Thursday, March 25, 2021


 I have two sets of headphones. One is a closed back set of Bose headphones that has Bluetooth and noise cancelling technology. They are very convenient. The others set are open-back Grado headphones that do not have noise cancelling because such a thing is impossible with open back headphones. They also do not have Bluetooth. They are not terribly convenient. Indeed, they lack qualities that most people seek in headphones, most notably privacy; you cannot black out the sounds others make and they can hear what you are listening to.

And yet the Grado headphones are clearly superior when it comes to sound quality. And it's not a subtle thing. They have better sound than the Bose headphones the way a really good espresso tastes better than instant. That's not a good analogy though because the Bose headphones are not cheap. Instant coffee is cheap so it's less of a problem that it tastes cheap. They're convenient but not cheap. The Grado headphones are less than half the price of the Bose headphones. 

For a lot of purposes—phone calls, Zoom meetings—the convenience of the Bose headphones is perfect. That is also the case for a lot of music listening. A lot of pop music, especially 1960s and 1980s pop music, was recorded deliberately low fidelity and audiophile quality is beside the point. And there is no point in audiophile quality if we are treating music as background. But sit down and listen to a really good recording of Rigoletto and the experience is much better with the Grado headphones.

And that has had me thinking lately. How much do we lose to convenience? How much do we diminish our lives by not paying close attention to the stuff we enjoy? The people we enjoy? Do we settle for low fidelity from our friends and lovers because that is more convenient than living well?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021


Tracey Rowland has a piece up in the latest issue of Columbia entitled, "The Chivalry of St. Joseph". In a sense it is the most logical case of chivalry going—St. Joseph is the original courtly lover of Our Lady. All well and good.

Rowland quotes Stratford Caldecott to shore up her case:

In St. Joseph, justice is combined with tenderness, strength and decisiveness with flexibility and openness to the will of God. He is an adventurer, too, like the questing knights of later legend.

There is a relationship there but there is also a huge difference. The knights of later legend fought actual battles with weapons and killed their opponents. At base, that was what a knight was. They were idealized killers. Over time, his role became more complicated as he was also expected to be a Christian and a courtly lover. It is the tension between those roles that makes the knight interesting. St. Joseph, not so much. At least, not in the story we have of him. The actual St. Joseph may have been a fascinating character, one of those people you'd love to have a beer with. we have a few lines about him in Matthew and then a whole lot of mythology added to that.

Which brings to this further comment wherein Caldecott quotes Charles Péguy:

There is only one adventurer in the world, as can be seen very clearly in the modern world—the father of a family. Even the most desperate adventurers are nothing compared to him.

Well, I know what Peguy was aiming at and what Caldecott was hoping to get quoting him but that sounds like something you'd find in a Hallmark card for father's day. Particularly when applied to St. Joseph because there is one very significant difference between your father and my father on the one hand and St. Joseph on the other. And that something doesn't go with desperate adventurer.