Why my friend Amanda should be your friend Amanda

Because this blog started as a rebuttal to the largely one-sided dialogue that happens regarding politics in this state, I tend to be a bit “anti” and not “pro.” I don’t want to say I’m more “negative,” but I haven’t had a real chance to tell you what, or more importantly, who I’m really for.

I am for Amanda McGill.

This is Amanda in her own words.

Because of the politics in this state, she rightfully trumpets her bipartisanship in this ad. I have known Amanda for well over a decade now, dating back to the time she was a competitor on the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s speech team for which I coached. She has always and will always do what she thinks is right above what any party, donor, or social pressure tells her to do. When she says she will put Nebraska ahead of partisanship, she absolutely means it. Please do not let me, a relentless and unapologetic liberal who holds no office and is beholden to no constituency, singing her praises suggest to you that she would be any kind of “democratic stooge.” Amanda cares about the people of this state first and foremost. Period.

So now, let me tell you why you need to vote for Amanda McGill for state auditor this fall.

1.) She’s smart as hell – Ever since I’ve known Amanda, I’ve known her to be clever as all get out and a heckuva researcher. Her time on the UNL speech team showed me even then that she needed to be informed on all sides of an issue and that, once educated, she would tenaciously defend the position she decided was appropriate. If any opponent or critic tells you this woman is ill-informed or incorrect, you doubt that opponent or critic’s sanity.

2.) She has a gigantic heart – The issues that Amanda has championed during her time in the legislature (which now spans 8 years) are incredibly emotional for many. She is a stalwart defender of Nebraska’s women and children, working on legislation to ensure health coverage and prevent human trafficking. She has tackled issues of mental health, and is so much an expert in that arena that I have personally sought her advice when dealing with family issues.

3.) She’s a productive legislator (not an oxymoron in this case) – The proof isn’t just in the pudding, it’s in the passing. Check out the bills Amanda has passed and proposed here. She runs the full gamut here, folks. She stands up for our military, the environment, at-risk children, you name it. Too often we vote based on perception or promise. Review Amanda’s record. You’ll vote for her because of what she’s done already.

Bear (pun intended) with me a minute: I spent the last weekend in Chicago with my dad at a Chicago Bears game. We drove the seven hours there and back. During that time, he and I talked politics fairly often, despite the fact that it’s only a passing interest for him. We both agreed that, taken as a whole, America’s current political climate is maddening, as the average citizen has very little genuine influence. I corrected him on one point: “not locally. Locally we can make a big difference.”

I get that it’s hard to see politicians as a whole as some kind of champions of democracy right now. On a national level they are frequently petty, greedy, manipulative, and so on. But locally, you can find people who are in it for the right reasons, who got into this mess because they want nothing more than to defend the innocent, protect the vulnerable, and advance the condition of our community.

I have no qualms or hesitations in telling you that Amanda is such a person. Oh, and at a time when women are needed in the political arena more than ever, supporting her is even more important. Vote for her this fall. Donate to her if you can. Hell, volunteer for her if you are able. She’s one of the best this state has to offer, y’all.

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And now for something completely different…

Okay, so this does NOT fit on a political blog. But it also doesn’t fit on Facebook or elsewhere and it’s a discussion I just apparently had to enter into. So, skip this if you want… For real…

Disclaimer one: This is going to be long.

Disclaimer two: This is solely my perspective, albeit one I’m trying to approach from a researched/well-considered place.

Disclaimer three: I think taking pop culture critically and seriously is awesome and I try to do it daily.

Disclaimer four: Did I mention this is going to be long?

Disclaimer five: I freely admit that as a white male, my position is from the outside looking in and does not represent the “gold standard” for reaction.

I have come here in defense of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.” I’m not here to applaud it as an irreproachable anthem of body acceptance or a modern feminist musical proclamation. I’m just here to say the song is getting a bad rap. The singer, who recently made the depressing and seemingly obligatory “young-female-in-the-spotlight (not named Emma Watson)” mistake of declaring that she’s “not a feminist,” is a different matter. But the song itself does not deserve nearly the level of vitriol and dismissal it is receiving. Having had this conversation at least 4 times with different people, I figure we’re probably at a place where a bigger discussion is worth it.

The problems with the song tend to fall into three camps, I’ll tackle all three: skinny-shaming, male gaze-praising, and “abuse of minority culture/bodies.”

Skinny Shaming

The bulk of the criticism has centered around the notion of “skinny shaming,” which is the specific suggestion that skinnier female bodies are less desirable or valuable. It is certainly possible to read the lyrics where Trainor proclaims she is “all about that bass” and the subsequent “no treble” as “full-figured women rule” and “skinny women don’t.” But that’s a bit unfair and requires a nefarious motive that doesn’t seem to be hinted at by the bulk of the song, which is a woman focusing on (initially) praising herself.

Let’s start there: The first line that reveals she “ain’t no size two” has been taken to task by some who point out Trainor is by no means someone who would fall in the larger range of body type. True. However, she is also far and away not in the prototypical pop singer body frame range. Without asking for measurements, I think we can give a pass on her suggestion that she is at least in possession of a larger body than many women who are typically promoted in this genre.

She then blasts Photoshop, which I think we can all agree is a great point and not skinny-shaming. Artificial manipulation of women’s bodies by predominantly male editors sucks.

Then she dismisses “stick figure silicone Barbie dolls.” It is the first real salvo in the “skinny shaming” evidence. It should be noted that (A) Trainor does not dismiss an actual woman. At no point is she describing an encounter with a human being. In fact, the use of Barbie and reference to a “doll” seems to indicate she’s taking on a perception and not a person. Seemingly, the thing she is criticizing here is an idea, a social construct of a “perfect physical woman” who would adhere to Barbie’s physics-defying physique.

And now, to the crux of the argument: “I’m bringing booty back/Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that.” In and of itself, it is clear that this is inarguable evidence of separation and dismissal, of telling “skinny bitches” that their looks are not desirable. And that lasts all of one lyrical phrase.

In what has to be the quickest apology in the history of pop culture, Trainor immediately says “No, I’m just playing.” That “I’m just kidding” moment that takes at least some of the sting out of the previous words. But then she elaborates: “I know you think you’re fact/but I’m here to tell ya/every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.” In no uncertain terms, this is a refutation of the previous indictment. In fact, one could argue that her motive in introducing the condemnation of “skinny bitches” is to dismiss the term, shrugging off the separation and praising them with the same wording used to describe larger framed women earlier: “Every inch of you is perfect.” Unless you consider the simple utterance of “skinny bitches” to be unforgivable, it seems to me she didn’t just apologize (“I’m just playing”) she actively praised (“Every inch of you is perfect”).

Male Gaze Praise

It should be noted that these arguments get more complicated as we move forward. Yes, admittedly, the content of this song is explicitly heteronormative. I also consent that she is framing the embrace of her beauty in context of male appreciation: “Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase.” And her mother reinforces this, stating “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.”

Here’s why I don’t have much problem with this. First, acknowledging that Trainor is, herself, a heterosexual and sexually confident woman, the fact that “all the boys chase” her could be what she desires. I have zero problem with anyone confidently proclaiming that their desired sexual partners find that person’s attributes desirable. Notice that males are not active in this song. Which is to say, there’s no rapper who comes in and lays down a verse about how she’s hot. This is all internal qualifications and not external expectations. Even the mother’s reassurance seems to be more innocent than it is given credit for. A reasoned response from a teenage woman’s tearful complaint to her mother that boys won’t find her attractive may be to suggest that they will. As if to say “those people you want to find you attractive will find you attractive.” Again, with two women as the agents of action here instead of promoting a male voice instructing them, I would file this under mildly bothersome.

And it is worth noting the difference between reflection and reinforcement. Trainor exists in a world where men sexualize women’s bodies. Young women in particular are codified by a patriarchal system that teaches them to seek male approval in terms of appearance. If anything, I find these lyrics to be reflective of that experience and not reinforcing it.

Abuse of Minority Culture/Bodies

And once more we venture into even more complex conversation. I have read criticisms of Trainor’s claim to the word “booty.” Undeniably, this is one of many willing or unwilling contributions from the black community that has been appropriated into mainstream culture. That being said, it has become so mainstreamed, so completely and frequently used, it seems like it is no longer culturally restricted to one subgroup. Now, if the word had some inherent meaning or was related to a troubled origin (if it does, I am unaware), that would be different. But as an innocuous slang term for a sizable bottom, it doesn’t seem loaded with preconceived racial, sexist, or classist notions. Booty has, unless there is a circumstance I’m unaware of, become a mainstream synonym for butt.

The next criticism tackles Trainor’s style. Clearly, she is imitating a throwback to Motown-inspired, soul-filled doo-wap. I have heard people describe her voice as an “impression” of black singing. I admit, that is not how I hear it. It is entirely possible that this could be a matter of perspective and experience. It doesn’t seem to me to be egregious or explicit musical cultural appreciation the likes of which we have seen from virtually every other white pop star these days. If it is considered lifting from that community, it would be petty theft and not grand larceny, at least in comparison.

Finally, the criticism of the video. I have heard the dancers in the video described as “black bodies used as props.” It’s a serious allegation and one worth tremendous scrutiny and the benefit of the doubt. White acts have been blatantly stealing from black music and then casting them into background singers/props for ages. I couldn’t initially explain why Trainor’s video didn’t feel that way to me. A careful examination gave me the answer why.

In the vast majority of the video, Trainor is not given the foreground when dancing with people of color. Instead, she is center back, with the other dancers a pace forward. Yes, she is in the middle. She is the one singing the song, aesthetically, it would be weird to have her to the side. But she is rarely foregrounded, most often following the motions of the other girls. It’s not an insignificant point to state that ignoring the contributions of black dancers to this style of movement would be wrong. To include them (most scenes in a 3-2 ratio of black dancers to white dancers) seems more like an act of incorporation than a tactless use of them as inelegant props.

The dancers are rarely shown in isolation or segregated. Most often, there are both white and black dancers working together. If there is ever inequality, it is the white dancers deferring to and imitating the black dancers.

The video is somewhat separate from the issues of the song (other than the style and voice). But it is worth noting that this isn’t the same clearly egregious content that has Miley-ed and Swift-ed across our paths lately.

In Comparison

I don’t know what it is about Trainor’s song that would merit more anger/commentary than her peers in the current Billboard top 10, most of which are FAR more irritating/insulting.

  • Shake It Off – In Taylor Swift’s video she straight up dresses like an 80s-era B-boy (with a nearly all-white breakdancing crew). The song has lyrics like “My ex-man brought his new girlfriend/she’s like “oh, my god!” but I’m just gonna shake/And to the fella over there with the hella good hair/won’t you come on over, baby? We can shake, shake shake.”
  • Bang Bang – Do we have to go beyond the first lyrics? “She got a body like an hourglass, but I can give it to you all the time/She got a booty like a Cadillac, but I can send you into overdrive.” Whatever Trainor does, Jessie and her girls do worse by infinity. Across the board.
  • Anaconda – Do I really have to explain this one? I mean, it samples “Baby Got Back.”
  • Black Widow – For the love of God the video features Michael Madsen. That’s offensive enough. But to hear “I’m gonna love ya/Until you hate me (Right)” and “I want you to fiend for it/Wake up and dream for it” separates this from Trainor’s song instantly. Heck, I’ve heard arguments that Iggy Azalea’s entire existence is culture thieving.

Folks, that’s the top five currently. “All About That Bass” isn’t the most troubling song in the top 5 this week. That’s maddening.

Is it okay for you to disagree? Sure. Do I think that it’s possible to defend some of the negative positions? You bet. I just don’t think this song deserves the negativity. In fact, I would argue that it’s one of the few songs right now to try to promote any degree of positivity, that doesn’t have a video that reduces the singer to a purely sexual object, and is one of the more fresh/original sounds out there.

Even if you’re not “All About That Bass,” maybe you could not be “All Against That Bass?”

Check your facts, fool. I’m out.

Okay, there’s literally no way we can talk about the town hall meeting that Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert attended last week without talking about the single greatest quotation from a sitting City Councilman this city has ever seen.

If you haven’t heard, an angry community member confronted Councilman Ben Gray. After some heated words, Gray barked “Check your facts, fool. I’m out!” I mean this: If I could find a way to make that my ringtone, I would. Is it the ideal dialogue between a frustrated citizen and a government representative? No. Not at all. And rest assured, we’re going to talk about the dramatically unfunny reason why this exchange took place in a moment. But for now, I give you this.

Meme

Now, to the REAL story at hand: Nobody gives a shit about North Omaha.

The Omaha World Herald reduces the issue to this:

The mayor and other city officials fielded questions and a few angry comments about development, crime, street resurfacing and other issues.

It’s a little worse than that. http://demographics.coopercenter.org/DotMap/index.html put out an awesome, interactive map that shows how segregated our city is. This is Omaha.

Segregated

We are one of the most segregated cities in the country. When that happens, resources and developments can be routinely and unfairly allocated. Crime becomes concentrated. Opportunities become scarce in some areas and plentiful elsewhere. One part of our city can basically be ignored. That’s exactly what’s happening.

Mayor Stothert made the decision to cut property taxes by 2%. It’s a pathetic pittance. A gesture more than anything. If your home is worth $150,000, you save $15. Spoiler alert: No homes in North Omaha are even near that. In fact, the median value is about a third of that. Translation: They see no benefit. What may they have seen the benefit of? The $2.7 million that Stothert removed from the annual income by making this cut.

To his credit, Gray fought this cut. He tried to argue that there are many things that money could have been used for. But see, when your city is segregated like ours is, the people out West (rich white folks) don’t want their tax money going where the money is actually needed in North Omaha (where a staggering percentage of our black citizens live).

So there’s that. Then there’s this: Earlier this year, the International Business Times declared Omaha “The Most Dangerous Place in America to be Black.” Ah. Well. Shit…

The Violence Policy Center (VPC), a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group that promotes gun control, determined that in 2011 (the latest year in which comprehensive national data are available), 30 blacks (including 27 in Omaha) were murdered that year in Nebraska — meaning, the state had a black homicide rate of 34.4 per 100,000 people, double the national average of black victimization.

They can be even more specific now if they want to. The overwhelming majority of those deaths happened in North Omaha. At the Town Hall meeting, the Mayor pointed out that there have been less homicides compared to last year at this point. This is true. We’re down from 26 in 2013 to 17 in 2014 (although the August report is probably going to shrink that gap). But it’s important to note that homicides aren’t the only indicator of gun violence. They only mark fatalities. Aggravated assault (which would include assault with a gun where the victim survived) is up, from 849 to 873 (again, August was a rough month too).

I’m going to write about Ferguson soon here, but it’s important to recognize that what happened there can happen here. When you trap minority communities in tight quarters, deny them assistance, ignore their very real concerns, and focus on crime punishment and not prevention, you create the conditions in which racial tensions can explode.

The people in North Omaha deserve to be mad. They deserve to be heard. What they deserve, more than anything, are the same opportunities and chance at “The Good Life” that the rest of us can expect. So long as we have a Mayor who would rather give $15 to her West Omaha friends and not invest $2.7 million in a part of our city that could desperately use it, nothing will ever change.

Cheating Cheaters Cheat

As promised, I’m back with at least twice-weekly posts from now through election time, whether you missed me or not! As always, suggestions for topics and format (longer, shorter, funnier…whatever) are welcomed!

Let’s start with what was one of the more fascinating developments recently: that time Pete Ricketts and the Republican Secretary of State, John Gale, blatantly broke the law to advantage the GOP candidate.

Former Lieutenant Governor and current holder of a name close to the host of Reading Rainbow, Lavon Heidemann, behaved in a way characteristic of a party that treats women with blatant disregard. His sister filed a protection order against him, and though he “poo-pooed” it as a “family dispute over land,” the actual details of wrist-grabbing sounded bad enough to a judge. Maybe it was when his sister “said Heidemann shouted at her and nearly came over a table at her ‘like a wild man.'” Pete Ricketts’ first gubernatorial decision was to choose a running mate. He chose a “wild man.” So he’s one for one on bad choices.

All of this would have been bad enough to warrant scrutiny over the type of governor Baldy McRichpants would be. But then came the next part. See, the Nebraska law is clear as shit: You can’t change the names on the ballot after September 1 unless somebody dies. Unless he’s a zombie, Lavon Heidemann is very much in the “not dead” camp. So, his name has to stay on the ballot, right? Wrong. Republican John Gale looked out for his buddy, and in a move absolutely and completely contrary to state law, he allowed Heidemann’s name to be removed. He can’t do that. But he did that.

I don’t know what impact on election results this will have or would have had if the name had stayed on there. Really not the point. The point is, wealthy and entitled folks like Pete Ricketts are used to getting their way, even if it’s illegal. This is cheating. You can’t do what they did. It’s funny because the argument that Gale granted was laughably bad.

The Ricketts campaign argued that a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2000 trumps the deadline that was established in state law. The constitutional amendment requires governor candidates to choose their running mate.

Right…and Ricketts chose Lavon “Sister Scarer” Heidemann. The amendment didn’t say “you get do-overs if your pick is shitty.” The law is the law and should be followed by everyone, regardless of their political party and wealth. This was an illegal move orchestrated by a party that has total control of this state’s government.

Rickett’s first gubernatorial move was picking Heidemann, a toxic candidate. His second was having a buddy in his party circumvent the law.

You want this guy to run our entire state? For serious?

Starting Next Week…I’m Baaaaaack

After a few fits and starts, I wanted to be sure that I was ready to return to regular blogging before making this announcement. Starting next week, I will be back. Posting should happen no less than 2 times a week, more often if content demands it.

But it’s not like anything happened while I was away. I mean, it would be crazy if, say, a criminal charge made changes to the Governor’s ballot that were illegal, a former opponent of Brad Ashford endorsed him for congress, Ben Sasse said a whole bunch of crazy shit, and a ruling came down against Mayor Stothert’s complete mishandling of the fire department contract. I mean, THAT would be crazy…

More Monday and I’m not leaving ya through election day 2014. I promise.