Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

I’ll Take “Things Bestowed On Goats By Deities” For 500, Alex


First, I am trying not to turn this blog into a Presidential-candidate-critique-of-the-week.

Second, I have already blogged a couple of times about the wisdom of keeping children largely away from the political limelight, especially as regards political campaigning and advertising … so I am trying not to be repetitive in this subject area.

Third, I am trying not to generalize about the personal and professional qualities of the ever-expanding group of robber barons who believe that having run a business (sometimes into the ground) remotely qualifies them to run our federal government.

That said …

Today I go for the trifecta.


From The Guardian newspaper:

Carly Fiorina has been accused of “ambushing” a group of children, after she ushered pre-schoolers, who were on a field trip to a botanical garden, into an anti-abortion rally in Des Moines.

On Wednesday, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive embarked on a day of campaigning across Iowa, in an attempt to boost her ailing presidential campaign.

The alleged ambush occurred when Fiorina hosted a “right to life” forum at the Greater Des Moines botanical garden. Entering the rally, before a crowd of about 60 people, she directed around 15 young children towards a makeshift stage.

The problem, one parent said, was that the children’s parents had not given Fiorina permission to have their children sit with her – in front of a huge banner bearing the image of an unborn foetus – while she talked about harvesting organs from aborted babies.

The kids went there to see the plants,” said Chris Beck, the father of four-year-old Chatham, one of the children Fiorina appeared with. “She ambushed my son’s field trip.”

Beck, who lives in Ankeny, north of Des Moines, said he was not asked if Fiorina could interact with the children, or whether she could take them into her rally. He said the first he knew of it was when his childcare provider told him the children had encountered the candidate at the botanical garden.

Taking them into a pro-life/abortion discussion [was] very poor taste and judgment,” Beck said. “I would not want my four-year-old going to that forum – he can’t fully comprehend that stuff. He likes dinosaurs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers.”

During the rally an anti-abortion activist, carrying a scale model of four-month-old foetus, joined Fiorina at the front of the room.

This is the face of abortion,” the activist told the crowd as Fiorina looked on. The foetus model was sucking its thumb.

In answer to a detailed series of questions from the Guardian, a Fiorina spokeswoman said in an emailed statement: “We were happy that these children chose to come to Carly’s event with their adult supervisor.”


Where to begin?

Teachers who lead field trips know that they have to be prepared for lots of eventualities that may not be predictable enough to be included on a permission slip letter to parents. Having a national political figure poach your students? I don’t think that should be one of those eventualities.

So I don’t blame the teachers for losing control of their charges, not one bit. I’d like to think that in their shoes, I’d have squawked pretty loudly before that event really got rolling, and would have demanded to have them back please pronto … I’d like to think this, but I’ve never been in that exact circumstance so I really don’t know how I’d react.

But who are these sociopaths that are running for office, or running their campaigns?

Who is this person who thinks it’s a great idea to grab a group of kids – any ol’ group of kids – hey, maybe that group of kids over there! – in order to make his or her campaign event look nice?


When I was in elementary school, which admittedly was in a much more innocent era, I replied happily to an invitation to come over to a friend’s house for supper one Friday evening. By the time the supper was over, it had turned into a progressive dinner (yep, we all got into cars and vans and went from house to house) which ended up at someone’s church somewhere, and, well, honest to God, we were listening to Scripture and singing hymns.

I did get home safely that night, after all was said and preached and done. I stayed friends with the classmate who had invited me, although I think it may be miraculous that my parents didn’t string up his parents by their thumbs.

But that night, I remember periodically thinking, “I don’t know some of these people, I’m not interested in what that guy’s talking about, I’m not sure what I’m doing here, and I’m not even sure where ‘here’ is.” Maybe I’d misread the invitation.

Couldn’t have been too different from any pre-school-age thoughts that may have been thought by those Iowa children, though.

I do know what I would have said to any available Fiorina campaign staffer afterward, or ideally Fiorina herself, if I were the pre-school teacher whose class was kidnapped in public for the sake of a campaign event about a topic (and featuring a wall-hanging) that was entirely inappropriate for pre-schoolers.

Good God, woman. Have you not even a fraction of the sense God gave a goat?

Or are you so driven by optics and the wishes of rich campaign donors that you will do anything, say anything, use anything to drive your point home?

Or worse, both?

Give me my students back, and do not ever poison my eyesight with your presence again, you pathetic, sociopathic jackwagon.

And oh yes … by the way … my lawyers cannot WAIT to be in touch with your lawyers.

These people.


January 22, 2016 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, news, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Comfort, If Not Joy

This is really not a political commentary.


At least, I don’t think it is.


A couple of days ago, some SECRET VIDEO!!! was released to the Internet world. You can watch it here, but the upshot of it is, “Mitt Romney speaks to an audience of high-dollar campaign donors at a private fundraising event, has some (at first blush) rather contemptuous things to say about nearly half the American population – and it’s all recorded by a hidden video camera.”

After I got through watching the video for the first time, I sat, slightly stunned, musing that the result of this released video might be anywhere from “a minor media stir that will shortly die down” to “the crashing end of a Presidential candidate’s candidate.” Given the media culture of the early 21st century, I honestly don’t know which is more likely.

The content of his talk, I suspect, is enough to drive (for example) the Occupy movement faithful into flailing, foaming fits of indignant “–see? See?! Detestable! Wealth has blinded him! Awful person! Contempt for his fellow Americans! Vote progressive! Hope and Change!”, and etc.

Although I do see that my offensive linemen have opened up a hole as big as a 747 for me to run through and spike my editorial football in the end zone of Political Commentary … please, I invite you, feel free to pause a moment, stand back and admire that metaphor … nonetheless, the video made me focus, as I watched it a second time, not so much on what Mr. Romney was saying, but how. And it made me think of how we all, all of us, speak to different audiences in different ways.

When I stand in front of middle-school general music students, I speak in a certain way.

When I stand in front of middle-school general music students who are members of the school band, I speak in a certain slightly different way. (I can use different terminology, or at least I don’t have to explain things like “what’s a crescendo?”)

When I talk to my mother on the phone, I speak in a certain way.

When I talk to a telemarketer on the phone, I speak in a certain other way.

When I talk to someone I’m just meeting for the first time, I speak in a certain way.

When I talk to someone I’ve known since I was in junior high, I speak in a certain other way.

When I talk to the TV, after having heard or seen something ridiculous upon it, I speak in a certain way.

When I talk to the police officer who’s just pulled me over (which, for the record, hasn’t happened in years), I speak in a certain other way.

When we’re in our comfort zone – wherever that is, and whoever else is in it with us – we naturally say certain things in certain ways (and with certain body language). We almost can’t help it – or if we can, it takes work.


As the Presidential campaign has gone on, through primary season and into this last push before the general election, plenty of people have hurled invective at Mitt Romney. When one runs for President, one gets this treatment. Hopefully the invective has much more to do with one’s policies than with one’s person, but invective does get hurled. Gov. Romney has heard a lot from his critics about both his policies and his person. When his person is the target, the critique tends to be about his stiff demeanor, his seeming inability to “connect” with an audience. One of my favorite political radio commentators has nicknamed him “the RomneyBot 2000”.

During 2011, the New York Times described Gov. Romney’s persona as facts-driven, cautious, formal, socially stiff, and “spare with his emotions.” Whether he’s making stump speeches or meeting individual people on the campaign trail, the media have commented on his body language and speech patterns – he’s sometimes halting, sometimes awkward, sometimes slightly detached; sometimes his chuckle seems more the product of nervousness or uncertainty than the product of being amused; and sometimes his off-script remarks seem borne of a genuine lack of experience with anything but the environment created and fostered by his rather formidable wealth. This leads to the predictable but understandable accusations: he’s out of touch with the middle class … he’s insulated from everyone except rich people … he’s in the “one percent” of the American population who get to play by one set of financial and societal rules, while the rest of the population has to play by a different, less advantageous set of rules.

But, if we can agree that Mitt Romney is in fact a human being, then we can agree that he must be subject to at least one characteristic, the same as any other human: again, we all speak to different audiences in different ways. Up to this point, we perhaps had not seen incontrovertible proof of this, although I remember thinking once, “you don’t get to be a multi-gazillionaire corporate CEO type if your persona is that of a seventh-grader presenting an oral report in front of his Social Studies class.” He must be able to talk in a relaxed, comfortable manner to someone outside his own family… mustn’t he?

Apparently he is. This SECRET VIDEO!!! certainly seems to offer the impression that there are indeed people outside the Romney family that the Governor is entirely comfortable speaking with.

Successful politicians usually either are naturally able to speak, or are trained and practiced in the art of speaking, to just about any audience – s/he needs to convince that audience that s/he understands them and their concerns. (Whether or not that’s true. As Billy Crystal’s “Fernando” character used to say, “It’s not how you feel; it’s how you look!”)

Businessmen and -women need to be just as good at that as politicians do – they have to convince people to come around to their views or buy their products or agree to deals with them, and they have to do it (hopefully) in a way that makes their audiences think, “s/he’s one of us, or understands where we are, and it almost feels like it makes sense to agree with them because we now feel like we understand them and where they are.” Remarkably often, in political speech situations, Gov. Romney hardly looks like a seasoned politician.

In the recently-released video, Gov. Romney is relaxed. Confident. There’s the sound of a smile in his voice, and it’s not a feigned one. He very rarely stumbles over a single word, even though he’s not reading from any script. There are no nervous chuckles, no verbal “gaffes”. Every word is targeted and clear, and in fact Romney is practically speaking in complete paragraphs. And who is his audience? With whom is he entirely comfortable?


Up to now, it’s been practically cliché – a meme! – to characterize Gov. Romney as a member of the upper class who doesn’t experience, understand or relate to people of lesser means, or their way of life. And commentators have done this, very often, without really offering concrete evidence to support this assertion.

But this video is a lengthy one, not a quick-hit sound bite that can be thought to have been taken out of context. It’s conceivable that now, with the release of this video, there is at least a little of that concrete evidence to hold up.

And all because in fact, Mitt Romney really IS a human being; and he has to play by that human-being rule, just like everyone else:

We human beings are comfortable (and express themselves most comfortably and honestly) around two groups of people: people we like … and people like us.

September 18, 2012 Posted by | Famous Persons, Internet, journalism, language, media, news, politics, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s 2012, Or So I Thought

I’ve been thinking a lot about women lately.

Slow down, everyone. It’s not what it sounds like.

In the last year or so, it’s seemed as if about every third day, someone says something spectacularly nineteenth-century on the subject of women, women’s rights, and other sundry characteristics of women. Usually, the people saying these things are not themselves women. Which, in most cases, causes me to wonder what exactly convinces them that they’re qualified to even make opinion about these issues, let alone policy, and in too many cases, comes off as what it probably is: “hey, little lady, don’t you worry about a thing – I know what’s good for you.”

I’m remembering February of this year, at which time numerous state legislators proposed laws that would require women seeking abortions to undergo some form of internal probing as part of that process. Many commentators characterized those bills as state-supported rape; the Virginia bill earned Virginia governor Bob McDonnell several pointed nicknames – the most broadcastable (on public airwaves) of which was Rachel Maddow‘s “Governor Ultrasound”.

Virginia Democratic state delegate David Englin, an opponent of the bill, recalled his conversation with a GOP lawmaker who told him that women had already made the decision to be “vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant.” Whoever that GOP lawmaker was … probably deserved to have the wits slapped out of him by whatever wife or girlfriend he may have been undeservingly lucky enough to still have.

Then in March, there was Sandra Fluke. Or rather, there was seemingly every middle-aged male pundit and commentator and alleged entertainer taking the opportunity to heap abuse upon on Ms. Fluke, who started out one week in March as a witness in a Congressional committee hearing and ended that week as the target of – I’m sorry, some of the most awful invective I can think of. To wit:

First this, from the host of the Rush Limbaugh Show: “[Sandra Fluke] goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”

Media analyst Eric Boehlert wrote, “Incapable of self-reflection, player after player … rushed forward to condemn the law student and/or to insist [Limbaugh] had done nothing wrong by, (a) insulting the young woman, (b) mocking her parents, (c) demanding she post videos of herself having sex online, and (d) suggesting she was using condoms when she was in elementary school.”

Then this reaction, from the then-presumed and now-confirmed Republican Party nominee for the office of President of the United States: “It’s not the language I would have used.” As columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “Is there a right way to call a woman a slut?”

Commentator and former Congressional candidate Krystal Ball [who, predictably, takes heat for her name] wrote, “[S]peaking out for women’s health care certainly doesn’t [make you a slut]. Standing up for your rights doesn’t mean someone gets to rhetorically rip your top off in hopes to send you running from the public square in shamed humiliation, a cautionary tale for any woman who dares forget her place.”

In both blatant and veiled ways, for the past year particularly, lots of commentators and politicians who are public figures have been very willing to make remarks that reveal their utter disregard for women as human beings. I wonder how anyone can think that some of those remarks are actually okay. Do these people – do these men – know any women? Their mothers, perhaps? Do any of them have sisters? Nieces? Daughters? Bueller?

But … the moment that has really gotten me jumping up and down happened this week. Compared to the forced-ultrasound bill and the Fluke abuse and all the rest of the stupidity of 2012, this may at first sound perhaps a bit smaller in scale. But to me, it reveals just how insidious these attitudes and this behavior have become.


Writer Joan Vennochi wrote a column for the Boston Globe this week which was meant to highlight the policy differences between Sen. Scott Brown (R.-Mass.) and his Democratic challenger, Prof. Elizabeth Warren, in such a way that she could make clear that Prof. Warren’s ideas were preferable to Sen. Brown’s.

But the way she wrote it was, to me, strikingly bogged down in the stereotypical way women in politics (and in many parts of American life) are treated, still, in 2012. Well, perhaps she didn’t realize that it came across that way. But here are the parts of that piece of writing that attracted my attention, and my ire:

Agreed: Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren wasted millions on ads that turned her into every man’s worst nightmare: a smarter-than-thou older woman sporting granny glasses and sensible hair.”

I have to pause here and note: ooooooo. That’s a most threatening thing, indeed: a woman who might actually be smarter than thou. (Beats the hell out of holier-than-thou; which is another essay altogether.)

For the record, in case it matters to you – I like sensible hair.

Anyway, onward: “[S]olid, substantive differences that should matter to Massachusetts voters … are diverted by the same old superficial nonsense. Brown is a good-looking guy with a lovely wife and daughters. Is that reason enough to send him back to Washington for a full Senate term? Warren is dogged by the same questions that always dog women. Democratic consultant Dan Payne wonders about the whereabouts of her husband and other family members. And why is she wearing the same old red jacket? … No one asked that about Brown and his barn jacket.”

The aforementioned Mr. Payne went on local public radio station WBUR’s afternoon current-affairs conversation program, “Radio Boston”, to address the Warren campaign and the advice he would offer to them regarding what needed to be done to SAVE her candidacy from those pesky age-old issues whose presence we always seem to take for granted … issues “that always dog women”.

I pause for a moment to acknowledge that very rarely are actual issues and policy proposals super-big selling points in modern American politics, whether those political races involve men or women, and lately the truth appears to have skipped town altogether.

I now move forward with the previous line of thought, or rather, what Dan Payne thought was important to ensure Prof. Warren’s future political success.

Payne made two main arguments, based on a column he wrote recently for WBUR, called “What’s Wrong With the Elizabeth Warren Campaign”. The first argument was about Warren’s appearance; the second was about how she communicates her thoughts in ads, and during speeches and other public appearances. For absolute clarity, here’s the exchange, from the “Radio Boston” transcript (and you can listen to it here):

Meghna Chakrabarti: Tell us what you think is wrong with the Warren campaign.

Dan Payne: It’s her advertising. Her television commercials seem to turn off people. Women have told me they find her hectoring, they don’t like her attitude, she’s school-marmish. These are the opinions of people who support her.

Chakrabarti: It seems to me that “hectoring, school-marmish” — those are criticisms based on the image that’s being projected in her advertising and not necessarily of her policy or how she may or may not be connecting with people on the campaign trail.

Payne: Right. When she works a room, when she gives a talk, it’s a completely different dynamic. People who have seen her in person think she’s wonderful. Those who only know her through TV have real questions.

Chakrabarti: You wrote that Warren’s vocabulary is coarse, that she says things like, “Small business owners bust their tails every day,” in one of her ads. [A sound clip of Warren is played, in which she says, “For many years, our middle class has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered…”] And you say that at the Democratic National Convention, she tried to convey toughness with words like rigged, hammered, corrosive, for example. [Another sound bite reveals Warren saying, “For many years, our middle class has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered…”] These aren’t necessarily phrases you’d expect to hear from a Harvard law professor. But on the other hand, she grew up on Oklahoma, in a struggling middle class family. Maybe this is her?

Payne: It’s possible that she talks like this all the time. But if it’s intentional, it reflects a desire by the campaign to not sound like a Harvard professor, to sound like she can talk street talk with the best of them. I think she’s trying to say that she feels strongly about these things, but it just comes across in many cases as coarse.

Chakrabarti: On the other hand, you admit politics is like high school, how you dress and act defines you socially, and you want to see her dress in a more modern way, lose what you call “the granny glasses,” get a different haircut. It seems like these issues leap to the forefront with much greater speed when we’re talking about women candidates.

Payne: Sure, it’s possible. Well, you do hear it occasionally about men. I think people complain about Romney not being able to connect. When he tries to go off the cuff, he makes mistakes. He says things like, “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs.” … I was reflecting what women have told me about Warren. And they want to like her — that’s the shame of this. They want to like her.

Chakrabarti: We’ve only got under two months left until the actual election. Say her campaign is actually reading your commentary or listening to us. What if they did make these changes?

Payne: I like to think I performed a service. I think I told them things… maybe they had not heard before in this organized way.

Chakrabarti: If indeed any changes were made now, wouldn’t Warren be accused of being inauthentic?

Payne: I’m asking her to be more authentic. I want her to just sound like a human being, not read the script that makes her sound like some angry, hectoring school marm. But I hate to say it, about politics, but we live in a celebrity-based society, so a candidate for high office is considered a celebrity as well as a political figure. And so you’re judged as a celebrity is judged: by the way you present yourself.

Chakrabarti:I can imagine there are those out there throwing up their hands saying, “This is exactly what needs to change!”

[Chakrabarti now reads comments that, during the conversation, had been posted on WBUR’s website:]

Chakrabarti: “judiann1” wrote on wbur.org: “We need a government full of people like Elizabeth not an actress with a shiny veneer. We have a Congress full of these things.” And “travis” commented:This is exactly what is wrong with our current system, so far removed from basic democratic principles and issue-based voting. ‘Get New Glasses’?! ‘Soften the Hair’?! Shame on you guys for perpetuating such a laughable, ridiculous system.”

Payne: In general, you have to go with the flow. If people really believe they want to know something about you that goes beyond your name, party, issues — they want to know about your family, they want to get a feeling for you as a human, you have to do that, you have to respect the voters where they are. Now maybe that’s trivializing politics, but you can’t simply do commercials that say this is what I believe, this is what the other person believes and go back and forth like that. It just isn’t basically a useful way to communicate.


I pause for a moment to reflect that in those last two sentences, Payne (perhaps unwittingly) reveals what is shallow about his (and others’) political-consultant take on this subject, not to mention the exact thing that’s wrong with American politics.

Anyway, onward. One of the commenters on Dan Payne’s original article, posted at WBUR’s website, wrote in agreement with Payne (and, backhandedly, in support of Warren):

I’m with [Warren’s] political positions all the way. But I have to say: GET A NEW HAIRDO! This seems incredibly trivial, but it’s not. Everyone has an ‘identity kit,’ a roster of clues that others use to ‘place’ a person in society. Unfortunately, hers includes some rather unattractive visual cues. These can be fixed easily. Attractive people are more appealing to others. There’s no reason why these superficial signals have to put this great candidate at a disadvantage. Fix them – especially the hair!”

If I must remark about appearance, I would say that I have much less of a problem with someone who looks fairly close to average but has a whole lot to say, and much more of a problem with someone like Sarah Palin, who is all hair and makeup and the red-blooded middle-aged American man’s idea of what an attractive babe looks like, but doesn’t have a single reasonable policy idea to contribute to American politics, any coherent way to express any such idea, or any faintly firm grasp of American history – and proves it each and every darn time she shows up on television or drops a bowl of word salad on Twitter. You betcha.

But as this blog has so often been about words … so, finally, is this post.

Payne’s trouble with Warren, aided and abetted by Chakrabarti, is that her choice of words makes her sound like a “hectoring school-marm” and he’s uncomfortable with the fact that she chooses to talk tough. Ooooo. Must not sound “coarse” if you’re a woman.

When a male candidate “talks tough”, no one bats a flippin’ eyelash – in fact the candidate is praised for shooting straight, leveling with the American people, tackling the issues head-on. New Jersey’s blowhard governor, Chris Christie, routinely comes off sounding like a cross between Tony Soprano and Jabba the Hutt – and there are people who are actually considering him as a potential 2016 Presidential candidate. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren – who expresses an awful lot of thoughts with the kind of coherence and force that the Occupy movement might wish it could muster – and political and cultural commentators develop a sudden case of the vapors and hope to land on a couch when they faint.

Spare me.

Up to now, it has (forgive me) been mostly pundits and politicians from the rather far-right-wing end of the political spectrum, which seems to be where the Republican Party now resides on most issues, who have been perpetuating these attitudes toward women. But now? Behold! A consultant from the left side of the aisle who has hopped over the fence, effectively saying, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – at least join ’em in saying things that are somehow politically smart. “You have to go with the flow,” he sagely declared.

Well, they may be considered politically smart, but they ain’t smart. To me, they don’t make this consultant, or any of the rest of the Republican talkers, sound smart – or sound like they’re aware at all of American history. You all do know that the the women’s suffrage movement was successful, yes?

Are we sure this is 2012? The, you know, twenty-first century?

Perhaps I’m reacting this way because I know plenty of women who are smart, wise, brave, strong … sometimes stronger than the men around them (including me) … and many of them are people whom I would characterize as tougher than me by a country mile. My mother, for openers. My sister, to continue that list. I can think of three friends right off the top of my head whose doctorates are earned (mine is just a nickname, I’m afraid). And there are more; and they know who they are (and some of them actually read this space!).

But even if I hadn’t been privileged to call those particular people friends and colleagues for many years … women, ALL women, are human beings. They don’t deserve abuse just because they’re women, and they don’t deserve to – maddeningly – be subjected to the ignorance that is chucked at them like a javelin, seemingly more and more frequently as days pass. Finally, at long last, somehow, can we please find it in us to go check out the Golden Rule again?

September 14, 2012 Posted by | celebrity, Famous Persons, government, media, news, npr, politics, radio, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments