Sunday, June 11, 2017

This was the folk-music-icons weekend that was

Back in the day, by which I of course mean the late 1980s, I accumulated a few pen-pals. Yes, pen-pals -- remember those glorious days, of sitting down with pen and paper, writing a letter, and sending it off to your new "friend" who lived in another state or another country? I loved that hobby. Only one of my pen-pals lasted for years and years of correspondence -- she and I had quite a bit in common and a lot to say to each other, and even ended up both living in New York City at the same time years down the road and getting to meet and be friends in real life, which was in itself amazing. However, this particular story isn't about that pen-pal, but rather about a fleeting pen-pal with whom I briefly wrote letters and then lost contact forever but who, nonetheless, had an impact on my life through the act of sending me a particular cassette tape.

This particular fleeting pen-pal was named Nancy (I think? that's how long ago and fleeting this was) and was, again I think, from Oswego, NY.  I do hope I'm remembering that correctly and not mixing her up with someone else. Anyway, the fleeting pen-pal in question and I decided we would exchange tapes, and we sent each other lists of the albums that we owned and then let each other know which of the other person's we wanted and copied them onto blank cassettes and sent them to each other. (I know, hello, copyright laws, anyone?) We were young adolescents still with a manageable amount of albums, and I can't tell you what the hell else she sent me or what I sent her, but I very specifically remember one dark brown Memorex cassette she sent to me that had on one side a copied Cowboy Junkies album and on the other side Indigo Girls.

I even remember exactly where I was when I was looking at her letter with her list of albums and thinking, "Cowboy Junkies. Indigo Girls." I didn't really know what their music was going to be like -- anyone whose hit songs I knew and loved I had probably already acquired via Columbia House Record & Tape Club or from Sam Goody at Metrocenter mall, so browsing her list was a chance to try something new I wouldn't have otherwise stumbled upon. And this was the mother lode.

I played the hell out of that 90-minute, no-longer-blank cassette. I played it at home, in my parents' cars, and anywhere else I could get it in a tape deck. I loved those albums fiercely, and -- good future copyright law student that I was -- I eventually bought both of those albums properly, thus giving the artists and record companies their profits and more importantly getting my hands on the liner notes. And needless to say, that simple act of being intrigued by my pen-pal's album list -- I can still vividly see it in my mind's eye, can perfectly visualize her handwriting -- launched me on my lifelong Indigo Girls love and fandom.

What if I had never exchanged those handful of letters and cassettes with this random girl across the country? Would I have come to know Indigo Girls and Strange Fire, and then later, Nomads*Indians*Saints and Rites of Passage and all the rest? When? Would I have been too late? I once read a piece in Psychology Today that said studies indicate that the music you listen to during that adolescent time, like toward age 14 or so, resonates more deeply with you than anything you ever listen to in the future, no matter how much you like what you come across in the future. And among the cassettes I spent those early teen years playing over and over were Indigo Girls, Bob Dylan, R.E.M., Simon and Garfunkel,  Cowboy Junkies -- folkies who still speak volumes to me today.

I bring this up because some remarkable things happened this weekend. Tonight, Sunday, I attended a concert at the Chicago Theatre: Four Voices - Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Indigo Girls. When this tour was announced a few months back my breath caught and I thought, this! This is something I cannot BELIEVE I am going to be able to witness! Now, of course I knew that they were all friends, and I know about Mary Chapin singing backing vocals on Amy and Emily's album and Amy and Emily singing backing vocals on Mary Chapin's around 1991, and I remember when the Girls performed with Joan Baez in the early mid-1990s for a benefit and she thanked them for letting her be an Indigo Girl for the evening and called them young whippersnappers, and I own the CD (yes, I eventually moved from cassettes to CDs) from the benefit where Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin and a bunch of other artists all performed with Joan Baez and planted roots for this blossoming friendship so I've heard them harmonizing in pieces and knew of their crossing paths but THIS - a tour called Four Voice, with lots of dates, coming to my town, playing cities near me - it was amazing news.

And it was an amazing concert, needless to say. There are so many highlights, and perhaps I'll tell about more of them in another post, but here let me just assure you that among the evening's joys was the final song of their main set, a cover of a particularly good, particularly relevant, Nobel prize-winning even! song that with their Four Voices became THE best performance of a song that I have witnessed being performed live, ever.

But there was also another little thing that happened at the beginning of this weekend. On Friday night, it just so happens, I saw Cowboy Junkies in concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music. For whatever reason, I had never got a chance to see them in concert before this weekend. Unlike Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter, whom I've seen multiple times (Indigo Girls, dozens), I somehow had missed out on the Cowboy Junkies until just this past Friday. There was Margo Timmins, in all her fifty-something glory, and that voice! That achingly lovely voice, with all those heartbreaking, swirling Cowboy Junkies songs. That was the opening of my weekend, and then it ended with this other collection of voices, including the legendary Joan Baez, up there showing us what incredible things words and music can do.

And I thought, how odd, how odd indeed that my weekend was bookended by incredible, life- and music-affirming concerts featuring the two bands that were on either side of that blank cassette sent to me by pen-pal Nancy from Oswego, NY nearly thirty years ago.

And I thought, how beautiful, how beautiful indeed that we are gifted with time on this planet where we can make and share our art, where we can hoist our visions onto the world stage and where we can tuck recorded sounds gently into an envelope with a bit of extra postage and let them be carried across the miles to someone who needs to hear them, or where we can now just upload them with a few quick finger taps on a keyboard.

In spite of all of the hard things, and the misery that Margo openly jokes about (wondering aloud to her audience why anyone would come to a Cowboy Junkies concert expecting to hear happy songs), and some of the political happenings that Joan, Mary Chapin, Amy, and Emily talked about and sang about and alluded to, and just despite the ever-ongoing struggle -- in spite of these things, my god but isn't there some beauty to be found out there, to be brought into our lives thanks to the random simple chances we come across?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

To end or not to end the Facebreak

I didn't really mean to give up Facebook for Lent. I don't even celebrate Lent. Wait, observe Lent. Participate in Lent? See, that's how much I don' whatever it is that I don't do with regards to Lent; I don't even know what verb to use. I grew up going to church, but it was a church that didn't really shove the whole pick-something-to-give-up-for-40-days thing down our throats. And now I've goodbyed to all that church stuff, so Lent is one of those things I watch other people do, like when my friends give up drinking for that whole time but still play on our pub quiz trivia team, which is rather stalwart of them, don't you think?

But what happened this year was, I had an incident that made me suddenly and forcefully decide I needed to reconsider my relationship to Facebook, specifically, the extent to which I rely on it to function as it says it does, to live up to its own standards, to not mess up. Of course Facebook messes up - nothing/nobody is perfect and all that, but we count on it not to. That's dangerous. It certainly worked out to be dangerous for me. (Details? Yeeeahhh...maybe I can get into the details later. I'm working on a project about that.)

And so, reminding myself of that time in law school when I grounded myself from going into Manhattan for one month because I was not proud of the alcohol choices I had made there, a few weeks ago I suddenly and forcefully just decided I should reconsider my reliance on Facebook being reliable by not relying on it, that is to say, not logging on, until I had accomplished a specific professional goal. And it just so happened that this whole incident went down on the night of Mardi Gras, with Ash Wednesday upon us. That didn't really dawn on me until a couple of days later, though, when I suddenly was like, Oh hey! I could give up Facebook for Lent! To which I responded to myself, What? A 40-day Facebreak? To which my first self responded, That reply shows me (us?) how much you need a 40-day Facebreak. (Let the record reflect that, see, I didn't even know that Lent actually lasts longer than 40 days, which is very confusing, and further evidence of how much I really don't do the Lent thing. Except when I apparently do.)

And so here we are, honing in on Easter, and as everyone hunts for eggs and bites bunnies to see if they're solid or hollow and remembers that after three days the Lord Is Risen, I'll be all mission-accomplished and I can actually check Facebook and see just what the hell has happened there for the last month and a half.

Although, you know, speaking of amounts of days, I've always been kind of confused by that whole "after three days the stone was rolled away bit" because I mean, isn't the whole thing that he was crucified on Friday night? And on Sunday morning he'd already fled the tomb and risen? That's basically a day and a half. Ya know? But we call it three days.

Counting days is hard, I guess, when it's Lenten time.

But the real question is, what should I DO if/when I end my Facebreak and rejoin the party? Any suggestions? What should be my first move? Will I have a million notifications to deal with? Will all my algorithms be hopelessly altered? Will I find out I have missed some crucial message offering me a million dollars or my dream job or trip around the world? No, but seriously, have you ever taken a long Facebreak? What did you do at the end of it?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

In Which St. Patrick Checks His Calendar...
and His Watch

Well, here we are in Chicago and the news and community media are breathlessly encouraging everyone to enjoy the big excitement this weekend. What excitement, you ask? Well, isn't it obvious? As WGN-TV explains in their guide, "St. Patrick's Day weekend is upon us!"

Except, as you and I know, it most certainly is not.

That never stopped, Chicago, though! -- as I first reported in 2010, the year I discovered that Chicago can never seem to figure out what (holi-)day it is.

This morning, Saturday, March, 11, the famous dye-the-Chicago-River-green event took place at 9 a.m., followed by the St. Patrick's Day Parade at noon. Tomorrow, Sunday, March 12, will be the South Side St. Patrick's Day Parade. Also this weekend are the Leprechaun Leap 5K/8K Run and the Get Lucky Half Marathon/14K/7K. Chicagoland is blissfully concerned that St. Patrick's Day, that is, March 17th - SEVENTEENTH, people! - is still six days away.

Blissfully unconcerned that if anything were to be considered St. Patrick's Day "weekend" it might be, you know, the weekend that starts with Friday, March 17th - St. Patrick's Day.

Alas, no, that is not how we do in Chicago. And by "we" I mean - decidedly not me. This particular quirk of Chicago has driven me absolutely nuts since we moved here the first time in 2010. Be it Saint Patrick or the Bastille, Halloween or Christmas, Chicago will find a way to host a big party on a date that differs from the calendar date of the holiday. Why? Why, Chicago, why why why?

I refuse to participate in any of these off-date celebrations on principle. Is nothing sacred, Chicago? You think you know better than TIME?

What an appropriate weekend to be asking *that* particular question, too -- the weekend we all (but not my peeps back home in Arizona!) get to "spring forward" and turn our clocks to Daylight Saving Time (note: no 's' on Saving) and pretend that this somehow gives us "more daylight" and demonstrate that humans are stupid (because they can't ever seem to figure out which is standard time - that would be Central Standard Time - and which is altered - that would be Central Daylight Time) and humans are lazy (the daylight is there in the mornings if you would just get your lazy selves out of bed to enjoy it!!) and humans are impractical (you have now extended Daylight Saving to MORE of the year than Standard Time -- from March to November, now, we are on  Daylight Time. So then JUST CHANGE THE TIME ZONES PERMANENTLY YOU MAKE NO SENSE HUMANS JUST SET YOUR CLOCKS AHEAD ONE HOUR ONCE AND BE DONE FOREVER WHY WHY WHY).

Time and date, man. Who knew how complicated life could be?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

"The (right) envelope, please!"

Well, if this 2017 Oscar ceremony, awarding statuettes to 2016 films, didn't just have the surprise of a lifetime in store for all of us! Who'da thunk it...that the beloved and theoretically a little stuffy and boring Price Waterhouse Coopers accountants would take their eye off the ball for a fraction of a second and lead us to this!

For anyone who's been living under a rock this week, or for someone reading this 110 years in the future when the debacle is long forgotten, here's what happened: Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway of Bonnie and Clyde (and other) fame took to the Academy Awards stage to hand out the anticipated final award of the evening, for Best Picture. La La Land, the big shiny glamorous (but still a little quirky) "rebirth of the Hollywood musical" or whatever, had tied All About Eve and Titanic for a record 14 nominations, but as the evening went on it had won some and lost some. Moonlight, the low-budget, gritty, independent coming-of-age tale that follows a poor, troubled, black boy in Miami through three life segments as he contends with bullies, hunger, a drug-addicted mother, and questioning his sexuality, and illuminates a touching relationship between him and a mentor father figure (for which role Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor), had been seen all Awards Season as the counterpoint to La La Land - and had been declared by no small number of critics to be the year's best film, I might add. So there we were, and Warren Beatty stared at the card, examining it, turning it over -- but, notably, not audibly expressing his concern, just physically -- then handed it to Faye Dunaway, who read "La La Land!" as the winner, and the producers and cast came up to the stage and gave speeches but there was a weird commotion with a stagehand in a headset and others in the mix and in the end it turns out Bonnie and Clyde had the wrong card, and Moonlight was the winner of Best Picture. OMG, right? Sooooo....exeunt, La La Land, and hey! you guys! Moonlight  did it! Which is so nice and touching and triumph of the human spiritish, not to mention fun for all of us who didn't get on the Blah Blah Land hype train.

Those are the facts. Now, on to the interpretations.

In the moment, everyone watching, whether us at home or them in the theater audience, was just like, Wait, what's happening here?! The end of the Oscars became a quest to lay blame: who had the right card? who had the wrong card? who said what? what did Warren Beatty see? what did the accountants do? who was Tweeting selfies instead of focusing on his work? who knew the winner and when did they know it?! But the next day, hooo-boy, the Oscars equivalent of Monday morning quarterbacking began, and how!

Suddenly, now, the whole thing was a metaphor for our perilous, racist world (and by the way: we absolutely do live in a perilous, racist world, and that is a fact. You lucky people reading this 110 years in the future know whether or not we solved anything, but here in 2017 we are all just confused and don't know why we can't get our shite together on this issue--at least those of us who aren't hideous/violent/racist/Trump-voting or some overlap of those things are confused, as to why said hideous/violent/racist/Trump-voting people don't want to just, you know, be better. But yeah, we have a legacy of racism after founding our country on genocide and slavery and we suck and we have not solved this problem yet.) Suddenly, multiple commentaries were published in which the big, moneyed, studio-backed, and white La La Land was swept off the stage (see: "all the world's a...") to be replaced by the independent, marginalized voices telling diverse stories such as Moonlight. 

OK, so that's just a teensy bit overwrought to me. But, you know, it's a conflict story that we had heard a wee bit of during the awards season anyway, so it wasn't invented as Faye crowed "La la la...!" It was a chance for writers to "I-told-you-so" with their thesis, but not out of nowhere. BUT. Then there was Cosmopolitan. I partially agree with what a Cosmo writer was trying to say: namely, that Moonlight was robbed of its moment. That is true and it sucks. I have said it before and I will say it a million more times, LET THE CEREMONY RUN LONG and in this particular case, everyone should have been like, hang on! don't head for the exits! don't start that orchestra swell! and given Moonlight the longest acceptance moment on stage ever. Yes. On the other hand, I think people will remember that they won Best Picture for quite a while, unlike, say, The Artist of 2011 which even now is hard to pull up in the old memory banks, a mere five years later. But anyway, so while I partially agree with Brittney Cooper for pointing that out in an online Cosmopolitan piece, and I like other writing of hers, I strongly disagree with this part of what she said:
Much like Jimmy Kimmel, however, Americans are socially conditioned to feel the most empathy for what white folks are losing rather than for what black folks are rightfully, finally winning. Certainly Kimmel was not being malicious when he said to the La La Land producers, “I think you should just keep it anyway.” He felt bad that anyone should have to lose in such a public way. But notice that what Kimmel didn’t say is, “Let’s get Moonlight up here right now and let them have their moment.” His empathy, like that of many others, went towards the people who looked most like him on stage.
No. This was a colossal screw-up and it grabbed everyone's attention, which is evident by how ALL the Oscar jabber for the next 24 hours led with the tale of the envelope screw-up. Nobody could imagine or prepare for exactly the right thing to say or do when the WRONG MOVIE's producers are standing there delivering acceptance speeches. Any movie, in any year, with writers/directors/actors of any race, would likely have elicited the exact same comment from any host. I really believe that. You're standing there, desperate to improvise in a totally unprecedented situation, and you come up with, "Ha ha ha, let's all have awards!"  It's not a great line, nor is it terrible. And it really isn't as replete with meaning as the bigger institutional workings of the Academy, and of power in society, are. In fact, I think that may be libelous, to accuse host Jimmy Kimmel of feeling more empathy for white La La Land than black Moonlight. And p.s., am I only the one who also saw a white producer accepting that Moonlight award, proving again that it's SO institutional, and so much about systemic power and privilege and wealth than individual people, like Kimmel, or viewers at home, wanting things to be that way?

Brittney Cooper has some great insights about the systemic problems and racial politics of awards shows and the entertainment industry. Definitely read her thoughts here about Adele's not-racist Grammy moment just a couple weeks ago. But I challenge her statement about my or anyone's empathy. My empathy was HUGELY with Moonlight. I was watching and thinking, "Oh my god! What's happening! What are they going to do! Moonlight, you guys!" I was totally drawn to them in that moment. It's not even about which movie I liked more (for the record, I wouldn't have voted for either of them, though I ranked Moonlight slightly higher than Blah Blah Land in my ranking of the Best Picture noms). It's about that totally wackadoodle moment.

I think it is incumbent on me and other white people to think about why and how that moment can come across that way to a black writer, and to truly ask ourselves why the hell we're still living in such a world.

But I also think it is important that we don't misinterpret a laughable-if-it-weren't-so-horrible what-the-hell moment as something it's not. How is that going to help us?

(And we do need help. Have we gotten any better, at all, ye readers of the year 2127?)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Milk vs. Human Kindness

An Open Letter to Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, his constituent dairy farmers, et. al. 

Representative Welch, I read with interest an article (by Cleve R. Wootson Jr. of the Washington Post printed in the Chicago Tribune) about a letter signed by 20 U.S. legislators demanding the FDA require makers of soy milk, almond milk, and so forth to drop the word "milk" from their labels.

If it doesn't come from an animal, the word "milk" doesn't belong, the article said, summarizing your point. Of course, your own quote a couple of paragraphs later gets to the heart of the matter (or at least, why your heart's in it): these drinks are being placed in the dairy aisle (the outrage!) "right next to milk" you say, adding that dairy is "really crucial" in Vermont and much of "rural America," and dairy farmers are "hanging on by their fingernails."

To which I can only say: really? The end of the dairy industry as we know it? This could not happen soon enough!

Sometimes, we simply have to accept that a job that has been done for hundreds of years won't be with us forever. We have to accept that just because a profession has been in our family for generations doesn't mean we are entitled to it. We also have to accept that this might be for the better.

Often, it's technology that eliminates a job: consider the lamplighter whose gig was made unnecessary by our wired streetlights, or the telegraph and switchboard operators that have given way to ever speedier and more digital technologies, or even the bowling alley pinsetters whose work is now done by simple machine movement.

Sometimes, though, it's a moral goodness that eliminates a job. Where, now, are the slave traders that kidnapped thousands of humans, cruelly confined them, separated them from family members, and forced them into lives of suffering and sorrow that bore no hint of justice?

Please, Representative Welch, and dairy farmers of Vermont, open your hearts and minds to think about WHY people are buying more and more alternative "milks" and less and less of your cruel, unnecessary product.

We don't want to support an industry that relies on confining sentient beings.

We don't want to have adult females impregnated, only to then have their calves taken away (sometimes just to be slaughtered - a true wasted life).

Do you vouch for the health and safety of the cows on your constituents' dairy farms? Can you possibly assure us that the cows of your industry are not living lives of misery? You speak of farmers metaphorically "hanging by their fingernails" but what about newborn calves stolen from their mothers who are actually trying to cling to life?  Or adult cows living in years of imprisonment, unable to have the simple freedom to walk or turn or roam?

Perhaps people would buy more of your milk, so "crucial" in Vermont, if you could assure us it isn't manufactured in cruelty.

On the other hand, maybe we would continue to reduce the amount of dairy milk we consume, because as the populace at large learns more and more about how to healthily sustain and nourish ourselves, we logically turn away from your "crucial" product.

We might continue to realize on a grand scale that we simply don't need milk. Despite the years of successful lobbying, despite your oh-so-powerful Vermont/rural America industry that has brainwashed minds young and old with slogans like "Got milk?" and "It does a body good!" we know that it doesn't do all that much "good" for our bodies at all.

Humans do NOT need cows' milk. Drop the tired old argument about calcium (available in plenty other foods). Despite your having convinced so many of them that they do, humans who have been weaned from their mothers after breastfeeding should take a hint from the rest of their fellow mammals and move on to other foods.

Where else in the class Mammalia do you see animals suckling at the breast of another species? Do you see tigers feeding at the breast of camels? Raccoons drinking from wolves? When someone forwards an "aw, shucks" heartstring-tugging photo of a mother dog letting the poor, abandoned kitten drink milk along with the puppy litter, it's interesting BECAUSE it's an anomaly. It's an emergency situation, not a way of life. Yes, humans would be doing right and good to feed an abandoned human baby who had no mother from a cow's udder in order to save the human baby's life. That does not even remotely justify an industry of pain and terror. Those mother-puppy-feeds-the-kitten stories demonstrate the milk of canine kindness -- not a bunch of inhumane humans locking bovine species into captive servitude to create an industry of suffering,

And by the way? Milk and dairy really aren't that healthy. You might be amazed at how much better you feel when you eliminate dairy from your diet,  how easily you shed those few pounds of bloated abdomen that just accumulate and hang out when you're a milk drinker,

As a legislator, a position that purports to be about service and leadership, you ought to be spending your time and Congressional efforts creating sustainable, forward-thinking jobs and opportunities, rather than clinging to antiquated notions and perpetuating industries that have become completely out of control in the modern age as they scramble to produce enough for too many millions of greedy, entitled humans. You should be encouraging Vermont and others to build a healthy, happy future.

Is it acceptable for a rural farmer to have a couple of cows, milk them to provide for the family, and perhaps sell to a few local village households, while NOT removing and killing the calves, and while NOT keeping the mother penned but instead allowing her to be a free, roaming animal? Sure.

Is the massive dairy industry lobby that controls our nation now acceptable? Good god, no.

Please reconsider your ideas and strategy, and please try to use your position and your voice to actually do some (human and cow) bodies good.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

One More Day Before the Storm

As Macbeth said, "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..."  

But I do believe that tomorrow, Monday, December 19th, will in fact signify something.
The future, which occurs after the present

I've had this super-weird confluence of personal, professional, and political timing, which all seem to be coming to a frothy head tomorrow. So, when I woke up today (Sunday, December 18th) and Facebook was offering up Fb memories of our three-years-ago trip to Hong Kong Disney, I decided this image of me at Tomorrowland says something important.

Tomorrow means hope. It's not all gloom and doom creeping in at a petty pace, Macbeth. Now, Macbeth is my boy (i.e. favorite Shakespeare tragedy) and he certainly has it right that there are fools and poor players all around us strutting and fretting (ahem TheDnldWTFTrumpface ahem). But the very notion of tomorrow brings hope, as one of my OTHER favorite plays of all time reminds us. So, so, so much hope for the wretches whom Macbeth might call "walking shadows" as they contemplate revolution in Les Misérables:

"There's a new world for the winning/Do you hear the people sing?"

When the Electoral College meets tomorrow, will they hear? Will they do the right thing, the moral thing, the Constitutional thing, and use their best judgment to cast their votes, which means casting them so that TheDnldWTFTrumpface does not ascend to the presidency?

While that's happening politically, I also personally have a huge and emotional development tomorrow in my professional life. (No, the electors aren't going to elect me...that I know of!) One era is coming to an end, due in large part to reduction-in-force layoffs that came slamming into one of my gigs, but not entirely due to that, as I have seized upon a blessing-in-disguise opportunity to do some stuff when this particular new little era of mine dawns. AND, just to compound the personal/professional/tomorrow timing of it all, the last month and a half has been a whirlwind, a mighty and fierce whirlwind, of me working two and a half jobs, laying groundwork, and figuring out lots of big stuff, and all this has been happening since Monday, November 7, the first "One Day More," which led us to the horrible Tuesday, November 8 election day or more accurately the horrible Wednesday, November 9 Day After. So for one month and a half I have been in this intense stirring up of life and time (working every day, sometimes two jobs, plus other events, with no time to think but just go go go with eyes on the prize), with big developments, and meanwhile this parallel thing happening of Trumpface and the end of the world and the burgeoning fight for the #ElectoralCollegeExMachina moment we all need and then after a particularly intense last burst of the 36 hours from 11 a.m. Friday through 11 p.m. Saturday where I was just everywhere serving three or more masters and just go go go went went went I came home and rested.

Sleeping deeply.

And waking up today to Facebook memories of Tomorrowland and the imminence of tomorrow, December 19, when one big thing ends in my personal life, AND there is one superbig chance for the whole world in political life.

Sing it, Les Misérables:

"Tomorrow is the judgment day
Tomorrow we'll discover what our god in heaven has in store
One more dawn
One more day
One day more."

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Real "America" and the media the media the media the media the media

SO then. Here we are. Forty-seven percent of U.S.A. voters cast their precious ballots and made it so that with a popular vote loss but 290 electoral college votes to 228 (and still counting some states) TheDnldUGHTrump will occupy the White House and deprive Hillary Clinton of that opportunity. 

I mean, don't get me wrong: I'm pretty sure that 47% of all y'all out there make terrible choices on any given and every given day, so why should election day be any different? 

But today we are here specifically to address this idea that MrTrumpface somehow spoke to the concerns of "real Americans" with whom the media was out of touch.  

"The media" is an incredibly vague and fairly useless phrase, so I'll narrow it down at least a little to the talking head anchors and roundtable sitters on network news programs who spent the last year pretending Hillary Clinton's "widespread unpopularity" which they harped on excessively until it finally started growing -- sort of beating life into it --  was a news story, rather than any of the bazillion policy issues, policy statements, political issues, social issues, current events, tragedies, hopeful outcomes, etc. happening all around us in the nation that Hillary addressed month after month after month. Those media squawking heads salivated breathlessly as they manufactured dislike for Hillary Clinton and offered up freely their interest in non-issue email invented "scandals" and pretended the Drumpfster was a legitimate option for the presidency and then acted stunned and shocked on election night. That was stupid of them, and they were one of the top two targets of my election night (Facebook) wrath, along with the delusional/bamboozled people who actually cast votes for DT. 


As the Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman points out here, the media "failure" is yet another story we are telling ourselves as some especially loud voices insist that "real Americans" have spoken. (If anything, the nation "has spoken" via popular vote for Hillary -- the electoral college, which hasn't yet spoken, may be called upon to speak for Drump.) What's worse, though, is the idea that some residents of the U.S.A. are "real" and some are not. AND, that if for some reason there WERE some who were real and some who were not, that the minority, the far far far smaller number, would be the real ones because they live somewhere where they have to drive a gas-guzzling car to get anywhere instead of being able to hop on public transportation. 

I mean, that's just silly.

It doesn't stop people from posting memes, though, with maps of the U.S. colored in red and blue by county vote, and it doesn't stop people from saying when they post those memes: "This is the people taking their country back!" Here's an example from The New York Times' presidential election results:  

When I pointed out to one poster of memes (of oh so many pro-Drumpf memes) that the "more red" areas consist also of more open space, highways, and cattle, while the blue areas are where there are more people, she helpfully reminded me that "I don't think the cows were voting! It was people!" 

Uh - my point exactly, lady. More people = blue areas. Fewer people = red areas. 

But who's "out of touch with the real" United Statesians? 

The media bashers like to say there are just a few liberal elite, a minority sitting in their elite New York penthouses and Malibu villas, making movies and hobnobbing with one another. 

Actually, there are tens of millions of people who live in cities. And tens of millions of people who voted blue in this particular election. And we are real. Who are you to say only Plains state farmland plowers are real? That's absurd. 

Imagine if you had a dozen people over to your house for a Super Bowl party (can't get more "real American" than that, now can you?) and realized at the last minute there was no soda pop so someone dashes out to get a 12-pack. He asks, should I get Coke or Pepsi? Yes, there are some people who don't drink soda and won't have either, but that's not his question. Coke or Pepsi? Let's say you take a vote. People are milling about, but at this moment three are sprawled on the couch in the giant living room watching pre-game jabber, and nine are standing clustered around the snack table in the small dining alcove because the snack food is interesting as is the conversation there. Two couch people vote for Pepsi and one for Coke. Living room, 2-1, Pepsi. Seven snack table people vote for Coke and two for Pepsi. Snack table, 7-2, Coke.  Total, 8-4 Coke vs. Pepsi. But the host says, well, the living room is bigger and takes up more area so in order to get the "real" vote we'll give them more say. Pepsi it is. 

Gross! (For those of us who don't care for Pepsi and can't beat the real thing.) But that's the argument I keep hearing put forward about why and how the electoral college represents rural areas' interests, and it's just as nonsensical as saying the people who take up more empty space are "real" while the people clustered together in a smaller physical space are not. 

Monday, November 07, 2016

Reading the News That Someone Saw Fit to Print

You have a very important duty right now. It's a simple act, but a vital one. Please do this one thing, before it is too late. 

I refer of course, to this: you should get a newspaper subscription. 


You should have got one long ago, but many of you have not done so. Many of you haven't touched newsprint since you were a small child paging through the paper your parents subscribed to, looking for the comics or Dear Abby or movie listings or maybe not even those because maybe you didn't start going to movies until Moviefone already existed. 

Lest you think this is a screed against millennials, though, I know there are a whole lot of Gen X-ers and Boomers out there, too, not bothering to subscribe to any newspaper anymore. 

Let's fix this. 

Commentator David Frum of The Atlantic spoke well about this on the most recent episode of Bill Maher's show. It's become so trendy, somehow, to bash "The Media" and reject all institutions. But really, that generalization betrays your ignorance and is a terrible idea. Rejecting institutions leads to a vacuum, which nature abhors, and which nature or TV then fills with DonaldWTFTrump. David Frum argued that young people's rejection of all institutions ("it's all corrupt!" "the mainstream media" "sick of all politics" etc.) have directly resulted in this debacle in which the malicious, manifestly unfit Trumpface is being considered a legitimate candidate for president of the U.S. 

I would hasten to add that a lot of people have been using the words "media" and "journalists" over the last few months when what they actually mean is "cable news networks breathlessly trying to outdo one another in a quest for the most salacious and shocking story that will draw ratings."

Newspapers, on the other hand, can calm down a little bit. And you can calm down a little bit when you read them. 

If you conflate TV newscasts, especially the "surrogate-from-the-right-plus-surrogate-from-the-left" or "fair and balanced" variety, with dogged newspaper journalism, you need to run right out to your local library and pick up a copy of Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, followed by a few Marshall McLuhan books.

And then you need to come home, read those books, and subscribe to a newspaper.

Reading the newspaper each morning, or each evening, is a nice habit. 

Reading your local paper will put you in touch with your community in ways you might not have imagined. It will do the same thing for news of the nation and of the world. 

But, you say, you do read articles published by the newspaper, on its website. Well. Besides the fact that you are offering no part of your finances whatsoever to said publisher, you are also picking and choosing from links or, more likely, from among what got shared the most that day on social media. 

Reading the actual newspaper, divided into sections, laid out by editors -- by professionals, that is -- gives you perspective that you don't get on your smartphone. 

If anyone out there wants to try the whole "But I'm saving trees by not reading a newspaper!" argument, let's just stop that nonsense right here and now. 

First of all, no, I do not for one second believe that's why you don't subscribe to a newspaper. But secondly, for all two of you out there who do legitimately use that reason, and for all the rest of you who have replaced paper news with electronic news for your convenience, you need to seriously come to an understanding of the toll your electronic devices take on the environment. 

I mean for one thing, they require electricity to run AT ALL. Electricity means trees die. Constant electricity. I would love it if we lived in a world full of solar, wind, and other renewable energy power. We don't. We live in a world where coal mining decimates entire mountaintops. Trust me, forests, animal species, and more are dying for you to use all your electricity. 

Not to mention the planned obsolescence - your tablets, laptops, and smartphones are designed to become obsolete as soon as possible so that you'll buy another smartphone. Not only are we wasting tons of resources and energy making the things in factories, but we have actively set up a system that they are not meant to last after expending all those resources, and emitting all that factory pollution -- so we get to deplete more resources and pollute even more within just a year or two. And everyone will happily rush out to "update" their products. 

But you won't buy newspaper, which is one of the easiest things to recycle and which is often printed on recycled paper as well? 

Everyone knows that after this election, you will need something. Mr. Frum and I would like you to consider that the something you need is a newspaper subscription. 

Call now. 

(Or just order it online.) 

And order one for a friend, too. Call it an early holiday president. 

Make the world a better place, in this one tiny way.