Saturday, November 26, 2022

Friday, November 25, 2022

Black Friday

My idea of Black Friday is to remember the times when the Friday after Thanksgiving meant Allen and I were getting on a plane to fly down to a warmer climate than northern Michigan — such as Montserrat — and spend ten days storing up Vitamin D for the coming winter.

If you go out shopping, patronize your local vendors, don’t spend too much, and try to remember where you parked.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

A Little Night Music

A Thanksgiving tradition.  I don’t know how it got started, but it’s a tradition.  Contrary to popular belief (and the album liner notes), this recording was not made at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival.  But I was there and I heard it, so…  think of me being there at the age of fourteen and laughing.

Happy Thanksgiving

I’ve been looking back through some of my Thanksgiving posts over the years for some inspiration and perhaps a perspective on the holiday. Taking a day off to express thanks and brace ourselves for the rest of the holidays is a good time to reflect and be grateful for some of the good things we have and the memories, especially now that both of my parents, who made the holidays happen, are gone. The post below is from Thanksgiving 2007, when I was looking back at a special holiday weekend.

When I was a kid growing up outside of Toledo, we had some relatives in the area, and we also belonged to a local tennis and social club that served as a gathering place for a group of families like ours and we often went there for holiday dinners. It relieved my mom from cooking one of the two big meals at the holidays; if we had Thanksgiving at home, then we went to the club or another relative’s place for Christmas, or vice versa. We also would have the Thanksgiving meal later in the day — usually around the normal dinner time — because we had season tickets to the Detroit Lions football team, and we would go up to Detroit to sit in the freezing cold bleachers to watch the Lions play their traditional Thanksgiving Day game, then come home to the dinner.

It’s been a while since my family has gotten together for Thanksgiving. We’ve all moved on to different places and have our own families. It’s been many years since my entire immediate family — Mom, Dad, and my three siblings and their families — has been together for the occasion.

However, there was one Thanksgiving that I’ll never forget: 1967. I was a freshman at St. George’s, the boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island (and also alma mater of Howard Dean and Tucker Carlson). It was my first extended time away from home and I was miserable. My older brother and sister were also away at school; one in New Jersey, the other in Virginia. My parents made arrangements for us all to get together in New York City that weekend, and they booked rooms at the Plaza Hotel. We saw two Broadway musicals — Mame with Angela Lansbury and Henry, Sweet Henry with Don Ameche — and a little musical in Greenwich Village called Now Is The Time For All Good Men…. We went shopping in Greenwich Village, took hansom cab rides in Central Park, had lunch at Toots Shor’s (and got Cab Calloway’s autograph), dinner at Trader Vic’s and Luchow’s, and saw all the sights that a kid from Ohio on his second trip to NYC (the first being the World’s Fair in 1964) could pack into one four-day weekend. Oh, and we had the big Thanksgiving dinner in the Oak Room at the Plaza with all the trimmings. That night we went down to the nightclub below the Plaza and listened to smoky jazz played by a trio and a lovely woman on piano…could it have been Blossom Dearie?

It was a magical weekend. To this day I still remember the sights and sounds and sensations, and the deep sadness that settled back over me as I boarded the chartered bus that took me back to the dank purgatory of that endless winter at school overlooking the grey Atlantic Ocean.

I’ve had a lot of wonderful and memorable Thanksgivings since then at home and with friends, everywhere from Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, and even one in Jamaica, but that weekend at the Plaza fifty-four years ago will always be special.

*

I’ll be on a holiday schedule until Monday. Posting will be light and variable, but tune in tonight for A Little Night Music Thanksgiving tradition.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Supreme Questions

I’ve wondered why the United States Supreme Court sees itself as above the law on several important matters, including ethics and financial disclosure.  I’m not the only one.

From Charlie Pierce:

I tried to warn the chief justice, but he wouldn’t listen. And now here comes the nor’easter from Rhode Island:

On Saturday, the Chairmen released their previous correspondence with the Supreme Court about Faith and Action, and pledged to continue seeking answers and working to require the Court to adopt mandatory ethics rules in line with the other branches of the federal government. Their new letter sent yesterday evening reiterates those calls and asks new questions of Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court’s legal counsel, including whether the allegations regarding Faith and Action have been investigated internally and whether the Court has reevaluated any of its procedures related to judicial ethics. “Our previous letter identified reports of conduct by justices that increasingly appear out of line with the conduct permissible for other federal judges and, in some cases, may be inconsistent with federal law. Recent reporting by the New York Times that the orchestrators of this judicial lobbying campaign may have used their access to certain justices to secure confidential information about pending cases only deepens our concerns about the lack of adequate ethical and legal guardrails at the Court,” Whitehouse and Johnson wrote last night.

They’re coming for you, chief. Things have spun out of your control. Among other things Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is eager to hear a little bit more about:

Has the Supreme Court opened an investigation into any of the allegations set forth in our September 7, 2022, letter, the July 2022 letter from Reverend Robert Schenck to Chief Justice Roberts, or any other allegations contained in the relevant reporting from Rolling Stone, Politico, or the New York Times? [links added] If so, please provide relevant details regarding the management of that investigation, including which individual and/or office is leading the investigation and how and on what date the investigation was launched.

Has the Court reevaluated any of its practices, procedures, or rules related to judicial ethics, or the justices’ receipt and reporting of gifts and travel, in light of the July 2022 letter from Reverend Robert Schenck to Chief Justice Roberts?

Who is responsible for policing the relationship between the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Historical Society to ensure that paid membership in the Society is not used as a means of gaining undue influence?

It may assist the resolution of these issues if the Court were to designate an individual knowledgeable about them to provide testimony to us about the existence or not, and the nature if they exist, of any procedures that guide inquiry, investigation and determination of factual issues related to ethics or reporting questions raised about justices’ conduct.

That last part is the sound of the hunter’s horn. If Roberts won’t come to them, they’ll settle for an ambassador, as long as they’re satisfied the ambassador is empowered to deal. The truly ironic thing is that, in any fight between the court and the Congress, Roberts’ staunchest institutionalist allies may wind up being Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson. They truly respect the institution the way he allegedly did once. They recuse themselves from cases in which their participation might be improper (Jackson was barely settled in her chair when she had to take herself out of judging a case about Harvard’s admissions policy because of her long connection to that university). It’s obvious that Roberts can’t rely on Alito or Thomas, who’d sell him cheap to Malay pirates; they wouldn’t be protecting the court, they’d be protecting themselves. Kavanaugh is far from a rock in that regard, too. Gorsuch might be a wild card on whom Roberts could lean. Barrett would jump at shadows.

Roberts has to know that his entire legacy as chief justice is on the line right now. Smart people once told me that mattered to him.

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936), through his popular Mr. Dooley, noted that while most courts follow the Constitution, the Supreme Court follows the election returns.  And now it’s more apparent that it follows the money.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

November 22, 1963

JFK 11-22-06Friday, November 22, 1963. I was in the sixth grade in Toledo, Ohio. I had to skip Phys Ed because I was just getting over bronchitis, so I was in a study hall when a classmate came up from the locker room in the school basement to say, “Kennedy’s dead.” We had a boy in our class named Matt Kennedy, and I wondered what had happened: an errant fatal blow with a dodgeball? A few minutes later, though, it was made clear to us at a hastily-summoned assembly, and we were soon put on the buses and sent home. Girls were crying.

There was a newspaper strike at The Blade, so the only papers we could get were either from Detroit or Cleveland. (The union at The Blade, realizing they were missing the story of the century, agreed to immediately resume publication and settle their differences in other ways.) Television, though, was the medium of choice, and I remember the black-and-white images of the arrival of Air Force One at Andrews, the casket being lowered, President Johnson speaking on the tarmac, and the events of the weekend – Oswald, Ruby, the long slow funeral parade, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – merging into one long black-and-white flicker, finally closing on Monday night with the eternal flame guttering in the cold breeze.

I suspect that John F. Kennedy would be bitterly disappointed that the only thing remembered about his life was how he left it and how it colored everything he did leading up to it. The Bay of Pigs, the steel crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, the Test Ban Treaty, even the space program are dramatized by his death. They became the stuff of legend, not governing, and history should not be preserved as fable.

At the age of eleven, I never thought about being old enough to look back fifty-seven years to that time. More than two-thirds of Americans alive today were not yet born on that day, and I doubt that other than here, there won’t be any commemoration of that awful day in the news. Today the question is not do you remember JFK, but what did his brief time leave behind. Speculation is rife as to what he did or did not accomplish – would we have gone in deeper in Vietnam? Would he have pushed civil rights? Would the Cold War have lasted? We’ll never know, and frankly, pursuing such questions is a waste of time. Had JFK never been assassinated, chances are he would have been re-elected in 1964, crushing Barry Goldwater, but leading an administration that was more style than substance, battling with his own party as much as with the Republicans, much like Clinton did in the 1990’s. According to medical records, he would have been lucky to live into his sixties, dying from natural causes in the 1980’s, and he would have been remembered fondly for his charm and wit – and his beautiful wife – more than what he accomplished in eight years of an average presidency.

But it was those six seconds in Dealy Plaza that defined him. Each generation has one of those moments. For my parents generation, it was Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the flash from Warm Springs in April 1945. Today it is September 11, 2001, and now January 6, 2021. And in all cases, it is what the moment means to us. It is the play, not the players. We see things as they were, contrast to how they are, and measure the differences, and by that, we measure ourselves.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Thanksgiving Week

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, including charters, are closed for the week in tacit acknowledgement that pretty much everyone takes the week off anyway.  I’ll be working from home — something I do quite often — and looking forward to sharing the holiday with friends.  Last summer I had made tentative plans to spend the holiday with my mom in Cincinnati, but she had other plans.  So we will lift a glass in her memory of the many Thanksgivings we spent around the family table in Perrysburg, Northport Point, and the last time they visited Miami, in 2008.

So, are you traveling this holiday week or staying home?

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sunday Reading

Real Voter Enthusiasm from Charlie Pierce:

It was 50 years ago last week that I cast my first vote of any kind, absentee to Massachusetts from Milwaukee, where I was going to school at the time. I voted for George McGovern for president, so I got to wear my “Don’t Blame Me. I’m From Massachusetts” button proudly as Richard Nixon sank slowly back into the primordial political ooze from which he had emerged.

I voted to re-elect Ed Brooke, a Republican, to the U.S. Senate. (And this was before I learned that he’d been doing the wild thing with Barbara Walters, at least according to her.) I also voted to re-elect Congressman Harold Donoghue from my old congressional district, MA-3, as they designate them now. Harold was some kind of half-assed cousin of my mother’s. He sent us a card every Christmas and a reminder every other October that it was time to vote for him again. Harold got his 15 minutes of fame two years later, sitting beside Chairman Peter Rodino on TV as the House Judiciary Committee debated and voting to recommend the impeachment of Nixon. There was some rude speculation within the family that Harold might have dozed off at several key points in the proceedings. I also voted to amend the state constitution to allow 18-year-olds and “paupers” to vote. I voted to make judges retire at age 70, and I advised the legislature to lower the drinking age and not to allow prayer in the public schools. There is not one of those votes of which I am not proud to this day.

(The really great result from the Commonwealth—God save it!— that election was that the horribly racist Louise Day Hicks was turfed out of Congress by the great Joe Moakley. Moakley, in turn, hired a brilliant young staffer from Worcester named Jim McGovern. Between the two of them, they later did the tough and dangerous work of exposing the murderous thugs the Reagan Administration was funding in Central America. McGovern now is the congressman from MA-3, my old district, and is finishing up his stint as chairman of the House Rules Committee.)

I miss the days when every vote didn’t seem like a desperate act to preserve democracy. I miss the days when you could bear the burden of citizenship lightly, when it didn’t seem like absolutely everything was hanging by a fraying string. I voted for McGovern because Bobby Kennedy had said he was the most decent man in the Senate, and I knew that there were cell blocks in the federal penal system in which you couldn’t say the same thing about Nixon. I voted for Brooke because he was a good senator and his Democratic opponent was a nondescript D.A. from around Boston. My best friend on campus was working with the Young Republicans, so we had a number of bar-clearing shouting matches about the election. Even those were fun. And, yes, I did fill out my ballot next to the basketball-shaped taps of the late, lamented Gym Bar on Wells Avenue. My impromptu election monitors that evening were Dirty Ed, who worked in the cement plant, and Bingo, the bartender. Voting was a duty and a privilege, for sure, but I really got kind of a kick out of it, too.

The fun has all drained out of it now. Voting is now penmanship homework and lima beans and neckties, and all the stuff I decided to avoid when I grew up. It’s a polio shot—when it’s not dialysis, when it’s not chemotherapy. For all the talk about enthusiasm gaps between the two parties all summer, the real enthusiasm gap came between the voters and the act of voting. Yes, turnout was high, almost as high as in 2018. And the young voters carried the day. But those young voters were voting because they wanted a future without wage slavery, that wasn’t a virtual and perpetual debtor’s prison. Women voted heavily out of understandable anger that a 50-year-old constitutional right had been dropkicked into the Potomac by a carefully engineered conservative majority on the Supreme Court. The turnout in many places overwhelmed the roadblocks to the franchise that have sprung up since 2020. People were happy, certainly, at the end of things, but even more than that, the country seemed freaking exhausted. It had a look on it similar to the one you see on marathon runners after they cross the line, and all their friends crowd around them and tell them how tough and strong they are, and all the poor bastard wants is to lie down somewhere.

There was one election in which all the clouds seemed to part, however. One election in which people seemed happy to be involved because the vision in their minds of the candidate in the chamber of the U.S. Senate was so incongruous that it seemed to summon up all the consultant-free eccentrics who once stalked those hallowed aisles: Huey Long, railing against greed while looting the state of Louisiana back home. Bob LaFollette, so pissed one day that the presiding officer wouldn’t recognize him that he hurled a spittoon at him (and later that day, he sent his son, Bob Junior, later a senator himself, back to the office to get his gun, while another senator came at LaFollette with a stiletto).

There is no indication that this newly elected senator has any propensity for violence, and that is another reason to rejoice that we have him around for six years, a senator that we can laugh with and not at.

It took a lot of things breaking right to land John Fetterman a seat as the junior senator from Pennsylvania. First, Pat Toomey, the Republican skinflint who likely took a campaign donation from the firm of Scrooge and Marley, had to resign. Then Fetterman had to beat Democratic establishment darling Conor Lamb in a primary. Then, the Republicans had to nominate an out-of-state quack like Mehmet Oz, and the former president* had to drop his Mark-of-Cain endorsement on Oz. Then, Fetterman had to run for the Senate while recovering from a damn stroke.

As Rebecca Traister wrote in a definitive New York Magazine profile during the campaign:

Tucker Carlson said that Fetterman is “brain damaged” and “can barely speak,” and has joked about his “stupid little fake tattoos,” comparing him to a “barista in Brooklyn dressing like a lumberjack.” Media Matters reported that in September the Fox News prime-time lineup mentioned Fetterman more than any other candidate, including those in other hotly contested Senate battles, a metric that illustrates how scared Republicans are about losing this race. “No one is ever fully ready to have an entire gigantic media organization just unload on you,” Fetterman told me. “To have lies weaponized with tens of millions of dollars. There’s aspects of that that are surreal.” Meanwhile, the New York Times and the Washington Post have echoed the Oz campaign’s suggestions that Fetterman is hiding something about his fitness to serve, running editorials pressing him to do more than the single debate scheduled for October 25 and for the release of further medical records.

In response to this unsavory speculation, Fetterman and his team tapped into the deep reservoir of snark that exists on social media, and for which Oz, a completely humorless drone, was uniquely vulnerable. As Traister wrote:

Social media offered a recuperating Fetterman a way to reach voters he wasn’t seeing in person or speaking to on television. In early June, Katz entered a campaign group chat to say Fetterman had made a “Running Away Balloon” meme in which Oz was reaching for the yellow orb labeled PA SENATE RACE but was being hugged by the pink blob labeled LIVES IN NJ. Hebert remembered thinking, “Wait, John can do graphic design? The candidate himself is making a meme …” The campaign tweeted it out. Two days later, Fetterman had another idea, in response to news that Oz had spelled the name of his purported Pennsylvania hometown incorrectly on his candidacy statement. (It’s Huntingdon Valley, not Huntington.) This time, Fetterman’s chosen meme was Steve Buscemi’s 30 Rock appearance as an old guy pretending to be a teen, with the caption, HOW DO YOU DO, FELLOW PA RESIDENTS?

When that one took off, it became a free-for-all among campaign staffers. “It created this fun atmosphere,” said Hebert. “John’s rule for it was basically: Be funny, but don’t be mean.” “Especially after nearly dying,” Fetterman said of that distinction, “I had no malice in my heart.” Almost everything would be run past the candidate; several staffers told me the highest praise you could get was “Oh, hell yeah, that’s a good one.” So the campaign spent a summer that otherwise felt very bleak trying to impress their boss and one another with new ways to dunk on Dr. Oz. “I always say that politics would be completely unbearable if there was no fun in it,” Gisele told me. “It would just completely suck. I need joy in my life — bread and flowers.”

I have waited for decades to hear someone associated with a candidate say something like that. Be funny, but don’t be mean, and that politics is unbearable if there isn’t any fun in it.

Four years after I cast that first vote, I spent a year and a half doing field organizing for Congressman Mo Udall’s presidential campaign. I joined up for two reasons: the congressman’s exemplary environmental record, and the fact that Mo was the funniest politician I’d ever heard.

And the best thing about the Fetterman campaign was that the fun worked. The fun was great politics. It got Fetterman past the stroke, and it so wrong-footed Oz that he’s probably still running in circles. John Fetterman is a guy I would be proud to vote for in a bar, as evening falls. I think Dirty Ed would have voted for him, too.

Doonesbury — Unavailable at press time.  I’ll check back later.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

The Purpose Of Theatre

Today I will be serving as an adjudicator for playwriting for the District 8 (Miami) Florida Thespians; the high school theatre students. Karma and the universe reminded me that six years ago I posted the piece below in response to the hurt fe-fe’s of some people when Mike Pence got booed at a performance of “Hamilton.” They said that theatre “must always be a safe space.”

I disagree, and this is the message I will be conveying to these new young playwrights:

Theatre, in its long history and purpose, has never been a “safe place.” It has always been, since the days of Socrates and Aeschylus and William Shakespeare and Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Aphra Behn and Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg and Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey and Elmer L. Rice and Clifford Odets and Bertolt Brecht and Arthur Miller and William Inge and Maria Irene Fornes and Lorraine Hansberry and Robert Anderson and Lanford Wilson and Edward Albee and Sam Shepard and Robert Patrick and August Wilson and Terrance McNalley and Marsha Norman and Paula Vogel and every other playwright, its duty to challenge, frighten, discomfort, tweak, bullyrag, provoke, infuriate, piss off; to make uncomfortable, to squirm and cringe, and at the same time force everyone inside the theatre and outside of it to think. We may do it with laughter and music and lights and sets and costumes, but a play that does not change the audience, that does not make it see the world and themselves in a different way when the lights come up and the curtain comes down, has fallen short.

That is the solemn promise we in theatre make when we take up the profession and the art, and while we may do it in as many different ways as there are plays, stages, playwrights, and places to hear and see our work, we will never accede, concede, or give up our obligation to challenge the status quo and make a difference. What other power have we? We are not politicians, we just pillory them. We cannot make laws, we just decry the bad ones. We cannot erase bigotry with the wave of our hand but we can make us aware of it and torture it into submission.

Theatre is a powerful weapon against tyranny and bullshit. It has always been a threat to the intolerant, which is why it is always the first to be suppressed by the dictators. Many writers and playwrights have been imprisoned, banished and executed because they proved the pen is more a threat to a tyrant than armed rebels in the streets. Nothing wounds more than mockery and ridicule. This is a lesson that must not be forgotten.

So no, the theatre must never be a safe place. That is what makes it special.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Happy Friday

DeSantis gets a woke-up call.

A federal judge on Thursday ordered Florida to stop enforcing its new Stop WOKE Act at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The ruling came in two lawsuits — one filed by a University of South Florida student and professor and another led by Florida A&M law professor LeRoy Pernell — both alleging that the law illegally prevents frank discussions about the nation’s racial history in classrooms. The same judge issued a ruling in August that blocked the law from applying to workplace training.

The legislation prohibits advancing concepts that make anyone feel “guilt, anguish or other psychological distress” related to race, color, national origin or sex because of actions “committed in the past.” It is also tied to proposed regulations that would govern tenure reviews of faculty members.

[…]

In his 139-page order issuing a preliminary injunction against the law, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker quoted George Orwell.

“‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,’ and the powers in charge of Florida’s public university system have declared the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom,’ ” his ruling said.

I’m getting very tired of all this “freedom.”

Thursday, November 17, 2022

One Step Closer To Legalizing Equality

From TPM:

The Respect for Marriage Act easily accumulated enough votes to advance Wednesday, netting 12 Republican yes votes and putting it on a glide path to final passage.

The final vote was 62 yes votes to 37 no votes, with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) not voting after his wife suffered a seizure last weekend.

Twelve Republicans joined all of the Democrats: Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Richard Burr (R-NC), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Todd Young (R-IN).

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first openly LGBTQ woman elected to both the House and Senate who shepherded the bill through, sat alone for much of the vote, seemingly ticking names off a pad of paper. Some members came over to congratulate her, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) who gave her a high five, prompting her celebratory fist pump.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) kicked the vote until after the midterms when it became clear that it’d be easier to marshal Republican support when they were less concerned about alienating voters.

The bill was prompted by Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the Dobbs decision, where he advocated for revisiting Obergefell v. Hodges.

The Respect for Marriage Act does not go as far as Obergefell: it requires that all states recognize marriages conducted where it’s legal, but does not require all states to grant same-sex marriages. If the Court overturned Obergefell, states could impose bans on same-sex marriage. The bill also critically repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which gives states the ability to not recognize same-sex marriages conducted in others. Though considered unconstitutional for now, DOMA is still on the books.

Some have criticized the bill for falling short of Obergefell — but it would provide critical protections to same-sex couples should the Supreme Court overturn its own precedent. It also may be more legally bulletproof than a bill fashioned in Obergefell’s exact mold.

“Today, the Senate made it clear that we stand with the American people by voting to move forward with the Respect For Marriage Act,” Baldwin tweeted Wednesday evening. “This is a HUGE win and we are one step closer to ensuring same-sex and interracial couples have the same rights & freedoms as everyone else!”

Take that, Clarence.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that DOMA was still on the books.  Just because the Court ruled against it, however, did not repeal it, and a counter ruling later on, like what happened in Dobbs, could have put it back in force.  Also, the exceptions written into this new bill that allow churches and so-called religious institutions to avoid liability in case they still wanted to discriminate, are sops to the Jesus-shouters because it’s highly unlikely that a same-sex couple is going to try to force some church into violating their principles.  Besides, if you can get the Mormons on board, mission accomplished.