I was pretty proud of myself for passing up an Adler Tippa at a second-hand shop today. It was $85, but it was in pretty rough shape.

Then I went to the used record shop and ended up walking out with five albums. Oh well.

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I stopped in at Federal Street Books this morning for Independent Bookstore Day and was happy to see that my employer is supporting the cause.

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No art is timeless.

Pop Goes the Culture — Mischa Willett:

My question then is the following: what is it about combining lyrics and instrumentation that reduces so the use-by date? I suppose to engage it, you’d have to believe that it does. I can imagine some people arguing that The Beatles haven’t really aged. They’d be wrong, and hilariously so, but I can imagine it. My sense is the that the Fab Four endure almost purely for nostalgic, and then for ideological reasons. Those of us who listen do so to remember certain times or feelings from our youth, or to sign up for the rebellious posture they advocate–down with religion! Your teachers are stupid! The government is evil! Whether one supports such rallying cries is irrelevant to the issue that that’s a large part of the band’s appeal. I can hear people saying Bob Dylan music is beyond time as well, but I don’t think that’s right either. There is nothing eternal or universal in that music. But given that you’re a normal person, surely you’d have to admit–even if the music of your upbringing was great, like mine was, that it begins to show its age eventually. Some records I unashamedly love, even still from 30 years ago; others I can only love because I have decided to place their obvious emotional manipulations to one side, to look past their excesses in the same way I agree to look past their hair or attire.

Even if you don’t agree completely with the way I’ve framed the question here, don’t we think this odd? Poems last forever. Non-vocal music lasts a rather long time, sometimes centuries. But put them together and it starts looking not only threadbare, but comical, embarrassing, within a decade, if that. It doesn’t seem to me self-evident why that should be the case and yet there are literally thousands of examples.

To get one particular point out of the way first, the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan is most certainly not beyond time. Both are very much products of their time. Most of the people claiming otherwise are members of the generation for whom that music was formative.

I have reached an age where a lot of the bands and albums that I love are now older (sometimes by quite a bit) than the music that played on the oldies station when I was a kid. That is a perspective I try to keep in mind when I think about what music I like and why I like it. Is Pretty Hate Machine one of my favorite albums because of its inherent qualities, or because it came out when I was a freshman in college and is all tangled up in the memories and emotions of that phase of my life? Mostly the latter, I think. The album is very much a product of its time and I would never claim otherwise, but I love it anyway.

As for Willet’s broader claim that pop music is somehow unique in the time-bound nature of its appeal, I don’t buy it.

Maybe there are some exceptions, but every piece of art—every creative output—is a product of its times and is tied to those times. We make a value judgement—at both the individual and collective levels—about whether that piece of art is good or bad, but they are still value judgements.

I might not go so far as to say that all art is equal, but I feel like appeals to timelessness are attempts to evade responsibility for these judgments. If I can claim that a piece of music or a painting on the wall is timeless, then it is no longer on to justify why I like it; it is just truly better than whatever pedestrian crap other people like. I don’t think it is usually a deliberate tactic, but rather a failure to step outside our own frames of reference—we want to insist that that the music we like is inherently good because it is hard for us to think about it outside of our own experiences of it and the feelings and memories tied to those experience.

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Some notes on social media – Kevin Drum:

The internet in general makes smart people smarter and dumb people dumber. This is easily explicable: the internet has a tremendous amount of useful information, but it’s not easy to access. Smart people can figure out how to do it, and they have the background to figure out which information is reliable and which isn’t. Dumb people can do neither, and often end up gathering information that ranges from merely flawed to flat-out conspiracy nonsense.

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William Basinski & Janek Schaefer – “…On Reflection”

I’ve been listening to William Basinski’s new album that came out yesterday:

It is a collaboration with Janek Schaefer, and is meandering piano notes over manipulated ambient and environmental sounds. I like it, but I like just about anything that Basinski is involved with.

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I think I would pay extra every month for my HBOMax subscription if they would prepend the old movie introduction to everything I watch.
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Twitter may not be the public square, but a bunch of people treat it like it is.

On The Elon Musk Razzmatazz – TPM – Talking Points Memo:

This whole move to faux-civic-ize the platforms is wrongheaded. They’re not the public square. The actual digital public square is the open Internet. Facebook is a private company that makes untold billions of dollars by selling ads against digitally manipulated “engagement.” Twitter is the same. They just manage not to make money. That’s why it’s never really about “free speech” because the whole thing is really about algorithms that make certain kinds of speech more visible than others and do it for profit. So Facebook makes money by doing that. That’s what it is. Twitter somehow manages not to make money by doing that. But same difference.

Anything that bloodies up the idea that these company spaces are the public square is thus a good thing. If Musk really is the Lex Luthor comic book villain people make him out to be (and which he really may be) I’m ready to see him treat Twitter like his own maniacal toy because he bought it and therefore he can. That’s good because it will be more clear that Twitter is not the public square. It’s a company impersonating the public square that a nasty person can buy. If people flee to other sites or find ways to operate around his malevolence I’m ready for that. That’s why my reaction to this is just as much “let it burn” as “oh no.” Probably a bit more so.

I don’t think it’s good at all that Musk has purchased Twitter. But the real threats to civic life aren’t content moderation. It’s private companies impersonating the public square in our civic life. Things that break down that deception are not a bad thing.

I generally find Josh’s takes on most topics to be pretty sensible and helpful. I think his head is pointed in the right direction here, and his point about social media platforms not being the public square is a good one.

However, I find arguments that lean toward “Let it burn”/heighten-the-contradictions to be troubling.

Even if Twitter is not the public square, if enough people think it (and the rest of the social media platforms) is the public square, treat it as such, and ignore the actual public square, then the damage is done.

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Escaping The House Elf Management Trap – Accidentally in Code:

House elfing comes from a good place, often tied to some idea of “servant leadership”. People who internalize this idea that they exist to work for their team, and the way they know how to do that is to pick up all the small annoying things, run all the meetings, plan all the team activities, pick up the boring grunt work, tidy up the bug list etc.

The outcome of this is that they are:

  • Wholly reactive ➡️ unable to focus on bigger / more impactful work.
  • Buried in small details ➡️ unable to step back and see the bigger picture.
  • Exhausted ➡️ running around all day picking up after people does that to you.
  • Overwhelmed ➡️ see also: reactive. By being buried in the details, you don’t have time to make the meaningful improvements.

Worse, these managers often start thinking it’s their job to make their team happy. Wrong! It’s your job to make your team effective. Constant picking up of small things does not make your team more effective – noticing the patterns and improving the processes, or the projects themselves does that.

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This post from Noah Smith is a really helpful explanation of how GDP is calculated, why imports do not actually subtract from GDP, and why it matters that people keep mistakenly saying that they do.
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Parenting and the illusion of control

Matt Gross, writing at The New York Times about how much we should or should not try to control our kids:

I understand the desire to coax your children to think and live as you do. I mean, who wants his or her progeny to reject wholesale the values, tastes and beliefs they’ve been brought up in? To pick up ideas, frameworks and plans that we disagree with or even find morally repugnant? I’m surely hoping that Sasha and her 9-year-old sister, Sandy, follow in my metaphysical footsteps, in one way or another. Ideally, they’ll grow up to be polyglot globe-trotters with predilections for spicy food, subtly funky fashion and making new friends. But as long as they don’t end up greedy, selfish or the leader of a fascist personality cult (I’m looking at you, Sandy), Jean and I will be satisfied.

To me, the more hands-off approach is also the more realistic one. It acknowledges that our children are, in some basic sense, beyond our control: not precious innocents to be culturally cocooned, but thinking, feeling, increasingly independent human beings who are busy making up their own minds (and who are anyhow likely carrying around devices that give them unfettered access to billions of ideas and images, without any meaningful controls).

I wish that people who write pieces like this about parenting would spend a bit more time (or any time, in some cases…) acknowledging that different kids have different needs and not every parenting strategy or approach is going to work for every parent/kid combination.

That issue aside, the tension between hands-off and control is a feeling that I experience nearly every day as a parent, and I think Gross’s suggestion that kids are beyond our control is pretty accurate.

When I’m driving on the freeway at sixty miles an hour in heavy traffic, I think that I am in control, but it’s an illusion. At any moment, something could go wrong or any one of the other drivers around me could make a mistake or a bad judgement, and I would suddenly discover that I have pretty much no control at all.

With my kids, I’m not sure the situation is all that much different. I may think I have authority and control over them, but treating them that way by default only sets us up for disaster when they inevitably figure out that it is all smoke and mirrors. They are not even that old, and they have already figured that out anyway.

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