It is essential not just to pick your battles. You have to define and describe what you’re fighting for or against.
In 1957, after the testing of world-destroying hydrogen bombs began, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was organized. Its tools included a slogan, Ban the Bomb*, and a now-famous symbol of peace, both of which swept the world with a concise and pointed message. (That the movement failed is not the fault of messaging, just the fault of greater misguided forces.)
The civil rights movement, and its later partner the Vietnam War protest movement, are known for good messaging, especially musical. These movements had more success than Ban the Bomb, though much is left unfinished, or is sliding backwards.
The first big sign that progressive messaging had lost its way is Defund the Police. On first hearing, I mumbled WTF. The long and complicated explanation, at least from some quarters, is that this means reallocate funds to initiatives that will improve justice in law enforcement. Not take away all money from police, which is exactly what it sounds like to normal English speakers.
Now comes Critical Race Theory. We do desperately need better discussion and understanding of American racism, and appropriate action in response. But I guarantee that having that discussion revolve around a topic that sounds like the name of a college sociology course is not the way to get that going.
Messaging requires collaboration, not dictation. It appears that so many smart and well-meaning people are so stuck in their own heads and good intentions that they’ve lost the ability to listen and hear what they sound like. Because if no one else is listening, or is questioning you because your messaging sounds messed up or dangerous, you are not doing good and you are doing no good.
*Bob Dylan never missed a chance to make fun of America. Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream (1965) is a funny slice of history and commentary (Columbus, Moby Dick, etc.):
I went to get some help, I walked by a Guernsey cow Who directed me down to the Bowery slums Where people carried signs around, sayin’, “Ban the bums”
Don’t be concerned about details: Who P.M. Dawn was, how big an international hit Set Adrift on Memory Bliss was (big), etc.? Just listen to this music and watch this video and remember why and how we feel good and how good people and sometimes especially artists can be. True then and true now.
I don’t know when I first learned about corduroy shorts. I hadn’t grown up with them or hung around people who wore them.
When I did discover them, it was a revelation. Corduroy. Shorts. Together. It just seemed so right.
Still does, although my old pairs are showing wear. I just unearthed them from the deep shelves. I am back in relationship with a favorite item of clothing.
Why the affection? Corduroy. Shorts. Means: Corduroy is a wonderful fabric (except maybe for the wide wale kind, the one that has fat stripes). It feels good to touch and looks good too (obviously looks good only if you like corduroy, which you have found out I do.) But sometimes you just have to wear shorts.
Two style experts argued. Shorts are for hot weather, for summer, shouted one. Corduroy is for cooler weather, for fall or winter, shouted the other. King Solomon listened and solved the problem. Grabbing a pair of shears, he cut off the pants legs. True story.
Will the corduroy shorts go back in storage, taken out of regular rotation? I don’t see how.
There has been talk recently about Trump being “reinstated” as President, maybe as soon as this summer. Including talk by the ex-president himself.
It is hard to know how many of the people promoting this idea are in earnest, and how many are doing it for political effect.
People who subscribe to this are either ignorant or dangerous.
Even compared to the stolen election talk, this is ridiculous. There may be no evidence at all of a stolen election, but at least the concept of election fraud is plausible, even if the fact is unsupported.
The office of President is founded in the Constitution: qualification, election, inauguration, removal, succession. The only way “reinstatement” reaches constitutional stature is by amending the Constitution (which may be what some people have in mind, but they haven’t said). While some amendments have been ratified quickly by the states, many take years and years, so the ex-president could well be in his 90s by that time. That the people talking about this don’t know that is unsurprising, since their knowledge of the Constitution, aside from vague understanding of the First and Second Amendments, may be thin or non-existent.
Unfortunately, for some, reinstatement doesn’t mean any such constitutional process.
It means January 6. It means our former National Security Adviser and admitted and pardoned crook Michael Flynn last week promoting an American coup.
All of which leaves us with a conundrum. Would we rather learn that some number of Americans—not a small number—are ignorant about citizenship or that they are traitors?
At the time of World War II, superhero comic books were growing in popularity. Even more so in the following decades.
A big question emerged: Why didn’t Superman just end the war quickly? He certainly could have.
The answer is obvious, even to those who admire him. He is a comic book character. Like all great characters of myth and fiction, he may exist as an all-powerful ideal in the psyche, spirit and imagination, but not in the real hard world.
We are thankful we do have human heroes in dire situations, and that is exactly how the force of evil was vanquished in World War II. In the overall social and political sphere, once in a while we do find individuals who can help “bend the course of history with their bare hands.” But we shouldn’t count on it.
Instead, as deep into undemocratic evil as we are sinking, what we have are very human politicians, which means that some will try their best, or what they think is best, which may not be enough. If we are waiting for Superman, or superheroes, or just heroes, know this: they are us.
You knew the plan all along, or should have. Arizona Republicans hired a company called Crazy Ninjas (officially Cyber Ninjas) to lead an audit* of the Maricopa County, Arizona ballots. Incompetent and partisan, they have worked chaotically and as much as possible in secret. When it is over, they will declare Trump the winner in Arizona. What choice do they have?
That declaration would carry no official weight, as the Arizona election has been officially certified. But that wouldn’t matter. Republicans in other states would use this as proof of their claim that the election had been stolen, and insist that their states should pursue the same type of audit*. Millions of Trump supporters who had been screaming “Stop the steal!”, accompanied by an invasion of the U.S. Capitol, would now scream “We were right!”
And that would be it. No turning back.
When lying and cheating no longer matter at all, not even a little, what’s to stop liars and cheaters? You might say that lying and cheating have been in grand style since the previous president took office, and you’d be right. But there was hollow hope that once he was stripped of his powers, official America would resume the status quo ante.
No. When the Arizona audit* issues its false finding, every American election will be vulnerable to a charge (without evidence) that it is fraudulent. Many of the new voter suppression bills just passed remove final election determination from the officials who have traditionally performed that sworn function (Secretaries of State, Supervisors of Elections, etc.) to the state legislatures. Those legislatures could change the election results, based on their own investigation* and on audits* conducted by companies like Crazy Ninjas.
It would be so heartening, so democracy-affirming, if none of this happened. But all this talk of Trump’s “reinstatement” (not an actual constitutional thing) says that Trump Republicans are thinking about just such a future.
“Though the Third Reich was going up in flames and explosions, Hitler could not bear to die without naming his successor and dictating the exact composition of the government which that successor must appoint.”
I’ve been thinking about powerful men deluded into thinking that their lost cause isn’t lost.
That led me to my copy of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The last chapters chronicle the last days in the Nazi bunker in Berlin. If you don’t know that story, or the entire history of the Third Reich, there is no better place to start than this book. (Note: Maybe read the 1,250 pages in chapters and bits.)
Hitler’s conduct in the bunker, as the Russians overtook Berlin, is by now famous. Up to the end he was appointing a successor and was dictating plans for the future of the movement. And up to the end, he was blaming his disloyal and incompetent generals, but mostly still and forever blaming the Jews.
Powerful men past their power and deluded in thinking otherwise is a classic theme, and in some creative hands (e.g., Shakespeare), the story can elicit pathos. The story of Hitler’s inglorious defeat—a Thousand Year Reich gone in twelve—is pathetic. So pathetic and so incalculably tragic.
If you happen to see an old man stewing away deluded in his bunker, planning for his return to power, it is pathetic. Please be mindful that the tragic damage he and his kind can yet do remains immense.
From The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
HITLER’S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
[dictated in the bunker]
These two documents survive, as Hitler meant them to, and like others of his papers they are significant to this narrative. They confirm that the man who had ruled over Germany with an iron hand for more than twelve years, and over most of Europe for four, had learned nothing from his experience; not even his reverses and shattering final failure had taught him anything. Indeed, in the last hours of his life he reverted to the young man he had been in the gutter days in Vienna and in the early rowdy beer hall period in Munich, cursing the Jews for all the ills of the world, spinning his half-baked theories about the universe, and whining that fate once more had cheated Germany of victory and conquest. In this valedictory to the German nation and to the world which was also meant to be a last, conclusive appeal to history, Adolf Hitler dredged up all the empty claptrap of Mein Kampf and added his final falsehoods. It was a fitting epitaph of a power-drunk tyrant whom absolute power had corrupted absolutely and destroyed.
The “Political Testament,” as he called it, was divided into two parts, the first consisting of his appeal to posterity, the second of his specific directions for the future.
More than thirty years have passed since I made my modest contribution as a volunteer in the First World War, which was forced upon the Reich.
In these three decades, love and loyalty to my people alone have guided me in all my thoughts, actions and life. They gave me power to make the most difficult decisions which have ever confronted mortal man…
Next he placed “sole responsibility” not only for the millions of deaths suffered on the battlefields and in the bombed cities but for his own massacre of the Jews—on the Jews. Then he turned to the reasons for his decision to remain in Berlin to the last.
After six years of war, which in spite of all setbacks will one day go down in history as the most glorious and heroic manifestation of the struggle for existence of a nation, I cannot forsake the city that is the capital of this state… I wish to share my fate with that which millions of others have also taken upon themselves by staying in this town. Further, I shall not fall in the hands of the enemy, who requires a new spectacle, presented by the Jews, to divert their hysterical masses.
I have therefore decided to remain in Berlin and there to choose death voluntarily at that moment when I believe that the position of the Fuehrer and the Chancellery itself can no longer be maintained. I die with a joyful heart in my knowledge of the immeasurable deeds and achievements of our peasants and workers and of a contribution unique in history of our youth which bears my name.
There followed an exhortation to all Germans “not to give up the struggle.”
the seed has been sown that will grow one day… to the glorious rebirth of the National Socialist movement of a truly united nation.
It is an unspoken motto of good schools and teachers: admit ignorance, study hard, learn. In real life one or more of those elements might be missing. It is an ideal. During the pandemic, when it matters most, this is not always followed.
We should still be admitting our relative ignorance, as even the smartest experts do. At the beginning, Covid was referred to as a “novel coronavirus” because it was new. And to a great extent still is. What we don’t know—how long natural immunity lasts or how long vaccine immunity lasts, for example—continues, because, for example, outside of trials, the population has been vaccinated for six months or less.
Even if people were willing to admit ignorance, which some weren’t and aren’t, the pandemic provided a confusing array of information, some of it tentative (see novelty), some of it simply wrong. The only way through that jungle was studying, which many people didn’t have time or inclination for, and some people couldn’t understand.
This is a reminder to remain fully and continuously informed by reliable sources. Keep learning. It matters because 924,000 Americans* have died from Covid so far, millions more Americans have been infected so far, some of whom are suffering chronic serious consequences. And while the pandemic has slowed for now in America, it is roaring in other parts of the world—the world we live in, among the people who are our human brothers and sisters.
Admit ignorance, study hard, learn.
* This number is from the respected Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, which says “To fully account for the impact of COVID-19, our estimates now include the total number of COVID-19 deaths, which is greater than what has been reported.”
Two kinds of older pop music. Some you never want to hear again. Some that you never want to stop listening to, because it has qualities that make it—not to sound cliched but here it goes—timeless. Timeless doesn’t mean current, just music that transcends currency.
If Todd Rundgren was just a producer, he’d still be an all-time great, by producing distinctive albums that sold millions and millions (Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re an American Band or Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell), by producing albums that were critical darlings (XTC’s Skylarking), or by influencing generations of artists.
But he isn’t just a producer. Beginning in 1967 with his first band Nazz and later as a band leader and solo artist, he has shone as a song creator and performer. Never more notably than with his 1972 double album Something/Anything. It is stuffed with tracks, a some of them less than perfect and maybe skippable after a few listenings, but many others gems of songwriting and production. Also, since it includes studio outtakes, you can hear just how much fun is being had.
Following are just a couple of tracks, including his re-recording of the first Nazz hit from 1968, Hello It’s Me. Pay attention to how these are models of songwriting and production. Then listen to the whole album.
Note that even though he has been eligible for the Rock Hall since 1993, his induction in the class of 2021 was just announced a few weeks ago. The too frequent irrelevance of the Rock Hall (still second to the irrelevance of the Grammys) is not worth spending time on. Just listen and enjoy.