q. i. f.?

getting together

I’m in Virginia for a few days, since Friday evening, spending time with family. I grew up in Maryland, a short way north, but I am a Virginian by birth, and as my parents’ families come from (and have tended to remain in) the state, generations back, southward travel ‘home’ is a fact of my life from earliest memory. For a couple of years now (as the regular reader knows), I’ve been living in New York; and the increased distance is something more than physical. But then too, my parents have at last made the long-planned move back to Virginia, where my siblings already were (apart from a brother in North Carolina); with no family to go back to in Maryland, Virginia is more ‘home’ now, in a way, than it was even when it was I who was resident here for a while some years back.

This post isn’t about being a native in some terms, though, so much as it is about having a certain American sense about place and time. Being a Virginian (to the extent that I am) gives that a particular color, and it comes into what’s to follow here, but I don’t mean to pretend that I have anything very special to say about Virginia, or about Americanness for that matter. What I do have to say is something in development, something undergoing re-orientation, as previous posts will suggest. It’s the evolution I want to note, not something uncommon in my views.

wait, there’s more.

Say, let’s have another ramble drawn from recent Facebook conversation, shall we? — this occasion an exchange with my sister. My sister is a good deal younger than I; I’m the oldest of four, she the youngest, born the year before I graduated high school. The other day she re-posted the post below, from American Christian country star Steven Curtis Chapman, on her FB page and tagged me, expecting I would like it. She knows me, and of course she was right. In fact, I’ve been kind of stuck on it.

wait, there’s more.

An hour or so, naturally, after I posted here a few days ago, my comments on the Facebook post of the friend in Texas received their reply. Since I’m really keeping a record of my own FB-comment acts and proceedings, not rehashing a conversation, I won’t quote in full. For clarity, though, here’s part of what he wrote:

I feel that you believe there’s never been much Christianity in America because many Christians believed that slavery — that is, treating people as property — was permissible? If this is what you mean, I confess that I believe many Christians today live with similar self-serving and wrong views. . . . I have met people whom I consider authentic Christians who formerly held — but repented of — belief about abortion. I consider the Christians who formerly held these beliefs to be authentic Christians who have abandoned an erroneous way of thinking. I think there must be many Christians of earlier times who at one time held wrong beliefs about slavery and later repented. In my mind these were real Christians. Many of them sought freedom and justice for slaves.


Excessive admiration for heroes can be idolatry, and monuments can promote idolatry. However, I ask you: isn’t the seat of idolatry in the heart of the idolater? . . . Like you, I value the monuments to American heroes. Still, if they are causing serious heart issues in other people I am willing to see them put aside. However, we should recognize that putting aside monuments accomplishes nothing if we only replace them with other monuments that offend a different group of people. So, people of all opinions about the Civil War and race relations need to continually examine our hearts.
I pray that we Americans choose to value and respect each other. This will solve many problems. This is hard to bring about, but I have seen God accomplish it many times. Perhaps He will for people of today’s United States.

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A family friend of my parents’ generation, a lawyer and a solid Presbyterian churchman long in Maryland (where he worked, during the years I knew him best, on behalf of people requiring government income assistance because of disabilities), posted a link to this article published in Texas, where he now lives: ‘Dallas Can Learn from Others As It Considers How to Address Its Confederate Monuments.’ The Dallas article and my friend’s Facebook post came on Saturday, as marches and violent clashes between white nationalists and anti-fascist activists were happening in Charlottesville, Virginia — events whose original cause is supposed to be the city’s decision to remove a prominent equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate states’ commanding general in the American Civil War, 1860–64.

As I did a couple of weeks ago, I’m making this a little record of my own comments left on someone else’s Facebook post. In this case, my comments, written yesterday, were not a little florid and wordy — they were a rant, in short. So far they’ve had no response from my generally wise and dignified older friend.

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Baltimore architect and friend Julie Gabrielli posted a couple of articles on Facebook earlier this month — the first a Conor Friedersdorf column in The Atlantic, the second a consideration of long-time Baltimore community radio talk host Marc Steiner’s career and its challenges — in response to which I left a short comment that I’d like to hold on to here for further noodling.

wait, there’s more.

I’m going to give some attention to the public FB post of a long-time family friend, an African-American IT professional and pastor from the Baltimore suburbs between western city line and Patapsco river that have been my home territory (though not always where I’ve lived) for the better part of three decades. He posts publicly there, we can pretty safely say, not because he’s inattentive to information privacy matters, say, or is just an indiscreet person, but because he means to present an open testimony of fidelity — the fidelity he understands to be our due to God and wants to urge those under his pastoral care to follow his example in, as also conversely God’s primary fidelity toward the people of God, the ground of this man’s declared confidence in doing the thing he sees to be right even when it’s a very painful thing to do.

wait, there’s more.

What I know for sure is this: as much as he’s willing to work and as earnest as he is about getting straight, Will most likely will never get his GED, never get a full-time job that pays him enough to do any more than live from week to week, and, never get free of the drugs that are all but foisted on him from all sides — from family, friends, and just about anybody he meets on the street.
    The problem isn’t in Will, it’s in everything that surrounds him. As much as I dislike David Simon’s
The Wire — because it’s so pessimistic — I have to grant that Simon has this much right: drugs aren’t going away. Ever.

I don’t share Tanner’s confidence about the pure exteriority of the problem this young man faces — or about practical benefits to be gained from the sweeping complex of government-administered socioeconomic measures his list of things we all ought to be able to agree on could be expected to call forth. But Tanner’s managed a direct personal & economic connection to the harshest of social realities in this part of the western world, and that puts him in a position to talk which most of the people who’d dismiss his understanding as tired leftism are far from enjoying. I’d rather know what a guy like Tanner thinks is going on, concretely, than hear many a guy to whose conclusions about healthy political and social order my own thinking perhaps comes closer. And I’d rather be a guy like Tanner, in the end.

After years as a guitarist, editor and activist, I began writing about jazz in 1999. Since then my taste in music has grown steadily more radical, my politics the reverse. I believe this is largely a coincidence, though I still wonder if something lies behind it. As a Nader-for-President volunteer in the mid ’90s I was invested primarily in the bebop and postbop tradition, commonly grouped under the heading “mainstream jazz.” Today that is still my home, although I’ve come to understand and love sounds that are far more extreme, that even some jazz players wouldn’t consider music. In part, I hear this work as refreshingly apart from the hypercapitalist, commoditized, fluff-obsessed world around it. And yet even as a staunch liberal and social democrat, I’m increasingly turned off by what Ian McEwan has called the ”cloying self-regard“ of today’s antiwar street-protest left, the very place on the political spectrum where adventurous, experimental musicians and fans tend to gather.
Daniel Fischlin of the University of Guelph has written of “sound as dissident practice, commentary, critique.” His colleague Ajay Heble, writing in support of the jazz avant-garde, has suggested that “the ‘return to the tonic’ structure of diatonic music [i.e., mainstream jazz] is … an ideological convention, a way of reinforcing the status quo.” But artists’ intentions are too varied, the experience of listening too subjective, for Heble’s paradigm to be airtight. And much of modern jazz falls between the poles of consonance and dissonance, “inside” and “outside.” As Heble admits, “… the connections between dissonant musics and oppositional politics are not always readily sustainable.”

I do take seriously Robin Balliger’s claim that “music and representations of music are contextualized activities that have social and political meaning.” But this shouldn’t close off the idea of music as a sphere unto itself. I have to laugh when Fischlin conjures “a nightmare world in which sound is pure and essential, divorced from its social and political contexts, meaningful in its abstract and metaphysical potential but irrelevant in what it has to say to the here and now of daily life.” Of all the actual nightmares transpiring on the planet, Fischlin’s scenario seems rather mild, even attractive.
In fact, social systems that demand art be “relevant” are precisely the ones that have ushered in nightmares. Cornelius Cardew, the British classical composer (1936-1981), denounced his mentors and flushed his talent in order to spread the gospel of Mao Zedong: “There is no such thing as Art for Art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics.” Even if one agrees, it’s quite a leap to conclude, as Mao and Cardew did, that the vanguard party has the right and the duty to declare war on individual expression.

David R. Adler, in a longish article on art, the liberal tradition, and antizionism/antisemitism, a little more than a year ago.

“It’s the first time the state has ever done anything like this,” said Richard Josephson, director of planning services. State planners have had the legal authority to draw up a statewide development plan since the 1970s, he said, but have never acted on it. Now, though, amid signs that Maryland’s Smart Growth laws and policies haven’t slowed the spread of suburbia over the past 12 years, state officials are dusting off that unused planning tool. “If we continue [developing] at the rate we’re going, we’ll use up 560,000 acres in the next 20 years,” Josephson said. That’s nearly equal to all the land in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties combined, he noted, calling it “staggering to think about.”

From a Sun item on the latest in Maryland government efforts to get to ‘Smart Growth’.

The demographic profile of suburbanites today deviates significantly from the stereotypical imagery in the popular media of affluent dual-parent households — driving child-filled minivans through predominantly white, often gated, neighborhoods. Furthermore, recent historical scholarship is bringing to light the ways in which socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial diversity have always been characteristic of suburban settings, despite generations of commentators who assumed otherwise. Historian Becky Nicolaides points out how the scathing mid-century critiques of Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and William Whyte created “a recognizable cultural icon that lives on even in the popular culture of our own day.” She cites the “hellish ’burbs” depicted in recent films like American Beauty and the popular television series Desperate Housewives. Despite these persistent stereotypes and critiques, a close look will reveal that there is a great deal of demographic diversity within suburbs and, with retrofitting, increasing diversity in physical patterns as well.

. . . Kevin Kruse and Thomas Sugrue, editors of a 2006 anthology entitled The New Suburban History, set out to “challenge an older scholarship that looks at the history of suburbs largely internally and, instead, examine the ideological, political, and economic issues that bound city and suburb together in the postwar world.” Essays in the book pay special attention to the lesser-known histories of blue-collar, African American, Latino, and Asian suburbanites and consider how contentious political debates over such issues as taxation, school busing, and immigration have played out in suburban contexts.

. . . It is hardly coincidental that suburbia’s history is being revised at the same time that its physical fabric is getting retrofitted. Major changes are afoot and these new histories help urban designers working in suburbia appreciate the rich, layered complexity of these places.

From Retrofitting Suburbia, which I finally got a copy of recently, and which I’m not getting enough time to read.

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