Q and A

These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Tom Hull.

To ask your own question, please use this form.

January 09, 2022

[Q] I notice a few discrepancies in the grades for some albums; for instance, in the "Grade List Search" under Sonic Youth, I find

Sonic Youth: Battery Park, NYC, July 4th 2008 (2008 [2019], Matador) B+(***)

whereas, in the "Rhapsody Streamnotes" I find

Sonic Youth: Battery Park, NYC, July 4th 2008 (2008 [2019], Matador) A−

In this case, the album was originally graded B+(***) and later revised to A-. Somehow, the later change is not reflected in the "Grade List Search" section. -- Siddhartha Kanungo [2021-12-27]

[A] I've noticed a few such discrepancies myself, and don't doubt that there are more lurking unnoticed. It's the result of poor design -- I have multiple places where the same grade is stored separately -- and sloppy execution. Computer science has a process called normalization, where redundant copies of data are replaced by calls to a single source. It's a good idea, but it requires a lot of forethought to implement, and is usually more work to maintain -- unless you count up all the time finding and repairing all the slip-ups.

As it is, when I change a grade, I should have to change it in 4-8 places: the review file, the notebook backup, the year file, the year tracking file, the "md" (music database) file, previous review/notebook files, the indexes (year and artist) to the review files, possibly an EOY file and a metacritic/aggregate file. Of those the review file is the most accurate, but the "md" file is the only one you can readily look up. Unfortunately, the "md" file is usually the one I forget. Some of the others I consider obsolete and rarely bother with. It's messy, but at this point the work to redo it is even more daunting.

When you do find discrepancies like this (i.e., between the Streamnotes grade and the music database), please report them to me.

[Q] Do you still listen to vinyl?

I just started collecting recently, and the experience + sound + physical format is a revelation! -- Piotr, O-side [2021-11-11]

[A] Not if I can help it. I moved all of my vinyl from Boston to New Jersey when I had a job change that paid for it, but most of it remained in boxes in the basement, and a lot of it got water-damaged. I salvaged what I could from that, but when I contemplated moving to Wichita on my own dime, I decided to unload most of what I had. This was 1999, and I got damn little for it, but I saved at least $1000 in moving costs. I think I kept about 300 pieces, and have them nicely shelved, but I hardly ever play any of them. My beloved B&O turntable died after we got here, and I reverted to an even older (and much cheaper) Technics that my wife had before she met me (about 35 years ago), so it's not what you'd call a quality setup. A couple times a year I get vinyl promos, so it works for that.

I've never been much of an audiophile, although my now ancient speakers were pretty good when I bought them, as were my components, but recent replacements (mostly CD changers and computer speakers) are nothing special. I don't doubt that I'd be dazzled by better quality sound, but this setup works fine for what I do (especially given I play everything at low volume, which thankfully my ears can still detect).

[Q] I was getting caught up on your blog posts and found myself lowering my eyes and sighing deeply at your "all tyrants and would be tyrants are on the right" reaction. It seemed almost nostalgic to me. Pretty much my whole life I've shared a similar outlook but take it from this lifelong left wing liberal Democrat that even just a short time in the Seattle/Portland areas would force you to reconcile this belief against the hundreds and hundreds of hard left "activists" rabidly trying to get you fired from your job by attacking you through your employer or shut down your small business through accusations and bad reviews. They'll steal personal photos from social media and deface them in the most humiliating ways they can think of. They attack children via online school groups hoping to shame families into moving. They'll organize a march to a business or residence and destroy property. They'll block a highway. They'll cut of access. All in the name of equity, justice, mutual respect and tolerance. This is all done based on the way something may appear to be in a photo, or because of an out of context partial quote, or even a complete fabrication supplied by one of the dozens of bloggers acting as journalists promoting themselves through confirmation bias. City Council members have no qualms about lying to the media to further the narrative. They hire their own family members and cronies and appoint like minded people to city, county, and state posts where they can officially declare anyone with differing points of view "hate groups" or a "terrorist organization." Almost none of this gets any attention from local (or national) media as they operate in fear of the social justice warriors.

The big lesson of the Trump presidency for me was that the hard right and the hard left are identical mirror images.

As you can probably tell I speak from first hand knowledge so if you should reference any of this in a blog post I kindly ask that you please withhold my name. -- [name withheld] [2021-12-12]

[A] I'm shocked and saddened at your conclusion, and don't see how any fair and reasonable observer could arrive at it, even from spotty and selective anecdotal evidence. Even if the "hard left" were guilty as charged, that doesn't come close to the level of threat and malice routinely voiced and all-too-often practiced by the right (and I'm not just talking about the "hard" cases of avowed white supremacists and ultra-macho militias). And even if it did, I'd still reject your "mirror image" claim due to core principles: the right believes that order depends on a social hierarchy, where some people are privileged to rule over others, and that it's justified to enforce that order with force and deceit; the left believes that all people are equal, and that none has the right to dominate and dictate to others.

After receiving your letter, I wrote to friends in Seattle and Portland to see if they could corroborate your charges. They didn't. One allowed this much: "The hard right in Portland is the cops who kill unarmed homeless people and get a raise. The hard left yells at people about pronouns. It's not the same thing." Another friend, from Berkeley, did acknowledge several instances of "ultra leftist ideological bullying and excluding." As tactics, that sort of thing is counterproductive, but that doesn't vindicate the right. At most, it shows that some of the bad habits of the right have been picked up by people who identify on the left.

I do believe that leftists need to consider tactics carefully, and become more conscious of how their arguments and demonstrations play in the wider world. The left message promotes peace, justice, equity, honesty, openness, cooperation, and public-spiritedness, and our tactics should be consistent with those principles. But it's hard, because the right controls most of the world's wealth and power, and has no scruples about using them to misinform and manipulate, to obscure and confuse issues, and to deflect their own culpability for their intrinsic inability to cope with many of the world's most pressing problems. We need a politically viable left more than ever. And while not everyone on the left may live up to our ideals, they're the only hope we have. So enough with this "both sides" nonsense.

Needless to say, I could write on this at much more depth. I've been thinking of knocking out an outline of a book I'm unlikely to ever write (but someone should). This would start by rehashing my four-era framework for American politics (Jefferson-to-Buchanan, Lincoln-to-Hoover, Roosevelt-to-Carter, Reagan-to-Trump), then add three more detailed sections:

  1. Why the fourth (Reagan-to-Trump) era is anomalous, from its founding on principles opposite of America's liberal tradition and promise, to its degeneration into a party of lies, self-deceptions, incoherence, and incompetence.
  2. A section on how the world works: the major problems facing us in the near- and mid-term future, to figure out what sorts of solutions work and what don't.
  3. A final section on how Democrats can and should campaign, given the real problems we face and the obstacles and enemy they will have to overcome.

This final section should answer this particular question more thoroughly (or hopefully bury it). Democrats need strategy and tactics which broaden their political support, not by compromising or shying away from principles but by advancing them in ways that show their general worth and necessity.