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April 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Skoffin' Up Food For Thought
The New Crusaders
Roger Skoff writes about "the defenders of the faith".
Article By Roger Skoff


The New Crusaders  What ever happened to the "good ole days", when nobody cared? It used to be that you could be a Hi-Fi Crazy or not; or a sports fan or not; or be able to embrace or eschew just about anything at all and the only thing that anybody would ever be concerned about was whether or not you stepped on their own particular size 12 feet in the process. "Back in the day", when I and hi-fi were both young and H.H. Scott and Avery Fisher were the kings, and everything was all tubes because tubes were all there was, somebody finally had the temerity to bring out the transistor (germanium, at the time – not even silicon [sic]) and had the audacity to use it in a hi-fi circuit, and do you know what people said? That it was awful! They said that it was noisy, and "hissy", and that its sound was nasty with odd-order harmonics. They hated it, and they were even right; but do you know what they didn't say? They didn't say that it was snake-oil or voodoo; or that anybody who dared to use it wasn't "scientific" (read "orthodox") and wasn't fit for the company of civilized people. They just didn't buy it – at least not until it got a whole lot better.

That was back in the 1950s and '60s, and if people didn't like something – like the Edsel, for example (or much later, Coca-Cola's new formula) – they expressed their displeasure in the very best free-market way possible – they just didn't buy it. They didn't emulate warring troops of monkeys and gang-up, hooting and hurling feces at each other. That was a long time ago – even for the Coke thing, which was in 1985 – and since then, probably tracing its origin back to sometime in the 1960s, a whole new way of thinking seems to have come along for at least a great many people.

Its greatest manifestation has been in the internet which, with its effectively instantaneous communication of anything at all to an audience limited in size only by the writer's number of contacts and how effectively he can get others to spread his words to the rest of the world, has revolutionized the way ideas are transmitted. It may actually, though, have begun back as early as the 1960s, when some wag (possibly even Eldridge Cleaver who's often credited with it) came out with the line "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem". There was no internet back then, so it couldn't "go viral", but because it had just that "right" little twist to it, and that kind of plausible-sounding sloganeering logic that people seem to automatically accept, people adopted it immediately and have continued to number it among their axioms ever since.

The fact that it's quite obviously not true doesn't seem to matter at all toward keeping people from using it as an excuse for meddling. When a line has that kind of a "ring" to it, the fact that it's easy to be neither a part of the problem nor of the solution, nor, for that matter, to be in any way related to either of them will never even be considered: Why, during an impassioned discussion of thermodynamics (just as one example) would anybody ever stop to think that strawberries, the Eiffel Tower, and Red Dye #2 have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject, either as "problem" or "solution"?

It's easier to just get out the torches and pitchforks and join the parade. It's also more profitable, too. And more fun: You can meet nice people at a parade and, when it's possible to show them how smart you are; how socially acceptable; and what a thoroughly integrated member of the pack you are just by waving the right flag, it might very well give you an incentive to go out and buy whatever flag (or pitchfork or torch) is being offered.

It might also, just like the religious signs and sigils emblazoned on the tunics of the Crusaders, inspire others to embrace your position or your cause. And just think how "hip", how powerful, how influential, or how just plain "with it" you'd feel then!

The New CrusadersNow that there's the Internet and all of the various blogs and social media, and everyone can have a voice in public discourse, regardless of any qualifications or lack thereof, not a day goes by without me coming across somebody (or more likely several somebodies) attacking something, apparently just for the sheer joy of the attack. It's gotten so far that, just yesterday I saw a posting on Facebook that starts with: "DON’T LIKE GAY MARRIAGE? DON'T GET GAY MARRIED;" continues with "DON'T LIKE DRUGS? DON'T DO DRUGS; DON'T LIKE GMOs? DON'T EAT GMOs; DON'T LIKE FAST FOOD? DON'T EAT FAST FOOD"; and goes on for nine more pairings of object and action. Obviously, I'm not the only one who has noticed it or who finds it troubling.

With political attacks, people are worried about the future of our country, and I can sort of understand one party going after and seeking to defame or belittle the other. Or, most commonly, "true believers" on one side seeking to make those on the other side appear stupid, venal, or both. But when it gets to a subject like vaccination, or even one as innocuous as hi-fi, what's to be gained (or prevented) by besmirching or demeaning people who don't agree with you? Even so, it happens all the time.  And, although there are the predictable number of tube-fans appearing out-of-the-air-to attack solid-state electronics, or solid-state-lovers doing the same for their tube-fondling compatriots, by far the most common attacks of all are those of the orthodox or engineering – or even engineering "wannabe" – contingents of our hobby against almost any kind of "tweak". No, I have not personally ever been able to figure out how Jack Bybee's "quantum purifiers" work (or even how they could work in any real world), but neither have I ever (including now) launched an ad hominem attack against their designer or against the designers of "Mpingo discs", the various "magic bowls" or any of the other products declared to be effective by some and "snake-oil" by others.

Particularly with cables (of which you should be aware that I am a former designer) and such related products as cable lifters, the attacks seem both particularly vicious and particularly unreasoning. This is surprising because among all of the "tweak" products, cables seem to be the ones most likely to come with an at-least-reasonable-sounding explanation. For my own products, for example (XLO cables), we wrote and made available any number of technical "white papers" which explained everything about the cables, from their construction, to their materials, to their connectors, and set forth in some detail why and how they worked.  Even so, we (and all of the other premium cable manufacturers) were constantly attacked as "voodoo". And even now, when I write for other publications – even about subjects having nothing at all to do with cables, it's absolutely ordinary for some "defender of the orthodoxy" to rise up on his hind legs and, ignoring even the thought of any kind of exchange of information, denounce (just as the Church and the Ptolemaic astronomers must have denounced Copernicus or Galileo) what I have written – not by explaining why my thoughts, facts, or science are wrong, but because (Copernicus and Galileo were decried as heretics) I and, obviously anyone who would agree with me must be frauds, fools, or con men.

Even when they condescend to offer some explanation, it's always one of two things: either the tired "RLC" claim that only those three things (resistance, inductance, capacitance) matter and that all else is either moonbeams or snake oil, or the tiresome umpteenth repetition of that wonderful catch-all for the scientist manque, "placebo effect" – which amounts to nothing more than to say that "You're only hearing differences because you want or expect to hear them" To people who would make that latter argument, I can only say that "OF COURSE I EXPECT TO HEAR DIFFERENCES: THAT'S WHY I HAVE A HIGH-END SYSTEM! If I didn't expect any difference, I would simply have bought a shirt-pocket transistor radio and been done with it."

That's what I do when I don't agree with something: I simply don't buy it! Why can't all those other people who are out there trying to impose their beliefs, tastes, and preferences on the rest of us do the same thing?  Wouldn't they rather just calm down and let other people either seek whatever pleasure or make whatever mistakes they wish without external influence? Wouldn't they rather look to their own pleasure; sit back; put on a record; and...

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