Sunday, April 23, 2017

Food, sex and silence by Frank Bruni

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” — James Beard

ONE IOWA held its annual gala on April 7. Paul and I bought tickets, but later he remembered that he had a gig on the same night, so friend Tonja Richardson was my date for the party. 

Some of you who've been reading Hey Look Something Shiny for awhile recall that the impetus for starting a blog was directly and indirectly tied to the issue of marriage equality. I had been proud of my state when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2009 that denying gay couples the right to marry violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. The following year, however, three of the justices came up for a retention vote and were booted out. I was beside myself with disappointment.  

In an effort to channel my frustration, I joined the Southern Poverty Law Center based on its long history of working against discrimination and bigotry across a broad front. Through it I learned that along with Barack Obama's election as President of the United States came an exponential rise in the number of hate groups. The thought that so many people actively hated him because of his race made my head spin, and I dragged out my laptop and started typing.

Clearly I'm no brave and pioneering champion of marriage equality; consciousness-raising in 2009 or a few years before makes me very, very late to the party. Although, sadly, I'm often slow to catch on . . .  to lots of things . . . once I do, I really, really get it down to the ground.

 A really out-of-focus picture of 
Tonja and me at the One Iowa gala.

Here's a New York Times piece by Frank Bruni, one of my all-time favorite opinion writers.

Food, Sex and Silence

By Frank Bruni 
April 22, 2017

James Beard was large. His obituaries told you so. “Portly” was how The Associated Press put it. The Los Angeles Times said that he was nearly 300 pounds at his apogee, though The New York Times clarified that a diet at one point “divested him of some of his heft.”

Nature divested him of his hair. He was bald, as all of those obituaries prominently noted.

James Beard

He was also gay. Good luck finding a mention of that.

Oh, there were winks. “A lifelong bachelor.” “An Oregon-bred bachelor.” Oregon-bred? Makes him sound like a dairy cow. Or maybe a mushroom.

But there was nothing in those remembrances about his 30-year relationship — at first romantic, then less so — with Gino Cofacci, who was provided for in Beard’s will. Nothing about Beard’s expulsion from Reed College in the 1920s because of his involvements with other men. This newspaper’s obituary simply called him a “college dropout.”

It was published in 1985. The world has changed. And that progress is reflected in a new documentary, “James Beard: America’s First Foodie,” that PBS will air next month as part of its American Masters series.

Like Beard’s obituaries, it shows how he towered over the country’s culinary landscape, pioneering the kind of food television that Julia Child would later do and doling out advice in newspaper columns much like Craig Claiborne’s. He towers still. One of the great honors that a chef can receive is an invitation to cook at Beard House in Greenwich Village, previously his home and now a shrine. The annual Academy Awards of the restaurant world are called the Beards.

The documentary also goes where the obituaries didn’t, describing him as an exuberantly gay man. Anyone who knew him well knew him that way, but during his lifetime, there was typically a difference between what was privately understood and what was publicly said. A cloud hovered over gay people. And if we’re honest about much of America and about many Americans today, that cloud hasn’t entirely dispersed.

The discrepancy between accounts of Beard up until his death and posthumous assessments like “America’s First Foodie” remind me of how often oppression is an act of omission rather than commission: not letting people give voice and vent to much of what moves them and to all of what defines them; not recognizing and honoring that ourselves.

I’m struck, too, by the nature of lies. They’re not just statements. They’re silences that fail to confront bad as well as beautiful things, often with grievous consequences.

We once turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse and rape, so we believed they rarely happened and weren’t adequately on guard. We once didn’t acknowledge the loving, nurturing relationships between two men or two women, so we deemed them freakish and weren’t sufficiently accepting. Our denial and ignorance kept bigotry in business.

One of the many arguments — no, imperatives — for recognizing same-sex marriage is that it’s the only telling of the full truth. Otherwise we erase whole chunks of people’s existences, and that’s as cruel and mistaken “as it would be to leave out someone’s life work or what country they lived in,” said Nathaniel Frank, the author of “Awakening,” a history of the marriage-equality movement that will be published this month.

The erasing of Beard’s sexual orientation was first brought to my attention by Ted Allen, an alumnus of the TV show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and the current host of “Chopped,” on the Food Network. In 2012, when he won two Beard Awards, he looked into Beard’s background, and was surprised and enraged that the gay part wasn’t accurately told in real time.

Allen thought about all the L.G.B.T. kids back then who were denied a role model. He thought about how the editing of Beard’s life shortchanged a minority group’s major contribution to American gastronomy. Claiborne, too, was in this minority, as the writer John Birdsall pointed out in a 2014 essay for the magazine Lucky Peach that was titled “America, Your Food Is So Gay.”

But Allen said that he thought in particular about all “the well-known people whose homosexuality was buried along with them,” and how that distorted and continues to distort our views of L.G.B.T. Americans.

Some obituaries of Claiborne in 2000 — though not The Times’s — left out his gayness. Some obituaries of the writer Susan Sontag in 2004 failed to mention her romantic relationships with women, including the photographer Annie Liebovitz. Some obituaries of the trailblazing astronaut Sally Ride in 2012 made scant, ambiguous reference to the fact that she was lesbian.

The list goes on. The reasons vary. Maybe a person’s survivors gave signals to obituary writers not to broach this subject. Maybe those writers were in the dark. Maybe they couldn’t ascertain by deadline what the deceased person would have wanted, and they erred on the side of saying nothing, a decision born of courtesy but steeped in prejudice.

All of this adds up to an incomplete picture of our society and who shaped it. It adds up to a lie.

When Beard died at the age of 81, he was working on a memoir in which he planned to make his sexual orientation abundantly clear to his fans. He tape-recorded reminiscences, used in 1990’s “The James Beard Celebration Cookbook,” that included the statement: “By the time I was 7, I knew that I was gay. I think it’s time to talk about that now.”

Why wasn’t it time when his obituary appeared on our front page? I went in search of its writer, Albin Krebs, and quickly stumbled across his own obituary in The Times in 2002.

I noticed that it said nothing about a marriage or children or any romantic life. I noticed that he died, at the age of 73, in Key West, Fla.

I tracked down a few journalists who remembered him, and then his nephew, a 68-year-old judge in Mississippi. My suspicions were confirmed: Krebs, a Mississippi native who served in the Air Force before his long and distinguished newspaper career, was himself gay.

And certainly by the last years of his life, as he bobbed in his pool with a glass of whiskey in his hand, “He didn’t give a damn what anybody thought,” the nephew, Robert Krebs, told me, adding that his uncle left much of his estate to an AIDS charity in Key West.

Beard wasn’t especially troubled by his sexual orientation, either, according to Birdsall, who is finishing a comprehensive new biography of him. But the mores of his day — the mores for so long — purged that part of many people’s lives from the official record.

He received tributes galore. They took ample stock of his dimensions. But they didn’t come close to rounding him out.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The huckster in charge

“Where do the evils like corruption arise from? It comes from the never-ending greed. The fight for corruption-free ethical society will have to be fought against this greed and replace it with 'what can I give' spirit.” — A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, 11th President of India

LIKE MOST of you, I'm gobsmacked that #45 has gotten away with so much nefarious activity. Well . . . that and that he was "elected" in the first place. He's a national nightmare that we're all having to pay for — figuratively and literally  Below from The New York Times:

Credit: Jennifer Heuer
Mr. Trump Plays by His Own Rules (or No Rules)

By The Editorial Board
April 18, 2017

Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention knows by now that this president and this White House intend to play by their own set of rules — rules that in some cases come close to breaking the law and, at the very least, defy traditions of conduct and transparency Americans have come to expect from their public servants. We know that Donald Trump has refused, unlike other presidents, to release his tax returns; that his trust agreement allows him undisclosed access to profits from his businesses; and even that he clings to a profitable lease on a hotel only a stone’s throw from the White House when divesting himself of that lease is not only the obvious but the right thing to do.

But just when you think you’ve seen enough there’s more. On Friday, the administration announced it would no longer release White House visitors’ logs that have been available for years. (It cynically said posting these records would cost taxpayers $70,000 by 2020. Compare that with the multimillion-dollar tab estimated for every weekend trip Mr. Trump takes to Mar-a-Lago.)

Meanwhile, news trickled out that on the very day that two of Ivanka Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s children were serenading the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago, the People’s Republic of China approved new trademarks allowing Ivanka to peddle jewelry, bags and spa services to a nation of 1.4 billion where she is a role model for aspirational oligarchs.

In the great scheme of things, neither the visitor blackout nor Ms. Trump’s commercial coup seems a big deal. Yet both symbolize larger problems. One is an almost total absence of openness in an administration that is already teeming with real and potential conflicts and that has decided it can grant secret waivers to ethics requirements. The other is a culture of self-enrichment and self-dealing in which corporate C.E.O.s, lobbyists and foreign officials seeking the first family’s favor hold parties at Mar-a-Lago and at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, a couple of blocks from the White House. On Tuesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group, expanded a lawsuit charging that the hotel violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from taking payments from foreign nations.

One has to ask when this seamless meshing of statesmanship and merchandising will stop, if ever. Mr. Trump struggled for years to close deals across the Middle East; now that he’s president, doors are opening. His family is seeking or holds trademarks in Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, where the president’s sons just opened a golf course in Dubai, and in Jordan, whose King Abdullah II just visited the White House to discuss joint efforts against ISIS.

But Americans who expect that their government will stop this grotesque flouting of rules and traditional norms have been deeply disappointed. The Office of Government Ethics received 39,105 public queries and complaints about Trump administration ethics over the past six months, compared with 733 during the same period eight years earlier at the start of the Obama administration. But the office has no investigative or subpoena power: Its authority rests on the willingness of a president to take transparency in public service seriously, which this president does not.

That leaves Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has the legal authority and the resources to investigate and hold the administration to account. Anyone familiar with Mr. Chaffetz’s record of partisan, ineffectual witch-hunting won’t be surprised to learn that he’s done nothing.

Walter Shaub Jr., chief of the ethics office, and his team have been working nights and weekends trying to rein in what they can of the Trump entourage’s abuses, combing through the financial disclosures of administration appointees and ringing alarm bells. They’ve had a few successes: So far the Senate has refused to confirm nominees whose financial disclosures don’t earn approval from the ethics office, which has unearthed potential conflicts and led several nominees to shed assets that pose problems. But that’s hardly a match for an administration filled with people who seem determined to wring every last dollar and ounce of trust from the American people.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Definitely gloating

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship.” — Bill O'Reilly, 2007, speaking on his radio show about eating dinner with Rev. Al Sharpton at a famed Harlem restaurant

WOO HOO!! I can't believe it's really happened! Bill O'Reilly has gotten the axe!!! One down, many to go, but nevertheless, it's a win.

I came across 
the AlterNet article I've attached a few days ago, and considered sharing it with you. This seems like the appropriate time. Although it's still long, I've edited it slightly for brevity, shortening the original list from 18 to 16. (FYI, Bill, patronship isn't a word, you duffus.)

But first, to get you caught up, here's a headline with accompanying bullet points from today's online edition (4/19/17) of the Daily Mail:

Bill who? Fired O'Reilly's name is ERASED from his own Fox show - which is now called The Factor - as his replacement gives a brief goodbye to the 'undisputed king of cable news'

— Bill O'Reilly is out at Fox News after 20 years on the cable news network

— Rupert Murdoch made the announcement in a letter signed by himself and sons James and Lachlan, who reportedly urged their father to fire O'Reilly

— Fox News announced that Tucker Carlson will move to 8pm, 'The Five' will move to 9pm and Sean Hannity will stay in his 10pm slot 

— On Wednesday, Dana Perino hosted the show, which is now called The Factor, and briefly told viewers that O'Reilly would no longer be with Fox News 

16 Reminders That Bill O'Reilly Is a Terrible Person

By Kali Holloway 

April 14, 2017

It's a given that Bill O’Reilly is a terrible person. Thing is, he’s been so thoroughly heinous for so interminably long, it can be hard to remember all the reasons why. Most recently, there have been new revelations about O’Reilly and Fox News paying millions in settlements to women who have been targets of his sexually inappropriate behavior. But reviewing O’Reilly’s history, there's a pattern of despicable behavior that goes back much further in time.

He's shown himself to be a raging racist and a bloviating bigot (for which Fox News audiences love him), a man who lies about his press credentials and morals in the same breath. He imagines himself a guardian of truth and the defender of American virtues being lost to brown, gay and godless hordes, when in fact, he's a huge dick.

Here are 16 reminders why Bill O’Reilly is a terrible person.

1. He made a racist and sexist joke about congresswoman and national treasure Maxine Waters.

It’s no secret that Maxine Waters has nothing good to say about Donald Trump, O’Reilly’s alleged-sexual-harasser-in-arms. During an appearance on “Fox & Friends” earlier this month, O’Reilly decided to return fire on his buddy’s behalf by going where so many racists and misogynists have gone before: Waters' appearance, specifically her hair. O’Reilly claimed he “didn't hear a word [Waters] said” in a recent anti-Trump speech because he “was looking at [her] James Brown wig”—a joke the male hosts of the show found very funny, because they are also garbage-based life forms. Hours later, O’Reilly issued a sorry-not-sorry non-apology which included a reference to Waters as a “congressman.”

2. He laughed at the sight of a man being violently removed from a United Airlines flight.

After airing a viral clip of Dr. David Dao being dragged, screaming and bleeding, from United Flight 3411, O’Reilly chuckled in a way that might seem inexplicable if he weren’t someone who could fill a listicle with the terrible things he’s done. “I shouldn't be laughing,” O’Reilly said, “but it's just so bizarre.”

3. He allegedly sexually harassed at least five women.

According to a recent New York Times investigation, “a total of five women...received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly” or Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox “for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations against him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.” Allegations of sexual impropriety and other forms of workplace harassment against O’Reilly date back to 2004, when he was sued by “The Factor” associate producer Andrea Mackris. The complaint alleged that O’Reilly offered her unsolicited advice on masturbation, claimed women had been “amazed” by his “big cock,” bragged about participating in threesomes and told her he wanted to rub her genitals with a falafel. (He meant to say “loofah” except he’s an idiot.) In more than one case, women presented incriminating audio recordings of O’Reilly, according to the Times report, which concluded that “Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly adopted an aggressive strategy that served as a stark warning of what could happen to women if they came forward with complaints.”

4. He also allegedly sexually harassed a few more women.

The Times investigation of O’Reilly notes that “besides the women who reached settlements, two other women have spoken of inappropriate behavior by the host.” Former Fox News star Andrea Tantaros filed court papers last year accusing the network of pretending to be “a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” Wendy Walsh, a recurring guest on "The Factor," says O’Reilly reneged on an offer to make her a high-paid Fox News contributor after she turned down an invitation to his hotel room.

Surveys have found that 60 to 70 percent of workplace harassment cases go unreported. An alleged serial sexual harasser such as O’Reilly, whose career in television spans more than four decades, may have countless more victims, since many may have kept silent. There’s no way to know the definitive number of O’Reilly’s targets, but the odds seem likely there are more.

5. He allegedly choked his ex-wife in front of his children.

In 2015, Gawker published transcripts from O’Reilly’s custody battle with his ex-wife filed in New York’s Nassau County Supreme Court. Among those papers was testimony from Larry Cohen, a court-appointed psychologist whose job it was to “interview and assess” each member of O’Reilly’s family during the court battle. Cohen told the court that O’Reilly’s 15-year-old daughter recounted “seeing an incident where...she said her dad was choking her mom or had his hands around her neck and dragged her down some stairs.” The psychologist also reported the teenager said O’Reilly had called her mom “an adulterer,” and said if his daughter “spends her time or more time at the mother’s home, it will ruin her life.”

O’Reilly ultimately lost that custody case, and again on appeal. In its decision, the Appellate Court panel wrote, “There is a sound and substantial basis for the Supreme Court's determination that it is in the best interests of the children for the mother to be awarded primary residential custody. Particularly relevant in this case are the clearly stated preferences of the children, especially considering their age and maturity, and the quality of the home environment provided by the mother.”

6. He yelled and swore at everyone on set because he’s confused by common phrases.

Maya Angelou once famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Watching this footage you can just tell not only was this not the first time O’Reilly had a meltdown over nothing, it wasn’t even the first time that week. In fact, he was probably still getting over his last meltdown when this meltdown started. He’s probably having four simultaneous meltdowns as I write this.

Anyway, no one fired him right there on the spot, allowing him to have a four-decade career of inappropriate touching and red-faced spittle spraying.

7. He reportedly lied about being in the thick of the Falklands war.

O’Reilly has been an alt-truther since long before Kellyanne Conway entered our collective nightmare. In 2015, a Mother Jones investigation found that O’Reilly had at best exaggerated, and at worst lied, about being in a “combat situation” during the Falklands war. The magazine cited the numerous times O’Reilly referenced his time in the “war zone,” stories that often suggested he had put his life in danger for the sake of reportage. In one oft-recycled fable, O’Reilly lays it on really thick, painting himself as a selfless hero and not a common fanny-pincher.

"I was in a situation one time, in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands, where my photographer got run down and then hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete,” O’Reilly has repeatedly stated, according to Mother Jones. “And the army was chasing us. I had to make a decision. And I dragged him off, you know, but at the same time, I'm looking around and trying to do my job, but I figure I had to get this guy out of there because that was more important.”

Except that doesn’t jibe with anyone else’s recollection. Far more reliably honest, actual journalists lined up to pick apart O’Reilly’s claims, often pointing out that almost no reporters made it to the frontlines. In fact, O’Reilly’s own rediscovered reports conflict with his tales of bloody conflict and violence.

O’Reilly initially responded to the report by calling Mother Jones reporter David Corn a “liar.” He later simply denied he’d ever said what he said, despite all the proof he said it.

8. He said immigration should be 'capped' so white guys stay on top.

Here are O’Reilly and John McCain, just ahead of the election that put a black guy in the White House, talking about immigration as a threat to white male power. No comment needed here; the video and transcript do the job on their own. Bonus points to O’Reilly for getting McCain to agree that white power needs to be preserved.

O'REILLY: Do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure—of which you're part, and so am I. And they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say that you've got to cap it with a number.

MCCAIN: In America today we have a very strong economy, low unemployment. So we need additional farm workers—including by the way agriculture—but there may come a time where we have an economic downturn, and we don't need so many.

O'REILLY: Okay, but in this bill, you guys gotta cap it. Because your estimation is 12 million, there may be 20 [million]. You don't know, I don't know. You gotta cap it.

MCCAIN: We do, we do. I agree with you.

9. He said America should keep the Electoral College to ensure white supremacy.

In a segment about efforts to scrap the Electoral College that arose following the disaster that was the election of Donald Trump, O’Reilly unwittingly admitted he opposes efforts to dismantle white supremacy.

“If the Electoral College were abolished, presidential candidates could simply campaign in the nation's largest states and cities—New York, LA, Chicago, Houston—and rack up enough votes to pretty much win any election,” O’Reilly stated. “That's what the left wants, because in the large urban areas and blue states like New York and California, minorities are substantial.”

“The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with,” O’Reilly laments:

“It permeates almost every issue—that white men have set up a system of oppression and that system must be destroyed....So-called white privilege bad; diversity good.

"The left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run.”

O’Reilly recognizes the Electoral College elevates the votes and political power of whites. That’s why he defends the system, and with it, white supremacy.

10. He hypocritically went after every rapper for indecency.

At least 87 percent of O’Reilly’s career is built on scaring old white people about what the rappers are going to do to them. In the spirit of this ongoing mission, O’Reilly spends inordinate amounts of time talking about all the rapping and how it is causing problems, from causing crime (not true) to inventing racism (ha ha, okay). O’Reilly’s ridiculous rants against rappers—and inexplicably, Beyonce—have themselves become cultural touch points.

In 2002, O’Reilly suggested that viewers protest Pepsi for its advertising ties to the rapper Ludacris, whom O’Reilly described as a “man who degrades women.” The outrage-stoking worked: Pepsi dropped Ludacris, the ad was pulled and O’Reilly claimed bragging rights for the win on his TV show. You can watch him gloat about the whole thing in the segment below, which was presumably shot when he didn’t have more pressing sexual harassment duties to attend to.

Recently, Ludacris was asked to comment on the situation, and he took the high road. “It’s not my place to judge Bill O’Reilly the same way that he judged me,” the rapper stated. “That’s how I feel about it. It’s a lot of maturity and a lot of growth. I’ve moved on past it. I’m thriving in life right now, and all I can do is hope that Bill O’Reilly settles these issues and learns from whatever mistakes he may have made and also thrives. But it is definitely ironic that both Pepsi and Bill O’Reilly are both under fire right now.”

11. He suggested slavery was no biggie.

In her Democratic National Convention speech, then First Lady Michelle Obama said, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters—two beautiful, intelligent, black young women—playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

Facts, right? Not a single person asked O’Reilly for his opinion on Michelle Obama’s remarks. But he used a show segment to offer his revisionist take on slavery, because O’Reilly apparently has a racism quota to meet and he was behind that month.

“Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House,” O’Reilly said, thrilled at the chance both to mansplain and whitesplain the topic to FLOTUS. “Slaves that worked [at the White House] were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.”

White racists have always tried to make slavery seem less morally reprehensible and horrific than it was, even while slavery was happening. O’Reilly is unremarkable in that way, as in so many other ways. Plenty of slave narratives offer an unvarnished look at the horrors of slavery. So does the first-person account of Abigail Adams, the literal first lady to occupy the White House as it was being built, who described the enslaved people doing the landscaping work as “half fed, and destitute of clothing.”

Also, high-five to Shonda Rhimes for tweeting this response:

12. He used the term 'wetback' to describe Mexicans.

In 2003, during a conversation about border patrol agents with Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes, O’Reilly reportedly let this one slip: "We'd save lives because Mexican wetbacks, whatever you want to call them, the coyotes, they're not going to do what they're doing now, so people aren't going to die in the desert.”

He later told the New York Times the utterance had been an accident, perhaps not recognizing the slip was a sneak peek at how he speaks about these matters off-air. “I was groping for a term to describe the industry that brings people in here,” O’Reilly said. “It was not meant to disparage people in any way.''

''Of course, he didn't intend to say it,” Reyes noted, in a retort that nails things on the head. “But the fact that 'wetback' is a part of his vocabulary and slipped out is a clear sign of where his views fall.''

13. By the way, that was actually the second time he used the word 'wetback' to describe Mexicans.

According to a report by FAIR, O’Reilly had used the term in a speech several months earlier, a fact cited by the Allentown, Pennsylvania, local newspaper The Call. In a January 2003 article, O’Reilly reportedly “criticized the Immigration and Naturalization Service for not doing its job and not keeping out ‘the wetbacks.'”

FAIR notes that “O’Reilly denied making the comment, but the reporter stands by his account.”

14. He blamed Trayvon Martin for his own murder.

For years, Tea Party ultraconservative Allen West has provided an indispensable service to white racists, parroting talking points about black-on-black crime, black pathology and white absolution whenever needed. In 2013, O’Reilly brought West on his show to help him in the cheap and dirty effort to turn Trayvon Martin—whose cause of death was murder by George Zimmerman—from innocent victim to deserving thug. Both men proved up to the task. O’Reilly got things started.

“The reason Trayvon Martin died is because he looked a certain way, and it wasn’t based on skin color,” O’Reilly said, smugly. “If Trayvon Martin had been wearing a jacket like you are and a tie like you are, Mr. West, this evening, I don’t think George Zimmerman would have had any problem with him," O’Reilly said. “But he was wearing a hoodie and he looked a certain way. And that way is how ‘gangstas’ look. And, therefore, he got attention.”

What O’Reilly really means is that Trayvon Martin got “what he deserved” for being in the wrong clothes, for being in the wrong neighborhood, for being black, for daring to be.

15. He managed to out-racist Donald Trump.

While he was still campaigning for a job he didn’t want in a sector he didn’t understand, Trump came on O’Reilly’s show to talk about all the employment opportunities he was going to bring to African-American communities, aka "the blacks." O’Reilly actually seemed increasingly impatient and annoyed during the exchange, not because of the lack of detail in Trump’s plan, but because he kept suggesting black people might ever hold jobs.

“How are you going to get jobs for them?” O’Reilly asked, one huff away from setting the huffiness record. “Many of them are ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads and I hate to be generalized about it, but it's true. If you look at all the educational statistics, how are you going to give jobs to people who aren't qualified for jobs?”

“You say you can bring jobs back. But if the kid isn’t qualified to do the job and can’t do the work—I mean, you’ve got to get into the infrastructure of the African-American community.”

16. He couldn’t believe black people are humans.

Al Sharpton and O’Reilly apparently have dinner together once a year, which, sure, whatever. In 2007, the meal took place at Sylvia’s, an iconic soul food restaurant in Harlem. Back at his radio show weeks later, O’Reilly decided to share a few insights from his visit. He could’ve just said, “I’m a huge racist” and saved us all a bunch of time, but instead he took the long way home.

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City,” O’Reilly marveled, mind fully blown. “I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship."

There was also this: "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'Mother f**ker, I want more iced tea.' You know, I mean, everybody was—it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun."

Me again: Bye bye Billy. FYI: Paul is hoping for prison time for him, sharing a cell with a really big guy named Alphonso. Have you noticed that some people only learn through personal experience? 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Maniacal 4 live and in person

“There are two rules to being a great musician. 1. Be a nice person 2. Don't shit on the music.” — Jan Kagarice, University of North Texas adjunct professor, visiting professor at the Hochschule fur Musik in Detmold, Germany and at the University of Minnesota, and founder and bass trombonist of internationally-acclaimed trombone quartet, PRISMA

HOW ABOUT we take a little break from politics and the disastrous state of my state and our nation. Just for a breath or two, anyway.

In January, Grand View University assistant professor of music, director of instrumental activities and trombonist Mark Doerffel, was gracious enough to invite Paul and me to be his guests at a Maniacal 4 concert at Grand View.

You may remember these guys; I wrote about them in November of 2013. Paul had come across a YouTube video of them playing Carry on Wayward Son, showed it to me, and I was so impressed and entertained that I felt compelled to share it with you. 

They're crazy good, and I've been agitating to hear them in person ever since. Lucky for me, they came to Des Moines.

The four members of the quartet, 
Alex Dubrov, Matt JeffersonNick Laufer and Carl Lundgren met when they were freshman at the University of North Texas, which BTW, Paul reckons has the best jazz program in the country. Here's a little bit about the group from their website:

"Maniacal 4 is dedicated to creating musical performances that not only entertain and engage, but challenge the limits of traditional concert presentation. This lively, acclaimed trombone quartet not only rocks the standard repertoire, but also embraces a wide variety of music from around the world and across eras. M4’s clever, insightful arrangements of music ranging from pop/rock and jazz to classical masterpieces bring new life to familiar tunes, often with a tongue-in-cheek playfulness that belies the technical aplomb of the group’s four, highly-trained trombonists."

Left to right: Carl Lundgren, Alex Dubrov, Paul, me, Nick Laufer and Matt Jefferson on 1/23/17 

I can tell you from firsthand experience that the Maniacal 4 are indeed entertaining, engaging, personable, funny, kinda geeky, technically proficient and very, very just plain nice. The quote at the top of the post is from Jan Kagarice, who among other highly impressive credentials, teaches at UNT. They're following Jan's advice to the letter.

Below is something about all four guys — they're all really interesting people! — gleaned from their website, but be sure and scroll to the bottom for your reward; I've attached a YouTube video of them playing Wichita Lineman which, as it happens, is one of my all-time favorite pop songs.

Carl Lundgren

Trombonist Carl Lundgren is best known as the tenor voice of Maniacal 4, as well as the group’s resident “musical tinkerer.” A versatile musician with a hearty appetite for exploration and experimentation, Carl is M4’s innovative composer and arranger, responsible for the extraordinary variety and authenticity of the group’s clever and catchy versions of everything from Biebl to Bartok to recent hit pop/rock tunes. His rendition of “Carry On Wayward Son” played by the group is nearing two million views on YouTube. Carl is also the insightful facilitator of many of M4’s novel initiatives, including a range of collaborative projects, and he is active as a composer/arranger for a variety of other musical ensembles as well.

A native Swedish speaker, Carl grew up in Calgary, Alberta and maintains dual Canadian-Swedish citizenship. He started his musical journey as a child studying piano and added the flute in 7th grade before switching to trombone a year later to play in jazz band. He’s never looked back. A resident of Denton, Texas, he is a graduate of the University of North Texas, where he also taught as an adjunct professor. He continues to teach privately, offering master classes and participating in numerous education/outreach projects. An active freelancer, he is a member of the American Jazz Composers’ Orchestra and the Mars Hill Band. He has an abiding fascination for logic problems, puzzles, board games, clever structures, and the endlessly fascinating subjectivity of human experience.

Alex Dubrov

Maniacal 4 tenor trombonist Alex Dubrov is the ensemble’s electric trombone expert. His skills as a soloist combined with his expertise in using pedal distortion allow him to create some of M4’s most sonically vibrant fusions of jazz, pop and rock. His electronically synthesized trombone sound defines much of M4’s rock tribute material, enabling dead-on imitations of guitar legends such as Jimmy Page and Tommy Shaw. Currently residing in Dallas, Alex is an active freelancer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on both tenor and bass trombone. Credits include performances with a variety of jazz and pop luminaries, including Aretha Franklin and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Bobby Burns, Jr., and he is a popular figure in numerous cover bands. In addition to maintaining his own studio, where he teaches trombone, tuba and euphonium, Alex is pursuing electronic music production.

Originally from Kiev, Ukraine, Alex moved to Texas at the age of ten and is a graduate of the University of North Texas. He is an avid cultural enthusiast with a steadfast curiosity in languages. Fluent in Russian and English, he is also learning Portuguese and Spanish. After years of playing trombone in a Latin band, he is now taking his musicality to the dance floor, learning salsa and bachata. A health-conscious vegetarian, Alex is also a molecular hydration specialist, consulting with people suffering from degenerative diseases.

Nick Laufer

Trombonist Nick Laufer is the rare freelance musician with enviable facility and proven success across a wide range of musical styles. His enthusiasm and experience range from early Baroque to contemporary, from rock and jazz to Latin. Best known for his lead work in the professional trombone quartet Maniacal 4, Nick has performed hundreds of concerts in venues around the world. He also tours with country music superstar Toby Keith, and he can play a mean sackbut, with engagements that include performances at the internationally-renowned Boston Early Music Festival. Acclaimed for his lyrical style and warm, burnished tone, Nick’s playing can be heard on numerous recordings and streaming platforms, and his television appearances include “CBS Late Night with Stephen Colbert” and “CMT Ultimate Kickoff Party.” Born in Columbus, Ohio, Nick is a graduate of the University of North Texas, where he met the other three trombonists of Maniacal 4. He currently lives in Nashville, and when he’s not playing trombone, likes to drink coffee and perfect his breakfast creations.

Matt Jefferson

While Matt Jefferson is best known as the bass voice of Maniacal 4, his versatility extends to classical and commercial music as well. Equally versed on bass trombone and tuba, he has performed with the Louisiana Philharmonic, the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra, and the Grammy-nominated One O’Clock Lab Band. A graduate of University of North Texas, Matt spent three years in Louisiana, where in addition to playing, he also taught at Nicholls State University.

A lynchpin of Maniacal 4’s musical foundation in more ways than one, Matt is the group’s video production guru and the forward-thinking “people person.” A student of life, Matt is an enthusiastic sports fan and self-confessed bookworm whose tastes range from Malcolm Gladwell to Christopher Moore. Originally from London, Ontario, Matt grew up in Calgary and now lives in Toronto with his wife and four cats.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hearts and minds of Trump voters

“Wherever there is injustice, there is anger, and anger is like gasoline; if you spray it around and somebody lights a matchstick, you have an inferno. But anger inside an engine is powerful: it can drive us forward and can get us through dreadful moments and give us power.” — Priscilla "Scilla" Elworthy, peace builder and founder of the Oxford Research Group

FRANK RICH is new to me. He’s an essayist and op-ed columnist who wrote for The New York Times in various capacities for 31 years and is now editor-at-large and 
an essayist for New York Magazine. He was mentioned in Stuff You Should Know, a podcast I listen to from time to time. I’m going to start following him. 

If you've read Hey Look since the election, you probably have an accurate sense that I'm not feeling what you'd call touchy-feely toward Trump voters. Then again, forgiveness isn't one of my strong suits. 

Frank's column from New York Magazine isn't light reading, but give it a go anyway.

No Sympathy for the Hillbilly
Democrats need to stop trying to feel everyone’s pain, and hold on to their own anger.

By Frank Rich

March 19, 2017

On the morning after, traumatized liberals set out hunting for answers as if Election Day were 9/11 all over again. The ubiquitous question of 15 years earlier — “Why do they hate us?” — was repurposed for Donald Trump’s demolition of the political order. Why did white working-class voters reject Hillary Clinton and the Democrats? Why did they fall for a billionaire con man? Why do they hate us?

There were, of course, many other culprits in the election’s outcome. Comey, the Kremlin, the cable-news networks that beamed Trump 24/7, Jill Stein, a Clinton campaign that (among other blunders) ignored frantic on-the-ground pleas for help in Wisconsin and Michigan, and the candidate herself have all come in for deserved public flogging. But the attitude among some liberals toward the actual voters who pulled the trigger on Election Day has been more indulgent, equivocal, and forgiving. 

Perhaps those white voters without a college degree who preferred Trump by 39 percentage points — the most lopsided margin in the sector pollsters define as “white working class” since the 1980 Ronald Reagan landslide — are not “deplorables” who “cling to guns and religion” after all. Perhaps, as Joe Biden enthused, “these are good people, man!” who “aren’t racist” and “aren’t sexist.” Perhaps, as Mark Lilla argued in an influential essay in the New York Times, they were turned off mostly by the Democrats’ identity politics and rightfully felt excluded from Clinton’s stump strategy of name-checking every ethnicity, race, and gender in the party’s coalition except garden-variety whites. Perhaps they should hate us.

While many, if not most, of those in #TheResistance of the Democratic base remain furious at these voters, the party’s political class and the liberal media Establishment are making a concerted effort to convert that rage into empathy. “Democrats Hold Lessons on How to Talk to Real People” was the headline of a Politico account of the postelection retreat of the party’s senators, who had convened in the pointedly un-Brooklyn redoubt of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Democrats must heed the rural white enclaves, repeatedly instructs the former Pennsylvania governor and MSNBC regular Ed Rendell. 

Nicholas Kristof has pleaded with his readers to understand that “Trump voters are not the enemy,” a theme shared by the anti-Trump conservative David Brooks. “We’re Driving to the Inauguration With a Trump Supporter” was the “Kumbaya”-tinged teaser on the Times’ mobile app for a roundup of on-the-ground chronicles of these exotic folk invading Washington. Even before Trump’s victory, commentators were poring through fortuitously timed books like Nancy Isenberg’s sociocultural history White Trash and J. D. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, seeking to comprehend and perhaps find common ground with the Trumpentariat. As measured by book sales and his appeal to much the same NPR-ish audience, Vance has become his people’s explainer-in-chief, the Ta-Nehisi Coates, if you will, of White Lives Matter.

The outbreak of Hillbilly Chic among liberals is an inverted bookend to Radical Chic, the indelible rubric attached by Tom Wolfe in 1970 (in this magazine) to white elites in Manhattan then fawning over black militants. In both cases, the spectacle of liberals doting on a hostile Other can come off like self-righteous slumming. But for those of us who want to bring down the curtain on the Trump era as quickly as possible, this pandering to his voters raises a more immediate and practical concern: Is it a worthwhile political tactic that will actually help reverse Republican rule? Or is it another counterproductive detour into liberal guilt, self-flagellation, and political correctness of the sort that helped blind Democrats to the gravity of the Trump threat in the first place? 

While the right is expert at channeling darker emotions like anger into ruthless political action, the Democrats’ default inclination is still to feel everyone’s pain, hang their hats on hope, and enter the fray in a softened state of unilateral disarmament. “Stronger Together,” the Clinton-campaign slogan, sounded more like an invitation to join a food co-op than a call to arms. After the debacle of 2016, might the time have at last come for Democrats to weaponize their anger instead of swallowing it? Instead of studying how to talk to “real people,” might they start talking like real people? No more reading from wimpy scripts concocted by consultants and focus groups. (Clinton couldn’t even bring herself to name a favorite ice-cream flavor at one campaign stop.) Say in public what you say in private, even at the risk of pissing people off, including those in your own party. Better late than never to learn the lessons of Trump’s triumphant primary campaign that the Clinton campaign foolishly ignored.

This is a separate matter from the substantive question of whether the party is overdue in addressing the needs of the 21st-century middle class, or what remains of it. The answer to that is yes, as a matter of morality, policy, and politics. Americans below the top of the heap, with or without college degrees and regardless of race, have been ill served by the axis of Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, and the Davos-class donor base that during Bill Clinton’s presidency helped grease the skids for the 2008 economic collapse and allowed the culprits to escape from the wreckage unscathed during Barack Obama’s. 

That Hillary Clinton pocketed $21.6 million by speaking to banks and other corporate groups after leaving the State Department is just one hideous illustration of how the Democrats opened the door for Trump to posture as an anti-Establishment champion of “the forgotten men and women.” In the bargain, she gave unenthused Democrats a reason to turn to a third-party candidate or stay home.

But it’s one thing for the Democratic Party to drain its own swamp of special interests and another for it to waste time and energy chasing unreachable voters in the base of Trump’s electorate. For all her failings, Clinton received 3 million more votes than Trump and lost the Electoral College by the mere 77,744 votes that cost her the previously blue states of Michigan (which she lost by .2 of a percentage point), Wisconsin (.8 point), and Pennsylvania (.7 point). Of the 208 counties in America that voted for Obama twice and tipped to Trump in 2016, more than three-quarters were in states Clinton won anyway (some by a landslide, like New York) or states that have long been solidly red.

The centrist think tank Third Way is focusing on the Rust Belt in a $20 million campaign that its president, a former Clinton White House aide, says will address the question of how “you restore Democrats as a national party that can win everywhere.” 

Here is one answer that costs nothing: You can’t, and you don’t. The party is a wreck. Post-Obama-Clinton, its most admired national leaders (Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren) are of Social Security age. It rules no branch of federal government, holds only 16 governorships, and controls only 14 state legislatures. The Democrats must set priorities. In a presidential election, a revamped economic program and a new generation of un-Clinton leaders may well win back the genuine swing voters who voted for Trump, whether Democratic defectors in the Rust Belt or upscale suburbanites who just couldn’t abide Hillary. But that’s a small minority of Trump’s electorate. Otherwise, the Trump vote is overwhelmingly synonymous with the Republican Party as a whole.

That makes it all the more a fool’s errand for Democrats to fudge or abandon their own values to cater to the white-identity politics of the hard-core, often self-sabotaging Trump voters who helped drive the country into a ditch on Election Day. They will stick with him even though the numbers say that they will take a bigger financial hit than Clinton voters under the Republican health-care plan. As Trump himself has said, in a rare instance of accuracy, they won’t waver even if he stands in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoots somebody. While you can’t blame our new president for loving “the poorly educated” who gave him that blank check, the rest of us are entitled to abstain. If we are free to loathe Trump, we are free to loathe his most loyal voters, who have put the rest of us at risk.

Liberals now looking to commune with the Trump base should check out the conscientious effort to do exactly that by the Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild. As we learn in her election-year best seller, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, she poured her compassion, her anthropological sensibility, and five years of her life into “a journey to the heart of the American right.” Determined to burst out of her own “political bubble,” Hochschild uprooted herself to the red enclave of Lake Charles, Louisiana, where, as she reports, there are no color-coded recycling bins or gluten-free restaurant entrĂ©es. There she befriended and chronicled tea-party members who would all end up voting for Trump. Hochschild liked the people she met, who in turn reciprocated with a “teasing, good-hearted acceptance of a stranger from Berkeley.” And lest liberal readers fear that she was making nice with bigots in the thrall of their notorious neighbor David Duke, she offers reassurances that her tea-partyers “were generally silent about blacks.” (Around her, anyway.)

Hochschild’s mission was inspired by Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? She wanted “to scale the empathy wall” and “unlock the door to the Great Paradox” of why working-class voters cast ballots for politicians actively opposed to their interests. Louisiana is America’s ground zero for industrial pollution and toxic waste; the stretch of oil and petrochemical plants along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is not known as “cancer alley” for nothing. 

Nonetheless, the kindly natives befriended by Hochschild not only turned out for Trump but have consistently voted for local politicians like Steve Scalise (No. 3 in Paul Ryan’s current House leadership), former senator David Vitter, and former governor Bobby Jindal, who rewarded poison-spewing corporations with tax breaks and deregulation even as Louisiana’s starved public institutions struggled to elevate the health and education of a populace that ranks near the bottom in both among the 50 states. 

Hochschild’s newfound friends, some of them in dire health, have no explanation for this paradox, only lame, don’t–wanna–rock–Big Oil’s–tanker excuses. Similarly unpersuasive is their rationale for hating the federal government, given that it foots the bill for 44 percent of their state’s budget. Everyone who takes these handouts is a freeloader except them, it seems; the government should stop favoring those other moochers (none dare call them black) who, in their view, “cut the line.” Never mind that these white voters who complain about “line cutters” are themselves guilty of cutting the most important line of all — the polling-place line — since they are not subjected to the voter-suppression efforts being inflicted on minorities by GOP state legislatures, the Roberts Supreme Court, and now the Jeff Sessions–led Department of Justice.

In “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class,” a postelection postmortem published to much op-ed attention by the Harvard Business Review (and soon to be published in expanded form as what will undoubtedly be another best-selling book), the University of California law professor Joan C. Williams proposes that other liberals do in essence what Hochschild did. 

“The best advice I’ve seen so far for Democrats is the recommendation that hipsters move to Iowa,” Williams writes — or to any other location in the American plains where “shockingly high numbers of working-class men are unemployed or on disability, fueling a wave of despair deaths in the form of the opioid epidemic.” She further urges liberals to discard “the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite” (epitomized in her view by Hillary Clinton) that leads them to condescend to disaffected working-class whites and “write off blue-collar resentment as racism.”

Hochschild anticipated that Williams directive, too. She’s never smug. But for all her fond acceptance of her new Louisiana pals, and for all her generosity in portraying them as virtually untainted by racism, it’s not clear what such noble efforts yielded beyond a book, many happy memories of cultural tourism, and confirmation that nothing will change anytime soon. Her Louisianans will keep voting for candidates who will sabotage their health and their children’s education; they will not be deterred by an empathic Berkeley visitor, let alone Democratic politicians.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Move over, 20-somethings

"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength." Betty Friedan, American writer, activist, feminist and leading figure in the women's movement in the United States

IT'S WRONG to underestimate anyone's potential at any age. By acclimation, I'm pretty sure we should change the subject of this article's last name from Goodenough to Waybetterthan. Bring on that Nobel Prize!!

From The New York Times:

To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old

By Pagan Kennedy 

April 7, 2017

In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.

Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor’s advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.

John Goodenough, who at 94 has filed a patent application on a new kind of battery. 
Credit Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

We tend to assume that creativity wanes with age. But Dr. Goodenough’s story suggests that some people actually become more creative as they grow older. Unfortunately, those late-blooming geniuses have to contend with powerful biases against them.

“Young people are just smarter,” Mark Zuckerberg pronounced at an event at Stanford in 2007, when he was the 22-year-old chief executive of Facebook. He added, according to a VentureBeat writer, “I only own a mattress,” and then expounded upon the putative correlation between youth and creative power. His logic didn’t exactly make sense (and he later apologized), but his meaning was perfectly clear: Middle-aged people are encumbered by boring possessions (gutters, dental floss, orthopedic shoes) and stale ideas.

Since that speech, Silicon Valley’s youth worship seems to have grown even more feverish. Recently, a 12-year-old inventor named Shubham Banerjee received venture-capital funds from Intel to start his own company.

In such a climate, it’s easy for us middle-aged folk to believe that the great imaginative leaps are behind us, and that innovation belongs to the kids.

On the contrary, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that late blooming is no anomaly. A 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers. Similarly, professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University in Japan, who studied data about patent holders, found that, in the United States, the average inventor sends in his or her application to the patent office at age 47, and that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55.

John P. Walsh, one of the professors, joked that the Patent Office should give a “senior discount” because “there’s clear evidence that people with seniority are making important contributions to invention.”

A study of Nobel physics laureates found that, since the 1980s, they have made their discoveries, on average, at age 50. The study also found that the peak of creativity for Nobel winners is getting higher every year. For many years, oddsmakers have predicted that Dr. Goodenough would win the Nobel Prize, but so far the call from Stockholm has not come. You might call him the Susan Lucci of chemistry. If he finally does prevail, he could be the oldest person ever to receive the Nobel, and a harbinger.

The more I talked to Dr. Goodenough, the more I wondered if his brilliance was directly tied to his age. After all, he has been thinking about energy problems longer than just about anyone else on the planet.

He grew up in the early days of the petroleum age, in a Connecticut farmhouse with a kerosene stove and an icebox for food. As a kid he rode in some of the early cars pioneered by Henry Ford. “The first car the family owned was a Model A,” he told me, with running boards and a lead-acid battery.

In the 1970s, the energy crisis inspired him to imagine how one could store power in tiny packages. Today, we’re still using his lithium-ion technology in our laptops, phones and electric cars. But Dr. Goodenough has long been bothered by the shortcomings of his brainchild, and driven by the need to do better. “One of the things that’s important in the society is to wean ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels, and if we could make an electric car that would be as convenient and as cheap as an internal-combustion engine, we’d get CO2 emissions off the road,” he said.

He believes the lithium-ion battery is too liable to explode, too expensive and too weak to bring us into that future.

Years ago, he decided to create a solid battery that would be safer. Of course, in a perfect world, the “solid-state” battery would also be low-cost and lightweight. Then, two years ago, he discovered the work of Maria Helena Braga, a Portuguese physicist who, with the help of a colleague, had created a kind of glass that can replace liquid electrolytes inside batteries.

Dr. Goodenough persuaded Dr. Braga to move to Austin and join his lab. “We did some experiments to make sure the glass was dry. Then we were off to the races,” he said.

Some of his colleagues were dubious that he could pull it off. But Dr. Goodenough was not dissuaded. “I’m old enough to know you can’t close your mind to new ideas. You have to test out every possibility if you want something new.”

When I asked him about his late-life success, he said: “Some of us are turtles; we crawl and struggle along, and we haven’t maybe figured it out by the time we’re 30. But the turtles have to keep on walking.” This crawl through life can be advantageous, he pointed out, particularly if you meander around through different fields, picking up clues as you go along. Dr. Goodenough started in physics and hopped sideways into chemistry and materials science, while also keeping his eye on the social and political trends that could drive a green economy. “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together,” he said.

He also credits his faith for keeping him focused on his mission to defeat pollution and ditch petroleum. On the wall of his lab, a tapestry of the Last Supper depicts the apostles in fervent conversation, like scientists at a conference arguing over a controversial theory. The tapestry reminds him of the divine power that fuels his mind. “I’m grateful for the doors that have been opened to me in different periods of my life,” he said. He believes the glass battery was just another example of the happy accidents that have come his way: “At just the right moment, when I was looking for something, it walked in the door.”

Last but not least, he credited old age with bringing him a new kind of intellectual freedom. At 94, he said, “You no longer worry about keeping your job.”

Pagan Kennedy is the author of “Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World” and a contributing opinion writer.