Monthly Archive: September 2017

“I’m not going to tolerate”…and what it says about you

Dear Fellow Americans,
On this Saturday, as the POTUS continues to blame Puerto Ricans for being poor and seemingly unable to overcome having most of their island destroyed, I am continuing to read that some of you are still Very Upset over the sight of players kneeling whenever the National Anthem is played before the commencement of NFL games.
There is a rather obvious reality that you are pissing and moaning about a sports event while a few hundred miles South East of here, people are struggling to stay alive, which makes me wonder which distant land your sense of priorities and proportion have disappeared to. But OK, let’s talk about protest in the NFL.
I am reading a lot of comments from a whole bunch of you. One thing to note about these comments is that many of them seem to begin with or contain variants of the phrase “I’m not going to tolerate”, as part of what usually comprises a rant to the effect that the players who kneel are disrespecting the flag, or the military, or the entire United States of America.
Well, OK. You don’t like the players protesting. That much is obvious.
But my follow-up to people who make statements like “I am not going to tolerate” is simple.
What are YOU going to do about it?
So, you intend to boycott the NFL and its sponsors?
Fine. That is a fundamental freedom that we all enjoy to spend our money as we see fit. Have at it.
But let’s be honest. That’s not all you want. No sir. What you really want is for these people to be forced to cease that form of protest.
Which brings me to my fundamental questions.
1. Who gave you the right to decide what form of protest is acceptable? Did you go to college to learn the rules?
2. Why should any other person or group of people in the USA be forced to modify their behavior because you find some aspect of their behavior intolerable?
3. How does your lack of tolerance of actions that you dislike have anything to do with anybody else? The players are not breaking any laws, and their actions do not harm you personally.
4. How conceited do you have to be to think that I even care about your tolerance?

But when all is said and done, this boils down to two things:
– your feelings are hurt
– you want somebody to damn well do something about it

Your feelings are hurt? Well, boo hoo. You know, one of the parts of life that being an adult imposes on all of us is to learn the ability to move past incidents where events or people upset us over events that are, in the grand scheme of things, nothing. If we can’t do that, we pretty quickly end up as resentful assholes that people tend to avoid. So, forgive me, I really am right out of fucks that I can give right now about your feelings about a controlled, measured peaceful protest at a sports game.
So you want somebody to damn well do something about it?
No. Hell no.
You don’t get to demand and expect somebody (the NFL, the law, Congress, the President) to coerce people into compliance with your worldview. That’s not in line with any of the principles enunciated in the Constitution, or any of the principles that we need to adhere to in order to have a functioning civic society. Actually, your whining and demanding that Something Be Done is a perfect example of the behavior pathology outlined many years ago by the psychologlist Robyn Skinner, in this quote:

“If people can’t control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people’s behavior.”

You cannot control your feelings over the anthem protests, so you just want somebody to make them go away.

So. Back to your “I find this intolerable” schtick.
I don’t care whether or not you find it tolerable or not. Your tolerance is a personal emotional part of your own behavior. It has nothing to do with me, I wouldn’t presume to ask “do you tolerate anthem protests”, because it is none of my business. However, when you start trying to persuade people that coercive action should be applied to other people or groups in order for your feelings to no longer be hurt…well, that is where I say Back Off. You don’t get to coerce other people to modify their behavior to suit your beliefs. That’s not tolerance. That’s trying to impose totalitarianism. That is deeply antithetical to America values. Knock it off.

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That Sinking Feeling

At the age of 62, I have met enough mediocre, dumber-than-rocks people to have become somewhat immune to disappointment.
However, I can still be surprised when I find myself talking to people who, at least on the surface, look to be smart, intelligent and successful, yet, when the discussion shifts to specific topics, they show themselves to be glib, superficial, and utterly devoid of useful thought.
This last week that occurred at dinner on a client visit, when I found myself with a Vice President and an Account Executive. As was probably inevitable, the discussion shifted to current politics.
The VP said that he thought Donald Trump was “fine”, then, after a short pause, he said wistfully “I just wish they would take away his damn Twitter account”. The reality that taking away his Twitter account does not magically change a person’s behavior for the better was a fundamental fact that he had either not thought of, or was determined to ignore. The Account Exec nodded in agreement, then went on to say that he thought that government needed shaking up, and Trump was just the man to do it.
The discussion suddenly shifted elsewhere, which was just as well, since I was probably about to say a few things in response that neither of these supposedly smart Captains of Industry would have liked.
One irony, at least to me, was that the VP was Indian.
This incident is not new. I have become wearily used over the years to finding out that seemingly intelligent people are either politically disengaged (they often decline any and all opportunities to talk about politics, possibly fearing disagreement and disputes) or they have a knowledge that is hopelessly inadequate. I used to think that conspiracy theories were only attractive to dumb people, but over time I have had to accept that even incredibly smart and clever people quite cheerfully sign on to all sorts of cockanamie nonsense all the time. In fact, smart people become incredibly good at elaborately rationalizing their decisions to sign onto total tosh.
I used to wonder why electorates in the Western world often made awful decisions come election time. Leaving aside the fundamental reality that on average, 50% of the electorate is of below-average intelligence, the sort of shallow, glib, flip rationalizations for current events that I heard over dinner last week go a long way to explaining why, even allowing for the Dunning-Kruger effect, we cannot reasonably expect any uptick in overall electoral intelligence any time soon.

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Bill down at the bar

In most small towns all over the world, there are one or more bars. (“Cheers” was an idealized version of the local city bar, with characters built up for television).
Every bar has one or more characters. I’ll call our guy Bill.
We all know Bill. He is there most nights, often on the same seat or stool. He buys a string of beers, smokes a lot, watches the TVs, and talks to anybody who sits next to him or claps him on the back.
Bill grew up in a classic atomic family. Small house with a front and back yard, one sibling, US flagpole in the front, nice manicured lawn, occasional road vacations.
Bill’s Dad was a Big Strong Man. He had been drafted and served in Vietnam. Then he left the army, and got a factory job. Dad was always outgoing, until it came to talking about Vietnam, then he would lam up, and a troubled look would come over him. The family learned to tip-toe around that one. They also learned to stay away from him when he yelled at Bill’s mom, which seemed to happen a lot.
Bill’s Dad was a big strong man. Until one day, when he fell down on the stairs, and Bill heard his mother screaming. The ambulance arrived, then the EMTs. But, the looks on their faces told the story. Dad, Big Strong Man, invulnerable, manly, The Rock, was gone. A blood vessel deep in his brain had burst, and that was that.
Bill’s mom was a quiet woman. Bill would see her occasionally weeping in the living room, but Mom never said anything about his Dad, other than “he has demons”. Then she too would clam up. After his Dad died, his mother would sit alone for hours, staring into nowhere. Bill wondered what went on in her head, but he and his sister soon learned that asking questions was a waste of time.
Bill left high school at 18, bored with the education system. Bill wasn’t good enough at sports to be a jock and Get The Girls. He also wasn’t good enough at studying to go on to college. Not that his parents could have afforded the tuition anyway, after his Dad died. Besides, universities when Bill was growing up were infested with Communists and pansies. WWell, that was what Bill’s dad always said.
So Bill went to work, with several other high school buddies, in the local factory. The job was boring, but the wages were good for the area, and the factory had been there for several decades. Bill worked his way up to a lead role in assembly, and thought he was doing OK.
Then the factory suddenly closed. BOOM. No warning. “Moving production to Mexico” was the terse summary. There was no union to protect the workers. Bill lost his nicely paid job, his work buddies, and his sense of belonging. He began bouncing from short term job to short term job. Then he worked on a construction project to make some extra money, and suffered a bad back injury. He spent months in rehab, but his back will never be the same again. He cannot get out of bed without a struggle, and some days standing is too painful for more than a few minutes.
So Bill is now on permanent disability. He became a growling, rage-infested asshole, addicted to painkillers for months, so his wife left him and took the children. Bill ended up going to rehab for a second time, this time to learn how to not pop pain pills like sweeties. After a struggle, he managed to kick the pills.
Now Bill lives alone in his little house, with only his dog for company. He collects his disability twice a month. He occasionally looks for work, but after 3 years of unemployment, and with a back that rarely allows him to stand comfortably for more than 15 minutes at a time, Bill, according to the government, does not even exist as a member of the unemployed. He has officially been declared a Person Of No Interest as far as employment statistics are concerned.
So Bill sits, sometimes uncomfortably, drinks his beer, and talks.
And Bill has opinions.
Oh yes. He has opinions.
Lot of opinions.
Bill opines about Everything.
Sports (he is sure to always let us know which team he hates this time around in the game on television, and why).
Families. Bill always has a good word for his local relatives, and not many good words for his distant relatives, who are distant because they are Not Like Him. (The idea that they might be distant because they moved to get away from his incessantly judgmental ratchet-jawing is something that most probably never occurred to Bill). As for his ex, well, let’s not go there.
Bill reveres the flag, the anthem and the pledge of allegiance. His Dad flew the flag in their little front yard every chance he got. To him, the flag and the Pledge of Alliegance are an integral, deeply emotional part of being American. He thinks that anybody who doesn’t share that opinion must have something wrong with them. Or they must be one of them furriners. Bill doesn’t trust furriners.
Politics.
Ah yes, politics.
Bill has a lot of opinions about politics.
Of course, Bill hates nearly all politicians. They look to him like a cross between smarmy used-car salesmen and game show hosts. They have suits. They talk in long sentences with way too many of those 100 dollar words. They always seem to be in somebody else’s pockets. And the “somebody else” is sure as hell not Good Honest Folks like him. When the factory closed, after Bill and his buddies, working on a short-term deal, had to dismantle the machinery and pack it into crates so it could be shipped down to Mexico so some damn foreigners could use Their Machinery, the land was soon sold to a property company that seemed to have a connection with the local mayor. Suddenly the land became zoned residential, and lots of new housing was built. Bill will tell anybody that listens to him that the Mayor was a crook in league with the developers, screwing over Regular Folks. As usual.
Politicians always like to act Smart. Bill doesn’t care for Smart. To him, smart people are inherently untrustworthy, the sort of people who you shake hands with, then immediately check your pockets to see if you still have all of your possessions.
Bill holds his nose every time he goes to the voting booth. Sometimes Bill doesn’t even vote, he hates the sons-of-bitches so much. Of course, Bill won’t admit that he doesn’t vote, he wants to make it clear that he understands the meaning of the phrase “civic duty”. Oh Yes Sirree.
Bill was going to sit out the 2016 election. He sure as hell wasn’t going to vote for That Bitch Hillary. Why, didn’t she and Bill arrange for all of those people to disappear and die? It must be true, it was all over the internet. And those damn emails…
Then there was that Bernie guy, colonel Sanders or whatver. The old Jewish guy from one of those librul states. All he did was waffle about universal healthcare. He sounded like he wanted to give Bill’s money to those moochers and takers. Bill was damned if he was going to see the gover…er, his hard earned money being given away to Folks Who Didn’t Deserve It.
…but Bill wasn’t going to vote for the Republicans either. For a start, there were dozens of them, and they all wore those damn suits. And they talked all of those sentences with them high-falutin’ words. Same Ole Same Ole.
Then along came Donald Trump.
Wow.
Bill loved him some Donald Trump.
Here was a man who Told It Like It Is. Bill hates people who beat about the bush. If you think something is Bad, say it for gawds sakes. Don’t be a pussy. None of this wimpy “I think you are mistaken” bullshit.
Donald did it right in those debates. “WRONG!” That’s what you tell those assholes! That Bitch Hillary is clearly completely Wrong. And those librul journalists had it coming too.
Donald was a real businessman. All of those casinos, hotels and golf courses. And that gold in his penthouse. Why, he is clearly Successful, not like those other politicians who talk smart and then get found with their hands in the till because they can’t make their own money, only live off OUR money. The only till Donald has his hands in is his own till, and by golly he has lots of money!
Yessir, Donald is the man, says Bill. He will stop all of this lily-livered nonsense about “rights” and “diversity”. Bill knows that “diversity” is just Smart people-speak for “let more of those brown folks in”. Why should all of those freeloading wetbacks get to stay here anyway?
Yeah! The Wall! Bill worked in construction for a while, and he knows a thing or two. If China could build that great wall umpteen thousand miles long without even having concrete mixers, hell, We Can Build The Wall twice as high.
As for the rest of the world…pffft. Bill knows what goes on in the rest of the world. It shows up every night on the TV. It’s a scary place, full of socialists, communists, furriners, brown people and more of those whiny-ass titty-babies who hug trees and love the Spotted Owl or some such, and who hate the military. Rush told him. Then they beg and plead for America to bail their sorry little asses out all over again. Pfftt!
And Muslims. Billions of Muslims. Why, they are probably swimming the Rio Grande even as Bill speaks again. They have to be. After all, doesn’t everybody want to come to America?
Bill’s pal Donald is going to sort out the rest of the world. We have dozens of aircraft carriers, and all of those F-35s or whatever number they gave the planes flown by Tom Cruise and his buddies. Now, those military guys – those are Real Men, doing Brave Stuff. Vanquishing all enemies, foreign and domestic. Or something like that. Donald, he respects those military guys.
Donald wants America to be Great. No more of this “yessir nosir” crap from our President. What a wimp that Obama guy was. Always bowing and scraping. Didn’t he know We Are America? You know, that nation that bailed out everybody else’s sorry ass in umpteen wars? Why aren’t these people grateful, instead of behaving like a bunch of whiny pissants? Look at the United Nations. A bunch of people, either wearing those con-man suits or dressed in dishrags, complaining about America. Donald will tell them where to go screw themselves. Probably they screw camels anyway, haha.
Hey, want another beer?
You see, Bill loves Donald Trump because Donald Trump, as far as Bill can see, is Bill.
Or he is what Bill would love to be.
Bill would love to go sit in that fancy Oval office, his feet up on the table, telling it like it is. He would love to phone up some little shitface dictator and yell down the phone “listen, cocksucker! You release our ambassador in 12 hours or I will order in the cruise missiles. Now do the right thing, fuckface!” Then Bill puts down the phone, high-fives the military, and picks up the phone again to accept congratulations from that other pissant dictator. Yessir, THAT guy knows his place. Bill just has to make sure that he keeps toeing the line. And if he doesn’t, well, we have a carrier group nearby…
All of those people whining about Donald Trump’s twitter or whatever? Well, lordy lordy, it’s all of those swamp people, the coastal elites, and those prissy liberals with their fancy talk and whining about “equality”. Those little rats are pissing and crying because Donald is rooting them out, ending their silly games, their plotting, their corrupt dealings, their elitist hob-nobbing. Screw the lot of them.
Yessir, Donald is Getting Stuff Done. Those ungrateful NFL players sure got put in their place last weekend. How dare they disrespect the flag like that. WE made them millionaires and this is their idea of gratitude? Tell it like it is Mr President. None of this political correctness bullshit. Donald’s a real man. He doesn’t stand for nonsense. Men need to be men. Keep up the good work.
Bill looks around. The bar is almost empty. Those guys who were sitting with him, they went home to their families hours ago. Not many young people come in here these days. They all went to the city, like Bill’s son, who went to one of the cities, and now comes back once a year for Thanksgiving.
Or at least he used to come back once a year for Thanksgiving.
Bill loves his son, but wishes he wasn’t living with that silly girlfriend who told him over dinner last Thanksgiving that he was a misog…or something that didn’t sound very nice. Bill soon told her where to go. Oh yessir. Now they won’t be back for this year’s Thanksgiving. His son told him they are going skiing in Canada.
Skiiing. Hah! Bill can’t even bend down to tie his shoelaces any more, so he wears slip-ons out of the house, and slippers in the house. No way would he be able to put on skis. Some days Bill wonders what happened to the years when he could lift anything above his head, including his kids. Now he can barely lift himself out of a chair.
Bill shuffles off his bar stool, pays his tab, and slowly heads out for home. He will park his car, gingerly ease himself out, shuffle indoors, turn on the TV, listen to His Man telling it like it is, and then laugh at the libruls whining on the chat shows. Sheesh, they’re such an ungrateful bunch of pussies. But Donald will sort them out. Time for them to toe the line and work to Make America Great Again.
And Bill, after wincing as he peels of his underwear, slides into bed. Another day is done.
In his mind, Bill is Donald, and Donald is Bill. Sorting out Shit. Draining the Swamp. Making America Great Again. Did I say MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN?
And Bill sinks into sleep, into the zone of certitude and vindication, where Right is Right, Wrong is Wrong, and everything is simple and sraighforward, and easy to square away. And where his back no longer hurts, his family is together and happy, and he still has a steady job.
If Bill ruled the world.
But then Bill would be Donald.
And Donald would be Bill.

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The sudden idea that the NFL should be above politics


So, John Elway wants to take politics out of football?
Hmm. OK.
Would this be the same John Elway who endorsed Neil Gorsuch for the role of Justice on the US Supreme Court?
An endorsement that was published on paper with a Broncos letterhead?
I have two thoughts on this.
1. Elway’s complaint is a behavior pathology that I do not understand. Any person as smart as John Elway should be able to understand that his proposal yesterday will have next to no credibility after his Gorsuch endorsement.
But…he went ahead and made the statement anyway.
This suggests to me that we are dealing with a combination of a total lack of ability to feel shame, and/or a lack of self-awareness. Both of these pathologies point to hubris, as in “I am John Elway, therefore the normal rules of logic, argument, and credibility do not apply to me”.
2. The underlying reality is that the NFL was paid money to bring the military (and the military is inextricably linked to politics) into the NFL, starting in 2009. (Presumably John Elway knew all about this).
Ship already sailed. Train left station, Genie out of the box. Use any cliche you like, but the NFL already embraced politics, so whining about how they need to get politics out of the NFL is, well, more than a few years and a few million dollars too late.

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Puerto Rico – the aftermath

A guy on our delivery program in KY was, amazingly, on the phone at a weekly status call this morning from Puerto Rico.
It is pretty bad down there right now. He has a working generator, and a lot of people hanging out at his house. His family members are queuing all day to get fuel to keep the generator running. He says the two biggest queues on the island are for fuel and ice.
He and several people from the neighborhood have been using chainsaws and a pickup to cut up and remove tree and pole debris from local streets so that people can start to move around.
I donated to several relief efforts, since I cannot easily decamp to help. We have to understand that right now this is a more important event than the row over the NFL anthem protests.

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Some of you really need to learn how to interact positively

Because of the decision by Donald Trump to fixate on the NFL players who are protesting social injustice by kneeling for the National Anthem, my social media feeds and Facebook have been dominated by threads on the subject.
However, I am disappointed by the general content, tone and usefulness of the resulting discussions. Calling them discussions is a misnomer. In most cases, the interactions seem to mostly consist of people yelling, ranting and shouting at each other or past each other.
I can tell this is true, since my measured interventions in several threads have been ignored in favor of more and more aggressive comments along the lines of “this is what I believe so SCREW YOU”.
I am seeing a number of pathologies that are pretty much guaranteed to zero the chance of any useful debate or discussion. Specifically:

1. Leading with abuse and ad hominems
When you begin a comment by describing NFL players as “jerks” or “punks”, that is a pretty good clue that I am about to read a denunciation, not a useful contribution.
When you tell people who disagree with you that they can always leave the USA, that doesn’t make you look “strong”. It makes you look like an intolerant dick. Ditto informing people that the actions you dislike are un-American or that people who disagree with you are un-American. Who the hell appointed you to the role of judge on who is an American? That’s just a piss-poor attempt at a shut-down.

2. Use of irrelevant fallacious diversions
Complaining that NFL players are “privileged” or “overpaid” might well be true. However, it is irrelevant to the points under discussion. If you feel obliged to major on that complaint, you just disappeared down a rathole marked ‘logical fallacy”.

3. Use of ALL CAPS in words, phrases and sentences
This is shouting. Capitalizing words, phrases or sentences does not magically make them true, profound or well-argued. In my own personal world, it merely tells me to activate my bullshit detector, since if you capitalize, that tells me that you are most likely trying to convince yourself that your words are useful. Of course, you could also be shouting because you are angry or emotional. However, being angry or emotional seldom leads to well-argued writing.

4. Inability to distinguish between dissent and disloyalty
A lot of people out there need to learn that these are two very different things. One can disagree with a proposed action without being disloyal to a group or country. Labelling dissent as disloyalty is exactly what happens in totalitarian dictatorships.

5. Support and uncritical deference are two different things
You can support a policy or a group of people while accepting that they are not perfect, and that changes need to be made. If you don’t understand that, you are locked in binary thinking patterns amd that is your problem to solve, not mine.
(HINT: making statements like “this is a black and white issue” also causes me to activate my bullshit detector. Most likely you are about to convert a complex issue to simple, superficial binary answers.)
The only people that demand and expect uncritical deference are authoritarians and demagogues.

5. Demanding “respect”
Demanding that people “respect” an idea or a symbol is another rhetorical device that causes me to activate my bullshit detector. It is usually an attempt to duck the more fundamental question of why the idea or symbol deserves respect. In most areas of life, respect is not given, it has to be earned. Demanding that people uncritically respect them or respect symbols is exactly the sort of demand made by totalitarian regimes the world over, or by pathologically insecure whiny adolescents.

In short, a lot of the postings and comments I have been seeing in the last 72 hours are poorly structured, full of fallacious assertions, incoherent, angry, and nonconstructive.
You need to learn how to discuss issues in a mature and constructive way. If you don’t, you will undermine your cause and viewpoints, and people like me will find better things to do. I have no interest in arguing with people whose interaction style resembles that of a petulant, incoherent 12 year old. Life is too short etc. etc.

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The bullshit of people declaring who is “American”

Whenever I see people ranting and raving about other people in this country being “un-American”, I usually try to ask them who appointed them to be the Arbiter or American-ness, or how they became qualified to make those kinds of pronouncements.
I half expect to find out one day that there are degrees in the subject of American-ness available via Trump University.
This defining of people as “un-American” is,of course, total bullshit, a form of demonization of people who the labellers either disagree with or despise. This article by Charles Clymer explains cogently and bluntly why it is bullshit.

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The NFL and its position in American history

The NFL may be reaching a point of inflection in its relationship with American society, and the current administration.
Donald Trump, who has an animus against the NFL from the time when he tried to compete against it with the USFL, is engaging in flagrantly nonsensical excoriations of the NFL and its players.
He regards the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick as a Good Thing, and apparently thinks that proposing that players who refuse to stand for the National Anthem should be fired is perfectly reasonable. In reality it is blatantly unconstitutional crypto-fascist browbeating.
Despite obsequious financial tribute having been paid by a number of NFL owners to Donald Trump, in the form of numerous contributions to his campaign and Inauguration, Trump clearly sees the NFL as an organization that is ripe for public bullying by him.
The underlying issue is that close to 70% of the NFL’s on-field labor force is non-white, and many of that labor force are fed up with endemic racism in the USA. There is also a clear dichotomy between the “grunt” positions, and the “glamour positions, as explained in this article. (Guess where the white guys are concentrated).
The absence of Colin Kaepernick from the field of play in the NFL this season has not ended the anthem protests. The underlying resentments of the players have been ignored by a president who is clearly a nativist white supremacist. He is more interested in criticizing Colin Kaepernick (and by extension, the entire group of protesting players) than he is in criticizing fascist murderers. The double standard and preening hypocrisy is blatant.
The NFL cannot fire the protesting players, because they have no current legal basis for doing so, and even if they did have a legal basis under the CBA, firing the players would be ruled an unconstitutional abuse of power, since it is established by multiple SCOTUS rulings that nobody can be forced to stand for the National Anthem, recite the Pledge of Alliegance or salute the flag.
Firing any players would most likely trigger a labor stoppage, which is not what the NFL wants or needs during the season.
The NFL brought this series of events upon itself by continually and persistently wrapping itself up in the flag over a period of decades, and. more recently, pandering to the military by accepting military sponsorship for patriotic displays at NFL games. That was, of course, profitable for the NFL, but nobody bothered to consider the long-term impacts. The NFL did not start expecting players to stand for the national anthem until they began accepting money from the armed forces in 2009.
As a result, the NFL has created expectations that they are now expected to uncritically support not only the military, but the idea of the National Anthem and the flag representing uncritical obsequious deference to the current administration and the USA.
This whole ceremonial dispute is really about the downside of paid patriotism.
With its ratings declining, the NFL is between a rock and a hard place. They probably fear that pandering to the POTUS will further alienate not only a large percentage of players, but also a segment of the fan base. (Like me). On the other hand, they probably fear that defying the POTUS will lead to more conservative fans boycotting the sport.
This is not an easy dilemna. However, the long-term question for the NFL is quite a simple one. Do they want to be on the right or the wrong side of history? They have to make a decision about whether they want to be an inclusive meritocracy, or whether they want to kow-tow to the crypto-fascist rantings of a nativist President. If they decide to support the POTUS, they may gain favor in the short term, but then I am done with the NFL in any way shape or form. As far as I am concerned, they will forever be in my rear-view mirror.
I am pretty sure that the NFL will not be taking my views into account. However, in this era where corporations are operating in a sharply politicized societal environment, they may have to make political directional decisions. The NFL has that decision to make. Right now, I cannot and will not support the NFL until they, at a minimum, admit that they blackballed Colin Kaepernick by ensuring that he is signed to an NFL team’s active roster.

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How to elaborate on the 12 bar form – Donald Fagen explains “Peg” by Steely Dan

“Peg” is the opening tune on the second side of the 1977 Steely Dan LP “Aja”.
Like a number of Steely Dan songs, it is actually based partially on the 12 bar blues form. However, as with other Steely Dan songs derived from the blues (other examples are “Bodhisattva”, “Chain Lightning” and “Josie”), the chordal structure and voice leading is…different.
As Fagen explains, the idea was to build the verse harmony around a major seventh, not a flat seventh. Also present are additional sections; the introduction, which is derived from the chorus, and a stop/transition, based on jazz bebop harmonies, between then first chorus and the start of the second verse.
Fagen, prompted by Warren Bernhardt, who played piano on several 1990s Steely Dan tours, walks through an explanation of how “Peg” is constructed in two parts.
It is a beautiful explanation of how the underlying harmony of what superficially passes for a 12-bar blues was developed into something altogether more interesting.

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Walter Becker – an appreciation

The passing of Walter Becker, who finally reeled in all of his years yesterday at age 67, is another one of those inevitable reminders that your youth is way way behind in the rear view mirror.
In the Autumn of 1973, I arrived, fish out of water, at the University of Manchester. In terms of music listening, i was most an under-the-bedclothes transistor radio nerd, lacking any form of stereo system, although I had listened to a fair bit of what was then being tagged as “rock music” at my friends’ houses.
The problem was, I didn’t like much of it. And when I arrived at the university and began dropping into the rooms of people in my hall of residence, I rapidly realized that musically most of them were locked into an emerging musical monoculture. That year in college, there seemed to be only four LPs in constant rotation – “Selling England by the Pound” by Genesis, “Tales from Topographnic Oceans” by Yes, “Seventh Sojourn” by the Moody Blues, and “Brain Salad Surgery” by Emerson Lake and Palmer. Somewhere in there some people were listening to Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, with a sprinkling of God aka Eric Clapton. But…most of the listening seemed to be dominated by bands writing long tunes stuffed full of elaborate pseudo-classical musical devices, and seriously pretentious lyrics that seemed to have been written by amateur high school poets.
Being something of an iconoclast, I rebelled. I had been marginalized in high school, and I was not about to join a herd that had shown by its behavior that they did not value differences.
I began to listen to American music off of Piccadilly Radio, which had DJs who not only shut up instead of talking over music (hooray) but who also were not afraid to step outside of the “4 bands and a couple of hangers-on” mindset.
I also found a record store in a small mall a few hundred yards from the college building named Black Sedan Records. Black Sedan was a small store tucked away in one of the corners of the mall. Most of its clientele was comprised of students from the University, but many of the visitors were musical nerds, who liked to hang out and listen to the latest LPs on the store sound system. Black Sedan’s workers had catholic taste, and also specialized in getting hold of import LPs released in the USA before they were released in Europe. At the time, the concept of simultaneous worldwide release dates for LPs did not exist except for a handful of mega-artists like Led Zeppelin. LPs by US acts would often be released in the USA first, up to 3 months ahead of the release in Europe. So, you could walk into Black Sedan and listen to music that might not be available in a UK record store for up to 3 months.
On one of my first visits to Black Sedan, I walked in and a few minutes later the counter guy put on a new LP by Steely Dan, “Countdown to Ecstasy”. I had heard “Do It Again” and “Reeling In The Years” on the radio already, and liked them. It was clear that in terms of playing and production, Steely Dan was ahead of most other bands of the period. They were also clearly prepared to do different things, as evidenced by the jazz-like electric sitar solo on “Do It Again”.
So, out of the speakers came “Bodhisattva”, seemingly a fast 12 bar blues, but not quite, the third part of the 12 modulated differently. Then, after the lyrics, which were clearly a dig at Eastern mysticism, was a jazz guitar solo. The play-out section was not the same as the rest of the tune, and it led to a shambolic sounding ending in a pile of cacophony that almost seemed like a parody of a bad rock band’s last live set tune ending.
Then, after the discord and bombast, along came “Razor Boy“. A jazz samba, with acoustic bass and Latin percussion, and dancing vibes, but with sinister lyrics sung in sweet harmony (“Will you still have a song to sing/When the Razor Boy comes and takes your fancy things away”). Then, out of nowhere, a pedal steel guitar began to accompany and solo, using jazz-based voicings instead of the usual wailing and sliding “my baby done left me” country music sound.
I was hooked.
I had been subverted by Steely Dan.
Steely Dan were, in hindsight, a unique band that partly provided the missing link between classical 20th century pop music, jazz, and Bob Dylan. Dylan had expanded the lyrical canon of songwriting beyond where it had been, tackling all manner of human subjects and social issues. However, Dylan was not really a singer, he was a vocalist, sometimes shaky and off key, and his songwriting approach was, compared to professional pop songwriters, rudimentary. Nobody was going to confuse his sense of harmony and musical structure with that of, say, Burt Bacharach. However, Bacharach also could not have written “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right”.
Steely Dan’s approach to songwriting, while seemingly revolutionary, was mostly rooted in classical structure, as this excellent piece from Tom Moon explains. Donald Fagen once said in an interview “classical song structure is extremely serviceable” and Steely Dan were quite happy to use it when it suited them.
However, it became early on in their writing careers that they were not, unlike Bacharach, going to be able to churn out hits for others, because, as Becker noted, “the lyrics always turned left in the middle of a song”. Steely Dan’s songs were often populated by…weird characters. Mixed in with the love songs (and yes, Steely Dan did write love songs, listen to “Rose Darling”), were songs about desperate gamblers (“Do It Again”), depression (“Any Major Dude Will Tell You”), drug dealers left high and dry by changes in fashion (“Kid Charlemagne”), seedy divorces and affairs (“Haitian Divorce”), and sad forty-something men attempting to date the Newer Model (“Hey Nineteen”).
Many of the Steely Dan song characters were fringe, alienated in some way from mainstream society. This reflected Becker and Fagen’s own upbringings. Both men were children of the Cold War, a dislocating time, when Americans were taught to live in perpetual fear of, as Fagen would write in his solo tune “New Frontier”, the Reds pushing the button down. They grew up feeling alienated from many things that were part of mainstream America. Today they would be nerds, but at the time the word did not exist. Like nerds, they lived in their heads, read books extensively, smoked pot, and expressed themselves through writing songs that often started out like pop songs, but then suddenly exploded into sharp stories about weird people, with jazz instrumentation and sophisticated modulations of keys and structure.
In many ways, Steely Dan’s choice of subjects for their songs was analogous to the approach of Spike Milligan’s writing approach for The Goon Show, where, not being a professional comedy writer who had written for others, he would quite cheerfully write a 30 minute show comprised of a single sketch with multiple oddball characters, surreal plot lines and elaborate jokes within the plot. Milligan, probably not coincidentally, was also a jazz musician.
Steely Dan also, like Weather Report, soon violated the idea, cemented in the 1960s, that a band passing as a pop band was a fixed collection of musicians. Unhappy both with the travails of touring, and with the poor consistency of most of the band members, Becker and Fagen effectively dissolved Steely Dan as a touring entity in 1974, and retreated to being a studio duo, hiring musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds to suit their conception of what a song should sound like. Effectively they operated more like a jazz ensemble, where musicians would routinely play with other musicians, partly to see what would emerge.
With lots of time spent in the studio, Steely Dan recording sessions soon acquired their own mystique. Tales of entire tunes recorded with several different sets of musicians being scrapped, and multiple rejected guitar solos for tunes such as “Peg” abounded, as the duo sought something different, lightning in a bottle to uniquely adorn songs that crossed the entire spectrum of musicality from simple to complex. Eventually Steely Dan returned to touring in the 1990s after a lengthy hiatus, able to afford great musicians, and this even led to a change of mind by Becker, who over the last 15 years of his life would mention in interviews that he wanted to record quickly and not spend hundreds of hours seeking perfection, although he also admitted that this was not exactly Donald Fagen’s preferred working method.
It has always been difficult to work out who did what on Steely Dan compositions, and in interviews Becker explained that when working together, they had no formula for how to complete a Steely Dan record, with both men taking on anything and everything to get to the point where they could move on. However, it is possible to tell songs written on guitar from songs written on keyboards, due to the notes and keys used, and based on this, one can make some educated guesses. “Haitian Divorce” and “Here At The Western World” are guitar-based songs, and the use of reggae devices on the former tune leads me to suspect that it was mostly written by Walter Becker. One is left with the impression that Fagen was more attuned to melody and tunefulness, with Becker, described by Fagen as highly cynical, crafting many of the sharp, witty but sometimes cynical lyrics.
Walter Becker’s guitar playing was always initially in background. He mostly played bass on early Steely Dan LPs, until the hiring of Chuck Rainey allowed him to start playing more guitar on LPs, and slowly he emerged from the shadows to demonstrate that he had a laconic, understated but highly effective playing style, not in the least bit flash, but perfect for adding statements to the music. The best example is probably his playing on “West Of Hollywood” from the CD “Two Against Nature”. “West Of Hollywood” is a song written deliberately without a single rhyming couplet in the lyrics. It represents a microcosm of Steely Dan – a monster groove, over which an elaborate story is told, with Becker talking his way through the song on guitar before Chris Potter blows the tune apart with his frantic soloing over a progressively ascending and descending series of modulations.
Steely Dan, more than anything else, expanded the vocabulary of song in the late 20th century, and, like most pioneering musical acts, regarded genres and boundaries as a weird construct imposed from elsewhere and something to be ignored. If a superficially odd combination of instrumentation sounded good, they would try it (see the bass clarinets on “Babylon Sisters”).
So, we have lost one half of one of the best songwriting and recorded performance assembly duos of the last hundred years. Steely Dan’s real impact has been on other songwriters and musicians, who have also felt free to step out beyond the 3 minute song form with conventional instrumentation and stock “happily ever after” characters.
Thanks for the fun, Walter.

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