The Instant Gratification Age

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post this week on OKCupid and Tinder optimizing for hookups instead of romance. For obvious reasons, repeat customers are the chronically single kind, and in the same way Apple’s first generations of iPods were discontinued because they don’t break fast enough, you obviously see waning profits in a place where people pair off and close their accounts.

I have a bit of a different experience with OKCupid, and after a weekend of ruminating over it, I decided to shut down my account for the final time, despite meeting some of my closest friends through the platform (some as much as a decade ago). The functionality and format have changed, and it seems as though the audience has, too. Gone are the days people had long profiles and you could search anywhere, for anything, and messages would fly around with no pre-approval swipes. Part of the cause conveniently left out of the WP article was the #metoo movement and the growing preference for institutionally suppressing instead of ignoring unwanted messages… part of it is that social media has a whole has likely made people more fickle. Where a conversation fails or a person isn’t perfect (at least in the dating realm), why stick around? There are thousands more candidates. And despite all that, people seem lonelier, and more defeated in that loneliness.

Most of my closest friends have been de-Googling or have never (or only very lightly) joined the ranks of social media: I have a stern set of rules for myself, and limit myself to Facebook and LinkedIn. Some of the rationale is the quality of the content. Some of it is the narcissism it spurns in people, and the way social media has caused peoples’ desperate attention and validation to fester in unbelievable ways. For all the options we have, it seems harder to relate to each other, not easier.

I admit I have used dating sites very infrequently for actual dating, but it’s impossible to ignore the changing attitudes and the way people interact in general. It took some time to come to the conclusion that although this platform had assisted in finding excellent activity partners who became close friends (I have always been very mobile and like to meet people all over), that due to the platform changes I would be limited in what I could get from it moving forward.

I suppose in some ways I feel as though the world is leaving me behind, and I know some others feel that way as well. I suppose if I really had wanted to be a living microcosm of my generation, I wouldn’t live in Anchorage, where cosmopolitan glamour goes to die. That said, living up here has changed me so fundamentally that I’d struggle to make higher quality connections if I lived in a metro area full-time again instead of here.

I’ve never been fully convinced of the supremacy of meeting people to date online: most of my favorite ex-partners have been people I’ve met in real life, and they weren’t people who liked all the same things as me (I think this actually has very little to do with relationship quality). There was a time, though, when these sites provided a quality of access that they no longer do, because expectations have become so empty and unreasonable.

One of my favorite researchers of this topic, Sherry Turkle of the MIT Media Lab, writes and speaks (below) a lot about this, and it’s something that’s always been interesting to me. It’s also been a fascinating time to live in Alaska, where cultural values are extremely different and there is much more emphasis on real life (more on this to come). I’m grateful I moved here: for all its deficits, Alaska is about real, actual experience, and I have leaned on those pillars more and more over the years as my generation has morphed into something somewhat unrecognizable.

All Who Go Do Not Return

My mother gifted me a book with a note that said ‘this is the one you mentioned, I think.’ No, it was not, I had never heard of this book, but in an effort to offload a pile of heavy books to avoid transferring them into a crate, down the stairs, outside, across Anchorage, up some more stairs and onto a different shelf in a different house, I read it last week.

The story is one of an ex-Hasid who really just could not manage the oppressive lifestyle and ended up leaving his wife, kids and community to wear jeans and read Wikipedia… etc. His community’s rules were insane, and really not specific to Judaism; there are crazy people everywhere. I imagine this is a group of people, especially in the US, a lot of people don’t have much insight into. I had the luxury of growing up in the beautiful Catskills, which are conveniently mentioned throughout the book (see also: Borscht Belt).

I enjoyed the story and I felt immense sympathy for the author (I have a soft spot for people who leave, in a broad sense, having done it myself); I think secular and even religious Americans have a tough time separating the individual liberty we’re born with from the fact that ultimately these insular communities, and parents who raise their kids in them, choose differently. It’s always hard to leave something you’ve known in your formative years. While the extreme conservatism seems oppressive to me, people do leave, and other than fleecing the government for welfare, I’m not sure as communities these people are harming anyone collectively (side note, I also grew up in a town with a Bruderhof compound, so I have a high tolerance for strangely clothed people who think technology is mostly the devil).

I think it’d be easy for someone to be shocked and to assume the extreme culture of this Hasidic community is the culture of all of them; the author did mention this briefly but it probably could have been articulated a bit more. It was a good read anyway. Review from Chicago Tribune.

RP/Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult

This is one of a series of recycled blog posts from my last blog project, Shapeshifter, thanks to web-archive.org. This post has not been modified from its original version. Original post date: June 10, 2015.

Halfway through this very comprehensive history of black metal, on the forefront of chapter 19, Death of A Legend: Norway Part III, which details the death of Euronymous, I figure I should start writing this review. And so, for some explanation as to why I am writing this review, or reading this book, or some indication I possess any degree of knowledge on this topic, I’ve decided to rehash a bit of my personal history and create a Metal page to this blog… perhaps also in the hopes of expanding on this somewhat forgotten part of my past (forgotten in the sense that many things have happened between then and now, in the sense that I am no longer a contributing member of the music scene in any other sense than attending an array of creepy forest festivals and other live events in and around the world). Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult is part of a multi-volume project, which is completely awesome. I’m not going to get too caught up in the writing style but Dayal Patterson is excellent.  There could not have been a better person to take on such a ridiculously ambitious project. The single flaw I could find stylistically is he reverts toward the end to using “me” and “I” where he began with “your author.” Which made me laugh, this is a book about metal. Probably no one else gives a shit.

Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult is probably the most complete, fair, organized and well-researched history of black metal available. This is a vast topic despite its largely (initially) underground nature, with details that come with increasing complexity due to its insular nature, and the rapid publicity swings throughout its history… not to mention a lot of its pioneers met gruesome ends. Additionally, over some 30 years its subgenres forked out like tributaries over thousands of literal miles and it is extremely difficult to prioritize the wide expanse of events, personalities and digressions from music into society; politics; religion; murder; suicide; drugs; animal sacrifice; prison. This book covers three decades of black metal; when you think about the magnitude of information there is to include to tell a cohesive story, it is truly astounding. Or maybe I just really like black metal and it’s only astounding to me. Three decades of church burning- dead animal sniffing- brain fragment necklace making- naked lady crucifying- goat head blood showers… there’s a lot. A lot of stuff. There is a drama, and hearsay, but also a significant amount of insight and cultural introspection.

The book is organized in varying ways at different times; in the beginning, primarily by band but secondarily by releases to some degree… I infer that some of these bands were chosen or placed where they were in history not due to chronology but due to the influence of their releases. Periodically the band focus pauses and a major event provides additional context to the timeline. As you progress through the book you see that the categorization is a sort of third priority here, but is more prevalent toward the tail end of the book, where bands are grouped into subgenres (and paired together). Some of the pairs don’t make sense to me: why give Gorgoroth and Trelldom different chapters but put Dissection and Watain; Graveland and Infernum together?

This is an ambitious effort, maybe it should’ve come with a Fenriz-esque map of black metal and its personalities. Or a literal map with bands allotted to countries, as it seems the origins of these artists are of varying importance to the story the author is attempting to tell. Some of the chapters stretch to post-2010; some have stories slow to mature, particularly the Mayhem and Burzum chapters (there is not a comeback chapter for Emperor/Ihsahn…?) Mayhem punctuates the entire book, but for good reason. Some of the bands listed in the beginning who are still around and are not noted in any present tense; the author focuses solely on the band’s contribution to the past, which sets the stage for the book’s longer shelf life, but would leave a bm n00b guessing. The constant swapping of members into other bands is probably also overwhelming if a majority of these bands are unfamiliar to someone who is reading this book, though I imagine the people who are reading this are reading for nostalgia, not new information. You get both. Get stoked.

I could waste another few pages debating the merits of the selected chapter-heading bands, but ultimately every single fan of this music is going to disagree on this shit to some extent. To put things in perspective, I’m 30; I was born in June 1984, when Bathory was recording their first album. In terms of this book, the stream of black metal most interesting to me begins in chapter 20, with Thorns, continuing with Arcturus, Shining, Fleuerty, Solefald, Ved Buens Ende, Virus, Dødheimsgard and continuing into post-. Outside of the avant-garde subgenre, I was surprised there was no more prevalent place for Immortal; you also have to read 84% of the book before you get to anything at all about Windir (though they are quoted prior to that), and I think that is a damn shame; this is actually due to the organization more than the chronology; the ‘folk’ chapters were simply saved for later, despite Enslaved having been around from the beginning. I think some bands deserved more than they received in this book, some deserved less, but I can’t say there are many that didn’t pop up somewhere. But anyone would say that.

Before I go on, the easiest way to describe the complete flow of this book and its contents is to explore the chapters– if you are well-versed in black metal, this will reveal a lot more than a two-page list ordinarily would.  The table of contents is as follows:

1 Roots of Evil
2 Venom
3 Mercyful Fate
4 Bathory
5 Hellhammer
6 Celtic Frost
7 The First Wave of Black Thrash
8 Blasphemy
9 Samael
10 Rotting Christ and Greek Black Metal
11 Tormentor
12 Master’s Hammer
13 VON
14 Beherit
15 Mayhem Part I
16 Mayhem Part II
17 (Re)Birth of a Movement: Norway Part I
18 A Fist in the Face of Christianity: Norway Part II
19 Death of a Legend: Norway Part III
20 Thorns
21 Darkthrone
22 Burzum
23 Emperor
24 Gehenna
25 Gorgoroth
26 Trelldom
27 The Opus Magnum: Mayhem Part III
28 The Beast Reawakens: Mayhem Part IV
29 Cradle of Filth: Black Metal Enters the Mainstream Part I
30 Dimmu Borgir: Black Metal Enters the Mainstream Part II
31 Underground Ethics
32 Les Legions Noires
33 Marduk: Sweden Part I
34 Dissection and Watain: Sweden Part II
35 Shining: Sweden Part III
36 Politics, Poland and the Rise of NSBM
37 Graveland and Infernum: Polish Black Metal Part I
38 Behemoth: Polish Black Metal Part II
39 Enslaved: Folk and Folklore in Black Metal
40 Moonfog and Ulver: Folk and Folklore in Black Metal Part II
41 The Proliferation of Black Folk Metal: Folk and Folklore in Black Metal Part III
42 A Turn for the Weird: Part I
43 A Turn for the Weird: Part II
44 Sigh
43 Dodheimsgard
44 Mysticum: Industrial Black Metal Part I
45 Aborym: Industrial Black Metal Part II
48 Blacklodge: Industrial Black Metal Part III
49 Lifelover: Post-Black Metal Part I
50 Post-Black Metal Part II

I think chapters 1-16 are fairly self-explanatory. Bathory, Venom, Mercyful Fate, Celtic Frost, etc. There are some outliers like Rotting Christ that I think are there solely because they were sort of seeds in a vastly different environment than northern Europe in a time little was happening outside of the UK and Scandinavia (not sure RC deserved a whole chapter in there, but…) I’m a bit mystified as to why Quorthon’s death receives minimal explanation (perhaps because it was pretty hazy from the beginning); Dead and Euronymous receive many pages; admittedly their deaths were directly related to the scene; while perhaps this is unavoidable it gives the unfortunate impression that more was lost with Dead and Euronymous… until the end of the book when the folk chapters pay homage to Bathory. Aaaand then Fenriz opines that folk metal is retarded… but, moving on…

Much like Euronymous, Quorthon was ahead of his time, and was brilliant in his own way (the chapters are peppered with bands continuously attributing their sound/influence to Bathory). He was also much less of a (charismatic) jackass than the others, and sadly for that reason he is often overlooked.* (see below) The Bathory chapter does him limited justice as a human being and contributor to the bm scene. While aloof in nature, Quorthon made the same magnitude of contribution as Euronymous or Varg; he was simply more of an introvert. Interestingly enough the author makes this very same point at the end of the Gehenna chapter (a band I never cared for, quite honestly): “[M]any […] have expressed surprise that Gehenna did not become as big as outfits such as Emperor. The reasons for this arguably illustrate the factors–aside from music quality–that can dictate a metal band’s success.” Even Dead, who was another socially anxious introvert, received far, far more airtime than Quorthon, simply because he existed more dramatically as a person. This sucks. It’s reality, but it sucks.

*Back to Gehenna– the chapter ends somewhat passive-aggressively. It’s not immediately clear from the prior paragraphs to what the author is referring (perhaps similar to the statement made above about Quorthon?) To this point, though, one of the many resounding successes of this book is drawing out the personalities of some of these people in a distinctly different way. The personal information is astounding; but the author’s interactions with some of these people are far more intimate than what has been portrayed in the past. By the end of this book I actually think that Niklas Kvarforth may not actually be the hugest asshole on the planet, he is so well spoken and honest and introspective and I completely agree with a lot of his opinions. I even found Gaahl to be charming and reasonable in this book, a far cry from the hypocritical freakazoid I’ve found him to be in most of the films that have been released about black metal.

People-wise, what is most pronounced in this book is the reality of all of these ideas, beliefs and actions: people change. They change their minds and their priorities and their desires. Many of these people who were demonized or idealized at various points in time were kids trying opinions on for size. Many of them have transitioned through series of beliefs, and will continue to do so. There are admittedly people in black metal’s history doomed beyond repair… but truthfully the majority of them are growing and evolving as we all are. This book paints an incredibly human portrait of these people, even the ones who have solicited terror or outrage from the general population at one (or many) points in time. As for people like Varg and Euronymous, the author tactfully portrays them in remarkably neutral light. You, the reader, are allowed to decide, and even when you go in thinking some of these people are reprehensible idiots (but you respect them as musicians), you end the book questioning your previous opinions. That is my favorite thing about Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult.

The book not only features an incredible amount of interviews but also a ton of clips and references to other articles; I found the quips about Dead’s fascination with decay and rotting animals to be particularly specific (and, admittedly, completely disgusting), but illustrative of the degree of insanity inflicting some of these people:

“I was in the studio when Dead recorded his only studio vocals for Mayhem and I will never forget it,” recalls Maniac. “His dedication was something that was very hard to come by even then, let alone these days. I had to hold a bag of dead crows for him when he was singing so he could sniff it for the right atmosphere. These crows has been in the ground for quite some time when he dug them up. His voice was really of another world. Those two are still my favorite Mayhem tracks.”

There is, again, such a wealth of information in here that the author collected independently. Some of it, even third party reiteration, is sheerly hilarious. This book is completely worth the read if only for the quotes and interview blurbs. The only video equivalent of the amusing information in this book is Attila talking about cutting down Christmas trees in Black Metal: The Music of Satan.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly given [Mayhem’s Pure Fucking Armageddon‘s] raw lo-fi barbarity, the reception to the demo was not entirely positive. ‘I thought it was terrible,’ laughs Necrobutcher, ‘ but that was the good thing. I remember one article– I can’t remember if it was Kerrang! or Metal Forces— but it said ‘This tape has no vocals on it at all, the bass sounds like [Celtic Frost’s] Tom Gabriel Warrior’s balls in a lawnmower and what they were talking about was actually the vocals!! But it was [next to] a review of [Thin Lizzy guitarist] Snowy White and the review was just ‘zzzzzzzzzz’ repeating itself. I thought this review about Tom’s balls was better than this other shitty one, so we felt like we had won.”

Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult takes a brief break from individual band chapters halfway through to delve into the church burnings and crime for which the genre is so well-known. The author seems to avoid too much of a deep-dive into the politics of burning thousand-year old churches to the ground and goes so far as to explain the reasoning; the chapters are peppered with many band members’ largely neutral feelings. There is a pattern that emerges–a bunch of bands, an overarching theme; a bunch more bands, another theme; this becomes a bit convoluted at the end when you begin to feel like the author ran out of space and had to start grouping shit together against his will; so, smattered amongst the individual bands & releases, you have: church burnings; Euronymous’ death; underground ethics (this chapter should’ve been longer); NSBM; folk metal. As previously mentioned I think sub-labeling Marduk and Shining as ‘Sweden’ is irrelevant; all the Finnish bands are thrown into the folk chapters (Moonsorrow, etc, though there are not that many Finnish bands included, and yet f’n Turisas ends up being included AGAIN! What is black metal journalists’ obsession with Turisas!??!) Also, why was Ihsahn’s side project Hardningrock mentioned, but Gaahl’s Wardruna was not? There are a lot of these small inconsistencies that are simply byproducts of sorting so much information. Maybe I only care because I also love neofolk.

I had a lot of fun repeatedly asking me where I would come across… Solefald… Pensées Nocturnes… Fleurety… In The Woods… Virus… Arkhon Infaustus… Alcest… most of them showed up. I was surprised Kovenant was only listed once in passing, and Thee Maldoror Kollective was not in any of the weird/industrial chapters. I was interested to find a vague but probably necessary chapter on French black metal, though I would’ve preferred for the author to expound on what is now a significant black metal scene; instead you receive a short chapter on LLN with Blut Aus Nord mentioned in the “weird” (ie, avant garde) chapters and Alcest in Post-Black Metal. There is also virtually no heed paid to Agalloch, which is disappointing: they have been around forever and deserve more than one or two passing mentions in a book about black metal. Agalloch was doing a lot of shit in the US that no one else was doing at the time, and yet Wolves in the Throne Room get a lot of ink even though they are living on some organic farm in Cascadia and slowly releasing some music.

I think the end of this book is riddled with haste: I don’t particularly care for anything more industrial than DHG but I am a little stupefied as to chapters 44-49. Mysticum, OK. Aborym, alright, I guess. Blacklodge and Lifelover? I don’t think so. How did each of these bands get their own chapters? Why are there three consecutive industrial chapters when Mysticum and Aborym were in the exact same time period? With regard to post-metal, the book perhaps should have ended before this: post-black metal was disappointing as a source of information.

More importantly, and perhaps not a question this book/series will answer, where did post-black metal come from? The descent into the post- style is interesting to me, although the author does make the point that there is no post-anything. There’s a part in the book where an artist names influences including (but not limited to) Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Swans, Dead Can Dance, Tenhi, Triarii, Of the Wand and the Moon, Death In June, Sol Invictus, Mono, Explosions in the Sky. Some of these bands can be traced back through other subgenres, specifically sludge. This is a unique evolution point for me, as I evolved toward black metal from hardcore, digital metal (Botch; Dillinger Escape Plan) and sludge (Neurosis, Isis, Year of No Light, most Hydrahead bands). My tastes have always bordered on the avant garde, as bands like Kayo Dot have punctuated many genres.

And so, I am looking forward to the sequel. I look, primarily, to France, though I’d like to see a bit more about American black metal bands… there are still some good ones lurking out there. He did mention Nachtmystium. Deafheaven deserves a place. Haethen is another band of significant talent lurking in the bowels of… uh, Philadelphia, I think? There are many, many unsigned, super kvlt bands that only play at previously mentioned creepy forest festivals. Black metal lives on, whether or not it is fused with different styles. In terms of France, he speaks about Alcest, Ameoseurs and Peste Noire (maybe the follow-up will include Lantlôs… Glaciation… Pensées Nocturnes…?) Speaking of Pensées Nocturnes, how weird can we go here? What about Carnival in Coal? There was an amusing exchange about circus metal in the book, I’d say there are quite a few bands that have ridden that wave even further. Would’ve liked to see more in the “weird” chapter about Ihsahn and the inclusion of jazz, courtesy of Shining (Norway); that would’ve created another nice past-present link.

I have to shut the hell up now. I will say I believe to some extent my disappointment in the final chapter stems from my infinite love of this subset of black metal, as well as my adoration for Blut Aus Nord and what has been happening in France for a lengthy period of time; alas, this is an incredible read that begins with the fundamentals and yet manages to present new, exclusive and insightful information in order to dive deep while telling a largely unbiased story, which has been an impossible feat for many others. Maybe his second book is out already, I wouldn’t know, since I am writing this review a year and a half after the first one was released. JK, it’s not. But when it is, I will be reading it. Immediately. In the meantime, you can get Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult here. I wish it came wrapped in a rotting animal carcass, but you can’t have everything.

Q4 Reading Roundup (2 of 2)

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure | This book starts with a completely absurd fictional account of the authors hiking up to some Zen master’s retreat and being granted some advice that is completely wrong. The long, unnecessary anecdote sets the stage for the rest of the book. The rest of it is good, and sad. I am glad I graduated from college over a decade ago, I am sure I’d be disgusted by campus society these days. My main issue with a book like this is that I’m not sure what good it does, other than provide confirmation of a problem will remain unresolved because the people causing the problem will not accept the book’s key points. I would happily pass along copies of this to people who could benefit greatly from its content, but those people have long un-followed me on Facebook and haven’t read much if anything I’ve passed along to them. You could build much more upon this idea, as this learned fragility flows into corporations and government from the university system, and the consequences are already frightening. Review here.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined |While this 100-chapter book took me forever to get through; I really enjoyed it, I will never write a review (of anything) as complete or thoughtful as Aschwin’s, so I will link to his.

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America | I’m still really unsure how I feel about this very lengthy and bitter-sounding history of poor whites in America. Further, while some explanation of inequality make sense to me (property ownership value compounds over generations, so if you start later you can have less inherited wealth), this tirade against a country that allegedly oppresses opportunities for the poorest whites, who are generationally poor, fails to account for the fact that millions of poor immigrants with even fewer opportunities landed in this country, dispersed and flourished. The book has no real topic order; some of her reflections on people like Bill Clinton and Sarah Palin are interesting, and her cultural critique is worth considering. Overall I was not a fan: the disjointed style and the wildly resentful tone were not particularly persuasive. Two completely different reviews, one from the Washington Post here and one from the National Review here. There is a false comparison to Hillbilly Elegy: the two books are nothing alike.

The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society Book 11) | I will never forget the way this book opens, with the shelling of the National Library in Sarajevo. I consider myself a fairly rational and often unemotional person; the Bosnian War has always evoked very deep horror in me, and absent geography, I can’t think of a worse building to go up in flames than a library, though I attribute this partially to my own culture, in which burning books is taboo.

This book is similar in tone to The Serbs: it is highly critical of Serb politicians and nationalists. It is rightfully critical of the West and the UN. Its primary focus is Christoslavism, which is integral to explaining the history of the Balkans. The extent of cruelty and dehumanization and groupthink leading up to and during this war is staggering. That it dragged on for years before anyone intervened is sickening. The book details the rapid destruction of tolerance and history, and the way Serb and Bosnian Serb politicians fanned the flames of hatred. It is not unbiased, but it is very good. I wish I could say that September’s trip to BiH was fulfilling enough to stop reading books about the Balkans. It was not, and I have quite a few others I will read in 2019 before heading back to Sarajevo in June.

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives |Not sure why or how I came across this book, it but’s a pretty diverse collection of stories by refugees in America. No real opinion, it’s always interesting to read about how other people live. Pretty good read. SF Gate review here.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border |This book was pretty well-received for offering a different perspective on border patrol, though I’m not sure in the end it lacks any sympathy. It’s tragic and torn; also really well-written. NY Times review here.

Q4 Reading Roundup (1 of 2)

Oops, it’s now December. And, the time of year The Economist and New York Times publish their best of the year: both contain some really great ones. Because I’m lazy and my readership is deliberately limited, I’m only covering Oct-Dec. I’ve read over 100 books this year: ain’t nobody got time for that shit. I will supplement my laziness with other peoples’ reviews — sometimes negative ones — and all reviews are limited to one paragraph, in classic millennial TL;DR style.

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress | I am currently reading this, but figured I’d include it anyway. Quite honestly I find this a bit boring, but it’s not Pinker’s fault, it’s mine; I read too many books that end up confirming my world view (I don’t necessarily mean to) and am familiar with (thus far) all of his included references. Many sweeping societal views are deeply flawed: one that I find consistently bothersome is the belief that today’s world is worse. This book is filled with the work of Kahneman & Tversky; Johann Norberg and many others who have commented on this erroneous belief and why people believe this. This book was not widely loved and admired, for obvious reasons. Here’s a positive review, and here are two critical ones, one from the New York Times, and one from Vox (a site I reference because it tends to occasionally feature writers who are not sanctimonious assholes). The New York Times review is particularly interesting, as the group of people who would be inclined to agree with the reviewer’s argument (‘things are overall better, but not individually’) are the same ones who would bleed upper-middle and upper class individuals for the sake of the argument that collectively, society would be better if they paid more taxes. This book is simple, even for Pinker; thus far it reads as a light, data-centric but emotional argument defending prosperity. Some current issues, especially societal polarization, are glazed over. Chapter 4, about how progressives hate progress, made me laugh, though it was cynical laughter, and a point driven home by my own personal experience of gifting Johan Norberg’s Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future to some of my most progressive friends a number of years ago… not one of them has read it. I like Pinker’s books for the references to other books; this one was a bit light on that as well. I will always read his books, this one is my least favorite, but only due to standards set by his previous work. As an aside, I’m surprised no one has mentioned the subtle silver lining to the current ‘life sucks more than it used to’ narrative: it could, and likely will, in some instances, perpetuate further progress. Gratitude is not required to raise the bar even higher in the future.

Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool | I wasn’t a huge fan of this when I began reading, but by the end I was pleased I did. While her distaste for libertarians is obvious throughout the book, I think she makes some good arguments for the high utility of shame, and its misuses, as well as further opportunities to wield it to change corporate behavior (and possibly public policy, but not holding my breath). I was pleased to see a pet issue of mine featured in many chapters: big agriculture (her specialty is environmental protection, and it is a much larger source of ire than industrial farming). Her lack of interest in including the presence of government subsidies seems to fall in line with her political views; shame has diminished utility in agriculture, pharma, biotech and many other industries where government subsidies exist, and she could have made a better case for the shame brought about by modern writers like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, which increased consumer demand for organic food and humanely reared meat, both of which were incredibly difficult to find 15 years ago. Shame has also not worked for American airlines, where consumers can only purchase sub-par services due to government constraints on supply and competition. Environmental protection shaming will also not help protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, due to the relationship between ASRC and the government; the ideas are good, and the book is thoughtfully written, but I think there’s a limit to the power of shame where government and lobbying are involved. It’d be impossible to shame the postal service for arbitrarily closing yesterday due to the GWB ‘day of mourning,’ but consumers could shame a grocery store for doing the same. For that reason, there is a lot of disparity in the power of shame. Chicago Tribune review of two books on shame; I chose this one instead of the other.

The Incurable Romantic: And Other Tales of Madness and Desire | This was an impulse buy following reading The Economist review. Read with a lot of scrutiny; its style echoes Psychopathia Sexualis, in a way, and to the writer’s credit, many of the stories encompass mental issues I’ve never heard of (and I am a person who spends hours scrolling through articles and photos of infectious disease and obscure mental and physical illnesses). I don’t love his writing style, he has a way of weaving his general psych knowledge into the chapters and then being self-deprecating in a way that annoys me, but the mental problems he covers in the chapters are really interesting. These characters are fascinating and deranged; it’s difficult to ignore their innocence, the author displays a lot of empathy and curiosity, traits which, when combined, are not always attractive or unbiased.

American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good | I read this because I read the one below, which blew my mind to some degree. Woodard is not the first to divide America into ideological regions, but his book helped me answer some of my own questions: I spent a long time ruminating on the underlying causes of feeling unimpressed living in Boston, yet having undying love and admiration for New York: this writer’s theories on the subcultures of the US really fascinated me, and a lot of American Character refers back to his former work, though the author spends an awful lot of time railing on the apparently stupid libertarian ideals and making fun of Hayek. He comes to a fairly reasonable conclusion: that we need a blend of ideologies for real progress. Overall, the book below is the better read, but American Character is an easy read that gave me things to think about. Bonus points for the Ceaușescu reference. WSJ review here. Side note, it surprises me so many authors believe there is an adequately straight solution: I find it highly likely, especially due to so many regional subcultures and states’ rights, that America will always oscillate between federalist and anti-federalist, between excessive laissez-faire and over-regulation. It’s especially American to fight and bitch and argue about everything, and to run constant experiments in different states and regions. The squabbling has been a pretty important part of our so-called exceptionalism.

My Struggle, Book 3 | I loved Book 1 and 2 of this series, I found Book 3 to be boring but probably necessary. Thankfully it is shorter than the others. Much of this revolves around the author’s relationship with his father, and the fear conveyed in this book adds a lot of context. I love the order of this series so far… only in book 3 does he return to his childhood. I had no idea how I would feel about the series as a whole, the books take absolutely forever to get through. I’m “reading” this with Audible.  The reader is theatrical, which is an incredible and probably underappreciated feature of the audio version: Scandinavian languages have a completely different cadence, and this feature doubtless increases my enjoyment of the material. A somewhat monotonous Book 3 has not dissuaded me from continuing, and Book 4 is coming up in the queue quickly. I imagine this is the kind of work you either love or hate. I expected to hate it. I’m linking to the Book 6 review in The Economist, where the reviewer implies the high readership is perhaps partially attributed to his “craggy good looks.” This one sentence in an otherwise insightful review earned The Economist another pissed off note from me; after all, it would be taboo to make a statement like that about a female author. His outrageous honesty, in all things relevant and irrelevant, is what makes this an incredible project, especially for a Norwegian (though his honesty would be even more scandalous if he were a Swede).

Part 2 of this roundup coming before the end of the year. I promise.

October Roundup: Matinee

I’m so old and boring that I’ve been on a matinee movie binge. Unless they are blockbusters*, they appear in Anchorage a few weeks or months behind their actual release dates, thus the reason for the delay.

2018-10-25_10-00-44A Star is Born. I don’t typically see these kinds of movies, though I admit when something is wildly popular, my curiosity tends to get the best of me. Capitalism tends to allow people to express their beliefs via consumption, so it’s always interesting to see what people are avidly purchasing at any given time and take it as a reflection of current societal values.

I am going to partially defer to my Facebook post for this. I am willing to admit that Hollywood perpetuates a lot of social/societal degeneracy; I think I was taken aback by the steady stream of people exiting the theater with stifled sobs. Everyone has pet peeves, one of mine is the way addiction is portrayed: in this case, as ‘a rite of passage for rockstars’ and, often, a sort of requirement for a talented artist, musician or the like. I linked to an article on Vox, and though I am typically averse to sharing feminazi rants, this article does mirror the reasons for my disgust and contempt for the message(s). Without yammering on for too long, I’ll simply say it’s disturbing to think that young people, especially girls who look up to Gaga, may see this codependent-narcissist relationship as one to emanate. This movie did an amazing job of glossing over major red flags and deep toxicity, not to mention the Vox article is largely right about a lack of consent. Gaga is a really talented musician (and an overall interesting person); I was disappointed in the role she chose to take in this film.

Fallout. This movie was fucking stupid. The action sequences weren’t even that good. My roommate told me if I loved The Fast and the Furious movies (I did) I would love this. No, this was lame.

MV5BMDBhOTMxN2UtYjllYS00NWNiLWE1MzAtZjg3NmExODliMDQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjMxOTE0ODA@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_The First Man. Slow to start, but ultimately good, not so much for the story line (which was OK at best), but because this is the first film I’ve seen that did not hesitate to show the sheer terror that comes with an astronaut’s job. On top of it being an extremely dangerous career in the 60s, leaving and reentering the atmosphere are awful experiences. There are plenty of of g-force losses of consciousness and vomit-stained helmets in this movie, and I appreciated that.

I, like many other young kids, was obsessed with space in my childhood and teenage years. I wanted nothing more than a career in the space industry (I think back to being in Huntsville at ASA, deeply annoyed that two hours of my short week there was spent watching Spaceballs. I was a very serious kid), so apart from feeling anxious nostalgia for the US Space and Rocket Center‘s centrifuge, I was enamored by how frightening the movie was in terms of the astronauts’ experiences. I was talking to a friend lately about hopes and dreams, I think we all have to make peace with the fact that you win some, you lose some: I look back and think about how much I wanted that life in my past, and what a different one I have now, and I think on a personal level it’s been an interesting transition over the last ten years, of transforming a feeling of loss into a feeling I have gained many other unexpected things. Long story short, for a combination of personal feelings and some realistic elements of the film, I really enjoyed this.

*I always wondered what the etymology of this term was, and my guess was completely wrong.

October Roundup: Streaming

My last blog featured a regular reading roundup, but I’m especially committed to laziness with this project, so I’m going to stick with ‘monthly,’ ‘abbreviated’ and extra random. I’m also going to break them up into multiple posts, because there’s nothing lazier than making three posts out of one.

Streaming.

Hold the Dark (Netflix). A little loose on the plot, but great production. This was sufficiently creepy and interesting, especially due to the occult vibe and the fact you really had no idea where the movie was going. Also, set in Alaska (though filmed in Alberta)… additionally, Alexander Skarsgård. The end.

Fortitude (series, Amazon Prime). fortitude-mainTough to turn down a series set in Svalbard, though I realized about halfway through season 1 it was mostly filmed in Iceland, which is easy to mistake for the former. I was skeptical, and initially watching to enjoy the beautiful, desolate Arctic vistas, but the show eventually became fairly interesting. I again felt like I had no idea what was going on, so either I am becoming dumber as I age or I happened to watch two unpredictable things consecutively. I’ve now watched both seasons and it sounds like a third will be released eventually. I would say it’s sort of a historical thriller-mystery, though I find their characters are not remotely representative of the Norwegian transplants who actually live there: they are way too brazen and honest. I made peace with what I found to be a lot of tedious inadequacies, and once people start showing their alcohol binges and rampant cheating and brawling, it starts to look a lot more like the real North.

Mandy. Mandy_(2018_film)I’m still not sure whether or not this movie was supposed to be funny. I’m pretty sure it was. It’s a sort of homage to the occult late 70s/early 80s (I just looked it up, it was apparently set in 1983, but these people could easily be mistaken for 2018 Cascadia hipsters). In any case, this movie was incredibly entertaining. It’s a new cult classic style horror film. Also, Nicolas Cage.

Dogtooth. The most confusing thing about this film is that on the front/poster/whatever, it says “HILARIOUS” in giant letters. It’s basically about a Greek guy who locks his wife and his children up in his sprawling compound, showers them with lies and they eventually start licking each other inappropriately. I still don’t know what I think about it. I suppose the effects of being completely removed from the outside world make for interesting conversation fodder. May or may not watch again.

Next up, Books and (Mostly) Shitty Movies I Saw in the Theater.