Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Let there be country/Let the music roll along"

This is a long post defending country music against vague and amorphous nemeses, part of which I wrote two years ago in response to a series of now-antiquated blog posts, and part of which I wrote last February, so it no longer makes any chronological sense. But since the issue of country music's politics has been raised here and at Athens and Jerusalem recently, I decided to unearth it in its rough state. While you read it, I'll be flying to Boston for a semester of hopefully productive TA-ing and dissertating, and probably mocking the Crimson's groundbreaking sex reporting.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Another brief comment about country music, mainly for WPB

Better Kacey Musgraves: Jeannie C. Riley, "Harper Valley PTA." Same point, much wittier delivery, and slide guitar for added flair. That's not to suggest, contra the NYT, that country music didn't discover the phenomenon of moral hypocrisy for the first time just last March, of course.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The whole world outside of Oberlin was right, including me

Via JTL, self-inflicted hate crime: check, sort of. I suppose "hoax" is more apt than "self-inflicted hoax," since these guys did nothing to themselves, so I submit that to correction. At least our culprits spared us the ubiquitous self-delusion that what they did was for the purpose of "raising awareness" of racism, etc. However, Oberlin's admin still insists - in good administrative Newspeak - that being trolled was "an educational moment." And they do not seem to mean that it educated said administrators about trolling and the appropriate and inappropriate responses to it. Because in this sphere, they are apparently ineducable.

Monday, August 19, 2013

In subcultural news

In galloped the bronies. People like Matt Labash keep journalism (and, by extension, this blog) alive.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jean Elshtain has died

Sad news. I'm just finishing her Gifford Lectures on sovereignty and was about to start in on Public Man, Private Woman. Elshtain was never my teacher, but I frequently came across her work, since she has written on women and the family in political thought, in a thoughtful and reasonable way in a milieu that does not typically reward saying determinedly preservative things on these topics. I concluded that she had good aim from a review of hers I found of Richard Flathman's book on authority that was the only thing at the time to point out the simple and devastating fact that Flathman's supposedly synoptic analysis of authority entirely neglected and could not be applied to all our experiences of authority that do not emanate from The State, which are basically all the experiences of private life. And, of course, from the wonderful essay on thrift from the now-defunct In Character, "You Kill It, You Eat It."

Thursday, August 08, 2013

First world problems, catlife edition: sleeping all day is so stressful

My cat has decided to lick all the fur off his stomach. This is pretty gross because basically cats are only good for their cuteness, and cats with no stomach fur are substantially less cute than their more fully-furred comrades. So I took him to the vet to investigate the cause of this problem, and the verdict was: he is probably stressed, or he has fleas and is also stressed.

According to the opinions of various vets, my cat has been traumatized and anxious since approximately his birth, and the vet in Hyde Park who saw him when has was all of six months was ready to prescribe him Prozac. Since then, suggestions about anti-anxiety meds have been frequent. And it is true that he's been moved around a lot and been placed in a series of temporary foster homes when I was between cat-friendly apartments. However, his domestic situation has been relatively stable for about five years now, barring a couple of moves with which he demonstrated his displeasure by peeing on our stuff for a few weeks after we'd arrived. Isn't that plus a year of placidity enough to de-stress a cat? Apparently not. But what can he possibly be stressed about now?

Gradlife gives one a good view of catlife, and this is what catlife looks like to me:

I am Nigel, short-haired domestic house cat, aged seven, resident of San Diego. It is 6 am and I have awakened from my 12-hour slumber on this plush white chair which I regularly coat with a tapestry of my black fur. I am hungry! I will now scratch and yowl at the humans' bedroom door until one of them comes out to serve me. Urgent! Urgent! Attention humans! Alert! I am hungry! Ah, yes, there's the stuff. Why do you seem so annoyed, human? I was hungry. It could not wait, not even an hour. I am offended that you made me wait. Now I will return to my slumbers for the next 10 hours. The balcony door is open and soft harbor breezes waft over me as I lie under the shade of this large plant.

Or on this couch. Or in this bookshelf, where I have a designated shelf. Or in the closet. I fit everywhere. But nothing is satisfying. Worse, the humans have the gall to leave me alone here, for even four hours at one time.

In the afternoon, a human returns to my abode and pets me and calls me stupid names in a stupid voice and rubs my belly. Mmm, belly rubs. I tolerate these. I am offered catnip and treats for all my hard work during the human's absence, but still I feel underappreciated. Then I return to sleep on whichever couch the human is reading on. Sometimes, I am let out onto the balcony, where I am able to partake of the irresistible leaves of the potted palm until I am forcible torn away from my vegetable love which I am slowly shredding with my affections and forced back indoors. Then the living ping pong ball emerges to taunt me. I do not understand why the humans are not more concerned about eradicating this intruder when they used to confiscate my mice and bats and birds promptly. But the ping pong balls they leave for me to hunt. At 8 pm, I discover again that I am hungry! Hungry! Hungry! Feed me now!!! Fortunately, the humans are more responsive at this hour than at the earlier one, and I don't even have to wait 20 minutes before they oblige. On occasion, I am offered salmon pate wet food. This is acceptable to me.

It is now time for additional sleep, and I once again mount my plush throne, survey my dominions, curl into a croissant, and sigh. I am le stressed. It is such a hard life I lead. Maybe I will lick all my stomach fur off? Yes, I will do that. That will teach them to stress me out.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

How Green Was My Port Clinton

A couple years ago, a friend and I decided to rent How Green Was My Valley because all we knew about it was that it beat Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon for an Oscar some year during WWII. Helped along by the fact that neither of us has any pre-1990 roots in America that could help us contextualize how this film could possibly be thought good, no less great, we concluded that it was a heaping pile of nostalgic schlock. The basic plot was that life was great in Wales when everyone was a communitarian coal miner with no vowels and seven w's in his name and could bring up an entire family (poor, but honest, of course) of ruddy, un-voweled children to be future coal miners on his mining wages. But then came labor unrest! Managers exploit workers! Family and idyllic village rent asunder by union strife! Love crushed by scandal! Then everyone dies and the family and village fall apart and the party's over, with nothing left but the narrator's tender memories of his green valley. One review I came across at the time aptly summed up the film with the memorable re-titling, "How Wet Was My Hanky."

Whatever may have been the appeal of the movie in the '40s (and you're welcome to enlighten me on this point, old and historian readers), it's unclear to me what attractions it retains in the present. The story is grounded in the view that being a coal miner is extremely fulfilling and universally desirable, and would that we could all be coal miners in the unpronounceable valleys of southern Wales, and then the rest of our lives would simply fall into place. The only thing stopping us is the vague but nefarious economic forces that were the undoing of the main character's little town. But watch it in the present, and you'll get to the scene where the main character turns down a university scholarship to carry on his family's legacy of coal mining, and you'll think, "No, wrong. Bad idea. Reverse, reverse!"

But when I read things like Robert Putnam's NYT op-ed about the disintegration of his hometown of Port Clinton, OH, I see how people can still claim to love this film. How green was Putnam's Port Clinton, circa 1959? It was full of happy families - poor, but honest. Everyone did well in school, and then either went on to college, or to its equivalent - high-paid industrial wage labor. Rich got along with poor. Labor got along with management. White got along with black, sort of. Pretty green stuff, if you ask me. And now? Cue the ending of the How Green Was My Valley, except with the toxic Standard Products plant taking the place of the polluted coal mine.

America, unlike Wales, is my country, so I can't help but feel melancholy about the decline of the Rust Belt. But what's Putnam really saying that's different from the diffuse lament of How Green Was My Valley?
The crumbling of the American dream is a purple problem, obscured by solely red or solely blue lenses. Its economic and cultural roots are entangled, a mixture of government, private sector, community and personal failings. But the deepest root is our radically shriveled sense of “we.” Everyone in my parents’ generation thought of J as one of “our kids,” but surprisingly few adults in Port Clinton today are even aware of R’s existence, and even fewer would likely think of her as “our kid.”
Just like southern Wales, Port Clinton was green back when times were good and Americans really cared about each other, which also happened to coincide with the time when the author of this tale was a child. Then times got worse and they stopped caring, just when the author grew up and realized the world was harder and darker than he thought. But the official culprit is vague but nefarious economic forces that we can neither predict nor control. And what's the solution? More caring, and perhaps more childhood. But if things have only been getting worse since 1959, I wonder why Putnam's account of his childhood sounds so much like the way I'd narrate my own, or how his own children and grandchildren have lived to report the same rosy childhoods elsewhere in America. I also wonder about this selective romanticism of the poverty of the past - it was so much better to be poor back then. Back then, we were poor but honest, now we are poor but pathological. Don't we tell this story over and over, adapted to whatever moment we inhabit, about whatever status quo was achieved when we were 10 years old? For the narrator of the movie, that was the world before labor unrest. For Putnam, organized labor is part of the delicate balance. For his children perhaps, that whole question is over and done with and some new one takes its place. How green was my youth; how dim is my twilight?