Autumnsongs: Joni Mitchell

12 10 2014

Young Joni Mitchell is late spring, early summer.

That high, high voice streaming up clear like water from a bubbler, so pure your heart stills as your breath is pulled out of you. If you’re not given to tears you close your eyes to keep them in, but that voice, that high, high voice steals them from you anyway, the song carrying them away.

It took Prince to make me appreciate Joni Mitchell. I was a horrible music snob when younger, and by horrible I mean: I missed so much good music because the artist did not fit into what seemed to me ought to matter. I wasn’t quite sure about Prince, either, but when that small, strange genius said that Blue was one of his favorite albums, I thought, Well.

And oh, is Blue a genius album. I generally favor low voices, but Joni was one of the exceptions.

Was is the operative word, here: time and cigarettes have sunk her soprano into the sand, and instead of singing the clear blue sky she sounds like forests and falling leaves and a retiring sun.

She sounds like October.

I was reminded of this as I listed to a Tierney Sutton rendition of “Woodstock”—which is lovely, but I wanted to find a late edition Joni, to hear her sing herself back to a song that was wistful even in her youth.

If you are no longer so interested in keeping the tears in, this version of “Both Sides Now,” from 2000, is for you.

I’m still in my summer, perhaps my late-summer, years. And all this regret and wisdom and that voice, that incredible charcoal voice, makes me yearn for all I didn’t learn in my spring, and all that autumn will bring.





If you decide to make the sky fall

9 10 2014

I am not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

I am not Hindu, or Buddhist, or Jain, Taoist, Bahá’í, Wiccan, Yazidi, Shinto, Zoroastrian, Sikh, or any sort of pagan or animist.

I am not spiritual, and believe in neither demons nor angels nor supernatural vibes of any sort.

I am agnostic, which means I lack knowledge, along with faith and belief. I do not know if none, one, some, or all of the above traditions holds any or the entirety of truth. I do not know if some other tradition holds any portion of truth.

And I’m all right with that. I call myself a “doubter”, and that doubt works for me.

I’m also all right with others who have do have faith in some tradition or another, and, contra Hitchens, do not believe that “religion poisons everything”.

Or should I say, that religion uniquely poisons everything. I think religion is a powerful human invention and thus, like any powerful human invention, may poison its adherents or the course of events, but not that it necessarily or always does so.

It is also possible that religion (l.a.p.h.i.), may serve as an antidote to other invented poisons.

All of which is a rather long prologue to a rather convoluted post on the rather convoluted topic of the role of Islam in the world today, viz., is it uniquely bad in its effects on co-religionists and non-co’s alike?

There is today far more violence among Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims than there is in other world religions*. This doesn’t discount other intra- and inter-religious violence or aggression, nor other less-deadly forms of intolerance, but given conflicts across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, it’s pretty clear that there are. . . issues in Islam.

Are these issues unique to Islam? A little trip through history points to “no”, and had pundits existed in the 16th century, they may have raised similar questions about the aggressiveness and intolerance of Christianity.

Are these issues endemic to Islam? Whatever the violent history of Christianity, it’s mostly not violent today*, which leads some to note that aggression is therefore not an essential part of Christianity. Can Islam work its violence out of its system as Christianity has, or is supremacism and aggression so interwoven in its scripture and traditions that it cannot transform itself as Christianity has?

Trick questions!

Christianity is a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation which has sometimes been violent, sometime intolerant, sometimes triumphalist, and other times, not. That Christianity is currently not at the center of strife in the world* does not mean that its aggressiveness has been bred out of its system. It’s sidelined, but extirpated? Eh.

Islam is also a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation, and thus like Christianity, can find within that complex support for both aggression and tolerance. It is thus difficult to determine whether any one strand within is always and forever at the center of what it needs to be Muslim.

So, why trick questions? Because what counts as essential has been and is contested in history, and what must be interpreted in this way today may be interpreted in that way tomorrow. That is the condition of all human inventions.

None of this is to shield Islam or any other tradition (or human invention) from criticism, and that there may exist no absolute and eternal standards of how to treat one another doesn’t mean one can’t construct and apply our own provisional and worldly standards.

Which is a rather convoluted way to say: of course Islam may be criticized, as should be those who find in Islam justification for horrid acts.

That Muslims are not unique in their religious—or ideological—justifications is also no barrier to criticism: your mom probably pointed out to you long ago that “everyone else is doing it!” is no excuse for your own bad behavior.

One last turn around: If you’re going to go after an entire religious belief system and its effects on adherents and non-adherents alike, then fer-cryin’-out-loud, look at the entire belief system, not just at what you don’t like.

Is there poison in Islam? Yes. But that doesn’t mean Islam is all and only poison.

Or maybe it is. It’s possibly that after thorough study one might conclude nothing good has ever or will ever come from Islam—or any religion.

But I kinda doubt it.

~~~

*Crucial caveat: people living in countries having bombs recently dropped on them by Christians might contest this notion of Christianity as not-aggressive.

h/t for link to Sullivan, and this entire damned post was set off by the Maher-Harris-Affleck kerfuffle





Better stop sobbing now

8 10 2014

I know I’ve been lax about blogging lately, but tonight I have an Actual Excuse™—two, even!

The tendon in my wrist is vibrating from my index finger to my elbow, and I sweartogod that there is a pebble in my eye that refuses all entreaties (read: eye drops) to dislodge itself.

My life is so, so hard.

 





Stories for boys

7 10 2014

Why is gay marriage gaining and abortion rights losing?

Paul Constant at the Stranger suggests its down to men: they don’t get abortions, so they can fill their own minds with their own views of the slutty whores who irresponsibly seek to evade responsibility for their whorish slutty irresponsible sex.

Gays and lesbians, on the other hand, have fought and marched and partied and litigated (and, unfortunately, died) their way into public consciousness as human beings deserving of the same rights as all other human beings.

There’s something to this. ‘Coming out’ is not just a personal affirmation, but a political statement, as is the chant we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. Visibility matters in politics, especially visibility without compromise: as Arendt and Biko and Malcolm X noted, the oppressed must demand recognition as they are—Jewish or black or queer—and not merely ask to be allowed to assimilate.

We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.

That attitude underlay even the most anodyne of marriage equality ads, the ones featuring couples who’d been together for decades, who are raising children and puppies, who want only to love and care for their beloveds, til death do they part.  These ads were oft-accompanied by gentle music and soft focus, but the insistence remained: we are human beings who want to be treated as human beings.

That’s a tough message for the anti-same-sex-marriage folks to counter, which they themselves knew. It’s not enough to talk about stories or the nice couple next door, they said, we have to talk about principles! and preserving marriage! and the children! don’t forget the children! and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The fear of gay marriage worked only so long as homosexuality was a threat; once straight people got to know actual homosexual people, however, the abstraction couldn’t hold. The human story won.

Abortion rights don’t lend themselves so easily to such humanizing stories, however, and don’t end in thrown bouquets and candlelit dances. There are plenty of abortion stories to tell, which are being told, but they don’t follow the same arc as that toward marriage-equality.

There are all kinds of reasons for that difference, but a big one involves sex: marriage-equality folks rightly focused on love and commitment and fairness, on romance and weddings and families, and most definitely not on same-sex sex.

(Again, this is completely understandable: queer folk, especially queer men, have long sought to be seen as more than just sex machines, and as folks who just want what everyone else has. It thus made sense to omit from the ads & campaign speeches that a big thing most everyone has is sex.)

But ain’t no way to talk about abortion without talking about sex, and, unlike marriage, abortion isn’t seen as containing or domesticating sex, but the opposite; it is often seen, even among some who call themselves pro-choice, as enabling irresponsible sex.

By women, I mean. Of course, it is women who have irresponsible sex.

And so abortion gets caught up in all of our weirdness about women and sex and what counts as responsible and what should be the consequences and who should be the judge and wouldn’t you know it, none of that is as happy as the story of Caroline and Anita getting married after 50 years together or Jamal and Keith’s five kids dancing at their wedding.

I get what Constant is saying about the necessity of stories, but on abortion, I gotta side with the SSM opponents: “putting a face on the issue” isn’t enough.





Everybody talking to their pockets, 10

29 09 2014

Monopolies don’t care about you, and damned near every corporation aspires to be a monopoly—precisely because it wouldn’t have to care about you.

Facebook is, in the US, a monopoly (you don’t really think Google+ is a competitor, do you?), and thus indifferent to its users.

It doesn’t have to care if its consumers don’t like its privacy or transparency policies, nor does it pay much mind to journalists or bloggers who are outraged—OUTRAGED!—at yet another change which inconveniences the end-user.

That’s because the end-user doesn’t matter, or at least not in the way she thinks she matters.

We in the US are used to hearing the customer is always right, which in addition to not being even remotely true, only works as a check on corporate behavior when the customer has other options.

When the corporation is a monopolist, it has all of the options, which can vary from ignoring the complaints, issuing anodyne statements about the complaints while doing nothing, or inviting its customers to go elsewhere—all the while knowing there is no place else to go.

It may also, of course, take account of those complaints and make changes in a way pleasing to its customers, but it will only do so if those changes are in its own interests (profit, market reach). “Pleasing its customers” is a mere pleasant and unnecessary side effect to its real aims.

And thus back to the customer and the end-user: The customer believes that the product is for her use, that she is the reason for the product’s existence. But she’s not the end, but the means to the end, because the real end-user is the corporation itself. The customer exists to serve the corporation.

If the corporation is not a monopolist, it might respond to customer complaints as a way to gain competitive advantage, which may help to explain why Google+ dropped its real-names policy. It’s not at all clear that this change did help Google+, however, precisely because it is operating as a competitor in a monopolized field, i.e., one in which there is no competition.

Albert O. Hirschman noted that customers, workers, and citizens have three options in expressing their dissatisfaction with a product, employer, or government, exit, voice, and loyalty. These options are thin in the case of monopoly, Hirschman noted, but he also assumed the monopolist in competitive economy would not be “tight” but “flabby” or “lazy”, such that non-responsiveness would lead to the rise of competitors.

If the monopolist is tight, however, then Hirschman’s optimism is unwarranted: in the case of a tight monopoly, they could simply use the voice option—feedback—to further their monopoly. As the monopoly is extended, options for exit decrease, and in any case, present little threat to the monopolist, largely because those who exit don’t defect to a competitor (because there is none) but drop out of the market altogether. At worst, they remain marginalized by the monopolist; at best, they could join the monopoly service later, that is, they serve as a kind of customer-reserve potential.

None of this is to say that monopolies are forever, especially when it comes to cyberspace. This whole area of the economy is too new to determine  how dynamics which apply to the material sphere work over the long-term in the cyber-sphere, and whether traffic in data is different from traffic in, say, refrigerators.

And, of course, the possibility of mass exit remains, which can cripple a monopoly. Facebook could come up with a policy which so offends such a large mass of its users, and which they persist on implementing, that that large mass quits. They might then alter the offensive policy in order to woo the customers back, but if they take too long or their behavior is seen as too boorish to forgive, the monopoly crumples.

Absent such mass action, however, Facebook or any other monopolist can do what they want. They can handle a few dropouts here and there if the benefits of the policy change outweighs the costs of those few dropouts. Furthermore, by monitoring social media complaints—which Facebook almost certainly does—they can compare the number of the complaints to the number of dropouts.

And I’d bet dollars to donuts that far more complain than do anything about it—which only reinforces Facebook’s ability to do anything its wants.

In this way, even the complainers are serving Facebook’s needs.





Flashdance

26 09 2014

I am an idiot.

I loathe autoplaying ads and vids, and have at times frantically searched through multiple open tabs in order to track down the offending bit and TURN IT OFF. If I can’t find it before I lose my mind, I simply turn off the computer’s sound.

Turning off the sound isn’t a bad tactic, by the way, but flash-infestations also slow loading times on this old laptop, and as IAMVERYIMPATIENT, I wanted. . . something more.

Okay, so I knew that there were solutions out there, but despite my deep and profound rage at autoplay, I couldn’t be arsed to track down those solutions.

(So I don’t always make sense; this surprises you?)

Anyway, today I saw a coupla’ mentions of this handy-dandy Mozilla (and Chrome) add-on called Flashblock and finally managed the tremendously difficult task of clicking on a button to install it.

Cue the sound of angels.

If you have been as irritated-by-Flash and lazy as I’ve been, today’s your lucky day. Y’all know I don’t shill for products, but this sucker’s free, easy, and goddess-as-my witness, works.

Can’t beat that.





Coolsville

22 09 2014

Did you miss them?

The posts of me bitching about the hot and the mugg and the sun and the smell, capped off by the August I-hate-everything rant?

Yeah, didn’t happen this summer. Because this summer was. . . not bad.

Not bad at all; in fact, it was the best summer since I moved to New York.

There were occasional hot days, and a fair amount of humid days, but in June-July-August, there were damned few hot-and-humid days. The worst week of the summer was the first week of September, with temps in the eighties and dew points in the seventies—uncomfortable, but which discomfort was easily abated with a fan.

Okay, during one or two of those early-Sept days I could have turned on the a/c, but since I hadn’t bothered to put it in the window, I made do with the fan.

That’s right, it was so not-awful that I never needed to heave that box into position; instead, it remained hunkered down on an upside-down milk-crate beside my bed, an ersatz bed-stand for my (30+-year-old) clock radio and a couple of plants.

The only downside to the many cloudy days was the sadness of my windowbox-basil. It enjoyed the sun and rain thru most of June, but there was a big windy storm at the end of June, and it never fully recovered. I got enough leaves throughout the rest of the summer for salads and sandwich toppers, but not enough for pesto.

Still, that’s a trade-off I will make every time. And hell, isn’t that what greenmarkets are for, anyway? I bought a coupla’ bunches for a few bucks and whipped up another year’s worth o’ basily and garlicky goodness.

Of course, me being me, I’ve already had moments of dread about next summer—which is a decent argument for trying to get away from oneself from time to time.

And hey, it’s supposed to be a cold winter! That I can look forward to!








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