Lee Perry, RIP
The Jamaican musical giant has passed away at age 85, he is for me one of the all-time musical greats and the two times I saw him in concert (and once with Mad Professor) remain some of my most memorable music experiences.
I still listen to his stuff regularly. On top of everything else, he was a completely untutored technological genius, coming out of nowhere…
Rest in peace…
Which musical star played for Stalin, Peter Gabriel, Nelson Mandela and Brian May?
Djivan Gasparyan, Armenian master of the duduk, now passed away at age 92.
My Conversation with Zeynep Tufekci
Here is the audio and transcript. Here is part of the summary:
Zeynep joined Tyler to discuss problems with the media and the scientific establishment, what made the lab-leak hypothesis unacceptable to talk about, how her background in sociology was key to getting so many things right about the pandemic, the pitfalls of academic contrarianism, what Max Weber understood about public health crises, the underrated aspects of Kemel Mustapha’s regime, how Game of Thrones interested her as a sociologist (until the final season), what Americans get wrong about Turkey, why internet-fueled movements like the Gezi protests fizzle out, whether Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey, how she’d try to persuade a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, whether public health authorities should ever lie for the greater good, why she thinks America is actually less racist than Europe, how her background as a programmer affects her work as a sociologist, the subject of her next book, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Max Weber — overrated or underrated as a sociologist?
TUFEKCI: Part of the reason he’s underrated is because he writes in that very hard-to-read early 19th-century writing, but if you read Max Weber, 90 percent of what you want to understand about the current public health crisis is there in his sociology. Not just him, but sociology organizations and how that works. He’s good at that. I would say underrated, partly because it’s very hard to read. It’s like Shakespeare. You need the modern English version, conceptually, for more people to read it.
I would say almost all of sociology is underrated in how dramatically useful it is. Just ask me any time. Early on, I knew we were going to have a pandemic, completely based on sociology of the moment in early January, before I knew anything about the virus because they weren’t telling us, but you could just use sociological concepts to put things together. Max Weber is great at most of them and underrated.
COWEN: Kemal Mustafa — overrated or underrated?
TUFEKCI: Why? My grandmother — she was 12 or 13 when she was in the Mediterranean region — Central Asia, but Mediterranean region, very close to the Mediterranean. She was born the year the Turkish Republic had been founded, 1923, and she was 13 or so. She was just about to be married off, but the republic was a little over a decade — same age as her. They created a national exam to pick talented girls like her. The ones that won the exam got taken to Istanbul to this elite, one of the very few boarding high schools for girls.
The underrated part isn’t just that such a mechanism existed. The underrated part is that the country changed so much in 13 years that her teacher was able to prevail upon the family to let her go. To have a 13-year-old be sent off to Istanbul, completely opposite side of the country, to a boarding school for education — that kind of flourishing of liberation.
I’m not going to deny it was an authoritarian period, and minorities, like Kurds, during that period were brutally suppressed. I can’t make it sound like there was nothing else going on, but in terms of creating a republic out of the ashes of a crumbling empire — I think it’s one of the very striking stories of national transformation, globally, within one generation, so underrated.
There are numerous interesting segments, on varied topics, to be found throughout the dialog.
The cultural life extension query
You have the power to grant fifty more productive years to an artist of any discipline (writer, musician, painter, etc.) who died too young. Who do you pick?
My answer was Schubert, and here is why:
1. Schubert was just starting to peak, but we already have a significant amount of top-tier Mozart. And I take Mozart to be the number one contender for the designation. Schubert composed nine symphonies, and number seven still wasn’t that great. Some people think number eight was unfinished. Number nine is incredible. Furthermore, I believe the nature of his genius would have aged well with the man.
2. John Keats is a reasonable contender, but perhaps his extant peak output is sufficient to capture the nature of his genius?
3. After the 1982-1984 period, there was decline in the quality of Basquiat’s output. His was the genius of a young man, and drugs would have interfered with his further achievement in any case.
4. Buddy Holly had already peaked, and he didn’t quite have the skills or ambition to have morphed into something significantly more. No one from popular music in that time period did.
5. Frank Ramsey is a reasonable choice, but I am more excited about Schubert. We still would have ended up with the same neoclassical economics.
6. Perhaps Kurt Cobain’s genius was that of a young man as well? Nonetheless he is in my top ten, if only for curiosity reasons. Hank Williams and Hendrix are competitors too.
7. Carel Fabritius anyone?
Who else? Caravaggio? Egon Schiele? Eva Hesse? I feel they all have styles that would have aged well, unlike say with Jim Morrison. Seurat? Thomas Chatterton I can pass on, maybe Stephen Crane or Sylvia Plath from the side of the writers?
Gwenifer Raymond’s “Hell for Certain”
Here is a recent article about Raymond.
My Conversation with Andrew Sullivan
Here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the overview:
Andrew joined Tyler to discuss the role of the AIDs epidemic in achieving marriage equality, the difficulty of devoutness in everyday life, why public intellectuals often lack courage, how being a gay man helps him access perspectives he otherwise wouldn’t, how drugs influence his ideas, the reasons why he’s a passionate defender of SATs and IQ tests, what Niall Ferguson and Boris Johnson were like as fellow undergraduates, what Americans get wrong about British politics, why so few people share his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, why Bowie was so special, why Airplane! is his favorite movie, what Oakeshottian conservatism offers us today, whether wokeism has a positive influence globally, why he someday hopes to glower at the sea from in the west of Ireland, and more.
And here is one excerpt:
SULLIVAN: Well, and so you get used to real conversations about people, and you don’t mistake credentials for intelligence. You realize that people outside of the system may be more perceptive about what’s going wrong with it than people buried within it. I honestly find life more interesting the more variety of people you get to know and meet. And that means from all sorts of different ways of life.
The good thing about being gay, I will tell you, is that that happens more often than if you’re straight — because it’s a great equalizer. You are more likely to come across someone who really is from a totally different socioeconomic group than you are through sexual and romantic attraction, and indeed the existence of this subterranean world that is taken from every other particular class and structure, than you would if you just grew up in a straight world where you didn’t have to question these things and where your social life was bound up with your work or with your professional peers.
The idea for me of dating someone in my office would be absolutely bizarre, for example. I can’t believe all these straight people that just look around them and say, “Oh, let’s get married.” Whereas gay people have this immense social system that can throw up anybody from any way of life into your social circle.
Interesting throughout. And again, here is Andrew’s new book Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021.
Straussian Beatles cofounders — We Can’t Work It Out
The Beatles 1965 song “We Can Work It Out” typically is taken as a tale of harmonious cooperation, a kind of precursor to “All You Need is Love,” but expressing the ability of the Beatles to work together toward productive outcomes and furthermore to stay united as friends. (All before the bitter split of course.) Well, if you know a bit about the Beatles (and Strauss) that isn’t exactly how it is presented in the actual tune. There are plenty of esoteric references in Beatle songs and solo Beatle songs, and I don’t just mean drug lingo or “Paul is dead” clues.
As background, you do need to know that Paul was the group’s workaholic, and John, while an immense talent, was, um…not the group’s workaholic. Paul also was renowned as a master of passive-aggressive threats, all the way keeping up the smile and charm and the perfect demeanor. The song reflects this dynamic. It is basically Paul singing that we really have to do things his way, and John singing back “complaints of surrender.” Let’s now turn to the song, with my annotations throughout in brackets:
Paul singing cheerily:
Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking ’til I can’t go on? [I’m going to keep on bugging you until you give in]
While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone [Escalation: I am willing to threaten you over this one and go to the mat]
We can work it out [You’re going to give in to me]
We can work it out [You really are going to give in, believe me on this one]
Think of what you’re saying
You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright [You don’t know what you are doing in the studio the way I do]
Think of what I’m saying
We can work it out and get it straight, or say good night [we really do need to put more time in on this one]
We can work it out
We can work it out [my way]
John singing in plaintive minor key:
Life is very short, and there’s no time [Can we just go home now?]
For fussing and fighting, my friend [I’m tired of all this, aren’t you supposed to be on my side?]
I have always thought that it’s a crime [The bickering is mainly your fault, and yes it is really terrible]
So, I will ask you once again…
Paul interrupts, again singing cheerily:
Try to see it my way [I’m really not giving up on this one]
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong [Last time you did it my way the song was a big hit, in fact every time…]
While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long [more passive-aggressive threats]
We can work it out
We can work it out
An excellent song, both musically and lyrically, but not always appreciated for its full subtleties. It is clear that Paul ends up getting his way, and that is how they “work it out.” Paul increasingly exerted his will in the studio, leading the Beatles to produce such classics as Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, whereas John had been the more dominant influence on earlier albums such as Hard Day’s Night. The Beatles, of course, split up five years later and were in tatters well before that.
“How Britney Spears was trapped in a web of injustice”
That from the FT is the kind of headline we should be seeing. From Henry Mance:
…for 13 years, courts in California have rewarded Spears’s father Jamie, a failed businessman who struggled with alcoholism, once filed for bankruptcy and who, according to the documentary Framing Britney Spears, was often absent from his daughter’s childhood. They have enabled arguably the most egregious villain of them all. In 2008, when his daughter suffered an apparent mental health crisis, Jamie asked a court to make him her conservator — that is, legal guardian. He has mostly kept the power since. He has decided which friends she sees, what medical treatment she receives and what happens to her fortune, estimated at $60m.
…They had made her work seven days a week, taken her credit cards and given her no privacy when undressing. “In California the only similar thing to this is called sex-trafficking,” she said. They would not let her have an intrauterine device removed, because they didn’t want her to have more kids. But they did allow a doctor to prescribe her lithium “out of nowhere”.
I get that you might have doubts about this case, or be able to cite many other cases where some form of guardianship might be useful. But if something like this is possible at all, it is time to realize the whole system is broken and we need to work much harder to root out its abuses.
Time to wake up! Be woke! Really woke.
Uncaged Stairway to Heaven — the only version that makes the song sound fresh
Via Fernand Pajot.
My Conversation with Mark Carney
Here is the audio, video, and transcript, definitely recommended. Here is part of his closing statement:
COWEN: Last question. You wake up each morning. Surely you still think about central banking. What for you is the open question about central banking, where you don’t know the answer, that you think about the most?
CARNEY: I gave a speech at Jackson Hole on this issue, and I started — which is the future of the international monetary system and how we adjust the international monetary system.
I’ll say parenthetically that we’re potentially headed to another example of where the structure of the system is going to cause big problems for the global economy. Because it’s quite realistic, sadly, that we’re going to have a fairly divergent recovery with a number of emerging, developing economies really lagging because of COVID — not vaccinated, limited policy space, and the knock-on effects, while major advanced economies move forward. That’s a world where rates rise and the US dollar strengthens and you get this asymmetry, and the challenge of the way our system works bears down on these economies. I think about that a lot.
COWEN: If you’re speaking in a meeting as the central bank president, do you prefer to speak first or speak last?
CARNEY: I prefer — I tend to speak early. Yes, I tend to speak early. I’m not sure that’s always the best strategy, but I tend to speak early. I will say, one thing that’s happened over the years at places like the G20, I noticed, is the prevalence of social media and devices. The audience drifts away over time, even at the G20, even on a discussion of the global economy.
And from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, do note this:
CARNEY: …I think you’re absolutely right on that, there wasn’t. It is revealed that there wasn’t a liquidity trap.
Rooftops! Finally, on more important matters:
COWEN: Are the Toronto Raptors doomed to be, on average, a subpar NBA team due to higher taxes?
COWEN: What’s the best Clash album?
CARNEY: Fantastic question. London Calling, and one of my best memories — I was very fortunate; they came to Edmonton when I was in 12th grade in high school. I went to the concert and that was fantastic, yes.
COWEN: I also saw them, I think in what would have been 12th grade had I been in school that year. But London Calling is too commercial for me. I much prefer the Green album, like “Career Opportunities,” “Janie Jones.”
CARNEY: Well, “I Fought the Law” was the best song at the concert. I have to say, they had got to Combat Rock by this time, which was relative — [laughs] Combat Rock was more commercial, I thought, than London Calling, although they threw it all out the door with Sandinista!
Again, here is Mark’s new book Value(s): Building a Better World For All.
Who is the best-known, non-political American married couple?
With Bill and Melinda Gates divorcing, and Kanye and Kim doing the same, America now has a paucity of very well-known married couples, at least outside of politics, where Barack and Michelle Obama reign supreme.
Who is the Lucy and Desi of our time? The George Burns and Gracie Allen? The Sonny and Cher?
George and Amal Clooney are in the running, but is she so well known to most Americans? Could they tell you her name from scratch, or cite what she is known for?
Kurt Cobain has passed away, as has Kobe Bryant, Larry and Laurie David split some time ago, and John and Yoko and Paul and Linda (an honorary American couple, for media purposes) are distant memories. Movie stars barely still exist these days.
Perhaps Elon Musk will marry Grimes, who is a musical star of some renown.
Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn have been married for 24 years, and they are pretty well known.
Harry and Meghan maybe are becoming an American couple, at least for media purposes?
The science rave culture that is British
Thousands of people at a mass nightclub rave in the U.K. this week will be a key test of whether live events halted during the pandemic can reopen at full capacity as planned from the end of June.
The two-day event in Liverpool, northwest England, is part of a national research program which so far appears to show people are happy to be tested for coronavirus to secure entry to large-scale events.
There are also no early signs that live events are spreading the disease, according to government scientist Paul Monks, and the program is expected to move to its second phase next month — with live events held at a “full range” of indoor and outdoor venues with “different scales” of capacity.
Here is the full story, via Vith E.
Christa Ludwig, RIP
Here is one obituary (NYT), here is The Guardian.
My Conversation with the excellent Dana Gioia
Here is the audio, transcript, and video. As I mention in the beginning, Dana is the (only?) CWT guest who can answer all of my questions. Here is part of the summary:
Dana and Tyler discuss his latest book and more, including how he transformed several businesses as a corporate executive, why going to business school made him a better poet, the only two obscene topics left in American poetry, why narrative is necessary for coping with life’s hardships, how Virgil influenced Catholic traditions, what Augustus understood about the cultural power of art, the reasons most libretti are so bad, the optimism of the Beach Boys, the best art museum you’ve never heard of, the Jungianism of Star Trek, his favorite Tolstoy work, depictions of Catholicism in American pop culture, what he finds fascinating about Houellebecq, why we stopped building cathedrals, how he was able to effectively lead the National Endowment for the Arts, the aesthetic differences between him and his brother Ted, his advice for young people who want to cultivate their minds, and what he wants to learn next.
And here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Why is Olaf Stapledon an important writer?
GIOIA: It’s not a question I expected.
COWEN: How could you not expect that?
GIOIA: Well, first of all, I hope people know who Olaf Stapleton was. Tremendously influential, rather clumsy, visionary, early science fiction writer who wrote novels like Odd John and the First and Last Man. What Olaf Stapleton did was I think he was the first really great science fiction writer to think in absolutely cosmic terms, beyond human conceptions of time and space. That, essentially, created the mature science fiction sensibility. If you go even watch a show like Expanse now, it’s about Stapledonian concerns.
COWEN: He was also a Hegelian philosopher, as you know. My friend Dan Wang thinks Last and First Men is better than Star Maker. Though virtually all critics prefer Star Maker.
GIOIA: Michael Lind, the political writer, and historian, Stapledon is one of his formative writers. Star Maker is kind of an evolution of the Last and First Men. Odd John is kind of the odd, the first great mutant novel.
Definitely recommended. And I am very happy to recommend Dana’s latest book (and indeed all of his books) Studying with Miss Bishop: Memoirs from a Young Writer’s Life.
My Caribbean podcast with the excellent Rasheed Griffith
One hour, fifteen minutes, almost all of it about the history and culture and economic future of the Caribbean, here is the audio. It starts with Rasheed interviewing me, but later becomes more of a back-and-forth dialog, covering Cuba, Trinidad, Barbados, the best music from Jamaica, why Haiti has failed so badly, whether the Caribbean will be Latinized, and much more. This one is pretty much entirely fresh material and I enjoyed doing it very much.
Rasheed is from Barbados, he is a very recent Emergent Ventures winner, and more generally his podcast focuses on the role of China in the Caribbean. Newsletter and some prestigious podcast guests coming soon!
Here is Rasheed on Twitter.