Friday, August 31, 2018

Concert Review: The Ataris

No matter how enjoyable Signal Vs. Noise and Icarus The Owl were, the main attraction was The Ataris. They were at Dante's on a tour celebrating the 15th anniversary of So Long, Astoria. The crowd was full of people who were thrilled to be there. It is a pretty good album.

I don't want that to take away from a pretty good overall catalog, including the more recent Welcome to the Night (especially "Whatever Lies Will Help You Rest"). Still, with So Long, Astoria and its own theme of nostalgia, looking back on that is kind of looking back on everything. That made for a strong emotional connection.

The band did a good job of it, and they did that in the face of difficulties. While drummer Dustin Phillips has been working with singer Kris Roe - the driving force behind The Ataris - since 2016, Mike Doherty on guitar and Danny LaFlamme on bass were new this tour. They fit in well and you couldn't tell, unless you had looked at recent pictures of the band and noticed that way.

In addition, wildfire smoke and diminished air quality had been exacerbating breathing issues for Roe. He sang through lung inflammation, but at this point the last two dates have been postponed while he recovers from pneumonia. Lots of singers will point at the audience to sing some parts, but this is the first time I remember being thanked for singing along, and he had good reason. (Note: climate change affects everything.)

I am happy to say it did not kill their sense of fun. Here Roe and Phillips get some double drums going, not quite Adam Ant style, but it was a nice touch.

I loved LaFlamme's playing style. The speed and dexterity reminded me Daniel Andriano, but with a little bit of Alex Levine magnetism. There were technique things that I don't even know how to describe, but here's the part that was funny for me: on the start of "The Boys of Summer", that blurring of hands suddenly stopped. It was a drastic change. Then I suddenly remembered a friend of mine describing a Don Henley performance on Saturday Night Live of "All She Wants To Do Is Dance" and mentioning the bass player having almost nothing to do, but trying to act like it was more. Apparently Don Henley uses simple bass lines; got it!

Later in the song it switched up again. That could have well been Ataris-specific embellishment, which led to another thought. They use a lot of feedback, but that night I noticed that it can blend pretty well with jangle. It occurred to me then that The Ataris could do a great cover of "Kiss Me". It's not likely, because New Found Glory has already covered that, but I maintain that if The Ataris did, it would sound good.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Concert Review: Icarus The Owl

Icarus The Owl was the second band on the lineup last Thursday at Dante's.

They are a local indie band.

The lead singer was so unfailingly polite that when he mentioned playing hockey as a child I figured they were Canadian and it all made sense. Still, people in Portland are generally pretty polite.

There is a plaintive urgency to their songs. More recently they remind me of Household, but I can imagine fans of Jets to Brazil and Jeremy Enigk enjoying Icarus The Owl.

That is not just for the angst, but also an intellectual heft to the angst, that cares about aliens and orcas.

Yeah, they're pretty Portland.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Concert Review: Signal Vs. Noise

Signal Vs. Noise is a Portland band that I got to see last week at Dante's.

Their set was brief but filled with good energy and fun.

They did well from the stage, but vocalist Mark Schmidt also bravely ventured into the audience. I thought it was well-received, though based on the photo it looks like some people near the stage may not have noticed.

Favorite songs have been "Nineteen" and "Highways and Hillside Estates" but their 2018 self-titled album works well overall. They are definitely worth a listen.

Just for clarification, they previously performed under the name The Starship Renegade. This is them.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Once more in the dystopian present

About six years ago, when I first finished the 400+ page fan fiction, I wrote a post about the pre-apocalyptic dystopian present, because even though I was working with a future situation and things were much worse, there were still too many things that seemed real.

That was totally appropriate; speculative fiction should tell us about ourselves. If that means it is often full of warnings, that is a reflection on ourselves. You could find that in the work of many authors. In the case of Octavia Butler, there were lots of warnings in Parable of the Sower, and it feels like we ignored the warnings for too long.

There is a changing climate, a rise of religious extremism, dangerous drug use that can lead to violence, and politicians campaigning on making America great again and picking fights with Canada. Some of those things are more from the sequel, Parable of the Talents, but they build upon each other in a reasonable way.

It is also not that surprising that the projections would seem familiar. When I read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale I remember reading that there was no individual concept that hadn't happened somewhere. Putting them all together makes a work of fiction, but the fiction is working with facts.

It is not surprising that Butler could predict a future campaign slogan because a similar one was used in the past. On a related note, I recently learned that "Drain the swamp" came from Mussolini. It turns out that fascist authoritarianism doesn't require a lot of creativity.

In Sower, economic issues and growing violence were making it really hard for people to live and live safely, so there were companies recruiting families to go live in their communities as employees. They would have room and board, and maybe a salary if they were lucky. Yes, that sounds like at least serfdom or share-cropping if not outright slavery, but I was reading the book in February. In March I was reading about Miami-Dade county coming up with a plan to house teachers in the school because they couldn't afford area rents:

I shouldn't have been surprised by it. I've heard many conservatives justify why there is no specific work that automatically deserves a living wage, regardless of whether it requires education or serves the public good, but does anyone really think this is good for teachers? When your place to live depends not merely on having some income, but on the entity you work for, how secure is anything?

Sower also had people who break into neighborhoods and kill the residents as a means of helping the poor, which sounds pretty alt-left, but I don't want to go over everything and what resonated. Really, there are just two points that I want to make.

One is that in the past when we projected into these scary scenarios - in books and movies and music videos - we always called it post-apocalyptic because we believed it would take some major disruption to bring us to this feral state. That no longer appears to be true. Slow, steady attacks on education, unions, news, and integration have been the most effective weapons, and shame on us for not seeing it.

The other thought is my frustration that it could be too late. I keep finding all of these methods that could be so good for building a better world, but they need to be built onto a functional world, not this dumpster fire we're creating. It's basic Maslow's hierarchy of needs, you know; how can you move toward self-actualization when it's a struggle just to survive?

And it doesn't mean that I've quit trying or studying, but also there is rage, and mourning, and frustration, and maybe some stockpiling if I can manage it. But we keep choosing hate over beauty, and there is no good place for that to go.

Related post:

Monday, August 27, 2018

Thinking of the children

I'd heard many good things about Octavia Butler, so wanted to read at least something by her. The Parable of the Sower seemed like a reasonable starting place.

I really didn't intend to read any more, at least not for that Black History month 2018, but then it sounded so real that I ended up checking out its sequel, The Parable of the Talents too.

It is hard to put into words. I guess to some extent, when I recognized situations that were real, and predicted, I hoped that the sequel might have some good methods for dealing with the situations. I hoped there might be ways to get around it.

I will write more about that tomorrow, but the strongest thing in the sequel for me was the effect of separating parents and children.

There are some spoilers coming.

Lauren's child was taken from her, and given up for adoption. Early in The Parable of the Talents you know that Lauren has died, and her child is going through her papers and trying to understand her. As much as you can wish them both well, Asha's interpretation always involves a feeling of being of secondary importance to her mother.

It never felt right to me. It meant reading her mother's writings and not believing the words. It meant that even when they were finally reunited there was a barrier between them, and Asha would not accept her mother's love.

It just so happened that I was reading the book about a month after we had started learning about immigrant children being taken from their parents and the irreparable harm it was doing.

There were many justifications for the separation in the book. It first happened because of religious extremists, because the parents were evil cult members. They weren't really, but that's how they were labeled, and that made stealing their children and property and forcing the adults into slavery, including rape, okay.

Then Lauren's brother learned where her child was, but because he was also against her religion (and probably because the group had hurt his pride, without him ever admitting to himself that was it), he kept the information to himself. He later forged a relationship with his niece, but lied to her about her parents. In the end learning the truth did not set her free, because she couldn't believe the truth.

There are still 528 children separated from their families. There are others who have been reunited, but the trauma is going to affect them for a long time. They may be feeling those effects for the rest of their lives.

It is evil. It comes from letting the worst impulses loose in our country. And as awful as it is that it happened, we should at least be diligently working to fix it as soon as possible.

Here is one starting place:

Friday, August 24, 2018

Band Review: The Memphis Murder Men

I decided to check out The Memphis Murder Men after seeing that Misfit Mandy (@AcsGarza) had seen them recently. They are a rock and roll band based in Oakland but started in Pittsburgh, and you can reasonably call them punkabilly.

With at least some songs named after horror movies, and a combination of horror lyrics with old-fashioned music, it was hard not to think of the Misfits. However, they sound like they were influenced more by Elvis Presley than doo-wop. There is less of the soaring vocals of heartbreak, and more rocking guitar. That being said, they sound like they are having a better time than many doo-wop bands.

Listening to them has been very fun. As you listen harder, some of the lyrics become more questionable. Even though it does not sound like it is meant to be taken seriously, it can be uncomfortable.

(This is also a great deal like Misfits for me. Many songs are twisted, but the only one I can't get behind is "One Last Caress". For The Memphis Murder Men, that is "Girls Cant Say No". And maybe "Mister Fister".)

Nonetheless, there is a great deal of fun to be had, although I was left with one burning question. They call themselves "The World's 2nd Greatest Rock n Roll Band". I'm okay with that, but it makes me feel like I should know who's first, and I'm not sure.

I guess existential dread and feelings of uncertainty are a part of horror.

ETA: The band quickly responded that the 1st greatest band is the Ramones. No arguments here.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Band Review: Murder On The Airwaves

Some of my favorite band reviews have been when bands from Manchester follow me, so I think I lucked out in being followed by Murder On The Airwaves.

Most of the songs are very fast and energetic - very punk - but there are songs that go more slowly and more emotionally. That was the case with "Never Gonna Be Alone" and "Ultraviolet" (Oddly, the song with "Ballad" in the title was not particularly slow.)

Still, I probably found "The Calldown" most interesting. It feels like it goes more places, with more of a journey. Murder On The Airwaves is fun overall, but they are more than fun too.

It looks like their events are pretty scattered, so if you get an opportunity to see them live, take it. Otherwise it could be several months.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The last straws

The movement to ban plastic straws was wrong in so many ways that it becomes interesting, as well as infuriating.

I know about the straw in the sea turtle's nose. I am not a fan of that. However, it was repeated many times that straws are only responsible for .03 percent of plastic waste, while fishing nets make up over forty percent of that waste. You know all those inspiring videos of divers freeing whales and beach goers freeing a giant manta ray from nets? Those happen because not only is that the bulk of the waste, but because by design it is something that entangles ocean life. No one has gotten excited about nets. I suppose it's because no celebrities have.

(There are people working on it. Here's one story:

I really have nothing against celebrities promoting causes. Any influence you have should be used for good. To really do good, though, advance thought can really elevate the whole thing.

I have one friend who keeps a collapsible reusable straw with her, and specifies not wanting a straw when she orders drinks. She does not need any ban to do that. Lots of people who care deeply about that could do that without a ban.

Of course, that doesn't do anything about plastic cups and lids. Interestingly, drinking carbonated beverages through a straw limits the negative impact on teeth (probably the only reason my sisters still have theirs). There could be a lot to be said health-wise about limiting going to places that use plastic containers (often fast food places) and drinking pop, but okay, if we are not changing that, limiting straw use is one step toward a .03 percent decrease in plastic waste in the oceans.

I am still not against any of that, until the consensus becomes that not enough people will participate voluntarily (probably true), and so we need to make it mandatory (more questionable), and that effort ignores the voices of people with disabilities who say they need straws.

I know to some extent our lack of imagination on disabilities makes things worse; we picture a person in a wheelchair who has unencumbered use of their hands and throat and lungs and surely they don't rely on that straw. But any limited mobility could affect the ability to move the cup, various conditions affecting swallowing can also be a factor, and liquid intake matters. Lots of things can come into play.

For example, if your immune system is compromised, the reusable straws don't just need to be sort of clean. Assuming the dishwasher works, how many straws do you need to have between loads? One person I am thinking of who would not have been able to drink without a straw would have also had a hard time opening up and inserting the a reusable straw. Sometimes there is someone to help, but that's not guaranteed. Paper straws don't hold up well in hot beverages, but they also may not do well when spending a longer time in the beverage, which could be an issue for someone needing to drink slowly.

Okay, previously, I never thought about a straw as a life-saving necessity. You can call that able-bodied privilege; I haven't experienced it and I don't have to think about it. I only even know anything about it now because of seeing other people talking about it. I learned a lot by listening.

The sad part then becomes the passionate reluctance that so many others showed to listening. They were so sure that their solutions for a problem they never thought about were adequate. They were so skeptical about the possibility of there being needs other than their own. Then it is hard to know whether it is more infuriating that people can be so dismissive of the lived experience of others, or that they are doing it for an only .03 percent reduction in waste. I love turtles, but doesn't it make more sense to think bigger?

Except that the idea that caught fire was something that primarily hurts a marginalized group, whereas the ideas that would be more effective would involve asking businesses to do things differently, so really there was no chance it was going to go any other way.

(There are some things worth thinking about in there.)

So I want to go back to those last thoughts from yesterday's post. Imagine being told by someone that they would kill themselves if they had your life. Imagine the state saying that you can't have the pain meds that work for you, but assisted suicide is legal. Added on that, imagine people wanting to take away something that allows you to survive in order to make a tiny dent in a problem, but you are the one who's unreasonable.

One of the other things I saw in that thread about the suicide compliments (for lack of a better term), was someone who works in customer service, but they are in a chair due to a disability. Recently some customers were really nasty about it, but more common are the "friendly" jokes about sitting down on the job. All the time.

Forget whether you have anyone that you care about that has a disability. Forget whether age, disease, or injury will at some point change that. Is this good enough? Is this a way to treat people?

And if you can't care about other people, how much do you really care about the Earth?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Shape of Water and representation

My main impression from The Shape of Water was that it didn't deserve Best Picture.

There were things that were really good about it. There were some amazing visuals and great performances, especially Michael Shannon's, but a lot of those elements did not fit together well, which meant that the overall viewing was jarring. Having only seen Hellboy for other examples of Del Toro's work, I would have to guess that he might have some issues with taste and self-indulgence that may hamper him despite having some visionary brilliance. (Kind of a George Lucas situation.)

Despite that, it was also jarring to read articles critical of the movie's portrayal of Elisa, who is mute. Here is one article that links to some of the others I have read:

My initial quibbling disagreement is that her scars being a remnant of a violent act is an assumption. With her being found as an infant near a river, with the scars and inability to speak already in place, I thought it implied that she was also originally aquatic, and going off with the Amphibian Man was rediscovering her heritage. I base that on what I know of Pan's Labyrinth and the fairy tale tone set in most of the movie, including Giles referring to "the princess" in his narration.

So while I did not in any way think that was the intent or purpose of the movie, that did not automatically negate what people who actually live with disabilities took from the movie, including a confirmation that they need to go off and be with their own kind because there is not a place for them in this world. That was not right, and it was the kind of situation where you can't help but feel like having a few consultants with that actual disability could have been really helpful.

I found that despite thinking I kind of disagreed with the criticisms (it appears I was not that firmly rooted in my disagreement), I suddenly kept finding examples of disability being used as a prop.

The conversation around Natalie Dormer and In Darkness may have been part of it - one could find many examples - but the one I am going to focus on is the recent Portland Opera production of Faust.

I don't know who - for this version - first came up with the idea of putting Marguerite on crutches, but I ended up really hating it.

If the actress had actually needed crutches I would have applauded it. If it had been something that made me look at the character of Marguerite differently, resulting in new ways of thinking about the opera, I could have been pleasantly surprised by that. It was nothing like that.

This was how they used it: during one musical section she briefly did not need to use her crutches. I suppose the idea was to give an extra reason for how giddy Faust's love made her, and to remind the audience that he had infernal powers. It didn't feel that way though; it just felt weird. The reasons to be suspicious of Faust are the jewels and ways in which he presses boundaries. They showed that so beautifully in the 90s.

It also showed a difference in that when her spirit went free (because her body was executed) she no longer needed the crutches. Also done much better in the 90s. And I think there was one more reason for the crutches: to make her situation more pitiable. That was really uncomfortable.

Some of this may seem like it doesn't matter that much, but there are real people with real disabilities. If media finds that to be a fun concept for experimentation, without looking at the reality of situations, that is highly irresponsible. That has real-world consequences. If most of what you know comes from media depictions and they are false, what you think you know about those real people is false.

I am going to share two things I have read recently. I regret not being able to point to who said them. If I can find them later I will add the information.

One was in a recent thread on things that get said to people with disabilities. A frequent comment - paraphrased - is "I would kill myself if I had to go through that."

That may sound like a compliment, because you are so much stronger for being able to deal with it. Another interpretation is "I would not find a life like yours worth living."

On a related note, there was a different thread on the opioid crisis. One reaction to it is severely limiting and trying to completely phase out certain drugs that are addictive, but are also a real help for people with chronic pain. That includes some things they are looking at in Oregon. If our state policy is going to be taking away remedies for pain but leaving suicide available, what are we saying about some lives? That may not be the intended message, but you can send very damaging unintended messages when you don't think things through.

We are living in a time when Nazis are back. Some of them are openly Nazis, some of them are repeating slogans that they have to know relate, but I also hear people echoing things that Hitler wrote with no idea. ("We aren't intended to get along with each other" being a big one.)

Certainly, people who aren't deeply evil should be able to follow those nihilistic trains of thought and see the logical outcomes, be repelled, and reverse, but if you silence enough voices - not even thinking about it - it's possible to make it pretty far down the path.

I reiterate that representation matters. Yesterday and today are about disability representation, other times it will be about gender, race, religion -- humans find a lot of ways to marginalize and hate, and we need to get better than this. Sometimes we are horrible in remarkably stupid and pointless ways.

More on that tomorrow. For now, this seems relevant:

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Schneider Family Book Awards

The award is donated by Dr. Katherine Schneider, and honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

I only read the picture books, but I was able to find several and ended up reading more. I am going to go over my reading choices, and then give some thoughts at the end.

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov

This was one of the best written and most interesting. It's not unusual to know that Louis Braille invented the alphabet that allows vision-impaired people to read with their fingers, but in addition to learning more about him, you see how family and community support helped him and how existing patterns inspired him. Excellent.

The Pirate of Kindergarten, written by George Ella Lyon and illustrated by Lynne Avril

One of the most interesting things for me was seeing how it could be difficult for a child with a perceptual difference (in this case, double vision) to know that there is a difference and to know how to communicate it. A vision test was helpful, but if they had only tested both eyes separately, it could still have been missed. Good food for thought. A bit where she had to navigate chairs, and she knew that only half of them were real but not which ones, really hit home.

Silent Days, Silent Dreams, written and illustrated by Allen Say

This focuses on the life and art of James Castle, born profoundly deaf and probably also dyslexic. In this case there was more of a lack of family support, but they could not stop him from making art.

Back to Front and Upside Down, written and illustrated by Claire Alexander

This could apply to dyslexia, or a child just temporarily behind the rest of their class. It works well for helping children know that it is okay to have trouble and to ask for help, and is written with a lot of empathy.

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls

This is a truly inspiring story, as Emmanuel finds ways to get around, make friends, and help support his family, then to raise awareness to help others with disabilities. I really liked the illustrations. Looking more at Sean Qualls' work there are some really interesting titles, so I look forward to seeing more by him.

The Deaf Musicians, written by Pete Seeger and Paul DuBois Jacobs, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

This was not as based in real experience, and I think suffered a bit for that, but I know that there are musical elements that come into play with sign language, and that rhythm is not limited to hearing, so those points are valid.

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Pippin's story, which includes retraining his ability to do art after losing the use of his arm to a war injury, is inspiring. While his art is very respected in the illustrations, I am not sure that the book will do well at capturing children's imaginations. It might be better to rework the material for an older audience.

Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum, written and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

Some of the same issues as the book on Horace Pippin, though there is one scene with lightning bugs and a summer night that is captured beautifully.

A Boy and a Jaguar, written by Allen Rabinowitz and illustrated by Catia Chen

Allen Rabinowitz is himself a stutterer who works for jaguar conservation, and this is his story of learning how to work with his speech impediment and follow his dream. Very inspiring, and a breathtaking ending.

Django, written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen

I saved this one for last for reading, because I love Django Reinhardt and I wanted to love this book, but it was not as magical as I'd hoped.

One of my big takeaways from the reading was that the amount of support someone with disabilities receives can make a huge difference. There were some wonderful families and some terrible families here.

The other thing - and it was probably evident from how I wrote about them - was that the quality of the books varied widely. It doesn't even mean that the worse ones were bad. Sometimes there are little things, like a paragraph that is too long for a children's book, or an interruption of the flow, where reading the book is fine but you wouldn't expect it to win awards. This was especially noticeable with the music books for me, because in other awards lists I saw some fantastic methods for conveying music visually, and it wasn't quite happening here.

I feel bad saying that, because it was clear that many of the writers and illustrators had a lot of passion for their subjects, and I know they wanted to impart those same feelings.

Personal experience matters. In the case of A Boy and a Jaguar, he did not come across as an experienced children's writer, but because it was his own story, that elevated it. I think The Deaf Musicians needed people who were deaf, not just people who cared about deafness, as the writers.

It seems clear that if books that are just okay are winning this award, there probably aren't that many books to choose from each year, so that brings us back to representation. I know there are lots of different types of disabilities and experiences with them, and there is clearly a lot that is not being covered. We should do better than that, but also to do it well, more people with disabilities need to be encouraged to tell their own stories. Because children's books have some specific needs, there can be room for mentoring here.

Let me repeat that representation matters, because we are going to spend some time on that tomorrow.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Band Review: Amanda Shires

Amanda Shires is an Americana musician from Texas with a long career for her relatively young age. At 36, she has been playing professionally since the age of 15; more than half of her life.

I was not previously aware of her until hearing about some reviews for her new album, To the Sunset. Coming at this review with fresh eyes, it has been interesting to spend time on her four most recent solo albums, spanning from 2011 to today.

It is hard to imagine anything prettier than "Sloe Gin" and "Kudzu", from her 2011 album, Carrying Lightning. The songs are beautifully accented with violin, which Shires has been playing since ten.

Those songs are the ones I responded to the most while listening. I nonetheless appreciate an evolution over time as other styles and instruments have been incorporated. Guitar has become more pronounced - and more electric - over the course of the albums. To the Sunset's cover photo has a blurred and alien look. The opening track, "Parking Lot Pirouettes", starts with some distortion, and feels more plugged in than her earlier work. There is musical growth, which I appreciate.

There is still a continuity of feeling and heart, and a connection the past. "A Song for Leonard Cohen" is present, but knows its roots.

Shires has an interesting voice, resonant but also bird-like, somewhat reminiscent of Dolly Parton. Between that and violin and guitar, there are good combinations of melody and harmony.

There are several performances scheduled between now and September 30th, giving a good chance of catching Shires on the road. If that is not possible, it is certainly reasonable to check out To the Sunset, but it would be a shame to stop there. As an artist she has a lot to offer.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Band Review: Hightown Parade

Hightown Parade followed me last month. I am reviewing them earlier than I usually do, but that's how the schedule worked out.

There are currently only two songs available, but they are both really good. From the band's own description, one of the things they claim is "a vigorous dialogue between guitar and piano"- which is thoroughly established on "Choose".

Then you don't really hear the piano on "Silhouette". It doesn't need it because the guitars are fantastic, but comparing the two songs - and only having those two - makes you wonder where the band is going to go. Many good directions seem possible.

Overall I like the band's energy. It comes from all directions on instruments, but it is hard to overlook the intensity of Chris Payn on vocals. I get some flashes of a young Michael Hutchence, though I would not say that Hightown Parade sounds like INXS.

They do sound good, nonetheless, and worth keeping an ear on. They have several dates scheduled in England for November, available on the band's Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Honestly loved

A month and a half ago, someone told me he loved me and I told him that I loved him too.

There is a limit to the amount of detail I am going to give on that, but I will give some background.

We have known each other - without frequently being around each other - for five years. I was attracted to him but learned he was married so was mortified; both for not realizing it and then just for having the feelings. I worked really hard to get over that, and then when I could just like him as a person it was a relief. (He never knew any of that.)

Two fairly significant changes along the way included him getting divorced and my non-platonic feelings coming back hard. The latter had no influence on the former, but the former probably had something to do with the latter.

We happened to see each other twice within a few months, which never happens. The first time, although I did not confess love or anything like that, I did overshare and then felt really weird and stupid about that. In retrospect, I think the overshare - which was essentially admitting that my life is super hard right now - allowed him to also open up about his own problems, and that might be how we got to "I love you."

There is a lot that is up in the air there. We probably should have talked more that night, but it felt so heavy, and there was so much else going on, that there is still a lot to be said. There are a lot of obstacles, including but not limited to us both being at low points in our lives with lots of obligations and not lots of money and also about 2600 miles between us, so don't get too excited.

At the same time, I've had my fair share of euphoria with it. I can be doing many other things, mostly staying on track, but there is still a chorus of his name in my head. There is the memory of him saying "I love you." There is the concern sometimes that I said it back a little too immediately and adamantly. However, there is also the fact that as implausible as it was, when I was anticipating seeing him that night, among the many thoughts that went through my head was "You know, it's important for a lot of guys that they are first to say 'I love you', so you should let him go first." It hadn't seemed like an immediate need.

There is a lot to be figured out, and to think about, but what I want to say most at this point is really about me.

People who have been reading for a while know that I have really been trying to work on myself, and heal, and be better, and a lot of that has really started to come to fruition this year. I tend to believe that if the healing had not happened, then this could not have happened.

I don't mean to make any grand claims; I know that people with gaping holes in their self-esteem end up in relationships all the time, but I haven't. If me being open the last time that we saw each other allowed him to be open this time, I was only able to be open because of some of the things I'd worked through. And all of that progress is what allowed me to just reciprocate his love instead of possibly saying and definitely thinking "Why? Aren't you worried you can do better?"

(Which would be a terrible thing to say to someone you love who loves you, but it is a place that is mentally easy to go.)

My life started with a sense that there was something wrong with me, and at 14 it crystallized into understanding that I was fat and no one could ever love me, and especially if a boy seemed to love me it was a joke. I tried to compensate for that by being really good and helpful, but my main hope was that some day I would lose weight. None of the attempts worked, but I just wasn't good enough yet. Someday I would make it, and then I could have love and it would be okay. I loved people, but I kept my hope locked up and hidden, and repeatedly failed to lose weight.

At 31 I let my guard down and hope in, but I was wrong. The confirmation that the years of boxed up pain and fear were right made me want to die. Eventually I got to understand that was wrong, but believing it, and acting like it, was still really hard. It took me until 46. The real progress probably didn't start until 41, with depressed teen girls and the long reading list and My Chemical Romance. It's taken reading, and writing, and praying, and a year of selfies, and learning to let myself say "I hate" and be angry. All of that just to be able to say "I love".

I have had my fair share of doubts - "What if he just meant that he loved me as a friend?" And that would kind of suck, but it wouldn't break me the way the false hopes at 31 did. I am better now.

You cannot know how much it means to me that he told me he loved me in this state: broke, fat, and so utterly me. I have never been super cute, but I have been better looking than this. I have definitely been better off financially than this. The only thing to be into now is me. Somehow that is still worthy of being loved. I know it's right now too, though I still understand that not everyone gets it.

When I saw him in March, he asked me something that got me thinking, and I had some important realizations there. This time what he told me did too. Whatever happens from here, he has been good for me. I think I have been good for him. We could be friends.

And I don't want to be only friends; let's not have any lack of clarity there. But for while we are in this in between time, even if nothing else happens, I am happy that this happened. I love the euphoria, and I love the more practical realization of how much I have grown.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My Twitter moment

Okay, it wasn't really my moment; I was just a part of the moment.

It started with a tweet in January from @_EmperorJustin_ (I don't know him): "Still haven’t forgiven Zooey Deschanel for what she did to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer."

It did get a fair amount of likes and retweets, and he pinned it, which may account for Joseph Gordon-Levitt seeing it and quote-tweeting it on August 6th:

"Watch it again. It’s mostly Tom’s fault. He’s projecting. He’s not listening. He’s selfish. Luckily he grows by the end."

This resonated with a lot of people, but it is also something I had thought about a lot. I could see that Summer was being very insensitive and callous, but she had been honest about her intentions, and Tom was the one who'd said he was okay with casual. I added my two cents:

"It's true that he lied about being okay with casual, but I think a lot of people relate to that, hoping the other person will change their mind. It may be the realest thing in cinema that she doesn't."

That got a lot of traffic. To date it has 104 retweets and 2077 likes. That is huge for me. I think it was still around just 1000 likes when I got the Twitter moment notification.

For some perspective, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's tweet got 45000 retweets and 177000 likes, but also he has 4.2 million followers to my 1322 so the reach is completely different anyway. Part of what made it interesting for me is that I don't think there are any of my followers in those numbers. If they are, they are a small percentage. But that's the thing, the moment is about that thread and movie, not about me. (It is a bit about Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Currently there is a thing going on now where if someone has a tweet blow up, they will add a link to their Soundcloud, or if they don't have one, maybe they will promote a charity or something, because people are looking. I had just joked about that on July 30th, tweeting that I do have a Soundcloud but I wasn't sharing it yet because the protocol is to wait until a tweet goes viral. Ah, so this is what that feels like.

I still didn't share it. That is partly because I am not sure that the logic works out. Yes, a lot of people have looked at it, but by the time I realize it is happening it could be mostly over. If the momentum is still going, maybe more people will come, but them being interested in the one thing doesn't mean that it will carry over to other things.

(Also, at this time my Soundcloud has exactly three short songs that I did for the Music for Wellness class. At some point I hope to put up other things, but sending people there now is not likely to cause them to want to revisit it.)

What really made me interested in this moment - other than my normal tendency to notice something and be curious about various aspects (especially quantifiable things) - were the replies. I get that a lot of people relate to being more into someone, and hoping it will change; many likes were because of that. The other part, though, about how real it is that it doesn't work; that was more interesting. I didn't even realize how much I meant it until I typed it. That is not how we expect movies to work, especially when it's about a likable man in pursuit of his dream girl.

(A good reply from @_youngTenderoni has 865 likes and 14 retweets.)

There's a whole bunch there, including how dream girl sounds more natural than dream woman, yet man still sounds more right than boy. There are ways in which it might be perfect that the quintessential manic pixie dream girl herself, Zooey Deschanel, was cast as Summer.

For my own thoughts, I worried that forget the Soundcloud, I should post a clarification that I didn't endorse Tom's self-deception. I did not add any thing to it. That tweet did pretty well as was. I don't need to add anything to it, but I still wanted to blog about it.

What I am really left with in doing that is the importance of honesty in relationships, of course, but what is so necessary with that is to be honest with yourself. Tom certainly knew that he wanted a deeper relationship with Summer, but he also might have told himself that he would be okay with casual. It seems pretty clear that he did not stop to honestly assess how he would deal with the one-sidedness of the relationship. It allowed for great moments, and an awesome musical number, but there was also a lot of frustration and pain, and him being a real jerk on that other date.

It's not like it's off-brand of me to write about the need for introspection and honesty and really knowing yourself and then acting with integrity based on that. This still seems like a good chance to do it again. If you can know yourself and your needs and your limits, you can build a better relationship with someone else. If you can honestly know that the attraction you feel - no matter how intense - will not prevent some things from being miserable, then you can make honest choices about how to proceed. There can be less hurting of other people and less setting yourself up for pain. It doesn't mean there isn't going to be any pain, but it helps.

And tomorrow I shall write a little bit about where that has gotten me, not with all of the details but still with some juiciness.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Black Panther as political commentary

It was the giant vibranium deposit - from a meteorite - that allowed Wakanda to become so technologically advanced, but it was their geographical isolation that saved them from colonialism.

Hiding their advanced technology made sense as a way of keeping colonizers and others interested in exploitation out, but it had never occurred to me that their isolationism meant not interfering in the slave trade.

Honestly, that seemed to be more of a movie thing, as I believe in the comics the real technological advances did not come until the time of T'Chaka, T'Challa's father. Even if that can't be quite as long ago as WWII-era now (if you do the math), it would still be well after the Atlantic slave trade and most of colonialism. The movie implied that Wakanda had watched all of that and let it happen to remain protected, which at least for me gave kind of a sinking feeling. Still, you had a smaller and more recent example with Killmonger.

In the movie, T'Chaka's brother was in America, and was selling vibranium in order to fund Black liberation groups, putting Wakanda's privacy at risk. Zuri came to return N'Jobu to Wakanda, but he resisted and was killed. A young Eric (N'Jadaka) returned to find his father dead.

I suppose it is logical that this Killmonger would be against both the colonizers and the royal family. When dying, he asks to be placed in the Atlantic, along with those who did not survive the Middle Passage.

Understandable, but the path that has gotten him there has involved training with the CIA and sowing turmoil in many countries on the behalf of the government. His body is covered with scars commemorating his kills. His ultimate plan is destruction and chaos. After he takes the heart-shaped herb he demands that the rest of the herbs be destroyed. There is no plan of succession; a hallmark of fascist leaders. While he will gladly destroy many who have held back others of his race, there is no reason to believe that there is a plan for after that. It is ultimately nihilistic.

I can feel sympathy. His father's death was a great loss at an impressionable age. One of the things I hate most in the books is when Preyy (a leopard he has bonded with) dies. Killmonger had been on his way to something better, and it seemed like it could work until that relationship loss. No one doubts that he has suffered, but it has caused him to lose empathy instead of growing it.

(There is a good Atlantic article about this:

Unsurprisingly, this makes Black women his frequent targets, shooting, choking, and stabbing them, even the one who loved him. Mainly what I think of with him is that the master's tools cannot be used to destroy the master's house.

But for all his wrongness, it doesn't mean that the questions Killmonger raises are wrong. What is our responsibility to each other? How much do we put ourselves at risk to save others?

Sometimes those questions have difficult answers (though it is hard not to think that providing a home for the little boy they just orphaned could have been a good start). We have another example, though, with Nakia.

She is also against the isolation, but for her that means going and rescuing some kidnapped girls, and paying attention to a young boy among the kidnappers who may not be hardened yet. She starts with her knowledge and her abilities and goes to make a difference. She is also the one who rescues one heart-shaped herb, respecting tradition and hoping for the future while she does something concrete in the present.

It should be a completely obvious thing, but the world is turned upside down now, so maybe it isn't. Destruction needs to be healed, not amplified. Taking down tyranny can be fine, but has it ended misery, or are people still hungry, poor, and sick?

The traditional Masai greeting and response is an inquiry about children:

And how are the children?
All the children are well.

That can even be exchanged among childless people, because it's not about specific individuals, but that for things to be well, the children must be well.

To change what is wrong, that's a good starting place.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Band Review: Culture Abuse

This is my second band with a fuzzy sound this week. I would call it a coincidence, but both bands were recommendations, and the guys who recommended them have played together, so that probably makes it less surprising.

In this case, Culture Abuse was recommended by Gerard Way, but I remember seeing praise for their 2016 album Peach from many people (a sad reminder of how long some bands languish on the Recommended list).

Having listened, I totally get the praise for Peach. It starts in with an infectious energy on "Chinatown" (the band is based in San Francisco), moves right in to "Jealousy" - probably my favorite track - and stays strong all the way through a solid conclusion of "Yuckies" and "Heavy Love". Therefore it is not just that the individual songs are good, but also that the arrangement and the connections build well, something I always appreciate.

As good as Peach is, waiting to review Culture Abuse means that I can also include Bay Dream, which I believe is thematically stronger. Maybe it is just more personal.

The fuzz of the sound does make me think of some emo, but what it reminds me of most is punk. They would not be defined as punk based on tempo or reliance on a few simple chords. (At least I don't think so; my ear isn't really good enough to tell.) However, I feel a combination of sad subject matter becoming musically celebratory. Without being able to tell you that a single song sounds like the Ramones' "Beat On The Brat", that is what I think of: this sucks but we are all right. The need for that music never goes away.

I especially want to recommend "Calm E","Peace On Earth", and "Dave's Not Here (I Got the Stuff Man)", even though I think that last one is a drug reference.

I can really imagine fans of Weezer enjoying Culture Abuse, but also - and I'm probably only thinking it because of "Bluebird On My Shoulder" but that doesn't mean it's wrong - fans of They Might Be Giants.

Or, you know, fans of good music, but that's sort of unhelpfully broad.

Culture Abuse has tour dates starting September 7th. Check them out.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Band Review: Cooler

Cooler was recommended by James Dewees, whom I believe got to see them live in February.

The Buffalo-based indie-emo band has a 2016 EP called Phantom Phuzz, and that title may contain the essence of the band.

It's not just the use of distortion, though that is noticeable. It is also the way some songs trail off (especially on "Nostalgia"), and how sometimes things sound far away; there can be ghosts out there, and you may hear them in the songs.

That is not that the tracks sound particularly supernatural either. It is more a sense of past and memories and feelings that have been unresolved being pulled forward. There is pain, but it can be released.

I enjoyed the older tracks, but 2018's Buried EP is strong. I especially liked the title track and "Quadrillion". For Phantom Phuzz, "Metal Moths" is pretty cool.

One point of clarification: I was first directed to bass player Alley's Instagram, @coolermood, and initially thought that was the name. If you search on "cooler mood", you get led to a different Bandcamp page, for Philadelphia band Small Circle. (And hey, I might just end up reviewing them too, so it's not a problem, but the name of the band is this review is just Cooler.)

It's worth noting that while Buried  and Phantom Phuzz can be found in multiple sources, it looks like 1993 - with the pretty rocking "Stay" - is only available through Cooler's Bandcamp. Also, whenever I clicked play on an EP on Bandcamp, it would skip the first track, so click on the first track for complete listening.

That's all I've got! Relevant links are listed below.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Black Panther as celebration

There were two other ways in which the movie improved on the comic books (in my opinion, obviously).

While I initially liked Ross in the books, he gradually got more whiny and more annoying. Learning that he was based on Chandler but named after Ross made total sense, but it didn't help. When Martin Freeman was being such a prig in Captain America: Civil War I was glad to know that Ross tends to receive a lot of aggravation. It felt like he was going to deserve it.

Seeing him terribly vulnerable, amazed, excited, and rising to the occasion later all worked to let me find him likable. Probably him taking the horrifying injury for Nakia should have done it, but really it was everything after that. (One reason I would really like to watch the movie again is see if it was necessary. I'd kind of be surprised if she needed the help. It seemed like she did, but it all happened pretty fast.)

That amazement as Ross viewed Wakandan technology leads to the other correction.

In the books they always referred to Wakanda as the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, but in the movies everyone was expecting them to be backwards. In the world of the movie, it made a lot more sense that they could be so technologically advanced and keep it totally hidden. You literally saw the mechanisms in place that did the hiding and they were remarkably effective and visually stunning.

In this landscape it was also possible to believe that all the Wakandan citizens were doing well with the technology; not just some. Even the Jabari - who had separated themselves from the rest of society - seemed to be doing fine.

I mentioned yesterday that in the books T'Challa was too perfect, and that it made everything else worse. Part of that was that one of T'Challa's strengths was that he was always ten steps ahead of everyone else, but he still needs conflicts for dramatic purpose, so really messed up things happen that wouldn't be predictable. Also he is always in the States being an Avenger but needs to come back because there are terrible problems in Wakanda. Based on the things they say about Wakanda, it should be better run.

Much of that goes back to the problem common to superhero comics in general - why don't all of these powers fix anything? The stories keep getting bigger and bigger and repeat and it doesn't seem to get anywhere, until it becomes so obvious that you reboot everything - it gets frustrating.

In the case of Black Panther I believe there were extra constraints because of a desire to present Africa and T'Challa positively, but then not knowing how to keep that balanced. (Hence too much annoyingly imperfect Ross. Also, there were probably some issues with internalized racism.)

Therefore it is an incredible triumph to see a strong African country not stunted by colonialism. It was a joy to find the Dora Milaje accomplished and fierce, but still able to have personal lives. It was important to see textiles inspired by kente cloth and traditional beading techniques and tattoos and even lip disks. (Ruth Carter is the best and there is more on that at A lot of the cast and crew were American, but the movie is gloriously and purposefully African, and it's needed.

A friend asked me if I had seen anything focusing on the women in Black Panther, because they are so awesome. Everything that did was specifically focusing on Black women, because that is a more significant niche in this case. Black women do not get enough love, but this movie loves them.

(Speaking of the women, does anyone know if Ramonda is still the stepmother, or is she just the mother? I was never sure that her being the step-mother served any purpose except as a red herring to believe she could be conspiring against T'Challa.)

And that makes two more things about the movie that I mentioned yesterday more significant.

I prefer the movie's Nakia not merely because I love Lupita Nyong'o', but because I was glad to have all of the Black women be positive figures. I was glad to have the ridiculous villain be Klaue instead of Achebe not only because I am not sure how his puppet Daki would translate to the screen, but also because it is appropriate here to have a white villain, and to have him fall to the Black villain.

But Killmonger is going to need his own post.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Black Panther as an adaptation

Let's talk about movies a little.

As exciting as the Black Panther movie sounded, I had concerns about seeing it because I have never liked the books that much. That was a foolish worry; it's when you adore books that adaptations fill you with rage and disappointment!

Regardless, this worked well, and I wanted to spend some time on why it worked for me.

(There are some spoilers here, but even more there geeking out comparing the comics to the movie that may not make sense to people who have not read the books.)

First of all, for successfully incorporating comic book fantasy into a movie, I loved the way the absorbed energy was displayed in the suit. Being able to store the power of absorbed attacks is a cool idea anyway, but then as the purple potential energy spread it built excitement for the upcoming release of kinetic energy. It's a minor thing I suppose, but I thought it worked well.

Little touches can mean a lot. One of my favorite laughs was when Ross asks Klaue if he has a Soundcloud; he thinks he is being sarcastic, but he isn't. In a few years that joke may not be funny, but then it was. Also, it made Klaue goofier, which meant that they didn't need Achebe to get that element in. Honestly, I think it would be hard to make Achebe work onscreen. With Klaue as one type of danger, and Killmonger as another, the antagonistic elements were well-balanced.

Speaking of changing up your villains, the biggest change was Nakia. Instead of being the love-obsessed but kind of doomed to it villain, here Nakia is basically Storm, but with highly trained warrior powers rather than mutant powers. Recent mergers could allow X-men crossovers, but I like this Nakia.

To fix her they had to fix the Dora Milaje, and they did. It was in Queen Divine Justice's arc that the books really showed what a twisted position it is to be a Dora Milaje, not even being allowed to speak to other people, intended for the prince, but never really going to be with the prince. It's a horrible situation, and only really works as a male fantasy.

Here they are highly dedicated warriors, but they have their own lives too. They may choose their jobs over their husbands under the right circumstances (like if your husband chooses Killmonger over T'Challa), but it still seems like a much better life.

(I love Okoye!)

The movie Nakia has been through that training, but left to do more good and serve a broader purpose. I like that she inspires T'Challa but also leaves him with a weak spot.

That leads to the best part of all: I loved Shuri.

One of the things that never worked for me in the books is that T'Challa is too perfect, but without it paying off. He eventually solves problems but they keep coming up, but it isn't from personal weaknesses because they stripped all of those away. It makes everything else in the fictional world worse.

It's amazing how much a teasing little sister can lighten up a dourly idealized hero. I know she does appear in some books, but I have not read any of those. I hope she lightens up the books as much as she does the movie, but at least she does lighten up the movie.

I think I want to appreciate the movie from a different direction tomorrow, but first of all I am going to mention the part that I completely missed the significance of until later, because I admit my weaknesses.

I stayed for the after credits scene. I heard White Wolf and thought "cool". I understood that it gave a context to Shuri's line about T'Challa bringing her another broken white boy.

I did not recognize that he was Sebastian Stan. I just got curious later about who played him and looked it up. Oh. I guess he's unfrozen now.

At least it made sense when I saw Infinity War.

Monday, August 06, 2018


Back in 2012 I got onto Twitter, almost accidentally. I got onto Facebook in late 2008, though that was deliberate. I'm just not really an early adopter when it comes to social media. Anyway, I am now accidentally on Instagram.

Maybe "accident" is the wrong word, but "on" is probably incorrect also. Let me explain.

I got onto Twitter because public figures that I was interested in were not on Facebook. Some people that are on Twitter also seem to use Instagram more, and do more interesting things with it. I would often click on links to photos. At one point I even looked into creating an account, but you needed to download the application to your phone. That required choosing which version depending on your phone type. My internet access is all through a PC, so an account clearly wasn't meant to be, but I could still click on tweeted links.

A few days ago I clicked on one link, and I got curious about something related. I clicked on something for the profile that posted that picture and was prompted to log in, but there was also an option for signing up.

Without having the app, I found that interesting. Yes, you can sign up on a PC, without installing anything. Then the fun part was finding that all my logins were already taken. Granted, it was six years ago, but one of the reasons the phrase "sultryglebe" appealed to me was that I didn't think anyone else would be attached to it. It worked for Twitter, but not for Instagram. I had not intended to be "sporktastic" on Blogger; it just happened after everything else I had thought of was already in use.

I ended up as "thesultriestglebe", which I now have sincere doubts about that, especially as I almost immediately started gaining followers. (They all appear to be people I already know via Facebook or Twitter).

I have been thinking about exiting Facebook for some time, based on privacy issues and the deep penetration of Russian trolls. However, I value the connection with people, and it would be hard to recreate that. Instagram wasn't really going to be the answer anyway, because they are a part of Facebook, but also, you still need that app.

I do have an Instagram profile now, and I have 14 followers. I have no ability to post a picture. It looked like it was going to allow me to upload a profile photo from my PC, but didn't work. So I guess the big change is that I can now comment on photos.

Obviously, I could change all of that with a phone upgrade, though this hardly seems like the time for that. There is the money/plan issue, but also I feel like one of the really good things about my life is that when I am away from the computer I am truly unplugged.

I do not doubt that #365feministselfie would be easier from a phone that the current process, but I continue in my own process of slowly embracing technology in a peaceful way.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Album Review: The Secret Cinematic Sounds of Jimmy Urine

It's been a while since the MSI album and concert, so my memory may have dulled, but I feel safe saying that it sounded nothing like Jimmy Urine solo.

That's not too surprising; there was never any reason to think that MSI's sound would be the only or truest expression of any of its members. It does make listening to The Secret Cinematic Sounds of Jimmy Urine pretty fascinating.

There is a strong '80s influence, with some of the songs having been written long ago. One review mentioned that "Salome" could go right on to the Heathers  soundtrack, but I say "Not For Me" sounds like the middle of a John Hughes film, when everyone is getting all broody on their way to the actions that will shake them out of their respective funks and bring on the upbeat music.

I particularly loved "Patty Hearst" and "Fighting With The Melody" - for different reasons - but I have to give special attention to "All Together Friends Forever". It sounds like the theme song of a children's show, but the kids in the audience are children of the corn or something. Maybe you can't put your finger on why it's creepy, but it is creepy, and that lack of definition makes it more unsettling.

(There is an associated short film. I'm sure it would give one explanation for the creepiness, I'm not sure I want the mystery solved.)

All of this leaves me really wishing for artist commentary: what inspired each track? What does it mean to you? What movies or video games would they go to? I believe Jimmy would give answers that were interesting, insightful, and fabulously odd.

That is why I was looking at other reviews. I usually don't, but I was left wanting to know more. I didn't find much, so that just leaves me with listening and extrapolation.

It could be worse.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Band Review: Flam!

Three years ago I reviewed The Paul & John, a San Francisco rock duo featuring Paul Myers.

I knew at the time that it was not Myers' first musical project, but more of his past work is now available, including a Bandcamp page now for Flam!.

I don't know if it is the name source, but one definition of "flam" is a rudimentary drumming pattern, with a stroke preceded by a grace note.

There are many grace notes in the Flam! compositions. Myers describes them as musical meditations that started when he was experimenting with software. Not all of the tracks are upbeat, but there is a freedom and playfulness that comes through in many.

I especially responded to the funk in "The Threat Down", and to "The Place Where We Shared Our Truths". That one is full of little grace notes. "Islands to Plunder" has a quasi-industrial sound.

Myers has indicated that there is more to come, but currently I could only find ten tracks on Bandcamp and one additional arrangement on Youtube:

However, I am also happy to report that on the Bandcamp page he has also included the original album from The Gravelberries, including some bonus tracks. I am not including it as part of this review, but of course I listened to it. I mean, why wouldn't you?

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

For good people to do nothing

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke 

One of my Black History month books for 2018 was The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward. I didn't love it.

The original publication date was 1955, and the book is very much in that older droning style, where everything feels long and boring. I think that was an academic rule then, like it wouldn't feel right to make a history book interesting, no matter how interesting the events were. Perhaps that is my age showing.

Even worse, my newer version had some notes added later, trying to account for the Civil Rights movement and the civil unrest of the 60s. There were some wonderful testimonials of his goodness and commitment to equality in the book, which I think were a reaction to Woodward becoming more conservative later. I don't doubt the sincerity of the man in 1955, but I immediately noticed the growing paternalism in his later writing. I don't know if that has to be held against the earlier writings, but I'm sure that denial doesn't help.

Actually, in that way, C. Vann Woodward may have most efficiently argued his own point.

The 1955 parts of The Strange Career of Jim Crow contain information on the ten to twenty years right after emancipation. It is a fairly short work, so there is nothing about debt peonage or attempts to keep freed people working on their old plantations. To be fair, it is more of an urban work, and some of the worst examples of fighting against emancipation come from rural areas. I suspect Woodward was overly optimistic, but could have been worse. Regardless, Woodward found several examples of the races mingling harmoniously in the South during Reconstruction.

Part of that is pointing out that in some ways the South was - if not less racist - at least more used to frequent contact between Black and white people than the North. Slavery did allow for frequent contact, and Woodward's argument was that once Black people were free they integrated fairly well.

As much as I suspect that he missed some key points in deciding that, it was clear that at least some people were fine sharing rail cars and public areas, and I am willing to believe that was true. What was more important was that there were always some people working against it. A vocal minority worked hard to stir up dissent, lobby, and do anything possible to reverse gains in equality.

In that way it seems like the book would have been more about the birth of Jim Crow rather than the career, but his point was that it was a Northern import.

(I suddenly wonder how much Woodward accepted the Lost Cause school of thought, but I don't know and finding out isn't a priority right now.)

The strongest lesson that I took from the book is that even if the majority of people are fine with progress, there will always be some working against it. Complacency lets them succeed.

That is why not talking about racism to avoid making anyone uncomfortable doesn't work. That is why waiting for the old racist generation to die out doesn't work. They are continuously undermining and require active countermeasures. It is lovely to think that people are basically good and won't fall for that, but there has been plenty of evidence to the contrary, even before 2016.

The C Vann Woodward of 1955 appeared to be striving for equality, sometimes making his case to hostile audiences, but generally remaining very pleasant. When things got unpleasant in that fight for equality, he started blaming outsiders (West Indians especially) and wondering if certain actions were really necessary. He praised Dinesh D'Souza and spoke against the hiring of John Hope Franklin as being racially motivated, despite the fact that Franklin was an excellent historian doing important work. There is no indication that Woodward saw the irony, and plenty of people still thought he was a great guy.

Equality doesn't come easily. It requires a fight. It requires grappling with racism, no matter how many people get offended at admissions that racism exists and that they may have been affected by it.

You will find a lot of think pieces out there right now suggested otherwise, but they are ignoring history.