JUST DON’T CALL IT SYSTEMIC:

From the Warp and the Woof, We Rise: Reflecting on a lifelong relationship with something more than a game. (Jonathan Coleman, 3/21/24, Hedgehog Review)

And yet when I return to 1964, I return to Dick Allen, who became the National League’s Rookie of the Year for Philadelphia and yet was treated horribly by Phillies fans (and by one white teammate in particular, Frank Thomas, who provoked a fight with Allen, and whose trade from the team both the press and the fans blamed and castigated Allen for). He became the target of things thrown at him: fruit, ice, garbage, batteries. He faced racist taunts and boos so numerous and unrelenting that he became the first player in baseball to wear his batting helmet out in the field. At one point, he silently traced the word “BOO” in the dirt around his area of third base. It must never be forgotten that the Phillies were the last team in baseball to integrate.

Allen, who grew up in tiny Wampum, Pennsylvania, fascinated me. I read and heard he had been given a hard time in the fall of 1963 when he began in Little Rock. Once his rookie season started in Philadelphia, he said little—other than making it clear he did not want to be called “Richie,” which he considered patronizing. His given name was Richard, he pointed out, and he wanted to be viewed and treated like a man, not a little boy. About this he was not quiet, taking a public stand in what was becoming King’s America, one that rankled many and impressed itself on me.

THE CULTURE WARS ARE A ROUT:

Classic Songs: “The Mercy Seat”: Nick Cave, art, and the presence of death. (Loren Kantor, 3/21/24, Splice Today)

In his 2020 book Stranger Than Kindness, Cave reflects on how he came to write the song. “In the early 80s I was fully engaged in the writing of my novel And the Ass Saw the Angel. I sat in a small room in Berlin, typing away, day and night, sleeping little. When I reached an impasse with the novel, I would scroll the odd lyric line on a scrap of paper beside me, ostensibly a song about a man going to the electric chair. The song was at best a distraction, a doodle, a song I never looked fully in the eye. But songs have their own journeys and in time assert their sovereignty. ‘The Mercy Seat’ was such a song.”

In the Bible, atonement for the tribes of Israel is possible only when a rabbi adorns the Ark’s lid (“the mercy seat”) with sacrificial blood. When Cave sings the story of the doomed inmate, he sings of death in this life and God’s judgment in the next. Cave juxtaposes the eye for an eye retribution of the Old Testament against the forgiveness offered in the New Testament. The inmate knows his hours are numbered and his thoughts turn to God.

In Heaven His throne is made of gold
And the Ark of His Testament is stowed
A throne from which I’m told all history does unfold
Down here, it’s made of wood and wire
And my body is on fire
And God is never far away.

ALL COMEDY IS CONSERVATIVE:

Better a slow horse than a show horse (Jon D. Schaff, March 12, 2024, Current)

Maybe literary/philosophical figures such as Jackson Lamb, Socrates, Columbo and the rest exist to puncture our pretensions. In the specific case of those I just explicitly mentioned, the enigmatic characters exist to bring down the high and mighty, those who think they are smarter, wiser, better than everyone else. That is why each of those characters has a comic element. There is an ironic twist in, for instance, a Columbo story in which the seemingly mighty are brought low while the humble Columbo is shown to be the master of circumstances, always one step ahead of the pretentious fool who believes himself to be ahead of Columbo. This makes Columbo a comedic figure, the low man brought high. Yet, Columbo never lords over the criminal, rubbing the criminal’s face in his defeat. He mostly expresses pity that someone so obviously talented has gone so wrong.

We can draw from these characters the lesson of humility. Even Prince Hal, when he rises to Henry V, expresses doubts about his rule, agonizing over the cost of his decision to make war against France. Can we be humble in our successes? Can we avoid being the objects of the Socrates’ and Columbo’s, a person of inflated ego begging for someone to bring us down a peg? It may be better to be a slow horse than a foolish horse.

ROOTS MUSIC:

How Prince Introduced Us to the “Minneapolis Sound” (Rashad Shabazz, Sep. 7th, 2017, Zocalo Public Square)

Minneapolis’s polka love provided a perfect entry point for wildly creative black musicians like Prince in another way, too: by forcing them to mix with white culture in ways their brethren in other cities never had to. Black people have lived in Minnesota since before the state was founded. Blacks from Canada traded with Native Americans in the 19th century, and slaves (both slaves and escaped former slaves) also were a presence in the state. The first free black settlement in Minnesota was founded along the banks of the Mississippi in 1857, and in the years after abolition, migration increased. Minnesota’s growing liberalism and the state’s willingness to enfranchise black men sent a signal to many that they would be treated fairly in the northern metropolis.

Still, there were never very many black people in the area. Between 1880 and 1930, the black population in Minnesota grew from a negligible 362 to a still tiny 4,276. African Americans made up just 1 percent of the population in 1930; even when Prince was born, in 1958, the percentage of the state’s black population remained in the single digits. (It’s no wonder that the comedian Chris Rock joked in the 1990s that only two black people lived in Minnesota: Prince and Hall of Fame baseball player Kirby Puckett.)

But their small numbers didn’t diminish the impact that blacks had on the music scene—rather, it may have amplified it. While white Minnesotans played their polkas, black music migrated up the Mississippi, with minstrel shows, ragtime, jazz, and the blues all gaining enthusiastic, if small, followings in Minneapolis. Black musicians started thinking of the city as a place where they could live and thrive. Early black musical migrants included Lester “Pres” Young, the talented tenor saxophonist, and the jazz pianist James Samuel “Cornbread” Harris, II (whose son, Jimmy “Jam” Harris, became a well-known R&B songwriter and producer and an important figure in the popularization of the Minneapolis Sound).

Others followed. The parents of producer Terry Lewis (Jimmy “Jam”s’ musical partner), and those of guitarist Dez Dickerson (who played with Prince’s band, the Revolution), migrated to the Twin Cities during this same period. Prince’s parents made the journey too: Mattie Shaw, a singer, and John R. Nelson, a composer and pianist, both moved up from Louisiana in the 1940s. They met through Minneapolis’s small but vibrant black music scene, also known as the “chitterling circuit,” in the 1950s. Like many black migrants, they landed in North Minneapolis, a formerly Jewish area, where Prince was born and raised.

Because the black music scene in Minneapolis was so tiny, black musicians who hoped to make a living by performing played for white audiences whenever possible. Segregation reinforced the musical color line, with most white audiences wanting to hear classical music, jazz standards, polka, or pop music. Black musicians learned to accommodate them, and developed a vast musical range. Cornbread Harris, for example, learned to play “polkas, mambas, salsas, and calypsos,” says Prince biographer Dave Hill. Black musicians’ virtuosity expanded their own community’s musical vocabulary, melding a new family of sounds into the jazz, blues, and R&B they played for black listeners.

Prince’s generation followed the pattern. In the early 1970s, when Prince was a teenager, the numbers of black people in Minneapolis were still “small enough to be ignored,” according to Hill, and white pop music continued to dominate. Prince was schooled in black musical forms like R&B, funk, and soul, but there was still only one small, low-frequency black radio station, so he and his contemporaries also listened to rock and folk artists such as Crosby, Stills & Nash, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, fellow Minnesotan Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell.

Prince’s unique virtuosity made it possible for him to forge a new style from the wide variety of white and black genres that he and his city loved. Even as a high school student, he could hear a song in his head and translate it to sound. He played several instruments by ear, including guitar, piano, drums, and bass guitar. He coolly mimicked masters like Carlos Santana note for note. Folk influences like Dylan and Mitchell course through Prince’s work with his first band, Grand Central, which played rock-tinged funk and soul. By the mid-’70s, punk, indie rock, and New Wave—the music that floated around the “vanilla market” in the city at the time—had filtered into his recordings, too. This musical collage is apparent on Prince’s first album, For You, which was less a commercial release and more a statement of what the young musician could do: Minneapolis Sound lite, with flares of the sexually provocative lyrics for which he would become famous.

PRINCIPLED UNCERTAINTY:

What Baseball Teaches Us: America’s pastime offers many lessons on the importance of truly understanding information—and adapting to evolutions in knowledge (CHARLES BLAHOUS, MAR 28, 2024, Discourse)

Baseball is often derided for its slower pace and sporadic activity by those who prefer that sports deliver more continuous action (like basketball), or that they more closely replicate physical combat (like American football).

The pleasures of baseball, by contrast, reside as much in the thinking that occurs between pitches as in observing the graceful physical action. It’s a sport for people who share Socrates’ distaste for the “unexamined life”—those who aspire to be fully aware of what is going on even as it’s going on. This requires sufficient pauses in the action for the mind to notice, to wander and to analyze. To those who would disdain these contemplative aspects, Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber had his answer: “Baseball is dull only to dull minds.” […]

What we can learn from the mathematics of baseball goes much deeper than what we can calculate. Baseball also teaches early lessons in uncertainty—that one lives in a world of unpredictable events, that good decisions can still lead to bad outcomes, and that one should not assign much importance to any single data point. The lessons are stamped all over the sport. The best team typically loses more than one-third of its games; the worst team typically wins more than one-third of its games. Even if a manager makes the absolute right decision, it might not work out. On any given swing, the worst hitter might hit the ball on the nose, whereas the best hitter might foul a ball straight back into the stands or miss entirely. On any given day you don’t know who on your team will get the most hits, but more often than not it won’t be the team’s biggest star.

Anyone whose suppositions about life are that we can control events, that bad outcomes prove bad decisions, and that past results govern future performance will be utterly unable to understand baseball. Even relative to other sports, baseball is relentless in teaching these lessons. Alabama’s college football team may crush one opponent after another, but no baseball team is ever so certain to win—not a game, not a series, not even a pennant race. Tendencies are proved over the long run, but any given day might produce a great surprise.

Appreciating life’s unpredictability can’t help but carry forward into one’s professional decision-making, relationships, investments and attitudes about public policy. It certainly has for me. Baseball teaches that while there are ways to maximize your chances of success, there will also always be factors outside your control, and you are better off thinking in terms of probabilities than predetermined outcomes.

NOT NEARLY SKEPTICAL ENOUGH:

The sadness of Sceptical Man (Victoria Smith, 28 March, 2024, The Critic)

As a topic, sex and gender causes particular problems for the man who views himself as a lofty, rational observer of other people’s madnesses. This is because in order to pass as occupying “the middle ground”, you still have to give a free pass to lots of insane things, as opposed to lots and lots of them. Instead of going full-on Long Chu — which would of course be too far! — you have to ignore plenty of stuff which, deep down, you know to be total bollocks. This probably makes you quite cross, only not with yourself. It’s the people who keep pointing it out who are the problem.

If it wasn’t for all those bigots who keep reminding you that human can’t change sex, no one’s born in the wrong body, and a twelve-year-old autistic girl who’s terrified of puberty is in no way comparable to a middle-aged man who gets off on wearing his wife’s tights, you’d be fine. Sure, these people are saying things that you, too, would have said six or seven years ago, but they’re the ones who have gone insane. It’s definitely not you who’s been radicalised. It’s the people who lack the nuance, curiosity and intellectual ingenuity to have started saying a few mad things and ignoring a few medical scandals on the basis that most people in their social circle are saying and ignoring them, too.

For those whose brand values — rationality! curiosity! scepticism! — are quite incompatible with any serious engagement with what has been happening, it has been necessary to portray it as a “culture war” between two equally extremist sides. There are the people who think sex isn’t binary, male people should be welcome in female-only spaces and sports, it’s fine to experiment on the bodies of children, JK Rowling is a terrorist, and then there are the people who think that sex is immutable, women are definable as a class of human beings and that biological sex is socially and politically salient. Both sides have to be treated as though they are equally irrational, in order to make it possible for self-styled voices of reason to shake their heads and performatively muse on what drives perfectly ordinary people to adopt such ludicrously polarised positions. Can’t they find some middle ground? Like, experiment on half the number of kids? Let uterus havers and bleeders call themselves adult human females every other Tuesday?

An alternative reading of the current situation —- one which acknowledges those who can still be bothered to speak the truth as whistleblowers, rather participants in an ever-increasing exchange of crazy ideas and violent threats — is not permissible.

hISTORY eNDS EVERYWHERE:

How Capitalism Beat Communism in Vietnam: It only took a generation to go from ration cards to exporting electronics. (RAINER ZITELMANN, MAY 2024, reason)

In 1990, with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $98, Vietnam was the poorest country in the world, behind Somalia and Sierra Leone. Every bad harvest led to hunger, and Vietnam relied on food aid from the United Nations and financial assistance from the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries. As late as 1993, 79.7 percent of the Vietnamese population was living in poverty.

By 2020, the poverty rate had fallen to 5 percent. Vietnam is now one of the most dynamic countries in the world, with a vibrant economy that creates great opportunities for hardworking people and entrepreneurs. Once a country unable to produce enough rice to feed its own population, it has become one of the world’s largest rice exporters, and a major electronics exporter too.

You can’t have a clash of civilizations when there is only one.

MERE TRIBALISM:

Place and the Nation (John G. Grove, Spring 2024, National Affairs)

National conservatives claim to be defenders of locality and particularity over and against the forces of globalism and universalism. Remarkably, however, neither national conservatism’s “Statement of Principles” nor its most thorough theoretical account — as articulated by Yoram Hazony — points to the guiding concept of place as a prominent element of the nation.

This absence of place stands in marked contrast to the concept’s preeminence in the thought of another notable defender of the nation against encroaching international institutions and universalist philosophy: the late Sir Roger Scruton. Scruton built his entire understanding of the nation on the concept of “home,” or a certain way of life that emerges from “the place where we are.”

This distinction calls into question national conservatism’s claim to be the “only genuine alternative” to global liberalism. It also has important implications for the way conservatives ought to understand the authority of the nation-state, specifically as it relates to federalism and locality.

In Conservatism: A Rediscovery, Hazony defines a nation as “a number of tribes with a shared heritage, usually including a common language, law, or religious tradition, and a past history of joining together against common enemies and to pursue common endeavors.”

Place is absent because Nationalists are just racist. They define a nation ethnically.

MOONSTRUCK:

The Hotel Guest Who Wouldn’t Leave: Mickey Barreto’s five-year stay cost him only $200.57. Now it might cost him his freedom. (Matthew Haag, March 25, 2024, NY Times)

Much of Mr. Barreto’s story is corroborated by years of court records, but one crucial moment comes from only his account: On that first night, he settled into his room, high above Midtown, along with his partner, Matthew Hannan. Before that night, Mr. Barreto says, Mr. Hannan had mentioned, in passing, a peculiar fact about affordable housing rules that pertain to New York City hotels.

With their laptops open, he claimed, they explored whether the New Yorker Hotel was subject to the rule, a little-known section of a state housing law, the Rent Stabilization Act.

Passed in 1969, the law created a system of rent regulation across the city. But also subject to the law was a swath of hotel rooms, specifically those in large hotels built before 1969, whose rooms could be rented for less than $88 a week in May 1968.

According to the law, a hotel guest could become a permanent resident by requesting a lease at a discounted rate. And any guest-turned-resident also had to be allowed access to the same services as a nightly guest, including room service, housekeeping and the use of facilities, like the gym.

The room becomes, essentially, a rent-subsidized apartment inside a hotel.

Despite the reasonable assumption that what he was undertaking had been orchestrated from the start, Mr. Barreto claimed the idea only took shape when his and Mr. Hannan’s online search stumbled upon the 27th line of a 295-page spreadsheet titled “List of Manhattan Buildings Containing Stabilized Units.”

According to court documents, Mr. Barreto left his room the next morning, rode the elevator to the lobby and greeted a hotel employee at the front desk. He handed over a letter addressed to the manager: He wanted a six-month lease.

The employee dialed the manager, and after a brief exchange, Mr. Barreto was told there was no such thing as a lease at the hotel and that without booking another night, he would have to vacate the room by noon. The couple did not remove their belongings, so the bellhops did — and Mr. Barreto headed to New York City Housing Court in Lower Manhattan and sued the hotel.

In a three-page, handwritten affidavit dated June 22, 2018, Mr. Barreto cited state laws, local codes and a past court case in arguing that his request for a lease made him a “permanent resident of the hotel.” Removal of his items amounted to an illegal eviction, he said.

At a hearing on July 10, in the absence of any hotel representatives to oppose the lawsuit, the judge, Jack Stoller, ruled in Mr. Barreto’s favor. Judge Stoller not only agreed with his arguments; he even cited the same case law as Mr. Barreto and ordered the hotel “to restore petitioner to possession of the subject premises forthwith by providing him with a key.”

Mr. Barreto returned to Room 2565 within days, now as a resident of the hotel — and soon, as its new owner.

RENE GIRARD IS FULL OF IT TOO:

The “hero’s journey” isn’t as universal as you think: Joseph Campbell argued that nearly every myth can be boiled down to a hero’s journey. Was he right? (Tim Brinkhof, 3/25/24, Big Think)

Although the study of comparative mythology is certainly worthwhile — especially in terms of coming up with explanations for common themes like apocalyptic floods, fratricidal brothers, and virgin mothers, among others — scholars who engage in this field invariably run the risk of misinterpreting or misrepresenting the narrative traditions of cultures not their own. Bond and Christensen say this frequently happened to Campbell in his studies of Asian, African, and Native American folklore, which he either generalized until they fit into his philosophical framework or, in the case of his writing on the Sanskrit concept of ānanda, accidentally mistranslated.

As story consultant Steve Seager explains on his blog, the monomyth is only one type of ancient myth. While narratives like the story of Moses in the Book of Exodus and the battle between Marduk and Tiamat in Mesopotamian mythology can be summarized as hero’s journeys, many other tales of old — from tragedies like Oedipus Rex to folktales like Rumpelstiltskin, not to mention most creation myths — cannot.

Cultures from the ancient world not only had unique gods and monsters, but unique narrative traditions also. “Indian narrative forms are radically different from Western forms,” Seager writes. “Watch a Bollywood movie. One moment the film is a romance, then a thriller, then a musical, then a martial arts movie — confusing for a Western audience but totally natural for an Indian audience.” He defines these narrative forms as “eminently comfortable with complexity, non-linearity and the non-binary nature of being.” Where hero’s journeys deal in dualities, with the protagonist abandoning one worldview in favor of another, defeating the dragon or being defeated by it, Indian stories — shaped by Hinduism and Buddhism — do not typically present their conflicts in the framework of a choice.