Muddling Through Somehow

have1It’s the Christmas season but Esther Smith’s heart is not filled with joy. Her father has announced that he’s being relocated to New York for his job and the family will be moving there. The move will separate Esther from John, the boy she loves.

Esther, played by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, is the second of four daughters in the Smith family. The year is 1903. Esther’s brother and three sisters are unhappy about leaving behind their school friends and romantic partners. To make things worse, they will miss the greatly-anticipated world’s fair the following year.

On Christmas Eve, Esther soothes her little sister Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), singing to her Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The song has since become an inescapable part of the holiday background. The music-licensing company, ASCAP, once named it the third most-performed Christmas tune.

Judy Garland, her co-star Tom Drake and director Vincente Minnelli all thought the song as originally written was too depressing and so asked the lyricist Hugh Martin to make some changes. He came back with a more upbeat version. The line “It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past” became “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.”

Thirteen years later, Frank Sinatra was recording a Christmas album, have2A Jolly Christmas. He went back to Martin asking him to “jolly up” the line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” The composer changed it to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” This became the standard version. Later, Ms. Garland sang these revised lyrics on The Judy Garland Show Christmas Special.

The list of artists who have recorded this song is almost endless, usually with the “shining star” lyric. One, Chris Isaak, recorded both versions of that verse.

And the Smith family? When Mr. Smith realized how unhappy his family was, he changed his plans, cancelling the move to New York. They all got to go to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Plus ça change … Anita Hill edition

Anita Hill, a professor at Brandeis University, grew up in Lone Tree, Oklahoma, a speck on the map, about a hundred miles east of Oklahoma City, and thirty-some miles west of Muskogee. She graduated as valedictorian from her local high school and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree with honors from Oklahoma State University. She earned her law degree with honors from Yale Law School in 1980. In 1989, she became the first tenured black professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Anita Hill – 2015

Three years later, after a nationwide fundraising campaign initiated by a feminist group, and matching state funds, the Anita F. Hill professorship was endowed at the University of Oklahoma Law School. Oklahoma legislators promptly demanded Ms. Hill’s resignation and introduced a bill to prohibit the university from accepting out-of-state donations and even attempted to close the law school. School officials attempted to revoke her tenure. After five years of this, Hill resigned. The law school defunded the professorship in 1999, the position having never been filled.

Clarence “Long Dong” Thomas

What could a person have done to provoke such reaction in her home state? Anita Hill had the temerity to testify before the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Joseph Biden, considering Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, for whom she had worked when Thomas was in charge of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The FBI had previously questioned Hill. When that interview was leaked, the Senate committee called her to testify. She told the committee that Thomas had asked her out several times and she had always refused. His work conversations regularly addressed such topics as women having sex with animals, pornographic movies about group sex and rape, and “his own sexual prowess,” referring to himself as “Long Dong Silver,” an homage to a contemporary porn star. She also famously related his examining a can of soda on his desk and asking, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”

The invective directed at her came quickly and forcefully. Thomas, of course denied it and went further, saying it was “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said , “Hill was working in tandem with ‘slick lawyers’ and interest groups bent on destroying Thomas’ chances to join the court.” Contemporaneous opinion polls showed most people believed Thomas.

Ms. Hill took and passed, a polygraph test; Thomas refused to take a test. Four other women were waiting to testify but the committee chose not to hear them. Thomas, with all of one year’s experience as a federal judge, was confirmed. He has since distinguished himself as the least-inquisitive justice, often going months without asking a question or making a comment, and its most predictably conservative voter, including his dissent against affirmative action, something from which he benefited during his education.

A documentary film, “Anita,” about her experiences was released in 2014. HBO presented a dramatic film, “Confirmation,” starring Kerry Washington, in 2016.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

Why Facts Don’t Matter

Eyewitness testimony has been the bedrock of our justice system. Studies have repeatedly shown, though, how unreliable our recollections can be. False memories can be slipped into our memory by third parties. Or we see what we expected to see and our mind fills in missing detail and that becomes our memory. We tend to re-tell a story according to the listener. Defense attorneys know this. With retelling, we become more certain that an erroneous recollection is true.

Researchers at Stanford University had volunteers review suicide notes and decide which were real and which were made up. They were informed of their scores; some were told they were correct in almost every instance, others that they were wrong on most of their choices. Except all the scores were fictitious and had no relation to the subjects’ actual performance. Even after being informed their scores were bogus, subjects originally given high scores still persisted in believing they were exceptionally perceptive, much better than average in determining what was true.

Which brings us to Fox News and its loyal viewers…

Right-wingers have been frothing about the nefarious deal Hillary “Lock her up!” Clinton made, selling U.S. uranium to Russia in exchange for large contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Fox News has been relentless in promoting the story, feeding the outrage against Mrs. Clinton. But then Fox talking head Shepard Smith went on the air and, point by point, took apart the story. He dispassionately pointed out that Clinton was not Secretary of State when the sale occurred, that the State Department was only one of nine Federal agencies involved, that the company, Uranium One, was mostly Canadian owned, that none of the uranium in question would leave the United States. Et cetera.

Fox’s audience was not interested in facts. They turned their outrage against Shep Smith.

“I feel you are actually CNN (fake news) when Shep Smith is on.”

“Get rid of him. He is a shill for Hillary as most gays are. Does not have the integrity to be on Fox.”

“Shep Smith needs to be fired for his biased reporting!!!!”

… and on and on.

Shepard Smith should stay with Fox News. Viewers need to be confronted with documented information, even if only rarely.

 

Of course, it’s hard to refute Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert’s chart showing Uranium One conspiracy.

Sonoma County Artists Respond

Tom Swearingen

Sonoma County artist Tom Swearingen knows what he’ll be doing for the next year: painting roses. Since retiring from the Santa Rosa police department several years ago, Tom has become known for his “Playful Realism” paintings. His “Photorealism” work includes a series of police badges, trains, and also many visual puns. In the aftermath of the devastating fires that left many homeless, he has committed to painting a “Rose of Resilience” each day for a year. For $95, a patron of the arts could commission a rose and specify the flower and background colors. All $95 goes to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund. Village Art Supply has donated canvases for the project. He quickly received orders for all 365 paintings, raising $34,540.

Brigitte Laurent & Patrick Amiot

A few miles west, in the town of Sebastopol, Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent, have used their neighbors’ yards for installations of their self-described “Junk Art.” For years their whimsical sculptures have delighted passers-by on Florence Avenue. Amiot’s work can also be seen in public places around the area. One of their major works, a full-sized carousel, to honor immigrants, was unveiled last year on Canada Day in Markham, Ontario.

The husband-and-wife team decided to create a monument honoring first responders to the recent fires. Built with fire extinguishers, fuel canisters, woodstove parts and other detritus, the twelve-foot-high firefighter stands adjacent to the SMART commuter light rail in downtown Santa Rosa.

Sequence 01.mov from Eric McIntyre on Vimeo.

Santa Rosa Update

The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it had removed household hazardous waste from 5,500 properties in Napa and Sonoma counties, three-quarters of those destroyed or damaged by fire.

Sonoma County has begun process of adjusting tax assessments. The Assessor’s office was not damaged, but was closed for several days because of mandatory evacuation. Fortunately, aerial views simplify assessing properties that have been reduced to ash. Others, in rural areas or suffering partial losses, require on-site inspections and will take longer. The fires occurred the same time tax bills were being prepared. Tax revenue will obviously be lower; the real hit may come next year. The city of Santa Rosa estimates it has lost a third of its tax base.

The California Insurance Commissioner estimated insured losses will exceed $3 billion. Rebuilding costs will be high. Property owners will need to decide to rebuild exactly as what was lost, with required code upgrades, or to make changes. Shortages of contractors, construction labor and basic building materials will drive up costs. Renters, in what was already an extremely tight market, face uncertainty about what their landlords will do. Many will leave the area to find employment and housing, likely to not return.

Who is coming to Santa Rosa? Lawyers, swarms of lawyers, from all around the country. Although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, law firms, eager to sue Pacific Gas & Electric, are invading Santa Rosa. As a former resident of Santa Rosa once said to journalists sleuthing the Watergate story, “Follow the money.” The giant utility PG&E has deep pockets and of course, is widely disliked. Sparks from power lines downed by high winds are one possible cause of the fires. The attorneys aren’t waiting; they’re advertising on billboards and TV, and setting up town-hall style meeting for prospective clients. And if PG&E lawsuits don’t work out, there’ll be plenty of other generally loathed, big-money targets to sue: insurance companies.