Berned Out

If I have learned anything from the last 10 months of American politics—and “if” is definitely the operative word—it’s that presidential primary campaigns are best enjoyed from afar.

While the fall’s general election will (and should) be an intoxicating fray that unleashes every last passion in every last voter—with the very meaning of America up for grabs—the intraparty process that precedes it is, in the end, just plain unpleasant and depressing.

To be clear:  Here I am obviously not talking about the other party’s pre-convention adventures.  For Democrats and other liberals, this year’s GOP contest has unquestionably been the greatest reality show on Earth—a laugh-a-minute roller coaster of lunacy that has called into question the very existence of the bottom of the barrel—and I take it on faith that dyed-in-the-wool conservatives feel similarly about the nonsense occurring on the other side of the aisle.

But let’s not kid ourselves:  Within the ranks of the respective parties, the 2016 election to date has been one long, terrible dirge that cannot end soon enough and—because life is nothing if not unfair—will almost surely go on forever.

It may seem like a distant memory now, but there was a time—a solid half-year, in fact—when the Democratic Party contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (and, for a few minutes, Martin O’Malley) was held up as a model of civility, maturity and class—a high-minded exchange of ideas blissfully bereft of pettiness and ad hominem snipes, thereby serving as a dramatic counterpoint to the hysterical buffoonery breaking out over on the right.

Today—with 38 contests in the books and 19 still to go—the tenor of the Democratic race is looking increasingly and crushingly similar to the sort of infantile gobbledygook that liberals were so sure they could (and, for a time, did) rise above.

At this moment, the clash between Clinton and Sanders—and, perhaps more potently, between their loyal fans—has become exactly what both sides vowed it would not:  A volley of character-based taunts and insinuations whereby one’s support for the “wrong” candidate is a direct reflection of one’s integrity and intelligence and not rooted in, say, an honest disagreement over principle or—heaven forbid!—a difference of opinion about the meaning of a set of facts.

Democrats like to think of themselves as the smarter and more grown-up of America’s two political franchises, but that claim has become progressively less credible over the last several weeks.  Speaking as a—well, not technically a Democrat, but certainly a Democrat-adjacent—I regret to note this is the first time in memory that I have become disappointed—and in some cases, slightly disgusted—by the behavior of many members of my own ideological club—in particular, fellow admirers of a certain senator from Vermont.

In this, I don’t just mean the Bernie Bros—those piggish frat boys who have been mansplaining their way across the Internet in the vain hope that (female) Clinton supporters will finally see the light and realize that Sanders has been their one true love all along.  You know, because what could be more irresistible than being told you’re a credulous dolt by someone sipping from a barrel of Kool-Aid and wearing a tinfoil hat?

No, the bigger problem is the stubborn determination among nearly all members of Team Sanders not to recognize their candidate’s greatest flaws and—upon being informed of them—refusing to engage the notion that their hero might not be as perfect as they think he is.

I’ve written many flattering words about Sanders throughout this long cycle.  I should note—if it wasn’t already clear—that my support for him has always been predicated on two essential facts:  First, that he has strongly and consistently held a set of political opinions—a vision of how America should be, as it were—that is in near-perfect alignment with my own.  And second, that he is an honest, dignified person who was completely sincere in wanting to run an entirely issues-based campaign.

What I did not weigh in my decision-making process, however, were a) the odds of Sanders securing the nomination, b) the feasibility of his actually being elected president, and c) the likely consequences of an eventual Sanders administration.

In other words, my Bernie bias has never been contingent on the notion that he could get Congress to do his bidding, that “breaking up the big banks” would be a manageable task or, indeed, that the arithmetic underpinning his most ambitious policy proposals makes any kind of mathematical sense.

I have doubts about all of those things, and I’m sorry to say that the man himself has not been terribly effective in alleviating these utterly reasonable concerns.  By my calculations, the present Congress is in no particular mood to fund—through any means—such radical concepts as free public universities or genuinely universal healthcare.  By economists’ calculations, Sanders’ own budget for these initiatives is based on a series of absurdly optimistic assumptions about how the U.S. economy will behave over the next decade or more.

Most damning of all, perhaps, is the following insight offered recently in a blog post by Robin Alperstein:

“Sanders has spent his life taking positions from a deeply ideological point of view, and has done so without having to ever really consider or answer for the consequences of his positions, because he’s so often been in the minority taking a protestor’s position.  But a commander-in-chief and a president has to govern in real time and from a place of reality, not ideology, and must balance many competing interests and constituencies—two things Sanders not only has never done, but has demonstrated he has no interest in doing.  It is not clear he even knows how.”

While the above is not completely accurate and is tinged with biases of its own—Alperstein opens the piece by saying, “I can barely stand [Sanders’] face”—the charge that Sanders is ultimately ill-suited to the particular demands of this job is a compelling one—or at least serious enough to give any honest person a moment’s pause:  Knowing what we know about how our government actually functions—as opposed to how we want it to function—are we sure that, in electing a firebrand like Sanders, we’d really be getting what we think we want?  Do we have any empirical evidence to suggest in the affirmative, other than our wildest hopes and dreams?

Maybe Bernie Sanders is exactly what he looks like:  An advocate and agitator for left-wing causes that most of the Democratic Party has either abandoned or neutered to within an inch of their lives.  Maybe he is actually more useful in a less-powerful position:  By not having 300 million masters, he remains free to say exactly what he thinks and stay true to himself and his fellow travelers.  Maybe an ideological contortionist like Hillary Clinton, even if not a better person, would nonetheless make a better president.

Or maybe Sanders is the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt and we don’t appreciate how lucky we’d be to have him.  It’s an unknowable question—until it becomes knowable, that is—and so we are left to conjecture based on the available information.

Among all of that raw data, the one nugget I can never quite shake is how, when you lay Clinton’s and Sanders’ platforms side by side, you realize that at least 90 percent of their core beliefs are utterly interchangeable.  That with the (significant) exception of foreign policy, Hillary and Bernie are in basic agreement on virtually every issue under the sun.  They may differ about how (and with how much enthusiasm) to solve certain problems, but they are in perfect harmony about what those problems are.

That’s what is so depressing about the way millions of Democrats are worshiping at the altar of one candidate while burning the other in effigy.  It just goes to show how the millennial college campus ethos of getting 100 percent of what you want while banishing even the hint of an unwelcome thought has metastasized into the broader culture.  As recently suggested by one Susan Sarandon, certain Democratic voters would willingly surrender to a President Trump or President Cruz rather than sucking it up and voting for someone with whom they agree 90 percent of the time.

Such is the corrosive effect of presidential primary campaigns:  They turn ideological friends and allies into mortal enemies and existential threats to the continuing health of the republic.

They’re not.  They’re members of your own team and if you want even a fraction of your political desires indulged by our next commander-in-chief, you’re going to need them in your corner (and vice versa) from now until November 8 and beyond.

So knock it off.  Quit making the perfect the enemy of the pretty good.  Don’t let your ideals blind you to reality and—whatever you do—don’t even think about staying home on Election Day just because your favorite candidate’s name didn’t quite make it onto the final ballot.

Throwing a tantrum when things don’t go your way?  That sounds like something Trump would do.

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History Has Its Eyes on You

Every action has an equal, opposite reaction, and so whenever any piece of popular culture becomes a runaway success, you can set your watch to the moment when the backlash comes roaring up behind it.

Seeing as Americans are determined never to agree on anything—albeit some of us more vigorously than others—it is inevitable—and probably for the best—that even the most widely and deeply beloved of our national treasures will sooner or later find a detractor or two hiding under some rock or other.

However, for a good long while, it appeared that in this regard—as in so many others—Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was truly one-of-a-kind.  That this audacious, revisionist Broadway musical-cum-history lesson had transcended all the usual cultural mores, rules and laws (including gravity) to emerge as the one thing on which everyone can agree.  Call it the Adele of the Great White Way.

As a true believer, I was perfectly fine with this rarefied mass ecstasy over (of all things) an expensive Broadway show.  As much as I value open debate on practically any subject, listening to the Hamilton cast album over and over has become something approaching a religious experience, and we all know what happens to reasoned dissent once religion enters the picture.

All the same, over the last week or so, a sort of anti-Hamilton faction has finally—finally!—begun to consolidate in various online media outlets.  While I have so far found the arguments in these pieces generally misguided and unconvincing, it is imperative that my fellow fanatics take a break from their unconditional Hamilton love and read them.  They might be surprised how much they learn.

While these critiques are by no means interchangeable—their authors approach Hamilton in different ways and reach different conclusions—they tend to focus on one of two claims:  First, that Hamilton is not as historically accurate as it appears; and second, that it is not as socially progressive or “revolutionary” as its creators and fans have proclaimed.

At first blush, the complaints about accuracy could be dismissed as preposterous—not because they’re false, mind you, but rather because strict adherence to historical truth is so obviously not this show’s primary objective.  To any fair-minded listener, it should become clear—say, during the Cabinet meeting where Hamilton tells Jefferson, “Sittin’ there useless as two shits / Hey, turn around, bend over, I’ll show you / Where my shoe fits”—that Miranda has granted himself certain liberties with the Founding Fathers that are, shall we say, fairly easy to infer.

It is the nature and the right of historical dramas to take history into their own hands for the sake of clarity and entertainment.  One must never let facts get in the way of a good story (as Mark Twain may or may not have said) and while the Revolution is undoubtedly one of the greatest stories of all time, artists have always manipulated the events of 1776 to their own ends.  It is absurd to hold dramatists to the same academic standard as historians and biographers.  “All we can reasonably ask,” Roger Ebert once wrote about a certain film, “is that it be skillfully made and seem to approach some kind of emotional truth.”

That brings us to the more compelling and provocative critique, which says that—contrary to the prevailing view that Hamilton is a watershed moment in American culture—there is actually nothing historically innovative about Miranda’s take on the Founding Fathers.  Specifically, that despite its ethnically diverse cast and über-contemporary soundtrack, Hamilton is ultimately just one more show that lionizes famous white men—and only white men—who birthed a nation that purposefully and violently excluded African-Americans and other undesirables from realizing their fullest potential as human beings.

In her superb essay, “Race-Conscious Casting and the Erasure of the Black Past in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton,” Rutgers professor Lyra D. Monteiro sees Hamilton as a continuation of so-called “founders chic,” observing, “[D]espite the proliferation of black and brown bodies onstage, not a single enslaved or free person of color exists as a character in this play. […] Unless one listens carefully to the lyrics—which do mention slavery a handful of times—one could easily assume that slavery did not exist in this world, and certainly that it was not an important part of the lives and livelihoods of the men who created the nation.”  (Monteiro then proceeds to name several black individuals who could easily have figured into Miranda’s story.)

Continuing this thought in an equally-thoughtful blog post, “Why Hamilton is Not the Revolution You Think it is,” NYU PhD student James McMaster writes:

“[I]n Hamilton, the fact that the white men that founded the United States—colonizers all, slaveholders some—are played by men of color actually obfuscates histories of racialized violence in the United States.  Case in point:  During ‘Cabinet Battle #1,’ when the talented Daveed Diggs argues as Thomas Jefferson for the security of the South’s slave-holding economy, the actor’s blackness visually distances his performance of racism from Jefferson’s whiteness, enabling a (largely white) audience to forget the degree to which they are implicated in the violent, anti-black histories of the United States.”

While we should all be extremely grateful for these reminders of the truth—the whole truth—of how this country came into being, my immediate response to these charges with regards to Hamilton is through an old Stephen Hawking line:  “You can’t think of everything.”

Or, to put it slightly less glibly:  Lin-Manuel Miranda devised a particular way to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton that would serve his own interests, which meant that a boatload of other interests—however worthy—would necessarily be left on the cutting room floor.

In point of fact, the writing of every play, movie and book in history has involved including a million little details while omitting a million others.  To be a writer is to be an editor and a synthesizer—as David McCullough once said, “I’m not a writer; I’m a re-writer”—which requires making choices that both sharpen and narrow the focus of one’s work in order not to juggle too many balls at once.

Contra Monteiro, who takes issue with Hamilton’s tagline, “The story of America then, told by American now,” I interpret the race-conscious casting not as a means to conceal the founders’ inherent white supremacy, but rather to demonstrate that the ideals for which they fought apply to people of all races.  That most of the founders clearly didn’t intend this at the time is an irony that cannot (and should not) be overlooked, and part of what makes Hamilton so irresistible is the implicit knowledge that if the real people suddenly materialized and saw themselves being portrayed by the likes of Leslie Odom, Jr., and Daveed Diggs, their expressions would be worth well over 1,000 words each.

In short:  Hamilton does not directly confront the realities and consequences of slavery because, in the end, that’s not what the play is about.  Miranda chose to dramatize the life of Alexander Hamilton and the handful of powerful people with whom he interacted, and that is how the piece should be judged.  Call me old-fashioned, but I find it slightly unfair to critique an artist for the work he didn’t produce rather than the work he did.

This does not mean that objections like the ones above should not be raised and heard.  If Hamilton has any purpose beyond entertainment, it’s to stimulate interest in the history of the United States—including the history that Hamilton does not have the time or inclination to cover.  If Miranda and company truly intend to democratize the country’s founding, they should own the ways in which their own efforts are incomplete.  They don’t need to be complete, but nor should they suggest that they are.

As it stands, we are left with exactly what we’ve always had:  A brilliant, addictive piece of theatre that we can love and question at the same time.  A guaranteed job creator for every talented non-white actor in New York that is nonetheless a celebration of dead, white slavers.

The truth is that Hamilton invited this minefield of hypocrisy the moment it took on America as its primary subject.  As a wise man said:  It’s full of contradictions, but so is independence.

With a Little Help From My Straight Friends

“A homosexual with power.  That’s scary.”

So says Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn) in Gus Van Sant’s 2008 biopic of the gay rights pioneer.

In 1978, Milk’s “power” derived from being a San Francisco city supervisor—at the time, the nation’s highest-ranking public office held by a known homosexual—which he parlayed into a campaign to quash a proposed California law, known as the “Briggs Initiative,” that would’ve prohibited openly gay people from teaching in public schools.

That proposition was ultimately defeated by a wide margin, and while Milk and those in his inner circle deserve enormous credit for underlining the inherent bigotry and unfairness in all anti-gay legislation, we must pay equal homage to the gay community’s secret weapon:  All the straight people who voted in their favor.

Simply put:  Without homosexuals, the gay rights movement would not exist.  Without heterosexuals, the movement would not succeed.

Obviously, this is mostly a matter of arithmetic.  Depending on which survey you believe, the non-LGBT community encompasses somewhere between 90 and 98 percent of humanity.  By definition, if the remaining sliver wants to secure legal and social equity, it cannot wage its war single-handedly; it must elicit help elsewhere.  The moment gay rights advocates understood this was the moment they started winning.

At their core, all successful civil rights struggles in history have come about through persuasion—that is, the oppressed party persuading its oppressors that it would be in everyone’s interest for the oppression to stop.

For gays, this has required little more than coming out of the damn closet and carrying on with their regularly-scheduled lives.  As innumerable studies have shown (not that we particularly needed them), the likelihood of a straight person supporting equal rights is exponentially higher if he or she knows at least one openly gay person personally.  Hence the unprecedented support for LGBT rights among the young:  Gay millennials have embraced their sexual identities—whatever they may be—with a confidence and a zeal that are unprecedented in human history.

Here’s the pièce de résistance:  The closet door only swings in one direction.  Once you’re out, you do not get pulled back in.  The idea that the government could compel newly-empowered LGBT folk to revert back to second-class status has all the practicality of re-introducing “colored only” drinking fountains or repealing women’s right to vote.

Yet that is precisely what a select group of states are now trying to do to their gay and transgender residents.  From “religious liberty” statutes that license businesses to deny service to gay customers to “bathroom bills” that force certain men to use the ladies’ room and certain ladies to use the men’s room, states like North Carolina and Mississippi are determined to lead the march back to the 1950s, no matter what the Constitution and the Supreme Court say.

That’s the setup.  The punch line is how miserably and inevitably these initiatives are going to fail.

It might not happen right away—some of these bills have already been put into practice—but make no mistake:  Every form of anti-LGBT legislation is destined to crash and burn sooner or later, because their continued existence is incompatible with the American way of life.

To be sure, as a people, we did not always think this way.  The notion that gays and other sexual deviants are morally equivalent to heterosexuals—and thereby entitled to equal protection under the law—represents such a pronounced and swift realignment of national values that many millions of Americans are still experiencing whiplash.

On the one hand, I have some sympathy for those who are not completely comfortable with this new social orthodoxy that says you can assume control over both your sexual and gender identities—that neither your birth nor your culture need dictate who you are or with whom you spend the rest of your life—and that the state must respect those choices since, in the end, they aren’t really choices at all.  For anyone who grew up in a world of binaries and so-called “tradition,” the ubiquity and acceptance of “alternative lifestyles” might seem a little bit odd and a little bit frightening, and one can’t be expected to adapt to this brave new world overnight.

On the other hand, I really can’t think of anything more reflective of the Jeffersonian ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than embracing your true identity as a human being.  We may never agree on the true meaning of “happiness,” but if it doesn’t include the freedom to love, marry and/or sleep with the object of your heart’s desire—and to love yourself in the process—why would it be worth pursuing in the first place?

In today’s world, gay marriage is an American value.  Transgender rights are an American value.  Liberty means nothing unless it applies to everyone equally.  Those who are reticent about extending their own basic freedoms to others are welcome to take as much time as they need to get used to this new reality, but they are not welcome to use their discomfort as a license to break the law and violate the Constitution.

Which brings us back to gays and power, whose dynamic has changed quite a bit since the days of Harvey Milk.  Then, the power to defeat anti-gay legislation was essentially political:  Milk and company conducted a door-to-door grassroots campaign to change hearts, minds and ultimately votes by convincing a majority of (straight) California residents that discriminatory laws are inherently unfair and destructive.

Today—hearts and minds having been changed such that 60 percent of the American public now supports same-sex marriage—this same power has become economic.  As the Confederacy once again rallies around some hateful, asinine Lost Cause, not only have the forces of LGBT rights responded with picket lines and snarky Facebook groups, but they have been joined by major corporations and individuals who have threatened to withhold business from those states until these terrible laws are abandoned or repealed.  In effect, the titans of the 21st century business world have opted to hold these states’ economies hostage until they snap out of their fanatical authoritarian haze.

Long story short (too late?), the gay community will not be trifled with anymore.  Not only does it now have the law and the Constitution on its side, but also the financial muscle to enact harsh punishment on municipalities that choose not to treat LGBT people as fellow human beings.  In those places, to levy discriminatory laws represents not only a moral failing, but a form of economic suicide.  It forces those legislators to ask, “Is our eagerness to subjugate the gay and transgender communities so great that we will risk destroying our own economy in the process?”

That’s how far the gay rights movement has come.  An “agenda” that was once considered radical, dangerous and absurd has become so manifestly mainstream that it can now be regarded as a prudent investment decision.

Gays with power.  Scary, indeed.

History on History

Everyone knows that immigrants are the most patriotic Americans of all (well, almost everyone) and over the last couple of months there has been no finer outbreak of foreign-born Americanism than on a whimsical little TV show called Join or Die, airing on the History Channel every Thursday night at 11 o’clock.

The program is emceed by Craig Ferguson, the Scottish actor and comedian who, between 2005 and 2014, spent five nights a week transforming CBS’s Late Late Show into one of the most self-consciously idiosyncratic talk shows in television history—irresistible to fan boys like me, indecipherable to everyone else.

It was in the midst of that hosting stint—February 2008, to be exact—that Ferguson became a naturalized U.S. citizen, following a lengthy and arduous application process that he chronicled in real time.  (When it was done, he duly noted that he is now eligible to vote:  “General election and American Idol!”)

To mark the occasion (so to speak), Ferguson hightailed it to a tattoo parlor and got an iconic cartoon by Benjamin Franklin emblazoned on his right forearm:  An image of a snake representing the 13 American colonies with the words “Join or Die” hovering ominously underneath.

Hence the title of this new History Channel venture.  The conceit is admirably straightforward:  Every week, Ferguson and three guests—typically a mixture of celebrities and academics—spend half an hour discussing a single historical or cultural question.  There are six possible answers under consideration, which the panel gradually narrows down to two, at which point the live studio audience is tasked with voting for the “winner.”

Now what, dare I ask, could be more American than that?

Apart from anything else, Join or Die epitomizes the joy and combat of open intellectual debate—the free exchange of ideas that have been part of this country’s creed from the moment of its conception (if not earlier, as Franklin’s cartoon would suggest).

In both planning and execution, the program is an expression of democratic republicanism in its purest (read: messiest) form.  Like a presidential election, Join or Die begins with a large and slightly unwieldy group of possible solutions to a given problem, leading to a disorganized and occasionally contentious tussle between warring factions (read: voters) who, through passion, reason and compromise, ultimately settle on a single outcome.

Also like an election—and, more broadly, like any concentrated airing of opinions—Join or Die does not often end in agreement or, indeed, the confidence of anyone involved that the official “winner” is objectively the best choice.  But that’s okay:  The means are more important than the ends.  When the polls close, the point isn’t whether the issue has been “resolved”; rather, it’s that the process of arguing has helped to clarify the nature of the issue itself.  (Admittedly, the results of an election have actual, tangible consequences; happily, Ferguson’s program does not.)

The pleasure and wit of Join or Die is how it strikes a balance (however tenuous) between the serious and the absurd.  Of the eight episodes that have aired thus far, some have tackled issues that would be at home in a poli-sci class—for instance, “Who was history’s worst tyrant?” or “What was history’s biggest political blunder?”  Others, meanwhile, are the sorts of thought experiments a group of poli-sci students might discuss after hours, such as, “What was history’s worst medical advice?” or “What is the greatest invention since 1950?”  Still others have had a whiff of the sensational—“What was history’s most doomed presidential campaign?” or “What was history’s craziest cult?”—while others have been just plain goofy—“Who were history’s greatest frenemies?”

Underpinning all of these propositions, however, is a much-needed frontal challenge to the viewer’s personal value system.  As we watch and play along with Ferguson’s rambunctious panel, we are compelled to think a little harder about how we react to the world around us and why we value one thing over another.

“History’s greatest invention since 1950” was an especially keen illustration of this.  Given a reasonably diverse assortment of candidates that included the personal computer, Velcro, the microwave oven and (really?) Viagra, the championship round saw a faceoff between the jet airliner and the Internet.

Ask yourself:  In a clash between Boeing and Google, which world-altering innovation could you not possibly live without?  Humanity certainly managed to live without both for more than 99 percent of its existence, yet we now take air travel and the web as utterly indispensible components of daily life, on both a micro and macro scale.  Can we really say that one technological revolution was “greater” than the other?  And how would we go about doing so, anyway?

Certain issues of public import—nearly all of them, actually—will never be settled once and for all—however hard we try—because they are so dependent upon personal taste and/or personal experience.  Sure, some of the questions Join or Die has posed could conceivably be assessed objectively—the matter of history’s worst dictator, for instance, could be determined by comparative body counts of said dictators’ reigns—except that even those sorts of debates are prone to biases that the debaters might not even realize they have.  (To wit:  There is hardly a cut-and-dry method for ascertaining exactly how many people a tyrant has killed.)

As if Ferguson and company hadn’t already hammered this point home, the most recent installment concerned that most touchy cultural query, “What was history’s most influential band?”  Throughout the 30-minute talk, not only did the panel flail about in circles with regards to which of the six nominated acts were most critical to the classic music canon—is the Ramones’ contribution to punk greater than Run-D.M.C.’s contribution to hip hop?—but they could scarcely bring themselves to accept the candidates about which they were arguing.  (Ferguson, for his part, decried the omission of the Sex Pistols, who are—by an amazing coincidence—his all-time favorite band.)

To the show’s credit, Ferguson wraps up every episode with the opportunity for his fellow panelists to shoehorn third-party candidates into the mix, thereby broadening the scope beyond the taste of the program’s own producers.  (On the “greatest recent invention” show, inventor and TV star Lori Grenier suggested dropping Viagra and replacing it with the birth control pill.)

Ideally, Join or Die would eliminate preselected shortlists altogether—or at least allow participants to substitute their own preferences much earlier in the proceedings—so that the conversation could assume a more freewheeling and democratic shape.  Admittedly, a half-hour cable show is not quite equivalent to the all-night bull sessions that doubtless inspired Join or Die into existence; with such a limited time frame, certain parameters must be drawn.

As it stands, Join or Die reminds us of both the importance and the vitality of spirited public discourse on issues large and small, significant and slightly-less-significant.  Considering how presidential election years tend to yield maximal heat while producing minimal light (a cliché I never thought I’d use), a cheeky, engaging and—dare I say—educational program like this could not have come along at a more fortuitous time—and certainly not from a more amiable host.

I say:  Join!