It’s Hot on MTX Island
The Dr Frank Weakly Reader for 6.11.21, incl.
Hello, friends and enemies, and welcome to yet another Dr Frank Weakly Reader, once again a “double issue” because of having skipped last week. Lots to cover here, accordingly, including some God-help-me further comments on Naomi Wolf, the open society, and its enemies (see below, IN THE NEWS.) So let’s just jump into the weaks that were.
— It’s Hot on MTX Island: this T shirt design was done by Chris Appelgren in the mid-90s. Sounds Rad has now resurrected it, as a limited shirt & hoodie re-issue, plus commemorative enamel pin. It’s a summer-only “pop-up” with pre-ordering active now and shipping beginning July 5, so I’m told: here’s that link again.
What I didn’t know till just recently is that Chris based the design on the promo iconography of a 1964 “nudie” film called It’s Hot on Sin Island. I thought it just came out of his head, somehow.
— MTX Shards vol. 3: as I explained in this week’s Song for Odin write-up for “Last Time I Listened to You” there were unexpected pressing delays meaning the schedule for this release had to be pushed back. As it stands, the buy-links go out to people on the “dibs” list go out on August 2; the “street date” is now September 10. The “dibs” list is still open, and the sign-up link is here.
Also delayed is my original plan to do each and every song as a Song for Odin, week by week, ending at the release date. Now I’ll have to ration them, or run out. I’ll do what I can.
MTX IS A WARM PUPPY
— These MTX boxes make fabulous ends for open sided record shelving: a “life hack” from Heather.
— The day the music (almost) died: well, “almost” is a stretch, but basically it’s a Dr Frank, Ben Weasel, and Joe Queer died in an elevator crash joke, sparked by an old photo (inset left) from the tour upon which the elevator ride in question took place. Too hard to make it shorter than it was, just read it.
— LK #273: The Mr T Experience… and the Women Who Love Them (Special Addition) CD, that is, from Mark Murphy’s complete collection of the Lookout catalog.
As I pointed out in my post, Shards vol. 3, when it finally materializes, will complete the official re-collection of these songs, so anyone who might wish recreate the “special addition” can do so.
— “Last Time I Listened to You”: for Odin, from the MTX Shards vol. 3 test pressing.
THE DR FRANK EFFECT
— Cynthia Weil and me, at a book expo a few years back: she said I had an “interesting brain.”
— It’s OK, I’m your doctor.
— She’s not a flower: “Queen Anne’s Lace”, for Odin, by me in Rotterdam at Stefan’s house, 2012.
— C’est moi, getting over-sunned in Oakland:
OTHER PEOPLE’S MUSIC
— “Everything Is Gonna Be Alright”, by John Hinckley. Yes, that John Hinckley.
— Roman calendar: Saint Mary Magdelene of Pazzi, in stone, Lisbon cathedral; Scutum Fidei, Cuzco school, for Trinity Sunday; Jean Seberg as Joan of Arc in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan (1957); the Visitation, illuminated; Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces; Marcellinus and Peter the Exorcist in a painting attributed to the Master of the San Luchese; Gasparro’s Transustanziazione, for the Feast of Corpus Christi; World War I trench art artillery shell shrines, ca. 1914; the martyrdom of Saint Boniface, illuminated; Saint Norbert of Xanten; Robin Guthrie’s Sermon on the Mount, ca. 1922; Saint Hedwig, otherwise known as Jadwiga, King of Poland, in a graphic from Civilization VI; Saint Columba vs. the Loch Ness monster, in a restored illumination; Saint Margaret of Scotland, in a painting by William Hole;
— Look: I love you, I need you, I want you, Maggot death, with Cosey Fanni Tutti; you must wear a face (below); for Memorial Day, Miss America comics, №1; 1945; Sylvie Bréal and Sylvie Turbová in Alain Robbe-Grillet’s L’homme qui ment, 1968; Fondle with Care by Jay Martin, author of Ban the Bra; blowtorch meets fireworks, art from an Axe ad; lobby card promo for La Servante; water music; do you come with the mimosa? (at left); Cary Grant, from The Philadelphia Story, saying “hello, friends and enemies”; how’d the date end?; the magician’s quandary; censors to Python: lose “the oral sex”…
IN THE NEWS
— Death recorded: Naomi Wolf finally got herself permanently banned from twitter, apparently for a particular one of her insane conspiracy-theory posts. She’s been at it for years, and she was basically asking for it. It was, as the song goes, just a matter of time.
Whenever Naomi Wolf surfaces in the news, it’s an occasion to reference my song about her, which is, to be honest and as always, the main reason I took the time to do a post about it. Incidentally though, as is usual with posts regarding censorship and free expression, some very helpful people quickly popped in to explain, carefully and in words of one syllable that even a moron like me could understand, that the First Amendment does not apply to private entities like Twitter.
While I appreciate these efforts to bring me up to speed, in fact I knew that already. And I have thoughts, for what it’s worth, which I know is almost nothing. But, in the spirit of not letting well enough alone:
I attempted to sketch out my views on this matter in an essay I wrote about the Charlie Hebdo massacre a few years back, and I’ll begin my further comments with a quote:
Tolerance is a two way street. You voluntarily allow people the freedom to express opinions with which you disagree because you realize there may come a time when you will want to expect the same from them in return. Free Speech requires tolerance, in law and in society. It’s a moral ideal and it can be hard to live up to, but I don’t think you can truly claim to be in favor of free speech if you don’t accept and aren’t willing to defend it. Tolerance only for things you like is not tolerance, but rather its opposite.
This logic, which underlies the speech protection established in law in the US by the First Amendment and which is an important foundational feature of liberalism itself, remains logical even where the First Amendment does not apply. Note, I’m just talking about the logic per se here, a sort of mechanical dynamic: in any given social situation or institution or what have you, as in any polity, legally mandated or otherwise, there can be no free speech for me without free speech for thee, at least, not for long. The First Amendment didn’t conjure “free speech” out of nothing, and is not the sole intelligible context within which the concept, and the value, of freedom of expression can be meaningfully understood and discussed. And the virtues of tolerance and the dangers of censorship and repression can persist even where our Bill of Rights does not, cannot, and should not reach: other countries, professional organizations, academic departments, art galleries and museums, libraries, political parties, film, media, publishing, scientific publications and institutions, tech corporations, research labs, medical establishments, social milieus not administered by government like private universities, publications and authors subject to the “terrorist veto” (e.g. Charlie Hebdo, Salman Rushdie)…
And yes, these dangers and virtues still lurk in the quasi-public / quasi-private “spaces” maintained by corporations like Twitter and Facebook. Even insofar as it is the case that Twitter, as a private company, can do “whatever it wants” it does not follow that “what it wants” is automatically wonderful, or beyond criticism. It is unfortunate that Twitter has become the primary — and often effectively the only — forum within which and tool by which the members of our professional classes (in journalism, media, academe, law, art, medicine, science, politics, etc.) air and share their views, limn their ethics, stage their arguments, rally their acolytes, and seek to punish their opponents. But it is largely the case. Censorious policy and groupthink on social media can have powerful repercussions. (e.g., most recently, Facebook’s policy-enforcement decision to try to suppress discussion of the Covid-19 “lab-leak theory” for an entire year.) Banal “nope, First Amendment doesn’t apply” dogma may be correct, and may even reflect the best possible practical public policy, but it doesn’t make those repercussions disappear. And they will have their effects, potentially even on the very law within which many seem to want to corral with rigid exclusivity such expansive liberal values as free speech, tolerance, and liberty, for good and/or ill. i.e., if you lose it in society, you may well lose it in law as well. (cf. Learned Hand, below.) I don’t know that there’s anything good to be done about this situation, which is complicated and suggests no obvious remedies, but I am well within my rights to complain about it from time to time nevertheless.
However, my post didn’t concern, nor even mention, the First Amendment; nor did it criticize, or even refer to, Twitter’s policies (though I do dislike many of them, insofar as they can be divined.) Here’s what I said:
A lot of people who dislike said crackpottery are celebrating now, which is something I really don’t get. Surely it is better to engage with and dispute the crackpottery (if it’s that important to you) than to throw a blanket over it and imagine it’s not there anymore.
My topic — insofar as I had one beyond the narcissistic micro-hyping of my surprisingly still-relevant, not to say prophetic, song — was the crowd enthusiasm, the manic celebration of deletion, which happens every time such a scalp is claimed by one “side” or the other in the online culture-war bloodsport fostered and monetized by Twitter. I, personally, really genuinely do not get it. It makes no sense. If you want to argue against something, you’re far better off with evidence you can cite and produce rather than a field of empty holes, virtuously dug. Erasing the evidence doesn’t make the ideas disappear. It just makes them more difficult to discuss. (And, of course, it can often drive them underground, off the grid, where they can’t be monitored, or even ridiculed — that also seems like a bad tactic, especially if the ideas are very bad.) That’s the only point I meant to make, besides “hey, remember my song?”
Now, Naomi’s bizarre proposal of a second, parallel sewage system should have been quite easy to discredit, to the degree that it hadn’t already auto-discredited itself by merely being expressed; at no point was there any danger whatsoever of this plan being put into practice. And just as it is manifestly nutty and without value you might well say it’s no great loss either. But it is not difficult to imagine contrarian or minority views with actual merit being suppressed in precisely the same manner. It is true in the traditional meat-space “public square” and no less true in the corporation-curated digital one that everyone treats as though it’s a public square: the only way to ensure that unpopular yet meritorious ideas survive — if merit is what turns you on when it comes to ideas — is to accept the expression of some crackpot ones alongside them, as no authority can be trusted to sort them into the proper piles without bias or malfeasance, or indeed to know in advance, without fail, which will be affirmed or discredited in future. (Elementary liberal tolerance there.) Not to mention the absurdity of relying on Twitter policy enforcement, sketchy and unaccountable even as authorities go, as a supreme and infallible arbiter of merit and The Truth — have we gone crazy here? Plus, as a personal note: it’s just more interesting to have a few crackpots around, though I understand not everybody finds it so. Indeed, the presence of a bit of marginal, nutty, wacko stuff in the marketplace of ideas can be an indication that Authority doesn’t have a thumb on the scale: I actually find it comforting.
At any rate, legality aside, you haven’t won an argument by leveraging a mob to prevail upon a web host to send your opponent down the memory hole. Nor by appealing to the community to “find out where he works” and get him fired. But there is quite a lot of deep-running, bizarrely unskeptical and trusting-of-authority enthusiasm for such memory-holing and getting-people-fired-ism. It is, increasingly it seems, the norm. And it portends nothing good for liberal values in our society.
Tolerance, as a way of life, has a lot going for it. It is, it seems to me, the only way for a pluralistic, diverse society to function humanely without descending into tyranny and barbarism. “Live and let live” is far better than “find out where he works.” The only problem is, it runs counter to human nature. And it only works if you believe in it.
There’s a quote from a speech by Learned Hand, the famous twentieth-century judge, that you’ve probably encountered before because it is often brought forth by people like me in arguments like this:
Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it…
What I fancy I see reflected on Twitter is precisely this death playing out in real time and with dizzying rapidity. And it will have its effect. In some ways we already seem to be living in the beginning stages of a post-liberal world. Obviously, I hope I’m wrong. Anyway, that’s how I see it, for what it’s worth (which I know is just about nothing.) And I expect I will continue to fret and complain about it, nevertheless.
Anyway, after all that, you’d better believe I’m going to post the song, which was basically the sole reason for bringing it all up in the first place.
— Seasonal Affective Disorder Isn’t Just for Winter: the New York Times wrote an article about me.
— It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it. How to “preserve Classics in a very competitive market place”: get rid of all that Greek and Latin, says Princeton.
The last time I commented on the dumbing down of Classics into “Classical Studies” (here, scroll down) I’d still assumed that undergraduate Classics majors would be spending some of their time parsing through Greek and Latin texts despite whatever fashionable political framing any given instructor might seek to impose upon them. Silly me. But I re-iterate the refrain: down with this sort of thing, careful now.
— Cruelty is here to stay, from Freddie deBoer:
— RIP Gavin MacLeod — the customary commemorative picture (with Andy Warhol):
— and it’s also goodbye to Clarence Williams III, who played the coolest character ever on TV: Linc from The Mod Squad.
And that’ll do it for this two-week Weakly Reader. But for those of you who’ve made it this far down the page, God bless America:
See you next week.