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April 22, 2016


So when we were in high school we had a surprise birthday war. A friend had engineered one wherein my mom encouraged me to drive the rest the way home from the store for the first time, and so I was already sweating it pretty hard when I walk in the house and it's a surprise party. I was surprised, plus also, it was on. So for the one friend who was the architect, a bunch of us (with pop and cake of course) snuck into his house at four thirty in the morning, and then hid in the basement while his dad went up to wake him, "Pipe's burst in the basement, Steve, come down and help me with it." So Steve was in his tighty whites and half-asleep when we happy-birthdayed the hell out of him.

This is all irrelevant (other than for nostalgia!) but for one moment: as we were laughing and getting giddy on Jolt Cola as the sun was rising that Saturday morning, we were also playing records, as one did at the time, and of course we put on "Purple Rain". It had been out for a year or two already, so we all had it pretty much memorized. And so in our perpetual teened-up state, it only seemed natural at the end of the title song for me and another guy to lock arms to form a bridge of sorts and another friend, Chris, to hang upside down by his knees from our arms and air guitar the solo at the end. And I still remember it clearly, decades later!

This is a very dumb and trivial thing with which to remember someone so indelible as Prince. He was a lot of things to a lot of people, easily the most ubiquitous genius of the modern era. Gender and race and art and politics and culture and keepin' on keepin'-on — Prince was about all of that, and there are naturally gonna be a couple million words written about him as the world tries to remember what the world was like with Prince in it. But Prince was also the soundtrack of my entire life, and of the lives of everyone I grew up with and I'm certain a whole lot more people than that. And while the entire universe is sad about this, and a lot of lessons are being learned about how to make it through this mortal coil in remembering how Prince did it, sometimes you have to give credit for becoming a fixed point in the history of culture. Only a handful of people in history get to do that. Prince did that. I think that's neat.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:30 PM

April 19, 2016

bernie sanders and the slow reveal

These are just a few things to get off my chest, as today is Primary Day in New York State, and the first one in my memory that could possibly have any effect on the nomination of a candidate I might vote for.

I've been trying to stay (in my heart) neutral, preparing myself to vote for the candidate that the nomination lays on my doorstep as long as they opposed the Republican ticket, purely on account of Justices John G. Roberts and Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and the circumstances of their selection and their future counterparts that I hope to see prevented from happening. But as Iowa caucused and all of the Tuesdays Supered, it started to get a little bit chippy out there. No need to catalogue the complaints; either you know them or you closed tab sentences ago and are happily annotating something. But the chip was unique, because as the primary approached here in NYS and ad dollars poured in, the chippiness in real life—on the sidewalk, over the "water cooler"—began to first rival and then lap the day-to-day anonymous hostility that has loomed over the internet since the first time anyone ever enabled comments. Lines drawn. Choices chosen. We began to envy Captain America and Iron Man for the civility and lack of vitriol of their little garden-club dust up (coming to theaters this May!).

And I realize that the past four months have been, and probably the few weeks will be, comprised entirely of every last person with a login and a password yammering on and on about how they're a College Student For Hillary or a Woman For Bernie, and I realize further that the aggregate effect of all this thinking out loud is solipsism as the most annoying anesthesia ever. This piece, too, is not much more than me talking about me and my ideas and how these ideas should be widely shared because they are my ideas. But now is the time for all good men lorem ipsum, etc. And even though I'm markedly disappointed with the pitchforks and torches, I was hoping these campaigns could remain a level or two above fan-fic, and I am mildly surprised that the madness of crowds is madder and crowdier than ever. It seems that, with this election, we do not get to approach the convention with anything like consensus, and no one is escaping this primary without a black eye or a bloody nose.

So then. Today I'll be voting for Hillary Clinton, because not only is she the most qualified candidate running (in any party) but also because, of the humans currently running, she is the human I would most like to see be president. But, in the spirit of the contest, I do not want to let this opportunity pass without saying that Bernie Sanders is a bad candidate who has gotten a pass because people are either scared of his fanbase of pissed-off but liberal disaffected types or are fans of garb indie bands using Bernie to move a few more units. But bad nonetheless.


Fortunately the inanity of endless repetition of the ways that Bernard "Bernie" Sanders is a candidate that I would urge you not to support even though he is an international celebrity who is a bro of the Pope no matter what the Pope says is a little less likely thanks to Robin Alperstein, who over the weekend published eleventy million words detailing, after legitimate amounts of research, the many ways that her disaffection with Bernie tends, and, as they say, I urge you to read it no matter who you had sign your commemorative tee! And please forgive if I refer back to it, as it is quite encyclopedic, plus also credit where credit is due.

First of all, duh go check the Alperstein with regards to Bernie being a man who didn't have a job until he was forty and since then has held safe seats in Congress from where he could distance himself from the Democratic Party and offer many platitudes but no actual legislation. Because that's the crux of my estimation of Bernie as a dude in his eighth decade who claims to have done a lot (marched with cough cough, stood behind people signing legislation, subscribed to zines!) but hasn't really done that much at all, other than writing checks that his ass can't cash. And this list of dubious accomplishments is reflected in what passes for Bernie's policy positions. It's a matter of record that when it comes to policy Bernie is very good at bellowing and not so good at saying what he would do. Not even exactly what he would do, but even broad outlines of suggested points of action. To point out this absence of detail is to be fair controversial with his supporters, but it is not a new criticism, and even after a notable crater of an interview with the New York Daily News in which Bernie seemed not only sparse on detail but uninterested in them, his answers to questions of policy have not sharpened.

It should be noted that the goals of these fuzzy policy positions, the sudden transformation of American society into a Northern European socialist paradigm, with universal healthcare and education and tighter finance controls, plausible or not, are admirable, and in such sense they're a bare-knuckle political choice. If you are to not support Bernie, you are open to being accused of opposing this agenda, which would make you pro-Wall Street, pro-inequality, etc. Not fair? It's an election, and that kind of fairness is irrelevant. And even if I were the type to yearn for some transformational figure who is going to turn DC upside down or chase the bums out or whatever, Bernie's delivery is utterly unconvincing, a stiff-elbowed bellow about HOW CAN I DO THIS? I'M GONNA TELL YOU HOW! I'M GONNA RAISE A TAX ON WALL STREET SPECULATION! That may be no more deliberately ignorant concerning what presidents are actually allowed to do than any other candidate, but that is so detail-free as to be insulting, the kind of stuff that magic wands look at and shrug, "Not me, man." It is as credible as the kid running for class president promising pizza in the cafeteria every Thursday and not just every Thursday like it is now. It's "Make America Great Again!" without the fatuousness.

And what is decidedly not fair is convincing a bunch of well- meaning people that the way you achieve these goals is by attending rallies and wearing buttons and being vocal on social media, and then later bemoaning the Establishment and the Mainstream Media and generally theorizing conspiracy. The energy is fantastic and the fervor is commendable but when the energized realize that it takes more than a (self-proclaimed) movement candidate and one vote to upend society, the energy and fervor is going to quickly become disengagement, which is what we've been living with for the past forty years. If Bernie were a more responsible candidate, he'd be stressing how change is hard work, and each successive step in pursuing this change will take a lot more than an intro by Danny DeVito and a mini-concert by TV on the Radio.

Bernie's stated mechanism to accomplish any or all of this is that his campaign will start a political revolution that will sweep the country, and then anything that Bernie/Vampire Weekend wants will be rallied into law. This I find not just naïve but also a bit ominous. Revolutions, as we know them, are rarely peaceful and even more rarely efficient and controllable. It may be that Bernie has been less than deft in choosing his metaphor, or it could be that it's exactly the metaphor he intends. And the ominous part is that, any person who claims out loud to want to lead a revolution is a person I inherently distrust, and any person that uses, "By leading a revolution!" as an answer to policy questions is not someone that should be the titular head of the United States. I'm not saying that there is no need for revolution, I'm saying that even though his motives are presumably pure and his legion of followers are largely my friends, if you imagined any other career politician calling for a revolution to be lead by said politician, your Spidey- sense would rightfully be tingling. And all of the fervor, both from the candidate and the candidate's supporters, in support of BELIEVING in something instead of actually EFFECTUATING something that makes me most leery of Bernie. My comity with such a movement ends where the purity test begins.


Respect is due, if not to Bernie (and definitely not to the brains of his operation, Jeff Weaver, whose Agent Orange strategy is mystifying and odious), but to the many people who've fallen in behind him, largely characterized as young although some of my affinity group in the Bernie camp do not qualify as such. Their motives are unimpeachable, and what they want is something we should all want. Yes, a certain fringe that cross-identifies with GamersGate and MRA and other such vicious nonsense have done Bernie no favors, nor has an unnatural antipathy for Bernie's opponent, but you can hardly blame anyone for buying what Bernie is selling.

But here is the truth of the matter: Bernie will not win. He is not mathematically eliminated, but barring the unknown (the asteroids, hurricanes, etc.), he cannot win an actual majority of delegates prior to the convention. And yes Jeff Weaver has made it clear that he wants to win on the floor of the convention, to convince delegates pledged to Clinton that they should switch. But this scenario has a similar problem to the problem that the GOP has in derailing Trump: the good will (and endorsements and support) that Clinton has garnered is legitimate, and moreover, supporters of Bernie have been railing at these Clinton delegates/superdelegates in ways that create no good will, and in fact only increase good will for Clinton. Just as the GOP can't ignore the millions of primary votes Trump has received, Bernie can't expect to win over a party that he has basically been running against all along. The scorched earth strategy could pan out if he could win outright; he can't.

In a recent commercial, the campaign insisted that it would pursue its goals of recreating a society with the inequality removed and not listen to the "the pundits and the naysayers," which implies that all that has stopped what I presume Sanders thinks of as the "Establishment" from previously achieving this utopia previously is that there were some pundits and some naysayers standing directly in the path, arms crossed, tsk-tsking. That is a crazy thing to think, and crazier to promulgate.

Distrust the Democratic Party all you want, but keep in mind the fact that we are essentially bicameral when it comes to our nation-wide political apparatus, and one of these nation- wide parties (not the Democrats) is winning in terrible ways, and the way they are winning is by taking bottom-to-top organization seriously. Being president is one thing, but control the Congress and load the Supreme Court and then the President is out-gunned. National rights movements are another one thing, but control the state houses and then you get endless waves of cynical legislation forbidding localities from forbidding discrimination of these rights. And STEM education is yet another one thing, but install an ideologue on the school board and you get curriculum that won't teach history. The Republican Party (and, more importantly, the shadow Republican Party of the Koch-level donor class) is winning those fights, to such an extent that in many ways they don't need the presidency. And (again, consult the Alperstein) Bernie's interest in down-ballot candidates is only recent, and only extended to not enough candidates to fill a bowling team. Bernie may be running on big ideas, but he's disregarding (to say the least) the apparatus that, even though conventional and establishment, has been working towards these goals for generations.

A goodly number of my friends who are Team Bernie have expressed displeasure with being starry-eyed optimists, duped into marching lockstep with an implausible candidate, and I empathize. But dancing around the definition of pragmatism is not the most convincing argument, and believing that sixty million people will share your enthusiasm because you've stumbled across the first purely moral campaign is a bit of a stretch even if you believe that a bare majority of Americans of voting age give a single shit about anyone below them on the totem pole (also: stretch). It's confirmation bias. No problem with anyone's personal choice or the degree of support granted, but to start to see politics as some sort of Holy War in which everyone gets to be the Salvaged Remnant so long as they accept the gospels of Bernie in their heart also sets off Spidey-sense in a way not so different than a safe-seat Senator piggy-backing a party he never supported to proclaim himself the head of a revolution. I hate to disagree, but in this case I do. I understand that there is a sense of purpose, and it is very compelling to believe that a couple of generations of disconnection and futility can be undone by giving twenty-seven bucks to a campaign for a bumper sticker and a Twitter meme, but is there some version of Occam's Razor that applies to unicorns? If not, there should be.

But for me, the biggest warning sign, the most glaring formerly-living canary in this particular coal mine, is the adopted hashtag of the campaign. #FeelTheBern is the dumbest hashtag I've ever seen, and I think that all hashtags are dumb. I can remember social media campaigns for candy bars that were more catchy and sophisticated that #FeelTheBern, and yet the screens of America are filled with actual grown-ups believing that slipping into someone's mentions with a #FeelTheBern is persuasive. When fervency prevents you from the self-awareness that your preferred hashtag is dumb, you need to question your fervency. It's fun to get solidly behind something, so solidly that everyone who does not also get behind it is committing a sin, but when we support insipidness, we all lose. #GoBernie! #Bernie16! Those both seem to convey the sentiment without coming off as conceived by someone with a passing interest in metaphor. But boy is that an insipid hashtag, and it feels very good to get it off my chest.

I sincerely hope that I'm overstating my worries and suspicions over Bernie's campaign and the nature of his support, as I am not wishing ill on anyone, and there's more work to do, for the rest of this election, and for all the elections after. And I understand that having one's candidate criticized, or one's advocacy questioned, is a dodgy venture that hurts feelings, which is nothing I enjoy doing. I do hope that I'm wrong, and am willing to admit it where I am. Except with regard to the hashtag, which does no one any good.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:47 AM