“Oh, alcohol, would you please forgive me…”

[cross-posted, and slightly reformatted, from Facebook]

A few thoughts that occurred as this evening unfolded:

  1. I’m looking forward to the time when Drunk History does an episode on the Trump administration — provided America survives his Presidency.
  2. Alcohol is the great enabler — it lowers my inhibitions enough to allow me to raid the stash of Tastykakes in the panty, which were ostensibly purchased for the kids’ lunches.
  3. It’s a good thing for everyone who knows me that I wasn’t properly made aware of The Smiths when I was in high school.
  4. Thankfully, alcohol does not deter me from using words such as “ostensibly.”

The Every Song in the Library Project, Part 2

It’s been four months since I last discussed the “Every Song in the Library” project, so I thought I would make an update. I’m now 13,401 songs in (current track: Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”), and 4,746 of those have ended up in my “Good Stuff Only playlist. However, the progress isn’t quite as great as it seems. Because of new additions to the library, a little less than 1/3 of it still remains. It’s no longer a certainty that I will complete the project by the end of the year.

The sheer amount of “new” music continues to impede the progress. Whether it’s a recent purchase, an album of Sally’s I’ve never listened to before, or a CD from which, for whatever reason, I previously only bothered to listen to a few select tracks from, I want to give everything I haven’t heard at least a few listens before moving on. Finding good music that we already owned, but that I just wasn’t familiar with, was one of the primary reasons for this project, thus dictating this level of thoroughness. Yet, there are times when it feels like the some albums just aren’t receiving the the level of attention they deserve.

Case in point: Randy Newman’s The Best of Randy Newman. This is an album where I previously only listened to the few songs I knew. I might have given the remainder of the album a cursory play or two back when it was purchased, but otherwise, no real recollection of those songs. Over the past couple days, I’ve played the album in its entirety a few times, and the effort has yielded a couple new-to-me additions to the “Good Stuff” playlist. Sticking to the methodology I’ve used throughout the process means moving on to the next album. Yet, it feels like that the album deserves to be thoroughly listened to at least few more times — there may be a few other gems on there that belong in the playlist. I’d like to do that, but I also want to complete this project, which I started 18 months ago, as soon as possible.

The Best of Randy Newman is just one of many albums that demands further listening. The real problem is the calcification in my musical taste. I noticed it starting a little over 10 years ago, and it’s only become more pronounced with time. It can be overcome, but that usually requires spending more time with each song and/or album. While some songs and albums can still make a positive impression with just a few listens, others take twice as many, if not more. It’s an easy effort to make when it’s just a new album every month or two, but this particular project entails lots of new music. Albums like Newman’s make it difficult to strike a balance between listening carefully and maintaining some kind of decent pace. I’m sure that some great songs are getting bypassed because they needed another chance or two, but completing this project sometime mid-to-late next year seems too far away.

Thankfully, there plenty of songs and albums that, thanks to familiarity, require just one listening before moving on to the next. However, a quick scan of the artists to come shows that most of the names I’m most familiar with are already done. So, plenty of  unfamiliar material remains. Maybe there’s a chance of visiting albums like Newman’s after the project is completed, but given the number of other unfinished projects waiting for my attention, I don’t know how likely that is.

Antifa & Free Speech

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the antifa movement, my feelings towards it and what it represents, and the role of protected free speech. Truth be told, I’m still struggling with all of it. In a normal, properly functioning democracy, there is absolutely no place whatsoever for such a movement, nor should we be talking about what kind of speech is acceptable in a public forum. However, it seems to me that the United States, at this moment in time, is not a properly functioning democracy. The primary reason for this is our current President, who has no qualms whatsoever about eschewing established norms or circumventing and/or disabling our systems of checks and balances. He also constantly attacks the free press, demonizes his opponents (to the point of suggesting that violence against them might be okay), and gaslights and lies on a regular basis. Trump is wielding his power in a fashion that is wildly errant and destructive, to the point where white supremacists of varying kinds feel comfortable making demonstrations consisting of violent rhetoric, which often includes declarations welcoming the idea of race war.

I strikes me as Pollyannish to suggest that their freedom of speech still must be respected, no matter the cost. Again, in a normally functioning democracy, this would be an appropriate response. The problem is that many of these far right-wing individuals and groups aren’t just voicing their opinions; they are also coming to these gatherings heavily armed and engaging in acts that stop just short of committing violence against counter-protesters. They are aggressively acting in a manner designed to enrage and provoke in the hopes of causing the other side to start the violence. In the cases where these racists do shed first blood, they will find some way to blame the other side. HBO’s VICE News segment on the events in Charlottesville two weekends ago, featuring an embedded reporter, demonstrates this quite clearly.

They arrived heavily armed and bearing large body shields to be used as means of shoving counter-protestors out of their way. In addition to antagonizing and provoking, they were also hoping to intimidate through a strong show of force. Simply, they are operating in the margins where the courts have ruled the First Amendment rights can be curtailed and suspended; where speech is no longer just an expression of ideas. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s 1919 opinion, written in support of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling, made it clear that speech designed to cause violence or damage could be restricted. The issue then becomes a matter of determining what crosses that line and what doesn’t.

The free speech issues were compounded by the police response. Ideally, the police forces with the proper jurisdiction would be in place to make sure that such displays of openly antagonist speech do not escalate into full-blown violence. Unfortunately, this was not the case in Charlottesville. Why the police looked so utterly unprepared and inept continues to puzzle me — the white nationalists, Neo-Nazi’s, white supremecists, and various counter-protesters made it very clear in advance that they were going to be there in large numbers. This was a situation that required a large police presence, and the City of Charlottesville should’ve known in advance whether it was prepared. If not, they should have asked the Governor for National Guard assistance days before the marches took place — especially since white militia groups also announced their intention to attend in advance. I guarantee you that if a militant faction of the Black Panthers had fought in court for the proper permits for a demonstration then the City of Charlottesville would’ve been better prepared than it was for the events of August 11 & 12.*

To make matters even worse, for a brief period on Saturday morning, the police actually retreated from an area where violence was occurring and didn’t intervene. At best, this situation suggested that our government is afraid to properly assert itself in its duty to preserve the public peace. At worse, it shows it is incapable of it. Either way, we have a situation now where many on the left, who are horrified by the violent rhetoric and aims of far right-wing individuals and groups, feel as though they need to protect themselves, in much the same manner expressed by the NRA and its supporters. Hence, the antifa.

It’s this breach in the public trust that has provided the conditions for antifa in this country. It’s this kind of situation that has caused many on the left to suggest creating the kinds of limits that Holmes et al. said might be necessary. As I said at the start, I haven’t figured out exactly where I stand on all this. Ideally, I loathe the idea of settings limits (even temporary ones) on First Amendment rights, and I am equally disconcerted that an Antifa movement exists. However, our government seems unable or unwilling to maintain the peace in situations where it clearly should. Violent speech was in part responsible for a situation that got out of control, and as long as right-wing organizations continue to bring weapons and armor to demonstrations and agitate for violence, there will be those on the left who feel the need for something like antifa.

I don’t have an answer for this solution. At the moment, however, playing by the old rules doesn’t seem to be working.

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*Actually, I’m more willing to believe that in such a situation the city’s response would have gone too far to the other extreme, making it far worse than what we saw.

15 Years of Online Blogging & Journaling

This morning I spent a little time on one of the many long-standing, unfinished projects that just seem like they’ll never near completion: properly archiving and then printing hardcopies of the now defunct LiveJournal pages. This is easily the most daunting of the long-term tasks that never seem to near completion. I know it won’t take as long to complete as finishing Gaudi’s Sagrada Família, but it certainly feels that way.

While copying-and-pasting entries from November 2002 into a Word document, the number and size of the posts once again astounded me. Coincidentally, today marks the 15th anniversary of my very first LJ entry — a fact I didn’t properly recall until reviewing the site earlier today. The Word file dedicated to the 2002 posts is now complete through November 26, and is currently over 50 pages long. I’m fairly certain that’s far more than my combined posts to Facebook, Brick à Brac, LJ, and Twitter for all of this year.

Although a change of priorities is a primary cause for the decreased volume over time, the timestamps (as well as my own recollections) for most of the LJ posts make it clear that the overwhelming majority of the posts were written while goofing-off on the job. Looking back, it’s easy to see how that dynamic quickly transpired. Though qualified and possessing the necessary skills, I hated my job and was often happy to procrastinate and put forth the minimum necessary effort to complete the work. Combined with the ability to sense where corners could be easily cut, this resulted in a need to find something that would create the appearance of looking busy. Make sure you do your writing in Word, and it’s very easy to create that illusion.

Although that dynamic is no longer at play — the current paying gig is far more agreeable and provides more than enough work to keep busy — it’s disappearance doesn’t account for all of the decreased pixel generation. It’s not a coincidence that the first notable decrease in output corresponded with Facebook becoming my preferred social media platform. It’s a nice tool for keeping in touch with friends and family, but its design discourages the type of writing most frequently found in blogs and online journals. I adapted, but I also believe that my ability to write long, thoughtful entries suffered as a result. Taking the time to compose posts such as this just feels more difficult; that it takes more concerted effort than in the past. Like so many others, I often find the path of least resistance most tempting, and deviating sometimes seems non-rewarding — especially when Facebook allows readers to reward you with “Likes” and the feedback on a forum like this is much more limited.

It’s important to ultimately remember that writing on site such as WordPress or LiveJournal should primarily always be a personal endeavor. Though the work is harder, it’s also more personally fulfilling. Though you won’t get the rewards of posting frequently to Facebook, you will find that your voice is better used and understood. I won’t pretend that this particular entry will result in more frequent kinds of post. Simply, I’ve made and broken too many similar promises and resolutions over the past 5-10 years to foolishly express even a hope of this. However, reading some of those LJ entries from 2002 makes it clear that I’ve really lost something by not setting aside time to write more often in this manner.

Vacation Notes

A few odds and ends:

  • There’s nothing quite like taking a two-week-plus sabbatical from proper eating and exercise to remind me that my default setting will always remain stuck at fat bastard. I never cease to be amazed at how quickly I can pack on pounds when all caution is thrown to the wind.
  • All the planned LEGO beach builds I envisioned were mercilessly trashed by the realities of attempting to place them on the sand — particularly near the waves. Even though none of them turned out the way I would’ve liked — notably the planned Trumplestiltskin build, which I decided to scrap — I learned a lot for the next time we go to the beach for a vacation. Nonetheless, I have material for Brick à Brac later this week.
  • Now that this vacation is out of the way. I’m now eagerly looking forward to the middle of November, when I’ll be making my longest trip to Philly since the spring of 2009. I enjoyed myself during our stay in Kure Beach, NC, but spending a week at the beach isn’t my preferred variety of vacation. Yes, Philly is my home, but any multi-day trip to a major city will recharge my batteries more than a week on the beach. I also feel like an extended stay in Philly is long overdue, so this particular trip will be especially welcome.
  • I polished off two books while at the beach, but I’m still way behind last year’s pace. I really need to set aside more time for reading (I’ve been rather consistent with my audiobook listening for quite some time now.) A new Stuff Read post is forthcoming.

That’s all for the moment.

So Close, and Yet So Far

A few days ago, Shout announced that the next collection of original MST3K episodes, MST3K: Volume XXXIX, is very likely to be the last. This makes me a little sad. On one hand, Rhino and Shout managed to secure the rights to release far more episodes on DVD than I imagined possible back when the four-disc collections first hit the stores. On the other, they came so close to issuing all the episodes — after the release of volume 39 only 11* episodes remain unreleased. Unfortunately, those 11 include a few of my all-time favorites: It Conquered the Earth, The Quest of the Delta Knights, and The Amazing Colossal Man.

However, it’s not all that surprising that they couldn’t release all the episodes on disc. Most fans, myself included, knew for a long time that those remaining episodes were going to be damn near impossible for Shout to get the rights for. Simply, either the those who held various rights to the episodes demanded too much money or they just absolutely refused to negotiate in the first place, preferring that the MST3K version of the film never saw official release again. (For those not in the know, Susan Hart is the bane of many die-hard MST3K fans.) Still, it’s not entirely impossible that we won’t see one or two more finally see the light of day — Shout has issued single-disc episodes before and can certainly do so again. It’s my understanding, however, that is also very unlikely.

The melancholy induced by Shout’s announcement is more than compensated for by the return of the show earlier this year. I just hope that the fact Netflix hasn’t made an announcement yet about bringing it back for another season isn’t any cause for concern.

* Technically it’s 12, but since I have the original Volume 10 release as well as the “replacement” disc, my count is 11.