You know what I like? ... When I can't fall asleep late at night, so I drag myself out of bed to make some hot tea (always helps). I wait impatiently for the water in the electric kettle to boil. Finally, tea! I take it back to the bedroom and put it on the nightstand, waiting for it to cool down a bit.

Then the alarm goes off. The sun is peeking through the blinds, and there is the tea on my nightstand, cold.


Several items from my local Korean grocery store shopping spree were awesome, but the stuffed grape leaves were gross. Vinegar-y, onion-y, mushy. Just a bad idea all around.

What a letdown. Was hoping for something more like the ones from the refrigerated section at Costco, but those are a lot more expensive.

So, I read Sturgill Simpson's rant. It's a complaint that's been raised millions of times before: how Nashville supports mainly 'country pop' while legends like Merle Haggard fall by the wayside, etc.

Here are my thoughts about this... hang on tight, this might be a bit unpopular...

Of course country radio supports mostly catchy mainstream country pop. And that's okay. I see the same phenomenon happens in all kinds of genres, and you always have outrage on the "artiste" side and silence on the "mainstream" side. Because no one really likes to defend that they prefer watching "Jurassic World" over "Moonrise Kingdom," or want to hear "Honey Bee" when they turn on country radio, not "Kern River Blues" (the Haggard single mentioned by Simpson).

In my opinion, I think it's a bit myopic (and elitist) to look down on the taste of the masses while claiming that only "your" music is real. Real music is whatever one wants to listen to, dance to, laugh to. And there is nothing wrong with songs even about a bunch of clichés, like drinking an ice cold beer while tailgaiting in a cornfield on a moonlit summer night.

If someone gets into their truck after a 10-hour shift, apparently they tend to prefer a catchy tune by Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line on their way home... . not a brooding song, Hank Williams style, over how hard life is. Just because you feel "your" music is the "better" music more in line with traditions, that doesn't mean country radio or Music Row should change. Everything is fine as it is. Some people like Tom Cruise, some people like Bill Murray. Some people like Blake Shelton, some people like Merle Haggard. The former just greatly outnumbers the latter today. That's nobody's fault... just people's tastes.

Maybe I'd be more sympathetic to the complaints if less-popular artists couldn't get their music "out there".. But nowadays there are tons of ways to enjoy non-mainstream music; just not via radio airplay, magazines, and the like. (Though, when I look at the country charts, there is diversity - even if it's not as pronounced as some people wish it were.)

If a singer doesn't fit the mold but releases fantastic stuff, we've seen that music executives are willing to take a chance. That Sturgill Simpson has the forum that he has is testament to that.

Now, about the core of Sturgill's rant... that Nashville pretends to revere Merle Haggard, but "wouldn’t call, play, or touch him. He felt forgotten and tossed aside..." That's more complicated. Did Nashville lose the right to associate itself with Merle, given that country music sound has changed so much over the last three decades? I think no... he's still one of the fathers of country music. And to a layperson, yesterday's "three chords and the truth" is not as different from today's as many try to make it out to be. "If you've got the Money Honey (I've Got the Time)" is not any deeper or more elaborate or artistic than today's catchy tunes.

So, in my opinion... you totally can give a "Merle Haggard" award to modern country artists, and I wouldn't see this as dishonest or hypocritical. I see it as a positive gesture, honoring the past where modern country music came from. Just because we don't turn back time and revert to those roots (typically), doesn't mean the roots aren't there.

And about Sturgill's complaint that there was a magazine cover shoot and then some other artist (ironically Chris Stapleton, who is very traditional himself) ended up on the cover instead... that's just silly. Editors make these kind of decisions all the time. I thought all this was about the music and authenticity, not publicity? Does the rant sound a bit vain to anyone else?

"Anyway, Merle passed away right after it came out."

The heart of the matter is: more "niche" country artist resent the popularity of the more mainstream acts. But an industry like Music Row is still mostly driven by popularity, and popularity is driven by all parts of the population, not just the small segment with distinguished and selective taste. Again, again, that's okay, in my opinion.

But of course we will continue to get these op-eds that basically tell millions of country music radio listeners: "You are the problem!" And then we (who like a lot of mainstream country) feel bad about ourselves, momentarily, but then turn on the radio and know... this is good, real music. Well, most of it. And some of it is shlock, but still funny or great for karaoke or whatever. Only few songs can die in a fire, like "Save a horse, ride a cowboy." (Though, that one is apparently a blast to line-dance to... so, on second thought, it also has all the right in the world to exist.)

Sorry Sturgill. If you stick to your plan to "Fuck this town, I'm moving" then go ahead... it will be a loss for Nashville, but your frustration is understandable, and there might be better environments out there to make and publish your kind of music than the epicenter of the country music industry.

But repaving Music Row tomorrow is not going to happen. The repaving happens all the time, gradually, already...

Bro Country

I really enjoyed this NPR show on happiness. It is full of important reminders about what makes people happy, and what doesn't.

While I was already aware of most of what was said, one section did contain an eye opener. When you experience misfortune, it helps to stay aware that "this, too, shall pass"... (I already knew that part)... but why is it so darn hard to remember this? In spite of experiencing the healing power of time all the time, it seems we can't seem to get it into our heads. We continue to sweat the small stuff in the present, until it fades into the past.

In the show, someone points out that from an evolutionary standpoint, giving a damn really is important. If we really, truly knew that what is happening now will likely not affect our future happiness level, we would not protect ourselves sufficiently from dangers around us. So present worries are always magnified, but once they are in the past, we don't care about that stuff all that much anymore.

This really helps putting things into perspective... knowing not just that "this, too, shall pass", but that the worrying (or even somewhat panicky) feeling in the present is just our evolutionary legacy trying to protect ourselves from harm.

This comment puts so succinctly what is a clear problem for many:

The problem with the modern lifestyle is you probably go from morning radio to podcast in car to Facebook, to work and Reddit during breaks and then back home to the TV. There are few opportunities for quiet reflection so is there any surprise that the first moment there are no distractions (once your head hits the pillow on your bed) you would start having your inner dialogue?

It's one of the reasons why I typically don't listen to music throughout the day... just a few songs here and there. In the car I actually prefer silence (unless it's a really long drive). I can't imagine piling a musical backdrop on top of all the noise and distractions we already have throughout the day.

Quiet reflection is important. So is simply - quiet.

Aeropress Coffeemaker - brew coffee with hot water and a manual device

Okay the packaging contains all kinds of hyperbole - but this is actually a really useful device. It makes good coffee. Not as good as the one I typically make (one cup at a time, with freshly ground beans, using several paper filters, and strongly boiling water from my HotShot dumped onto the coffee grinds), but close.

I wish I would've had this when I took my cross-country trip! So often you might have access to boiling water and quality ground beans, but not a great way to turn this into coffee. For this, the AeroPress is perfect! I like how compact it is, especially.

Brief coffee snob rant: Most people in America don't understand that the secret to delicious coffee is to only briefly expose the coffee grinds to the water. Drip coffeemakers slowly filter water through grinds over the course of many minutes, causing all the bitterness to seep into your cup. (Have you ever tried using the same ground twice? See how horrible that second cup tastes? So why makes this into a strategy for brewing coffee?)

Oh and if you're already picky with your coffee, I don't recommend watching this TEDx talk. You'll be seriously tempted to roast your own coffee, or at a minimum never to stock up on coffee again, but to buy it as freshly from the store as possible.


... but she still won't come in.

I do put a fresh hand towel on the windowsill every now and then, which she really seems to appreciate. (Note: the cut-off left ear indicates that she's a stray feral. I didn't know that this was the common way to mark cats that went through the \"Spay/Neuter/Release\" program until I met her.)

Recently I started re-reading Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves To Death." (In German: "Wir amüsieren uns zu Tode.") This is a book that deeply influenced me as a teen. In young adulthood I lived without TV out of principle, mostly because of this book. (I do remember looking longingly at the small portable TVs while shopping at an electronics store, though.)

Re-reading parts of it now makes me feel it did not hold up well, though a lot of the message is still true in essence. I do think the constant distractions are harmful. It's almost quaint now, how Neil Postman was so worried back then, during rather innocent times with just a handful TV channels and no internet. Now, in 2016, almost everyone now carries a TV, a gaming machine, and a bookshelf in their pocket at all times. Most teenagers today don't even know the boredom of e.g. waiting for the bus with nothing to do.

But overall the book came across as extremely dogmatic. Science is not supposed to be fun! Reading beats watching! World news is just served up as entertainment! Sesame Street is harmful! Etc. etc. (I'm exaggerating a bit, but Postman comes across as more polemic than nuanced.)

The introductory chapter is still pretty genius though - comparing Orwell's 1984 to Aldous Huxley's vision.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. ... In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

It's hard to argue with that. We are half-way there. Maybe most of the way.

Maybe, like everyone, I love watching YouTube and Netflix too much to fully realize the impact that this might have on me as a person, and so I find myself disagreeing a lot with the rest of the book?

Was I too jaded back then (completely buying into Postman's argument), or am I too jaded now?

Interesting stuff to think about. I love when I re-read books after a decade (or two, or three) and discover them in a whole new context - noticing how much I (and the world around me) have changed always adds more layers of meaning.

Neil Postman - Amusing Ourselves to Death - TV and Media Critique

My reviews on three documentaries I watched recently: "Autism In Love," "The Genius of Marian," and "Transfatty Lives."

I gave "Showtime" on Amazon Instant a try, and as part of this got to watch the first season of "Outlander", a show with an intriguing concept. ("While on her honeymoon, WWII combat nurse Claire Randall is mysteriously transported back to 1743 Scotland, where she is kidnapped by a group of Highlanders - and meets an injured young man named Jamie.")

There is clearly a lot of fodder for good conflict and storylines there - even before you find out that her arch-enemy of the 1700's is played by the same (great!) actor (Tobias Menzies) as her loving husband in the 1900's. (A genius move that is genuinely unsettling.)

There is some fantastic stuff where we get to ponder, including how circumstances turn people evil (often in a greater societal context).

While the show wasn't quite captivating enough for me to truly binge-watch (I watched the first season over a period of three weeks or so), the show was still above average, especially if you enjoy history dramas and Scottish landscapes. (Swoon!)

The male lead reminded me a bit of Patrick Swayze, circa "Dirty Dancing" and "North and South". (Still sad about his passing... he was always one of my favorite actors.)

The second season completely fell apart for me though. It seemed they were trying to give it a much more "Game of Thrones"-y vibe, cranking up the sex and violence factor as Jamie and Claire spend time in Paris. But the subtleties and human interest that made the first season so good were virtually non-existent after they leave Scotland, so I gave up on the show early on in season 2.

I should note though - even in the first season there was one scene that I just hated. It involved Claire taking revenge on Jamie for spanking her, as was the custom for husbands with disobedient wives back then, apparently. To teach him that she won't tolerate that abuse, she becomes physically and emotionally violent herself (?!!). The scene culminates with her holding a knife to his throat while making love to him. (This is a man who had suffered extreme torture and abuse just months earlier, and was clearly still suffering from PTSD.)

That made me so mad! The fact that her character became less and less likeable probably contributed to the fact that I stopped watching a few episodes into season two.

Still, an above-average show overall. Not for everyone (and it starts a bit slow), but if you like it by S1E3, it only gets better for (most) of that season.

Outlander - TV Series