Trump, Portlandia and Fascism

When The Donald first entered the 2016 presidential race, I have to admit feeling some mild intrigue. I have respect for outsiders, for people who don’t always color in between the lines. Having run the technology stack for another non-traditional candidate — Lawrence Lessig — I can appreciate the frustration many of us feel about incessant partisan bickering, pay-to-play politics and an impotent congress. Lessig, who ran on the issue of campaign finance reform, even gave credit to Trump for elevating the money-in-politics message to the national level.

That being said, I had already formed a negative impression of Trump based on a number of stories I’d read in the media about his bankruptcies, scandals, questionable business decisions, failed marriages, etc. But everyone knows that the media have their own agendas, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Same goes for his reality TV career: I spent five minutes with Gordon Ramsey a couple years ago and he proved to be kindhearted, gentle, humble and gracious in every way imaginable. Here too was I willing to give Trump a pass. Maybe he was just playing a character as so many “reality” TV stars are wont to do.

Perhaps because it seemed like a reasonable move for a reality TV star, Trump announced Senator Lindsay Graham’s (real) mobile phone number at a campaign event last year. While it seemed underhanded and petty, it also could have easily been mistaken for a practical joke — albeit a rather nasty one, but a joke nonetheless.

Like a Portlandia skit, Trump’s antics started out being amusing and engaging. I’ll admit it; I had a few good laughs.

Then I watched The Donald belittle Senator John McCain over his POW experience. These words were spoken not in the context of a reality show, not twisted out of context as part of some media spin job; no, he said them plainly in no uncertain terms. When asked to apologize, he refused and redoubled his attacks on the senator and war hero.

At this point, it became clear to me that Trump could not be taken seriously. No serious candidate would make fun of McCain’s distinguished service to his — and our — country. Ten years ago (or perhaps even ten months ago), a comment like that would have meant political seppuku. Trump had to be kidding. But this was no laughing matter.

At this point the Portlandia skit, while still amusing, begins to make you wonder if you should be chuckling or cringing.

Then the wheels started to come off the train. Trump said young black kids have “no spirit,” called Mexicans criminals and rapists, threatened to build a great wall between our countries (which actually is a little funny given his bizarre China fetish), called Carly Fiorina ugly and Ted Cruz a “pussy.” Note that these are just the things he’s said on record. I don’t want to know what he says when the world isn’t listening. Really, I don’t.

So at this point, we’ve established that either Trump is “just kidding” or he’s a racist, a xenophobe, a megalomaniac, a misogynist/sexist — and a grade-school bully. 

Some have said that he’s rewriting the rulebook for American politics. But breaking all the rules is not the same as rewriting them. Besides, panem et circenses has been a central theme in perhaps every political contest over the past 2000 years, so we’re not dealing with a new strategy, just a bigger one. I’ve heard something similar said about violence: if it’s not working out for you, you just need to use more of it. 

Back to Portlandia. At this point in the skit, you’re feeling downright squeamish. You’re looking around the room to see if anyone else can see that you’re watching it. You wish it would have ended when it was still funny and not so darn . . . creepy.

Then Trump told his little ditty to the world about killing Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. For me, this was the moment where his outlandish Portlandia skit of a campaign really went off the fucking rails. Forget Portlandia! Not even Idiocracy — as prescient as it was — predicted something as ghastly as this.

We’re long past the point of “just kidding” now and moving into the territory of white robes and hoods. On second thought, the KKK isn’t even the right analogy. They’re small potatoes. Trump is huge.

At long last I have come to understand why intellectuals typically avoid Third Reich analogies: because they were all waiting for this very moment and they didn’t want to spoil it on someone unworthy.

I’m not going to mince words: Trump is Hitler. He is amassing a following of neo-Nazis and thereby starting the most dangerous movement in our country since our own Civil War.

He must be stopped and stopped now, before he makes it to the general election.

Nothing — not even the creepiest Portlandia skit — can approximate the scourge that this one man will bring upon our country if we are foolish enough to elect him.

Castro & Market “Pop-Up” Lindyhop + Streetcar Ride

Yesterday, my family and I — along with roughly two score Lindyhoppers, Balboans and Jitterbugs — danced al fresco to the dulcet sounds of Gaucho in Jane Warner Plaza at Castro & Market for an hour before boarding a vintage F Market streetcar, band in tow, to take the swingin’ party to the Orbit Room.

Sam Simmons executes an aerial with wild, reckless abandon. (Photo credit: Cathy Kohatsu)
Lindyhoppers at Castro & Market, including an airborne Mr. Simmons. (Photo credit: Cathy Kohatsu)

All around us, the Castro throbbed with some people in full skin suits (think Blue Man Group, but in several different colors) while others galavanted around wearing massive balloon animal anemones on their backs. A few wore nothing but Easy Spirits and floppy hats. A man sat hunched over a bicycle hooked to a differential gear gizmo that turned a sign showing distances to various countries in Africa, advertising that the cyclist was raising money for HIV/AIDS research. Others engaged in a vocal campaign to elect Emma Peel as Empress of the Imperial Council of San Francisco.

Suffice it to say: It was a normal Saturday in the Castro. Except for the swing dance!

So, about this swing dance: Why does this small gathering on a random Saturday deserve a blog post? Because it gives me confidence that Swing 2.0 — unlike the original craze that accompanied big band music of the 40s — won’t be needing a revival of its own, at least not any time soon. Swing is far from dead; in fact, it’s strong and growing stronger as we enter the third decade of swing’s second go-round.

For some background: My wife Allison and I met in San Francisco near the beginning of the great swing revival of the mid-1990s. As Lindy in the Park — one of the many venues we frequented — gets ready to celebrate its 20 year anniversary, we’ve come to realize that dancers of our vintage represent the old guard of new swing.

Chris Bucchere outside Twin Peaks Tavern with his two favorite dance partners. (Photo credit: Cathy Kohatsu)
Chris Bucchere outside Twin Peaks Tavern with his two favorite dance partners. (Photo credit: Cathy Kohatsu)

As we learned from the recent disappearance of one of our most lively venues, it’s incumbent upon us, whether we bring two decades of lindyhop experience with us or not, to take care of the places that offer swing dancing and the bands that make it all possible. (Note: I saw a lot of people tipping Gaucho and noticed many fives, tens and at least one 20 in the kitty yesterday.)

In addition to supporting our local bands and venues, we stewards of swing also need to find new places to dance, especially in front of people who aren’t already lindyhoppers. One woman asked my wife, “Is this whole thing just an accident?” Hardly! It was the result of the efforts of two dancers (Kristin Wojkowski and Idalia Ramos) with the backing of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District’s Live in the Castro series.

While talking with Sam Simmons and Terra Williams, who, along with Monica Lenk, recently opened a fabulous vintage store in Oakland called OverAttired, I noticed Ken Watanabe lindyhopping with Decobelle Katrina Haus Morales, who, according to Facebook, was negative two years old when Ken started swing dancing.

I also danced a few songs with my daughter (including this extended drum break captured on video). She was negative eight years old when Allison and I started swing dancing. Literally a biproduct of lindyhop, she won her first — and only — dance competition in October of last year.

If JFK famously said that children are the best hope for the future, then I have plenty of hope for the future of lindyhop.

Pomodoro Perfecto

I appreciate the beautiful and simple notion that in Italian cooking, the same four or five ingredients get remixed into completely different dishes based entirely on subtle changes in preparation.

One of the key ingredients in the Italian food lexicon — and often the most misunderstood — is garlic. Allium sativum, a small, pungent relative of the onion, radically changes its flavor profile based on how you slice it (or press it or crush it) and then does so again based on cooking methods, temperatures and timing. A clove of garlic roasted in foil for 20-30 minutes at 400° while still in its bulb makes a mild and sweet spread for crustini (or a decadent treat when blended into mashed potatoes) while a thinly sliced one releases savory tones when charbroiled atop fish. A teaspoon of pressed garlic gently simmered in olive oil for just a few seconds before forcing it too cool can flavor an entire pot of red sauce whereas that same teaspoon of pressed garlic, if overcooked, will leave your food inedible and your dinner guests wondering why they didn’t just go to Olive Garden. (On the plus side, vampires will also keep their distance.)

Ingredients

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 large clove of garlic, pressed

1 can of crushed tomatoes, opened (or you can use blanched, skinned and blended fresh tomatoes and maybe a tablespoon of tomato paste, but it never makes sense for me to do this from a cost/benefit perspective)

1 t dried oregano

3 large fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 pinch of crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Before doing anything else, open the can of tomatoes

This sounds ridiculous, but it’s super important because the last thing you want to do is run around looking for your can opener while you’re overcooking the garlic. (Yes, I’ve done that. More than once.) So open the darn can and just set it down right next to your sauce pot. (You can thank me later.)

Now chop the basil, press the garlic and get ready for the fun part

Heat the olive oil in the pot under medium-low heat for about a minute. It will start to become less viscous, so you can tilt the pan and allow it to pool on one side. Confirm that your can of tomatoes is open and nearby and ready to reach with one hand while you hold a wooden spoon with the other. Place the pressed garlic on the wooden spoon and carefully add it to the pool of hot oil, stirring constantly. The garlic will sizzle a lot at first as it releases liquids, then it will quickly start to brown and give off all sorts of wonderful smells. (Our beloved family dog would come running down two flights of stairs the moment she smelled garlic cooking in olive oil, then she would put her snout as close to the range as possible without getting burned, just to take it all in.)

There’s a critical apex reached — once the garlic has released all of its “good” flavors and smells — when suddenly it starts to turn dark brown and produce rancid, nauseating odors that will ruin anything in their path. If that happens, pour everything into your compost pile and cover it with food-soiled paper or scraps to contain the smell. Then open the windows, clean the pot thoroughly with soap and water and start over.

With garlic, it’s okay to error on the side of not-yet-done but it’s never okay to error on the side of OVERdone.

At the critical moment, usually no more than 10-20 seconds in, grab that can of tomatoes and smother the garlic and olive oil by quickly adding the contents, then stir to normalize the temperature of the tomatoes, oil and perfectly-cooked garlic. (You’ll probably get some tomato on yourself in the process. I usually do.)

The rest is easy: Add all the other ingredients, stir them in and simmer on low for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours (or more if you add water). Stir the sauce every ten minutes or so to make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom and burning, which is another great way to ruin your pomodoro. (If any of the sauce burns, the whole pot of sauce is ruined and needs to be composted.)

Serve pomodoro in a million different ways: over penne or spaghetti, on pizza, on stuffed peppers or zucchini, inside (or on the side of) a calzone, as dipping sauce for anything fritti, etc.

Serving suggestion! Risotto stuffed peppers topped with pomodoro and mozzarella
Serving suggestion! Risotto-stuffed peppers topped with pomodoro and mozzarella

Whatever you do, just do the garlic right and everything will turn out well. Even the vampires will like it.