Al Franken, Come On Down.

And now it’s Al Franken’s turn. While he has, first and foremost apologized, then asked for an investigation of himself and promised to cooperate, the chips are still going to have to fall where they may, regardless of his advocacy for issues vital to women and liberals. It’s the new normal. It’s a fact of life we’re all going to have to get accustomed to. If you’ve behaved like a pig, (although in this case not criminally so), chances are good you’re going to get outed.

Having met and interviewed Franken a number of times I can’t say that I, like Claude Rains in “Casablanca” (which I saw again last night at the Icon Theaters in St. Louis Park) am “shocked, shocked” to hear that Al the celebrity behaved badly.

This situation strikes me as very similar to the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who after being accused last week issued a statement saying:

“I want to try to tell you the complicated truth. At the height of my fame in the late 1970s I became an asshole–the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the motto, ‘If you don’t flirt, you die’. And flirt I did. I flirted with all women, be they actresses, producers, or 80-year-old grandmothers. I even flirted with those who were out of bounds, like the wives of some of my best friends, which especially revolts me. I disrespected myself, and I disrespected them, and ignored my own ethics, which I regret more deeply than I can express. During those years I was swept up in a world of celebrity and drugs – which are not excuses, just truths. Since then I have had to redefine what it means to be a man, and an ethical man. I think every man on Earth has or will have to grapple with this question. But I am not an assaulter.”

Franken may not have had the same cachet with “all women” as an Oscar-winning actor, but the “asshole” part may well apply. A constant with a lot of the characters outed to date is a sense of being drunk on fame and power, of being transported by manic ego to a realm of impunity for behavior unconditionally unacceptable to others. (Although, lord knows, millions of common guys have pulled the same stunts).

Comparisons are already being made to liberal women’s regard for Bill Clinton, who was without question a reckless womanizer. At Vox, Matt Yglesias goes on at length about why Clinton should have resigned following disclosure of the Monica Lewinsky affair. But he didn’t and he wasn’t forced to because a majority of Americans, not just liberals, made a value judgment that he was doing more good for them than bad, and that the Lewinsky thing was the sordid culmination of a decade-long witch hunt by opponents who had no better option to offer.

Clinton’s um, “interaction”, with Lewinsky was wrong by every measure, and despite leaving office with a higher approval rating than (St.) Ronnie Reagan, Clinton and Hillary have paid quite a high reputational price for it. But … unlike Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump … even Lewinsky describes their fling as “consensual” and in no way (that we know) did Clinton require sex as a ticket to employment or advancement. So it is with most of the other ladies he is known to have cavorted with in his drunk-on-fame binge.

The episode with Juanita Broaddrick, which she describes as rape, has always been clouded by her way-too tight association/exploitation by the same semi-deranged Clinton-haters who tried to convince us a money-losing Arkansas land deal was a Constitutional crisis. But that isn’t to say it didn’t happen. (This one is an example of a “consider the source” accuser.)

The point, with reference to Al Franken and liberals, is that we are now in an era when what was once secret is being laid out on the table for all to see and judge. I’ve voted for Franken twice, because he votes my interests, which I’ve always thought is the best reason to vote for anyone, not because I liked him personally. And if a full investigation concludes that this supposedly semi-comic groping kissing business was the full extent of this incident I’m inclined to vote for him again.

More to the point, the revelation about Franken, (and we already know about his coke-snorting days), comes in the early moments this “cultural moment.” There’s a lot more to come. You can feel it. And we’re seeing quite a range of skeezy behavior. Some far … far … more ugly than others.

I’ve been trying to imagine the frantic contacts and the amount of hush money that must be changing hands right this moment in every industry from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to to Detroit to Capitol Hill as famous men with a whole lot to lose, (think Bill O’Reilly’s $32 million), buy off the victims of their years of being an asshole.


The Spirit of The Village Voice is Alive and Well

Although it couldn’t have come as much of a surprise, news that the Village Voice, so long lefty hipsterdom’s bible of progressive rectitude, was no longer going to be published on paper set off a wail of laments. (Such as it is today, the Voice will still be published online.)

Certainly there’s an end-of-an-era quality to this news. But if the fear is that stories and attitudes distilled, amplified, incited by the Voice will no longer be covered, I just can’t buy that.

The Voice’s historical standing is secure. It is the first publication any informed person thinks of when they hear the phrase, “alternative press.” Loaded with a pantheon of terrific, cogent thinkers like Nat Hentoff, Robert Cristgau, Richard Goldstein, Jack Newfield, Alex Cockburn, Sylvia Plachy, Andrew Sarris, Teresa Carpenter and on and on, the Voice was irresistible reading for everyone hungry to know where the cutting edge of politics, arts and culture was in a given week.

The success of the Voice spawned a coast-to-coast legion of copycats, although few with the Voice’s social impact in their respective markets. Here in the Twin Cities several came and went. The Twin Cities Reader (where I worked) and City Pages competed for two decades, producing dozens of impressive features, hundreds of insightful reviews of film and music as well as, let’s face it, thousands of pretty junky advertiser-friendly “service journalism” plugs. (I accept my complicity.)

Point being, it wasn’t all glory.

The further point being that despite the Voice pulling down the curtain on print, the kinds and even the quality of writing on all of the Voice’s principal topics is available today in an astonishing profusion that I have to think would have gratified people like Hentoff and Jules Feiffer and Ellen Willis.

A daily mix of writing from the likes of Vox, The Daily Beast, Slate, Salon, Esquire (Charlie Pierce, baby!), Vanity Fair blended with the emboldened work of the Trump-era New York Times and Washington Post is, I’m arguing, as good and vital as anything the Voice produced.

Michael Musto — the Voice’s long time chronicler of the city’s gay scene — has a piece out (at the Daily Beast) poo-pooing the lament that all is lost. “Gay journalism” certainly is in some kind of golden age today.

He makes several interesting comments. Among them, this: “… the Voice—thanks to my then-editor, Karen Durbin–gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted about all of that, encouraging me to explore, titillate, and go against the big guns, all while celebrating the fringe characters and underdogs of the city. I was excited and ennobled by the weekly assignment.”

The sad fact of publishing’s economic life is that that kind of freedom — to be excessive, even — grows less and less likely with the overhead of print (and absurd ROI expectations). What writer among those of us who have worked in the Twin Cities hasn’t had the experience of the editor-as-dutiful, fearful accountant carving obscure cultural references, humor, point-of-view, snark and voice out of stories about culture, both political and artistic?

“Straighter yet” becomes the order of the day when your editors are less committed to an engaging, provocative product than to protecting long-term advertising contracts?

I’d like to see an on-line collective of that kind of provocative writing here in the Twin Cities. Obviously no one is going to pay much if anything for it. But someone could do worse than aggregate these cities’ abundant blog work onto a common forum, if only to see what comes of it.

The Donald’s Primitive Appeal

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With Trump-mania continuing to build, a lot of time and energy is going in to trying to understand why. Not among his most enthusiastic supporters, of course. Those folks, the ones proudly and completely without irony offering Nuremberg-like salutes pledging fealty to The Donald, seem to be pre-introspection. In their own odd way they’re hippie-like in the “If it feels good, do it” approach to tribal leadership.

Elsewhere though there’s plenty of cogent analysis of Trump’s basic, and I do mean “basic”, appeal. One of the best I’ve read is this piece by Amanda Taub on Vox a week or so back. (Hat tip to PM for recommending it.)

Taub writes about fresh research on the appeal of authoritarian personalities by several teams of socio-psychologists, serious professionals building on numerous previous studies that established the significantly greater, almost instinctive respect conservatives have for authority — group consensus, workplace bosses, police, the military, cultural and government leaders in general — than liberals.

Or as Taub writes, “ … a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.”

And, “Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force. They would thus seek a candidate who promised these things. And the extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms.”

The problem with most previous surveys is that they began in an unambiguously political context which likely led interviewees to shade their responses so to appear more or less authoritarian-minded, depending on how they felt they might be judged. More to the point, it was hard to get an honest answer to questions like, “Do you fear Muslims?”

The beauty — the elegance — of these new tests, and some are based on work began 25 years ago but largely ignored until recently, is the way scientists masked the intent of the survey by asking subjects about their philosophy of … parenting.

Sample questions:

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

As the article lays it out, the parenting line of questioning proved far more accurate in identifying people with latent authoritarian impulses — the desire to be protected, guided and feel part of a conforming mass. Beyond that the correlation with Trump’s devotees, who are clearly something beyond traditional authoritarian-minded conservatives, was even more startling.

“The third insight came from [Vanderbilt professor Marc] Hetherington and American University professor Elizabeth Suhay, who found that when non-authoritarians feel sufficiently scared, they also start to behave, politically, like authoritarians.

But Hetherington and Suhay found a distinction between physical threats such as terrorism, which could lead non-authoritarians to behave like authoritarians, and more abstract social threats, such as eroding social norms or demographic changes, which do not have that effect. That distinction would turn out to be important, but it also meant that in times when many Americans perceived imminent physical threats, the population of authoritarians could seem to swell rapidly.

Together, those three insights added up to one terrifying theory: that if social change and physical threats coincided at the same time, it could awaken a potentially enormous population of American authoritarians, who would demand a strongman leader and the extreme policies necessary, in their view, to meet the rising threats.”

It’s a long read, but I think a valuable one for anyone trying to comprehend the appalling spectacle we’re all watching.

By coincidence I’ve been reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, a reexamination of biological and social evolution, very much rooted in primitive concepts of personal safety, tribal unity, resistance to change and suspicion of “others”. The takeaway for me, not that it offers any great consolation for the sight of thousands of well-protected, reasonably prosperous Americans pledging fealty to a TV celebrity, is that the evolutionary process of survival of the fittest — in this case the success of those best able to manage irrational fear — is at minimum, a process thousands of years from completion.

The two-to-five thousand years of global-scale human interaction doesn’t even yet amount to a blink of the evolutionary eye. While the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and today’s cyber revolution have/are forcing radical adaptations (i.e. evolution) on us sapiens, slowly diminishing our primitive fears of any/every new tribe intruding on our hunting ground, there’s no good reason to believe we aren’t still hundreds-to-thousands of years away from the demise of the last over-active, primordial amygdala.

As I say, there’s no great comfort in considering this thesis. But in the face of something as primitive as Donald Trump any kind of explanation helps.

Why Are Cops Still Using Real Bullets?

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterOne facet of the current outrage over hyper-aggressive, racially-focused police work isn’t getting much attention, but it keeps rolling back in my alleged mind. It’s this: Why, in 2014 USA is the average beat cop still exercising “lawful” force with live ammunition?

The spate of demonstrations and high emotion surrounding the Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice (the 12 year-old in Cleveland) incidents will subside soon enough, replaced in the public’s attention by some new atrocity, Christmas shopping or speculation of what Leonard DiCaprio was planning to do with 20 supermodels. But until then it’s worth asking the question, “Why haven’t police departments been required to transition to non-lethal ammunition?”

Its been an established fact for decades that the average cop goes his/her entire career without firing their weapon. Obviously, firearms are standard issue equipment for the exceedingly rare incident where the cop confronts some truly lethal perp/psycho. But even then, in those remarkably rare moments when a lone cop or two is caught by surprise, the preferred outcome is to render the suspect immobile and pack him off to jail for the courts to decide his fate.

In the (even rarer) case where the police are in pursuit of an indisputably violent, gun-wielding offender, a situation where back-up is usually called in, it isn’t impossible to switch over to a “live” gun stashed in the cop car … or just let the SWAT team take over.

Without question, the usual suspects, the NRA and its most ardent, imbalanced, gun-fetishizing supporters will howl that replacing death-dealing bullets with rubber bullets (which stun and hurt like hell, especially at short distances) or chemical darts is a new low in lunatic, liberal criminal-coddling, a neutering of the last barrier of flexing machismo between the thug class and the huddled, fearful masses.

The response to that, as always, should be “[bleep] them.” That crowd is as unstable as any street “thug”.

Polling shows a wide gap between what white America and black America think of aggressive policing. And yes, it does matter that the former has almost no experience with an insecure cop freaking out at the sight of you, or getting hostile when asked why the hell he’s getting in your face? For blacks, even suburban professionals, that’s a common occurrence, and one that gets exponentially worse in predominantly black neighborhoods.

This situation wouldn’t be as bad if the average police force had a better pool of police candidates to choose from. But you get what you pay for. At standard salary rates, cop shops don’t exactly have the luxury of culling through the cream of decision-makers.

The cop who killed little Tamir Rice in Cleveland, blasting away before he even got out his car, was regarded as so dismally ill-equipped to make good decisions he was let go from a small town force before catching on with Cleveland’s finest … which never looked at the details of his work history.

I quote his previous commander’s assessment: “ … he would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions, during or resulting from any other stressful situation.”

Put bluntly, the guy was/is fundamentally unstable and in a sane world should never have been issued a gun permit, much less given what amounts to a license to kill.

Ditto Darren Wilson in Ferguson. A reading of the grand jury testimony paints a fairly clear picture of an insecure tough guy wannabe, his swagger bolstered by the goods on his hip. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of doubt left that Wilson incited the confrontation and then panicked when Brown (unwisely) told him to “[bleep] off.”

But had he, or the dimwit in Cleveland been firing rubber bullets or chemical darts, no one involved would be dead today, and the courts could have gone about their usual business of … exonerating the cops.

As for Eric Garner’s chokehold death on Staten Island, where would that story be if the cops weren’t on an arrest quota, a la “The Wire”? The guy’s back selling cigarettes. Write him a ticket and find something better to do.