Rants, mumbling, repressed memories, recipes, and haiku from a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School.
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
Best anonymous comment ever!
I'm not a fan of anonymous comments, but I allow them because once in a while a gem comes through. That happened yesterday in response to my post about the lack of innovation in art these days, and the comment was so thorough and interesting that I include it whole here:
A couple of thoughts:
1) I do think this dearth of newness is less universal than it's often made out to be. Film, for instance, has plenty of people in it pushing boundaries despite Marvel/Disney's homogenization – the highest-grossing non-adaptation film of the year is a heady art-horror film chock-full of obscure biblical references, for instance. I think pop music is a special case: it's a medium that has been defined since the sixties by new instrumental possibilities (what innovation was going to happen in Eighties pop without cheap synths becoming available?), a well that has dried up now that decent production suites can imitate any possible instrument, and Spotify's market-share chokehold and deep catalog mean that most Americans have access to a near-complete library of pop music in their pocket with little preference given to newer work, making it FAR easier to rediscover older songs than, say, it is for a young author to discover older novels.
b) That said, I don't think it's true that there's nothing new and popular happening in pop music! Hyperpop is extremely popular with young people, especially young queer people, and while, like any genre, it draws from plenty of influences (in its case, EDM, ska, pop-punk, and occasionally mainstream country), it sounds like absolutely nothing else out there. (And, like all new musical genres before it, either you "get it" or it sounds like a bunch of Ewoks on fire.) It's rare for a hyperpop song to top the charts, sure, but was it common for the Talking Heads to be in the Top 40? I honestly don't think the early 2020s are shaping up that differently than any other decade as pop music goes: the safe stuff you'll forget in five years gets radio play while the weird queer art students are hunkered down in their basements making something truly new.
For what it's worth, the Talking Heads had 3 songs make the top 40, and this was their highest-charting at number 9:
In yesterday's New York Times, Michelle Goldberg wrote about the relative lack of innovation in our culture today, noting that the music young people listen to now sounds a lot like what I listened to in college-- and in the case of Kate Bush's 1985 hit "Running Up That Hill" literally is what I listened to in college. Goldberg chalks this up to a loss of art as a status marker, but I'm not buying it.
It's true, though: there is no truly challenging movement emerging in music or film or books or fine art right now.
I'm surprised by this-- after all, I predicted that the later Trump years would produce a tsunami of artistic output, in part driven by the weird dystopia of the pandemic. The perfect storm of dislocation and emotion seemed to be there. But... that didn't happen.
My theory was probably flawed in that I expected a counter-culture to emerge from under the boot of the Trump regime. In retrospect, though, the Trumpies were the counter-culture. They were never a majority, and they viewed themselves as outsiders (and still do). But rather than decent art, they just produced bad speeches, new blather-channels, conspiracy theories, and red hats. Worst counter-culture ever!
Worse, they pulled us all into politics in a way that produced little other than repetitions of the same tired discourse. Which party did Andy Warhol or Mark Rothko support? Who knows? It didn't matter.
Art allows us to get at things deeper than politics, principles and truths that the language of politics cannot approach. We need it now more than ever.
Yesterday, the Biden Administration announced a program of forgiveness for federal student loans. The offer could take $20,000 from the debt of people who had Pell Grants in college, and $10,000 to those who did not have Pell Grants. The program will not apply to those who make over $125,000 a year.
It's already controversial. Some on the left wanted a far broader plan. Others don't think it is fair to pay some people's loans off with tax money.
It will help a lot of people. A surprising amount of financial trouble can be caused by even small debts, especially by those who did not finish a degree. The critique that the break will help some people but not everyone who pays taxes could be applied to nearly every federal program, of course-- including the many that help corporations and the wealthy. ("Why is the hard-working pipefitter's tax money being used to subsidize Exxon!!?!?!).
I left law school with some debt, but not a lot. I went to school, of course, at a time that tuition was much lower-- and went for undergrad to a state college that was heavily subsidized by the taxpayers of the state. I already got my share of other people's taxes!
It will be interesting to see the effect this has over time...
If you weren't following the primaries last night, here are some highlights:
-- In New York, two veteran Democratic members of the US House, Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, faced one another because of redistricting. Nadler won by a lot.
-- In Florida, former Republican Governor Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for Governor, where he will face Ron DeSantis, the incumbent.
-- In perhaps the most important race if you are looking for trends, the Democrat, Pat Ryan (how many politicians have had that name?) won a special election for the House in a genuine swing district in (barely) Upstate New York.
Friends sometimes come to me hoping to have difficult questions resolved here on the Razor: "How do we save democracy?" or "what car should I buy?" or "what would it be like if Eeyore was an RA in a college dorm?"
I usually ignore them. But a few days ago I got a call from IPLawGuy, who was driving down to Ocean City in his unrestored 1972 Dodge Challenger. It was difficult to hear him, since he has "converted" the Challenger to an open-air car by chopping off the roof with a Sawz-All.
But, I'm pretty sure, what he was asking is this: "Are you supposed to eat Pop-Tarts raw or heat them up somehow?"
This morning I'm giving a sermon about joy. It's something that is too rarely discussed (and I think, in some circles, we talk way too much about shame).
Joy, like love, can't be forced. You have to let it happen. And part of that 'letting it happen' is a willingness to see what is around us, and to let it into us.
Our eyes can fool us, of course. I was driving last night and saw the most beautiful full moon, and it made my heart leap. It turned out to be a Burger King sign, unfortunately. But then I got a moment of a joy and a good laugh out of it.
It's easy to lose joy as you grow up. But when Jesus said to be like the little children, perhaps that is part of what we are supposed to emulate.
Ever wonder what life is like on an aircraft carrier? No? Well, I have! And this video tells you. Kind of. Actually, only a little bit before it veers off like a distracted puppy into talking about planes and some other ships...
Beginning with France v. Australia on November 22nd, the World Cup is landing at a different point in the calendar this time around. That's driven mainly by weather, since the host, Qatar, is incredibly hot in the summer.
That puts it right in the most interesting part of college football season, unfortunately. Why do all the best sporting events have to happen at the same time, while other times (er, like now) offer nothing more than WNBA playoffs and a baseball regular season running on fumes?
Qatar has built eight new stadiums for the event, some of them with air conditioning that involves mist coming out of the bottom of a seat. I've seen a mist rising from an occupied stadium seat before, but it wasn't good. We'll see how this goes.
Most of the usual suspects (Germany, England, Brazil, etc) are in the tournament, and the US made it this time around. Ecuador is back, and Canada is in for the first time since 1986. Wales qualified for the first time since 1958, Surprisingly out of the competition is Italy, who were denied a spot when they lost to North Macedonia (the nation formerly known as Macedonia).
Many times I approach my dad to find him hunched over some problem-- how to paint something, a broken machine of some kind, or searching for the right word. He often mutters the same thing when I greet him: "I'm trying to figure this thing out."
And usually he does. But I love that he is still trying to figure things out (as I do). When I was a kid, I imagined that people get to a point in life where they pretty much had everything figured out. As an adult, I've run into a bunch of people who certainly act that way, too! But the ones I like are the ones who know that they haven't figured it all out, like my parents. The world is still full of mystery, for them and for me,
I still have to figure almost everything out. And the more I learn, the more I realize what I don't know. In a way, I guess that is the knowledge we really acquire: to know the shape of how much we do not know.
People sometimes tell me that the Bible has the answer to everything, which is kind of baffling. If it does, those answers seem to be very different for different people. What I get from it are great principles and great questions, which in their way are the deepest truths of all.
More than anything, I want to know if they found a self-pardon in Trump's safe. But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to speculation. Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:
According to the New York Times, President Trump told his then-Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, "Why can't you be more like the German generals?" referring to Hitler's Nazi military leaders, who Trump described as "totally loyal."
While the Generals around Trump often showed fealty (I'll never forget Gen. Mark Milley, in uniform, accompanying Trump on his walk to St. John's church to rant and hold a Bible upside-down), they also worked behind the scenes to sometimes undercut some of his very worst instincts. It's not a good thing when that is the line of defense for democracy, because civilian control over the military-- rather than the opposite-- is what keeps us from military coups.
To his credit, Kelly explained to Trump that Hitler's generals tried to kill him three times.
There are those who say that cars can't be art because they are consumer products. But, of course, fine art itself is a consumer product, so I'm not sure that argument works!
With some cars, they aren't trying for art, of course-- a Toyota Corolla is a great car for what it aims to do, but that goals is not aesthetics. The Fiat 500 (pictured above at the MOMA in NYC), on the other hand, is nowhere near as reliable as a Corolla but is much more of a looker!
Arguments about the definition of art are fun, but ultimately pointless. Whether something is art or not doesn't matter as much as if something is aesthetically pleasing or challenging or engaging. A crazy wicked cloud isn't art, after all, but it can be deeply compelling.
The water's low. The lawn is a little worn-out. The bursting colors of June have faded. The back-to-school sales have begun. There is always something a little melancholy about August, at least in the US.
I love September. I love October even more, and August is the on-ramp to those cool, busy months, when things really get done. August is when weird stuff happens, it seems....
The photo above includes-- in the background-- something that you can spot in a lot of the photos of that spot: an unfinished painting that my dad is working on.
Sometimes, usually perhaps, it is the unfinished things paintings that I am most drawn to. I imagine what will be added or modified; in the end I am often wrong (my dad is still full of surprises). The lines are there, but the character isn't fully emerged from the canvas quite yet.
In this picture, that is a contrast with the foreground. The flowers are perfect and complete. That tableau is after a meal, not before, and just a napkin is left on the table. That scene is finished.
It's hard to think of those around us as unfinished, but I think that view is crucial to loving them as Christ commanded.
On Tuesday, primary voters in Kansas voted to preserve abortion rights, a choice that surprised many people given that Kansas is a reliably Republican state that voted for Trump in the last two presidential elections.
The positioning of the vote was a little convoluted. The Kansas Supreme Court had held that abortion is protected under the state constitution, a holding that is unaffected by the US Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs (which struck down Roe v. Wade). That's because state courts, not the federal supreme court, interprets the meaning of a state constitution. The ballot question asked if that decision should be over-ruled by referendum, allowing legislators to ban abortion. Thus, a "no" vote was to preserve the right to an abortion up to 22 weeks.
If nothing else, the Kansas outcome busts up the never-true narrative that Republicans oppose abortion rights and Democrats support them. Like everything else, things are more complicated-- and we will see a lot more of "complicated" as this political year proceeds.
I realized earlier that my blog promises "rants, mumbling, repressed memories, recipes and haiku," but I really have only been delivering rants, mumbling, and haiku. I need to step it up with the repressed memories and recipes!
So, let's go with a repressed memory today.
There are certain locations that appear often in my dreams. Some make sense: my childhood home, or a neighborhood in Waco. But others are places I only went to once perhaps, so the deep meaning of that place is hard to discern.
I know that at some point when I was at William and Mary, or shortly thereafter, I went to a Huddle House restaurant in a small town in Virginia. (for those of you not from Alabama and vicinity, a Huddle House is kind of a cut-rate Waffle House, usually located in little towns). I don't remember where it was, exactly, or who I was with, but very clearly remember my order: biscuit with grits and a hot chocolate. That's three things-- biscuit, grits, hot chocolate-- that I pretty much don't like, so that part is weird in itself.
Anyways, the Huddle House shows up ALL THE TIME in my dreams and is a place where surprising people show up, some of them deceased. I'm often waiting for someone but don't know who, and fuss over my order.
I haven't actually been to a Huddle House since then, so I'm not real familiar with the current menu, but I sometimes have to order for the person I'm with, too, since no one can see them.
Hmmmm.... maybe these repressed memories should just stay that way!
I think that perhaps the universe is telling me to take a break from going in to work quite so much. Last week as I rode my bike into work, a bee flew into my mouth, buzzed around, stung the inside of my lip, and flew out. Then, yesterday, I had a little crash-- no real injury, but I'm glad that I was wearing a helmet.
Meanwhile, at work I have a case of the slows. Technology is defeating me, in part-- for example, I have struggled for days with a pdf document that has cut off every line and replaced the lost text with a "+" sign (and when I click on that, nothing happens except the + briefly disappears.