By David Morgan There you go – I’ve said it. I subscribe to a political philosophy that (in the context of the Scottish Independence debate at least) dare not speak its name. The very word itself has become a term of almost universal opprobrium. Whether it’s Scot Nats, Cybernats or Brit Nats the very word […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks
It has to be the most common annoyance experienced by users of technology everywhere. As soon as you want to partake in the pleasures and treasures of modern comforts, a password is required. For every frigging thing.
A password is required if you want to buy stuff, read stuff, access stuff, post stuff, play stuff, write stuff, approve stuff, release stuff. A password is even required if you just want to retrieve your own goddamn stuff. You end up with a thousand different places where you need to type in those eight crucial characters.
The problem is an obvious one: What normal human being has the ability to remember all the different passwords that is required for daily functioning?
No one, I tell ya. Not one single person. (And Spock is not a person.)
The reality is that most people simply pick one. A password for everything. One word that rule them all. One that grants the user the ability to access everything about you. A whole Internet portfolio available if you know the crazy combination of the user. Allowing cyber criminals the opportunity, to not only hijack your credit card, but steal your blood and kidneys as well.
The second conundrum in selecting a password is finding something that you will remember tomorrow.
So it will most probably end up being something relatable. Something the user likes or dislikes. Maybe a favourite movie. Or band. And this proves that the spy movies are accurate. You know which ones I’m referring too? Those where the hacker sits and access a computer because he sees a painting in the study and types in the painter’s name that appears on the golden frame. And we think what poor sod would choose such an obvious, easy password? And we laugh at the ridiculousness of the scene. The absurdity of another Hollywood cop-out.
Well here’s my little secret. I’m very close to that sod. I am SO hackable. Hollywood might know something after all.
Anyhow, if I didn’t have a word to rule them all, then I’ll probably end up with this sequence next time I want to check my non-existing bank balance:
Please enter log in name:
Your password has expired. Please enter new password:
Your password requires a minimum of eight characters. Please try again:
Your password requires a capital letter. Please try again:
Your password requires a numeric number. Please try again:
Your password doesn’t allow spaces. Please try again:
Your password requires a symbol key. Please try again:
Your password doesn’t allow subsequent capital letters. Please try again:
That password is already in use. Please try again:
And I’m off to my happy place with my good friend Jack. (which I got on credit.)
Any time you stuff a something into another thing, you’re going to have a pretty good time. This has been proven time, and time, and time again. Also, Puppy Surprise. It’s a weird thing we, the American people, have with things inside of things making both A and B things better as a C thing. It’s like we cannot get enough of everything ever all at once. Case in point? The Turducken. USA! USA! USA!
Patriotism aside/NEVER PUT PATRIOTISM ASIDE, this recipe just makes me super happy. It’s an absolute game-changer with the game being you-having-more-friends. I’ve made it once before but that banana bread wasn’t vegan and honestly, this one is just all around better. Finesse. We can call it finesse. (I mostly just know how to use knives better now.) Some people think vegan baked goods are dry or crumbly or sorta yuck but that’s what makes baking in an apple so successful – it keeps the banana bread extra moist and the boost of baked apple flavor doesn’t hurt either. All around goodness.
Big tip I’m just learning about now that will probably rock your life as hard as it rocked mine: I’ve been making flax “eggs” wrong this whole time. I know! It’s fucking ridiculous! One day you’re living your life thinking everything’s coming up Molly and WHAM you’re sideswiped by a big slap of reality. Thank you Bonzai Aphrodite (that’s a thing I say out loud all the time, sure) for bringing this to my attention. Apparently, if you refrigerate the flax/water mixture for about 15 minutes, it makes for an exponentially better binder. We’ll just refer to it as the Lisa Frank (Egg-less) Binder. Nice.
BANANA BREAD STUFFED BAKED APPLES
Makes 8 game-changers
some people are calling it dynamite…
Prepare those apples! I used a melon baller because duh I own a melon baller. You can also use a knife. Or your special stabbin’ spoon. Either cut out or melon baller out (technical terms) the stem area. From there, carefully scoop out the insides of your apple. Keep no less than a 1/2″ inch thick wall inside your apple. Also, don’t break through the bottom. I’ve been trying for literally ones of minutes to think of a clearer way to scoop out the apples. I cannot. Godspeed.
Combine your dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside. Whisk together your water and ground flax. Refrigerate it for at least 15 minutes. It should thicken and get stickier.
Cream your buttery sticks and Truvia with an electric mixer or your own brute strength. Add in the maple syrup. Mix. Add in that mindblowing new flaxseed/water mixture. Mix mix mix. Add in the mashed bananas and almond milk. Mix! Mix in the vanilla. Add the cinnamon and give your batter another go round in the mixer. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture at a low speed on your mixer. Try not to overbeat it. (There are so , so many jokes here.)
Fill your apple with around 70g of your mixture – for me that filled about 2/3 of an apple. Sprinkle 1/4 of a teaspoon of Splenda brown sugar blend on top of the batter in the filled apples. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top of that.
Find a baking dish with corners and significant depth (cake pan, roasting dish, loaf pan, other things) and line it with some tin foil or parchment paper. You’re going to want to bake the apples no more than 4 at a time because you’re going to want to place an apple in each corner and I refuse to believe you have a octagonal baking pan.
Bake for 35 minutes or so. Let them cool a bit before diving it. Also, you probably want to cut them in half and eat a half because you’re a lady/will probably end up eating all the damn banana bread stuffed baked apples because daaaaaamn.
They’d also be good on top of vanilla ice cream. But so would my shoe.
NUTRITION (this one’s a doozy): 346 calories . 44g carbs . 15g fat . 6g protein . 8g fiber . 22g sugar
As the 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide approaches on April 7, people who don’t usually pay much attention to African politics will be seeing two main types of commemorative stories about the country. The first will focus on the incredible progress that Rwanda has made in areas like fighting corruption, promoting economic growth, and rolling out universal health insurance. The second will acknowledge these domestic policy achievements, but note that Kagame’s government has also been repressing political expression, physically attacking its opponents, and fostering rebellions in the neighboring DR Congo. Underlying some of these concerns about domestic repression is the fear that ethnic grievances from the genocide era have only been partially addressed, and that these could spill over into renewed conflict in the future.
These two sets of stories present such diametrically opposed visions of the country that I think many people will feel that they can’t both be equally true. One must trump the other in the final analysis, right? Either the big development goals are being met, at the short term cost of lesser goals like freedom of speech, or these gains are secondary to the threat posed by the RPF’s willingness to use violence to achieve its ends. I too find myself struggling with this tendency to weigh the two narratives against each other. I am generally concerned about the patterns of repression that can be seen today, but I’m also aware that this leads me to discount some amazing development achievements that I’m sure I would be endlessly commending if they had took place in, say, Ghana. It feels uncharitable at best and dishonest at worse to look past these accomplishments.
Since it’s hard to weigh the situation in Rwanda on its own merits, it’s common to try to explain it through analogy. Kagame himself is fond of saying that he’d like Rwanda to be the Singapore of Africa – a tiny country that punches far above its economic weight. Singapore, of course, has achieved its own growth through a similar combination of good governance and repression of dissent. However, when most foreigners think of Singapore today, I suspect they’re contemplating its role as an international financial hub, its insanely expensive rents, and its great culinary diversity rather than its freedom of the press. The obvious conclusion here, if you believe that Rwanda really is on a path to emulate Singapore, is that in 50 years no one will care about a spot of repression today, because it won’t have any negative long term effects.
On the other hand, there are analogies which express more concern over the RPF’s authoritarianism. Laura Seay tweeted last month that “Rwanda today is terrifyingly like Rwanda circa 1992. Power held by a tiny minority, no real freedom. Development is better, but fragile.” The point here is not that Kagame’s government is using its power to start planning a genocide, as the Habyarimana government was doing in 1992 – whatever its faults, the RPF is definitely not out to kill every citizen it perceives as a threat to its power. Rather, the point is that extreme concentration of power can be politically destabilizing, and potentially lead to renewed conflict. In 1992, Rwanda was in the middle of a civil war between the Hutu-led Habyarimana government and Kagame’s RPF, at that point a rebel group based in Uganda. Kagame and many of his companions were the children of Tutsis who had been driven out of Rwanda when a Hutu government came to power at independence in 1962. Lacking any impartial or democratic means to redress these ethnic grievances, they formed an armed group instead, and invaded in 1990 after a series of economic crises had weakened Habyarimana’s authoritarian control.
There are several implications of this analogy. Most obviously, it suggests that there’s a problem with the RPF’s ban on discussions of ethnic identity, which means that ethnicized grievances among both Hutu and Tutsi can’t be openly resolved. At this point both sides have complaints about everything from the RPF’s behavior during and after the genocide to contemporary land policy. It’s by no means guaranteed that these issues will spill over into violent rebellion, of course – they might simply simmer at a local level, or even fade away as shared economic growth and the passage of time reduce some of the sting of current grievances. However, the other lesson of this analogy is that conflict doesn’t always happen immediately. After 1962, exiled Tutsis made a handful of attempts to invade Rwanda, but it was nearly 30 years before the RPF succeeded. Authoritarian stability today doesn’t necessarily predict stability in the future.
So which is the “right” analogy? I still don’t really know. For a number of reasons, I think it’s harder to finance a violent rebellion in most African countries today than it was in the mid-1990s. The RPF’s control of the countryside is strong, as is the Rwandan military. It’s hard to imagine how they could become sufficiently disorganized that other armed groups could form within the country, or even pose a real threat across its borders. Of course, if a severe schism formed within the party (as happened with the SPLM in South Sudan recently), this could change the balance of power. Ultimately, the analogy you prefer may come down to your tolerance for risk. Mitigating the chance of a worse-case outcome under the “Rwanda in 1992″ analogy may seem like a better policy choice for some people than trying to maximize the chance of high economic growth under the Singapore scenario.
Game of Thrones, television’s most consistent show, returns this Sunday night for its fourth season at the peak of its powers and popularity. A series that launched as an enormous, pricey gamble — how many characters? And she does what with the horse heart? — now swaggers like a front-running sure thing. More than 13 million people watched last year’s Red Wedding, in which slashed necks burbled like shaken bottles of champagne — and that’s not counting the untold millions who crashed the party via illegal downloads and “borrowed” HBO GO passwords. It’s the sort of swelling, fanatical audience HBO hasn’t achieved since the heyday of another violent show about warring clans, The Sopranos. And Thrones’ cultural footprint is only expanding. In the run-up to Sunday’s premiere, the cast and crew have been laying siege to the media with the vigor and relentlessness of Stannis Baratheon’s fleet sailing on King’s Landing. Here’s the cast lounging on the rocks on the cover of Vanity Fair; there they are unwinding at the beach on costar Lena Headey’s delightfully chill Instagram feed. Two weeks ago, HBO feted the series with a gala premiere at Lincoln Center followed by a lavish party at the American Museum of Natural History. At the former, the New York Philharmonic played “The Rains of Castamere” and an auditorium full of jaded media types gasped and cheered like Lannister teenagers. At the latter, Peter Dinklage and Alfie Allen gobbled sushi while society reporters hovered around them like flies. Winter may still be coming, but Game of Thrones appeared to be in full bloom.
With its Season 4 just days away, Game of Thrones has reached a saturation point reserved only for the best and most beloved of TV shows. These are the good times, the glory days, when crew and critics alike are flashing the same contented smiles. It’s the moment when the x-axis of audience anticipation and the y-axis of satisfaction cross like the sigil of House Bolton. For some series, this happens early in the run — think Lost after the first-season finale — for others, it occurs as a show’s story engine revs up in preparation for the final turn. With Breaking Bad gone and Mad Men exiting, Game of Thrones’ ascent feels especially significant: It’s now the last consensus show on the air, a pan-demographic Goliath that successfully juggles the adrenalized whomp of a summer blockbuster with the attention-demanding intricacy of a prestige drama. Even with the existence of those physical spoilers known as “books,” Thrones obsessives wouldn’t dare miss their Sunday-night trip to Westeros. It’s the sort of shared, albeit occasionally horrifying, experience that is becoming less and less common as our entertainment becomes increasingly more personalized.
In fact, there’s so much good feeling heading into this new season that it’s almost unsettling. As a critic — but more important in this case, as a fan — I feel like a Stark stuck listening to the best man’s speech and waiting for the music to change. How can a show built around so much carnage and strife be so uniformly celebrated and beloved? And how, by the old gods and the new, can it possibly stay that way?
Before we climb that wall, let’s dig down a bit. It’s no secret that TV shows receive the most attention when they begin and when they end. It’s a Darwinian binary that syncs up well with the fevered way we cover television these days — in which everything is The! Best! Ever! (unless it’s The Worst) — but doesn’t reflect the way we actually watch. Whether we binge in great gulps or limit ourselves to satisfying weekly sips, TV is best experienced as an ongoing relationship. It ought to be enjoyed in the moment as something much more than the sum total of a meet-cute and a breakup. This is especially relevant this week with the howling rage over the How I Met Your Mother finale threatening to drown out all discourse. The end of something shouldn’t define it, even if all our frustrations — and a good portion of the Internet — are loudly telling us otherwise.
And yet in 2014, even the humble network sitcom finds itself perched on the knife blade of opinion from week to week, forever at risk of falling, like a Dothraki from his horse, from favor to disgrace.[footnote]One could argue that I’ve contributed to this atmosphere with my weekly recaps of shows. But I’ve always felt that the recap can be a vital and exciting way to deepen the connection with a series. When done well, a recap doesn’t provide a Gladiator-like up-or-down verdict on a show. It should extend the conversation, not end a debate.[/footnote] There’s no universally agreed-upon term for when a series, like Game of Thrones, is at its peak. (If Jack Donaghy were still in charge of NBC — instead of current president Kenneth Parcell — he’d call it Reaganing. I’m partial to “shooting J.R.”) But there is a more noxious term for the exact opposite scenario, when a once-adored show either founders on the rocks of critical opinion or is stoned to death by a mob of exasperated former fans.
“Jumping the shark” owes its origin to Happy Days but its persistence to cynicism. The eagerness some have to identify the precise moment a show becomes irredeemable has never made any sense to me. It reeks of the sort of entrenched pessimism that makes genuine engagement impossible. It’s like watching Olympic skiing and rooting for the mountain. Besides, the thing that makes TV so unique and exciting is that, contrary to what the shark-jumpers would have you believe, it’s always in flux. The open-ended nature of TV production guarantees that even if your favorite show finds itself all at sea, there will always be a chance to right the ship.[footnote]One of the most interesting aspects of the outrage that greeted this week’s finale of How I Met Your Mother was the implication that show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas erred only by planning things out too precisely. The ending they imagined back in 2005 turned out to be less a neat way to tie off loose ends and more of a noose.[/footnote]
How does this apply to Game of Thrones? Well, on the one hand, it doesn’t, at least not exactly. The show remains unique, not only in its reach but in its — sorry, Ned Stark — execution. The comforting safety net of George R.R. Martin’s expansive novels allows showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss the luxury of devoting their energies to the sorts of niceties that bedevil more traditional producers, things like “pacing” and “structure.” Despite the enormous budget (the largest in TV), ever-expanding cast (ditto), and a far-flung plot that demands three separate crews filming in three disparate European cities (Belfast, Dubrovnik, and Reykjavik), the prevailing sensation of Game of Thrones is calm. Not the character-based calm that dominates other high-profile hours — Frank Underwood’s duplicity on House of Cards has to remain uncovered for at least another season; Alicia Florrick will be The Good Wife for the long haul — but the calm that comes only from a well-appointed train ride on tracks that have already been laid.
Because Benioff and Weiss know where they’re going, decisions that might sink lesser series — the season-long marginalization (and mutilation!) of Theon Greyjoy, for example — are met with patience, not fury.[footnote]OK, in fairness, I was pretty ticked.[/footnote] TV viewers are increasingly savvy, but also paranoid; we refer to our viewing choices as investments and balk when our money managers give off even the slightest whiff of doubt. The long arc of Martin’s story has freed Benioff and Weiss from those sorts of inquiries, but in the process it may also have unfairly diminished the magnitude of their achievement. The Red Wedding was truly shocking, a moment unlike any other in TV history. For fans demanding huge returns, it was the equivalent of a Publishers Clearing House novelty check with the long line of zeros written in dripping blood. Everything — and everyone — that went down in that castle had been painstakingly set up for more than two and a half seasons. Benioff and Weiss knew exactly what they were doing, taking particular delight in the way their audience — still scarred and shaking over what happened to Ned Stark in Season 1 — had only just recently begun to trust again.[footnote]Would anyone actually blame us if we declined to stick our necks out a third time? At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if Season 4 ended with Arya Stark being shivved in the heart by a mewling, adorable smoke-kitten.[/footnote] The real achievement of that stunning episode wasn’t the body count, it was the elegance and skill with which it was tallied.
Which is an important thing to remember, since no road map can cover everything. Eventually every traveler will hit the uncharted region marked “Here Be Monsters.” (Of course, in Westeros that could just be spray-painted over the entire continent.) For Game of Thrones, that time may be approaching sooner than we realize. The new season, like the one that preceded it, contains events from the third of Martin’s novels. There are two published books remaining for Benioff and Weiss to adapt. Martin insists the sixth novel in the series, The Winds of Winter, will be out relatively soon. This is tough to believe, as the gap between his books has begun yawning wider than the Shivering Sea: The first three novels were separated by roughly two years each; then there was a five year wait for Book 4, and it was six for Book 5. As a gesture of good faith, Martin recently posted a chapter from Winter on his website. Rather than instill hope, it had roughly the same effect as a finger being mailed to the family of a kidnap victim.
Benioff and Weiss have spoken of their series lasting seven seasons, which suggests an end date just three years away. It also suggests they don’t plan on respecting Martin’s glacial publishing schedule. It’s a fact of which Martin isn’t ignorant but one he seems hell-bent on ignoring. In the expansive Vanity Fair cover story, he expressed hope that HBO might consider pausing production should it run the risk of lapping his authorly endeavors.[footnote]He’s also taken to hyping the possibility of a Thrones movie as a way to do justice to the scope of his finale. But this strikes me as a way to free his intellectual property from the demanding yoke of HBO’s production schedule.[/footnote] Some might read this as vain, but it struck me as sweetly naive. Until now, Martin has been indulged by Thrones, greeted and fawned over like a Maester and encouraged to contribute a teleplay each year. But the TV business cares about accuracy and creative vision only as long as they are profitable. The minute Martin’s imagination threatens to derail the money train, he’ll be tossed out along with it.
But would this necessarily be such a bad thing? Though I’ve not read a single page of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire — I prefer to cover the work as a TV series first, a fact I’ll be repeating ad nauseam for the next 10 weeks — I’ve been warned by many who have that they’ve found them to offer significantly diminishing returns. Until now, Benioff and Weiss have been able to bolster their meandering epic with judicious mounds of red meat: a surprise beheading here, a savage castration there. But much of the big game has already been hunted. Though the remaining characters are still sprawled across two continents, Game of Thrones for the first time appears ready to contract rather than expand its scope. It’s a natural pivot for any long-running series, but it still seems surprising on a show so devoted to grandly clearing its throat. (Sorry, Cat Stark.) Even the new characters introduced early in Season 4 — including Pedro Pascal’s wonderfully slithery Prince Oberyn Martell — seem determined to thin the cast list rather than add to it. Who knows how many Red Weddings remain to shock us?[footnote]Note: If you actually do know the answer to this, please, please, please don’t tell me.[/footnote] What if Daenerys’s desert ramble starts to look less like this and more like this?
Should such a circumstance arise, I have total faith in Benioff and Weiss to do what generations of TV showrunners and scheming Lannisters have done before: adjust. After watching Sunday’s premiere — no spoilers to follow, I swear on the Sept — I was reminded of how the real pleasures of Game of Thrones derive not from the swords but from the people swinging them. To me, the early episodes of the season always evoke the first day of summer camp — not just because it’s muddy and the rich blond kids are acting like bullies, but because they provide a wonderful chance to catch up on old friends. Look, there’s Jaime Lannister all cleaned up and within stump’s reach of his beloved sister! Hey, Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly are reunited on the safe[footnote]“Safe.”[/footnote] side of the wall! And get a load of Arya and the Hound, still enacting the best mismatched buddy comedy since Turner & Hooch! Why worry so much about the destination when the ale is flowing and the company’s so good?
Game of Thrones is an intensely modern show, both in form and content. But it’s worth noting how strongly it resists the sort of online hyper-dissection that can either carry a series aloft or tear it apart, limb by limb, like a starving mob in Flea Bottom. The show proceeds at its own stately pace, telling its own knotty story. Rather than be concerned that future seasons might mar the world that Martin, Benioff, and Weiss have painstakingly created, it’s probably healthier — for your sake and mine — to focus instead on the majesty of that world as it exists now. The night may well be dark and full of terrors, but rest easy: We’re still hours away from dusk.
If you were born after 1980 then you may have a hard time believing what I’m about to tell you; but I wouldn’t lie to you, especially not about this: Once upon a time, in my lifetime, it was taboo to talk about breasts. There were no self-exam posters on gym locker room walls; there […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks
I remember doing an NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket pool (no money, of course) with my two brothers and parents a few years ago. We hung up our brackets on the refrigerator and compared each other’s progress as the tournament raged on.
“You have all No.1 seeds in your Final Four. You’re screwed, that has never happened,” my brother tells me.
“You never know,” I replied.
Luckily, it was 2008, a year when the stars just seemed to align. Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina all made the Final Four that year as the No. 1 seed in each regional.
That year also happened to be one of the first years I started actually following college basketball. I was ecstatic. I was going to win the grand family prize, which probably meant the winner probably got to pick his or her favorite place to eat when it was all over.
With that attitude, Lee Corso would look me dead and the eye and say, “Not so fast, my friend.”
My mother also had the top seeds in each regional in each Final Four. She had all the Elite Eight teams, too. And she had the two finalists in the championship. And she had Kansas winning it all. I wasn’t as lucky. My mother won the family pool. She hadn’t watched basketball nearly as much as I did, or any of my brothers for that matter. But she just happened to pick who she felt were the best teams in the tournament.
Then there was the year I did an online bracket challenge with friends. I picked every Round of 64 game correctly, with the exception of Duke and Mizzou, both losing to 15-seeds. I was in first place until I lost nearly every matchup in the Round of 32. I want to say I finished 39th out of 45 toward the end. Really sad.
So it goes.
I’ve had a rough history will all this bracket-picking stuff. Therefore, I have developed a new system to my bracket-picking science — if you want to call it a science. I call it the “Stephen Colbert Approach,” as all of my picks are made off of the concept of “truthiness.” Truthiness, a word coined by Colbert, is the feeling that things are true. It doesn’t necessarily imply that said things are accurate or right. It just means you want them to be right.
Here’s a little look at my bracket. See what I mean?
You see that? My Final Four teams are Florida, Iowa State, Wisconsin and Louisville. Very popular picks for the most part. But take a look at the other rounds.
S.F. Austin beating VCU in the Second Round? Providence upsetting North Carolina? Harvard over the Bearcats? Nebraska advancing to face Creighton? San Diego State in the Elite Eight? Kevin from last year would be calling Kevin this year a lunatic. A moron.
But how accurate was I last year? Not even close. The year before that? And before that? Disaster.
I have an alternate name for this system: “The Costanza System,” in reference to “Seinfeld” character George and his desire to approach everything in the opposite direction of his normal behavior. If every instinct I have is wrong, then the opposite would be right. Hey, it got him a job with the Yankees, didn’t it?
My bracket isn’t exactly crazy. My Final Four teams aren’t too standard, but they’re also very popular among fans and analysts. But it’s a totally different bracket than I would have imagined to fill out in years past, especially in the earlier rounds. Plus, I was getting really tired of how bland and awful the so-called experts’ brackets looked. Sorry, Mr. President, but your bracket is lame. (OK, that was a low-blow, but I appreciate that he fills out a bracket every year.) Truthiness almost requires that you don’t listen to “experts.” It’ll only hurt. Who had VCU in the Final Four as an 11-seed a few years ago? Who had Mizzou losing to Norfolk State in 2012?
Yet again, I’m not exactly Biff Tannen from “Back to the Future.” I don’t carry around a sports almanac from the future in the back pocket of my blue jeans. There are no crystal balls in athletics. In an irrational, chaotic world of college basketball, this could be the one year all one seeds make it and everything is perfect. On the other hand, this could be the year a 16-seed destroys Virginia, Arizona or any of the other one-seeds for the first time in history.
The point is, I feel that the best solution to picking your bracket isn’t necessarily analyzing every bit of it down to its core, but rather analyzing with your gut, your instinct. My mother had all match-ups from the Elite Eight and on without watching 1/100th of the basketball my brothers and I watched in 2008. Pick Providence to survive and advance because they just won a Big East title. Pick S.F. Austin because they’ve only lost two games all season. Pick Nebraska beating Baylor just because you want to see a B1G underdog win just once. Pick Duke to lose first round, just because it feels right. Truthiness, my friends.
It’s weird to think I just sort of justified that the philosophies of two television characters can help you pick your bracket — and you might think it’s stupid — but hey, it’s the NCAA Tournament. You and I will be scratching our heads in no time when everything on our brackets goes as haphazardly as we expect it to. Just like Costanza imagined.
Recently, I talked about my son’s experience with the tooth fairy at a skeptics in the pub event.
Afterwards, in the question and maybe an answer session, I was asked whether, as a presumed sceptic and attempted rationalist, I felt uncomfortable or hypocritical keeping encouraging the tooth fairy legend. I don’t have a problem with the odd fairy tale or myth. I see no reason to constantly hit my son’s head with a mallet of reason after each reading of Rapunzel or The Dinosaur Pirates. Children’s minds are being shaped for the possibility of reasonableness, but I don’t see any reason not to allow some pretend. There will come a time, oddly coinciding with the last pre-molar being placed under the pillow, when he may well decide it was all nonsense, but nonsense that turned near worthless enamel into Lego and comics. If I just told him, “there is no tooth fairy, your mother and I will merely take your teeth in exchange for cash like an infant Cash for Gold learning slope”, I don’t think the lesson learnt is as good as the moment his questioning unearths a fabrication designed for childhood fun.
He also believes in Santa too, infuriating, as I would prefer he knew it was my blinking money that went on those presents, not some benevolent, eternal, Arctic deer hustler.
Most parents spend their lives thinking, “am I bringing up my children correctly? What have I done that will have adulthood repercussions?”
I was recently told off by a psychologist friend who declared that I was, oh and how this will shock you, overly discursive with my son. What a surpris. Ahgaine that I talk and analyse things too much, a career advantage that should be put on hold around the Playmobil.
Faith and religion is a tricky area. I can’t don the mantle of tooth fairy and Santa and outrightly dismiss a deity each time it comes up. Maybe if I rolled tooth fairy and Santa and Yahweh into one being, then he would shrug all three off at the same time. Maybe I can say that is what the holy trinity is.
Though he doesn’t attend a religious school, the Biblical tales are told of God and Heaven and, I wasn’t so pleased with this, tales of the body and blood of Jesus being wafer and wine. The Nativity play (despite what you might hear) occurs each year. Again, i see no reason to go into too much detail just as I didn’t feel I needn’t to tell him that soft toys do not get involved in repair work when unobserved after I took him to see Bagpuss.
When he asks me of God, I explain that people believe different things. I have told him I don’t believe there is one, but don’t just trust me. Later, he told me not to worry, that though he believed in God, he also believed in the big bang. He is Francis Collins in the making.
When we were looking at the Open University Tree of Life poster, he questioned why Darwin illustrated man, as he wasn’t the first man. There is a confusion between ideas of evolution and Bible stories. I am glad to say he laughs when he sees animations where dinosaurs and humans are side by side. “Now that isn’t right is it.”
And I didn’t feel like an oppressive atheist dad when I told him that Adam and Eve is just a story, a way of illustrating life on earth, but not true. We did some hairy apes turning into hairless man ape dances, I am sure Thomas Huxley did similar as he took his children “up the wooden hill to bedfordshire.”
There is an age where death first worries you, that time that you start to imagine yourself parentless and alone. This, too, I do not know the best way to deal with. i am sure there are many conflicting books that deal with it in the overburdened self-help sections.
You find yourself saying, “it won’t be for ages. Let’s have fun now and stop thinking about it.” How deeply can you go into it when they are 5 or 6. With talk of heaven, again I do not flinch at saying, “no one knows, so best to pack in as much as we can while we are definitely here”. I have started to sow the seeds (uh oh, I have hit parable mode) of the idea that we made of atoms, and that all the atoms that make us have made so many other things and will go onto make so many other things while there is still this universe about. We are bits of apple tree, molten larva, pulsar, caterpillar cocoon, Dodo beak, Trilobite feeler, glacier, and so much more, though that can make up the strangest Frankenstein monster in the imagination.
It’s all just stories now, stories trying to convey ideas that are confusing and frightening and exciting. I have been asked on more than one occasion if I worry if my son grows up to be religious. Hah, I don’t think I’d care, but if he grew up to be a dogmatist and venal bigot, then I really know my discursive ways would have something to answer for.
I am off on tour – from Sheffield to Edinburgh, Chorley to Norwich, Huddersfield to Birmingham, and more than likely a town near you. Details HERE
(if your town isn’t on the current list, tell me, I love trains and dislike laziness)
I talked a great deal more about the recycling delight of all the atoms that make us in this DVD HERE
When it comes to politics and policy, I would not consider myself to be a particularly cynical person. Far from it actually; my faith in the power of social movements and grassroots change would not be as strong as it is if I did not hold to the notion that we will see an ultimate victory over the inequalities and oppressions that plague our society. I believe in people, and I believe in communities.
However, it would be accurate to assume that I do not have much faith in politicians or the political parties from which they emanate. I am, after all, old enough to remember a Barack Obama who said that he would walk a picket line as President and repeatedly affirmed his support for a public healthcare option. The breadth of politics today has become a game of Team Blue vs. Team Red, and opposition is based less on ideas than the jersey you wear when you take the court. After all, if it were a Republican Congress and President that had signed a bill that slashed food assistance for low-income families, funded the government on the backs of government employees, and ended unemployment benefits that are still necessary in a sluggish economy, many of the Democratic cheerleaders for “bipartisanship” and “compromise” would be a bit more muted in their praise.
So suffice it to say that when a city councilman named Chokwe Lumumba announced that he was running to be the mayor of Mississippi’s capital city, I was skeptical. Having met Chokwe through her work at the ACLU of Mississippi, my wife told me that he was a legit radical. As I looked him up, that much became evident: student radical who once occupied buildings at Western Michigan University in protest of the paucity of Black faculty; former second Vice President of the Republic of New Afrika; founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; and the lawyer for the Scott Sisters. There was no doubt that this was a person who went the extra mile for his community. Yet as I observed his campaign, I came to the same conclusion that I am sure a lot of other people came to:
He won’t win.
It was easy to feel that. Jackson, a city of about 175,000 located in west central Mississippi, has the second-largest concentration of Black residents of any city with a population over 100,000 at 79.4 percent (Detroit is first in that regard at 82.7 percent). It was not always this way, though: Jackson was a majority-white city as late as the 1980s. But when the last vestiges of Mississippi’s particularly virulent strain of Jim Crow were dismantled in education, housing, and employment, white residents began fleeing to suburbs like Pearl, Clinton, Madison, Brandon, and Ridgeland. As the city emptied out and glistening new shopping centers and housing developments popped up on the outskirts of the metro area, the economic and political power shifted along with it.
The new suburbanites managed to maintain a measure of control over their former neighbors through their ownership of local businesses. Even though Harvey Johnson, Jr. became Jackson’s first Black mayor-elect on June 3, 1997 largely through emphasizing his race on the campaign trail, his administration continued the same policies that had largely benefitted the city’s business community. This trend continued through his first administration, through the unbelievably corrupt term of his successor Frank Melton, and into Johnson’s second administration, which was won by defeating Mayor Melton in the 2009 Democratic primary.
As 2013 approached, it appeared that it would be more of the same. No Republican has served as mayor since 1874, so the winner of the Democratic primary would be the city’s next chief executive. Johnson, the incumbent, was in for re-election, as was city council president Frank Bluntson and Chokwe. Rounding out the top contenders was lawyer Regina Quinn and businessman Jonathan Lee. Bluntson’s stature and local media hype likely outstripped his potential vote total, and he was written off early in the contest. The other four were in the thick of it right up until primary night, though it became clear in the last days that Quinn would be towards the rear of the pack.
As the primary campaign wore on, I began to see more folks speaking positively about Chokwe and using his campaign designs and photos as profile pictures on social media. It piqued my interest. But watching him struggle a bit in his #AskChokwe Twitter chat made me skeptical that he would be able to pull this off; he was slow to answer questions and demonstrated a clear lack of comfort with the medium. It seems ridiculous, but folks care about that sort of thing. Then there was that Jackson Free Press editorial supporting Mayor Johnson in the primary, where they called Chokwe “anti-white” and engaged in the worst sort of false equivalency I have ever seen in an alt-weekly. The stupidity of it was transparent to someone like me, but I worried that the paper’s ideological reputation would lead otherwise supportive white liberals to balk from voting for change. In a race with no white candidates, the division in the Black vote meant that the city’s small white population could make a big difference.
My thought was that Chokwe would finish third, and that Jackson would have the most anticlimactic and meaningless primary runoff in recent memory. There would be no challenge to the status quo. There would be no Jackson Plan. There would only be the continued domination of the city’s institutions by folks who had long ceased calling Jackson home. The city would be much like other mid-sized Southern cities: wallowing in mediocrity and watching the very people who could make a difference leave for the perception of greener pastures.
So imagine my surprise when this happened:
That image was a stab in the heart of the suburbanites and rapacious capitalists who had previously exploited the city that was good enough to make money from, but not good enough to love or care about. It was enough to begin the various campaigns seeking to malign Chokwe’s character, party affiliation, religion, and commitment to his community. They used the same old appeals of “investment flight” and “depopulation” in order to make the city’s residents fear for their economic security. The opposing campaign even started insinuating that Chokwe was an FBI informant by using documents from the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which was the primary instrument of the state in harassing and intimidating civil rights organizers. At that point, one thing became clear to me:
They are scared. But wait….if they are scared enough to run these ads and put out these flyers, then could Chokwe actually win this thing?
Sarah and I were driving back from our favorite pizza place in Central New York on the night of the election, and I remember telling her, “I think that Chokwe is going to win this thing. I have a feeling that when the night is through, Jacksonians are going to ignore the bullshit and trust themselves and their city.” A few hours later, we got our confirmation:
As a Southerner, a leftist, and, most importantly, as a Black man, I was over the moon. WE DID IT! We managed to elect a radical Black leftist who was once a lawyer for the Black Panthers as the mayor of a capital city in the South. And not just any capital city, either: a city that once housed such ignoble figures of white supremacist history as Ross Barnett, Theodore Bilbo, and James Vardaman during their terms as Governor.
But how would he govern? If being Black has taught me anything, it is that progressive rhetoric is much easier to come by than progressive action. Many a candidate have claimed the mantle of the “people’s candidate”, only to disappear into the wilderness of power and influence once in office. I needed to see what he was about.
Finally, Lumumba, 66, approached the podium, pulling the microphone up to suit his tall, lean frame. “Well,” he said, “I want to say, God is good, all the time.”
The crowd replied. “God is good, all the time!”
“I want to say hey! And hello!”
The crowd called back, “Hey! Hello!”
Then Lumumba smiled and raised his right hand halfway, just a little above the podium, briefly showing the clenched fist of a Black Power salute.
“And I want to say, free the land!”
Whoa. Did this brother just say raise a fist in the air and say “free the land” at his inauguration?
Inaugural addresses tend to be where all the progressive rhetoric that inspired so many folks turns into meaningless pablum about “unity” and “coming together for the common good”, but not this time. Chokwe’s inaugural address was a defiant affirmation of Blackness and a radical sense of community in a city that had seen precious little of that in its history. Hearing his call to elect people who “not only look like us, but also speak to our interests” was a poignant moment for me in his inauguration speech. Communities of color have long advocated for the idea that institutions should reflect those they serve, and we have gone a long way towards achieving that in the South. But while Jackson had seen sixteen years of unbroken Black leadership, there was little to show for it in the way of concrete policy change for its Black citizens. Nearly 50 years after we first gained free access to the franchise, it is no longer enough that we simply seek descriptive representation; we must seek substantive representation of our interests and aspirations.
Chokwe set about doing this. The part of his plan that got the most attention was the Jackson-Kush Plan, and for good reason: it would be a direct challenge to the economic and political power that currently resided in the suburbs of Hinds, Rankin, and Madison counties. While the other candidates for mayor supported an economic plan that was based within the status quo framework, Chokwe supported a plan that began local before spreading out across the region. While the most discussed portion of this economic plan involved using the human capital within Jackson’s communities to form economic cooperatives where workers had a say in the means of production, there was also a framework to facilitate the growth of urban green spaces and to engage in organizing workers through the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights. This sort of collaborative economic empowerment is something that is rarely seen in the South, and for an elected official to make it a part of their mandate is rarer still.
He would put forth a big budget to accommodate these big aspirations for his city: 2 million, an increase of 43 percent over the previous year. Much of that additional spending was on public works projects that the city badly needed: roads and a sewer system that is in such disrepair as to require a federal mandate that requires the city to bring it to standard. In addition to that, he worked to put a 1-cent sales tax increase on the ballot which would go towards infrastructure improvements. The measure overwhelmingly passed.
Chokwe was becoming a 21st-century embodiment of the “sewer socialist”, those urban elected officials from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who used the power of the state to provide quality public services to as many constituents as possible. Those folks made strides to take socialism out of its theoretical constructs and put it in front of the masses through public administration and works programs. While there have been times in Southern history where leftism has gained a foothold, the space and breadth of that foothold has been fairly limited. And it has never really been a popular concept in Southern cities; the Populist movement was dominated by agrarian leftists in northern Louisiana, northern Alabama, and western North Carolina.
What we were witnessing (and continue to witness) in Jackson was not just unique for the purposes of contemporary Southern politics and urban spaces; it was unprecedented. Anytime I thought about the Jackson experiment, I got excited. Since my arrival in Alabama in the summer of 2011, I have felt like I was in a constant battle with recalcitrant conservatives, centrists, and liberals within the Democratic Party. Much like Chokwe, I have come to consider myself an independent leftist who sees the Democratic Party as a temporary vehicle for change, rather than the driving force behind that change. Seeing Chokwe’s initial successes in Jackson gave me hope that I would live to see a day that Southern progressives would not be faced with the same meaningless choices that we are constantly confronted with when we close that drape behind us and participate in our democracy.
Those hopes were temporarily dashed for me on February 25, 2014.
I was in the midst of making some notes for a student when the news first broke on Facebook. It all seemed so sudden; was this a joke? Had WLBT’s Facebook page been hacked? But when I started seeing tweets from other news stations confirming his death from different sources, I knew that this was real.
Chokwe Lumumba, progressive Mayor of Jackson and hope to any and all Southern progressives, has died today at the age of 66.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 25, 2014
I was gutted. I was absolutely sick over this. And then I did something that I never thought I would be able to do over the death of an elected official:
I cried. Hard.
Normally I’d have something inspirational to say. I don’t. I can’t. I’m done. My gut is wrenching like it hasn’t in a really long time.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
Probably not since my grandmother died. We are losing too fucking many of our community’s freedom fighters.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
They were tears of devastation and disbelief at first; then pretty quickly turned into tears of anger. At everything, especially God:
I could break and destroy everything around me right now. It’s like God, the universe, whoever the fuck doesn’t want to see us prosper.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
EVER. FUCKING EVER.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
Doesn’t God know that we FUCKING NEEDED HIM HERE? HUH? WE FUCKING NEEDED HIM HERE. IN THE SOUTH. IN FUCKING JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
I’m angry at everything right now.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
I have been through personal stuff with both my family and myself that has always given me the belief that God is real; there is no way that I could believe otherwise. I had read about the vengeful, wrathful God that existed in the Old Testament throughout my youth. In fact, the church that I went to in high school seemed to reinforce the notion that God that was not loving, but rather judgmental of a whole host of behaviors both large and small.
Homosexuality? Hell. Fornication? Hell. Belief in another religion? Hell. Making more money than you could fit through a eye of a needle on Judgment Day? Well…our offices will get back to you about that.
But as I progressed into adulthood, I realized that God was something different. They led me to Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, where I got to hear a Word that was more inclusive, grounded in equality and justice, and progressive than any I had ever heard back home. They led me to vow that I would do everything possible to eliminate the ills — poverty, lack of access to education, oppression of all sorts — that had plagued my family, my community, and myself for generations. They gave me the right lineage to see the workers’ struggle firsthand, how it has persisted through generations, and how Their Word has been a salve to those deep in the fight. The same God that led me down the path I am on also led Chokwe Lumumba down his as well; that was evident in various interviews, his involvement in his own church, and the uniquely Southern style of “progressivism flavored with the Gospel” that had become his staple.
I will never understand why God chose to take Chokwe at a time when his voice is so crucial to everything that I hold dear as a Southerner, a leftist, and as a Black man; none of us will. But it is at times like this where my faith is a crucial component for my ability to move on. And not my faith in God; but rather my faith in movements and communities. We will learn not just from Chokwe, but also from those people who were some of his closest aides and confidants. I am hopeful that he has recorded his thoughts and motivations in some fashion, since it seems to be apparent that his health was worse than most of us realized. It may not be as comprehensive as some other historical figures that have had their bright light extinguished too soon, but those who seek to continue his far-too-important work crave anything that could point us in the right direction. And if that does not materialize, then we will have his speeches, interviews, and family/network to go on. Sometimes that is the best that we can hope for, and we should look to them for signs as to where we go next.
Most of my blog posts are prescriptive; this one will not be. It cannot be, because I still have not sufficiently cycled through my grieving process enough to have a proper account of Chokwe’s legacy. I am still badly wounded from this, and the one thing that is keeping me upright at the moment is the thought that Chokwe and my grandmother are swapping organizing stories with the rest of our fallen at the moment (and if he was anything like my grandmother, it is over a game of bid whist or spades). And, if I am honest, I do not think that anyone can lay out a legacy for Chokwe Lumumba at this time that would be sufficiently unique to the man and the community he served. I would rather grieve first, then reflect, and then chart out appropriate next steps. It might not be timely, but it will also not be cookie-cutter and meaningless; those are two things that were the antithesis of Chokwe Lumumba and his career.
I will, however, keep writing about the South and the ways in which we can make it the kind of place that Chokwe, and the rest of us Southern progressives, want it to be. My hope is when my wife and I are sitting back in our rocking chairs at the twilight of our lives, holding hands and reminiscing on the lives that we have lived, we will be able to say that we achieved that one three-word credo which rang out from Jackson, Mississippi as a clarion call to community-building and working-class empowerment:
FREE THE LAND
Growing up, there were two kinds of kids in the world: kids who had been to Disneyland and kids who hadn’t. If you were in the first group, we poor kids naturally hated your guts. My own family’s version of a vacation was a 13-hour non-stop drive to Salt Lake City to visit relatives twice […]
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