Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Charlie Daniels

I’m not gonna lie, I love the smash hit song “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” and have enjoyed seeing Charlie Daniels shred strings and bow hairs on his fiddle playing this classic tune of outsmarting the devil.  Yet I must admit that I didn’t know before looking it up just how important and just how influential Charlie Daniels has been as a musician over the course of his career.  Many people might think of him as a one-hit wonder, and not recognize his sustained popularity on the album charts (more on that below) nor recognize the fact that he has numerous other hit songs on the country, pop, and adult contemporary charts in the United States as well as Canada that are well worth remembering.  And since people have brought to my attention the fact that I have yet to write about him, and he clearly has a very strong case for induction (he is more popular on the mainstream charts than he was as a country musician, which is something I find both impressive and very unexpected), and so let us take a look at the man behind the furious fiddling and see how it is that a man whose lasting claim to fame is portraying a wise trickster and his duel with the devil is worthy of being remembered for much more.

The Influence Of Charlie Daniels

The most obvious area of influence for Charlie Daniels has been within country music, where he is in halls of fame in Cheyenne, the Grand Ole Opry, as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame.  All of this is unexpected given that Charlie Daniels is a southern-fried fiddler who has been active in music since the 1950’s and who is a talented multi-instrumentalist whose music has long involved southern themes and a proud southern identity.  But the influence of Charlie Daniels (and his band) has been more profound than that, helping to bring that Southern identity into the mainstream in a way that has achieved popular success as well as the recognition and support of a great many others who have followed in his footsteps [1].  If you appreciate the somewhat prickly tone of acts like Montgomery Gentry or Hank Williams Jr., then you owe at least some small debt of gratitude to Charlie Daniels for helping pave the way for mainstream acceptance of that proud and prickly Southern identity as well as its instrumentation like fiddles and mandolins and the like.

Why Charlie Daniels Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

We already know that Charlie Daniels is in the country hall of fame.  What makes him rock enough?  For one, his popular extends far outside of the range of country music alone.  He has a multiplatinum studio album (along with two multi-platinum compilations), as well as three platinum and three more gold studio albums over the period from 1974-1989, demonstrating considerable longevity.  He also brings some solid hits, including two top ten hits (“Uneasy Rider” and “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”) as well as several other top 40 hits (“The South’s Gonna Do It,” “In America,” “The Legend Of Wooley Swamp,” and “Still In Saigon”).  The sheer variety of these songs from countercultural encounters with close-minded country folk to patriotic tunes to meditations about the lingering effects of war (both the Civil War and Vietnam) suggests Charlie Daniels’ immense versatility as a musician and his ability to capture his own identity in memorable and important songs that are a lot more serious than he has often been given credit for.  He was not only successful in country but also in rock, adult contemporary (where “Still In Saigon” hit #2 and where “Bogged Down In Love With You” hit #22) and also Canadian country [2].

Why Charlies Daniels Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Given my own previous lack of awareness with the full variety of Daniels’ music, it is likely that many others simply think of Charlie Daniels as the man behind a couple of novelty top tens (if they think of the Devil Went Down To Georgia as a novelty song instead of a deeply fascinating and worthwhile lasting hit, which it is) and do not think anything more about his music. They might think of him only as a country artist and not one whose mainstream success often exceeded his success on the country charts.  For example, all of his top 40 songs on the mainstream chart except for “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” were more popular than on the country chart, which is a very striking phenomenon.  Quite a few of his pop hits never even hit the country charts at all, suggesting that he had a mainstream popularity that was not connected to his genre.  Ultimately, whether his patriotism is unpopular or he is viewed as being limited to the country ghetto, none of those reasons are good enough to deny him induction.

Verdict:  Put him in while he is still alive to enjoy it, God willing.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Daniels

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Daniels_discography

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Book Review: No Mercy

No Mercy:  A Journey To The Heart Of The Congo, by Redmond O’Hanlan

This book was one that was somewhat disappointing to me.  A great deal of that springs from the worldview of the author himself, who went on a trip to the Republic of Congo in search of natural beauty and an investigation into lakes with mysterious reports of cryptids (namely a sauropod of some kind) and found himself involved in a great deal of shamanistic superstition, to which he himself added his own hostility to Christianity and biblical religion and his own evolutionary superstition.  Throughout this book I had the distinct and not very positive impression that the author was largely unaware of the fact that he was an immense hypocrite, looking down on the obvious problems that were faced by the people around him but unable and unwilling to get to the root causes of their failures in spiritual bondage as well as political oppression under communist rule.  Apparently the author had to feign (or may have actually possessed) some sort of leftist perspective, since he acquired the not altogether flattering nickname of Redso from one of the Americans who traveled with him for part of the way, but it did not make for enjoyable reading.

The book itself is divided into four parts that show the author’s travels throughout various parts of Africa.  First the author and a group of associates acquires through bribery various necessary visas and paperwork to leave Brazzaville and travel up the Congo to a regional city that appears to be mainly a boat town.  After that the author makes a detour to the northwestern part of Congo as far as he can go, finding a great deal of superstitious belief not dissimilar from the animism explored in Liberia by Graham Greene and others.  After being somewhat stranded the author and his party make their way to a dangerous lake whose inhabitants have a murderous hostility to one of the people with the author because he had reported their tribal chief to the capital authorities for his demands for bribes from him on a previous trip to the area.  After a dramatic rescue of a baby gorilla the author makes his way back from Congo, poorer and in his own mind wiser and compassionate for his efforts, after having suffered much and seen much in the way of life in the obscure and remote Republic of Congo.

As someone who is unfamiliar with the area, I am not sure about what led the author to write the book he did.  He sees no cryptids, sadly, and though he sees lots of birds and plants he does not add anything to the knowledge of life in the Congo.  Throughout his journey he witnesses slavery and problems of identity and sees the frustrating way that even along the river one can go two or three villages upstream or downstream and find tribes with mutually unintelligible languages from one’s own, a fact which dramatically hinders the unity of the area or its ability to think on a larger scale than one’s own personal problems and one’s own narrow mindset.  The author, of course, fancies himself to be a broad-minded person, and is certainly observant even where he is not insightful.  If the author is aiming at people who think like he does, he will probably find a lot more support for his views, but as for me, I found this book deeply and sadly disappointing because the author’s worldview blinded him to the reality of what he was seeing and reporting on, and left him able only to think as a materialist rather than someone with an understanding of the deeper aspects and layers of reality.

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Book Review: A Sense Of The World

A Sense Of The World:  How A Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler, by Jason Roberts

It would be nice to live in a world where one could read about the exploits of a blind traveler who sought to circumnavigate the globe and had his first attempt ruined by Russian intransigence and who has been lost in obscurity with his books out of print without having to be reminded of politics.  And yet this book is all about politics, specifically the politics of disability in both 19th century Great Britain and today.  While the blindness suffered by James Holman would likely still be a mystery today given contemporary knowledge of the eye, and was certainly a mystery to him and to the scientific establishment of the time, the difficulties of gaining credibility and agency as a blind man engaged as a gentleman traveler and author were heavy at the time and remain so today, not least because the rapidity of the world makes it hazardous for someone to walk around the way that Holman did during the course of his life.  The author notes the ways that Holman sought to keep others from feeling sorry for him and even managed to engage in ferocious struggles with other writers over dueling travel books, something that keeps the excitement level high.

This book contains 18 chapters that detail the life of James Holman from birth to death, making a compelling read of a truly worthwhile and eventful life.  Holman’s family sought to rise from middling status but was hindered by the expense of sending so many sons to be in the military.  James was one of at least two brothers sent to the Navy, and as a third lieutenant he found himself crippled by rheumatism and then suddenly blind as he was recovering from that.  Rather than throwing in the towel, though, he traveled throughout Europe, sought to circumnavigate the globe by traveling across Russia, failed, and then found another way to do it that involved traveling through Brazil, South Africa, India and China, and Australia.  The author discusses the various writings of Holman, some of which found early success but which declined in interest as he became somewhat anachronistic in the Victorian Age, dying poor, obscure, and forgotten, with even his attempts at writing a memoir likely burned up in some sort of fire, having never been printed despite his efforts at writing them.

There is a certain degree of poignancy in this book.  We see Holman’s desire to rise in the navy, thwarted by disability.  We see his brave attempts at ensuring that he would not be taken advantage of or viewed as helpless or pitied, his defiant desire to travel for long periods of time in distant lands where the logistics of travel were by no means easy.  All of this would have been a sufficient enough challenge had the author not been blind and gimpy, but he was both, and that makes it all the more remarkable.  He was one of those people who was frail at home but who came alive in traveling, someone not too much unlike my mother, who is an accomplished world traveler herself.  And in reading about Holman’s life and in his efforts at being remembered, it was nice to see that this book honored the memory of someone who deserves to be better known.  It is perhaps inevitable that given the subject’s life circumstances that he would be a lightning rod for controversy with regards to societal views about blindness, and the author is fierce in discussing the ways that others sought to diminish Holman’s insights on account of his blindness, but enough of Holman’s own graciousness comes through that the book’s strident tone is not too upsetting.

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Book Review: Down The Nile

Down The Nile:  Alone In A Fisherman’s Skiff, by Rosemary Mahoney

Did the author do something interesting enough to warrant having a book published about it?  After having finished this book, I’m still not sure that it was essential.  To be sure, this book is not actively offensive, even if the author is not the most sympathetic of figures, especially given her fear of violence when a poor father on the Nile asks her for money at night while she is canoeing downstream, which prompts the abrupt end of her trip and some soul searching and reflection about her own fears.  I suppose if I would have known more about the author (or found her more likable), then I suppose I could have considered anything she wrote about anything to be reason enough to appreciate the book, like I do with the travel books of someone like John McPhee, for example.  Yet although the author is certainly witty and she is certainly well-read about the travelogues of people going along the Nile–Flaubert and Florence Nightingale are mentioned particularly often, I just couldn’t see what the big deal was about rowing and floating downstream along the Nile within Egypt, or why someone got paid to write a book about such a mundane sort of trip, especially given that she isn’t the most appealing of protagonists in such a travelogue to begin with.

This book is thirteen chapters long, and that is probably far longer than it needs to be.  The author begins with a historical look at the Nile and what made it compelling throughout history (1).  After that the author takes a look at Aswan, right at the dam that prevents one from traveling without hindrance into Sudan and tries unsuccessfully to get a boat there (2).  The author looks at the first small boat in Egypt and sees it as a chance to travel as she wishes downstream (3), and then takes a look at the cataract islands that are close to the high dam (4).  After making a deal with the owner of the small boat, she spends some time at Elephantine getting to know the dour Nubian who rented the boat to her (5) as well as getting to see the complex relationship that her crippled sister has with some other young women who appear to be spoiled elites (6).  The author then flies down the Nile with a protector and another traveler (7) before dealing with the complexities of etiquette on the river (8) and spending a night in Silwa (9).  At Luxor she manages to buy a boat of her own (10), which requires as bit of negotiating (11), and soon she finds herself alone in the Nile thinking about the place, its people, and her own fears of running into Nile crocodiles (12), before ending the trip after having a frightening experience with a poor beggar on the river (13) who is taking his sons on some sort of night journey.

The not particularly compelling narrative of a not very interesting journey by the author takes about 275 pages, which only makes one want to read about Flaubert’s and Nightingale’s journeys to Egypt, because they were at least interesting, and they make for the most interesting parts of this particular story as well.  Good writing springs from good reading and the author gets at least half of it right.  The real problem with this book isn’t so much that the author took a somewhat dull trip down the Nile and wrote a book about it, but rather that she is both too credulous of the people around her and too wrapped up in her own identity.  The author seems to think herself a feminist and finds herself upset that as a Western woman she is denied the sort of restraint that Egyptians (especially Muslims) give to their women or the sort of respect that she seeks.  Instead she has a series of arguments with people where she tries to push her view of life onto them and finds herself in increasingly hostile interactions with Egyptian men, not all of whom are very threatening, until at last she decides to leave.

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On The Relationship Between Gout And Creativity

As someone who suffers, sometimes very painfully, from gout, I have tended to seek out insight into areas that relate to this most patrician of maladies.  It is said that gout, like childbirth, is among the most intense forms of pain that people can feel, and as someone whose pain from gout has been at times very crippling, that is something I can certainly agree with.  That said, there is an upside of gout, and that upside has something to do with creativity.  It may seem strange, at first, that gout and creativity are connected with each other.  Most people think of gout as a disease that wealthy people who like pork and beer too much get, like the pampered aristocrats and monarchs of generations past.  Rest assured that I am no such pampered aristocrat myself, except insofar as being an American of reasonable income and fairly typical American appetites is pampered when compared with the standard of the world as a whole.  If I am no sybarite, then certainly I do not live a spartan existence of deliberate deprivation either, and that is perhaps enough to encourage the gout I have.

How is it that one can demonstrate a connection between gout and creativity?  Several approaches have been conducted.  For example, a historical analysis of great figures in European history has demonstrated a strong relationship between gout and prominence, as in the following research:  “Gout (“dominus morborum et morbus dominus”) afflicted an extraordinary number of the most eminent Europeans from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, and recent controlled studies show a correlation between serum uric acid concentrations and such traits as “range of activity” and “drive” (though not “level of responsibility”) [1].”  Whether one looks at contemporary studies which look at the connection between higher uric content in the blood and a greater degree of productivity among contemporary academics, for example, or one looks in history at the high degree of correlation between eminence and goutiness, the same correlation would appear to be in evidence.

Correlation, though, is not causation.  How would gout be positively related to creativity and productivity?  After all, acute gout attacks are immensely painful, and it is unlikely (based not least on personal experience) that acute gout attacks would be positively related with productivity and creativity.  What does appear to be the case is that having a high degree of uric acid in the blood serves as a natural stimulant that would spur on creativity and productivity without the person necessarily being aware of it.  Even evolutionary biologists have the same idea:  “Orowan suggested that the high serum concentration of uric acid in man, consequent on the evolutionary loss of uricase in the higher primates, -has been a stimulant of brain activity and growth and thus a cause of his rapid intellectual development [1].”  We might say, therefore, that gout is the trade-off of the higher mental development and mental stimulation that comes from having uric acid in the blood as opposed to being secreted through uricase as is the case in other animals.  Again, we see an example of economic benefits and trade-offs, as greater mental capacity comes with the downside of excruciating pain due to the depositing of uric acid in places where it does not belong.  Given the similarities of the structure of uric acid and caffeine [1], the connection between gout and additional stimulation appears very likely.

How then are we to deal with this?  The fact that gout and high degrees of mental and creative achievement are connected together suggests that creativity is involved in complex trade-offs where that which increases creativity also increases the risk or the experience of some sorts of suffering.  To the extent that we live in a society that accepts trade-offs and welcomes the positive side of these difficulties as providing a reason and a justification for the suffering that comes as a result of such providential aspects, we can place the suffering even of painful diseases like gout in some sort of context.  To the extent that we live in cultures and have attitudes that wish to remove from us all risk or experience of pain and suffering, we will also remove from our lives the sort of positive aspects that come with some degree of risk and suffering.  If the presence of uric acid spurs us on to greater achievement and is associated with drive and with prolific writing and creation as appears the case, there is a limit to how much uric acid we would want to remove from the body so as to avoid those painful and debilitating acute gout attacks.  Creativity is far from a straightforward manner, and it even includes trade-offs as to the chemical composition of our blood and to the beneficial but also sometimes painful loss of the ability to metabolize uric acid efficiently in the blood.

[1] Edward Hare, “Creativity And Mental Illness.”  British Medical Journal Vol 295 19-26 December 1987, p.1588.


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Book Review: From Here To There

From Here To There:  The Story Of How We Transport Ourselves And Everything Else, by HP Newquist

This book was not quite what I expected it to be.  That is not to say that it is a bad book, because it is not, but this book is basically a book on transportation history and futurism that is aimed at literate children and preteens, and maybe teenagers.  The book also feels in many ways like it’s aimed at promoting the transportation-related art and artifacts of the Smithsonian, who sponsored the work.  Again, it is not necessarily a bad thing to be sponsored by an institution when it comes to a work, but with sponsorship comes the subtle (or unsubtle) pressure to bolster the reader’s view of that institution throughout the entire book.  And I have to say that I noticed this pressure, even in artwork that was said to be in one of the Smithsonian museums that tangentially related to the transportation efforts, and it bothered me to see that.  It doesn’t prevent me from appreciating this book, but it just gives the book a bit of a sour aftertaste that what we are reading is meant to support the transportation agenda of the Smithsonian, so we get comments about Segways and Tesla cars and hyperloops as the author feels pushed to support a certain “sustainable” agenda.

This book is a short one at a bit more than 100 pages, and is divided into several chapters based on transportation method.  It should be noted that this thematic division is not quite as clear as it could be.  The book begins with a discussion of transportation on foot, which includes not only walking but also riding on horseback and using dog sleds and also skiing and walking in shoeshoes as well as ice skating and roller skating and so on and so forth.  After that comes a chapter on ships, which includes boats and even container ships.  Following this there is a chapter on railroads which includes discussion on the use of rails before the railroads.  Wheels for everyone leads to a discussion of cars, which includes the author’s attempts to promote hybrid automobiles.  There is a chapter about airborne travel that also includes a discussion of space travel as well as airplanes.  The last chapter of the book is a speculation on future travel technologies (including teleportation) before the book closes with some resources, acknowledgements, and an index.

What does one get out of a book like this?  Young readers of the book may enjoy reading about the gradual development of transportation methods and the way that people tend to be strongly influenced by their own business interests.  Indeed, the very existence of this book should reinforce the understanding of the importance of business interests in the writing of books that promote history and also subtly promote certain museums and approaches.  Even this book’s shortcomings, in other words, are instructive.  At its best, it provides information and the possibility of future research into the connection of technology and geography and culture.  At its worst, its institutional biases provide a learning opportunity for readers to appreciate the way that business interests affect scholarship, especially in writing designed for young people.  Readers need to know that writers approach their subject with agendas, and those agendas aren’t necessarily bad, they’re just something that needs to be openly admitted and recognized.  To the extent that we know what agendas people have when they write to us, we can discount for their biases and come to a reasonable level of understanding based on what they provide us, and that is certainly a profitable approach to a book like this one.

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Book Review: Ways Of The World

Ways Of The World:  A History Of The World’s Roads And Of The Vehicles That Used Them, by M.G. Lay

I must admit that this is quite a remarkable and excellent book, not least because it provides a solid engineering history of roads and transportation with an eye towards both logistics as well as personal transportation.  Without being beholden to oil companies, the author shows himself throughout the book to keep his eye on what it is that people look for from transportation and what it is that allows bridges and roads and other transportation networks to serve the best interests of the general public.  This may appear to be somewhat obvious, but if you have read many books on transportation and logistics, then you will have seen a great many efforts at promoting agendas about certain kinds of transportation rather than straightforward history of them or an appreciation of what people actually want.  This author seems somewhat ambivalent about vehicles and about the demands they make on roads, but he is very clear to note that we have the sort of transportation system that our people want, and whether or not they want the right things, we cannot pretend that it is the fault of some evil capitalists who have apparently hijacked our political system either.

This book of more than 350 pages is divided into 9 chapters along with various additional materials.  After a foreword and introduction the author discusses the first ways that were animal paths with initial human intervention (1).  After that the author discusses the demands of transport without the wheel and with it, including the width and loads that wheels could carry (2).  This leads to a discussion of Roman roads and their decline after late antiquity before their revival thanks to McAdam and even pavement in the Americas (3).  The author then looks at the motives and management of roads, especially for military motives and the problem of financing, including through tolls (4).  There is a discussion of the surge of steel power, tires, and internal combustion (5).  After that there is a discussion of cars and trucks and the way that travel is managed and regulated (6).  The author spends an entire chapter going in detail about the humble subject of pavements (7) before ending the book’s main contents with chapters on bridges (8) and a look at some future trends like road and town planning, managing the car, and traffic control efforts (9).  There is some terminology and chronology that closes the book with notes, references and an index.

Admittedly this book might be a bit dry for many readers.  If you have a strong interest in transportation engineering and also history, though, there is a great deal of interest here for you.  I do not know how large of a market there is for people who want to read about the history of transportation routes, which is admittedly a bit skewed to contemporary times because throughout much of history there has been such a limitation in terms of what sort of speed that people could have with their own power or using animals, but once steam and the internal combustion engine freed mankind from those limitations, we have had to deal with a great many consequences of the sort of logistics that we want and that people will support and be willing to pay for.  These political concerns, though, have always been a part of concerns about transportation from the very beginning, as the author makes plain, noting even what countries and cultures have decided when it comes to who should have preferential use of roads and where on roads and paths people were permitted to travel.

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Book Review: Door To Door

Door To Door:  The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World Of Transportation, by Edward Humes

This book would have been a much better book had the author not tipped his hand repeatedly to show his bias against passenger vehicles.  Adopting the usual arguments by those who want to promote public transportation and large amounts of walking, the book attempts to scare readers through presenting horror stories of vehicle accidents, and doesn’t really have any real proposals to support important infrastructure except the familiar leftist desire for more taxes and more burdensome regulation on the behavior of drivers, all of which means that this book is likely only going to appeal to those who happen to think the same way the author does, an audience that does not include me.  The book mixes generally sound and intriguing discussion of logistics with unsound discussions about personal transportation, and the author’s whining about the inefficiencies that result from freedom is particularly galling and offensive.  As a result, this book is a mixed bag, not as good as it could have been had the author approached the desire on the part of Americans in particular to be able to drive where they want to go and buy what they want to buy and have it shipped to them with any degree of understanding and approval.

This particular book of about 300 pages or so begins with an introduction wherein the author complains about the crazy commutes of Americans, who spend a lot of time and money on their personal transportation.  The author manages to spend some time talking about Carmageddon and the way that Americans are carpooling less and less often and struggling with the transportation infrastructure that would be necessary to support both our personal and our logistical transportation.  The author spends some time talking about the port of Los Angeles (showing off some feminism and environmentalism) and also talks about UPS’ ORION efforts at saving on gas, which I was involved in personally.  There are lots of discussions about car accidents and their causes and the author shows a great deal of outrage at the way that injury and death via an automobile are seldom prosecuted to any great degree unless the driver was distracted by a cell phone or drunk or otherwise impaired.  Quite honestly, this outrage becomes increasingly tedious, even when the author speculates on a future of automated vehicles that are nevertheless not owned by people.

Books like this are driven by the dyspeptic feelings of their authors, but when the author’s point of view does not correspond with that of the readers, and when an author has a great deal of fondness for promoting mass transit and logistics but a decided animus towards personal transportation, that bias makes a book like this impossible to take seriously.  Look, we get it.  You walk and bike and don’t like feeling hunted down by drivers who are trying to do too much at the same time.  Or you drive and are a hypocrite because you can’t appreciate the importance of freedom for others the way you enjoy it yourself.  You casually adopt the language of the stroad from Strong Towns and likely buy into their dream of high-density life, but that is not the sort of life that Americans want.  We have the dispersed living and driving patterns that we do because Americans want space of their own and the ability to move freely around it in with vehicles they happen to own.  The author appears not to appreciate that fact, but unless he wants to move to Europe or Japan he can learn to deal with it.

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We Need To Talk

According to former president Ronald Reagan, the most terrifying words to hear from someone are:  “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.”  That said, among the most terrifying words that people can here is the expression “we need to talk.”  I don’t think I have ever heard those words and been in a conversation that I enjoyed or appreciated.  This is by no means because I dislike talking in the least.  But it is because the statement by someone that “we need to talk” generally means that conversation is desired by one party that may not be to the liking of the other party.  Why is this the case?  What is it about this phrase that strikes fear into the heart of people who do not in fact want to talk or may not in fact need to talk?  Let us explore.

The first sign of trouble is in the semantics of the expression itself.  When someone says to someone else that “we need to talk,” there are at least three problem with the statement.  The first is that someone is saying to someone else that “we” need to do something.  This already amounts to a failure, in that one person or party is deciding for the other(s) that communication needs to happen.  Already the conversation begins in some sort of trouble, because it has not been a mutually agreed upon conversation but rather an interaction that is forced on someone who is at least somewhat unwilling.  And how do we know that there is unwillingness?  Well, that brings us to the second problem, and that is the use of the word “need” to go along with the coercive attempts at communication by one party.  After all, if someone said, “I want to talk to you,” that expresses the desire of the person who wishes to initiate a conversation and expresses a statement that the conversation is desired by that person, but not necessary by the other person.  “I want to talk to you” does not in the least mean that “you want to talk with me.”  It may, but it need not.  But to say, “we need to talk,” instead indicates an often mistaken belief that one’s own desire for communication is shared as well as necessary, instead of being subjective and optional.

These two problems are easy enough to uncover, as it is generally the more bullying and authoritarian of people who confuse their wants and needs and disrespect the agency of others who use expressions like this.  Yet the third problem is equally important when it comes to communication, and that is the setup of the conversation in the first place.  If conversation needed to happen, it is best to happen in the midst of conversation.  Two friends seldom tell each other that they need to talk, because they simply talk on a regular basis, and whatever needs to be conveyed by one party to the other, and a great deal of that which both parties want to communicate to the other and comment upon happens as a matter of course.  No one needs to set up a special interaction because the necessary communication that needs to happen already happens on a regular basis.  It is only when two people or two parties are not communicating well with each other that one needs to set up special conversations that “need” to happen.  And that necessity is already a sign of failure because communication has broken down.

This is not to say that communication problems and difficulties do not exist even when people would in fact want to talk to each other.  It is merely that when people want to talk to each other, that such problems are easy enough to resolve.  One can pick up the phone if one likes to pick up the phone (I don’t).  Perhaps one can chat online, or make it a point to have regular conversations, or one can simply appreciate whatever random conversations happen even if they may not be as frequent as one may want.  I would never want someone to think that my own silence indicated an active dislike of someone.  It usually involves a whole host of other matters, from being distracted by various plans and goals to simply not finding someone available at the same place and time where I happen to be.  Likewise, I do not wish to put pressure on others to communicate, for as much as I enjoy communicating with certain people, I am aware that not everyone finds it particularly enjoyable to communicate with me, not only because of the content of interactions, but also because of their context.  Sometimes these matters cannot be helped.  All the same, our communication would be a lot better if we could say to someone else that we want to talk, and not terrify others by telling them that we need to talk when what we most want to do in such moments is be as far away as possible from those who mistakenly believe that they need to talk to us when we do not want to talk to them under such coercive circumstances.

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Book Review: Bathroom Remodeling

Bathroom Remodeling, by the editors of Fine Homebuilding

There are a lot of books about bathroom remodeling out there.  How does this one stand out?  Well, it doesn’t really stand out all that much.  Compared to some of the more high-concept books about bathroom remodeling that exist, this book is somewhat plain.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, as plain books are not necessarily bad.  This is certainly a practical job and certainly representative of the sorts of remodeling projects that people have, and it is worth noting that most people do not have high aesthetic principles or large budgets or odd and eccentric tastes when it comes to the sorts of bathrooms they need or want.  And so this book is certainly one worth reading if you have practical aims and no particularly elevated principles of design by which you like to operate.  Admittedly, I found this book a bit dull but at the same time I well understood that this book was being written to someone of a far more practical and far less eccentric and artistic bent than I am, and I am okay with that.  There are bathroom remodeling books for all kinds of people, and there are a great many that this book is for.

This book is more than 200 pages long and after its introduction the material is divided into several parts.  The first part of the book looks at remodeling on any budget as well as projects that look at basement baths, making two baths from one, and the author’s view of seven sins of bathroom design.  After that there are discussions about plumbing and hardware, where the author talks about various projects involving shower doors and niches and glass block walls, as well as buyers’ guides on toilets, faucets, and fans and an attempt to pump up PEX water pipe as the piping of the future.  The third part of the book looks at bathroom floors and walls and includes a project on a barrier-proof bath that looked very exciting.  Finally, the fourth part of the book shows some projects for lighting, heating, and ventilation, including skylights, brightening up a small bath, installing a bathroom fan, fighting mold with paperless drywall (something that is practical to those of us in mold-prone areas), as well as the installation of an electric radiant floor.  The book then closes with credits and an index.

This book is obviously written with selling in mind.  It is easy to imagine Fine Homebuilding as being a trade sort of operation that has strong ties to industry and, as a result, a high degree of interest in promoting solutions to homebuilding and remodeling that would make those businesses a lot of money.  So a lot of the advice in this book has to be taken with a grain of salt.  Is it possible that PEX water piping is about as good as copper?  Maybe.  Is it possible that there could be issues with it that the authors are not interested in discussing because it would hurt profits?  Quite possibly.  The authors’ interests in promoting a lot more ventilation and high-tech solutions to automating fans is similarly the sort of solution that one could imagine as being very profitable to the homebuilding industry, whether or not it is something that is all that useful for homeowners themselves.  And it is that sort of commercial angle that makes this book less enjoyable than it would be otherwise.  It is easier to celebrate fine aesthetics in one’s homebuilding and remodeling, easier to show off  tools in action, than it is to celebrate the moneyed interests that wish to promote certain materials and solutions for remodeling that may or may not serve the desires of the customers themselves.

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