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Belle Waring

Extra-Judicial Arbitration

by Belle Waring on November 3, 2015

The NYT has been running a series of investigative reports on the spread of arbitration clauses that stipulate any conflict between an individual and the corporation or group be resolved outside court. Many times this means that instead of judges, plaintiffs have to plead their case to professional arbitrators who are hired to work repeatedly for the same companies. People often enter the agreements without knowing they have done so, because they may be hidden in something as banal as your purchase agreement for bamboo flooring. Many of the clauses seem to be notionally opt-in, but are in fact opt-out—it’s just that if you read through carefully and noticed you had a month to contest the terms and if it wasn’t the only job you could get to feed your family, you could, in theory, abstain from the agreement. It’s not just obvious conflicts of interest at work, though the Times does allude to how an arbitrator who awarded 1.7 million to a plaintiff was blacklisted. No, many of these clauses are religion-based, and you are forced to have civil disagreements judged in an explicitly religious “court,” in which Bible scripture can be quoted. In an extra FU move, a Christian school which lost in private arbitration decided they were Jesus-court in the streets, legal-system in the sheets, and tried to contest the ruling by filing a normal appeal. One poor sap is having his case against the Church of Scientology judged in…a Scientology-based religious court. Even though he’s on a list of “Suppressive Persons” and Scientologists are forbidden from having contact with him. Not sure how that’s going to work out. Someone must surely be willing to enter into an employment contract governed by a Muslim faith-based arbitrator, then suffer some harm, and then be forced to submit to religious arbitration of their case so that this BS can finally breathe life into the poorly-constructed scarecrow known as Sharia law? The law was enacted as a way to deter class-action lawsuits, and there are plenty of lawyers in the comments at the NYT defending the contracts that mandate arbitration on this basis. In what is a final indignity, this ruling (that such clauses in contracts) were constitutional came down under the tenure of Chief Justice Roberts, even though it seems as if he argued for the position in lower courts before joining the bench? Real labor and civil rights are being ceded to corporations, and judges have said “the first amendment made me do it” even in cases where they grant there has been serious injustice done.

ETA: I think this can best be summed up as companies thinking that if they cross their fingers behind them they can call “backsies” on all existing labor and product liability laws.

John and Belle Used to Have a Blog

by Belle Waring on November 2, 2015

Remember? This post and comments are about meta songs that refer to themselves in the song, and I got a ton of great recommendations. Definitely enough for the themed mix I didn’t end up making and will do now. I noted that the genius Raspberries song “Overnight Sensation” has the lines “and if the program director don’t want it/he’s bound to get back a bullet,” which is ridiculous, as Eric Carmen is like the third least-hardcore person in the entire world, after Art Garfunkel and Usher. The plaintive would-be hit has a radio effect at 3:05 that I lovelovelove.

I thought the other day, you know, I wrote stuff almost daily for…7 or 8 years? But I never read it. Then someone linked to an old post and I was moved to go. It’s like I have a huge diary online, which I don’t look at.* It’s sort of weird. It does make me feel I should throw up posts more often on this here blog, just because there’s surely always one thing I have an opinion about each day. Such as, in Minecraft PE creative mode it seems as if you can use the monster spawn cages as industrial-style end tables, or cool window grilles. I’ve just tested them in a cave and gotten nothing; I haven’t built anything with them yet. But OTOH I’ve gotten actual monsters spawning out of the naturally occurring ones since the recent update (in which I got rain! I love Minecraft rain!). I like to spawn harmless monsters to give my smoothed, finished linked caverns some atmosphere, except not spiders because NO. Also ghasts make creepy noises you can hear from above-ground even after you brick them into a huge cave, mewling down there in their blockish-Lovecraftian fashion. But the girls loathe it when I make Endermen to walk around carrying the world away block by block to build the Enderlands. I wouldn’t want my realistic HDB window grilles to make my girls unhappy by generating Endermen inside at random. I bet you guys have lots of opinions about this. “Belle, don’t front. Endermen are straight creepy and you’re only acting brave because you never play Survival.” Or, “what the hell are you blogging about Minecraft for on this allegedly academic blog.” So many opinions. Tell me the stories of your people.

*Violet wants to explain that this is why, if you do a google image search for her name you…actually get a million baby pictures of her, personally. Also no one is named Holbo in the world except them and some other people originally from a single small farm in Norway.

I Died When He Proposed ‘Tapping Dat EZ-Link Card’

by Belle Waring on October 31, 2015

Would you like to watch a pro-natalist video from Singapore…and Mentos or something? The answer is sort of that you wouldn’t because it is the single most embarrassing thing in the world. It’s waaaaay more like the Lonely Island’s (awesome) song “I Just Had Sex” than it is like anything remotely appropriate as a domestic policy, er, proposal. But it is real. (Congratulations on the 50 years, Singapore!) I mean, you can see that it’s intended to be funny, yet…

“Aw yeah baby, I want to hang out in your void deck.” THIS WAS A REAL THING. There is a moment where you think, someone had to actively approve of this idea.

Lifted from YouTube comments (!) “Response by my London friends: ‘LOL That’s hilarious!’ Response by Singaporean viewers: ‘HAH? WHAT STROLLER? LIAK BO KIEW!’ It’s terrible when foreigners get the song more than locals. We have a terrible sense of humour.” This is not evidence of a lack of humour per se or anything other than being price-conscious IMO. Relatedly, I saw an ad for OCBC or something on Singapore Airlines: father and young son approach huge carousel and ticket booth manned by improbable moustachioed Irish fellow. “How much?” “One dollar and children under five are free.” “I’d like two tickets then.” Irish guy: “how old is your son?” “Six” Leaning in close, the Irish guy, “you know, you didn’t have to buy him a ticket. I never would have known.” “No,” says the dad looking down at his son’s gleaming, parted hair, “but he would.” I was kind of moved by this commitment to Asian values (I am a soft touch generally) until I realized the ad was ostensibly about a Singaporean refusing a free ticket. Just, no.

ETA: how exactly did they Iggy Azalea that accent up?

Trenchant Music Criticism

by Belle Waring on September 29, 2015

Did you used to love the least google-able band in the world, Fun.? Probably you will also like the guitarist’s new (-ish) band Bleachers. I love this song right now. 80s synth riffs ftw.

Conspiracy Theory

by Belle Waring on September 24, 2015

The recent news about VW has made me question some pretty fundamental things. I think cheating on this scale required, not just massive amounts of fraud, but a massive amount of complicity. No one at a lower level in the organization would take on the risk of freelancing a scheme of this nature. The benefits coming to you would be attenuated, and the danger would be great. This means that (minimally, some) people at the very top of the organization had to know about the software. Software powerful enough to determine when the car was being tested is complex and requires input from many sensors. This means (minimally, not a small number of) people had to know about the software. The person writing the proprietary code governing the steering wheel’s performance would have to be involved at least enough to have been told, “create an alert when the wheel hasn’t been moved in 2 minutes but the engine is running hard.” But it has always been my belief that, by and large, complex, dangerous conspiracies involving many people simply don’t happen. The more danger attaches to a criminal conspiracy—and here the danger seems in the worst case scenario actual dissolution of the company—the more the conspirators must be benefiting. Why would they do it otherwise? So, price-rigging among a small number of cartel members, for example, is easy to understand. But the larger the number of people involved in the conspiracy becomes, so, too does the benefit incline to decrease, but more obviously, the likelier it is that someone will screw up. If you are the director for a certain division of engines you might get a bonus that rises and falls with sales, or with the time and ease with which you meet projected goals. But it will have to be a pretty damn good bonus to risk being put in jail, right? And on the second point, each new person who knows about the conspiracy seems to exponentially increase the odds someone will blow the whistle. And yet here no one talked. They were only discovered by a pro-diesel group who wanted to tout the idea of getting more diesel cars on the road in the interests of cleaner energy expenditure! What the hell? And, do we think everyone else’s proprietary software is soft and rotten and fretted by maggots beneath a smooth and impenetrable DCMA surface? One can only imagine the EPA will be having a look…

Help Me Decide Which of These to Get For Rod Dreher

by Belle Waring on September 23, 2015

Hey, do you want a look at Vatican City’s hottest priests? Someone will totally sell a calendar to you. Right there next to the 10,000 other tackiest items for sale along the street that leads to St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s just black-and-white prints of photos taken on the streets in the Vatican during special days. Less appropriate sexy funtimes can be found in the Orthodox Church; the video is mildly unsafe for worth in that the camera ogles shirtless young men while they are laved from a font by a man wearing a chausuble, and that sort of thing, but the still photos are…wait, do you work in a cubicle? You don’t want to seem like this guy from the Key and Peele sketch as you’re surfing the Gaily Grind. I’ve gone tacky figurines and blessed amulets shopping there before, to buy things for Margaret, my granddad’s…maid, sort of? Housekeeper? She lived with him for more than 30 years. She was an adorable, tiny old Irish woman with a number of teeth fewer than is commonly seen, and would always fuss over how much you’d grown and make you (this was mandatory) “just a cup of tea and an English muffin with a bit of butter on it.” She planned to retire at 75. She didn’t actually know exactly how old she was, until my grandfather went to her hometown while in Ireland and looked her up in the parish church. She was older than she thought, a fact which pleases, as Agatha Christie notes, only those younger than 16 and over 80. Her three children put her in an old folk’s home as soon as she turned up. That was some King Lear shit. She called and pleaded with my grandfather to bust her out of this crummy place in New Jersey. And so she returned to her room next to the kitchen, with the old TV and the crucifixes, and the framed photos of Pope John Paul II, and performed increasingly light duties like making breakfast until she was in her late 80s or even early 90s and she needed nearby assisted living for real because she couldn’t manage the stairs. Mildly disjointly, I think the vast majority of the breakfasts my grandfather consumed during his life were brought to his bedroom on a tray and included fresh-squeezed orange juice. Sometimes he would go retrieve the prepared tray himself, but I count this the same. And WWII obviously dragged the numbers down a bit. This is a noble life goal to which we should all aspire.

Even then my grandfather would drive over to see her every Sunday. He would pick her up, take her to church, go to church himself which was shorter because he had the common sense to be an Episcopalian (though it seemed at times he actually believed, a thing likely to cause a furrowed brow among his friends) and then take her back. He didn’t even want to go to church in town! After she died he started to go to the closer Bridgehampton church he preferred, mostly IMO because they have a half-hour service at 8 a.m. without hymns, and one can get the whole thing over with and get a good tee time with leeway for a Bloody Mary, all quite early in the day. The hymns are the best part, though, so going to this service sucked. Also it was too early. Yet one felt obliged to go. But the priest there is a lovely person who married me and John and also baptized both our children. “But why, Belle, that seems like a lot of trouble to go through seeing as you’re not, in fact, a Christian?” Look, being Episcopalian is a social thing, like being a secular Jew, but with a bit more ritual effort required. Anyway it made my grandfather happy. That was the main point. Also, there’s this one awesome part where the priest anoints the kid with chrism and says “CHRIST CLAIMS YOU FOR HIS OWN.” One definitely gets the sense then that if the post-death regions exist and are not quite as one has imagined them, nonetheless one will be on firm ground. You should think of it as an excuse to throw a catered betting party with your friend-with-benefits Pascal.

Sometimes it seems as if Richard Dawkins is on a crusade to prove that atheists can be just as narrow-minded as religious people. He’s winning. He’s a hyuuuge, classy winner at this crusade. (Of crusades generally, the Children’s Crusade is at the bottom, because it was a loser crusade. For LOSERS! Barely any of those kids even made it back. Ask Donald Trump about whether POWs can be heroes. TIP: THEY CAN’T.)

As you assuredly know, a young man in Texas was recently arrested for a “bomb hoax.” Some people think it’s hoaxes all the way down. Dawkins and his compadres are making extraordinary claims, which require…well, any evidence at all, one feels. Let us imagine Ahmed Mohamed’s family has engineered a stunt. Ahmed makes (for some value of make which includes tinkering with maker modules or disassembling and reassembling old electronics. I mean, if you call that making. Which, tbh, I do.) Wait, that wasn’t a sentence. Anyway, he makes a ‘looks-like-a-bomb-on-purpose-but-is-a-clock.’ This thing, note, is in fact: a clock. Although the young man claims deep insight into the nature of time, he is obviously just aping Heidegger in a juvenile fashion, but so be it—so long as it be noted that I have noted he didn’t provide the police a fully satisfactory answer about what the passage of time really entails, I mean, what does the clock tell you when it tells you that another minute has passed and that now, it is now. My rigorous honesty compels me to denigrate his “clock,” simply because I am devoted to The Truth. It’s like this asshole some guy says:

Because, is it possible, that maybe, just maybe, this was actually a hoax bomb? A silly prank that was taken the wrong way? That the media then ran with, and everyone else got carried away? Maybe there wasn’t even any racial or religious bias on the parts of the teachers and police.

I don’t know any of these things. But I’m intellectually mature enough to admit I don’t know, and to also be OK with that. I don’t feel a need to take the first exit to conclusionville. But I do like to find facts where I can, and prefer to let them lead me to conclusions, rather than a knee jerk judgement based on a headline or sound bite.

Wow. Much openminded. So scientific. OK, sorry, I keep getting off-track for some reason. Right, this hoax is designed to get Ahmed Mohamed reprimanded at school, then arrested, and then become an internet cause celébrè, and then get invited to the White House. First of all, Ahmed and his family have to have judged the over/under for “young brown man thought armed with deadly weapon getting shot by the police” vs. “grievance-mongerer fêted by liberal elitists” a safe bet. I, like, would not take those odds at all. Secondly, for this plan to work, the teachers and police officers have to act like morons all up and down the line. There’s no other way. Really, it has to be a Confederacy of Dunces down there. Do these Clock Truthers realize their grim vision of Texan society is far, far more cynical than mine? Dawkins’ zealotry has obviously clouded his judgment, something which often befalls fundamentalists. To be undeservedly fair, Dawkins has perhaps been walking this back but, you know how it is. You’re a well-respected biologist—but ONE pig. It happens to, like everyone. It’s an experimental phase!

OK for real this is maybe the best thing in a newspaper ever: “David Cameron will not ‘dignify’ allegations that he once ‘inserted a private part of his anatomy’ into a dead pig’s mouth with a response, Downing Street has said.”

Also, this is why I could never be elected to higher office. If I had a wang I would so totally have stuck it in a roast suckling pig by now.

Two Songs Enter!

by Belle Waring on September 9, 2015

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time in area woman Belle Waring’s life when she thought she didn’t like Stevie Wonder. Yeah, I know. In graduate school (!) I learned just how wrong I was. I was wronger than like 30 goddamn Dick Cheneys. I remember my conversion experience quite distinctly: I was in the back seat of an acquaintance’s car, driving from Berkeley to Da Club (I mean, da club in general, not a club called “Da Club”) in San Francisco, not even near the Bay bridge yet. We had just gotten off the surface streets. I was sitting alone in the back seat while this random…Linguistics?…no, English Literature grad student and my boyfriend talked—it is a peculiarity of highway driving that although you can hear the people conversing in the front seats fine, they can’t hear you for shit. Then, “Maybe Your Baby” came on his car stereo and I was like “hold up, hold up, who is this?” When I got told it was Stevie Wonder I made some shocked comment like, “but…Ebony and Ivory though.” Then he turned around from the front seat and shot a withering glance at me that said “think for ten seconds and recall, at least, the existence of ‘Uptight’ or ‘Signed, Sealed Delivered!’” He was right! Also, the withering was more my reaction than a real thing that he did.
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by Belle Waring on September 7, 2015

Yesterday I chanced to read a story from 1850, The Three Visits, by one Auguste Vitu. It is in a collection of, broadly speaking, ghost stories: The Macabre Megapack: 25 Lost Tales From The Golden Age. It is free to Amazon Prime members, and 99 cents otherwise, so you should buy it. It is misleadingly advertised by the title—it’s actually tales from writers earlier than, and contemporaneous with, Edgar Allen Poe, not stories from the golden age of Weird Tales (though that is also a thing.) This story starts out in a promising way:

In the month of August, 1845, a column of French soldiers, composed of Chasseurs d’ Afrique, of Spahis, and several battalions of the line, were crossing the beautiful valley of orange-trees and aloes, at the base of Djebel-Ammer, one of the principal spurs of Atlas. It was nine o’clock at night, and the atmosphere was calm and clear. A few light and fleecy clouds yet treasured up the melancholy reflection of the sun’s last beams, which, in copper bands, were radiated across the horizon. The march was rapid, for it was necessary to catch up with the advance guard, which had been pushed forward to make a razzia, the object of which was to bring into subjection one or two mutinous tribes. The Marechal de Camp who commanded this advanced party had halted with a field-officer, to observe this party defile into its place with the rear guard. The day had been very warm, and luminous masses of vapor from time to time rose from the surface of the ground, like white apparitions in the midst of sombre space….

As the column approached Djebel-Ammer, the soil, which had hitherto been grassy and fertile, became barren and desolate. The orange-trees gave place to mastich-wood and the most horrible cactus. The arbuti lifted directly to heaven their blood-red trunks and regular branches, on which the leaves were so glittering that rays of the moon made them splendid as the scanthi of candelabra. On the right side and on the left arose layers of black and blue rocks, like vast Japanese vases, from which arose great cactus, with leaves dentelated as the claws of a gigantic crab. Fine and dry briars rattled as they quivered in the breeze, and the pale light of the rising stars made gigantic silhouettes of the shadows of the horses and men. The wolves howled in the distance, and large birds hovered in the air, uttering the most melancholy cries while they were on the wing.

What are spahis, you may be wondering? They are Algerian cavalry under French command. What’s a razzia, you wonder? Don’t worry, you’ll find out in a minute. In this story, the general reveals a compelling story to the regiment’s doctor about why he is “superstitious” and won’t allow the men to tell scary stories on night marches. Basically, it’s because his best friend of the golden hours of youth, George, has appeared to him twice after dying. George intimates, on their first post-death encounter, that the general would see him three times in his life, with the final meeting just preceding the general’s joining George in the possible Swedenborgian space awaiting him. (For real, Swedenborg is invoked). The second time, George saves his life by helping him clear his name, after the then-captain was falsely accused.
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NPCs: What Are They, Even?

by Belle Waring on August 28, 2015

If this is going to be a useful analogy for sexist behavior at all people need to know what NPCs (that is, non-player-characters in videogames) are! A number of people in the thread below noted that they did not. It’s pretty simple. Let’s say you play a FPS (first person shooter) or even a third-person shooter (you see the character you control as if he were the star of a movie). You generally roam around the game shooting alien monsters or zombies or Nazis or zombie Nazis or whatever. But there will be people on your side, or fellow members of the space marines, or bystander city-dwellers—people with whom you can interact but don’t need to/can’t shoot. These characters may have only one thing to say, or they can say one thing when first approached (or when you say a certain thing) and one or more other things later (or when you say that other thing). Alternately and more generally in all sorts of games an NPC can be someone you share endless experiences with, or are trained by, or you start a romantic relationship with, or you lose your shit over when they die (not tryna spoil the end of Final Fantasy VII here, just saying. Oh dag! Look, they’re making a new FFVII, and they may botch the ending to please a minority of fans (and in order kick up endless promotional rage-dust IMO), so forget I said that, and buy the latest game from “the franchise that doesn’t know the meaning of the word final”). Basically, in a single-player game, you’re the player, and the non-player characters—even if they look just like you—are merely generated by the game, just like the rendered terrain itself or the monsters or the weapons/spoils of war/scrolls, etc.

Our household is a Nintendo one, and in Zelda Windwaker HD you have crucial but limited interactions with others. It is a beautiful game that I have spent over 40 hours watching someone play while being a crucial assistant, looking through the walkthrough to see how the HELL Link can jump while holding a bomb [pro tip: he can’t, but he can step onto a platform]. You are prompted to press A to talk to NPCs and you are given at most two things to choose from to say either in greeting or reply. This is in line with the generally friendly tenor of Nintendo games, something that led them, after much thought, to
totally disable chat during online battles in their new FPS multi-player game Splatoon. FPS stands for FriendlyPersonSquidgun in this case—it has been succinctly described as “squidpeople play paintball” by “Matpat” on the YouTube channel Game Theory (which is very entertaining; I recommend it highly). Game designers could not think of any other way to prevent trash talk that would ruin the Nintendo experience, so you can only say one of two things to your squad-mates: “let’s go!” or “booyah!” This is despite the fact that it would be very helpful to talk for even 20 seconds before any given battle with your new squad-mates, who are chosen at random from available, physically-nearby players. Then you could set up a simple strategy for winning, which in this case means covering the most terrain possible with ink. “I’ll camp on their re-spawn point and snipe and you run around with that giant paint-roller, painting everything teal. Excelsior!”
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Best Sexism Analogy Ever

by Belle Waring on August 21, 2015

I’ve mentioned before that I was sexually harassed by a prof as an undergrad. (This isn’t even the point of this story, but whatever.) From the perspective of an older person I can see that my professor hadn’t actually been teaching female students for all that long, since Columbia was so late in going co-ed (Columbia was holding out in the hopes of a Harvard-Radcliffe-style full merger between it and its sister women’s college, Barnard, which never happened.) I think Barnard students were already able to take some Columbia classes prior to 1983, and it’s not like I think it’s an excuse, but there you are.

In any case, this caused my boyfriend at the time to question whether I really deserved my A+. Not supportive, dude. It made me a little anxious about the idea, but not so much, because I really was an excellent student in this class, and my GPA was above 4 already that term. In college I had a strategy of studying for exams that was fool-proof. I write quickly, and would take reams of notes for each class. Then when exam time rolled around I would re-write my notes in a condensed form (and re-read the main texts, because I also read fast.) Zoë is dyslexic and finds all this supremely irritating for obvious reasons, but is nonetheless interested. I once helped a friend who had been skipping class half the term pass the final for a Central and South American Art History class with only a single night to study. He was resigned to failure and thought he wouldn’t graduate on time. NOT ON MY WATCH, HOMES. [This is not to say I’m amazing or anything; being good at studying for college exams is a skill with limited utility, and not necessarily a predictor of whether someone can, just pulling an example at random, finish her f$%king PhD dissertation or anything. Further, I must allow I chemically enhanced these abilities in a way that is not recommended for extended periods.]

The notes I made for Roman History were so good that people learned about them [?]. (I did give them to two friends, with whom I actually studied.) Thus a frat bro whom I didn’t know from Adam approached me one day and asked if he could have a copy. What? What?! Who does this? I declined, obviously, but with insufficient scorn, simply because I was so baffled and astonished. Zoë’s response to this is the best: “did he think you were an NPC?!” I think this is exactly right. Dudes like this think lesser beings are actually non-player characters in the video game of life. Like Minecraft villagers with boobs or something.

Harry Potter Moe

by Belle Waring on August 17, 2015

What if the people who made super-popular, insanely adorbs anime K-On made an anime of Harry Potter? In which they skip around from era to era so that everyone can be a student (and this is very much what they would do, if you think about it)? Then, it would look like the following video, which you must promise me you will watch to when you burst out laughing at the face of Severus Snape—himself as astonished as you are—after which you will find it mere child’s play to continue to the end to get a glimpse of Helga Hufflepuff in a miniature top hat. The Weasley twins are perfect. They could be like the twins in Ouran High Host Club! (The girls and I, hearing the premise of that anime—HS students run gigolo-type host club as one of the school clubs, and blackmail an androgynous girl into participating, in drag—thought it would be awful. But last summer we were bored at my mom’s and succumbed to the magic of Netflix, only to find it’s hilarious. It sends up shojo manga tropes a lot.)

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Orientalism at the Font

by Belle Waring on July 7, 2015

I have a few observations about Asia, and living here and also traveling to nations other than Singapore. I have been mulling them over on this trip alone as I have no one to talk to (except everyone I meet, and it’ll astonish you to know I am a friendly, chatty person. Well, the friendly might surprise you if you think of me as a harpy swooping to scourge my foes with a whip of venom. In truth I smile at strangers, and it took me some little time living in NYC before I could repress the drive to meet with my gaze every person I pass, a practice that actually impedes walking in Savannah, as one frequently knows the person and cannot, under any circumstance, walk past them without speaking briefly. My children think I am “scary,” a not unadulterated good character reference. By this they mean I have a mean glare on me, but that’s part of a mother’s job. If you can’t get somebody to stop fooling around just by looking at them sideways, you have failed to cultivate your maternal powers.) I have been loath to commit them—these ideas you forgot I was talking about just now—to pixels because I feel they are disorganized and perhaps it is not even possible to unwind the tangled skein. However, you are always kind in accepting my scattered thoughts as continuous writing and thus encouraged I will proceed.
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Radio Silence

by Belle Waring on July 5, 2015

I realize our blog was curiously silent when we were all thinking, “gay marriage—in your FACE bitches!” And, “isn’t it a good thing that not quite enough Supreme Court justices were swayed by a ludicrously weak argument first tendered in the spirit of ‘0bummercare’ on IIRC the Volokh Conspiracy; at the same time, wasn’t that scary? Still, in your FACES hypocritical Jesuitical bastards!” And, “oh Lord why in the church why? How did he steel himself to it after they welcomed him and he did bible study for an hour. An hour! What kind of mordant acid of racism could etch a stain so black on the filth-splattered escutcheon of Dixie?” And, “I love the president of the United States of America. I am crying watching YouTube. There is snot on my face.” And, “holy shit, people are giving a crap about the confederate flag?! Are you serious? No, really, what?” I’ll be honest as a girl born in Savannah “home of the official platinum-level flag of bigotry” GA; a girl whose step-father was Edmund Kirby-Smith (the fourth and only)—-this last one has me reeling. Also, has me realizing that I wasn’t cool in the 90s when I used a metal Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox as a purse for like 3 years. I was a dick. Well, truth be told I was going to post about the evil of Tom Bombadil, but then I felt like I needed to explain myself, so I’ll just wait a short while (and don’t you steal my thunder!).

The thing was, we flew to my in-laws in Eugene, OR (via HK and SF) and then I found out I had to do something in Indonesia so I flew back another 24 hours maybe six days later, to Singapore and then Bali, and now I’ma sort this out, fly back to Singapore, fly HK to SF to Eugene, and then the next day fly from Eugene to SF to Newark New Jersey to Savannah, and then 6 days later to Dulles, then National, then Martha’s Vineyard? No, I must have to fly to Boston. Whyyywwyyyy? OK, some people have real problems that don’t involve them flying around the world to beautiful places, so I’ll stop moping and let’s join in a carefully composed round of huzzahs and somber reflection and sore winner uncharitable triumph, shall we? In short, America: F@#k Yeah.

Elizabeth Cotten had an unlikely musical career. As a left-handed young girl she taught herself to play her brother’s banjo. Then she bought a guitar from Sears Roebuck at 11 and proceeded to play it Jimi Hendrix-style, upside-down. After getting married at 17 she basically gave up playing guitar for 25 years, except for occasional church performances. Quite at random, she was hired as a maid by part of the Seeger family—working for Pete Seeger’s dad and the children of his second wife. She picked up the guitar again, and blew everybody’s mind. Mike Seeger (Pete’s half-brother) started recording her and the sessions were made into an album from Folkways Records—Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar. Her signature tune “Freight Train” became hugely popular among the folk musicians of the revival of the late 50s/early 60s, being covered by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan among many others.

She started to tour and perform with big names, released another influential record in 1967, Shake Sugaree, and kept touring and playing till the end of her life (January 5, 1895 – June 29, 1987). Her unusual picking style was greatly admired, because it’s totally awesome! People have worked out alternate ways to play the songs that don’t involve playing the guitar upside down and backwards. (John spent two weeks learning “Freight Train” when we were on Martha’s Vineyard last year, causing our children to, in extremis, institute a strict “no Freight Train” policy. Happily, though, now it reminds us of my aunt’s house and all being together with my siblings and cousins, and beach plums, and the creek with its perfect flat wet stones, and the cold Atlantic, so grey.) Her music is distinctive because of the bass lines—the strings sounding the lowest notes were at the bottom of the guitar and so she picks out distinctive tunes on them. The highest string being on top, she sometimes treats the guitar like a banjo—since that’s where the high-pitched drone string is. I just learned reading the wikipedia article that she wrote “Freight Train” at 11!

Her voice is wonderful, but many of her best songs are instrumental only:

I’m having trouble choosing here, “In The Sweet By and By” is beautiful…some songs are painfully short, like “Mama, There’s Nobody Here But The Baby” or “Ain’t Got No Honey Baby Now.” [Which I can’t find a working video of :/ ] 56 seconds? NO. Although Harry Taussig plays a killer version on steel guitar. I’ll close with the topical “Take Me Back to Baltimore.”

My dad is an incredible guitarist, and plays steel 12-string bottle-neck slide, though he removes the second string from the highest two strings, making it 10-string. He also picks in this style—and we are big fans of Ry Cooder who is a master at it. When I was a kid we always had music playing. My godfather played the fiddle and we had plenty of other random musicians at parties, which, in South Carolina through to the late 70s were always two- or three-day affairs. We had a whole crew of Hell’s Angels camped out in the back yard one time. My brother and I would sing, folk songs like “Froggy Went a-Courting.” That’s happiness for me, standing on the front porch catching lizards on the screen, listening to live music and the leathery sounds of the palmetto pushed by the wind, live oaks tossing their heads and their festoons of Spanish moss, my feet slowly blackening with the super-fine dust of mildew that settles inevitably on the grey floor of any screen porch, the sky and the hydrangeas planted around the base of the house and the screen porch ceiling all alike powder-blue, the smell of salt water and marsh and endless joints burning mingled into a perfect sweetness. High tide. Got to be high tide at 2 p.m. with a summer thunderstorm blowing up far across the river. Not low tide and with all hanging breathless and hot, and the mud flats on the sandbar across the river stinking in the sun. Eating cold boiled peanuts and watermelon and drinking sweet tea. Perfect. Except now I’m homesick!