music friday: inauguration day

What follows is a slightly-edited blog post from 2003:

The 5th Dimension were a pop R&B ensemble formed in the mid-60s. Three men with different musical backgrounds joined together with two beauty pageant winners, all African-Americans, they were signed to the Soul City label in 1966. Soul City was the brainchild of Johnny Rivers, a white singer who had a series of hits with some excellent covers of Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, and Motown (along with the immortal theme song "Secret Agent Man"). Their first big hit was "Up, Up and Away," which won several Grammies and was written by Jimmy Webb, who also wrote such tunes as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," and "MacArthur Park." Another early hit for the group was "Stoned Soul Picnic," written by Laura Nyro, an eccentric white girl from the Bronx whose songs were also hits for artists like Barbra Streisand, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Three Dog Night.

Meanwhile, the Summer of Love came and went. Among the "inauthentic" artifacts of that period was a stage musical, Hair, that opened Off Broadway and moved to the real Broadway in 1968. Hair featured such true-to-hippies songs as "Good Morning Starshine" and the title song ("Hair! Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair!").

The story goes that the 5th Dimension took in the play on Broadway and decided to release a medley of two of the musical's songs, "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In." It was a good idea: it won Grammies, it hit #1 on the charts, it sold millions. (The subsequent album, Let the Sunshine In, included songs by not only Laura Nyro, but also Neil Sedaka and Cream.)

So ... we've got an African-American vocal group, singing faux-hippie epics from a Broadway show, on a label run by the guy who sang "Secret Agent Man" when he wasn't covering black artists himself. Some things are simply bottomless.

Fast forward to 1981. Ronald Reagan is inaugurated President of the United States. At the Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco's top punk club back in the day, an anti-inauguration party is held. One of the acts is the drag band Sluts a-Go-Go. I described the event on this blog here:

one thing from that night still sticks with me, when the Sluts sang "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" while incense burned. There I was, in a punk club at the dawn of the Reagan Era, listening to men in drag sing a Broadway version of hippiedom, and I'm not much for irony, for that matter ... in any event, I felt one with the band and the crowd, I wasn't alienated from America in that moment, I was as close to Hippie Community as I'd ever been in the actual hippie days, and I started to cry at the ridiculous wonder of it all.

Like I say, some things are simply bottomless, and you can't always predict what those things will be. Like a Broadway version of the Summer of Love, sung by R&B groups and drag queens, making an impression on a hippie wannabee like me.

 

The final onstage performance of Sluts-a-Go-Go:


what i've been reading

Martin Luther King edition:

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 questions 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 market place. 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 questions that must be asked.

-- Martin Luther King, 1967

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, 1838

Donald Trump ran one of the most divisive and prejudiced campaigns in modern history. He began his campaign by insulting Mexican immigrants, pledging to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and then spent a year and a half denigrating communities of color and normalizing bigotry. He called women ‘pigs’, stoked Islamophobia, and attacked a Gold Star family. He mocked a disabled reporter and appealed to people’s worst instincts.  I cannot in good conscience attend an inauguration that would celebrate this divisive approach to governance.

-- Barbara Lee, 2017

I was in Russia years ago, with the Miss Universe contest, which did very well – Moscow, the Moscow area did very well, very well. And I told many people, “Be careful, because you don’t wanna see yourself on television. Cameras all over the place.” ... I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me.

-- Donald Trump, 2017


phil dellio & scott woods, unshackled: the dustbin of donald trump

Maybe it takes two Canadians to place Donald Trump in perspective. Phil Dellio and Scott Woods worked on this book for more than a year, never expecting that by the time it was published, Trump would have actually won the election. The book works just as well with that surprise element, though, because they are trying to figure out Trump, not just as a person/politician, but as someone who is part of our cultural landscape.

Thus, the “chapters” examine cultural landmarks that connect to Trump, in order to understand all of us. They go from Sarah Palin to Elvis Presley, which all by itself makes a nice instant description of the parameters of President Donald Trump. There is a section with, in turn, Pat Buchanan, George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, and Joe McCarthy. The middle of the book is devoted to “early sightings in the movies, on TV, and between the covers”, which goes from Nashville (the movie) to Howard Beale, from Citizen Kane to the Manchurian Candidate, from Gordon Gekko to The Joker. These selections make sense the second you see the connections.

None of this would matter if the writing wasn’t up to the concept. So it is important how good that writing is. There is no attempt to identify who wrote what, but there is a smoothness to the style that keeps any seams from showing. Combine the pleasure of reading this writing with the seductive nature of the book’s structure (short chapters), and Unshackled becomes very hard to put down. You can’t resist the pull of “just one more chapter”.

In some ways, this book is very much of the moment. You might even think it’s a bit too late to be reading about the emergence of Trump as President. But it’s still soon enough to the election that everything seems fresh. And it works as an excellent snapshot of how this all seems to us as we prepare for Trump’s inauguration. For this reason, I think this book will make for interesting reading ten years from now, as a reminder of where we were in 2017. I not only recommend Unshackled, I suggest you read it ASAP.

(I suppose a disclosure is in order. I know both Phil and Scott, and am very kindly included in the acknowledgements.  It made my day to see my name in the same sentence as Rob Sheffield’s).


what i've been reading

Fuck you, members of the media.

Fuck your constant pursuit of ratings, of quarterly profits, of giving this tinpot cumdumpster a platform with which he can influence a large part of our country

Fuck you for buying into the idea that racism should be afforded an equal platform with equality, for calling a Nazi anything other than a Nazi.

-- Chris Kluwe, “Fuck You, Donald Trump

 

Hugh Laurie, winning for his work in “The Night Manager,” joked that he assumed this would be the last Golden Globes because “I don’t mean to be gloomy. It’s just that it has Hollywood, Foreign and Press in the title. And I think to some Republicans, even Association is slightly sketchy.” The point about the press is taken, and taken with thanks, but this formulation — which Streep repeated and made worse by prefacing it to say “You, and all of us in this room, really belong to the most vilified segment of American society right now” — has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that some of the richest and most influential people in the world are victims.

-- Alyssa Rosenberg, “In the Trump era, artists can be Jimmy Fallon or Donald Glover. Choose wisely.

 

“Why can’t you give him the benefit of the doubt…,” [Kellyanne] Conway asked, to which, [Chris] Cuomo answered “because he’s making a disgusting gesture on video about Serge.”

-- Ken Meyer, “Conway Asks: Why Do You Believe What Trump Says ‘Rather Than What’s in His Heart?

 

If happiness comes when you find something you are good at, and then you do it, then I guess Preston Epps was a very happy man. After "Bongo Rock" hit #14 on the charts, Epps locked in with the following songs, in alphabetical order: "Baja Bongos," "Blue Bongo," "Bongo Bongo Bongo," "Bongo Hop," "Bongo in the Congo," "Bongo Party," "Bongo Shuffle," "Bongo, Bong, Bongo," "Bongola," "Bongos in Paradise," "Bongos in Pastel," "Gully Bongo," "Hully Gully Bongo," "Prest Bongos Under Glass," "Stormy Bongo," and "Surfin' Bongos." None of them made the charts, with the exception of "Bongo Bongo Bongo," which made it to #78.

-- Steven Rubio’s Online Life, January 9, 2009


election day

I know very few people who are voting for Trump. I know a lot of people who are voting for Clinton.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I did not vote for anyone for president. But the above two sentences explain what I’m feeling as I look towards the conclusion of this election.

If Trump were to win, the form of the celebration would likely be repulsive, representing the worst America has to offer, as does Donald Trump himself.

If Clinton wins, the celebration will focus primarily on one point: that we have finally elected a woman to be our leader. A point that is well worth celebrating, a point that has been too long in coming.

I want my friends to enjoy their celebration. That is the reason I’ve stayed mostly silent throughout this election. If my vote merely entailed making my friends happy, I would do so.

You could say I am a coward. I don’t want to bring down the wrath of Clinton supporters, so for the most part, I hold my tongue. But it’s not just fear ... I truly do want my friends to have that celebration, no matter my own personal opinions about what I think a Clinton presidency will mean on a concrete, rather than a symbolic, level.

Part of me questions the inherent misogyny of men, a category in which I include myself. I have tried for my entire adult life to press for equality between men and women, but I speak as a man who has experienced the unequal benefits of being male. At the very least, we should question our assumptions, and the roots of our assumptions, when they come from a position of privilege. Thus, I believe I deserve all the accusations of misogyny that are thrown at any man who can’t accept that Hillary Clinton will be a good president.

Except, as I wrote earlier, outside of not being Donald Trump, the only reason I could think of to vote for Clinton is that she is a woman. I very much want us to have a woman president at last.

I just wish it wasn’t this woman.

A friend posted the following on Facebook this morning:

I'm not sure yet if I'm going to vote at all. Even if I do, I could never vote for HRC, though I'd never try to persuade others not to. But if you do, don't tell yourself or others sweet stories about her inner goodness. She's a loyal and effective servant of capital and empire. If she wins, which seems likely though far from certain, she immediately becomes the enemy, even though people and forces even worse than she will attack her.

Or, as one hashtag has it, “#nohoneymoon”.

So when she wins, as I have always believed she will, and the inevitable, joyous celebrations erupt, I will be happy for all of my friends, especially women, who have longed for this day. And I’ll be quiet.

But once the celebrations are over, #nohoneymoon.


why i left my ballot blank for president

I’ve written and deleted this post a dozen times over the past several weeks. On occasion, I’ve constructed it as a Facebook post, only to delete that, as well.

Recently, a friend wrote, “I swear, this presidential campaign has caused me to lose respect for people for whom I had no respect before.” I took me awhile to wrap my brain around that one ... at first, I misread it and thought the friend had lost respect for people he admired, but once I paid attention, I realized he was pointing out how many people for whom he had no respect had reached new lows during the campaign. In his case, he was talking about people who were shilling for Clinton.

I don’t really feel the same. Very few people have surprised me with their opinions. The people who have always been mainstream Democrats have rallied behind Clinton, the people who are to the left of the Democratic Party have for the most part taken a critical stance towards Clinton, whether or not they intend to vote for her. Republicans are wobbly because their candidate is so noxious ... I suppose the people like Gingrich and Giuliani who persist in supporting Trump are even more vile than I thought possible, but mainstream Republicans seem to wish Trump would quit embarrassing them and their party. That the tenets of mainstream Republicanism over the past few decades have made Trump possible escapes their notice, I guess. But then, Hillary Clinton strikes me as very much the culmination of mainstream Democratic politics ... both candidates are, to my mind, representative of their parties, except Trump is openly disgusting.

My voting record over the years has been all over the place, if by “all over” you mean “on the left”. I was first able to vote in 1972, and to best of my recollection, I registered as an independent (“decline to state”) right from the start. In 1974, I registered as a Democrat so I could vote for Jerome Waldie in the Democratic primary for Governor of California ... he was a decent man who grew up with my father and whose family was close enough to my wife’s that she called him “dad”. As soon as that primary ended, I re-registered as an independent. There were a couple of years where I registered Green ... to be honest, I can barely remember why any longer. Suffice to say that for the vast majority of my 44 years of voting, I have “declined to state” what party I was in (because I didn’t want to be in a party).

In all of my voting years, I have never voted for a Republican. I always assume if you have chosen to be a member of that party, we are too far apart politically for there to be much common ground. This is not to say I have always voted for Democrats. I voted for many marginal, third-party (more accurately, sixth-party) candidates whose names I have forgotten. Long before 2016, I voted for a woman to be president (she didn’t win, and no, I don’t remember her name, either). In 1984, I voted for Geraldine Ferraro for Vice-President, just to be on the right side of history (of course, she had about as much chance of winning as those marginal candidates for whom I had voted in the past). The only time I can remember voting FOR a major-party presidential candidate rather than voting against their opponent was my first time, when I voted for George McGovern. Since then, I’ve found all the major party candidates lacking, even as I occasionally voted for Democrats.

I did have the honor of voting for, first, Ron Dellums and then, later, Barbara Lee as my representative in the House. Lee makes me proud to be from Berkeley.

And I’ve told this anecdote too many times, but once I took a leak next to Ron Dellums during one of the elections, maybe 1988, and I asked him to convince me to vote for the Democrat. He began to answer, and then as we left the rest room with his bodyguards, he walked with me awhile. He was quite eloquent, but his argument boiled down to “well, we can’t let that Republican win.”

I haven’t agreed with a whole lot that President Obama has done, but I did vote for him twice. So why am I so reluctant to vote for Hillary Clinton?

I can only think of two reasons to vote for her. One, she is a woman, and two, she isn’t Donald Trump. There is no denying either of those points, and I do believe they are important. It will be a big symbolic step when a woman finally becomes president, just as it was when Obama became our first black president.

But ... and here I can blame myself for not digging deep enough, Obama was a bit of a mystery, and I was taken in by his great speaking abilities, and in truth, most of what he proceeded to do was not far from what anyone who paid attention could have predicted.

Clinton is different. She has a long public record on which we can evaluate her politics. In fact, this is often cited as a reason, in itself, for voting for her. She is, we are told over and over again, the most qualified presidential candidate in our history. First lady, Senator, Secretary of State ... not only is this resume above and beyond Donald Trump’s wildest dreams, it’s above everyone else’s.

But I can’t count her role as Secretary of State as a plus, when I thought she was so bad at it. She is a stone-cold hawk, especially in the Middle East, and this isn’t going away ... she’s already talking about what she’ll do when she is president. She is completely pro-Israel. This is not someone I want as my president.

But Trump would be worse, we are told. Trump is a maniac, so much so that I doubt he’d accomplish anything if he somehow managed to become president. But Clinton, as we have all seen, is capable of accomplishing great things. Who is more dangerous, a nutcase who won’t get anything done, or a hawk who will get lots of things done?

And, as Belén Fernández has written, “You can’t be a pro-war feminist”:

Clinton’s performance on the international battlefield over the years makes a mockery of any pretense of support for the rights of women not to be violated, either sexually or otherwise. ... unfortunately for Clinton’s current campaign against sexual violence, the “harm” that continues to plague the nation of Iraq courtesy of the U.S. and its friends has included plenty of instances of rape by invading soldiers—as tends to happen in such situations.

My presidential vote doesn’t matter ... California is going for Clinton no matter how I vote. Which made my choice easy. I wanted to say I voted for the first woman president ... yes, I’ve voted for other women for president, but Clinton is going to win. But I don’t want to vote for this particular woman. It’s not about her personality, it’s not about my being unable to handle a powerful woman. It’s about her expected foreign policy. I believe Lyndon Johnson was the best president in my lifetime, yet he was a big failure because he couldn’t keep himself out of Vietnam. Whatever else Hillary Clinton stands for symbolically, I predict her legacy will be like Johnson’s ... too bad about that war.


brexit comes to football manager

This will be a longer explanation for yesterday’s link.

I used to post about the game Football Manager about once a year, trying to explain what it was and why so many people obsessed over it. Usually, I’d excerpt a complicated discussion about, say, motivational theory or Karl Popper and positivism. Back in 2010, I linked to an article by Brian Phillips, “The Unreal Genius of Football Manager, Greatest Video Game Ever”. And every year, about this time, I’d post something brief to explain why I wasn’t around much because the latest annual edition of Football Manager had been released.

I thought I’d done this forever, but I don’t think I’ve gotten around to it in recent years. I mean posting ... I still crank up the game (for instance, I played last year’s model, FM 2016, for 924 hours, which wasn’t even my record ... that was FM 2014, with 1236 hours played). FM 2017 beta came out yesterday, and I’ve already managed 11 hours. The game’s depth is endlessly complex, and I’ve been at it since the late-90s.

Each year adds new wrinkles to the game, and often, we’ll get preview videos that show some of the changes, like this year’s, dramatically titled “The Big Reveal”:

But there was a surprise for us when the beta was released yesterday. Miles Jacobson, the director of the series, wrote earlier this year, explaining FM to non-players:

We’ve been releasing games for 24 years, starting off as two brothers based in their bedroom in Shropshire through to where we are now, a 110 strong team based in the Old Street area of London. We make niche games, although the niche is pretty popular – we sell just shy of 2m games a year and were independent until roughly 10 years ago when we became part of SEGA. 30 of the 35 people who were with the studio when the takeover happened are still here now. We also have circa 100 contractors at any one time, some in the UK, and some in other parts of the world.

Jacobson joined the team early on, after brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer created the game. For their efforts, the Collyers were named Members of the Order of the British Empire ... later Jacobson became an officer of the order (or something like that ... I admit I don’t quite understand these things). Suffice to say that the Football Manager series has made a lot of money for those three, and a lot of money for England, and a lot of joy to the players. It’s “just a game”, but it regularly refutes that cliché ... take the title of a documentary from 2010, Football Manager: More Than Just a Game. Or Iain Macintosh’s 2012 book, Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession. Or look at the real teams that use the vast FM database for scouting purposes.

Well, the above quote from Jacobson was a prelude to a long piece about how Brexit might affect Football Manager. He wrote primarily about how it could change the way Sports Interactive ("SI", the company that produces the game) works, detailing some real-world possibilities.

Of course, Brexit passed ... and of course, it will take time for it to take effect, if it ever does. Meanwhile, FM 2017 is here, and we’re all busy trying out the new edition.

Except ... there was a little addition that didn’t make “The Big Reveal”. SI must have a pretty strong non-disclosure agreement for its testers, because this little addition was a complete surprise.

Brexit has been built into the latest version of Football Manager.

A brief explanation. Football Manager is a “management simulation”. Unlike video games you might be familiar with, like FIFA, in FM, you do not control the players during a game. You are the manager of a club. You sign new players, choose staff, run training, create tactics, manage games, try to win championships. And after one season, if you are lucky and don’t get fired, you get to do it for another season. And another, and another, etc. So the game starts in Fall 2016, but if you stay with the same game without starting a new one, it will eventually be 2020, or 2025, or 2030, or whatever.

Which is where Brexit will enter the gameplay. As one headline read, “Football Manager 2017 to simulate Brexit - fans of the game go crazy on Twitter”. Among the tweets quoted in the article: “Football Manager 2017 has put more research into the implications of Brexit on the UK in the game than the actual government have irl”, and “Brexit means harder FM. Wish I known that before voting.”

There you have it: the creators of a management simulation have built a Brexit simulator into the game. As Jacobson said, “As far as I know this is the first time a computer game has tried to predict the future of a country.”

Sometime after two years have passed in the game, the player will be informed about the implementation of Brexit in the FM world. (There are random factors involved, so each game will have its own implementation.) There are three scenarios:

  1. Soft Brexit - free movement of workers remains.
  2. Footballers are granted the same special exemptions that are currently given to ‘entertainers’. This means it is easier for them to obtain work permits than other people, and it will not have a huge impact on player movement from the EU.
  3. Hard Brexit: similar rules to those which currently apply to non-EU players are adopted for all non-UK players.

Also, Scotland might decide to stay with the EU.

I suspect most of us just want to manage our favorite team to a championship. The idea of the real world interfering with that is startling. But Sports Interactive have been successful precisely because of how accurately their game reflects the real world of football. Ultimately, I don’t think they could have left Brexit out.

And it was fun to have an actual surprise in this day and age.


triumph's summer election special 2016

Last night, as my wife was reading in bed, I joined her, opened up my Kindle, put in my ear phones, and turned on Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s latest special on Hulu, Triumph’s Summer Election Special 2016. If you are unfamiliar with Triumph, imagine Don Rickles’ shtick coming out of the mouth of a hand puppet doggy operated by Robert Smigel. He made his name for his occasional appearances on Conan O’Brien’s various late-night shows, where he often got tossed out of events he was “covering” (most famously the Westminster Dog Show, more than once). Arguably his most famous sketch is his demolition of Star Wars fans waiting in line for the premiere of one of the movies. A favorite at our house is when, for some reason, a Hawaii TV station asked him to substitute for the local weather reporter.

The new Election Special comes on the heels of an earlier edition that has actually been nominated for an Emmy.

After I was done watching, I pulled out my ear phones, at which point, my wife said she had rarely, if ever, heard me laugh so much for an extended period of time. Oh, a minute or two here and there, but consistent, full-throated laughter for an hour? She was amazed.

I’m not going to try and analyze why this is. Suffice to say that I find Triumph to be hilarious at his best, and always worth watching even when he’s not as good. What interests me here is how Triumph has become a political comedian with these two specials. He’s been here before ... he did bits in both the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns ... but for the most part, he’s famous for those Star Wars fans, and Bon Jovi fans, and American Idol contestants, and the Tony Awards, etc. His act never really changes, which is one reason I’m surprised that I still find it funny. He works his way into situations where he can pepper people with questions that are either insulting, or lead to insults. You may feel a bit guilty for laughing at his victims, although apparently as his fame increases, he often gets asked by fans to be tormented on camera. Triumph is first and last a comedian ... there is no social commentary to his bits.

Except when he’s dealing with politicians. It’s one thing when he makes fun of Star Wars fans (confronted with a fan in a Darth Vader costume, he points to a box of buttons on the costume and asks which button calls up his parents to pick him up), but another when he applies the same basic techniques to politicians (and, more often, their representatives):

Triumph’s comedy is based on insults, but when he addresses politicians and their lackeys, he asks the questions “real” journalists would not. OK, there’s only so many jokes you can make about Bernie Sanders’ age, or Hillary Clinton’s hair, or Donald Trump’s anything. But when his insulting questions are directed at actual issues, you see how the need for politeness mutes even the most “hard-hitting” journalists.

Triumph is an equal opportunity insult artist ... in this special he takes on Democrats and Republicans alike. But Donald Trump is so easy that he gives Triumph his best material. At one point, Triumph says he has footage of Trump visiting neighborhoods with mostly minority residents. We imagine Donald pressing the flesh, but when we see the footage, Trump shows up in a tank, speaking through a megaphone about how he loves black people and Mexicans, showing nothing but his hand waving out of the top of the tank.

Most revealing, if perhaps too reminiscent of an old Daily Show sketch, is when Triumph sets up a legitimate focus group of Trump supporters and asks their opinions on various proposed ads for the campaign. The fake ads are ridiculous, but the supporters find something to like about all of them. After one ad, where Trump says during the time the wall is built, he will put up an electric fence and force all Mexicans to wear collars that will shock them if they try to cross over into the U.S., the focus group spends a bit of time not condemning the ads but analyzing the logistics to make the plan work better.

Still, for me, it comes back to laughter. And so I preferred the segment when Triumph couldn’t get into the Republican convention. He turns up with a Roger Ailes lookalike. It works.


and so, hillary clinton

Back in early June, when Hillary Clinton garnered enough delegates in primaries to become the nominee for President of the Democratic Party, a friend (an African-American male, since identity politics is so much a part of all this) wrote on Facebook, “Hooray for the status quo!” A woman we both know responded, “I think I know what you mean, but nominating a white male is much more the status quo.”

This exchange summed up my own thoughts on the election, and I don’t know why it has taken me so long to add my two cents worth.

There are two things about Clinton that are indisputable: that she is a woman, and that she is not Donald Trump. For many voters, one or both of these facts are reason enough to cast a ballot for Clinton.

I think I understand the impulse behind a pro-Clinton reaction to both of those facts. The second point may only lead to an "anyone but Trump" vote, but the first item inspires many, including the woman who commented. More than anything else, what makes Hillary Clinton not just a candidate worth voting for but also an historic figure, is that she is a woman. Male political leaders are the de facto status quo; women leaders, by definition, are thus not the status quo.

This position relies entirely on identity politics. It does not matter what positions Hillary Clinton takes on the issues; if she becomes president, she will have broken a barrier that has lasted as long as the United States has been a country, and that is as far from the status quo as you can get.

We’ve been through this quite recently, of course. Barack Obama was equally a breaker of barriers, by virtue of his race. There is no denying the symbolic importance of the words “President Obama”, just as there will be no denying the symbolic importance if in November we end up with “President Hillary Clinton”.

So, to borrow a phrase, I think I know what the commenter meant regarding Clinton and the status quo.

But she suggests that she knows what the original comments meant, and I have no reason to doubt her on that. Which means the discussion comes down to a basic point: how do we define the “status quo”?

I would argue that in many/most areas, Hillary Clinton is fairly close to the policies of our current President. After all, she served him loyally as Secretary of State, and while I’m entering into the realm of gossip now, it would seem that Obama and Clinton forged an honest friendship in those years.

She is also fairly close to the policies of the last Democrat who was President before Obama, Bill Clinton. We are often told of how Hillary was more than just a First Lady, that she was an active participant in Bill’s government. Bill’s speech at the convention was designed, among other things, to remind us that he valued her contributions, and that her contributions were substantive.

I don’t think I’m too far out of line to claim that if Hillary Clinton wins in November, and later becomes a two-term president, we will have had, since 1993, 24 years with presidents in the White House who are mostly on the same page. We can point to that symbolic importance, we can be thankful that at last, 8 of those years will be under an African-American, and 8 will be under a woman. But the politics of Bill Clinton are not much different from the politics of Barack Obama which are not much different from the politics of Hillary Clinton.

That is the status quo.

I am not an expert on these things. I am sure we could make lists where the three Democrats differ on particular issues. But “New Democrats”, for all its haziness, is a reasonable label for all three.

You will not hear me say “Clinton is just a Republican”, or “there is no difference between the parties”. And you definitely won’t hear me say there is no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

I have no idea how to rank Clinton, Obama, and Clinton as liberals. I do know that whoever you think is the least liberal of the three is still far to the left of Donald Trump, or George W. Bush. I don’t consider myself a liberal ... the “New Democrats” can’t count on me. But I don’t think supporters of Hillary Clinton are deluded right-wingers. Being to the right of me does not make you a Republican.

Yet I feel like all of this is irrelevant, and it goes back to that original Facebook exchange. For many people, the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman trumps all else. Her presence represents a toppling of the status quo. If that’s good enough for you, be true to that, and support and vote for Hillary Clinton. But please, don’t pretend that the specific importance of Hillary as potentially the first woman president overwhelms all the other ways in which she, like Obama before her, is very much part of the status quo.

Yes, I’ve sometimes voted for the lesser evil; I voted for Obama in 2008 too. And other times I haven’t; I’ve also voted Green and Socialist.... If people want to tell me that Hillary would be a less horrid option than whatever profound ghastliness the Republicans throw up, I’ll listen to them respectfully. If they try to tell me there’s something inspiring or transformative about her, I’ll have to wonder what planet they’re on.

-- Doug Henwood

[I feel like I need to add two things here. One, if I vote for Hillary Clinton, it will not be the first time I have voted for a woman for President. Two, none of the above should be taken as an endorsement of Green Party candidate Jill Stein. If I’m going to “waste my vote”, I’ll waste it elsewhere.]


underground

On the most recent episode of the very good American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, the inflammatory audio tapes of Detective Mark Fuhrman are heard. Johnnie Cochran, played with devious excellence by Courtney B. Vance, says the tapes show “what black people have always known”. At one point, one of the white members of the “Dream Team” says he knows how Cochran feels, and Cochran explodes. There is simply no way a white person can truly understand what it means to be black in America.

Underground is a new series on WGN America. All I knew of WGN prior to this is that they were an early “superstation” that showed Major League Baseball games for the Chicago teams. Underground is one of their first original series, and without decent reviews, I doubt I would have found it. It tells a story of the Underground Railroad, with the primary setting being a Georgia plantation where some of the slaves are planning an escape. It’s a tricky show, trying to be true to the history of slavery in America while still giving the audience something they will want to see week after week. So there is a lot of melodrama. But the extensive cast (hello, Adina Porter!) does wonders with the material, and we care about the characters.

While the focus is on the escape plans (we’ve seen three episodes so far, with the fourth airing tonight), we also get a clear picture of why escape is necessary. The plantation owner and his friends are suitably inhuman, and the slaves live in constant fear that some perceived mistake will be severely punished.

There is always a chance that this will be presented in a way that encourages the audience to enjoy the misery ... giving lashes to the slaves is barbaric, but it is also a part of a show that in part has entertainment on its mind. So far, Underground avoids this. I once taught the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and one student actually wrote that the slaves in the book were happy. There are no happy slaves in Underground.

A few years ago, I posted excerpts from the will of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, who died in Virginia in 1757. If I remember correctly, I was finding my way through Ancestry.com files ... my sister had an account. I knew my mom’s family came from Kentucky ... my grandmother was born there. I never really thought about the implications of those Kentucky roots. But then I found that will. Here, I’ll repost the excerpts:

To Thomas Cralle Lamkin, son of Mary Jones, widow and relict of Charles Jones, late of Northumberland County five negoes vixt: Little Ben, Isaac, Peggs Bess, Blacka Top and Aggy. If he should die before he arrives to age or day of marriage, his mother Mary Jones to enjoy two of the said slaves that may be left at his death, she to have her choice during her natural life, then to revert to my children the remaining part

To son William Matthews Cralle nine negroes vizt: Chnce, Cate, and their daughter Bess, Frank, Alice, Stephen, Cate, Dominy, and Edmond.

Mulatto man Will, may be free at my decease.

To son Rodham Kenner Cralle three negroes vizt: Harry, George, and Nanny and my watch.

To daugher Mary Foushee my silver tankard, and negro wench Rose Anna

Rest of my estate both real and personal to be equally divided between five children Kenner, John, Rodham, William, and Mary, except Ben and Matthews whom I give to my son Kenner, son John to have Rachel, Old Ben to make choice of his master among my children.

I think it’s the matter-of-fact tone that is most disturbing. Mary Jones will “enjoy” her slaves. Old Ben isn’t given his freedom, but he gets “to make choice of his master”.

What was really most disturbing to me was that this was in my family’s past. I had certainly never owned up to any of this, beyond a general despair over slavery, and the role of whites in the “institution”. What this will showed me was that, beyond the general despair, I had, through my family, a specific responsibility. I can’t change the past, and I don’t take the blame for what my ancestors did centuries ago. But I also understand that it is too easy for white Americans to dismiss any thoughts of this evil stain on our history ... “oh, that was then, we didn’t do that”. Well, yes we did. Just ask my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

After last week’s episode of Underground, I said to my wife, “that’s my family”. I don’t know if my great-great-great-great-great grandfather had a plantation. I don’t know how he treated his slaves. But I know he had them, in numbers ... that will specifically lists 23 slaves. That’s 23 too many.

I find myself falling into a trap I have set for myself all of my life, making everything about Me. That shouldn’t be what’s happening here. My feelings about my family’s past are not equal to the suffering of the slaves my family owned. Underground can’t only be a “good show”. It also gives context, a context that includes the past of my own family.