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52 Guitars: Week 26

Roy Buchanan

That's the great and tragic Roy Buchanan, once introduced as "the world's greatest unknown guitarist." He never did become very widely known, but he was certainly admired, respected, and influential. I reviewed the double-CD collection Sweet Dreams here a few years ago...well, over seven years ago...and for further information, and an opinion which hasn't changed, I'll refer you to the two separate entries for disc 1 and disc 2

And for this post, I don't think any assortment of individual YouTube clips would serve any better than this Austin City Limits appearance from 1976. It's thirty minutes long, but you'll know after four or five if you want to hear/see the rest.


I bet those two guys sitting right in front of him are guitar players, or trying to be. I still sort of wish he had played something other than a Telecaster, which has a brighter and thinner tone than some other guitars, or at least it usually sounds that way--it's traditionally associated with country music. But that was the tone he wanted, obviously.

For more information about his life and career, see the Wikipedia entry.

Serious or Satire?

I only skimmed it, so maybe I missed the giveaway. But I honestly don't know for sure, although I lean toward thinking it's serious. Read it yourself and decide whether the author really believes it's wrong to decide whether a baby is a boy or a girl.

Things are breaking up out there
High water everywhere

It's Ambrose Bierce's Birthday

At least for another hour or so, at least in my time zone. So in the great cynic's honor, let's have a few choice items from The Devil's Dictionary. We need look no further than the "M"s for half a dozen nice ones.

MAGPIEn. A bird whose thievish disposition suggested to someone that it might be taught to talk.

MAUSOLEUMn. The final and funniest folly of the rich.

MERCYn. An attribute beloved of detected offenders.

METROPOLISn. A stronghold of provincialism.

MONSIGNORn. A high ecclesiastical title, of which the Founder of our religion overlooked the advantages.

MULTITUDEn. A crowd; the source of political wisdom and virtue. In a republic, the object of the statesman's adoration. "In a multitude of consellors there is wisdom," saith the proverb. If many men of equal individual wisdom are wiser than any one of them, it must be that they acquire the excess of wisdom by the mere act of getting together. Whence comes it? Obviously from nowhere — as well say that a range of mountains is higher than the single mountains composing it. A multitude is as wise as its wisest member if it obey him; if not, it is no wiser than its most foolish.

(Lifted from

Versus Science Versus Religion

The New York Times has been running an interesting (yes, really) series of interviews on philosophical and religious subjects. It's part of a broader series called "The Stone" (the philosopher's stone? I don't know...) and the interviewer is Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame. The most recent is with Tim Maudlin, another professor of philosophy, whose specialty is apparently the philosophy of science. The subject: Modern Cosmology Versus God's Creation, and it's worth reading, but Maudlin ends up with the sort of statement that makes me groan:

As yet, there is no direct experimental evidence of a deity, and in order for the postulation of a deity to play an explanatory role there would have to be a lot of detail about how it would act.  If, as you have suggested, we are not “good judges of how the deity would behave,” then such an unknown and unpredictable deity cannot provide good explanatory grounds for any phenomenon.

"Direct experimental evidence of a deity"? Shall I laugh or cry? When I encounter statements like this I think of those earnest 19th century investigators who weighed dying people immediately before and after death, or with other physical experiments attempted to determine whether a soul had departed the body. I don't even know if those stories are true, but they certainly capture the determined obtuseness of those who believe the existence of God is a question to be studied and at least in principle resolved by the physical sciences. What annoys me is the serene superiority with which they give a confident answer to a question they have not understood.

But it has to be admitted that Christians set themselves up for some of this. There is of course the continuing rear-guard action against the idea that the earth is very much more than a few thousand years old, and was not created in six twenty-four hour days. There's also the more sophisticated attempt to appropriate certain ideas from modern physics in support of theology, such as the use of the uncertainty principle to allow space for the existence of free will. Although these ideas are interesting to play around with, I think it's generally a mistake to make them part of an argument for the existence of God or for some other theological insight. For one thing, to attempt, for instance, an argument for free will on the basis of the uncertainty principle is to give away much of the game in advance, by implicitly accepting the presumption that physics has any light to shed on the subject. For another, I strongly suspect that Christians who are not themselves scientists (of whom I am one) don't fully understand the ideas they're trying to appropriate, and thus risk (or insure) that they won't be taken seriously by those who do.

I am not one to make fun of simple conceptions of God. A six-year-old child, or an adult with the IQ of a six-year-old, may have an intuitive sense of relationship to God that escapes a theologian, and a spontaneous goodness that makes me feel ashamed. And anyway even the most sublime insights of theology are no more than glimpses into the endless mystery of God. But to venture into very abstruse and complex scientific and philosophical debate armed with a conception of God that does in fact resemble the skeptical caricature of a man in the sky only brings the faith into disrepute.

Beyond the superficial oppositions set up by fundamentalists on both sides, there are deeper questions to be pondered. The skeptic would do well to stop thinking of religion as primitive science and consider the philosophical questions: how did we get from nothing to something? how do we get from is to ought? The believer would do well to trust that all truth is of God, and be less anxious about the apparent challenges to belief from science. Both should try to understand where the boundaries between theology and science lie. At least as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the "conflict between science and religion" doesn't really amount to very much, as long as each understands its proper function and limits. 

Not that the boundary is always easy to discern. There is one question that troubles me, and which I think about frequently. Since Catholics are not obliged to believe the creation account in Genesis literally, many of us glibly dismiss the whole question: "What does it matter whether the creation took six days or billions of years? The important thing is that God created it." Well, yes, but that really doesn't dispose of the matter. Never mind the time scale--unless we detach Genesis entirely from the physical world and history, we have a conflict between the pre-lapsarian paradise described there and the picture of millions of years of nature red in tooth and claw before mankind appeared, the savagery of which seems to have been our habit from that moment on. 

I discussed this problem at more length ten years ago in this Sunday Night Journal. I'm no closer to a resolution than I was then, and really don't expect one.

52 Guitars: Week 25

Terje Rypdal

A Norwegian player whose work is most often something that could be roughly classified as jazz-rock fusion, Rypdal is a long-time ECM artist, going back to the mid-1970s, which really tells you more about him than an attempt to place him in a genre. I'm familiar with maybe four or five of his many releases, and even within those there is a great deal of variety, as will be evident from the clips below. And I didn't even touch his work for orchestra and other ensembles that aren't as guitar-focused.

"The Return of Per Ulv," from If Mountains Could Sing:


The title track from After the Rain:


A basically simple, but wonderfully moody and evocative piece from Chaser: "Ørnen", which Google Translate tells me means "The Eagle." I think a better title would be something having to do with a slow dance in 1959.


I said to someone not long ago that I probably have all the Rypdal I need. But based on my sampling of a number of albums while looking for material for this post, I don't think I do. Here's one more from Chaser, "Ambiguity." It's pretty much out-and-out rock:


History as God

It's probably abusing the privilege somewhat, but a portion of James Bowman's media column in the April New Criterion is so good that I'm going to quote it at length. It's a devastatingly sharp critique of the fatuous Mr. Obama's assertion that he is always "on the right side of history."

...Mr. Kerry, when interviewed on Face the Nation about Russia’s “incredible act of aggression,” found his credulity taxed. It was because “You just don’t in the twenty-first century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on [a] completely trumped up pretext.” Well, you don’t. Other people, who haven’t got the memo about history’s changeover from nineteenth- to twenty-first-century international norms, might still behave differently—“incredible” as that may seem to someone grown, as so many progressives have grown these days, accustomed to regarding “history” as a compliant imaginary friend. A wiser man than Mr. Kerry might have taken the Russian démarche as a sign that “history” is not what he thought it was. He might even see one or two other signs that the twenty-first century is going to look a lot more like the nineteenth century—or even the eighteenth century—than anyone might have supposed only a few years ago. My own darkest suspicion is that it is likely to be the seventeenth century, with its religious wars, that will provide the better model for our future.

Back in the third, or Bob Schieffer, debate of the 2012 campaign—the one in which, as various commentators suddenly recalled, Mr. Obama mocked the hapless Mitt Romney for having said that Russia was our number one geopolitical foe—the President also dealt as forcefully as he knew how with those who, like Mr. Romney, would have questioned his leadership:

And they can look at my track record, whether it’s Iran sanctions, whether it’s dealing with counterterrorism, whether it’s supporting democracy, whether it’s supporting women’s rights, whether it’s supporting religious minorities, and they can say that the President of the United States and the United States of America have stood on the right side of history. And that kind of credibility is precisely why we have been able to show leadership on a wide range of issues facing the world right now.

Leadership to him means standing, rhetorically, at any rate, on the right side of history with democracy, women’s rights, and (bizarrely) religious minorities. Tell that to the Christian minorities in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. It has little or nothing to do with forming or strengthening alliances or confronting enemies among nation states—which, in the progressive view, are pretty much obsolete in any case. It is an occasion for reaffirming rather than reexamining the progressives’ putative alliance with “history,” without which progressivism itself would be unimaginable. If history does not equal progress, then whither the progressives? Conversely, therefore, Russia is meant to be abashed by the news of history’s disfavor, which the President takes it upon himself to pronounce in no uncertain terms on history’s behalf. Here’s what he said the following Monday before a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu: “And I think the strong condemnation that it’s received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia’s on the wrong side of history on this.”

Do tell! A similar message, we may remember, was sent to the brutally oppressed Iranian protestors of the “Green Revolution” back in 2009. “After more than a week of being accused by Republicans and others of failing to live up to the American tradition of supporting pro-democracy movements,” the Guardian reported at the time,

Obama adopted much tougher language, going far beyond his previous expressions only of sympathy with the demonstrators. “The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost,” he said. He praised the women who had courageously took part in the demonstrations and “the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets.” The demonstrators would in the end be seen to be “on the right side of history.”

I guess it must be the promise of support from “history” that puts this “much tougher language” so “far beyond his previous expressions only of sympathy with the demonstrators.” At any rate, it is all the more unfortunate that, five years later, history still shows no signs of coming through for them. Like freedom-loving Ukrainians, presumably, freedom-loving Iranians will just have to be patient until the quasi-deity of “history” can get around to their problems. For now it’s busy conferring upon Americans its latest gifts, which are the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage....

The jihadists currently enjoying the revival of the custom, long abandoned in the West, of beheading their enemies, also no doubt believe that they are on the right side of history. But it's more important to them that they are on what they believe to be  God's side. The vague appeal to history as "quasi-deity" is probably the residue of Christianity in the modern secular mind. Like most secular gods, it's a wispy ectoplasmic one, and the arguments for its existence are incoherent: what exactly is it in the nature of things that would cause unguided evolution-driven "history" to aim for something that progressives would consider to be utopia, which is implicitly their expectation? Or to aim at all? Nothing, as far as I can see.  The shark and the cockroach, we're told, are fabulously successful, from the evolutionary point of view. 

Father's Day, Again

And I just read this post by Neo-neocon on the subject, and thought, "I'm going to post a link to that." Then I started thinking it was familiar, and checked, and found, once more, that, as Neo says, it was an earlier post of hers, and that I had linked to it before, only two years ago. Well, it's still good, so I'm posting it again.

And in one respect more than merely "good," because that phrase, which I guess is Neo's--"the love that was always, always there"--has stayed with me. I can see that it was true of my father toward his children, and I know it has always been true of me toward mine. And I hope they realize it. 


52 Guitars: Week 24

Joe Satriani

 I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that Satriani was Steve Vai's teacher. I like Satriani better, to the extent that I know his work. His material just seems more appealing to me, more overall-musical. I reviewed his Flying in a Blue Dream album several years ago, and am still of more or less the same opinion. Here's something from that album, "The Forgotten."


I don't know what album this song--"Always With Me, Always With You"--is from, but it must be an earlier one, because he looks pretty young, and not bald. For some years now he's always appeared with a shaved head, or occasionally a stocking cap, which I take to be his solution for the problem of balding. Anyway, it's pretty, and also includes a very expressive solo. And it's a pretty video.

Something more recent: 


My memory is really getting bad. I was thinking, after having featured Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani in this series, that I would close it out with something from G3, which is a trio of guitar heroes featuring Satriani and a varying list of others. So I looked on YouTube, and I didn't find much featuring the Johnson/Vai lineup. This is one of the few. "Red House" is a blues, well-known to Hendrix fans (Johnson starts it off with Hendrix's riff). So I set up the link here. And then when I searched the blog for Satriani's name so that I could link to my old review above, I discovered I'd already posted this, and only six months ago. Well, here it is again.


Whose solo do you like best? I like Vai's a whole lot. Maybe the limits of the blues kind of kept him a bit more down to earth.


The House of Cards Opening Theme

I wanted to include this in last night's post about House of Cards but was in a rush and didn't have time to look for it. I love it, both musically and visually but especially musically. It's a great little trip-hop-ish piece, though I wish it were longer. UPDATE: Sorry, this is audio-only, apart from the one photo. I can't find an embeddable version of the full credits sequence.


It was changed a little for series 2, most noticeably by dropping the bass back a lot, and that one's not quite as good.

House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black

If you haven't seen either or both of these, you've no doubt heard of them. They attracted a lot of attention because they represent something new in the TV world, shows produced by a company that made its name by renting DVDs to millions of people. Apparently they decided that producing their own "content," as it is so winningly called in the entertainment and internet businesses, would make them even more money than supplying what other people produced.

I didn't set out to watch either of these shows because they're Netflix originals. I started with House of Cards because several people recommended it to me. There are two series--it seems silly to call them "seasons" when they aren't tied to any particular schedule, like ordinary television. As you've probably heard, it's about a scheming congressman named Frank Underwood, and follows the implementation of his schemes. Whether or not it can be taken as being at all representative of the way Washington really works, I don't know. My guess is that it starts off with a picture that's basically accurate, but adds several layers of implausibility.

I thought the first season was excellent, though I had to suspend a certain amount of disbelief to accept Underwood's successes. I thought the second season, which began with something so startling that even if you weren't watching it you may have seen headlines about it, went rapidly and steadily downhill. The biggest problem was that it simply became too hard to believe. And beyond that I lost interest in most of the characters. Underwood himself went from a slick and unscrupulous operator to a complete monster. And his wife, Claire, is just as ruthless and just as dedicated to acquiring power as he is (does that remind you of any real-life couple?).

One mildly distressing aspect of it is that Claire, who is pretty much as villainous as Frank, and in some ways more creepy in the way she can put a layer of feminine warmth over an icy heart, is played by Robin Wright, who played the princess in The Princess Bride. I hope this is good acting and not anything much resembling her real character. It is disheartening to think of that delightful character as having become in her fifties someone who seems like she should be running Planned Parenthood (and one of the lesser irritations about the second series is that it gets into abortion politics, which of course means evil pro-lifers). There's to be a third season, but I doubt I'll watch it.

Orange Is the New Black is about an affluent young woman--a yuppie, more or less--serving time in prison for smuggling drugs at the behest of her lesbian lover. We--my wife and I--lasted only three episodes with it, agreeing after the third one that we'd both had enough. The fundamental premise is interesting (and is based on a true story). And it's well-acted--I almost said "of course," because it seems to me that the general level of acting in American movies and TV has gotten pretty high. But it's just too full of disgusting things. I have no doubt that a women's prison can be a disgusting place, but the series seems to take pleasure in emphasizing it at every turn. You feel like they're actively trying to gross you out. Well, they succeeded, so that's that. 

One of the things that I found distasteful was something that happens to be the latest liberationist cause: a prominent character is "trans-gender," meaning...well, you know what that means, I'm sure. The fact that I find the whole idea--the surgery, etc.--very unpleasant to think about is enough to mark me as a bigot--specifically, a "transphobe"--in progressive eyes. I have the greatest sympathy for anyone who is in the distress that must be required for him or her to take such steps. But I won't pretend that I think it's a good thing. There comes a point where you just have to stop caring what people who invent terms like "transphobe" think about you. 

52 Guitars: Week 23

Steve Vai

Well, for the first time in this series, and the last, I'm going to feature some music that I don't really like all that much. I know Steve Vai's work more by reputation than actual listening, and had decided he would be next. But when I started looking for clips to post, I didn't find anything that really grabbed me. There is virtuosity in excess, but also a lot of gimmickry, and nothing that really touched me as music. And by the time I had come to that conclusion it was too late to start over with someone else. So here are a couple of instances. 


Here's a live performance of the same tune. It's interesting to see him produce some of those wild effects, although seeing is not understanding. Electronics obviously play a big role, but I don't know how much--I mean, how much of this could you do with a guitar and an amp and some basic effects, and how much involves an almost complete electronic transformation of the original sound?


If you found the theatrics of that performance a bit annoying, as I did, you might be interested in these two videos. First is a track called "Freak Show Excess" (I wonder if someone described one of his performances in those words). Next is a 14-minute video in which he explains how he went about composing the track. The contrast between his down-to-earth, intelligent, and engaging demeanor in it vs. the live performance above is striking. He's certainly one of the more technically accomplished people in this field.




Stratford Caldecott: The Radiance of Being

Going at least back to the use of the eagle as a symbol for St. John the Evangelist, there has been an impulse to describe theologians and philosophers as soaring or climbing to heights inaccessible to the ordinary mind. Such imagery occurred to me often while I read this book, and I have to admit that I was sometimes unable to follow the author above the tree line. I’m not well-read in either theology or philosophy, so that many of his frequent references to other thinkers either were lost entirely on me or carried only a vague significance. More problematically, I sometimes simply did not understand the words, especially when Caldecott is speaking of things inherently impossible to put into words: is the Holy Spirit, the unity and bliss of the Trinity, who is the repose of the Son in the Father and of the Father in the Son. The Spirit brings the circumincession to an “end,” not by stopping it, but by allowing it to be the infinite fullness it is. He is not beyond the circumincession, but is the beyond of the circumincession; he is its completeness, its infinite superabundance.

That’s from a chapter called “Divine Knowledge,” which is in part a defense of Meister Eckhart against the charge of heterodoxy. I don’t find it unintelligible, but neither can I say that I fully understand it. Several weeks after finishing the book I found myself thinking about it as a piece of music. When I hear music of any complexity for the first time, I don’t expect to fully appreciate it, or even to decide whether I like it or not. Even with pop music, if I don’t immediately like a song or an album but have reason to think I might—a review or the recommendation of a friend, say--I have a long-standing policy of giving it at least three hearings before I decide it really isn’t to my taste.

This book is like that. One reading has given me only a general feel for it. I don’t know that I will read it again from cover to cover, but I will definitely revisit several of the chapters that most intrigued me. It’s organized as three sections: “Nature,” “Divine Nature,” and “Sophia,” with each section containing several chapters treating particular topics that in general are of concern and interest in our time, in a way that might be described as grounded mysticism. The “Nature” section, for instance, attempts a new way of looking at the questions posed by the doctrines of mechanistic evolution, and concludes with reflections on the ecological question. But neither of these topics is approached in the conventionally argumentative way—the ecological considerations, for instance, do not simply repeat the valid but very familiar stewardship arguments. Instead, the discussions begin with an attempt to look deeply into the nature of the realities involved, with an eye that is at once informed by theological tradition and able to see afresh, and then to consider the implications of what is found there.

I really am at a loss to come up with a summary or a coherent overview of the book’s argument. Not that it would be impossible, not that the book is not coherent, but I would need to spend far more time studying it and thinking about it than I have time for at the moment. And for that matter to describe it as having an argument is to reduce it, for it is more meditation than argument, and yet a powerfully reasoned meditation. I spoke of grounded mysticism a moment ago; I could also speak of reasoned lyricism. For, despite the abstruse ideas and language, the book’s heart is a profound and joyful attentiveness to being, as we know it from both experience and revelation.

It would be hard to convey, without quoting at length, the way Caldecott moves back and forth from the mystical to the mundane. He doesn’t write like Chesterton at all, but there is a similarity in the vision, and perhaps—I see this only as I write—much of the commonality resides in that desire to see familiar things as if they were new discoveries.

I keep finding myself wanting to say something to the effect that he takes us to the limits of Catholic theology, but that way of putting it implies that there is some desire for escape at work. I don’t mean so much the limits of what Catholic theology allows, but of what it discloses. You feel like an amateur astronomer used to looking through his own small telescope getting a glimpse through the Hale—you see much further than you did before, and you see in much more detail what you were already able to see. Although there is a recurring pattern here in which an attempt is made to reconcile some idea, not necessarily part of the faith, possibly even at odds with it on some level, with the teachings of the Church, it came across to me for the most part not as a straining against limits but as an attempt to solve a puzzle: here is an idea which seems true, but is not clearly found in Catholic doctrine; is it possible to find a place for it?

This is especially noticeable in the “Divine Nature” section, which has chapters on Islam and Buddhism. The “liberal,” if I may use the term, Catholic approach to this encounter since Vatican II has often been either to wave away the differences or to see the Church as in need of education and correction. But Caldecott attempts to find points of deep commonality from within Christian revelation, not as part of a critique from outside (even when the liberal critique is from a Catholic theologian, he has often stepped outside to a place imagined to be objective and neutral). Nor is this the sort of “deep ecumenism” that holds all religions to be equal (but Christianity less equal than others). Rather, it begins with the Trinitarian premise—if there is a single idea which informs the book as a whole, it is that reality is Trinitarian through and through—and looks for ways in which that premise can illuminate and be illuminated by other faiths.

I would like to comment on the last section, “Sophia,” and on the last chapter within it, “Visions of Sophia?” (note the question mark). But I simply don’t understand it. I want to, because it has something to do with an understanding of Sophia as divine wisdom and also as a feminine figure. But how does it or she relate to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? I want to know, because for whatever psychological reasons of my own I have difficulty in giving to the Father and the Son, using those terms, the affective personal love which we are told to feel for God. I think this comes easier to women than to men; at any rate it doesn’t come easily to me, and I connect more with Dante than with St. John of the Cross (eventually I will write a long-contemplated essay on this subject). And I would like to have some approach to the Godhead through the feminine. (In passing, I wish my mental image of Our Lady were not so conditioned by art that I don’t really like.) But I really don’t understand this chapter. It may be the first I re-read.

A couple of weeks after I finished The Radiance of Being, a friend posted on Facebook his own personal religious creed, which he described as "Jeffersonian Christian," i.e. Christianity without the Christ. From his point of view it was clearly something larger and more free than Christian dogma. But my reaction was quite the opposite: I thought it was very small, and the idea of being confined to it seemed stifling. And I realized I was experiencing again something that I had felt when I entered the Church in 1981: that Catholic faith sets you free. How dull and oppressive to be limited to my own speculations and the skepticism of modernity. How liberating to see, beyond that little door that is Christianity, the infinite opening and opening and opening of the life of God, and to think of passing through that door and into that life. And to see the world we know in light of that. I hope I'm not exceeding the limits of a reviewer's privilege if I quote the closing paragraphs of The Radiance of Being:

Now that Christ has come, we see the depth of creation. Now that Christ has come, we can see everywhere the exchange of love by which the world was made, and is, and becomes; each thing and each person taking what is given by every other thing and person; and, if it does not give back, descending into darkness. And in the end, we shall see all things in God, as he does.

The world is entirely relational, constituted (that is) by its relation to God, all substance being the gift of God, received and given back to God by ourselves, and by God to himself. I who receive and am given, am in God receiving and giving, God being within me as the gift of myself and yet not myself, loving that which is in me that is not himself, the Father loving the Son in the Spirit.

The world is born in darkness as light, in the womb of the Trinity that is entirely luminous because the act of loving is all act and entirely act, being that which is given and received. All peace and all beauty are found in that darkness. The darkness is the light that cannot be seen because it sees all things, and it is the freedom to be, just as it is the freedom to love, because to be is to love and to love is to be.

I learned a few weeks ago that Stratford Caldecott has cancer and is not expected to survive much longer. It is sobering to think that he will soon know how nearly right or wrong he has been in this book, and how near his thought came to the reality. It makes such a book seem a considerably more serious matter than it might otherwise have. Of course we’re all in the position all the time of being only some limited span of time from the threshold, but we generally ignore it, and while we do these theological questions may seem an intellectual game. But they aren’t.

(The Radiance of Being is published by Angelico Press; ordering information here.)

Crazy Folks

The other day my wife was talking about a friend who posts on Facebook a constant stream of simple-minded political remarks, much of it simply asserting the other side to be very bad people. "She's a great person," I said--which she is--"but you just have to accept that when it comes to politics she's crazy, and deal with her on that basis."

Having said that, I started thinking about the number of people I know to whom this applies. Really, and sadly, it's most of the people who have very strong political convictions, and these days it seems that most people do. There are some you can have a conversation with, but so many of them can only throw at you the sound bites and strawmen that are current with whichever side they're on. If you don't agree with them--and I generally disagree to at least some extent with all of them--you can either get into an unpleasant and frustrating argument, or try to change the subject, or simply make your getaway, whether that means backing out of an online discussion or a physical escape at a social event.  

Has it always been this way? I think the counsel against discussing religion and politics in social settings has been around for a long time. And it certainly isn't a brand-new thing, because Walker Percy satirized it in Love in the Ruins. That was written at the end of the '60s, and I think the syndrome had gotten considerably worse over the preceding five or six years, with the polarization of the old more-or-less conservative middle-class culture and the new cultural leftism: the conflict became then not just a difference of views about specific issues but a deep disagreement about fundamentals--a religious division, for all practical purposes.

Someone or other has called our present environment a culture of outrage. And outrage is certainly what you get with the crazy folks, the ones you really shouldn't talk politics with. Face to face, they almost seem to swell up, and their voices rise and get that barking or baying tone.

The Internet has made it worse, if only by bringing people into more frequent contact, and by allowing them to get indignant without the inhibiting effect of personal contact. I claim credit for seeing this before the web existed, when the Internet was only Usenet, a much more limited and limiting environment. I described it in a piece for Caelum et Terra called "Global Metropolis." The culture we were developing, I said, using Usenet as a harbinger, was looking less like a village, where everybody knows everybody else, than like a big city, where people congregate in great numbers at close proximity but remain strangers, frequently hostile strangers.

I guess we've always had, for instance, the cranky family member of whom everybody says "Don't get him started" on some subject or other. But it's begining to feel like we're becoming a nation of fanatical aunts and uncles whom one really shouldn't get started. I'm trying not to be one of them. But don't get me started.

52 Guitars: Week 22

Allan Holdsworth

Holdsworth follows Eric Johnson for one simple and musically irrelevant reason:  I also heard him first on one of those thin floppy plastic recordings included in an issue of Guitar Player. Unlike Johnson, his recording didn't capture my attention. He seems to mainly work in jazz-rock fusion, which is not a genre that appeals very much to me. So I really haven't heard all that much of his work, and when I do listen to him I find myself just listening for the solos. But they're extraordinary. In case you are of similar mind, here's a clip which someone apparently extracted from a longer one just for the guitar solo.


 According to a reviewer at AllMusic, Metal Fatigue is Holdsworth's best album. Here's the title track; it's more on the rock than the jazz side of fusion:


 And if you're up to a 14-minute track, here's another from the same album. I really like this one, "The Un-Merry-Go-Round":