Monthly Archive: January 2018

The R word and online credibility

The word “racist”, as one might expect, is a loaded word, with much baggage, most of it negative.
The baggage is negative because in most parts of the world, racism is regarded as a bad thing. And you don’t need to look far into the history of the world, and particularly the history of empires, to understand why. In the Bad Old Days of Empire, there were the explorers/conquerors/exploiters (People Like Us Over Here) and the subjects (those People Over There). One of the easiest ways in which one differentiates is by skin color and facial features. This set us on the long road to centuries of exploitation of people in distant lands who, in many cases, looked different to us. This is not some esoteric debate. It’s a stone cold fact.
That being the case, racism is a contentious subject, particularly right now in the USA, which elected a President whose actions when dealing with people of different ethnic origins are at best problematical. He also has a track record of uttering incendiary comments about countries and their citizens. This is also not a subject of debate.
John Scalzi, in his blunt way, just pointed out what should be blindingly obvious to most of us.
However, the incendiary nature of the R word leads to it becoming very difficult to openly and honestly discuss concepts, facts, trends and events involving it. It is almost a taboo word, like “sex” was to my parents’ generation.
Many years ago, I had some political conversations with a guy I was working with in the UK. It soon became clear that his worldview was pretty heavily biased towards white supremacy. Like Donald Trump, he thought that Africa was a shithole. Unlike Trump however, he had actually visited Africa, and could name countries and cities.
However, what I respected about him, although it was soon clear to both of us that we had somewhat different worldviews, was that he was prepared to calmly and rationally discuss and debate. He didn’t engage in deflection, shut-downs, ad hominems or all of the other common fallacious and rhetorically dishonest tactics that many people do to either skew conversations their way or to position themselves to flounce off in a huff if they can’t. you know, Win.
On one occasion, sensing the way that one particular conversation was going, he said to me “look, I know you think I’m racist. And to be honest, yes, I am”.
Which on one level was kind of scary, but on another level it was good. Good because instead of playing rhetorical whack-a-mole over the R word, it was now out in the open, and we both knew where we stood.
A lot of conversations about enthnicity and race go nowhere except to a bad place, partly because racists, who are uncomfortably aware of the loaded nature of the word “racist” (as in, This Makes Me Look Bad), behave like rhetorical shitweasels when the subject comes up, dodging and ducking like the best boxers.
There are also people who use the R word as a conversational shut-down tactic; this is equally problematical.
I would have a lot more respect for some of the people on social media if, after posting and supporting racist comments, actions or sentiments, they would stop attempting to desperately pretend that they are not some combination of (a) nativist, (b) an enabler for racism, or (c) racist. Trying to pretend otherwise makes them look like zero-credibility shitweasels. They come across as unserious.


On the subject of online condescension and dickery

I want to pause to say a few words about dickery in online discussions.
I got to thinking about this tonight, after a sharp exchange with somebody in a discussion thread.
The exchange came about because a male commenter, bent out of shape over a perjorative label being applied to him by a female commenter. decided to begin his response with “Lady. You do not know me”. Then he launched into a whiny excoriation of her and her worldview.
I commented that beginning a response with “Lady” was highly likely to convince a number of readers that he was a condescending asshat.
Unsurprisingly, he was not happy about this observation, and complained that since I did not know how appallingly the female commenter had been accusing him of Bad Things, I should, as he put it, “stop flapping my gums”.
His complaint might be true, the commenter might have been unfair or rude to him. But…
…It is irrelevant.
My main point (which he chose to blow past, because he was all fired up with indignation by that point) was that beginning a comment to female with “Lady” is about as condescending as it gets. It is a clear tell of a certain level of contempt for female viewpoints. And…based on my experience in online forums, this is endemic with male commenters when women either write things that they don’t like, or when women challenge their opinions and worldviews.
Condescension (the online pat-on-the-head equivalent of “don’t you be worrying your pretty little head about this Complex Stuff”) is often a first-port-of-call for male commenters. It is, incidentally, a significant part of the reason why there are very few female libertarians, and it is part of the reason why I find it hard to respect many online libertarians, or take their opinions seriously. Condescension has become an integral part of the online arsenal of many libertarians (that plus juvenile memes promoting old shibboleths).
But I digress.
The other point that needs to be made is that just because somebody starts talking smack to you online doesn’t mean that you have to immediately respond in kind. One of the key life skills that we all have to develop is knowing how to not be trapped or tricked into escalating disputes, and knowing when to walk away from a situation when we conclude that there is no upside to continued involvement.
The sort of person who always responds in kind or with aggression when somebody says something that they find irritating or annoying is the sort of person who pretty quickly acquires the reputation of behaving like an obnoxious confrontational asshat with a temper management problem. This is not a behavior pathology that has any beneficial upside of making friends or positively influencing people.
You can be be a dick in online discussions quite easily. Lots of people do it almost without thinking, or maybe without realizing that they are doing it.
On the other hand, some of them know they do it, and don’t care. They see it as a personal feature, not a bug.
You can sometimes spot those people in advance. They will say things like “I’m not politically correct”. They may think they are signalling their ability (which they regard as a Good Thing) to be blunt and candid. However, most of the time, in reality, this is a vain attempt at pre-inoculation, a signalling of the message “At some point in the near future I am going to write something that makes me sound like a dick”.


Todd Rundgren – the Golden Period vs. Stevie Wonder

While Stevie Wonder gathered justified acclaim and fame for his “golden period” collection of LPs from 1971 to 1976 (“Music Of My Mind”, “Talking Book”, “Innervisions”, “Fulfilingness’ First Finale” and “Songs In The Key Of Life”), a fellow American working a few hundred miles away, primarily in a loft studio in New York, went through his own “golden period” that was far more prolific, and in some ways far more varied.
Todd Rundgren, born in Philadelphia in 1948, had a minor hit with his first band The Nazz (a BritPop-influenced band), then, after The Nazz imploded, he hid himself away and worked on honing his skills on guitar, piano and other instruments. He made an early solo LP in 1970, “Runt”, which yielded a minor radio hit in “We Gotta Get You A Woman” then another solo LP, “Runt – The Ballad of Todd Rundgren” in 1971. Along the way, he acquired a manager, Albert Grossman, who also happened to own his own record company, Bearsville Records. So Todd became one of a small number of artists on Bearsville, most of them managed by Grossman. This represented a huge advantage; when you manager owned your record company, the company was unlikely to reject your recordings. This would come in useful, as we shall see later.
In 1972 Rundgren, initially working on his own and later with a studio band, released a double LP, “Something/Anything?”. This comprised 4 sides of wide-ranging music, showing influences from British pop, soul music,music hall and rock. Todd played all of the instruments on many of the tunes. The LP yielded two US hit singles, “I Saw The Light”, and “Hello It’s Me”, but the album had several other potential hit singles on it. As a hint to what was about to happen, the LP clocked in at 90 minutes – very long even for a double LP.
Todd Rundgren had come of age as a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who acted as his own recording engineer and producer. He seemed to be able to write and play anything he could think of. He was now working with a small collection of New York musicians at the time; Mark “Moogy” Klingman, Ralph Shuckett, John Siegler, Hunt and Tony Sales, John Siomos, and Kevin Ellman.
By this time Todd had started a parallel career as a record producer. He produced the debut LP by the New York Dolls, and Grossman boasted that he was going to make him the highest-paid producer in the world. In 1974 Rundgren would produce the second LP from Daryl Hall and Joan Oates, “War Babies”. The production monies would soon become useful…
In late 1973, mostly recording in his loft studio (which bore the name Secret Sound), Todd’s next LP, “A Wizard a True Star” appeared. It was a single LP, but was an incredible 56 minutes in length, and in practical terms equated to a commercial disaster after “Something/Anything?”. There were no obvious hit singles on the album, some of the tunes were only 90 seconds long, and half of the second side was a medley of Todd’s cover versions of his favorite soul songs. Many of the songs ran into each other with no gaps. The overall effect was musically interesting, but the record company executives probably ended up banging their heads on the table.
Rundgren kept his head down and carried on working at a ludicrous pace in Secret Sound. His next LP, “Todd”, appeared in early 1974. It was a double LP this time, once again full of songs showing a wide range of influences, including Todd’s cover version of a Gilbert and Sullivan song (“The Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song”). However, Todd was still making it as difficult as possible for the record company and DJs to play his music – many of the tunes again ran into each other, and there was no obvious hit single, although the LP was stuffed full of great songs, especially the ballads “The Last Ride” and “Don’t You Ever Learn”.
By this time, Todd’s collaboration roster had settled on Kevin Ellman (drums), John Siegler (bass), Moogy Klingman and Ralph Shuckett on keyboards, and Jean-Yves (M. Frog) Labat on synthesizers. The band soon became known as Utopia, and began to back Todd in live concerts.
The Utopia band was no ordinary looking or sounding band. Klingman and Shuckett’s keyboards comprised electric pianos, clavinets, and a new instrument, the RMI keyboard computer, which was, for a while, the first truly polyphonic synthesizer, beating the better-known polysynths from Moog, Oberheim and Sequential Circuits by several years.
The combination of the different keyboards, heavily treated using effects, and the space-age garb of the band members, with Rundgren himself up front with multi-colored dyed hair, made Utopia look more like Sun Ra than an early 1970s rock band, and the sound was different – clear and crystalline, almost other-worldly.
Todd had now branched out to have two parallel recording careers in two distinctively different musical zones, in addition to his “producer for hire” side gig.
In late 1974, a new LP appeared under the title of “Todd Rundgren’s Utopia”. The single LP was another CD-length musical package of 59 minutes of music. There was just one tune on Side 1 that could have been a hit single (but wasn’t) named “Freedom Fighters”; the rest of the tunes on Side 1 were all at least 10 minutes in length, with the single track of side 2, “The Ikon”, running for 30 minutes. If the record company hadn’t already realized that Todd didn’t care about whether he had a hit single ever again, that LP should have confirmed it.
The Utopia music was complex thematic rock, but rooted in pop, not jazz like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a band that was attracting a lot of attention at the time for its fusion of jazz and rock approaches. The Utopia book of tunes was dominated by multi-section long form tunes, with occasional melodic vocal sections from Rundgren.
Rundgren was also beginning to tackle big subjects in his lyrics as he moved heavily into ingesting psychedelic drugs. He began reading occult and sci-fi works.
After a few months, Jean-Yves Labat left Utopia, and was replaced by Roger Powell, a synthesizer pioneer who had left ARP and become a Moog expert. Powell, who also occasionally played trumpet, and his large bank of Moog synth equipment soon became an integral part of the band’s live presence.
At the same tine, Todd went back into the studio and in 1975 yet another Todd Rundgren LP emerged. “Initiation” was another single LP.
No it wasn’t.
At 68 minutes in length, “Initiation” was totally unique at the time – a CD length musical work in the vinyl age. The first side, nearly 33 minutes long, comprised Rundgren in a band setting. The entire second side of the LP comprised a single 35 minute long tune, “A Treatise On Cosmic Fire”, the title being taken from the 1930s occult book by Alice Bailey. Rundgren played almost all of the instruments on side 2 himself, with considerable help on synthesizer programming from Roger Powell.
The LP was so long that in order to be able to master the LP for vinyl, Rundgren had to speed the master tape for the second side up by 5%. Mastering the LP required the bass levels on the music to be reduced almost to transistor radio levels. The LP always sounded terrible in analog on vinyl, it was not until it was re-mastered to CD in the late 1980s that we finally got to hear it how it sounded when it was recorded.
The title track was a “kitchen sink” production, with no expense spared. The band for the recording session comprised Bernard Purdie and Rick Marotta on drums, John Siegler on bass, Todd himself on keyboards, Lee Pastora on percussion, and David Sanborn playing a heavily flanged and treated sax solo. Roger Powell made an appearance for a synth solo. Todd sings around material and ideas also found in Alice Bailey’s books, tossing off guitar solos and layered vocals left right and center. The result is a supercharged pop band playing space music. Nothing like it had been recorded before, and it still sounds astoundingly different over 40 years later.
Rundgren continued to write and record new material, and play it in a live setting. In mid-1975, his Utopia band concert in New York was recorded, and the LP “Utopia- Another Live” duly appeared in late 1975.
Live albums are usually a variant of a “greatest hits” collection played live. Not so with the “Utopia – Another Live” LP. It comprised an eclectic collection of material. The first side was all new tunes – three long-form compositions (“Another Life”, “The Wheel”, and “The Seven Rays”, the last named song exploring a concept from Alice Bailey’s occult writings). The second side opened with an instrumental composition (“Mr. Triscuits”, written by Roger Powell) which segued into a cover of “Something’s Coming” from “West Side Story”. The rest of the side comprised previously released Rundgren tunes (“Heavy Metal Kids” and “Just One Victory”), and a cover of the Move song “Do Ya”. And…if you hadn’t guessed by now, not a sniff of a hit single on the LP, which therefore failed to get above #66 on the LP charts.
The expense of running a 6-piece live band comprising session musicians and one of the world’s synthesizer pioneers, and the constant and frequent release of LPs that, no matter how good, were difficult to explain and market, and contained no hit singles, soon led to a rationalization. At the end of 1975, Ralph Schuckett and Moogy Klingman left Utopia. Roger Powell took over as the sole keyboards player, and the slimmed-down four-piece Utopia continued as Todd’s primary project, although he continued to release solo LPs frequently.
“Utopia – Live” marked the end of the breakneck period of music creation. In just under 4 years, Rundgren had released 6 LPs, but given that 2 of them were doubles, and at least 2 others were effectively double LPs squeezed into a single LP format, he actually released 10+ LPs’ worth of music. That is more than double Stevie Wonder’s recorded output over the same period. Todd’s output was more uneven, but the highs were every bit as high as Wonder’s. They just did not get the same attention in the music world.


Quick Thoughts – 10th January 2018

1. The Fusion GPS testimony transcript
Since the Republican majority on the Senate Intelligence committee refused to release this transcript, the Democratic minority went ahead and released it.
Here is Hoarse Whisperer’s analysis of it (HINT – it’s not good for the GOP or the current administration).

2. What happens when the children take over

3. Trolls on Facebook
Once upon a time there were no trolls on my Facebook friends list.
Then in the 2016 election cycle, some previously sensible people seemed to morph into juvenile trolls. Most of them (it seemed) were supporting Donald Trump, but not all of them. One or two also turned out to be Bernie Sanders supporters.
The worst offenders were given the heave-ho from my Friends list early last year as part of my annual rationalization. Two others were booted in 2017 for acting like horse’s asses on my timeline. More recently, some went on Hide.
However, some people are still behaving like trolls on my Facebook timeline. For reasons that I cannot fathom, they think it is OK to talk like a mocking strutting playground juvenile.
These people are operating on borrowed time. I intend to lower the boom om them real soon as part of my annual rationalization.


The bankruptcy of trolls and asshats

One thing I intend to cheerfully continue doing in 2018 is to excoriate nonsense in all its forms, and to ridicule the ridiculous.
So, in the interests of making an early start…an illustration of the creative and intellectual bankruptcy of all of those basement members of the 102nd Chairbone, whose tweets litter my feed like confetti.
When the Twitter authoritarian babbling children start using phrases like “Red Pill” and “snowflake”, you just know there is little to no thought behind the use of the phrases. This is like the 8 year old peer of mine at elementary school in the UK who called me a “c**t” on the school playground once. When I asked him what the word meant, he blustered and blathered and soon it became clear that he had no clue what the word meant. He was repeating it like the moronic mimic that he was, because he had heard tough-talking adults using it and thought it sounded cool.

Starting in October 2016, there was an incredibly strong correlation between their adoption of the word “deplorable” in their handle, and their use of sloganeering bullcrap like this (plus the use of other playground insults like “cuck” and “pedo”).
Nowadays, the more common early warning sign on Twtter is the use of “MAGA” in the profile or in hashtags. “MAGA” is also an indication that there is a 40% or greater chance that you are reading the scribblings of a trollbot.

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