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Haut Takes

I write about music, politics and pop culture.

It's been a bad year. At least we still have football?

Hey Y’all,

I hate being woken up. By anyone or anything. Whether the culprit is an alarm clock, a rowdy gang of revelers outside my street level window, a dumpster being dragged by a tow truck down more than half my block (which the developer of the much-maligned apartment building across from my apartment decides to do most Monday nights at around 5 am, because why not?), or someone I like a lot- the disruption not only awakens my consciousness but also an animalistic rage usually reserved for people who listen to music on the subway without headphones. My surroundings immediately fade to black and my only discernible thoughts are dedicated to immediately summoning the most cutting remark possible to hurl at that which interrupted my slumber. To those of you who have fallen prey to this primal fury, I’m sorry. And to those of you who have had to listen to my chorus of alarms crescendo repeatedly as a result of my many visits to the snooze button, I’m sorry. And to the innocent receptionists at both 311 and Heritage Equity Partners who have been the innocent audience for my many tirades about the outrageous lack of enforcement of construction noise ordinances, I’m sorry. I know it wasn’t you who dragged a dumpster down the block at 5 am. I’ve tried to change, but I think I’m beyond help.

The morning of November 8th, 2016 was possibly the only one in recent memory where the blaring of my alarm clock was a welcome interjection into a mostly sleepless night. I sprung from my bed like a [insert a completely predictable yet foreign analogy about a kid on Christmas morning here-from the age of around 7 onwards, my parents knew that not even the enticement of presents could quell my rising tides of rage] at 5:45 am. I wanted to be one of the first people in line to cast my vote for who I was sure would be our first female president. I plucked my suffragette white, lace top from my closet and paired it with some power suiting. The occasion called for an upgrade from the spandex leggings and oversized sweater I frequently pass off as work appropriate attire. I was ready.

Waiting in line on Classon Avenue, I was positively giddy. This felt like my opportunity to put someone in office who could represent those whose voices have historically been silenced. In that way, it felt as important as 2008, but with the opportunity to defeat a positively evil enemy. I felt admittedly superior, and a bit righteous, that I was casting a deciding vote that would torpedo her leading opponent’s belief that he existed beyond consequences and decorum. I was ready to send his ass (and his tiny, grabby hands) packing back to his gilded mausoleum of ugliness that scars 5th Avenue. This energy was palpable among my fellow Brooklynites. We broke our usual code of mutual silence and chatted with each other as we waited for the doors to open. Some were equally faithful fans of Hillary’s, some lamented Bernie’s absence on the ballot, and one woman informed me that Jill Stein was getting her Master’s in Theater. But all of us knew we were a part of history, that our presence at the polls that morning was essential.

This effervescent high carried me through the rest of the day. The teachers and staff at my school were excited, if not slightly nervous. Planned lessons were abandoned in favor of conversations about the momentous national moment we were in. Kids participated in a mock election. Only three students in the school cast their vote for Trump, but they did it as a joke. They did it for the same reason middle school students purposely say “shit” instead of “ship” because they know it will get a few laughs and piss off their teacher- not because they are actually confused about the difference between the two words.

Faulty, immaterial votes aside- nothing could kill my vibe. As my Instagram feed filled with photos of bad ass women and men proclaiming their presidential choice and stamping “I voted” stickers onto t-shirts proudly emblazoned with the label of Nasty Woman, my excitement only swelled. I returned to the polls that evening with my roommate. As she cast her vote, I chatted with the volunteer manning the door of our polling site. I asked him a series of leading, and probably really annoying, questions. I wanted to know the flow of the crowds, the voter’s proclivities, what he had for lunch. I really just wanted to have a running record of the day’s every happening. I figured I would write about it at some point, and needed to collect as many details as possible.

Now comes the sucker punch that is the well-documented end to this story. Ava, Erin, Carol and I convened at Two Saints bar in Crown Heights, a haven of hipster liberalism where no one had so much as whispered the name Trump in months unless it was followed by some iteration of… is a fucking idiot. The bar was packed with the type of people you would definitely expect to pack it- a lot of liberals, a few Bernie bros who we deemed shortsighted, and me wearing a t-shirt featuring Rihanna wearing Hillary’s face on a t-shirt. We were a bunch of (naively) optimistic 20-30-somethings Brooklyn bubble dwellers who were taking bets on who of her star studded following would make cameos during Hillary’s acceptance speech at the Javits center (we knew Lena and America would be there, but would Bey + Jay?). We carried on conversations about Hillary’s prospective cabinet members, how big of a role Barack and Michelle might play in her administration, and if Bill would go by the title of “first man”.  Behind us, Wolf Blitzer performed his digital dance with neon visages of floating states on a projector screen that spanned the bar’s back wall. No one could predict our bubble would be burst as violently as it would in just a few short hours. Someone had even brought a bunch of balloons.

I’m going to name our assured optimism’s time of death as 9:30 p.m. This could definitely be factually inaccurate and is totally subjective. Trump had already won a few unexpected states, but I brushed them off as a blip trying to appear assured when I was actually incredibly unsure. A cloud of silence solidified over the bar as we stared at Wolf, who looked equally rattled. The moment Trump’s bloated, dentured face materialized below the announcement “Trump wins Florida”,  I had seen enough. We knew it was over. People slammed down half-drunk bottles of beer and abandoned their trendy tapas, closing their bar tabs in a state of shock. (A lot of bartenders were likely stiffed that night.) The four of us spilled amongst the aggrieved onto the sidewalk. The gravity of this new reality was felt only emotionally. I am fairly sure I declared, “I am about to walk in front of a bus.”

Even though most pundits (besides some from platforms like Politico and The 538 who were scrambling to say they told us so) still claimed a win in Michigan could push Hillary over the precipice to an electoral college victory, I immediately went to bed. My expectations had been so thoroughly shattered, I knew that the chance of a comeback was so improbable that I was beyond repair. I woke before dawn to a New York Times alert naming Donald Trump Jr. our 45th president. An announcement that was nothing but a punchline less than a year before, was now our national reality. (Although many have claimed our surprise was rooted deeply in ignorance, most notably Dave Chappelle and Ta-Nehisi Coates). We had elected an admitted sexual predator with notoriously unscrupulous business practices and a penchant for hate speech to the world’s most powerful position. Our president was now the man a 5th grader in my book club (who is the son of Haitian immigrants) recently described as, “that man who hates me and my family.” I am not sure if I had ever experienced such a crushing feeling of disappointment.

Here we are a year later. The sky in NYC today is the same lifeless gray it was the day after the election. The political anxiety and fear are still palpable and only a little less raw. Much will be written about his first year in office by journalists far more experienced than I. (See a retelling of the 24 hours leading up to his improbable election told by those who experienced it.) I’m sure some will mention the surge in jobs, but the leading narrative will likely be his clusterfuck of failures (Take your pick from: Russian Collusion, repeated accusations of sexual assault, recorded evidence of hate speech, denying the efficacy of gun control, comments that devalue the lives of fallen soldiers, Puerto Rico, et al.) So, I’ll leave you with something a bit more personal.

This morning I visited a school in Harlem and observed five exceptional reading teachers lead their students (ranging in age from 10-14) through mature, informed discussions about Pearl Harbor, Native American boarding xchools, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Both adults and children squashed misinformation by citing facts from credible sources, respectfully agreeing and disagreeing with each other, and sharing the floor. Their thirst for a peek into worlds that aren’t their own was apparent and insatiable, as was their respect for the sanctity of a classroom. In one particularly beautiful moment, a 6th grade girl who wore a hijab and whose first language was clearly not English struggled to pronounce the word “suspicious”. Both her teacher and her classmates allowed her to try out a few different iterations of the word before the correct pronunciation settled on her tongue. All the while, her fellow students sent her the charter school equivalent of spirit fingers, a sign of silent support, without a hint of a snicker or sarcasm. When she did land on the correct pronunciation, they earnestly snapped their fingers as a form of celebration. They were legitimately excited for her small linguistic victory. Subtle notes of pride leaked from the smile that spread across her face.

It is a sad state of affairs when a group of middle schoolers, whose penchant for bullying has spawned the careers of many a character actor, is capable of more compassion and empathy than a sitting president. Moments like the one I witnessed are what makes America so beautiful. And it’s moments like these that his hateful comments and policies threaten to obliterate. While witnessing this, the following thought briefly crossed my mind: I wish he could see this. But this thought was fleeting. He couldn’t handle this. He would hack away at this harmony with heartless threats of deportation. He doesn’t deserve to be in the same room as these children or their educators. And they don’t deserve to have his shameful existence serve as their formative image of public power.

It's too late for him. He will never be anything more than the little that he is. He will forever be delusional, chauvinistic and weak. Just like I can't start my day without a few encounters with the snooze button, he can't speak without belittling others and telling blatant lies. The difference between these flaws is that mine is merely an annoying cause of a few late mornings, his has the ability to dismantle our democracy. He can't do better, but we can.

We must do better. If not for ourselves, for them. For the children whose innate desire to support and empower one another we have the ability to nurture. For their boundless futures we have the ability to foster. For their unbridled innocence that pushes us to reconsider how we treat each other. We need to put people in office who tell them their lives matter and that everything they did in that moment was the the right thing, and that they should keep doing it. We must do better.

And hey, it is Election Day.

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And don’t worry the kids got a few digs in. Students were asked to write a three-sentence story that proves a smirk is different than a smile. Here is one student’s response:

“One day President Obama was visiting the White House. He watched Trump fall down the stairs, land on Ivanka and lose his fake hair piece. Obama just stepped over him and smirked at Trump’s inability to do anything right.”

And less than a week later, here we are.

It should be statistically impossible that two consecutive weekly newsletters have to begin with coverage of two different acts of terror occurring within six days of each other. But this is the America we live in. Here are a few of the best pieces about Sunday’s tragedy in Texas. And no, it’s not too early to talk about gun control, you dick.

  • From the NYT’s and its masterful grasp on interactive content, How to Reduce Shootings (an analogy is drawn to regulation of automobiles, which Jesse Singer for Buzzfeed argues we should ban from big cities entirely) and What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings (Our 270 million guns, duh.)
  • The Atlantic argues that Google has a Mass Shooting Misinformation Problem, asserting: “In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, there just isn’t a lot of content to serve up for the search ‘Devin Patrick Kelley,’ so Google reaches to less authoritative users so that it can show something, anything.” Google searches immediately after the release of this name were populated with claims from Twitter trolls because real journalists were still gathering actual facts (including much repeated claims that Kelley was a part of the Antifa movement, ISIS, and a communist).
  • Some in Sutherland Springs want more guns, not less. 

Football:The Nfl has dropped the ball so many times, why are we still in the huddle?

Everybody's favorite game of human bumper cars is back in full swing. And as we all know the NFL has been consistently embroiled in controversy. From the pervasive degenerative effects of concussions (Aaron Hernandez's posthumous CTE diagnosis and the perspective it lends to his crimes and suicide haunts me), Deflategate, heartless league executives, and declining ratings- the once $15 billion beacon of America's patriarchy is losing its esteem. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy spending a Sunday afternoon in a bar enjoying watered down beers at slightly discounted prices. But there are some moral ambiguities to being complicit bystanders to a game that pedals its players down an assembly line of carnage into a retirement where they are entirely abandoned by the league responsible for their demise. (See HBO's Ballers for further proof).

And of course, the controversy that has segregated the league's fan base across  party lines: the anthem protests. The leading narrative from our caricature of a president and his mignons is that kneeling during the anthem is equivalent to spitting in the face of a service member while also setting their Purple Heart on fire. But if any of these idiots decided to burrow out of  each other's behinds and listen to the players, the NFLPA, and their supporters they might see that the players are not protesting the military at all but the systemic oppression of minorities in America whose freedoms our flag supposedly protects. Read CNN's user friendly article if you're not convinced: The #TakeaKnee Protests have always been about Race. Period.

Here are reviews of two long reads and links to several more that offer some insight into what's happening in the NFL right now:

I. Bill Simmons has given up on Football: If you aren't privy to the wonder that is Bill Simmons, get familiar. In an insultingly sparse biography, here's what to know: Bill was once known for his Boston based "The Sports Guy" website, from which he was hired by ESPN in 2001. He was the creator, editor and contributing writer to the sports/ pop culture commentary blog Grantland (R.I.P.) until he was let go by ESPN in 2015 (idiots). He is now the founder and CEO of The Ringer a blog and podcast network that covers both sports and pop culture. He also wrote The Big Book of Basketball. He, along with my brother Wes, is one of the last 10 people still watching The Real World x Road Rules Challenge. He is definitely the only one still writing about it. 

On September 8th, Simmons (a rabid football fan who has been covering the NFL for much of his career) published his first Friday NFL picks column of the season, it's title: The NFL is back and here are 15 reasons its a complete disaster. Simmons used his intro to the 2017 season as chance to explain why he's given up on the league. Here are the highlights:

  • A long, rant-filled lead in precedes the column's eponymous list. In it, Simmons explains why he no longer savors the lead up to the NFL season. He reminisces about the 2013 off-season when he asked then Grantland, now Ringer, staff writer Robert Mays to start a football countdown 114 days before kick off. Obviously a lot has changed since 2013-Simmons notes the devastating absence of both Mad Men and Breaking Bad from our prestige TV schedule. But most importantly, Simmons can't imagine asking anyone to advertise an NFL countdown calendar. What changed? In his words:
In 2013, we weren’t spending our spring hosing off the NFL’s stink. Aaron Hernandez hadn’t been charged with murder. Ray Rice’s elevator video hadn’t happened. Adrian Peterson hadn’t whipped his son. Greg Hardy hadn’t been accused of throwing his girlfriend into a sofa filled with guns. Ezekiel Elliott hadn’t done whatever the hell he did or didn’t do (but it definitely wasn’t good).
  • Simmons ends the summaries of the majority of his reasons with the phrase: I give up. He seems to be giving up on using his platform as celebrity sports reporter to hold the league accountable for its misconduct. The tone of defeat is depressing, but also a stark reminder of how far the league has fallen in the eyes of one of its biggest fans. 

Here are Simmons' five most important reasons (IMO):

  • Reason 1: Roger Goodell, you suck at your job. He gives up.
  • Reason 2: This year's bloated pre-season led to 33 torn ACLs. He gives up.
  • Reason 6: Dressing your players in pink socks and pinning them with pink ribbons during the month of October DOES NOT count as an antidote to the league's pathetic response to allegations of domestic violence its players repeatedly acquire. He gives up.
  • Reason 10: Nobody wanted two NFL teams in LA, least of all the people who live in LA. He gives up.
  • Reason 14: The Rooney Rule (the NFL's attempt at affirmative action) is basically a long running sequel to Get Out.

Simmons believes the NBA is more profitable anyways.

II. Trump couldn't become an NFL owner, so he became president instead: Those who tend to talk about the politics of the NFL are convinced that Trump chimed in with his cold, cold take on the anthem protests because of jealousy. Owning an NFL team has long been in Trump's crosshairs, but he has repeatedly missed the target. And as we know, a loss causes him to devolve into a whiny toddler who indiscriminately labels others "sons of bitches."

Ben Schreckinger wrote this article for GQ, branding it with a most click-baitable title: Inside Donald Trump's Shady Scheme to Keep Jon Bon Jovi from Buying the Buffalo Bills. It's subtitle has the same effect:

The plan involved a covert political operative who worked with Putin, a double amputee, a settlement with Texas A&M, and—ultimately—a failed bid that opened up the opportunity for Donald Trump's presidential run.

No, this is not the abnormally well worded cover story of a grocery store tabloid, it is a real God Damn story. Here's a summary:

  • In 2014, three finalists were in the running to own the Buffalo Bills: Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, Donald Trump, and Jersey-born megababe Jon Bon Jovi (backed by a group of Toronto based investors).
  • It was assumed that if Bon Jovi won the bid for the team, he and his investors would move the Bills to Canada. Buffalo residents were distraught at the thought of losing their pride and literally their only joy (Buffalo is BLEAK, y'all) to the Canadians. Predictably, Trump saw their panic as a business opportunity. He began astroturfing (a fun term I learned in this article that means covertly funding a grassroots effort) a group of fans protesting Bon Jovi's bid.
  • Trump hired veteran Republican operative Michael Caputo (a close associate of Manafort and Stone-LOL) to fund and organize a Bills fan group, made up of super cool dudes, who went by the name 12th Man Thunder. The group led the opposition to Bon Jovi's bid, going so far as to ban BJ's music for Buffalo bars and radio stations- save for a super clever Livin' on a Prayer parody.
  • Caputo could not be the Thunder's public face because of his close political association to Trump, so in a genius PR move he hired double-amputee cancer survivor and Buffalo native Chuck Sonntag to lead the movement. After entering a $1 billion bid for the team, Trump severed his financial ties with the group, so as not to seem suspicious. Insert eye roll here.
  • Don't forget this story includes an SEC football team and an outspoken, liberal newscaster. Texas A & M caught wind of the group's adoption of their phrase 12th man, and sent the Thunder a cease and desist letter. Keith Olbermann (yea, THAT Keith Olbermann) went on his then-running ESPN show and called the university's president that week's "worst person in sports" for attacking a cancer survivor with no legs. Ashamed, A & M apologized to the Thunder who milked them for a $25,000 settlement. Caputo, who is interviewed in this article, calls Olbermann his hero- despite the fact that he just wrote a book called Donald Trump is Fucking Nuts.
  • In the end, both Bon Jovi and Trump lost the Bills to Pegula. 12th Man Thunder became a non-profit that sends kids to Bills games. Nine months after losing out on owning the bills, Trump started his presidential campaign.

Anyone else wish he had just been given the damn team?

III. Related Links: More in NFL related reading:

  • The problem with proving the NFL is blackballing Kaepernick is that no one can get their facts straight. This article discusses the ambiguity around Kaepernick's intentions and the conflicting information, as well as an interesting analogy to Michael Sam going undrafted in 2014. And The Nation's Dave Zirk on Why Colin Kaepernick matters so much.
  • More than 100 capsules of ammonia based smelling salts are cracked during most NFL games, even when no one faints. They have no proven benefits, but they sure do mask concussion symptoms. 
  • This ESPN article tries to explain what happened in closed door meetings that took place over two days in October involving NFL owners, execs, players, and union reps. I've read it three times and the events are still unclear. Here's what I know for sure: Jerry Jones is the WORST, Bob McNair is racist no matter how many times he apologizes and conversations about the anthem protests are at a stand still (despite Goodell's recent claim that a Stand mandate will not be issued).

Here's to a forthcoming football Sundays filled with a few cold ones and a whole lotta guilt. You're welcome.


Music:

I’ve really only listened to two songs in the past five days. One is a Rihanna co-signed banger with heavy bass and one is an electro-indie ballad lamenting the agony of unrequited love. I have also been listening to them in rapid succession, leading to a bit of bipolar emotional whiplash. Well worth it.

  1. Lemon, N.E.R.D. featuring RihannaIf you know anything about me, my obsession with this song should not surprise you. Reasons it is awesome: Ri raps, it’s N.E.R.D’s first song in seven years, Pharrell is no incessantly repeating the word happy over a beat that I'm convinced is a form of Russian mind control, the music video is capital B-Bad AF, and RIHANNA RAPS. (Banana Skirt in NYC is also teaching a Lemon dance class on 11/21 at 6:30 pm, Erin and I will be there- see YOU there?)
  2.  I Dare You, The XX: The entire album (released in June) is impressive, but this song really gets me. The wistful lyrics begin less than 1 second into the song. Favorite lyric: “a rush of blood is not enough/ I need my feelings set on fire”. There’s also a music video starring Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown. It’s hip and also confusing.

Let’s wrap it up: 

  • Speaking of Stranger Things: If, like me, you’ve finished the latest set of episodes and are jonesing for more, The Duffer Brothers are recapping every episode for Vulture.
  • If you have heard about the Paradise Papers, but are still confused (and have Access to HBO) watch Monday’s episode of Vice News Tonight. It follows a few of the many journalists involved in the investigation over the course of eight months as they sift through the papers leaked and craft the groundbreaking story published in a variety of publications on Sunday. In very, very short a lot of very rich people and corporations were housing their money in off-shore, tax sheltered accounts controlled by a Bermuda based financial/ legal advisory called Appleby. This NYT guide also breaks it down well.
  • I love Supreme, but they rip people off. Like all the time. Here, Kat Stoeffel for The Cut argues that Barbara Kruger (the first victim of Supreme's rampant artistic appropriation, aka original creator of white Futura on red box logo) originated the most useful clap back of all time. 
  • In last week’s issue I was shamefully remiss in excluding Drake from my section of Birthday wishes. He turned 31 on October 24th, and of course had a Bar Mitzvah themed party to celebrate. To make up for my grave error: here is Drake asking the question we’ve all been wondering about our iPhones and here is Rihanna reminding us why she will never need him.

And from the Instagram of the great Zoe Isabella Kravitz (and many other places across the web):

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HAUT OUT

Alexis Haut