Rashod Ollison — RIP

Doing research for my 2018 MoPOP Pop Conference paper on Angela Winbush, I found the following bit published two years earlier:

It’s a shame the St. Louis native, who’s a successful producer, arranger, songwriter and musician in addition to being a powerhouse vocalist with a five-octave range, isn’t more well-known outside of R&B. But some of the fault lies with Winbush. Steeped in the holy waters of gospel, like many soul sisters who preceded her, her style was perhaps too black. And given the culture erasure of the Reagan era, that was too much.

“The cultural erasure of the Reagan era” — a phrase fraught with significance. So vehemently do we despise the GOP and Donald Trump that we have allowed media elites on cable shows to use Ronald Reagan’s appropriation of John Winthrop’s figure the city on a hill as an example of What We Have Lost; so swiftly do we mythologize our presidents that the evil is oft interred with their bones. To millions of gay men and black Americans, the white straight dudes who endorsed an assault on state and federal power lived in a beautiful city on a hill; the rest of us were condemned to shacks at the foot of the hill.

Not until a week before the conference did I understand that the author of this Winbush piece would sit on my panel — beside me. This intimidated me. Reading a paper on the power of Chaka Khan, Rashod Ollison seduced the crowd from the moment he played a clip of her marvelous hit with Rufus, “You Got the Love”; he held their attention with the precision of his insights, read in a silken purr that rumbled when confronted by an obscenity. Black and gay, Rashod Ollison, the columnist and reporter who died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma two days ago, could not be bullshitted. I sensed he would not bullshit me either. After my presentation, he looked me in the eye, nodded, and mumbled, “Thank you.” I demurred. He said, “Now I’m goin’ back to my room to blast me some Angela.”

Other tributes have praised Rashod’s warmth and the depths of his commitment to music as soul power. Because she gave us permission to “dream and build,” Aretha Franklin “will always be a revolutionary act,” he wrote two months ago about the R&B and gospel singer-pianist. A life like Rashod Ollison’s was also a revolutionary act. Men like Rashod don’t wear out their recti muscles looking for cities on a hill — they make do with what they have, describing it as ruthlessly as their imaginations allow.

On the contempt for education

Most citizens when asked regard teachers as essential to holding together what we used to call the Fabric of Society; but they don’t want tax dollars going to raises. Blame state governments and talk show personalities’s decades-long assault on so-called big government and public sector unions (if asked, many Miami-Dade residents of both parties view the teachers union as the Comintern). Continue reading

‘What does it matter what you say about people?’

The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies
And you believe

–Elvis Costello, “New Lace Sleeves.”

John McCain died on Elvis Costello’s birthday, so a quote is appropriate. After exposing myself to the radioactive fallout of the obits, I realized with some comfort that mission accomplished: I despised McCain’s legacy even more than I did twenty-four hours ago. Continue reading

Doom averted!

My first question for the Braman Honda salesperson three weeks ago was not about mileage or maintenance: “This Civic doesn’t come with a CD player, right?” He looked at the asphalt, shook his head sadly for my sake. Three years earlier, signing the paperwork on my first leased car, I was delighted that I had a working player instead of the Discman and tape adapter I’d used in my 1998 Ford Explorer since the Breeders’ Title TK pretended to be Excalibur and jammed itself. In the last fourteen days I’ve been burning music into a USB drive. I was one of those Luddites who kept archival stuff on CD and relied on my phone for new music — music I still often bought on CD, mind.

Turns out Best Buy has delayed the inevitable:

Best Buy officials say the chain has decreased its focus on CD sales, but denied multiple reports it had ended sales entirely as of July 1.

“The way people buy and listen to music has dramatically changed and, as a result, we are reducing the amount of space devoted to CDs in our stores,” the company said in a statement. “However, we will still offer select CDs, vinyl and digital music options at all stores.”

….The statement from the company was its first comment since reports emerged in February that it told music suppliers about plans to pull CDs from stores on July 1, which resulted in a some confusion

CVS still sells tape adapters, in case you wondered.

The so-called civility crisis

At best a tepid enthusiast of Michelle Goldberg’s columns, I hereby endorse her latest, in which she parses the levels of gall necessary to be a member of the Beltway pundit class that regards civility as a heaven to which American citizens have a duty to ascend. “The right’s revulsion against a black president targeted by birther conspiracy theories is not the same as the left’s revulsion against a racist president who spread birther conspiracy theories,” she writes in the column’s pithtiest sentence.

Goldberg:

Faced with the unceasing cruelty and degradation of the Trump presidency, liberals have not taken to marching around in public with assault weapons and threatening civil war. I know of no left-wing publication that has followed the example of the right-wing Federalist and run quasi-pornographic fantasies about murdering political enemies. (“Close your eyes and imagine holding someone’s scalp in your hands,” began a recent Federalist article.) Unlike Trump, no Democratic politician I’m aware of has urged his or her followers to beat up opposing demonstrators.

Instead, some progressive celebrities have said some bad words, and some people have treated administration officials with the sort of public opprobrium due members of any other white nationalist organization. Liberals are using their cultural power against the right because it’s the only power they have left, and people have a desperate need to say, and to hear others say, that what is happening in this country is intolerable.

Sometimes, their strategies may be poorly conceived. But there’s an abusive sort of victim-blaming in demanding that progressives single-handedly uphold civility, lest the right become even more uncivil in response. As long as our rulers wage war on cosmopolitan culture, they shouldn’t feel entitled to its fruits. If they don’t want to hear from the angry citizens they’re supposed to serve, let them eat at Trump Grill.

When “Morning” Joe and “Mika” Bryzezinski mourn the inability of a racist president’s mouthpiece to get a meal, and Bell Curve enthusiast Andrew Sullivan whinges against open borders while applauding his mythical political independence, I understand a little the Trump voter rage at so-called elites. Both Sides Do It and we’re living in normal times.

The legacy of Charles Krauthammer

Wrong about Barack Obama. Wrong about “identity politics.” Wrong, most infamously and disgustingly, about Iraq. Men and women are dead because of Charles Krauthammer’s columns. They’re dead because Very Serious People in the Bush II White House read his bellicose columns in the aftermath of 9-11 and felt an ideological kinship. When Iraq was collapsing after the so-called “cakewalk” of the administration’s direst masturbatory fantasies, he offered a moist towel and balm in The Washington Post. Continue reading

Monticello moves into the 21st century

At the conclusion of our tour of Monticello in 2006, my friend and I gathered with our fellow guests in a sort of foyer. We had toured the nail factory, fields, and Thomas Jefferson’s bedroom. The guide, a genial woman in her late sixties, gave us a wrap-up. “There ah rumors that Mistah Jefferson had relations with one of his slaves, one Sally Hemings, but if you want mah opinion, Mistah Jefferson was too much of a gentleman to considah such a thing.” This prompted a gale of laughter from the group: men, women, young, old, black, white. This startled our guide, who joined because she’d look like the butt of the joke if she didn’t. Continue reading

The craving for non-partisanship: journalism in the Age of Trump

I won’t take credit for the following quasi-column, which appeared as a comment on Scott Lemieux’s Lawyers Guns & Money a couple months ago. I liked it so much that I pasted it here but haven’t had the opportunity to share. Reading yesterday afternoon’s coverage of the FBI inspector general report on the malfeasance practiced by this agency reminded me of the most loathsome parts about political journalism. Thank you, Axios and Maggie Haberman, for covering Donald Trump as if he were normal; thank you, Frank Bruni, the kind of liberal created by conservatives so they can give him noogies.

I have a few friends who are classically educated (as in, went to a decent-to-excellent J-School as part of their formal education) journalists. One of them is a former editor of his college newspaper, which doesn’t sound like much but the University Daily Kansan has a higher circulation number than many remaining city papers.

These guys generally have their heads screwed on right, and some of them are superb writers. A few of them are much better people in general than I am.

But nigh-universally, they have drunk deep from the well of “objective journalism.” By objective journalism they don’t mean “what I say should be supported by facts if possible, and by sound logic and reasoning if not. I should be aware of my biases and examine them thoughtfully for how they might negatively impinge on my work.”

What they mean is “I shouldn’t render value judgments in my reporting. A good piece of reporting should NEVER do this. It should present mostly facts, clearly and without bias. A journalist is never involved in the story except as an arbiter, a neutral chronicler to history. We do this to uphold the public interest and the public trust.” This was pounded into them all through J-School and through their elders in the profession.

This would be a noble goal if journalists were actually omniscient beings. But they are not.

They exist in a context where resources are finite and facts will be concealed from them, sometimes quite skillfully. Deciding what stories to pursue is an ideological decisions made ideologically. Deciding how those stories will be written is an ideological decision made ideologically. Deciding what’s in the public good is an ideological decision made ideologically.

Trying to pretend that it is not will induce massive cognitive dissonance in the person trying to do so, as they assemble increasingly-convoluted logic as to why what they want to write about is just good objective journalism, whereas what others want to write about is just about them pushing an agenda.

I had a guy get really mad at me when I pointed out, after we’d watched Spotlight (quite the good movie) that those journalists were highly motivated by their ideology and personal senses of morality. He claimed that my trying to make “clear-cut matters of public interest and criminality” into “an ideological football” undermined civil society. This was someone who’d been published in the Guardian.

It’s a pernicious mental attitude within the profession and needs to be destroyed. Journalism has tried to establish professional ethics and standards as some kind of totem that wards away all that nasty ideology and so elevates them above the common fighting rabble into noble seekers of truth.

And hey, you know what, many journalists are noble seekers of truth. But that doesn’t elevate you above partisans. People desperately want the stamp of “non-ideological” because they feel it lends additional weight to their… ideology.

This is a problem.

All journalism is activism and has an agenda. What you choose to cover and what you choose to not cover is a form of activism. Too many have mistakenly convinced themselves that the opposite of activism is maintaining the status quo. But that is also activism of a different sort. You can comfort the afflicted, or comfort the oppressor, but either way, that is an agenda.

Likewise, aggressively refusing to take a side and refusing to acknowledge that one side may be right and the other wrong is also a choice. It is in fact the moral cowardice of “both sides do it” and “some people say”. It is NOT actually journalism, it is stenography. It is in no way a search for truth, but rather a simple recitation of information with no context.

The whole problem with this hot take is the false premise that somehow activism and the honest presentation of facts are mutually exclusive and that if one has an agenda, by definition their facts can be discounted. This silliness flies in the face of the entire history of journalism and is an insult to the many real journalists mentioned in both the article and comments here (and in the replies to that dumb tweet). No human is completely without an agenda- there is no such thing as no activism – even a tape recorder has to be operated by an all too fallible human.

The idea of “true objectivity” is a self-serving farce that lets those who claim to practice it comfortably retreat to their ivory tower perch above the fray, where they will never have to do the hard work of presenting the necessary context and additional information that is crucial for the readers or viewers to understand the issues.

Again, any help finding this person’s name or publication I’d most appreciate.

Exploring masterpieces of received political reporting

Hours before North Korea shocked no one except White House officials Matt Yglesias offered a summary of what we know about the occupant of the Oval Office:

Donald Trump is a liar. More than that, he’s a fraud. Not just a person who makes factual misstatements but a person who has gotten ahead in life through extensive use of bullshit, leaving in his wake a trail of broken promises.

From his unpaid bills to contractors to his scam university to his brief period ripping off the shareholders of his eponymous company, this is what Trump does — he exploits normal human nature to sucker people into trusting him, and then he exploits his own ever-growing fame and power to get away with breaking the rules.

As president, this pattern has only continued.

He never delivered his much-promised plan to release a “terrific” Obamacare alternative that would cover everyone. Instead, he backtracked on his promise to protect Medicaid from cuts. He’s dropped the promise to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for Medicare, dropped the promise to break up big banks, dropped the promise of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, and dropped the promise to develop a tax program that would leave the rich paying more — and, of course, his version of “draining the swamp“ has brought a level of corruption to official Washington that would have embarrassed the congressional barons of the Gilded Age.

None of this is even remotely controversial.

It isn’t. Yet from the way political reporters write their stories there seems to be an elixir for reaching voters who moved from Barack Obama to Trump’s column in 2016. These people are comment sections given flesh and Walgreens coupons. And they’ve a network pushing the vilest stereotypes without resistance. Fuck’em, says Paul Waldman:

In the world Republicans have constructed, a Democrat who wants to give you health care and a higher wage is disrespectful, while a Republican who opposes those things but engages in a vigorous round of campaign race-baiting is respectful. The person who’s holding you back isn’t the politician who just voted to give a trillion-dollar tax break to the wealthy and corporations, it’s an East Coast college professor who said something condescending on Twitter.

So what are Democrats to do? The answer is simple: This is a game they cannot win, so they have to stop playing. Know at the outset that no matter what you say or do, Republicans will cry that you’re disrespecting good heartland voters. There is no bit of PR razzle-dazzle that will stop them. Remember that white Republicans are not going to vote for you anyway, and their votes are no more valuable or virtuous than the votes of any other American. Don’t try to come up with photo ops showing you genuflecting before the totems of the white working class, because that won’t work. Advocate for what you believe in, and explain why it actually helps people.

Waldman’s own newspaper has an opinion section that acts as a halfway house for dangerous ideas and the kooks who espouse them. The political stories are often worse because men and women with putative experience listening to people talk in donut shops and swap meets and grocery stores write as if they’ve never read a book in their lives. Today’s “The Daily 202” begins with the sentence “Tuesday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Democratic moderates” and gets better. It’s a masterpiece of received thinking:

Statewide, John Fetterman — a small-town mayor with a bristly beard and tattoos on both of his arms — toppled Pennsylvania’s incumbent lieutenant governor, Mike Stack, thanks in part to the strong endorsement of Bernie Sanders…

Why not call him a beatnik who drinks almond milk? If Fetterman were a woman and kept her head shaved and wore boots, reporter James Hohmann would cite these as distinguishing characteristics of a member of the American Communist Party.

The wisdom of not understanding Trump voters

When posting this news on Friday, I considered creating a tag called “Fuck Trump Voters.” This way my readers and I can easily find the number of things I’ve posted since November 2016 in which I boast about not giving a damn about what ails whites, blacks, and Hispanics who whistled past his racism and stupidity because he wasn’t Hilary Clinton. I never thought Leonard Pits, Jr. would join the ranks. Apparently, he has few fucks to give:

The idea that we must “understand” those folks carries with it an implicit suggestion that in so doing, we might find some ground for compromise. It would be a great idea in normal times. But again, these times are not normal.

No compromise is possible here for a simple reason Trump followers seem to understand better than the rest of us: You can’t compromise with demography, can’t order numbers to stop being what they are and saying what they say about the coming tide of change. But what you can do is seize the levers of power and change the rules of the game in hopes of blunting the force of that tide. That — again, look at the studies — is what Trump supporters elected him to do.

So while, it is admirable to think “understanding” can fix this country, it is also naive. Progressives should ask themselves: When’s the last time you heard any Trump supporters talking about the need to understand you? You haven’t — and that ought to tell you something.

A-fucking-men. A devotee of the one-paragraph serving of special pleading, Pitts is not a favorite, despite the reverence of his colleagues, but his bluntness works in this instance. If the comments section is any indication, it worked.

Exploring the soft white pouches of Donald Trump

These times are so extraordinary that I agree with Michiko Kakutani — she finds the prose that appears under James Comey’s name rather good. “The soft white pouches under” Trump’s “expressionless blue eyes” isn’t bad; I prefer that she notes the president’s humorlessness, for Comey a sign of “deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humor of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a little scary in a president.”

So many things are happening at once in federal court and with the Mueller investigation that I can’t keep things straight. Suffice it to say, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen acted as the GOP’s Mr. Fixit, if Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti is to believed and why not: arranging NDAs for the sake of a GOP donor who insisted that the woman he got pregnant have an abortion.

Best to focus on first principles. Brian Beutler:

Trump uses his businesses as conduits for bribes and is susceptible to policy extortion by creditors, hush money recipients, and others. If he weren’t such a greedy crook, he could have eliminated these fundamental problems. He could have sold off his investments, placed his fortune in a blind trust, and disclosed conduct he’d engaged in that would have otherwise made him vulnerable to blackmail.

Instead, he remains the owner, face, and (effectively) operator of the Trump Organization. He skims off the top of the Treasury and refuses to disclose his tax returns. He doesn’t and can‘t run the government in the public interest, and should thus, on the merits, be removed from office.

This has nothing to do with obstruction of justice and is only partially related to the “collusion” question.

By most accounts Trump conducted a private life similar to what Robert Goolrick recounted in The Fall of Princes. He’s a princeling who never grew up, relying on Daddy’s hundreds of millions as safety net. The world knew it in 2015. The GOP establishment went through the pantomime of considering him an uncouth menace, then embraced him when he won. And here we are.

‘Even the mysteries/It’s all me’

With deep respect to Dusty in Memphis, my Supremes comp, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Exile in Guyville, these albums I submitted to NPR’s Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women survey. The first album will get enough mentions but if I were being honest myself I couldn’t ignore it. The other four I worry will get no votes. What links these albums across decades is an experience with role playing: accepting with a cold eye the projections of male listeners even when – especially when – these projections fit; discomfort with yielding to the emotions that men expect from women; the arranging of clothes and makeup as creation of self. “Sometimes it’s hard to move, you see/When you’re growing publicly,” Erykah Badu sings on “Me.”

Anyway, it’ll be a combination of these finalists:

1. Pretenders – Pretenders
2. Rosanne Cash – King’s Record Shop
3. Angela Winbush – Sharp
4. Sinead O’ Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
5. Belly – Star
6. Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott — Supa Dupa Fly
7. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
8. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale
9. Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
10. Yoko Ono – Walking on Thin Ice: Compilation