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What Coverage of William Finnegan’s Surf Memoir Says about the Venues Reviewing It

First, that the book is not called Finnegan’s Wake is a either a tragedy or triumph depending on your perspective.

Newsday‘s review is titled:

William Finnegan’s ‘Barbarian Days': Memoirs of a literate surfer

Don’t they mean “literary”? As it stands, Newsday’s editorial team apparently thinks most surfers can’t read.

NPR says:

Each Wave Tells A Story In ‘Barbarian Days’

Precisely the blase vanilla treatment we’ve come to love and lampoon from NPR. It’s, with all due respect, Bruce Johnston standing in for Brian Wilson. It is “Sail On, Sailor,” instead of “Surf’s Up.”

And, finally, The New York Times:

‘Barbarian Days,’ by William Finnegan, Details a Surfer’s Pilgrimage

That sounds just about right.  Doesn’t overreach, doesn’t underestimate.  It’s as safe as NPR in it’s own NYT way.  Expected, sure.   But it doesn’t try to take the narrative away from the book.  That’s what reviews, not their headlines, are for.

Gary Hart and Killer Mike: Use the Ballot to End American Political Dynasties

Earlier today I talked about Lyman Beecher and, obliquely, the role Yale University (then Yale College) played in the Second Great Awakening which, in turn, helped end slavery.

I just read a story about rapper Killer Mike’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders.  H.A. Goodman says:

Polls are ever-changing, but Americans will never long for a king or queen. When Run the Jewels rapper Killer Mike tweeted “I cannot support another Clinton or bush ever,” he echoed the sentiments of Americans throughout the country tired of entrenched political factions in Washington. As for why political dynasties are ruinous to any democracy, the Atlanta rapper says, “I am beginning to see American political families like monarchs and I have no affection for monarchs.” This sentiment, in addition to the reasons Killer Mike has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, can’t be accurately assessed by opinion polls or political wonks.

Then:

In fact, it could spell trouble for the Clinton campaign and Democratic strategists enamored with poll driven forecasts. When a recent analysis says that Bernie Sanders is popular primarily among “white liberals,” the aggregate data used to make such a claim ignores the fact that black children face a 38% poverty rate and African-Americans as a group face a 27% poverty rate. This analysis questioning Sanders’s appeal to minority voters also ignores a finding from Pew Research that states, “In 2011, the typical white household had a net worth of $91,405, compared with $6,446 for black households.”

Gary Hart, who graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1961, says this:

If the presidency were to pass back and forth between two or three families in any Latin American nation we would call it an oligarchy…

Our Founders created a republic and, being keen students of the history of republics beginning with Athens, they knew that placing special and narrow interests ahead of the common good and the commonwealth was the corruption that destroyed republics. They feared this kind of corruption as the greatest danger to America’s success and survival…

By this standard, today’s American Republic is massively corrupt. Every interest group in our nation has staff lobbyists and hires lobbying firms…

The net affect of the money machine — lobbyists, fund raisers, and campaign consultants — is to severely narrow the field of those who can compete for office, especially national office. If the national presidency were to pass back and forth between two or three families in any Latin American nation we would call it an oligarchy.

Goodman also reminds us that it took Hillary Clinton three full weeks to issue a statement about Ferguson.  She’s just that awful.  She’s a Clinton, and as much as we love to remember her husband’s time in office fondly, Clintonism has always, always equaled cynical opportunism.

Here’s the thing. Hillary Clinton, as a progressive, is a fraud. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, et al are still fighting culture wars that have no bearing in the present or future. To say they are entrenched in the past is an understatement. Hillary, as a politician, and, I dare say, as a political specimen, is, too. The New Democrat Clintonism of the early 90s is stale; it is the old Democrat garbage of Ed Rendell and the cadre of cronies that the Clintons have collected over the past 25, 30 years.  All their old moves and tricks and talking points and number crunching.

People don’t want candidates.  People want leaders.  Monarchs do very little leading these days.  British kings and queens were famously made beholden to the barons in the 12th century and now function in mostly ceremonial and symbolic capacities.  In America, political royalty are beholden the what our newspapers used to call oil barons, banking barons, transportation barons, and, collectively, robber barons. They’ve hammered out their own Magna Carta with our interchangeable cast of power-elites; political legacy types are like so much Monsanto fare: bland, identical, bad for us.

An aside: Before anyone comments about how Killer Mike should expect black America to struggle as long as they embrace representatives with names like Killer Mike, let us not forget that one of the best white bands on the planet are called The Killers, and Jerry Lee Lewis was the Original.

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Sandra Bland, Bill Cosby, Barack Obama: Color, Cognitive Dissonance, and Our Undying National Shame

The same day our first black president became the first sitting president to ever visit a prison, we learn about the prison death of Sandra Bland, a young black woman who was beaten by white police and wrongly jailed. The prison says Bland killed herself. Anyone with a brain says bullshit.
Yesterday, the President was asked if Bill Cosby’s Medal of Freedom could be revoked. Mr. Obama, an expert on Executive Orders, said our nation has no precedent or mechanism for revoking the honor, but also said that anyone who does what Bill Cosby has confessed to doing is a rapist. Cosby, a rapist who, with Methaqualone, revoked the freedom of his victims, can keep his Medal of Freedom because the President can’t think of way the Executive Branch could repeal the honor. This is the man who defied all odds to become our first black President. This is the man who delivered (for better and worse) the kind of health care reform no one thought possible. This is the same sitting president who, in recent months, hasn’t met an executive order he didn’t like. But he can’t pry the Medal of Freedom from Ghost Dad.

In Chattanooga, four Marines are dead after a terrorist attack perpetrated the same day Muslims around the world break the fast of Ramadan. Muslim communities have rightly condemned the massacre, which is almost immediately classified as an episode of terrorism. The shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, another clear act of terrorism, was not labeled so by law enforcement with the same speed or diligence. All terrorist acts are hate crimes. All violent hate crimes are terror.

Two days ago, Nate Silver revealed research showing that life is as dangerous for Black Americans in America as is life in Rwanda. That Rwanda.

Yesterday, assholes greeted the first black president with Confederate flags in Oklahoma. Inside the prison, he did one of the blackest things of his presidency, albeit subtly. He called out the prison industrial complex from within the literal belly of the beast. White progressives like me will say he didn’t do enough, never understanding from experience what it is to be black in America, never understanding why even a second-term President of the United State with zero political capital at stake can’t say what he really means simply because he’s also black.

During the 19th-century Christian Revival we now call the Second Great Awakening, which started where I happened to go to seminary, Lyman Beecher said that slavery was a national sin threatening “to entomb our glory.” 200 years later, marks of that shame are no mere scars on our body politic. They are open, festering, bleeding wounds. Blackness is less a social stigma than a sentence; the punctures in Black America’s hands and feet, the gashes in its sides, the ropes around its neck are not just lyrical or spiritual. And just in time comes White America, with another book by the same white author from a million years ago who somehow cemented the Tall White Savior tope among our elite, white, and nominally progressive intelligentsia, this time about how sad it makes her that her daddy is a racist. White Academia will parse this out for decades, but it’s already been called “a revelation on race.” White America doesn’t just control community policing, foreign policy, and most of the nation’s wealth. It, of course, controls the discussion on race, and on the artistic merits of literary treatments of it from genteel would-be hell-raisers working out their privilege.

These are all facets of our most cherished, robust, and foundational national shame. And, put another way, shame is clearly something we have none of.

This is not some middle-of-the-night rant about white guilt or self-loathing. But before I’m the proud descendent of hard-working Europeans et al, I’m a stubborn and imperfect follower of a colored carpenter who was murdered by the State and other social elites for pointing out these very sins and calling bullshit on them. “Jesus help us” is no anemic yearning, no therapeutic incantation. It is a protest. It is a demand.

All theology is black theology, James Cone said. Here blackness has nothing to do with color but with violation: of personhood, of God’s likeness in us, of freedom and of futures. It has entombed whatever civic glory America had claim to, even as it entombed the living Christ himself. This is one of many facets of the Christian hope of resurrection, not for resurrection’s sake, and not for the sake, surely, of some jingoistic pride, but for the coming of an age and order where the war of each against all is over, where each and all have enough, where people aren’t raped and murdered because people in power have taken the mantle of God for themselves.

Jesus, help us.

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With Cable and Youth Football in Decline, Disney/ESPN Forced to Call an Audible

Christopher Cocca

From 500ishWords.com, this piece considers the future of ESPN following Olbermann’s  (unavoidable) departure, Bill Simmons’ (inevitable) departure and the streaming experiments the Worldwide Leader is conducting on platforms like Sling.

As someone considering cutting the cord myself, it’s interesting to me that our children’s gray matter, so much fodder for the Disney machine, may not save ESPN after all.  The relationship between young brains and the House of Mouse in question is not the obvious “kill your screens” sentiment.  I’m talking about the fact that if Disney is to keep extracting 25% of its operating profit from the studios in Bristol, young boys have to keep playing football, even while ESPN wrings its journalistic hands over whether or not to tell the truth about CTE.  

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Go Read James Baldwin

The new Harper Lee book is not the Harper Lee book we want, but it’s the Harper Lee book we deserve.

Atticus is revealed to harbor anti-integration sentiments. Scout doesn’t know what to do with herself.

It’s not often that the same character gets two separate coming of age stories (unless you’re Harry Potter…then you get 8).

It’s never been hard to understand why Harper Lee didn’t want to release other Finch stories after “To Kill A Mockingbird” become such a touchstone. More stories about Faulkner’s Compsons? Yes. They are flawed and tragic every step of the way. But Atticus had nowhere to go but down, immortalized by a near-Kryptonian Gregory Peck.

I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” too late in life to lionize Atticus. But the non-shock I feel about his revelation as 1950s reactionary (the first literary Dixiecrat) has more to do with social and political history than with the fact that he never made his kids call him “Dad” or that it was, by my Straussian read, Scout and Jem’s antics in the courtroom (a manifestation of Atticus’ crappy parenting) that sealed Tom’s fate in the first place.

If the new book is mostly about Scout being disillusioned by Atticus the Bigot, I’m not very interested. Not because we shouldn’t care about bigotry, but because, really, why should the same upwardly mobile white girl get two bites at that apple? Read James Baldwin instead.