Saturday, April 11, 2020

"The age's most uncertain hour"

Paul Simon has a knack for writing deeply Christian songs as if by accident. I Some people get really angry about this; I've seen people both figuratively and literally pound the table while insisting that “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is not a religious song. What they actually mean is that Paul Simon didn't intend it as a Christian song but as a love song and they're right about that but the end result is about as solidly Christian a song as you could hope for. (And Paul Simon not only didn't object but praised the Aretha Franklin version which is overtly Christian.)

No one I know has called his “American Tune” a Christian song but it also is.

It's Christian for two reasons. First of all because that melody comes straight from the Saint Matthew Passion; which Josh Turner has brilliantly underlined here by using Bach's harmony. The Christian heritage of that melody carries an association that will assert itself as much as the gospel music heritage of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Second, it's a Christian song because of the line, “The age's most uncertain hour.”

Paul Simon actually was responding to the election of Richard Nixon when he wrote it. That he was unhappy at that event is understandable even if you happened to disagree with him. That he would regard it as the age's most uncertain hour is crazy. The only thing worse than to have your side lose an election would be to live in a country where the other side never won. And yet that is what Paul Simon wanted when he wrote this.

Anyway and who cares he wrote it an it's wonderful.

It's the perfect song for Holy Saturday. The first Holy Saturday really was the age's most uncertain hour.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Woody Allen

Here's a random sentence to ponder, “I don’t see anything wrong with noting the sex appeal of particular actors, but it’s really tasteless for a man of Woody Allen’s age to talk in this way.”


Rod Dreher wrote that sentence.  Woody Allen is 84. Dreher must be in his early fifties.

Like Dreher, I also read the Allen memoir Apropos of Nothing. And I did it for the same reason: I was angry at the people who want to cancel Allen. There are accusations against Allen but they are not just unproven but doubtful at best and the source of the accusations is a person strongly motivated to want to hurt Allen.

That said, the main reason to cancel him is exactly what Dreher complains about. How dare this aging man be gross enough to be interested in younger women sexually? The actual evidence doesn't matter.

The biography, by the way, is mixed. Allen spends too much time defending himself. He also goes for one liners too often. That last criticism needs to be tempered. Allen is better at one-liners than just about anyone else still alive and he hasn't lost the touch.

Mostly, though, I found it charming. Allen as more or less the same age as my father and reading his book was like having the conversation I always wanted to have with  my father but couldn't because he was always too busy being in father mode.

By the way, the example of Allen talking “this way” that Dreher found tasteless: “It’s one thing to hear an elderly comedian wax the memories of his youthful kumquats; it’s another to listen to grandpa gas on about how “sexually radioactive” Scarlett Johansson is.” Sexually radioactive? It's not like he said, she's go an amazing set of ... .

"Kumquat" is a great word. It sounds vulgar but isn't.

Luxury beliefs: “Emotional labour”

When I first started hearing and reading the term “emotional labour” my reaction was that the people who complained about doing emotional labour it were probably the ones least-qualified to do it. I should begin, then, by saying that it has an almost respectable pedigree. But you have to do a little excavation to get back to what it originally meant to find it because it was hijacked.

By the time the term made it's way into public discourse it had come to mean taking the time to understand and respond to other people's emotions. Which is just another way of saying being a decent human. And it should go without saying, but it doesn't, that if you think of being a decent human being as labour, then you aren't one. Anyway, the usual whiners latched onto it and that is all you need to know. The correct response is to tune out.

But the original concept is interesting. It means managing your emotions in order to function in a particular setting. The first setting was at the office but it later got expanded to mean any particular setting.

It's not a new idea; it goes all the way back to ancient Greece.

The really important thing to note about emotional labour, however, is that it's good for you. Managing your feelings is good for you. Complaining about all the “emotional labour” you do is bad for you.

Friday, April 3, 2020

A curious graph and the future of New York

That's from National Review and the credit tells us that the author of the piece it is attached to, Daniel Tenreiro, is responsible for it. Before discussing the problem I have with it, let's first read the paragraph that introduces it:
Yesterday, more than 1,000 Americans died of coronavirus, the highest daily death toll yet recorded. The number of confirmed cases is above 215,000 in the U.S., with serious outbreaks across a number of states. While New York and New Jersey remain the domestic epicenters of the outbreak, Michigan, Louisiana, and Massachusetts are all seeing their per capita case numbers skyrocket. Florida governor Ron Desantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order yesterday.
Now go back to the graph and have a look at the markings on the vertical axis. Weird! I don't know what Tenreiro intended but if you set out to design a graph to misrepresent the data to make it look like all these states are on the same path, that's what you'd do.

In fact, the numbers for New York State are far worse than the others and the difference is almost entirely because of New York City. An honest would show huge differences.

As has been discussed here in the past, cities like New York, London, Paris and Berlin no longer make sense. This disease is highlighting one kind of problem but there is far worse. There is no longer any sane economic or cultural basis for metropolitan areas.

There is, however, a massive political base in these cities and it has a huge influence on elections.