In memoriam: Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin (1942-2018), the Queen of Soul, is dead at age 76.

She had 20 number-one hits on the US R&B chart, among them:

Respect (1967)

Chain of Fools (1967)

Spanish Harlem (1971)

Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do) (1973)

Freeway of Love (1985)

One of my favourites “only” made it to #2:

(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (1967)

Requiescat in pace.

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Which are the best romance novels?

In your opinion, which are the best romance novels? Not just in terms of being a good read as a book, but also in terms of being true to life, especially emotionally. Do not limit yourself to just to genre romance (pictured above) but any sort of book, even poetry, biography or history. I want to read something good, not something trash or tedious.

Please let me know what you think in the comments below – or email me (abagond at gmail).

Thank you!

– Abagond, 2018.

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Yara Shahidi

Yara Shahidi on the cover of Essence magazine, April 2018.

Yara Shahidi (2000- ) is a US actress best known for playing Zoey Johnson, the older daughter on the television show “black-ish” (2014- ) and the lead character of the spin-off, “grown-ish” (2018- ).

In 2018 Oprah told her:

“Baby, your future’s so bright it burns my eyes.”

which is what Quincy Jones told Oprah in 1985.

The Lisa Bonet of the 2010s: Like Lisa Bonet, Shahidi plays the pretty teenage daughter on a sitcom about an upper-middle-class Black family and then goes to university on a spin-off show. If she continues on Bonet’s path, she will appear in a racy film to shed her good-girl image, marry a rock star, and have a daughter who in turn will become famous, by which time there will be a Yara Shahidi of the 2040s. And so on.

The irony of “grown-ish” is that she is putting off going to university to play a character who goes to university.

Beauty and brains: She got into Harvard University. Michelle Obama wrote a letter of recommendation. Shahidi hopes to major in social studies and African American studies – which would fit her activist bent. She believes everyone should do what they can to make the world a better place, even famous Black people. She is not into being a Grateful Darky. She thinks Colin Kaepernick has it right, even though his activism got him fired and blacklisted.

Hair: She has gorgeously curly hair, but there was a time when she did not like her curls and would straighten them! She thought straight hair looked more “professional”.

Shahidi with her parents and two brothers.

Race: Her father is Persian (like her name), her mother is Black American. She considers herself to be both Black and Iranian American. She does not see it as an either/or thing. It gives her a broader, more global view of the world.

Shahidi (lower right-hand corner) at the wedding of Nas and Kelis, 2005. Click to enlarge.

Relatives: Nas, the rapper, is her cousin. In fact, you can see her as a flower girl when he married Kelis. Shahidi’s father is a photographer who left Iran just before the revolution. He became the personal photographer of Prince.

Acting: She has been in ads since she was a six-month-old baby, stuff like McDonald’s, Target, Gap Kids, Disney, and Ralph Lauren. In 2013 she appeared twice on “Scandal” as a young Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington’s character. She has been in other television shows and some films too, but did not hit the big time till “black-ish”.

She says she is more like her real self on “grown-ish” than on “black-ish”. But even there she is dumbed down to seem more like a stereotypical teenage girl. You would never guess, for example, that she would know what was going on in Iran or would use a Vonnegut reference in a tattoo.

Fandoms: She is huge fan of Marvel Comics and James Baldwin. She cried when she read “Giovanni’s Room” (1956), which she read while listening to Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” (2016) – a procedure which she recommends.

Robot dance: She does the robot dance to make sure her clothes fit properly.

– Abagond, 2018.

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Queen Tiye

Queen Tiye (c. -1390 to at least -1332), also written Tiy, was an Egyptian queen in life and a Nubian goddess in death. Her male relatives ruled Egypt for most of the -1300s:

  • -1382 to -1344: Amenhotep III, husband
  • -1344 to -1328: Akhenaton, son
  • -1327 to -1318: Tutankhamen, grandson

Note that dates that far back can be off by about 35 years.

She was also the mother-in-law, if not an aunt, of Nefertiti.

She was the Great Royal Wife, the chief queen. Given how she was shown in pictures and how foreign rulers wrote to her, she must have had considerable power, even if she never ruled in her own right. That set the stage for Nefertiti to hold even more power.

Sons: Queen Tiye had at least two sons: Thutmose and Akhenaton. Thutmose was older but died before his father. So Akhenaton became king, the Heretic King who tried to overthrow the old gods. She became one of his advisers, living till at least the 12th year of his reign (-1332).

Daughters: She also had at least four daughters: Satamun, Henuttaneb, Nebetiah, and Isis. The picture at top might be Satamun, not her. It is hard to tell them apart.

Fellow wives: at least one Babylonian princess, two Mitannian ones (from present-day Syria), and her daughter Satamun. It was common for pharaohs to marry foreign princesses to keep the peace and to marry their own sisters and daughters.

Commoner: What was uncommon was for the king to marry a commoner like her, someone not of royal blood. Not that she was a poor Cinderella figure or anything: she came from a powerful family from Akhmin, a city 250 km down the Nile from the capital Thebes. Her father, Yuya, was the Master of the Horse. He commanded the king’s chariots, the most powerful war machine of its time.

Race: Tiye may have been part Asian, but, going by US racial standards of 3,300 years later, she was almost certainly Black. The same goes for her husband and therefore their son Akhenaton. Ancient Egypt did not have Anglo-American ideas about race, but it is important to point out her Blackness given how relentlessly Egyptian history is Whitewashed and used in turn to support anti-Black racism.

Her body was discovered in 1898. It was lying on the ground in a side room of her father-in-law’s tomb, KV35, in the Valley of the Kings. She was lying next to a ten-year-old boy and a young woman whose face was bashed in (probably from murder). The bodies had no name tags, so no one knew for sure who they were till 2010 when DNA tests showed that the Elder Lady (as she was called) was Queen Tiye and the Younger Lady was King Tut’s mother. We can tell that because among King Tut’s treasures was a lock of his grandmother’s hair.

Nubian goddess: She was worshipped as the solar eye of Ra at a temple in Sedeinga, over 1,000 km upriver from Thebes in Upper Nubia (now Sudan).

– Abagond, 2018.

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Christina Aguilera: The Voice Within


My favourite Christina Aguilera song. It seems kind of cheesy and overwrought, but it still has an effect on me.

It seems like she is singing the song to you, both in the song and in the video – but she is singing it to herself. She is the “young girl”.

It came out in 2003, going to #13 in Europe and #26 in the Anglosphere (weighted average).

The video was shot in one go – there are no edits – in a deserted theatre in Los Angeles. The director, David LaChapelle, kept it simple because he did not want anything to overshadow her voice. Thank you! He has appeared in this space before: he directed “It’s My Life” (2003) by No Doubt.

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Young girl, don’t cry
I’ll be right here when your world starts to fall
Young girl, it’s alright
Your tears will dry, you’ll soon be free to fly

When you’re safe inside your room you tend to dream
Of a place where nothing’s harder than it seems
No one ever wants or bothers to explain
Of the heartache life can bring and what it means

When there’s no one else
Look inside yourself
Like your oldest friend
Just trust the voice within
Then you’ll find the strength
That will guide your way
You’ll learn to begin
To trust the voice within

Young girl, don’t hide
You’ll never change if you just run away
Young girl, just hold tight
And soon you’re gonna see your brighter day

Now in a world where innocence is quickly claimed
It’s so hard to stand your ground when you’re so afraid
No one reaches out a hand for you to hold
When you’re lost outside look inside to your soul

When there’s no one else
Look inside yourself
Like your oldest friend
Just trust the voice within
Then you’ll find the strength
That will guide your way
You will learn to begin
To trust the voice within

Life is a journey
It can take you anywhere you choose to go
As long as you’re learning
You’ll find all you’ll ever need to know (be strong)
You’ll break it (hold on)
You’ll make it (be strong)
Just don’t forsake it because
(No one can tell you what you can’t do)
No one can stop you, you know that I’m talking to you

When there’s no one else
Look inside yourself
And like your oldest friend
Just trust the voice within
Then you’ll find the strength
That will guide your way
You will learn to begin
To trust the voice within

Young girl don’t cry
I’ll be right here when your world starts to fall

Source: AZ Lyrics, Wikipedia

Trump is an average racist

Donald Trump interviewed by Don Lemon in 2015. After this interview Trump told Lemon that he was the racist one.

In the US, President Trump is an average racist. We know that from opinion polls.

According to a Quinnipiac poll in July, 49% of US voters thought he was racist, 47% thought he was not – given or take 4% (the margin of error). That puts Trump dead in the middle: he is more racist than half the country, but less racist than the other half. He is about as average as you can get.

Quinnipiac poll, July 3rd 2018.

Assumimg that those who think Trump is not racist are more racist than he is, we can use the same poll to get a rough idea of how racist different parts of the US are, at least relative to Trump:

More racist than Trump:

  • 86% of Republicans
  • 63% of White men
  • 59% of Whites without a college degree
  • 56% of men
  • 52% of Whites
  • 50% of those ages 35 to 49 (born 1969 to 1983)
  • 49% of those ages 50 to 64 (born 1954 to 1968)
  • 47% of all US voters
  • 46% of those ages 65 or older (born before 1954)
  • 45% of Whites with a college degree
  • 44% of Independents
  • 43% of White women
  • 40% of those ages 18 to 34 (born 1984 to 2000)
  • 40% of Hispanics
  • 39% of women
  • 19% of Blacks
  • 16% of those on this blog who took part in an unscientific poll in 2016
  • 10% of Democrats

Age: The good news is that Millennials, the future of the country, are markedly less racist than Trump or the country as a whole. Presumably because they are, on average, more educated and less White. I would like to say they have also learned from the past, but history seems to have had little effect on their elders – they are all within the margin of error from each other.

Party: It might seem strange that Democrats overall are less racist than Blacks or that Republicans are more racist than Whites. Some of it probably is due to partisanship – Republicans would naturally be more likely to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, Democrats less so. But after 50 years of the Southern Strategy, after 50 years of racist dog whistles and now foghorns, it is hardly surprising that Republicans have gathered to their cause the lion’s share of the nation’s worst racists.

And that gets to my main point:

Trump is not an anomaly.

Not demographically – see above. He is well within the mainstream of US opinion. He is markedly closer to the centre than most White men.

And not historically – what in the world do you expect after 50 years of racist dog whistles?

Two things make him seem like an anomaly:

  1. His lack of a filter – As bad as Trump is, most White men are worse. But they know when to keep their mouth shut. Trump speaks with almost no filter, like some drunken loudmouth at a bar.
  2. The White Liberal press – which would be close to the 10% for Democrats. That would make Trump seem like an outlier to them. But since they are White themselves, they will also want to write him off as the Racist Uncle sort. That Omarosa says he used the N-word is music to their ears.

– Abagond, 2018.

Source: that Quinnipiac poll (2018).

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Nefertiti (-1300s), queen of Egypt, was the wife of Akhenaton, the Heretic King who ruled Egypt from about -1344 to -1328. He was probably her cousin or brother. King Tutankhamen was her stepson. Her name means “the beautiful one is come”.

Her power: “Queen” in Ancient Egyptian means just “king’s wife”. Very few ruled in their own right. But given how Nefertiti is shown as a near equal to Akhenaton in pictures, she probably held considerable power. Also, the person who ruled Egypt right after him and right before King Tut, from about -1330 to -1327, went by the name of Nefernefruaten, among others. That was one of Nerfertiti’s names. But not all scholars agree that it was her.

Her fame: Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln probably never heard of her. But then in 1912 the Bust of Nefertiti (pictured above) was discovered, made when she was alive, now one of the world’s most famous pieces of art. It was found in its workshop still unfinished (thus the left eye). The Germans stole it – it is now in a museum in Berlin. Egypt wants it back.

Amarna Revolution: Egyptian art is famous for showing people in that stiff, eyes-on-the-side-of-the-head sort of way. The bust is nothing like that. That is because of the Amarna Revolution, a cultural revolution led by her husband. It not only overthrew the old gods, like Amun, but also that old, stiff style of art. It allowed her beauty to shine through the ages.

Was she really that beautiful? Egyptian art generally shows kings and queens in an idealized way – how they wish they looked. Photoshop is nothing new. But since her husband during the same period looks deformed, it is probably close to how she looked.

How she lived: Unlike most Egyptians of the time, she had a bathroom mirror and a four-post bed. The palace band played during meals.

  • transport: golden chariot, electrum carrying chair.
  • ears: two piercings on each.
  • colour scheme: white and cobalt blue.
  • soap: she used olive oil and natron instead.
  • moisturizer: made of sesame seeds and olive oil, perfumed with myrrh or lotus.
  • clothing: made of fine linen.
  • shoes: sandals with pictures of bound enemies on the bottom.
  • weapons: scimitar (to kill prisoners), bow and arrow, throw stick (for hunting birds).
  • How to greet her: on your belly, your nose touching the ground.

She was from Thebes, but at her height lived in Amarna, the new capital her husband had built.

The Tomb of Nefertiti: Her body has yet to be discovered. There are some unidentified bodies of royal women from her time. She might be one of them. The Becky Nefertiti reconstruction of 2018 was based on one of them. Her tomb, though, has yet to be discovered. Just like how the reaction against the Amarna Revolution led to tomb robbers forgetting where King Tut was buried, the same could be true for her. That would mean her tomb is untouched, waiting to be discovered in all its glory.

– Abagond, 2018.

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