Musk Fails and Bails, GOP Tries to Thwart Voters, Julliard’s Sour Song of Sex Abuse, Is Dyslexia the New Civil Rights Movement?, NYC Mayor Battles Twitter, My TV Picks, and More
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
In my last newsletter, I discussed a comment one of my subscribers made about the merits of Hallmark movies. This week, I’m going to refer to another subscriber, SJ Rozan, who pointed out that the old proverb Vox populi, vox Dei (“The voice of the people is the voice of God”) that Elon Musk uses when running his polls on Twitter has more to it. He inspired me to do a little research and he was right: In 798, Alcun (an English scholar and clergyman, wrote a letter to Charlemagne, a king who united much of Europe, commenting, “Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.” Which means, “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.” Alcun didn’t come up with the proverb, he was just warning that we need to be wary of mob mentality.
That got me to thinking about how often we misuse quotes to make the opposite point than the original intended. One of my favorites is people quoting early American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” This line is offered up with smug gotchya smirk. They have used one of the great minds of history to defend their own inconsistency—a characteristic of the bad athlete, evil politician, and lame thinker.
The problem is that the full quote is: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” When you use the full quote, you get the opposite meaning.
Same with “Curiosity killed the cat,” which is used to dissuade someone’s curiosity. But the remainder of the phrase—“but satisfaction brought it back”—reveals that curiosity is a risk, but ultimately more rewarding than lacking curiosity. Also in this category is “Money is the root of all evil.” This phrase is meant to shame those who seek their fortune. But the full quote from 6:10 of 1 Timothy is “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” Pursuing money isn’t the evil, it’s the love of money, which means abandoning other morals in its pursuit.
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Social Media: Musk’s Poll Was a Misdirection
Elon Musk Keeps Silent After Twitter Users Say He Should Quit as Boss (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: Elon Musk posted a poll on Twitter asking whether he should step down as head of the company and promising to abide by the poll results. The poll concluded he should step down.
MY TAKE: Elon Musk’s erratic behavior since buying Twitter has alarmed, frustrated, and angered many people, including some of his die-hard supporters, many of whom have since left Twitter. But Twitter was the least of his problems: Tesla lost most of its value as its core car-buying demographic of middle and left-leaning customers abandoned his car company, one referring to it as “the new MAGA hat.” In addition, he’s feeling political heat (“Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Tesla’s board accusing Elon Musk of ‘unavoidable conflicts’ at Twitter and possible ‘misappropriation of corporate assets’”).
Naturally, Musk then conducted another of his famous Twitter polls, asking whether he should step down from his duties running the company—and promising to abide by the poll. The response was overwhelming, with 57.5% of the 17 million votes urging him to step down.
But this is not one man listening to popular opinion, which he has openly and loudly ignored in the past (including calls to better regulate hate speech). Instead, it’s a calculated plan to save face. Realizing he and his company was hemorrhaging billions—he lost $85 billion of the value of his stake in Tesla while Tesla’s value dropped $550 billion—he needed an escape strategy that would serve his business needs as well as his desired image as a savior-of-the-people. He probably already intended to step down to save his other, more profitable businesses, but by using this poll, the outcome of which he already knew, he was able to step down and still look like a hero who abides by the will of the people. He did a similar thing a few months ago when he conducted a poll to see if he should sell off stock while, according to Forbes, he already had the plan in motion.
It’s all rather duplicitous and insulting to his Twitter customers, whom he clearly sees as easily manipulated with a few buzz words about free speech, will of the people, yadda yadda. He has since agreed to remove himself from daily operations—as soon as he finds someone worthy of the position. Which was his plan all along.
His desperate supporters will cling to the PR fantasy because they need their heroes the way a crying toddler needs its favorite teddy bear. Or the way Trumpites need their digital trading cards.
Voting Rights: Republicans Hate Majority Rule
SUMMARY: “Ohio advocates hoping to replicate a string of abortion rights victories fear being stymied by Republican lawmakers who are attempting to make it harder to pass citizen-initiated constitutional amendments.
“Ballot initiatives put directly to voters have proven a winning strategy for abortion rights activists since Roe v Wade was overturned this summer, with six referendums delivering favorable results for pro-choice advocates.
“In Ohio, Republicans want to bring their own legislation, raising the threshold for successful ballot initiatives to 60%, up from the simple majority currently required to amend the state constitution.”
MY TAKE: I used to see this all the time in pick-up games. A team would lose and then one or more of them would complain they didn’t really lose. They were fouled, the score was called wrong, a travel wasn’t called, etc. The good players would lose and practice to get better.
When some Republicans lose elections, they don’t regroup to figure out how to make their political platform more appealing, they simply claim they didn’t lose the election and they go about making it harder for the voice of the people to be heard. Pretty much the opposite of democracy.
Ohio’s Secretary of State Frank LaRose explained why Republicans were taking this action, saying it will “protect the Ohio constitution from continued abuse by special interests and out-of-state activists.” LaRose uses trigger words meant to jolt conservatives into support. But what does he mean by “special interests”? Women who wish to have control over their reproductive systems rather than leaving it up to the government so committed to ending those rights?
And who are these “out-of-state activists”? Yes, Planned Parenthood and ACLU are fighting this vote-block (they both have local Ohio locations). But don’t Republicans take money from out-of-state activists like the NRA? Why, yes they did: the NRA contributed $310,000 to Ohio politicians since 2010. And didn’t out-of-state agitator Donald Trump recently visit in support of J.D. Vance’s senatorial campaign? And so on.
The New York Times recent polling suggests 59.1% of registered voters in Ohio would vote to secure abortion rights in the state constitution. Not if Republicans have their way. They follow the sports philosophy of Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, who had Harding’s ice skating rival Nancy Kerrigan attacked with a metal baton: If you can’t beat ‘em with talent, beat ‘em with a pipe. For Republicans it’s “If you can’t beat ‘em with ideas, beat ‘em by not letting them play at all.”
Arts & Education: Sour Song of Sex Abuse
Amid allegations at Juilliard, classical music leaders demand change (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “An open letter calling on the Juilliard School to take disciplinary action against composer Robert Beaser for alleged “decades-long abuse of women and power” has attracted the signatures of about 450 composers, musicians, educators and arts leaders.
“By late Friday, after an initial 120 people had signed the letter, Beaser, 68, a former chair of the prestigious Manhattan music school’s composition department, had taken leave from his teaching post as the school launched a third-party inquiry into the allegations."
“…Last week, the Berlin-based classical music website VAN magazine published the results of a six-month investigation into allegations of misconduct against several Juilliard faculty members, including Beaser, who, the magazine said, ‘faces multiple, previously-undisclosed allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct from the late 1990s and 2000s.
“These include alleged ‘repeated sexual advances to sexual relationships with students,’ as well as claims that these relationships directly affected critical decisions Beaser enacted as department chair at Juilliard.”
MY TAKE: My father was a cop, but he was also a trained musician who played with many jazz greats. He got his formal training at Julliard. That’s why I’m especially sad to read about another institution rocked by sexual misconduct.
Last week I wrote about sexual misconduct and exploitation of women in the National Women’s Soccer League, the week before about similar issues among youth soccer, and the weeks before that about the same thing elsewhere and seemingly everywhere. The exploitation isn’t always about sex, it’s also about keeping women from advancing their careers. It’s about control. This systemic misogyny can’t exist without the knowledge and enabling of others. It is inconceivable that over the past 25 years no one else at Julliard was aware of this behavior. Yet, they let it continue.
Whether it’s misogyny, racism, anti-LGBTQ+, or any of the other horrific behavior that demeans others, its existence is possible by the silent cohorts who say and do nothing. All these sports and school organizations are supposed to protect their young and vulnerable members, not create an atmosphere that exploits them.
It’s not enough to fire the perpetrators, the enablers must also be punished.
SUMMARY: “An estimated 5 to 15 percent of the population has dyslexia, the most common language disability, which hinders a person’s ability to read words correctly and efficiently. But in Boston and countless other communities, Black and Latino families have a much harder time than their White peers accessing two key tools to literacy: an instructor trained in how best to teach struggling readers the connections between letters and sounds, or a private school focused on children with language disabilities. Nationally, these teachers and schools are scarce and coveted commodities, generally accessible only to those with time, money and experience navigating complicated, sometimes intransigent bureaucracies.
“In recent years, some dyslexia activists across the country have joined forces with Black and Latino leaders distraught over unequal access — jointly positioning “the right to read” as a revived civil rights movement.”
MY TAKE: The article offers some stunning statistics showing the disparity of access to specialists in predominantly White schools versus predominantly Black schools. The many Black and Latino families with dyslexic children consider this a major civil rights movement. I agree. Children with learning challenges already face an uphill-to-mountainous battle in education.
Federal law requires schools to identify students with dyslexia and to provide them with an appropriate education. Most states have passed legislation to help dyslexic students. But states often don’t sufficiently fund or enforce the laws. Voting for the law looks good on their resume come re-election time, but after that, there’s minimal political commitment to helping these children, White or Black. For Black children, there’s even less concern.
With only 5-15% of the population with dyslexia, this is not a priority issue for politicians seeking large voting blocks. Remember that the next time you hear one blustering on about “protecting the children.” Think about all the time and money spent on banning books that could be used to help other children actually read.
Kareem’s Upbeat Video Break
Why do we love scenes of different species enjoying each other? Because it gives us hope that if they can get along, surely we can.
‘Tis the season for giving—to others, to yourself, and to our staff. This newsletter exists as long as we have paid subscribers. Keep us going.
Social Media: NYC Has a Plan to Fight Online Hate Speech
Eric Adams Wants New Laws to Curb Twitter Hate Speech (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: “Antisemitic hate crimes are soaring in New York City, and Mayor Eric Adams is proposing legally enforced federal regulations to cut hate speech and antisemitism on social media platforms.
“…Adams advocates American legislators consider a U.S. equivalent of the European Digital Services Act, a law passed in October 2022 that aims to compel social media companies such as Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter to combat disinformation, disclose how their platforms amplify problematic content, and to stop targeting ads based on information regarding an individual’s ethnic group, religion or sexual orientation.
“The New York mayor is confronting a tsunami of anti-Jewish crime at home. The New York City Police Department reported 45 antisemitic hate crimes in November, a tally amounting to one attack every 16 hours, an increase of 125 percent from the same month last year.”
MY TAKE: I would prefer that social media platforms self-regulated, but when that doesn’t happen, it’s reasonable for the government to step in. It’s pretty much like having the FDA inspect a food-processing plant to make sure it’s not poisoning the public. Hate speech is a kind of poisoning of the public that leads to assaults and violence. But it also creates a relentless threatening environment of daily fear for those being subjected to this hate.
Free speech is not absolute. None of our rights are. As a society, we struggle to balance our rights with our beliefs, both personal and political. Our lines in the sand have to moved whenever we measure benefit versus cost to our people. I have not always agreed with Mayor Adams (his excessive crime rhetoric, ideas about bail, forcibly hospitalizing some mentally ill homeless people), but he might be right about this issue.
Kareem’s Quick-Take Guide to What to Watch
Here are a few TV shows that I’ve been enjoying lately.
I wasn’t going to watch this because I had no interest. I tuned in just to see a few minutes just for nostalgia because I enjoyed the original 1964 TV series, The Addams Family when I was a kid. Man, was I surprised. Basically, this is a Sherlock Holmes mystery set in a school for werewolves, gorgons, vampires, and other monstrous outcasts. Despite the macabre setting, Wednesday is Holmes, digging for clues to a a series of murders that is more than meets the eye. Turns out, the mystery plot is pretty good. The humor and the characters are clever and finally Thing gets his close-up, Mr. DeMille. The show has already racked up over a billion viewing hours, making it one of the most popular series ever. (The above video of Wednesday dancing has gone viral, and for good reason. It’s hysterical.)
The Recruit (Netflix)
This fish-out-of-water series about a 24-year-old newbie CIA lawyer is one of the most entertaining shows around. The CIA is portrayed as a dysfunctional corporation in which everyone is backstabbing each other while desperately clinging to reasonable deniability about everything. The story has enough complexity not to be predictable, enough humor to keep it enjoyable, and enough action to keep it suspenseful.
Tulsa King (Paramount)
Sylvester Stallone stars as a Mafia wiseguy who gets out of jail after 25 years looking for restitution for keeping his mouth shut. Instead, he gets sent to Tulsa, Oklahoma to start from scratch. He battles local criminals, the feds, his estranged daughter, and his Mafia family trying to restart his life. The show is created by Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan. I’m not going to oversell the show, but it’s definitely entertaining watching Stallone playing a 75-year-old swaggering around, beating up people, and having sex. The look on one woman’s face after sex when she finds out how old he is is priceless. I was surprised by how addictive the show is.
Music: Grammy-Nominated Reunion
MY TAKE: Reviewer Matt Collar called this album “relaxed” and I can’t think of a better adjective to describe the triumphant second reunion album of saxophonist Redman, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Brian Blade.
The quartet started out as bright young guns back in 1994, with each evolving into successful solo artists. LongGone is the “relaxed” music of musicians with nothing to prove, confident in their ability, and comfortable in their relationship. As with any great work of art, the audience has to feel enough trust in the artist to surrender to the experience in order to fully appreciate it. Listen to the first minute of the video and you will surrender—and be glad you did.