On The Transparent Court

It is a great shame that in the world in which we live today one of the few places we can go where some sort of logic and rhetoric is taken seriously is in courts. Depending on your preference in such matters, you can watch lawyers grandstand for a jury or you can watch Supreme Court justices eviscerate the terrible arguments of those who are trying to craft appeals to sway a majority of justices to their way of thinking. For some decades, at least, the general level of skill at rhetoric and logic among the general population has declined to the point where C.S. Lewis openly questioned in his classic work the Screwtape Letters the efficacy of making an appeal to consistency and logic at all.

One can learn a fair amount while watching court hearings. One of the things to learn is that the presence of cameras has in at least some cases led the prosecution to play too broadly to the camera in hopes of gaining popular support for a prosecution while failing to remember to focus their appeal on the people who matter in the jury. Sloppiness in making arguments and managing the courtroom drama can allow for a witness or a defense attorney to trip up the argument of the prosecution and allow for reasonable doubt, which means victory for the defense. It does not matter if 90% of the general public believes that someone is guilty if the prosecution fails to convince the jury. Thankfully, at least at present, to be unpopular is not to be automatically criminal. Such days may yet come, but they are not here yet as I write this.

What is the benefit of a more transparent court? (And by this I mean courts on all levels.) Courts have a dramatic effect on the lives of people in the jurisdictions where those courts exist. Even if a great many cases are plea bargained out before reaching the trial phase, it is trials that represent the real test of claims and arguments. Different levels of court and different jurisdictions have widely varying rates of conviction, largely representing the preparation that has gone into making sure that a case is as airtight as possible as opposed to a desire to try as much as possible. While in Japan one is almost certainly going to be convicted, one has a good chance of beating a case in New York state, for whatever reason.

It is quite likely that most of us will be fortunate enough to never have to worry about being put on trial, but it is still worthwhile to see the combat of two sides for the approval of a given referee, be it judges or juries, over widely divergent views of the facts and law regarding particular cases. To the extent that either the text of laws or the nature of facts and reality matter, how we communicate the truth is still of importance. And to the extent that it is a threat for us to be falsely persecuted, it is worth knowing how it is that the state wishes to frame the people it wishes to deny the liberty of being part of free society, as that is a threat that may hang over quite a few of us in the months and years ahead.

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Album Review: I, Robot

I Robot, by the Alan Parsons Project

As someone who is a fan of the Alan Parsons project, I took the opportunity to listen to their first album as a way of seeing to what extent the qualities of the group that I enjoyed were present from the beginning. Given the fact that this particular project springs, like many of their albums, from the realms of science fiction culture, it is interesting to see how this concept album serves to set a template for later efforts. Strikingly, from listening to this album it is clear that there was a focus and idea about music and production and vocals from the beginning of the group that continued on from there.

What we find in this album is ten tracks that are pretty straightforward for those who are familiar with the work of the Alan Parsons Project as a whole. There are spacious instrumental beds, inventive and creative production, solid vocals from a variety of artists. There is a blending of tracks and transitions that would work even better if they were not broken up (as they often are on Spotify) by intrusive advertising. Some tracks, like “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You,” make for worthwhile and impressive singles, while the album is also full of unexpected highlights from “Some Other Time,” a lovely album track, to the moving closer “Genesis Ch.1 V.32,” which cleverly seeks to add on to the following biblical language: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

Overall, this album sets a standard that the group would follow over the course of more than a dozen works. Starting strong in both popular success as well as artistic quality, the Alan Parsons project would go on and reference numerous other aspects of culture and art and engage in a conversation about historoy and culture and the way that human beings interact with them and reflect on them that gave a high moral and intellectual tone to their music in general. This is a band well worth checking out and I look forward to listening to a lot more music from them in the future. If I don’t like this album quite as much as Pyramid it is at least the same sort of album that is excellent throughout.

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Rivers Of Babylon

One of my more obscure interests is a fascination with the history of languages and their origins and development. For a long time people have sought to make connections between various languages in seeking to discover how it is that language isolates are connected to other languages or how it is that certain connections between languages that seem as divergent as English and Hebrew exist. In order to understand these matters it was not only necessary to compare languages as they now exist but to reconstruct past languages to see how it is that certain sounds changed over the course of thousands of years to get to the present day.

This task requires a fair amount of effort. For example, as an English speaker I speak a language that is part of the Indo-European family, a family that includes a great many languages spoken over the entire world, with numerous sub-families. English is a part of the Germanic sub-family of the Indo-European family, with a heavy influence from the Norman French that was spoken and a tendency to borrow words pretty heavily from other languages. There are at least three forms of written English going back over the last 1300 years or so, after which one can trace English back to a related set of West Germanic languages, and then from there to the Germanic subfamily as a whole. At this point one can compare the Germanic subfamily with various other related subfamilies of the Indo-European family, including the Italic languages, the Celtic languages, the Baltic languages, the Slavic languages, the Illyrian languages, the Greek languages, the Anatolian languages, the Indo-Iranian languages, and Tocharian, an obscure and extinct language of Central Asia. From there one can build up a language called Proto-Indo-European from a period of more than 5,000 years ago.

It must be admitted that this task does not only work for English and its cousin languages, but is something that can also be done and has also been done for a great many other languages. There are a reasonable number of language families that exist in the world. The Finno-Ugric language family includes Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, various related languages, including Samoyed and a few other languages in the Urals, and some extinct languages from Crete and Anatolia. The Afro-Asiatic family includes Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Coptic, Berber, and languages spoken in Ethiopia and surrounding areas. The Turkic languages are spoken of in a region from Turkey to a suite of closely related languages in Central Asia. Other languages like Mongolian and its kin as well as various Manchurian languages, Korean, and Japanese have been combined into an Altaic superfamily of languages that also show some deeper connections. There are even connections between the Na-Dene languages of some Native Americans and the Yedesian languages of what is now Russia, many thousands of miles away. And in addition to this there are connections between Basque and some of the languages of the Caucasus region, and between ancient Elamite as well as the Dravidian languages of southern India.

Given the general interest in understanding languages and making sense of them with the goal of decipherment and understanding the material and social culture of long ago societies, it has been unsurprising that people have sought to connect many of these ancient peoples together and have found that there were connections between very large groups that spread out over the entire world, such that the peoples who went into North America originally spoke a shared language to those who settled Europe as well as North Africa and Central and South Asia. But such a step cannot be taken all at once. We must first investigate the various branches and see how they connect to a common trunk, and see how it is that what was once a common tongue became many hundreds of widely separated tongues, many of them influenced by long-ago forgotten and extinct languages and increasing distances that led to divergent developments of a common tongue into languages whose connection only survives in tantalizing hints that are all too easy to dismiss if one does not know the larger historical and cultural connections at play.

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We Live In A Society

It has long been axiomatic among most people, at least, that human beings are sociopolitical beings. This is not to say that every human being embraces being part of larger society, or that we are always well served by the influence that other people have on us, but rather that human beings are in fact embedded within networks of relationships that influence us and that allow us to have influence on other people. We arrive on this earth as part of families and instantly have certain identities related to physical origin as well as sex and class, and by virtue of our own merits and attainments we obtain other identities based on education, profession, where we live, who we socialize with and how, religious beliefs and practices, and the like. Beyond what we identify with, we are influenced as well by how we spend our time, what activities we engage in, what art and culture we engage with, and so on.

All of these matters complicate how it is that we engage with the larger societies and cultures in which we are a part. Even those things we may not engage with directly may influence us indirectly because of the way in which they influence other people around us. Yesterday, for example, I was part of a lengthy and spirited discussion relating to the issue of taking God’s name in vain in terms of verbal communication, the way it is often viewed most commonly in those circles in which I am a part (about which I will have more to say in a future post). Included in that discussion was a particular three letter acronym for a three-word turn and the way that it has become rather ubiquitous on billboards and the like. Here we have a case where an expression that was used earlier on in a pretty terrible song became more and more general to the extent where few people think that they are dishonoring God by flippantly using it as an expression of shock or wonder or irony.

One of the aspects that makes societal influence upon us so insidious and so troublesome is that we often do not think sufficiently about it. It is easy to pick up on words and expressions and behaviors that are in existence around us, and it is frankly somewhat wearisome to be continually in opposition to what is going on around us. If we find ourselves in such a position, it becomes of great importance to find within a hostile larger society a smaller and more congenial counterculture in which to be a part so that we may feel free to be ourselves without fear of exterior hostility. To a great extent we can only be truly ourselves with people who approve of who we are and with whom we have a genuine relationship of love and respect. And to whatever extent that we seek out such communities in which to be a part of in which we may be ourselves freely and openly without fear of censure and disapproval, we are consciously shaping the societies to which we belong, for our own interests and well-being.

As human beings we long to be known and cared for as we are, but we often wisely lack trust in the goodness of the larger world in which we are a part. To the extent that we are hostile or critical to those larger societies in which we are a part of not by our own choice but by virtue of where and when we happen to live, we need to be aware of the complexity of our interactions with that culture, and the way that we may be shaped not only directly by the practices of those around us but also by the way in which those practices are then adopted uncritically by others who may not be aware of the origins of those behaviors. I myself have found myself adopting expressions without being sufficiently aware of where those come from, only to find that it meant something that I did not wish to express. Such is the way that life goes, though.

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The Longest Match

A record fell today that drew a great deal of attention in the world of chess. Currently, for those who are not aware, the chess championship is going on between reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen and challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, and this morning (where I live at least) the sixth match of their championship was the first that had a decisive result, with Carlsen winning after 136 moves when a blunder by the challenger put him in a position where there was a forced mate in about sixteen moves or so, thus leading the challenger to resign after the first five matches were drawn in a game that lasted around eight hours of play.

I have read some chess books that have commented on the importance of physical fitness to the game of chess. This is something that people may laugh at, but as cerebral a task as chess is, there is an importance in recognize the physical aspect of human beings. One of the important aspects of physical fitness to remember is that people get tired after hours of mental stress–including the stress of playing a chess match for the world championship against someone who takes the inhuman lines that Carlsen does. You can play a great game of chess for hours, but if you make one wrong move in a drawn endgame (at least according to the engines), all of the sudden the floodgates can open up against you, as they did leading to this result.

It is interesting to note, as an aside, that although Nepomniachtchi is a Russian chess player, he is not being allowed by play as a Russian because of WADA sanctions against Russia (and other nations) which are forcing him to somewhat disguise who he is playing for when it comes to flags and national anthems and the like. Russia and a few other nations (including Thailand) have come under a ban for all sports championships being played under the name of Russia because of a state-sponsored doping program that was found out in the course of the aftermath of the Olympics, and it is interesting to note that this sports-related ban includes a ban on Russian participation as a nation in the chess championship, although it did not include a ban on Russian participation as Russia in the candidates tournament that Nepomniachtchi won in order to have the right of playing against Carlsen.

I can speak with some experience about the stress and pressure of playing long chess matches both as an observer of the games of others as well as a participant. While most of my recent chess matches have been played under rather rigorous speed and blitz time controls, my most extensive (and most successful) chess playing was done without any time controls in classical games that could and sometimes did go on for hours. I have played in quite a few games where the determining factor was not so much the ability to make the best chess move in a timely fashion but the stamina to keep seeing a good move and not blanking out after the stress of waiting for a considerable length of time to play a game. I must admit that not all of the games I have been in have been thrilling for others to watch. That is in stark contrast to this game, which featured quite a few interesting elements, not the least of which is Carlsen’s ability to squeeze a win out of a position that most people would have been content to draw. That is why he is the champion, though. One wonders if this win will have an effect on how the two contenders for this year’s World Championship approach the remaining games, and if the lack of sleep and the crushing nature of the defeat will lead Nepomniachtchi to play in a more reckless fashion to try to even up the score and perhaps open himself up to an even further deficit. Only time will tell, though, possibly a very long time.

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Some Thoughts On The 2021 Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart

I spend a fair amount of time listening to, reviewing, and talking about music, and as a way of taking a general pulse of the contemporary culture the Year-End chart is something I pay a fair amount of attention to. Since one of my fellow online acquaintances has posted a spotify list of the top 100 songs from the Billboard Hot 100 chart throughout the year, I will be offering my comments on all the songs as I listen to them. Without any further ado, here goes:

  1. Levitating – Dua Lipa – This is an enjoyable pop tune, a song that attracted a surprising amount of controversy for its rent-a-rapper, and an interesting song in not being a weekly #1 but having enough longevity throughout the year to top the year end. Congrats, Dua. 8/10
  2. Save Your Tears – The Weeknd f/Ariana Grande – I like the original song of this one better but here we have another example of longevity on the charts. It’s a pleasant song and I still enjoy it after nearly a year on the charts. 7/10 remix, 8/10 original
  3. Blinding Lights – The Weeknd – Here is another song that has seemed nearly impervious to overplay. This song had a record 90 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and is pretty much my go-to choice as covid anthem, with its talk about empty cities and no one being around to judge. It’s interesting to think of how history will view this song and era. 8/10
  4. Mood – 24kGoldn f/Iann Diorr – This song feels more like a late 2020 song to me than a 2021 song but it’s definitely a song that reflects a mood and it’s one I still enjoy listening to, although I wonder about the long-term viability of both acts on the track. 8/10
  5. Good 4 U – Olivia Rodrigo – This is another song I can relate to and enjoy listening to, and it’s clear that the song resonated with a lot of other people as well. 8/10
  6. Kiss Me More – Doja Cat f/SZA – I liked this song well enough at first but it really soured on me with overplay. It’s not the kind of song that can endure punishing radio overplay and perhaps its strangest element is the melancholy tone of a song about the joy of making out. 7/10
  7. Leave The Door Open – Silk Sonic – This song is a slice of 70’s nostalgia and it’s definitely a song that one can easily enjoy without paying too much attention to the occasional awkwardness of the lyrics. It’s easy enough to appreciate for its mood though, which is what you want for a pop song, I suppose. 7/10
  8. Driver’s License – Olivia Rodrigo – My feelings about this song are pretty similar to when it came out, it’s a melancholy sad girl piano ballad whose feelings of teen melodrama are ones I can unfortunately relate to pretty well. It is a bit awkward in terms of its lyrics but it is endearingly so. 8/10
  9. Montero (Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X – It is easy enough to see how this song is true to Lil Nas X’s own feelings about a partner and one can certainly get a sense of how it felt, but this is one of those songs that seems too personal to relate to when one looks at its lyrics. I won’t even comment on the trolling of the music video here, but this was an odd radio hit. 7/10 for the vibe, discounting lyrics/controversy.
  10. Peaches – Justin Bieber f/Daniel Caesar & Giveon – This is a song that was inexplicably popular on the radio. It’s one I think is okay for the vibe, but its lyrical choices are a demonstration that 420-friendly lifestyles do not lead one to be overly ambitious in crafting good lyrics, a general theme of the year’s pop music I suppose. 6/10
  11. Butter – BTS – Mass buying made this a much bigger hit than it would have been on its own merits. It’s not a terrible song but it’s also not a song I have ever sought out on my own. 5/10
  12. Stay – The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber – I really dislike the sentiment of this song and always change it when it plays on the radio. I can see why this song appeals to some but it’s just not one that appeals to me on any level. 3/10
  13. Deja Vu – Olivia Rodrigo – My favorite of the four YE hits of Olivia Rodrigo from Sour, this song has a dreamy tone that just works perfectly for me as a lovely radio driving song. The sentiment of knowing that one is part of a type and how an ex-partner operates is deeply poignant and the music video really adds to the surrealistic vibe. 10/10
  14. Positions – Ariana Grande – This song exudes that playful and coy sexuality that one tends to expect from the singer and it’s a pleasant enough piece of radio fodder that expresses the singer’s openness for her partner. 7/10
  15. Bad Habits – Ed Sheeran – There is something about the lack of a good baseline in the radio version of this song that really irritates me. It’s not a bad song, exactly, it’s just one of those songs that is mediocre and overplayed to death, the fate of a great many pop songs that aren’t nearly good enough to justify their ubiquity. 5/10
  16. Heat Waves – Glass Animals – This is a song that has a nostalgic mood that I can definitely vibe with and it was one of the surprising songs of the year that I enjoyed a great deal. The fact that it deals with relationship melodrama only adds to its personal enjoyment. 9/10
  17. Without You – Kid Laroi – This is one of those songs that reminds me of the emotional immaturity of early Juice WRLD that bothered me so much when he came out. This is a song whose emotional sentiment I can understand but it’s not one I appreciate or enjoy personally. 4/10
  18. Forever After All – Luke Combs – This song is a pleasant neo-traditional country ballad that is filled with Luke Combs’ warm baritone that expresses a hope in things like love lasting forever, a beautiful sentiment in a world full of what is temporary and passing. 9/10
  19. Go Crazy – Chris Brown & Young Thug – I’m not a big fan of either artist, but one can tell that this song is meant to give praise to a beloved partner, even though it comes off more than a little awkwardly. Good intentions are there but the execution is lacking. Still, one can do a lot worse than this. 5/10.
  20. Astronaut In The Ocean – Masked Wolf – This is a song that got popular on memes and which does not bear well under an examination of its nonsensical lyrics. This is a song to vibe with but is not really worth thinking about all that deeply. 6/10
  21. 34 + 35 Remix – Ariana Grande f/Doja Cat & Megan Thee Stallion – I like the original better but only marginally so. This is yet another song that has Ariana Grande expressing her coy sexuality for a partner but it comes off as less romantic than Positions. It was, of course, overplayed on the radio as well. 5/10
  22. What You Know Bout Love – Pop Smoke – This song is a thug love anthem with a pleasant 90’s sample where the late Pop Smoke tries out his singing. This isn’t a great song by any means, but it seems like a sincere enough attempt and the production is pleasant enough. 6/10
  23. My Ex’s Best Friend – Machine Gun Kelly & Blackbear – This song had some punishing radio overplay throughout the year and it’s unclear that MGK has long-term viability as a rock act but the song itself is pleasant enough and the scenario is relatable enough about the feelings of ambivalence and even betrayal about dating an ex’s best friend. 7/10
  24. Industry Baby – Lil Nas X f/Jack Harlow – This song was pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy and it has a vibe that I can get behind as a “still got it” song with some appropriate braggadocio about it. Whether or not is a good thing, this is a song I can definitely enjoy and have throughout the second half of the year. 9/10
  25. Therefore I Am – Billie Eilish – This song, like many other hits of the year, had some punishing overplay and I really got sick of it as the year when on, without ever having liked it all that much. It’s easy to see what the singer was going for here but it’s just not a pleasant sentiment or well done. 5/10
  26. Up – Cardi B – I’m not a big fan of this song or the singer in general, but I can see how the spare instrumental track and Cardi’s usual style of lines was appealing to her fans, even if the album rollout was muffed, harming this song a good deal in terms of its popularity. 4/10
  27. Fancy Lake – Walker Hayes – I do not hate this song as much as others do, but it’s pretty embarrassing when you look at the lyrics and it is a pretty obvious corporate jingle that somehow inexplicably became a massive hit. 5/10
  28. Dakiti – Bad Bunny & Jhay Cortez – This song is easy enough to bop to and it was unsurprisingly a hit towards the beginning of the year. 7/10
  29. Best Friend – Saweetie f/Doja Cat – This song is an easy enough vibe as well. Lyrically I don’t really approve of this song, but the sentiment is easy enough to understand. 6/10
  30. Rapstar – Polo G – This song is a melancholy one and I happen to appreciate it. It’s not a song I’m familiar with but it’s enjoyable enough. This is something I’d want to hear more often. 8/10
  31. Heartbreak Anniversary – Giveon – This song was a well-deserved radio crossover hit, and it’s one that is easy to appreciate. I happen to enjoy this sort of R&B a lot. 8/10
  32. For The Night – Pop Smoke f/Lil Baby & DaBaby – This is another sort of thug love song and it is pleasant enough with the usual guest rappers. 6/10
  33. Calling My Phone – Lil Tjay & 6lack – This is a spare and melancholy song about relationship drama and I happen to like the piano and the melancholy sentiment a fair amount. 7/10
  34. Beautiful Mistakes – Maroon 5 f/Megan Thee Stallion – This is pretty bog-standard pop radio fodder with a guest rapper verse where Maroon 5 sings about an imperfect relationship. 6/10
  35. Holy – Justin Bieber f/Chance The Rapper – This is a pretty bog-standard pop radio song comparing romantic love to religious devotion. One can do both a lot better and a lot worse. 6/10
  36. On Me – Lil Baby – I don’t like this. It wasn’t made to appeal to me but there are some people who are going to like this. 4/10
  37. You Broke Me First – Tate McRae – This was one of the better Billie Eilish hits of the year, and it is unsurprisingly a song about teenage relationship melodrama sung by a teenager. It’s not a great song but it’s a sentiment I understand and I look forward to seeing her grow in future numbers. 7/10
  38. Traitor – Olivia Rodrigo – This is a song about teenage melodrama, a post-release single about the aspect of emotional cheating within a relationship and how it affects post-breakup feelings. 8/10
  39. Back In Blood – Pooh Shiesty f/Lil Durk – This is a pretty fierce song, and I enjoyed listening to it. I mean, it’s not nice that this attitude exists but such ferocity I can relate to. 7/10
  40. I Hope – Gabby Barrett f/Charlie Puth – I do not necessarily like this song, but at least the original song makes sense. The remix destroys the logic of the song without improving it musically. 6/10 original, 5/10 remix.
  41. Dynamite – BTS – This is not really an enjoyable song to me, but it certainly appeals to where it’s aimed at. 5/10
  42. Wockesha – Moneybagg Yo – The sample is doing heavy lifting here because the singing and sentiment are not really all that enjoyable to listen to. 5/10
  43. You Right – Doja Cat & The Weeknd – This is pretty much bog-standard radio R&B fare about a cheating relationship. If the song is easy enough to listen to, it is another song that does not stand well under lyrical scrutiny. 6/10
  44. Beat Box – SpotemGottem f/Pooh Shiesty or DaBaby – This isn’t a very appealing song to me, but there are obviously people who liked one of the million or so different remixes for this song. 4/10
  45. Laugh Not, Cry Later – Drake f/Lil Durk – The music on this song is pretty hype, but Drake is almost sleep-walking. Drake has done both worse and better. 5/10
  46. Need To Know – Doja Cat – This is a song that is not appealing lyrically, as Doja Cat is in nymphomaniac mode, but radio likes this song for some reason. 5/10
  47. Wants & Needs – Drake f/Lil Baby – I mean, this isn’t a great song but it’s one of the better songs Drake had this year even if the sentiment is pretty unpleasant. 6/10
  48. Way 2 Sexy – Drake f/Future & Young Thug – This song is pretty lame and the rapping isn’t very good. It’s a meme song made for laughs but this isn’t aimed at me. 5/10
  49. Telepatia – Keli Uchis – This is a song I heard quite a bit on the radio and it is a beautiful, spare sort of song about emotional communication between hearts and minds that I really enjoy the sentiment of. I’d like to hear more like this from the artist. 8/10
  50. Whoopty – CJ – This song is definitely an unexpected novelty hit, but it is at least a song that one can laugh at and enjoy regardless of how one feels about the author’s lack of street cred. 6/10
  51. Lemonade – Internet Money f/Gunna, Don Toliver, & Nav – This is a posse cut with some excellent production, even if the sentiments are rather melancholy about the mo’ money mo’ problems life. 7/10
  52. Good Days – SZA – This is a beautiful song that could have and should have been a bigger hit. Still, it’s definitely a vibe. 8/10
  53. Starting Over – Chris Stapleton – This is a gritty and beautiful country song. This is something I’d like to hear a lot more of. 9/10
  54. Body – Megan Thee Stallion – This is a pretty repetitive and repulsive song, but it’s obvious to see what the singer is trying to aim for. 3/10
  55. Willow – Taylor Swift – This song isn’t as lyrically brilliant as Taylor or her fans is going to say, but it is a relative return to form for her from a well-regarded project. 7/10
  56. Bang – AJR – There isn’t much that is organic about this song but in contrast to many critics this is a song that I can definitely enjoy, as it certainly marks a transition point as far as the approach of the narrator. 7/10
  57. Better Together – Luke Combs – This song is a bit of austere piano ballad, but it’s a pleasant one if you have tastes for that sort of song that reflects on love and other things that go better together. 7/10
  58. You’re Mines Still – Yung Bleu f/Drake – The sample is doing hard work here, as the lead singer clearly can’t let go of a broken relationship. She needs to go far away, change her number and name. It’s a classic Drake subsidy of a nothing one-hit wonder. 5/10
  59. Every Chance I Get – DJ Khaled f/Lil Baby & Lil Durk – DJ Khaled is pretty worthless here but the other rappers do a good job with a pretty ominous beat. 5/10
  60. Essence – WizKid f/Justin Bieber & Tems – This song is a pretty enjoyable vibe about the desire for monogamy. If we could get more African music on the charts like this it wouldn’t be a bad thing. 7/10
  61. Chasing After You – Ryan Hurd w/Maren Morris – This is one of those classic country duets about a troubled relationship, and it’s an enjoyable enough ballad. 7/10
  62. The Good Ones – Gabby Barrett – This is a pleasant song that gives praise in intriguing ways with pleasing production. I could stand to have more country like this. 7/10
  63. Leave Before You Love Me – Marshmello w/the Jonas Brothers – This is a beautiful song, but one with a melancholy sentiment, albeit one I can understand all too well. 8/10
  64. Glad You Exist – Dan & Shay – This is pretty bog-standard boyfriend country. It’s a pleasant enough song but not something one would deliberately seek out. 6/10
  65. Lonely – Justin Bieber w/Benny Blanco – My second-favorite of the many Justin Bieber singles this year, this song is melancholy and spare, and one gets a sense of Bieber’s genuine sense of loneliness. 7/10
  66. Beggin’ – Maneskin – This song was really popular on the radio, but it wasn’t one which really appealed to me, although admittedly the original didn’t either. 6/10
  67. Streets – Doja Cat – This late single from Hot Pink was a hit was Doja Cat was readying her latest album and if it’s not as good as her best songs it’s not a bad song. 6/10
  68. What’s Next – Drake – This is pretty bog standard Drake. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. 6/10
  69. Famous Friends – Chris Young & Kane Brown – This song has a bit of a defensive mood about the difference between local fame and how those small town connections are known in the wider world, but it’s a sentiment I can relate to well. 8/10
  70. Lil Bit – Nelly & Florida Georgia Line – This is a strange song, almost an attempt to bring back bro-country and recapture the popularity of previous collaborations. It’s not a bad song but it’s certainly one that is out of place. 6/10
  71. Thot S*** – Megan Thee Stallion – This is a pretty dull and repetitive song, pretty common for the artist unfortunately. Ratchet rap isn’t really my genre, obviously. 4/10
  72. Late At Night – Roddy Ricch – This song has a melancholy vibe about it and the intro is really interesting. This song didn’t really catch on, but it’s a pretty good song by me at least. 7/10
  73. Kings & Queens – Ava Max – This song kept Ava Max from being a one-hit wonder and if it’s a fairly basic pop song it is at least an enjoyable one. 7/10
  74. Anyone – Justin Bieber – This is a pretty spare song that expresses Bieber’s longing and love in a way that is lovely and touching. 8/10
  75. Track Star – Mooski – This song has a catchy enough chorus that predictably went viral, but it’s not really enjoyable lyrically and the singing isn’t all that good either. 6/10
  76. Time Today – Moneybagg Yo – A pretty dark beat underlies a pretty bog-standard trap song. It’s not my thing but there are definitely people this is for. 6/10
  77. Cry Baby – Megan Thee Stallion f/DaBaby – This song sounds pretty atrocious and DaBaby has a pretty annoying guest verse with his bad attitude, making it pretty scary that Megan Thee Stallion is the best part of the song. 4/10
  78. All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey – If I am by no means a fan of Christmas music this song is at least something whose sentiment about appreciating love during this time of year is a pleasant one. 8/10
  79. No More Parties – Coi Leray f/Lil Durk – This song has an admirable sentiment about desiring to elevate and the chemistry between the two performers is pretty interesting, although the beat is pretty sparse. 6/10
  80. What’s Your Country Song? – Thomas Rhett – This is a pleasant enough country song that shows that the songwriters know their country material, with a pleasant guitar solo. I could stand to listen to this song and others like it more. 7/10
  81. One Too Many – Keith Urban & Pink – This is a song that pretty accurately pictures people who drink too much and struggle with keeping a relationship strong. 7/10
  82. Arcade – Duncan Laurence – This is a song whose dark mood about relationships and love often being a losing game was a big radio hit and a song I can definitely relate to. 8/10
  83. Yonaguni – Bad Bunny – This is the sort I expect from Bad Bunny and while that’s not a bad thing it’s not something I purposefully seek out either. 6/10
  84. Good Time – Niko Moon – This song is one of those laid-back strum-along songs, but it’s not a bad song and it’s easy enough to vibe to if it plays. 6/10
  85. If I Didn’t Love You – Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood – This song has an ugly sentiment about it, but the two singers have some obvious chemistry and the production is nice so it’s not a total loss. 6/10
  86. Knife Talk – Drake f/21 Savage & Project Pat – It’s hard to take Drake’s violent posturing seriously, but this song is pretty decent for what is. 6/10
  87. Pov – Ariana Grande – This was my favorite single from the Positions album, and it is a lovely radio hit about how it feels good to see oneself from the point of view of a partner in love. 8/10
  88. Just The Way – Parmalee & Blanco Brown – This is a pretty corny song, but it’s corny in an endearing way and it’s easy to say that people would appreciate it. 6/10
  89. Take My Breath – The Weeknd – If people were pretty sick of The Weeknd after this year with all of the songs that he had on the charts, this song was certainly lovely enough as a classic 80’s nostalgia vibe. 8/10
  90. We’re Good – One of my favorite Dua Lipa singles off of her latest project, this one scrapes onto the YE list but it’s still a lovely song and it’s nice to see that it did well enough to make it here. The music video really adds to the song too. 8/10
  91. Hell Of A View – Eric Church – This is a pleasant song and an easy one to enjoy. It’s nice to see it make the Year End. 7/10
  92. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee – This isn’t my favorite song of the Christmas season, but to see it make a Year-End chart is rather intriguing. This song has some nostalgia value to boot. 7/10
  93. Put Your Records On – Ritt Momney – I wish the original had reached a Year-End chart, but this cover is obviously one that seeks to honor the original and it’s a pleasant enough tune. 7/10
  94. Happier Than Ever – Billie Eilish – This is an interesting folkish kind of song that is pleasant to listen to even if it’s not something I have sought out a lot. 7/10
  95. Single Saturday Night – Cole Swindwell – This is a pleasant and interesting country song that plays on the pun between a single Saturday night and a Saturday night when one is single. 7/10
  96. Things A Man Oughta Know – Lainey Wilson – This is an interesting song that one wishes one heard more of, the woman’s perspective to balance the general male-centered country charts. 7/10
  97. Throat Baby (Go Baby) – BRS Kash – This is a pretty repulsive song but the beat and sample are pleasant enough. I just wish this song was an instrumental. 4/10
  98. Tombstone – Rod Wave – This is an interesting and melancholy song that reflects on matters of life and death. It’s not a great song, but it’s interesting. 6/10
  99. Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen. – Chase Rice f/Florida Georgia Line – This isn’t a great song, but you know, it’s a decent listen, pretty bog-standard country if you know what I mean. 6/10
  100. Todo De Ti – Rauw Alejandro – It’s a pleasant enough song to listen to with a nice beat, and that’s enough to make this a worthy song to end the YE list. 7/10

By and large 2021 was not a great year for pop music. There are few songs I consider to be even close to the all-time great range. There were plenty of songs that were plenty enough to listen to and a few songs that were pretty repulsive and unpleasant, but not as many songs at the very top and bottom as most other years. It seemed, by and large, like a year where people released standard mid songs that were moderately popular. I’m not sure if that reputation will hold up, but if you like pop music and are at least okay with pop and rap there was a lot here that was pleasant enough to listen to even if it’s not likely to be sought in the future. Given the sort of year we had, perhaps it was not to be expected that we would end up with great music. It was not a year cut out for greatness, anyway.

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What Does Barbados Gain As A Republic?

Earlier this week there was a little-recognized change in the status of the Caribbean island nation of Barbados. Since the independence of the island, the nation had (like many other former British colonies) been a part of the British Commonwealth with its ceremonial head of state being Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, while having its own parliamentary democracy that governed the nation. However, the island voted to become a republic, replacing the Queen as the head of state with an elected Governor-General who would now take the ceremonial office of president.

In a great many ways, this choice appears to be a tempest in a tea pot. The form of the government and the difference between a ceremonial head of state and a parliamentary head of government is pretty nonexistent. The real question is, can Barbados succeed better as an island that has cut itself from the British Commonwealth or would it gain more as part of a loose connection of other nations with the possibility of rising imperial preferences and trade deals in the aftermath of Brexit. It would appear to me that Barbados does not gain much as a nation that has cut itself off from the rest of the British Commonwealth, even if the West Indies as a region tend to be a group of islands that are in competition against each other rather than able to cooperate as a general rule.

What is gained by such a move? What political resentments in Barbados existed, and for who knows how long, about having even a ceremonial tie to Great Britain? It can be easy when it comes to matters of diplomacy how much matters of pride play a role in how nations behave. Barbados has an obvious imperial history with Great Britain and probably a great deal of resentment about being thought of as a fully independent nation, even if its options are limited to which large nation it will be associated with and somewhat dependent on for trade privileges and aid to improve its tourist industry.

It is important to recognize–as recognition does not appear to be very strong about this–that people tend to respond highly negatively to disrespect within nations and larger units and that these feelings of resentment can lead people to act against their self-interest in order to satisfy their wounded pride and dignity. Pride often motivates people in a stronger fashion than their well-being, and this means that acting in such a way as to preserve the dignity of other people so as to allow for the preservation of good relations in a way that serves the well-being of anyone involved. It is a shame that we as human beings tend to be so concerned about our own dignity and so little concerned with that of other people who can be easily led to resent us for slights that we do not even notice or reflect upon.

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The Joy Of The Pen

While there have been a great many hit songs in music history that have highly questionable origins, there are perhaps few subjects of songs as unappealing as that of Bobby Darin’s hit “Mack The Knife,” a murderous psychopath whose history draws on German opera and philosophy and the joy of stabbing people to death. As much as we might want to pretend that the music of the past was somehow less troublesome and problematic than it is nowadays, this song is a reminder of the sad truth that many people simply do not pay attention to the lyrical content of a song and are more interested in its vibe or style or production.

There is scarcely a limit in what people will find joy doing. That is not to say, of course, that everyone enjoys everything. But rather just about any human activity can itself be the source of joy for someone. This is not an unmixed blessing. We can enjoy some very bad things and be led to keep doing them because of our enjoyment. Our enjoyment of that which is evil and our lack of enjoyment in that which is right to do are two large categories of ways that we can be led astray, in avoiding the cultivation of virtue and in the assiduous cultivation of vice because it is pleasurable or enjoyable. If it is perhaps the pleasure of some vices that is more noticeable and recognizable, the lack of pleasure that is found in cultivating the right habits of thinking and behavior certainly hinders the progress of righteousness in a great many lives as well.

It might be said that every writer experiences some sort of joy in communication. Yet as might be imagined, this joy is also not unmixed. The joy of the pen can be expressed in a variety of different fashions. That which we enjoy communicating is not always true, it is not always kind, it is not always beautiful, it is not always good. We can enjoy writing because it allows us to communicate at greater leisure and greater remove from personal interaction with others. We can enjoy writing because we can say things by pen or keyboard that we cannot communicate through the spoken word. We can prefer the freedom to write under an assumed name and avoid responsibility for identifying ourselves. Our joy, in short, can spring from a variety of motives and not all of those are praiseworthy. Such it is with all things that human beings are involved in. As creatures who are a mixture of good and evil, that which we enjoy, like everything else, partakes of the same mixed nature that we ourselves do in our nature and character.

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An Ethos Of Service

I remember some years ago reading from an online acquaintance about their experience in Saudi Arabia and recognizing that a political system that appears to be absolute from the outside is far more participatory and far more egalitarian when viewed from the inside. This is not an unusual experience. People are people, and when you have a reputation of being someone who is active and able in one’s service, it is generally easy to find that others are welcome to engage in pretty egalitarian relationships with others even when there is a formal gap of power and position and status between people. In this world there is much that needs to be done and few people who are willing to do it, and so those who are willing to serve the interests of the state or community at large tend to find themselves with shared interests with others with the same ethos of service.

I had a conversation this evening with an online friend of mine and he told me about the way that his family had tended to serve the state in Saudi Arabia, with most of his family (including a brother who was in the Royal Guard) serving in the military along with others who worked as teachers or who were engineers for Saudi Arabia’s oil company. Such a pattern of general service carries with it a high degree of loyalty to a ruling regime. We cannot help but feel better about those people we serve with, people who respect us, and people who demonstrate to us their care and competence through our shared experience of serving a community we care about. Those who are outside of that shared experience may very well have highly negative feelings about those in authority that those who see those authorities in their best moments in shared service simply will not countenance. The insider sees a different world than an outsider does.

What is it that allows people to see the world on the inside? Often, what allows us to see that world is sharing service of institutions with other people. What we see of people is often highly skewed. We can hear all kinds of nasty things about others–and other people will often tell some unpleasant things about us. What allows us to genuinely respect others is seeing them in action. We can see how someone behaves, how they react kindly to provocations and graciously to awkwardness and serve others. These are things we would never know without having personal understanding of people. We judge others largely because we do not know what they are about. The more that other people and us share experience and an approach, the more we are likely to want to justify them just as we normally justify ourselves.

Given the way that an ethos of service helps us to see leaders and institutions in a far better light than we would tend to view them from the outside, it remains of pivotal importance to choose the right institutions to serve. We can, if we are unwise, devote our loyalty to institutions that are not serving our best interests or others. We can feel it necessary to justify people and deeds that are truly monstrous, or risk our character leading us into dangerous and potentially fatal situations. An ethos of service is a good thing when we serve good institutions, but that is not always the case.

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Dear Prudence

There are a great many things that are legal or arguably legal to do that are not wise to do. To the extent that we seek to live our lives according to wisdom and exercise prudence in our conduct, there is a lot of trouble we will simply never find out, and that is definitely for the best. A great deal of trouble lies in the wide gap that exists between what is possible for us to do and what is right for us to do. Once we stop thinking about what is in our own best interests or the best interests of those around us and our concern is in what we think we have a right to do, we engage in a lot of behavior that harms our own interests and harms others, even if we might technically be able to get out of some of the worst repercussions for those actions.

Why is prudence so hard to find? When I look around at the sort of behavior that is undertaken I tend to frequently see an absence of forethought and prior reflection as well as an absence of restraint. Prudence tends to be a brake on our actions, a reminder that maybe it wouldn’t be the best move to do something. Some of us–probably all of us at least sometimes–need a brake on our actions to cause us to restrain from doing something reckless or foolish that may cost us everything, and where this brake is absent we may do what we think we have a right to but that is definitely not right.

Wisdom cries aloud in the streets and no one pays heed. Prudence is a virtue that requires us to think outside of ourselves and our own wants to ponder the context in which we are acting and the dangers and risks that are involved in evil times and situations. It reminds us that we had best not be driving impaired late at night where nothing bad can happen because we may harm others or because we may get into a great deal of trouble. It tells us not to escalate a conflict with someone else because it may go badly, or that it would be best for us not to demand what we consider to be our rights in times and places where those demands are unlikely to be accepted by others, and leads us to act shrewdly and in a circumspect fashion.

It is easy to see why prudence is rare these days. For all of our talk about context, we tend to be highly selective in the way in which we mention it, seeking to use it where it absolves us or someone we consider to be an ally of personal responsibility while ignoring context when it makes things look worse for someone who we wish to support. It is our tactical use of context that amounts to an abandonment of prudence in favor of political purposes. Where context helps us be prudent is in possessing a moral imagination that allows us to foresee some of the likely consequences of what we are doing or what we are about to do that allows us to change course and avoid those negative repercussions and also provide good advice and counsel to someone else who is also heading down a dangerous road. We desperately need that understanding of what we are about and what we are heading into, yet for us to benefit from it requires that we be willing and able to restrain ourselves from evil, and that is an increasingly rare willingness.

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