Cold turkey

SSC getting deleted is probably very good for me; my main timesuck is now gone. I’ll miss the comments section which was sometimes an excellent resource, but I’m sure without it I’ll be more productive and present IRL.

Eradicating racism

People sure talk a lot about eradicating racism. Not a lot of people seem to personally do anything about it. I don’t mean attending protests or writing letters to senators, and I definitely don’t mean posting on Twitter. Plenty of people do those things. I mean forming meaningful lasting relationships with people of other races, so that everyone involved has a genuine stake in mutual thriving.

Think locally, act locally

A lot of horrible, tragic things seem to happen because people think globally. I’m not saying it’s never good to think globally, and maybe it’s inevitable that people will for at least some of the things they care a lot about, but it doesn’t strike me as productive in a lot of cases.

Lots of people have ideas about how to end some huge societal problem, and I think the dumbest ideas for how to fix it usually involve some kind of systemic change. “Make all cops do X!” “Make all computer programmers do Y!” “Make all bosses do Z!” and then either nothing changes or the problem grows more insidious.

As the Michael Jackson song goes: If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.

Serving vs. innovating in music

There’s a creativity tip I’ve heard given to musicians and it goes something like “play what best serves the song”. This is good advice once you’ve got your big powerful idea and you just need to refine it and fill it out. But I think it’s terrible advice for any songwriter who wants to craft unique sounds and forge fresh musical paths. Music can only hit that next level and “go there” if the unexpected happens. If you’re stuck serving what’s already been played, then you can’t go anywhere new.

Lockdown life changes

I count “lockdown” as the period starting three weeks ago when I was asked by my employer to work from home. It intensified two weeks ago when schools closed, and intensified even further one week ago when our youngest child’s daycare closed. In that time, I’ve noticed some things in my life have changed:

  • My workout routine has suffered, especially in the past week. I am hoping to get it on track again this week.
  • My sleep hasn’t been great. I think it’s because after spending 14 solid hours around my family each day I am ready for some alone time, and the only time I can get it is when I should be going to sleep. I need to find a better balance there, maybe give up 1 to 2 hours at the end so I can go to bed at 10:00 or 10:30 instead of 11:30 or 12:00.
  • I’m playing a lot more chess. This is a timing thing: I happened to get back into chess because I was teaching it to our oldest child, just before I and lots of other people found themselves with time to spend playing it at home online (and in my case at least, against the computer).
  • I’m completing a lot of home projects and gardening tasks. That is my favorite thing about this strange period.
  • I don’t hardly drink at all now. I’ve never been a big drinker to start with, and I already had given up purchasing alcohol to keep at home since some time around the new year, but now I don’t have anywhere else to go drink, either. This is fine except on hot days like yesterday where I had completed some gardening tasks and really wanted a Miller Lite!
  • I’ve had to put playing and recording music, both by myself and with others, mostly on hold.
  • My beard has grown out of control. My wife is complaining. I look like a Sikh without a turban. This happened mainly because of a combination of laziness and time constraints. I kind of playfully like the look but definitely don’t want to make it permanent, so I’ll find a time to buzz it shorter today or tomorrow.

Some things have been notably unaffected:

  • My diet
  • My writing habits

Smoking bans and the market

When the smoking ban was on the ballot in my state — it must have been some time between 2005 and 2008, I can’t remember exactly — I was vehemently opposed. I still don’t like it, even though I’ve never been a smoker. I thought it was ridiculous to force private businesses, especially bars, to adopt a rule that ought to be their choice, and I empathized with smokers who were being treated as second-class citizens.

But, nostalgic as I am for the days when restaurant hostesses would greet me with the line “Smoking or non?” I must admit the air quality in bars is much better. It’s nice to come home from a bar and not stink like cigarettes, with sore inflamed tonsils and dried-out eyes.

The smoking ban has also probably lowered my chances of getting cancer by some percentage points, though it’s debatable whether that means a tiny fraction of a percent or double digits or something in between.

And who knows how many people, encountering the sudden inconvenience of not being able to smoke in basically any public indoor place, were finally nudged to give up the habit?

In objective, technocratic terms, it’s hard to argue that the smoking ban was anything but a good thing. So why didn’t the market ban smoking on its own?

I strongly identified as a libertarian when the smoking ban in my state was passed, and I continued to identify that way for several years afterward, but looking back on it now I think this should have been a moment when I questioned my beliefs. Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.

Fine art as philosophy

One of the conundrums of fine art, it seems to me, is that to be a fine artist is to do philosophy, but in an abstract way with pictures, sculptures, music, stories, etc. (instead of by submitting philosophy papers to journals, the way actual philosophers do). Art that does not contain philosophy is usually relegated to the lower-status categories of folk art or corporate art or pop art or the like.

It’s a conundrum because fine artists mostly focus on developing their technique: the ability to express and articulate meaning through their artform, and it is through technique that art is mostly assessed. The philosophy being expressed and articulated, meanwhile, is taken for granted; there isn’t really an expectation that the artist will commit an equal amount of time and effort to developing a unique or insightful philosophy. Still, when we go see fine art or study it, we usually also want to know what the artist was trying to “say” with the artwork. Thus why artist statements are ubiquitous: ultimately, we sort of regard artists as a class of philosophers.

If their philosophy is simplistic or bland or worse, that’s typically overlooked. A songwriter can gain renown and prestige from writing a love song despite millions of other songwriters also writing love songs. So long as the love song’s musical elements are interesting and/or pleasing, its underlying themes can be hackneyed and cliche, or even contradictory or nonsensical. Very few people would dispute Jean Sibelius’s status as a fine artist of orchestral composition, for example, but the nationalist themes dominant in his work are, from a philosophical perspective, rather trite and uninteresting. If he had developed these with as much sophistication as, say, his ear for creating lush string harmonies, then it would be different.

Almost nobody has enough time in their lives to fully develop both fine artistic skill and a salient, formidable philosophical worldview to express with it — even if they are among the vanishingly few endowed with the intellectual and physical capabilities to do both. This is what makes artistic works that are both technical masterpieces and philosophical heavy-hitters so rare and astounding.