Political Quickie: Take 5mins to Call yr Senators about Betsy DeVos NOW! Thx!

Six astonishing things Betsy DeVos said — and refused to say — at her confirmation hearing

This article is just one example, but the gist of it is this: Betsy DeVos is not qualified to be the U.S.Secretary of Education. She is actively antagonistic to the project of public education, and has been for decades. Based on her performance in this hearing, she knows next to nothing about modern educational theory and practice, or the legal framework surrounding these.

I’m a lifelong Michigander – just like DeVos – and let me tell you, as far as we can tell her entire project is to shuffle public dollars out of public schools and into private religious (i.e., Christian) schools (which are not obliged to accept all comers, accommodate all students, respect religious or philosophical differences, or meet most accountability standards).

Skim the article, find whichever pobit is most offensive to you, then call your senators. Please.

Don’t have their numbers handy (or know their names even)?  Look it up by address or text your zip code to (520) 200-2223 and a robot will send you their numbers instantly.

My son is one of the 6.5 million U.S. school kids who receives special services from the public education system. That’s ~13% of all school kids. Please take 5 minutes, leave a couple messages, and make sure my boy can keep getting the very mild accommodations he needs.

A Grab Bag of Human Music Technologies

Girl totally rocks the original “Super Mario” medley (complete with coins and power-ups!) on a sheng, sounds like she totally belongs in the Mos Eisley Catina Band:

A robot plays a pop hit (I love the rhythmic element that the robot’s motors and gears bring to the song):

Props to Arthur Lacomme for pointing me to this one featuring “Mr. Curly” (which is the instrument, not the dude playing it).  I love that watering-can clarinet Pollack demos around 1:45! 

(Arthur also recommends the open-source Rakarrack software package, which he uses when he rocks his Mr. Curley.)

This one is pretty interesting if you stick with it; what you no doubt initially take to be a precursor to the 8-track is playing cartridges loaded with ribbon-based analog records(!!!).  The macro-lens bit at around 5:20 gives you an example of both the sound (pretty damn solid) and the mechanism (OMFG! Wünderbar!)  Hilarious remote control, too.

And then there’s this guy:

chordophone-lyre-plucked
My beautiful picture

(FYI, that caption was Wordpress’s suggested—and I love it!!!)

o_O  The thing that makes this one, for me, is how the strings are anchored in the eye sockets(!!!)  The Met has several of thesefrom different generous donors and almost certainly different artisans—and they all use the eye sockets and brow ridge as a saddle and bridge.  Humans, amiright?

N.B. that, according to current expert opinion, this thing—which is indeed from Central Africa, where it was crafted in the 19th C by a native artisan—was produced for no other purpose than to sell something fantastically “primitive” and “savage” to European tourists/anthropologists (and thus inform European opinions of these nations and, in all likelihood, form the foundation of the moral justifications for brutal colonialism).  I invite the reader to meditate on their own how this might mirror our current situation with imported polarizing/fake news, and who the greater savage might be: The supplier who makes the ersatz evidence, or the customer who furnishes the demand and shells out the cash?

How to Smash Fascism without Really Trying

Here’s the thing about dictatorial violations (be they as outrageous as genocide or as comparably mild as yelling at a barista for wishing a “Happy Holidays!”):

They rarely have the support of the majority of the population—and certainly never start with even half the population on board.  Atrocities don’t require the majority’s active participation; they just need the majority’s active acquiescence.  And the majority will acquiesce even to the most terrible crimes as long as those aren’t too far outside the norm.  The wider the margin between “normal” and “atrocity,” the safer we all are; a pot that’s not allowed to even simmer can never boil over. 

So here’s a game plan for keeping the Melting Pot lukewarm:

  1. Learn these three sentences:
    1. An honestly curious “I’m not sure I follow you?”  (Other options: “Hunh; why do you think that?”)
    2. A bemused: “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
    3. A stern: “Not OK, dude.”  Not angry—never angry, because anger energizes the mob—but stern, like scolding a dog or child.
  2. Practice saying your sentences in a mirror. Make sure you’re getting the emotion right for each, and not getting angry.
  3. Use these in person—over the phone or in conversation, your voice in their ear, your eyes on theirs.  This tactic doesn’t work online or in print; it’s a matter of emotional connection, and that connection is made one-on-one, person-to-person.

Use this tactic with family and friends and coworkers and guys who are sorta being dicks in the coffee shop.  Use it freely and often and in good humor. Connect and connect and connect and connect with your fellow humans, always keep them a little nervous about that “off-color joke” or that “innocent” cat call or “telling it like it is.”

Note that 1.1 and 1.2 are questions—because you always want to knock people off balance, and oblige them to question their beliefs and justify them (even if only internally).  1.3 is simple, obvious, disengaged dissaproval.  You wouldn’t argue with a child about running out in the street or a dog about whether or not your leg is for humping; you give a sharp “Nope!” and move on with your life.  The same here.  No one ever argued their way out of a genocide, but plenty of awfulness has been prevented by scolding grannies and scoffing naysayers.

Remember: If the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, then the only thing needed for evil to falter is for good folks to do something—shit, almost anything, just as long as you aren’t sitting on your hands, biting your tongues, and looking the other way.  Looking the other way is exactly what the lynch mob wants you to do.

(see also: We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump)

“A Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance”

trump-tallit
The Second Place President-Elect, simpering like a douche, wearing a Jewish prayer shawl laid on him in a black church for God knows what reason.

I want to talk about why this picture absolutely breaks my heart, but fist I want to talk about that quote in the title. It comes from a “congratulatory address” penned by Rabbi Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, and presented to President George Washington.  Washington, in his reply, mirrors Rabbi Seixas’s language, but gives us the slightly more familiar formulation, callings ours a government “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  But I really like the full paragraph, so I offer it now:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

I like that he starts to poke a whole in “tolerance” right from the birth of our nation—I myself am done with being “tolerated,” like a fart in an elevator or a tax you can’t dodge.  You can accept me as your fellow citizen, or deride me as a Jew, but I’m not going to be tolerated or indulged. And I like that he finishes by saying “all we want us for everyone—and anyone—to show up and be good citizens to all.”  I can pledge my allegiance to such words.

And, yes, America has done a crap job of giving bigotry no sanction over the years, but as a Vision Statement it’s solid, and viewed over the course of the centuries, we’ve pretty steadiy progressed.

Until now, and because of this man.  In the last year—and at an accelerating clip—we’ve raced backward.  Today—and I’m telling you this as a fact, based on my actual experience of actual events, and a lifetime of actually keeping an eye on actual trends in how folks think of Jews—we’ve slid back decades.  The sort of anti-Semitic garbage folks haven’t pulled since I was a kid are back and feisty as ever.

And President-Elect Tantrum hasn’t done shit. In the weeks following his “electoral triumph” he literally spent more time hassling actors than he did decrying hate crimes and all-around shittiness being done in his name and on behalf of his team.

And there’s the man himself, draped in a prayer shawl—something I wore at my bar mitzvah, that I wore at my own wedding and while officiating a wedding, that I wear on our High Holy Days—and it kills me.  Not just to see something sacred ripped from its context and used as a damned fashion accessory (and apart from the weird vein of quasi-crypto-Judaic cultural appropriation that has long pulsed through Detroit’s black Evangelical communities), but to see it on a man who can’t be bothered to extend the minimum effort toward Doing the Right Thing.

Jesus!  His most beloved daughter—the daughter that, bizarely, is I guess going to be First Lady somehow?—is Jewish! (she converted)  Yet even then, he can’t be bothered to speak out against anti-Semitism.  And if he can’t be bothered to speak out against a rising tide that would like to see his daughter killed, cremated, and scattered to the sea, what the hell can I possibly expect from him when it comes everyone else, the blacks and browns and queers and immigrants and whoevers with whom he seems to have absolutely no personal contact.

George W. Bush—a terrible president responsible for terrible suffering—did the right thing in situations like this.  It’s one of the very basic components of presidenting: Being reassuring and calming when the shit hits the fan. Obama has been fantastic at it; both Bushes had their moments, Clinton could do it, Reagan certainly did (sorry. that’s as far back as I personally go with presidents).

And yet this guy won’t.  And that’s unforgivable.

So what do I need for this to be good, for us to move forward and me to be able to grit my teeth and say “President Trump”?

When I’m wearing my tallit on Yom Kippur, I’m told that three things “soften the Lord’s harsh decree” as It considers our failings:

  1. Repentance
  2. Mindfullness
  3. Righteousness

And that’s what I want: A president who says “It was a cock-up not to get on this sooner,” gives some evidence of thinking meaningfully and deeply about how he’s fanned these flames and what he needs to do to stop doing so, and takes some sort of action to show solidarity with us, the people of all of the protected classes who are now checking our locks, keeping an eye peeled, and sleeping light every night.

 

 

Happy Non-Denominational Gift Giving Holiday Season, Mofos!

(NOTE: If you’re feeling deja vu, don’t sweat it; I post this every year, because I love you)

I’m a mixed Jew who’s lived in the American Midwest for his entire life. I think these songs, more than anything else I’ve ever written, are honest about that experience.

  • Another Dark Xmastime (FUN FACT: I wrote this during my first year as a fundamentally unemployable stay-at-home dad; my son believes it is an accepted part of the general Xmas Music Canon.)
  • Dreidel Bells (FUN FACT: The beat here is an original GameBoy running an early German Nanoloop cartridge. Both voices are obviously me, but the filters for the robot voice badly overburdened my iBook, causing significant lag–which is why Mr. Roboto struggles so badly to hit his marks.)
  • DreidelDreidelDreidel (FUN FACT: The beat here is a vintage analog Boss DR-55 once owned by POE, crammed through a heavy-metal distortion stompbox.)

Good News, Everybody! We Finally Know for a Fact that the Electoral College Has Outlived its Function

I outlined my thinking more fully about two weeks ago (here’s the post: The Final Test of the Electoral College), but I think it’s fair to say that the Electoral College has finally proven itself to be, at best, a quaint vestigial

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt this month. Expect to see him here often.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt this month. Expect to see him here often.)

growth on the Republic, and at worst a systemic effort at the national level to generally discount the value of votes in the most populous states (which are also, incidentally, where the densest populations of immigrants and people of color live) in favor of giving undue weight to those in the least populous (and, entirely coincidentally, predominately white) sections.

Please contact your state reps and encourage them to support the National Popular Vote. Abolishing the popular vote has seen support left, right, and center in recent years, including that of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  I have it on good word that the National Popular Vote way of going about getting this done is basically the only way it’s gonna happen; support them. usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

(source)
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(image source—I added the red labels to ease comparison)
(image source—I added the red labels to ease comparison)