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Hi everyone, once again I invite you to a curation of links to long-form pieces that I have time for but you may not. The hope is that one or two of these will enrich your life. This month, featuring quite a bit of music, computer keyboard obsession, politics as usual, and potatoes.
But let’s start with music… recently, I’ve been writing less. Reasons include: Interesting things I’m working on that are non-public. And a software bug I haven’t figured out that’s blocking a software project. Also, I’ve been playing quite a bit of Diablo Immortal. And (the reason I’m writing this) I’ve been falling down musical rat-holes on YouTube.
I don’t know how YouTube’s algorithms and ML models compare to Spotify’s or Apple’s or anyone else’s because I don’t use those. I do know that YouTube’s suggestions about what to watch next are mostly competent and quite regularly brilliant, with the effect that I ask it to play some song and then it’s three hours later and I need to crash.
It probably helps that I was on Google Music for years, and uploaded ten thousand or so songs into it, and listen quite a lot — most often while I’m driving or doing housework.
While I’m not dogmatic, what I mostly want to watch is live performances. That’s where the musical magic is. Recently, the music I’ve been listening to is almost entirely traditional forms, and mostly performed by women. Probably what pushed this over the edge was my discovery of Sierra Ferrell, about whom I’ve written more than enough; but if her tour is coming anywhere near you, buy tickets. Trust me on this.
Since this outing is going to feature mostly women, let’s start with a guy: Billy Strings, who is a beyond-awesome bluegrass singer and guitar-picker. He has loads and loads of superb performances on YouTube, but I’m going to offer you Dust In A Baggie from Lollapalooza 2022. One of the interesting things about Billy is that he and his parents were mired in meth and related problems, but have managed to escape that trap. Dust In A Baggie covers the territory (“I used my only phone call to contact my daddy / I got 20 long years for some dust in a baggie”).
Let’s stay traditional but switch continents and listen to the Habibti Ensemble performing Baghdad. Don’t know much about them; they’re Israeli but the music has a nearly pure Arabic sound to my ears. Also “habibti” is an Arabic word meaning, more or less, “sweetie”. It’s a lovely tone and tune. Staying in that corner of the globe, check out Light in Babylon with Hinech Yafa. This is a capture of musicians busking on the streets of Istanbul. Everything’s in Turkish and that’s all I can tell you. But check out that woman on the hand drum. Heading way, way south, here’s a concert by Sona Jobarteh & Band. Ms Jobarteh is British-Gambian and said to be the world’s first professional Kora player. This concert flows effortlessly like water down a hill, the tones gentle and the rhythms quietly fascinating.
Let’s return to the New World and visit with the Tedeschi Trucks Band. They’re a big outfit, a dozen or more musicians on-stage at any one point. I’ve always liked their music, though I’m more a fan of Ms Tedeschi than Mr Trucks. Which is why I’m suggesting you take in I Pity The Fool by Bobby Blue Bland. Normally, in a T-T performance, Susan does most of the lead vocals and takes a guitar break here and there, with plenty of vocal support from the band’s other excellent singers and extended guitar outings from Derek Trucks. Not this time: Susan runs this one end to end, with a fabulous break that crescendos for chorus after chorus, then a white-hot explosion of song. One assumes the local fire department was spraying the outside walls to keep her from burning the place down. I particularly enjoy the grins on the other musicians’ faces as they more or less duck for cover and get out of her way.
OK, let’s let some males back in the room. Could anything be more American than a bluegrass band covering When Doves Cry? I’m actually not sure this quite works, but it’s conceptually amazing.
A final musical note without music notes: Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello on the Music of His Life. Cool guy, interesting takes.
Shifting abruptly over into the nerd lane, from the New Yorker there’s The Obsessive Pleasures of Mechanical-Keyboard Tinkerers. Most computer geeks already know what this is about, but it’s a sub-sub-sub-culture open to anyone who spends a lot of time banging their fingers against keys like I am at this moment.
More geek stuff: From Seph, 3 tribes of programming. I don’t agree with all of it but I enjoyed reading it.
Back to policy and politics. Oh, and history. I’d never previously encountered fivebooks.com but followed some link to The best books on The Great Divergence. What “Great Divergence”, you ask? The one that led to the peoples of Europe, sometime starting in the eighteenth century, becoming richer and more powerful than plenty of other civilizations where the people were just as smart and inventive. There is no explanation for this that enjoys consensus support among historians; this article offers a useful survey and left me wanting to read some of the books they discuss. By the way, in 2017 I wrote up a book by Joel Mokyr, one of the authors here. That book covered basically the same question and if you want to know what I think about it, go read that.
If you’re interested in history and in beer you’ll like On beer, or, why chicks rock by Medieval Historian Eleanor Janega. With pictures!
Obviously the climate catastrophe is the central political problem of our age, and while we have to hand many of the tools we need to reduce the pain, the question of energy storage remains vexed. The reliably-excellent Sabine Hossenfelder offers a super-useful survey in No Sun, No Wind, Now What? Renewable Energy Storage. If you care about this issue (and you should) read it.
Depending on how you parse the word “problem”, you could also argue that we have none more exigent than the recent repeated outbursts of craziness on the right wing of the political spectrum. I’m a leftist but think we need intelligent conservatives. But (in America and Britain at least) there aren’t any. For a pretty deep investigation of how we got here, check out Tanner Greer on The Problem Of The New Right. I sure learned plenty. Relatedly, on a much less theoretical level, John Ganz’s The Enigma of Peter Thiel is useful. It’s subtitled “There Is No Enigma — He's a Fascist.”
Matt Stoller is a full-time anti-monopoly activist and offers an interesting look at a proposed mega-merger in the big-publishing world, characterizing it as Free Speech on Trial. I think he’s 100% right.
I’m not a Marxist but am something of a class reductionist. I think the facts are on my side that class issues, i.e. “who gets the money”, is at the center of everything, and Shareholder Power and the Decline of Labor suggests that I’m right.
Now for something completely different: David Simon Unravels the Moral Twists of Paths of Glory. Simon is best-known as The Wire showrunner, and Paths of Glory is a 1957 WW1 movie. This isn’t text, it’s a film with movie footage and Simon’s head talking, a kind of thing that I rarely link to. But this hit me pretty hard, given that as I write we’ve got another land war going on in Europe. Anything we can do to strip aside any notions of “glory” and “honor” around War is a good thing; this is that.
I’ll end on a hopeful note. Two, even. First, Dave Pawson, a fellow geek, writes about a home-solar project; It’s full of practical information about how doing this can work. Good stuff! Except for it’s a Facebook link — it still (sort of) works in a browser that’s not logged into FB.
Finally, How Peru’s potato museum could stave off world food crisis. Damn, I love a well-cooked potato.