ron dellums and me

I woke up in the middle of the night to pee ... I'm 65, I do that several times every night. Being a modern guy, I checked Twitter while I was up, and saw that my cousin had tweeted that Ron Dellums had died. He noted that there was no confirmation anywhere but social media ... I took a few minutes to check for myself, saw nothing to corroborate the news, went back to bed, and turned the local news station on my radio. I fell back to sleep without hearing any more about the Congressman.

Over the past several years, I have extremely vivid dreams, several a night (waking up to pee means I go back to sleep and another dream kicks in). I usually don't know I'm dreaming until the last seconds when I wake up. In this dream, I was at a ballgame and saw the actor Erik Todd Dellums, Ron's son. I asked him if the news about his father was true, and Erik told me a long story about how his dad was fine, these stories get started, you know how it is. I was relieved, and headed back home. At that moment, I woke up to the radio reporting that Ron Dellums had indeed passed away.

People's Park

In 1969, I was living in Antioch, California, a suburb-in-name-only of San Francisco that was close as the crow flies to the big city, but far away in any useful description. I had spent my entire life in this factory town, and until my senior year of high school, there were no black people in Antioch. If you were black, you lived in Pittsburg, right next to Antioch. My parents were politically moderate. During the People's Park battles of 1969, KQED, the local PBS (then NET) station, televised some Berkeley City Council meetings. There was one councilman in particular who got my attention. As I recall, he spoke passionately on behalf of the people being attacked by the police. My parents thought he was dreadful, which only made me like him more. He was a 33-year-old ex-Marine named Ron Dellums.

Dedication of a sculpture

It would have been in the late 70s/early 80s. A friend who was a sculptor had some work installed at the Macarthur BART station. At the unveiling, Ron Dellums, by then our representative in the House, came to say a few words. I had moved to Berkeley in 1974, and was proud to be able to vote for Ron every two years. I brought my movie camera to that event to take some footage, and when I saw the Congressman, I went over to express thanks for the work he was doing in Washington. Looking like a random guy with a movie camera didn't appeal to the Secret Service guys, who closed in on me immediately, which freaked me out enough that I still remember the incident. As I recall, Ron instructed them to let me through so I could shake his hand.

Taking a leak

It was 1988. I was in my first semester as a grad student at Cal. Congressman Dellums was visiting campus ... this was during the Bush-Dukakis presidential campaign. I went to take a leak ... Old Blues will know where I mean, the bathroom off of Lower Sproul by the bookstore. I don't remember who entered first, but at some point, I realized that standing at a nearby urinal was Ron Dellums. Ron, I said, I'm so proud to have you representing me, and I respect your opinions. Tell me why I should vote for Dukakis. 

Ron, an admitted Socialist in the Democratic Party, began a conversation littered with good cussing ... no big deal, except I remember being naive enough to think, hey, the Congressman says fuck! His argument was pretty basic, Dukakis wasn't any good, but he was better than Bush, we gotta get the Republicans out of the White House. (Two years later, Dellums was one of 54 congress members who sued Bush's actions building the military presence in the Middle East, a case that became known as Dellums v. Bush.) We left the restroom together and were joined by his Secret Service men. It happened that Ron and I were headed in the same direction, so we walked up campus together as he made the case for Dukakis. He could be quite persuasive, although I was, then and now, pigheaded and so I never was convinced to vote for Dukakis. But it was a memorable few minutes for me, as the Congressman took some time to talk to a friendly constituent about an important issue.

Ron Dellums' "son"

There was this guy, a friend of a friend, who would come by our house and visit for a bit, usually looking for a couple of bucks. He was a raggedy fellow, but friendly, and we would talk for awhile. His story, as he told it, was that Ron Dellums was his father. He said he was told this by his mother, and that everyone "knew" this was true because he looked so much like Ron. Understand that Ron Dellums was a handsome man who got more distinguished looking the older he got, and that my friend, god love him, was not the handsomest man alive. Nor did he look a bit like Ron Dellums. But he was convinced that one day, Ron would admit the connection, and he would be set for life. While it was kind of loony, I loved the idea that being Ron Dellums' son was something to aspire to.

Those are my anecdotes. Dellums remained in the House from 1971 to 1998 ... every two years, we'd vote him back in. There was something called The Dellums Machine ... don't know if it amounted to anything, but during elections, we'd always get a flier on the front door on election days with Ron's endorsements. After he left the House, he was replaced by Barbara Lee, who is still going strong, having been our representative for the last 20 years. It's nice to have a representative doing you proud, and here in Berkeley, that's been the case in the House for almost 40 years. Dellums was around so long, he was able to take advantage of seniority rules to get some important roles, even serving for a while as Chair of the House Armed Services Committee. He went into lobbying, which I admit was disappointing, and later became Mayor of Oakland, which by all accounts wasn't the highlight of his career. To me, he'll always be the first person I was glad to vote for, and the only politician who would spend time talking to a guy he met at a urinal.

Ron dellums


tender age baby jails

We are seeing things right now on our American borders that are so shockingly and disgracefully inhumane and un-American that it is simply enraging. And we have heard people in high position in the American government blaspheme in the name of God and country that it is a moral thing to assault the children amongst us. May God save our souls.

-- Bruce Springsteen

I was born on this date in 1953, and in my 65 years I've lived through a lot that I found shocking and enraging and disgracefully inhumane. Over the years, I have heard many people in high positions in our government assault people, children and adults, with their self-proclaiming morality. There is no God to save us ... if salvation comes, it will come from us, not a higher power.

I am no longer able to say that the kind of behavior we are now experiencing is what Bruce calls "un-American". For there comes a time when we have to admit that it is all too American. We are not the good guys. Hunter Thompson once wrote, "This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable." Thompson wrote this in 1972.

In 1630, John Winthrop famously wrote of what would eventually become America, "We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us." Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting Winthrop, and it is fairly common nowadays for politicians to reference Winthrop's city. Winthrop was warning his people of the dangers of living an improper life. "So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake." But today, that city is used not as a warning, but as a reminder of American exceptionalism, a braggart's boast.

And, as Thompson noted, we no longer give a fuck what the eyes of all people think of our actions.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.

-- Abraham Lincoln


international women's day

Some of the women whose work informs and inspires me today:

Maureen Ryan, TV Critic, Variety. Sample piece: "‘Sweet/Vicious’ Canceled by MTV but Should Live on Elsewhere (Opinion)". "One of the greatest joys of this job is coming across something around the margins that does something cool, unique, or entertaining. When a show you’ve never heard of does all of those things, it’s like getting a jolt of joy straight to the nervous system."

Sleater-Kinney. All of them, in all of their projects. Special shout-out to Carrie Brownstein for her memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.

I think I was too scared to be open with the fans because I knew how bottomless their need could be. How could I help if I was just like them? I was afraid I might not be able to lessen their pain or live up to their ideals; I would be revealed as a fraud, unworthy and insubstantial. The disconnect between who I was on- and offstage would be so pronounced as to be jarring. Me, so small, so unqualified.

Dee Rees, Director, Mudbound.

Lana Wachowski, Director/Writer/Producer. Along with Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski, created Sense8.

Hall of Fame: Pauline Kael. "In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising."


where do we go from here

[T]he Movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?" You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two thirds water?" These are words that must be said.

-- Martin Luther King

I've posted this the last couple of Martin Luther King Jr. Days. I used to assign it to my students. It still hasn't lost its relevance.


fire and fury

And to say that he knew nothing -- nothing at all -- about the basic intellectual foundations of the job was a comic understatement. Early in the campaign, in a Producers-worthy scene, Sam Nunberg was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate: "I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head."

-- Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Everyone around Donald Trump is too polite to Donald Trump. Democrats, foreign dignitaries, underlings… all of them. And the White House press is perhaps the worst offender. From the media pool playing along with Sarah Sanders during press conferences—conferences where Sanders openly lies and pisses on democracy—to access merchants like Maggie Haberman doling out Trump gossip like so many bread crumbs, too many reporters have been far too deferential to an administration that is brazenly racist, dysfunctional, and corrupt. And for what purpose? It’s clear to me that Haberman and the like aren’t saving up their chits for just the EXACT right time to bring this Administration down. No, the only end goal of their access is continued access, to preserve it indefinitely so that the copy spigot never gets shut off. They are abiding by traditional wink-wink understandings that have long existed between the government and the press covering it.

But Wolff didn’t do that. He did not engage in some endless bullshit access tango. No, Wolff actually USED his access, and extended zero courtesy to Trump on the process, and it’s going to pay off for him not just from a book sales standpoint, but from a real journalistic impact. I am utterly sick to death of hearing anonymous reports about people inside the White House "concerned" about the madman currently in charge of everything. These people don’t deserve the courtesy of discretion. They don’t deserve to dictate the terms of coverage to people. They deserve to be torched.

-- Drew Magary, "Michael Wolff Did What Every Other White House Reporter Is Too Cowardly to Do"

"I can handle things. I’m smart! Not like everybody says, like dumb. I’m smart and I want respect!"

This morning’s presidential Twitter outburst recalls those words of Fredo Corleone’s in one of the most famous scenes from The Godfather series. Trump tweeted that his "two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart," and in a subsequent tweet called himself a "very stable genius."

Trump may imagine that he’s Michael Corleone, the tough and canny rightful heir—or even Sonny Corleone, the terrifyingly violent but at least powerful heir apparent—but after today he is Fredo forever.

There’s a key difference between film and reality, though: The Corleone family had the awareness and vigilance to exclude Fredo from power. The American political system did not do so well.

-- David Frum, "Donald Trump Goes Full Fredo"

 


up to this point

"[T]he handwringing is a direct result of believing that cordial interpersonal relationships and self-reported goodwill is enough to extract oneself from the systems that make racism and rape culture possible. So it’s time to stop thinking that your own warm feelings and properly woke policy positions are enough to make you an ally."

-- Ana Marie Cox, "Are You an Ally?"

"Being a privileged white guy is hard. We get it.

"And now we’re told a host of influential media industry men caught up in the current flood of harassment, abuse and assault stories just didn’t understand the power dynamics in their respective situations.

"Nonsense. Of course they did.

"Asserting power, in so many cases, was the point. And it still is, for many who’re working on back lots, in executive suites, in newsrooms and on sets today."

-- Maureen Ryan, "Powerful Men Can’t Plead Ignorance in the Wake of Misbehavior Revelations"

U.S. presidents up to this point have, whatever their temptations or even their actions, attested to the democratic values embedded in the Constitution and the practices of the republic. Trump rarely does that. Instead, he frequently attacks the system of separated institutions that share powers on which U.S. democracy rests. His nasty personal attacks on other politicians tend to corrode the political system. So do his claims of omnipotence within the system. So does his disregard for norms, whether it's his refusal to disclose his tax returns, his refusal to divest himself of his businesses, or his use of the office to advertise those businesses.

-- Jonathan Bernstein, "Just a Reminder: This Isn't Normal"




on weed

It has turned out just about how I expected, although I didn't think it would take until I was 64 for it to happen.

Cannabis becomes "legal" in California on January 1. The San Francisco Chronicle included a 40-page pull-out section, "Green State", with information, awards, and (who'da thunk?) lots and lots of advertising.

They called my hometown, Berkeley, the "Best Cannabis City":

Berkeley blazed the trail to safe access to medical cannabis nearly two decades ago, and in 2017 set the curve for implementing recreational legalization locally. They were the first city in the state to create a pathway for its dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana in the New Year — part of a history of firsts. Berkeley adopted organic-like standards for medical cannabis years before the state considered it. The city was the first to formalize rules mandating free medicine for low-income folks, and Berkeley helped champion the entire dispensary model before patients had any stores to shop at. Personal gardeners and cannabis fans also enjoy some of the most relaxed rules in the state, making the East Bay city arguably the Best Cannabis City in California, if not the world.

And they gave an award to a favorite edible of mine, Kiva Confections:

The California edibles scene is extremely crowded, but sitting pretty at the top of them all is Kiva Confections. Founded in a San Leandro kitchen in 2010, Kiva now has 85 employees and a 13,000 square-foot factory in Oakland that serves 1,000 stores in California alone. Co-founder Kristi Knoblich Palmer hand-selects the company’s chocolate from wholesalers, and Kiva makes its own cannabis extract from cannabis trim that’s been tested for 280 pesticides. The hand-crafted, artisanal chocolate bars come in multiple flavors and strengths, and the chocolate-covered espresso beans and blueberries have garnered multiple awards and fans.

I'm fond of those espresso beans.

So, let's see. Special sections in the newspaper? Advertising featuring the cannabis industry? Awards? Did I mention advertising? Yep, it's pretty much how I expected it to be.

I'll be honest. I've never liked hunting down dealers, so although I've been smoking since I was 15 or so, I rarely have any lying around. And when medicinal became legal, I was too lazy to get a patient card. But on January 1, all I have to do is go to the dispensary.

 


the full blackboard

This is a story I think I've told many times, but I can't find any reference to it on this blog, where I've been writing since 2002, so maybe I haven't told the story as often as I thought. It also took place long enough ago that I can't really remember the context, i.e. where and when it took place. But I think it's worth telling, so I've dive in, even with the holes in my memory.

It took place in a classroom. I can't recall if I was a junior college student or if I was a university teacher, which means I can't remember if it was the 1970s or the 1990s or even later. And I can't remember if I had power in the classroom (teacher) or little power (student). And those things matter to the story, but again, not enough for me to shut up. I can say that I do think it happened when I was teaching at Cal, emphasis on "think".

The classroom discussion was about the participation of women in the classroom, or rather, the over-participation of men. This was a hot topic at one time ... sadly, I imagine it's still a topic, but it would be nice to think otherwise. As a teacher in a small, discussion-oriented class, we were taught to be inclusive when calling on students, and to beware of habits we might have that unconsciously tipped the balance of men and women speakers. In this case, at some point I realized that men (me included, of course) were dominating the discussion. So I had an idea (and this is one reason I suspect I was a teacher, because a student doesn't ordinarily get to make the kind of suggestion I'm going to describe). I decided all of the men should leave the classroom ... I forget how long, 10 minutes, 15 ... which would give the women a chance to discuss the topic without the men dominating everything. And so the men went outside for awhile while the women stayed in the room. I recall a couple of the male students were pissed off ... they didn't dominate discussions, the whole notion was ridiculous, and if women didn't want to speak up, you can't force them to do so.

After the allotted time, us guys returned to the classroom. One look at the blackboards (for there were more than one) told us everything we needed to know.

Every blackboard in the room was covered with writing.


just pretend

When you are on vacation, you think about how you will change your life when you return. But when you get home, all you want to do is bask in the normality you had subconsciously missed when you were away. And so, within half an hour of arriving home, I ordered a pizza for delivery, and the next morning, we went to our usual breakfast place like we do every week.

And what do we really come home to? Donald Trump. Puerto Rico. Mass murder in Las Vegas.

And what did we leave? In Spain, a referendum on Catalan independence led to a police riot, leaving almost 900 civilians and 430 police officers injured.

When you are on vacation, you can pretend you are immune. But it's just pretend.