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An Ode to My Flip Phone
Why can’t I quit you?
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Put Anthony Fauci in a Dunk Tank
The three populist pillars of a new approach to vaccinating America: Beer, bacon, and lottery tickets.
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In Pursuit of Happiness: A Live Virtual Event
What does it take to be happy?America’s founding document states that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right. But this question has preoccupied philosophers, fascinated scientists, inspired artists, launched an enormous self-help industry—and continues to elude many of us.The Atlantic will host a live event that explores the human hold on happiness—and aims to find ways to build a more meaningful life. The event features Arthur C. Brooks, Deepak Chopra, Angela Duckworth, a performance by Jordan Fisher and the global company of Dear Evan Hansen, spiritual leader T.D. Jakes, and much more.Click here to register.The event will consider happiness and relationships, the role of spirituality, how social media and other technology are affecting our happiness, and the ways in which a year of social isolation has reframed our understanding of a lasting sense of joy.The event is underwritten by Equitable.
California’s Recall Law Is Broken
The recall election coming later this year for California Governor Gavin Newsom doesn’t appear likely to end with his removal from office. Although Newsom’s opponents have gathered enough signatures to require a vote—and conditions in the state could still change—polls show that public support for the effort is far below what Newsom’s critics will need to force his removal.Nevertheless, the drive may trigger another form of recall: It may finally prompt California to examine whether the 110-year-old state law that governs recalls still makes sense in our modern era of unrelenting partisan conflict.The law was instituted during the Progressive era as a tool to tame special interests, but the effort against Newsom suggests that it’s become a weapon of harassment and manipulation by Republicans. The GOP constitutes a minority in the state, where Democrats hold all major statewide offices and supermajorities in both legislative chambers, and where Joe Biden buried Donald Trump by more than 5 million votes last year. Once California’s secretary of state gives final certification to the collected signatures, Newsom will become the second of the state’s past three Democratic governors to face a recall that reached the ballot: Governor Gray Davis was ousted in a 2003 recall election and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. How unusual is that confluence? Across all the states, recalls against only three other governors in American history have qualified for the ballot.This pattern has some California Democrats now talking openly about making fundamental changes to the recall law—an idea rarely discussed since Governor Hiram Johnson, a Progressive icon, pushed it through the legislature in 1911. “This thing is going to be defeated by Newsom pretty handily,” says the Democratic strategist Garry South, who was the chief adviser to Davis in his two gubernatorial races, in 1998 and 2002. “And when this is all over, the legislature has to take a serious look at revamping the processes and procedures for qualifying a recall against the governor of California.”California’s law establishes a two-step process for removing and replacing an executive-branch official. Once proponents collect enough signatures, the state schedules an election that asks voters two questions. First, they are asked to vote up or down on whether to recall the targeted official, in this case Newsom. Then, on the same ballot, they are asked to choose from a list of candidates who have filed to replace the official. (The incumbent’s name can’t be listed as an option.) If a majority votes no on the recall, that’s the end of it; the incumbent remains in office. But if a majority supports the recall, the incumbent is replaced by the alternative candidate who receives the highest vote total, even if that’s less than a majority (which is possible, given how large the candidate field often is).Those rules create one of the first glaring anomalies in the California system: An incumbent could be removed and replaced even though a higher share of Californians vote to keep him in office than vote to support any single alternative. (For example, an incumbent could receive support from 49.9 percent of voters, but be ousted and replaced by someone who received a much smaller share of the vote.)An even bigger anomaly is the threshold a recall effort needs to meet in order to qualify for the ballot. Nineteen states permit voters to recall a governor, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Among those states, California requires “the lowest [signature] total to recall any state governor in the country,” says Joshua Spivak, an expert on the recall process and a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College, in New York. A recall can qualify for the ballot in California by collecting signatures equivalent to 12 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. Most states set a significantly higher bar, typically 25 percent.[Robert M. Wachter: Vigilance had a three-month shelf life]In 2018, just under 12.5 million Californians voted in the gubernatorial election, in which Newsom swamped Republican John Cox by almost exactly 3 million votes. That meant recall proponents had to collect slightly fewer than 1.5 million signatures. In absolute terms, that’s a lot of signatures to obtain. Newsom critics launched four recall attempts before this, and all failed to meet that requirement. Even the current recall, launched by conservatives infuriated by Newsom’s COVID-19 shutdowns last spring, appeared to hit a wall in the fall. Then two important things happened on November 6: First, James Arguelles, a state superior-court judge appointed by Schwarzenegger, gave the proponents an unprecedented four-month extension to gather signatures, citing the difficulties created by the coronavirus. And on the same day, Newsom chose to attend a now-infamous birthday party for a lobbyist at a swanky restaurant in Napa Valley—a choice that became a flashpoint for voter frustration. Newsom’s attendance while much of California remained shut down “became a pop-culture caricature of what everyone hates about politicians,” says the Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, who served as Schwarzenegger’s communications director during the Davis recall and when Schwarzenegger was governor. “It had everything: It had elitism, it had hypocrisy, it had a whiff of pay-to-play.”With the extra time and the spark Newsom lit with his restaurant blunder, money poured in from Republican donors, and the signature drive was revived. Funds were now available to hire professional canvassers and send direct mail to voters to collect signatures. The 1.5 million signatures required represents a small fraction of the reliable GOP vote in the nation’s largest state. Cox won just 38 percent of the total vote in his 2018 bid against Newsom, but that amounted to more than 4.7 million votes. Trump, while winning just 34 percent of California’s total vote last year, attracted more than 6 million.All evidence suggests that those same Republican voters are primarily powering the recall effort now. A recent Los Angeles Times analysis found the greatest support for the effort in the state’s residual red regions: the rural northeastern and Central Valley counties “with low coronavirus case counts and where voters heavily favored former President Trump.”Another revealing measure of support for the effort is how many recall signatures each county produced per vote cast in the 2020 presidential election: The 19 counties that ranked highest on that measure all voted for Trump last year. Meanwhile, most of the state’s major urban and suburban population centers—including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Alameda Counties—ranked at the very bottom of that list (with the signatures gathered there equaling 6 percent or less of their total 2020 turnout). In a statewide poll released this week by UC Berkeley and the L.A. Times, 85 percent of Republicans said they support recalling Newsom, compared with 33 percent of independents and only 8 percent of Democrats. That puts overall support for Newsom’s removal at 36 percent—midway between the meager GOP votes for Cox in 2018 and Trump in 2020.All of this raises a key question: whether the recall is measuring a genuine eruption of grassroots discontent against Newsom or merely recording the fact that many of the Republican voters who never wanted him to be governor still don’t. At times last year, the former explanation seemed somewhat plausible, with the virus imposing terrible economic and health losses on the state. But the latter looks much more convincing now, as the state’s infection and hospitalization rates have plummeted, the economy is reopening, vaccination totals are rising, and the state’s budget is recovering. Dan Schnur, a former Republican operative who now teaches at UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California, agrees that the recall effort at this point is mostly measuring conservative alienation in a state that has shifted emphatically toward Democrats since the 1990s. “There are a lot of voters who are unhappy with the way Newsom has handled the pandemic, but not nearly enough to remove him from office,” Schnur told me. Indeed, in the new UC Berkeley/L.A. Times poll, only 35 percent of voters gave Newsom poor marks for handling the pandemic—roughly the same minority that backs the recall.[Kori Schake: The U.S. puts its greatest vulnerability on display]It’s useful to compare Newsom’s circumstances with that of another Democrat, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. In a state that is much more closely divided between the parties, Whitmer faced an even more ferocious right-wing backlash against her COVID-19 restrictions last year. (That backlash included a protest by armed activists who descended on the state capitol and a plot to kidnap and possibly murder her.) Critics have filed nine separate petitions to recall her from office. But because Michigan requires twice as many signatures than California for a recall to reach the ballot—25 percent versus 12 percent—none of those efforts is likely to qualify.In one sense, this contrast might not have troubled the Progressive-era leaders who created the recall law in California. “They didn’t want it to be hard to use,” Glen Gendzel, the chair of San Jose State University’s history department, who has studied that era in the state, told me. The recall was part of an extraordinary package of 22 state constitutional amendments—including the initiative and referendum processes—that Hiram Johnson persuaded voters to approve in a single election in October 1911. The unifying thread among those measures was Johnson’s determination to create safeguards against the corrupting power of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the dominant economic and political force in the state at the time. Progressives thought “they only had one chance to enact laws in a great big hurry that would ensure the capability to resist further corruption of California government once the Progressives were out of power,” Gendzel said. “What are you going to do if corrupt politicians return to power and serve the main special interest in the state again, namely the railroad? Well, make it possible for the people to recall them, to pull them out, if they prove unfaithful to the people’s wishes.”Johnson and his allies tended to see politics in terms of interests, not parties; they sought to unite both Democratic and Republican Progressives against Southern Pacific’s concentrated economic power. Although elected as a Republican, Johnson bolted from the party to run as Theodore Roosevelt’s vice president in his unsuccessful third-party Progressive presidential bid in 1912, and when he returned to California, Johnson passed legislation to transform state elections into nonpartisan contests, Gendzel noted. (Ironically, a referendum sponsored by Republican and Democratic party bosses, using the Progressives’ own direct-democracy tools, overturned that law.) The recall as a deliberately partisan weapon probably would have stunned Johnson.Like many other features of America’s electoral system, including the Electoral College, the California recall is buckling under the pressure of today’s hyper-partisanship. Johnson envisioned the recall as a tool for a majority of “the people” to protect themselves against a minority of “the interests.” But today it’s a minority of disaffected Republicans who are trying to overturn the majority’s vote. No Republican has won any major statewide office in California since 2006. A recall gives them better odds than a conventional election, partly because of the unusual up-down vote on the incumbent, and partly because turnout for special elections is so unpredictable.“I don’t think the Progressives could have anticipated a situation like this,” Gendzel said, “where one party is repeatedly repudiated at the polls … and they simply use their financial advantages to force a redo … in which they hope to prevail because the conditions are different.”[Read: The new swing voters]Critics of the current law are beginning to discuss several options for changing California’s recall process. Among them are requiring proponents to prove some standard of malfeasance before placing a recall on the ballot (as seven of the 19 states with recall laws now require); allowing the incumbent to run on the replacement ballot; or simply raising the threshold of signatures required to qualify. The conventional wisdom in the state is that persuading voters to surrender any of the authority they currently have under the recall law will be extremely difficult, especially because any major changes would require a constitutional amendment. “I don’t think Newsom should be removed from office, but boy would I not want to run the campaign to make a recall harder to achieve,” Schnur said.Yet other political observers believe that a failed recall against Newsom could trigger a reconsideration of the law. Political experts in both parties caution that the drive against Newsom could become a much closer call if conditions turn against him before the vote—if there’s a resurgence of the virus, extensive problems with the power grid or wildfires, or a wide-scale disruption to the reopening of schools in the fall, to name some examples. But if conditions remain steady or improve and the recall is resoundingly rejected, it may be possible to persuade both Democratic legislators and voters to back changes. “You have to tighten up these procedures and processes to make sure this is not some frivolous alternative that Republicans are using to gain power in California because they can’t win fair and square at the ballot box,” South told me.Stutzman says that, after the Newsom experience, even Republicans should support retrenching the recall law. The threat the law poses to incumbents “would manifest itself even more acutely” if and when Republicans next elect a governor in the blue stronghold. “All of a sudden, a nurses’ union or teachers’ union could go out and do this to them,” he said. “Republicans should be in support of reform, because it would ultimately offer them more protection if they ever retake the office.”California Republicans seem unlikely to heed that counsel. California Democrats, meanwhile, face a dynamic similar to the one confronting the national party in the raging battle over ballot access. Facing clear evidence that GOP governors and legislatures are rewriting voting laws in red states to hurt Democratic prospects, congressional Democrats still haven’t used their power to preempt that offensive with federal voting-rights legislation. California Democrats might be equally guilty of political malpractice if they don’t try to change the recall law while they have the power to do so, with clear indication from the GOP that Republicans will wield it as a weapon every chance they get.
Larry Legaspi’s Outlandish Glam Legacy
Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley of the rock band Kiss pose for a portrait circa 1975. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) One night in 1977, George Clinton stepped out of a flying saucer, teetering in his new pair of nine-inch platform boots. That fantastical footwear “was hard to wear onstage but great to take pictures in,” the Parliament-Funkadelic leader told Vogue in 2018. Clinton was always risking a wardrobe malfunction during concerts. Not only were his outfits cumbersome and ostentatious—kind of like Sun Ra meets Star Wars—but he’d also use a prop spacecraft called the Mothership to make a grand entrance at shows. “You could pose real good” in those shoes, he added, “but you couldn’t do much jumping out of spaceships.”That decade saw Clinton begin to mash glam and funk into an Afrofuturist symphony that would remake pop music. But despite his wild imagination, he didn’t concoct those otherworldly costumes in the ’70s—Larry Legaspi did. The designer, who died 20 years ago, created the eye-popping looks that Clinton and his P-Funk collective have since made legendary. If that was all he’d ever accomplished, his legacy would be secure. Yet Legaspi also designed glitter-studded stagewear for Labelle, Grace Jones, Betty Davis, Diana Ross, Eartha Kitt, Klaus Nomi, and his dear friend Divine—not to mention the cartoonish, superheroes-from-Hell costumes worn by the members of Kiss. Legaspi’s influence, if not his name, is as pervasive as ever today. Glints of his larger-than-life aesthetic shine forth from a host of contemporary stars with a flair for the thespian and the spectacular, including Janelle Monáe, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga. The Star Wars costume architect Michael Kaplan is an admirer, and Rick Owens—the fashion designer known for his dark concepts and sculpted silhouettes—dedicated a 2019 show to him. Legaspi’s futurism took wing more than 40 years ago, yet it still looks like the garb of tomorrow.Although Legaspi remains overdue for a widespread revival, Owens did write a book about his underappreciated hero. The gorgeous, lushly illustrated, coffee-table hardcover, titled Legaspi: Larry Legaspi, the ’70s, and the Future of Fashion, was published in 2019, and it’s the closest thing to a biography of the designer that exists. It includes Legaspi’s own written account of his early life. He describes growing up in New Jersey, where he says his hard-drinking stepfather regularly beat his mother and molested him. After years of abuse and trauma, he left home for New York, where he opened a boutique called Moonstone and began designing garments. “I am self-taught,” he told the fashion journalist André Leon Talley in 1979. “I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology for a few semesters of basic trainings, but what you see is mostly my dreams.” In his own words, he was a “gay hippie” upon arriving in New York, but he soon gravitated toward the angular, intergalactic sparkle of glam rock. Incorporating elements such as arched collars and reflective materials into his designs, he also drew from the past—namely from the science fiction he had devoured as a kid. Nona Hendryx from Labelle performs live in New York City circa 1975. (Richard E. Aaron / Redferns) [Read: How Pierre Cardin’s futuristic fashion infiltrated everyday life]New York in the early ’70s was hardly what you would call restrained. But when Legaspi wore his own outfits on city sidewalks, his Flash Gordon–on–Fire Island style drew catcalls of “Moon man!” from passersby. “I never could bear to look like everyone else,” he told Us Magazine in 1980. Moonstone struggled to attract clientele at first, but that changed when Legaspi got a job on Broadway as a dresser for the original run of Jesus Christ Superstar. Soon, he was noticed by Labelle. The trio of Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash was transitioning from a sweet vocal group—one that Legaspi had loved as a child—to a fierce and forward-thinking funk powerhouse. Legaspi began designing their stage costumes, stitching together shimmering metallics, white leather capes, and ludicrous plumage straight out of some hallucination of alien ornithology. Hendryx, also a lifelong sci-fi fan, had urged Legaspi, “Make me a spacesuit.” Labelle’s striking new look, the music magazine Melody Maker observed in 1974, was “like a soul version of UFO.”Legaspi dubbed his new line of costumes “Primal Space,” a term that played on both his adoration of sci-fi imagery and his connection to the earthy pulse of funk and rock. His name began circulating, and as his Labelle creations made waves, other musicians took notice. Before long, the members of an unknown rock group playing small clubs in New York asked Legaspi to help them realize their own bizarre ideas for stagewear—costumes that were extravagant, gleaming, superhuman, and just a little bit scary. Legaspi obliged, unaware that Kiss would become one of the biggest bands of all time. “Our manager Bill Aucoin introduced us to Larry. He had a storefront in the far West Village,” the Kiss guitarist Paul Stanley recalls in Owens’s book. “He was doing costumes for Labelle.” In fact, Kiss stole Legaspi away from Labelle, whisking him up in a rise to fame that, ironically, did little to help the designer’s brand recognition. He loved applying his aesthetic to the world of popular music, and the money didn’t hurt. He wanted nothing more, though, than to be seen as a high-fashion creator. Left: Singer and actress Grace Jones. (Robin Platzer / The LIFE Images Collection/Getty) Right: George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic (Echoes / Redferns) But Legaspi wound up stuck in a strange place: too bold to go mainstream and too weird to be embraced by the fashion industry. With seemingly nowhere else to turn, Legaspi continued making costumes for his friends in the New York art scene, including the operatic singer Klaus Nomi, whose retro-futurism meshed with Legaspi’s. And after becoming close friends with Divine, he supplied the gay icon with designs that accentuated camp, drama, and subversive sexuality. Grace Jones, as she was moving from modeling to music in the late ’70s, tapped Legaspi as well. But of all the people he dressed, no pairing was more perfect than Legaspi plus P-Funk. “I know the theater well,” Clinton told Vogue in 2018. “I watched a lot of these plays, and when we first did the Mothership Connection album in 1975, I knew that I had to get the costuming from Larry Legaspi.”[Read: The Funkadelic album that predicted the future]Working with Clinton and crew—including the irrepressible bassist Bootsy Collins—Legaspi’s cosmic visions and sci-fi obsessions truly soared. Parliament's Mothership Connection was the first in a series of interconnected albums by it and the overlapping group Funkadelic. In the albums, an epic battle between good and evil—that is, funk and funklessness—sprawls across the backdrop of space-time. Legaspi was finally fully unleashed. He “made crazy sci-fi costumes,” Clinton wrote in his memoir, Brothers Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? They “made us look wild and interstellar.” Legaspi’s garb brought a vital element to the P-Funk mythology—and, in his own words, came “right out of my fantasies about the future.”Tragically, Legaspi’s own future dimmed. He contracted HIV in 1987 as the epidemic decimated New York, especially the queer and artistic communities he was so intimately involved in. Focusing on his health, he left the city and ultimately settled in North Carolina, where he died of AIDS-related causes in 2001, having ceased any creative output years earlier. Although clients such as Clinton realized—to the point of potentially breaking a leg onstage—that Legaspi’s designs weren’t very practical to perform in, the designer himself always saw them as having the potential to be much more than rock-star garb. “My clothes are not a stage costume,” he told an interviewer in the early ’80s, just as his visionary style was being copied and adopted by music’s growing futuristic, new-wave movement. “They are something that can actually be worn in the day as well as the evening.” He dreamed of new synthetic fibers and other technological advances that could be used to make solar-heated and air-conditioned bodysuits: “Our clothing is going to have to help us cope with our environment, and of course venturing into space travel is going to affect the way we dress.” He wanted, essentially, to reboot civilization’s entire concept of what clothes were and did. And he wanted that concept to be sexy. Larry Legaspi and his wife, Valerie, pose beside a hotel swimming pool in New York, New York, on August 3, 1979. (Allan Tannenbaum / Getty) Twenty years after Legaspi’s death, his vision of futuristic glam as everyday streetwear—or everyday spacewear, for that matter—hasn’t quite come to pass. But maybe that’s because he was even more outlandishly ahead of his time than his biggest fans and most famous patrons could have imagined. “I knew I’d have to wait for the world to catch up with me,” he said in 1980, already 10 years into a career full of fabulousness, frustration, and idealism about the future. “But I didn’t think I’d have to wait this long.”Legaspi barely got to see the 21st century he anticipated with so much wonder and hope. Now we don’t even blink at innovative technologies such as electric cars and smartphones, which seemed like science fiction back when Legaspi was peaking as a designer. We’ve charted thousands of exoplanets and are looking ahead to the human exploration of Mars. Still, onstage Legaspi’s prescient vision seems to guide many of today’s leading-edge artists. Lady Gaga, his most conspicuous stylistic descendant, appeared in the video of her 2020 hit “Stupid Love” wearing sleek, twinkling bodysuits that recall the space-warrior vibe of Legaspi’s vintage Labelle collections. “The world rots in conflict,” the video’s opening slate reads. “Many tribes battle for dominance. While the Spiritual ones pray and sleep for peace, the Kindness punks fight for Chromatica.” It’s the kind of sci-fi mirage that Legaspi himself dreamed into fashion.
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