Sunday, June 28, 2020

If you don't like what I like, that's okay.

tumisu | CC0 | Pixabay

I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of people in this world: the kind who know what they like, and the kind that think everyone would like what they like if only they gave it a chance.

This observation came to me after a conversation with friends on Facebook this week. The discussion was prompted by a meme that said: "If you could end Coronavirus by sacrificing one genre of music, what would it be and why country music?" I laughed and nodded, because I don't like country music. And then I shared it.

Some folks ignored, or read right past, the last four words and offered up their own nominees: opera, electronic dance music, dubstep, rap and/or hip hop, head-banger music, and polka all got their moment in the sun. And then somebody stood up for country, and I said I'd shared the meme because I don't like country. And then it was open season on people's taste in music. Mostly mine.

Maybe I asked for it by posting the meme in the first place. But I honestly thought folks would get a chuckle out of it and then scroll on by. Silly me.

To be clear: I like country rock -- the crossover stuff that was popular in the '60s and '70s. I like bluegrass. I tend to like folk music. But I don't like the stuff country radio stations play. Back in the early '80s, I worked in the news department of a country music station, and I could not stand the music. I don't know what it is -- whether it's the Southern accents or the twangin' guitars or the lyrical emphasis on beer and trucks and the good ol' USA -- but it just doesn't do it for me.

Well, a couple of folks took that as a challenge. "Listen to this song! How can you not like it?" Uh, because it's country? "But if you stopped listening in the early '80s, you haven't heard alt-country. Try this!" Okay...and nope. "Now this one, if you don't like it, you must be dead inside." Huh. I guess I'm dead inside.

Why do people do that? I mean, I've been known to inflict Flook on people, but only after they've said they like Irish trad.

No, really, I get it. I do. People fall in love with something and they want to share it. And music is a natural for that, being so tightly entwined with emotion as it is. The best music evokes a strong emotional reaction. We say it speaks to us.

Some of us are primed to hear the message of certain songs -- to feel the feelings the music is trying to evoke. And some of us just aren't. And that's okay.

If you like country music, have at it. More power to you.

And if you don't like Irish trad, that's okay, too.


In case you followed the link above and wondered whatever happened to my adventure with the Smithsonian Boomers Chorus: I enjoyed the experience for what it was, but a lot of my fellow singers had no musical experience and we didn't have anywhere near enough rehearsals for those folks to perfect the music. Next time I'll look for a group with a higher level of musicianship, even if it means having to audition for a spot.

And also the spring session was canceled due to the coronavirus lockdown, just like everything else.


Who's Flook? I'm glad you asked. Here's a taste -- but feel free to skip if it you don't like Irish trad.


So what's going on with that #escapevelocity thing? We're closing in on the final days, aren't we?

We are. And some things are changing. The situation is still kind of fluid so I won't say more right now, but tune in next week for a full report.


This bloggy musical interlude has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep washing those hands and wearing that mask!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Guerrilla warfare by social media.

There's an iconic photo circulating on social media of President Trump's rally in Tulsa, OK, last night. The photo was taken by Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford. I'd use the actual photo in this post, but Getty Images is distributing it, and those people would nail me for copyright infringement in a heartbeat. So imagine this: A sea of blue stadium seats like those in the copyright-free photo above, empty except for one. In it sits a man wearing a mask and holding a Trump campaign sign that says, "Make America Great Again." (If imagination isn't doing it for you, you can go here to see the photo. It truly is iconic.)

Alert hearth/myth readers know that I am a liberal. Well, a progressive. Actually, slightly to the left of the Dalai Lama. They also know I avoid talking about politics on my blog. So I will not speculate on what the low turnout (just 6,000 people, by the Tulsa Fire Department's estimate, in an arena with 19,000 seats) may portend for the president's chances for reelection. And I am definitely not going to get into the Trump campaign's excuses for the low turnout, and their dismissal of reports that a bunch of teenagers reserved so many of the free tickets that the campaign was tricked into believing a million people would show up.

Those kids, though. That's worth a blog post.

The New York Times reports it all began on June 11th, with a more-or-less innocuous tweet from the Trump campaign encouraging folks to use their phones -- otherwise known as pocket computers -- to reserve tickets to the rally. Fans of Korean pop music (known as "K-pop stans") began sharing the info on TikTok and encouraging their friends to grab some tickets with the intention of not showing up. Fellow members of Generation Z, or Zoomers, amplified the message on both TikTok and Twitter. Some videos featuring the sign-up information were viewed millions of times. The kids weren't stupid about it, though -- many of the videos were deleted after 24 to 48 hours to keep the Trump campaign from finding out.

They punked their parents, too. A number of adults tweeted after the rally that they were just now finding out their own teen had snagged a ticket or two or ten.

This is not the first time K-pop stans have been credited with -- or vilified over -- guerrilla warfare by social media. Late last month, Dallas police encouraged people who had video of illegal activity related to protests in the city to upload it to the police department's iWatch app. K-pop stans obliged with "fancams," or videos of their favorite performers singing and dancing. That crashed the app. When the police got it back online, the kids modified their tactics -- adding some actual protest footage to the front of the fancams. Thousands of these videos were uploaded before the cops shut down the app.

But back to the Tulsa rally. The kids are claiming victory, saying their efforts ruined President Trump's rally. There's some doubt about whether they affected attendance, as an unlimited number of tickets were available. Less in doubt is whether the prank affected the mood of the Trump campaign. I would hazard a guess the campaign's claim of handing out a million tickets was exaggerated by a factor of 10, at least -- but to have just 6,000 people show up when you were expecting 100,000 would be a gut punch for anybody.

I called this a prank a minute ago. But I think I came up with a better description above: guerrilla warfare. It's in the same spirit as the tactics used by American troops during the Revolutionary War. The Americans didn't have as many men as the British did, but they had learned guerrilla tactics from fighting Native Americans. So they waited in the shadows to pick off British troops one by one, or lured away a small group of British soldiers to a spot where the odds favored the Americans. Military historian Max Boot says the British troops couldn't handle it. "Armies do not like fighting guerrilla wars," he told NPR. "They regarded it as being beneath them, because they don't regard guerrillas as being worthy enemies."

I've heard time and again that we can't count on young people because they don't vote. And it's true that younger Americans don't turn out at the polls the way we older folks do. But that doesn't mean the kids can't be a force to reckon with, and I think we dismiss them at our peril.

These bloggy song-and-dance moments have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wear a mask! Wash your hands!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Dear Past Me: Shut up.

True confession: I straight-up stole this photo from Google Maps. It's a satellite image of Washington, DC, bounded by 17th Street NW on the left (west), 15th Street NW on the right (east), K Street NW at the top (north), and the White House at the bottom (south). Your cross streets, from the bottom up, are Pennsylvania Avenue NW, H Street NW, I (sometimes written as Eye) Street NW. (Fun fact #1: There's no J Street in DC. Fun fact #2: If you go one block farther west on H Street, you'll come to the building I worked in, back before COVID-19 sent us all home.)

The stretch of 16th Street NW that you can see on this map is the part that's been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered city crews to paint the slogan on the street after the Trump administration ordered federal forces to clear the peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park (all that green between Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street) with tear gas and flashbang grenades -- all so that President Trump could stroll across the park and hold up a Bible outside St. John's Episcopal Church (on the northeast corner of 16th and H) for a photo op.

You can't see it very well in this photo, but there's more painted on the street at the end of the slogan. It's the DC city symbol -- three stars above two bars -- which was put there by the city, and an additional phrase added by Black Lives Matter themselves: "Defund The Police".

Like a lot of white folks, I was taken aback by the wording. Defund the police? Like, disband them? Surely you don't mean we'd go without police protection at all.

On Facebook, I shared a post of George Takei's, in which he suggested "demilitarize the police" would be a better way to put it. I agreed with him, and I went on to say:

[B]y stepping straight to "defund," telegraphing they're not interested in compromise. They want all police to go.
It's the same issue I had with repurposing the word "privilege." That used to mean the 1%, the people born with silver spoons in their mouths. Now we're told every white person is privileged. I understand now what they mean by using "privilege" in this context, but I didn't to start with - and I was angry, frankly, to be lumped in with the rich and powerful who are controlling all of us.
That was a week ago. In the interim, I've read a number of articles and posts from black folks who have detailed the microaggressions they put up with, day after day, year in and year out.

Now, white folks face microaggressions, too. I certainly have. Random strangers on the street have felt the need to tell me I'm fat. Other people have accused me of being smart, as if that's a bad thing. (Although Americans do view intellectuals with suspicion. And everybody hates a smart woman.)

But here's the thing: I've never lived in fear of my life for being fat and smart. I've never had to worry about a cop pulling me over for a minor infraction and then killing me because of my brainpower -- or my waistline.

So now I understand that after years and years of experiencing these daily microaggressions, and of hearing platitudes from politicians about how things must change, and of watching police kill black folks for no reason and wondering who's next -- I can see how you might not want to couch your demands in acceptable language. You might want to shock white folks. Because then maybe they'll pay attention and actually do something about these injustices.

In short: Past Me, shut up.

These moments of bloggy humility have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up, people!

Saturday, June 6, 2020

All aboard!

Welcome to my home away from home for the next seven hours or so. I am aboard Amtrak's Southwest Chief, traveling home from Santa Fe (where I've spent the past week - yes, in a pandemic, and let's all hope I don't end up regretting this little jaunt in a couple of weeks).

The point of the trip was to find an apartment in Santa Fe, which is where I'll be relocating shortly as part of our #escapevelocity program. More on that pretty soon.

A lot has been happening in the U.S. this week, what with COVID-19 and George Floyd's murder and the subsequent protests across the nation. It's been a little surreal to watch momentous events happening two blocks from my office from two-thirds of the way across the country. I'll have more to say on all of it, probably next week. But right now I'm parked on a train in La Junta, Colorado, waiting for crews to clear a brush fire ahead of so we can be on our way.

A brush fire wouldn't stop a plane, you say? True enough. But travel by train has so many other things going for it that I've decided to create a listicle of the pros - and the cons - to long-distance train journeys. (Also, this is the first time I've written a blog post on my phone, so I wanted to keep things simple.)

The Pros:
  • It's way more comfortable. The airlines have made it their business to maximize their profits by making coach seats ever smaller and legroom ever shorter. They even have the audacity to charge you extra for a seat with a few inches of extra legroom, although the seat itself is no wider than others in steerage. On Amtrak, you get wide, well-padded seats that have footrests built in. You can even recline your seat without worrying about squishing the passenger behind you. In coach!
  • Passengers aren't treated like cattle. One of the most annoying things about air travel is having to undress and unpack in order to get through security. On a get on the train. You find your seat, and by and by, the conductor comes by and scans your ticket. That's it. 
  • If you need to get up and stretch, you have choices. You can go to the cafe car for a snack, or the dining car for a sit-down meal. On cross-country train, the top floor of the cafe car is an observation deck with even more spacious seating and a great view of the landscape. And if nature calls, you have multiple bathrooms from which to choose - and no crew member will scold you for standing outside an occupied restroom.
  • First class is affordable. On a long-haul route, "first class" includes sleeping accommodations. The ticket is more expensive than coach, but when you realize you're wrapping your hotel and meals into the price, it's not so daunting. That's right -- room and board.
I sprang for a roomette on this trip. The roomette accommodates one or two people. It's not a very big compartment, but the seats (two of them, facing each other) are even wider than in coach, and there's a pull-up and fold-out table in between. At night, the table folds away and the seats drop down to make a bunk, while a second bunk folds down from the ceiling. (Some roomettes come with a toilet in them, but this route doesn't have that feature.) Because of the virus, you can have the attendant bring your meals to you. Posh, huh?

There are, however, some drawbacks to train travel in the United States. The Cons:
  • The train takes longer. You can fly across the country a lot quicker than you can get there by train. DC to Chicago is a two-hour flight; Amtrak leaves in the afternoon and arrives the next morning -- about 16 hours. (Driving time is comparable to the train, assuming you have someone to switch with you when you get tired.) 
  • Amtrak doesn't go everywhere in America, nor do its cross-country trains leave more than once a day. That's due to decisions made by Congress in the '50s and early '60s to prioritize auto travel by building out the interstate system. Then in the '70s, the government consolidated all passenger travel under rhe Amtrak banner - but didn't buy or build its own tracks (except for the high-speed Acela service in tbe Northeast corridor). A big part of the reason it takes 16 hours to get from DC to Chicago by train is that your train is guaranteed to spend time just sitting and waiting for freight trains to go by. Why? Because the freight trains own the tracks.
  • Food selection isn't super, especially for those with dietary restrictions. A sleeper car isn't as much of a deal when you have to bring your own food along.
  • Many of the long-haul trains don't have wi-fi. And I've hit a surprising number of dead spots for cell phone service on this trip, too. So don't count on electronic entertainment -- bring a book or something.
Still, if I have the time, I'd rather take the train than fly. It's a much more comfortable, and more humane, experience.

Ah, the brush fire must be out. We're moving again. I'd better wrap this up before we hit another dead spot in cell service...

These moments of clickety-clack blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Amtrak requires masks in their stations and on their trains - don't forget yours!