Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Sundry & Motley
As of November & the Collapse of the Republic
Friday, November 6, 2020 12:37 am
Looks like I missed October's update. Sorry. I know no one reads this blog anyhow. If you do, I apologize for doubting your existence.

I sold another story, this one to Cirsova. Not The Impossible Footprint, which, as you may recall, was pre-emptively rejected because of its length. Instead, having decided not to give up on contributing to Cirsova for 2021, I whipped up a 1,200-word short called Dead Neighbor, which Alex the editor bought. So that's nice! 

Still waiting on word from StoryHack about An Uncommon Day at the Lake. Bryce the editor had some 50 submissions, so I won't be impatient. I know I'll hear about it soon enough. Boy, I hope he accepts it. A rejection would pretty much terminate my StoryHack career. Hamlin Becker is my Action-Adventure mode, and his tales are a continuing series.

Meanwhile, Stupefying Stories is resurfacing. I saw an interview with Bruce the editor, and their blog is active again. I know Bruce has had a difficult year, not least personally, but he seems back on track. My two stories Banana Man and Wayward Scarecrow might get published after all. I haven't heard anything yet, however.

Back when music was released on LPs, often an artist would blend one song into the next, creating continuous music through the briefly widened needle-path between tracks. When CDs of such old LPs came out, I was repeatedly disappointed by the harsh discontinuity between tracks, a moment of blank sound where no blankness used to be. I never understood such sloppiness in the CD transfers.

Recently, for some reason, I was motivated to buy Animals by Pink Floyd, which I never got on CD and haven't heard in decades. Much to my surprise, there are no discontinuities. Nor on Wish You Were Here, which I also just re-acquired. It's a beautiful thing. Did they finally figure out how to digitally execute the artist's original blending? Or did they just stop being sloppy?

By the way, Animals is really, really good. I'm not a huge prog-rock fan, but I like this album even more than I once did. Definitely Pink Floyd's best.

In my continuing struggle with Twitter, I have resolved to disengage. From Twitter, YouTube, and all blogs. The proximate cause is the election. I don't care what happens anymore. I don't want to know. This Republic is truly done. Life is too short to care. I'll leave it to others.

Obviously I have not left the internet; but my own blogging is a solipsistic affair. And while I will keep my Twitter account open as a sort of RSS feed for this blog, as well as to signal-boost publishing announcements from myself, Cirsova, StoryHack, and Stupefying Stories, I will do so delicately, with blinders on. With luck I'll never learn who the President is. Ha.

Speaking of Twitter, here's a couple of tweets of mine that I thought were worth rescuing.

  • "Convergent" evolution: The admission that evolution relies not on random mutation but on a set of paradigmatic responses to potential turns of events. The mutations are, as it were, built in.

  • What prevents the Woke from writing good entertainment is that good entertainment accords with the natural order. We are entertained when we sense right and wrong, male and female, God and joy. Those are things the Woke hate. Thus, the Woke cannot entertain us.

    One of the best days of the year is when, in October, I go to the apple orchard with my brother's family, to gather apples and to overload on donuts and cider. In recent years I have later made an apple pie for myself. I'm not much of a cook, but I am a decent baker. Here's a couple of pictures of my Dutch Apple Pie for 2020.

    It was quite delicious!
  • Devils I Used to Know
    A Rediscovery of an Old Band
    Thursday, October 22, 2020 11:44 am
    As a teenage metalhead, of course I listened to Black Sabbath. Never quite loved them, though. When I was in college, Dio Sabbath (i.e., Black Sabbath fronted by vocalist Ronnie James Dio) came out with the albums "Heaven and Hell" and "Mob Rules," both of which I loved. Then I fell off Sabbath again. And got old.

    Recently I learned (from RazorFist's YouTube series "Metal Mythos") that Dio Sabbath, calling itself "Heaven & Hell" (because Ozzy Osbourne, their original vocalist, had legally blocked the "Black Sabbath" name), released an album in 2009, called "The Devil You Know." Of the Dio albums, it is now my favorite. The Sabbalicious track "Follow the Tears" simply... pounds.


    Yes, I am a traditional Catholic, and yes, I have listened to a fair amount of "Satanic" metal. Make of that what you will. While holding no brief for Satan, I must say that Catholicism has always been a bit metal. Eating the body and blood of your God is not for the weak-kneed.

    P.S. Apparently there was a fourth Sort-of-Dio Sabbath album, released in 1992. Missed that one, too. However, given RazorFist's discussion of it, it does not attract me.
    Close to the Heart
    On the Occasion of Neil Peart's Death
    Thursday, February 6, 2020 3:26 pm
    While it is not unreasonable to wonder about the life of an artist — or even to admire an artist's everyday conduct — I am of the mind that the artist does not matter (beyond his getting the proper credit and payment). To be sure, his life is relevant insofar as it clarifies his work; but other than that...

    Most artists are scum. Beethoven was a bitter bastard. Shostakovich was a pathetic collaborator. As men, neither merits celebration. Celebrity for artists should be rejected. Go ahead and admire Haydn because he was kind, pious, and hard-working; then pity and decry him because he was adulterous; but remember that there were many kind, pious, hard-working, and adulterous men in the world. It was not Haydn's life that distinguished him; and it is not his life that should concern us. 

    Which is all to say, that callous as it may sound, the death of Neil Peart does not move me at all. And I say that as a guy who has loved Rush since the release of A Farewell to Kings.

    In 1977 I was a kid working in a bagel shop, mixing and baking bagels. We were allowed to work with the radio on. I actually remember one of the times I heard Closer to the Heart, which was in rotation then. I can see the fluorescent light, the white walls, and the chrome trim on the portable. And I remember being enchanted by the bells in this rocking song. It was percussion quite distinctive. I had no idea who was striking those bells. But it didn't matter. I was only glad he had thought to do it.

    No, I am not saying that art is more important than the man. Any man is worth more than any work of art. I've even said art itself doesn't matter (see, for example, this post). But the artist matters even less. It is rightly sad for some people that Neil Peart — friend, bandmate, husband, and father — has died. It should be sad for no one that the drummer of Rush has died.

    Except, I suppose, inasmuch as one might be sad because there will never be another album by Rush. But really — if I may double-down on my tactlessness — Rush haven't made a good album since the mid-1980s.

    So. There's that.

    A few years ago, roundabout the release of Rush's final album, I saw a listicle of the "Top Ten" Rush albums. It was immediately apparent that the listmaker was an idiot. There were nineteen albums to choose from. He chose ten of those. More than half, in other words.

    His list included Counterparts.

    It did not include A Farewell to Kings.

    Idiot. QED.

    It was clear he was a Johnny-come-lately. His list was heavily weighted to the later albums. He had a certain taste; and the fact is, the later albums do have a certain flavor. There was a transition in Rush's music that began with 1982's Signals and finished with 1989's Presto. Some people have said that Rush were a little protean, a little reactive to the times, trying this, trying that, becoming something fresh; but really, they just stopped being good.

    Oh, I kept buying their albums. It was RUSH, for God's sake! I liked the albums at the time. I was genuinely thrilled by 2002's Vapor Trails, and not only because it had been six years since the last. But you know what? None of them stayed with me. Indeed, years later, when I'd try to listen to something like Counterparts, I'd not even finish listening. It was all so meh.

    I had become clear-eyed enough about the mehhing of my favorite band, that when their final album came out in 2012, I prudently sampled it on Amazon, winced, and didn't even buy it.

    So what is the correct Top Ten? Well, simply enough, it's the first ten albums. The final nine are genuinely disposable. I know that this is a cruel thing to say — especially on the occasion of Neil Peart's death — but it's true. You can argue there's good songs on the final nine and I'll not throw my drink in your face; but those are from a different Rush. A Rush that I, in my sober old age, do not like.

    Now, although I love their debut album, it does not include Peart, who joined Rush with the second album. Even the band marks their true foundation with Peart's arrival. There was certainly a change in tone. So we'll instead go with a Top Nine.

    1. A Farewell to Kings
    2. 2112
    3. Moving Pictures
    4. Hemispheres
    5. Grace Under Pressure
    6. Permanent Waves
    7. Fly by Night
    8. Caress of Steel
    9. Signals

    Depending on the day of the week and my mood, #4, #5, and #6 would be switched around. And I know there are those who probably boggle at my putting Signals below Caress of Steel, but honestly, Signals is relatively weak, Analog Kid and Subdivisions notwithstanding. Besides, this is not a list of best to worst; it's a list of descending best.

    And much as I consider the final nine albums "disposable," I confess to a weird affection for 1987's Hold Your Fire. This one I can finish when I put it on. So, without granting it a place on the best list, I'll still give it an honorary #10, next to 1974's debut Rush.

    I have said before that there's something misaligned about me. I'll concede that my indifference to Neil Peart's death, art versus artist aside, might just be unnatural. I don't think I was given sufficient training to mix with you humans when I was sent here from Proxima Centauri.

    As it is, I still wish Neil a good place in the Heaven he disbelieved in, and meanwhile I'll enjoy the enduring work he made with Alex and Geddy. Perhaps it is suspicious that my favorite Rush is also my first Rush, but Closer to the Heart epitomizes their goodness, and it's a comfortable thing, really, that a band once so important to me remains, in its best music, close to my heart.

    Perfect Melancholy
    An Instrumental That Shouldn't Be Lost
    Saturday, September 21, 2019 11:07 pm
    I was in the open beta for WildStar, an SF MMO, back in 2014. I then subscribed for three months. The game had lots of good in it; but it didn't hold me. Something fundamental was missing. And it was stupid hard. You really couldn't just log in and have fun. And the game's population collapsed so quickly that the open regions were always barren. I was alone in an MMO. 

    In any event, the music was part of its goodness. There was a piece that looped in your in-game house. It was beautiful. I made a point of returning to my house at the end of every session, in part to roleplay slightly, but mostly so that I could take my character home, tuck her into bed, and linger.

    I found the piece on YouTube. It's called "Plotting Our Course." Do listen to it. It's so pretty. The melancholy is perfect. The composer made something wonderful — yet it was merely incidental music in a failed videogame. Who will remember it? Though it is not lost, it seems so precariously preserved.

    And I think again of the status of art at the consummation of the world. In a post of mine from 2017, Superfluous in Heaven, I supposed that art (specifically music) might be pointless in the afterlife; and yet I hoped that it would be retained somehow. Will all mankind, newly resurrected, learn of every achievement of beauty, even the most minor? If a thing is genuinely beautiful, wouldn't God value it, too?

    Will man's creations be not abandoned?

    To be sure, it's hard to imagine God preserving Saw III or Big Mouth. Nothing would be in Heaven that God did not love; and God cannot love what is ugly. But what of MacBeth? Or The Big Sleep? Or Taxi Driver? Where is the line between being ugly and portraying ugliness? Do we value things that God cannot? Is our valuation so corrupted? Or does God love Breaking Bad as much as any right-thinking human?

    I don't know. All I know is that WildStar contained a bit of art utterly without ugliness and I'd like that bit to endure.

    That's Where You'll Find Me
    Maybe Dorothy Sings About the Wrong Thing
    Saturday, August 12, 2017 12:19 pm
    There's a misalignment in The Wizard of Oz.

    What is its moral? "There's no place like home." Dorothy has found herself in a land over the rainbow, and yet her ultimate desire — the fulfillment of which she asks of the Wizard — is to return to Kansas. Near the end, Glinda prompts Dorothy to articulate the lesson that she, Dorothy, has learned; and Dorothy replies:
    If I ever go looking for my heart's desire, I won't look any futher than my own backyard. Because if it's not there I never lost it to begin with.
    This lesson, of course, accords with the narrative facts that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion each already had the thing he sought. The Scarecrow was already brainy; the Tin Man, full of heart; the Lion, courageous. And Dorothy, in Kansas, already had the place most free of trouble: her home with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. 

    "There's no place like home" has certainly stuck. The phrase is a commonplace. And yet, in the movie, what is the initial counter-sentiment? That there is a better place "somewhere over the rainbow." And this does not persist as merely a phrase. This sentiment was given a song, a song used in the opening and closing thematic music, a lovely song that has been counted among the most popular and greatest songs of the 20th Century.

    Nobody sings, à la Dorothy, "There's no place like home." There's nothing to sing.

    In other words, the delusion that grips Dorothy, that there is a place where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops, where skies are blue and dreams really do come true, is given the tremendous, emotional weight that only song can impart. While, on the other hand, the truth she finally discovers is presented in a brief speech — which, while not necessarily platitudinous, is certainly nothing worth humming.

    This is a great danger in creating a work: That something tangential — or worse, contrary — to your theme is given a greater prominence, a better presentation, a more memorable form, than the point you are trying to make.

    When writing, I have often worried about expending artistry on this or that small scene or second-tier character. I fear my reader will like my villain more than my hero, or find the collapse of my characters more interesting than their restoration. It is a hard thing to make the proper alignment; to best present what should be presented best.

    Some contemporary critics of The Brothers Karamazov argued that the devilish points of Ivan Karamazov, as given in "The Grand Inquisitor" section, were more compelling, more substantive, than Alexei's Christ-like response. They argued that Dostoevsky had not really addressed Ivan's points. Dostoevsky replied (perhaps with some exasperation) that the entire novel was the response to Ivan.

    One could likewise say that, however compelling may be Somewhere Over the Rainbow, it is countered not merely by some speech at the end of the movie, nor by some brief chant with ruby slippers, but by the movie as a whole. Perhaps. Whether The Wizard of Oz successfully establishes that there's no place like home is a bigger question. I'm not sure it does, beyond somewhat artfully asserting the point. In the end, the writers should have worked a little harder and come up with a compelling tune for There's No Place Like Home.

    I know that "there's no place like home" didn't originate with The Wizard of Oz (however much the movie has claimed it). And I know that there is a very old and popular song with that very lyric ("Be it ever so humble..."). And so, yes, the writers, had they written a new song, would have been contending with a standard.

    Could they argue they were alluding to that standard, which was possibly more well known in the 1930s, and therefore they didn't need to write their own? I suppose. But the allusion, if any, is weak, and still profoundly overshadowed by Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which resides right there in the work and not in some presumed cultural background.

    Concert After the Fish-Fry
    Arvo Pärt's Passio 
    Sunday, April 9, 2017 10:48 am
    I've been listening to Arvo Pärt for quite a while. I'm not sure how I discovered him. He is still alive and still composing. His work, since the 1980s, has been generally focused on the sacred, using chant and polyphony.

    I don't know much about music. I know most definitions; I can follow a discussion well enough. But I cannot explain to you the difference between a harmony and a melody — not with understanding. And I cannot distinguish either in a work. I am stupid when it comes to music. Fundamentally I am sub-intellectual. For me, a musical work is either a good noise or it's disposable. 

    Whenever I tried listening to Pärt's Passio, it left me cold. It's a setting of St. John's Passion verses. It's about the Passion of Christ and yet, as sound, it caused me no passion.

    I shrugged it off. Pärt has always been hot or cold for me. One work is transcendent and always too brief; another is flat and not even worth finishing. So it goes, eh? No oeuvre is consistent; no listener other than fickle.

    Well, this past Friday my parish ambitiously presented a complete performance of Passio. It was performed by our usual Sunday chorus and some local singers and musicians, all led by the parish's musical director. I realize that Pärt is not obscure (indeed he has even been appointed to the Pontifical Council for Culture by Benedict XVI) and I don't think my parish is filled with philistines, but the choice of Pärt nonetheless seemed unusual. I was curious how it would play out.

    We were given programs and naturally, as the work proceeded, I read along. I had never actually done this with Passio before. These days I tend not to read along with any vocal works, except when I am specifically curious about the words. I seek only noise, after all.

    As I read I realized that Passio is not meant to be listened to. Not as music. It is a reading of a text. I can listen to Bach's Johannes-Passion and never know what's going on and still enjoy the glorious noise. If you don't know what is being said in Passio, the musical carriage, the musical adornment, the musical shaping, will sound almost random. It may leave you cold. Its fundamental structure is not a musical form, like sonata; its fundamental structure is spoken Latin. No poem or song is involved.

    And so, when you actually attend to the text, the shifts between chorus and soloists and instruments, and between this note and that, make sense. The words are not an excuse for the voice as another instrument; they are the impetus for everything. Only with the words in your eyes is there any music in your ears.

    So is Passio even "music"? It's like a musical without any catchy tunes. Whatever specific melodies or harmonies there may be, I'm not tapping my foot or bobbing my head to any of it. Is that just the definition of chant, perhaps? But you can be carried away by Gregorian chant. Passio seems to be something else. It's a text that is not silent.

    There must be a name for that.

    Superfluous in Heaven
    Even Sacred Music Is Mundane
    Saturday, February 4, 2017 12:36 am
    In the mid '80s, when I was a college boy, I regularly went to the record stores near campus. This was just before CDs and long before MP3s. You wanted music, you flipped through an alphabetized bin and found an LP. Anyhow, one day, while I was browsing for something new, a classical work of some sort started playing on the store stereo. It was beautiful and unfamiliar. I listened for quite a while. I finally asked the clerk what it was. He showed me the sleeve and I went to the proper bin. The LP was in stock. I bought it. 

    It was the Third Symphony of Jean Sibelius, as performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, recorded in June 1984. I know these details because, even when I eventually got the CD, I got the exact same recording. I am reading the liner notes as I write.

    Now, I am profoundly susceptible to music. My reactions are acute. Sometimes I am infatuated only; sometimes I am ceaselessly bound. Sibelius's Third is still beautiful to me. It raises and stirs, thirty years on.

    Beauty is not precisely in the eye of the beholder. All beautiful things are imperfect and being imperfect are not perfectly beautiful. Besides, one who beholds is imperfect, too, and cannot apprehend beauty perfectly. It is all piecemeal. So it is not surprising that we disagree on what is beautiful. That said, beauty is not a matter of opinion. We are moved by a beautiful thing because we are sensing Beauty Itself. A truly beautiful thing partakes of God.

    That is why a beautiful thing makes life good. Living on Earth is a rotten business. A beautiful thing consoles and compensates. When I listen to Sibelius's Third I am glad I have ears. I am reminded that misery is a privation, not an end. I am glad that I am still breathing.

    And then I wonder: Would the Third even matter to me in the afterlife?

    Assume I get to Heaven. Assume I am granted the Beatific Vision. Seeing God fully means apprehending Beauty at Its Source. No need for reflections or consolations. Sibelius's Third Symphony is of the Earth and would be superfluous in Heaven.

    I can tell myself that, being in Heaven, my understanding would be under grace and I would not even miss the Third, nor think it sad that I don't need or want to listen to it. I would understand that even a great work is unnecessary when there is no misery to counteract. I wouldn't even feel a loss, since loss cannot exist in Heaven.

    Even after the Resurrection, when we would all be restored to our bodies and again in some sort of material life, the grace of Heaven would persist. We won't need symphonies nor any example of artifacted beauty. Presumably they wouldn't even attract us since we would have no unsatisfied appetites.

    And yet.

    Will we stop loving each other because we are immersed in grace? Will we stop enjoying what can be enjoyed, whether it is our family or the sun or the moon or whatever might constitute the consummated universe?

    Maybe the Third will be superfluous. Or maybe you can never have too much beauty, and we will listen with an even greater joy than before.

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