My most vivid memory of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 was carrying a boom box around New York City on a rainy Saturday afternoon so my wife and I wouldn’t miss a thing as we did a bunch of errands and hit a couple of social gatherings. It seemed that important.
We don’t yet know if the Senate Judiciary Committee will have a full-on hearing Monday featuring Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accuses him of sexually assaulting her 35 years ago, when both were in high school.
But if it does happen, it will be a singular moment in American history – and every bit as riveting as when Hill accused Thomas of sexually harassing her just as he was about to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.
What else is happening next Monday? Oh yes, the single, solitary, hour-long televised debate between Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and his challenger, former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous (D).
As it is, the gubernatorial election isn’t registering with too many people; Marylanders, if they’re paying attention to politics at all, find themselves distracted by the overwhelming and unending dramas playing out in Our Nation’s Capital. But here’s a hunch: If something is going on with the Judiciary Committee on Monday, even if it’s just Kavanaugh testifying alone and indignant senators playing for the cameras, alarmingly few people will pay attention to the gubernatorial debate.
For the Jealous campaign, it’s another opportunity wasted.
One hour, one stinking hour, for Jealous to appear on the same stage as Hogan, to make the case to voters for why they should fire Hogan and hire him. It’ll be over before anyone knows it – and it'll be tough for Jealous to engage Hogan again in such a meaningful way during the last six weeks of the election.
They must get tired of high-fiving and chest-bumping over at Hogan headquarters these days.
In the six-plus years I was politics editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, we had three rules when it came to covering campaigns: Don’t write about candidates demanding that their opponents’ misleading ads get pulled. Don’t write about candidates taunting their opponents to return so-called tainted contributions. And don’t write about debates over debates.
Why? Because they’re all silly, petty squabbles, black holes of inconsequential he-said, she-said accusations that don’t tell you anything about the candidates and their backgrounds and the messages they are peddling.
Of course, we’ve had a couple of epic debates over debates here in Maryland over the past few weeks – so epic that we couldn’t ignore them here at Maryland Matters, much as we may have wanted to. We have no interest in re-litigating them here. But we will observe, as others have, that it’s a disservice to the voters to have only one debate – and one so far out from Election Day.
In political circles and in many news accounts, the Jealous campaign is being portrayed these days as The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. There’s certainly abundant evidence that the campaign has made plenty of missteps since winning the Democratic primary rather impressively in late June. In media horse race parlance, Hogan, the beneficiary of millions in campaign advertising while Jealous hasn’t had two nickels to rub together, has “won” every week – and, the Republican camp would no doubt argue, every day – since June 26.
But think about some of those missteps for a minute: Refusing to go to the Maryland Association of Counties annual convention. Dropping the F bomb at a news conference. Referring to the Maryland Court of Appeals as the state’s Supreme Court. Botching the debate negotiations. Then awkwardly trying to keep Tamela Baker of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail off the debate panel.
These were unforced and unfortunate errors, to be sure. And the Hogan press operation is brutally effective about erecting a neon arrow next to every Jealous mistake and augmenting it with a memorable schoolyard swipe.
But how many of these missteps were really important to real voters? How many ever registered with real voters and not just political insiders? Why were my social media accounts filling up with faux (and sometimes real) outrage about these blunders?
Jealous’ policy proposals are fair game. And make no mistake, Republicans have done an excellent job of casting doubt and spreading fear about them – ironic, considering Hogan has made few sweeping proposals of his own or given much indication about what a second term would look like.
Debates might have helped draw out the governor on this very question. Now, most likely, we'll never know.
Instead, we've got a "Seinfeld" election -- an election about not very much at all. We can hope that this changes over the next seven weeks. But we're not holding our breath.
I have a Sesame Street aged kid. We tell him Bert and Ernie are married. He has no idea what sex is.
My kid knows gay couples, my kid was the ring bearer at a wedding just this spring of two dear friends (T and S) but he lives in a household that as far as he can tell is straight. He -needs- to know right now that the tv shows we let him watch have people just like the people he knows who love him very much but live 1500 miles away. He's a little blond white kid with presumably straight seeming parents, and straight seeming grandparents and straight seeming local aunts and uncles (mostly) he needs as much exposure to people not like him and his immediate family as possible.
I tell my kid that Bert and Ernie are married -just like Mommy and Daddy - all it means for him is that there's two men, one of whom is loud and messy and scatterbrained and one who is fussy and tidy and picky and they love each other and live together and make it work. And it means he sees two men who are married and living together as -the exact same thing- as a man and a woman. And that's so important. He might be straight, he might be bi, he might be gay, he might be ace, we don't know because he's four and a half but it does. Not. Matter.
Because right now he knows that love is love is love, and that as far as he's concerned, Bert and Ernie on TV, and Aunt T and Aunt S, and Mommy and Daddy and Mr A and Mr B - all those couples are married and love each other and are the same exact thing where love is concerned.
My kid doesn't know about sex yet, of course he doesn't know about sex* yet, he's FOUR AND A HALF But he knows love.
He really really knows love. Little kids -get- love. They know it means kissing boo-boos and hugs and making someone Popsicles when they're sick and getting coffee in the morning so your wife can sleep in and walking the dog in the rain, and holding hands and hugging a lot and sometimes kissing.
He knows that his Aunt T and Aunt S got married and that means a big party and Mommy made a big cake and he got the cake ends and ate a whole frosting flower**, and that they want to live together and be best friends forever, and that it's just like Mommy and Daddy except Aunt T and Aunt S can borrow each other's pants more.
Of COURSE he doesn't see it as sexual. Why would he? Why would anyone? Why would anyone look at any couple and make assumptions that the relationship is only about sex?
(For that matter, we don't know that Bert and/or Ernie are even sexual. They could be Ace and that representation is important to, so don't assume, yo)
Assuming that gay romance is sexual but straight romance isn't is problematic. It stigmatizes same-gender couples as having shallower relationships based solely around sexual attraction (since we already assume that relationships based solely around sex are somehow less valid, which is another entire problem in and of itself) and not about romance, deep friendship, affection...
* Yes, we've covered inappropiate touching and consent, don't @ me. ** He's FOUR. His motivation for this wedding was a frosting flower. He is -very- motivated by the frosting flowers.
This story originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website.
Chalaia Smith was running out of options.
At 24, she had spent years bouncing from one relative’s house to another, sleeping on couches and in spare rooms for as long as she felt comfortable, then moving on. Eventually, she says, “I ran out of relatives.” Minimum-wage jobs didn’t pay enough for her to come up with first and last month’s rent and a deposit on a Seattle-area apartment. “It was becoming a burden on my family.”
That’s when she turned to the YMCA Accelerator’s Host Home program, which links homeowners (or even renters) whose homes have space to spare with young adults who need a place to live and are either homeless or at risk of falling into homelessness.
The goal of the program is to provide temporary housing and mentorship to young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who need a little extra support while they finish school, look for a job, or work to save money to put down a deposit on an apartment.
“I was hoping for a stable place to live and somewhere where I’d feel comfortable enough to start saving money and go back to school and start reaching my goals,” Smith says.
Through the program, Smith was connected to Diane Hilmo, a Wedgwood homeowner and civil engineer who got interested in hosting a young adult when she read about a program started by community volunteers on Whidbey Island. “I thought, ‘I have a perfectly nice guest room and two bathrooms, and it’s a waste for it to just sit there except for a couple of visits [from friends and family] a year,” Hilmo says.
After signing up for the program, going through the mandatory training, and filling out a survey about her interests, Hilmo waited about six months before getting the call. As soon as she met Smith, though, Hilmo says she knew it would be a good fit. “I met Chalaia, I said, ‘Sure, move on in,’ and I think it was about three days later that she did,” Hilmo says.
Host Home coordinator Scott Schubert says the program tries to link people with similar interests. For Hilmo and Smith, it was their mutual fondness for animals; Smith wants to become a veterinarian and work with farm animals, and Hilmo is an animal lover who has two cats.
“All the matches [between hosts and young adult guests] have moved forward, because I think we do a great job of vetting both parties beforehand,” Schubert says. “We make sure we understand who that the host is and who the young adult is.”
Smith’s goal was to go back to school and get a job that pays more than the minimum-wage retail jobs she had been doing. So far, she’s checked one item off that list: Within about a week of moving in to Hilmo’s spare bedroom, Smith had scored a job at a kennel in Bothell, which gives her the opportunity to work with animals. Hilmo drove Smith to her interview—an example, Smith says, of the kind of assistance most stably housed young adults take for granted.
“People don’t realize how much help they get from their parents,” Hilmo says. “I’ve been around a lot of parents who just are helicopter parents, but a little of that is good. They’re checking out stuff, they’re making contacts for people. You might not realize all the benefits you got from that stuff.”
“Diane and I are really a good powerhouse team,” Smith chimes in. “She’s really good at finding resources and really good at pushing me to get into school, which is where I want to be.”
Smith, who was raised by her grandmother (she declined to elaborate on why her parents were not in the picture), says having a place to stay has also helped her relationship with her family, including her brothers, who live in the Seattle area. “Not having to ask, ‘Can I sleep on your couch tonight?’ just really alleviates the tension. It’s nice being able to just have a social relationship with my family, and not a dependent relationship—like being their child that they never asked for.”
Although the Host Home program technically lasts up to six months, many hosts invite young adults to stay for longer. Hilmo says she thinks six months isn’t long enough for a young person to get on their feet and save up enough money to find an apartment in the pricey Seattle market.
Smith hopes to start college in September; Hilmo says she’s determined to help her get there. “I told her, ‘Don’t worry about leaving. You worry about getting into school.’ … I think that energy that is spent on trying to find a place to live is energy that isn’t spent on whatever else they should be doing.”
Smith says having a stable place to stay, one where she doesn’t have to worry about “the basic things, like whether it’s going to rain on your head or … whether you can afford your next dinner,” has given her the ability to focus on her own future in a way she couldn’t when she was bouncing from couch to couch.
“The stress just impacts you so tremendously,” she says. “Having that boulder of stress taken off by just having a room—it’s tremendous.”
Rahm Emanuel stunned Chicago and the political world with the announcement this week that he wouldn’t seek re-election to a third term as mayor of Chicago. The arrogant and ill-tempered Emanuel apparently calculated that he had made too many enemies to win next February by as comfortable a margin as he required.
Emanuel was a player in the Democratic Party apparatus before becoming mayor. He was a top aide to Bill Clinton, a member of the House of Representatives, and chief of staff to Barack Obama, where he was notorious for savagely attacking any criticism of the administration from the left. He came into the mayor’s office intent on busting the Chicago Teachers Union, but the teachers forced Emanuel to back down with their 2012 strike. Emanuel suffered another blow in 2015 when the long-delayed release of a video showing the police execution of Laquan McDonald sparked angry protests that continued for days, putting pressure on the police and the whole city machine.
Like other Chicagoans who despised Mayor 1 Percent, Nick Burt tried to find the right words to give Emanuel a proper send-off, in this article based on a post on Facebook.
I HATE Rahm Emanuel.
I don’t hate him now in the way that some have felt a pull toward nostalgia when seeing a foe finally vanquished. I hate him in the way that I don’t think any exit — willed or otherwise — could ever approach what he deserves.
I hate Rahm Emanuel for many things.
I hate him every time I see a shuttered elementary school.
I hate him every time I read the name “Laquan McDonald.”
I hate him every time he postures as though he didn’t write for the president of the United States the following words: “achieve record deportations of criminal aliens.”
I hate him for being the worst possible composite of anti-social and unsavory traits — a look of what Patrick Bateman would be if he were a Mean Girl with the politics of Ronald Reagan.
I hate him for the petty, needless sort of misery he inflicted so casually upon the people of Chicago.
I hate him for having a transparent contempt for this city and the people in it, whom he could never quite seem to mask that he was “dealing with” or “managing” as he waited for some White House job to open up.
But above all else, I hate him for how he dealt with people with mental illness. Because this, I think, is the truest representation of his character.
KARI LYDERSEN’S 2013 book Mayor 1% opens with an anecdote: In March 2012, Emanuel attended a gala at the Chicago History Museum to celebrate the city’s 175th birthday.
As the Chicago Children’s Choir sang “Happy Birthday,” a woman in a floral headscarf approached the front, interrupting the festivities to plead with the mayor not to go forward with his plan to close down half of the city’s mental health clinics. “We’re going to die,” she begged. “There’s nowhere else to go...Mayor Emanuel, please!”
That woman was Helen Morley, an indefatigable activist and mental health patient who had earlier that winter led a sit-in at City Hall to try to save the clinics.
Emanuel, Lydersen writes, dutifully avoided making eye contact with Morley or acknowledging her presence. Instead, he shook the hands of friendly patrons and left. Within a few months, the clinics were closed, and Morley was dead. Morley’s friends said the stress of the clinic closures played a role.
I remember vividly seeing mental health patients and activists in the mental health movement camped out in front of the shuttered clinic on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. The patients were pleading with the city to reopen the locked doors so they could go back in and get treatment.
They told me that patients would come out to sit in front of these closed clinics, sometimes out on the sidewalk with the former staff, who would stay with them until the wee hours of the morning. “To treat them?” I asked. “No,” I was told, “Just to hold them. Sometimes, that’s what they need.”
I still can’t understand what absence of human empathy and emotion could lead someone to purposefully and deliberately create that situation.
This man is a monster. And he’s the mayor for most of the next year.
I hate Rahm Emanuel, and I’m glad he’s leaving. But the indignity of not seeking a third term is not undignified enough to come close to justice.
Justice is rarely served for people like this — I heard Henry Kissinger, somehow still alive, being live broadcast over the weekend — but we must do our best in the months that follow to resist any rosy rewriting of this man’s history, make whatever time is left for him as difficult and unsuccessful as possible, and recommit to our efforts to embolden all those he bullied, battered or denigrated over the years so that they may find their power anew.
He was so hated that his enemies won: Let that be our own, collective dead fish sent to the mayor. Let’s make that the Emanuel legacy.
It seems pretty clear to me that reading pedagogy got politicized in ways that are kind of unfortunate. Conservatives touted phonics not because it works, although it does, but because it appeals to their belief that children should sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up, and do their fucking worksheets or else they will be punished. To them, school is about teaching children to be obedient and submissive to authority, and phonics, because it is boring and rote, is seen to serve that goal. And whole language, because it is not boring and not rote, was adopted by progressive educators, who thought school should be about teaching kids to embrace their creativity and experience learning on their own terms. And the whole debate has been poisoned by this political framing. Some learning is boring, but phonics doesn't have to be about Sister Mary Frances rapping your knuckles with a ruler if your handwriting isn't perfect. I guess I would like to think that it's possible to save some of the positive things from traditional learning techniques without indulging in some of the teacher-and-child-unfriendly baggage that often comes with it.
Today in Tedium: One Direction isn’t just the name of a well-known boy band, it’s also a pretty good description of the interactivity of your average VCR. Video is a famously linear format, which is great for movies or TV shows, but struggles when it comes to interactivity. Which meant that the phenomenon of board games directly inspired by the VCR was always a somewhat curious phenomenon. But nonetheless, it was still a phenomenon, even if it feels a bit old hat today. Today’s Tedium ponders attempts to turn VHS into a game medium. — Ernie @ Tedium
“Tedium combines the best of the 99% Invisible podcast and James Burke’s Connections TV show.It takes the invisible and makes it visible againand then connects it to the past and present creating a livelier picture than you ever knew existed.”
The year that the first game based on an interactive film was first released, by (of all companies) Nintendo. The game, Wild Gunman, was an early arcade-based light gun game; players would shoot at a screen and attempt to shoot a cowboy before the cowboy shot back. (Here’s a sample of the film they used.) Unlike later light gun games made by Nintendo, the shooting was based on timing, rather than aim, because the whole screen would flash, instead of a specific part of it. The game was eventually remade for the NES and Famicom, though the interactive film element was set aside, in part because there’s no way the NES would have ever been able to do it justice.
Predicaments, a soap opera-themed VCR game starring Joan Rivers.
Why board games and VCRs were bound to converge in some way, shape, or form
By the mid-1980s, it was clear that VHS, not Beta (or any other secondaryformats) had won the battle for living room supremacy. The fact that there was suddenly a brand new medium to enjoy, that there was consensus on, did something interesting: It created new types of business, and not just for Hollywood studios looking for a place to sell their blockbusters.
Home video’s initial high cost created the rental industry, of course, but it also created a context for public domain films to live a second life. Instructional videos, whether fitness clips starring Jane Fonda or cheesy how-to videos, became big business and helped encourage the rise of new ways of selling stuff—think infomercials.
And then there were more esoteric ideas—like board games with a VHS element. Today, they may seem more like a novelty, but back then they were common enough that you could probably call them a full-on trend.
It’s worth considering the business context that led to this growing interest in VHS board games: Home video games, despite being arguably more functional and more interactive if not as graphically complex, seemed like they were a simple fad at the time the VCR board game became a phenomenon, around late 1985.
The Nintendo Entertainment System, still in its infancy and yet to be released nationally, had yet to prove itself on the market, but the VCR had—one estimate reported by The New York Times had the video cassette industry driving $3.3 billion in sales between rentals and purchases in 1985, a rate approaching the size of the film industry at the time. Go where the audience is, of course.
The other factor was the general approach taken often seemed to lean less on selling the VHS tape as the key element, and more the board game. In a 1986 New York Magazine article, Parker Brothers marketing manager John Call spelled this point out.
“We see these games not as a new way to use a VCR but as a new way to play board games,” he explained.
In 1985 and 1986, board games were proven. Video games weren’t.
If you find yourself playing this game, you've done something wrong with your life.
Five examples of games with a VHS element
America’s Funniest Home Videos, the iconic Bob Saget-hosted TV show that I’ve noted having an affinity for, has a VHS board game that constantly asks players to pause after every clip to play the included game—a format that feels like would get maddening after a while.
The Three Stooges, whose VHS board game integrates the novelty hit “The Curly Shuffle” into the gameplay and added a bunch of onscreen graphics telling players how to make the next move. It appeared at the peak of the Stooges’ ‘80s revival.
Video Bingo, because Bingo is a better game when the numbers are called in the same order every time you play.
Wayne’s World, which managed to get career-peak stars Dana Carvey and Mike Myers to tell you how to play the game you were trying to play.
“Is this like a video game? Sort of; but it uses the most powerful processor in the world—YOUR BRAIN!”
— The Dragon Master, from TSR’s DragonStrike board game. To understand the backstory, set the mood, and better introduce players to fantasy role-playing, the game used a VHS tape as the pre-game. Players watched the video—a mix of gameplay and stage production—then played a Dungeons & Dragons-style adventure, complete with polygonal dice, map boards and miniatures. DragonStrike has no shortage of cheesy music, early blue screen effects and scenery chewing. It’s silly and fun … but The Dragon Master is kind of pushy, don’t you think?
Let's just admit that playing non-interactive video charades with Rich Little is nobody's idea of fun, OK?
The difference between a bad VHS game and a good one
In a lot of ways, the concept of putting games against the backdrop of a non-interactive video shouldn’t have worked. It wasn’t like the video was going to change the next time you were going to watch it, right?
Watching a movie a second time around is one thing, but games simply require more dynamics. If every episode of Jeopardy featured the same answers, there would be no reason to watch.
And this was certainly a problem in some specific contexts. As I pointed out a couple years ago in my piece on Worlds of Wonder, the Action Max, which was a video game console of sorts but had most of the basic elements of a VHS board game, quickly failed on the market because its games’ replay value was basically zero. The games were all light-gun based, but unlike, say Duck Hunt, there wasn’t any randomization, so the game played the same way every single time.
(Also not helping: The Action Max required setup, and that setup was at the beginning of every tape. Just watch the first three minutes of this clip of the Action Max gameBlue Thunder and wonder to yourself if you’d want to stick with the game after going through all that setup.)
But perhaps a better way to think about this is in terms of karaoke. In a way, the traditional form of karaoke works not unlike a VHS board game does, in that the video is the same every time out. What makes karaoke a fun activity are two things: The singing and the people. (And the booze, but that goes without saying.)
Karaoke works because the process is obvious and doesn’t get in the way. You’re not bogged down by rules.
Unlike a traditional video game, which has to lift the entire concept of the gameplay based on what’s happening on the screen, the best VHS games use the video as something of an accent to the game’s construct. Apples to Apples is a fun game not because of the cards themselves, but because of the word combinations (and occasional dirty jokes) that the cards enable. In other words, the game works because you and your friends are at the center of the action.
But, of course, many VHS games did not do this very well.
New York writer Phoebe Hoban suggested that one of the games Parker Bros. was marketing, Eyewitness, was incredibly thin on the gameplay front: It was simply a bunch of video clips of historical events, in which players made up their own questions and answers. (Have two hours to kill? Here’s the full video on YouTube.)
“This sounds more like a high-school homework assignment than fun,” she wrote.
And that was a real danger. In a lot of ways, VHS games faced a similar challenge as edutainment, in that the games offered the illusion of something fun but could be mired in boring process due to the awkward shoehorning of an unnecessary element into the game.
Another curious entry in the genre that really underlines this point was Rich Little’s VCR Charades, which required players to figure out the charades that Little was doing before the people playing the game on the screen did. Rich Little may be a skilled impressionist, but at some point, one has to wonder whether it’d just be easier to play charades without the help of the guy on the screen.
In a 1985 article, The Baltimore Sun ripped on the game, pointing out that it’s “a contrived attempt to jazz up a party game that can be played for free,” and featuring a quote from a child that had more teeth than Little’s entire career (which is unfortunate because Little has had a long career).
Speaking of the feigned reactions from the onscreen players, the play-tester said: “This looks like we accidentally got somebody’s home movie from the Fotomat.”
But on the other hand, there were games that used their lack of interactivity to solid effect. The board game Atmosfear, perhaps one of the most popular board games with a video element, was a board game first and a VHS tape second.
The tape works as a framing element and the game was well-regarded for its time because of how it used the recording to increase tension during gameplay.
Guessing the salary needed to hire this guy was a lot lower than Rich Little's fee.
“As players, nothing we did could affect him; the tape played back the same way every time. But that didn’t matter,” Den of Geek contributor Sarah Hobbs wrote in a tribute to the game. “What mattered was how we, as players, responded to the tape.”
The game sold more than 2 million copies worldwide in its first two years on the market, and was successful enough that a DVD version of the game was later made. It was even a bargaining chip when the company that owned the brand, J.W. Spear & Sons, found itself subject of a bidding war between Hasbro and Mattel. (Not the main one, of course—Spear owned the international rights to Scrabble.)
The VHS game wasn’t a perfect creative medium, but when a game nailed it the way Atmosfear did, the value of the medium proved itself.
It’s clear in retrospect but probably was less clear back then that the VCR board game was a half-solution, an attempt by people excited about technology to move things forward. The problem was, the elements just weren’t well-suited for the approach, but if those working on the idea had waited just a few years longer, the technology would catch up.
There’s a literal example of this involving an attempted video game system that relied on VHS. No, not ActionMax, another one.
Project NEMO, a Hasbro-funded attempt to take on Nintendo in the gaming sphere, had some high-profile players backing it, including Activision cofounder David Crane and Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, who was knee-deep in his home robot phase at the time. But the idea was really the product of a guy named Tom Zito, a one-time journalist who had the idea for a video game console based on film footage. The concept had the backing of the robot developers at Bushnell’s company Axlon, but the company didn’t have the development funds to pull off the concept. Hasbro, looking to take on Nintendo, did.
The system used multi-track VHS tapes that had data tracks allowed for more interactivity than standard video tapes. However, there were complications; Bushnell wanted a version for the arcades, something Crane resisted. And Hasbro didn’t like the way the project was headed under Axlon, which led Zito to work on it under another company.
In the end, the NEMO, also known as the Control-Vision, was never released. (A prototype of the system being tested in front of Hasbro execs appeared years later.) But a few years later, as full-motion video became a part of CD-based video game consoles, the idea suddenly made more sense—and two of the full-length interactive games that Zito worked on for the failed device, Night Trap and Sewer Shark, ended up getting released for the Sega CD and other CD-ROM-based consoles.
There was a context in which the ideas that VHS enabled worked. The problem was, in most cases, they were often just a touch too soon.
* - P.S.: Something cool in the mail? Something cool in the mail? Yes, we're working on something physical, which you can get your hands on by supporting Tedium via Patreon. Watch this space and I'll spill the beans soon. Promise.