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July 2019

Stranger Things 3

I found it fairly disappointing. I didn't attempt to analyze the reasons to the extent that this writer at National Review does, so I'm not sure whether I'd agree with him in every detail. But overall, yes. It's basically just a monster movie, without the character interest and deeper emotional reach of Series 1, and a less believable plot. A couple of unconvincing and out-of-place gestures toward pop culture's LGBT obsession didn't help. 

Reportedly there will be a Series 4. Given that most of those who loved Series 1 were disappointed in 2, and more so in 3 (or at least that was my impression), I don't have high expectations for any further stories. But it's not unheard for a show to reverse a downhill slide, so I won't give up entirely.


Back in the '80s when I was doing software development at a high-tech company, the young and very ambitious vice-president of my division had, on the wall of his office, a little needlework sampler that consisted only of the word "FOCUS." In that environment, one did indeed need to be able to focus (dare I say "like a laser"?) on one's work, not only in general but on the immediate task. The company was in a frantically competitive market and we didn't have the resources that our bigger rivals did, so we were always spread too thinly, and one's attention and concentration were always in danger of being fragmented to a point where it seemed that no one thing was ever done very well and thoroughly. 

A few of us made fun of that sampler. We were not really native to that entrepreneurial and engineering world, and did our best not to take it too seriously. Why focus intensely on some soon-to-be-obsolete technical achievement when there was a whole beautiful and varied world to be experienced, contemplated, and understood? That attitude was an element of my 1990 decision to leave that job--a fairly minor element, but definitely there. As it turned out, going to work as a technical jack-of-all-trades at a small college didn't much help that particular problem: once again, there was far too much to be done than people available to do it, and the obstacles to concentrated attention on any one thing were just as many and just as powerful. 

And of course that was just the job--the same basic pattern held for life in general, including the whole raising-a-family bit, which anyone who has done or is doing it understands. Ours is an awfully busy culture, as has often been noted. There was not a great deal of time for other things. My attempt at consolation for this was always "One day I'll be able to retire, and then it won't be this way. I'll finally be able to do all the reading and writing and listening and playing that I've been postponing all these years."

But now I've been semi-to-mostly retired for a couple of years, and it hasn't quite worked out that way. Understand that I am NOT, absolutely not, unappreciative of the fact that I don't have to spend most of every day responding to an unending stream of software needs and problems. I've seen a bumper sticker that says something to the effect of "A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work." That's more or less my view of my retirement routine. Yet I've thought of that "FOCUS" sampler a few times over the past year or so, because the problem of focus has become a big problem for me. 

I have several artistic projects in the works, and weeks go by with little or no progress on any of them. Somehow it seems that there hasn't been enough time, but that really doesn't hold water. That is, maybe there isn't enough time--I do still have other duties--but there certainly is some time, more than I've had at any other period of my life. The problem is that I'm not making good use of it. I'm frequently unable to concentrate on my work even when I can and should be. And a big component of that problem is that I spend too much time aimlessly jumping from one thing to another on the web. I think most of us are familiar with that syndrome. In addition to the time involved it keeps my mind stirred up and flitting from one current event or controversy to another, and makes it hard for me to concentrate even when I do get down to work. I'm actually afraid to try keeping an accurate record of the time I spend reading miscellaneous stuff on the web every day. I'm sure I would be appalled. That's fundamentally a character flaw, or set of flaws, but the nature of the web feeds and encourages it. So, as I said in my previous post, it's imperative that I drastically reduce that time.

This blog is also a component of the problem. As I also said in that post, I've been considering whether or not I ought to or want to continue it, and part of the reason is that it also plays a part in fragmenting my attention. In the past, especially for the first ten years or so of the blog's existence, I often put quite a bit of work into my posts, especially the Sunday Night Journal entries. I worked at thinking through what I wanted to say and at saying it clearly. But that was the only writing I was doing at the time. I find that I can't keep that up while working on other and larger projects.

But I really don't want to give up the blog, especially the conversations in the comments (though as we've discussed there isn't as much of that as there used to be). So I'm going to try for a while to continue it, but to make the posts shorter and more casual. If I want to write about a book I've just read, for instance, it won't be a thousand or more words of considered reflection, but a few remarks: enough to hang a conversation on, but not much more. I don't plan to change anything else for now. I hope that will be enough to keep things interesting. I'll see how that goes, at least through the end of the year. 

Taking A Break

There won't be any new posts here for the next two weeks. I'm going to be away from computers and will only have internet access via my phone. Usually in this situation I write a post or two in advance and schedule them for automatic posting later on, but this time I'm going to take a break. 

And it may be permanent. I'm thinking of ending the blog--not removing it, but not updating it anymore. Or possibly ending this one and starting a new one restricted entirely to discussions of books, music, and movies/tv. I've been wrestling with the possibility for some months now. The basic reason is that I absolutely must drastically reduce the amount of time I spend online.  I mean drastically. I'm not sure I can do that and still keep the blog going. Besides, I've been doing this for fifteen years (!) and maybe it's run its course. 

I'll say more about the pros and cons in a couple of weeks. Probably I'll have made up my mind by then. If you have an opinion, feel free to let me know, either in the comments or by email. 



The President and the Congresswoman from Twitter...

...have a whole lot more in common than either would like to think, much less admit. See this. Today Ocasio-Cortez is apparently denying that she meant what she obviously meant. A Taylor Swift-vs.-Katy Perry feud comes to the House of Representatives.

I guess we can expect a whole lot more teenage social-media spite among our elected officers as general interest in preserving and governing a republic continues to wane. 

I am going to swear off commenting on politics but apparently not today. 

The Who: Quadrophenia

Another LP From the Closet


I am a Tommy infidel. I don't consider it a great album. I don't even really like it all that much. Or at least these things were true many years ago, when I last heard it. It has a lot of brilliant music, and obviously the Who at their best were among the most accomplished artists in rock. But I never could take its story very seriously, much less the "rock opera" pretensions, though I don't know that the Who were to blame for the term. (It's an oratorio, maybe.) The songs are so closely tied to the story that their individual appeal is lessened for me. 

I guess Tommy fans were probably disappointed by Quadrophenia. I heard it a few times when it came out, and I remember thinking that although it wasn't as immediately appealing as Tommy it might be pretty good if you gave it a close listen. Who knows, it might even be better? But I wasn't interested enough to pursue it. (Also I thought the title was sort of dumb, seeming at the time to be an attempt to capitalize on the fad for quadrophonic sound, which was supposed to be the Next Phase after stereo.) 

And yet I have a copy. I don't have any idea how I came by it. In fact I'd forgotten I had it till I noticed it on my last troll through the closet, the results of which I'm still working my way through. It's pretty beat-up so I can only suppose that I picked it up cheaply on a whim, from a used-record store or possibly from Goodwill. 

Well, my 1973 suspicion was right. This is really quite a good album--a double album, like Tommy, and another "rock opera." But this one is a lot more down to earth, a sort of day in the life of a British teenager right at that point in the '60s where ordinary juvenile rebellion and delinquency were about to turn into the cultural revolution. For me at any rate that's a much more engaging subject than the freaky and largely unbelievable Tommy story. I grant that few of the songs are as musically brilliant as the best of Tommy. But the whole thing hangs together more effectively. And more affectingly. According to Wikipedia, the LP package should include a printed booklet that fills in the narrative links among the songs. It's missing from my copy, and I actually considered getting another used copy just to get the booklet. But I resisted. If not a story, the songs do form a coherent picture.

And one song merits a paragraph to itself. I think "Love Reign O'er Me" is as good as anything the Who ever did. It's one of those songs-worth-the-whole-album, which is saying a lot for a double LP.

It occurred to me to wonder: "quadrophenia" is meant to be a play on "schizophrenia." So why isn't it "quadrophrenia"?

Atlas Shrugged Revisited

A few days ago on Facebook a friend remarked, apropos Independence Day, that "We're doomed because of Ayn Rand." Then earlier today my friend Stu left a comment on this post from 2014 saying he had given up on reading Atlas Shrugged with 300 pages still to go. He mentioned that he hadn't been able to locate a previous post--posts, actually, two of them--that I'd written about it. They were written eleven years ago and I found, on re-reading them, that they still seem relevant and interesting. So I'm bringing the subject up again.

At the time I knew a little about Rand, of course; I guess everybody does. I knew her horrible reputation in the eyes of many across the philosophical and political spectrum. And I knew that she had a lot of adoring fans, and had founded a slightly cultish philosophical school called Objectivism. But apart from a couple of things which I'd read in my teens and not been much impressed by, and didn't remember very well, I didn't actually have any firsthand knowledge of her work. So I decided to read Atlas Shrugged "because it is apparently a very influential book, and I wanted to understand why and how—why people like it, and what it teaches them." The result was a review and a follow-up. Here they are:

Ayn Rand, Crank

A Few More Notes on Ayn Rand

These two pieces were the occasion of one of the liveliest discussions ever to occur in the comments here. If I remember correctly one thread passed the 200-comment mark, which probably makes it the longest ever. Apparently the first post somehow came to the attention of some zealous Objectivists, and they came looking for an argument, which they got. Unfortunately those discussions are lost, I guess forever. At the time I was on Blogger and used the old Haloscan commenting system. It shut down, and a lot of interesting discussion went with it.

Rand is a sort of extreme libertarian, which conventionally puts her on the political right, though many conservatives consider her a mortal enemy (see Whittaker Chambers's famous review of Atlas Shrugged). But many progressives hold views that are fundamentally compatible with hers: hostility to Christianity, for instance, and above all the doctrines of the sexual revolution, which are 100% compatible. Hers is a hard-nosed and explicit statement of attitudes and inclinations which are present deep in the roots of American culture. And I suppose that's part of the reason why her work remains popular. 

WhoIsJohnGaltA guy who really likes the sound of his own voice, for one thing.

"Neuter personnel and consumers"

That phrase appeared 35 or so years ago in an article in The Hillsdale Review, a little magazine published by former (I think) students of Hillsdale College. I wrote some for it and still have several copies (I think). I should dig them out and see if I can find the name of the person who used the phrase, because he deserves to be credited. It sums up perfectly the ideal citizen of the new order that was already clearly emerging in the 1980s. I thought of it when I read a recent piece by Sohrab Ahmari in The Catholic Herald, "We shouldn’t be surprised the corporations have taken over Pride":

The most jarring fact about New York’s Pride March this year was how perfectly it blended into the surrounding ambience and structures of a hyper-commercialised American megalopolis. There were plenty of freaky sights, to be sure. But from my vantage point – I parked myself at the swanky bar of the Roger Hotel at the corner of Madison and 31st to observe the festivities – the march appeared remarkably… domesticated.

This is a painful reality to the most woke among the LGBTQ activists, who detest corporate-friendly “rainbow capitalism”. But I’m afraid the more corporate-friendly side of the movement has the better part of this argument. Pride’s demands for radical sexual autonomy are perfectly attuned to the cultural aims of large corporations and the liberal-technocratic order.

Perfectly. The whole thing is worth reading.

This is not the first reference I've seen to a split within the sexual liberation movement between, so to speak, "traditionalists" whose radicalism includes genuine old-school economic leftism and those who are enthusiastic about the merger of the movement with big corporations and especially with their own personal very comfortable place within that world. Something like that split existed in the revolution of the '60s. Back-to-the-land romanticism and other ideals that might require actual work and sacrifice always co-existed, even within the same person, with hedonism that was in principle 100% compatible with capitalism, affluence, and consumerism (and, as many conservatives have argued for a long time, at least implicitly already present within them). 

There is a third role which is not included in the "personnel and consumer" framework: client of the government, as taxpayer and recipient of "benefits." You may have a biological sex, an ethnicity, a religion, a nationality, you may be a parent and you are certainly a child. But those are all in the realm of the merely personal, more or less subjective and irrelevant to the identity that matters most: your place in those three categories. I don't know of any better delineation of the ideal than the famous "Julia" commercial produced by the Obama campaign in 2012. It may still be out there on the web somewhere but a quick search did not discover it. That may actually be a slightly good sign, if the reason it's hard to find is that so many people thought it risible or worse.