Why do I do what I do? Why is my life this weird potpourri of music, science, literature, politics, and surrealism?

My Credo:

I believe every human being should have – by virtue of being born human – access to knowledge, culture, and history.

I believe culture should be available to everyone, be they rich or poor.

I believe arts and humanities are a necessary component of education, from pre-K to PhD and not excluding the trades. Why can’t a bricklayer like poetry, a garment worker music, a farmer literature, a bookkeeper sculpture? By saying cultural pursuits are only for people from specific classes and castes, we deny the basic humanity and the need to create – to endure – of billions.

I believe we should govern ourselves by hope, not fear.

I believe in the transformative power of the humanities.

I believe in the human race, even when the human race does not believe in itself.

I believe if we do not kill ourselves in the cradle, we will go to the stars.

I believe that’s enough for now.

WF

A couple of weeks ago, I went down to Iowa City for the International Trombone Festival. Picked up a new mouthpiece. Here I am getting used to it.

Maybe I’ll put more of these up every now and then.

Also, I can’t recommend Giddings Mouthpieces enough. This is the EXL model, stainless steel with a frost finish. I play on a Conn 88H (Elkhart).

WF

So I was having a discussion on Facebook with Jason Gerraughty and Alan Theisen, two composers you should definitely know. The topic of conversation was this New York Times op-ed by Bret Stephens. These are my thoughts:

I happen to think both pronouns and good jobs are worth the fighting for, and I believe we can do both. Look at Danica Roem in Virginia. Let’s not fall over ourselves to get back white guys as a monolithic group when they will *always* be more conservative. Let’s expand the board. We can fight for good jobs and higher wages without making life harder for trans folks and women and minorities and everyone else.

Or, to turn the framing around – why are we not doing a better job of explaining to some that someone else’s pronouns do not impact them in any way, and their insistence on believing otherwise is why we can’t do more about jobs and wages?

Personally, I’d like to put an end to this fetishization of “work” as a goal in itself, but without guaranteed minimum income that ain’t gonna happen.

We make it clear that it’s the same fight – the fight for the dignity of *every* human being and for the chance for *every* human being to live the best life they possibly can.

One major flaw in contemporary American society is the idea of “sin” and “redemption” as *collective* problems instead of individual ones. Are there national sins? Perhaps, but they are sins of omission instead of commission. A trans person being treated as they would want to be treated and called as they wish to be called by the state is not something that will jeopardize your *personal* salvation, if you believe in such a concept.

And don’t get me started on toxic masculinity…

WF

Back in the late Middle Ages, when we used IRC and AOL IM, whenever you would get up to grab more Cheetos or use the bathroom you would type “AFK,” which meant “away from keyboard.”

I haven’t been AFK, precisely – I’m still tearing it up on my Twitter feed and on Facebook – but I haven’t been blogging. I should remedy that, especially since there’s this fancy new website and all.

I’ll do better.

WF

(Hey, look at this! I’m blogging!)

So I finished Hillbilly Elegy today.

I figured I should read it, as my beloved wife is a native of Middletown, OH and a good hunk of her family still lives there. I have a few thoughts.

In many ways, this is an inspiring narrative, and one that resonates with me, though – and I want to make this absolutely clear – I am not from a broken home. Indeed, for whatever issues I have had with my family (and it would be intellectually and morally dishonest to say that we have not had issues), I am forever grateful that my home life was so stable. It really does make a difference. We may have been rural, but my parents would never let us be “rednecks.” This is one of the reasons I so often ask why it is necessary to conflate the two, and why so many people (both within and without the rural community) encourage such conflating.

But, as is said in Revelation, I have a few things against thee, JD Vance.

First of all, I don’t entirely agree with your characterization of several sections of Middletown. This is a minor point, but there is more going on than you state. Downtown, for example, has some neat things underway, even if it’s not there yet. I am willing to attribute this to two things. A) We have a tendency – and clearly I am guilty of this – to either overromanticize our hometowns or exaggerate the perceived awfulness, and; B) It sounds like you haven’t been back in a few years. Completely understandable, and I am willing to concede this particular point to these two ideas.

My second point consists of a sharper criticism, one that I believe is linked to Mr. Vance’s current situation. Mr. Vance rightfully points out several flaws with the culture that produced him, and indeed you must change the culture to change the situation for the greatest number of people. But apart from some perfunctory slaps on the wrist, Mr. Vance is almost completely unwilling to assign any of the blame to corporate and financial practices that contribute to the problems. There was a telling moment when he describes working for former Ohio state senator Bob Schuler, who was opposed to further payday lending regulations. Vance says that these predatory loan places were the only place people from his background could go to get financial assistance, and that if more people from his background were part of the system, governments would not be so quick to impose further regulations on these institutions.

As Joe Biden might say, that’s malarkey. There are other ways to get assistance without having to resort to near-usury.

Keep in mind that, no matter Vance’s beginnings (and it is an inspiring narrative), he cut his legislative teeth working for a state senator determined to protect predatory lenders, and he is currently the principal for a major financial firm in the Bay Area, one which is founded by Peter Thiel. I am not so blind as to not understand the importance of both capital and the ability to move capital in our current system (indeed, it is why I cannot endorse the idea of wholesale destruction of the financial sector), but Vance is not exactly a disinterested party. By shifting the blame away from financial policies that could have mitigated the situation, and from corporations and investors that intentionally drained money from communities, Vance is able to maximize his otherwise just criticism of his native culture while signaling that he is – to use a phrase that I have heard many times in different circumstances – “one of the good ones.”

This same idea permeates my third criticism, that he is too dismissive of the social contract. Throughout the work, there is almost no mention of the role of government and political structures in assistance, except to say that Child Protective Services is often viewed by Appalachian culture as “the enemy.” There are moments of criticism for the government programs that provided assistance, but – in keeping in line with someone published regularly in Bill Buckley’s National Review – the ideology of the book is rooted in encouraging bootstrap-pulling among those who are bootless.

I am not completely against the book. Vance has clearly overcome many obstacles, and he makes a compelling argument for transcending one’s limitations and beginnings. He does, to his credit, consider arguments from all over the political spectrum, and is as quick to blame conservative fake news as he is liberal snootiness. I just wish he wasn’t so determined to maintain the Horatio Alger narrative, as it doesn’t tell the full story and in some cases deliberately shifts blame. I would still recommend it, approving quotes from David Brooks and all, because unlike other conservative writers, Vance is at least trying to figure it out.

(This review, by Alex MacGillis in The Atlantic, hits on similar points.)