Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary, NC
Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary, NC
This year, around the holiday season, I’ve had a shift in my thinking about Christmas and the period of waiting that comes before. In the past, I’ve thought of the season of Advent as a joyous preparatory time for the a celebration that is Christmas. The onslaught of cheerful Christmas songs, that starts just as the tryptophan induced coma from Thanksgiving wears off, contributes to that way of framing things. Bing lets you know when it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and he doesn’t seem at all concerned that the holiday is almost a month away.
Recently though, I’ve started to view Advent in a more Orthodox way, as more like Lent. As a time of fasting, rather than feasting. A time that starts in the darkness, as we make our way toward the light. It’s a period of quiet contemplation, instead of the exuberant cacophony of bells from a sleigh, furiously driven to the big box stores in search of Black Friday door busters. Advent is to be waited out with patience and solemn hope.
Once the waiting is over, though, Christmastide begins. It’s not a single day, but those mythical 12 days of Christmas of which another song informs us. The time of Christmastide extends from December 25th through January 5th, just before the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th. Each year, I make more of an effort to swim against the tides of culture that push Christmas as a single day. Of course, the day itself is kept well. Garrison Keillor writes in this post about his Christmas ritual (which sounds remarkably like my own).
All I need for Christmas is Christmas Eve in church, holding a candle, singing “Silent Night” a cappella in the dark with the others, walking home through the city, and waking up in the morning with my wife and daughter. Three gifts apiece, one useful, one odd but interesting, one ridiculous. Dinner is nice. We can make it at home or if we go out for a McTurkey sandwich, that’s okay too. Then we get out the board games. A pot of Christmas tea. Nothing more is needed.
My family will no doubt spend the evening of Christmas trying to save the world from a pandemic and failing in disappointing fashion, if history is any indication. We’ll have collected various forms of tea from different sources around the world and will be imbibing heavily throughout the day. We will be glowing from singing “Silent Night,” while keeping candles from dripping wax onto our palms within the cozy confines of our church sanctuary the night before.
We’ll have a cornucopia of presents to open in the morning, despite having cut back with the introduction of Secret Santa a few years back. In doing so, we’ll dutifully engage in the American commercial Christmas tradition. David Warren writes about this aspect of the holiday and ponders giving back the material in return for the mystical.
Though I love Charles Dickens, I like to dismiss him as “a commie,” for reasons that might not seem obvious at first. A Child’s History of England, I once threw against a wall. In his genius he pioneered the commercialization of Christmas, and every advertising agency should thank him. For consider, what this commercialization required. Scrooge is converted by sentimental ghosts, into a character of material generosity. The moral hints are materialist throughout. Joy, while it is still remembered, is subtly converted into happiness. Soon we have food stamps, and cash welfare, and shops full of Xmas presents, to buy lest Tiny Tim have a wrang.
Gentle reader may not be surprised if I try to return this gift, and exchange it once again for the mystical. For while the story of the Nativity is easy enough to sentimentalize, and captures the imagination of small children (Jesus speaks to them, child to child), it is the document of an incredible event; without precedent, without compare.
It would be hard to abandon our annual tradition of watching A Muppet Christmas Carol, but I understand what Warren means about redirecting the focus of the holiday. To snatch the lasting joy back from the impermanence of happiness. To hold on to something that carries over, year after year, despite external circumstances.
According to a new Pew Research poll, the number of Republicans who say presidents could operate more effectively if they did not have to worry so much about Congress and the courts has increased 16 percentage points since last year, from 27% to 43%. Among only those classified as conservative Republicans, the number of those in favor of more presidential power has doubled in the past year. The fears that this president has promoted the idea of a totalitarian state to his followers seems to have been well founded. That should come as no surprise to those who noted the president’s open affection for dictators, including those as brutal as Sadam Hussein.
It appears a certain segment of the population, particularly conservative Republicans, essentially want a king of the United States. This was the state of affairs in ancient Israel, in the time of the prophet Samuel. The prophet warned the people against putting themselves under the yoke of a king. However, the Israelites had lost faith in God as deliverer and wanted a king to lead them to victory over the Philistines.
Samuel pleaded with his people to rethink looking for a king to rule them. They were persistent, though, and he brought their request to God.
The LORD answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them.” “They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods.” “So comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7-9, CEB)
I’m assuming that a fair amount of those who want to give unchecked power to the president are from a Judeo-Christian tradition. They, like the ancient Israelites, seemed to have lost their faith in God to protect them against their enemies, real and perceived. Many of the Christians who support the current president believe that a strongman with a desire to rule as a king is necessary to protect their religious traditions. On that subject, Alan Jacobs has this to say:
For instance: Stretch your mind and imagine a POTUS who supports religious liberty but who also pursues reckless, thoughtless, and inconsistent policies both domestically and abroad. Imagine that he is cruel to the helpless, treacherous to longstanding allies, cozy with authoritarian regimes, incapable of sticking with a plan, prone to judge everyone he meets strictly by their willingness to praise and defer to him. Imagine that he is colossally ignorant of domestic and foreign realities alike and yet convinced of his matchless wisdom.
You might, first, ask whether such a President is a reliable ally of religious freedom. Would he work to guarantee liberty of conscience for those who on religious grounds criticized his own policies? Don’t make me laugh.
Jacobs goes on to question whether self-preservation should be the strongest driver of choosing leaders and public policy. He asks whether Christians who so clearly prioritize their interests over those of others can be considered reliable witnesses for faith in Christ. The Christian faith explicitly condemns putting one’s own needs above their neighbors. When asked which is the greatest commandments, Jesus responds in clear terms.
He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.” “ This is the first and greatest commandment.” “ And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39, CEB)
Much has been made of tribalism within the group of Christians who support the current president without reservation. It is evident, by the treatment we have seen of other populations, such as immigrants, that this administration is not concerned about our neighbors. The desire to strengthen the hand of such a leader, to that of a king, speaks of a lack of faith in anything other than despotism.
I saw my first show at a club in 1993, at the venerable Local 506, on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. The venue is still there, nestled snugly between two Indian restaurants. Now I typically go to see a band there every couple of years or so. At that initial show, I saw Polvo, with the classic lineup of Ash Bowie, Dave Brylawski, Steve Popson and Eddie Watkins. My first rock show was supposed to be seeing Mudhoney the previous year, at the 9:30 Club in DC, where my cousin worked. However, my dad strongly objected to me going to what he just thought of as a bar to see a grunge band. He was intransigent on the subject, and it was out of my hands. I had to wait a bit longer to experience eardrum pounding indie rock in the dark confines of a club.
Polvo was brilliant and raw that night, and left me with a taste for move live music. Polvo remained on of my favorite bands through the 90’s (I also love their more recent records), though drummer Eddie Watkins left the group after the 1996 Exploded Drawing double-LP. That record is considered by many to be the best math rock album ever made. Exploded Drawing effectively showcased the many different sides of Polvo, from the Eastern influences, to the unusual time signatures and unpredictable song structures in an almost grinding journey through the essence of the band. It was certainly a fitting last act with the group for an unusually gifted drummer.
Fast forward 23 years, to 2016, and I found myself employed in the same office with Watkins. I never even knew I was working with one of my favorite drummers. I’m not sure why I didn’t make the connection, since I should have recognized him and he was in a fairly senior role, so I heard his name around. To be fair, we did work on separate products and in different parts of the organization. I didn’t realize it was the same Eddie Watkins, that is, until I came into work one Monday morning and read an email about his death. I was frozen by the news. The cause of death was not specified, which usually means one of only a few options. What I found out independently confirmed my suspicions that Eddie had taken his own life. His family had wanted to keep it quiet initially, but by the following year had started Eddiefest, an event held at the Cat’s Cradle club, featuring a host of local bands. The third such event was just held.
In honor of late drummer, friend, son, brother and father Eddie Watkins, his family created EddieFest, the first in 2017.
A benefit to bring awareness about suicide and suicide prevention.
I’m glad to see the family taking the opportunity to memorialize Eddie in a way that contributes to the cause of preventing such tragedies.
The Movember Foundation started in 2003 with a mission to improve men’s health and focused on male-specific cancers. The method the charity used was to enlist men to grow mustaches (which had fallen out of favor) in the month of November. The gimmick gave men participating the chance to explain the cause to those asking about the new whiskers. What began as a simple but clever idea has expanded over time. In recent years, they have increased their mission to feature a significant focus on men’s mental health and suicide prevention.
A recent post from the foundation cites research that shows ongoing perceived stigma around talking about mental health at work. 75% of suicides in the US are committed by men. One has to wonder, if it were easier to talk about these issues at work, would we be losing less men in this way? In the wake of Eddie’s suicide, a number of leaders wondered if they had missed signs. What could we have done differently?
I don’t have easy answers to the questions about why choose to end their own lives at such a high rate, but I have been participating in Movember for the last few years to try and raise money and awareness about the problem. I’m hoping that bringing this topic out in the open is a good first step.
(Polvo, without Eddie on drums, by Edward on Flickr)
Manuel Riess (@hutaffe) recently wrote a bit about returning from Apple Music to Spotify. His dissatisfaction centers around music discovery, hearing new material from artists that the system already should know he likes, and the New Music playlist.
I have had some of the same frustrations. The New Music playlist, which is updated every Friday, used to be something to which I looked forward, at the end of the week. Lately, though, it almost seems like artists (or labels) have been paying to have their music featured on the lists of listeners. How else could you explain Apple Music putting Mariah Carey in the pole position on one of my playlists? There are a few such examples of deep pocket artists showing up on my lists for no discernible reason. Ever since this started occurring, I can’t trust much of the content on the list. If it’s not by a band with which I’m already familiar, I’m reticent to spend my time checking it out.
With the New Music playlist, Apple should definitely be showing me new tunes by bands that I listen to a lot. That would be low hanging fruit, an easy thing for them to accomplish with the data they have on my listening habits. Instead, I’m not guaranteed to see new releases by my favorite bands. The service just simply doesn’t do a good job of discovery in that space.
Federico Viticci had a recent piece in Macstories pondering some of the same issues with music discovery in the Apple Music service.
The ‘New Music Mix’ playlist is not terrible, but it often comes loaded with stale data – songs I’ve already listened to multiple times and which shouldn’t qualify as “new” weeks after their original release date. Furthermore, I’ve found notifications for new releases for artists in my library unreliable at best: I occasionally get notifications for new albums, but never for new singles or EPs.
Ticci’s solution is Music Harbor, an app that keeps you up-to-date with new releases by artists you like. His assessment, as well as the reviews of the app, make it look very promising. However, I just can’t get past the fact that I would need a separate app to do the things Apple Music should be able to do with my existing data.
The header image is of the Mighty music player that plays music from your Spotify account and doesn’t involve a screen, much like an iPod shuffle. Great concept.
Folks, I would really like to checkout The Mandolorian. However, that would require two things:
The husband and wife duo that comprise Tennis wrote this song while living on a boat, anchored in a fisherman’s cove, armed only with an acoustic guitar and a drum sequencer. The recorded version, however, is fully fleshed out and bubbling with synthesizers. The video is simply hypnotic. This is a trance from which I never want to come out.
Next week, Instagram is set to begin hiding like counts on posts in the US, according to this TechCrunch piece. The move is expected to hurt influencers on the platform, as initial tests in other countries showed that likes on posts went down when the counts were not displayed. The influencer economy is supposed to be a big part of what drives the platform. The speculation is that anything that hurts those influencers and their ability to use Instagram to build their businesses too badly will be rolled back.
I’m not completely bought into the idea that influencers are as strong a driver of engagement on Instagram as they are assumed to be, but to be fair, I haven’t looked deeply at the data. However, I know that the move will be good for teenagers who view posts as popularity contests and delete photos when they don’t achieve a certain like count, for fear of embarrassment. I appreciate the fact that those who are steering the Instagram ship are taking steps that account for the mental health of its users.
Two years ago, in 2017, was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. For those of us in the reformed tradition, it was a pretty big deal. This Sunday, we celebrate our annual “Reformation Sunday” in the Presbyterian Church.
Internet Monk recently had a repost from the late Michael Spencer, on the Reformation. Spencer studied the Reformation extensively. Though he remained a proud Protestant, he also came away with some pretty frank observations and critiques of either the Reformation movement itself or the way we have come to view it.
The post contains a list of insights (is it a listicle?) that came to Spencer during his studies. Here are some that particularly resonated with me.
I would also tend to agree with Spencer that, after consistently saying the Apostles Creed, and confessing belief in the one catholic church, it does seem a bit odd to be celebrating Christian division.
It has never been a better time to quit Facebook, after the company recently revealed a policy that formalized the ability of politicians to lie in ads on the platform. Techcrunch writer Josh Costine called the move a disgorgement of responsibility. The web publication has another piece by Costine, calling on Facebook, and other tech companies, to ban political ads altogether. The ban would hold until they can come up with a coherent policy that doesn’t erode democratic freedoms by inundating the populace with misinformation.
No one wants historically untrustworthy social networks becoming the honesty police, deciding what’s factual enough to fly. But the alternative of allowing deception to run rampant is unacceptable. Until voter-elected officials can implement reasonable policies to preserve truth in campaign ads, the tech giants should go a step further and refuse to run them.
The formalization of the policy accepting misinformation in ads came after the campaign of Joe Biden called on Facebook to remove ads promoting false claims about him that were made by the Trump campaign. Facebook refused to take the ads down, abdicating any responsibility for their veracity.
In response, the campaign of Elizabeth Warren posted an ad blatantly lying about Mark Zuckerberg endorsing Donald Trump.
We intentionally made a Facebook ad with false claims and submitted it to Facebook’s ad platform to see if it’d be approved. It got approved quickly and the ad is now running on Facebook. Take a look: pic.twitter.com/7NQyThWHgO— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 12, 2019
Costine writes, in the TechCrunch piece, that “It’s easy to imagine campaign ads escalating into an arms race of dishonesty.”
I’ve always stayed away from Facebook, watching from the sidelines as the company has made a series of bad decisions, every one seemingly worse than the previous. However, I did go back to Instagram a couple of years ago after quitting when they were originally purchased by Facebook. Now, I am now rethinking my relationship with that platform, especially after my recent push to consolidate my web presence at my own site. I am under no illusions that as many people would go to my personal site to see my photos as see them on Instagram, but more limited exposure seems a reasonable price to pay for principles. After all, I’m not selling anything.
In a break from my normal habit of avoiding hot takes and only sticking to what is room temperature or below, I wanted to write a bit about the uproar of the week. Specifically, the NBA, that proud bastion of social justice rebellion in recent times, ceding their moral high ground for the irresistible attraction of oodles of Chinese yuan.
Part of the name of this weblog has to do with my intention of capturing ideas being echoed around the blogosphere and there have been many people weighing in on this subject on their blogs. @ayjay took on the subject is several blog posts, like this one.
If nothing else, this whole shameful display should put an end, once and for all, to the ridiculous idea that there is some natural and intrinsic connection between democracy and capitalism. There very obviously ain’t. When shareholders and the bottom line are not benefitted by democracy, then democracy gets flushed down the toilet. American big business has firmly decided for a totalitarian regime and against people who want democratic freedoms. The business of America really is business after all.
The quote, and the piece, are not just centered on the NBA, but also around ESPN/Disney and Apple, as well. After all, many corporations that are making grand gestures for social justice are also heavily entrenched in a totalitarian state that has over a million people in concentration camps.
Along with the increased scrutiny over where these companies choose to exercise their influence come some pretty fair questions about proportionality. Jason Morehead has a nice round up of opinion pieces about how many companies have fought hard for progressive causes domestically suddenly grow mute when much larger human rights abuses are committed in countries in which they do big business.
It’s almost like trusting American corporations to do what’s morally right, not just when it’s easy and results in good PR but also when it’s inconvenient, unpopular, and they risk losing lots of money, is a bad idea. Who knew?
Apple has no problem filing an amicus brief against a cake maker, but don’t expect them to risk a kink in their massive supply chain anytime soon, no matter how righteous the cause.
This issue isn’t even limited to private corporations, though. The state of New York joined the NBA in boycotting North Carolina over bathroom provisioning, while also almost simultaneously making is just short of illegal to boycott other countries for human rights violations. How one state can reconcile boycotting another state over bathrooms while seriously restricting the right to protest, say, people’s houses being bulldozed in another country, I’m not sure I will ever understand. This all happening under the auspices of a constitution that guarantees the right to free speech makes everything even more ridiculous.
Returning to the issue of uneven corporate activism, it starts to get difficult to determine exactly what a conscientious consumer is to make of his or her options. Picking up with Alan Jacobs again, who has a post that wrestles with how to handle the ethical implications of Apple’s decisions.
The other axis, that of ethics, is even more difficult. Apple’s Chinese entanglements massive compromise the ethical status of the company, and in more than one way. (Which is worse, obedience to the demands of the Chinese government or the exploitation of Chinese labor?) But Apple also deserves some praise for its commitment to privacy and its truly wonderful work in making its computers accessible to a wide range of users. I don’t know how to make an ethics spreadsheet, as it were, that assembles all the relevant factors — including comparisons to the available alternatives — and gives them proper weighting.
I believe that Apple is a particularly tough case here, because in so many areas (tablets, for example), there are simply no credible competitors. That’s not meant to be a commentary simply on the Apple products themselves, but also upon the ecosystem that exists around them. There is a very real paucity of third party software on other platforms, mostly because people using Android and Windows don’t tend to be software enthusiasts, who are willing to pay for well done products by independent shops.
My wife asked a good question regarding Apple, as we shopped for a new tablet that she can use for work: “How do you hold them to account, when your power is your purchasing power?”
It’s good to see early results in some experiments with universal basic income. I’m especially interested in seeing how can the implementation of such programs can break the cycle of poverty.
In Stockton, CA, those who qualified for the program were given $500 a month.
After talking to researchers and social workers about the program, Paradela felt a little more confident. And when the money finally showed up that first month, “it came just in time,” she said: Her car battery had died, and she needed money to fix it. A few months later, her car was hit by a driver making an illegal U-turn. If the vehicle stayed out of commission, she wouldn’t be able to get to work, or visit her mother in the hospital down in Hollister.
Alleviating the stress of the unknowns that can put someone into a viscous cycle is a laudable goal in itself. That alone seems like something that could have a huge impact in quality of life for those who are just getting by.
In the latest issue of his newsletter, Om Malik writes about consumerism being one of the harder habits to beat.
But there is one demon I have not been able to conquer, an addiction that is worse than nicotine: consumerism. For the past four years, every year, I make an effort to get rid of things and buy less. It is not easy to do — the machines of desire work constantly and are powerful. I looked at my own spending trends, and I am at about 25 percent of where I was four years ago. I have bought much fewer things and gotten rid of an average of 10 things a month. And yet, it is not enough.
There’s a reason I refer to myself as a “aspiring minimalist” in my bio. Acquisition of material goods can be a difficult thing on which to scale back. For one, it’s such a general goal to tackle, unlike even something such as improving eating habits. Though you may cut back on a certain area of discretionary spending, such as a hobby, it can be harder yet to spend less on what seem like necessities, like clothing.
Malik addresses quite a bit of the piece to clothing specifically. He refers to the amount of clothing that goes to landfills after not being sold. H&M alone has burned $4.3 billion worth of excess inventory. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if H&M burned 99% of their clothing, but that’s a topic for another blog post.
I have very mixed feelings about watching football these days. On one hand, it’s without question the best of the major US sports to watch on television. On the other, it’s an absolutely barbaric sport. Many of the players playing today will suffer injuries playing the game which they will never recover from. And many of the people who are supposed to be in charge of the league are seemingly immoral. It’s perhaps not as bad as watching boxing in decades past. Or actual gladiators in centuries past. But it’s also not entirely different.
Unfortunately, in my view, too many people (my son included) are making the same choice that Siegler ultimately makes, which is to throw out any misgivings and just keep on watching.
I think Augustine would have agreed with the gladiator reference. He writes the following, of his friend Alypius, in the sixth book of his Confessions.
He, not forsaking that secular course which his parents had charmed him to pursue, had gone before me to Rome, to study law, and there he was carried away incredibly with an incredible eagerness after the shows of gladiators. For being utterly averse to and detesting such spectacles, he was one day by chance met by divers of his acquaintance and fellow-students coming from dinner, and they with a familiar violence haled him, vehemently refusing and resisting, into the Amphitheatre, during these cruel and deadly shows, he thus protesting: “Though you hale my body to that place, and there set me, can you force me also to turn my mind or my eyes to those shows? I shall then be absent while present, and so shall overcome both you and them.” They hearing this, led him on nevertheless, desirous perchance to try that very thing, whether he could do as he said. When they were come thither, and had taken their places as they could, the whole place kindled with that savage pastime. But he, closing the passages of his eyes, forbade his mind to range abroad after such evils; and would he had stopped his ears also! For in the fight, when one fell, a mighty cry of the whole people striking him strongly, overcome by curiosity, and as if prepared to despise and be superior to it whatsoever it were, even when seen, he opened his eyes, and was stricken with a deeper wound in his soul than the other, whom he desired to behold, was in his body; and he fell more miserably than he upon whose fall that mighty noise was raised, which entered through his ears, and unlocked his eyes, to make way for the striking and beating down of a soul, bold rather than resolute, and the weaker, in that it had presumed on itself, which ought to have relied on Thee. For so soon as he saw that blood, he therewith drunk down savageness; nor turned away, but fixed his eye, drinking in frenzy, unawares, and was delighted with that guilty fight, and intoxicated with the bloody pastime. Nor was he now the man he came, but one of the throng he came unto, yea, a true associate of theirs that brought him thither.
In Light Phone 2: the high hopes of the low-tech phone, Michael Zelenko writes about how hope for the minimalist phones like the Light Phone and the Punkt phone should probably be tempered by limited target customers.
There may not be a mass market for minimalist phones — they’re expensive, they’re superfluous, they’re extra — but there could be niche markets for the Light Phone: well-to-do campers, weekend warriors, the hyper-wired looking for relief. That could also include, as one friend put it, “people who shouldn’t be trusted with smartphones”: children, old people, and bad teens.
I like how “bad teens” are included in those who may be in need of a really expensive phone that doesn’t do much. What about “bad old people?”
I do love those e-ink screens, though…
A year ago we focused, ostensibly, on the Bible and what God wanted to tell us. Now we are concerned with the financial health and wealth of young families, how to raise children, how to keep a marriage vital, how to be good friends, and stuff like that. Sort of like classes you might take at a community center.
I’ve heard similar comments from others who have attended newer churches. They feel like the churches are advertising for addiction recovery programs or spiritual wellness or simply bringing people together in community. While all of those ministries are important, churches that are lacking in strong Christian theology might as well serve as alternate community centers.
A great many people think they’re interested in politics when they’re only interested in news. I have in recent years grown more and more interested in politics and economics, which is to say, the whole long history of all the ways in which we human beings have tried to live together without killing one another but instead, perhaps, finding some arena of mutual benefit. I think our current obsession with news makes it far harder for us to think about politics, so I have stepped away from the daily grind of “And Now This!” to try to inquire into the principles of political economy, and politics more generally.
The post gets into detail about how hard it can be to understand the arguments behind policy when so many of the sources that bring us the ideas are “true believers” in the absolutes of one side versus the other.
With the introduction of the Feedbin client for iOS, which mirrors the new design of the Feedbin web app, I think I may have found my Twitter sweet spot.
Feedbin has had top notch integration with Twitter for some time, allowing you to follow users as if they had RSS feeds (which Twitter did have, in the early days). For tweets with links, Feedbin includes the content of the article to which the tweet links.
Feedbin also includes handy buttons for viewing the Twitter conversation without leaving the app, or for opening the tweet in the Twitter app on iOS (useful for replying).
Some of my favorite users to follow on Twitter are those that provide links to good content. Of course, the title of this post was somewhat facetious, as many people use Twitter in different ways. For me, though, using Twitter through Feedbin feels ideal. The opportunity to get great content from those who use the platform as their primary sharing mechanism, without having to get swept away by the stream, is immensely valuable.
In a piece entitled Our Moloch, written just after the Sandy Hook shootings, Garry Wills compares the American love for guns to the ancient worship of the god Moloch.
The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?
If the comparison seems hyperbolic, consider this: In the Presbyterian Church that I attend, we host meetings for Mom’s Demand Action. However, we can’t list the meeting in our church bulletin, without changing the name. To admit that you are following Christian teaching, even when it goes against a love for unrestricted access to guns, is to commit a uniquely American heresy. To further illustrate the point, Mom’s Demand Action advocates for safety measures that were first developed by the National Rifle Association in the 1980’s. In that era, the NRA still allowed discussion of gun regulations to an extent that seems unfathomable now.
The worship of Moloch is one of the ugliest traditions depicted in the Old Testament of the Bible. When the text refers to the “detestable practices” that were common among the people with whom the Israelites lived, ritual prostitution and burning children in sacrifice to the god Moloch are chief among those practices. One of the most visceral scenes I have ever read in a novel comes from Salammbo, by Gustave Flaubert. In the book, the citizens of the ancient city of Carthage are trying stave off invasion by the angry and unpaid mercenaries who helped them to fight against the Roman Empire. The water supply to the city has been cut and they are in dire need of rain. In their desperation, the Carthaginians hastily sacrifice their children to the fires of a giant idol of Moloch. It’s a difficult scene to stomach.
The victims, when scarcely at the edge of the opening, disappeared like a drop of water on a red-hot plate, and white smoke rose amid the great scarlet colour.
Nevertheless, the appetite of the god was not appeased. He ever wished for more. In order to furnish him with a larger supply, the victims were piled up on his hands with a big chain above them which kept them in their place. Some devout persons had at the beginning wished to count them, to see whether their number corresponded with the days of the solar year; but others were brought, and it was impossible to distinguish them in the giddy motion of the horrible arms. This lasted for a long, indefinite time until the evening. Then the partitions inside assumed a darker glow, and burning flesh could be seen. Some even believed that they could descry hair, limbs, and whole bodies.
After the Sandy Hook shootings, there was a lack of legislative, or really any, action that followed. Many said that if we allowed this sort of thing to happen to our children without doing anything about it, we would never have the will to prevent these things. So far, those people who predicted our sinful complacency have been right. While other countries take action and are rewarded with safer communities in which to live, we in America continue to trade our security, and that of our children, to curry favor with the false god of unrestricted access to weapons.
Yesterday my son, who works in the Chicago Loop, saw a woman on a bicycle get hit by a car. She wasn’t seriously injured, but she was knocked to the ground, dazed. He ran up to her to see if she was okay and pulled out his phone to call 911 — but she quickly, urgently said, “No! No! I can’t afford to go to the hospital!” And after taking a moment to gather herself, she got to her feet, picked up her damaged bike, and wobbled off.
They do say that the plural of anecdote is data. Of course, with regards to healthcare in this country, we shouldn’t even need the anecdotes to show how terrible the healthcare situation has become. We’ve got mountains of empirical data to do that quite effectively. The human stories do have a power that the faceless data could never convey, though.
In the piece, Study Asks If War Makes A Person More … Or Less … Religious, Diane Cole writes for NPR about the affect being in intense conflict situations has on personal and communal religiosity.
The more profound the impact of war on an individual — such as the death, injury or abduction of a household member — the greater the likelihood grew of that person turning to religion. By contrast, those who had been less affected by the impact of war were also less likely to join a a religious group. The statistical breakdown showed that for those in Sierra Leone, greater exposure to war made it 12% more likely individuals would turn to religion; 14% more for those in Uganda; and 41% more for Tajikstan.
Even as years passed, Henrich’s latest study found that religious practice continued to play a significant role in the lives of many of those surveyed. “These effects on religiosity persist even 5, 8 and 13 years post-conflict,” according to the study. The effects held true whether those surveyed were Muslim or Christian.
This research seems to lead credibility to the aphorism, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” although that statement is far from a universal qualifier. As Christopher “Hitch” Hitchens would have told you most vehemently, from the metaphorical foxhole of his terminal cancer diagnosis, there are atheists even in those dark places.
What does this say about the faith impulse, though? The implication from these studies point to it being a psychological survival mechanism. Of course, the war weary are by no means the only keepers of religion, so we probably need to be careful about drawing too many sweeping conclusions about the nature of religious belief.
In Why On Earth Are So Many Millennials Becoming Nuns?, Eve Fairbanks examines why millennial women are flocking to religious orders in record numbers. The piece is a fascinating look at how ancient Catholic institutions are faring in contemporary times.
Several women are profiled in the article. One, named Rachael, in part seems to be reacting against the ambiguity of moral relativism.
It was partly a bitter joke, but partly a sincere thought. “There is nothing consistent in the secular world,” Rachael reflected. Catholicism, by contrast, taught that “truth is a fact.” Your obligations to other people and God couldn’t be trumped by your “personal truth.”
A portion of the piece focuses on the rising challenge of a more orthodox faith in the face of some failing ideas that were supposed to bring about a perfect society. The ways modern, secular life has let us down, from materialism to the existential ache that comes from a lack of meaning, are examined through the lenses of these young women pursuing the cloistered life.
We are a thing that is wounded, American society. People raised for the new millennium were to be a kind of final proof that democracy and American society was, indeed, the greatest that ever could be made, now that primitive superstitions had been cleared, tech and science and finance reigned, major political threats had fallen and our hegemony seemed complete. We were, and shakily remain, utopian in ways I would laugh at if I hadn’t bought into them, too. More than half of millennials still tell pollsters they believe they’re going to be millionaires. Most of us expected to achieve idyllic marriages, even though so many of our parents had divorced. We were taught that anything you hoped for could be achieved with the right planning, that life is a series of hacks: fabulous tricks, but ones that have a reliable code for how to repeat them.
These life hacks have become a sort of pseudo-religious phenomenon, with the appropriate amount of focus and attention given to them. The similarities are not hard to spot once you really look.
Things like Goop and the gluten-free movement are basically straight-up religions, promising spiritual renewal and healing from all sickness, only with a jade yoni egg as the Eucharist. We’re fixated on minimalism and self-purification, be it by the methods of Marie Kondo or “inbox zero” or Jordan Peterson, whose popularity rests less on his insights about Carl Jung or lobster biology than on his idea that life can be boiled down to 12 rules—commandments.
Though much of our culture seems to serve as an incubator for the construction of these neo-pagan paradigms, their escapes by way of the road to religious orders were not without bumps for the subjects of the story. No spoilers here, but being a nun is not an easy thing. As is noted in the article, it’s not the frequently thought of chastity that is difficult so much as it is the obedience. A lot of autonomy is lost. Aspects of one’s personal identity become subsumed by the group. Of course, those difficulties make the rising numbers of women trying to become nuns seem all the more reactionary and radical.
Nuns image by Stephen Douglas via Flickr.
In our worship service on Sunday, we watched the trailer for a documentary, done by the PCUSA, on Central American migration. The documentary, Genesis of Exodus explains the conditions in the countries from which people are fleeing. Ultimately, it’s a call for compassion for those who are leaving their homelands for better lives somewhere else.
That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19, CEB)
Chaplain Mike writes on Richard Beck’s observations about the relationship of progressive Christians to the Bible.
First, he finds many of them fragile when it comes to the Bible. They are fearful and suspicious when approaching scripture. Their first instinct is to find what’s problematic in the Bible. They miss the joy of scripture. They approach it as skeptics first, mistrustful of what they are going to find, already leaning toward a conclusion that the Bible has been used in so many harmful ways over the course of history that one must first deconstruct it before finding anything of value in it.
I don’t dispute this phenomena, nor do I find it to be universally true. Chaplain Mike himself being an example of someone deeply attached to scripture. However, he and Beck consider themselves “post-progressive” and perhaps they have adopted this moniker partially to highlight their biblical fidelity.
I seem to be reading a lot about “influencers” lately. When I think of influencers, the typical profile that comes to mind is the Instagram star with oodles of followers trading their share of eyeballs for products that are ripe for placement.
Though there is something distasteful about how many of these internet celebrities trade fame for product, arguably to the detriment of their audiences, it isn’t really a new thing. This type of trade-off has for some time been proposed in the photography world. Most photographers have come to despise the request for free services to get them exposure, leading to at least one clever Oregon Trail meme on the subject.
It’s probably safe to say peddling influence has been around for as long as there has been media. I wrote this about the movie Christmas in Connecticut (1945) in December 2017, when compiling a list of favorite Christmas movies for my brother.
Then you find out that the leading female character is a materialistic New York urbanite (played by the delightful Barbara Stanwick) named Elizabeth Lane, who writes a popular folksy column for a magazine under a completely assumed identity.
In today’s parlance, Lane could be considered part of the “influencer economy,” trading tales about an aspirational lifestyle for product sponsorships. The character doesn’t know how to cook (in fact, she’s got a Hungarian cook named Felix who features prominently for comic relief) but she writes whole features around down-home recipes.
@cheri recently opined on the subject in My Problem with Influencers. She starts off of the piece with a David Wallace quote, emphasizing that this trend has been with us for some time, but has only accelerated with the newer outlets for covert advertising.
This passage still feels relevant even though Wallace wrote it in the nineties, long before the rise of social media. Perhaps that’s because the trend of ads-pretending-to-be-other-things has only sped up over the years. As a result, we’re living our lives alongside a bizarre set of social norms that I’ve come to think of as influencer culture. Influencer culture is most visible in the world of advertising, but it trickles into our politics, communities, and nearly all internet-mediated communication.
My guess is that we’ve reached some soft of peak influencer period. People are spending a lot of time on YouTube and Instagram, where popularity is mostly self-made. The newly famous on these platforms need or want remuneration for their efforts to gain followers (which can take substantial effort). As long as that holds, advertising, whether obvious or not, will remain a tempting business model.
In The New Wilderness, Maciej Cegłowski writes about changing views around privacy and how the rules that served us so well in the past didn’t take into account the present landscape. Though there are many, the piece is easily one of the best that I’ve read on the subject.
In the eyes of regulators, privacy still means what it did in the eighteenth century—protecting specific categories of personal data, or communications between individuals, from unauthorized disclosure. Third parties that are given access to our personal data have a duty to protect it, and to the extent that they discharge this duty, they are respecting our privacy.
Seen in this light, the giant tech companies can make a credible claim to be the defenders of privacy, just like a dragon can truthfully boast that it is good at protecting its hoard of gold. Nobody spends more money securing user data, or does it more effectively, than Facebook and Google.
This is perhaps the first time I’ve heard the large tech companies compared to a character like Smaug from The Hobbit. The similarities seem obvious, though, with the unchecked acquisitiveness of both the massive tech behemoths and the clever, greedy dragon.
The question we need to ask is not whether our data is safe, but why there is suddenly so much of it that needs protecting. The problem with the dragon, after all, is not its stockpile stewardship, but its appetite.
There are many insightful angles that Ceglowski hits upon, but I especially appreciate when he points out that Facebook and Google make claims about protecting user privacy with multiple tracking scripts being served by the very articles in which they make these claims. Therein lies part of the answer to why there is now so much data that needs protecting.
image by Simon Rankin via flickr
🎵 Sebadoh - Sunshine: I’m still deciding how I feel about the majority of the new Sebadoh album, Celebrate The Void. Sebadoh and I have a long history and it has been about 27 years since I heard that the bassist who got kicked out of Dinosaur Jr. had his own band. At the time I nearly flipped my lid. In the fall of 1994, I went to see Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. within a week of each other and teased Lou Barlow a bit about it while getting to hang out with him as well as Mike Flood at the merch table (I didn’t ride with the flood that night).
Although, it’s hard to call such a unique and prolific band “consistent,” I would maintain that the majority of their records have a sizable number of songs that have stuck closely with me throughout the years. Even the previous record, Defend Yourself, which appeared after a fairly lengthy hiatus, has a couple of tracks that rank among their better material.
It’s hard to predict how the latest record will age, though. I’ve liked it better than I thought I would and the track “Sunshine” is one reason for that. Barlow’s clever lyrics about needing the brighter side of life so he can shut it out speaks to a part of the human condition that’s hard to name or even describe well. The slow and angular guitar part lazily wraps itself around some soothing negative space. The classically and unmistakably Sebadoh baseline anchors the song and gives it a bit of a jaunty feeling. The whole song comes together as a remarkable entry in the band’s catalog and makes you glad they are still doing their thing.
An excerpt from an interview with singer/songwriter Bill Callahan about his new album, which exudes a certain comfort.
Do you consider yourself an optimist?
Every day, waking up in the morning fills me with optimism. Everything is moving along. The bugs are doing their thing. Traffic is going on. Everyone’s going to work. Everything’s working, going in one direction.
Keep in mind, Callahan has been in some pretty dark places, as even a quick examination of his older albums will show. So it’s interesting to read this response. As someone who struggles with mornings sometimes, I love the idea of waking up with this in my mind.
Two songs that sound to me like starting the day in this way:
I wrote recently about how my bullet journal is becoming more of a traditional journal now. It also serves as a common-place book for various bits of information. This post from Public Domain Review goes into detail about how John Locke organized his common-place book and briefly reflects on how the glut of information that was a consequence of the printing press made such books popular.
With the rise of printing technologies, common-place books reflected an anxiety with a deluge of new information still present today. John Locke was concerned with not just how to access it, but how to organise and recall it. In the age of the internet, as Steven Johnson writes, we are equally led into “common places”, where associations are constructed through happenstance (e.g. from a Google search); our job, he adds, is to sort that information out whilst also enabling connections to germinate.
I was particularly impressed with Locke’s way of indexing by using each of the letters of the alphabet, then assigning the 5 vowels to each of them. Using his method, pages that contained info related to blogging would be indexed under the B with the O secondary. It’s a rather ingenious way of organizing scraps of information. You just have to remember how you classified each discrete bit of data.
The New Yorker recently featured an article from Cal Newport entitled Can “Indie” Social Media Save Us? that generated a lot of interest and responses from the IndieWeb community. The focus of the piece was whether the rise of the IndieWeb and decentralized social media services could help to mitigate some of the problems that have come from the corporate social media networks. Ultimately, Newport concludes that the IndieWeb will never reach the popularity of the current social media spaces.
Despite its advantages, however, I suspect that the IndieWeb will not succeed in replacing existing social-media platforms at their current scale. For one thing, the IndieWeb lacks the carefully engineered addictiveness that helped fuel the rise of services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This addictiveness has kept people returning to their devices even when they know there are better uses for their time; remove the addiction, and you might lose the users.
Unfortunately for those that love the IndieWeb, social networks thrive on economies of scale, and the corporate networks tend to have the advantage there. On the most recent episode of the Internet Friends podcast, Drew and Jon discuss leaving Twitter and coming back again. The discussion includes some vague references to using another social network service, which I believe is Micro.blog, and how that experience wasn’t as valuable or enjoyable as using Twitter. I have heard others express this frustration, mostly for the simple reason that the corporate social networks like Twitter and Instagram are where most people are found.
I actually prefer Micro.blog to Twitter, though it was never meant to be a direct competitor or to match all of the features or scale (that’s why M.b. includes cross posting to networks like Twitter). Micro.blog is slower, but also more considered. Alan Jacobs believes the speculation that the Indie Web will not overrun the established networks in number of users is a good thing.
Just one point for now: Newport writes, “Despite its advantages, however, I suspect that the IndieWeb will not succeed in replacing existing social-media platforms at their current scale.” This is precisely right, but as I commented a few weeks ago, that’s a feature, not a bug. Scale is the enemy.
When I stumbled upon Micro.blog, I was looking for an minimal, markdown-centric means of blogging. I started on the network with the “blog like a hacker” approach of using Jekyll on GitHub pages and later switched over to the hosted plan. The social aspect of M.b. was a bonus. The M.b. network presented a built in group of people who, unlike many on Twitter, were interested in, and had the attention span needed to read 500 word blog posts.
Manton Reece, the man behind Micro.blog, in response to the Newport piece, elaborates on one of the premises that drives the network.
It’s okay to have centralized services to make things easier for people, because it’s too much to expect that everyone should run their own server. The web can be “spread out” on multiple layers: a more diverse set of platforms, so that not all the power is concentrated in a couple massive platforms like Facebook; and more personal domain names, so that even if Micro.blog hosts 1000s of blogs, each one has its own identity on the web and can be moved.
The idea of a portable identity is a big part of the value proposition of the IndieWeb and blogging in general. You can switch platforms and still keep your writing and your domain name. Depending on the specifics of the platform switch and the design implications, your readers may never even know you are using a different service. There is a consistency as well as a method of true ownership of your content. Popular blogger Khoi Vinh expounds on how ownership and the platform you use helps to distinguish your work from the rest of the stuff in the stream.
That said, I personally can’t imagine handing over all of my labor to a centralized platform where it’s chopped up and shuffled together with content from countless other sources, only to be exploited at the current whims of the platform owners’ volatile business models. I know a lot of creators are successful in that context, but I also see a lot of stuff that gets rendered essentially indistinguishable from everything else, lost in the blizzard of “content.”
Though I wholeheartedly wish for a return to the days when it took some amount of effort to put your thoughts on the internet, I am skeptical that many will turn to the IndieWeb. Despite the problems of the centralized social networks, people don’t seem to be turning away from them in massive numbers. Though it’s getting easier to join, thanks to networks like Mastodon and Micro.blog, the IndieWeb still has a ways to go before it will be appealing to your average internet denizen. Even if people leave Facebook and Twitter, there is no guarantee they will join the IndieWeb. As Newport writes in the original piece, users fed up with the existing social networks may abandon the concept of internet-based social networks all together.
As a technology enthusiast, I’m a believer in the IndieWeb movement and think it will play an important role in the future of the Internet. For the exhausted majority of social-media users, however, the appeal of the proverbial quiet bench might outweigh the lure of a better Facebook.
Images via Andrei Lacatusu’s collection, “Social Decay” on Behance
I started the year 2019 with another respectable bullet journal (bujo), crafted from a Moleskine notebook and made to get things done. Something went awry along the way to filling that notebook, though.
The problems begin when I realized, as in other years, I was going to have far less tasks than notebook. Something seemed slightly tragic about having a perfectly good notebook with so much space going to waste. The bullet journal system doesn’t encourage traditional journaling, so much as it does creating action items and systems to develop habits. Sure, it has built-in support for plain notes, but those feel like they are mostly to be used in conjunction with bullets for actions. With more in my head than just what task I needed to accomplish next, I began to explore more traditional journal entries that in years past might have been done in a digital format such as the Day One app.
I have systems in place to limit my screen time after 9pm, which has proven to be a good thing, so it made more sense to be writing journal entries on good old-fashioned paper. I started off slow, at first. Then, as difficulties in my everyday life mounted, the journal entries became more frequent. Those entries outnumbered the action item bullets. I tend to find that, for me, the notion of productivity for its own sake goes right out of the window in the face of medical problems and unexpected life disruptions. My incomplete todo’s from March still look at me and laugh from the page. The best laid plans (well, maybe not the best) of mice and men…
In fact, it would be pretty easy to look at my journal and determine when introspection became more important than productivity. Gauging how each day was going, whether things were improving and reflecting on overcoming past difficulties took priority over tallying up a list of things I was getting done. It happens. Life occasionally gets in the way of progress and sometimes taking a step back to reflect is more necessary than moving forward on the next goal. Sometimes moving forward is not even possible without that act of reflection. Other times, with various things competing for time and mental energy, forward progress is not even possible until a later, more stable, time.
As I fill my Moleskine, I’m trying to stay mindful of the rightful place of productivity in my thinking, in my life and even in my bujo. My identity is more than just what I can get done in a day. I think it’s fair to say that my effectiveness as a father, husband, teacher, co-worker, or any other hat I wear is greater than simply my productivity. After all, as Austin Kleon explains in this post from last year, productivity is not the same as effectiveness.
I’ve gotten a handful of tweets recently asking me about “productivity systems,” which is funny to me because it assumes I do any thinking at all about productivity. Productivity is pretty low on my list of cares. “Productivity is for machines, not for people,” Jason Fried recently tweeted. “Think about how effective you’re being, not how productive you’re being.”
I have been following the health status of, and praying for, Rachel Held Evans recently, as she lay in a coma induced to keep her brain from constant seizures. Yesterday, Evans passed away, after a fight to keep her alive following an ordeal that started with a reaction to antibiotics.
As word of Evans death spread through the internet, many expressed their shock and grief. A number of those people also wrote about how she inspired them to take bold steps in their lives, to walk in faith. There was something about the way she made people feel comfortable with doubt, and processing that as a normal part of a faith journey, that resonated with a lot of Christians. She particularly strengthened those who felt cast out by their church experiences.
Evans was noted for her disagreements with prominent evangelical leaders, but it seems that she carried out those difficult discussions with a measure of grace.
High-profile female writers and speakers in American evangelicalism have traditionally focused on spiritual questions, and shied away from controversy and confrontation. But Evans often used her platform to challenge male pastors and leaders. Over the years, she sparred about theology, culture, and politics with prominent Christian men including Russell Moore, John Piper, Rod Dreher, and Mark Driscoll. (Many of them have expressed their prayers for her in recent weeks, after Evans shared the news of her illness.)
Progressive Baptist Pastor John Thornton Jr. puts it well in his newsletter.
I’ll also confess that at times I found her frustrating. Sometimes she seemed a bit naive, taking conservative evangelicals at their word. I wanted her to just tell them to screw off. But I have to admit I found her interactions with many of them impressive. It always seemed rooted in a hope that they could and should be better and that in some way it was her job to stand for anyone that would listen. She offered thousands of people a glimpse of the ways the Christian faith could be less unkind and unfair than the conservative, white evangelicalism that Gen X and millennials were raised in. She seemed genuinely invested in the struggle for a better church when she had plenty of reason to walk away. She showed up and did the work because she knew people, especially people that churches had hurt over and over, needed her to.
Though I only occasionally read Evans’ writing, I remember the experience of feeling that she put ideas, that I couldn’t quite express, very succinctly. I was particularly struck by this Twitter thread.
And, in my experience, Mainline Protestants tend to put a heavy emphasis on the teachings of Jesus, with less emphasis on Paul/the epistles, while evangelicals tend to do the opposite. (Generalization alert! Sorry!)....— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) December 21, 2017
Mainline Christians often take a beating by evangelicals on the subject of biblical fidelity, but Evans’ words reminded me that it’s often just a matter of what parts of the Bible on which a church choses to focus. There are those in more conservative Christian circles who believe that mainline churches are losing members due to a lack of adherence to scripture. Joshua Tait, in this piece on Pete Buttigieg, refers to this position as “demographic triumphalism.”
In truth, churches in mainline Christian denominations aren’t any less faithful to scripture, but their traditions have been built upon a different emphasis. They don’t tend to read the Bible as a constitution, where the “house rules” of Paul have the same importance as the gospel of Jesus. I was grateful to Evans’ for pointing this out, with numerous supporting examples. It’s just an example of how she could question certain dogma with clarity but also grace.
A great number of people are going to miss Rachel Held Evans for all sorts of reasons. Her voice was a critical one within the sphere of Christian thought. She kept many who would have otherwise left within the faith. We will be praying for her young family and many friends as they navigate through their grief.
I never was one to buy a ton of records, but one of the reasons I have slacked off of my vinyl purchasing lately is that not everything I have been excited about has been released on that format. That may be a problem with a resolution, thanks to Bandcamp’s new vinyl service.
Today, we’re offering a first glimpse of an initiative from Bandcamp that aims to address these challenges. Our new vinyl pressing service streamlines the financing, production, and fulfillment of vinyl records. With no up-front investment, an artist or label can create a vinyl campaign and start taking orders almost immediately. Once they reach their minimum goal, we press their records and ship them to their fans.
For bands that can’t take the risk of pressing records without knowing the level of interest, this provides them a safe way to test the waters and give the fans what they want.
This is another reason I consider Bandcamp to be a tremendously valuable service and an innovator in a time of a lot of upheaval in the music industry.
(Of course, sold out prereleases are a completely separate problem.)
This is a piece I wrote almost exactly a year ago. It never made it to this blog but it seems relevant as Christians head into Easter and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
I’ve written favorably of The Faith Angle podcast before, and I continue to be impressed by the content on the show. In the fifth episode, guests Ross Douthat and Father James Martin argue the importance of adhering to traditional Catholic doctrine and when it’s imperative to set aside that doctrine in light of individual conscience and grace. Both are grounded in a strong theological tradition and both make strong points to support their views.
The primary doctrinal point of discussion is the indissolubility of marriage, which comes straight from Jesus’ teaching in the gospels. The question of application of the teaching comes into play when people are caught in a situation that finds them outside of the bounds of what is deemed acceptable by the church, sometimes through no fault or choice of their own. Co-host Kirsten Powers brings up the example of a friend whose husband cheated on her. After attempts to reconcile, the husband ended up leaving her friend for the other woman. Now outside of the Catholic Church’s rigid rules against divorce, the woman cannot receive the Eucharist.
Douthat, as the representative on the show for the more conservative viewpoint, sticks to the letter of the law in insisting that the woman should not receive the Eucharist because of the situation in which she has found herself. When listening to this judgement, it is important to remember that the Eucharist is one of the sacraments in both Catholic and Protestant churches. A sacrament is an avenue to God’s grace. So, in Catholic teaching, a woman who has been abandoned by her husband is also cut off from a way to receive the grace of God. I certainly support Powers point that such rigidity without consideration of circumstances seems unfair. I would go beyond that, though, in that I believe the practice seems spiritually destructive.
In his book, A New Kind of Christianity, author and pastor Brian McClaren tells the story of an Kenyan man who wept after participating in a worship service to which McClaren had invited him. When he asked the man why he was crying, the man assured him that the tears were caused by joy. The man was so happy because he had never before taken part in the Eucharist. In Kenya, the Anglican Church to which he belonged had made a policy for polygamous converts that only children of the first wife could participate in the Holy Supper. This man was the child of a third wife and therefore had never been able to take the sacrament.
We must be very careful in the exclusion of anyone from the table that Jesus sets for them. There are many instances portrayed in the gospels in which Jesus eats with or heals those that the religious authorities deem unworthy. In those cases, Jesus rebukes those who want to cling to rules over grace and inclusion. I believe we need to be especially discerning when we forbid people from participating in an avenue to God’s grace for reasons over which they have no control. These individuals have not flouted the commandments or even given up on their faith. People were not born into, nor can they be forced into, a situation that keeps them from being close to God through His son.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38-39)
For those who are creating on the web and even monetizing their creative output, Richard MacManus - @ricmac - has had some appealing content recently. His interview with Jason Kottke dives into the journey Kottke has gone through in his 20+ years of blogging. I probably don’t need to do too much to recommend Kottke’s blog, as it already seems to have such a broad following. I will say I’ve been reading the blog for years and he consistently has a variety of interesting posts. The posts on the popular blogger’s site range from topics like maps of fairyland to the life changing magic of the $15 minimum wage. The interview with MacManus touches on where blogging stands in the current landscape of the web and gives insight into Kottke’s view of things as a veteran of the medium. I have to admit, though, I never pictured Kottke looking the way he does in the picture that accompanies the interview.
Another fascinating interview is with Cherie Hu, who runs the newsletter Water + Music. I’ve been reading Water + Music for the past year and have been impressed by the level of professionalism and angle of the content. The newsletter reads like a trade magazine about music and new media. Hu is definitely someone to watch and MacManus lets the interview run a bit longer than usual to get a fuller scope of her thoughts.
My little guy had his seventh name day not long ago. He was over the moon to receive what he called, “birthday love” from all the kids in Sunday School, grinning from ear to ear when they sang to him. We don’t do big birthday parties for our boys, so he doesn’t usually have a bunch of kids singing to him. We worried that he would be embarrassed, but that wasn’t at all the case. The birthday love led him to search for “birthday songs” on my Apple Music account. These are the results that came up. All explicit.
It reminds me of the scene near the end of Catcher in the Rye, where protagonist Holden Caulfield discovers vulgar graffiti in a museum and gets all bummed out about how it will affect the little kids who see it.
Somebody’d written “F**k you” on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought about how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them - all cockeyed, naturally - what it meant, and how they’d all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days.
Later on, when he sees another instance of the same graffiti.
That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, someone will sneak up and write “F**k you” right under your nose.
Last year, for the first time, I fasted during Lent. I made Friday my fast day and fasted from sunup to sundown. It was an interesting experiment. Some days it wasn’t too hard, other days the hunger was intense, or I would get a bad headache by the end of the day. The point of fasting (especially as part of Lenten devotion) isn’t for it to be easy, though.
This past month, I spent 3 weeks sick with the flu and then bronchitis. During that time, I had little energy for anything and an appetite to match. Every day was difficult and it was even hard to sleep thinking about the things I had to do with such little resources. As I thought about fasting for Lent this year, I felt like I had already been through a fast-like experience. I wasn’t sure it would be good for my body as I healed to put it through the physical fast, so I decided against following the routine I began last year.
As I was searching for alternatives to the Friday fast, my wife passed along this list from Pope Francis to which our Associate Pastor had posted a link on Facebook. I’m trying to keep these guidelines in mind as I go through the season of Lent.
A few of these, such as “fast from pressures and be prayerful” and “fast from worries and trust in God,” are especially meaningful to me this season. I hope I am able to keep them in my heart and mind and continue to cultivate habits that make them part of my life.
Most of the Record Store Day exclusives recently have not been my cup of tea. However, this year, one release in particular caught my eye after the tragic death of Richard Swift.
Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard will pay tribute to friend and collaborator Richard Swift with a new 7-inch split single featuring two unreleased tracks recorded by the pair. The A-side is an unreleased demo of “Me and Magdalena” which Gibbard wrote for The Monkees’ 2016 album Good Times!. The B-side is an alternate unreleased version of Teenage Fanclub’s “The Concept” from Gibbard’s cover of the band’s Bandwagonesque album, which he released in 2017. Limited to 1,600 copies, with proceeds benefiting MusiCares.
I can vouch for the quality of the album version of Gibbard’s cover of “The Concept” from his full-length take on Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque. It will be interesting to listen to the alternate version. Many times, with Swift’s production, you can hear his style in the recording. I think I get just as much of Swift as I do Jurado on Damien Jurado’s “A.M. AM.”.
A lot of people these days are worried about the demise of Tumblr. The product has changed hands a few times, and neither its Yahoo! parents or its Verizon parents seem to have paid much attention to it. M.G. Siegler took his concerns to his Medium blog, 500ish Words. In the post, he evaluates the current alternatives to Tumblr. What is most interesting, to me, is his quick dismissal of Micro.blog, the platform that hosts this blog. He writes, “And other things such as the newer Micro.blog are almost too spartan.”
Micro.blog started out fairly limited, but has steadily built on a solid foundation. Truthfully, that’s the way most software developers believe products should iterate. The rate of iteration for Micro.blog has been fairly aggressive lately. So while I might have agreed with Siegler a little more than a week ago, when his post was written, I no longer do. In the past week, Micro.blog rolled out major improvements that put it on par with Tumblr for personal blog hosting.
The most important of the new improvements was a most from being built on Jekyll to being built on Hugo, and with that, the inclusion of the ability to customize the design of your blog. This in itself is a huge step for Micro.blog, which previously allowed very limited customization options such as simple CSS overrides and footer design. Now blog owners are free to customize their entire themes, as well as share those customized themes with others on GitHub.
One ancillary benefit to the switch to Hugo, though, which I haven’t seen anyone on M.b. mention yet, is the ability to use Hugo shortcodes. Shortcodes elegantly allow for embedded content, the thing for which Tumblr is perhaps best known. They do so in a minimal way that fits in nicely with the markdown language that powers posts on Micro.blog. Previously, you could use embedded content on Micro.blog but it was not guaranteed to be responsive (a limitation of the Jekyll backend). Sure, you could embed a YouTube video, but switch to a mobile device and that thing would go right off the page. To properly handle embeds such as YouTube videos in Jekyll, you would have to install a plugin, something that wasn’t supported by Micro.blog. Even on Jekyll’s preferred hosting site, GitHub Pages, you would have to use a solution like this. In other words, such a common blogging use case as YouTube embeds was pretty challenging on the Jekyll platform. Now, many popular embeds (YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter and Instagram) are supported in Micro.blog by using Hugo shortcodes.
This may sound surprising, but In some ways, the new Micro.blog platform is actually superior to Tumblr when it comes to embeds. I say this as a formerly frustrated Tumblr user. I wanted to use a professionally designed Tumblr theme, but what I discovered was that embeds would behave differently on the front end of my blog than they would in the Tumblr dashboard. Some sites, such as Bandcamp, offer Tumblr-specific embedding options. Those options make the content appear correctly if you are a Tumblr user viewing it in the dashboard or if the blog is using the default theme. If you are using another theme, all bets are off for the majority of your viewers who are seeing the content in the front end of your blog. However, if you use standard embed codes, the content will probably look right on the front end of your custom theme, but it usually wouldn’t appear correctly in the Tumblr dashboard. This inconsistency caused me much consternation when I was an active Tumblr user. With a more standard set of embedding capabilities, Hugo and now Micro.blog provide a more consistent visual experience.
In his piece, Siegler also speculates on what a more contemporary Tumblr would look like.
It’s hard to know what a more modern Tumblr would look like — it would undoubtedly be mobile-first, but would it be better as a paid product these days? One major issue Tumblr had was a complete and utter failure to monetize. Ads seemed like a straightforward proposition, perhaps in a way similar to how they work on Instagram now. But for whatever reason, they never truly worked on Tumblr.
Could it be a right place/right time thing for a paid social network, truly free from advertising? There are certainly signs . Such a product would never get to Facebook-scale, of course. But it wouldn’t have to. And actually, shouldn’t aspire to. That never seemed to be the success state for Tumblr anyway.
Micro.blog is also close to what Siegler proposes as a “paid social network, truly free from advertising.” The social component that glues blogs together is actually free, but participated in most fully by using a Micro.blog paid, hosted account. Like the paid version of Tumblr that Siegler imagines, it will never get to Facebook scale, but it doesn’t need to in order to be compelling. The people who are using the platform are there because they are invested in it. The deliberate nature of the participation elevates the level of discourse in a way that isn’t, in my experience, matched on Tumblr. Not to mention that on Micro.blog, you don’t have to see repeated ads for situational teen sex games. Most months, that alone seems worth a few bucks.
After pining for the Apple HomePod last year, but feeling like it was just a bit too expensive to justify purchasing at the time, I rejoiced when Apple announced they were bringing their music service to the Amazon Echo. I even wrote a blog post about the move.
My enthusiasm may have been a bit premature. I purchased one of the new Echo Plus units, with an Amazon gift card I had received, shortly after Christmas. After initially setting up the Apple Music skill, the smart speaker was pumping music for about a week when it just lost the ability one night. It wouldn’t play music from Apple or even Amazon, instead repeating the name of the track you had requested, pausing just a bit and then saying, “sorry, I’m having trouble playing the music.” Since the main reason I bought the device was to play music, this was a problem. In fact, I’d classify it as a severity 1 defect. I may use the home automation features of the Echo, at some point, but I can always turn a light on with my hands. I can make my own music as well, but you wouldn’t want to know how that usually turns out.
After the problem persisted, and after my attempts to reinstall the skill and reset the WiFi yielded no improvement, I took to the web for some research. I found someone on Twitter who originally essentially had the same issue and was now dealing with a much more compliant and capable Alexa. I asked him what he did to fix the problem. This was his response.
Not a damn thing. It’s a very weird and idiosyncratic platform.— Tom Moore (@thmoore) January 12, 2019
Well, needless to say, that didn’t change much, other than further deteriorating my faith in the device. I found some similar posts on the Amazon Echo forums and calling tech support didn’t seem to help anyone. After beating my head against the wall for almost a week and contemplating returning the device, Alexa suddenly became willing to play music again. This willingness lasted for a couple of weeks, then one fine day, Alexa again refused to discharge her duty. Thankfully, the next day, Alexa was back to her normal self again.
At this point, I’m pretty surprised that I’m not hearing more chatter about the inconsistency of Amazon’s platform. I’ve heard a lot about the potential privacy implications of a speaker that is always listening. However, I became a lot less concerned about that when I discovered the device had a microphone mute button placed prominently on top (although I still trust Apple much more than Amazon in the issue of privacy). The bigger concern for me is that I would consider Alexa to be flaky, at best, and that flakiness seems like it should be getting more attention.
I like the idea of an analog manifesto from @rianvdm. The comparison to the Agile Manifesto, with it’s message of preference, not exclusion, seems appropriate. This coming year I’m going to try to manage my home tasks and journaling with a bullet journal and my work tasks with Things. I’ve discovered over this past year that what works in one environment is not always as effective in another.
I’m not sure about New Year’s Resolutions, but if I have any, it would be to look at everything through the lens of a new manifesto: analog over digital. Just as with the Agile Manifesto, the word “over” is of utmost importance here. It doesn’t mean I’m done with digital. It just means that I want to look at the things I do, and critically evaluate whether or not an analog approach could be more meaningful. For example, should I stop tracking my runs on Strava, and just enjoy them instead? Should I have a go at hand journaling instead of putting everything in Day One? The answer may very well be “no”, but I’d like to ask the question more in 2019.
This paragraph from Tim Challies’ recent Merry Christmas post captures the twinge of sadness that comes from watching your kids grow up and lose some of that youthful enthusiasm really well.
I know I’m mostly waiting in vain, though, because I know those days have passed. In previous years the Christmas Eve discussion was, “How early can we get up?” This year it was, “How late can we sleep in?” It’s a funny thing to see your children grow up and to remember the way things used to be. It’s a funny thing to have to begin to create a new normal, to make old, comfortable traditions fit a new, less-comfortable context. I liked the way things were. But I think I like the way things are, as well. At least, I can come to like it.
Though I have yet to see any of the ad placements he writes about, this piece from John Voorhees in MacStories about Apple heavily promoting the Apple Music/Amazon Echo integration comes as little surprise. Voorhees believes that the motivation for Apple to strike this partnership with their sometimes rival in services may be to get their hardware back on Amazon’s virtual shelves. While I haven’t read any contradicting information about the deal, I believe there may be another reason entirely.
Ever since the arrival of the HomePod at the $350 price point, there has been speculation that Apple will eventually come out with a lower cost model to compete with Amazon and Google’s offerings. There seems to be consensus that Apple must achieve a lower price point to stand a chance of taking market share from their more entrenched rivals. M.G. Siegler even wondered if Apple might not be trying to compete with Amazon at all with their HomePod. I’m no tech pundit, but looking at the history of Apple reveals they don’t always offer a lower-cost alternative to compete in a given market. Despite all of the breathless commentary that they simply had to come out with a netbook, they never did. The Mac Mini was designed to be a low cost entry to the Mac world and even that is now more high-end that it’s humble beginnings ever suggested it would be. iPhone models keep getting more expensive. Look across Apple’s hardware line and you will find less entry-level options than perhaps they’ve ever had in the recent past.
Apple typically makes profits on margins from more expensive hardware. Amazon sells inexpensive hardware to move services and digital goods (look at the Kindle model). However, Apple Music is trying to be a Spotify competitor. They can’t do that with only a $350 smart speaker and a Sonos integration. They will lose. The barrier to entry for filling a room with music from Apple’s streaming service is too high. So do they dumb down their smart speaker? Why do that and lose the margins and the cultural cachet of having the best sounding smart speakers on the market? They can much more easily tap into the huge user base that Amazon has without having to adjust their hardware strategy.
Surprisingly, a not-insignificant part of the plot of the Bumblebee Transformers movie involves the main character, a teenage girl named Charlie Watson, trying to get Bumblebee to dig the Smiths like she does. What are the chances that a semi-anthropomorphic transformable robot from another planet will dig the heavily British jangle rock of the 80’s alternative band? Apparently, pretty good.
This aids my theory that the Beatles were not only not the best rock band, they weren’t even the best British rock band. I don’t know of a single Transformer that’s really into them.
Each year at Thanksgiving time, I think about the time I spent working in retail and the family time that had to be given up during the holiday season at the end of the year. I used to have to get up at 3am the morning after Thanksgiving to go to work and prep for the Black Friday stampede. In those early morning hours, I would arrive at work to find a line had already formed to await the opening of the doors. I would setup as the customers outside braved the cold and sipped on hot chocolate and coffee by the side of the building.
During the busy shopping season, we had team meetings where it was acknowledged that working extra hours during the holidays was hard, but it was explained that was what you had to do in order to work in retail. The way it was said made it sound like we were all pursuing our dream of working in the retail space. It was as if extended holiday hours were just the sacrifice we had to make in order to live out those dreams. It probably goes without saying, but for many of us, working in retail was not the ultimate fulfillment of our occupational fantasies.
Last week, the incomparable Liz Bruenig had a post on Thanksgiving being the only vestige of the medieval tradition of feasts that used to be a major part of people’s lives.
Thanksgiving may be the only bona fide American feast day. Every other holiday has some other activity or occasion to recommend it, but Thanksgiving is a feast to celebrate feasting and to express gratitude for everything that can’t be properly commodified: family, friendship, the autumn season. The meaning of it may be less distinct than your average medieval feast, but the sense that it’s about something better and truer than the ordinary grind of work is what lends it its emotional depth (and what makes the travesty of workers forced to labor on the holiday so despicable ).
When I see that more and more stores are opting to open on Thanksgiving, I feel really badly for the employees who have to staff those stores when they should be spending time with their friends and family. As change in our society continues to accelerate, Thanksgiving remains an anomaly in prescribing time for nurturing connections. We have to hold on to those meaningful traditions that we have in the face of consumerist encroachment. At the very least, we should avoid patronizing those stores that care so little for the family lives of their employees (certainly on Thanksgiving).
A few days ago, my mom showed me these books about my great grandfather/grandmother and great great grandfather. I never knew these books existed and was delighted to read about these adventurous, faithful ancestors.
The public was recently treated to a preview of the new Star Wars themed areas at Disneyland/Disney World that was accompanied, most appropriately, by a John Williams soundtrack. The new parks, called “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge,” look as amazing as their $24 billion dollar price tags suggest they would. With openings in summer and fall of next year, respectively, the days of counting down will soon be starting for fans.
Watching this video reminded me of why Disney World is one of my two favorite places to visit. Everything is so meticulously crafted, down to the smallest details, for the enjoyment of the guest. So much care is taken to transport everyone who enters the parks into fantasy worlds so tightly woven together that the real world barely even creeps in at the seams. The new Star Wars parks are reportedly going to have Star Wars themed food, allowing visitors to immerse even their taste buds in culinary delights from a galaxy far, far away. The fabricated landscapes will be a reminder of the terrains from Star Wars films. As with all of the Disney parks, power cables are sure to be carefully tucked away, entrances and exits of cast members portraying galactic heroes and villains cleverly hidden from view. Cards can be loaded up with the lingua franca of digital park currency so money need not be thought of while inside the premises. Obfuscating mammon is just another way of abstracting park life from the real world.
By contrast my other favorite place to visit is in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, almost the opposite of the carefully man-made artifice of the Disney parks. I love staying in the high desert, but the National Park at Mesa Verde, where people long ago built cities into the rock of the cliffs is another favorite spot. In Colorado, nature barely seems to have succumbed to any attempts to tame it. The wild creeps in almost everywhere in this part of the country. Ghost towns that didn’t survive the sometimes harsh climate are accessed via uneven gravel roads that take skill to drive on and punish your car for the effort. Mountains tower almost everywhere you look, practically daring you to try and scale their lofty heights. Signs along the road remind you boulders might fall on you at any time, bursting the illusion that your car can protect you from the crumbling landscape.
Summer in the high desert offers warm temps during the day and a cool break from the heat at night. Here in North Carolina, during the summer, there is no respite from the punishing heat and humidity. Even the nights are oppressively muggy. In the Rockies, when the dry air of the desert gets to you, the humidity of the ice grottos are not far away. If you don’t like your climate, get in your car and drive an hour or two (at least in the summer). Places to stop your car and just admire the beauty of the landscape are setup all over the Colorado roads. I’ve even seen someone stop, break out a chair, and start reading a book.
In many ways, these places couldn’t be more different, but each offers something at its best. Seeing God’s unaltered creation in the magnificence of the mountains or enjoying what man can create with skill and ingenuity both offer enormous appeal to this traveler.
Justin Kossyln, who works in product management for Alphabet, argues it may be time to add some friction back to the web.
But the internet’s lack of friction has been a boon to the dark side, too. Now, in a matter of hours a “bad actor” can steal corporate secrets or use ransomware to blackmail thousands of people. Governments can influence foreign populations remotely and at relatively low cost. Whether the threat is malware, phishing, or disinformation, they all exploit high-velocity networks of computers and people.
It’s time to bring friction back. Friction buys time, and time reduces systemic risk. A disease cannot become an epidemic if patients are cured more quickly than the illness spreads.
While I totally agree with Kosslyn that adding a little bit of difficulty to the process of posting and spreading content online could be a good thing, doing so would be harder than it sounds. For instance, he suggests forcing social apps to be locally oriented, rather than global by default. I’m afraid it would be very difficult to put that genie back in the bottle. Too many people have wished to have their non-directional self-disclosures broadcast to the entire planet to turn back now. It would most likely take government intervention which would probably then raise cries of censorship.
I’m not sure that most of the general public has grasped the concept that just because we can have a technology doesn’t mean we should. Not yet, at least. It would most likely take violence in the Western world, the kind of which has been aided by Facebook in Myanmar and India, to wake people up. Let’s hope and pray that kind of violence stops rather than spreading.
I was fortunate to see Henry Zhu speak at the All Things Open 2018 conference with honesty about the difficulties of being a full-time contributor to the open source community (as a maintainer).
Though he probably won’t be thought of as the most dynamic speaker, Zhu’s humility, work ethic, desire to give back and vulnerability give strength to his message. Zhu has a podcast he co-hosts with Nadia Eghbal called Hope In Source about the parallels between faith and open source software.
From Eghbal’s explanation about the origins of the show:
Why is faith so much more visible in open source, then? My theory: faith and open source both place high value on community and a sense of public service. Organized religion is the original distributed community, and it’s lasted thousands of years.
I haven’t listened to the podcast yet but I have high hopes that it will produce interesting conversation.
The Apple New Music algorithm tries. It really does. At the end of every work week, it conjures up recommendations of recently released material that it thinks I would like. Sometimes, as was the case in early September, it finds a song from a band I’ve never heard of, that instantly becomes a new favorite of mine.
Most Friday’s, though, I end up skipping through a lot of tracks that feel like near misses. This Friday, the list didn’t include the new single from Hammock, one of my all time most listened to bands, but instead served up an interview with the Pixies. That was slightly baffling. The mix is usually a bit off, though. Some weeks, I’m given more sloppy, tossed off indie rock than is completely warranted. Others weeks, the mix is heavy on Eurotrash-inspired electronic. I do realize that coming up with brand new music that will fit my tastes every Friday is a tough job. Until I’m willing to give up my DNA to get a better playlist , which I don’t see happening anytime soon, this is probably as good as it gets. So I listen patiently and hope for that one gem to really catch my ear.
Music aside, Apple is putting me in a tough place this year. You see, I bought an iPad Pro earlier in the year. It was a good purchase, as it helped me to study for the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam. However, if the rumors prove to be true, a new iPad Pro may be announced in a couple of weeks. It is being speculated that the new iPad would have an edge-to-edge screen and external display support. While the larger built-in screen size would be a nice to have, the support for an external display would be something of a game changer. This feature would put the dream of using an iPad as a main machine much closer. Now, if you could only do things like download songs from Bandcamp and add them to your music library from iOS…
At its most effective, group therapy is successful primarily because it destroys the fallacy that we are alone in our sufferings. To discover that another individual has the same feelings that you have but thought were unique to you can be a revelation. We tend to see the face that others put on in order to get through the day and forget that the person we are viewing has many of the same fears and frustrations that we have but are also hiding. We look at the frozen smiles in Instagram posts and believe the stories that they tell us, which may not look like our own.
Meditation can be difficult and sometimes it doesn’t feel as rewarding as we are led to believe. In his daily blog, Grind Well, Jon Mitchell takes his readers through a life informed by a meditation habit. Mitchell doesn’t shy away from the difficulty of the practice, or even of the skepticism that pops up about the importance of having a meditation habit. His posts make you feel like you are not the only one who struggles with meditation.
The subject of the daily (except on Shabbat, as Mitchell is an observant Jew) posts vary, but always center around the practice of meditation and mindfulness. In a post entitled Mindfulness Politics, Mitchell writes about politics from a perspective colored by the calm and detachment that can come with regular meditation.
This is what’s frustrating about this era’s political, religious, and otherwise tribal upheavals. There is some threshold of scale at which human beings — from their default perspectives enmeshed in worldly concerns — will consider a problem important enough to fight about, and that scale is not nearly big enough.
His point in the post is that a meditation habit can be part of taking care of ourselves in a way that helps to alleviate suffering, increases compassion for others and put distance between our impulses to anger and our sense of positive awareness. These are certainly things the world needs more of right now and an honest look at how meditation can help is most welcome.
Alexis Madrigal writes about how, despite the ability to switch to the reverse-chronological timeline, you can never go back to the old Twitter.
Twitter always had a high-modernist novel’s scope — you peer into the boxes, and see someone having tea, a war you should have known was going on, a parent’s take on a 4-year-old, the latest ProPublica investigation, a screenshot of some idiot, a video of a black person being killed by police, an ad for Quiznos, and then Donald Trump tweeting about the television program he’s watching. The stack of information was contextless, traumatizing, and bizarre, but also energizing, the way a city makes you walk faster. It did that, but for your mind.
His comparison of the frenetic energy of Twitter to a bustling city makes me want to move out to the country. I’ve become entirely too weary of the constant context-shifting that the timeline (whether chronological or not) forces you into. Since my tweets are almost entirely syndicated from my blog, I mainly engage with Twitter these days via the Notifications tab to see the top tweets from my feed and responses to my tweets.
My family just enjoyed a beach trip with many of the amenities that renting a house by the ocean provides. In addition to all of the beach-related luxuries, we had cable television, which has long been absent from our house. It was a bit of a culture shock, going from the work of antenna-sourced television to the cesspool of cable TV, though. It was somewhat like imagining what it would look like if the unfortunate and immoral residents of Sodom and Gomorrah had closed-circuit television broadcasts. Or, maybe to be more charitable, it was like a teenager crafted the programming schedule and advertising sales for a network.
As my six-year-old and twelve-year-old watched, I heard things in the background which I did not want to hear. I’m even excluding the Kavanaugh hearings (which were full of their own inappropriateness). Commercials for fighting matches and sex pills abounded. The lyrics to one commercial went “It’s a big sexy world of sex out there/People having intercourse everywhere.”
I mentioned recently that I’m glad that my youngest son basically only watches public television and this trip only reinforced that view. Not only is he not exposed to the constant commercialism that pervades a lot of children’s programming, but he doesn’t have to deal with exposure to the excessive evidence of adult vices.
The other day, on Twitter, I stumbled across this thread of people espousing their opinions about the Myers-Briggs personality profiler (or MBTI - Myer’s Briggs Type Indicator). Quite a few of the negative comments seem to be based on the belief that the origins of the type indicator are not scientifically credentialed enough. It is interesting to see a bunch of folks on Twitter who probably have no background in personality study attacking the MBTI for its humble origins in clinical observation done by CG Jung. Since I personally know multiple mental health professionals who swear by the MBTI, particularly in its application to relationship counseling, it strikes me as almost laughable to read these arm-chair tweets from people who consider themselves experts after say, reading a Vox article on the subject. While the indicator may or may not be ideal for determining vocational direction, that is not its only application. It works well as a framework for navigating interpersonal dynamics.
I’m not even sure the origins of the framework matter that much. Ultimately, is the way the test was developed the measure of its usefulness in practice? Blood thinners started out as rat poison, but practicing physicians would endorse their use for preventing clots. Validity and reliability may be considered low for Myers-Briggs within the psychometric community, but material real-work outcomes are observable in a clinical environment. If the test was truly as useless as its critics claim, wouldn’t those using it in practice toss it aside?
It seems the latest distraction thrown at the American public, from the president, is attacking the top Internet companies (Google, Twitter and Facebook) in just another step in the strategy of “feed the press or it eats you.” After all, though, it’s only natural that the constant cries of lugenpresse would eventually extend to the internet giants.
Elizabeth Picciuto from Arc Digital argues the benefit for the president of consistently working to delegitimize any source of news that paints him in a bad light.
Trump also has an interest in slamming Google, Facebook, and Twitter. He has had remarkable success convincing his supporters that negative news about Trump is not evidence of the fact that he has warranted such terrible coverage. Rather, negative stories are evidence that shadowy forces are arrayed against him, preventing him from maximizing the amazing competence he assures us he has. This belief has gained such traction on the right that government intervention is newly attractive. Even if no intervention materializes, Trump may end up cowing Google into bending its rules to appease a right-leaning mob, as Twitter has done .
In an interesting (or frightening) twist, though, this particular cry of foul play has brought out a call among conservatives for more government regulation of media. In essence, the point those who are claiming victimization are making is that affirmative action is needed to combat systemic structural bias on the internet. Picciuto writes that this seems to be a major point of hypocrisy for some who have been decrying or even trying to dismantle affirmative action in education and corporate hiring practices.
What the Trumpian right seems to be demanding is a full-bore state-managed affirmative action program for conservatives—all the while ridiculing and denying that the same should exist for marginalized groups.
Whether this is just the distraction du jour or a the start of a real push for some regulation of information to combat a perceived disadvantage on the internet remains to be seen.
The Reagan administration was known for its deregulation initiatives. I never thought about one of those initiatives that probably actually had the most impact on my life as a child during the Reagan years, though.
For decades, the FCC had rules that limited “excessive advertising.” This affected the amount of commercialism that could creep into children’s shows. Groups like Action for Children’s Television (ACT) ensured compliance with the rules.
Consequence of Sound has a piece that speaks to how things were different under Reagan and how that enabled film-length product placement opportunities like Mac and Me.
Then along came the Gipper, and everything changed. Ronald Reagan, infamous nemesis of corporate regulations, began gutting the FCC from the inside, starting with his appointment of Mark Fowler as FCC commissioner in 1981. Fowler was a fellow acolyte of Big Business, a firm believer of the dominance of market forces as a yardstick for quality in broadcasting. Fowler summarily began cutting regulation after regulation for advertisement on children’s programming. In his mind, the free market would decide what programming was entertainment and what was just another ad.
Partly as a consequence of the loosening of programming rules, though also partly as a result of the success of Star Wars and its accompanying merchandise, most kids cartoons I watched during my elementary school years were essentially toy advertisements. G.I. Joe, Transformers, GoBots, M.A.S.K, Masters of the Universe, Thundercats, Silverhawks and probably a few others that I have forgotten were all shows that had their own lines of action toys. I was all-too-susceptible to what those shows were selling. I’m not sure it was really even necessary to have traditional adverts breaking up those shows as the shows themselves probably moved mountains of licensed products.
This week, for the first time in a long time, I actually enjoyed following the general news cycle in the US. I’m not going to lie, I have long harbored a belief that electing a white collar criminal to the office of President of the United States was a very bad idea. It’s more than mere gloating that gave me a sense of satisfaction from the events unfolding this week, though. There is perhaps of a ray of light at the end of this very dark tunnel. A feeling of, dare I say it, hope.
My dad once told me that the difference in Republicans and Democrats was that Democrats stuck by their people, no matter how many or grievous their misdeeds. He said Republicans, on the other hand, had a moral center that enabled them to cast out their own, if that person had done wrong. As evidence, he cited the Watergate scandal and how the Republicans had abandoned Nixon when it became clear he had broken the law.
In short, my dad was obviously very mistaken in his faith that a political party will always do the right thing. In the last few years, we have seen the Republican party excuse more inappropriate and criminal behavior than had been previously fathomable. This period certainly represents a new low in American history and will taint those groups who aided and abetted it for a long time. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe it could be generations before those parties involved can claim any sort of moral high ground.
It didn’t take someone with special powers of prognostication or foresight to predict these most recent events. As many, many people recognized, the legal woes that plague the president and his cabal are the most likely outcome of all that has transpired these past few tumultuous years. The quicker these matter are resolved, though, and this ugly and divisive chapter of US history is finished, the better it will be for our county.
I’m happy to finally have a name for that phenomenon that I always knew existed but of which I never had a scientific explanation.
Back in 1980, psychologist Richard Solomon came up with an idea he called the “ opponent process theory ” (paywall). Broadly, this states that whenever you feel one emotion, you’re slated to feel the opposite next. This would explain why after feeling happiness, we feel slightly gloomy.
I recently had my name day and added 2 years to the 4 decades I’ve been on the earth. I observed my birthday by undertaking a pilgrimage to the closest mecca of low-cost contemporary home furnishings, to buy some shelves for my turntable and records. After spending more than 20 years collecting records, I still did not have an ideal storage solution for them. While I’ve always rejected the argument that people collect vinyl for purely performative reasons, I’ve seen through Instagram’s discover algorithm that there are many people who do enjoy showing off their records. With very few exceptions, these people have much better storage solutions than apple crates sitting under a 25-year-old pinball machine (my old setup).
Once I had acquired and put together some new Kallax shelves and organized my audio equipment and media, my thoughts turned to whether I needed to get some new vinyl to break in the new setup. My brother and sister-in-law had generously gifted me with a Bandcamp gift card and I had a couple of choices for how to spend it. I could:
With my new furniture in mind, I was leaning towards the latter option. Then, I ran into a problem that I’m not used to dealing with: scarcity.
With everything available digitally and no limitations on the number of consumers, I’ve gotten used to being able to acquire virtually any music I want. When I step back into the world of physical media, I have to deal with manufactured goods, supply chains and consumer buying projections.
A phrase that has been relegated to the back of my mind while living in this new age of digital abundance is “sold out.” As I looked back at some of the records I had my eye on at Bandcamp, I came across the phrase more than once, when trying to buy physical copies of albums I had loved during my high school days. I remembered well those days of making trips to the mall in the mostly vain hopes that the Sam Goody would have an album by that band that I’d heard the bass player from Dinosaur Jr. had started.
Many record companies release a limited number of records on colored vinyl to entice consumers to buy early. It’s a strategy that makes sense. Frequently, I’m tempted to wait to buy a copy of an album on vinyl until I’m sure it’s worth shelling out the American bucks. The “peak vinyl” program, as Merge Records calls it, turns that around and makes it more enticing to go ahead and buy the album, before it’s released, to get the cool color variants, before they are all gone. It’s a bummer when you don’t order an album early enough to get the “special” version, especially when it’s one of your favorite bands and you didn’t originally know they had something coming out. It’s something else entirely when you can’t get the album at all. That is accompanied by a feeling that to which I’ve grown unaccustomed.
Last year, I taught a confirmation class of 8th graders about famous Presbyterians. Although few really knew who he was, my favorite among those discussed was Fred Rogers.
With the release of the movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Mr. Rogers has once again become a topic of conversation. @vasta recounts his emotional experience of the film, which was colored by his lifelong admiration of the beloved children’s show host. One thing that stood out to him is that even Fred Rogers suffered from self-doubt.
About halfway through Won’t You Be My Neighbor , we discover a typewritten letter written by Fred Rogers that exposes his doubts, his uncertainty of whether he was up to the job. This was profound: I struggle with my doubts every day, as so many of us do, and always ask myself if I really can deliver on making the world better. I ask myself if my work matters, and even if it does, if it couldn’t be better done by someone else.
Fred Rogers taught me that “you don’t have to be sensational for people to love you,” but it was poignant to know that even someone as sensational as him had to battle self-doubt throughout his life.
Christ and Pop Culture provides an examination of how Mr. Rogers’ view of his role on television can inform our behavior on social media.
When accepting his induction in the Television Hall of Fame, Mr. Rogers said, “I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. Doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help the deeper needs of those who watch and listen, day and night.… We have only one life to live on earth, and through television we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life, or to cherish it in creative and imaginative ways.” This seems to be a great mission statement for our social media use. Not everyone has to be on social media, but those who are (in whatever way we are) can think of ourselves as chosen to be servants, as having a choice in how to engage. There are many ways to interact on the internet: What if we chose to interact in a way that helps others cherish this life?
With polarization, insecurity and animosity running high, it seems like an especially fitting time to remember this man.
Philip Christman captures the kind of frustration I felt when using Tinyletter.
Readers, I apologize for the atrocious formatting of last week’s newsletter. I have trouble making the UI of TinyLetter work on my laptop–in particular, it never wants to link. So sometimes I cut-and-paste the thing from elsewhere. That seems to have bitten us all in the ass. When I got my copy of my own newsletter, all the words were cut off on the right. It was mortifying, like the time I realized I had taught an entire class with my fly open. Since I am still unable to get the UI to work today, we may face the same issues all over again this week, but since I’m cutting-and-pasting from a different source, perhaps we will face new and exciting issues.
For such a simple service, there are a lot of bugs, especially around formatting. I could never tell how things were going to turn out and I always had to send myself a few previews to make sure that everything looked okay. Even when things did look decent in the email, they still weren’t exactly beautiful on the web archive. There were sometimes separate issues there. As someone who has spent a lot of time in QA, I found the issues to be somewhat maddening.
Beyond the formatting issues, this latest issue of Christman’s newsletter, The Tourist provides an interesting look at the Episcopalian debate around making references to God in their book of common prayer gender-neutral. Christman has thoughts on both sides of the debate.
I recently ran into the gender-neutralization of prayer when at a church event. We recited a prayer that I had said many times as a kid, “God is Great” (a common meal-time blessing). All of the male pronouns were replaced with simply the name of God, though, and I found myself out of step.
Another take on the discussions, from A Bigger Conversation about Liturgy – Covenant, laments the lack of collaboration with other faith traditions that characterize the current conversations around revisions (via @ayjay).
This shouldn’t mean we just borrow the insights of other traditions as ritual toys. One of the faintly tragic elements on display in the 1979 Prayer Book are the numerous borrowings from Orthodox liturgy, which reflect not just scholarly knowledge, but prayerful conversations with Russian and Greek scholars of the mid-20th century who were then genuine dialogue partners. It is hard to find such engagement with eastern Christianity in the Episcopal Church now, beyond the somewhat hollow testimony of facsimile icons in Church bookstores.
If the changes pass, and they are likely to, this will represent another point of division among Christian denominations. The question about whether the value of the changes warrant that unfortunate outcome has a very real and material impact on the body of Christian believers.
While Evangelicals are not likely to make prayers gender-neutral anytime soon, they are sometimes in favor of dropping The Apostles Creed from worship. Christ and Pop Culture has a post on a book by author Ben Myers about The Apostles Creed, arguing that it is ancient creeds like this that serve to unite Christians from different denominational (or even political) backgrounds.
In his new book, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, Ben Myers beautifully articulates the significance of each line of the ancient creed. Even more helpful, Myers keeps one theme running throughout the small book: saying these words is significant not only because they communicate deep truth, but also because they connect us to the global, historic Christian church. There might be nothing more desperately needed in the American church today than the regular reminder that our greatest loyalty is not to our nation or our favored political party, but to fellow believers. Instead of being united by a set of shared political beliefs or geographic origins, we are most strongly united by our devotion to Christ.
The objection some have to The Apostles Creed has to do with the line about the “holy catholic church” (that’s catholic with a small C, a reference to the universal church). As the piece points out, the problem with rejecting that reference pulls us out of the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, carrying the banner of the faith that has survived partly because of these flag bearers.
When we discuss these issues that serve to divide, let us keep in mind the words of the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)
This article on the Apple data center in rural Maiden, NC sounds like something written about the Hawkins National Laboratory from Stranger Things before the cover was blown on their experiments. One quote particularly stood out amidst descriptions of the secrecy surrounding the site.
David Vosburgh, a retired construction worker, says he doesn’t know anyone who has been hired there. He has lived in Maiden about 15 years, and says he unsuccessfully applied for a job at the data center.
“Something is going on over there that they don’t want people knowing,” Vosburgh said in an interview last month. “They’re always building. They’re very, very, very, very bad people. My opinion is they’re terrible.”
Vosburgh doesn’t elaborate on why the Apple people are so bad, or at least the article did not capture his further thoughts on the subject. However, the piece does make clear that Apple was fined for violating some environmental regulations regarding waste disposal.
The whole situation has a very clandestine, conspiratorial vibe to it.
The main response I hear to the Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country is disbelief that the events depicted in the show actually took place (in America, no less). Jen Chaney, from Vulture, takes a stab at encapsulating the insanity.
It is a story that involves religion, free love, land use disputes, one of the co-founders of Nike, an exalted guru, abuse of power, arson, the wife of one of the producers of The Godfather, attempted murder, mass poisoning, an obsession with Rolls-Royces, the homeless, election battles, and one extremely bizarre anecdote about attempting to contaminate a town’s water supply using blended beaver parts. That is only the tip of the iceberg. “Someone will write a book about this,” an Oregon official says in footage that appears in episode one, “and I will guarantee you when that book comes out, people will say that it’s fiction.” In the ’80s, he couldn’t have imagined Netflix, or anticipated a docuseries like this one.
It’s easy to see why a show including all of those elements would make for incredibly compelling television. The series is much more than mere spectacle, though. The stories woven within the broader narrative are so human, simultaneously relatable and repulsive. The brothers Way, makers of the documentary, weave a tale that declines to take sides in what amounted to a war between a free love fringe religious group and their small town mom and apple pie Oregonian neighbors. Each of the sides have their talking heads that are allowed plenty of screen time to comment on the various events that took place when Baghwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers moved onto a 60,000 acre ranch next to rural Antelope, OR. The tales they tell drip with sadness, fear, happiness, elation, betrayal, naivety, love, hate, optimism and disappointment.
As a Christian, it’s hard for me to relate to a group who dresses in one color, follows a guru whose name (Baghwan) is god in Hindi and wear malas (necklaces that contain a picture of the guru). When they line up to greet the Rolls Royce caravan of Rajneesh with tears of joy, it looks a lot like worship, reminiscent of yet contrasting with the Palm Sunday story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey and being met with enthusiastic followers waving palms. The purposeful displays of opulence that the guru engages in run counter to the teachings of most religions about how spiritual leaders are supposed to live. When people in both the East and the West picture a spiritual leader, we see asceticism the kind of which was eschewed by Rajneesh. Also troublesome is the free love version of human sexuality to which the group subscribed. Its opposition to traditional marriage and the aspirational narcissism of a relentless pursuit for individual enlightenment raises serious concerns about how children were raised. In fact, children are hardly mentioned in the documentary. These things can certainly be alienating to those of us who value ancient institutions that have shaped the fabric of society.
On the other hand, it’s easy to sympathize with the Rajneeshees in many ways. Most of the members could probably be most accurately described as “seekers” looking for a set of truths with which to frame their world view. It’s not hard to imagine that the group of Rajneeshees might have been fairly harmless to its neighbors, had their presence been merely tolerated and not opposed outright. Most of the incidences of aggression or even suggested violence were responses to the US government or citizens blocking activities that were initiated by the group. Ultimately, though, when faced with opposition, their primitive system of values proved deficient in that it didn’t have guide rails to prevent them from carrying heinous acts against outsiders or even themselves.
Bonus points go to the series for being named after a line in a Bill Callahan song and including music from him as well as Damien Jurado and other indie-folk heroes.
On this Independence Day, when we celebrate the birth of our nation and honor what that means to us, there is division in the air and on the ground. I find it a most appropriate time to bring discussion to the state of the union and I’m happy that the church to which I belong, the Presbyterian Church USA, recently clarified some political positions. It is not mandated that all churches within the denomination to affirm the declaration that was made, but it is hoped that it will bring about some fruitful discussion and a careful consideration of where the Spirit is leading us as Christians.
“As confessing Christians, we trust God, whom we know through Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray as others pray in other names.
We are obligated to declare our concerns about the direction towards autocracy that our country is taking.
We say Yes to God’s power of love and justice for the neighbor as well as the self, and we say No to demonic power that urges hate of the other, scatters blame, and creates civic discord.
We say Yes to our imperfect democracy with one person, one vote, and No to any corruption of our elections.
We say Yes to universal health care and No to care based on the ability to pay.
We say Yes to safe schools, houses of worship, and public gathering places; and No to civilian access to assault and/or military-style weapons.
We say Yes to core human values and No to dividing our humanity by ideology and partisanship.
We say Yes to bridges and preservation of families and No to walls.
We say Yes to affirming and celebrating the full spectra of human identity and No to discrimination and bigotry.
We say: ‘In life, and in death we belong to God.’”
One thing that angers me a great deal is the misappropriation of passages from Holy Scripture. Tyler Huckabee writes in Relevent Magazine on the dangers of dividing the Bible up into bite-size chunks appropriate for bumper sticker sloganeering:
An unfortunate consequence of littering the Bible with the little demarcating numbers we call “chapter and verse” is the ease with which it allows the Bible to be split up piecemeal. We study and memorize the Bible in bite-sized chunks, just long enough to fit on a day calendar or scribble on a bathroom mirror. Chapters and verses are useful things for finding your place, but they can give the impression that each sentence of the Bible was spoken in a vacuum, with no pertinent information around it. Using Romans 13 to defend obeying the government, as Jeff Sessions did, is a bit like using Moby Dick to defend mid-1800s whaling practices.
This particular moment in time has made it manifestly clear just how deficient a theology can be when it is built this way. Christians who claim to be adherents to the Bible seem to miss many of the themes that consistently run throughout the text.
The real secret of living according to the will of God is not to collect enough Bible verses to defend your latest socio-political fancy but to let God transform you entirely. Not to bend God’s Word to your will, but exactly the other way around. And to do that, you must take in the whole of Scripture, every jot and tittle. It’s not easy.
Huckabee is right that it’s not easy to get the bigger picture within scripture. That is why study is necessary and communities of faith are important.
Even as members and pastors have changed over the years, one complaint I’ve consistently heard about my church is that there are too many cliques. It’s an easy thing for a church culture to fall into. In fact, it may be impossible to avoid.
Research into human relationships has given us insight into the number of close personal connections a person can maintain. This limit is referred to as Dunbar’s Number.
First proposed by British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar, Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships —relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.
When thinking about relationships in a mid-sized church in the context of Dunbar’s Number, cliques are almost inevitable. Some churches seem to recognize this and embrace the concept within the institution by facilitating the formation of small groups. These small groups serve to anchor people within a number of manageable relationships in order to facilitate close bonds within the church. Rather than rejecting the cognitive limits of the human mind, these church’s have acknowledged those limits and given sanction to living within them.
I used to fault church members for not being welcoming enough. For some time after I joined the church, I felt somewhat left out. I didn’t feel like anyone was going out of their way to include me in their circle of friends. I faulted the church and the culture within it. One day I realized that, by holding church members to a higher standard than everyone else, I was setting myself up for disappointment. Humans who are members of a church are making a commitment to be better, more spiritual people. They’re not perfect, though. They are still bound by the same mental limitations that are part of being in the human race. Those limitations make it hard to go out of our way to expand our social circles (this is obviously harder for some than others). Every Sunday, we make a corporate confession of sins and acknowledge our unwillingness or inability to rise above them. We are all burdened by sin, imperfection and limitations. How could I have believed otherwise?
Justin Lee at Arc Digital argues that Apple is painting itself into a corner by arguing for a strict interpretation of the constitutional right to free speech in the Masterpiece case. Previously, when the FBI asked Apple to create software to neutralize security features on the iPhone, Apple argued that the order was compelled speech and that source code should be included in free speech protections. In doing so, Apple was advocating for a very broad interpretation of the free speech provision of the first amendment. The new position seems contradictory.
Such an outcome would satisfy the social justice concerns of Apple and other corporate giants, but it wouldn’t necessarily be good for business. A definition of speech narrow enough to exclude decorative arts will almost certainly exclude source code as well. The FBI could easily use such a precedent in court to compel Apple to write code capable of breaching their iPhone users’ privacy.
Will this prove damaging to Apple’s legal concerns in the future?
From Christ and Pop Culture on how the NFL has handled the player’s protesting by kneeling during the national anthem.
By excluding the NFLPA from this decision, the owners are accepting the false narrative that the protests are against America and the military. These dismissive actions demonstrate that owners have shown little concern about the injustices and inequalities the players were attempting to highlight. Instead, their demand to end the protests seems to only come from a concern for their bottom-line profits. The problem with this approach, beyond the suppression of the rights outlined in the First Amendment, is that it makes explicit what has been implicit for some time — most NFL owners care more about maintaining power and wealth than the health, welfare, and safety of their players.
The president’s and vice president’s interference in this space has been dishonest and unwelcome. The way the NFL has handled the peaceful and respectful protests has been uneven at best and racist and coercive at worst.
Add this to the cover-up and mishandling of the issue of players with brain injuries and you have some very good reasons for not supporting the National Football League.
One of the most rage inducing/heartbreaking things I’ve read this past week is that Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, removed her posts from Instagram. The action was most likely due to harassment Tran has been the recipient of for the last few months. Since shortly after the film’s debut, she has faced racist and sexist abuse online.
A certain segment of Star Wars devotees proved to be too attached to the series after the prequels failed to live up to expectations. I’ll have to admit to feeling let down by Star Wars 1-3 and I think there is legitimate reason to be concerned about where the series is headed. However, most of us long-time fans know where to draw the line between disappointment and outrage.
Now a set of fans has taken advantage of the social media tools that let them spew venom at the objects of their derision. These fans feel like they are entitled to a Star Wars that affirms their views of the world. Anything other than that registers like a betrayal to them. For these people, movies that were meant to be entertainment instead become sacred. Fairy tales in space become outsized in their importance and take on a idealized purity that is easily stained in the messy work of continuing the narrative. It’s truly a shame to see Tran and others taking part in what should be a wonderful experience of sharing a story with the world become the victims of online abuse.
I was only a few years old when the Star Wars trilogy first came to theaters, and the movies and toys tied to them had a formative role in how I used my imagination. I played Jedi training with my cousin on the playground, my dad and I used plastic baseball bats and pretended they were lightsabers, and different spots in my basement became their own planets as action figures shuttled between them in tiny space ships. I remember being in a Toys R’ Us once, and trying to convince my mom that I should be allowed to buy a third Darth Vader action figure, after the first two both suffered through their oversized heads falling off of their lithe bodies.
It’s probably safe to say my life was begun in Star Wars fandom. However, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the powers steering Star Wars want to make me hate the franchise by the time I die. After the original three movies, fans experienced a long drought that left us parched and thirsty for more adventures from a galaxy far far away. However, after purchasing the franchise, Disney seems to want us to drown in Star Wars excess.
The rumors and announcements of the future direction of the Star Wars movies don’t offer much hope for an old-school fan. The director of the latest film, The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, who decided to omit or trash the mythology his predecessor cued up in the previous film, is being given his own series of Star Wars movies. The creators of the Game of Thrones series, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, are also being given their own series of movies within the Star Wars universe. At this point, it feels like Disney is giving directors their own Star Wars movies like an English monarch handing out titles.
The last two directors to receive titles, though, are particularly interesting picks. Most of us remember wincing or groaning when we rewatched Leia kissing Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, knowing that they would eventually be revealed to be siblings. With Benioff and Weiss being tapped to helm a new series of Star Wars movies, viewers are likely to see siblings doing much more perverse things than mere kissing. Incest is so common on Game of Thrones that Forbes magazine had an article titled Why We Secretly Love the Incest on Game of Thrones.
Perhaps a little less worrying, at least in terms of the creative team, is the news about the new Star Wars series that is set to appear on the upcoming Disney streaming service. For the series, the stewards of the franchise have tapped Jon Favreau to direct. Favreau has come a long way since playing Mike, the character who inadvisedly decided not to double-down, in the indie hit Swingers. His credentials are fairly impressive. Still, one has to wonder if a streaming show to binge and multiple movie series are what Star Wars fans need.
A nautical journey in Boston. Walden Pond was not at all what I expected. I didn’t envision the beach vibe.
Union Square donuts and some New England architectural charm.
This way to Fenway Park.
Sarah Kurchak, writing about her grandfather’s apparent affection for Jar Jar Binks, who he called “Ho Ho Ding Ding” and believed was a talking camel, comes to some conclusions about the power of film.
I also came to understand the depth and diversity of roles that a film can play in someone’s life: it could be a mere amusement or a guiding force, your best friend or your nemesis, your muse or your medicine. Even the most maligned movie can distract a person from contemplating the void as they face certain and fast-approaching death, or it can try to fill the hole that’s left when that person’s gone.
It’s a very personal piece that shows how a movie experience can be seen from many different angles. Touching on her grandfather’s decline and the running half-joke that was his enduring fascination with one of the most hated benign characters in the cinematic universe, Kurchak hits at how powerfully context shapes the value we get from an artistic creation.
After literally working with town officials for years on a new site for a store, IKEA has just cancelled their plans to build a location in Cary NC. Since the town had been planning a lot of changes that hinge on the arrival of the new store, I’m sure those that had worked on the deal and all of the concessions that had to be obtained are seriously frustrated.
“When I asked whether there was anything Cary could do to influence IKEA’s decision, I was told that there was nothing; not even an incentive would make a difference,” Stegall said in his statement. “IKEA said they had an extremely positive view of and experience with the Town Council, our staff, the mall site, and Cary as a whole. The bottom line is that as wonderful a place as Cary is, we are just too suburban for IKEA’s new direction. “
I’m not sure how Cary is going to revitalize the old shopping mall that IKEA was going to essentially replace but I hope they have a contingency plan.
Tedium has the backstory on a movement that took place in the aughts to make Windows machines look like they were running the Mac OS. During that decade, there were plenty of reasons to be running a Windows box instead of a Mac (not the least of which was cost). There was something so sleek and attractive about OS X that just made people wish the user interface on their Windows PC looked a bit more like the Mac.
But something about the chrome-laden interface, one that Steve Jobs spoke of in terms of “fit and finish,” really put the system in a different place. Sure, there were other operating systems that held a certain kind of appeal during the era, but Mac OS X was different. It was a bit over-the-top, like the early iMacs in their Bondi Blue cases, and that boldness spoke to people.
It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but enough teacups were being served that it was clear that it would eventually be one of the biggest selling points for the Mac. And eventually, thanks to the mainstream success of the iPod and the iPhone, plenty more teacups would be served after that.
To meet the demand, a number of options popped up to reskin Windows to appear to be running OS X. While I tried quite a few of the tools mentioned in the article with my Windows machines back in the day, the customizations never stuck. The screenshots of these skinned desktops looked so great, but I would inevitably find holes in the OS that weren’t skinned and didn’t look right. That bothered me to the point of abandoning the whole effort and sticking with the default Windows skins. It’s worth noting, though, that Microsoft made some effort to encourage customization of the UI, whereas Apple has done everything they can to squash it. It’s almost impossible to make any meaningful UI customizations on MacOS at this point, whereas a quick peruse through a GUI customization site like Digital Vanity shows that people are still modding Windows in interesting ways.
I’m not a lifestyle guru. You probably won’t see a post with a listicle on 11 ways to hack your sleep on this blog. I do, however, have a practice that I have used and want to share about managing bedtime. Specifically, how you can manage devices when it’s time to go to sleep and how you disconnect.
I recently implemented a Disney Circle device, which allows you to manage wifi devices and usage profiles for each individual in your house. With the circle, I can manage how much internet time my kids get each day and can apply even more granularity to the usage of things like the major social networks. Fortunately, my kids haven’t gotten to the stage where they have a desire to use the social networks. I’ll enjoy that for as long as it can hold.
The Circle is not only for the benefit of my children, though. It also helps my wife and I to maintain more healthy internet habits. I spend too much of my life looking at a computer screen during the day in a building leased from Red Hat. I need to detach from the screen at some point during the course of evening. Or be forced to do so, if necessary. That is where the Circle comes in. I used to have my WiFi router set to turn off at 9pm, but that became problematic when I my wife and I were watching something on Netflix and it ran just a little bit longer than we expected. Enter the Circle, with its device or user-specific settings. I am now able to restrict only our mobile devices at 9pm (7:30 pm for the little guys) and I don’t have to worry about the Apple TV.
One thing I like about this method is that I don’t have to put away my device completely. I happily read articles that are saved to Pocket on my iPad, for instance. The difference, though, is I’m much more focused and intentional and there are bounds to my consumption. Once I’ve read the articles I’ve saved, that’s it. There are no opportunities to go down a hyperlinked rathole. I’m not going to find myself scrolling down an infinite list of Instagram picks that are curated by a machine to appeal to me. I won’t get engaged in some Twitter rant thread and go to bed angry.
At the risk of overstating the point, how you manage your internet access can have a major impact on your life and your relationships. With so much work having gone into making your device seem like the best way to spend your limited attention, most people need some kind of barrier to overuse. I recently talked to a friend who had been battling with his wife over his child’s YouTube usage. His wife made the point that they needed to rely on the child to curb his own internet usage. To expect an 11-year-old to have the necessary willpower to combat the tricks and techniques of the technology industry is too much. Adults have a hard enough time with technology withdrawal, and kids are especially vulnerable. Ultimately, it’s best to have some kind of system in place to prevent excessive internet exposure.
One thing to note is that the Circle is not a truly end-to-end solution for device management. It can only control internet access through wifi. So, if your kids (or you) are overindulging on games, and those games do not require a constant internet connection, you have to find another solution to keep that behavior in check.
Collage using work from Duncan Rawlinson and Derek Liang
This past week, Alto’s Odyssey, the sequel to the much lauded iOS game Alto’s Adventure, was released to positive reviews. Alto’s Adventure offers a take on the “endless runner” game that gives a snowboarder a vast natural playground for collecting coins and doing simple tricks. Odessey isn’t a brand new experience, but rather builds upon its predecessor in innovative ways.
What interests me about the Alto’s franchise is how people use the games in a therapeutic way. Several folks have written about Alto’s Adventure as a meditative experience and a treatment for anxiety.
I’ve played Alto’s Adventure a lot over the past year and a half. Like very a lot. At first, I played because the game was fun and I wanted to beat it. But eventually, I started playing the game when I was stressed or anxious. It became a form of meditation for me; playing cleared my mind and refocused my attention on the present. Even the seemingly stressful elements in the game became calming. The Elders, who spring up to give chase every few minutes, I don’t even notice anymore…which has become a metaphorical reminder for me to focus on my actions and what I can control and not worry about outside influences I can’t control.The core of a meditative practice is directed focus on something. The most common object of focus is the breath. In mindful breathing, the mind is attuned to breathing, and when distractions inevitably arise, the mind is being trained to gently come back to the breath. In the Christian tradition of Centering Prayer, the practitioner learns to respond to distraction by mindfully bringing focus back to a sacred word. It is in these rituals that we can find a growing ability to let go of things that are not helpful and focus on the beauty and simplicity of the life that God has given to us.
For some, playing a game like Alto’s Adventure can be a calming substitute when meditation is difficult. Sameer Vasta writes about turning to the endless hills of Alto’s Adventure when he’s too keyed up to meditate.
I’ve been fairly open about my struggles with anxiety and depression, but I haven’t shared that one of my favorite coping mechanisms for my anxiety (at least, when it isn’t very bad, but still needs intervention) is to play zen mode on Alto’s Adventure. The repetitive motion, the serene landscapes, and the soothing music is often just what I need to center myself and recapture my composure.The stigma of adults playing videogames seems to have been relegated to the past. Still, when gaming, I find myself occasionally wondering whether completing arbitrary tasks to satisfy a computer program is the best use of my time. When you start to look at gaming as being a possible avenue to better emotional health, though, the calculus starts to change a bit. Everyone needs a counterweight to the heavy demands of life in our modern world. Framed that way, $4.99 and some time reserved for fun seems like a pretty good deal.
The folks from the writing tool IA Writer (which I love) have an amazing blog post that gets a lot right about the current state of the web. They discuss the problems that are being widely reported and an alternate solution to taking a “digital sabbatical.”
Again, taking a break is generally good advice. And yes, there is Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is great. Alphabet sounds like a James Bond Villan and it is not harmless, but Google Search is powerful. And no, you can’t escape digital culture as long as you live in a society that lives on digital fuel. If you block email you’ll have trouble holding onto most jobs. If you have no cellphone people just won’t get in touch with you anymore. Who calls landlines these days? However long your digital Sabbatical, you will inevitably get sucked back in. And so will your kids.
Rather than completely breaking from the internet, they suggest you change your model of engagement.
But instead of protecting them from the evil Internet, teach them to read, write, draw, paint, ask and think. Teach them researching, blogging, FTP. The challenge when you are in is to not become passive. To change from consumer to maker, following to self-thinking, quoter to commentator, liker to publisher, but mostly, from getting angry about headlines of articles you haven’t read to reading precisely, asking questions, researching, fact-checking, thinking clearly and writing carefully.
Van Halen’s debut record recently celebrated its fortieth birthday. Consequence of Sound featured an article, by Wren Graves, on the record and the culture that made it possible. I was struck by the observation Graves makes that much of the band’s antics at the time wouldn’t be tolerated today.
Late-70’s Van Halen were flamboyant and full of themselves. Some of their higher-profile hijinks are the stuff of legend. In those days, there were a few rock stars that were notorious for trashing hotel rooms. Van Halen took it to the next level and trashed the whole seventh floor of a hotel in Madison, Wisconsin. The band was infamous for their pretentious tour riders demanding a bowl of M&M’s with all of the brown ones taken out. Van Halen’s cocaine and heroin use was well known and just considered part of their persona.
Graves writes about the difference in public perception of such behavior between now and then.
In many ways, the public has become more tolerant than it was in the 1970s, especially in regards to marginalized groups. But it’s interesting to note the ways in which audiences have become less tolerant, too. The rock and roll lifestyle, with its grams and groupies and all its messy grandeur, is no longer quite socially acceptable. Wanton destructiveness is no longer cool; the health and lifestyle choices of the rich and famous are fair game for criticism; and diva demands get you ripped apart on Twitter. All of this goes to show why superstars are more risk-averse today than they were in the ’70s and ’80s: They have to be. In the internet age, mockery is the national pastime and mistakes linger forever.
I personally think the lack of tolerance for such behavior is mostly a good thing. I don’t want to see hedonistic, well-heeled rock stars trashing hotels, glamorizing drug use and marching toward self-destruction under the gaze of impressionable youth. What fascinates me, though, is thinking about the broader cultural trends under which allowed the arena rock bands to engage in such behavior with very little career-damaging repercussions.
When I was in college, in the mid-90’s, a good friend of mine used to complain about his dislike of Christianity, because its tight morality was keeping him restricted from living the life he wanted to live. Since he was living a carefree college lifestyle, regularly getting hammered at bars downtown and occasionally even sleeping with girls he didn’t know, I asked him what Christians were preventing him from doing. He didn’t have an answer to that.
Some say we are now living in a post-Christian era in the US. It’s ironic that, in this post-Christian era, the outrage culture of the internet has created a new moral orthodoxy. In some ways, this new orthodoxy is most restrictive than any religious-based moral code we have seen in recent times. Those who transgress, or step outside of the bounds of what is considered acceptable, find themselves subjected to punishing levels of scorn and derision. All of this is fueled and enabled by a level of technological interconnectedness the likes of which we have never previously seen.
Some days, I find myself questioning the value of my Netflix subscription. Though not terribly expensive, the monthly cost of the service has gone up recently (I got my email notification a couple of weeks ago). As Netflix works to develop more and more of their own content, their catalog of video for which they need to pay licensing fees has shrunk. Our family finds itself going back to buying DVD sets for those TV shows that, a couple of years ago, you could find on the market leading streaming video service.
Then I watch a Netflix original series like The Crown. Though I’m a big fan of historical dramas, I didn’t know I needed a show about the modern day British royals until I watched The Crown on Netflix. The long span of the rule of Queen Elizabeth during some turbulent and transformative years means that the show has a lot of interesting material with which to work. As good as the subject matter is, though, the show wouldn’t be nearly as powerful as it is without the amazing performances from the principals.
Claire Foy, who I had only previously seen play a pretty unlikeable Ann Boleyn in Wolf Hall, captures the reigning queen with both sympathy and vigor. Foy’s eyes could tell a series full of stories by themselves alone, and it’s in those eyes that viewers can find the uncanny ability to humanize a British monarch. If you weren’t an admirer of the queen before watching the show, you’ll find it hard to withhold admiration after you’re gone through the series. Foy’s Elizabeth comes across as a woman who has had enormous responsibilities that she never would have wished for thrust upon her. She struggles with an overpowering Prime Minister, feeling undereducated in the presence of other government officials, fears of infidelity, Christian forgiveness, family relationships gone sour and stinging personal criticism from journalists. Throughout it all, Elizabeth is vulnerable but resolute.
Matt Smith is a great fit in the role of Prince Philip, Elizabeth’s husband and the Duke of Edinburgh. He plays the locker room, towel-snapping, man’s man aspect of Philip’s personality with aplomb. He’s also funny in a cynical kind of way and his steadiness even when you think he’s going to go astray makes him an endearing character.
Vanessa Kirby is also a standout, chewing through the plush royal furniture as Princess Margaret with an intensity that suggests she knows she’s running out of time. It’s almost as if Kirby is trying to make her mark before turning into Helena Bonham Carter at the stroke of midnight.
The twentieth century is an interesting time for the British monarchy. It’s made clear during the course of events depicted in the show that the royals have no official ability to influence the British government. Instead, the queen must use her powers of indirect influence to shape events in the kingdom. This is never more apparent or more satisfying than when a succession of prime ministers are summoned to meet with her. Some of my favorite moments from both the first and the second season of the show are when Elizabeth meets with John Lithgow as Winston Churchill, Jeremy Northam as Anthony Eden and Anton Lesser as Harold MacMillan. Her quiet but firm wisdom and the implied power of her crown have a certain effect on these ambitious men that’s humbling and instructive. It’s simply a joy to watch.
Smart speakers are becoming ubiquitous. Apple finally released their entry into this increasingly crowded market with the well-reviewed HomePod. Streaming services, most notably Spotify and Apple Music, are in their ascendancy, having each added tens of millions of paying subscribers over the last couple of years. As much as I hate blog posts decrying the death of things, these trends certainly signal the grave digging for music on physical media could soon begin.
While the vinyl market is still slowly growing, and new vinyl pressing plants are opening, the once-beloved compact disc seems to be on its way out. The latest blow to the format is that Best Buy, which was once one of the largest retailers of music, is getting rid of their shelf space for CD’s this year. An article from Consequence of Sound reveals the details.
Come June 1st, Best Buy will no longer offer CDs in its retail stores. Physical music is only generating around $40 million in annual revenue for the company and executives would rather dedicate the floor space to more lucrative items, Billboard notes. Best Buy will continue to sell vinyl for at least the next two years, but titles will now be merchandised with turntables.
Another big box retailer mentioned in the article, that is striking a blow to the CD, is Target. They still plan to stock compact discs, but are trying to force the records labels into a deal where the labels will have to buy back any unsold inventory. This is an interesting turn of events. When the record labels held the power and wanted to push retailers into switching from the vinyl record to the higher-margin compact disc, they offered buy backs on unsold CD’s but not on records. I guess the shoe is on the other foot now and the retailers have the upper hand.
When was the last time Best Buy had a decent CD selection? Truck stops and Cracker Barrell have been beating them for years.
— Numero Group (@numerogroup) February 4, 2018
Last weekend, my five-year-old and I created a collage together.
For a few years now, I’ve followed a “read the Bible in a year” program. Last year, I used the plan from Bible Class Material, which presents the readings in a more-or-less chronological order that I’ve found extremely helpful for following the Old Testament material.
Every year that I have read the Bible, I have gained new insights and different passages have stuck out to me in different ways. It’s been a new experience, each time. Heraclitus said that “a man never stands in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” This has perhaps rarely been more apparent to me than when wading through the river of life-giving waters that is holy scripture. When I bring to the reading fresh experiences from my own life, I see the verses through different eyes.
This year, one of the books I have discovered anew is the book of Jonah. Famous as being one of the most kid-friendly books of the Bible, Jonah has a lot more to it than the children’s adaptations present. Most of us are familiar with this Sunday School depiction of Jonah as the reluctant prophet, called to a foreign city to preach about God, attempting to run away from the task to which he is called and ending up in a “big fish.” After his encounter with the fish, Jonah realizes he can’t escape God’s will for him and does indeed travel on to Nineveh. However, most of the “Jonah and the whale” stories for younger children omit the the fourth and final chapter of the book completely. If you can put aside the whole guy getting swallowed by a big fish and having a change of heart thing, the last chapter is where the book of Jonah really gets interesting.
It is well understood from any reading of the story that Jonah fiercely resisted God’s command to go to Nineveh. If we put ourselves in the place of Jonah, the command from God was like being asked to go to Mosul under ISIS control and preach repentance. In fact, the city of Nineveh, to which Jonah was called, was located in the area of the modern day city of Mosul. The Ninevites had been brutal to the Israelites, as the carvings from Lachish attest (be sure not to miss the guys getting flayed alive). Not only did Jonah not want to go, but, as is revealed in the fourth chapter, Jonah didn’t actually want the Ninevites to repent. He wanted them to end up as toast, deserving recipients of the righteous wrath of God.
However, surprisingly enough, the Ninevites did heed the prophecy from the Lord that their city would be destroyed if they didn’t repent and turn from their ways. Jonah was far from being happy about this outcome. The successful prophet turns his back on God again, this time angry that the citizens of Nineveh actually listened to his warnings and were spared from the punishment they so richly deserved. Jonah’s despair causes him to wish for his life to end, there in the desert, under the hot sun. Instead, in a single day, God makes a tree that grows to a height that shields Jonah from the scorching rays. After having endured the sun’s punishing heat, Jonah is more than happy to accept God’s gift. However, the next day, the tree has withered, causing Jonah to complain bitterly. God responds by reminding Jonah that he has made the people and animals of Nineveh just as he has made the tree.
The message that we can take away from the book of Jonah is that the creator God makes, and yes, even cherishes, our enemies. It’s a bold and disconcerting lesson. It likely brings us no more comfort than it brought Jonah. We should keep the book of Jonah in mind when we read that Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. There is a consistency of thought there stretching from the prophets of the Old Testament to the teachings of the Son of God in the New Testament. It’s almost as if, though not many people, if any at all, can actually follow these teachings, they help us to understand the heart of God. They help to shape our perception of how who God is and what He values.
Recently, the hosts of The Bible Project podcast had a question and response episode about the book of Jonah. For a more thorough explanation of this fascinating book and what it has to tell us about God’s love, please check out the podcast.
After I started writing this post, my pastor preached a sermon on the exact same subject, and I knew I had to hurry to finish and publish.
I recently mentioned to my boss that I’m used to metrics being involved in my work. I’m used to decisions being made based on data. I’ve taken it for granted that enterprise organizations like to be able to measure things that may impact profitability. The last few jobs I’ve worked out were pretty rigorous in tracking certain metrics.
However, in my personal life, I’m not into self-quantification. Even at the height of their popularity, I never wanted a FitBit. I feel like I can get the benefits of exercise without counting my steps. Similarly, I feel that I can eat well without counting calories. Probably the best rules for simply eating well come from Michael Pollen:
It isn’t hard to follow those rules (or it shouldn’t be, at least). You don’t need an app to do it.
As I write more this year, I appreciate one of the 2018 liberations of blogger Aleen Simms:
Looking at numbers. Twitter followers, podcast download stats, blog post views, the scale, whatever. Life isn’t a video game. Happiness doesn’t have a numerical value attached to it.
I also appreciate what Manton Reece is trying to do with his service Micro.blog. His response to Simms liberation is this:
It mirrors a philosophy we have with Micro.blog to launch without follower counts or public likes. Follower counts are not very useful for a new platform. They add anxiety and unavoidably lead to value judgements when considering whether to follow someone, instead of letting the quality of someone’s writing and photos speak for itself.
In the spirit of Reece’s philosophy, does the fact that my Medium blog, as of now, has a big fat goose egg for the number of followers color people’s responses to it? Does it make visitors ascribe less value to it than they would other, similar blogs on Medium? I know, from my stats, that people have been reading the posts, but not all of them are active on Medium. Even some who have liked the posts haven’t followed the publication.
If you are conducting a MailChimp marketing campaign, metrics on how customers are interacting with your communication make sense. You need to know what strategies are generating interest. Do the same sort of metrics make sense for a personal blog, though? Having hooked up Google Analytics, which offers an array of metrics, to a personal blog, I can say that for me, the answer is no. The most interesting thing I learned through Google Analytics were the geographic locations from where the hits my blog was receiving came. As much as I like external validation (who doesn’t?), I’m not sure I need to offer readers the ability to like my tweets, my Instagram photos and my blog posts.
For the social networks, the ability to like posts make a bit more sense than the ability to like, for instance, a WordPress blog post. Often times, when you post a link to a blog post from a social network, your friends will indicate that they like it on the platform where they saw the link. Which is affirming, but for traffic that comes to your blog from other sources, it looks like no one likes your post. That is not really a big deal, except that a platform like Medium makes kind of a show of their version of likes (claps). They have to do this, because their business model is now based around claps. If you publish stories only to Medium members, as part of their Partners Program, the number of claps you receive determines the amount of compensation you get for the story. It’s a pretty ingenious way of rewarding content that people find valuable. However, it doesn’t really work as well for those of us who are just writing to put thoughts out there, with no dreams or aspirations of ever getting paid for that writing.
When I find myself checking the stats on something I have put out there, I’m reminded that it might be better to liberate myself from the need for validation. Perhaps I can learn to simply put something out there and move on to the next project. It would be nice to have tools that support that goal.
Austin Kleon writes about his take on copyright law here. Since Kleon published a book titled Steal Like An Artist, he encounters a lot of people who assume he is against copyright. He assures the reader that he is not against copyright protections for intellectual property. He does, however, believe that art builds on prior art.
Every artist knows that art comes from art—it’s only the honest ones who admit it. But the reality is we live with a legal system that leads to musicians being advised not to acknowledge any influence whatsoever.
Art reflects life and life reflects art. If art is impactful, it inspires others to make art. It used to be said that everyone who heard the Velvet Underground went out and started a band. That’s what art does. It inspires others to create. I use art here in a very broad sense, meaning everything from painting to skateboarding to making spaceships out of LEGO bricks.
I have struggled with the concept of artistic appropriation myself. There are times when I feel like all of my ideas are just born on the back of someone else’s work. Frequently I see something that has been created by someone else and wonder if I can do something similar and put my own spin on it. There’s a kind of guilt in that, though. It’s as if I expect myself to come up with creative works ex nihilo (out of nothing), regardless of how unrealistic that is. To underscore the difficulty of coming up with something completely new, Amanda Petrusich, writing for the New Yorker, examines just how hard it is to make original music these days. She uses the example of a white noise recording being scrutinized for plagiarism.
White noise is generally defined by hazy and inharmonious hissing—it’s noise-eating noise, anti-noise, a way of drowning out other sounds. Per a BBC report , the claimants accusing Tomczak of infringement included companies who peddle white-noise recordings as sleep therapy. It turns out that his nondescript hissing mirrored their nondescript hissing. (Following the BBC’s report, all of the claims were dropped.)
Maybe we can all stop pretending that we can generally create art that owes nothing to its influences. I like the way that Petrusich puts it when she writes, “Yet there’s something lovely and comforting about the continuum—about art begetting art, about a pulse traveling down a line.”
When I was in Walt Disney World earlier this year, the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom was being updated to include a new animatronic Donald Trump. The event was closed for the update and I wondered how everything would turn out.
Donald Trump rarely says things that inspire us. More often, he is inarticulate and boastful. He routinely says things that divide Americans and sound petty, at best. In my mind, seeing that the hall was closed for the addition of his representation, I had to ask myself what they were going to have him say. Obviously, Disney would have to put the best possible face on the current President of the United States. But could even the best imaginations in the world pull off such a feat?
It turns out I need not have worried. Even faced with animating a president with such a dearth of good material, the fine folks at Disney have given us something presidential. In fact, the animatronic version of the 45th president comes off as a much better version of the man. It kind of makes you wonder how things would be different if reality imitated art. What would it look like if Donald Trump had become more presidential, as he took office, like his supporters hoped he would?
At this point, most of us have read about all of the research and effort that has gone into making apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. addictive. The concept of variable reward structures was proven decades ago by experiments on rats to be one of the most effective ways to drive repeat behavior. In contemporary times, humans are the subjects of the experiment and the instruments are mobile phones.
Let’s face it, we’re all viewed as rats pushing feeder bars now.
We are prone to grab our phones at any time to give us a little boost in the form of likes or retweets of our posts. Given our understanding of the habit forming nature of social media apps, I guess it’s no surprise that one of the newer articles to signal the death of social media starts out with a comparison to cocaine and heroin. Other articles that have been written recently about social media underscore the addictiveness. They have titles like Your Addiction to Social Media is No Accident, Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens and Want More Time? Get Rid of the Easiest Way to Spend It.
When I noticed one religiously Twitter-loving V.C. had become dormant on the platform, I e-mailed him to ask if he was O.K. His response: “Having a hard time imagining why I would come back [to Twitter]. Feels like an addictive, inflammatory disease that I have kicked, much to my immune system’s pleasure.”
Not only are we frequently told of how easy it is to get hooked on social media, but we’re also told about how destructive a social media habit can be. Destructive to our relationships in real life. Detrimental to our ability to keep our minds open, as we’re bombarded with easy rewards for our confirmation bias. Harmful to our self-esteem, as we pour through posts from people that seem to be living better lives than our own. Eroding our sense of empathy, as we come to view others as pictures on a screen, rather than as whole people, made in the image of God.
I recently found an entry in my journal, from five years ago, in which I contemplated joining Facebook. That never actually happened. Over the past year or so, I’ve thought about giving up other social media on a number of occasions. People I follow on various platforms (mostly Twitter) have taken breaks from time to time, tired of the toxicity of the discourse or just the time drain. Most of them have come back. They miss hot takes on current events, sharp and funny quips, and friends that can’t be found elsewhere.
Quite often, using social media is presented as a binary choice. Either you do it, or you don’t. While used in excess, digital social platforms most definitely can present all of the problems described above, it is possible to strike a healthy balance. There is a third way that promotes connections between people where they live part of their lives (online) and does so in a healthy way. While I still wouldn’t recommend Facebook, mostly because of all of the data they collect about you and your contacts and the way they turn your life into their product, other social networks can be a more casual investment.
When I was thinking about my ongoing relationship with social media, I found this podcast from Paul Martin and Tim Challies to be very helpful. Challies does a good job putting some of the alarming statistics in perspective. He outlines some of the types of interactions that should go on through social media (keeping touch with those that are distant) and some (such as conflict) that definitely should not take place in that forum. Challies advocates staying away from people who are obviously not people of character online and reminds that you don’t need to engage with those who disagree with you.
There are ways you can balance your social media usage so that it ends up being a net positive. If you find yourself constantly checking social media, you can be mindful of that. You can learn how to break the twitch. A simple way to start might be to avoid making checking social media first thing in the morning or late at night. Recognize that what other people post online is a version of themselves and don’t get trapped into believing that others are living their best life and you are not. Those van life posts on Instagram are carefully staged to represent an idyllic moment. Don’t stoke or feed into conflict online. If you have people attacking you for things you’ve said, consider making your profile private.
Twitter, Instagram and other social networks can bring us closer together. They can help us keep up with family and make good friends in distant places. In moderation, they can help us keep up with the news. They can introduce us to the beautiful creations of others. We just need to be careful of the ways in which social media can be abused and end up being a negative influence. My hope is that we can all learn to use social media without it owning us.
When I first saw the headline that Moogfest (which occurs annually right down the street from my house) would be featuring a 2018 lineup led by female, non-binary and transgender artists and would feature a keynote by Chelsea Manning, I was a little surprised. Moogfest has always attempted to be cutting edge, even to the point of hubris, but the new strategy just didn’t make sense.
By Judah Gross (Finding love at MOOGFEST) via Wikimedia Commons
I found myself wondering: What relation does gender have to music in that it should be an exclusionary or disqualifying factor in whether you play a synthesizer festival? I confess that I wasn’t familiar with most of the artists mentioned in the article about the lineup. One name did stick out to me, though. Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek (playing as CEP) was named as one of the promised performers. I’ve been listening to Chairlift for a few years now. I consider their 2012 album Something as a independent synth pop masterpiece, with an abundance of hooks that make it accessible to anyone. I found myself wondering if Polachek met any of the criteria for the Moogfest grouping, other than being female.
Apparently Polachek took issue with the announcement, as well, stating that gender is “not a genre.”
“I was very excited to do a sinewave set at Moogfest next year, but am furious to see my name on an all-female / non-gender-binary announcement list that went out today,” Polachek wrote on Instagram. “Gender is not a genre. I don’t want or need a sympathy pedestal, especially not from a male curator. Take my name off this victimizing gimmick and put me in the pit with the boys, I can and will hold my own.”
Polachek subsequently pulled out of Moogfest 2018. The organizers of the festival were very graceful about the exit, even sending an apology letter to Polachek, which clarified that their intention was not to take the focus off of the art.
It seems this is becoming a more common scenario. Those that are traditionally viewed as marginalized are given special status. The intentions are good, but there are two possible negative outcomes:
As the potential audience for the festival, I have to say my preference for the lineup would be one of all around inclusiveness that makes the music the primary criteria for choosing the lineup.
Listening to twee pop from South America and feeling nostalgic about the 90’s was not how I planned on spending a sick and tired Monday night. Yet, there I found myself, eyes glued to yet another screen, soaking up sounds from a far away place and digging into information about a scene I never knew existed.
It started out when I saw an Instagram post about a rerelease of a record by South American disco pioneer Junior Mendes posted by Bandcamp (that website is an international treasure). Since Instagram doesn’t allow hyperlinks in posts, I navigated over to the Bandcamp site to do a search for the record. As often happens with the internet, I saw a piece that distracted me from my original search and got sucked down a rabbit hole. The piece that drew my attention was a Bandcamp Daily feature about Gatitx Discos, a Central/South American noise pop record label that just released a compilation showcasing their artists. The artists hail from Chile, Peru and Argentina and draw heavily on early 1990’s UK and US indie pop for inspiration. The music on Gatitx Records sounds intentionally very different than the cumbia and reggaeton stuff that you typically hear coming out of that part of the world. The first track to which the article calls your attention is a song called “Husker Dü” by the band Peruvian band Gatxs Monteses.
“We don’t want to talk about ideology, but I don’t trust rich people,” says one of the members of Gatxs Monteses via email. “Rich people have control of music, they play music as a hobby or [to get] attention…[we want to] make the music real, nothing more.”
The low-budget DIY attitude helps to explain the garagey feel of the music. All of the tracks from Gatitx Disco that I sampled had a distinctly lo-fi feel that took me back to my late high school and early college days listening to bands on labels like Sub Pop, Merge and Matador Records. It felt refreshing, because even indie music tends to have such a polished sound these days.
I knew that I should have turned off my iPad and rested, but I kept clicking to sample the next band. I wanted to hear how accurate the blurbs about the bands were in their comparisons to the luminaries of an earlier age of indie pop. It turns out that they didn’t stray far from the mark.
For example, take a listen to “Perfect Date” from Kawaiimaster420. You are sure to pick up on the J. Mascis guitars. If you were weaned on Dinosaur Jr., it should make you feel the urge to put Green Mind on the turntable.
The Argentinian band Ice Cream Ü effectively channels Superchunk in their track “Patio” from the full length Un Espacio Entre Portales.
The track “Paracaidistas” by Jardinería del Mar sounds like something from early K Records and features nice call and response boy/girl vocals.
I spent longer than I should have going through the Gatitx Discos catalog. If you are looking for something different and maybe a trip down memory lane, checkout the article and the bands featured. Most of the full-lengths that I listened to were name your price, so they represent a great opportunity to get into the sounds the kids to the south of us are making.
Also, the Junior Mendes record that Bandcamp was promoting was nowhere to be found on their site. That’s just the way that the internet works.
Today was one of those days. Down with a cold and unable to do much, I spent much of the day in bed and moping about the house. Then the mail came, and brought with it two new records from the Sounds Delicious series. I had been eagerly anticipating hearing Frankie Rose cover the Cure and almost immediately put it on the turntable.
The cover of Seventeen Seconds is glorious. Although Seventeen seconds has never been my favorite album by the Cure, I can appreciate the atmospherics and the Factory Records sound of the LP. Rose doesn’t stray too far from the source material in her recording, which makes sense, given her love of the original.
Meanwhile, Rose said of the cover, “‘At Night’ is a favorite off of the original album. I tried to change as little as possible, giving it a only slightly more modern fidelity. How can you mess with the perfection of the original without destroying it? It’s my best offering.”
You can read more about the LP on the Sounds Delicious site here.
Hearing the cover of “A Forest” that was released a couple of months ago, and seeing Rose’s former band Beverly live at the Local 506 made me want to look deeper into her catalogue. I’m glad I did, because her most recent album (excepting Seventeen Seconds), Cage Tropical, is easily one my favorites to come out this year.
On Cage Tropical, you can hear the Cure influence on Rose’s original music, as well as a bit of the Cocteau Twins, but the songs are more than mere rehash. Rose uses not only her musical influences on the album, but bits of yet-to-be-created sci-fi worlds, as well. However, she always treats the songwriting with as much care as the atmosphere, and the album rewards the listener for her efforts.