Amateur hour in the House

New York Times: The Republican Ethics Vote: What Happened? When swift outrage followed the announcement that the House had quietly voted to dismantle an independent congressional ethics office, I figured it would be like all the times I was outraged about GOP actions: that the action would go forward anyway and our government would get a little shittier. Then Donald Trump weighed in, and this afternoon the House reversed itself.

The New York Times article explains the timeline, but not the cause behind the events. I think we can read this as a clear sign of “amateur hour” syndrome in the House. The Republican leadership spent six years in the majority under Obama, but they didn’t spend it governing. They spent it as though they were a minority opposition party, dedicating themselves to opposing every policy that he took and every initiative he announced. That’s not leadership; that’s protest. That doesn’t prepare you to actually act.

If today is any indication, we’re in for a long line of Keystone Kops style lawmaking out of this Congress.

Eating for luck

I find the New Years Day food tradition fascinating. People who would never dream of touching a collard green in the South smile and eat it on New Years Day—for luck. And it’s the same thing all over the world, just with different ingredients.

In years past, particularly when we lived in the North End of Boston, we adopted the cotechino as our good-luck food—or a variant called the zamponi. Increasingly I’ve been switching it up, though, as a real Italian butcher has become harder to find in the suburbs.

For the last few years we’ve cooked Sea Island red peas, on the recommendation of Greg. Last year I made a pretty delicious soffrito of root vegetables and cooked the peas in it. This year I went back to the same recipe and, reading it more closely, realized that the intent was to use the vegetables to flavor the broth, then discard them. Whoops. I followed the recipe this year, with the small exception of adding a slice of double smoked bacon in small dice (since I didn’t have any ham stock handy), and served them over plain rice since I had used all the Carolina Gold last year. (Mental note: remind me in June to reorder from Anson Mills.)

But was that all we had? Reader, it was not. One of the other classic New Years Day good-luck foods in Asian countries is dumplings, particularly the kind that look like purses full of money. And one of our son’s favorite food groups is dumplings of any variety. So we made tsak sha momos, and other than forgetting the salt they were great! And because we had to go to HMart to get some of the ingredients, we ended up with a smorgasbord of accompaniments, including udon noodles, some bao baos, and bulgogi. With our dishes of red peas alongside. Not a bad way to ring in the New Year.

End of the week link roundup

I’m writing this in the back seat of our minivan on my iPhone, surrounded by a pair of Bichons who don’t travel well. So links are what you’re going to get. 

IBM: Migrating security to the cloud: a model for Total Cost of Ownership. I thought I had seen all the models for savings from adopting SaaS products, but this one adds a few factors I hadn’t considered. 

Aeon: Why bullshit is no laughing matter. In passing, this article uses tweets by Deepak Chopra to illustrate the qualities of BS and calls out some reliable signs of it: “The words … are unnecessarily complex, and the intended meanings are not obviously clear. Perhaps the tweets have been constructed to impress rather than inform. Chopra might have used vagueness as a tool to elicit profundity.”

Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: Invisible Hits 2016. Roundup of interesting Pitchfork articles from the bootleg folks. 

Smithsonian: Listen to JRR Tolkien read songs and poems from the Lord of the Rings. Um, yes please. 

Evaluating Paul Goodloe McIntire

Following yesterday’s link regarding the possible fate of the Confederate war statues donated to the City of Charlottesville by Paul Goodloe McIntire, I thought it might be worthwhile to dig a little deeper. Was McIntire, a huge donor to both the city and the University of Virginia, a virulent racist like composer and white supremacist John Powell

It seems many have been asking the same question, and as you might expect the evidence of his intent is a little murky. 

Let’s start with the facts. McIntire, after having made his fortune on the New York Stock Exchange, returned home to Charlottesville and started giving away that fortune. In addition to the school of fine arts, the amphitheater, and other gifts to UVA, he donated land and money for parks in Charlottesville, including two white-only parks (Belmont Park and McIntire Park). At the same time he donated the land for McIntire Park, he also donated the land for the all-black Washington Park.

Was he on the side of white supremacy? Or was he simply endowing all Charlottesville’s citizens, black or white, within the scope of the prevailing legal framework of “separate but equal”?

It’s hard to say. An article in CVille Weekly notes that “he did invite the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to plan the statue’s [Lee’s] unveiling.” But given the heavy concentration of Confederate veterans in Virginia, was this like inviting the Klan or only like inviting the Disabled American Veterans?

I don’t know if we will ever get a good answer on this, given that people like Ben Railton and Waldo Jaquith have been plumbing it since 2009. But it’s worth continuing to remind ourselves that many who have been held up as civic heroes were also products of their times. And, with Railton, to remember that we have many public spaces dedicated to the narrow Confederate view of history, and to call for more reminders of how life was on the other side. 

Your daily “past isn’t even past” update

Cavalier Daily: Final report on Confederate memorials presented to city. Interesting tension between moving the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and recontextualizing them, with some unusual voices on both sides. 

Interesting, too, to note the association of both statues within a historically segregated park and the donor of both statues and park, namely Paul McIntire, also a major donor to the University of Virginia. 

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance

Carrie Fisher with Paul Simon, from People magazine
Yes, of course I’m sad about the loss today of Carrie Fisher, probably my first preteen crush and certainly my first model of a strong female lead. (At least in A New Hope.) And then she was my first seriously funny, seriously damaged novelist (I read Postcards from the Edge in high school), and later a kind of shamanic touchstone in any movie in which she appeared. But the main thing is she was there, fiercely telling critics even this year to blow her. As more people who seemed eternal verities in our cultural hoard are taken by 2016, of course I want to roar. 

But I’m also wistful. Paul Simon, Fisher’s ex husband and longtime friend, in some ways eulogized her best in songs on Hearts and Bones, Graceland, and Rhythm of the Saints, the youngest of which is now over 25 years old. And today I think about “Hearts and Bones”:

Thinking back to the season before

Looking back through the cracks in the door

Two people were married

The act was outrageous

The bride was contagious

She burned like a bride

These events may have had some effect

On the man with the girl by his side

The arc of a love affair

His hands rolling down her hair

Love like lightning, shaking till it moans

Hearts and bones

And “Train in the Distance”:

The thought that life could be better

Is woven indelibly

Into our hearts

And our brains

And “Graceland”:

She comes back to tell me she’s gone

As if I didn’t know that

As if I didn’t know my own bed

As if I never noticed

The way she brushed her hair from her forehead 

And she said “Losing love is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you’re blown apart

Everybody feels the wind blow”

And “She Moves On”:

And she says “maybe these emotions are as near to love as love will ever be”

So I agree

The moon breaks

She takes a corner, that’s all she takes, she moves on. 

Dammit. And now I want to read her autobiography and hear her side of the story. 

Merry Christmas from 1953

1953-12-vs-10

1953-12-vs-11

Part of the 1953 Virginia Spectator Christmas issue (previous posts here and here) was a set of mildly off-color Christmas woodcuts showing the life of the Baron Soppenscotten, who appears to have had a good deal in common with the students at UVa during the period. This is definitely the most elaborate art published on the theme in any UVa magazine I’ve seen. And what is Christmas, after all, without a little gluttony and drunkenness? (I know: it’s Christmas.)

“… or, I saw Donner Kissing Santa Claus”

1953_vs_donner

I first wrote about the questionable treasures and pseudo-carols locked within the December 1953 “Misplaced Mistletoe” issue of the Virginia Spectator back in June, but with Christmas only a few days away it seems high time to revisit the book. Having gotten the clean carols out of the way early, here’s one of the more questionable numbers, “Sexual Misbehavior of a Female Reindeer, or I Saw Donner Kissing Santa Claus.”

…Enjoy?

I saw Donner kissing Santa Claus
It was really Mommy dressed to kill
Dear Mother looked so queer
In the costume of a deer,
With furry antlers from her front
A tail from out her rear!
Then I saw Donner licking Santa’s paws,
Mommy’s eyes just never had that look.
It wasn’t mother, costume-clad,
‘Twas Donner deer seducing Dad!
Doctor Kinsey, where in hell’s that book?

More from North Carolina

Jedediah Purdy: North Carolina’s Partisan Crisis. Great article in the New Yorker running down the “torch the place on the way out” law passed at the behest of outgoing Republican governor Pat McCrory to restrict the powers of the incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper.

Purdy makes the argument that the real crisis is not the restriction of powers, but the steady erosion of the Republican Party’s moral authority in North Carolina. To which I say, Gee, ya think? The gerrymandering that led to the creation of 28 illegal House and Senate districts to disenfranchise minority voters; the 2013 voting law that attempted to restrict black franchise by reducing early voting hours, eliminating same-day registration, and raising barriers to ballot access; the 2012 state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, later ruled unconstitutional; the March 2016 “bathroom law” that placed trans people in real jeopardy by seeking to induce moral panic; the repeal of the Racial Justice Act; the refusal of Medicaid expansion.

There is no vision of serving the needs of the people in this legislative agenda. This is naked will to power, mean-spirited suppression of minority interests, and complete indifference to the protection of underprivileged minority groups. I look forward to seeing what Cooper can do to restore some sanity to the state’s government, but he faces a Republican legislature that surely will run the Mitch McConnell playbook in refusing to govern.

(This is the problem, by the way, with the “practical guide” put forth by the Indivisible folks. If each side engages in total trench warfare without putting forth an adult policy alternative, we’ll be trapped rudderless in windless seas as the disasters of the 21st century bear down on us. We need to be able to govern this nation.)

Here’s hoping, though, that there are a few grownups left in the Tar Hell State.

The Pogo issue of the Virginia Spectator

I’m one step further along on my ultimate UVa checklist. Last week I received my copy of the February 1951 Virginia Spectator, the one with the cover by Pogo artist Walt Kelly showing Pogo and Albert the Alligator trying to sell ice cream to all the college students and their dates trysting in the serpentine walls at the University of Virginia.

I hope I find time to scan bits of the magazine in the next few weeks.

“Go tell it on the mountain”

I’ve been writing about Christmas carols and songs embedded in a Boston Pops arrangement called “Songs from the Hill Folk” that ends the first half of this year’s Holiday Pops program. Unlike the other songs in the medley, the final one, “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” was not collected (or written) by John Jacob Niles, but it was collected—by the first African American folk song collector, John Wesley Work, Jr. (And probably partly written by him too; it’s hard to tell with these things.)

Work was born after the Civil War in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated from Fisk University. He did post graduate work at Harvard and the University of Chicago, but in between returned to Fisk as a professor. In 1907 he published New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro, which contained the first publication of “Go, Tell It On the Mountain.” 

He was also active with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and other singing groups, leading a concert tour through the south. Some credit the Jubilee Singers’ at-first-reluctant embrace of public performance of spirituals (which were then thought to be a shameful product of slavery) with the financial survival of the university. 

The song’s text has proved elastic over the years, as some of these alternate verses illustrate:

When I was a seeker

I sought both night and day.

I ask de Lord to help me,

An’ He show me de way.

He made me a watchman

Upon the city wall,

An’ if I am a Christian

I am the least of all.

But it has been Work’s stanzas, based on the Christmas story in Luke, that have proven the most resilient. 

Except during the Civil Rights era. Then, protesters replaced “Jesus Christ is born” in the song’s chorus with “Let my people go,” and added entirely new verses to the song, such as “Who’s that yonder dressed in red?/Let my people go/Must be the children Bob Moses led/Let my people go.” So the song that once helped to save Fisk University, that historic center of African American culture, was pressed into service to help save the whole race from segregation and racism. 

Conflicts of interest #1: Trump Hotel in the Old Post Office

TPM: Federal agency warns Trump he must give up DC hotel before inauguration. It has long galled me that Trump took over the Old Post Office space, which I thought as a young visitor to DC was one of the most amazing places to visit in the nation’s capital.

Turns out, the GSA thinks his ownership is problematic, but for a different reason: there’s a clause in the lease contract that says no elected official of the US may have a say in or benefit from the lease of the property. So they’re advising Trump he needs to fully divest the hotel before his inauguration.

I think this is just the first real manifestation of what will be a long series of conflicts of interest between Trump’s business dealings and his job as our head of state. It’ll be interesting to see how this proceeds.

Follow up: iOS 10.2 fixes my gripes with Music

Yesterday’s iOS 10.2 update appears to address the two most nagging problems I had with the original iOS 10 Music App, including the discoverability of the Repeat and Shuffle controls and the temporary disappearance of star ratings.

Which is a big relief. Because I’m here to tell you that Siri was very capable of misunderstanding instructions like “give this song four stars.”

Thanks, Apple, for paying attention to the feedback.