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I’ve been working on a novel and it occurred to me that if would be really useful plot wise if one of the characters had a tattoo. However, I really can’t relate to them. A couple of years ago I read a quip that said, “I’m a rebel – I have no tattoos,” which is about how it feels these days. Interestingly, I’ve never even dated a man with tattoos. My ex-husband got a tattoo after I left him. Weirdly, it had a vague relation to me. Why anyone would want to get a tattoo to remind them of the ex-wife is an interesting concept to think over. Maybe it was like the movie Memento: Avoid women like this!

So I was poking around on the internet doing various searches related to tattoos, trying different combinations of words because I wasn’t just trying to look up images of cool tattoos but trying to understand why my particular character might have a tattoo, etc. Anyway, I saw the title “Capitalist Alienation Made Me Hang From Hooks,” which was really a funny title, so I clicked. I might discuss it if I have time – or maybe not.

Another really fascinating article I read this morning was in the Atlantic Monthly. I really would like to discuss this when I get a chance, especially since the subject of contemporary slavery came up a couple of weeks ago. It’s a story about a family from the Philippines who move to the United States bring with them a servant who is essentially a slave. The journalist who wrote it was writing about his own family. It’s a compelling story and very well written. I would really be curious to know what anyone else thinks of it.

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So, what am I thinking about today? Halloween!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that my favorite holiday is Halloween. In my teens and twenties, I was something of a flamboyant dresser. Everyday was Halloween. When did I get so respectable?

The village Halloween parade finally announced their theme. This year, it’s reverie – which pretty much leaves it wide open. Of course there’s no reason that you have to dress according to the theme. For me, it’s just a starting off point to try to think of something inventive. I have a few different ideas kicking around in my head. I haven’t quite decided what to do yet, but I’m starting to narrow it down.

As it happens, I was looking to make some molds for another project.

As an aside: If you didn’t know. I love projects. The messier the better. The only thing that gets in my way is living in a small Manhattan apartment. Even then, I usually just go ahead and make a big mess all over my coffee table. I want to live in another dimension in which my apartment is a small, modern, sleek thing, but inside it, somehow, there is a big garage or basement with a slop sink, a work bench, all sorts of tools for when I’m feeling macho. It’s kind of like my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By day, or rather by weekday evening, I’m a nice, respectable, mild-mannered, sophisticated urban woman. Weekends, I want to retreat to my man cave.

Where the hell did that “man cave” thing come from anyway? Why don’t we have woman caves? (Besides the obvious joke that we carry one with us. But it’s too small for power tools!) How did a “room of her own” become a “room of his own?” Many of the companies from which I’ve bought my supplies tend to have projects for “man caves.” It sort of irritates me a little. I really hate the fact that so many people think that because I was born with a vagina I’m supposed to have a very definite set of likes and dislikes. Lately, as in the past few years, the damned thing has seen remarkably little use anyway. And not for lack of trying. That guy I gave my phone number to never called. I’ve given up trying online dating, although I toy with the idea once every couple of months. The truth is, I’m too old for men to want to have anything to do with. Guys a few years older than I am drop not so subtle hints that they would like someone even younger. Worse yet, if they can’t get someone younger, they’d rather masturbate to pictures than sleep with someone near their own age.

Eh, I don’t want to go there. It’s all a bunch of whining and it never changes. I could put up the same damned post about my sexual frustrations at least once a month. My last few attempts were such humiliating failures, I’m not sure I want to try again unless a man seems genuinely interested. I thought about writing about my last several attempts at sex. I had a pretty good sex life when I was younger. My recent experiences, however, were awful. I found myself asking, has something in the culture changed or have I reached a different stage of life and now people behave differently? They were awful in weird ways. As I said before, they were oddly humiliating. That’s sort of a new experience for me and to have that happen three times in a row with three different men is odd. Actually, since then there has been some fairly routine sex that was okay. So, I guess I should count that. Of course, to explain the bad sex and what happened would involve a pretty extreme level of self-exposure. I’m not sure anyone really wants to hear it.

Then maybe it was just bad luck. We all have a bad streak now and again, don’t we?

It was easier when I was young and attractive. It probably shouldn’t be that way, but when you know you’re the sort of woman men want you can behave with a certain level of confidence. Also, men treat you with respect. You’re a valuable commodity. They’re afraid to blow it. When you’re older and commensurately less attractive, men take you for granted. The don’t really care if you walk away. What makes it so annoying is that they’ll still go out on a date with you, but they won’t treat you well. They’ll be very critical. And sex is suddenly all about their needs. Suck their cock and leave. Or worse yet, take it up the ass. So, what’s in it for me? Where’s my pleasure?

You’d think something or someone triggered that outburst, but not really. This goes through my head on a regular basis. I just keep it to myself because to whine about the same thing over and over is just boring.

How did we get from Halloween to here? Oh, right, projects.

I used to feel like I could make my own way in life. Be my own person. Define myself the way I want to be defined. Now, everything is identity, identity, identity. But they don’t mean identity and any sense of the word as I used to understand it. Identity is just a code word for the little box they want to shove you in. It’s the ultimate result of commodification of everything. We’ve let the way advertisers and marketers view the world seep into the way we see ourselves.

So, I don’t like being forced to do things that are defined as women’s things because of my genitalia. Does that mean that I’m not “cis-gendered?” I don’t think so. When I read that Facebook had a huge number of gender options, my first reaction was to think that was good. Then I thought about it more. There are a few options that might describe me more accurately than cisgender woman, androgynous, bigender, gender fluid. (Gender questioning might fit, but it reminds me too much of the “bi-curious” thing which has always irritated the hell out of me. That’s a rant for another day, I suppose. But it’s probably outdated these days anyway.) You know, I don’t want a damned flag. I want a life. All the options might make it seem as if our perceptions are being refined, and maybe that’s good, but there’s a down side. (If you haven’t gotten used to the fact that I don’t see the world in black and white… I don’t have a conclusion for that if. I guess you’ll be disappointed.) When we only had two big boxes, male and female, it meant non-conformists (gender non-conforming and otherwise) had to slip out of the boxes. We found ourselves in a great big territory with no maps and no markings. We defined ourselves however we wanted to be defined. Now, the “straights,” for lack of a better term,” have just made better boxes. I don’t feel like any of those terms actually improve my life. I don’t want to be trapped in a ready-made identity, confined in a thing like an iron maiden. I don’t need or want other people to validate me. I can validate myself. My identity is who I am inside and it’s okay if you don’t have a word for it. I don’t need a name, or a flag.

We need to make lives that we want to live everyday as a subject, and how we portray that to other people as an object is a consequence. All these words put that order in reverse.

A couple of weeks ago, I started with the idea of writing down whatever comes into my head for about an hour each day in order to improve my fluency with writing. I’ve let it drop a bit since my trip to New Jersey, so now I’m going to try to pick it back up.

This has coincided with several other similar efforts. I am also cleaning the apartment for one hour each day. That includes laundry and dishes. I’ve fallen behind… Actually, can you even say that you’ve fallen behind when that is your permanent state. Anyway, my place is a mess and the idea of cleaning it all in one fell swoop is overwhelming, so I’ve been doing it bit by bit, one hour every day. I’ve been more dutiful in that regard than I have been with the writing. Still, sometimes at forty-five minutes I find my attention wavering. Housecleaning is so difficult. I think it has the wrong level of mental engagement for my taste. Too engaging for your mind to totally wander without affecting your ability to clean well, but not absorbing enough for the time to pass without noticing. I find that I keep checking the clock. “Am I done yet?” “Am I done yet?”

The other thing I’ve been doing, and pardon me if I’ve already mentioned it, is programming for one hour a day. I realized that I hadn’t done any programming in a while. I wanted to make a little tool to make my sister’s life easier, and it was like pulling teeth. I’d become terribly rusty. So, I decided that I would program for at least one hour a day. This has, of course, just the opposite problem as the housecleaning. I find it very absorbing and I usually do it for as long as I can, meaning until my eyes are crossing and I need to go to bed. I’m still terribly rusty, however. Far from improving my skills, I’m reclaiming skills I lost.

I’ve set myself about the little task of make a half a dozen games. These are casual games, and they’re basically copies of things I’ve seen elsewhere. If I get any brilliant ideas, I’ll be glad to do them, but right now the point isn’t to come up with a clever game so much as it is to start programming again. So far, I’ve made two little ones, a memory game… and something else I am forgetting. Oh, yes, a code breaking game.

So, now I’m working on little game number three. It seemed just as simple as the other two games… actually, I realized it was slightly more difficult, but, still, it’s not a difficult game. I should be able to knock it out in a couple of days. Well, needless to say, that has not been the case. What’s bothering me though is not the time it’s taking. What I’ve done is really ugly.

First of all, I cobbled together something that I thought would work. It was really good practice. I haven’t had to do a traversal of a graph in a long time. It’s one of those things you think you know, then you try typing it out. You look at what you’ve typed and say to yourself, “What’s to prevent me from revisiting that node a million times.”

“Well, nothing.”

“Okay, let’s think this through again.”

I know people have solved these problems before and I can just look at a reference, but I find that I remember it better if I try to hammer it out myself first.

So, I did that, and I was happy enough with it. I did look at other people’s work. There’s a happy medium between trying to work it out yourself so that you understand and not reinventing the wheel.

The next stage was to cobble together some sort of GUI (Graphical User Interface) to see if it worked. I believe most of my readers don’t program, so let me say that I was doing it according to a pattern called “Model-View-Controller.” The “view”, in this case is the GUI, which allows the user to interact with the program. What I had done thus far was mostly the model. Now, you know that parts of it aren’t going to work, but you assume some, hopefully most, of it will work. Unfortunately, nothing was displaying at all. I was having a hard time finding, in everything I’d already written, where the problem was.

So, I did an absurdly simple version. Since then, I’ve been adding pieces back into it. Now, it is all messy and ugly. I add a bit of the functionality back, and then I need to be able to show it to the user. Then I add something onto the GUI. I have a whole bunch of nested “if… else” statements. I’m not done, but the part I’ve done is working as expected. I guess I can try to clean it up and make it more elegant afterwards. Still, I feel slightly dissatisfied. I’m not sure I’d want to show anyone the source code as it is. It’s about as messy as my apartment. Somehow, that seems fitting.

Beyond one hour cleaning and one hour writing, there are other things in my life I’d like to improve. I think I should add one hour exercising and an hour playing the piano. That’s five hours already and I haven’t even done any work yet! I want more hours in my day. Life is not fair, is it?

Maybe that’s why I don’t like to go to bed. Sometimes I joke that I’m on a thirty hour a day schedule. Unfortunately, that’s not really a joke. My sleep schedule slowly shifts. Each day, I go to bed a little later and each day I wake up a little later. The worst days are when my schedule is completely backward from the rest of the world. It’s no problem at all as long as I have no appointments, but if I have to interact with the rest of the world during this time period I can get a little stressed out.

Last week, we went to go see Mark Morris’ dance company and a couple of days before I started making an effort to get my sleep schedule set so I’d be wide awake between seven-thirty in the evening and ten o’clock. I didn’t entirely succeed. Normally, I like Mark Morris a lot. They were performing three new dances all set to the music of Mozart. It started seeming repetitive sometime during the third dance and I struggled to pay attention.

I was hoping to get my sister to do a dance review as a guest post, but I guess that’s not going to happen.

Do any of you have favorite, living, choreographers?

Yesterday, I brought up the subject of social class. One interesting thing about the internet is that when you have people reading what you write in other parts of the world, it makes you stop and define what you are saying a little bit more precisely sometimes.

Many societies have had hierarchies. In Europe in the Middle Ages there were Royalty, Hereditary Nobility, Non-Hereditary Nobility, Freemen and Serfs. Social class was baked into the laws. The word privilege comes from the Latin word privilegium, meaning a law pertaining to an individual that gives some advantage. In the Middle Ages, privileges were laws that applied to a particular strata of society, variously called ranks or estates. Sumptuary laws decreed that people couldn’t wear articles of clothing above their station. People in the lower classes could not own land. Some groups were exempted from some taxes. Different groups were allowed or disallowed roles in governing, and so on. It was not directly related to wealth. Some peasants could become quite wealthy.

With the rise of cities, a new class began to emerge, the bourgeoisie.

In the 17th and 18th cent., the bourgeoisie supported principles of constitutionality and natural right, against the claims of divine right and against the privileges held by nobles and prelates. The English, American, and French revolutions derived partly from the desire of the bourgeoisie to rid itself of feudal trammels and royal encroachments on personal liberty and on the rights of trade and property. In the 19th cent., the bourgeoisie, triumphantly propounding liberalism, gained political rights as well as religious and civil liberties. Thus modern Western society, in its political and also in its cultural aspects, owes much to bourgeois activities and philosophy.

A bit of free association… Boy, do I ever love Ingres!

So, to some extent, today’s social classes in Europe and her legacy cultures outside of Europe proper are derived from those older European ranks.

Most famously, Karl Marx took a look at that history and derived his notions about history and class struggle, which I won’t go into here because other people have explained it so much better than I could in a short paragraph.

I’m brought back to the book I mentioned the other day, The Revolt of the Elites by Christopher Lasch. Lasch points out that nineteenth century perceptions of social stratification were not the same as we have today. Robert Rantoul was a lawyer and politician who lived from 1805 to 1852.

Robert Rantoul thought he was stating the obvious when he told an audience of working men that “society, as you very well know, is divided into two classes – those who do something for their living, and those who do not.” These terms, staples of nineteenth-century political discourse, did not necessarily refer to the privileged classes at the top of the social scale and the hardworking but impoverished masses at the bottom. The class of “idlers” included vagabonds and beggars as well as bankers and speculators, while the category of productive workers, as Rantoul defined it, was broad enough to include not only those who worked with their hands but anyone who “superintends the employment of capital which diligence and prudence have enable him to acquire.” In the language of nineteenth -century producerism, “labor” and “capital” did not mean what they mean to us. The term “capitalist” was reserved for those who, producing nothing, lived off speculative profits, while the “laboring class,” as a Democratic party broadside explained, referred to “the producers of wealth; the yeomanry who till the soil; mechanics, manufacturers, operatives, traders, whose labor sustains the state.” Whigs no less than Jacksonian Democrats took an expansive view of the “working classes,” defined by Levi Lincoln as the “practical agriculturist and husbandman, the manufacturer, and the mechanic.” Rufus Choate considered it appropriate to speak of the “laborious, trading, and business portions of the community” in the same breath. Daniel Webster claimed that “nine tenths of the whole people belong to the laborious, industrious, and productive classes.” They typically owned a little capital, he said, but no so much “as to render them independent without personal labor.” Those who “combine capital with their labor” were referred to interchangeably as working-class and middle-class.

Levi Lincoln, Rufus Choate and Daniel Webster were all politicians during the first half of the nineteenth century. There were two Levi Lincolns, father and son. I’m not sure which one Lasch has in mind.

In Lasch’s book, it is the upper middle class that is highly criticized.

The upper middle class, the heart of the new professional and managerial elites, is defined, apart from its rapidly rising income, not so much by its ideology as by a way of life that distinguishes it, more and more unmistakably, from the rest of the population.

Since this discussion of class was started with yesterday’s post about Aaron M. Renn’s essay about J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy, it is worth noting here that the upper middle class is the one to which Vance migrated.

Class is a difficult subject to pin down and people disagree quite a bit about how many classes there are and who belongs to which, but I’m going to have to leave it here for today.

To coffee or not to coffee? That’s always the question when I wake up at an odd hour and I look at the clock and I’ve had less than my usual amount of sleep. Do I resign myself to being awake for the day and get myself some coffee, or do I hope that I will fall back asleep soon. I woke up about an hour ago. I managed to fall back to sleep for about forty-five minutes, so I guess it’s coffee now.

There was an interesting article on the City Journal website the other day. I like reading the City Journal because it’s one of the few outlets truly interested in making life in the cities work well that leans towards being conservative. It’s not healthy that much of the interest in our cities comes only from the left. When that happens, assumptions can calcify into truisms and approaches that have failed to work continue to be repeated. So, even when I disagree with it, I find the City Journal to be a breath of fresh air. It’s also healthy for conservatism because the people writing for it take seriously issues and populations that conservatives often dismiss.

So the article in mind is “Culture, Circumstance and Agency: Reflections on Hillbilly Elegy” by Aaron M. Renn. It touches on several of the themes that often swirl around in my head regularly.

I hesitated to read the article because I thought it was going to be another empathy challenged, morally superior strutting self-aggrandizement like David French’s defense of Kevin Williamson. In fact, I was quite wrong.

Hillbilly Elegy, the book Renn reviews, is a memoir. The New York Times calls it “a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass.” The Times continues:

“Hillbilly Elegy,” in my mind, divides into two components: the family stories Mr. Vance tells — most of which are no doubt better experienced on the page than they were in real life — and the questions he raises. Chief among them: How much should he hold his hillbilly kin responsible for their own misfortunes?

In Mr. Vance’s estimation, the answer is: a lot. Economic insecurity, he’s convinced, accounts for only a small part of his community’s problems; the much larger issue is hillbilly culture itself.

Renn makes more than a few excellent points in the discussion, or at least I like them because they echo thoughts I’ve had. Often, when I ramble about these subjects to my mother, she asks me where I get my ideas and if anyone else has them. That always leads me to feel as if there is something perhaps a bit wrong with my thoughts. If I’m the only one who’s seeing something, I’m either extremely insightful or terribly wrong. So, it’s always with a bit of a relief that I find echos of my own thoughts elsewhere.

The Times’ review describes the author of the memoir, J. D. Vance, as a conservative. Renn writes:

He comes down firmly on the side of individual agency and the ability of people to overcome obstacles through hard work and adopting the cultural habits of successful groups.

Hillbillies are descended from the Scottish/Northern English. The best description of the origins of this cultural group was written by David Hackett Fischer in his highly influential book Albion’s Seed. The former senator Jim Webb, who ran for the Democratic nomination during these last primaries, has written about this group as well. They moved to the mountainous region of Appalachia and formed a distinct subculture within the United States. They have generally been despised by the larger culture, exemplified by the movie Deliverance.

Vance grew up in a horribly dysfunctional family. Regrading his maternal grandparents, Renn summarizes:

They were poor money managers, with Papaw buying new cars on impulse. He was also a violent drunkard. Mamaw, with her own reputation for violence, once threatened to kill him if he ever came home drunk again, and, after he promptly transgressed, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire….

His mother, if it can be believed, was even more dysfunctional;

He told conservative writer Rod Dreher that his mother had 15 husbands and boyfriends. None of his many brothers and sisters was full-blooded. Indeed, Vance’s family relationships boggle the mind…

He did not know how many siblings he had or how to count them since many were half-siblings and step-siblings. Making matters worse, his mother is a drug addict.

He then applies to and is accepted at Yale Law School, where the cultural gulf between his hillbilly upbringing and the American elite first comes into full relief. He discovers the role that social capital, mentors, and connections play in success.

Renn takes a look the appeal of the book:

Another aspect of the book that appeals to non-Trumpian conservatives is also what powerfully attracts it to the Left: its placing of the locus of responsibility for white working-class malaise in its own culture. Intellectuals on the left and right have been aghast at support for Trump from the white working class. Vance tells them what they want to hear: that the travails of this class stem in large part from their dysfunctional and self-destructive culture. Vance acknowledges that the white working class faces legitimate hurdles, such as the decline of union manufacturing jobs, an analysis that resonates with the Left. But ultimately he sees this demographic’s failure to overcome obstacles… as stemming from personal and cultural flaws, notably a lack of a sense of agency….

….

Rather than seeing the working class as victims of, say, current economic policies, which would require addressing underlying structural inequities, Vance says that these people are in large part the authors of their own demise. Their predicament thus requires no fundamental change of course economically—a great relief to those prospering under the current regime. This flattering of audience sensibilities, combined with Vance’s immensely compelling life story, helps explain why Hillbilly Elegy has received so much praise and so little substantive criticism, despite some limitations.

I mentioned that Renn echoes thoughts I’ve had myself. One of these is the way arguments about cultural dysfunction take one segment of society and make it stand in for many other segments. U.S. society gets divided into two groups, one symbolized by the uppermost level of the upper middle class, and the other by the lowest end of the Appalachian working class, or, in other versions, ghettos.*

Renn points out that he had a very different working class experience growing up.

Vance’s culture has no living memory of anything else, so it’s natural for him to see the culture of his people as overwhelmingly influential in their fate. But this is not the case for the majority of the white working class. For example, sociologist Robert Putnam had a different experience in his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio. The Port Clinton of his 1950s upbringing, as related in his book Our Kids, certainly had its share of working class poverty, but it was socially intact and functional—a world away from that experienced by Vance’s family.

I grew up in white, working-class, rural Southern Indiana during the 1970s and 1980s. While it had some Appalachian cultural influence, its demographic and social conditions were different. German was the dominant ethnic background of the area. My family is of mostly German Catholic stock, with one Sicilian grandfather added to the mix. … I was a classic case of “poor but didn’t know it.” There was certainly a lot of poverty around. Yet I, too, recall a functional and socially intact, if hardly idyllic, community.

Sometimes, our wealthy feel like it’s a good idea for their children to see “how the other half lives.” They encourage them to go to an impoverished area and do some volunteer work. This is usually lauded as a good thing. However, it’s often occurred to me that it can give the rich children who will become the majority of our ruling class a mistaken impression of our society being made up of two types. I think, to get a better idea of how society really works, they would do well to embed themselves in a struggling lower middle class community.

Renn goes on the note that many of the social ills that plagued Vance’s childhood have crept into the more functional working class communities as well.

Today, however, both Putnam’s Port Clinton and my Southern Indiana are a lot more like Vance’s Appalachian world than Putnam or I would have believed possible, even after allowing for nostalgia. We face a different question from the ones that confront Vance. We must ask what changed in only a generation or two to damage communities that once did broadly sustain healthy working-class marriages, families, and community life. It’s harder to blame culture entirely here when that same culture was producing respectable if unglamorous success as recently as 30 years ago.

This is an excellent point and I’m so glad that Renn brought it up. He mentions drugs as one factor, although I am tempted to as if that is a symptom or a cause since mind altering substances have always existed. Renn said he never had to face the dangers of drugs growing up, but he’s a few years younger than I was and I recall drugs as having been rampant during my adolescence. Statics have shown that my age cohort have had among the highest reported consumption of drugs. Of course my age cohorts are the dysfunction parents of the last couple of decades, so I wouldn’t dismiss a relationship out of hand.

Renn calls on the right to face unpleasant truths about the changing economy.

“Creative destruction” is not so great when you’re on the receiving end of the destruction, and when it’s human lives rather than widgets or corporate profits at stake.

He then suggest that the left needs to acknowledge that the sexual revolution has been a disaster for the working class. I’m running out of time, so I’m going to put a quote here that I might want to deal with another day:

No-fault divorce and the diminishment of the stigmas attached to casual sex and single or divorced motherhood have been a liberating dream—or at least a manageable reality—for educated urbanites. But these changes have been a nightmare for the children growing up in a white working-class world, where broken homes and a string of romantic and sexual partners for Mom is the new normal. “Of all the things that I hated about my childhood,” Vance writes, “nothing compared to the revolving door of father figures.”

This is an important subject, but I don’t think it needs much more time than I have today. I both agree and disagree. Or I agree with the statement that this has been a problem for the working class, but the conservative response, that we just reimpose our former values, strikes me as wishful thinking.

Then Renn tackles a subject that I would really like to touch on, Vance’s innate abilities.

Vance also lacks self-awareness in some areas, especially in his rejection of the idea that talent—that is to say, good fortune—played a major role in his success. He instead attributes it to the character and work ethic he developed in the Marines, and explicitly rejects innate talent as a factor. “Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I’m some sort of genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today,” he writes. “With all due respect to those people, I think that theory is a load of bullshit.”

But undoubtedly Vance won the genetic lottery for IQ. He got into Yale Law School. Based on the LSAT scores needed for admission there, his IQ is likely north of 140—probably genius-level. No wonder he didn’t think that the people there were any smarter than he was. No amount of hard work can substitute for this. Untold numbers of people have worked extraordinarily hard and yet failed to gain admission to the Ivy League.

As someone who won the “genetic lottery” myself, let me say that Renn is entirely on the mark here. Renn acknowledges the value of hard work and I do too. However, I’ve seen people with less aptitude struggle. I recall helping less intelligent friends with their school work in high school. In fact, they often worked harder than I did. To be successful academically, you need both hard work and intelligence. To parlay that into a successful career requires other things as well. Renn aptly points out why this error (and it’s too bad that this is winding up at the bottom of a long post because it was my real interest):

Thus, Vance falls into the trap of too many of today’s winners in a “meritocratic” (his term) system: he believes, in effect, that he morally merits his outsize success because he earned it through hard work. This is the flip side of his cultural condemnation. He understands that he benefitted from encouragement from Mamaw and others, which many kids in his milieu don’t receive: “Whatever talents I have, I almost squandered until a handful of loving people rescued me.” But he fails to recognize the role that unearned merit, in the form of those talent endowments, played in his success. This position is deeply unfair to the half of the population with below-average intelligence—tens of millions of them with significantly below-average intelligence—in a knowledge economy that greatly privileges brainpower over brawn. Someone born into a poor, chaotic community with an IQ below 100 can’t just solve his problems by bootstrapping himself into Yale, not even after a tour in the Marines.

I want to highlight the phrase “morally merits.” The following is another important point:

The larger problems come less from the book itself than from the way in which educated readers have seized on it to confirm their own negative impressions of the white working class—and, by extension, to flatter the superiority of their own cultural values and their sense of moral entitlement to the success they enjoy.

Again, “moral entitlement.”

Finally, there is the question of agency:

The poor and working class do face challenging, sometimes horrific circumstances. They also have agency in choosing how to respond. Too often, their culture produces bad responses, even when the opportunity exists to choose otherwise. This culture itself may be an inheritance that individuals did not choose. But people can have disabilities for which they are not to blame. That doesn’t change their real-world effect. Unless both the external circumstances and the culture of the working class, of all races, are ameliorated, broad-based change is unlikely.

Well, I’m out of time and I’ve barely scratched the surface, only highlighting the parts of Renn’s article that interested me without having much of a chance to respond or elaborate my own ideas.

The same themes keep arising in my head. I wish I could build them up into a more coherent statement.

*I just wanted to add a quick comment. I should have said “Appalachian underclass,” not “working class.” Our fixation on the exotic habits of the underclass allows us to turn a blind eye to the real struggles of the working class.

Now that I’m back online, I need to get back into my habit of writing.

Even before my little break, my stats on this site were in the basement, leading me to believe that “Free Association” is not the best title for a post. I guess that makes sense. I write about so many different things people might very well look a the title before deciding if it’s something that interests them. I’m never sure how I feel about “stats,” though. This blog is just a hobby. I think we’re all vaguely aware (meaning people with a blog) that if we shade our writing a little this way or a little that way we might have more readers. However, I started this blog for myself. It’s interesting to think how it would be different if I was hoping somehow to segue into a writing career. Would I look at my most popular posts and try to write more like that?

I’m surprised, in retrospect, that I haven’t written about sex more. Believe it or not, I have a lot to say on that subject!

Politics. Right now, I feel like I just want to keep my head down until everything blows over. Still, I’m not worried about the election itself so much as I’m terribly worried about the aftermath.

I mentioned a few months ago an article by David Frum explaining why Donal Trump had gained traction. Of course, for even trying to understand he was accused of supporting Trump and in his subsequent articles he’s stopped even trying to understand, or at least trying to explain that understanding to other Republicans who clearly don’t want to listen.

I sometimes think that I have a strange view of politics because I have a strange view of human nature. Now, I call my view “strange” not because I think it’s wrong, just because I don’t see it reflected in the usual discussions about politics and society.

It is often said that political theories are based on notions of human nature. The simplistic way of putting it is that the left thinks human beings are inherently good and the right thinks human beings are inherently bad. Off the top of my head, that sounds like it corresponds to different notions of child rearing, one that thinks children need encouragement to explore and do what they want and another that thinks children need discipline and instruction. I think most people in fact fall in the middle. Phrasing it that way makes it seem as if the two points of view are mutually exclusive, and for some people they are. However, when I look at reality, most people are, as I said, in the middle. Kids need discipline and instruction sometimes and need encouragement to explore at other times. Different children might need them in different degrees. One might be tempted at that point to say that the center is “non-ideological,” however I don’t think that’s true.

Ideologies are useful because we are constantly confronted with situations in which we cannot know from past experience what will be the best path to take. When confronted with a new situation, we take what we know of the world and, from that, try to extrapolate what the best course of action will be. To do that, we try to determine what our options are and make an educated guess about what outcome each option might yield. That educated guess is based on how we think the world works, in short, on our ideology. For instance, people on the religious right who say that allowing marriages to be contracted between people of the same sex will lead to bestiality really believe that a belief in a deity with consequences in the afterlife is necessary for people to behave in what they consider a moral manner.

Giving that as an example, it is easy to see the divide that I described a minute ago as “simplistic.” The compliment on the left to the religious right point of view is that expanding the definition of marriage won’t lead to other, unpalatable, expansions. Why do they think that? Because not enough people are immoral enough to want bestiality to be legal. It hinges on the notion that people are, at least mostly, good.

I have a problem with both these positions largely because I don’t believe that an objective morality exists. That might on the surface look as if I am embracing moral relativism, but I am not. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.  It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values; the denial that there are universal moral values shared by every human society; and the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own.

The very short summary gives two reasons for moral relativism:

A common, albeit negative, reason for embracing moral relativism is simply the perceived untenability of moral objectivism: every attempt to establish a single, objectively valid and universally binding set of moral principles runs up against formidable objections.  A more positive argument sometimes advanced in defense of moral relativism is that it promotes tolerance since it encourages us to understand other cultures on their own terms.

I tend to agree with the first position, that it thus far has proved impossible to “establish a single, objectively valid and universally binding set of moral principles.” The second part, regarding tolerance is something I don’t especially agree with. I don’t agree that “tolerance” is a virtue in and of itself without reference to a particular situation. Secondly, it would imply that “tolerance” itself is a universal value. I’m not sure who the “us” is in the phrase “it encourages us.”

The summary of the critics of moral relativism is as follows:

Critics claim that relativists typically exaggerate the degree of diversity among cultures since superficial differences often mask underlying shared agreements.  In fact, some say that  there is a core set of universal values that any human culture must endorse if it is to flourish.  Moral relativists are also accused of inconsistently claiming that there are no universal moral norms while appealing to a principle of tolerance as a universal norm.  In the eyes of many critics, though, the most serious objection to moral relativism is that it implies the pernicious consequence that “anything goes”: slavery is just according to the norms of a slave society; sexist practices are right according to the values of a sexist culture. Without some sort of non-relative standard to appeal to, the critics argue, we have no basis for critical moral appraisals of our own culture’s conventions, or for judging one society to be better than another.  Naturally, most moral relativists typically reject the assumption that such judgments require a non-relativistic foundation.

Regarding the criticisms (as summarized here): I am insufficiently familiar with anthropology to know if the first statement it true, if the differences among cultures truly are substantial or not. I tend to agree quite a bit with the second statement and, if I get into this subject again, I will develop this idea further. I’ve already mentioned the third. The last part, however, is something I disagree with substantially. In short, I reject some aspects of both moral relativism and moral objectivism.

Now, here we are at one hour later, so I will happily stop. This is something I tend to mull over a lot in my head while going about other things, so I will probably come back to it again.

Well, here I am on day two of my experiment in which I write whatever comes into my head and, inconveniently, my mind appears to be a total blank.

I just finished reading Peggy Noonan’s column in today’s Wall Street Journal. Despite living an places where the Journal is widely read, I’ve never been a regular reader. However, Real Clear Politics sometimes puts up links to articles there. Her subject today is very evident from the title, “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen.” Not a bad article, but it’s one in what is becoming a trend. That it took our scribbling elites as long as it has to state the obvious is notable failure of our supposed meritocracy. Still, now that our scribblers are on the case, let’s hope that our meritocrats in government and other positions heed their call.

All of this murmuring has put me in mind of a book I read long ago by Christopher Lasch. Today, when so many of our scribblers seem to be singing from, if not the same hymnal, then the same two or three hymnals, I am even more appreciative of people who defy easy categorization like Lasch. According to Wikipedia:

In the 1960s, he was a neo-Marxist and acerbic critic of Cold War liberalism. During the 1970s, he began to become a far more iconoclastic figure, fusing cultural conservatism with a Marxian critique of capitalism, and drawing on Freud-influenced critical theory to diagnose the ongoing deterioration that he perceived in American culture and politics. His writings during this period led him to be denounced by feminists and hailed by conservatives for his apparent defense of the traditional family.

Also:

Lasch’s earliest argument.. was that American radicalism had at some point in the past become socially untenable. Members of “the Left” had abandoned their former commitments to economic justice and suspicion of power, to assume professionalized roles and to support commoditized lifestyles which hollowed out communities’ self-sustaining ethics. His first major book, The New Radicalism in America: The Intellectual as a Social Type… expressed those ideas in the form of a bracing critique of twentieth-century liberalism’s efforts to accrue power and restructure society, while failing to follow up on the promise of the New Deal. Most of his books, even the more strictly historical ones, include such sharp criticism of the priorities of alleged “radicals” who represented merely extreme formations of a rapacious capitalist ethos.

The book of his that I have in mind is one that is not seen as one of his best and has been essentially forgotten. It is called The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy. Written in 1995, I nearly threw it out during my last move. It had intrigued me at the time, but in my memory subsequent events had seemed to have proved Lasch’s thesis wrong. Before tossing it, however, I decided to take another look and wound up rereading the whole thing. Looking back, it seems that the brief prosperity of the mid to late nineties simply put the social tendencies he observed on hold.

The title is an obvious nod to Ortega y Gasset.

I may need to reread Lasch yet again. In the introductory chapter, he writes,

In The True and Only Heaven, I tried to recover a tradition of democratic thought – call it populist, for lack of a better term – that has fallen into disuse.

For a number of years now, I’ve been arguing in private to friends that we need to develop a sort of liberal populism. Perhaps there was a subconscious influence from Lasch in that thought. Suddenly, however, we find ourselves in a political moment when the word “populism” is on the lips of our most elite scribblers, almost always as something to be feared and avoided at all costs.

Noonan, in her column writes:

From what I’ve seen of those in power throughout business and politics now, the people of your country are not your countrymen, they’re aliens whose bizarre emotions you must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage.

This puts me in mind of an article a read a couple of days ago on the National Interest, “Why Are Elites Out of Touch? They Think Anyone Who Disagrees with Them Is Crazy,” by Nitzan David Foucks. The article concludes with,

We are living in a very important time. The gap between the elites and the public is widening. The reason, as briefly shown, is the elitist language of little substance, detached from the people and their concerns. The people in response have revolted with votes of no confidence and support to new leaders who are antiestablishment. The only way to close the gap, to win back support, is to abandon the language of therapy and political correctness, to one of honesty and rational arguments.

Interestingly, in his posthumously published book from the mid-nineties, Lasch wrote:

The word has come to serve simply as a description of the therapeutic state. When we speak of democracy today, we refer, more often than not, to the democratization of “self-esteem.” The current catchwords – diversity, compassion, empowerment, entitlement – express the wistful hope that deep divisions in American society can be bridged by goodwill and sanitized speech….  In our preoccupation with words, we have lost sight of the tough realities that cannot be softened simply by flattering people’s self-image. What does it profit the residents of the South Bronx to enforce speech codes at elite universities?

I’ve been having a hard time blogging lately. I seem to have tapered off without really meaning to stop. So, I’m going to try a little experiment for a few weeks and see if it helps. Everyday, I’m going to just try to write off the top of my head and see what comes out.

One of the things that I feel has been stopping me is the fact that my politics have been changing dramatically. This leaves me feeling very uncertain of my own positions. Writing about a position of which you are uncertain has a very fraught quality. I ask myself, “Do you really want to have to defend that position?” Then I stop. Making it even worse is that this change on my own part is happening during a period when people are clearly feeling very emotional. Frankly, I don’t say what I think because I have a fear of being attacked. Putting these things together, it means that I’m afraid that I’ll be attacked for questioning.

I’m put in mind of a comic I read by Howard Cruse a long time ago. In it, a character is told, “How dare you even think these things.” That is how I feel these days. Ironically, that comic is about growing up gay in a small town dominated by evangelical Christians. I say ironic, because admiring, reading, owning the comics of someone like Cruse almost perfectly exemplifies how well within the bosom of a certain type of left-leaning environment I used to be. The thing is, I still like Cruse’s work. His work is clearly meant to be political, and I still today agree with the points he made back in the eighties.

The problem for me is that the other people in that left-leaning environment have gone to a different place and I’m not following them.

Equality of outcome instead of equality of opportunity. This is where the racial justice people are heading these days. Why the descendants of African slaves have lower outcomes in many areas than other people in the U.S., including other people of African descent who were not subject to slavery in the United States, is something I simply don’t know. It’s a puzzle to me and one I absolutely do not understand. (Fun fact: Nigerian-Americans have a “median household income well above the American average.”) We need to address the underlying reasons we are having an inequality of outcome, yet I don’t believe we fully understand what those underlying reasons are. Simply insisting on equality of outcome, some schools have cut back on disciplining violent students because black students are disciplined more often than whites.

To lower suspension rates, St. Paul tied principals’ bonuses to discipline stats. Suspensions are down, but assaults have explode by 62%. (Source)

In the long run, this will not work.

Liberals who are not radicals need to start speaking out. Things that can’t be sustained won’t be. The public will search for an answer and if the only answer to the weird alliance of radicals and globalists is given by the far right, people will turn to them. We need to develop a liberal, not radical, answer to these problems.

The other thing on my mind is Victor Davis Hanson’s piece today. He discusses a group of people, but since he doesn’t name any names it has a vague feel. He talks about people who were once Democrats who became Republicans during the Regan era. He refers to them as neoconservatives.

These so-called neoconservatives (“new conservatives”) grew tired of liberals’ perceived laxity about fighting the Cold War.

He then goes on to say:

Now, a few neoconservatives are reinventing themselves again and returning to the Democrats to support Hillary Clinton. We could call them “neoliberals.”

I would like to register an early objection to calling these people neoliberals. The word neoliberal has already been coined and it already has a meaning.

Neoliberalism was an idea developed in the post war period by Friedrich A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and several other thinkers like Milton Friedman.

Friedman advocated “the New Faith ” of neoliberalism as one that would avoid the failures of both collectivism and laissez-faire approaches…. The central point of the paper, made forcefully, was that both laissez-faire policies and collectivism had failed, a development that called for a new theory of liberalism – of neoliberalism… (Source: Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics.)

Not only has the word “neoliberalism” already been used, but it’s actually a really important intellectual tendency, whether you agree with it or not. We have enough difficulty talking about politics due to the fact that “liberalism” is often confounded with a variety highly illiberal political philosophies on the left. Neoconservatism is another strain of thought. It was highly influenced by Leo Strauss. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are often confused, but they have distinct philosophies. Both have had a concrete effect on our current politics, therefore it is important to understand the difference between the two.

Daniel Stedman Jones book was very good, by the way. I found myself having a better respect for the ideas behind neoliberalism after reading it.

Anyway, my one hour has now turned into an hour and forty-five minutes. This is all very raw and I feel like I shouldn’t click “publish,” but I will go ahead and do it anyway and keep my fingers crossed.

A couple of weeks ago, I said I might take a blogging break. Originally, I said that because the rise of the “regressive left” has left me in something of a quandary politically. But while I was writing that post, I got a phone call from a bill collector, which sent me into a tizzy. As I mentioned at the time, it wasn’t a money issue, but a disorganization problem.

My disorganization problem is one of long standing. There’s a few levels to it. One is putting things away. However, if you recall the saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” part of my problem is that there isn’t a place to put everything. It’s a two pronged problem. One is organization and the other is being neat. Normally, if I think I’m likely to have a visitor, I “tidy up.” Basically, I hide the mess. Have you ever seen a cartoon or a comic bit in a tv show or a movie where someone opens up a closet that’s packed to the gills and everything falls on an unsuspecting person’s head. Well, my entire life has gotten to be something like that. I would keep making everything “okay” for the moment. Then the day would come where I’d need something and in order to find it, I’d have to empty the closet, looking in box after box. Then there were other things, like the big box of disorganized photos. (That job, I can now say has been completed.)

One of the many things I’ve been meaning to do but have been putting off is addressing the matter of how I listen to music. At this juncture, I have vinyl LPs, compact cassettes, CDs, and some digital formats, mostly from Apple’s iTunes. I haven’t yet subscribed to any of the streaming services. I tried the free version of Pandora on three separate occasions, at least year apart, and I hated it each time. I don’t know how their algorithm works, but I’ve never been much of a genre person and my taste is pretty eclectic, so maybe I’m not a good match for that type of service. In any case, my music situation is a mess. About a year ago, in an effort to get my music situation, for lack of a better word, rationalized, I made an HTPC, a “home theater personal computer.” I have little interest in the movie or gaming aspect of the device. Mostly, I wanted an easy way to listen to music. The good news is that since you don’t need a lot of processing power, it’s not a particularly expensive type of computer to build. Further more, you can install Linux as an operating system and I installed a media center program called Kodi. Both of those are free. There are a few other free options. (Considering a post I saw recently, I’ll add that the Kodi software is free. You can use it to listen to some of the streaming services, but you have to pay for the subscriptions for that.) Then I ripped my CDs. Then I looked at my vinyl. I sighed. I put it off for another day.

Meanwhile, the old stereo set up gave up the ghost, so I couldn’t listen to the vinyl or the cassettes anymore at all. I unplugged it. I wheeled it into a corner, with honest intentions of getting to it a soon as I had a little time. There, it gathered dust for almost a year.

I’ve rarely listened to the music purchased from Apple except when I’ve been exercising. That has to do with the iPod device. For a while, I had an iPod doc, but it was too inconvenient and I rarely used it. My brother in law had given me his because he didn’t get much use out of it and thought I might use it more. It was a nice gesture. He now has it back.

Years ago, during the late seventies and early eighties when I was a teenager, my high school boyfriend’s father had a stereo system we weren’t allowed to touch. It was top of the line equipment and even had a reel-to-reel tape deck. Ironically, I never remember his father expressing any real interest in music. He seemed more interested in the equipment. My boyfriend and his brother had a less expensive stereo system of their own. Perhaps he was influenced by his father, but every time he would play a record, he’d put the LP on the turntable, and turn it on. Before setting down the needle, he’d take out a tool, which looked like a block of wood with a velvet pad on the end. He’d squirt a bit of liquid from the bottle and, ever so gently wipe the surface of the record with the pad by holding the pad over it while the turntable spun. Meanwhile, I’d be lying on his bed saying, “Fer chrissakes, just play the damn thing.”

My boyfriend and a few other people gave me the distinct impression that I was not an “audiophile.” I cared enough to handle the records by their edges and put them back in their sleeves when they were done. I had good enough ears to know that my own cheap turntable with an integrated amplifier which hooked directly to the speakers sounded pretty bad. Still, it was a million times better than the quality of listening to music using an iPod.

An article discussing “high resolution” audio, reported the following thoughts from mastering engineer Alan Silverman:

he described a “feedback loop” where producers, artists and engineers make their way through the studio process to release an album, and how they later hear it in the real world influences the way they’ll make their next album. That’s the way it worked in the 1950s, with LPs and singles, which were heard at home on a hi-fi and on the radio, so the engineers made recordings that sounded best at home and on the radio. That initially held true with CDs, but now that most people experience music away from home, in noisy environments, on lossy streaming services like Spotify, all of that informs the way producers, artists, and engineers approach their next recording. Silverman believes that the way today’s pop music is arranged, designed and performed is strongly influenced by the quest for extreme loudness and limited dynamic range required for music listened to on-the-go with tablets, ear buds and phones. It’s one thing to hear the sound in the studio, but the music will mostly be “consumed” as background filler. It’s rarely the prime focus anymore.

The last sentence jumped out at me. I’ve never really enjoyed music as “background filler,” it’s too distracting for anything except activities that are boring due to their lack of cognitive stimulation, like exercising or cleaning.

A couple of weeks earlier, I’d gone to a big box store selling consumer electronics just to check to see if there was an off-the-shelf solution to my music playback dilemma. I must confess that I’m unsure of what half the items they had displayed are intended to do. “The Pill,” for instance. What the heck is it? My sister tells me it’s a Bluetooth speaker. There were other Bluetooth speakers on display. Interestingly, they are in a different category than the “home audio” speakers. Certainly, they seem to be more focused on visual design than on sound, although that’s hard to confirm since I didn’t hear them. I couldn’t help noticing that one of them had, as part of the advertising in its display, the slogan “make music social.” To be honest, I’m not one hundred percent sure exactly what they’re selling, but I think they’re wireless speakers again. (Advertisements that don’t make clear what the product is could be a post all its own. Since Amazon sells a similar looking thing that isn’t just a speaker but also records everything you say and sends it back to Amazon, a speaker might be more than just a speaker these days. I tracked down a video advertizement for the social thing and I’m still unsure what the product does, although the video apparently won an advertising award.)

Still, the slogan, like the comment that music is no longer the prime focus, said something about how things had changed. I don’t want to fall into the trap of nostalgia. I like technology and would be perfectly happy for a newer and better way of doing things. I don’t yearn for the “warm” sound of analog or think that the pops on a vinyl record add character. Yet there’s something odd about “making” music social. As an art form, music predates recorded history and it has always been social. It’s only been a little over a decade, with the emergence of the iPod as the dominant form of music playback, that music has ceased to be social. It’s strange to think that the very young adults of today have had a significantly different experience of music than almost everyone else, lets say people over thirty or thirty-five.

When the Sony Walkman portable cassette player first came out, older people complained that people who used them were anti-social. However, although they became very common over time, they never became the dominant form of playback. They were always ancillary to other methods. This was probably due to the fact that the media, the compact cassette, could be used in both home stereos, since those usually included a cassette deck, and car stereos, which is why I own so many cassettes.

Going back to my teenage years, I mostly found out about new music from two sources, the radio and my peers. For those young enough to not know, radio stations at the time were intensely local. The individual deejays had a fair amount of discretion about what they played. When someone would by a new record album, it wouldn’t be at all unusual to invite friends over with the very specific intent of listening to it. Now, I don’t want to make it sound as if you couldn’t say a word while the record was playing, but the recording remained the focus. My taste in music expanded as I got to know other people who had been exposed to other things.

Which brings me the reasons I’m going to all the trouble to rip my vinyl. My sister suggested that I just repurchase much of it. One reason is simply that some songs that I listen to only occasionally will be budgeted out. I have two Johnny Cash records. I’m pretty sure if I were to repurchase any Johnny Cash songs, it will be only two or three. Same for Joe Cocker, Sonic Youth, Al Green, The Supremes, Santana, really just about every record except the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls.” Some of these, especially in cases where my favorite song has too many pops and scratches to be listenable, I will in all likelihood do just that.

Another reason has to do with my own sense of personal history. Years ago, record albums were a fairly common gift. Their size and shape were a dead give-away under the Christmas tree. I can remember who gave me what and when. Furthermore, I have records that I inherited from my grandfather when he died and others that had belonged to my father. I probably wouldn’t buy many of those again, although I do occasionally listen to them. They just wouldn’t be prioritized. In fact, if I got rid of the physical records, I might literally forget them. Even when I bought the record myself, I can remember sometimes who introduced me to it. I remember going with my mother when she visited a friend who had a daughter my age. We went down to the basement where she had a stereo and that was the first time I heard Steely Dan’s “Aja,” which had only just come out and hadn’t yet gotten much airplay.

Then there are also the things that can’t be purchased again. A flexidisc from a comic book. A few things from unsigned bands, though most of those are either on cassettes or CDs. Hawking cassettes with four songs was a really common thing after performances. Do bands still do anything like that? Download from our website when you get home? I’d probably forget.

All of these things make up, for lack of a better word, what I think of as my “taste.” I might supplement this with a music streaming service that has a larger library than one person could ever own, yet there is something impersonal about that. The fact that you can’t personally own everything forces you to make a judgment.

I finally seem to have everything set up, and am having the interesting experience of listening to every record album I own while making a digital copy. If I understand the laws correctly, I’m allowed to make a copy for my own use. Still, it’s been quite an effort, especially if you consider the searching the internet for possible ways of doing it. My sister tells me that my brother-in-law these days mainly listens to music with his laptop on his lap from the built-in speakers. It’s hard to blame him.

The other day, while I was trying to put my current set-up together and was running into some serious snags. The first was simply being unable to update the Kodi program because I had forgotten the password. My serious disorganization meant that I had no clue where I might have put it. Surely it was lying on a slip of paper somewhere. There’s a pile of slips of papers with cryptic writings on them which appear to be passwords to unknown things. I tried all of them and none worked. Finally, I decided the only remedy was to reinstall the entire thing. The initial install a year ago went very smoothly. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this time. I won’t bore you with all the things that didn’t work. All small. All solvable. However, the sheer number, as well as the sore feet I was getting from standing in front of the HTPC and the annoyance of walking back and forth between computers, well, I sort of wound up in a ball on the floor crying. I couldn’t help feeling that what I wanted was so simple. I just wanted to listen to music in a way similar to the way I had for most of my life before iTunes. Why did it have to be so hard?

My mother called my sister and asked her if she had heard from me. “Oh, don’t call her right now. She’s really upset. She’s trying to burn her records and CDs.”

My mother said, “Burning?”

“No, no,” my sister said. “I meant ripping.”

“What! She’s burning and ripping things!”

How ironic, just as I was writing that, I smelled my potato and chicken soup burning on the stove. A sign to wrap this up.

I’m not trying to say that one way of listening to music is inherently better than others. I’m just looking at the pros and cons. To quote a song, “something’s lost but something’s gained.”

One thing that I originally liked about the internet back when we had painfully slow dial-up connections was a resurgence of the written word. When blogs first appeared, I was struck by how articulate people turned out to be. I know that is the opposite of the received wisdom. Perhaps my expectations had been too low. Still, especially when blogs focused on people’s first hand experiences, I was happy to see the wide variety of interesting voices.

Then the internet got faster, which was mostly good. However, faster meant more pictures. Pictures used to take up valuable bandwidth and the were used judiciously and sparingly. It was an odd, temporary, reversal in a society which had moved away from words and towards images due to television. Once our bandwidth increased, pictures on the internet, were used with a profligacy in news sources that hadn’t previously existed. In the newspaper, few articles had photos. On the internet, it seems that every article comes with an image, usually a stock image.

One of the reasons I don’t care to use too many images on my blog is because images can have a subconscious effect. I noticed a few years ago that the website Alternet would use the same dimly lit photo of a woman’s torso with black under wear and high heels to accompany a wide variety of articles about sex. I felt at the time that the repeated use of the image subconsciously created an association between certain clothing and sex. Since often the images chosen are based on pre-existing assumptions and stereotypes, this sort of use reinforces cultural norms. Personally, I felt that I wanted to make more conscious decisions about my own use of images.

I still find myself highly critical and skeptical of the use of images. I saw a really weird one today. At the other end of the political spectrum, on the Breitbart website, there was an article with the headline, “Study: Global Warming Will Kill Your Sex Life.” It was about a study that “examined how birth rates change over time in the US, depending on the weather.” Weird study, weird article, weird click-bait headline. But the really weird thing is the photo. What kind of photo would you put to illustrate that strange article? How about a stock photo from Getty Images of about a dozen young children in Niger?

I mean, I’m not sure I even have anything to say about that. It’s just so weird. I don’t even think I can trace the train of thought that led to that choice. Did they purchase the right to use it from Getty Images for something else and now didn’t know what to do?

Addendum: I originally found the picture by looking at the page source which says “niger” in the image tag. To be specific, Getty Images says that they are Nigerian refugees in Niger. I just thought I’d add that in case you were thinking, “That fabric looks Nigerian. Fojap! Don’t you know the difference between Nigeria and Niger!”