Sunday, April 24, 2016

et ceteras

Before I "get political," a few thoughts about the icon whose death shook the music world on Thursday:

Prince was one of the very few artists who never released a bad or even mediocre song. They were all either good or great, every last one of 'em. (Even the Beatles, titanic as they were, recorded more than a few tunes that were pure crap, but not so when it came to Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson.)

When songs offer any physical description of the women they're about, we usually find that music stars are fantasizing about stereotypical versions of sex bombs. Prince, however, sang about falling at first sight for a girl wearing the kind of beret "you find in a second hand store." That's "keeping it real" (and so is that song's very next line, in which he indulges his imagination by speculating that "if it was warm she wouldn't wear much more").

Speaking of "keeping it real," it counts for a lot that Prince never left Minneapolis. Other stars flock to LA or NY or Miami and wall themselves off from the general population. But he remained in the icy city whence he came, and he was embraced by its citizens as its favorite native son. He pedaled his bike around town, shopped at independent record stores, and freely interacted with the public. He hosted parties on his property for a $10 cover charge and performed during them; the last such party was held five days before he died.

And the imagery in Prince's lyrics was outstanding. "Dream if you will a courtyard / An ocean of violets in bloom." That has always been one of my favorites, and have you ever noticed the cross-reference it contains? He was always associated with the color purple, and that lyric is of course from "When Doves Cry," the lead single from his album Purple Rain -- and by mentioning "an ocean of violets," it plants his favorite color in your brain without ever saying the word "purple."

Plus, he was not "merely" a songwriter and singer, for he also played multiple instruments. His final concert, one week before he died, consisted of just him and a piano. RIP...

Tubman on the Twenty
Those who criticize the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill need to be slapped down with facts. Maybe there was some politically correct calculation involved in the decision, but in this case, so what? She belongs there much more than Andrew Jackson, whose visage is being replaced by hers.

Most Americans' knowledge of Harriet Tubman is limited to "she was part of 'the Underground Railroad' that helped fleeing slaves make it to the North." That alone makes her an important figure in our history, but she did so much more than "just" that during the 91 years she walked the earth.

During the Civil War she was an actual member of the U.S. Army, serving as a scout, spy, and nurse. But she did not serve "only" in those three capacities, for she also became the first woman in our history to lead a military raid. That raid was against Combahee Ferry in South Carolina and was a success, ultimately resulting in more than 700 slaves being freed.

She did all that despite being afflicted by seizures and debilitating headaches -- lifelong afflictions that resulted from a slave master beating her on the head with a metal weight when she was in her teens. In the 1890's, when she was in her seventies, she underwent cranial surgery and declined anesthesia, choosing instead to undergo the procedure while biting down on a bullet to alleviate the pain, because that is what she had seen Civil War soldiers do when their limbs were amputated.

Harriet Tubman was born in 1822. The Civil War ended in 1865, and slavery along with it. Yet she was still an active force in American life after the 1900's rolled around, when she became heavily involved with the AME Zion Church in Auburn, NY; in 1903 she donated land she owned to the church, with the instructions that it use the land to create a home for "aged and indigent colored people."

And that was after she made a strong mark on the women's suffrage movement by working with Susan B. Anthony in efforts to earn women the right to vote. When the National Association of Afro-American Women was founded in 1896, Tubman, 74 at the time, gave the keynote speech at its first meeting. Because she was "cash poor" from having donated so much of her hard-earned money to others and to causes, she had to sell a cow to buy a train ticket to the meeting.

The United States was founded on the idea that the government is secondary to the people, that the people control the government, and that the government play little to no role in how we choose to live our lives -- which makes it odd that, until now, every person to appear on our currency has been a politician. America is about "ordinary citizens" and Harriet Tubman will now become the first to appear on our currency. I dare you to find another ordinary citizen who is more qualified.

And what about the person she is replacing on the twenty? Andrew Jackson did some good things, but also some bad, and was one of the most polarizing presidents in our history. He strengthened our military and expanded the nation, but in so doing, he unnecessarily authored the Trail of Tears, which to this day is one of the most shameful chapters in our history. He was the first crony capitalist to occupy the Oval Office and corrupt the free market by boosting federal power and treating the federal government like a patronage machine. In an interesting twist for a man whose face appears on paper money, Jackson was opposed to paper money.

And for those of you so-called Republicans who believe Donald Trump is right to criticize Harriet Tubman's appearing on our currency, and who still hold the mistaken belief that Trump is a conservative who stands up for the people against the powerful, let me take this opportunity to remind you that Andrew Jackson was a slave-owning Democrat whereas Harriet Tubman was a freedom-advancing Republican.

Weep not for Old Hickory. He will still be on the back of the bill, and Harriet Tubman was a thousand times more American than him. Which brings me to...

Trump in the Arena
Donald Trump won big (yuge?) in New York's Republican presidential primary on Tuesday -- just like everyone always expected him to. The prognosticating bean counters were so certain of such an outcome in NY that their omnipresent (and increasingly confident) speculations that Trump can't get to the magic number have all been based on him winning big in NY, and perhaps even taking all 95 of its delegates. As it turned out, he took 90 of the 95.

Which makes it amusing to see that some people are actually calling on Ted Cruz to drop out because Trump won NY. Prevailing in a single state after losing five in a row hardly counts as momentum in my book, especially when that win has been baked into the delegate math all along.

The Trumpkin blowhards, spurred on by their pied piper himself, would have you believe he can win NY in November. But they are full of crap, and, unlike their pied piper, they don't even realize they're full of crap. On Tuesday, Trump received fewer votes in NY that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders -- despite him being a native son who has proudly lived there his entire life, unlike Clinton (who carpetbagged into the state late in life by way of Arkansas and D.C.) and unlike Sanders (who skipped out years ago in favor of Vermont).

Yes, Trump is in the arena, sparring for the GOP nomination. But what happened for him on Tuesday was less than what happens when a boxer receives a ninth-round checkmark on some judge's scorecard; which is to say, it did not improve Trump's chances of winning the twelve-round bout... So when his high-profile tire-pumpers claim that Cruz should throw in the towel, it makes Team Trump look desperate, fearful, and unfit to lead. Because it, including its leader, is desperate, fearful, and unfit to lead.

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