Preview of Coming Attractions from Michael Lewis

Even if you don’t know Michael Lewis, you probably are familiar with movies based on his non-fiction books: “Moneyball,” “The Big Short,” “Flashboys,” “The Blind Side,” and others. Lewis is very good at explaining financial esoterica in terms that even I can understand. Lewis’s latest offering, “The Fifth Risk,” an account of the dismantling of the government by the current occupant of the White House. The English newspaper, The Guardian, has published an excerpt focused on Chris Christie and the president-elect’s transition team. Fun anecdote from the book:

Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

Save the Last Dance

I have often thought that if everyone could attend a Neville Brothers show, there would be world peace. Sadly, the group no longer performs. Charles Neville, the Brothers’ spiritual leader, died of cancer in April 2018. Aaron Neville, perhaps the most well-known brother because of his successful solo career and eclectic collaborations with other artists, appeared in Portland billed as the “Aaron Neville Duo,” the other half of the duo being keyboardist Michael Goods. They performed a low-key set of songs, reaching back in time to Nat King Cole, The Drifters, Billy Joel and even the Mickey Mouse Club theme, and including the smash hit “Tell It Like It Is.” (Notably missing was “Over You,” Aaron Neville’s first charting song. Penned by Allen Toussaint, it was a modest hit in 1960, but contains lyrics not likely to be sung in public in the twenty-first century.) A highlight of the evening was “Save the Last Dance for Me,” a number-one hit for The Drifters.

Continue reading Save the Last Dance

Saving Gospel Music

The accolades to Aretha Franklin in numerous obituaries and tributes made note of her early years singing in her father’s church. Ms. Franklin was possibly the most famous of many popular artists who learned their craft in church: Little Richard, The Staple Singers, Sam Cooke and hundreds – literally, hundreds – more. The conflict between the sacred and the secular, has been an undercurrent of many careers. Performers whose formative years were rooted in the black church carried the craft learned there to a wider audience but with a twinge of guilt for taking god’s music and making it profane.

Unfortunately, much of this roots music is lost forever, recorded on vinyl and tape and never digitized.

Continue reading Saving Gospel Music

A (Too Short) Life, Well Lived

Ulises Valdez was born in 1969 in Los Cuachalalates, a tiny village in Michoacán, Mexico. At age ten, he quit school and went to Mexico City to work in his cousin’s flea market. Two years later, he went to work cutting sugarcane. At age sixteen, on his third attempt, he crossed the border and joined his brother in Sonoma County. Ulises lied about his age and was hired to prune vines in the Dry Creek Valley.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress passed and the President signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The law, referred to as the Reagan Amnesty, gave illegal immigrants the opportunity to become legal residents. Valdez took advantage, obtaining temporary, then, ten years later, permanent resident status. In the interim, he went back to Mexico, married and brought his new wife to Sonoma County.

Valdez progressed from vineyard worker to vineyard manager to partner in a vineyard management company to sole owner of a vineyard management company. In 1996 he became a U.S. citizen.

Over the years Valdez also began leasing and purchasing land and planting vineyards. He supplied premium grapes to high-end wineries. The Valdez businesses employ 100 people and manage more than 1,000 acres of vineyards. In 2004 Ulises Valdez produced the first wines for his own label. Six years later, with 100 acres owned or leased, the Valdez Family Winery opened. His daughter Elizabeth became the winemaker in 2016. Her sister and two brothers also work in the business.

Ulises Valdez died of a heart attack September 12, at age 49, in the midst of harvest frenzy. Sonoma County vintners and longtime clients are showing their respect, supporting the family, helping in the fields, winery and offices.

Plus ça change … Anita Hill edition

With all the noise lately about Federalist Society protege Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, let’s reminisce about the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas fiasco. (This was originally published December 6, 2017.)

 

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.)