I Miss Louis Rukeyser

Friday nights at RedQuarters were reserved for Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser™. This program ran on PBS from 1970-2002, and featured discussions about current events, financial matters, stocks and bonds, and other things. Louis Rukeyser was low key, began with a little humor and (usually) a few terrible puns, and then the panel would take up the discussion. The panel included stock brokers, bond people, corporate financial specialists, the occasional economist, and sometimes historians and Mr. Rukeyser senior. The elder gent had been a financial reporter who covered the stock market in 1928-1970s and brought a very long-term view to the program.

One of the points repeated over and over on the program was that short-term investments are not everything. Investing for the very long term is the smarter way to go. Mr. Rukeyser and his associates looked five to ten years down the road. What did the company produce? Was it something people could use? What was the price to earnings ratio? Dull, pedestrian companies that made goods or provided services that everyone needed (like light bulbs, or lawnmowers, or basic groceries) would be better than the stock-of-the-moment.

I also remember this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFn1G2goDQw

Part II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lm_4j-_Dnwc

And part III: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_fxEoF8Vl8

It is the opening monologue after the Monday market tumble in 1987. “It’s just your money, not your life.” His guests included two of the most important men then working on Wall Street, and a retired power in the market. Rukeyser’s observations as to the purported causes of the Crash sound rather familiar. His calmness was a refreshing reminder that there are more important things than the folly of the week.

That incident introduced me to the concept of “bottom fishing,” where long-term investors buy stocks of steady, producing companies after the crash. At the time, this was before day-traders and personal computer-based investing, so it tended to be regional—Midwestern investors bottom-fished after the East Coast gurus panicked and dumped solid stocks at fire-sale prices.

I miss the calm, mature voice of reason in financial news. Today it feels as if the entire purpose of shares, bonds, and so on has vanished into the past, and nothing exists but gambling. I know part of that is how trading has developed, with personal investing and the federal governments requirements for all sorts of things. Some of those requirements are good. As we can see with certain personnel at Silicon Valley Bank, some of those requirements led to less-than-ideal people in certain positions. The days of John Templeton, Louis Rukeyser, and that generation are gone.

Still, I wish Louis was still around to give a bit of calming, gentle humor and steady perspective to the events of the day, week, and year.


Trying a Little Too Hard to Rehabilitate Baba Yaga

So, I’ve been reading a compendium of various tales and discussions about Baba Yaga and figures like her in Slavic mythology and folklore. Some of it is very interesting, and cautious about reading too much into things. Other parts . . . When the quote begins with a paean to Marija Gimbutas, you know where it’s going to go. Baba Yaga is the misunderstood mother goddess, the Matriarch, the creatrix, the mother-of-creatures, and so on. She was vilified by the mean, nasty, unwashed* Christian priests and turned into an evil monster, but the real Baba Yaga is the Great Goddess who terrified the would-be patriarchs and so—

Sigh. It gets boring and predictable after a while. “If it was before Christianity, it must have been good! Otherwise the churchians wouldn’t say that it’s bad and try to chase people away from it, and women ran the place and everyone lived in harmony with nature and was kind and vegan and loved trees and—” Everything was better either before Christianity, or before the Proto-Indo-European speakers arrived with horses and patriarchy. Which one you choose depends on your starting point and which sort of paganism you assume predominated in the place and time under discussion. I’m still waiting to hear someone talk about how China was so wonderful before the terrible Confucians arrived. (No one seems to beat up on the Xia and Shang Dynasties, even though they were patriarchies that encouraged large scale human sacrifice. And horse sacrifice, once they had horses.) The “prehistory was better” wail has a long history with a lot of predictable variations. Like the Slavic neo-pagan who wants to rehabilitate Chernobog. I stopped reading at that point, because I did not care to know how he thought modern neo-pagans should venerate that particular deity in their family religious observances.

Anyone who has read more than one Baba Yaga story knows that she’s both good and bad. She punishes the arrogant, rewards the faithful (Vasilia the Wise), tests the noble, and can be a force of evil. It depends on the story. That means that she’s old, very old, very complicated, and there are probably a number of other stories and traditions that get lumped in under the name of Baba Yaga. The little house on chicken feet might have one foot, or four feet. It may whirl around constantly, it might peck and scratch around the yard like a “normal” chicken, or it might even be up in a tree (only a few stories). The fence may be a standard fence, it might be made of bones topped by human skulls that glow at night. Baba Yaga might travel in a wooden or iron mortar, driven with the pestle, while sweeping away her tracks with a broom. Or she might ride on the mortar (think something more like an American-style upright churn than the short, squat mortar and pestle mostly used today) like riding a horse.

Oh, and her cat is really a folk-memory of the lions who accompany the Great Goddess. Really.

Sure, she might be a “demoted”deity. Or she might be one of the many characters in human archetypes who shifts her nature depending on the person seeking her power or her possessions. Coyote, Anansi, Frau Pechta, some of the unofficial saint stories, the good ruler in some folk-tales, they can all be good or evil, or be seen as good or evil.

Although I think the “Baba Yaga is a folk memory of aliens” and “Baba Yaga and a male partner were Vedic yogis who brought wisdom to the pre-Slavic peoples of Russia” may be my favorites.

*OK, in some cases the unwashed part wasn’t wrong. Some Russian Orthodox clergy gave up bathing, or stopped bathing in winter and then took a rinse before Easter.

Senescent Material, Senescent Ideas?

“A buildup of senescent material has deleterious effects on the grassland biome . . . ” Not the most gripping of reads. Translated into normal English, it means a lot of dead grass and stuff has accumulated and is causing problems, or could cause problems. Many glassland ecosystems developed to be grazed, so to speak, so that the plants are trimmed of older material and there’s not a build up of dead grass and brush. Others were burned on a fairly regular basis, which had similar effects, as well as getting rid of ticks and other things. Either way, it put nutrients back into the soil, reduced the danger of fire in dryland areas, and preserved the health of the system in general.

I was thinking about fuel loads and how desperately a certain pasture needs to be mowed or (ideally but really not likely) have a controlled burn to get rid of a decade and more of dead material. The old stuff is choking out the younger growth, nothing grazes it, and soon the place will be dead or go to weeds. Some cacti are already appearing. That’s not a good sign. The owner either doesn’t know what his land needs, or doesn’t care. Or is one of those people who thinks that removing grazing animals from grass for long periods “is good for it. It lets the plants rest.”* The pasture is not healthy. The grass isn’t resting. It’s pining for the fjords. I know because I went out there as far as the edge of the fence and looked. Healthy native grass is not brown in May. Trust me on this.

Right now, society seems to have a bunch of senescent ideas as well. They worked once, but they no longer fit, or they have become brakes rather than fuel. Society would benefit from cleaning out some of that dead growth, from acknowledging that certain economic ideas and habits shaped by out-of-date technology have failed. Some judicious pruning, trimming back what no longer works, perhaps even removing roots as much as possible in a few cases, all should help newer ideas and patterns to grow and thrive.

But it’s a lot easier to rejuvenate a grassland than it is to get rid of dead ideas and habits. A burn at the proper time, or mowing off the dead matter, keeping an eye out for unwanted weedy plants, and grazing on a healthy rotation will all lead to benefits that are often quickly visible. Other improvements need a little time, but springs can come back, grasses replace brush, and long-absent species return now that the habitat has healed. There are lots of books, articles, organizations, and individuals willing and eager to help you restore or preserve a grassland. Society? Not so easy.

People like the old, comfortable ideas. They grew up in that world, and it made sense, still makes sense in a way. No one really enjoys having their apple-cart upset, even if it is to repair that one hole that should have been patched ages ago. Others benefit from the dead idea, because it provides a job, or a sense of power, or allows them to explain why the world is out to get them and owes them favors [cough*Marx*cough]. “I like that government program!” “But what about the people who depend on [whatever]?” “It’s not fair for some to have more and others like me to have less, so it must be the fault of [group]!” “Well, it worked in the 1930’s didn’t it? It will work now.”** “If this organization doesn’t agree to embrace people who [behavior], then you must be part of [long-dead group].”

There’s also the problem of Chesterton’s Fence. If you want to eliminate an old thing, you should know why it was done in the first place, and what good it served. Then, once you can argue that, you will know far better whether that old thing should be removed outright, or reduced, or relocated, or left. For example, US forestry policy, once we had one, was developed by men who trained in Germany. The Germans had lots of plantation forests with uniform crops of species planted for certain goals. Burning was not done. (Also not a climate where forest fires were at all common even before management began.) The Americans learned, and applied what was state-of-the-art knowledge to forestry and timber-cutting in the US. Even after the Germans realized that they were doing it wrong, and modified their forestry practices. “No burn” became a standard in the US after WWII. The super-huge range fires of the late 1800s-early 1900s were bad, so all range fires were to be prevented. We all know the result of that. It doesn’t work in the forests of the American West. They developed with fire, fairly frequent and low burning fire that cleaned out underbrush and dead material. So the fence of “all fires are bad” had a solid foundation on then-current knowledge and practice. Now we have a lot more data, know better how the forests “should” deal with fire, and should remove that fence.

It takes work to manage a grassland well. It takes work to manage a society well, as much as anyone can manage a society or culture. It starts with learning what was done in the past, and as best we can tell why, then going from there. What served a purpose in 1933 might not be appropriate in 2023. Or it could be that what was considered a basic good idea and common sense in the 1890s and 1790 is still a good, common sense idea, and needs to be brought back. When something has held true for thousands of years, despite the best efforts of different groups over time, there might be a reason for it. But if an economic system has not worked for a hundred years in any place it has been tried, it should probably be scrapped. The Gods of the Copybook Headings, and runaway range or forest fires, never go quietly.

*No, plants don’t work like that. Letting the overgrowth get so rank that no water or sun reach the growing parts isn’t good stewardship. See Alan Savory and everyone else who works on “holistic grazing” and high-intensity-short-duration pasture management.

**There’s growing evidence that it didn’t work all that well in the 1930s, once you look past the first three years of the New Deal.

Music and Memory Lane

The house lights dimmed and the recorded message reminded everyone to turn off their cell phone sounds, please. Munching replaced beeps and chirps, and an unusually strong scent of popcorn teased my nose. Chattering became a hum as the concert master appeared, bowed, and tuned the symphony orchestra. Maestro appeared, acknowledged applause, and the orchestra stood. The snare drum rolled, and “The Star Spangled Banner” sounded. Everyone who could sang along, then sat. The conductor took the podium. He raised his hands. An expectant hush settled over the crowd. A series of very familiar trumpet and violin notes filled the concert hall, and in my mind’s eye, words began scrolling up a starscape, followed by the iron-grey hull of an Imperial Star Destroyer that just kept going, and going, and going. I was very young, and in awe all over again.

Scent is the most powerful invoker of memory, because it is so visceral. But sound can be almost as strong. Combine those five notes with the scent of popcorn? I’m right back in a theater in Omaha Nebraska, staring at something I’d never imagined could be. Robots, starships, Darth Vader and Obi Won Kenobi, the ‘Falcon sliding through spaces that only a fool or Han Solo would dare to tread . . .

I wasn’t the only one, because when the opening theme ended, silence, pure and absolute silence filled the hall until maestro lowered his hands. Almost 2,000 people in total stillness, holding their collective breath. Then everyone was on their feet, cheering like mad. Light-sabers waved, and it was off to the races, or at least to the John Williams tribute concert. After “Princess Leia’s Theme,” the hush lasted almost ten seconds before the applause and cheers. “Superman” didn’t get quite the same level of noise, “Harry Potter” and the “Raiders March” almost did. The concert closer, “Throne Room Scene and Final Credits” brought the house down. I”m sorry they had to trim “Jaws” from the concert, because it’s one of the best uses of a theme to foreshadow a story I’ve heard.

For over an hour I was a kid, or a kid-at-heart, seeing movie scenes and enjoying the talents of the best known currently active movie composer in the US. Yes, with so many scores back to back, you can hear the trademark John Williams intervals and pattern, and it becomes noticeable. Then you hear “Hedwig’s Theme,” and it’s something different. Or the opening of E.T., before the “flying music” starts, and again, very different. I have the album Three Sacred Trees, which includes several non-soundtrack compositions Williams did for the Houston Symphony and others, and you’d never know that they are by movie-score-Williams. Heck, some of his movie music doesn’t sound like John Williams. OTOH, I bet you can’t hear a trumpet fifth and not think, “Star Wars.”

It was the scent of popcorn combined with hearing the music without headphones that pulled me back so strongly into that magic moment in the theater. There’s power in “fresh” music, in the interpretation and variation and communication between performers and listeners. Even as many times as I’ve been to concerts, I’d forgotten that power. It will be very, very interesting to be back on the other side of the footlights, to see if the symphony and chorus can do it again.

Accepting Responsibility

A Mild Rant

I was skimming some news articles and started noticing a pattern to various actual and proposed legislation in the US and in British Columbia, Canada. All these suggested or current rules seem aimed at preventing people from having to plan ahead and then from taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions or inactions. Some deal with biological consequences, others focus on social and legal consequences. But it seems as if a certain section of political society has made their platform “You Shall Never Be Responsible.”

The pattern had never really appeared so clearly to me before. Granted, it is likely coincidence, and a combination of me boggling at some of the activists’ purported fears, and seeing so many things piled up at the same time. We are at the point in many state legislative sessions where people are actively fighting to get bills on the list for consideration, so politicians are going to the media to gain support for their various proposals. Plus I read the Canadian news, and a few things stand out under the heading of, “That’s not going to end well for anyone.”

Without going into specifics, it seems as if this spate of regulations and legislation is aimed at blocking consequences. “You did not plan ahead. You refuse to accept the need to mitigate possible unwanted results of your action. So we will do everything we can to ensure that you never have to plan ahead or take responsibility.” In some cases, it is society/government that is protected from accountability. “We don’t want to believe that an activity could harm both those involved and greater society, and we don’t want the icky task of sorting out the criminal from the clinical, so we’ll wave our hands and make everything legal, then sing happy songs together.” Those who venture to suggest that requiring people to consider consequences and take steps in advance are excoriated as cruel, heartless, anti-personal freedom, and modern-day Puritans or (worse!) fuddy-duddys.

I fully understand that there are times when the best of plans are undercut by forces outside of a person’s control. The Fickle Finger of Fate goes “Flick!” Hard cases make bad law, especially when threats or violence are used to push people into terrible positions. That’s not what I’m looking at. I’m looking at enabling poor decisions and immaturity. “It’s OK! Do what you want, you won’t get in trouble for it, and if you make others miserable and drive them out of business, that’s their problem, not yours.” It’s a version of the soft bigotry of low expectations, as Thomas Sowell phrased it, applied to larger groups of people than ever before.

People have always tried to avoid responsibility for bad consequences. You don’t have to believe in the Judeo-Christian creation story to see the value of it as a way to explain human nature. “It’s Eve’s fault!” “The serpent made me do it!” “What do you mean, where’s Abel? Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Those were individual acts and excuses. Now we have political careers and “caring” professions that rest their careers on shielding people from feeling the consequences of their actions. Not that it will help. People still end up emotionally damaged, physically damaged, and dead. More and more bystanders are dragged into the problem, forced to work around the results, or being berated and harangued as people vent displaced regret and pain.

We need adults, not perpetually sheltered people. Some years ago I recall the jaw-dropped shock of a reporter and an activist when one of the town’s permanent homeless said, “I’m homeless because I’m an alcoholic, and as long as I’m a drunk I’ll be on the streets.” It was sort of refreshing. The guy knew that he was the problem, and he preferred booze to everything the activist was offering. You have to respect the honesty, if not the life choices. In his own way he was far more adult than some of the solons seeking for new ways to protect people from the Revenge of the Copy-book Headings.

Some of society’s problems don’t have easy solutions. There’s no wand “The People” can wave to instantly deal with the self-indulgent, with the will-try-anything-that-might-help, with the perpetually immature. I fear that as things get rougher, those truly in need of help will be “dealt with” along with those who prey on them. Actions have consequences. Being an adult means accepting that.

Greece and the West: What is the West?

I wrote this in 2015, before the gates opened into Europe. A lot has changed, but some things have not. It’s a bit of a think piece. I don’t know why comments were closed. They have been reopened. Sorry about that!

A few weeks ago I was reading the Sunday Kleine Zeitung, the tabloid paper from the Kronen Zeitung in Austria. I was mostly interested in the enormous lede about a guy who went nuts and killed three people in Graz and injured 34 more (stabbed a few and drove over the rest. Yes, he was known to the police. Yes, he had a restraining order to keep him away from his wife, and yes, he told the police and others that he was being followed . . . by Turks. Europeans are not immune to mental illness.) I’d been in that part of Graz three days before the “Amoklaufer”* snapped. So I read all the news, skimmed the half of the paper detailing the upcoming Formula 1 race, and almost snorted tea when I saw the Sunday cartoon**. Then I stopped on a fascinating author interview. Continue reading

The Appearance of Evil

Apparently, there was a music awards event this past weekend, and someone thought it would be “edgy” and “transgressive” and shock the ‘danes if people dressed up as Old Scratch and she-devils and did something.

Yawn. That hasn’t been edgy since, oh, the mid 1970s, maybe? The Babylon Bee had the right of it, when they interviewed Satan and he distanced himself from the show.

For westerners, when we think of “The Devil,” what comes to mind in most cases, at least at first, is a guy in red with goat horns or something equally small, with cloven hoofs, and perhaps a tail with a fork/arrowhead on the end. (Like on Underwood Deviled Ham, but more so.)

The original. Current versions lack the long claws. Source:https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/underwood-deviled-ham-cans.htm

Or Old Scratch night wear a dapper suit and well polished, expensive shoes, but still has horns. See Samuel Ramey doing Mephistopheles for an example. The Church of Satan uses a more medieval image, focusing on the animalistic, goat-like saytr imagery, along with inverted pentagrams and so on. It does shock a little, but more because of their purported belief system and embrace of what most people consider at the very least off-kilter from society as a whole. It’s not the image, but the people who follow it that cause upset. And even then . . . It’s not surprising, alas.

Satan doesn’t shock most people any more. He’s too obvious. “Oh look, they’re trying to upset Christians by pretending to be witches and the Devil. Oh yeah. Yawn.” That’s pretty much the reaction from people after the Grammy™ Award show. Ho hum, it’s the Devil.

I suspect that if an embodiment of evil actually exists, like Satan/the Devil or Ahriman, I suspect he no longer appears in the usual forms. We expect evil to look like the devil, or to be ugly and warped and carry a sign saying “Wanna be Evil? Ask me How!” Evil exists, but it’s supposed to either 1) wear a WWII uniform and be obvious, or 2) dress like a Fortune 500 CEO, perhaps wearing a cross as a tie-tac (if you watch network TV in the US).

I was thinking about this because of trying to come up with an antagonist who is not evil, perhaps, but very intent on a single goal, one that will perhaps cause him to do a lot of harm as he tries to attain it. The goal is laudable, at least in the general sense – provide for his family and recover from a bad business year or three. He’s not evil in himself, although his way of attaining his goal might sink to that level, perhaps. It’s still early in the story.

Modern evil tends to be impersonal in many cases. The bureaucrat is just following procedures and rules, it’s not about you. The government agency is just trying to ensure that everyone is respected and treated fairly. The mugger doesn’t care who you are as an individual – you just register as a likely target. You fit a certain pattern type, and so the teenaged thugs go after you. Wheels grind in the machine, and you happen to have gotten caught up in them. Too bad, you’ll suffer. Sucks to be you.

I think one reason people* seem to prefer genre fiction to literary fiction is that most genre fiction has a clear good guy and bad guy, and good wins over a simple, clear evil. OK, not too simple unless it is a short story. Literary fiction seems to gravitate toward more shades of grey and “the hero is just as bad as the villain, and good is just evil that society approves of for the moment.” Not all literary fiction, to be sure, and some literary-influenced genre fiction boasts about the shades of grey, about being transgressive and edgy and “privileging” something or the other to show how terrible Jewish or Christian norms are for some people. And some genre fiction highlights very corrosive and demeaning relationships (and NOT clearly up front and consensual with both parties fully aware of where things are going to go, or might go.) Those stories imply that unhealthy relationships are actually OK, or even desirable, because, um, well, they feel so good? He must love me to do this to me? He’s a supernatural creature so it is totally great and understandable even if it hurts?

That’s evil. Or rather, the social and editorial forces that encourage that sort of story are evil. It’s not overt like a guy in red with horns, but it still corrodes, and hurts and causes damage in some people. Evil implies that being honorable and faithful and liking clearly defined heroes who are not just one shade of morality better than the villain is wrong. Evil uses cries of “justice” to invert real justice and oppression. Sometimes, evil is obvious, lying and tormenting people because it can, because it enjoys watching suffering, because “those over there are not really people.” Or are unbelievers. Or belong to a different tribe, however tribe is defined.

I don’t like sneaky evil. I also don’t like people pretending to be Satan and his minions. They numb viewers to true evil, and they are uncreative. “The ‘danes” aren’t shocked by that, not after, oh, Madonna’s music videos, or the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

*Some people really enjoy literary fiction and prefer the slower pace and focus on the inner life, or on the beauties of language. Some literary fiction has clear good and evil divides. I like some High Literature. Just, not a lot of modern literature.

Strange but Cute: Gaudi and Hundertwasser vs. Brutalism

[Edited to add: Some images were copyright and had the watermarks stripped off. I was not aware of that. Those images have been removed.]

Can concrete buildings be attractive, or at least neat? I was reading an article lamenting the lack of historical preservation granted to 1950s-70s Brutalist architecture, and then started thinking about concrete. Which led to Gaudi and La Sagrada Familia, and because I’m Odd, the Hundredwasser Haus in Vienna. Personally, I will not miss most Brutalist structures, although in a few cases, what replaced them is less attractive, at least to me. I understand why some Brutalist structures were constructed, but that doesn’t improve the aesthetics.

Brutalism is the term applied to the heavy, grey cement and steel and glass structures built between roughly the Bauhaus period of the 1930s and the 1970s. The 1960s were sort of the heyday for the stuff. Officially, it began in the 1950s as a “modern” aesthetic to counter the nostalgia of the 1940s and the neo-Everything styles of the late 1800s-early 1900s. It tends to be mostly steel and concrete, with basic shapes (square, oblong, a few curves, or a lot of really strange curves) and no trim. It was not painted, and loomed in a morose grey way over the cities of England, Europe, and the US. It was very much form and function, without wasting materials on decorative features. It could be built quickly if the design were simple. Some later designs push the limits of materials and structure. It was considered very modern, the style of the future. Universities adopted it, although usually with more decoration and trim.

Not simple, but cold. That’s the library at UC – San Diego. Source: https://mymodernmet.com/brutalist-architecture/

From a CNN article about saving Brutalism. This is public housing in Warsaw. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/brutalism-this-brutal-world-modern-forms/index.html

Critics leaped to attack the new design style. It was cold, hard, boring, unhuman. The use of quasi-Brutalist as the preferred building style of Communist dictators didn’t help the reputation of Brutalism, and led to the joke that it was “Stalin Baroque” or “Khrushchev Eclectic.” As much as I loathe Stalin, his taste in building style wasn’t quite that bad. It wasn’t great, but he was old-school and favored grandiose and palatial. Those are terms not applied to Brutalism, although grandiose might fit (in the negative sense, often, if you are in the Eastern Bloc). Another flaw with the style is that running pipes and conduits and wires through the buildings is very hard, unless you build a framework inside and hang paneling. Or run everything outside, which has its own flaws.

However, concrete buildings are easier to make in a hurry, weather and location permitting. They are less expensive than steel and glass, much less than stone or wood or brick in many places. Concrete scales up easily, something not true of wood and brick. If you needed something relatively fast, relatively cheap, and pretty sturdy if done right, Brutalism it was. That described a lot of the rebuilding done in the non-historic parts of Europe after 1945.

In contrast, Gaudi took cement and did weird and wonderful things with it. It looks organic, flowing and touched with color. Now, his style is NOT fast or inexpensive, and required a lot of engineering to make work, especially the great cathedral of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.


The interiors can be relatively sane (like in the apartment house) or off the wall.

Antoni Gaudi worked on commission, and was pushing the limits of what was possible in the 1900s-1920s. Casa Batllo is part of that.

And then there’s the cathedral, which is almost finished. Only a hundred years or so in the making, which for a cathedral is about average. Average if you go back to the 1000s, that is.

The drippy bit is NOT what people expected, but it’s cool. https://altmarius.ning.com/profiles/blogs/catedrale-romanocatolice

It’s cool, and controversial. The source article for the above image goes into a lot of detail. https://www.happytravellingfeet.com/sagrada-familia-when-buildings-tell-stories/

I think it is the curves and the playful sense in Gaudi’s work, and that of Hundertwasser in Vienna, that appeals to me. It’s not about being modern or industrial or powerful, but about playing with forms. It has the same problems as Burtalist in terms of materials and pipes and wires, and leaks. But it feels more human.

There are virtues in both, but I don’t care for Brutalism unless it is modified and softened.


Tasty, Tasty Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation came up on a blog that I occasionally glance at (great pictures, some cool crafts, mildly useful book reviews), and I rolled my eyes. The quasi-debate centered on embroidery on a jacket. Could that be duplicated (jacket and embroidery) without committing the venal sin of Cultural Appropriation? The final group decision was a reluctant no, you shouldn’t because that would be theft if you didn’t get permission from the cultural group to which the wearer belonged, but using the color combination with different patterns and a more western-style jacket would be OK. The wearer of the item in question would never see the proposed copy of the garment, but it was the very act of copying that was “problematic.”

I glanced over at a the small mound of spicy pecans that I was having for lunch and rolled my eyes. American food is cultural appropriation. Western clothing is cultural appropriation. English, and German, and a lot of other languages borrow words, although English revels in it far more than most. Going back to the pecans on my desk, the chili pepper and pecans are from the Americas. The garlic, paprika, and savory came from Europe originally. G-d bless the Columbian Exchange that gave us cheese burgers, Tex-Mex food, anything European with potatoes in it, polenta, curries with tomato in them, milk chocolate and dark chocolate, apple pie, and so on.

Cheeseburger – the beef, cheese, lettuce, and wheat for the bread came from Eur-Asia. The tomato and french fries (potatoes) are from the Americas. Apples of the domestic kind came from Eur-Asia, as did the wheat, cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger, and sugar. But apple pie in all its wonderful forms is “as American as . . . ” Now, getting a dozen Americans to settle on which kind of apple pie is the ne plus ultra of the American identity, well, good luck. By the time you sort that out, the rest of us will have eaten the pie and moved on to try the pecan and pumpkin and cherry and French Silk and grasshopper and Mississippi Mud and . . . 😀

What about when non-Americans borrow stuff from this hemisphere? Apparently peanut oil and peanuts have become staples in Asia, and potatoes and corn also appear. Chili peppers as well, although the local versions of many dishes were already hot before the “death-by-curry” types available today appeared. Should we complain when served satay because peanuts are not native to Thailand? You can if you want. I’ll eat your share. And your polenta, and anything with tomato, and the dark milk-chocolate, and . . .

Clothing is another place where the argument against cultural appropriation gets amusing for those of us who study history. Skirts are universal, as are shirts. Any usable fiber or material will be used, and some that no one really considers “clothing fibers” anymore, like some barks in Europe, and nettles. (Treat nettle stems as you would flax, but more so. Mind the leaves.) Trousers were rediscovered any time someone rode a horse, because unless you ride side-saddle, friction and saddle sores are also universal. Today, we have “national costumes” and ferocious arguments over if this pattern or that color is “authentic,” and who can or may not wear said item. The Japanese are delighted for people to try their “costume” and will happily sell you what you need, and giggle a tiny bit as you rediscover why Japanese kimono wearers take small steps when they walk. Germans and Austrians et al will assist with the wearing of dirndls and trachten suits, and lederhosen, although there is some pressure not to get too authentic unless you know what you are doing and why. Actual tracht, not the dirndl, is meant to conceal a woman’s “attributes” and to show social position and where she is from. It is a bit different from the dirndl, and not what you find in most stores. When was the last time an American balked at selling someone a cowboy hat or jeans, because of “cultural appropriation?” No idea.

Humans borrow and adapt. If someone strips a place of something edible that the locals depend on just because it is a trendy food, that’s a problem. Combining ideas, ingredients, and textile styles to create something fun is not a problem. If you recreate a copyrighted design from another culture and sell it as yours, that’s wrong. Borrowing an embroidery style and adapting it for your own pleasure? Not a problem. Go for it. Wasabi sauce [Japan] on your burger? Um, you go right ahead. I’ll stick with BBQ sauce, mustard [England], or catsup [England + Americas], thanks. Burgers that fight back are not my cup of tea [China and India].

Smaller Music?

This is just a semi-random observation. A number of groups that I listen to (Avantasia, Dark Sarah, Twilight Force, Blind Guardians, Ad Infinitum) either have a new release out, or are about to have a new release. Thus far, all of the new releases have been smaller than their last release. Granted, Blind Guardian has gone back to their “core” style, after a huge rock-opera type release, so they might not count.

Thus far, I’m hearing shorter songs, or fewer songs, or both, with simpler instrumentation and vocals. Instead of the dozen layers with choirs, a small symphony orchestra, plus guitars, drums, keyboards, and so on, it’s the core rock instrumentals, one or two singers per song, and songs that are closer to five minutes rather than multiple ten minute plus numbers. The quality is still high, so I’m not complaining about that aspect of it, not at all.

These are European or British groups, so I wonder if travel limitations played a role in shrinking the number of people involved per song? Have other listeners complained about the “thickness” of the music and said that they prefer a more traditional rock or metal sound? Is it budget, that the other releases have not brought in enough money to justify the cost of all those people? Or is it rising costs for studio time and musician time? One from column A and one from column C, plus a spring roll?

Perhaps we are easing back into something like happened in the 1600s, when chamber music and small choirs became more common due to a combination of wars and inflation in Europe. Groups are concentrating on their core music and forgoing the orchestras and choirs, or so it seems. Given the rising production expenses, it makes sense, perhaps.

I have no idea. I prefer the fuller sounds. None of the albums has been bad yet, although I wish Dark Sarah’s story-line had given an earlier character more song time. I had expected more long songs from Avantasia and Twilight Force.

I’m glad I have all this new music. My budget’s not so thrilled, but that’s why I saved my pennies for these releases.