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August 2010

Jucifer: Hennin Hardine

Weekend Music

This one is a bit different from the other husband-and-wife bands I've been posting. You might want to make sure your audio is at a low-to-moderate volume before you click on it; you can always turn it up if you need to. If you watch the video and follow the story that goes on between the performance scenes, make sure you're paying attention around 3:50.

More info on Jucifer here. Not being a tennis fan, I was puzzled by the name of the song, so I googled it and learned that it was for a while the married name (slightly misspelled) of a pro tennis player, Justine Henin. I'm guessing that the song is connected to the breakup of her marriage.

Three Favorite Prayers

I don't believe in memes, in the sense that the term was meant when it was invented, so I'm not going to call this a meme. Theme is a perfectly good word for it, a conversational topic passed around in a sort of game, and Pentimento tagged me with this one: what are your three favorite prayers?

1) I'm going to start by cheating and counting the Our Father and the Hail Mary as one, because I usually say them together. A rosary-induced habit, I guess. (They're like Coca-Cola and Golden Flake Potato Chips: "'Great pair,' says the Bear." Southerners of a certain age will recognize that.) I learned the Our Father as a child (we called it the Lord's Prayer, which really I like better). I learned the Hail Mary not long before I became a Catholic. I never had the resistance to it that many Protestants seem to. It seemed immediately meaningful and perfectly natural to me to pray to a woman, the mother of God, and I had no problem understanding that she is not herself God.

2) The Chaplet of Mercy. You can see why this devotion has become so popular: so many of us feel that there is some desperate emergency happening, at both the individual and cultural levels. I felt that God was speaking to me--and that's not a feeling I have very often--when I read "I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy." Well, I really am not capable of very much in the way of virtue and devotion, but dang it I can trust in His mercy.

3) The Apostle's Creed. Not a prayer, exactly, but saying it is a form of devotion. I learned this in my early teens, when I was confirmed in the Methodist Church, and I don't think there is anything I ever learned in school that was so important. It sank into me, somehow, and even during the years when I didn't believe, I knew that this was what I didn't believe, and that anyone who claimed to believe but could not affirm this in a straightforward way did not really believe. It inoculated me against theological modernism. Most importantly, it gives me strength, a sense of being grounded, a renewal of hope and purpose. "The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." Yes. Yes. Yes.

I love this instruction, which appears in a lot of commercial email: "Can't view this email? Click here!"

Liberal Bigotry

Sunday Night Journal — August 22, 2010

I’ve been thinking about writing this piece for some months now, and putting it off because I really don’t want to do it. I’d rather write about something else. I’d rather think about something else. But the phenomenon keeps forcing itself on my attention.

I tend to avoid situations, either in life or online, where I will encounter angry bigots engaged in denouncing whatever they are bigoted against. But sometimes it pops up unexpectedly: on Facebook, for instance. A few months ago I read a wild flight of anti-conservative vituperation, a friend of a friend commenting on something the friend had said, and it occurred to me that what I was reading was nothing more or less than bigotry. It revealed a mental process not significantly different from that of a KuKluxer speaking of African-Americans. The vocabulary and grammar were better, the speaker being more educated, but the uncompromising hostility was the same. It was liberal bigotry.

What do I mean by “liberal”? I mean it in the currently popular and casual sense. As everyone who has the least acquaintance with the history of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” knows, the ways in which they are used now are only loosely connected with the way they were used a hundred and fifty years ago, and with their dictionary definitions. I know this drives a lot of people crazy, particularly the analytically-minded for whom precise definition of terms is of the essence. But even these know who is being referred to when Nancy Pelosi denounces conservatives, and when Sarah Palin denounces liberals. And I’m using the term “liberal” in that context. Someone who thinks Rush Limbaugh is a hateful menace to society and Keith Olbermann is a courageous truth-teller is a liberal. Etc.; I really don’t think I need to multiply the examples.

What do I mean by “bigotry”? Merriam-Webster’s definition serves perfectly well for my purpose: “A person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats a group (as,a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”

Let me stipulate from the start that conservatives are certainly capable of bigotry, and plenty of them engage in it. It’s safe to say that few would argue with me on that point. (Many liberals would go much further, and say that conservatism is more or less identical with bigotry. And it’s just at that point that liberalism itself becomes bigoted.) But this is more than just a tu quoque (“oh yeah? Well, so are you!”) argument. Bigotry is deplorable in any context, but it is especially a problem for a liberal, because it is a crucial part of the liberal self-conception that liberalism is the negation of bigotry: liberalism is, among other things in this self-conception, openness to other people and their opinions, and a willingness to engage ideas on the basis of reason rather than prejudice and emotion. Bigotry is, among other things, the determined refusal of both those impulses.

Bigotry in a conservative is a character flaw. But bigotry in a liberal is a fundamental contradiction. It isn’t hypocrisy, exactly. Hypocrisy consists in saying one thing and doing, usually in secret, another. And it implies a consciousness that the thing is at least in principle wrong. Liberal bigotry generally does not operate that way; on the contrary, it is proud and open and gives no evidence of an uneasy conscience. It is comparable not to a televangelist secretly frequenting prostitutes, but—I will have to invent something, because I can’t think of any actual event that makes the point—to a televangelist openly running a prostitution service and advertising it at the bottom of the screen during a sermon on chastity, never noticing the distance between words and deeds.

The essence of bigotry is always to look, and to be sure you find, only the worst in the group you hate, and never to be fair, never to open the door to sympathy, never to attempt to understand. That is an accurate working description of the habitual attitude of far too many liberals toward conservatives. Two developments of the past few years have provided clear examples: the Tea Party movement, and the recently passed Arizona law attempting to stop the influx of illegal immigration into that state.

I’m not a huge admirer of, much less a participant in, the Tea Party movement; I do sympathize with some of its views and basic grievances, but it seems inconsistent and simplistic. And I don’t have a position on the Arizona law, though I believe the residents of that and other border states when they say that illegal immigration is in fact a problem for them. My concern is not to justify or defend either of these. But my basic sense of fair play is offended by the way the non-Fox media and punditry have treated them, as well as the violent denunciations of them I’ve heard in semi-private venues like Facebook.

In both cases the liberal reaction seems to arise from a sort of emotional syllogism: we hate people because they are racists; we hate these people; therefore these people are racists. The Tea Party was accused of racism from the moment it appeared, and convicted on evidence that ranged from flimsy to nonexistent. The one big allegation, involving Tea Partiers screaming racist remarks at black congressmen, has been pretty thoroughly exploded, because video of the scene did not support it. Even the New York Times finally admitted that the event seemed not to have occurred as originally reported (I thought I had bookmarked that story, but now I can’t find it).

That there are racists in the Tea Party, I have little doubt. That there have been occasional racist signs and remarks at Tea Party rallies, I am willing to believe. But there is no reason to believe that that the movement is racist in its essence—apart, of course, from one’s conscious or unconscious choice to assume so: always look for the worst; never be fair.

There have been any number of nasty people involved in liberal and left-wing movements in recent decades. (See this page for some recent examples in the anti-war movement.) There were communists in and around the civil rights movement, to say nothing of the anti-war movement(s). But no reasonable person—that is, no person who actually wants to understand what these movements are about, why they exist, what they want, and whether we should want them to succeed or not—treats that as the last word, and writes them off as, simply, communist operations, or otherwise defines them by the most extreme or repellent people found in their midst. That is what bigots do.

At some point over the past thirty or forty years liberalism ceased to be defined as a way of approaching politics in a spirit of openness, generosity, and reason, and instead began to identify specific opinions as the necessary products of that spirit, and to treat anyone who came to different conclusions as an enemy to be destroyed. Liberalism tells us to be open to the Other, to accept the challenge of seeing the world through another’s eyes; it has largely closed itself to the Other who votes Republican.

Of course this does not apply to all liberals any more than it applies to all conservatives. But a liberal can be forgiven for concluding, on the basis of listening to Limbaugh, Hannity,, that hostility and bluster are the marks of conservatism. And likewise, a conservative can be forgiven, on the basis of listening to Olbermann, Stewart,, that hostility and snark are the marks of liberalism. It’s time for liberals to stop congratulating themselves on a virtue which they no longer, as a group, possess. Better yet, start practicing it. And that goes for all of us.

Over the Rhine: All I Need Is Everything

Weekend Music

Another band centered around a married couple, and another band of whom I've heard great things, but haven't heard all that much: a friend made me a copy of The Trumpet Child, and I liked the musicianship but wasn't carried away by the material. This song just happened to be one of the first that turned up when I looked for them on YouTube. I like it.

Still Listening to Vinyl

I've been meaning to comment on this CNN story about the continued surprising life of the vinyl LP, though I'm not sure many people who read this blog are interested. It is an interesting phenomenon. I still have hundreds of LPs and still listen to them, though not that often, and currently not at all: my turntable is out of commission thanks to a very stupid attempt on my part to pick up the rather delicate tonearm from a spinning record while I was in a very awkward position, resulting in a broken stylus which I haven't yet replaced.

I'm not especially nostalgic for them. I don't miss the surface noise and the need to fuss over cleaning them, or the inability to skip easily to the next track (which is what I was trying to do when I broke my stylus). People who say they provided higher fidelity are, I'm pretty sure, objectively wrong. Someone in the comments on that story, for instance, claims they have greater dynamic range, which they don't--that's measurable, and I don't think there's really much contest between LP and CD on that score. 

But it is interesting that no one seems to love CDs in the way some love LPs. There is some merit to the argument that the sound is warmer. This makes sense, in a way: sometimes we develop an attachment to things that aren't perfect because they're in some way comfortable for us, like old clothes. I suspect that the "warmer" sound many people attribute to the LP is in large part the effect of noise: the characteristic crackle, hiss, and pop that's rarely completely absent, and often obtrusive. There's also an audiophile argument that the analog-to-digital conversion has an effect, though I haven't heard a convincing case for that. But I've often thought that CDs have a somehow colder sound, and I think that's either the absence of any noise whatsoever, or the effect of modern production techniques. I don't know enough to guess what the latter might be, but I know that when I listen to this clip of Moby Grape's "8:05" on YouTube, that opening guitar has a richness that one just doesn't often hear in contemporary recordings. And the LP can't be credited for that: even if the YouTube poster started with the LP, what we hear has been not only digitized but significantly reduced in fidelity.

In some cases older recordings reissued on CD seem to be missing something. Some say that's the result of poor engineering. I've never done a direct comparison of an LP in decent shape with the same recording reissued on CD.

Maybe most of all, though, I think, it's the record and its packaging as physical object. CD art work has never even approached the quality of the golden years of LP art. Even when it's a company like ECM that does its absolute best, the format is just too small. I have two LP covers on the wall in my office; you can't really do that with CD inserts.

Now that the CD is declining in popularity, replaced by intangible electronic formats that sit on computer hard drives or zip around the networks like any other data, it will be interesting to see if the CD hangs on as an object of affection the way the LP has. I wouldn't bet on it.

Yes, I have that Moby Grape album on vinyl.