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I’m Gonna Try A Thing

Rad/ish. Episode 1.

I want to write more in 2018. Not because I am good at it. I am not. I am mediocre+ (dibs on Mediocre+ for my new Ska band name). But I wrote very little in 2017 and a void was felt. Also, I want to get better at writing and at life. I miss sitting with my own thoughts. The restlessness and FOMO induced pin-balling around the internet I put myself through in 2017 was tiresome. I am resolute to digest more information, rather than be consumed with consumption, in 2018.

So I’m gonna try this: I’m going to write a weekly (maybe) post in this publication, Rad/ish. I’ll write about things I read which I found thought provoking and valuable, or clever and amusing, or none of those things. I’ll write about a good song or memory that made my week a little better. Anything I think is rad (or rad/ish) and worth my time.

I may try to explain things I think I have a pretty good handle on, or work through how I feel about something by writing it out. This is mostly for me. A journaling effort of sorts. It will be a hodgepodge. (When Mediocre+ breaks up because our horn section gets jobs as High School drivers ed instructors, we’re gonna pivot to a beard-folk band called Hodgepodge).

Mostly I’m hoping this project will help me remember some of the things I’d like to draw upon explicitly in the future, rather than relying on a hope that those nuggets of wisdom inform my actions and opinions while buried deep in my subconscious.

Rad/ish. Episode 1.

The last project I worked on in 2017 was this story from Dave Eggers about grace and about Roy Moore and about so many other things:

It’s a poignant illustration of how racial bias and bigotry can quickly subvert the principles we humans hold most sacrosanct. It also exposes elements within the conservative movement who crassly mimic the Christian principle of grace to achieve political ends and augment their power. Many of these conservatives bent over backwards to extend grace to an unrepentant sexual predator from Alabama while demonizing and seeking to serve injustice upon a brown homeless migrant from Mexico. It is intentional counterfeit religiosity of the worse kind.

I hesitate a bit to use the word conservative. “Conservative” and “progressive” have be come shorthand for “other” in our new breed of tribalistic and reactionary politics. Beyond their utility to arouse vitriol or sympathy, I’m afraid the terms have lost all meaning. But I’m not sure what else to use.

Speaking of hard-to-define political paradigms, Mitt Romney is (probably) running for Senate. This is most likely a net positive for the Senate. If you are liberal, you know UT is going to elect a conservative Republican to this seat. At least they are electing one who has flirted with fervent opposition to Donald Trump by speaking bluntly about his lack of moral character and intellectual capacity. If you are a conservative, at least you are getting a guy who led your party in a historic campaign, and has vocally and openly dated conservatism for more than a decade.

For me, it mostly boils down to which Mitt Romney we’ll get. Romney has always struck me as a genuinely kind and smart dude, but an awfully squishy leader and fickle policy maker (none of these things are mutually exclusive). If I had more confidence that his political capriciousness was born out of a genuine desire to weigh both sides of an argument in order to take a carefully examined position, rooted in pragmatism, and demanding concessions from both “sides”, I’d feel great about Senator Mitt Romney. I’m just not convinced that is who he is, despite those who would tell me otherwise.

All politicians are opportunistic to a degree. Very few find themselves in an electoral environment where moderation, nuance, and candor will win them votes. If there is one elected office that Mitt Romney could occupy which would provide him the political cover to be that pragmatic centrist, it is U.S. Senator from Utah.

Remember that Mitt documentary that came out after the 2008 election? The one billed and lauded as a compelling behind the scenes look of Romney’s campaign which “humanized” an often robotic inclinations? The most memorable scene for me from is the one where his is discussing Obama’s business acumen. He makes this soliloquy about how Obama and those who crafted the banking regulations following the recession, “never ran a business” and have no idea what it’s like to operate in the real economy. That scene is most telling. In a moment of candor, Romney couldn’t fathom how Obama could understand the plight of small business in America, or that businesses fail, because Obama was lawyer who never had a payroll or “been in a setting operating a little business and trying to make it”. It was peak Romney obtuseness. It was peak Romney convincing himself something was true because of the political expediency of the message.

It seems the favorite lie people who are born into wealth like to tell themselves is they got there on there own merit and they alone were uniquely qualified for the ascension. It’s self-perpetuating self-deception. Sound familiar? Often Romney walks a little too close to that line for me my comfort.

(BTW — I do think Mitt Romney can be both the guy who delivers an honest and blistering critique of Trump as a narcissist, fundamentally unfit for the presidency, in an effort to damn Trump’s nomination and election, and be the guy who met with Trump about serving as his Secretary of State because he thought he could temper Trump’s worst impulses and possibly prevent disaster. I actually find that pretty honorable and selfless.)

Read This Too

If you are interested in making sense of the current state of media and journalism and politics, you should make a resolution to read everything John Herrman writes in 2018:

Watch This Also

Jay Z gave a really compelling interview to Dean Baquet, executive editor at The New York Times publisher, in November last year.

The entire clip is worth soaking in. Lot’s of thoughtful fodder on life, love, art, race, politics, and parenthood. Dean does a nice job digging in at just the right times and giving Jay the space to breath and sort through his insights — even if at times Dean trips over himself trying to impress his guest.

The most interesting part of the interview — the part that I can stop thinking about — comes towards the very end, just prior to the 33 minute mark. It’s wasn’t striking because of a specific point that was being made, but because of how off guard I was caught by Jay-Z’s parenthetical. Dean asks Jay Z about the pain and struggle he and Beyonce experienced in their marriage, and how they chose to openly explore that pain through their music. In an effort articulate the calm and clarity they found amidst the chaos of marital strife, Jay-Z draws on a pretty common analogy, he says; “The safest place is the center of the hurricane. We were sitting in the eye of the hurricane…the best place is right in the middle of the pain.” But because of the context of the interview, just off the heels of the horrible hurricane in Houston, he caught himself in the middle; “…maybe don’t use hurricane because so many people are being affected right now”.

It was an incredibly empathetic and astute catch, and a genuine expression of empathy in the middle of an exchange no doubt exasperated by the demand for a performance, and to say just the right thing. To be cognizant that there might be many watching who were affected — devastated even — by the hurricane season, Jay-Z didn’t want to be insensitive. I highly doubt anyone watching would have been offended by such a commonly used and innocuous metaphor, but Jay-Z wanted his experience and words to be laced with compassion and awareness, to open hearts. More than anything he wanted to be empathetic.

This is the hard part to write: I didn’t expect that from Jay-Z in this interview. I didn’t not expect it. But still, I was surprised. Then I was surprised by my surprise. It wasn’t entirely in line with the mental box — based on my own preconceived notions, bias, and limited experience — I had placed Jay-Z into. Intellectually I knew a braggadocios rapper can, of course, also be incredibly self-aware and empathetic, but I had unintentionally confined him (his whole person) to the caricature of my bias.

One of my flaws is a desire to keep people static. Often holding them to standards I don’t even hold for myself and not allowing for growth and positive evolution of character, while demanding that space from personal growth for myself from others. I think humanity struggles with this broadly, but me especially so. Perhaps in the chaos of life it’s easier to pass judgement on those with whom we associate (even those closest to us — especially those closest too us), or those in the public eye, and we strain to keep them confined to our narrow view because change, growth, and positive transformation changes our daily mental calculous. It adds to life’s ambiguity and serves as a reminder of our own shortcomings and stagnation.

Maybe Mitt Romney should have extended some grace to Obama when trying to figure out why they held policy disagreements regarding the role and impact of government regulatory actions targeting the financial industry. Maybe I should extend the same grace to Romney when he says something I disagree with in the course of his cake-walk campaign for the U.S. Senate.



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