Tuesday, January 01, 2019

The 2018 Tony Awards

Welcome to another edition of the Tony Awards! Annually since 2002 I've dedicated one column to naming what was, for me, some of the most outstanding journalism and/or commentary of the year. I operate from no automatic set of criteria when deciding what media to honor, but in general I am drawn to:

*insightful works that shed light on some important public issue.
*creative works that deserve a wider audience.
*informative works that provide eye-opening education on a difficult topic.
*courageous works that speak truth to power.
*humorous works that skillfully provoke laughter and thought at the same time.
*local works that promote community and civic engagement.

Over the years I've received much private feedback on the Tony Awards column. It tends to be most popular with independent thinkers who appreciate being alerted to media creations they might have missed and/or reminded of media creations they too thought were worthwhile. The column tends to be least popular with those who have little use for anything that does not reinforce their point of view and/or lend itself to being shared for partisan purposes. For them my advice is simple: make and share your own list! 

And now the 2018 Tony Award recipients. Drum roll please. 

*Best Local Journalist: Mile Maguire. For the second consecutive year, Miles Maguire earns the Tony for  best local journalist. Oshkosh is served (?) by full-time journalists working for the Gannett press and corporate television, yet when critical issues face the city few citizens trust that those outfits can be counted on to cover them completely or accurately. Instead, I constantly hear people say things like, "has Miles written about this yet?" In 2018 he debuted a space for local reporting called the Oshkosh Examiner. He also continues to edit the Oshkosh Independent Magazine, which you should subscribe to today if you have not already done so. 
Miles Maguire
For the second year in a row, Miles Maguire receives the Tony for best local journalist. Few local writers can match Miles' ability to cover important issues with depth and intelligence.
*Best New Local Media: The Oshkosh Herald. In the 21st century we've become accustomed to hearing about hard copy newspapers forced to scale back production or fold altogether. We almost never hear about successful attempts to start new ones. In 2018 Oshkosh was fortunate to welcome The Oshkosh Herald, an informative newspaper delivered weekly to 28,500 Oshkosh households.
Karen Schneider
Oshkosh Herald  Publisher Karen Schneider  says that the paper wants to "contribute to becoming a more well informed community." 
The Oshkosh Herald
Publisher Karen Schneider and the entire Herald team are working hard to prove that a quality hard copy paper can survive in this digital age. Here's hoping that in 2019 the Herald not only survives, but expands its reach. 

*Most Compelling Local Media Creation. Fit Oshkosh Color-Brave Photo Project: Black and Brown Faces, A New Narrative

Lots of people talk about making Oshkosh into a place that welcomes, treasures, honors, and recognizes its strength in diversity. Fit Oshkosh and its Executive Director Tracey Robertson walk the talk. In 2018 Fit Oshkosh worked with local photographer Colleen Bies to create a remarkable traveling exhibit of magnificent portraits highlighting personal narratives of some extraordinary people of color living in Oshkosh. The project is brilliant on many levels, from its aesthetic beauty to the way it proudly and honestly asserts the lived realities of people of color in Oshkosh. Kudos to The Wisconsin Humanities Council, Candeo Creative, The Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, The Paine Arts Center and Gardens, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, First Congregational Church, The Draw, Ebony Vision, Inc., Marion University, and Esther of the Fox Valley for their sponsorship and support of the project. 
Tracey Robertson
Fit Oshkosh Executive Director Tracey Robertson is a tireless advocate for racial justice in the Fox Valley and  beyond. 
*Best #MeToo Inspired Media: 
-Ella Dawson, "To Read In Case I am Ever Murdered By A Man
-Kerry Howley, "How Did Larry Nassar Deceive So Many For So Long?"
-Maggie Astor, "For Female Candidates, Harassment and Threats Come Every Day
-New York Times Obituaries of Unjustly Forgotten Women, "Overlooked" 

The #metoo movement is rightly recognized for removing douchebags like Harvey Weinstein from positions of power and sparking necessary conversations about the connection between gender and power in the workplace, politics, relationships, and other areas. But the movement has also produced some of the most eye-opening, dazzling writing of the decade, much of which provokes "why the hell are we only learning about this NOW" reactions. 

Writer Ella Dawson's "To Read In Case I am Ever Murdered By a Man" should be must-reading in a society that is still largely in denial about the reality of men's violence against women. She writes in part:
Writer Ella Dawson in 2018 wrote a powerful piece on how we should think about men's violence against women. 
How many lives would we save if we listened to women’s fears? How many lives would we save if we taught people how to recognize the red flags of abuse and misogyny before they can escalate to domestic violence? How many lives would we save if we treated domestic violence as a warning sign for murder and mass shootings?

Kerry Howley's piece on how Larry Nassar deceived so many for so long paints a disturbing picture of how the disgraced former Olympic gymnastics team doctor got away with abusing hundreds of athletes for decades. In painful detail, Howley shows how Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics bureaucrats simply refused to take women's complaints seriously. She also reveals that had a police officer not found child pornography in the external hard drive Nassar had thrown to the curb, there's a strong possibility that he would still be a doctor in good graces with the bureaucrats and still abusing girls and women. 
Kerry Howley
Kerry Howley uncovered the bureaucratic nightmare that enabled Larry Nassar for decades as he abused hundreds of gymnasts. 
We all know that female candidates for public office get judged by standards much harsher than what their male counterparts experience. Maggie Astor's "For Female Candidates, Harassment and Threats Come Every Day" demonstrates the sheer extent to which this is true, for candidates on all sides of the political spectrum. 

The New York Times in 2018 unveiled "Overlooked," a feature that should have a positive impact in history, political science, communication studies, and a variety of additional curricula in K-12, colleges, and universities. Introducing the feature earlier this year, the Times wrote: "since 1851, obituaries in the New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we're adding the stories of other remarkable people." Every week the Times adds a new entry, each one featuring in-depth looks at female abolitionists, scientists, political leaders and many others who've never received the proper amount of recognition from establishment media sources. 

*Editorial of the Year: "America Needs A Bigger House," New York Times. I'm actually shocked at how many New  York Times pieces are receiving Tonys this year, as the paper disappoints more often than not. But truthfully, the paper derisively called "failing" by the POTUS really produced some remarkable pieces this year. (Note to POTUS: The "failing" New York Times now has 1,500 journalists employed compared to 1,100 in 2014. That doesn't sound like failure.). 

"America Needs A Bigger House" is an important editorial because it dares to challenge one of the most destructive beliefs in the modern USA: the belief that our government is too large. As the editorial shows persuasively and with ample evidence, our government is TOO SMALL: 

The House’s current size — 435 representatives — was set in 1911, when there were fewer than one-third as many people living in the United States as there are now. At the time, each member of Congress represented an average of about 200,000 people. In 2018, that number is almost 750,000 . . . how does a single lawmaker stay in touch with the concerns of three-quarters of a million people? The answer is she doesn’t.

Size of US House of Representatives Districts
In 1910 each member of the US House of Representatives on average represented just under 211,000 people. In 2011 the Congress fixed the number of Representatives at 435, and so today each member represents around 750,000--making a mockery of the idea of the US truly being a representative democracy. In 2018 the New York Times provided a valuable public service in trying to get some discussion going about the urgent need to increase the size of the legislature. 
Applying the "cube root law" of apportionment that's followed by most of the world's democracies and used to be followed here until the Congress fixed the amount of representatives at 435, the Times writers conclude that we should be adding 158 new members to the House of Representatives. I don't anticipate that this will happen in the next 10 years, but it will eventually and when it does the Times will be recognized for giving the matter prominent attention when few other mainstream sources would. 

*Rock-and-Roll Activist of the Year: Roger Waters. This is a new Tony Awards category, and is inspired by the great work of Roger Waters, the legendary co-founder of Pink Floyd. At the age of 75, Waters travels the globe in a never ending quest to "tear down the walls." In 2018 he was a leading voice in opposition to the rise of global fascism, putting his own life at risk to campaign against the fascist Bolsonaro in Brazil. In a great interview with TeleSur he challenges the Western obsession with wealth accumulation and says, "What makes you happy is communicating with other human beings, helping them if you can, and letting them help you." 

*Twitter Thread of the Year: Derek Johnson Bursts Our Precious Bubble. Twitter is of course a mostly horrible social medium over saturated by bots, trolls, hyperpartisan assclowns, self-serving hucksters, and assorted other forms of shitheadism. But every now and then something really important hits the screen. In 2018 my favorite tweet thread was from Derek Johnson, the Executive Director of Global Zero, an organization that advocates for the elimination of all nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth. After Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the alleged "adult in the room," announced his resignation from the Trump Administration, Johnson put forth this 16-part thread that should be a wake-up call for anyone interested in the survival of humanity: 

1/ With Mattis and Kelly heading for the door and the myth of “adults in the room” evaporating, now feels like a good time to remind everyone that, yes, We The People really did hand a flailing, impulsive ignoramus the unadulterated power to end life on Earth as we know it.

2/ On a daily basis folks insist to me this isn’t how it works. They need to believe that someone — Sec Def, the Joint Chiefs, or a general, somewhere, surely — has to agree. Because the alternative sounds too insane to be real life. Allow me to burst your precious bubble.

3/ Everywhere Trump goes, the nuclear briefcase follows. Inside it are levers to weapons made to wipe cities off the map. At any moment he can open it up, flip through its black book of targets, pick up the phone, and tell the Pentagon which armageddon on the menu he likes best.

4/ The officer in charge of the National Military Commander Center (the “War Room”), who may not be any more senior than a colonel, will be on the other end of the line. A small group of senior advisors/commanders may or may not be patched in depending on their availability.

5/ This is where folks assume top brass has to agree. Nope! This is a "consultation" only to the extend POTUS wants to have a conversation. He can end discussion immediately. Sure, people can refuse/resign, but a disobedient officer in the War Room will be immediately replaced.

6/ Once given the order must be verified. It's the only “check” in the process. The War Room officer reads a challenge code and POTUS reads the matching response on a little card he carries w/ him always. Then, like magic, the order is imbued w/ full power of the presidency.

7/ A verified order has presumption of legality and the pressure to obey will be massive. Executing officers in the chain of command have no legal/procedural grounds to defy it no matter how inappropriate it seems. If POTUS's identity is confirmed, the order is considered legit.

8/ From there the order speeds through the system, encrypted in a message half the length of a tweet. This happens FAST. By the time it reaches its final destination — launch officers in underground silos — only a few minutes will have passed since POTUS opened the briefcase.

9/ Five launch crews w/ 2 officers each, spread miles apart underground and overseeing 50-missile squadrons, receive these orders. The 20-something-year-old officers open their safes and make sure the War Room's codes match. If they do, they unlock the missiles and target them.

10/ Each pair of officers then inserts their twin launch keys and turns them together. (The “2-man rule” is at the bottom of the chain, not the top.) Each crew turning their keys generates a “vote” to launch. 5 crews means 5 votes. It only takes 2 votes to launch the missiles.

11/ To block the launch, 4 of the 5 crews would have refuse to obey what seems like a legitimate order from the commander-in-chief, without the benefit of any outside info. If that mutiny is where you pin your hopes for all of human civilization, good fucking luck with that.

12/ When those keys turn the nuclear weapons will launch instantly. The whole process, from POTUS cracking open the briefcase to city-killing missiles climbing into the air, takes less than 5 minutes. There are no take-backs. There's no way to stop or cancel a launched missile.

13/ Bear in mind these weapons are 10-20x more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan, and travel at 22x the speed of sound. They'll obliterate target cities in 30 mins or less. Hundreds of millions of people will be dead faster than POTUS can get a big mac sent into the Oval.

14/ I don’t blame you for refusing to believe. I’m not sure I’d believe it myself, had I not heard directly from nuclear command and control experts, veteran launch officers, and the 4-star general who commanded all US nuclear forces. But this is real. This is how it works.

15/ Trump may be the most unfit person to ever hold the office, but this is the vast, terrible power we bestow on every American president. At the heart of our democracy is an undemocratic nuclear monarchy that holds the whole world hostage to one man's decision-making.

16/ The system is bonkers — but it doesn't have to be. There's a bill in Congress *right now* that would make it impossible for any president, Republican or Democrat, to start a nuclear war on their own. can fix this. Hard to imagine anything more urgent or obvious.

*Investigative Journalism of the Year: David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner, "Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father." This meticulously researched New York Times investigation required the authors to dig through more than 100,000 documents related to the Trump family financial empire. The authors note: 

What emerges from this body of evidence is a financial biography of the 45th president fundamentally at odds with the story Mr. Trump has sold in his books, his TV shows and his political life. In Mr. Trump’s version of how he got rich, he was the master dealmaker who broke free of his father’s “tiny” outer-borough operation and parlayed a single $1 million loan from his father (“I had to pay him back with interest!”) into a $10 billion empire that would slap the Trump name on hotels, high-rises, casinos, airlines and golf courses the world over. In Mr. Trump’s version, it was always his guts and gumption that overcame setbacks. Fred Trump was simply a cheerleader . . . The reporting makes clear that in every era of Mr. Trump’s life, his finances were deeply intertwined with, and dependent on, his father’s wealth . . . 

By age 3, Mr. Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. By the time he was 17, his father had given him part ownership of a 52-unit apartment building. Soon after Mr. Trump graduated from college, he was receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year from his father. The money increased with the years, to more than $5 million annually in his 40s and 50s.

If Mr. Trump's fraudulent telling of his own personal narrative had been revealed before the election, would he still have won? We will never know. But from this point forward, any media (including sources friendly to the POTUS like Fox) that allows him to continue spinning the false personal narrative deserves condemnation and advertiser boycotts. 

*Speech of the Year: Michelle Wolf's Address at the White House Correspondent's Association (WHCA) Dinner. Thanks to Ms. Wolf, The WHCA will no longer have a comedian perform at their annual event. Donald Trump, the most thin-skinned POTUS in the history of the universe (or as Wolf put it in her speech, Trump is "the one pussy you're not allowed to grab"), now says he might attend. What did Wolf say that got establishment types so upset? Publicly they claim Wolf went over the line in her jibes at Sarah Sanders and others--but those jokes were hardly any more pointed or cruel than what many other comics have presented at the event since Stephen Colbert's take down of Bush #43 in 2006. I think it had more to do with Wolf's insightful exposure of the pathetic nature of the mainstream press in the Trump years:

There’s a ton of news right now, a lot is going on, and we have all these 24-hour news networks, and we could be covering everything. Instead, we’re covering three topics. Every hour is Trump, Russia, Hillary, and a panel full of people that remind you why you don’t go home for Thanksgiving. Milk comes from nuts now all because of the gays.
You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him. If you’re going to profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money, because he doesn’t have any . . . 
And her brilliant closing line: Flint still doesn’t have clean water.
When the WHCA announced the comedian ban, Wolf tweeted more truth: “The @whca are cowards. The media is complicit. And I couldn't be prouder.”
*Best Bo Diddley Beat: Richard Thompson's "The Storm Won't Come." As someone who teaches a course on rock music, I am in perpetual search for new and creative uses of the Bo Diddley beat. In 2018 the legendary Richard Thompson (co-founder of pioneering folk-rock group Fairport Convention) released an outstanding collection of new songs called "13 Rivers." The opening track, "The Storm Won't Come," includes a raw sounding Bo Diddley beat and a searing guitar solo from Thompson. In 2019 Thompson will turn 70 and he shows no signs of slowing down. But because contemporary FM music radio sucks beyond belief, most Americans will never get a chance to hear this music. That's sad. 

*Rallying Cry of the Year: Emma Gonzalez' "We Call B.S." The young survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, FL are owed our gratitude for a number of reasons. In 2018 not only did they provoke a meaningful national conversation about gun violence that led to new laws passed in a number of states, but they also helped increase youth voter turnout, shamed advertisers into abandoning toxic media, organized a huge and successful march on Washington, and defied every single millennial generation stereotype. If these young people represent the majority of people in their age group--and I think that they do--then we do have reason to be optimistic about the future of the country. 
Emma Gonzalez' "We Call B.S." is already an iconic statement of defiance aimed not just at the elected cowards who shrink in the face of the slightest pressure from the National Rifle Association, but to all people in positions of authority who pollute our public discourse with lame, self-serving talking points designed to pacify their masters instead of address in an honest way the critical issues of our time. 

There you have the 2018 Tony Awards. For 2019, let us all resolve to create, use, and consume media in responsible ways that elevate public discourse, provoke critical reflection and positive change, and/or hold the powerful to account. In very different ways, all of the 2018 Tony recipients did some or all of those things.