Saturday, February 23, 2019

an Atlantic Monthly piece on the Indian Child Welfare Act's uncertain future

Regular readers of the blog may likely know that every once in a while we delve into Native American themed stuff.

This post features a link to an article on ICWA and recent legal stuff connected to it. Here are a few extensive quotes.  This was a law I hadn't heard about before so it was interesting to read about ICWA.

As a kid, Mark Fiddler, the Chippewa attorney who wants to see ICWA overturned, made regular trips to his tribe’s reservation in North Dakota. There, Fiddler told me, he developed “an interest in the whole idea of how a person figures out … [their] identity … You’ve got these interesting and in some ways conflicting worldviews, with Indian culture and dominant Anglo culture.” Fiddler expressed to me, many times, that he cares about keeping that American Indian culture alive. But he doesn’t think ICWA is the way to do it. He says the law is usually applied in such a way that Indian families are automatically assumed to be best for Indian kids, but that’s not the reality.

Fiddler learned about ICWA as a law student. He thought it was a “cool idea—trying to hang on to Indian culture and trying to create law that gave parents some right to have their kids kept in the culture whenever possible,” he said. After he graduated, Fiddler worked first as a public defender before moving into family law, where he specializes in ICWA but also works on other adoption and foster-care cases. Soon, he started to identify problems with ICWA. “It was and is a good idea,” he told me, “but the devil is in the details.” He began to ask the same questions that federal judges in New Orleans will now have to answer: “Can you apply a law that says Indian families should be given priority?” And, he continued, “can you apply that in a way that's consistent with the idea that the child's interests come first?” No, he concluded, you couldn’t.

In the 1950s and ’60s, through a federal program called the Indian Adoption Project, hundreds of kids were taken from reservations in western states—usually with parents’ consent, though the consent was not always fully informed—and placed for adoption, primarily with white parents in states on the East Coast. The goal here was not assimilation for its own sake, even if that was the outcome, Ellen Herman, a historian of adoption at the University of Oregon, told me. The project’s architects “viewed Native children as being ignored and segregated and left out of the opportunities provided by child-welfare services,” Herman said, so social workers thought they were doing the right thing by offering adoption to poor Native parents—but the result, still, was Native kids disconnected from their culture.

This wasn’t something that just happened on the margins, to a few kids in the worst situations. Research published by the AAIA in the 1960s found that up to a third of all Native kids had been placed in foster care, adoptive homes, or other institutions—and 90 percent of those kids went to white families. The findings shocked even Native American communities, who were forced to reckon with the pervasive, damaging attitude among white welfare workers that “Indian families aren't good enough to take care of our own children for some reason,” as O’Loughlin described it. ICWA was passed with the intention of countering this prejudice toward Native parents. National politicians began to note the disastrous effects of these policies as a burgeoning American Indian movement developed political power in the 1960s and ’70s. Eleven years after the federal Indian Adoption Project formally ended, Congress passed ICWA with bipartisan support.

Many American Indians feel a responsibility to advocate for ICWA because they understand what happened to their communities before it existed. “I don’t think [there’s] an Indian around [who] doesn’t have family or friends who had kids taken unjustifiably,” Keith Harper, one of the attorneys representing the tribes in the Brackeen case, told me. Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva, lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “I think about that in our neighborhood. Imagine if one out of every three kids was unjustifiably taken from their families?”

This history is what makes so many people in Native American communities leery of white people who want to adopt, no matter how good their intentions. And it’s why they’re committed to ICWA, even if it is flawed. For Harper, the attacks on ICWA are direct attacks on his family: His youngest daughter is an “ICWA kid,” born in California to members of his wife’s tribe. Had she stayed in California and gone through the regular foster-care system, she would not have ended up with a Native family, Harper suspects. “She would’ve been raised without any sense of her culture,” Harper said. He maintains that “one of the pernicious lies about ICWA” is the trope that the law puts “tribal interests above the child’s interests.” He pointed to the life that he and his wife have provided for their adopted daughter: a private-school education, almost three years in Geneva, French fluency, and an attachment to her tribal culture.

The next paragraph sums up something that I've noticed, from time to time, over my life. Probably the easiest way to sum it up was that from Native American relatives I heard that the American Civil War was where the white racists in the North fought the white racists in the South over how to deal with black people and once that was out of the way they all agreed to start killing Indians.  I.e. ... there are ways in which Native American experience and perspectives may not necessarily map onto the perspectives that progressive and reactionary narratives favored by ... well ... "pure" white people.  My dad once said that American Indians never really had the equivalent of a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Booker T. Washington, there was no set of people providing a unified sense of being American Indian across tribal histories and differences.  So with that tiny bit of personal context in mind: 
ICWA doesn’t neatly fit into the standard right-left political framework. In December, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives approved a resolution doubling down on their commitment to the law. Mark Fiddler, the family-law attorney who works on ICWA and is Indian himself, resents the charge that he must be a conservative because he’s allied with the Goldwater Institute. He supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries, and he thinks that his stance on ICWA fits squarely with his progressive worldview. “I think the liberals have a narrative of what’s happened to Indian people and tribes and genocide and historical trauma and treaty violations, and that’s all true,” Fiddler said. But, he continued, “you don’t say just because of that narrative that in this particular case with this child, the Indian always wins.” It’s a cause, Fiddler argued, about “the rights of the powerless and the marginalized children—the most vulnerable … I think that happens to be a liberal cause. It’s also a conservative cause.”

Instrumental to the law’s functioning has been the backing of the child-welfare community. In January, a group of 31 national child-welfare organizations filed a brief supporting the federal government and the four tribes in the Brackeen case, arguing that ICWA “has served as a model for the child welfare policies that are best practices generally.” Striking down the law, these groups argue, would have “devastating real-world effects.” They’re puzzled that it faces such opposition, given its near-unanimous support from child-welfare experts.

An interesting read, should you want to go read more of the article.  

Friday, February 22, 2019

a fun long read from Kelly Hiser at NewMusicBox on the Hammond organ

I never knew the Federal Trade Commission ended up having a hearing over a controversy about whether Hammond was considered to misrepresent what it's electric organs could do in relationship to more traditional pipe organs.

Jessa Crispin on the industry norm of publishing fake memoirs that publishers don't spot

I suppose it's of a piece with my dislike of the Romantic artist-genius myth, but one of the things about this persona is that there's a big industry to it, though it's not necessarily literally rock stars.  There's more than one way to do the rock star thing and in our era that can be through the memoirists epics.

Whether or not the lives are lived is less material in literature than it may be in music.

It should come as no surprise that the long literary con of Dan Mallory began with a fake memoir. Fabricating pain for profit is, after all, a time honored publishing tradition.

Mallory, who published his bestselling, Hollywood-optioned first novel The Woman in the Window under the name A.J. Finn, was exposed last week as a serial liar by the New Yorker. He faked his resume, he faked cancer, he faked his brother’s suicide, he faked that his novel about an agoraphobic woman who thinks she possibly witnessed a crime in her neighbor’s apartment wasn’t just a hodgepodge rip-off of better written works like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the Barbara Stanwyck film Sorry Wrong Number, and the Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver 1980s thriller Copycat.

But what got him into publishing in the first place, where he became an editor and from there a novelist, was a faked memoir. His essay on his taking care of his mother as she died of cancer and he himself discovered he had a brain tumor, written while he was a grad student at Oxford, caught the attention of Craig Raine, the editor of Areté literary magazine, who called it an “astonishing” piece of writing. Areté publishes some of the biggest names in British literature, from Julian Barnes to Tom Stoppard to Ian McEwan, and Raine wanted Mallory to join their distinguished company.

The problem was the story wasn’t true. Mallory’s mother did have cancer at one point, but she was certainly not dead, just living on Long Island. Nor was his father dead, although Mallory had committed linguistic patricide on him in the same essay. Nor his brother, who... you get it.


While Mallory’s story seems remarkable — a con man using a sob story to sashay his way to literary power — it’s actually extremely common. The publishing industry not only attracts but rewards these fraudsters in large numbers. It fetishizes and exploits so-called authentic experience, especially from marginalized populations, but its insularity and homogeneity makes it ill-equipped to detect fakery.

There was a time, not too long ago, when every memoir detailing a miserable, marginalized life turned out to be written by someone from the suburbs. Margaret B. Jones, whose story of being a half-Native inner city gang member was lavished with praise by The New York Times for being “unsentimental” and “humane,” turned out to be a white girl from the suburbs. James Frey wrote a memoir about violence and hardship and a life of addiction, and he turned out just to be some guy from the suburbs. Danny Santiago wrote a supposedly autobiographical novel about a teenage Chicano moving in and out of gang life on the hard streets of Los Angeles, and he turned out to be some white guy from the suburbs. JT LeRoy wrote autobiographical fiction and memoir about his time working as a gas station prostitute, about coming out (and going back in) as trans, about having AIDS, about his abusive relationship with his mother. He turned out just to be some white lady from the suburbs.

Imagining and selling tragedy works. [emphasis added] Mallory’s literary career may have been very different had he not captured a gatekeeper’s attention with a fake memoir that followed the template of every other successful hoax. Publishing insists it is a meritocracy, but it is mostly a matter of having the right bylines and knowing the right people. The sob stories of family tragedy and cancer treatment were used to explain work absences, gain sympathy, and make himself noticed, as told in the New Yorker profile.

According to Christopher L. Miller’s Imposters: Literary Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity, the key to a successful fraud is to downgrade your societal position, to “cross a boundary from a realm of greater privilege to one of lesser privilege.” In order to successfully mimic authenticity, pretend to be poor if you’re rich. If your family is intact, break them up or kill some of them off. If you’re straight, go gay. If you’re white, try some literary brown or blackface. An authentic experience is an experience of difficulty. The act of writing is then an act of overcoming that difficulty.

The reason these frauds happen is because of the publishing industry’s and the audience’s hunger for authentic voices, particularly voices of suffering. Apologies to Barthes, but the author didn’t die, she became the text. Literature’s job — to articulate the unspeakable, to contextualize the seemingly chaotic and random, to humanize the other — is now handed over to the author rather than the book. If you, like Mallory, write a character who has agoraphobia, you had better have suffered from agoraphobia yourself. It makes the characterization and plot more legitimately authentic. Mallory invented many different parallels between his main character and himself during interviews and events, all in the name of promotion. The personal connection becomes the selling point. It gives the work the shine of authenticity, whether real or stretched or fabricated.


The power of the sob story is a power indeed.

Melodramas are still with us, as memoirs.  

Ryan Adams and music journalism on the male genius and its vices--to demystify the cult of the male art-genius we'll first need to demystify the music and ... that will involve a lot of theory

wish I could say I was surprised by the New York Times report detailing allegations that the singer-songwriter Ryan Adams offered to mentor young women, before pursuing them sexually and turning nasty after they turned him down. His ex-wife, the musician and actor Mandy Moore, described him as “psychologically abusive”. When the musician Phoebe Bridgers began a relationship with Adams after he offered to mentor her – at the time he was 40, she 20 – she said he quickly became emotionally abusive and manipulative, “threatening suicide” if she didn’t reply to his texts immediately.
Stories like these are eminently familiar to me and many other women who work in the music industry. Surely to men, too, although if they talk about them, it’s rarely to us women. The industry has been slower to reckon with its abusers post-#MeToo than other art forms, partly because it is built on a generally permissive culture of excess and blurred lines between work and leisure – but also because the myth of the unbridled male genius remains at its core. The male genius is the norm from which everyone else deviates. He sells records, concert tickets and magazines. And because he resembles most of the men who run the industry, few of them are in any hurry to act when he is accused of heinous behaviour, lest their own actions come into question.
The concept of male genius insulates against all manner of sin. Bad behaviour can be blamed on his prerequisite troubled past. His trademark sensitivity offers plausible deniability when he is accused of less-than-sensitive behaviour. His complexity underpins his so-called genius. As I wrote for this paper in 2015: “Male misogynist acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of ‘difficult’ artists, [while] women and those who call them out are treated as hysterics who don’t understand art.” This was after, in response to an interview request, Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek told a crowd that I was a “bitch” who wanted to have his babies. Note, too, how many female geniuses are dismissed as divas, their art depicted as a symptom of disorder, their responses to mistreatment and calls for respect characterised as proof of an irrational nature.

Other writers have written about the very idea of what genius meant, has meant, and means has changed over the centuries.  I can't really remember any Ryan Adams songs, and it took a few years to not confuse Adams with Bryan Adams, whose songs I know and don't necessarily love.

That the music industry is not particularly egalitarian doesn't seem like a big shocker, I'm afraid.  But what I find in writing about music and the way people write about music is that ... well ... Leonard B. Meyer was pretty accurate in saying that the Romantic era has never really ended and that by the time he wrote that observation in the later part of the 20th century it seems that it "still" isn't over.  The Romantic notions of genius, the artist as some kind of prophet-priest stand-in and the great man who is not necessarily bound to the petty and parochial moral strictures of others isn't all there was to how people thought from the Romantic era on to our time, but the Romantic artist-hero cliche seems to permeate writing about musicians who say and do very, very badly.

Andrew Durkin's Decomposition was a mainly disappointing book but if he was trying to articulate a set of arguments against the ideal of the solitary rule-breaking genius that's had coin since the Romantic era I was on board with that particular mission decades before I read Durkin's book.  I've been pretty anti-Romantic in my interests and sympathies ... though as I get older I can appreciate that some fantastic music was written in the 19th century.  It's just that I find Richard Wagner's views abominable and even if I can overlook his vitriolic anti-Semitism I simply don't see that claiming that art can do for religion what religion can no longer do is necessarily a more virtuous alternative to the perceived vices of religion and religious orders.  It seems pretty damned obvious by now that when the arts get treated like religion that more or less the same kinds of systemic abuses get perpetrated by the clergy of the art-religion as get perpetrated by more formal religion.  Or as Eric Cartman riffed on the matter in a South Park episode whether it's Catholic priests or a Sandunsky the abuse looks pretty much the same. 

Although I can sort of appreciate bids at insisting on a kind of listener response theory that helps imbue music with what feels most inspiring about music, I am not sure this is going to work.  Take this conclusion in a piece at The New Yorker that discusses the Ryan Adams coverage and events:

Part of the problem is that music thrills and bewilders us in a way that can feel at odds with natural laws, so we instinctively codify and exalt its creation. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about what happens to a person when they hear a song that they love, and what sense, if any, can be made of that strange, glorious melting. When I look at my own record collection, I see a desperate monument to my desire for that feeling—for some fleeting brush with the sublime. There are neurobiological processes to point to, and loads of social and cultural cues that help explain and unpack fandom, but the experience itself is such a hard thing to hold on the page. Never being able to fully explain it in a concise or useful way is a big part of why I first began writing about music, and why the work remains interesting to me. There’s a little bit of God in it.

But mystifying the creative process also allows for the genius myth to expand and endure. When nobody can say for sure why a certain melody is so satisfying, or so evocative, or so pleasurable—and this is criticism’s grandest prerogative, to somehow get close—we inevitably begin to imbue its creator with supernatural strengths. Ergo, people get away with things, for horrifyingly long stretches of time. It seems essential that critics remain vigilant about who is being granted leniency, and for what. But I also wonder if there’s a way for critical discourse to make more room for the receiver—to give more credit to our own consciousness, and the magic it makes of sound. That communion, after all—between player and listener, in which both parties create something extraordinary together—is just as sacred. Perhaps we can start to look for the genius in there instead.

Art religion by another name ... is still art religion.  I can appreciate why Adorno had it out for bourgeois art religion, despite not being particularly Marxist and despite loving the art of music as a practice.  I love writing music and I like to listen to music.  What I don't think music is, necessarily, is divine.  The people who make songs are people not even "just people", people who are no better in any respect than people who don't make music or can't enjoy music.  That Adorno comes off in his writings like an elitist chauvinist anti-Slav jerk doesn't mean he can't be right about some things. Art in administrative cultures, he proposed, sold the illusion of freedom and expression as a balm for the lack of any of those things in the lives of most people.  The rock star life, as Jacques Ellul indirectly put it, is the surety for contemporary society being what works.  Ellul went so far as to say that art is the thing that most assimilates us into technocratic societies and tells us it's okay.  The artists live a vicarious "freedom" for us and we buy the products.  Take Adorno and Ellul together and the indictment of what Adorno called the culture industry could be pretty severe indeed.  

The things that come to light about men like Ryan Adams or R Kelly or Michael Jackson make it seem as though the last thing we want to do is elevate musicians to the role they have been elevated to.  I mean, at the risk of giving a possibly lame counter example, the musicians you come across in church services aren't rock stars but they are musicians and they make music of a sort where if you're not bringing your own participation to the music the music in a very real way isn't going to happen. 

It's not like singers in opera weren't like rock stars in the sixteenth century.  The rock star impulse has always been around.  The potential failure of standing against the rock star impulse with a listener response approach isn't that we don't need that approach in pedagogy or theory, it's that it's not clear that in the United States that level of musical literacy is going on.  It is in the sense that people are musically literate enough to know what they like.  

But if criticism's grandest prerogative is to somehow get close to saying for sure why a melody is satisfying criticism hinges on that element of music which is least appealing to writers on music and writers of music in many cases, theory.  Theory in music is, as a music theory professor once put it to a class I was in, pretty much entirely after-the-fact descriptions of what people have found "works".  This is not just in the sense of what the "rules" are for solid counterpoint or effective harmony but what "works" in the sense that people have loved the music enough to keep coming back to it.  

But there remain facile and ultimately stupid bromides about how writing about music is somehow like dancing about architecture.  I frankly don't believe Gene Kelly couldn't have danced about the Chrysler building. Martha Graham could have found a way to use dance to describe a building.  There are axioms in writing about music that are not attempts to preserve what is mysterious about music but curtain pulling gambits to keep mysteries where they are profitable.  I don't mean to sound conspiratorial in putting it that way.  What I am trying to say is that as objectionable and tedious as many writers and musicians find theory, theory won't demystify what makes an appealing melody appealing, but what it can potentially demystify is the mechanics of how such melodies come together and, taken up with cognitive research, give us a clearer sense of what our minds do in interpreting music that leads us to embrace one song and forget another.  

In other words, the journalists and academics who, on paper, and quite literally on the page, inveigh against the male cult of the genius who are nevertheless not interested in completely demystifying the technical and theoretical approaches to music-making as far as humanly possible are condemning the cult of the Romantic male genius in the worst possible kind of bad faith.  

Power ballads are not that difficult to unpack.  You play a mid-tempo stew of I-V-vi-IV chords and have a crooning/mumbling pentatonic melody with gooey lyrics in a lower register.  You maybe set this up with some slow harmonic rhythms at first, sit on the tonic and don't get to a new chord until you're about to shift into a new structural unit.  When you do you set up for the big soaring four-chord chorus, though.  And then you jump into said chorus with abandon and let the chord changes evoke the feelings that thanks to generations of song-plugging many people are operantly conditioned to shed tears to.  You maybe wail passionately what you sang in earlier verses an octave higher with a pinch in the throat or you scream stuff to add emphasis.  Kurt Cobain mastered these formulas and sold a lot of records, a lot of records.  

But the risk of demystifying these kinds of musician techniques is that the mystique of the artist can wither.  There's a risk that the aura of Kurt Cobain evaporates if we look at the songwriting technique and music in technical and theoretical terms.  The problem isn't that, per some Roger Scruton canard, we'll discover that, oh, the voice-leading is bad.  That's its own kind of bad faith absurdity.  Cultural conservatives too often invoke an 18th century ideal of contrapuntal and harmonic writing when they want to impugn pop music and then, woah, suddenly it's just so fantastic that Schubert used mediant key relationships and broke free of the 18th century norms.  Look you scolds, you can't just declare that breaking all the rules of the 18th century as mediated by 19th century pedagogy is somehow awesome when it's classical music but that 20th century onward pop musicians can't break the rules and also be considered heirs to the Romantic era legacy.  That kind of double standard is a separate topic I might vent my frustrations about later.  What I'm trying to articulate at this point is a proposal that critical-literary and academic conventions have everything to lose and nothing to gain by truly demystifying music as an art form.  Music educators, by contrast, could gain a lot.  

If we could teach every one how to read music the upshot might not necessarily be that everyone would venerate Mozart (why should they? I like Haydn and Hummel better, personally).  If soemone who might otherwise be under the thrall of a musician can play and write the same stuff then perhaps in this imaginary and can't-really-exist world someone could hear a Ryan Adams song and say "That's not that hard.  I know a dozen people who can do that much."  

That's more what I'm trying to get at by way of demystifying music as an art.   We could talk endlessly about how genius is a social verdict and get into discussions about what forces and interests catalyze such verdicts.  We could do a lot of talking about demographic designations as to what or who is or isn't genius in what context and why.  We could try to argue that the cult of the genius is patriarchal but that might leave out other considerations.  

We live in an era that seems to have a residual Romantic commitment to the idea that genius is individual rather than collaborative even when we recognize genius that emerges from collaboration.  We can read endless gushing about Lennon and McCartney that stops well short of observing that the Beatles were a corporate product, and not just in the sense of being a collective of creativity greater than the sum of its parts.  Leonard B. Meyer pointed out that we had transitioned into an era in which art was developed by teams and committees.  Another way to put this is to say that we have lived in an era of popular song, full of songs that are often put together by teams but that are tethered in imagination to individuals or small groups.  We tend to evade the corporate aspect of the patronage system.  Sure, pop music could be against capitalism and so on, but here Adorno and Ellul had cold water to throw at us, reminding us that you ultimately can't separate the product from the production system by just insisting that it could be more.  I think an answer to this concern is to point out that repressive patronage systems have always been with us in the fine arts and that folk arts (not folk art in the post 19th century political activism version, but the traditions of countless never-professionals) could be an alternative to the high art systems.

Fortunately the boundaries between all these categories of musical life are a whole lot more permeable and unstable than journalists and academics tend to remember to say they are.  

I am not sure that music will get demystified in this way I'm imagining or that it can.  

on axioms and anti-axioms

You have to believe me when I say that it’s not my intent to carry on eviscerating children’s television. I’m only in my late-twenties but I fear my online persona at times comes across too curmudgeonly. Nevertheless, the vocals from my 2-year-old’s favorite Disney Junior show recently assaulted my eardrums…and my theology.

I’m no stranger to Sofia the First. My daughter’s incessant affection for Sofia and the chronicles of her adventures has resulted in my wife and I cycling through the four breezy seasons over a half-dozen times (each). And though I don’t know how much my little princess grasps of the show besides its fantastical colors and talking animals, sometimes the show’s affinity for morals through musical numbers reaches out and slaps me with lessons I’d never want her to remember. Such was the case when, upon my fourth viewing of an episode called “Minding the Manor,” I actually listened to the lyrics of its featured song, “It’s Up to You.”

Many a self-identified adult who maybe writes or speaks about adulting does not get around to engaging what is broadly known as children's entertainment and media until actually being a parent.  but when I write "children's entertainment" I don't necessarily mean animation because The Wind Rises isn't a movie for kids.  I don't necessarily mean The Powerpuff Girls, either.  

No, what I'm getting at is that there are a lot of writers who don't bother to engage with whatever it is they regard as kid stuff until they have kids whose interest in such designated kid stuff makes it impossible for them to not, eventually, by dint of sheer exposure, begin to think about what is in designated kid stuff.

" ... I actually listened to the lyrics of its featured song ... ."

That might sum it up right there.  It may come as some kind of revelation about what-our-culture-is-really-like to people who couldn't be bothered to pay attention to this stuff before parenthood that the messages that "we" give to kids seem pat and overly optimistic or triumphalist, even.  But it can very often be the luxury of having enough time to spare to watch that episode of, say, Blues Clues all five days in the week that the little one watches it, and though for that little one whose long-term memory functions are not yet developed that episode seems sparkling and new in some way each day the child watches it, "you" find yourself noting the repetition.  The things you do from love ... . 

Anyway, of all the faux lightning bolt realizations self-identified grown-ups have about kids' shows one of the most pedestrian ones is that kids shows have simple moralizing messages that are not really true about how the world really works.  That rank heresies can come with catchy and artful tunes is a point that could be brought up but it's probably implicit even in the article quoted above.  Still, there's a patness to regarding a song as an assault on the ears and on one's theology.  Surely there are many times where a song is merely an assault on one or the other rather than both at once.  Depending on one's confessional tendencies one may feel obliged to lambast the theology of the Wesleys despite the robustness of their hymnody traditions.  

But what sticks with me as I remember this piece and its introduction is that in a sense the methodology can be distilled into a paradigm, the bromide is met with the anti-bromide.  It is written that a proverb is useless in the mouth of a fool in the way that those with disabled legs are unable to walk with them, and perhaps it can be argued that part of wisdom is knowing when, how and even if a proverb is applicable.  

Now I'm not a parent but I am an uncle and I admit that I made a point of showing children programs their parents had pre-screening decision-making power over.  Fortunately what they wanted the kids to watch, what the kids in question wanted to watch, and what I wanted to watch very often coincided.  Spoiler alert, Batman: the animated series; Pixar films; the original Powerpuff Girls; and select Hayao Miyazaki films passed muster.  What might make my situation slightly different from the "usual" American adult is that I wanted to get into animation and comics when I was a child. I discovered, very quickly, I didn't have the eyes for doing a lot of that kind of work.  I mean, I could draw, do a bit of painting but mixing colors was challenging.  I was not so good at working with clay and merely passable at charcoal but I was interested in exploring visual media.  My artistic heroes growing up were Charles Schultz, and in my teens I added Rembrandt and Bill Watterson to the list of artists I admired.  The thing is, as I grew up I never assumed that what I enjoyed and respected in animation and comics had to be dropped as "kid stuff".  

I'm suggesting that many an American parent who all of a sudden discovers kids shows have objectionable messaging was so busy putting the "childish things" behind them they didn't stop to consider how potently they are shaped by these things.  The cult of Star Wars did not just emerge, it was cultivated across generations.  

Merely formulating an axiom against another axiom doesn't necessarily get at the cognitive and social processes through which axioms are formed.  Although I'm not sure I could call myself or that anyone would call me progressive, there is a sense in which I can appreciate that what some progressives try to do is argue that are processes of axiom formation are anchored to cultural norms that do not necessarily lend themselves to creating accurate axioms. 

Jewish wisdom literature might be more blunt and say there are fools who cumulatively create foolish cultures who endorse modes of foolishness as being wisdom.  Wisdom can entail recognizing the foolishness that is abject and displayed. Wisdom can entail recognizing that something that seems wise is, upon further examination, still foolish.  

Jewish wisdom literature, as I've come to appreciate it over the decades, shows a battle between an impulse to respect revelation and an impulse to provide axiomatic and literally proverbial wisdom about how to live in and with this world as we are thrown into it.  The older I get the more it seems that a lot of objections to ideals as stated in kids shows are a kind of Job's comforters theological objections, they are objections that can sound smart and look wise when presented in abstract terms but which may be strictly confined to generic observations.  I suppose another way to put this is to say that there's a type of Christian cultural criticism that boils everything down to the soteriological issue as if no other elements of life are up for consideration.  In a pop Lutheran form or in a Cavinist presuppositionalist idiom everything stands or falls on whether the soteriological paradigm perceived to be inherent in cultural artifact X is correct on confessional grounds.  

As a fan of Hayao Miyazaki's films I'm never going to be a pantehist but I can appreciate that there is an element of his pantheistic conviction I can appreciate even as a Calvinist, which is to say that however fractured or refracted the idea is, a pantheist can grasp in part an observation from Jewish and Christian writings that humanity bears the divine image.  What this means is difficult and sometimes mysterious, but what I'm saying is that if you don't insist on confining all discussion of things conventionally understood as being for kids in terms of a soteriological paradigm a chorus of "it's up to you" doesn't have to be some semi-Pelagian declaration, it could also be something more prosiac such as, "if you're the princess then all of these decisions are yours to make."  There are, even in what seem to be the most simple-minded programs made for kids, different levels of interpretation and meaning and relational dynamics between characters that can be explored.

I've spent decades enjoying animated shows and films, with and without children, and, of course, since childhood.  I don't see any reason to not engage with the art form as seriously as I would deal with the writings of Kafka or Dostoevsky or Robert Frost's poetry or the music of Haydn.  Thinking critically, so to speak, is something I like to try to do regardless of the brow of the art and without exemptions for the target demographic.  I can tell that the creators of Blues Clues thought a lot about cognitive development in children as part of how they structure their stories, why they repeated the same episode every day across a broadcast week, and what kinds of induction and deduction they were encouraging children to do.  If I wanted to be a pop Lutheran I could say that the song "You can be anything that you wanna be" is wrong ... but I also have better things to do with my time, too. 

In a way I guess I get that parents who stopped thinking about kids shows until they had kids just did something normal and average.  But at another level, I get the feeling that in many ways adult art has been made in reaction to what the perceived mistakes of childhood lore.  Maybe generations grew up with Tolkien and Lewis and decided that that wasn't very realistic.  Tolkien could depict battles of good and evil over who would have power but a Martin may conclude Tolkien failed to explore in fantasy the difficulties of wielding and keeping power and ... Game of Thrones.  But I wonder if that isn't, in the long run, an anti-axiom against an axiom, an anti-bromide against a bromide.  It's not clear to me that the anti-bromide arrives at wisdom by interrogating the weakness of the initial bromide, assuming the bromide has been clearly understood. 

Which very loosely and conceptually gets me to Ecclesiastes, which Martin Shields once described in his monograph on the wisdom book as a kind of battle in which the Preacher pits proverbs against proverbs to test the limits of what the proverbs can really teach us about the world we live in.  But having gone that far I feel like leaving it at that.  That's probably enough for this one post. 

a piece on the problem with Apple Music and classical music comes down to metadata

I was already thinking of writing about this topic (again) when this article came up at another blog I read as part of the Friday miscellanea
here it is

It's hardly the "only" problem or even the "big" problem with classical music but a lot of the troubles with digital music for classical music and streaming purposes in terms of being able to find what you want or recognize tracks when you see them has a lot to do with metadata.

Which is .... ?

Basically it's the information that comes up (or doesn't!) when you attempt to rip a CD on to iTunes that you just bought.  iTunes has gotten a lot better than Amazon metadata but that's another matter, in its way.

For a survey of writings on metadata as applicable to classical music .... here's a few randomly selected links.

Why is classical music so hard to enjoy on streaming services? In one word, it's metadata. Metadata is the information that coexists with every digital music file: each and every piece of information about a selection of music that a listener might find useful to know, and what makes the information in one file discernible from the next. In the case of classical music, relevant and important metadata includes the name of the piece of music, the composer, the album it's from, the performers, the label that released the recording and the year it was recorded.


But not everyone agrees that metadata is the ultimate problem.  There's a case to be made that one of the big problems in classical music where digital content is concerned could be solved by "make the covers bigger".

 In the past if you had an album with a dozen or more musicians who all got named on big old vinyl album covers in the 21st century the various artists are crammed, if named, ,into a digital reproduction of the album art that might, ,if you're fortunate, spring up in a display screen as an image anywhere between two to four times the size of a postage stamp.

Which is no problem if you're listening to the Rolling Stones or Kanye West.  If you're listening to the Sixteen with soloists X, Y and Z backed by Ensemble W performing something by Frank Martin, well, whatever.  You just have to know that already because odds are odd whether or not you'll get that kind of information on the basis of metadata.  

Metadata was, as best I can tell, designed to be a handy range of reference points for popular music and for popular song.  The industries that arrived at metadata to identify music did so on the basis of the musical styles and forms most likely to be sought out on the basis of such metadata, pop music, in a phrase.   So if you're looking up "Tears of a Clown" as performed by Smokey Robinson, you'll look it up on the basis of Robinson, for instance, or, since Stevie Wonder wrote so much of the song, you'd look it up on the basis of songs associated with Stevie Wonder.  But let's just pretend we're trying to look for this on the basis of things fans of classical music care about, you're not likely to find "Tears of the Clown" on the basis of the bassoonist who performed the wicked cool bassoon part on the song. :) Seriously, the most rock and roll bassoon solo in the history of 20th century song.  

There are other things besides metadata as to why classical music is as marginal as it is and at one level I don't mind that it isn't a booming musical field.  At another level I sort of mind a lot, but I've written about my conviction that what are colloquially described as art music and pop music have balkanized into camps that are full of pedagogues who don't commit to cross-breeding elsewhere.  

Monday, February 18, 2019

additional coverage and updates on the Harvest Bible Chapel/James MacDonald situation, with a comparison to the MH statement regarding Driscoll's three areas of weakness as a leader

The turning point for church leadership may have been the audio recordings broadcast on Erich “Mancow” Muller’s morning radio show on WLS-AM 890 in which MacDonald appears to disparage his critics.

Muller, once friends with MacDonald, said last week that MacDonald is “a carnival barker actor” who was running the church as “essentially a giant Ponzi scheme.”

In a January message to church members announcing he was temporarily stepping aside, MacDonald did not specify the “sin.” But Harvest leadership has been accused by a few vocal former members of financial mismanagement and dishonest operations.


Even though the former pastor’s contributions for growing the church will be remembered, said Sperling, “the elders concluded that there is a sinful pattern of inappropriate language, anger and domineering behavior.” [emphasis added]

It isn't that difficult to recall how and why that might resemble another church situation from just a few years ago.
Pastor Mark Driscoll's Resignation
By: Mars Hill Church
Posted: Oct 15, 2014

On Tuesday, October 14, Pastor Mark Driscoll submitted his resignation as an elder and lead pastor of Mars Hill Church. The Board of Overseers has accepted that resignation[emphasis added] and is moving forward with planning for pastoral transition, recognizing the challenge of such a task in a church that has only known one pastor since its founding. We ask for prayer for the journey ahead.

As is well known, inside and outside of Mars Hill, Pastor Mark has been on a leave of absence for nearly two months while a group of elders investigated a series of formal charges brought against him. This investigation had only recently been concluded,[emphasis added] following some 1,000 hours of research, interviewing more than 50 people and preparing 200 pages of information. This process was conducted in accordance with our church Bylaws and with Pastor Mark’s support and cooperation.

While a group of seven elders plus one member of the Board of Overseers was charged with conducting this investigation, the full Board of Overseers is charged with reaching any conclusions and issuing any findings. 
In that capacity, we believe it appropriate to publicly mention the following:
  1. We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry. [emphasis added]

Finally, Mark Driscoll was not asked to resign; indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter. [emphasis added]
It would seem that Driscoll and MacDonald ended up being described by their own respective boards at their respective churches as having similar character flaws.  These were not character flaws that precluded the men from being considered fit for ministry to begin with, obviously, but were character flaws that came to be seen as ... liabilities to the public reputation of a church as corporation?

It is worth remembering that MacDonald left the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability about the time Paul Tripp did.

Julie Roys article at WORLD mentions a 50k gift given by HBC/James MacDonald to Mark Driscoll to help launch of The Trinity Church, an overview of MacDonald's role in Mars Hill board leadership
Bob Langdon, the former financial director of HBF who also participated in the audit, confirmed Wisen’s account. He said some of the items HBF paid for appeared to benefit Harvest Bible Chapel much more than the fellowship. For example, Langdon said HBF paid $500,000 for a church management systems upgrade that included new hardware for Harvest’s main campus in Elgin.

HBF also paid about $570,000 that Langdon said his boss, former Harvest Chief Financial Officer Fred Adams, had allocated for “overhead” and discretionary expenses. (Adams resigned at the end of 2017 and did not respond to a request for comment.) Langdon said those expenses included a percentage of the salaries for certain top Harvest Bible Chapel executives and a $50,000 donation to pastor Mark Driscoll’s Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Driscoll, a longtime friend of MacDonald’s, resigned from the former Mars Hill Church in Seattle in 2014 amid charges of domineering leadership.) Langdon said that during the audit, Wisen and auditors repeatedly asked Harvest executives to give justification for various HBF allocations “and there really wasn’t one.” [emphases added]
MacDonald, for those who may remember that Mark Driscoll had a book out last year, endorsed Mark Driscoll's Spirit-Filled Jesus by way of a blurb at the front of the book.

Driscoll, who is hosting a church governance conference, used to have MacDonald, for a time, on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability.  In light of the recent statements from Harvest Bible Chapel about their former preacher it has begun to seem as though the two men Driscoll and MacDonald have been described by their own former leadership boards as having similar vices.  The descriptions, however, are still rather general.  The future of HBC is in transition. 

Whether or not it survives remains to be seen.  Maybe it will.  Most of the former Mars Hill campuses survived, with a few notable exceptiosn that folded before Mars Hill was dissolved and the recently folded former Mars Hill Portland.  HBC may weather the storm ... but a sermon on David dealing with Amalekites doesn't seem like it might be the most apt sermon text in light of what has taken place.  Then again, there's a long and not necessarily venerable tradition of preachers transforming sermons on narrative literature from the Old Testament into talking points about recent church politics.  Who at Mars Hill during the 2007 period could  entirely forget the Nehemiah sermons? 

We'll get back to other topics that are more musical in some time but the events of late in the realm of megachurches have enough ties to the former MH it seems necessary to note some of the recent events.

Door of Hope site updated with Tim Smith listed among staff and elders

It took a while, but Door of Hope now lists Tim Smith as among their staff and elders, per earlier announcement.

Tim Smith
timsmith  @  doorofhopepdx.   org