Playing the Indian Card

Friday, November 30, 2018

Individualism vs. Community

Nuremberg shows its community spirit.

I think my leftist friend Xerxes has hit upon something in his latest column: the essential difference between the modern North American left and right. He speaks of joining his church choir as a transcendent experience:

“We have stopped being a collection of individuals, and have become a collective organism. A single mind. And in a sense, a single body – we even have to breathe as one, line by line.

We transcend our individuality. And it feels wonderful.”

And he concludes:

“Worship also attempts to connect with the most transcendent reality of all – merging with the divine.

Granted, not everyone in a choir will reason that singing derives from a universal desire for transcendence. But they all know intuitively they’re part of a community.”

And that's probably the key to it all. To a leftist, this sense of losing the individual in community is a self-evident good. After all, it transcends “selfishness.” So it partakes of the divine. The group is divine.

But any rightist reads that first sentence with horror, and thinks of the tight coordination of the Nazi Nuremberg rallies or the North Korean mass choreographed displays in sports stadia. The solidarity bred by a choir? Like Jack's choir boys in Lord of the Flies? Community is the danger; individualism is what partakes of the divine. 

Pyongyang shows its community spirit.

And I am here to explain why the left is wrong and the right is right.

Individualism is no more “selfish” than community. Every community, by definition, excludes as well as includes. Not all sentient beings are members, or we would not refer to a community. If, then, the members of that community seek their own mutual interests, they are corporately acting as selfishly as any individual would be who did the same acting alone. So selfishness is unrelated to individualism. Either a group or an individual can act either selfishly or unselfishly.

At the same time, individualism means taking responsibility. If you surrender that moral responsibility to a community, and defer to their judgement, you are waiving any ability to act morally. You are, on the other hand, perfectly able to act immorally: if you do something immoral as a member of a group, you are still individually responsible. You cannot say you were “only following orders.” But if, conversely, you help the poor only because you see others doing it, or because it improves your social position, it is no longer a moral act. 

Jonestown shows its community spirit.

This is why “Community,” losing your individuality in the group, is in fact traditionally considered one of the great temptations to sin. “The world, the flesh, and the devil.” Following the social consensus, the community, is “the world.” First named.

Community was the whole idea behind Fascism. That's what the symbol of the fasces was meant to represent. And, of course, community was also the whole idea behind Communism, as the name declares. It was the community of the day who put Jesus to death. A sense of community is, in turn, the underlying essence of all racism, all discrimination, all prejudice. It is the reaction to one "not in our group."  Communitarianism has produced the worst human evils in history.

Community is indeed a human need, or at least a natural human want. Just like food and sex. Accordingly, we legitimately seek community. There is nothing wrong with that. But we do not idolize it, any more than we should food or sex. Bad things then quickly happen.

The important thing is that, when we seek community, we seek it on the basis of morality; we seek to belong only to groups engaged in moral behaviour. And retain our individual judgement.

Selma shows its community spirit.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Catholic Insight

Some may, like me, remember Catholic Insight, a feisty Canadian Catholic magazine edited by Dr. Alphonse de Valk. Father de Valk has passed on, and the magazine then officially folded.

But the good news is, it has been resurrected online.

THey just pikced up a piece of mine, on "The Holy Lands of Ontario."

Go and have a look:

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Coen Brothers' latest film is out; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It is an anthology of short Western tales.

This review from Forbes seems to be dominating the early search results: “The Absent Women of 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.'” It pans the movie because it does not feature enough female protagonists. It counts one, out of six stories. I count two, making it not so far off from strict sexual parity. Big deal. And this is hardly an aesthetic issue. Would one object to the Mona Lisa for a lack of male representation?

Featuring women any more prominently would also be a falsification of history. There was a general shortage of women on the frontier.

Moreover, the Western is a traditional male genre, just as romance is a women's genre. As the real West obviously appealed more to men than women, and for the same reasons, so does the fictional West. Men crave freedom; women crave security. The Old West and the cowboy life was all freedom and no security.

So why fake history and lessen the appeal of your movie to its natural audience to please people who will not go to see it?

The reviewer herself plainly does not like Westerns. She refers to them as “problematic.” But it makes no sense to write a review panning a Western film for being a Western film. Moreover, to write a movie review on that premise seems purely self-indulgent. Those who dislike Westerns do not need her review to know they dislike Westerns, and those who like Westerns get no value out of knowing she doesn't. So what's the point? She violates the first rule of good writing: write for the reader, not yourself.

The Coen Brothers like Westerns. They relish all traditional American culture, and the Western is the great American genre. Buster Scruggs is, among other things, an appreciation of the beauty of the Western landscape and of its Western culture: its stories, its songs, its style of dress, its style of architecture, everything.

The first tale in the anthology, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” proper, makes this appreciation of artistic beauty plain: its hero assumes the existence of heaven on the grounds that, otherwise, “what are all the songs about?” That is, art is our glimpse of heaven. 

Something like the same point is made in the final scene of the second piece in the anthology, “Near Algodones.” About to be hanged, as the hood is pulled over his head, the protagonist spots a pretty girl in the watching crowd, and is distracted from his own death by her beauty. Beauty, then, can be our escape from present troubles, no matter how grave.

The beauty of the arts is represented prominently in the third piece, “Meal Ticket,” by a quadruple amputee who recites to small crowds in Western towns while his companion “the impresario” passes the hat.

But it is not art for art's sake, either, or beauty for beauty's sake alone. That is not the message. “Meal Ticket,” for example, clearly has a moral agenda. One of the pieces Harrison, the amputee, recites in his stock performance is the story of Cain and Abel. A moral lesson. And his relationship with his manager acts it out. His manager murders him when he calculates he can make more money with a chicken that can do sums. Art and the artist are associated now with morality. Moreover, bad people are people who cannot appreciate the moral lessons of art: the impresario obviously never took to heart the lesson of the Cain and Abel recitation. To him, art is only entertainment, like the calculating chicken, and only his meal ticket.

And, despite first appearances that the film is a series of unrelated stories, they are all tied together in the final piece, “Mortal Remains.”

Five characters are riding in a stagecoach. And some of them look familiar. One, a trapper, physically resembles the prospector we encountered in an earlier segment, “All Gold Valley,” played by Tom Waits. He also resembles him in his way of life, living alone with nature. Like the Waits character, he seems to have a tendency to talk to himself.

Another, a Frenchman, looks like an older version of a Frenchman we saw playing poker in the first episode, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” And this latter Frenchman indeed refers to his background as a poker player.

Two more characters, sitting together, are bounty hunters, accompanying a corpse. One of them is strongly reminiscent of the impresario from “Meal Ticket”: both are members of a team of two, both are Irish, both sing Irish folk songs, and they seem to share the trait of ruthlessness: he is the one who kills the criminal prey.

The central figure in this episode, however, seems to be an older woman, who does not remind me at least of anyone in any of the previous segments.

The vignette begins with one of the bounty hunters singing a song, “Has Anybody Here Seen Molly?” as the camera plays on her disconcerted face. The song he sings is an old English music hall song; but the original lyric is “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?” It seems, therefore, to have been adapted to a feminine form for topical reasons, to refer to the woman present. In the song, “Molly” has gone missing.

During the trip, our “Molly” has some sort of an attack, in which she cannot breathe. The Frenchman beside her thrusts his head out the carriage window to ask the driver to stop. We see the driver's back, not his face. He will not turn around to show it. He is all in black, and keeps whipping the horses on to greater speed. The first bounty hunter explains knowingly that the driver never stops.

It seems apparent that the carriage ride is a metaphor for death; which relents for no one. “Fort Morgan,” their destination, is the afterlife, and the dark silent driver is the angel of death. The woman has died. Perhaps others in the carriage are also souls on their way to the afterlife, but she seems to have been pointed to in this regard. In the end, it is she specifically for whom the doors are opened.

Other passengers may then represent reflections on the meaning of life. The singing bounty hunter explains that, in his vast experience, at the time of death, the faces of the dying always suggest they are trying to figure it all out--trying to figure out what the point of their life was.

As soon as he finishes saying this, we see the woman's face, looking deeply concerned. As though she is trying to figure it out.

The journey ends at a hotel, seen in darkness, with no human forms visible either outside or within. When the characters open the door, there is a staircase visible, with bright light above: the afterlife.

And so each of the movie's episodes is presented in this final segment as a meditation on what life is all about. Their viewpoints are then recapped in the final episode by their representative characters; five characters, just as there were five episodes before this one.

The Frenchman gives the postmodern view, speaking for the first story, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs—postmodernism being, after all, a French concept. His idea is that life is a game. Everyone creates their own meaning, like a poker bluff, and nobody can know another's hand. One cannot judge nor draw any final conclusions. “We must each play our own hand.” A similar sentiment was expressed by the late Buster Scruggs himself.

Then there is the trapper, who holds that all people are alike--”people are like ferrets.” That is, life is all about satisfying our immediate animal desires, nothing more.

The impresario bounty hunter chimes in with the idea that there are two kinds of people: “hale and frail. Those difficult to knock to the floor, and those who wilt.” To him, then, life is a struggle for power over others. Very much the attitude of the impresario, it seems, in the “Meal Ticket” segment.

The woman herself expresses a religious view. For her too, there are two kinds of people: good and evil. This roughly echoes the attitude of the main characters in the segment “The Gal Who Got Rattled.” The protagonist is ultimately concerned with the morality of her own acts. When proposed to, her first question is whether her suitor is religious. In the original segment, the heroine is a deeply sympathetic character. Here, the Coens seem to be showing a less attractive side of religiousity, a sense of self-righteousness.

The bounty hunter who initially sang seems to represent the view of the pure aesthete, or the purely aesthetic appreciation of art. He loves to tell tales to entertain, but it is to distract so his partner can kill the listener. Not a flattering image of art. He makes no claim to truth, but only wants to observe for the thrill of it.

This does not seem to represent the Coens' own position on art. The figure is disturbingly amoral, and more than a little resembles the traditional portrait of Satan.

If there is a segment expressing the same point of view, it is “Near Algodones.” The protagonist in that story seems similarly purely aesthetic in his concerns, with no sense of any deeper morality. When, for example, about to be hanged for bank robbery, his final words are a complaint that the man who caught him was not playing fair in protecting himself with armour. When the hanging party is attacked by Indians, he ends up merely observing. About to be hanged a second time, he is distracted by a pretty face.

But the Coens do not seem to give us their own conclusion. Perhaps they do not have one.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

There Is No "Good" Discrimination

My Liberal friend Xerxes writes that he rarely hears protests against “affirmative action” any longer.

That may be so. But it remains a grave injustice. He takes this instead as a sign of progress.

“Affirmative action” is a euphemism. The words “affirmative action” literally mean almost nothing; or might mean anything. Who can be against “affirmative action”? Like all euphemisms, it seeks to conceal an ugly reality. It is used as code for, literally, discrimination on the basis of sex or race. Discrimination on the basis of sex or race is always wrong.

Of course, Xerxes would justify it as “righting a previous wrong.” This is untrue. You might pretend it is significant and meaningful that someone else with the same skin tone or of the same sex as the person you are favouring now was discriminated against somewhere else in the past. But that is irrelevant. A skin color is not a person. Obviously, it is not the same person, and the person you are discriminating against now had nothing to do with the original discrimination. To argue “I am told a Jew once robbed one of my ancestors; so I have the right to take from any Jew now as a result” is extreme racism.

It is not justice to endlessly repeat a wrong with new people; a million more wrongs can never make one right. Each compounds the injustice.

And there are futher problems. Any claim of discrimination in the past is generally at least debatable, and should remain open to debate. How certain are we of our sources? Yet the present discrimination, by contrast, is beyond question; it is systematic, written in law, and openly professed. There is nothing we can really do about apparent discrimination in the past, at least past the death of the ones discriminated against. But we can end discrimination now. AS US Chief Justice Roberts put it, “The bes way to end discrimination is to stop discriminating.”

Historically, whenever and wherever discrimination has been widespread, it is always justified as “reverse discrimination,” exactly as is “affirmative action” now; there is nothing novel about this discrimination, and there is no special category of “reverse discrimination.” It is always advertised as helping out some group that has been previously oppressed. That, for example, was the standard justification for discriminating against Jews for generations. The Jews, after all, controlled all the banks and secretly owned everything, right? They were an international power conspiracy. Just like “Anglo cis males” supposedly are today.

That was also the standard justification for Jim Crow laws in the South: it was a matter of oppressed poor Southerners trying to protect their rights and their culture against an onslaught by the rich and powerful Northern carpetbaggers, who had crushed them militarily. If the main target in practice was local blacks, it was because they were feared as a fifth column. Almost exactly the same situation led to apartheid in South Africa. The poor Boers had been crushed militarily by the mighty British, denied their freedom, even herded into concentration camps. They naturally feared the African blacks as weapons of the oppressor to be used against them.

And so too with all the awful genocides in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Korea: all in the name of defending the poor oppressed proletariat from the rapacious rich and powerful.

On top of all that, it is almost self-evident that any government-enforced or legally-mandated or even strongly socially-enforced discrimination like “affirmative action” will automatically discriminate in favour of those already socially favoured, and against those already discriminated against. Is social pressure likely to pull two ways at once?

So any new social discrimination, however justified, will always make the existing discrimination worse, never better. But it is really insane to even have to point this out. Few propositions come closer to being self-evident.

Problems with Returning to Canada

Here's a Canadian YouTuber in Taiwan giving his reasons for staying in Asia. Along with the positives, there is one big negative about Canada. I share his concern.

It is the lack of free speech.

On this most fundamental question, Canada seems to have become one of the least free countries in the world. It was always bad, and this surely had something to do with my own departure, long ago now. But it has gotten far worse.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Amazon Now Offers Playing the Indian Card

After a crazy bureaucratic standoff that lasted nine months, due to haveing the book prtinted in the US, and published in Canada, while I lie in the Philippines, paperback copes of Playing the Indian Card are at last available on Amazon.

I hope to finally get my own copies soon ....

And I have an author page up:

Friday, November 23, 2018

Boys 2 Men

Even though I went to an all-boys Catholic grade school, I did not get a male teacher until grade 6, my last year.

Every one of us loved Mr. Moore. He was like a revelation.

And it makes me wonder; was it all about Mr. Moore, or was it at least in part about having a male teacher?

Later, in high school and in university, there were more men. And my favourite teachers were always men. Female teachers might get the job done—or might not—but were never inspiring.

We make quite a fuss about the need for “role models.” So we insist that black kids have to have black teachers, and aboriginal kids are supposed to have aboriginal teachers, and so forth.

And yet we leave 50% of our students pretty much without role models at a young age.

I am doubtful whether it matters in the case of something so trivial as skin colour. But it surely does in the case of sex. Men and women are systematically different, not just physically, but mentally. And a boy does NOT want to act like or model himself after a woman.

If ever there was a place where affirmative action was called for, it is here.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Anne with an Eh?

Watching the second season of “Anne with an E” (Just “Anne” in Canada) with my kids. They love it. I am not happy with it. It is a travesty of the original.

The common observation is that it is darker than the books. That is not my problem. My problem is that it is so badly written. It shows no understanding of character, and especially of the original characters of the books. Plot turns often make no sense. It is often wildly historically inaccurate, although it claims this as something it worked especially hard at; historical authenticity. And it is prone to virtue signal, which is embarassing.

It regularly has characters do things without any good motive. Characters just fly of the handle, when it is useful to introduce some plot complication, without motivation and often out of character. In episode 4 (I think), they have a brothel madame toss one of her girls in the street, literally, in front of our heroes, just as the latter is about to give birth. Leave aside the stereotypical, melodramatic situation: where's the sensitivity to character? Right, so people are all black or all white, and the madame must be one of the bad ones, right? More than a bit hamfisted. The more so since there is, by comparison, no hint that the prostitute herself might bear any moral responsibility for anything. Trite and uninsightful as this is, this is not the worst. It is the absolute lack of suitable motivation. Narratively, why would any madame throw a girl out just as her water breaks, as opposed to once she has become visibly pregnant? It makes no narrative sense. And would the prostutite reallty have had no prior warning, so that she was unable to make any other arrangements?

Meantime, back in Avonlea, two grifters living at Green Gables have a falling out. One wants to take the money they've swindled out of just about everyone in town, the other wants to stay and use it to buy some land and set down roots.

What? So his neighbours are just going to forget all about his swindling their money?

And really, how plausible was it as a plot point in the first place to have everyone in Avolea give their money to a stranger for the sake of getting some supposed assessment of gold prospects on their lands? It's trite and implausible, surely. Even if there were gold, or likely to be gold, would the landowner really pay to find out, as opposed to some mining company doing so?

The series prides itself on being historically accurate—indeed, it claims this as one of its distinguishing features, in comparison to previous productions. Yet in a recent episode, it shows the young French Canadian farmhand, “Jerry,” offered alcohol, and refusing it, explaining, “We never drink at home. We're Catholic.”

Eh? Even given original invincible ignorance, shouldn't the writer or the show have checked whether abstinence from alcohol was indeed a Catholic practice? Would it have been so hard to Google it?

Another episode shows a scruffy, deperately poor Jewish pedlar who says he is from Germany, but had to leave because life is so difficult for Jews there. But this is happening in the last years of the nineteenth century. Jews in Germany at the time were fully enfranchised and, on average, better off and better educated than the general population. Jews from other lands were moving to Germany as a result. It is because of Jewish success and prosperity that Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitism in the Twenties and Thirties stuck. Jews were provoking envy and suspicion with their growing power. They were supposedly in control of banking and so forth. Hardly impoverished pedlars with big scruffy beards. This guy came straight out of some stereotype factory, from someone whose knowledge of European Jewry came entirely from Fiddler on the Roof.

The point of the character's appearance is apparently only to virtue signal. It shows the poor foreigner as generous, first, and then demonstrates Mirilla's racism, as she chases him off her property. Trashing Mirilla's character, in the process; another arbitrary and motiveless act. Predictably, in the series, any identifiable character who is non-white, non-Anglo, or an immigrant is entirely good. Anyone who is white, Anglo, and non-immigrant (Brits and Americans do not count here as immigrants; in fact, it is good and righteous to bash Brits or Americans) is basically bad and stupid. You can read anyone's character at a glance.

That's called racism.

Anne's character is also repeatedly violated: something especially vile for a character who has become so generally beloved. It is all like those illustrations of Mickey Mouse and Minne performing sex acts. Bad luck for her: she is white and Anglo, after all. Here, Anne has no consideration for the feelings of others. She frequently acts like a spoiled child, completely out of character for an abused orphan. She is shown exploding in anger towards the Francophone farmhand, Jerry, for example, who is a sympathetic character who has done nothing to her—as though only her feelings matter. And she is shown first opening and reading Matthew's mail, then, discovering he is getting letters from an old flame, writing love letters back to her in his name.

This is the sort of thing only a confirmed narcissist would do. It refuses to acknowedge either Matthew or his female correspondent as real human beings, with the right to exist as separate and apart from Anne's own fantasies. It shows callous disregard for their feelings. There is no way Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne Shirley would do such a thing. And worse, when this Anne does it, the series itself seems to show no understanding of how morally wrong and cruel it is.

Another really annoying addition is an amaterish computer-generated fox that keeps appearing as Anne's bush soul. This is gritty realism?

The good news is, perhaps it will at least inspire kids to read the books.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

David Warren

Just a note. Lovers, like me, of elegant prose, owe it to themselves to bookmark and follow David Warrer's blog "Essays in Idleness."

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Bear in a China Shop?

A bit of sobering analysis regarding China: This piece claims that China's current level of debt has always, historically, led to an economic slowdown, and 50% of the time to an economic collapse.

Underlying this is China's demographic time bomb. China was inevitably going to reach the limit of what it can do on the basis of cheap and plentiful labour. Labour has grown less cheap, and the supply has now been just about fully exploited. The one-child policy has guaranteed population decline. A smooth transition to some other model for prosperity is no simple thing. Japan started to stagnate when they hit the point of demographic decline.

And at the very same moment, I see news from a pair of popular YouTubers based in China that they are moving their main base of operations to Southern California. They say things have just become too difficult and dangerous for them as foreigners in China. There are sudden clampdowns on everything. This must be equally true for the Chinese. 

Putting two and two together, it looks to me as though the Chinese government itself expects public unrest. They are trying to put the lid firmly back on before the boiling point is reached. They are especially trying to restrict the internet and the media—the channels through which any opposition might organize.

This also explains China's recent sabre rattling, in the South China Sea, in trade with Trump, over disuted islands with Japan. Making these sort of waves is not in China's interests. If they can look peaceful and friendly, they keep getting stronger, until they become invincible. If they get hackles up, others may unite against them before they reach this point, while they are still vulnerable. The only reason they would be doing this, therefore, is for internal politics: trying to rally the people around the government by evoking an external enemy.

I suspect China's Communist Pary is haunted by the example of the Soviet Union's collapse. Facing a financial crunch, Gorbachev loosened things up in hopes of maintainin popular support. That didn't work; it did not keep the Communist regime in power. So, logically, the Chinese government is trying the opposite approach.

I suspect that Gorbachev was right, and this will only result in a worse explosion. Gorbachev was able to manage a peaceful transition. That was his triumph. The alternative would have been far worse for everyone. And civil rebellions in China have been known to cost lives in the tens of millions.

I am personally amazed that the Communist regime in China has lasted this long. When I was first in China, in 1992, it already looked to me as though it were on its last legs. That is, nobody took the underlying ideology seriously; everyone was cynical about it, and practicing a kind of passive civil disobedience, ignoring the laws when they could. A system nobody believes in is running on fumes.

My Chinese students a decade later on agreed with my suggestion that the Chinese people would continue to accept the Communist government for as long as the economy kept doing well—as long as everyone is prospering, why rock the boat? But the moment that stopped, the regime had no further legitimacy.

Just about everywhere else, once a certain level of material prosperity has been reached, once there is a strong and independent middle class, totalitarian governments either fall, or transition into democracies. The Chinese government has been doing what it can to prevent this by trying to prevent the development of any independent organizations which might form the basis for a political opposition. This is why they have been eager to crush Falun Gong, and recently the Christian churches, But this may be futile. Large successful businesses also become independent power centres. Wealthy Chinese with homes abroad, of the sort who have been buying up Vancouver, become an independent power centre. This kitten is not going back in the bag.

Tiananmen in its time was already a close run thing. The umbrella rebellion in Hong Kong a little while ago looked as though it might spread. When the Middle East rose in the “Arab Spring,” China saw a concurrent “Jasmine Rebellion.” There is a lot of dry cordwood lying around.

I see a sea of chaos coming.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Corporate Welfare Bums

David Lewis in much younger days. 

The first time I was eligible to vote in a Canadian election was back in 1972. I voted for the NDP, well to the left. That might sound odd; nowadays I find myself apparently on the right. But given the same issues, I would vote the same way today. My politics have not changed. The position of the goalposts has. Or rather, the position of centre field. Or rather, the teams have changed ends.

The Liberals, in government, had imposed martial law two years earlier, during the “October Crisis” (non-Canadians may need to Google this). This may or may not have been justified, but it was an extreme step, and should not have been done without paying some price at the polls. Such a thing must not be allowed to become politically easy. As a liberal, I could not vote Liberal.

The PCs, unfortunately, the main opposition, on the right, had supported the move. So I could not vote for them as an alternative. Worse, the main plank of their platform was to impose wage and price controls, extreme government interference in the economy. Big government to the max, almost to the level of, yes, Fascism.

Leaving the NDP, the one party to have opposed the imposition of the War Measures Act in peacetime. But that's not all. They campaigned on lowering taxes. But even that was not all: the central plank in their platform was to end “corporate welfare”--handouts and breaks to big corporations.

They were then the small government, civil libertarian party. This shows how much things have changed. In those days, the left was not the party of big government, and the right was not the party of small government. “Conservative” used to mean big government, elitism, and nanny-stateism. “Liberal” used to actually mean liberal.

This reverie is brought on by the recent announcement by Amazon that it is building a second headquarters in Washington and NYC. And they are being given huge tax incentives to do it. Corporate welfare.

This is as noxious now as it was in 1972. Governments should never be in the business of favouring one business over another. This is an obvious violation of human equality, as well as lousy economics and a waste of money. It is obvious, too, that it is graft—the politicians give money to already rich corporations, and the corporations can be expected to remit back to their re-election campaigns. The elite help one another out, perpetuating themselves, with the money of the poor.

Does the payout mean more jobs for Washington or New York? I doubt it. The money paid to Amazon is necessarily taken from higher taxes on all other local businesses, money they then cannot use to hire more workers. Paul grows flush as Peter grows poor.

And it distorts natural market forces, reducing overall profitability or raising consumer costs for everyone. Is it a good thing if it really does attract Amazon to locate in a place where their infrastructure or labour is going to cost them more? With the difference paid for by the general public?

Of course, a smart businessman is unlikely to be so influenced. Trusting in future government policies is a shaky proposition. Without the tax break, one may in the near future suddenly be unprofitable.

Which means, then, that the tax break does nothing but hand over money for no public benefit.

The ideal solution would be a law at the federal level, in either the US or Canada, that prohibited such tax breaks and corporate welfare. This would be of benefit to everyone; so long as there is no such law, it is politically difficult for New York politicians, for example, not to offer tax breaks, knowing that Texas or Michigan will. And then, if Amazon locates in Detroit or Houston, they will be blamed. A similar rider could be written in to all free trade agreements, to prevent it from being done at the national level.

Amazon is pretty profitable. It does not need a taxpayer subsidy.

How about it, Jagmeet Singh? The pundits say you Dippers are struggling because you cannot find an issue to distinguish yourself from the Liberals. Corporate welfare in Canada is extreme and shameless. The Liberals won't touch it, because they are deep in that trough. They all retire from politics to jobs with Bombardier or Power Corp or Canada Steamship Lines. This issue could appeal to a wide base. Rediscover the heritage of David Lewis!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Stan Lee the Narcississt

Stan Lee

Showing the new incivility that has swallowed our public discourse, I see that hatchets are suddenly out for Stan Lee, the moment he can no longer defend himself. He is charged with
  1. being a sexual predator 
  2. being racist and anti-gay 
  3. not being the real creator of the Marvel universe 
  4. being a narcissist who hogged undeserved credit. 
As to the first charge, this is apparently based on a complaint by a home nursing company he employed recently.

That means the charges are that a 94 or 95 year old man was a sexual predator.

This sounds inherently unlikely, simply in terms of physical ability. Also unlikely for someone to become so only in his final years, if there had previously been no such record. If he really was, it was probably a symptom of senility, which can make people randy, and something that ought to have been easily managed by a physically healthy young woman without involving anyone else. What's the point of being a nurse for the aged if you cannot manage the symptoms of senility?

It sounds, more plausibly, like an attempt at extortion. Anyone rich and famous is going to be a target: make an accusation, and they may pay you off just to silence you. And the insane doctrine of “believe all women” makes it more attractive.

As to the second charge, this is based on a clause in a contract with Sony specifying that they must, among other similar conditions, portray Spiderman as Caucasian and heterosexual. These days, such a concern apparently makes you racist.

But surely we can all agree that it would be an act of vandalism to paint a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Why? Is that being sexist and anti-male? Same principle here.

Any work of art, for its effect, depends on what Coleridge called “the willing suspension of disbelief.” We have to look at that canvas, in the case of Da Vinci's painting, and see in our minds not globs of paint, but the illusion of a human person. An imaginary character is a work of art, like any other. Altering it in a way that would be improbable for a real person destroys the illusion that gives it life, or at least severely damages it; damages the art. Changing skin colour is an obvious example, like having a woman grow a moustache. Making a heterosexual character with a prominent history of relationships with women suddenly turn gay is not much better.

Stan Lee is not being racist or anti-gay; he is only giving a damn about his business and his work as an artist.

As to the third charge, the claim is that Jack Kirby had at least as much to do with the “silver age” of Marvel as Lee. This is true, and not denied, certainly not by Stan Lee. Kirby's artwork was a big part of the appeal for me personally. He is, as Lee named him, “The King.” But the claim here is, specifically, that it was really Kirby who created the characters and the plot lines, and Lee just took credit. 

There is a simple way to test this hypothesis. How did Lee make out when working with collaborators other than Kirby? How did Kirby make out when working with collaborators other than Lee?

When Kirby left Marvel for DC, to work on his own, his projects for them, although they have their audience, broadly failed, lost money, and were a general disappointment. Lee, for comparison, did Spiderman entirely without Kirby, and it is probably his single most successful creation. Kirby was a great artist, perhaps a good plotter, but the spark that made the Marvel tales marellous must have come from Lee.

As to Lee hogging the credit, this is literally false: he invented the tradition of conspicuously crediting the artist on the first page of the comic book. He even credited the inkers and letterers; creating a fandom for previously anonymous comic book artists. He gave regular reports to readers about who was in “the bullpen.” He is as responsible for Kirby's fame as his own. Lee was not about self-promotion; he was about promotion. He was a brilliant marketer and salesman.

And so the charge of narcissism is also false. As is the far more common claim that Donald Trump is a narcissist. It seems to be a common misunderstanding of what narcissism is. It is urgent that we begin to understand what narcissism is better than this indicates. It is not simply a matter of saying “look at me”; otherwise anyone who makes their living as an entertainer or performer of any kind, or in sales, would be by definition a narcissist. And it would equally mean that any actor playing a character is that character. Both Lee and Trump are showmen; it is a performance art. Dave Nichols or P.T. Barnum or Walt Disney were similar showmen.

Real narcissists are by nature not creative; they fear the sort of introspection necessary to come up with new perspectives or new ideas. It can mess up their delusions. Accordingly, anyone who, like Lee, is conspicuously creative simply cannot be a narcissist.

Real narcissists are easily wounded by criticism; they crave constant adulation. They fear abandonment. As a result, they are people-pleasers, full of charm. They will say whetever they think those listening want to hear. This is the very reverse of Trump, who seems to enjoy scrapping with the media or political opponents; who seems fearless in the face of criticism; who will say anything. He cannot, on this basis, be a narcissist.

Real narcissists do not honour their promises; they say whatever they think the listener wants to hear, and then will do whatever they want. It follows from being self-centred. As president, Trump has not been like that at all; he seems to have done a better job than the average pol at trying to keep the promises on which he was elected. There have been no surprise changes of direction—as we have seen, for example, with Justin Trudeau in Canada, dropping his promise of electoral reform. If Trump has not kept all his promises, he seems to have tried to keep all his promises.

It is worrying that the popular imagination so often seems to get things exactly backwards. This is not a symptom of a healthy society.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stan Lee Has Left the Baxter Building

Illustration by Lee's longtime collaborator, Jack Kirby.

A salute in passing to the great Stan Lee.

One should not lament. He died age 95. He got his innings in. Time to try something new.

But he was a major presence in my childhood, and probably is still a major influence on me.

He was, of course, the editor and writer behind Marvel Comics, back when it was becoming Marvel comics, the “silver age,” the creator or co-creator of the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Iron Man, Thor, X-Men, Hulk, and the rest. Back when Lee was in command, I used to buy every title of Marvel comics every month, as soon as they came out: all the superhero comics, plus Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos, plus their three Western comics.

Before Lee, comic book superheroes were cut from cardboard, with no distinguishing features, it seemed, other than their specific powers. Otherwise, Aquaman was interchangeable with Superman, Flash, or Green Lantern. Lee gave them personalities, issues, struggles, and had them bicker with one another. Often they found themselves rejected by the public, or wanting to quit being a superhero.

While this was revolutionary in comicry—so much so that Lee thought it might get him fired, and only did it once he figured he was fed up with the job anyway—it was not really the innovation it seemed. What Lee was really doing was telling hero legends properly at last. He was returning to their origins.

For that is just what “super heroes” are or were: heroes. If you care to look, all classical or Medieval heroes had super powers. It is not some recent innovation. Perseus had winged sandals, and Medusa's deadly head. Herakles had a lion skin that made him invulnerable, and arrows of hydra poison. Bellerophon had a flying horse, Pegasus, which kept him out of harm's way, beyond the reach of Chimera paws. Achilles was invulnerable except at the heel. Arthur had his magical sword Excaliber. Solomon had a flying carpet, the mysterious shamir that could cut through anything, and could command demons. Generally, in the old stories, these were gifts from the classical gods or God, rather than the result of radiation or mutation—gifts from the great god Science.

And, unlike the DC superheroes of the Fifties, traditional heroes always had serious real-life problems. Herakles, for example, like Peter Parker, could never get a date. Worse, he now and then went mad, like Hulk. In one such fit, he killed his wife and children, thinking they were attacking aliens. Remorse over this drove him to become a hero, just as remorse over the death of his parents drove Peter Parker to become Spiderman.

Jason's wife was a witch, who killed their children. His king was out to have him killed. Perseus was betrayed by his grandfather, his stepfather, and his father-in-law. Samson also had significant women problems, as you might recall. And so did King Arthur. Moses was an outlaw, then rejected by his public.

Lee just reinserted this essential element to the mix, retoring to the stories their mythic power. Daredevil was blind, Thor in civilian life walked with a cane. The Hulk could not control his transformations. The government was out to get him. The Thing was repulsive to women, and taunted on the street. Iron Man's super suit was needed to keep his heart going.

Lee's advantage was probably that, being Jewish, he had been schooled in Torah. It includes all the classic stories. Other kids no longer learn the stories; they were all new to them. Lee simply mined them. The Fantastic Four, his first and to my mind greatest creation, seems based on Jewish demonology. Each of the members has one of the powers traditionally attributed in Jewish legend to demons: the ability to stretch at will, the ability to become invisible, being able, like the Muslim jinn, to burst into fire; and the Thing visually resembles the golem. This dark subtext gave great imaginative power.

Sub-Mariner, aka Prince Namur, appears in one of the earlier FF stories. Although he is the rightful ruler of an undersea kingdom, he is suffering amnesia, has forgotten who he is, and is living on the street as an alcoholic. Great story. It is one of the stories of King Solomon in the Talmud. There is also an echo of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel.

Daredevil's blindness echoes Samson's. Ant-man extended the parable of David and Goliath; his ability to control the ants is shared with Solomon.

Lee's famous burst of creativity in the Sixties was probably based on this mining of the Talmud. This is why it did not last into the Seventies; at a certain point, all the good stories have been told. I suspect Lee himself felt this coming, and this is why he turned to Norse mythology as well, with Thor: in search of new material. But here Lee himself had not yet digested the stories. He mostly told them verbatim as a second feature in the Thor comics. He was learning on the fly, and so the stories were not integral to his new character. Thor, as a result, comes across as wooden in a way his other heroes do not.

Since then, since Lee left, the comics have been wandering aimlessly, with no idea what the formula is. They learned nothing from Lee. They have gone for gimmicks: hey, let's make Captain America African American! Let's make Hulk female! Let's get political, and justify ourselves by taking all the “right” positions! Let's try celebrity tie-ins! Or worse, they make a phony splash by supposedly killing off a character, and then reviving him or her. These are all just so many sharks lined up in a row and jumped.

And one shark in the line generally gets a free lunch.

Monday, November 12, 2018


Forwarded out of the ether from friend Eugene Campbell, who says it brought tears to his eyes and he just had to share it.

Gospel music is the heart and soul of America. It is that African spontaneity that makes US culture different from European culture.

Not incidentally, this is where rock and roll comes from. At base, rock and roll is secularized gospel music. If you don't believe me, look up a video of Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Actuslly, never mind. Let me do it for you.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembrance Day Gallery

Hell and Damnation

A further thought on how many go to Hell; mentioned here some time back as a current controversry between Church Militant and Bishop Barron.

The meaning and purpose of life is not obscure. It is to seek the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. This comes in the West from Plato; but it also seems to correspond to the Hindu trinity of sat, sit, ananda, usually translated, inaccurately, as “being, consciousness, bliss.” Sat is the Good, honesty; sit is Truth (true knowledge); ananda is aesthetic appreciation. These three things, at minimum, are of intrinsic value, and their presence gives value to all else.

Although this seems self-evident once pointed out—the real or true is of more value than the false, and the good is of more value than the bad—it is also true that some people—many people—do not seek the True, the Beautiful, or the Good. Some will insist the Truth is socially determined, or the Good is up for grabs, or our idea of Beauty is purely a matter of taste. The whole Postmodernist thing is to deny the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. And a huge proportion of people are assertively postmodern in this way.

This is ultimately cynical. The advantage of rejecting Truth and the Good, even if self-evident, is that it leaves you free to do or believe whatever you want.

Heaven is Good, True, and Beautiful to a maximum degree. To seek these transcendent values is to seek Heaven; and to seek God, who is a perfect being, so perfect Goodness, perfect Being, perfect Beauty. The immediate presence of God is definitive of Heaven. Those who are not seeking them are, therefore, rejecting God, and choosing to turn from the path to Heaven. They are declaring in favour of Hell, and against Heaven, as their intended destination.

And this makes sense in Catholic doctrine: God, being all-merciful, wants no one to end up in Hell, but some of us choose Hell for ourselves. Anyone who is not seeking the Good, the True, and the Beautiful has quite expressly chosen not to go to Heaven.

Sin, in turn, is when we choose anything else before the Good, the True, or the Beautiful. For example, immediate physical pleasure, or social status, or self-regard. These are the three great temptations: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.

Any of us can slip up in this way at any time. The difference between the saved and the damned, however, is that the saved will understand this as sin, feel regret, and eventually repent. The damned will refuse to accept this, and deny they have done anything wrong.

They may instead protest, like Pontius Pilate, “What is Truth?”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day/ Armistice Day has always been special for me. One of my favourite reads growing up was Knights of the Air, about Canadian aces in the First World War. “In Flanders Fields” was the first poem I memorized.

Here are a couple of my war poems, in honour of the day:

Armistice Day

"We are the dead"

It's a hell of a way from yesterday,
And all behind is burning;
We frog-march on to invisible dawn
From whence there is no turning.

There was a war, there is a war, there ever a war will be;
Who was that raving charlatan we hanged on Calvary?

Each human heart is blown apart
Six ways before September;
The whores of chance damn backward glance
And delicate lads dismember.

There was a war, there is a war, there ever a war will be;
The carrion chorus sounds above Megiddo's bloody sea.

Love a thing, and watch it die
And only death's forever;
In wave-swept graves in parts we lie
-- And yet, each year, remember.

There was a war, there is a war, there ever a war will be;
The bloody track leads back from where we nailed Him to a tree.

There's no escape from sorrow, boys,
Between here and high heaven;
Only pray the guns may pause
In the eleventh month, on the eleventh day,
As bells toll eleven.

Korea, Summer, 1951: A Canadian Who Did Not Survive Remembers

August in Asia is hotter than death;
Christ, that a cold rain could fall!
Like the rains that I knew where the jackpines grew
In Canada, when I was small.

Every rock, every brick, is as hot as a wick,
And wickedly ripples the air;
If I could I would go where the sweet Chinooks blow,
For I know of no night fevers there.

I don't that much mind that I die here or there;
When you're dead, you're just dead, as a rule.
But please don't cremate me, deep-freeze me in state--
Damn Sam McGee, let me die cool.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Acosta vs. Trump

The latest fireworks in Washington are over the Trump White House suspending CNN's Jim Acosta's press pass. Never a dull moment with Trump in the White House—and I'm sure this is a big part of his appeal. The importance of the entertainment value of politics is vastly underrated, Trump understands this; Rob Ford understood it.

The stated reason for pulling Acosta's press pass is that he manhandled a young intern. I'm dubious about that; the contact looked trivial and unintentional. But he should have been suspended in any case for refusing to yield the microphone after his question.

And he should have been suspended for the original question. Here's an attempted transcript:

Acosta: “I challenge you on one of your statements. … That this caravan was an invasion. As you know, Mr. President, the caravan was not an invasion.... Why did you characterize it as such?”

This is not a question. It is, as stated, a challenge. What possible information can it elicit? He then interrupted Trump during his answer, and argued back. Hardly a journalist seeking the news.

And it is not even honest as a debating point. It is along the lines of “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Invasion; Oxford English Dictionary: “An incursion by a large number of people or things into a place or sphere of activity.” “An unwelcome intrusion into another's domain.” Acosta is either dishonest or illiterate.

Rather, he is obviously dishonest, and perhaps also illiterate. And he is doing an incompetent job as a journalist: not asking useful questions, and making himself the story instead of getting a story. Something any idiot can do.

The mystery is not that his press pass was lifted; the mystery is that he has a job.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Addiction and Vice

Sex junkie?

I don't really get this Tony Clement scandal in the Canadian federal Conservative caucus. All we know at this point is that he sent lewd photos and a video to someone he believed was a consenting adult. Since he is married, this implies, but does not amount to, adultery. But we have chosen not to make adultery illegal. Clement, so far as I can tell, has broken no laws; his personal sexual morality ought to be no one's business. Perhaps, of course, there is more involved than we yet know.

Of more interest is Clement's public pledge to “get help” over his supposed personal problems, and Andrew Scheer's approving note that Clement was “seeking help.”

What sort of help?

If it were going to his minister or his priest for confession, I'd see the point. But it sounds like another example of our medicalization of moral issues. Which goes nowhere. Sin is not illness; medicalizing it is a way to avoid taking responsibility for one's acts, and the only way to avoid sin is to take responsibility for one's acts.

I expect good old AA is largely to blame on this. For all the good they have done, they may have started the bandwagon rolling with their insistence on alcoholism being a disease. A popular idea, no doubt, with alcoholics; but never true. Alcoholism is a vice. A vice is superficially similar to an addiction: it corrodes free will. But addiction is physical; vice is spiritual. Addiction may be treated with pills. Vice can only be treated with personal resolve, and no one else—no white-smocked professional—can do personal resolve for you. He or she can only help you in your avoidance a little longer.

As it happens, one's body can also become physically addicted to alcohol—hence the DTs. This was unfortunately helpful in creating the delusion that the two, the vice and the addiction, were the same thing.

It then became easy to extend the delusion to any other sort of vice, so that since Bill Clinton we speak of “sex addiction”; now there are officially “behavioural addictions.” And, presumably, no more sin in the world. By this fuzzy logic, anything can be an addiction, it is impossible to determine that any one thing is more addictive than another, and moral responsibility is altogether gone. Making all these addictions incurable, at least by known, conventional methods. And then we wonder why there is a sudden explosion in “addictions.” “It's not my fault. Nothing I can do. I'm addicted.”

This is especially troubling in our political leaders: to see that they themselves do not believe in, and do not accept, any moral responsibility. One is left to wonder: if Andrew Scheer or Tony Clement believe they are not in principle responsible for their own decisions and actions, why on earth would we put them in any position of responsibility?

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

US Midterm Results

Flipping around Facebook for US midterm election coverage. CNN is ridiculous; it has become blatantly partisan, with no attempt at hiding it. They were loudly and early declaring it a historic sweep for the Democrats; even though the results were underwhelming in historical terms, for the opposition party in the first election after a new president is elected. The Democrats took the House handily, but the Republicans look as though they will expand their hold on the Senate.

This is pretty much the American system as it is supposed to be: power divided, so that no one gets to do much. The system is built for stalemate, keeping government from being activist. That's what “checks and balances” are about.

I am glad to see the moderate Democratic Senators whose votes on Kavanaugh were thought to be available, but who decided to vote on partisan lines, all losing their seats: Donnelly, Heitkamp, McCaskill. While Manchin, the lone Democrat who voted to confirm, won handily. That's justice, and makes such a nasty confirmation lynching less likely again.

Folks are talking about the Democratic House issuing subpoenas and starting impeachment proceedings. If they are stupid, they will, and will guarantee Trump a second term. And there is every indication that they are that stupid. This is more of their Kavanaugh approach, using any means available, fair or foul, regardless of the cost to the country, for partisan purposes. It underlines the idea of the Dems as angry mob.

At the same time, the election is unlucky for the Democrats in another way: they won almost no new marquee statewide races. Which means no new potential presidential candidates to compete with Trump next cycle. Their bench was already looking old and weak. Ghosts were coming out of the wainscotting. Kerry versus Hillary Clinton versus Biden versus Sanders? Sounds like a 20-year reunion party at an old folks' home.

No doubt they will come up with someone: who was Bernie Sanders before he was Bernie Sanders? Who was Bill Clinton before he was Bill Clinton? He was known in his first run only as one of the “seven dwarfs.” The Dems like dark horses. But now there will be fewer possible dark horses. And, as the Conservatives in Canada have often demonstrated in taking out new Liberal leaders, nominating a horse of highly saturated hue is dangerous. Not clearly defined in the public mind, they can be defined by the opposition. Not thoroughly vetted by public scrutiny, new dirt may appear sometime in October.

Jeff Flake apparently as much as announced on air he was going to run against Trump on the Republican side. I doubt he has a meaningful constituency in the party; that'll only help Trump by getting the Republican primaries some coverage. People will at least pay attention long enough to see Flake crushed in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Freedom of Shutting Up

A group of protestors showed up outside yesterday's Munk debate beween David Frum and Steve Bannon, and delayed its start by 45 minutes. Police had to stand two deep to protect those trying to enter. “Protesters chanted, booed and jeered at those waiting in line,” reports CBC, “and held up signs with slogans such as, 'refugees are welcome,' and 'human rights are not up for debate.'" At least one protestor entered the hall, and tried to shout down the debate in progress.

Steve Bannon responded by acknowledging their right to free speech. 

Let us be clear. Bannon is wrong. The right to freedom of speech does not extent to trying to silence someone else's speech. Otherwise no one has free speech. Trying to shut down or shout down a speaker or a debate is a direct assault on free speech. I would have considered such a thing unthinkable in Canada a few decades ago; now it seems to happen whenever anyone tries to speak. And speeches and debates are regularly being shut down—sometines on the premise that the police protection needed would cost too much.

This urgently needs to be dealt with severely, not viewed as anyone's right. The situation is dangerously out of hand. Trying to prevent someone else from speaking publicly should be made a serious crime, and that law rigorously enforced. Such protestors should have been dispersed or arrested and bundled into police vans as soon as they appeared.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Bad Apples

Here's a posting seen on Facebook that illustrates how bad priests and seminarians drive good men away from the priesthood. The author is Ron Belgau:

When I was discerning whether or not I should apply to seminary (2000-2002), a ministry that I was involved in forced me to work with a priest who was clearly gay and almost certainly sexually active: he talked about socializing with other priests at The Cuff, which describes itself as “Seattle's premiere leather & fetish bar and nightclub.”

I went to one of the most orthodox priests I knew in the diocese. This was a guy who had a reputation for preaching the truth without compromise: I had heard him give a very good homily explaining the Church's teaching on contraception and a pair of homilies explaining the Church's teaching on marriage and why homosexuality was not compatible with Church teaching. However, when I went to him about this priest, he said vacuous things about how he heard that he did good ministry, and recommended that I pray for his vocation. But it was very clear that he didn't think I should try to make formal complaints about this priest.

This interaction was one of the pivotal experiences for me in my vocational discernment: if Catholic priests--even apparently very orthodox priests who were happy to preach Catholic teaching without reservation or apology to the laity--were that impotent when it came to policing their own, then it would endanger both my faith and my integrity to join their club.

...The priest I complained about was ordained by a notoriously liberal bishop. The younger priest whose advice I sought was--and still is--widely seen as one of the good John Paul II priests in that diocese. I would bet that he will be made a bishop in the next decade or so. Given the alternatives, he's probably one of the better choices we have available.

I decided not to even apply to the priesthood. Another friend, who had been discerning around the same time in the same diocese, did apply and was accepted. He studied in seminary for a couple of years, then went to work in a parish for a pastoral year. The priest he was assigned to work with had a copy of The Joy of Gay Sex in his bedroom, and had a group of his priest friends come over every Friday night; my friend was banished from the rectory during those parties. When he spoke to the vocations director about it, it was made clear that he needed to learn to work with whoever he was assigned to work with, and not create problems. If he complained about this, he would be kicked out. After a few months of this treatment, he decided to leave. He's now married and worships with his wife and kids at an Eastern Orthodox parish. I don't blame him.

The priest I complained about? He was removed from ministry after 2002, because he had molested a bunch of middle school boys in the 70s; the diocese had known since the 80s.

The priest with The Joy of Gay Sex my friend was told to put up with? He was dismissed from ministry several years later as the result of a civil lawsuit over sexual harassment of an adult male.

Thank God that those two priests are gone. But humanly speaking, the civil courts and the Boston Globe had a lot more to do with their removal than the Archbishop or their fellow priests.

My friend and I looked into that dysfunction and walked away.

The next generation of bishops, however, will be selected from those who were willing to stay, and who advised us not to make waves.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Rock and Roll

Man, I love me that rock and roll.

They don't much make it any more. Psychedelic rock lost the plot in the mid-sixties, and then hard rock was the reaction. “Hard rock” killed it by taking out the roll.

But someone recently tried to do a list of five best American rock bands, and that got me thinking of my own list.

First, from the UK, the Rolling Stones have a legitimate claim to be, as they claim, the world's greatest rock and roll band. But to me they pretty much stand alone. There's no one else close in the UK, so far as I am aware.

Most American bands lean more towards country rock or folk rock. Great stuff, but not rock and roll, which is a more urban working class sound. Some American bands do got it, though.

ZZTop. Real Texas Chainsaw guitar work. 

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Springsteen is not just rock and roll. He and the E Street Band can do everything magnificently. But when they rock and roll, they rock and roll. When they do anything else, they always roll. 

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Some say she's punk, and punk is cool. It is the closest thing to rock and roll. But I say she has that rock and roll ticking-over rhythm, not the choppy start and stop of punk. 

Creedence Clearwater Revival. My brother, who likes jazz, scorns Creedence, saying they are too simple. To which I say, “yeah, that's the point.” The soul of rock is relentless repetition of some simple riff. That is the magic. It's like a mantra, dude. It's dead simple, and that's why you never get tired of it. 

That's why The Who suck. They don't get that. My Generation was their one real rock song. You got to get the rhythm down, or you have nothing. The Who never did.

The Travelling Wilburys. Bit of a surprise, perhaps. Bob Dylan can do a fantastic rock and roll song when he chooses, as good as or better than anybody-- I Want You, Gotta Serve Somebody--but he doesn't write them often. The driving force behind the Wilburys seems to have been George Harrison. His stuff with the Beatles was quite different, although a song like My Sweet Lord hints at rock power. But he and the Wilburys really knew how to crank it.