Haim is Contributing to the Greater Good

I lent my iPod to Alison once.

She ended up sharing its contents with my sissy who got a big kick out of my fondness for female artists of a folky/pop/R&B persuasion. I’m secure enough in my maleness to say I dig me some Karen Carpenter, Jill Scott, Abigail Washburn, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Tracy Chapman, Sade. I pity the faux-macho who are too insecure to embrace the beauty of female voices.

Which brings us to Haim, who I just learned about as a result of this lengthy review of their second album, Something to Tell You. Learning of my discovery on her visit home last week, Alison has been helping me catch up. Their voices are excellent, but I’m even more enamored by their stage presence.

Carl Wilson, Slate’s music reviewer, follows the music scene much, much more closely than me. As a result, I had to read Wilson’s review a couple of times to make sense of it. From the odd opening reference to Haim as “the smart set’s favorite white pop band”, I alternately really liked and disliked his analysis.

I liked his description of their newest vid.

“This emphasis on musicianship rebukes the stubborn stereotype of the “girl band” as an artificially assembled group of sexy singers. Haim (pronounced “Hi-um”)* doesn’t have to dress up and do choreographed dance routines. The sisters are not ornaments—they’re the music makers. (Of course, it’s the music business, so they’re still conventionally attractive. Though that also reinforces that they’re making a choice.) So, in the video, they move only when they feel the music, sing only when it seems expressive. Got it.”

I disliked his thesis.

“Every pop moment is embedded in history, and history is embedded in every pop moment. Thinking through Something to Tell You, I’m puzzled by how Haim has gotten better but seems worse than in 2013–14. The reason has to be that in the late Obama era, when pop-chart populism still seemed democratizing and progress was on the upswing, Haim’s sisterhood variation on the theme felt liberating. That populism now feels double-edged, so the songs don’t quite stick. At the tail of the “Want You Back” video, the dance routine falls apart, and the trio wanders off laughing as the camera pulls away. The cathartic feeling dwindles back to mere charm, a shrugging amiability. It works as a reclamation of the band’s autonomy from pop imperatives, but it’s also like what happened here didn’t matter. It’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A.”

Mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter, it’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A. That last phrase strikes me as especially odd. What makes L.A. carefree and privileged, the fact that they closed Van Nuys Boulevard for the shoot? And why is Haim responsible for, or even complicit in, L.A.’s supposed carefree, privilege?

Maybe Wilson is too deep for me, but the way I interpret his “mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter” sentence is that art must be political today. Meaning Haim has to take some sort of a stand on pressing issues of the day. I beg to differ because I interact regularly with a lot of young women who are extremely self conscious, sometimes to the point of being intensely anxious and/or clinically depressed.

When I watch the “Want You Back” vid and this one,

the Haim sisters come across as joyfully unencumbered. Carefree is absolutely right. Given some young women’s mental health challenges today, that is gift enough.

Every one of us struggles, to varying degrees, with being self-conscious. The less self conscious among us inspire us to be more authentic, to make art, to dress, to write, to live, however we feel.

I’ll take more unencumbered joy with my art than policy pronouncements any day.

* I LOVE hate it when I am right and Alison is wrong. DIG the hypen Al, two syllables!** Let your friends down easily.

** Exclamation point = Millennial flourish.

Paragraph to Ponder

From “The Family Man” by Katy Waldman.

“Donald Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law has now been tasked with bringing peace to the Middle East, destroying ISIS, reshaping the federal government, halting the opioid epidemic, and wooing China to our side. This would be an ambitious set of action items for a century’s worth of competent presidential administrations. Trump has handed the to-do list to a boyish cipher whose dad paid millions for him to get into Harvard.”

I Double-Dog Dare You

I forced myself to watch this 55 minute-long Frontline documentary on the bike this morning. Pure unadulterated torture. Need a new word to describe it, “depressing” doesn’t nearly do it justice. And yet, it’s incredibly important that we seek to understand how we’ve arrived at this moment.

Postscript: A loyal reader returned serve thusly—Who is getting rich off your student debt? What might we call this evolving genre?

Election 2016—A Father-Daughter Dialogue 1

If you subscribe to the humble blog you received a link to a post a few weeks ago about my eldest daughter and her friends who were still struggling to come to grips with the U.S. Presidential election. Compared to them, I wrote in the post, I didn’t feel sufficiently aggrieved. My elaborating on why I didn’t feel sufficiently aggrieved upset my daughter so much she asked me to take the post down, which I of course did.

A few days later, an important mentor of mine wrote me a tactful but poignant note asking me to consider how my privilege might be preventing me from empathizing with my daughter and people like her who were still bitterly disappointed with the election results.

When I started this blog I wrote that “I’d get some things wrong.” Turns out, I got that right. I deserved Alison’s and Richie’s criticism. Normally, I’m very cognizant of my privilege, but this is a case where I have not been. In hindsight, I should have gone full-Socrates with questions about things I need to understand better.

When I asked if she’d engage in a blog-based dialogue with me, Alison responded enthusiastically. So here’s “Take Two”.

Ron: What are you most angry about? More specifically, who are you most angry with? Why?

Alison: I am angry that, as a country, selfishness and greed were valued more than empathy and compassion. I am angry that the health and safety and dignity of the same people who have always had their health and safety and dignity denied was devalued. People of color and women and gay people and immigrants were told explicitly that their right to life and safety was less important than the distress of Trump voters. I am angry because so many people have fought so hard, have sacrificed and died to make the progress that is now being washed away. Because a group of people are now in power (Trump and his advisors and appointees) who are going to work to restrict women’s right to make choices about her body, to destroy the environment, to cut social services, to delegitimize LBGTQ relationships and identities, to deny safe haven to refugees, to enable the proliferation of guns, and to divide immigrant families.

I am angry because injustice makes me angry. I am angry because seeing my friends suffer and grieve makes me angry. I am angry because the results of this election go against what I believe to be most fundamentally true and essential and against who I was raised to be. I am angry because the elections results weren’t a fluke. I didn’t think it would all add up to a Trump presidency, but I was angry about the way the election was being conducted and reported – the motherfucking false equivalences – as it was happening. I am gutted because Trump was not held to the same standard that Hillary was. Because he was not criticized, was not condemned, was not interrogated. I am angry because Donald Trump is a perpetrator of sexual assault and was not disqualified for that. That his criminal, violent offenses were treated with less interest and gravity than Hillary Clinton using an email server set-up that was exhaustively investigated and found to have no malicious intent or harmful consequences.

I am angry because misogyny was at the core of why Hillary lost and it’s being written out of the story – either by not being addressed or by being denied as a valid argument. I’m angry because racism was at the core of why Trump won and it’s being masked under a veil of economic populism. After being confronted with the most horrifying and overt display of racism and sexism and generalized hatred for anyone not white, male, and straight, this country still does not have the guts to look at our illnesses for what they are. We can’t handle looking our own weakness in the eye. It would be too scary to admit the extent of our sickness, too daunting to face, so those of us with the resources to have strong houses are turning a shoulder against a wind that’s tearing everything else out of the ground and pretending it’s not as strong. This self-serving cowardice makes me furious.

I am fucking furious that poisonous hatred and violent misogyny and racism and xenophobia and homophobia found a stage and a microphone and were applauded. I cry because people who hold these beliefs had them validated on election night. Because they woke up on Wednesday morning strengthened and affirmed in ways that will result in the suffering of vulnerable populations. I laid in my bed on Wednesday morning, unable to get the images I’d seen and stories I’d heard of Trump rallies out of my mind, frozen and scared and horrified in a way that I had never been before. And now I spend my days ricocheting between trying to keep myself afloat, and fearing, above anything else, no longer feeling devastated, no longer being angry. It’s left me stumbling.

The Sunday after the election I went to church. I needed to sit next to other people who were grasping, inside a structure that was built to house prayer, and for someone to tell me that this was all awful, all truly, truly awful, but that we would fight it. The churches in Boystown are great for this. I had spent the night at a friend’s apartment and accidentally thrown away my contacts the night before, so I sat in a pew, unable to see, and therefore feeling less able to be seen, listening to the pastor’s impassioned, furious sermon, weeping. She said a thousand things that I needed to hear, but this is the one that has stayed with me: don’t break ranks with the vulnerable. The advantages of my privileged birth afford me the possibility to turn into my own life, into the comforts I can provide myself, but that is unacceptable. There are people suffering, without such an option for relief, who are shouting as loud as they can that they are afraid. Therefore, the only possible course of action is to stand with them, because we share the same sacred humanity, and because I can not accept that anyone deserves less than another. Do not break ranks with the vulnerableI’m aware I strayed away from the main question, sorry!

Ron: Thank you for not giving up on me! I better understand and appreciate the depth of your anger. In Arizona sometime in early October I think, Trump gave a truly hateful, anti-immigrant speech at a large rally. I challenge anyone to find a more hateful, unAmerican, anti-immigrant speech in the U.S. presidential campaign archives. Truly historic in the worst way imaginable. And yet, it got little play the next morning. Where we may differ is that despite that, I don’t think media coverage explains the election result. I think of the media’s coverage of the candidates like I do bad sports officiating, incompetent coverage of both sides tends to balance out. So that begs the question, what does explain it? Is it too soon to ask that question? If so, when can I ask my next, more analytical question? It’s Saturday, so church is out. Therefore, I’m going to watch the Bruin basketball team take it to the Ohio State Buckeyes while I anxiously await your reply. Despite the swearing, love you as always.

 

Understanding Trumpism

Think about the 2016 U.S. presidential election in the context of renowned Sinologist Orville Schell’s analysis of modern China in this recent essay. Some excerpts:

This confidence in the strength of the China model—and the supposed weakness of its Western competitors—has reshaped the way Beijing relates to the world. Its new confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an increasingly unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in its maritime disputes in the South and East China seas.

Couldn’t one say about the U.S., “Its longstanding confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in it disputes in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.”

Obama has been far more restrained than his predecessors when it comes to conventional warfare, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand when it comes to his unprecedented, unyielding, aggressive use of drones.

Schell adds:

One clear message of this turbulent week is how interconnected everything actually has become in our 21st-century world. Financial markets, trade flows, pandemics and climate change all ineluctably tie us together.

This irrefutable insight is lost on Trump’s followers mired in 20th century notions of politics as a zero-sum game that we’re predestined to win as the world’s sole economic, political, and military superpower. Trumpism rests upon notions of American Exceptionalism mixed with nostalgia for the past when the relative economic, political, and military strength of the U.S. was undeniably greater than it is today; as well as competition between nations at the expense of cooperation; and scapegoating the newest citizens for pernicious public policy challenges that preceded their arrival.

Schell again:

Of late, China has been acting in an ever more unilateral way, perhaps at last enjoying the prerogatives of its long-sought wealth and power. Mao imagined a China rooted in the idea of “self-reliance,” zili gengsheng. The most encouraging news out of this week would be for Mr. Xi and his comrades to recognize that China can no longer be such an island—that China cannot succeed in isolation, much less by antagonizing most of its neighbors and the U.S.

As large, dynamic and successful as China has become, it still exists in a global context—and remains vulnerable to myriad forces beyond the party’s control. It must take the chip off its shoulder, recognize that it is already a great power and begin to put its people, its Pacific neighbors and the U.S. at ease. Any truly great nation must learn that the art of compromise lies at the heart of diplomacy, that it is almost always better to negotiate before resorting to war and that compromise is neither a sign of weakness nor surrender.

If the alarms over the past few months presage such a revelation in Beijing, it would not only enhance China’s stability but its soft power and historic quest for global respect. Given Mr. Xi’s track record, one dare not be too optimistic.

Is any U.S. intellectual in position to lecture China’s leadership about soft power and global respect? “Make America great again,” trumpets Trumpism, meaning less compromising, less diplomacy, more unilateralism.

Trumpism thrives on the insecurities of a people who feel their world dominance slipping. Ahistorical to the core, it has no patience for the complexities of public policy, environmental degradation, or globalization. It assumes people aren’t smart enough for the complexities of 21st century life. It advocates sloganeerism, brashness, and business principles as panaceas for problems real and imagined. It asks no questions, listens only for openings to speak, and never admits fault.

Eventually, enough people will see it for what it is, and reject it.

Fewer Pharisees, More Calzones

Using Facebook, our state legislator writes to local teachers about Washington State’s new two-year budget. He explains how the Democrats fought for even larger teacher salary increases, how the Republicans plan to slow future increases, and how the Dems and him will fight for bigger bumps going forward.

Also explains how he’s going to donate the difference between his larger state legislature salary increase (as a percentage) and teachers’ to a charity that helps teachers add to their classroom supplies without spending their own money.

And the positive comments poured in from appreciative teachers. But all I could think about while reading his missive was I could never be a politician because it’s not enough to do the right thing, you have to make sure everyone knows about it. In my view, that detracts from it. There’s still lots of Pharisees praying in public squares. Probably always will be.

We need fewer Pharisees and more calzones.

farley-katz-a-calzone-says-to-a-pizza-slice-i-ve-got-everything-you-ve-got-and-more-new-yorker-cartoon

Thanks to Farley Katz for permission to share his work.

Self Sabotage

It’s 9:30a.m. Here are some of the decisions I’ve made today, January 2, 2013:

  • I decided to wake up at 5:22 a.m.
  • I decided to put on running pants and two thin, long-sleeve running shirts since Weatherbug was reporting -1 degrees C at the nearby elementary school (0 C and higher=shorts). Plus medium gloves, hat, reflective vest, headlamp.
  • At 5:44 a.m. I decided to walk outside into the pitch black fog.
  • At 5:45 a.m. I decided to run 6+ miles with the Right Wing Nutter and Dan, Dan, the Transportation Man (inexplicably, the PrinciPAL is still in Hawaii). I decided to take the posse around Safeway via North and Eskridge.
  • After some curbside chitchat, at 6:42 a.m., I decided to remove my sweaty running clothes and walked almost naked (still had my socks on) the length of the house to my bedroom where I put on dry running shorts and a dry t-shirt.
  • Upon returning to the kitchen, I decided to eat a banana with peanut butter after which I filled up a water bottle—half orange juice, half water.
  • At 6:58 a.m. I decided to spin 26k (213 watts, 1:01:25) while watching a combination of the Dan Patrick Show, CNN, MSNBC, and ESPN.
  • At 8:05 a.m. I decided to do 60 push ups broken up with some foam roller goodness, planking, and stretching.
  • At 8:30 a.m. I decided to have a large bowl of oatmeal with raisons, brown sugar, butter, and molasses.
  • I decided to skim the Wall Street Journal while eating.
  • For desert, I decided to have one of those new-fangled smallish oranges that darn near unpeel themselves.
  • Shortly before 9 a.m., I decided to shower.
  • Shortly after 9 a.m., I decided to put on long underwear, thus outsmarting Old Man Winter; plus wool socks (important to do that before the long underwear), pants; a t-shirt; and my ace, moth eaten, expedition weight thermal top.
  • Around 9:10 a.m., I decided to go upstairs to my desk where I checked on the stock market rally and chuckled at the Lakers’ boxscore.
  • After aimlessly surfing the internet for fifteen minutes, I decided to reply to a few emails and start Thursday’s blog post, tentatively titled “Self Sabotage”.

A friend of mine has high blood pressure, but that doesn’t stop him from obsessing about things over which he has very little control. A conservative Republican who is sympathetic to the Tea Party, he went darn near silent after the election, depressed by what he sees as a “serious loss of freedom”.

Determining the most appropriate size of the government is an important and legitimate debate, and I understand that 48% or so of U.S. citizens wants to reduce it, but my friend, who has no international frame of reference, lets things like Obamacare, gun control proposals, Bloomberg’s proposed soda regulation, helmet laws, and the unemployment benefits extension get him seriously down. Oddly, he takes each of those proposals and policies personally.

As a result, he completely slights the freedom he does have to make hundreds of decisions every day—ones that directly influence his health and well being—like how much sleep to get, when and how to exercise, and what to eat and drink. That all important trifecta—sleep, exercise, and diet—probably account for at least half of a person’s health and happiness.

But I’m losing the argument. He seems determined to let distant politicians get him down. Ironically, in losing, I’m illustrating another daily freedom he routinely overlooks—the freedom to tune others out.