Thursday, April 19, 2018

My Life and Times: Hunting for Treasure

My Life and Times: Hunting for Treasure: Years ago, a friend of mine convinced me to audit a poetry class at the University of Minnesota on the poetry of Tin Pan Alley songs. (That ...

Hunting for Treasure

Years ago, a friend of mine convinced me to audit a poetry class at the University of Minnesota on the poetry of Tin Pan Alley songs. (That course was the foundation for a book.) In between spirited debates about whether or not song lyrics can (or should) be separated from the music, we learned a lot of early 20th century pop culture and slang. The lyricists embedded clever puns and rhymes that often flew by unnoticed, all within the confines of a rigid 32-bar ABA structure.
Every so often, you can also hear a musical reference to great classical composers or fellow Tin Pan Alley songwriters, and I'm willing to bet that they aren't all accidental. Long before mashups were a thing, my brain used to mash up  "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "Stormy Weather." I have often wondered if Harold Arlen was inspired by Jerome Kern's melody, or if it was a result of a snatch of melody stuck in his unconscious.

I was listening to a "special" podcast of The West Week Weekly, an interview with The West Wing fans Lin Manuel Miranda and Tommy Kail, (creators of the hip-hop musical, "Hamilton"). They got to talking about TWW references in "Hamilton." Lin said there is only one deliberate reference, the drum roll, but that fans are constantly finding TWW references in it. (There enough that hashtags and Tumblr pages are devoted to them.) 
photo from MacArthur Foundation
 As often as I hear "Hamilton," there is always something new. Just this week, I heard variations on "Daydream Believer" and "Don't Rain on My Parade." Lin said that when he was writing "Hamilton," he purposely embedded it with as many musical and cultural "ins" as he could to help the audience accept it. Many of them he annotated in the published libretto, Hamilton The Revolution, but more are unconscious, like those TWW references the fans keep finding.

Like the great Tin Pan Alley writers, Lin's genius lies in the subtlety of the rhymes and references. He often references the middle of a lyric or musical phrase. "Hamilton" is a musical treasure hunt.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Stop demonizing Hillary Clinton

With all the outrage, especially from Bernie Sander supporters,  about how the DNC "rigged" the election for Hillary Clinton, let's remember something: This is how politics works.

Bernie is a great progressive voice. He is also not a Democrat. This is important as we look at what happened. The DNC did not have to say yes to Bernie when he asked if he could run as a Democrat, but they did, recognizing that an independent run would pull away enough Democratic votes to have the same effect as Ralph Nader's run in 2000. Let's also remember that Ralph Nader ran, not to become president, but to disrupt the system. He gave us George W. Bush. Also remember that Bernie asked to run as a Democrat because he knew that he would be given a place on the national stage in a way that an independent run would not, and to return a more progressive tone to a party that had become too centrist, especially with a president since 2008 who was a centrist and gradually moved left, effectively minimizing the influence of liberals and progressives.

I suspect that the DNC said yes to Bernie reluctantly, because influential progressives put on some pressure. It was a smart move, and Bernie succeeded in moving the discussion back to left of center. The result was the most liberal platform ever presented by the DNC. This was great news for the country, good news for Hillary Clinton, who is a liberal, and for the party. A significant number of voters supported a more progressive conversation.

But the voters are not the DNC, and Bernie's second goal, of reforming the party, was not going to be as easily done. Institutional change is slow, and anyone who has tried to change corporate culture can understand that. And, like Hillary Clinton in 2008, the power in the party didn't want Bernie to be the nominee.

Yes, let's set that wayback machine to 2008, because I saw so many parallels between Hillary's campaign then, and Bernie's in 2016. Despite what many Bernie supporters think, Hillary Clinton hasn't exactly been the darling of the party. Oh, they loved her as a campaigner, and as a First Lady but there were a lot of people unhappy with her run for Senate, and with her decision to not divorce Bill because of his peccadillos. When the 2008 election came along, it seemed a great time for Hillary to run for president. She was still a popular former First Lady, and she had shown herself to be a hardworking, effective senator. However, the party power at the time, the Kennedys (especially Ted) did not want her to be president. Ted hand-picked Barack Obama to support, and worked to undermine the other most successful candidates, including Hillary and the other should-have-been-president, Joe Biden. It was apparent, and discussed at the time, but also framed as democracy and how party politics work.

In spite of that, Hillary came very close (closer than Bernie) to securing the nomination. When it came time for the convention, the Obama campaign and the DNC did not want to allow Hillary to speak except for a quick endorsement speech, in spite of the millions of voters who supported her in the campaign, and were not excited about Barack Obama. It was only after the news leaked out that they altered the plan, and Hillary was offered a chance to speak. She refused the stage, opting, instead, to speak from the floor of the convention, from among the New York delegation, to thank her supporters and throw her support behind Obama.

In 2016, Bernie was given a keynote timeslot to speak, and was invited to help form the party platform that Hillary would run on. I have no doubt that it was because Hillary still remember how she was treated in 2008.

But let's get back to the bargains and deals that were made that made it more difficult for Bernie to secure the nomination. First, there is no guarantee that if that had not taken place that he would have won the nomination. Second, there is no guarantee that, if he had won the nomination, that he would have won the general election. I can guarantee, though, that she would have campaigned hard for Bernie, and would have put all her effort behind getting him elected. If you think that the GOP was tough on Hillary, imagine how the 3rd party PACS would have attacked a Jew. The dog whistles abound. And, third, that is how party politics work!

If you want to set the wayback machine even farther, the party nominees were only selected by the party members, with no primaries, and there really were smoke-filled backrooms where deals were made.

The present-day Republican and Democratic parties have their roots in those smoke-filled back rooms. Institutional change is difficult, and slow. If Hillary Clinton is guilty of anything, it is of understanding the system, and finding a way to effectively navigate through it.

So, don't demonize Hillary Clinton. She isn't personally responsible for the the dysfunction in the party. Do you want to see the party reformed? Of course. But stop blaming Hillary for Bernie's inability to win the party nomination, and stop complaining about the party not being a progressive party. And don't focus on removing every Democrat who isn't Elizabeth Warren from office. Concentrate, instead, on changing your local and state parties. Volunteer, and show up at every meeting. That is where the institutionalism is the most mired - and I can promise you that the reason the same people are in charge is because the same people show up.

Because I can tell you what will happen - the Democrats will split, and the GOP will rally behind Trump, who will help them dismantle the New Deal and the Great Society, and guarantee that the U.S. is an oligarchy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Last week, my favorite ex-Viking, Chris Kluwe, tweeted that he was making meatloaf for dinner. I teased him a bit, joking about meatloaf as a staple he learned in Minnesota, and claiming mine was better. (He took it in good grace, and by that I mean he didn't block me.)

But something he said to me about it got me thinking, and more than just about making it for dinner.

When I was growing up, every week we had meatloaf, pork chops (sometimes baked with cream of mushroom soup gravy, and, later, baked with sauerkraut), tuna casserole topped with potato chips, chicken (sometimes baked with rice), porcupine meatballs (a recipe I introduced from the Betty Crocker Kids' Cookbook, and a recipe my brother still makes), along with various casseroles. Saturday was leftovers night, and Sunday night was homemade potato soup and egg salad sandwiches.

We ate our meatloaf drowned in ketchup (no tomato sauce or brown gravy on this recipe!), and most often baked potatoes and canned green beans or carrots or scalloped corn. My mom baked it in an 8x8"pan, which seemed to make a pound of ground beef go a lot farther and easily feed five people with enough left over for sandwiches.

I loved meatloaf sandwiches, on white bread with Miracle Whip. We moved just before I entered the 3rd grade, and my elementary school didn't offer hot lunches; kids who had to eat at school brown bagged it, but there were only a few of them. Most of us walked to and from home for lunch, for grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, or bologna sandwiches and chicken noodle soup. But every once in a while, it was meatloaf.

Eventually I started sharing the cooking, and I learned to make it. The recipe my mom taught me was one she had learned from the mother-in-law of one of my grandmother's brothers, who was, by all accounts, the world's best cook. (Just ask my aunt.) All the best recipes in the family seem to come from her, and meatloaf is no exception. It's a simple recipe, much simpler than most recipes you will find, but anyone who tries it likes it; even people who think they don't like meatloaf.

I have changed how I make it over the years. The original recipe called for equal parts of ground beef, veal and pork. Growing up, we used ground beef; I most often now make it with a blend of ground beef, turkey and, once in a while, pork. Instead of bread crumbs, we would use crumbled saltines, fat free milk instead of whole milk.

But yet, no matter how I tweak it, it still tastes as good as it would on those cold, rainy evenings in our big, warm kitchen. If I close my eyes, I can still see us, sitting around the table with its vinyl tablecloth, and I can feel the love and contentment.

I make no promises, but if you want to try my meatloaf, here's the recipe. The amount of seasonings & bread crumbs can be adjusted to personal preference; meat can be increased by 1/2 pound, without changing the rest of the recipe, for more servings.

(preheat oven to 350F)

1 lb ground beef, veal & pork
   (substitute with: ground turkey or chicken)
1 egg
1/4 cup milk (fat free is fine)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
   (substitute with: 12 saltine squares, crushed finely)
1 small yellow onion, minced
   (substitute with: dehydrated minced onion; add to milk to soften)
1 Tbsp. ground poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground mustard (optional)
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Beat together egg & milk.
Add onion, breadcrumbs & seasonings. Blend.
Mix in meat until completely blended.

Spread evenly in loaf pan or casserole.
Cover pan with aluminum foil.
Bake 55 minutes.
Remove foil, bake 10 minutes longer.
Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Wrap leftovers tightly in aluminum foil and store refrigerated.