Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The State of the Senate

There's always a point at about September-October of the year before an election cycle where you start to realize-the stakes are pretty much set for the Senate.  The House tends to have a lot of last minute additions; look at someone like Stephanie Murphy, who started her campaign in late June of last year and went on to beat a 24-year Republican incumbent in Florida.  Senate campaigns, though, by virtue of most states being comprised of multiple congressional districts, take time to run and usually by the autumn the year before the election, you have your candidates.  Yes, there are cases where this isn't true (Cory Gardner and Heidi Heitkamp both won competitive elections within a year of announcing), but by-and-large most candidates will have announced either by now or by Columbus Day.  As a result, if you're the NRSC or DSCC and don't have a challenger yet in one of these seats, you better get on it quickly.

I've gone with a dozen seats on our list below rather than ten, because I genuinely think we could see a dozen competitive races, depending on the winds of 2018.  No one knows at this point what will happen by the end of the week (the threat of Nuclear War, Nazi rallies in Virginia, and a president who continually finds new ways to embarrass the country on Twitter all show predictions about the political environment continue to be impossible).  That said, there's a couple of things to keep in mind with these races.  One, it is unlikely that Trump will be particularly popular come next year.  Those who don't like him today are going to be hard to win over in the future, and there's still a bit of vulnerability in his numbers as the economy right now is solid-if that falls through, Trump would feel it particularly heavily.  It's also worth noting that all but one of the below seats are in states that Donald Trump won last year-though he won four of them by less than 2-points (making "counting on them to go red" a bit of a stretch if POTUS isn't well-liked), it's doubtful that even by next November Trump will be underwater in North Dakota or West Virginia.  That juxtaposition will make campaigns for both sides particularly tough-push off Trump too much at your peril (just ask Jeff Flake, who may be the most vulnerable senator next cycle to a primary), but hug him too closely you risk linking yourself to a man who is unpredictable and not very loyal.  Republican challengers, in particular, are going to have to toe the line as it's doubtful they'll be able to run far to the right and not get hammered for it by the likes of Stabenow, McCaskill, and Tester when they return to the center.  With that said, I'll assume a pretty bad environment for Trump, but not a great one for Democrats, and here's the rankings:

Honorable Mention: I doubt that Tim Kaine gets a serious challenger, but the closeness of the Virginia gubernatorial election does remind us that Clinton barely won the state last year, and it wasn't so long ago that this was ruby red.  If Reps. Barbara Comstock or Dave Brat were to enter (perhaps forgoing a tough House race), watch out.  If the national environment gets super bad, Rep. Beto O'Rourke may have made a brilliant tactical move in Texas (keep in mind Joe Donnelly succeeded in a similar way in 2012), but it's hard to picture an incumbent senator losing in Texas, and Ted Cruz is seeking a second term with few challengers in sight.  The Alabama Senate primaries are tonight, and we could end up with controversial Judge Roy Moore as the GOP nominee, but the Democrats need to resist the urge to nominate a guy with a famous name (Robert Kennedy, Jr., not to be confused with the late president's nephew as he's actually a random marketing executive), and then US Attorney Doug Jones needs a bit of luck against Moore.  Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't include the possibility that John McCain could end up vacating his seat due to his diagnosis of brain cancer.  An open seat in Arizona would be a major battle and certainly warrant inclusion on the list, though considering Jeff Flake's approval ratings in the Grand Canyon State, I wouldn't say it would be an easier get for the Democrats than his seat.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
12. Wisconsin

It's weird to think of Wisconsin in #12 behind, say, PA or MI, but that's because so far first-term Sen. Tammy Baldwin has avoided getting a major challenger.  People like Rep. Sean Duffy and Gov. Scott Walker have declined runs at the seat, and the Republicans have struggled to get a candidate in a race that Baldwin would probably have a leg-up on to begin with; after all, this is hardly a ruby-red state even if Trump won it, and she proved in 2012 she can take on giants (defeating long-time Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in a race she was initially assumed to lose).  The GOP is probably hoping that State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald will make the plunge, and he's their best remaining candidate, but he has yet to announce-could be tough for them if he doesn't, particularly with so many other juicy targets.  Keep in mind that sometimes races just get away from you even if they initially felt competitive (Bill Nelson in 2006 comes to mind, as does Claire McCaskill in 2012). (Previous Ranking: 9)

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA)
11. Pennsylvania

Though it's not official yet, it does appear that the Republicans may have scored their biggest surprise recruiting victory of the cycle, as Rep. Lou Barletta seems likely to challenge two-term Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) in the Keystone State.  Casey wasn't really on my radar, to be honest.  Of the four states Trump won by less than 2-points in 2016 that host Democratic senators, Casey was the one I was least concerned about, both because he remains popular in his state and because it didn't appear likely that a serious challenger would go after his seat.  Barletta is very much in the mode of Trump, taking particularly hard-right stances on immigration, and Trump's appeal among blue-collar workers in manufacturing and mining industries makes Casey a bit more vulnerable than in the past.  Still, the burden of proof remains on Barletta, who has lost close races before (see 2008 House race, where he just missed against Paul Kanjorski). (Previous Ranking: N/A)

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
10. Michigan

The big question in Michigan right now is whether or not Kid Rock is actually going to take a run against Debbie Stabenow.  While the musician has an avalanche of easy attacks against him (a Google search could give you a cornucopia of material that would sink most campaigns), Trump proved in 2016 that he can win Michigan with similarly-large tabloid-ready material in his background.  It's worth noting, of course, that Stabenow is hardly Clinton, even if the career politician vs. celebrity lines are easy to draw.  After all, she's won statewide in the Great Lakes State three times already (something Clinton hadn't done), and knows the state much better than Kid Rock in terms of what levers to pull.  Plus, she'll be prepared for him in a way that Clinton simply wasn't (losing Michigan wasn't on her radar-it's on Stabenow's).  If he's out, this falls on the list as while the Republicans have decent candidates (Supreme Court Justice Bob Young is running, Rep. Fred Upton and State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville are rumored), none of them seem particularly strong against Stabenow in the way that Kid Rock would be. (Previous Ranking: N/A)

State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R-OH)
9. Ohio

Sen. Sherrod Brown should be vulnerable.  This is a state that, after going for President Obama twice, made a hard-right swing to Donald Trump, giving the Republicans their biggest presidential victory margin in the Buckeye State since 1988.  However, I do wonder if the Republicans might have bet on the wrong horse here.  A rematch between Brown and State Treasurer Josh Mandel shouldn't be discounted-Mandel can raise huge sums of money and candidates don't matter nearly as much if there's a rightward swing in a state (see Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu's big losses in 2014 for examples), but Mandel lost pretty handily in 2012 and it's rare that challengers win in rematches.  Brown is rumored to be interested in a presidential race in 2020, and could be formidable if he wins here-the GOP may be wishing they'd gone with someone like Jim Renacci or Mary Taylor in a few years if Brown takes this by high single-digits and then pushes straight on into 2020 on the back of a victory in a quintessential swing state.

Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL)
8. Florida

In my opinion, the #1 question remaining in the 2018 Senate elections is whether Gov. Bill Scott, a multi-millionaire who has won the Sunshine State twice now against very formidable Democratic candidates, will try to take on Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida institution in his own right.  Were Scott to run, he would be able to self-fund even in a state as expensive as Florida, and Nelson would have his tightest race since 2000.  But there's also the possibility that he skips out on the race, perhaps shifting his gears back to the private sector or a spot in the Trump administration-Nelson would be a tougher challenger than Alex Sink or Charlie Crist, and Scott might be ready to call it quits after eight years in the statehouse.  If he skips, this race goes down the list; while I'm sure a number of Florida Republicans would take a look at the list (perhaps some of the men who were running for Rubio's seat before he returned?), Bill Nelson has won this state multiple times before even against sitting members of Congress and Trump won this state by less than 2-points. (Previous Ranking: 7)

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)
7. Arizona

Sen. Jeff Flake has had a rough couple of months.  While he's been relatively supportive of President Trump's agenda, he's continued to attack his mannerisms and public statements, and has become the President's #1 target for a primary challenge as a result.  It's not entirely clear that Trump will endorse Flake, something largely unheard of for a president to do against an incumbent senator, and former State Sen. Kelli Ward is trying to take advantage of the situation by going full throttle against Flake.  Admittedly, Ward is general election poison but that occasionally is a pill primaries swallow (see also Christine O'Donnell in 2010).  Flake's political troubles (he's not popular with Democrats either, so crossover votes could be tough to get), got worse recently when it appeared likely that Rep. Kyrsten Sinema will take the plunge and challenge him.  Sinema has long been rumored to be interested in making the jump to higher office, but has turned down such opportunities in the past.  Were she to run, she'd be very formidable and likely get the field largely to herself (Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who was rumored to be running for the seat himself, likely will run for Sinema's open House seat if she goes in on the Senate).  With likely support from Emily's List in a state Trump only won by 3.5 points, Sinema shouldn't be counted out even if it's been decades since a Democrat's won a Senate seat here. (Previous Ranking: 9)

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)
6. Montana

For the most part, the Republicans have gotten quality candidates in pretty much every race even though for a while recruitment seemed like a bit of a challenge.  Montana, however, has been something of a letdown.  First Donald Trump poached their best candidate, then-Rep. Ryan Zinke, when he was appointed as Secretary of the Interior.  Then Attorney General Tim Fox declined the race, and Rep. Greg Gianforte became damaged goods (he might get primaried in 2018 for his own reelection).  While the Republicans will probably go with State Auditor Matt Rosendale, he's nowhere near as good as the other challengers to Sen. Jon Tester would have been, and as as a result I'm moving Montana down a couple of notches on this list.  Tester is one of five Democrats that are running in states that Trump has won by double-digits, but he's very good at campaigning and relating back to his constituents, and has dispatched strong Republicans in past cycles (a sitting senator and sitting representative)-a little-known State Auditor is going to have to hope for a lot of Trump help nationally to dispatch him, and Trump hasn't really proven that he can have coattails when he's not on the ballot yet. (Previous Ranking: 4)

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-WV)
5. West Virginia

I can never quite tell if primary challenges are good things or bad things.  For every example where it clearly got you the worst candidate possible (R-Nevada 2010, R-Delaware 2010), there's a case where it was a godsend (D-Montana 2006, R-Iowa 2014), giving the party a superstar.  West Virginia could host one of those important primaries this cycle, with Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey both fighting it out to take on the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, Joe Manchin.  Manchin is hardly the Bernie Sanders' wing of the party's favorite person, but he's still very popular in West Virginia, and though Gov. Jim Justice recently switched parties, there's no indication that Manchin will do the same (plus, it's highly possible that Justice will still endorse his longtime friend even if he's switched parties).  Manchin is in a tough spot, but considering the ruby red appeal of the state, he doesn't give off a Mark Pryor vibe just yet-particularly if Trump is nationally in the doldrums in 2018, it's possible Manchin wins by the same fine but unremarkable margins he's done before. (Previous Ranking: 6)

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
4. North Dakota

The first question here is whether or not Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is running for reelection.  She's certainly fundraising like she is (she has over $3 million in the bank), but Democrats should have high anxiety until she makes it official, as no one can win this race for the left but her.  If she does run, she surely will be in a tough spot in a state that Trump won by a huge margin, but that's not a guarantee.  The Republicans in the state don't really have a great candidate on-deck (Rep. Kevin Cramer continually puts his foot in his mouth, and no one else who is looking at the race has won statewide like Heitkamp, who's won four out of five times).  Yes, a random state legislator could wander in and take the seat ala Thom Tillis in 2014, but Tillis had the added advantage of a strong national environment favoring his party.  Eliminate that, and he probably would have lost as Hagan was running a stellar campaign, something Heitkamp did in 2012.  It's also worth noting that not long ago ND regularly sent Democrats to Congress while electing Republicans to the White House.  Could Heitkamp be part of that legacy?  Honestly, I could see her losing by ten points if the state aligns to what it's "supposed to be" given the end of ticketsplitting, or North Dakota's popular tradition of voting for likable populists continues and she wins by ten points in the opposite direction.  But first, this seat needs to officially nail down its candidates (Previous Ranking: 2)

Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN)
3. Indiana

While there's no race out yet that I think any incumbent has "lost," exactly, I do feel that the Top 3 races are true tossups, where I could actually see the incumbent being more vulnerable in a few months than the challenger, particularly the top race where I'd actually predict the opposite party to hold the seat at this point.  Indiana is on the cusp there as Sen. Joe Donnelly, let's be honest, is a senator by a bit of a fluke.  After Richard Mourdock clobbered longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary that year, he looked likely to win the seat until he had his own Todd Akin moment, giving Donnelly who had run a respectable but probably-losing campaign at that point, the ability to win.  Donnelly presumably won't luck into such a situation again, but might gain from a messy primary between Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, as well as State Rep. Mike Braun who is independently-wealthy and could be a wild card in the race (and there's still rumblings of former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard jumping in).  A messy primary is what helped Donnelly out six years ago, and he'll have a better chance against an actual person than a generic Republican, but I do wonder if Donnelly might be one of those accidental senators ala Scott Brown and Mark Kirk in recent years who can't make it to Round 2. (Previous Ranking: 2)

Attorney General Josh Hawley (R-MO)
2. Missouri

Sen. Claire McCaskill is both A) my favorite member of the US Senate and B) famously good at campaigning.  You'd have to be to have defeated both an incumbent governor and senator in previous campaigns, and to somehow pull off a miracle in 2012 when you'd be written off as politically dead, all-the-while eventually delivering a double-digit margin of victory against a sitting congressman.  It's doubtful that McCaskill will be so lucky this time, but it's worth noting that she's already had a bit of fortune in that Reps. Ann Wagner and Vicky Hartzler have both jumped out of the race for the Senate, meaning that McCaskill will probably end up against Attorney General Josh Hawley, a relative newcomer to statewide politics.  I say fortunate for McCaskill not because Hawley has a legislative record (McCaskill would have been able to link Wagner or Hartzler more easily to unpopular bills in Missouri like President Trump's healthcare bill), but because Hawley campaigned specifically against candidates who keep jumping up the ladder of politics, something he certainly did by not even finishing his first term before running for the Senate.  This will be a tough race, as McCaskill is loathed as much as she's beloved, but she's a very apt politician whom it would be foolish to count out, and Hawley is green-behind-the-ears when it comes to races of this nature.  Could be interesting... (Previous Ranking: 2)

Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)
1. Nevada

No politician in the country suffered more during the Republican healthcare process more than Sen. Dean Heller.  Heller stuck his neck out multiple times for President Trump and Mitch McConnell, going on record with the Skinny Repeal as a Yes vote all-the-while then ending up on the losing side of an unpopular bill when John McCain came in at the last second and voted against it.  Heller therefore gained the ire of Democrats, who will be integral if he wants to win in a state that Hillary Clinton won (the only one on this list), and Republicans, who found him to be too milquetoast in support of President Trump, and who now have a challenger to Heller in Danny Tarkanian (a bit of a joke in Nevada political circles as he's lost five general elections in the past 13 years, though it's worth noting he's won most of his primary bids), which could mean he has to run right to even make it to the general.  The Democrats could have a problem on their hands if Rep. Dina Titus jumps into the Democratic Primary, since Rep. Jacky Rosen is already running and has had the establishment rally around her; Titus has risked Harry Reid's wrath before (Reid is backing Rosen, and despite being out of politics is still a major force in Silver State politics), and would be a welcome distraction for Dean Heller, but it's worth noting two things.  First, Titus stood down in 2016 when Catherine Cortez Masto ran, avoiding a primary and staying in the House, and two, either of these women could beat Heller in a general election so it may not matter in terms of partisan balance which emerges victorious.  There are ways Heller could win, but he's certainly running out of them. (Previous Ranking: 5)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Thoughts on Food Network Star

I quit watching reality television right at the beginning of the craze.  I think, with the homosexually-mandatory requirement of My Life on the D-List, I haven't watched a reality TV show religiously since Fantasia Barrino was a household name.  I guess, for me, it was always a bit of a disappointment.  The singing competitions felt pretty repetitive, and really there was diminishing returns past the time they got their first validation (the only part of The Voice I like is the part where they are auditioning), and other shows were vapid and appalling.

I guess my main objection to the format is I don't like the concept of drama when it's manufactured on a show.  I don't like it, quite frankly, when it's in a scripted situation-at least the kind of drama that is so necessary on a reality or competition-based show.  I usually fast-forward when there are cringe-worthy levels of awkward on an episode of, say, Modern Family or Veep.  I find it embarrassing and awful for the people involved.  I love dramatic television but not when it feels forced or when it's constantly making something more complicated than it should be.

As a result, I don't watch shows ranging from Drag Race to Keeping Up with the Kardashians to The Bachelor even while they have been an essential part of the online zeitgeist over the past decade.  Every time I've watched (I've seen at least parts of all of those shows) I get bored and think that everything other than the actual competition is, well, pointless.  But about two months ago I was bored on a Sunday (the SVU marathon had entered the post-Stabler era and I was having none of it), and I decided to catch an episode of Food Network Star.  Lo-and-behold, I was hooked, and wanted to share some of the things I found after a long sabbatical from reality TV.

Jason Smith
1. It Still Feels Pretty Manufactured

The show itself, for those unfamiliar, is a cooking competition where the ultimate prize is going to be getting your own Food Network series.  It's a really cool idea for a show, and a smart one for Food Network-it gets to test the waters through social media as to whom the audience is responding toward, and at the end they get the best-of-the-best, someone who has already proven himself or herself (though on FNS, very much himself as the show is stunningly lacking in diversity).  Guy Fieri, one of the channel's most successful and ubiquitous presences, came out of the show, so it can actually result in a major personality on the channel.

However, it still feels wholly manufactured.  It's easy to tell, for example, who is going home each week based on the way the show is cut.  Knowing what are clearly the hot buttons for hosts Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentiis make it relatively easy to figure out what will go wrong, and the foreshadowing in talking head soundbytes mean that, say, a super hot chili or undercooked meatballs being someone's undoing is spelled out in bright red letters.

Additionally, the show seems pretty biased as well, and kind of boring in that it's easy to tell who was going to be in the Final 3 for weeks now.  Despite, say, Matthew or Amy perhaps adding something that would be lacking for the network (more on that later), I've known for weeks that Jason, Cory, and Rusty would be in the finals, and unless something staggering happens tonight, Jason will surely take the crown (which is appropriate, as he's by-far the best of those remaining, though Cory I think would be an interesting option if he were to get some more charisma as his dishes are usually the most interesting).  That predictability haunts most shows, and doesn't seem to have gotten better as reality television has gone from a cottage industry to a fully-fledged cornerstone of television.

Matthew Grunwald
2. The Best Part is Getting to Know the Chefs

The coolest part of the show, genuinely, is getting to know the chefs and seeing what they end up doing.  I will admit that Matthew was my favorite of the bunch, and not just because I have a crush on him (but seriously-look at how cute he is!).  I like Cory's dishes better sometimes, and I think Amy is really fun (and it's hard to dislike Jason even though he's almost annoyingly perfect and an unbeatable frontrunner), but Matthew sticks out to me because he's unique.  Yes, he's occasionally a bit abrasive, but honestly he's a breath of fresh air and his dishes feel less stuffy and fresher than some of the other ideas that are coming up.

However, the coolest part of this show is getting to see the way that chefs really think and work and react.  The quickness and encyclopedic aspect of some of these people when they are given, say, okra or beets and expected to turn them into a party or dessert is intense.  I am very much a Food Network fan, but a fan "in the morning"-I don't watch Chopped, I watch Ree Drummond or Ina Garten or Giada make themed dishes in their beautiful kitchens and then attempt to recreate them in my own.  The cooking, therefore, is the best part of this and by-and-large the show lets the chefs pick cool-themed dishes that reflect their personalities, while still keeping them on task (much like a morning show on the channel).  I have to say that there were several dishes and ideas that I'm planning on incorporating into my kitchen in the near future.  Through this, I also get to know the chefs and start to establish that personal connection that I have had with people like de Laurentiis, whom I have been inviting to cook in my apartment via the TV for a decade now, and who has taught me so many things in the kitchen that she feels like an old friend.

Giada de Laurentiis and Booby Flay
3. It's a Weird Study in Corporate Culture

Perhaps the most meta and fascinating thing about the show, however, isn't that we're watching these chefs try to pursue their dreams-it's getting to know the judges' opinions and by-proxy the Food Network itself.  While the show has produced one major, indisputable juggernaut (Guy Fieri), by-and-large the rest of the winners haven't been nearly as successful on the channel, though of course some (like Jeff Mauro) do have their own programs.  But you see in whom they are choosing (because you can't tell me that Flay and de Laurentiis aren't in part getting orders from corporate here) what the network is looking for right now.

It can't be a coincidence, after all, that our three top chefs this year are white-southern males on the channel.  Whether it's because they never quite replaced Paula Deen's fanbase or because they see more and more people wanting southern elements in their dishes, Food Network clearly wants a southern male chef, perhaps one who can try and take some of the heat off of Fieri, who has come under fire in recent years but is too popular on the channel to cast off.  It's also clear that they want a specific type of chef and a specific type of show; the chefs are docked points for not relating the dish to themselves or for not "telling a story" with their food as is the formula for pretty much every single direct-to-camera cooking series on the show (similar to those that made both Flay and de Laurentiis) insanely wealthy and popular.

In doing this, though, they make the cardinal mistake of not looking forward or outside-of-the-box when it comes to a business model.  Other channels, specifically online video-hosting sites like YouTube have started to create Millennial-endorsed celebrity chefs of their own.  People like Hannah Hart (who is getting her own travel-style series on the network starting tomorrow) and Rosanno Pansino have become major young talents in the celebrity food world, complete with their own cookbooks, but have done so less by relating to what they want to bring home for their kids, and more about mixing in acting/entertainment/activism into what they're doing.  Hart regularly drinks (or acts drunk-it's sometimes hard to tell) in her videos, but instead of just talking about herself, she instead relates her dish to social issues like safe sex or gender equality and regularly does improvisational comedy while cooking.  Pansino, who has nearly 9 million followers on YouTube, creates cute pastry-decorating while being intensely optimistic and cheerful, and frequently creating party ideas through Star Wars and Game of Thrones-themed dishes that millennials can incorporate into the "experience, not an object" theme that has made travel such a vital part of our Instagrams.

All of this is to say that Food Network doesn't go outside the box here, instead picking someone who would be more comfortable co-hosting with Alton Brown than perhaps creating a new approach to the network.  People like Amy Pottinger, who is hilarious and frequently self-deprecating (the funniest of the group), gets ignored because she's not as polished, but probably would be a huge hit on YouTube and I suspect would get a pretty devoted following quite quickly.  Matthew Grunwald may be pushier than the rest of the contestants, but he has an undeniable energy and ease with social media that, again, I think his "beach party" style recipes might make for an atypical, but hit show on the channel. This is all to say-it feels more like the show is trying to feed into the Food Network brand than pick the most likely actual "star" of the series.  That mentality works in the short run but you might be denying a talent a chance to grow.  Jason Smith or Rusty Hamlin are interchangeable with a dozen other personalities on the channel in a way Grunwald or Pottinger are not, and it's worth noting that de Laurentiis, one of the channel's biggest successes, got panned when she first started on the channel.

Those are my three main thoughts on the show-overall I like it and will probably come back again, though I doubt this is an opening of the floodgates for reality TV.  Share in the comments your thoughts on the series, Food Network in general, and what reality TV you love most!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Ranting On..."Alone Time" and "Being Alone"

I have always wanted to have curly hair.  I remember being about fifteen and this boy in my class that I was just head-over-heels for had dark, curly hair, and I thought he was so beautiful, and would pray that my hair would take on a similar finesse.  Sadly, I do not have curly hair, or particularly impressive hair even when I add product (though as I've just entered my mid-thirties, the fact that I have hair at all may be the more impressive achievement of a man my age).  I will never have the same luscious, bountiful hair that he had at that age, and I have made my piece with such a fact.

This is not an article about my first real crush on a boy (though I may tackle that at some point-maybe next Pride Month), but instead on the attitude that I remember people having about his hair.  Most didn't like it, and wanted him to cut it off.  Curly-haired people themselves, in my experience, frequently complain about how curly their hair is, and how much work it is to keep it straight, and how much easier life would be if they had straight hair like mine.  They pretend to be jealous, but here there's a case where they're just pretending to be jealous-that they don't actually want straight hair, but instead just want to complain as curly-haired people have the option of having it both ways.  It's very easy for someone with naturally curly hair to make it straight-the guy I had a crush on when I was fifteen would just chop it off and "presto!" it was straight again, and women who have curly hair can easily straighten it.  But, me, I will never have curly hair like they do-even if I tried, it wouldn't come across naturally like theirs does.  They get to have their cake and eat it too, and they still complain about it.

I find that this happens more and more in my life when it comes to a subject less trivial than curly hair or not, and that's the subject of being alone.  Frequently I find that people who are in relationships or have families are saying that they wish they could have a life more similar to mine, where they might get a night away from the rigors of their relatives and perhaps just veg out or eating a box of Milano Cookies or order Indian food without any regrets or controversy.  I get this (truly, I do-I don't want this article to be confused with me disparaging people needing time for themselves, as I'm a big fan), and know that these complaints from people who don't live alone are meant to be affirming of me as a single person and don't remotely come from a place of malice or being unkind, but I will state that they break my heart, both because I desperately want a life more similar to theirs, where alone time might be hard but not impossible, as opposed to mine, and because the glamorization of my "independent" life makes it seem like me being unhappy in it is selfish and unreasonable.

The reality of my independence is far from sexy, I can assure you.  I spend an inordinately large amount of my life by myself.  An admittedly unhealthy amount of time by myself.  In an average week, outside of work, I spend time with one person who knows my name (meaning someone that isn't a ticket taker or a cashier at the supermarket), and that's my trainer, someone I have to pay to spend time with me.  My closest friends I hang out with 3-4 times a year at best, and I see my relatives a bit more but not by much.  I have no consistent group of friends, no persons whom I might count on to invite me out for a birthday party or a random Saturday night activity or a monthly book club.  With the exception of my trainer, and technically Easter/Christmas, there is no consistent human interaction I have with another person outside of my job.  And with advents like Fandango and self-checkout lines becoming increasingly necessary, I have less and less interaction with even strangers.  It is a regular weekend that I will have said, in-person, less than twenty words to another person, my only communication being texting people I barely see or tweeting people I don't even know.

I am a deeply introverted person, perhaps by necessity, but I cannot pretend this lack of social time doesn't affect me and my sense of self-worth, particularly since this isn't how my life has always been.  I had few friends growing up, but grew up in a very loving family; I was never one of those gay kids who rebelled against his parents or had an impoverished relationship with them while hiding a secret.  In college, I had loads of friends, enough so that that translated into my post-collegiate career.  In my twenties, some friends started to dissipate but I had work friends who could be part of my life, and whom I met with outside of my work for cooking nights or happy hours.  And I had dates (lots of them), which filled up a great deal of my time even though they weren't always successful.

But about a year ago, all of this stopped.  I went from having three recurring dinners down to zero, and only have a once-every-three months happy hour with two friends that I can count on for consistent social interaction.  More-and-more at work I have been distanced from my longtime friends through increased busyness and them moving further away from me in their careers, so I don't have the consistent enjoyment of seeing people who know me as a person and not just as an email address.  I barely go on dates anymore, particularly after an event about six months ago that shook my self-esteem to the point where I just don't want to go on dates anymore.  So as a result, what was once a fulfilling (meager for some, but  not for me) social life has turned into a near constant barrage of nothingness-television and cleaning and paying of bills, but nothing that sets me apart.

Because when you have no one to impress, even the most ambitious of souls will begin to deteriorate in terms of wanting to better themselves.  I used to force myself to be better in my hobbies, in my life, pushing myself to compete with my friend's life updates, wanting to better myself similarly to them.  Without anyone to impress, it's hard to do things just for yourself; if you want proof, think of how many people have hobbies literally no one else is aware of-we all want someone to see our quilt or our novel or our garden.  Without other people to root you on, you start to just go home and watch TV and eat and go to bed and go to work and go home and watch TV and eat and life is only interrupted by the rare jolt of a social invitation or a holiday that will make you feel valued.  Being alone is not confused for loneliness by people who have a regular family life or people whom they spend regular time with because they don't see the world that way, in the same way that curly-haired people know that the "straight hair" is only temporary.  But the reality is that what you're jealous of is something you don't want forever-you want it for an instance.  So please don't say you're jealous of me-wish that you had some time to yourself, but don't pretend that my alone time is the same as yours.  By doing so it invalidates the biggest difference between us-that you get to choose when the alone time ends, and for me it just continues.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What Would It Take for Susan Collins to Switch Parties?

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)
As a general rule, I try to avoid clickbait articles (loyal readers might note, "lately you just avoid writing articles," but well, you run my life and see if you can do better).  As a rule, I think they're kind of mean, and sort of feed into the "Fake News" aspect of the internet right now that is so en vogue in being mocked, but isn't entirely untrue.  But there has been something on my mind lately that I've wanted to discuss the logistics of on the blog, and considering the actions of the past week, I think might not be the worst idea to discuss now, and that is this: would a US Senator, specifically Susan Collins, ever consider switching parties in the new era of Trump?

I want to note, first and foremost, that this isn't some sort of insider information-it is speculation, and a bit of research into why senators typically switch parties; I don't personally know if this is a thought that has crossed Collins' mind in the past seven months since her party took over total control of Washington.  But I doubt she hasn't at least considered at some point.  After all, Susan Collins is in a unique position where a party switch might not hurt here in the slightest in her home state, and perhaps even could help her in the long run.

You might be wondering why I picked Collins specifically, and not, say, Joe Manchin or Lisa Murkowski.  Manchin, I think, will stay Democratic because he has already and in 2018 it'd be difficult for him to A) make it out of a primary against Republicans who consider people like Thad Cochran or Orrin Hatch to be too conservative and B) 2018, on-paper, seems like it would be a good year for the Democrats as midterms are usually strong for the party out-of-power, particularly when the president is unpopular.  Murkowski, on the other hand, may have some moderate streaks when it comes to education and healthcare, but is very conservative on other issues like the environment.  Plus, she's from a ruby red state that even when they have a Democrat they like (Mark Begich) they throw them out of office.  It makes more sense for her to continue to be an independent for the time being, knowing that she's personally popular enough in her home state (and has beaten primary challengers twice now) to weather pretty much any storms.

Collins, however, is a different case all-together.  She's one of only three incumbent Republican senators from a state that Hillary Clinton won (the other two being Dean Heller and Cory Gardner, both pretty reliable conservatives on most issues).  As a result, the votes are there for a Democrat to successfully win the state, and indeed her fellow senator is an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats (Angus King).  She's insanely popular in the state, to the point where she's able to defy Democrats in good years like beating Rep. Tom Allen in 2008-she regularly grabs crossover votes, and it's not hard to see that she could do it the opposite way.  Plus, she wouldn't run into a situation where she'd easily be primaried from the left here-she seems to be the sort of politician who just wins, period, a rarity in today's political world.  And perhaps just as importantly (though not entirely-politicians who make it as high in the world of politics as Collins first think of reelection), she's pretty moderate on a host of issues.

Just look at the evidence.  She's pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and is against Trump's travel ban.  She supports campaign finance law reform, and supports trade in Cuba.  She opposed Mitch McConnell's actions on Merrick Garland, and is relatively moderate on education issues, voting against Betsy DeVos' confirmation and has offered multiple bills through the years to help teachers.  She voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the only Republican left in Congress to do so).  She is far to the left of even some Democrats on environmental issues on a range of topics from recently killing a bill to drill on public lands, supporting the CLEAR Act, and voting against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt.  And of course this past week she joined Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski in killing the "skinny repeal" bill of the Affordable Care Act.  Hell, she didn't even vote for Donald Trump, and has been caught on tape insinuating that she's worried about Trump's capacity as president.

Admittedly this feels like cherry-picking in a way as there are issues (specifically economic ones) that Collins is a conservative on, but her voting record would hardly be out of place in the Democratic Party and on many issues she'd vote with the party more reliably than Joe Manchin or Heidi Heitkamp (her most recent ACU score is actually lower than Manchin's).  But the question is more why would she switch?  She's currently sought after on every major piece of legislation-I wouldn't doubt that she's the first phone call Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer makes when a major issue is brought to the Senate floor.  Switching parties she'd probably have less sway with McConnell, and she'd be in the minority party.  For evidence as to why she might switch parties, it's worth examining some of the more recent men to switch allegiance in the Senate.

Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT)
Disregarding the strange case of Bob Smith (who kept switching parties throughout 1999 for reasons unknown to I think even him to this day, we have five senators in the past 25 years who have switched parties, most of them for reasons that Collins could appreciate if the national environment remains the same.  The first two were Richard Shelby and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, both of went from Republican to Democrat in the wake of the Republican Revolution of 1994.  Both men went to the right after the Republicans won reelection, gaining more power and aligning more fully with their states on a presidential level (keep in mind that at the time Colorado was a Republican state, and Bill Clinton was very unpopular).  Next up was the most famous party-switch of the modern era, Jim Jeffords of Vermont becoming an Independent who caucused with the Democrats, and in the process making the Democrats briefly the majority party.  All three of these men claimed that their party had left them and they felt ill-at-ease within their own caucus.  The two remaining senators were Joe Lieberman, who switched to Independent after losing a primary in 2006 to Ned Lamont but caucused with the Democrats (but was a continual thorn in the side of Harry Reid), and Arlen Specter, who switched parties in 2009 after realizing he probably wouldn't be reelected as a Republican (as he couldn't survive a primary).

Looking at these men, you can see that there is some argument to be made that Collins might switch parties.  For starters, it's hard to argue that she's to the left of her party on virtually all major issues that go through the Senate, similar to most of these men save Lieberman and Smith.  Like Shelby & Campbell, she probably stands a better shot of winning in a blue state like Maine as a Democrat in the future than as a Republican, particularly in 2020 when she'll have to run on the same ticket as Donald Trump, something I'm sure she's loathing having to do (lest we forget, Collins is only 64-she could have another 20 years in the Senate if she plays her cards right, and she seems to genuinely love being a senator).  And it's worth noting that none of these men stayed with the same exact voting record after their party switches-Jeffords and Specter moved decidedly to the left after they became Democrats, while Richard Shelby, still a senator today, is unrecognizable as a former Democrat.  Collins, particularly on votes where she's "troubled" publicly but ultimately toes a pretty moderate line, would have full range to simply vote against conservative orthodoxy that she disagrees with, not having to worry about Mitch McConnell if she were a Democrat.

What would it take for Collins to switch, then?  I think the scenario would most likely play out in 2019.  Let's say (and this is a bit speculative as it'll be a tough sell), the Democrats hold all of their seats in a bad midterm for President Trump, and pick up Nevada (probable) or an Arizona seat (less probable, but not out of the question).  That would make the Senate 50/50, similar to the situation posed to Jim Jeffords.  Collins has had to put up with Donald Trump as POTUS for two years, and is now going to be facing constant pressure from the White House and Mitch McConnell to stay in-line with the Republicans.  She also knows she'll have to run in a Clinton state two years later for the Senate in a political environment where ticket-splitting is an endangered species, and every time she sides with Trump on a major issue will be used against her.  It's not difficult to see her wanting to back herself (and her state's voters) more in this situation than a president she clearly cannot stand.  This situation includes a lot of ifs (it's hard to see Collins switching while the GOP is still in the majority or her vote won't decide the majority), but it's not impossible, and based on party-switching history, no one looks like a better candidate for it right now than Susan Collins.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Could Kid Rock Actually Win?

Kid Rock (R-MI, apparently)
In the past week, one of the most popular topics of conversation amongst the political chattering class has been the "is he actually running?" Senate campaign of Kid Rock in Michigan.  The singer, whose real name is Robbie Richie, has launched a website against three-term incumbent US Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat whom Chuck Schumer will surely need to win reelection if he has any hope of taking a Senate majority in 2018 or 2020.  Some have even gone so far as to say Richie would be the "prohibitive favorite" in the primary or the general, a shocking statement but in light of Donald Trump's recent victory one that sends shivers down the spines of Democratic pundits across the country.  A (dubious) poll even shows Richie leading Stabenow by four points, but any poll that has a three-term US Senator that has no scandals suddenly with 44% undecided is absurd (there's no way in hell that Debbie Stabenow is only getting 26% in Michigan short of her wearing a Packers jersey to a Lions game).  But the question is-who is right?  Is Richie a political force to be reckoned with, or is Stabenow lucking out by having him in the race?  The answer, like most of politics, lies somewhere in the middle, but I want to make three points about this potential contest before things get absurd and every Z-Grade celebrity is suddenly heralded as the next Donald Trump.

1. Yes, Kid Rock Could Win

I think any Democrat who laughs and cheers with Richie now in the race (if he is in the race-no one can entirely tell for sure if this is legitimate or just a ploy to sell merchandise) clearly was in a coma for the past two years.  It's obvious now that Donald Trump was a force that no one in the Republican Primary could acknowledge was as big as he was, and that Hillary Clinton shouldn't have hoped to run against (in reality, Clinton probably would have stood the best chance against the initial frontrunner Jeb Bush, as they were so similar in terms of background, which is what the race became about, even though they diverge greatly on politics).  Trump proved that a mountain of opposition research, dozens of political missteps, and a tenuous grasp on public policy all are not a problem if you have no shame, are willing to demonize your opponent in cruel and typically out-of-bounds ways, and throw red meat at your base while your party is fearful of defying you.  That's a lesson that Richie could learn and duplicate, and one I suspect more-and-more candidates will give a try in the coming years until it backfires horribly in a winnable race (even longtime politicians like Mo Brooks seem to be employing it).

Richie could conceivably tap into the angst against Washington by claiming to be a man-of-the-people (that grew up rich and is now a millionaire, but that clearly wasn't an issue for Trump), and calling Stabenow a career politician, which considering she's now served in Congress for twenty years isn't an entirely unfair attack, and is a good line even if it might be a stupid one (that's an argument for another day).  Richie won't hurt his personal brand by degrading the senator on the stump, and he can rest confident in knowing that Stabenow is too classy to stoop to some of the attacks he'll be comfortable leveling, making the argument that she doesn't "relate" to the common people all that much easier to bloom.  He can retreat to the world of popular music after this run with little impact to his career (where mistakes are quickly forgiven) and it's not like he's burning up the Billboard charts right now-this might actually help his singing career.  All of this is to say-take him seriously.  This is a state Trump won (marginally, but still), and Stabenow shouldn't take anything for granted, even against a man whom it's preposterous to think of succeeding the likes of Stephen Douglas and Henry Clay.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
2. Trump Can't Just Be Duplicated

That being said, it has to also be acknowledged that Donald Trump's success cannot just be "duplicated."  If this were the case, every celebrity in the midst of a career down swing would be in Congress right now.  Yes, you can point to Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Franken, and admittedly the threshold for celebrity candidates continues to be broken, but also on that list were Norman Mailer, Shirley Temple, and Linda McMahon.  Fame is a foot-in-the-door, not a magical key.

Let's examine, of course, that Richie isn't running across the country, and that Stabenow now will have a bogeyman that Hillary Clinton did-Donald Trump himself.  Stabenow will be able to use Trump to scare off tenuous voters who might want to vote for Richie to "send a message" or as a bit of a lark since it won't matter anyway.  The closeness of the presidential election in 2016 (Michigan would know, they were the closest state Trump won), shows that nightmare scenarios do occasionally play out, and Stabenow can use that a cudgel.  It's quite possible that had people actually thought Trump could win, he might not have.  I haven't seen polling on this (I don't know how you'd poll it), but multiple interviews held after the election indicated a similar sort of "Brexit" moment where people had instant regret for not voting or for swinging to the winning side of the fence.  Michigan, a blue state that hadn't gone for a Republican for years, would be the first to shift if people had this reaction.  Additionally, let's not forget that Stabenow is a three-term senator-she knows what it takes to win, and knows how to run a hard campaign (she defeated incumbents to win both her House and Senate seats, a task very few members of Congress can boast).  More importantly, she knows how to win in Michigan, a state that is still very competitive on a national scale.  Richie can use Trump's playbook, and might find some success in it, but it's hardly a foolproof method to victory.

3. National Environment (and Candidates) Matter More Than On-Paper

Lost in this discussion, with some sides wanting to proclaim "told you so" much more quickly and others cowering in fear, is that Stabenow's reelection will almost assuredly be more about the national environment than about anything Richie can bring to the race.  Midterm electorates are reflective of the national mood, and people's opinions of President Trump.

If President Trump's approval ratings don't recover, for starters, it's difficult to see Kid Rock being able to use his friendship with the president to his advantage, particularly if Trump's unpopularity starts to affect bread-and-butter issues like healthcare and the economy.  In a state where manufacturing in particular is central to so many people's incomes, a downturn in the economy will be felt more heavily, and Stabenow will easily be able to tie the downturn to Trump.  Additionally, Richie could be the wrong messenger at the wrong time if incompetence on the behalf of the Trump administration starts to become a campaign issue, or the Midterms become a referendum on Trump.

It's also worth noting that Richie may not relate to voters in the same way as Trump.  Part of Trump's message with voters was that he could use his business acumen to help save communities that struggled under the previous administration.  That's not something that Richie will be able to rely upon.  Trump has also been tangentially around major political players in the country, and it's not clear that Richie'll be able to fundraise (or want to donate as much money) as Stabenow, who is surely raking in cash right now from fearful Democrats (I know I donated).  Jesse Ventura may have allowed for Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it's worth noting that both of these men were followed in office by career politicians who had long reputations in their states, and both who enjoyed considerably more popularity as a result, while they themselves were ridiculed toward the end of their careers for being incapable of handling their state's problems.  Al Franken is really the only recent celebrity/politician who has sustained, perhaps because he's the only celebrity politician who made major efforts to assimilate into the Senate, trying to blend in rather than rely on that celebrity (it wasn't until recently that Franken made public efforts to be humorous, and even then he's more serious in interviews than you'd find from a regular politician).  More often than not, celebrities running for public office go the way of a Clay Aiken or a Norman Mailer, someone who can attract a lot of headlines and not a lot of votes.  Pulling a move from Trump's playbook isn't going to be enough for Richie, especially if the environment is bad and the president's popularity continues to sour.  Richie may end up having Trump to thank for his election results next year, but it might not be a thanks of gratitude when all is said and done.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Trump's Nepotism Problem

The Trump Family
Robert Kennedy is a personal hero of mine.  His face adorns the wall of my library, and I think he's one of the best men of the 20th Century, and in my opinion the best president the United States never had.  As a result of that, it pains me to say this, but in the wake of recent events from the Trump administration, specifically those regarding his son Donald Trump, Jr. and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, it's quite obvious that Kennedy had no business being the Attorney General of the United States.

Admittedly, comparing Robert Kennedy to Donald Trump, Jr. is like comparing Meryl Streep to Tila Tequila.  By the time Kennedy had been confirmed to his position at the Justice Department, he had an extensive resume in politics and law.  A distinguished naval career and esteemed journalist, he had attended Harvard and the University of Virginia, he'd been a powerful political aide running his brother's campaign for the Senate and working on the Stevenson presidential campaigns. He'd been a star prosecutor for the US Attorney for Eastern New York, defied Joe McCarthy, taken on J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn in the Senate Investigations Subcommittee, and secured the release of Martin Luther King, Jr. from jail.  Nearly all of this Kennedy achieved before he was even old enough to serve as POTUS, as he turned 35 just after his brother won his election.

There is no comparison between RFK and Jared Kushner/Donald Trump, Jr. except perhaps for the pedigree of their educations (proving that money can at least by academic prestige).  Neither man had served in public office or in the political sphere prior to being in office, and while Kushner had some experience in journalism, it was more from a business-standpoint than from a public policy aspect (additionally, the New York Observer became essentially another NYC trash tabloid while under his guidance).  Neither man has even close to Kennedy's pedigree.  One could make a pretty sound argument that if RFK's last name was Smith rather than Kennedy, he would still have been considered for the job at AG (or at least been qualified for it), but the same cannot be said for Kushner or Trump-these men have their positions thanks to the luck of inheritance and genetics; they have not distinguished themselves enough for anyone to claim otherwise.

The reason I'm equating them, however, now, is that the two are linked in that both served in the administration of a close relative.  Yes, you can quibble that Donald Trump, Jr. isn't in his father's administration, but he still oversees a vast media empire that has gained enormously from the decisions of his father's tenure in the White House, and was clearly an important campaign surrogate.  Kushner is a presidential adviser, for all intents and purposes as important as a cabinet secretary, and so probably should be treated as such.  In fact, they aren't the only ones who are involved with the Trump political empire, as Donald Jr's younger brother Eric co-runs the Trump Organization with him, his sister Ivanka is a presidential advisor and has actually sat in for POTUS at G20 meetings, and Eric's wife Lara works in the marketing branch of the Trump campaign still.  All told, there are five members of Trump's immediate family who are currently employed because of his political career or run businesses that are enormously profiting from Trump's tenure as POTUS.

This is wrong, as America is supposed to be a meritocracy, and not a monarchy, and also because it gives undue influence to a group of people that are not qualified for their roles or are using their roles for personal gain.  I mentioned RFK's qualifications above, but his being in charge of the Justice Department caused undue tension with a number of figures in the administration at the time (principally Vice President Johnson and FBI Director Hoover), and put most officials in an impossible situation-defying the AG essentially meant defying the president, and the reality was that there were people that at least technically outranked him and should have been able to question him.  Robert Kennedy made a fine Attorney General in my opinion, but only a hypocrite would point out that there wasn't a conflict of interest here.  So much was this an obvious conflict of interest that a law was passed in 1967 to forbid immediate family members from serving in a presidential cabinet.

Since then, this law has been flouted but never as egregiously misused as during the presidency of Donald Trump.  Despite arguably having the qualifications to do so, women such as Rosalynn Carter and Marilyn Quayle were not allowed to serve in an official capacity when their husbands won the White House.  Hillary Clinton was asked to head a task force under her husband, and was certainly more qualified to do so than Kushner or Trump based on her past experience, but the situation went horribly array and quite frankly was another case where the conflict of interest law seemed pretty horribly misused.

The reality is that whenever family members get involved in politics, it's almost always a terrible idea.  Ranging from Billy Carter to Hugh Rodham to Neil Bush, siblings or family members who tried to use the presidency to their advantage is a consistent trend, but one that almost always ends in disaster, and none of these men had near the authority that Trump's family does in his administration.  The only exceptions to the "family members are good for family politics" is perhaps when they run for office in their own right.  Ted Kennedy served in the US Senate during the presidency of his older brother, while Jeb Bush was governor during the presidency of his brother.  Here the politicians had success in politics, but with the added legitimacy of being elected by the people for those spots.  It's hard not to see that they likely had an advantage for these positions due to their famous relatives, but at the very least they had been legally elected to their positions-there could be no questioning of whether it was appropriate for them to meet with the president in an official capacity.

Because this isn't just about conflict-of-interest, but also the fact that hiring relatives for these positions sends off the appearance of illegitimacy, that the government itself is being run by nepotism and not be skill or knowledge.  Particularly for a White House that has been accused of mass incompetence, having a family member in charge gives little cover-Trump's children being so improperly and incompetently involved in the government reflects directly on him, because if it weren't for him they would have never been hired as they weren't qualified.  Additionally, the president himself is going to be the one who has to fire these people as I doubt Reince Priebus wants to fire the president's daughter, or even mention it as an option, even though it likely would be on the table otherwise.  As a result, these relatives become reminders of the president's failure to run a steady White House, and are the most difficult to fire as it's nearly impossible for POTUS to publicly state he let go his own children as it has to be tough as a parent, not to mention firing your kids is going to look like awful politics.

All-in-all, there is no advantage here politically, with almost entirely certain downsides to hiring a relative, and (at best) a net neutral if they do well in the position.  Bobby Kennedy's success in his role (he went on to become a US Senator and a presidential frontrunner before he died), has left a dirty legacy of cronyism, corruption, and stupidity, something RFK himself would abhor, culminating in what could well prove to have crossed the line into the illegal in the case of Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner.  It is time that we stop allowing the president to hire his or her relatives to positions of power.  Family members can be sources of support and unofficial counsel, but they should not serve in any capacity within the administration, and that includes finding a loophole to let your daughter get an office in the White House.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

101 of My Favorite Things

I found this list of 101 favorite things, and I realized that we haven't done a GTKY Sunday in a long time, so I decided there's no time like the present!  Some of the things I've changed as they felt repetitive or more geared toward women, but I tried to stay within the rules.  Answer some (or all) of them in the comments if you'd like!

1. Favorite pet I ever had? My dog growing up, who was with me from ages 7 to 21.  We got her from the pound, and she was a sweetheart.
2. Favorite car I've owned? My green Ford Taurus named Buck (I still miss that car, even though toward the end when it went into reverse the radio would turn off).
3. Favorite meal out, ever? I am not one of those people that is good at restaurants.  My favorite place to eat is Mozza Mia in Edina, and I love their Fettuccine Carbonara.
4. Favorite food I've cooked? My “impress people” specialty is a Patricia Wells recipe for Sausage Penne with Chianti and Fennel.  It's divine-I love the smell of boiling red wine.
5. Favorite food from childhood? Mac-and-Cheese with hot dogs
6. Favorite drink on a hot summer day (include event)? Mojito, on the rare occasion I'm outdoors.
7. Favorite drink on a cold winter night (include event)? Chocolate Milk-I hate hot drinks.
8. Favorite conversation I've ever had with a person? Oh, I don't know how to pinpoint just one, but I do remember a conversation I had with an old woman when I was fourteen.  Her name was Louise and I was in a lending library on a cruise ship, and we talked for about a half hour about school and about her life.  I don't know why I was alone on the cruise (I was with my family), but even decades later it still sticks with me how she lived her life, and how she did what she wanted, going from cruise to cruise enjoying her retirement.  It was refreshing for a boy who lived down the street from a corn field to see someone who had seen so much of the world and had such a fascinating life.
9. Favorite total meal that I cook (list all items)? Spaghetti with sausage, a french baguette, a dark greens salad, and a dessert which is one scoop chocolate sorbet, one scoop blood orange sorbet, and with Grey Goose drizzled over it.
10. Favorite movie of all time? Casablanca
11. Favorite book of all time? Either Wuthering Heights or On Chesil Beach
12. Teacher who changed my life, and why? My French teacher in high school taught me to dream higher and believe in myself in a way I don't think any other teacher has.  Also, my whole family is teachers so any of them even though I wasn't in their classroom.
13. Professional mentor who changed my life, and why? I don't know if I have one, but I have a guy named Ben I worked with whose advice I never forgot (I'm not sharing it here as it's between he and I), and never goes far from my mind when I'm feeling lost.
14. Favorite item to go shopping for with a friend? Books-mountains and mountains of books
15. Perfect day out: what, where, with whom? It depends-I love going out for long leisurely afternoons of either brunch or dinner with friends, or perhaps a day of movies with my brother, or in a museum with my parents.  Or just me out for dinner-and-a-movie-I'm an introvert, so that's just as relaxing.
16. Favorite color? Silver
17. Favorite artist? Rothko
18. Favorite song? "Unchained Melody," by the Righteous Brothers
19. The best paid entertainment I've ever seen? Tina Turner in concert-unbelievable (and I had floor seats)
20. Favorite hobby activity that makes me get lost for hours? Writing, reading, or movies.
21. Most rewarding time I've ever spent volunteering? Giving out trees to people in Minneapolis-it was great to get to impact of the city in such a positive way.
22. The most exciting secret I've ever been told? I was one of the first people to know one of my friends was pregnant, even before the father knew.
23. My greatest skill (past or current)? Oscar Trivia, for always
24. The best advice I've ever been given? Don't waste time-you never get it back, and it's a finite resource.
25. The best advice I've ever given? It's always stupid to worry about what other people think of you if it stops you from pursuing a dream (I need to tell myself this one quite frequently).
26. The best birthday I ever had and why? My 29th-it was my golden birthday, and I had a list of 29 of my favorite things to do, and my friends coordinated so that I could do all of them that day from dawn til dusk.
27. The coolest natural wonder I've ever seen? The ocean still leaves me breathless even after living near it.
28. The most fun road trip I've ever taken, where and with whom? My grandma and I road-tripped all the way across South Dakota to Wyoming to visit my aunt the summer after the first year of college.  It was great getting to know her in those twelve hours as an adult and not as a kid.
29. The closest call I've ever had? I was in the middle of a police chase once (as a bystander)-that was pretty scary.
30. My favorite flower? Blue Roses
31. My favorite secret alone-time activity? I sometimes have "Paris Days" in my apartment where I buy champagne, put on Edith Piaf, and make a French dessert while randomly thinking of lost loves.
32. My best hair day ever? I love when my hair is really shaggy, and it starts to curl as I always wanted curly hair.
33. The best gift I've ever gotten: what and from whom? My brother made me a book of my annual awards for best movies/TV/music I do for the 15th anniversary of the ceremony.
34. My most suspenseful moment? Coming out of the closet
35. My most unexpected achievement? This blog-I gave it up for years and to sustain it so long afterwards is very cool.
36. Person you'd most like to meet. My epistolary friend Andrew.
37. My favorite paid employment, ever? Working at a library in college.
38. The best dessert I've ever eaten? Anything Ben & Jerry's ever put in a pint.
39. The prettiest natural landscape I've ever seen? Wallis Sands State Beach in New Hampshire, or perhaps anything tin Brattleboro Vermont (it's such a beautiful little hamlet).
40. The most scared I've been by a bug or critter?  When there were rattlesnakes on my aunt's sidewalk I think would be the top of the list-snakes are not my favorite.
41. My favorite household chore? Laundry
42. The most decadent thing you've ever bought for yourself. My library is drenched in books-they are my biggest indulgence.
43. The best cup of coffee I've ever had? I actually never drink coffee.  I kind of wish I did since people seem to have such specific tastes in it, but I don't have a palette for it.
44. The hardest question a child has ever asked me? "I'm not sure if Santa is real-do you think he is?"
45. The most important time I've had to "be there" for a friend? I've sat through some pregnancy tests.
46. The most unusual pet I've ever had? I've never had an unusual pet, but I've always wanted a teacup pig.
47. My favorite athlete? Andy Murray or Serena Williams 
48. The most treasured book in my library? I have a book autographed by Dame Julie Andrews.
49. Most beautiful building you've ever been in? Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
50. The coolest handmade gift I ever gave anyone? I made my brother a letter inviting him into Hogwarts for Christmas one year-it was the end of a Harry Potter-themed scavenger hunt through the house.
51. The best anonymous thing I have ever done or given? It wasn't exactly anonymous, but I once gave a really lovely waitress a $100 tip while I was on vacation.
52. The most healthy and vital time in my life? Hopefully now.
53. The worst thing I ever got away with? Oh lord, let's not go there.
54. My first celebrity crush? Wil Wheaton in Star Trek: The Next Generation
55. My current celebrity crush? Prince Harry
56. Favorite cologne? Ralph Lauren Blue
57. Favorite indoor smell? White Wine Vinegar (I can't explain it either).
58. Favorite outdoor smell? Rain
59. Most fun I ever had on a Saturday night? A lady never reveals her secrets. 😀
60. Favorite song I ever danced to; with whom? I have never really danced with a guy I've dated, so this would be learning how to polka with my grandma-and-grandpa when I was ten.
61. Favorite dinner my mom made? Spaghetti, definitely.
62. The happiest moment I can remember? We'll just say it involved a guy named Matt.
63. Song that makes me move no matter how bad I feel? "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston
64. My favorite patriotic experience? I got to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
65. My biggest moment of celebrity? I met Leonardo DiCaprio in college-he was...not talkative.
66. My one favorite item of clothing? My Mavi jeans.
67. The one item I would take to the desert island? Pen-and-unlimited-paper.
68. The one person I loved who never knew? I kind of think he knew.
69. The most fun sporting event I ever attended? No idea-maybe my first baseball game with my dad?
70. The best place I have ever traveled; where I'd spend my whole life if I could? New York City
71. My favorite moment as a parent? Not there yet, but god-willing.
72. My favorite moment as a sister or brother? My brother and I have 1000 inside jokes-whenever one of them comes up, I love it.
73. My favorite moment as a spouse or significant other? Not there yet, but god-willing.
74. My favorite moment as a daughter or son? Saturday night movies when we were kids.
75. My favorite fast food place? Five Guys
76. My favorite exercise? Swimming
77. The most significant change I've had to go through and how it made me better? Coming out of the closet, and it made me a stronger person in ways I never expected.
78. My favorite place growing up? My grandparents' farm
79. My favorite non-relative adult growing up? Hmm-maybe one of our neighbors?
80. My favorite aunt or uncle? Two favorite aunts-Debby and Sandy.
81. Best Sunday afternoon I ever had? I famously hate Sunday afternoons, so anything that feels productive-I like to start the week off right.
82. Favorite ice cream ever, and from where? Ben & Jerry's Dave Matthews Band Magic Brownie, which is sadly in their graveyard right now (hopefully Oat of this Swirled doesn't share a similar fate as that's my current go-to)
83. Favorite musician? Joni Mitchell or Dolly Parton
84. Famous person I've admired, living or dead, whom I'd most like to meet? Martin Scorsese or Robert Kennedy
85. Favorite environmental sound (rain, thunder, etc.)? Wind in the trees
86. Favorite person to take a walk on a beach or in the woods with? Me-I like nature walks by myself.
87. Best time I've had playing with a pet? Every time?  I love animals (dogs, cats, pigs, horses), so much; I'm the person who heads straight to the animal at a party.
88. Favorite TV show? Lost
89. Favorite TV rerun I could watch 50 times? The Twilight Zone
90. Favorite item no one knows I own? A body pillow
91. My favorite story or experience with the paranormal? I was alone in the Tower of London (I broke off from a tour group), and it got very cold and there was a rustling of wind even though the windows weren't open.  It was eery.
92. The one "splurge" grocery item I have never yet splurged on? Ooh, I like this one.  I'd say filet mignon from a good butcher's shop-I'm afraid to cook it!
93. The most competent activity I do? I am weirdly good at goal-planning
94. The one food item I can never run out of? Parmesan Cheese
95. The favorite picture I've ever taken? There's this gorgeous shot of a wooden bridge that's being flooded by the Mississippi River that I have from my 29th birthday-probably that?
96. The most fun game I've ever played? Clue-I am OBSESSED with the game Clue.  If not that, I once played Cutthroat Kitchen at a dinner party and that was marvelous.
97. The biggest secret I still safeguard? (Don't reveal it!) I mean, how do you answer this?  Let's just say I have one, and leave it at that. lol
98. The hardest I ever laughed in my life was...? The first time I saw the movie Clue.
99. My favorite fabric to pet is? Silk
100. If I could go anywhere, be with anyone, be doing anything, right now: Where? Who? What? Having my first date with my future husband...or if he doesn't exist, maybe on a nice hike through Scotland by myself.

101. If I had one hour to live, what would I spend it doing? I'd watch "The Constant" episode of Lost while eating spaghetti.