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Joe Arcieri: Get Me Some of That

Joe Arcieri is a friend of mine who I worked with for many years during my ten years working for Acme Markets.  Joe, when not stocking milk or saving lives as a nurse, is an excellent guitar player.  I have had the privilege, from time to time, of (badly) plunking my bass guitar with Joe as he melts a face or two with a great solo.

As great musicians do, Joe has written some of his own songs and keeps a soundcloud site to post them.  When I have opportunity, I will post his music here as well.

Here is his composition called “Get Me Some of That” which you can find here.

Here are the links to the previously posted songs by Joe:

Why So Many Mass Shootings? Ask The Right Questions And You Might Find Out

This past weekend, Americans learned of another mass shooting, this time by an employee who decided to murder as many of the people he had worked with for years as possible. As of this writing, the murder toll is 12 people.

Every American asks why. What was the killer’s motive? When we read there is “no known motive,” we are frustrated. Human beings want to make sense of life, especially of evil.

Liberals (in this regard, liberals’ views are essentially as the same as leftists’) are virtually united in ascribing these shootings to guns. Just this past weekend, in a speech in Brazil, former President Barack Obama told an audience:

“Our gun laws in the United States don’t make much sense. Anybody can buy any weapon any time — without much, if any, regulation. They can buy (guns) over the internet. They can buy machine guns.”

That the former president fabricated a series of falsehoods about the United States — and maligned, on foreign soil, the country that twice elected him president — speaks to his character and to the character of the American news media that have been completely silent about these falsehoods. But the main point here is that, like other liberals and leftists, when Obama addresses the subject of mass shootings — in Brazil, he had been talking about the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 — he talks about guns.

Yet, America had plenty of guns when its mass murder rate was much lower. Grant Duwe, a Ph.D. in criminology and director of research and evaluation at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, gathered data going back 100 years in his 2007 book, “Mass Murder in the United States: A History.”

Duwe’s data reveal:

In the 20th century, every decade before the 1970s had fewer than 10 mass public shootings. In the 1950s, for example, there was one mass shooting. And then a steep rise began. In the 1960s, there were six mass shootings. In the 1970s, the number rose to 13. In the 1980s, the number increased 2 1/2 times, to 32. And it rose again in the 1990s, to 42. As for this century, The New York Times reported in 2014 that, according to the FBI, “Mass shootings have risen drastically in the past half-dozen years.”

Given the same ubiquity of guns, wouldn’t the most productive question be what, if anything, has changed since the 1960s and ’70s? Of course it would. And a great deal has changed. America is much more ethnically diverse, much less religious. Boys have far fewer male role models in their lives. Fewer men marry, and normal boy behavior is largely held in contempt by their feminist teachers, principals and therapists. Do any or all of those factors matter more than the availability of guns?

Regarding ethnic diversity, the countries that not only have the fewest mass murders but the lowest homicide rates as well are the least ethnically diverse — such as Japan and nearly all European countries. So, too, the American states that have homicide rates as low as Western European countries are the least ethnically and racially diverse (the four lowest are New Hampshire, North Dakota, Maine and Idaho). Now, America, being the most ethnically and racially diverse country in the world, could still have low homicide rates if a) Americans were Americanized, but the left has hyphenated — Balkanized, if you will — Americans, and b) most black males grew up with fathers.

Regarding religiosity, the left welcomes — indeed, seeks — the end of Christianity in America (though not of Islam, whose robustness it fosters). Why don’t we ask a simple question: What percentage of American murderers attend church each week?

Regarding boys’ need for fathers, in 2008, then-Sen. Obama told an audience: “Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools; and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.”

Yet, the Times has published columns and “studies” showing how relatively unimportant fathers are, and more and more educated women believe this dangerous nonsense.

Then there is marriage: Nearly all men who murder are single. And their number is increasing.

When you don’t ask intelligent questions, you cannot come up with intelligent answers. So, then, with regard to murder in America, until Americans stop allowing the left to ask the questions, we will have no intelligent answers.

By Dennis Prager and published on June 8, 2019 in The Daily Wire and can be seen here.

Consumer Choice and Society

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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Those who like to celebrate the contemporary capitalist economy frequently do so in terms of choice. Some are quite open that it is consumer choice that excites them, the ability to pick and choose among an immense variety of products, according to one’s whims and desires. Others, more conscious of the shallowness implicit in reducing man to simply a consumer of goods, are wont to point out that even though our society itself may be preoccupied with material possessions, we ourselves as individuals are free to occupy ourselves with better things, with cultural or spiritual goods, for example.  While of course this is true, one might wonder why so few people seem to manifest much interest in these latter types of goods. But perhaps the real problem here is the attempt to reduce human choice solely to the individual level. It is true, of course, that individuals do have the freedom to choose. Our wills were created by God to desire goods, but we have the freedom to choose among goods, to choose appropriately or not, to make choices that do not interfere with the attainment of our eternal salvation, or that make this more difficult or even impossible to attain. This does not mean, of course, that we must always choose the highest goods; rather, as the collect for the Third Sunday after Pentecost in the traditional Roman rite puts it, in such a balanced way, that “we may make use of [transeamus] temporal goods so as not to loose eternal goods.”

But there is much more to say here than simply to exhort one another to make good choices. For we exist not merely as individual choice-making consumers – even when our choices might be of the most laudable kind – but as members of society, and as such, invariably influenced by that greater social whole. In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, St. John Paul II offered a penetrating discussion of the connection between individual choice and the society or culture around us. He wrote (in section 36)

The manner in which new needs arise and are defined is always marked by a more or less appropriate concept of the human person and of the person’s true good. A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of the person which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to human instincts…then consumer attitudes and lifestyles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to the person’s physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.

Here John Paul makes clear the connection between individual choice and the concept or picture of human good which a culture projects. Consumerism is not simply bad choices made by consuming individuals, for these bad choices do not occur in a vacuum. They presuppose the fundamental things that a society values, what it produces and what it teaches about human needs and goods. John Paul notes four matters that require attention, “the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.” For now, let us focus on just one of these, “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility…among people in the mass media.”

Here advertising immediately comes to mind, and it is surely one of the most potent methods of teaching that any society makes use of. Advertising rarely teaches by precept, but more subtly creates illusions as to what is a good or satisfying or exciting life, and what products are necessary to share in such a life. It is not simply the promotion of a particular product, rather it is generally the promotion of “artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality,” for the sake of convincing the public to buy new products or new kinds of products.

It is true that the ability of advertising to influence consumer choice is not unlimited. There have been notable instances of marketing failures because of consumer resistance. But I do not think that anyone looking honestly at our economy today could fail to see that for the most part it is characterized by “artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality,” which convince people that happiness is to be found in the possession of more gadgets or of some particular gadget.

However, it is not simply by advertising that the mass media influence culture and public opinion. The media as a whole present an image of “consumer attitudes and lifestyles” that, more often than not, “are objectively improper and often damaging to the person’s physical and spiritual health.” They do this by the contents of their shows, certainly, but equally as much by the very images they offer, of apparently successful and happy people, and even by the news items they focus on and the way they analyze news events.

In response to this John Paul rightly highlights the need for “educational and cultural work,” the formation of a strong public recognition of man’s true good and, on the other hand, awareness of those false goods which directly appeal to human instincts and fail to subordinate our “material and instinctive dimensions to [our] interior and spiritual ones.” In this connection both the Church and educational institutions at all levels can play an important part. But he also notes “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers…, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.” Here we can ask if the very structure of economic life can contribute to the correct formation or to the deformation of our understanding of the human person. In considering this, if we recall the definition of capitalism offered by Pope Pius XI in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, as “that economic system in which were provided by different people the capital and labor jointly needed for production” (sect. 100), we might begin to see why a society’s ordering of its economy has profound implications for its cultural, intellectual and spiritual health.

Under capitalism, when separation of ownership and work is the norm, there exists a class of persons, the owners of capital, for whom the economy is not so much a way of supplying mankind with truly necessary and useful products, with real means of satisfying genuine human needs, as it is of making and selling anything that people can be persuaded to buy, of working to create “artificial new needs” in order to promote sales of their products. Hilaire Belloc explained this in a striking passage.

But wealth obtained indirectly as profit out of other men’s work, or by process of exchange, becomes a thing abstracted from the process of production. As the interest of a man in things diminishes, his interest in abstract wealth – money – increases. The man who makes a table or grows a crop makes the success of the crop or the table a test of excellence. The intermediary who buys and sells the crop or the table is not concerned with the goodness of table or crop, but with the profit he makes between their purchase and sale. In a productive society the superiority of the things produced is the measure of success: in a Commercial society the amount of wealth accumulated by the dealer is the measure of success. [1]

The small producer is intimately connected with his product, and generally has some interest or pride in workmanship beyond simply how much money he can make. But necessarily those who are one or more steps removed from the productive process will tend to look at their product as simply something to be sold, and sold not necessarily because it is necessary or useful, but because advertising can persuade people to buy it. Under capitalism, “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers” will be unusual, because the cultural climate will focus on “the amount of wealth accumulated,” not on the inherent quality of the product or service.

St. John Paul notes also “the necessary intervention by public authorities.” In many people’s minds, this raises the specter of a Soviet-style command economy. But this is a groundless fear. Any type of economy requires a legal system to support it. Capitalism, as much as any other, both shapes the legal environment and depends upon it for structure and support. For example, were it not for the unprecedented powers and rights given to corporations by courts and legislatures since the second half of the 19th century, advanced capitalism could hardly exist. None of this was inevitable, however, but rather the result of corporate influence over government and the general cultural attitudes endemic to a commercial or consumer society.

But a legal system could also work in favor of a distributist economy, an economy characterized, as much as is feasible, by a joining of ownership and work, private ownership for the most part, but private ownership of such a kind that producers are generally interested in more than how much money they can make. “The man who makes a table or grows a crop makes the success of the crop or the table a test of excellence.” Of course he needs and expects to make a sufficient return on his work to support himself and his family, but the ever-present connection with real work and real products tends in the opposite direction from the capitalist separation of ownership and work. Moreover, we should note that ownership in a distributist economy need not be individual proprietorships, but can be employee cooperatives. Such cooperatives will generally be necessary for production which requires large-scale machinery or large capital investment.

Of course, due to our First Parents fall into sin, distributist owners will also be affected by greed, by a temptation to cut corners, and so on. This is part of the human condition. But there is a huge difference between a system which facilitates greed, which promotes a desire to cut corners and defraud customers, and a system that does not encourage such evils. Capitalism promotes sin, distributism does not.

Right now the power of capitalists, particularly as embodied in corporations, is overwhelming. For the most part, distributism must manifest itself in nooks and crannies of the economy. We should seek these out and help them to grow. But there is another thing we can do: we can refuse to allow the culture of capitalism of colonize our minds. We can reject “new needs and new means to meet them” which are not “guided by a comprehensive picture of the person which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones.” We can distinguish in our own thought and life “new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality.” We can thus carry out, in our own minds, in our own families and among our own friends and acquaintances, some of the necessary “educational and cultural work” that John Paul calls for. In short, we can take small steps to break down the oppressive ideology of consumerism which surrounds us and live in the freedom of that truth which can set us free.

Notes:
[1] An Essay on the Nature of Contemporary England (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937) p. 67.

Joe Arcieri Songs: Bottoms Up

Joe Arcieri is a friend of mine who I worked with for many years during my ten years working for Acme Markets.  Joe, when not stocking milk or saving lives as a nurse, is an excellent guitar player.  I have had the privilege, from time to time, of (badly) plunking my bass guitar with Joe as he melts a face or two with a great solo.

As great musicians do, Joe has written some of his own songs and keeps a soundcloud site to post them.  When I have opportunity, I will post his music here as well.

Here is his composition called “Bottoms Up” which you can find here.

Here are the links to the previously posted songs by Joe:

The Persistence of Prog Rock

Critics think that the genre was an embarrassing dead end. So why do fans and musicians still love it?

Virtuosos such as the keyboardist Keith Emerson made fans feel like connoisseurs.  In April, 1971, Rolling Stone reviewed the début album by a band with a name better suited to a law firm: Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The reviewer liked what he heard, although he couldn’t quite define it. “I suppose that your local newspaper might call it ‘jazz-influenced classical-rock,’ ” he wrote. In fact, a term was being adopted for this hybrid of highbrow and lowbrow. People called it progressive rock, or prog rock: a genre intent on proving that rock and roll didn’t have to be simple and silly—it could be complicated and silly instead. In the early nineteen-seventies, E.L.P., alongside several more or less like-minded British groups—King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis, as well as Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd—went, in the space of a few years, from curiosities to rock stars. This was especially true in America, where arenas filled up with crowds shouting for more, which was precisely what these bands were designed to deliver. The prog-rock pioneers embraced extravagance: odd instruments and fantastical lyrics, complex compositions and abstruse concept albums, flashy solos and flashier live shows. Concertgoers could savor a new electronic keyboard called a Mellotron, a singer dressed as a batlike alien commander, an allusion to a John Keats poem, and a philosophical allegory about humankind’s demise—all in a single song (“Watcher of the Skies,” by Genesis). In place of a guitarist, E.L.P. had Keith Emerson, a keyboard virtuoso who liked to wrestle with his customized Hammond organ onstage, and didn’t always win: during one particularly energetic performance, he was pinned beneath the massive instrument, and had to be rescued by roadies. Perhaps this, too, was an allegory.

Most of these musicians took seriously the “progressive” in “progressive rock,” and believed that they were helping to hurry along an ineluctable process: the development of rock music into what Jon Anderson, of Yes, once called “a higher art form.” Even more than most musicians, the prog rockers aimed for immortality. “We want our albums to last,” Robert Fripp, the austere guitar scientist behind King Crimson, said. In a literal sense, he got his wish: although the progressive-rock boom was effectively over by the end of the seventies, it left behind a vast quantity of surplus LPs, which filled the bins in used-record stores for decades. (Many people who have never heard this music would nonetheless recognize some of the album covers.) Progressive rock was repudiated by what came next: disco, punk, and the disco-punk genre known as New Wave. Unlike prog rock, this music was, respectively, danceable, concise, and catchy. In the story of popular music, as conventionally told, progressive rock was at best a dead end, and at worst an embarrassment, and a warning to future musical generations: don’t get carried away.

In place of a guitarist, Emerson, Lake & Palmer had Keith Emerson, a keyboard virtuoso who liked to wrestle with his Hammond organ onstage, and didn’t always win: during one performance, he was pinned beneath the massive instrument, and had to be rescued by roadies.

The genre’s bad reputation has been remarkably durable, even though its musical legacy keeps growing. Twenty years ago, Radiohead released “OK Computer,” a landmark album that was profoundly prog: grand and dystopian, with a lead single that was more than six minutes long. But when a reporter asked one of the members whether Radiohead had been influenced by Genesis and Pink Floyd, the answer was swift and categorical: “No. We all hateprogressive rock music.”

It is common to read about some band that worked in obscurity, only to be discovered decades later. In the case of progressive rock, the sequence has unfolded in reverse: these bands were once celebrated, and then people began to reconsider. The collapse of prog helped reaffirm the dominant narrative of rock and roll: that pretension was the enemy; that virtuosity could be an impediment to honest self-expression; that “self-taught” was generally preferable to “classically trained.”

In the past twenty years, though, a number of critics and historians have argued that prog rock was more interesting and more thoughtful than the caricature would suggest. The latest is David Weigel, a savvy political reporter for the Washington Post who also happens to be an unabashed fan—or, more accurately, a semi-abashed fan. His new history of prog rock is called “The Show That Never Ends,” and it begins with its author embarking on a cruise for fans, starring some of the great prog-rock bands of yore, or what remains of them. “We are the most uncool people in Miami,” Weigel writes, “and we can hardly control our bliss.”

Almost no one hated progressive rock as much, or as memorably, as Lester Bangs, the dyspeptic critic who saw himself as a rock-and-roll warrior, doing battle against the forces of fussiness and phoniness. In 1974, he took in an E.L.P. performance and came away appalled by the arsenal of instruments (including “two Arthurian-table-sized gongs” and “the world’s first synthesized drum kits”), by Emerson’s preening performance, and by the band’s apparent determination to smarten up rock and roll by borrowing from more respectable sources. E.L.P. had reached the Top Ten, in both Britain and America, with a live album based on its bombastic rendition of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Bangs wanted to believe that the band members thought of themselves as vandals, gleefully desecrating the classics. Instead, Carl Palmer, the drummer, told him, “We hope, if anything, we’re encouraging the kids to listen to music that has more quality”—and “quality” was precisely the quality that Bangs loathed. He reported that the members of E.L.P. were soulless sellouts, participating in “the insidious befoulment of all that was gutter pure inrock.” Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed “dean of American rock critics,” was, if anything, more dismissive: “These guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans.”

The story of this reviled genre starts, though, with the most acclaimed popular music ever made. “If you don’t like progressive rock, blame it on the Beatles,” a philosophy professor named Bill Martin wrote, in his 1998 book, “Listening to the Future,” a wonderfully argumentative defense of the genre. Martin is, in his own estimation, “somewhat Marxist,” and he saw progressive rock as an “emancipatory and utopian” movement—not a betrayal of the sixties counterculture but an extension of it. Martin identified a musical “turning point” in 1966 and 1967, when the Beach Boys released “Pet Sounds” and the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which together inspired a generation of bands to create albums that were more unified in theme but more diverse in sound. Using orchestration and studio trickery, these albums summoned the immersive pleasure of watching a movie, rather than the kicky thrill of listening to the radio.

When bands set out to make hit albums, rather than hit singles, some of them abandoned short, sharp love songs and began to experiment with intricate compositions and mythopoetic lyrics. By the dawn of the seventies, the term “progressive rock” was being applied to a cohort of rock-and-roll groups that thought they might be outgrowing rock and roll. In 1973, Columbia Records released a double-album compilation called “The Progressives.” The liner notes informed listeners that “the boundaries between styles and categories continue to blur and disappear.”

But this inclusive musical movement was also, as Weigel emphasizes, a parochial one. “American and British youth music had grown together from the moment the Beatles landed at J.F.K.,” he writes. “In 1969, the two sounds finally started to grow apart.” Weigel quotes an interview with Lee Jackson, the lead singer of a British rock band called the Nice—Keith Emerson’s previous band. “The basic policy of the group is that we’re a European group,” Jackson said. “We’re not American Negroes, so we can’t really improvise and feel the way they can.” (Ironically, the Nice’s biggest hit was an instrumental version of Leonard Bernstein’s “America.”) In a thoughtful 2009 autobiography, Bill Bruford, a drummer who was central to the development of prog rock, noted that many of the music’s pioneers were “nice middle-class English boys,” singing songs that were “self-consciously British.” Genesis, for instance, was formed at Charterhouse, a venerable boarding school in Surrey; the band’s album “Selling England by the Pound” was an arch and whimsical meditation on national identity. Bruford pointed out that even Pink Floyd, known for free-form jam sessions and, later, cosmic rock epics, found time to record songs like “Grantchester Meadows,” a gentle ode to the East Anglian countryside.

In 1969, King Crimson, the most rigorous and avant-garde of the major prog bands, released what is now considered the genre’s first great album, a strange and menacing début called “In the Court of the Crimson King.” The album used precise dissonance and off-kilter rhythms to evoke in listeners a thrilling sensation of ignorance: you got the feeling that the musicians understood something you didn’t. At a career-making concert in Hyde Park, opening for the Rolling Stones, King Crimson played a ferocious set that ended with an acknowledgment of England’s musical heritage: a rendition of “Mars, the Bringer of War,” by the English composer Gustav Holst.

The prog-rock pioneers embraced extravagance. Concertgoers could savor a new electronic keyboard called a Mellotron, a singer dressed as a batlike alien commander, an allusion to a John Keats poem, and a philosophical allegory about humankind’s demise—all in the space of a single song (“Watcher of the Skies,” by Genesis).

From the start, King Crimson was the kind of band that musicians love—as opposed, that is, to the kind of band that non-musicians love. (King Crimson never had a hit single, although “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the first song from its first album, served, in 2010, as the basis for “Power,” by Kanye West.) Bill Bruford, the drummer, was astonished by an early King Crimson performance, and resolved to make equally ambitious music with his own band, a sweetly melodic group called Yes. In its own way, Yes, too, was profoundly English—Jon Anderson, the lead singer, generally eschewed faux-American bluesiness, and the band instead deployed pleasing multipart harmonies that recall the choral tradition of the Anglican Church.

In 1971, Yes released an album called “Fragile,” which included a hummable—and very progressive—song called “Roundabout.” On the album, it lasted more than eight minutes, but unsentimental record executives trimmed it to three and a half, and the edited version found a home on U.S. radio stations. This music, so self-consciously English, sounded different in America, where its rather nerdy creators were greeted as exotic rock stars. That summer, Yes played its first U.S. concert, at an arena in Seattle. A fan who approached Jon Anderson before the show remembered that Anderson was nervous. “I don’t know what is going to happen,” the singer told him. “I’ve never been in a place like this.”

When Anderson sang, “I’ll be the roundabout,” most American listeners surely had no idea that he was referring to the kind of intersection known less euphoniously, in the U.S., as a traffic circle. (The song was inspired by the view from a van window.) Why, then, did this music seduce so many Americans? In 1997, a musician and scholar named Edward Macan published “Rocking the Classics,” in which he offered a provocative explanation. Noting that this artsy music seemed to attract “a greater proportion of blue-collar listeners” in the U.S. than it had in Britain, he proposed that the genre’s Britishness “provided a kind of surrogate ethnic identity to its young white audience”: white music for white people, at a time of growing white anxiety. Bill Martin, the quasi-Marxist, found Macan’s argument “troubling.” In his view, the kids in the bleachers were revolutionaries, drawn to the music because its sensibility, based on “radical spiritual traditions,” offered an alternative to “Western politics, economics, religion, and culture.”

The genre’s primary appeal, though, was not spiritual but technical. The musicians presented themselves as virtuosos, which made it easy for fans to feel like connoisseurs; this was avant-garde music that anyone could appreciate. (Pink Floyd might be the most popular prog-rock band of all time, but Martin argued that, because the members lacked sufficient “technical proficiency,” Pink Floyd was not really prog at all.) In some ways, E.L.P. was the quintessential prog band, dominated by Emerson’s ostentatious technique—he played as fast as he could, and sometimes, it seemed, faster—and given to grand, goofy gestures, like “Tarkus,” a twenty-minute suite that recounted the saga of a giant, weaponized armadillo. The members of E.L.P. betrayed no particular interest in songwriting; the group’s big hit, “Lucky Man,” was a fluke, based on something that Greg Lake wrote when he was twelve. It concluded with a wild electronic solo, played on a state-of-the-art Moog synthesizer, that Emerson considered embarrassingly primitive. An engineer had recorded Emerson warming up, and the rest of the band had to convince him not to replace his squiggles with something more precise—more impressive. In the effortful world of prog, there was not much room for charming naïveté or happy accidents; improvised solos were generally less important than composed instrumental passages.

The audience for this stuff was largely male—Bruford writes ruefully that, throughout his career, women “generally and rather stubbornly stayed away” from his performances. The singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, an obsessive prog-rock fan, suggests that these musicians were “afraid of women,” and that they expressed this fear by shunning love songs. What they provided, instead, was spectacle. As the American crowds got bigger, the stages did, too, which meant more elaborate shows, which in turn drew more fans. Weigel notes that, in one tour program, the members of Genesis promised to “continually feed profits back into the stage show.” (At one point, the show included a stage-wide array of screens displaying a sequence of hundreds of images, and, for the lead singer, a rubbery, tumorous costume with inflatable testicles.) Yes toured with sets designed by Roger Dean, the artist who painted its extraterrestrial album covers. Dean’s innovations included enormous, sac-like pods from which the musicians could dramatically emerge. Inevitably, one of the pods eventually malfunctioned, trapping a musician inside and prefiguring a famous scene from “This Is Spinal Tap.” The competition among bands to create bigger and brighter spectacles was absurd but also irresistible, and quite possibly rational. American arena stages, like LPs, needed to be filled, and so these bands set out to fill them.

Weigel’s book has an unlikely flaw, given its subject: it is too short. Wary, perhaps, of taxing readers’ patience, he finishes his tour in three hundred pages, resisting what must have been an overwhelming urge to interrupt the narrative with disco-graphical digressions. Martin, less diffident, included in his book a list of sixty-two “essential” progressive-rock albums—partly to provide a shopping list for newcomers, and partly, one suspects, because he liked the idea of outraging hard-core fans with his omissions.

So what is the greatest progressive-rock album of all time? One perennial and deserving candidate is “Close to the Edge,” by Yes, from 1972, which consists of three long songs that are, by turns, gently pastoral and gloriously futuristic, responding to the genre’s contradictory impulses: to explore musical history and to leave it behind. Earlier this year, Will Romano published “Close to the Edge: How Yes’s Masterpiece Defined Prog Rock,” a frankly obsessive study that makes no pretense of levelheadedness. Romano notes that he listened to the album “easily over a thousand times” while working on the book, and, when he wonders about a “low pulse that pervades entire sections” of the title track, it seems possible that he has begun to hallucinate. He embarks upon a brave attempt to decode Anderson’s inane lyrics, provides an astute technical description of the way Steve Howe seems to play lead and rhythm guitar at the same time, and identifies the pivotal moment when Rick Wakeman, the keyboard player, met Denise Gandrup, a designer of sparkly capes, which became his signature.

In the United States, British prog rock’s rather nerdy creators were greeted as exotic rock stars. Before Yes played its first U.S. show, at a stadium in Seattle, the singer Jon Anderson said, “I don’t know what is going to happen. I’ve never been in a place like this.”

Romano ends with a note of defiance, pointing out that Yes still hadn’t been accepted by the cultural élitists in charge of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This spring, not long after the book’s publication, Yes was finally inducted—more than two decades after it became eligible. And yet Romano is right: there is something inspiring about the indigestibility of prog, which still hasn’t quite been absorbed into the canon of critically beloved rock and roll, and which therefore retains some of its outsider appeal. Often, we celebrate bygone bands for being influential, hearing in them the seeds of the new; the best prog provides, instead, the shock of the old.

Listeners who wonder what they have been missing should probably ignore E.L.P. entirely and head straight for “Close to the Edge”—or, if they want something a bit more bruising, “Red,” an austere album that a new version of King Crimson (including Bruford) released in 1974. One of the most underappreciated progressive-rock groups was Gentle Giant, but there was a reason for this neglect: none of the band members happened to be a great singer. So they used interlocking instrumental lines, shifting time signatures, and close harmonies to construct songs that seemed to occupy some phantom limb of music’s evolutionary tree.

Gentle Giant was one of the bands featured on “The Progressives,” the Columbia Records compilation, which turned out to have a hidden agenda: it was, in large part, a jazz album, seemingly designed to help prog fans develop a taste for Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Jazz played an important but disputed role in the story of progressive rock. While some British bands were trying to turn inward, away from American influences, others were finding ways to forge new ties between rock and jazz. Indeed, Mahavishnu Orchestra, a jazz-fusion group led by the English guitarist John McLaughlin (who previously played with Miles Davis), is sometimes considered an honorary prog band—at the time, the distinctions between these genres could be hazy. And in Canterbury, in the southeast of England, a cluster of interconnected bands created their own jazz-inflected hybrids: Soft Machine, Matching Mole, Hatfield & the North. These are the bands most likely to charm—and perhaps convert—listeners who think that they hate progressive rock. Unlike the swashbucklers who conquered arenas, the Canterburians were cheerfully unheroic, pairing adventurous playing with shrugging, self-deprecating lyrics about nothing much. (One Hatfield & the North song goes, “Thank all the mothers who made cups of tea. / If they didn’t care for us, we wouldn’t be / here to sing our songs and entertain. / Plug us in and turn on the mains!”) This is music animated by a spirit of playful exploration—recognizably progressive, you might say, though not terribly prog.

The question of progress bedevilled many of the prog bands: the ethos, which implied constant transformation, was at odds with the sound, which was identifiable, and therefore stuck. Robert Fripp solved this problem by disbanding King Crimson just as “Red” was being released. “The band ceased to exist in 1974, which was when all English bands in that genre should have ceased to exist,” he said later. Once some album-side-long songs had been recorded, and some snippets of classical music appropriated, it was not obvious how further progress might be made, especially since the bands now had big crowds to please. In 1978, E.L.P. released an infamous album called “Love Beach,” which was recorded in the Bahamas, and whose cover depicted something less enticing than a battle-ready armadillo: the three grinning band members, displaying white teeth and varying amounts of chest hair.

Most of the musicians took seriously the “progressive” in “progressive rock,” and believed that they were helping to hurry along an ineluctable process: the development of rock music into what Jon Anderson, of Yes, once called “a higher art form.”

Progressive rock was a stubborn genre, and yet a number of its adepts proved to be surprisingly flexible; it turned out that their considerable musical skill could be put to new uses. In 1980, Steve Howe, the guitarist from Yes, told the Los Angeles Times that his band had been “modernized” and simplified. “Whatever’s been leveled at us in the past, we want to be re-judged,” he said. This kind of desperate ploy isn’t supposed to work, but it did: in 1983, Yes topped the American pop chart with “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” which barely sounded like it had come from the same band. A new group called Asia, made up of refugees from Yes, King Crimson, and E.L.P., released an album that reached No. 1 on the American chart. Genesis did something even more impressive, transforming into a Top Forty band while spawning three successful solo careers. The singer, Peter Gabriel, became a pop star, and so did the drummer, Phil Collins, and the bassist, Mike Rutherford, who led Mike + the Mechanics. For a few of the genre’s biggest stars, the music industry offered an attractive bargain: leave prog behind and you can be bigger than ever.

Some true believers remained, of course. In the seventies, prog-inspired American bands like Kansas and Styx had conquered arenas, and by the end of the decade there was Rush, a Yes-obsessed trio of Canadians who received even worse reviews than their British forebears. One reason was their avowed love of Ayn Rand; an influential and absurd review in New Musical Express, a British magazine, accused them of preaching “proto-fascism.” Another reason was that, by the late seventies, progressive rock was about the most unhip music in existence. “The fans showing up to hear Rush were the wrong kind of fans—the mockable ones, with mockable taste in music,” Weigel writes, holding up this judgment for ridicule without quite dissenting from it. (No doubt he was sorely tempted to use the term “deplorables.”) By the time Rush emerged, progressive rock had entered its never-ending defensive phase; uncoolness is now part of the genre’s identity, and even a devoted fan like Weigel may not be entirely sure whether he wants that to change.

Progressive rock, broadly defined, can never disappear, because there will always be musicians who want to experiment with long songs, big concepts, complex structures, and fantastical lyrics. You can hear a trace of the genre in the fearless compositions of Joanna Newsom or, equally, in “Pyramids,” an epic Frank Ocean slow jam that blends Afrocentric mythology with a narrative about sexwork. At Coachella this year, one of the breakout stars was Hans Zimmer, the German composer, who performed excerpts from his film scores with an orchestra and a rock band. (Anyone who cheered him on has forever lost the right to make snarky jokes about bands like Yes.) Plenty of revivalist bands play what might, paradoxically, be called retro-prog. And there have been latter-day innovators. Tool emerged, a quarter century ago, as an awesome new kind of prog band: precise but unremittingly heavy, all rumbles and hums. In Sweden, Meshuggah, in the nineties, built roaring, ferocious songs atop fiendish riffs in prime-number time signatures; Opeth, in the aughts, found a connection between death-metal fury and Pink Floydian reverie.

What can disappear—what long ago disappeared, in fact, at least among rock bands—is the ideology of progress in pop music: the optimistic sense, shared by all those early-seventies pioneers, that the form was evolving and improving, and that prog rock offered a sneak peek at our future. The bands thought that the arc of the musical universe bent toward keyboard solos. This is part of what drove Lester Bangs crazy—he couldn’t understand why these musicians thought they had improved upon old-fashioned rock and roll. But contemporary listeners might find the genre’s optimistic spirit more exotic, and therefore more endearing, than it once seemed. Of course, prog rock was not the future—at least, not more than anything else was. Nowadays, it seems clear that rock history is not linear but cyclical. There is no grand evolution, just an endless process of rediscovery and reappraisal, as various styles and poses go in and out of fashion. We no longer, many of us, believe in the idea of musical progress. All the more reason, perhaps, to savor the music of those who did.

By Kelefa Sanneh and published on June 12, 2017 in The New Yorker and can be found here.

YesSource: 5/11/91 Rehearsals in Phoenix

Here are my latest uploads to YesSource, my Yes rarities youtube page (about which you can read here).  This post is another addition to my series of Yes music posts and a collection of all my Yes-related posts is here.  Yes, of course, is a, if not the, premier progressive rock band, and I am an enormous fan of it.

You can see all of my Yessource uploads here.

My latest YesSource uploads can be found here:

YesSource: 4/9/91 Pensacola, YesYears Behind the Scenes

Here are my latest uploads to YesSource, my Yes rarities youtube page (about which you can read here).  This post is another addition to my series of Yes music posts and a collection of all my Yes-related posts is here.  Yes, of course, is a, if not the, premier progressive rock band, and I am an enormous fan of it.

You can see all of my Yessource uploads here.

My latest YesSource uploads can be found here:

Joe Arcieri Songs: Let Her Go

Joe Arcieri is a friend of mine who I worked with for many years during my ten years working for Acme Markets.  Joe, when not stocking milk or saving lives as a nurse, is an excellent guitar player.  I have had the privilege, from time to time, of (badly) plunking my bass guitar with Joe as he melts a face or two with a great solo.

As great musicians do, Joe has written some of his own songs and keeps a soundcloud site to post them.  When I have opportunity, I will post his music here as well.

Here is his composition called “Let Her Go” which you can find here.

Here are the links to the previously posted songs by Joe:

Practical Distributisim: The Cost of Comparative Advantage

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

____________

The advocates of Free Trade deals between countries frequently cite the fact that more products are made available at a lower cost to consumers as proof that their idea makes economic sense. Their explanation of how this works rests on the idea of Comparative Advantage,[1] the idea that one country can produce a good at a lower opportunity cost than other countries. Based on this idea, if the industries in one country focus on those products where they have the lowest opportunity cost, and import products where they don’t, this provides an abundance of lower priced goods for everyone. For the advocates of Free Trade, price [2] appears to be the ultimate test of what is economically good. They scoff at opponents and critics of Free Trade as if their criticisms of it are completely without merit. Even some economists who have dared to question Free Trade, still try to uphold Comparative Advantage as a reasonable idea.[3] The reality is that the Free Trade ideology ultimately rests on Comparative Advantage. Therefore, it is prudent to examine the criticisms of it to see if they do, in fact, merit consideration. I believe that history has proven that they do.

The United States of America used to have a much more robust manufacturing industry. Critics will immediately respond that there is actually a growing manufacturing base in the U.S.,[4] but let me explain what I mean. It is true that certain types of manufacturing are growing in the U.S. However, these are not the same types of manufacturing jobs as in the past. Historically, U.S. manufacturing employed all levels of workers. High skilled and high educated workers developed and designed products, but our manufacturing industries also employed the low to average educated who worked on the assembly lines and did those aspects of manufacturing work that did not require higher levels of education. Over the last thirty to forty years, we have increased the jobs requiring high levels of education and outsourced jobs for those with an average education.

“The mantra that we’ve lost good-paying jobs to China is exactly wrong,” said Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University who has studied manufacturing in Indiana. “We’ve lost the bad-paying jobs to China and gained good-paying jobs.”[5]

These “bad paying” jobs supported large numbers of middle class families across the country. The “good paying” jobs were precisely ones that those displaced by this shift were unqualified to get. Essentially, the U.S. manufacturing industry has said that, unless you can get a degree in science or engineering, don’t bother applying to them for a job. The callous disregard of this large, middle class group of workers has caused economic and political tremors in the U.S. in recent years. Why were these hard working people turned out by their employers? The reason is Comparative Advantage. Our largest manufacturing employers are focusing only on those areas with the “lowest opportunity cost” to them. This is done without regard to what happens to their fellow citizens, and then they wonder why U.S. citizens don’t have much loyalty to domestic products.

Industrial heavy hitters who were able to develop and grow during an age of protectionist tariffs, now demand Free Trade on the basis of Comparative Advantage. Tariffs used to provide jobs in the U.S. as foreign manufacturers would open factories in the U.S. to avoid paying them.[6] As the threat of tariffs disappeared, so did the jobs.

… “industries where the threat of tariff hikes declines the most experience greater employment loss due to suppressed job creation, exaggerated job destruction and a substitution away from low-skill workers.”[7]

However, this issue goes beyond assembly line jobs. Comparative Advantage, and its necessary Free Trade deals have spread across all aspects of production in every country that has adopted this economic ideology. What happens, though, when the foreign supply lines are threatened? We have already written about how natural and economic disasters in other countries have impacted the availability of products of supposedly “American” manufacturers. The truth is that this is not as rare an occurrence as some may believe. It is easy to forget, though, when these amount to not much more than an inconvenience or an annoyance to us. For example, past flooding in China has resulted in shortages of computer parts for U.S. computer manufacturers. Because these types of events ended up being a temporary annoyance where people had to wait extra time for these parts, few seemed to really consider the greater implications of such a dependence. The fact that our supply chains have not significantly changed in the decades since those incidents shows that those who had enough foresight to raise an alarm were not taken seriously.

The reality is that the same warnings given about too much dependence on foreign manufacturer of critical technology apply to other critical areas. The same warnings have been raised about this type of dependence for things like medicines.[8] It does seem that a lot of these articles focus specifically on the dependence of Western countries on China. There are two reasons for this.

The first and most obvious reason is that China has become the biggest manufacturer of critical computer technology and medical supplies in the world. European and North American companies have outsourced the manufacture of these critical needs to China; a process that has been enabled by the cooperation of their governments. This is despite the fact that China is widely recognized by these governments as consistently violating basic human rights and having sub-standard working conditions that would not be accepted in their own countries, and these supposedly capitalist companies are moving their production to a socialist country. Some advocates of Free Trade say that China has moved to a more “corporatist” form of business model that is (by implication?) more compatible with capitalism. The reality is that corporatism is a socialist economic model that was adopted by the Fascist and Nazi regimes as part of their socialist economic plans.

However, the warnings against this type of dependence was ignored and, with the unfortunate outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, we are once again having to deal with the reality of this issue. The realities in this case are the same. There are both annoyances as our supplies of non-critical products are delayed.[9] There are also more serious consequences as this circumstance has raised the possibility of critical drugs and medical supplies might also be at risk.[10]

However, let’s consider another serious implication of what Comparative Advantage has done to us. It appears that even some of the manufacturing requiring high skilled and highly educated workers have also been outsourced. We seem to forget just how much of our society has become dependent on computer technology. This goes beyond our government offices, our communications networks, and the systems that run our economic industry. The advanced weapons systems used by the defense forces of Western countries are also completely dependent on this technology.

Even though our economic powerhouses have viewed China as an “economic partner” for several decades, I find it hard to believe that the military and intelligence departments of Western countries look at China as much of a partner. However, those departments rely on computer technology made by the companies that do. As a result, our most advanced weapons and defense systems, as well as our communications networks,[11] are all dependent on advanced computer parts made by a potential adversary.  Is this a real threat?

In 2011, it was reported that the “Government Accountability Office found that counterfeit routers with high failure rates had been sold to the Navy, and that counterfeit microprocessors had been purchased by the U.S. Air Force for use on F-15 flight control computers.”[12] A “scientist at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom claims to have developed a software program proving that China — and anyone else — can, and is, installing cyber backdoors on some of the world’s most secure, ‘military grade’ microchips.”[13]

You might think that this is a lot to blame on an idea like Comparative Advantage, but then you have to answer the question of why we no longer make these computer components for ourselves. The U.S. used computers designed and built in the U.S. to put men on the moon. This was not that long ago. Today our most advanced communications and defense systems are dependent on technology we might design, but no longer make. The same is true for medicines and medical supplies. We use computer components without even thinking about it, in our phones, in our cars, and in our home entertainment systems, and these components are all made by a foreign power that is philosophically opposed to the ideas that founded our societies. How did we get to such a place? We got there because our largest industries, and their partners in government, are believers in the theory of Comparative Advantage and have worked together to implement Free Trade agreements to make that theory a reality.

Notes:
[1] https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/glossary/comparative-advantage/

[2] https://practicaldistributism.blogspot.com/2015/08/price.html

[3]  https://economistsview.typepad.com/timduy/2010/07/why-is-the-american-jobs-machine-broken.html

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/01/america-is-still-making-things/512282/

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2015/02/05/the-rise-of-made-by-china-in-america.html

[7] Pierce, Justin R. and Schott, Peter K. “The Surprisingly Swift Decline of U.S. Manufacturing Employment”. National Bureau of Economic Research, American Economic Review, Vol 106(7), Dec. 2012, Revised Jan. 2014
https://www.nber.org/papers/w18655.pdf

[8] https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2019/01/exposing_the_risks_of_americas_dependence_on_china_for_medicine.html

[9] https://financemarkethouse.com/2020/02/18/apple-admits-the-coronavirus-will-cause-a-global-iphone-shortage/

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/coronavirus-outbreak-puts-chill-us-businesses-apple-starbucks/story?id=68639376

https://www.just-auto.com/hot-issues/coronavirus-hits-the-auto-industry_id636.aspx

[10] https://www.wired.com/story/the-coronavirus-is-a-threat-to-the-global-drug-supply/

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/healthcare/biotech/pharmaceuticals/coronavirus-pandemic-threatens-to-cut-pharmaceutical-industrys-lifeline/articleshow/73753415.cms

[11] https://www.cnet.com/news/chinese-spy-chip-reportedly-found-in-server-at-major-us-telecom/

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/04/china-planted-chips-on-apple-and-amazon-servers-report-claims

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-10-04/the-big-hack-how-china-used-a-tiny-chip-to-infiltrate-america-s-top-companies

[12] http://www.allgov.com/news/us-and-the-world/counterfeit-computer-chips-from-china-compromised-us-military-equipment?news=843552

[13] https://www.military.com/defensetech/2012/05/30/smoking-gun-proof-that-military-chips-from-china-are-infected

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk5oLLdTkq0

Title photograph by Thorsten Lindner.

Joe Arcieri Songs: Burn it Down

Joe Arcieri is a friend of mine who I worked with for many years during my ten years working for Acme Markets.  Joe, when not stocking milk or saving lives as a nurse, is an excellent guitar player.  I have had the privilege, from time to time, of (badly) plunking my bass guitar with Joe as he melts a face or two with a great solo.

As great musicians do, Joe has written some of his own songs and keeps a soundcloud site to post them.  When I have opportunity, I will post his music here as well.

Here is his composition called “Burn it Down” which you can find here.

Here are the links to the previously posted songs by Joe:

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