Meta is all up in the news these days. That’s pretty deep for a concept that I didn’t think about until Ron Artest became Meta World Peace. Then the NSA phone hacking scandal broke and the government tried to calm fears that Big Brother was listening in on our phone calls and perusing our e-mails by saying that were looking at the meta analysis.

Meta analysis is a statistical term referring to the combining and contrasting of results from different studies to identify patterns and sources of disagreement among those results or other interesting relationships that come to light in the context of multiple studies. It’s that last phrase that has the NSA slumming through our phone calls.

Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, the drummer for the hip-hop group The Roots, performs a form of meta analysis on the evolution of hip hop in his memoir that has the convenient title “Mo Meta Blues.” The title is an obvious play on the film “Mo’ Better Blues,” the 1990 Spike Lee movie about  jazz musicians struggling to balance art, commerce and love.

Thompson refers to the movie in several instances – usually in  reference to this discussion on art, commerce and race between band leader Bleek (Denzel Washington) and saxophonist Shadow (Wesley Snipes).

In many ways, Bleek and Shadow’s debate becomes the defining issue for The Roots and for every other performer in the hip-hop genre.  (and I would add R&B performers as well). Bleek holds the jazz purists view that listeners – particularly black listeners who came from the communities that produced jazz – rejected the music. Shadow rejects that argument by saying that purist drove black fans away by refusing to play the music that those fans like. Ken Burns addressed that view in his documentary “Jazz” when he interviewed a couple that danced at ballrooms such as the Savoy in the pre-war years. That couple noted that the be-bop music that rose in the post war years reside in was not dance friendly. One photo in the documentary showed a “no dancing” sign posted in a club.

The art versus commerce debate reasserted itself with full force at that time that hip-hop supplanted R&B as the soundtrack of urban music in the 1990s and went on to become a cultural and marketing force. This is where “Mo’ Meta Blues” dives into meta analysis and ?uestlove is at his most insightful.

The book received mostly positive reviews although some noted that ?uestlove largely refused to engage in the pop music memoir convention of engaging in backstage dish. Point taken. I’m moving through the book at a good (for me) pace. I have given up hope that I will learn more about ?uestlove’s adventures in prom land with Amel Larriuex, I wonder if a conversation with Alicia Keys might lead to something. Will it? I guess I’ll have to keep reading.

For me, the backstage dish is not the most interesting stuff in this book. I’m fascinated by the clear eyed analysis ?uestlove and group manager Richard Nichols give on hip-hop’s commercial and artistic evolution. In chapter 14 both men hit on something that has bothered me for years.

The industry’s bias is toward commercial music. However, artists toiling in the black genres of R&B and hip-hop often operate under the additional burden of operating in two genres where corporate interests seem to stifle artistic diversity. Nichols addresses it directly in the following quote in this uniquely organized book.

“it’s a question of how arty you’re allowed to be when you’re black,” Nichols writes. “Take Dirty Projectors. I like that record. It’s not like everybody in the world is talking about it,m but they respect it and it sells 37,000 copies. I can’t really think of black artists who sell so little and maintain a level of respect.”

?uestlove writes that The Roots worried that Geffen might drop the group for soft sales of Illidelph Halflife – an album that sold 300,000 units. This is a book that needs to be read and discussed by music fans.

The Tour De France is a pretty tough event. The participants ride their bikes for more than 2,300 miles over a period of 23 or 24 days. That means they are covering about 100 miles a day. Lance Armstrong knows how tough the sport it. That’s why he used performance enhancing drugs to get a leg up. Armstrong gave an interview with the French newspaper LeMonde  that no rider can win without cheating. I will include the link to the LeMonde article here as it is in French.

It didn’t take long for Lance to backtrack, saying that he was referring to the impossibility of winning when he was racing and that LeMonde changed the verb tense from the was that he used to is. A lot of cyclist got busted for doping back in the day. Lance got away with it then, but the long arm of WADA caught up with him.

Still, it would have been as simple to win the TDF clean then as it is now. Somebody could have won the race clean if everybody would have decided not to dope. I said the solution was simple. I didn’t say it was easy.

This wordpress blog had a specific purpose. I’m sure every blogger can say the same. It’s more accurate to say that my blog had a a specific shelf life. I created it for a class on social media that I took at IUSB. I created the blog on Jan. 7. The blog lost its reason to exist on April 29. That is when I turned in my assignments.

The professor, Ken Smith, told me and my classmates that although he hoped that we would continue blogging, we were not under any obligation to do so. I didn’t ask, but I think all of my classmates plan to maintain their blogs in some fashion. I spoke to one classmate who indicated that he plans to continue blogging. He just wants to give it a break. I can dig that because the requirement for a grade part of the exercise added a layer of stress that we all might want to step away for a minute.

I’m going to resume blogging because the reason to continue is more compelling than the rationale for calling it quits – which boil down to I don’t have to do it anymore. And that’s not the case. I want and need to keep this up.

There are numerous reasons for keeping the site alive, but the best I need to learn how to become develop a more visible Web presence because people are increasingly coming here to get content and analysis. The big question for me is what will I talk about. The blogs for my class dealt with the topic of leadership because that is what my masters thesis will address. I’d like this blog to be about another topic. I just need to figure out what that topic will be. 

Books and music are two logical topics because I like to read and listen to music and because both are outgrowth of the kind of writing I do for the main employer The South Bend Tribune and my second employer soultracks.com. I can do one or both. For now, lets just say the next phase of da conversationalist blog in in development. Until next time.  

Are gun control advocates ready to play the game. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) hopes so. He plans to reintroduce the compromise bill that he reached with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) The bill might have a chance to pass the Senate. Some of the Senators who voted no might welcome the mulligan because their polling numbers have plummeted. 

Senators tempted to dismiss the poll might want learn about what happened to Sen. Kelly Ayotte at a town hall meeting earlier this week.  Ayotte is one of the Senators who’s polling numbers dropped. 

Rejecting the vote angered background check supporters. That rage won’t be enough for them to overcome opposition of the dedicated people who oppose background checks. Supporters must organize, lobby, raise money and most of all vote to reward allies and punish foes in 2014 and 2016. 

The Senate vote to allow debate on gun control legislation shows how much the Newtown school shooting changed the national discussion on guns. The Senate’s failure to end debate  and allow a final vote on the bill showed the politics of gun control remained the same.

The body failed muster the 60 votes to end debate a allow final votes on a series of gun measures just a week after 68 Senators voted to allow debate on the compromise bill to begin. The gun control measures included a proposal to close loopholes that prevent background checks of people who buy firearms at gun shows and over the internet.

The background check compromise failed despite being hammered out by two pro-firearms Senators – Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.). Toomey-Manchin failed despite opinion polls that show 90 percent of Americans approve of the compromise. President Obama and family members of children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre assailed those voting against the compromise. Obama accused the National Rifle Association of “willfully lying” about the bill’s key elements.

Obama singled out claims that the compromise would force a father to conduct a background check if he wanted to sell or give a weapon to his son as untrue. The president and commentators such as Joe Scarborough called the no voting Senators NRA puppets.

Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed to reintroduce the bills, but gun control is dead. Issues such as immigration reform, the budget and terrorism top the legislative agenda. Senate passage would send the bill to certain defeat in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives,

So it’s easy to understand the disappointment of gun control supporters. They lost in Congress again, and that makes it hard for them to see what they won. Background check supporters won a chance for gun control to be an election issue in 2014 and 2016.

I see why they might not see that as a victory. Nothing sends Democrats into a fetal position like facing off against the NRA in an election. It is an article of faith that passage of the 1994 assault weapon ban played a big role in Al Gore’s defeat in the 2000 election. LIberals can bring up the Florida recount. However, Gore would have been president if he carried New Hampshire or, Tennessee or Arkansas. Pundits think his party’s stance on guns cost Gore votes in those three states.

The NRA‘ has a reason to be confident. Democrats rely on the testimonials of survivors of gun violence or the family members of those killed such as Sandy Hook mother Francine Wheeler to sway public opinion.
However, gun control supporters are kidding themselves if they believe moral suasion will carry the day in gun control debate. Pro-gun groups ground their opposition to gun-control in the constitution. However, it’s fair to ask why the NRA should cede ground that the other side is incapable of taking. Anti-gun control advocates say that their side has won every election over the past 30 years in which gun policy was an issue.
 If gun control advocates want to break the NRA’s grip on Congress, they must win elections in swing states such as Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire and Florida. Obama won them all in 2008 and 2012. If pro gun control legislators lose ground in those states, the NRA can rightfully say that voters agree with them.  If pro-gun control legislators win state and federal elections, the political class will   notice.

The immigration debate provides a template. Prior to 2012, anti-immigration reform advocates on the left and right prevented action by Congress. Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates embraced nativist policies. Obama won three-fourths of the Hispanic vote in 2012 and GOP Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham are leading a bi-partisan push for comprehensive immigration reform.

What remains to be seen is whether the gun control advocates will show the type of leadership indicating their willingness to really have a debate on this issue. That means they will have to match  the NRA’s fund raising and lobbying efforts. At least one gun control advocate, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is willing to do just that.

Still, many gun control advocates treat lobbying like its a sin. They assail Supreme Court rulings such as Citizen’s United. Complaining about the rules is not leadership. If gun control advocates get outspent 10 to 1, it is likely that any new gun control legislation will meet the fate of Toomey-Manchin. And gun control supporters will only have themselves to blame.

Library visitors will find Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” filed with the Abraham Lincoln biographies. Patrick Furlong, professor emeritus of history at IUSB, said that the book is more a study of personality and leadership.  Goodwin focuses as much on five members of Lincoln’s war cabinet as she does on the 16th president. Goodwin’s book is a leadership manual because the  historian examines how the 16th President managed the strong-willed men who helped him successfully prosecute the Civil War.

Furlong’s lecture at the Centre Township Library Branch was among the St. Joseph County Public Library’s One Book, One Michiana events.

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Attorney General Edward Bates and Secretary of State William H. Seward all ran in 1860. Furlong said that the three were all somebody’s first choice. Lincoln was everybody’s second choice. The compromise choice is often the winning choice, and Lincoln prevailed.

War Secretary Edwin M. Stanton and Postmaster Montgomery Blair rounded out the war cabinet.

Lincoln’s decision to include his three rivals in his cabinet could have been a disaster.  Chase  believed that he could manipulate Lincoln. Chase was wrong because Lincoln understood the duties of a commander-in-chief in war time – functions Lincoln created as he prosecuted the war.

Lincoln was also a deliberative and decisive leader who never evaded his responsibilities or tried to shift blame, Furlong said. Lincoln’s deliberate decisiveness connects Furlong’s lecture with one given by Yale law professor Steve Smith at Notre Dame in February.

Smith’s lecture detailed how Lincoln based decisions such as his response after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on the constitution. He showed the wisdom of Lincoln’s decision to move deliberately during the  Fort Sumter crisis.The Confederate military’s decision to attack the fort cast the south as the aggressors and swayed public opinion in the north.

The Battle of Gettysburg marked a turning point in the War. The battle occurred seven months after the Emancipation Proclamation “freed” slaves in the rebel states. Critics say that the proclamation freed no slaves. A Mississippi slave owner would not free his slaves because of an order signed by LIncoln.  Smith believed that the proclamation had real consequences on the battlefield because slaves living in or near areas conquered by the Union Army dropped their plows and escaped. The Union victory at Gettysburg gave Lincoln an opportunity to fully embrace the freedom agenda. As I state in another post, LIncoln did so in the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln refused to micromanage the war even as he created the modern model for a war president.  He allowed his generals to carry out battle field plans. However, Lincoln did expect his generals to fight battles and win. Those who didn’t measure up, such as the popular but ineffective Gen. George McClellan, got fired.

The passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is the best example of Lincoln’s combination of deliberative decisiveness. The amendment’s passage is the subject of “Lincoln,” the film adaptation of Goodwin’s book. Lincoln embraced the freedom agenda at Gettysburg. However, he didn’t move on the 13th Amendment until 1865.

That turned out to be the right time. The north would emerge victorious in a few months. Attention would turn to post war matters. Lincoln realized the amendment needed to be ratified before the Confederate states rejoined the union. Lincoln used everything from moral suasion to the raw use of political power to ensure its passage.

Lincoln created the template for the modern wartime commander-in-chief, and both Smith and Furlong believe he did so by displaying an deliberate, decisive and accountable style leadership rarely witnessed in politics or other fields before or since. Those qualities explain why Lincoln managed to earn the loyalty of his former rivals, as well the other members of his cabinet.

We’ve used Feb. 12 lecture by Yale professor Steve Smith to examine Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style. Smith described decision making during the Civil War as being based in the constitution. “Team of Rivals,” the Doris Kearns Goodwin biography of LIncoln and several members of his cabinet also provides details about Lincoln’s leadership style.

Current day leaders use Goodwin’s book as a leadership manual. Goodwin’s book shows how Lincoln managed the men in his cabinet, including three who competed with him for the Republican presidential nomination. Some of those men, such as Salmon P. Chase, believed Lincoln was unqualified to serve. It’s easy to understand why Chase felt that way. Lincoln’s former rivals were men of privilege who rose to become highly regarded politicians and statesmen. Lincoln had little formal education and spent most of his life in what was at the time the undeveloped western frontier states of Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.

Goodwin believes that  Lincoln’s decision to fill his cabinet with his highly accomplished and strong willed rivals explains why he  successfully prosecuted the Civil War. The implication being that the preferred leadership style is to tap advisors willing to challenge the leader’s preferred ideologies.

That sounds good on the surface. We don’t want our leaders surrounded by yes men. Yet, tapping advisers who have questionable loyalty is risky. How will you know if their advice is correct or self serving? Anyone who’s watched an episode of “House of Cards” can see the risk of employing an advisor with his or her own agenda and an axe to grind.

Lincoln possessed other qualities that allowed him to use his former rivals without being consumed by their pride and ambition. We will learn more about those leadership qualities when Patrick Furlong, Professor Emeritus of History at IUSB, discusses the book “Team of Rivals” as Centre Township Branch Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11. Fulong’s lecture is one of a series of events that are a part of the six week long “One Book, One Michiana” program. The St. Joseph County Public Library is encouraging people to read The Killer Angels,” Michael Shaara’s historical novel about The Battle of Gettysburg.

Of course, you can’t discuss the Civil  War or The Battle of  Gettysburg without discussing Lincoln. In an earlier post, I talked about how Lincoln used his address at the November, 19 1863 ceremony to dedicate a portion of the battlefield as a cemetery for Union dead to transform the war into a fight for freedom.

I look forward to hearing Professor Furlong and using that information to tie together all I have learned about Lincoln and leadership over the past two months. Hope to see you at the lecture.

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