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What, To an American, Is the National Anthem?

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America is a nation overflowing with love for our sports, if not always for our teams. There is a special place in our hearts for those most American of sports: football, baseball, and basketball. What could be more American than the spirited and divisive team rivalries, overcome only by a shared love for the game itself? The energetic competition, the spectacle, and the not insubstantial amount of beer consumed along the way. What could be more American than this?

Catching a game of football on TV can serve as a respite from the madness of our times. The familiar pregame rituals can be restorative, reminding us that, whatever else divides us, we are Americans. Americans who share a love of football, and much more. Americans who owe their freedoms to the same sacrifices made by the same forefathers. Where the pain of partisan division is still raw, the national anthem can serve as a call to healing through solidarity. By affirming the ideals we all share as Americans, and honoring those who have helped protect and advance those ideals, we are given license to hope for an end to perpetual partisan warfare. As we participate through song or just through respectful viewership at home, peace in our times feels as though it is within our grasp.

And yet.

And yet partisanship long ago invaded this hallowed ground, this safe space from politics. The tendentious topic of concussions in football is met with accusations of a liberal “war on football.” The asymmetric attention given to men’s sports over women’s plays out in the dynamic between left identity politics and their critics that is all-too-familiar in other domains. Some wild-eyed radicals even go so far as to declare that sports were always political, echoing the dread feminist creed that “the personal is political.”

Into this environment steps Colin Kaepernick, who has the gall to exacerbate it all by bringing protest into the most sacred moment of football’s pregame rituals. In a time when conservatives are very vocally afraid of the rise of leftist groups that openly advocate political violence, it only makes sense that they would howl at Kaepernick quietly kneeling rather than standing during the national anthem. As conservatives champion the right to express substantive political speech in the workplace without fear of employer retaliation, it makes sense that they would cheer at Kaepernick’s diminished job prospects.

And after voting for a man who explicitly dishonored prisoners of war and publicly fought with a Gold Star family, it makes sense that Kaepernick’s respectful opting-out of a political ritual integrated into his place of work is what would set them off.

It might serve Americans to remember that as unifying as love of the game can be, the divisiveness of team rivalry is a crucial part of what makes us love the game. It might serve them, too, to remember that one important reason we celebrate those who sacrificed for our freedoms is so that we could exercise those freedoms, including, crucially, our freedom to dissent.

 

Featured image is A U.S. flag hangs in front of a burning structure in Black Forest , Colorado, by Christopher DeWitt

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adamgurri
11 days ago
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New York, NY
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Logical

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It's like I've always said--people just need more common sense. But not the kind of common sense that lets them figure out that they're being condescended to by someone who thinks they're stupid, because then I'll be in trouble.
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adamgurri
12 days ago
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New York, NY
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2 public comments
jepler
11 days ago
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it me
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
Covarr
11 days ago
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Feelings may not be able to achieve much, but they provide purpose. #VaguelyPhilosophical
Moses Lake, WA

The Demolition of a Mother, Part 1

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Please consider becoming a patron. An excerpt “Odd,” she said to herself aloud. “It’s February. Why is Willie outside riding his bicycle?” She looked out the window again. “Oh no,” she said. Her heart had corrected her mistake before her mind had allowed. “Oh dear God, no.” She dropped her potato into the sink and […]





Download audio: http://johndaviddukejr.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/demolition-of-a-mother-part-1.mp3
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adamgurri
13 days ago
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Templates Overlaying Expectations, and Futility

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I was trained, I think, to have a lot of kids, a cache, as it were, for the world to consume, or, perhaps, to protect from the world, but who can do that when one is shielding his own face from the ceaseless blows? Maybe I wasn’t trained, but it was modeled for me. I liked the idea of having many children, but I wasn’t particularly enthralled with the idea of it. Nevertheless, when I met a girl who expressed a desire to have many children, a quiver full of arrows, as it were, with which to conquer the world, standing strong in the ceaseless battle, well, who can resist? So I married her.

We snapped into a template quite quickly, into career obligations (we thought they were obligations). The institutions of this present evil age foster themselves as protectors and guides, and they eject a newly married couple of individuals into the fray with promises of further protection and guidance, but when you look back at the fortresses of the institutions of your trust, you see that they are being assailed without cessation, and if you have the will to look closely, you see that the worst of the flames are being set from those whose charge is the maintenance and operation of the institutions. And so you are demoralized. They said “career,” and I with the wife of my youth said, “okay,” then chafed, then fell away, and we found ourselves abandoned. This is a template. It happens predictably to a subset of human beings (oh, how I hate that designation; what are we? Are we human beings? Aren’t we a communion, man and wife?) every single day. And the outcry goes up into outer space, swallowed by the beepings of exploring satellites and the wind of the sun. Will Jupiter turn his eye upon us in mercy? The bloated god will only flatulate and turn away.

We fell when we fell away. “Just desserts!” cried out the men. “You have become to us as rebels.”

“But we are your own flesh and blood!”


We had two children at the time, and circumstances convinced us that two was enough. Those two would help us limp along to the end, whence they, perhaps, according to hope, could bound away. This is also common.

But we were expected to have more children. By whom? Ghosts, I should think. Spirits and unseen powers, bidding us to resume that good work, as it is also enjoyable. Career had failed us (and we certainly failed it) and progress was in ruins, so why not flex ourselves, as man and wife, and shatter the template?

Indeed, the near template lies smoldering in the rubbish heap, but we find ourselves in another one, a little more forgiving than the last one, for without career, and without progress, one finds himself not beholden to institutional fathers and mothers. I’m older than most new fathers, now, bouncing a baby boy upon my knee, peering over reading glasses into his smiling eyes. Ah! But many men have fathered a child in their forties, yea, even into their sixties. This is not unusual, not at all.

What is unusual, I think (but not at all departing from template overlaid) is that I have fathered a child by a woman (the wife of my youth, still faithful, according to a promise) who is likewise in her forties. Now this is the stuff of a story, a story of defiance, of risk, of triumph.

Defiance, risk, and triumph have their costs.


After the first two had grown into their grade school years, I began to coast, physically, intellectually, emotionally. “Yes, this is the way of all flesh: one spreads out, goes it easily, and relaxes until breath comes no more.” And I was satisfied. But she wanted more children, and she did produce them, and I found myself unable to breathe, chasing the toddler, and unable to reason with the older ones, and unable to father any of them, even though I had certainly fathered them. The wife of my youth, therefore, had, in producing two more children, taken me aside and flogged me in my complacency, whence I emerged a mortal man. My diet is now tuned toward longevity of heart. My physical regimen forces blood to course at higher rates in the quest to clear out my veins of pernicious plaques. Stories of wisdom pour into my mind, in order that I may pour them out unto my four sons, whom I desire all to be kings. On top of all that, mortality is ever before me. I am older, now, and the effort required to remain a father of young children–babies–and also the husband of one wife–the effort is aging me.

The sense of death creeping forward to make his rightful claim is stark. I see him lurking, perhaps to claim me ahead of time (from our perspective), or, if permission is granted, to claim me suddenly. He is prepared to slit my throat at the twinkle of his lord’s eye.

I sneaked the three-year old out of bed and gave him half my piece of his birthday cake. Motherhood shrieks, but the wife was napping with the infant, so motherhood was not there to witness the crime. Oh, and it was a crime, and I knew it was a crime, looking into his eyes, as he instructed me to eat my half of this, the last piece of his birthday cake. What laws of fatherhood have been violated, perpetrated by the wife of my youth while husband has been absent?

O Mother! O Father! No, not mother, not father: O Husband! O Wife! The number of days is…what? Thirty years? Is that a big number to you? Fifty years? Did you indeed obey? Did you indeed answer? Oh, for sixty years together passes like a whisper, and then you are elderly, and they are counting the days until they can have your things. To whom will you give it? And what will you say when you give it? “Obey. Answer. Thus you will have many somethings, and much elses, as I do”?

Isn’t it better to say, “Commit crimes; redeem the institutions. They are your places of respite”?

It’s one prison of many, and all of us go to the one, with dead certainty. In which will you find happiness before then?




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adamgurri
15 days ago
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Queen of Bebop and Pathbreaker

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Jazz is intimately tied up with freedom. It has deep origins in African-American spirituals and other mixes of slave folk music and classical theories that came from Europe. Socially, like many artistic innovations, jazz was originally scorned and condemned by the mainstream for many reasons, the most prominent of which was its significance as a primarily African-American art form. It was called “jungle music” and was associated with immorality and sexual licentiousness.

But over time, audiences became more receptive and some jazz musicians would reach a pop-star like status. This popularity in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s served to augment the burgeoning civil rights movement, as more white Americans became sensitive to the plight of African-American citizens. This liberating aspect of jazz has been noted by legendary pianist and composer Duke Ellington, who said that

jazz is a good barometer of freedom…in its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, Jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that man people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.

This narrative, though, is usually told from the perspective of jazz’s male greats — Ellington, Monk, Coltrane, Miles, Parker, Gillespie, etc — as jazz was a male dominated field. This makes Elaine M. Hayes’s new book, Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan, a welcome addition to the story. Hayes chronicles the career of Sarah Vaughan, a jazz vocalist, as she trail blazed a path to stardom, despite encountering rampant racism and sexism.

Vaughan was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, and music was a constant in her home, as her father played the guitar and her mother the piano. At the age of seven, Vaughan began weekly piano lessons and would grow into a more than capable pianist in her own right. Determined to be a singer, she dropped out of high school and immersed herself in the local Newark club scene as a vocalist.

It was there that she was able to defy the usual sexist tropes surrounding female singers — a group traditionally seen as eye candy and dating material for the male band members. One biographer attributes this to a lack of physical attractiveness, but Hayes disputes this. Vaughan was taken seriously because “she took herself seriously.” She had a “commitment and willingness to learn,” an unusual talent, and innovative ideas.

With the onset of bebop — a form of jazz that featured complex harmonic progressions, high-paced tempos, and virtuosic interpolations of the melody — Vaughan found herself working in bands with the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The artistic bar was generally set low for vocalists, particularly female vocalists. It was believed that “women simply did not have the intellect or the musical proficiency to match their male, instrumental counterparts … most women were not viewed as real musicians. Except for a handful of women, including Sarah Vaughan.”

As evidenced by the title of the book, Vaughan established herself as the matriarch of bebop. She started her own band, signed recording contracts, and eventually achieved crossover success as a popular singer, not simply a jazz artist. Vaughan’s voice was carrying her all over the world, to audiences black and white alike.

This is where Vaughan played her unique role in laying the groundwork for the civil rights movement, as unlike most of the usual subjects in this story, she was a singer, and not an instrumentalist. The nature of the voice as an instrument adds an extra layer of exposure that a pianist or a saxophonist does not experience. And as a black female vocalist, Vaughan was able to break down stereotypes surrounding race.

Historically, black performers were unable to escape their race, while white performers were more than just the color of their skin. Whites were able to be perceived as exhibitions of something spiritual — their voices were believed to be warm and pure. Black voices lacked this spiritual nature. But radio broadcasters who were fans of Vaughan began to describe her in the traditionally white manner. Her voice was described as “beautiful and feminine, warm and sensuous, vibrant and brilliant, and strikingly modern[.]” This encouraged audiences to think beyond the traditional barriers of race.

After achieving popular success, Vaughan’s voice “became a part of daily life for both black and white Americans. Her voice became part of the American soundtrack” as she and contemporaries such as Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole desegregated the airwaves.  With her voice, Vaughan demonstrated the “humanity, complexity, and subjectivity of black women” and she was able to conjure “strong, visceral responses from her listeners that encouraged feelings of intimacy, closeness, and often empathy.”

This received empathy between Vaughan and the listener harkens back to the moral philosophy of Adam Smith. Smith believed that our moral senses and our sympathies with other people arose from a projection of oneself into the situations of another. Writing in his often overlooked first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, humans “have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation.”

The natural history of music was one of different vocal techniques combined with rhythm to express different passions, according to Smith.[1] Music, particularly vocal music, can imitate and project the passions which bridge the divide between people. As he says in his essay “Of the Imitative Arts,”

The sentiments and passions which Music can best imitate are those which unite and bind men together in society; the social, the decent, the virtuous, the interesting and affecting, the amiable and agreeable, the awful and respectable, the noble, elevating, and commanding passions.[2]

Sarah Vaughan’s voice helped to shift the perception that white Americans had of black Americans, and her “singing, along with that of many of her contemporaries, helped set the stage for the advances of the civil rights movement.” Hayes’s examination of Vaughan’s life is a thorough and easily readable narrative that provides essential cultural context to something that is more than just a feel-good success story. As Hayes shows, Sarah Vaughan was so much more than simply the queen of bebop.

 

* “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” – Adam Smith, opening line, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

[1] Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, Nicholas Phillipson, p. 251

[2] Essays on Philosophical Subjects, p. 192

Featured image is  Sarah Vaughan at the Grand Gala du Disque Populaire 1963 in the Netherlands .

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adamgurri
18 days ago
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Peter Zeihan’s world view

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I am reading his book The Absent Superpower. You can get a lot of his ideas by watching this video. You can also see his intellectual style, which is certainly more confident than mine. He deals in strong pronouncements, and he does not worry much about establishing causality or conceding the plausibility of alternative hypotheses.

I view recent history and the near-term outlook as dominated by the four forces: increased resources devoted to education and health care (the New Commanding Heights); bifurcated marriage patterns; globalization; and computerization.

Note that a lot of economists’ bandwidth these days is focused on the computerization issue. For example, Tyler Cowen attended a conference of heavy hitters on the economic implications of artificial intelligence.

Zeihan igores those four forces in order to focus on energy markets and demographics. In the case of energy, he sees the shale revolution as a geopolitcal game-changer. Where I assume that “oil is oil,” so that the location of supply matters less than the overall match between supply and demand, he attaches great significance to the ability of the U.S. to match its own oil supply and demand. He sees this leading the United States to completely lose interest in global security and the international trading system.

Zeihan asserts that without our adult supervision, the world playground will erupt into wars: along Russia’s borders, in the Persian Gulf, and in Northeast Asia as China and Japan struggle over the sea lanes for oil in a world of energy supply disruptions.

In the case of demographics, he sees financial markets in terms of a simple life-cycle model of behavior: younger workers spend, older workers (40 – 65) save and take financial risks, and retired workers become risk averse. The Baby Boom generation has been in the older-worker phase, helping to drive up prices of risky assets throughout the world. But they are transitioning to retirement, which means they want to shift away from risky assets to low-risk assets.

Also important is the overall aging of the developed world, with the U.S. a bit of an exception. See Timothy Taylor on Asia. This is going to expose many countries to financial strife. The ratio of workers to dependents will be too low to support pensions systems.

Watch the video and/or read the book. I am curious what you think.

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adamgurri
20 days ago
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