Aretha’s Hat

Wasn’t that a thing?

A millenary confection in grey felt, glittering with rhinestones, trimmed in black grosgrain. My. Oh my.

I’m hearing from white friends who thought it was, well, tacky and overdone. I think they missed the point entirely.

Aretha’s hat was a full-on diva crown, in the best African-American Sunday Suit tradition.

Hats are tremendously symbolic in the AA community, with a whole lore surrounding them. In traditional black churches, you don’t show up on Sunday without your crown — the sartorial sign of the nobility of black women. You may clean hotel rooms or sling hash in a crummy uniform six days a week; but on the seventh day, your church hat puts the world on notice that you are nonetheless a beloved daughter of God.

That (well, that plus the bitter cold) is why you’ve been seeing so many men and women wearing them to inauguration events over the past few days. In black culture, hats are still an important mode of self-expression, and a potent statement of respect for yourself and the event you’re gracing with your presence.

I was halfway hoping Michelle would make a nod to that tradition, and sport some fabulous headwear of her own. No such luck: she’s more modern than that. But Aretha’s showstopping topper more than took up the slack.

And it also may have been the first sign of an emerging fashion trend. It’s entirely possible that with African America finally Having Arrived — as of today — that the love of a great hat will finally make its way back out into the larger culture.

You read it here first. Love that hat or hate it, you’re going to see more of them.

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Investing in America

Group News Blog, December 7, 2008

A huge sinkhole, already one of the largest on record,
near Daisetta, TX, May 2008.
James Nielsen/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

In the comments threads for the next article down, we’ve got one trollish commenter who rejects Keynesian theory, and insists that the only way out of the current mess is to tighten our belts and balance the budget.

Several of our regulars, once they got the coffee drained back out of their noses, have been more-or-less (mostly less) gently pointing out that Friedmanism is dead, and another approach — like, oh, say, the one that got us out of the last Depression — is necessary. They’re also pointing out the essential difference between frittering away public money on things like defense spending (use a bullet once, and it’s gone forever) and real, enduring investments like the ones Obama is proposing.

It turns out that I’m working on my final semester project today — a presentation on infrastructure, due Wednesday — and happen to have the ROI figures on public investment right here to hand. Rather than post these figures in the comments thread, I thought I’d put them right out here on the front page, because we’re all going to need to know this stuff cold when the right wing starts squealing about how we can’t have that nice shiny new future until we first pay off the bills that they ran up on our credit card.

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Election Night: The View from Abroad

Group News Blog, November 10, 2008

I watched the election returns from a cozy townhouse in North Vancouver, BC. A Canadian couple from our church had invited in all their American friends to share the evening.

Eight years of Bush has been an impossibly hard burden for all Americans. For those of us who’ve spend these years abroad, some of the heaviest lifting has been answering the constant demands to explain American insanity to the rest of the world; and continuing to hold ourselves out an existence proof for that other, marginalized America that was trying so fiercely to resist the madness. Sometimes, it was all so impossible that all you could do is look sorrowfully at the sad, confused faces of our fellow planetary travelers and shrug:

Yeah, well. That’s why I’m here, and not there.

Tuesday night was the first time in five years that I wished with all my heart I was there. I missed something important, not being there to dance in the streets with the rest of you, being too far away to touch you and hold you and simply silently stand arm-in-arm, the way I stood in LM’s arms while watching Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver. History rolled over us like a wave that night, and holding on to each other was all we could do. Tuesday night, that wave turned into a tsunami, and it took the whole country holding on together just to keep everyone upright and breathing. Who would have thought that 30 long years of dark, sticky, putrifying conservative “you’re on your own” bullshit could be washed right out of our souls, leaving them shining and clean, all in one night? But it was. There is no question that from here on out, we’re all in this together; and that this fact will become one of the great joys of our time on this earth.

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Lying Liars, Part 13,417

Group News Blog, November 4, 2008

This e-mail was sent out yesterday to Farm Bureau members in Washington State, where Governor Christine Gregoire — who won her seat by 133 votes after several recounts in 2004 (and if that story doesn’t send you straight out to the polls, you are beyond hope) — is once again being challenged by the craptastic shill-for-the-developers Dino Rossi. According to the source that forwarded it to me, it’s since gone totally viral in the ag community.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Farm Bureau Members for Water Storage”<>
Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008 11:06 AM
Subject: Farmers Rally in Yakima Against Christine Gregoire


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Let Them Wear Valentino, Part Deux

Group News Blog, October 24, 2008

Jeff Foxworthy has a venerable routine about why you can’t give rednecks money. They’ll invest the funds in commemorative ceramic plates of NASCAR drivers, he insists. They’ll build a new room onto the trailer “so we don’t have to sleep with Jim’s daddy no more,” he drawls. When he got his first big check, he ran right out and bought a pair of blue stingray cowboy boots (about $750 at Falconhead in Brentwood, CA — the ultimate fantasy boot emporium) — beautiful and unusual, in a delightfully tacky kind of redneck way.

That’s the kind of stuff that happens when people are in cotton so tall it’s over their head. (Been here, done this myself.) You lose perspective, quickly. And the next thing that happens looks something like this:

Photo of Piper Palin, courtesy Huffington Post

Now, I really do not want to believe that seven-year-old Piper is the proud owner of her own Louis Vuitton Montorguiel PM ($790 at More likely, some enterprising photog caught her helpfully looking after Mommy’s handbag while Mommy was off serving mooseburgers or something.

But given what we’re hearing about the Palin family — stories like Bristol Palin’s $1700 shearling maternity coat, for example — it’s easy enough to believe that they dropped $800 on a little treat for darling Piper.

This is what excess looks like.
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Let Them Wear Valentino

Group News Blog, October 23, 2008
Sarah Palin looking understated in her now-famous $2500 Valentino silk jacket.
Photo NY Post, via Huffington Post.

The flap over Sarah Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe may seem like a petty thing to be paying attention to in the twilight hours of a 20-month campaign. Fashion, according to one view, is frippery — a parade of passing fancies without much in the way of meaning. Most of us can’t remember what we wore last Friday; and for most of us, it doesn’t really matter.

But, according to another view, clothes are a language as evocative and expressive and rich with symbolism as anything that comes out of our mouths. The choices we make about color, cut, and fabric speak volumes about who we are, what we value, where our heads are at, and what we aspire to. It’s natural that in a culture that has traditionally silenced women’s voices, the art of getting dressed would become the dominant way we tell our stories about who we are.

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Mother of the Year

Group News Blog, October 16, 2008

piperpalin22016: This photo was later discredited by Snopes. But the argument below still stands.

The provenance of the above photograph is unknown. It arrived in my mailbox this morning, shorn of context. (For all I know, Piper Palin’s face — and it is her face, I checked — was Photoshopped in there. Or maybe the extended finger was. Who knows?)

But this glaring little girl with her middle finger defiantly held aloft does hit a sore point with me — one I’ve been meaning to write about since the Palin nomination was first announced, but held off on because in backchannel discussions with several other bloggers (mostly women), my take on this just poured gasoline on some of the most vicious flame wars I’ve ever been embroiled in.

The argument was over whether or not it’s fair to consider Sarah Palin’s family in assessing her fitness for office. I think it is. And before you accuse me of rank sexism or focusing on things that don’t really matter to her performance on the job, please take a deep breath, step back, and let me explain where I’m coming from on this.

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Michelle Obama, Superstar

Group News Blog, August 26, 2008

photos by Evan Robinson


Monday night was the first time I’ve ever been on a convention floor. In some ways, it was very much what I expected — an explosion of light and noise and color as I came out of the tunnel onto the main floor; the constant low roar of conventioneers chatting, even as the speeches unwound on the dias in front of them; the dazzling stage set (and it is dazzling); and the speeches, which for the most part were vast wilted bouquets of the same florid rhetoric that’s been recycled (near as I can tell) for every convention since Andy Jackson was president.

Even Claire McCaskill spoke in cliches. Even Ted Kennedy, whose surprise visit found him looking astonishingly hale and hearty, couldn’t get away from the hoary old applause lines. Tom Harkin charmed the crowd briefly when he came out and spoke his first sentence in sign language: “I see so many people with disabilities here — we are so proud to have your support for Barack Obama for President.” (I probably would have been more impressed if I hadn’t been parked right at the feet of the full-time sign language translator at the time.) As speakers came and went, the energy level in the room stayed flat, the applause stayed sparse, and the din continued as if what was going on on the dias was a mere distraction from the real work.

The evening’s theme was “American Voices, American Values.” It was, as first convention nights usually are, the biographical moment where we meet the candidate — where he came from, the people who influenced him, the events that shaped him — and connect with all the ways in which his story is our story. This time, the program carried some extra freight, because the details of Obama’s story are the best antidote there is to the McCain campaign’s charges of “elitism.”

But even so, the going was slow and boggy….until there was Michelle.

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