or an evil genius the real answer would be that a lot of them would cheerfully or thoughtfully say they'd choose to be an evil genius.  It wouldn't be a matter of STEM or liberal arts, it might be more about .. the hero's journey (I'm slogging through Joseph Campbell, about which I may have more to say later).

In keeping with John Halle's lately blogged warning that we should not fall prey to a liberal arts stereotype type that it's the STEM bros who are most apt to harass, it's still important to note just how pervasive this harassment stuff seems to be.  Is it confirmation bias in some cases?  Not sure.  I don't know ... it's just not the least bit clear that when a James Gunn can get fired form a Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 project over tweets that the science field is necessarily "more" rife with this stuff.  Halle mentioned that what little studies there are may suggest there's LESS of it in the hard sciences and STEM. 

Whatever "genius" is surely cannot be taken as grounds for ignoring evil conduct ... but the struggles we seem to see playing out before us for the record have to do with the struggle between the corporate good and the individual's lot.  As individualistic as our society supposedly is it can seem as though an awful lot of the scandals in coverage have to do with what people's lives were harmed or ruined along the way to what might be called brand consolidation or brand burnishing. 

some other writing on the Sarah Jeong stuf

Jeong’s tweets were bad, in short, and the writer herself acknowledged “how hurtful these posts are out of context.” But they weren’t bad enough for the Times to un-hire her, leaving many on the right interpreting it as tacit approval of her supposed views. Andrew Sullivan seethed in New York magazine that the idea Jeong was merely mimicking her harassers is “the purest of bullshit.” Fox News’s Tucker Carlson—who’s carved out a large niche as the voice of aggrieved white men—took the occasion to characteristically flay all of mainstream media. “In point of fact,” he said, “[Jeong’s] views are commonplace in the American establishment, maybe universal.”
The notion that a few tweets from one young writer is evidence of an emerging front in institutional racism is proof enough that nothing can satisfy such arguments. It’s bad faith, as many digital journalists have come to call these criticisms, and it willfully ignores historical nuance and context. The Times didn’t bow to that pressure. But it did suggest that the critics had a point.
The Verge, meanwhile, put out a far more muscular response on Jeong’s behalf. A note from editorial leadership of the Vox-owned site targeted her critics rather than engaging with them:
Online trolls and harassers want us, the Times, and other newsrooms to waste our time by debating their malicious agenda. They take tweets and other statements out of context because they want to disrupt us and harm individual reporters. The strategy is to divide and conquer by forcing newsrooms to disavow their colleagues one at a time. This is not a good-faith conversation; it’s intimidation.
So we’re not going to fall for these disingenuous tactics. And it’s time other newsrooms learn to spot these hateful campaigns for what they are: attempts to discredit and undo the vital work of journalists who report on the most toxic communities on the internet.
This may appear hypocritical from the outside looking in; the mean tweets are OK this time because they came from someone on our team. But the reality is this aggressive stance is born from years under fire from critics who give journalists’ work the least generous interpretation possible in order to further their own interests. Does Fox News and the pro-Trump internet really want The New York Times to improve its internal culture and journalistic ethics? Or is painting “the media” as enemy of the people central to their business model and political mission?

Perhaps the most obvious point of comparison about a Jeong for me would be to Mark Driscoll’s William Wallace II.  Does ironic trolling use of social media seem acceptable so long as partisans “get it”?  I don’t think it is a responsible use of social media regardless of the ideological camp, whether for the right or for the left.  The simplest reason I think this is because the egregious double standards employed by the left and right for ironic trolling about the bigotries of the other side, whatever the side is, seem to easily preserved.  In much the same way that “your” dog whistle is my “Aesopian language” it might be better to err on the side of over-earnest plodding prose rather than reflexively “cool” sarcasm

I admit I lean toward a less rather than more humorous approach to writing about things, if the measure and metric of humor is ... internet publishing.  I'd rather be not-funny-at-all in internet terms than to be funny by the criteria of social media.  I also feel that my kind of humor can be dry, esoteric, cold-blooded and not altogether suitable for the internet ... the word might be that I feel it's not exactly edifying so I prefer to not use too much humor.  I've clearly been willing to use some acid humor when the subject seems to merit it ... let the reader understand.

In another piece ...  there are some proposals that making platforms be on the hook for what they allow to get published might be open for consideration.

There have been multiple sessions in Congress over the past year looking at the failures of digital platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, including their failure to limit the actions of trolls spreading misinformation during the 2016 election. But there have been very few concrete proposals from the government on how to deal with that, or with the virtual monopoly platforms have on certain types of information, or how they should handle user privacy.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner hopes to fill that gap with a policy discussion paper he has been circulating in governmental and tech circles, according to a report from Axios (which obtained a copy of the paper from an unknown source). The proposals in the paper are wide ranging and in some cases even politically impossible, and raise almost as many questions as they try to answer.

The paper argues that the revelations of the past year, including evidence that Russian trolls manipulated Facebook, have “revealed the dark underbelly of an entire ecosystem.” It goes on to say:
The speed with which these products have grown and come to dominate nearly every aspect of our social, political and economic lives has in many ways obscured the shortcomings of their creators in anticipating the harmful effects of their use. Government has failed to adapt and has been incapable or unwilling to adequately address the impacts of these trends on privacy, competition, and public discourse.
When it comes to misinformation, the Warner paper says one possible proposal is that platforms be required to label automated bot accounts, and also do more to identify who is behind anonymous or pseudonymous accounts. If there’s a failure to do these things, it says, the Federal Trade Commission could step in with sanctions.
But would labeling bots actually help solve the issues Congress is concerned about? Experts say they are just one part of the problem, and that the behavior of what are sometimes called “cyborgs”—partially automated accounts run by human beings—is also important. And while anonymity can be a shield for some trolls, others are more than happy to engage in all kinds of bad behavior under their real names.
The paper also admits that identifying users could backfire if it invades the privacy of journalists or dissidents and whistleblowers who have real reasons for wanting to remain anonymous.
One other significant change the Warner paper discusses is an amendment to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives the platforms immunity from prosecution for content uploaded by their users. Since some users complain harassing material is often re-uploaded after being removed, the paper recommends Section 230 be amended so the platforms could face sanctions if they don’t prevent this. Such tinkering, however, could weaken the free speech protections Section 230 is designed to uphold.
In addition, the paper argues the US should pass privacy-protection legislation similar to the General Data Protection Regulation now in force in Europe, including the right to data portability and what is often called “the right to be forgotten.” It notes, however, that in order to have a GDPR-like regime, the US would need a central body to administer the law, something it doesn’t currently have—and creating one could produce even more problems than the proposal hopes to solve.
The European paradigms also seem to be more in tune with things like the right to be forgotten, as it's colloquially called.  The trouble with that is that, well, we have a First Amendment and not everyone agrees that the "right to be forgotten" is a good idea if it could be used to curtail the freedom of the press.  It takes no real imagination at all to imagine your least-favorite politician invoking a right to be forgotten to suppress or spike stories of whatever kind that might need to get a front page treatment. 

We seem to be in a self-imposed double bind about respecting the necessity for the freedom and independence of the press while recognizing that a lot of platforms encourage and profit from a profligate and indiscriminate application of what I can't help but admit I regard as a probably antiquated and delusionally applied bromide or two predicated on the libertarian theory of the press.  I can try to take seriously what serious advocates for the libertarian theory of the press were going for but I don't think someone like John Milton was thinking about Twitter.

I'm wondering if the deluge of sarcasm and snark has some weird countervailing impulse for the snark about "them" to be transformed into an even more deadly serious self-regard for in-group conduct.  That's just a Friday night musing that probably isn't going to go anywhere.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

RIP Aretha Franklin, some brief thoughts on Franklin's legendary cover of an Otis Redding song

I'll admit to loving the music of Mahalia Jackson and maybe even Judy Mowatt a bit more than Franklin but I still admired a lot about her music and she was deservedly known as the queen of soul. 

It may be that in raw sales numbers that Madonna and Mariah Carey have sold more than Franklin has.

You can go your whole life and not hear about something as simple as that "Respect" was an Otis Redding song.

What Franklin did with the song ... it's not too big a leap to suggest that many of us never even heard Redding's version

There are any number of things that could be said about the arrangements.  What sets the Franklin performance apart is not just her agile and volcanic vocal performance.  The bass line (which is a fantastic bass line) is more prominent. There's also those backing vocals.  It goes a long way to evoking a chorus that can respond to Franklin's lead and for the chorus the harmonies the backup singers intone outline a dominant seventh chord on the tonic that resolves down to a subdominant harmony.  If the tonic is "home" this gives us a chorus where any time the music lands on the tonic chord the secondary dominant element of the chord pushes away into the subdominant.  There's a steady harmonic/rhythmic push and pull with the dominant seven tonic resolving by way of linear compression into the subdominant and yet the subdominant relentlessly creates an expectation in a traditional tonal idiom for some kind of return to the tonic.  This kind of relentless, assertive I7(V7/IV) to IV(7) oscillation is one of the more powerful groove-establishing tools in R&B influenced music. 

Another unique element in Redding's song is the harmonic regressions that it's founded on.  We get a V to IV oscillation, famously, when the vocals begin.  We don't get a "by the rules" harmonic progression of I going to IV going to V.  We get V dropping to IV and going back to V and dropping to IV.  The vocals open up assertively at the kind of chords with rhythm section that in other R&B and soul songs would have been the chorus.  There's a transposition of conventions in harmonic/melodic terms in Reddings' song.  The "chorus" material is the verse in terms of dominant pedal activity because we can hear the entire V-IV-V-IV-V-IV oscillation before the "respect" chorus as one big episode of what in Hepokoski & Darcy's Elements of Sonata Theory could be called "standing on the dominant", a great big dominant pedal point.   That harmonic momentum has to get resolved somewhere and it's delayed just long enough that when the I, the tonic chord, is finally reached it's the word "respect".  This is the "home" chord for the key and, of course, what Redding's text says he wants when he gets home.  And, of course, even more famously, it's what Franklin wants. 

You can hear how Franklin understood how all these elements worked in the song.  There's no mistaking it when you hear her sing she knows how this song works in harmonic and melodic and rhythmic terms and knows exactly what she wants to do with this song.  It's one of the most justifiably legendary recordings in the entirety of the 20th century. 

And you certainly won't here "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" in the Redding version.  Franklin was steeped in the Gospel traditions enough to bring out something from the Gospel traditions that included greats like Marion Williams or Mahalia Jackson but also in a preaching tradition where the preacher stops and ruminates on the meaning of a word that is crucial to the message--if you miss what this word means or misunderstand its application you miss everything else, so don't miss it. 

It's a commonplace that a lot of rock was taken from blues and jazz but sometimes I remember that Mahalia Jackson was said to have complained that jazz and blues and rock just took music from black churches and secularized them.  Depending on how we comb through the history the nature of that allegation is that it's not that the devil has all the good music, as the axiomatic complaint has gone, the complaint Jackson registered was that the devil took music dedicated to God and made that music about anything but God. 

So for some older generations of black musicians people like Franklin bringing the sounds of church music into a secular popular musical scene could feel like a betrayal but I wasn't planning on even mentioning that.

In an age where a whole lot of people use auto-tune and not always to what I find a compelling effect I feel obliged to remember that Aretha had a fantastic voice.  And unlike a few singers I don't really want to name in commemorating her Aretha also had something else other possibly finer technicians may not have always had, a clear knowledge of what she could do and what she wanted to do with her voice.  Aretha's performance in "Respect" was spectacular but the whole ensemble performance is what made her cover of the Otis Redding song legendary.  Let's celebrate the great music she made and do so in a way that lets us remember how many people played crucial roles accompanying her in the creation of epoch-defining popular song.

Like I've been blogging here off and on in the last few years, advocates of the symphony are not wrong to want people to appreciate all the beautiful and compelling music in that tradition but in the history of Western music the song, whether solo or ensemble, was so often the acme of artistic achievement in the West.  When so many singers and songwriters have emerged in the last century to write songs so many can sing from memory even without musical literacy there's something to be said in defense of the beauty of that.  It is beautiful.  We don't have to belittle one to appreciate the other or to denigrate the one to admire the other.  That may continue to be one of the challenges musicians and advocates of musicians will continue to face. 

So, RIP Aretha Franklin.  You gave us a lot of amazing recordings of beautifully made songs.