Friday, June 23, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - June 23, 2017

"Ball and Chain" by Big Brother and the Holding Company (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Na, Na, Na, Gonna Have a Mistrial!

So what was that all about?
After a two-week trial of Bill Cosby on sexual assault allegations in which the jurors were sequestered and shielded from any news about the case, in which the prosecution was well-prepared an armed for bear, two jurors rendered the jury unable to reach a verdict?  The recollections of Andrea Constand, the woman who brought the charges, were deemed inconsistent by the defense, and Judge Steven O'Neill, when asked by the prosecution to bring forward thirteen witnesses, allowed the prosecution to being forward all but twelve of them.  Of course Andrea Constand had inconsistent memories - after thirteen years,  I would expect her not to remember details as clearly, but I'm sure she'd remember the central highlight of her case.  And thirteen witnesses would have backed her up. You call that a fair trial for the prosecution?
Let's not forget that Bill Cosby is not accused of assaulting only a few women, but 59 women - fifty-nine!  And he's made sexual boasts alluding to assault in the past.  What would have convinced those two jurors or anyone else in that group of twelve that he's as guilty as sin?
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steel says he will try the case again.  Good luck finding another suitable jury.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Le Marche Americain Est Futile?

President Emmanuel Macron of France achieved the impossible.  His center-left party En Marche! just won a huge majority in the French parliament, 361 out of 577 seats, after two separate rounds of voting, despite the fact that En Marche! was only formed a year earlier.  The two major parties in France, the Republicans and the Socialists, are in free fall because they no longer represent the concerns of the average Frenchman, and Marine Le Pen's National Front has been discredited as well.
So here's the thing.  Why can't we in America do what Macron did - start a new party?
As I type, the U.S. Republican Party is in a quagmire, hobbled by factions and despised for its love for power for power's sake, but the Democrats are so bewildered and completely out of touch with average Americans that they are on the verge of Whig-like extinction.  (Jon Ossoff in Georgia and Archie Parnell in South Carolina both lost their respective special U.S. House races yesterday, meaning that the Republicans have held every one of their five congressional seats - four in the House, one in the Senate - up for special election since Trump was elected President.)  Both parties continue to stifle legislation that would benefit ordinary people at the expense of their wealthy benefactors, and both count on fear tactics to get the few people who actually bother to vote to continue to support them.  We need a new party to address the concerns of ordinary people and make the economy work for everyone, as well as provide equality and fairness for everyone.  We need to to do something about health care, infrastructure, Wall Street reform, education, and so many other things, and neither party seems to be either willing or able to do a thing about any of this, despite their rhetoric.  Look, the Republican Party was formed in 1854 to fill the void left by the Whigs, but the party grew rapidly, and by 1860 the party had won the Presidency.  And the only technology they had to organize themselves with was the telegraph.  Don't tell me that, in an age of cell phones, the Internet, TV and radio, people can't form a new party in the United States and get it up and running in a year.
Then again, maybe they can't.  Maybe too many Americans have just gotten too apathetic, or may they're just too pathetic.  Maybe too many of is would just rather not get involved to preserve our own interests.  Once upon a time, we taught the French democracy; now, it appears that the student has become the master. 
And to those who say that Citizens United makes forming a new party impossible here, and that ordinary people can't make a financial contribution to a start-up party, let me recite two little words familiar to Bernie Sanders supporters - twenty-seven dollars!
(A warning, though, to Bernie Sanders fans thinking about forming a new party - the French Socialists just took a beating in parliamentary elections, going from 280 seats to 46.) 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Storms Are Over

I got through yesterday's severe thunderstorms, and one of them did blow through my neck of the woods, though it lasted only half an hour and the core of it was away from my house.  No problems ultimately, but some of that wind and rain was (were?) pretty scary. 
No storms on the horizon anymore, for now - even that tropical storm coming out of the Gulf is likely to be no big deal by the time what's left of ti gets here.
So - how about that special U.S. House election today in Georgia between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel?  He's working his Ossoff, and she is trying to Handel the pressure.  Sure to be a nail-biter when the election returns come in tonight. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Most Storms WILL Be Severe!

This post may be the last you see of me for awhile.
The government's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Oklahoma placed my part of New Jersey in an enhanced-risk zone for severe thunderstorms today . . . and it placed my part of New Jersey in this zone two days out.  It is extremely rare for the SPC to forecast such a great potential for severe weather for New Jersey that far in advance.
The risks include torrential downpours, gusty, damaging winds, hailstones (the sort that can break a windshield), and even tornadoes.  As fate would have it, my local utility just finished having the limbs and branches over the power lines pruned, so they don't take the lines down in a storm.  Thanks to the ferocity of the storms expected today, and thanks also to all the rain we've been getting, none of that matters.  Because it only takes one mile-a-minute wind gust to take own an entire tree. And there are supposed to be several such gusts today, if not one big sustained 60-mph wind altogether (can you say "derecho," boys and girls?).
And we might get a tree in our living room.
Who needs a hurricane to worry about?  Oh yeah, a tropical storm that has n't even formed yet could send its remnants up my way after hitting Louisiana early this week. 
If I'm back tomorrow, it will be a miracle.  So stay tuned.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Trump Sí, Cuba No

Donald Trump has reversed yet another Obama policy - thus time, Obama's audacious effort at improving relations with Cuba.  Trump has decided to restrict business deals with the the Cuban Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group, which handles a great deal of the Cuban economy, and also individual tourist travel to Cuba from the United States.  This means no American investment in Cuba, which hurts the Cuban people Trump says he's trying to free from their repressive government, and not the repressive government in question.  It also means fewer tourist dollars spent in Cuba; Americans can still travel there, but in pre-arranged tour groups that are virtually impossible to sign on to.  
Cuban rum and cigars can still be brought back to the United States - assuming you have the chance to purchase any - and diplomatic relations established by Obama will not be cut.  So what if there's no ambassador there?
The people who oppose this freeze Trump has put on thawing U.S.-Cuba relations are just about everyone on the planet, especially Cuban-Americans under fifty not named Marco Rubio.  But older Cuban-American residents in Miami and right-wing Republicans are clearly pleased, including, I'm sure, Steve Bannon, because Trump kept his promises.  After all ,the governorship of Florida and a U.S. Senate seat from Florida are up in 2018.  
The joke is that Trump placed new restrictions on travel to and business with Cuba because he doesn't have any real estate deals there, but there's a more sinister reason for why he's doing this.   He's doing it because he gets to undo yet another Obama initiative.  The Paris agreement, health care, now this - it's all part of the Republican agenda to not just reverse Obama's policies but to eradicate any proof that Obama's Presidency even existed.  It's like the trick used by Joseph Stalin in the old Soviet Union, that of eradicating any proof that a political enemy even walked the face of this earth because of his crime against the state.  Barack Obama's existence is being eradicated for the high crime of being President while . . . black.  
Obama has mostly stayed out of the limelight because he, like George Walker Bush before him, believes he owes his successor his silence.  Ironically, Trump is silencing the echoes of Obama's Presidency.  The CIA is probably plotting not to kill Cuban leader Raul Castro but to convince him that the improvement of U.S-Cuba relations with a black American President was all a dream . . . all . . . a . . . dream.
Cigar? 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Female Barack Obama?

I'm not going to comment on Attorney General Jeff Sessions' answers to questions about the Russians at his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, or his recollections of meetings with Russian officials.  Because he offered neither.  I'm instead going to comment on the star of the hearings,  U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California.
Kamala Harris became a rising star in the falling Democratic Party the second she was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2016.  A tough prosecutor of South Asian and Jamaican descent, she served as District Attorney of San Francisco and then as Attorney General of California and was known for her tenacity and her lack of moderation in the pursuit of justice (such moderation, as Barry Goldwater once told us, is no virtue).  She's brought that no-nonsense attitude to the Senate, grilling witnesses in the Trump investigations such as Jeff Sessions to get to the heart of the matter.  But she's had a hard time getting her questions out; Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) keeps cutting her off.
Now why is that?  Because she's a woman?  Because she's a person of color?  Or is it because Republicans are afraid of her aspiring to a federal elective office higher than the Senate?
I'll come right out and say it - Kamala Harris is being talked about for the Presidency in 2020.  And Burr and other Republicans may be trying to silence her because they see her as a threat down the road.  
She's a dream candidate for many Democrats, someone who could forge a new coalition of women, people of color, and white male liberals, and maybe drawing in the same Trump voters in the Rust Belt who had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.  Indeed, she is seen as a female Obama - biracial, educated abroad (she lived in the Canadian province of Quebec as a teenager), liberal on social issues, a seasoned lawyer, and a first-term U.S. Senator.  She's also married to a lawyer, California attorney Douglas Emhoff.)  As a presidential candidate, she'd be unstoppable.
But as President?  Well, that's the problem.  She'd come into office with the same drawbacks as Obama. While she has more state and local government experience than Obama had before he entered the Senate, she will by 2020 have only been in the Senate for four years, like Obama, and she'd likely enter the Presidency as unfamiliar with Washington as Obama proved to be.  How could she get things done?  And how effective would she be at building up the Democratic Party?  These questions about Harris need to be answered.  I would expect her to be more effective than Obama as a President and as a party leader, if her relentless grilling of Sessions is any indication.  But is this another play by the Democrats at identity politics, which Obama eschewed, preferring to be the candidate who happened to be black, not the black candidate -  but which Hillary Clinton, as a woman, so shamelessly exploited to the detriment of the party and her own career?  If the answer is yes, then Harris would be wise not to take the bait and not to run as "the non-white female candidate."  Because playing with identity politics is the same as playing with fire, and when Hillary played the "gender card," she, the Democrats, and the whole country were burned.
But don't count out Kamala Harris in 2020.  She could be a formidable presidential candidate then and scare the Republicans silly.  Guys like Burr understand that.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - June 16, 2017

"Like a Rolling Stone," Jimi Hendrix, Monterey Pop Festival (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Alexandria Shooting

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the third highest Republican in the House, was one of four people shot in Alexandria, Virginia, at a baseball practice session for the Democratic-versus-Republican men's congressional baseball game.
The shooter, since killed, was a Bernie Sanders supporter who posted virulently anti-Trump material on social media.  He specifically asked someone before if he was at the Republican practice session before firing.
Republicans will likely blame Democrats and progressives for inspiring the shooting  with their talk of "revolution."  Democrats will likely blame the Republicans for fostering a culture of hate that inspires such extreme behavior on both sides.
But when all is said ad done, not one piece of gun control legislation will be passed.  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Flag Day 2017

It was 240 years ago today that the Continental Congress of the United States, the first government of the new nation, adopted  the first national flag, designed by one Francis Hopkinson.  It featured thirteen stars and thirteen stripes, one star and one stripe for each state.  
And no, Betsy Ross didn't sew the first flag.  No one really knows who sewed it.
After Vermont and Kentucky joined the Union, a fifteen-star, fifteen-stripe flag - the flag that would fly over Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 and would inspire Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner" -  was adopted.  
The fifteen-star, fifteen-stripe flag would not be replaced  until 1818, when Illinois became the twenty-first state to enter the Union.  By then it was decided to only add a star for each new state, with the stripes representing the original thirteen states.
The current flag was adopted in 1960, after Hawaii joined the Union, and it has remained unchanged for 57 years as of this writing.
But there could be a change coming to the Stars and Stripes soon.  No, not a fifty-first star for Puerto Rico, which just held a low-turnout referendum in which statehood was overwhelmingly endorsed, but a change in the display of the flag, necessitated by the presidential administration of Donald J. Trump, coincidentally born on this day in 1946.  
An inverted flag is a distress signal.
HELP!! TRUMP IS PRESIDENT!!!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Merciless

The idea of a public television network canceling a scripted series when public television isn't supposed to rely on ratings and fickle advertisers may seem foreign to, well, foreigners, but in fact PBS in the United States canceled its first scripted drama in years after only two seasons.
When the Civil War hospital drama "Mercy Street" premiered on PBS in January 2016,  it looked like a sure-fire winner.  It brought the vivid reality of the war to life, its depiction of life in a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia converted into a Union Army hospital spared no detail, the storylines dealt with slavery honestly, and the writing and acting were stellar.  As good as Mary Elizabeth Winstead was as a nurse, Josh Radnor (both actors are shown above in their roles) was the really big surprise.  Radnor played Ted Mosby on the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" for nine years, and it sounded implausible to cast such a contemporary actor in an historical drama, but he pulled off his role as a Union Army doctor brilliantly and understatedly.  Add a solid supporting cast including old pros such as Donna Murphy, Gary Cole and the black actor L. Scott Caldwell (Caldwell is a woman, for those who've never heard the name), and, well, how could a show like "Mercy Street" go wrong?
It didn't, but it was cancelled anyway, and that's what's so dismaying.  PBS explained that the cancellation was due in part to the "complicated nature of aligning production timelines" with scheduling,  but it also admitted to another, possibly (gee, ya think?) more serious issue: funding.
PBS gets some funding from the public in the form of donations, gets some funding from wealthy donors, and gets some more funding from the government.  "Mercy Street" got axed soon after Donald Trump and his evil budget henchman Mick Mulvaney decided to ask Congress to zero out federal funding for public broadcasting - TV and radio - because they, as Mulvaney put it, just can't ask a poor woman in Detroit to give her hard-earned money to public broadcasting.
Public broadcasting in the United States has long been a joke. Its programming is mostly made up of documentaries (which saves money in salaries for actors, writers and directors), and its original arts and entertainment programming is comprised mostly of concerts (including pop concerts from performers who haven't had hits in years).  PBS's scripted programming is imported from Britain, and some of that is still airing years after the programs ceased production.  I can count numerous BBC sitcoms and dramas, not all of which have made it to America, but I can count all of PBS's own scripted entertainment shows that ever were on one hand with fingers to spare.  The unpredictable funding for public broadcasting in the U.S. is the main reason for this, even as there is a dedicated tax for public broadcasting in other countries or, in the case of Britain, an annual license fee of £145.50 (US$185.51) for every British household.  I don't support such an idea for this country - just dedicate some of the tax money I already pay to public broadcasting.  Many of us - including poor women in Detroit - would likely prefer that more of our tax money go to a dedicated fund for public television and radio instead of, say, the military.  But that would eliminate the need for wealthy donors to foot the bill for public broadcasting, and then how would these rich folks ensure that certain programming doesn't get aired?  For all I know, a wealthy donor objected to "Mercy Street" because he thought it had an anti-Southern bias. 
Public broadcasting in the U.S. isn't uniform like in other countries, either; it's a patchwork of local television and radio stations ostensibly under the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and some stations - this is particularly true of radio stations with music formats - have only a nominal connection to the national services at best.  Good grief, the national television and radio outlets each have different names - the Public Broadcasting Service is the television outlet and National Public Radio (NPR) is the radio outlet.  That's how diffuse it is. In Britain there is one British Broadcasting Corporation, with several TV stations, ten national radio stations, six regional radio stations and forty local radio stations - predicable, reliable, and solid.  American public broadcasting is none of those things, as evidenced by its need to accept corporate sponsorship from companies like Farmers Insurance - and even play Farmers Insurance ads starring J.K. Simmons - for some extra dough.
It would be nice to see J.K. Simmons play a different role on public television - in a domestic scripted series - and it would have been nice for "Mercy Street" to survive and prove that such programming can prosper, but again, such programming on PBS is one more nice thing we can't have in this country.  If we want non-commercial, original scripted programming produced here in the U.S. of A., we go to Netflix, or premium cable, which not everyone can afford.  But then, even the BBC isn't as pure as it used to be.   Their program planners are looking at ratings now.
And if it is true that people in the Old Confederacy have a distrust for government or any public institution, I guess the cancellation of "Mercy Street" means that the South really did win the Civil War. :-O

Monday, June 12, 2017

He's Been Everywhere, Man

Before you put 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley in the "Where Are They Now?" file, here are a few places where he's been and where he's going.  He's been in Texas, he's been at an annual Democratic dinner in Kentucky and he's campaigned in South Carolina for Democratic House candidate Archie Parnell in a special election.  And oh yes, he was in Utah earlier this year.  Martin O'Malley is going everywhere all over America to build up the Democratic Party from the ground up and to campaign for Democrats on the local level - something Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez doesn't seem to be even remotely interested in doing these days.
O'Malley (shown above in Iowa during his presidential campaign) is leading the fight to restore the Democratic Party, but so far he's leading a phantom army.  While the Republicans are delivering a blow to the head, Democrats respond with a tap on the shoulder.  Although Marty didn't go for Perez's current job, you'd think he had it from the way he's been fighting.
Right now, no one cares.  O'Malley, still the butt of jokes in and out of Democratic circles and in the pro-Trump and anti-Trump media, wants to be a part of the "resistance" against Trump ("Now we fight!"), but people keep resisting him ("What exactly do you mean by 'fight,' here, governor?" - Jake Tapper of the Clinton News Network).  But O'Malley is positioning himself to have the last laugh.  He won't get every Democrat he campaigns for elected, but he is cultivating a lot of goodwill among rank-and-file Democrats with his progressive message and his devotion to the party, and that can only help him if he seeks the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
That is, unless Tom Perez runs the party into the ground first.
In which case, O'Malley should run for the 2020 presidential nomination of whatever party replaces it.  Many of his backers will likely be the ex-Democrats who got screwed by Perez.
Martin O'Malley has been everywhere, man.  So why are Democratic leaders treating him like a nowhere man? 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Well, THAT Was Weird . . .

Former FBI director James Comey's testimony about Donald Trump in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee this past Thursday was pretty damning, showing how the Trump White House is more off base than we thought and leaving a lot of people to think that Trump's days in the Presidency are numbered.  Especially after Comey told of Trump having him alone in the White House to tell him to go easy on then-national security adviser Michael Flynn.  But while partisan attitudes on the Senate Intelligence Committee may be softening, partisanship outside the committee may be hardening. Trump supporters found Comey to be lacking in credibility, and while he suggested the possibility of obstruction of justice involving the investigation into collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, CNN's Chris Cillizza has noted that Trump's "hope" that the  investigation would get dropped, isn't the same as Trump flat-out telling Comey to drop it.  But Trump's pressure on Comey and Comey's recounting of the incidents of pressure don't look good for Trump.  Nor does it look good for Trump when he suggests that Comey is lying.
And why is John McCain still in the Senate?  He turns 81 this year, and he would be enjoying retirement right now if he and not Barack Obama had been elected to the first of two terms as President in 2008, and so he should just go back to Arizona and put his feet up and toss a cold one while looking back on a distinguished career in public service.  Instead he's still in the Senate, and he was so off his game he suggested at one point that the FBI should investigate whether Hillary Clinton colluded with the Russians.  How did she collude with Vladimir Putin?  To have Trump win so she could blame her loss on Jill Stein?
McCain also referred to the fired FBI director as "President Comey," which may have given the old G-man ideas.
McCain sought to clarify his line of questioning after the fact.  "What I was trying to get at," he said, "was whether Mr. Comey believes that any of his interactions with the President rise to the level of obstruction of justice.  In the case of Secretary Clinton’s e-mails, Mr. Comey was willing to step beyond his role as an investigator and state his belief about what ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would conclude about the evidence. I wanted Mr. Comey to apply the same approach to the key question surrounding his interactions with President Trump - whether or not the President’s conduct constitutes obstruction of justice. While I missed an opportunity in today’s hearing, I still believe this question is important, and I intend to submit it in writing to Mr. Comey for the record."
I may intend to submit in writing a request for Comey to run for office - any office.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May appears to have lost her Tory majority in Parliament, she may lose her office, and by calling a snap election in Britain, she may have lost her mind.  This may put an end to Brexit. But Britain will still be in the Paris Agreement.
Oh yeah, record heat is on tap for my area this week . . . 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

I'd Love To Turn You On . . .

I turn once again to the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, to look at the last, incredibly mind-blowing song on that album, "A Day In the Life."  For those who missed it when I posted the promotional clip for the song as my Music Video Of the Week, here are my comments (slightly reworded here), with pictures.
"A Day In the Life" is the last song on Sgt. Pepper, and it was written by John Lennon and  Paul McCartney in early 1967 and recorded that February.  John started the song and based it on a couple of newspaper articles and his own experience in having played Private Gripweed in director Richard Lester's movie How I Won the War, a promotional poster for which is shown above.  (The movie, based on a novel by Patrick Ryan and starring Michael Crawford as Lieutenant Earnest Goodbody - the first-person title character - would premiere in October 1967.)   The first news story was about Guinness brewery heir Tara Browne (below), a friend of John and Paul, having died in a car crash.  Browne didn't "blow his mind out" or go through a red light, as John wrote in the song; he swerved to avoid a car coming out of a side street and, realizing he couldn't avoid hitting a parked van, strategically aimed the car at an angle to keep his companion, fashion model Suki Potier, from sustaining serious injury.  Potier survived; in a sad irony, though, she would die in another car crash in 1981.

The other news story was a mundane report about four thousand potholes in the Lancashire town of Blackburn.  John threw in a nonsense line of how many potholes it would take to "fill the Albert Hall," the verb suggested by Beatles associate Terry Doran.  Some Beatles fans have interpreted the lyric as a put-down of Beatles fans who filled Royal Albert Hall for one of the group's performances.

Paul, meanwhile, had been trying to write a song about someone's day and his ride on the top of a bus during his morning commute, and he and John realized that making it the middle eight of John's song would provide a perfect counterpoint to what John was writing about; Paul's realism was merged with John's surrealism.
When the Beatles brought "A Day In the Life" to the studio, they and George Martin arranged it as a moody piece with two 24-bar instrumental sections that they didn't know what to do with.  Mal Evans, one of the Beatles' roadies, counted the bars in both bridges, with the ring of an alarm clock marking the end of the first bridge and with the second bridge  being at the end of the tape.  (The alarm clock ring was kept in as a sound effect to precede Paul's line about waking up and getting out of bed.)   Eventually the group decided to try something novel to fill each 24-bar section - a forty-piece orchestra starting from the lowest note possible and building up to a high note at E major, improvising their way up the scale without paying attention to what each other were playing.  It was recorded once and reprised at the song's end.  (A conventionally arranged orchestral passage was used to link Paul's middle-eight lyric to John's final verse.)  The orchestral session took place on February 10, 1967.  The musicians, conducted by Martin, balked at improvising because they were classically trained, but everyone was pleased with the result.
Twelve days later, the Beatles found the perfect way to follow the second orchestral section that follows the last verse - a final, crashing piano E major chord to bring the song to an end.  The chord was played John, Paul, Ringo Starr and Mal Evans on three pianos, and overdubbed three more times on the four-track tape, with George Martin compounding the sound on a harmonium.  David Crosby of the Byrds was at this piano-chord session. "Man," Crosby later remembered, "I was a dish-rag. I was floored. It took me several minutes to be able to talk after that."
"A Day In the Life" was one of the most complex Beatles songs ever recorded. The sessions for the song took a total of 34 hours and cost £367 and 10/ (£367.50) - more than $7,500 in today's American currency.  (The entire Sgt. Pepper album cost £40,000 to make, or about $100,000 in American money - the equivalent of about $731,000 today.) The February 10 orchestral overdub session was itself an event, Martin and the orchestra wearing evening dress and orchestra members wearing funny novelties.  The Beatles invited guests including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Donovan, George Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd, and Mike Nesmith of the Monkees to the session.  The orchestral session was filmed for a possible television special on the making of Sgt. Pepper, but it never materialized because the BBC banned "A Day In the Life" for a supposed reference to drugs - "I'd love to turn you on."  (The filming produced the eventual video.)  Paul, who had contributed that lyric, insisted that the lyric referred to turning people on to the truth.
And once people finished hearing Sgt. Pepper for the first time, with that final crashing chord, they would never be turned off from the truth ever again. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - June 9, 2017

"Melissa" by the Allman Brothers Band  (Go to the link in the upper-right hand corner.)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The 2017 New Jersey Gubernatorial Nominees

It's official: Democrat Phil Murphy,a former ambassador to Germany, and Republican Kim Guadagno, the current lieutenant governor of New Jersey, will face each other in the New Jersey general gubernatorial election November 2017.  Yeah, big surprise.
Murphy is selling a set of progressive policy proposals as a change from lame-duck Governor Chris Christie's right-wing policies, while Guadagno is banking on her more moderate Republicanism as a prescription for change in Trenton.  Murphy was a decent if unspectacular ambassador to Berlin, but that's not what distinguishes him; he's a former Goldman Sachs executive at a time when having worked for the Wall Street firm is politically toxic.  To be fair, Murphy quit Goldman Sachs long before the 2008 financial crisis, and the policies he espouses would likely make his old Wall Street buddies cringe.  But not as much as Kim Guadagno might make New Jersey voters cringe for being Christie's right-hand woman.  Bottom line: It's Murphy's race to lose.
Okay, Phil: You have five months to prove that not all ex-Goldman Sachs executives are total creeps!      

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Breaking Ties

I'm in a cord-cutting mood.
I was on the phone with a so-called "friend" of mine who started probing and prying into the most intimate details of my personal life - I'll call this person PP, after this person's Cyrillic initials.  It wasn't the first time PP had done this, and PP also brought up something else I didn't want to talk about, making me feel very uncomfortable and unclean.  I had distanced myself from PP before, always giving PP another chance and hoping that PP would stop this sort of behavior, but this time was definitely the last straw.
I dropped PP from my Facebook friends list.  I went even farther than that, though.  I deleted every "like," every comment and every photo and link I posted on PP's page.   I put a block on PP's phone number to make sure that PP couldn't call me back.  I did everything to erase any evidence that I ever had an association with this person, so that PP would never get back into my life again.  I'm through with this crap, and I have since decided that I should never have associated with such a person in the first place.  I'll say no more than that I met this person under some awkward circumstances that I should have avoided.
In that spirit, I have been cutting off as many "associations" as possible.  I found on my Facebook friends list a couple dozen connections with people and places I have had no business with for a long time and deleted them.  I also finally got around to unsubscribing to interest groups who would not stop soliciting me for their support.  And I plan to dump more e-mails that I have cluttering up my folders.  I want to pare down my associations and connections to the people, places and things that matter most.
And this so-called "friend" I began talking about never mattered.
Oh yeah, the friend who dropped me from Facebook for not voting for Hillary has since asked to have me back as a friend, so I accepted.  All is forgiven. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

London Calling

Twenty seventeen won't be remembered as a year of love, what with the terror attacks in London and the growing bitterness in the campaigns for the parliamentary election in the United Kingdom this Thursday.  Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives, incidentally,  have slipped to a one-point lead in the polls over Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. 
May had been Home Secretary in the Cameron Cabinet, which put her in charge of counter-terrorism.  Now, after three terror attacks in Britain on her watch as Prime Minister, she's declared that enough is enough.  It doesn't look good for someone who should have dealt this problem long ago, and Labourites know it.
A Labour win on Thursday would be a huge upset.  It would not only be a rejection of Tory values and a loss of confidence in the Conservatives' ability to handle internal security, it would put in power a more progressive government that would work more in concert with continental Europe even as Brexit proceeds - and form a new paradigm of resistance against the United States.  
We all just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which kicked of the Summer of Love in 1967, but there's no love to go around fifty years later.  Islamic extremists hate the West, there's bad blood between Labour and the Tories in Britain (as well as between the Democrats and the Republicans in America), Europeans have learned to distrust the United States, and Trump has learned to hate them back - especially the Muslim mayor of London for how he's handled terrorism.  "Love trumps hate?"  Boy, was that slogan wrong.  But then, the Summer of Love itself wasn't so much a love fest, what with young soldiers dying in Vietnam and racial resentment exploding in American cities in the form of riots.
Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust? :-O           

Monday, June 5, 2017

Scare Away the Snark

I couldn't take it any more.
After watching Donald Trump as President, and especially after seeing him rip the Paris climate accord to shreds, I could no longer limit my anger toward all the pundits, reporters, and commentators who ridiculed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley (above, obviously) and undermined his own political viability to rants about them on this blog.  I decided to respond to some of them directly.
A little late, I know, as these condescending comments about O'Malley were made months ago, during and immediately after the election campaign.  But in light of Trump's utter failure as a President and as a human being - and in recognition of the possibility that O'Malley could have been the 2016 Democratic nominee and defeated Trump if the press hadn't marginalized him - it seems appropriate to respond to these naysayers now.  And just remember, the mainstream press gave Trump free media by covering him so extensively, so they're to blame for Trump as much as the Democratic National Committee is for rigging the primaries and caucuses for Hillary Clinton.  Maybe more so.
First, Joanna Rothkopf.  Rothkopf edits Jezebel.com, a women's-interests blog, and she used that platform in the fall of 2015 to belittle O'Malley for appearing on "The View" and singing and playing on his guitar a Taylor Swift song to connect with female voters.  She specifically said that O'Malley was proof that "a white man who is eager to play his guitar in public belongs in one of the deepest circles of Hell." Well, I found this snooty little excuse for a commentator on LinkedIn, and I wrote to her, saying, "I was a Martin O'Malley supporter, and you are a goddamned idiot!"
I also expressed regret that she thinks that all the great sixties and seventies classic rockers are going to Hell.
Next, Molly Ball.  Ball wrote a favorable profile piece about O'Malley in 2014 in the Atlantic, for whom she works, but a year later, she acted like she'd never heard of him when discussing a Democratic forum in November 2015 on CBS and then later ridiculed O'Malley's attempts to be heard at a subsequent Democratic presidential debate in which moderator John Dickerson was clearly trying to ignore him.  Having found her Atlantic e-mail address, I wrote to her and made it clear that  I was not amused by any of this.
"You, Ms. Ball," I also wrote, "acted like someone else wrote this profile article under your byline without your knowledge - that sort of 180-degree turn against people in public service that makes voters turn against the media. Nor did I appreciate your apparent snark in your comments about O'Malley when discussing him on CBS or responding to John Dickerson's treatment of him during the CBS debate. I'm only writing this now in 2017 because, having seen Donald Trump in action and having just seen him withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement, I am extremely ticked off with how the media laughed O'Malley out of the race even as they gave Trump so much free media. Your and other reporters' cavalier dismissal of someone who could have defeated Trump in the 2016 general election - we know now Hillary Clinton could not have - did a great disservice to democracy and to the nation. I am sickened by all of the snark that my candidate received. Your attitude did not help."
And how about CNN's Jake Tapper?  When O'Malley refused to entertain thoughts of reconciliation with Trump and his supporters, saying in a Twitter message that no one opposed to fascism in Europe and to racism in the South talked of reconciliation and adding that it was time to fight, Tapper tweeted back, "What exactly do you mean by 'fight,' here, governor?"
What the hell did Tapper think he meant?  O'Malley meant it was time to fight, something his fellow Democrats don't seem to be able to do these days (not one Republican House or Senate seat has been flipped in a special congressional election since November 2016).  "What do you want Martin to do," I wrote to Tapper via Twitter, "lay down with candles in the rain?"  
Well, these are the examples of snark against O'Malley that I remember best, but if I tried to respond to every slight against him, I'd get carpal tunnel syndrome.  Rest assured, though, if I see or hear any more pundits go after O'Malley in the future - and I know that is going to happen - they can expect a pretty fierce rebuttal in one form or another.  
I know - "What exactly do you mean by 'fierce,' here, Steve?"
What do you think I mean?  Just read the above comments again.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

No Excuses

Hillary Clinton is at it again.

At a recent conference in California, Hillary sat herself down in a red leather chair - apparently symbolic for a hot seat - and once again blamed Trump, the Russians, James Comey, and others for her loss in the presidential election in November 2016.  Only this time was different, because she also blamed the Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee for her defeat.  She also complained that the party was bankrupt.
Well, it's certainly intellectually bankrupt, but Hillary means it was financially bankrupt and "on the verge of insolvency" when she became the nominee, and she bitched that she had to throw money at the DNC's data collection system.  "Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong," Clinton explained. "I had to inject money into it."
This comment left Democrats incredulous.  While the party has had its money issues, party insiders said that the problem with data has been less of a cash-infusion issue or a quality issue than a chronic inability to make it uniform and consistent - something that Hillary apparently failed to grasp when she was the party's de facto leader as its presidential candidate.  According to one Democratic insider, Hillary showed disregard for warning signs in key states like the so-called "blue firewall" of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which all went to Trump.  The DNC's voter data in those three states, he said,  didn't look anywhere near safe but Hillary's campaign team "thought they knew better."  Her deflection of responsibility for her loss to people like Debbie Wasserman Schultz is more like mean, stunted fruit than sour grapes.
Hillary has taken to acting like the 2016 presidential campaign isn't over.  She needled Trump for his infamous "covfefe" typo on Twitter, and when Trump re-iterated her penchant for blaming everyone but herself for her loss, she then replied, "People in covfefe houses shouldn't throw covfefe."  She's still campaigning and apparently won't leave the stage until she gets a rematch with Trump.
Hillary - it's over!  Stop it!  You're not doing any favors for anyone!  Except the Republicans, particularly Reince Priebus, Trump's chief of staff, who cheerily tweeted how you conceded that the Republican Party "has much better resources and data than [the Democrats]."  You just didn't throw the Democrats under the bus, you threw them under a convoy!
But then, getting thrown under a convoy of buses by the candidate she rigged the system for doesn't make Debbie Wasserman Schultz a martyr . . .
. . . it just proves that she's as incompetent as a political operative as she is as a member of Congress.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Total Withdrawal

"Strange to relate, as a result of my travels around the United States the past seven years, I begin to come to the disquieting conclusion that we Americans are these days a wicked people who deserve to be punished. The idea embarrasses me, but I nevertheless stand by it." - James Howard Kunstler, 1996
"No, no, no. Not God bless America - God damn America!!" - Jeremiah Wright, 2003
*
When Donald Trump announced that the United States was beginning a withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, I started hyperventilating.  I began getting chest pains.  I literally felt sick.  I started spitting on the ground - repeatedly.   This agreement - hammered out in a foreign capital, which left many of Trump's supporters in the cultural backwaters of America up in arms - was the best possible agreement to minimize increases in carbon dioxide emissions and incentivize the development of alternative energy sources that could have been reached, and virtually the entire planet was on board with it - but not Trump's base, not Environmental Destruction Agency chief Scott Pruitt, not climate-change-denying Republican morons like James Inhofe, and not Steve Bannon.  Rex Tillerson, yes.  Ivanka Trump, yes.  Bannon, no. 
Trump claims that he's putting America's interests first, but he's really taken us Americans out of the effort to improve the well-being of the planet and taken us out of opportunities to capitalize on new energy technologies and to develop a more profitable and sustainable "green economy."  For Trump, of course, America's biggest interest is getting the coal-mining industry going again to create more jobs.  (He might as well try to being back the buggy whip or phonograph industries, because they ain't coming back either!)  He boasted about putting Pittsburgh ahead of Paris, which would make sense - alliterative names, comparison of a blue-collar city to an effeminate, elitist enclave (I can alliterate, too) where men design clothes and women wear them to the opera - if not for the fact that the Democrats carried Pittsburgh in the 2016 presidential election.  
Some American cities, like Trump's hometown of New York City (another city full of fashion and culture) and Newark (which has neither, but that's another post), and whole states, including New York, California and Washington, are sticking with the Paris Agreement.  And New Jersey might join in if Democrat Phil Murphy is elected governor this November as expected.  But as long as big states like Texas can't be bothered, none of that matters much.  The United States has about only four percent of the world's population but is the second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.  It is now one of only three countries not in the Paris Agreement, the others being Syria and Nicaragua.  Syria is run by a brutal dictator fighting two enemies at once in two wars at once (the Syrian Civil War and the war against the would-be country founded by the Islamic State), so Bashar al-Assad obviously can't be bothered to save the planet when he can't even save his part of it.  And the only reason the Sandinista government in Nicaragua hasn't signed on to the Paris Agreement is because the Sandinistas think it doesn't go far enough.  And don't think the White House won't try to retard local efforts at living up to Paris on the grounds that state and local governments can't abide by an international agreement not subscribed to by the federal government.
And the Paris Agreement isn't the only one of those international accords we're not part of, let me tell you.
Trump indicated in advance of his announcement that he would offer a mitigating factor to environmentalists.  I'd like to say he threw them a crumb, but it's more insignificant than that.  He said he would re-enter the agreement if he can - you guessed it - renegotiate it.  France, Germany and Italy made it clear that a renegotiation was not going to happen.
While about 70 percent of Americans support the Paris Agreement, though, I wonder - would most Americans support more concrete efforts to combat climate change? Would they live in smaller houses, drive smaller cars, maybe even take mass transit to work?  Would they agree to pay more for more environmentally friendly products?  Would they stop using so many disposable items, like paper plates and plastic utensils?  Would they be willing to give up their barbecues?  Their chemically treated lawns?  Their cheap, petrochemically produced foodstuffs?  Would they pay more taxes to support any environmental initiative??? 
I am thoroughly disgusted by my country and I am ashamed to be an American.  Even if we re-enter the Paris Agreement under a future Democratic President (yeah, right, like we're actually ever going to have another Democratic President!), how will the rest of the world ever trust us again???    
As of 3:30 PM, Thursday, June 1, 2017, when Trump pulled this sorry excuse for a nation out of the Paris Agreement, the United States is now the pond scum on the waters of humanity.  We will most likely be punished by the rest of the world.  Maybe we'll be boycotted.  That means no foreign tourists.  Even if Trump does bring back American manufacturing, foreigners may just decide not to buy our products.  They might not buy our apples and oranges or our corn and soybean products.  How about cultural boycotts?  No more U.S. concert tours from Adele.  She may decide not to release her next album here.  Ditto Ed Sheeran.   No Balkan tennis players at the U.S. Open.  And no Olympics in 2024 for Los Angeles.  The LA bid committee members, who are waiting for the International Olympic Committee to decide on the location for the 2024 Games in September,  might as well turn out the lights and go home, including Athletes Commission Vice Chair Janet Evans (Janet, I love you, but Los Angeles'  2024 bid is toast now - you know it and I know it!).  The 2024 Games will now most likely be awarded to . . . Paris.  As for the Tokyo Games in 2020 or even the 2018 Winter Olympics, we might even be allowed to send a team to them!      
Mark my words.  We will pay.  We are going to be ostracized at any international gatherings we do take part in.  We may be banned from entering other countries.  We may suffer an energy crisis - oh, the irony! - not only if the Saudis stop selling us oil but if the Chinese don't sell us their wind turbines - which they probably got the know-how for from Americans.  We will be the second most miserable people on the face of the earth.
The most miserable people on the face of the earth, of course, will be the Syrians. :-( >:-(     

Friday, June 2, 2017

Big Sky Disaster

Strike two!
Montana voters chose Republican Greg Gianforte over Democrat Rob Quist in the special election to fill Montana's only U.S. House seat, meaning that the Democrats have lost the second of three U.S. House special elections since they lost the Presidency.  This loss was despite - or maybe even because of - the fact that Gianforte shoved a reporter asking him questions about the health care debate in Washington.  While a majority of the votes cast were mailed in in advance and it was too late for Democrats to capitalize on the issue, some progressives have charged that, had Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez gotten behind Quist early like he should have, Quist would be going to Washington and not Gianforte.
But it turns out that Quist had feet of clay.  According to the Billings Gazette, records from his home county, Flathead County, show that Quist has been sued by U.S. Bank after failing to pay back a loan and has been accused of fraud by a former bandmate in the bluegrass/country group Mission Mountain Wood Band, in which Quist became a local music legend.
So, not only are the centrist establishment Democrats screwed up, so are the progressives who are trying (unsuccessfully) to take the party back.  They can't even vet their candidates properly.
It has become painfully obvious that  the Democratic Party is no longer capable of getting its act together.  Two-thirds of voters surveyed say the Democrats are out of touch with the American electorate - that's a larger percentage than the number of folks who disapprove of Donald Trump's performance as President - and the party still hopes to rely on identity politics going into 2020, dividing the country's voters of race, creed, and color . . . and if the gender card is played, deal Hillary back in - and claim that America can be great again when we are stronger together.
Hey, Democrats - go to hell!
My mother is exasperated with me for kicking the Democrats when they're down, but I can't think of an institution more deserving of a gutter kick.  Look, I wanted to see the Democrats nominate a presidential candidate who could, you know, win, but the party tipped the scales for Hillary while it silenced her opponents for the nomination, dismissed anyone who was against Hillary as a bunch of malcontents, and ignored the party's in-progress collapse in down-ballot races despite warnings from Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley - two of Hillary's opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination - while offering nothing for the party's liberal wing.  Then after Trump won, the Democrats put the same establishment jokers in charge of the party, and now even the liberals are coming up with substandard candidates for office who can't win to save their lives.  Quist's ability to win more of a percentage of the vote in Montana than Hillary won in November 2016 is seen as a victory of sorts, but the truth is that he still lost!
The Democratic Party is dead.  Let it go the way of the Whigs.  Come on, Tom Perez, admit it - your party is done!  Pull the plug and put the party out of our misery.  

And if Sanders devotees don't call a convention for a new party, well, I don't want to know them. >:-(

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - June 1, 2017

"A Day In the Life" by the Beatles (Go to the link in the upper right hand corner.)


"All summer long we spent dancing in the sand . . . Everybody kept on playing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band . . .."  :-)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Clarification: May 31, 2017

In my account of Nancy Donahue's and Harry King's 2017 fashion reunion party, I said that I took all but two of the photos that appeared in the blog entry.  I meant all of the party photos, as I obviously didn't take the photo of Catherine Roberts in her Charles of the Ritz ad.  As I didn't think I worded that statement clearly, I went ahead and reworded it.
For the record, the two photos from the party that I didn't take were the photo of me with Asia Dyrkacz, which I already credited to my friend Fred DeVito, and the photo of me with Bhavaja Kat.  I don't even remember who took that one.
And for those who want to know, a fellow named Hal Davis photographed Catherine in that Charles of the Ritz ad.
Back soon.   

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How About Another Fashion Reunion Party?

For the fifth time in a row, this past month, I attended the annual spring soirée hosted for veterans of the fashion world by top model Nancy Donahue and hairdresser Harry King, at a club in Lower Manhattan.  And at least one blogger documenting models of that period was also invited - that would be me.
It's always a guess as to who shows up when you arrive at one of Nancy and Harry's parties.  In fact, the only guarantee is that Nancy and Harry will be there.  I was hoping for a big surprise, like when Anne Bezamat showed up in 2016.  I got one when I saw the tall and lovely brunette Catherine Roberts walk into the club.  I took this picture of Catherine shortly after she arrived.  (I took every other photo from the party in this blog entry except for two of them.)


The dim lighting in the above photo of Catherine has an effect similar to that in many of her late-seventies Charles of the Ritz cosmetics ads.
Here's Catherine with Geoffrey Beene model Liz Lee.

And here's Catherine with makeup artist/hair stylist and photographer Joseph Boggess.

Gee, you think I have a thing for Catherine?
Yes, and the thing is this.  Catherine Roberts was and remains one of the most beautiful and one of the most astonishing models in the business.  Her lovely face and her classy demeanor have long made her one of the most sought-after models for advertisements for not just fashion and beauty products but for accessories and even beverages.  Sadly, she's better known by sight than by name, as she's done little editorial work and thus rarely gets an identifying credit.  Also, Catherine was one of the first models to discover my blog and befriend me on social media. She is a very sweet and engaging woman, and I greatly appreciate my friendship with her.  And, because she doesn't  live in the New York area, I hadn't seen her in person in four years.  That's why I was so glad to see her and why I am eager to sing her praises here.  
Of course, there were several other models at Nancy and Harry's party, many of whom are my friends as well.  One of them is Bhavaja Kat, who posed with me for this picture.
Bhavaja and I have a shared history in that we both grew up in the same part of New Jersey, though we didn't know each other then.  While she still looks stylish, she now pursues another profession, and that is all I'm going to say about that, because it's none of your business.  
I can say this . . . she knows Beverly Lee, the groundbreaking Asian-American model from the 1970s and 1980s.  They were happy to pose together for me.

Ms. Lee, still the beautiful woman who made me sigh when I was a teenager, was a favorite of the designer Hubert de Givenchy.  She and Kat worked together a lot.
I also got this great picture of model Dawn Gallagher, another dear friend of mine, with some friends of hers that I regrettably (and ironically) cannot identify.

Of course, how could I not get a picture of the always lovely Nancy Donahue, the hostess with the mostest? Nancy was the first top model I ever met in person, I having met her when she was doing a promotional event for her body-buffer product at Bergdorf Goodman in Midtown Manhattan, and she's gotten more beautiful since then.  And she always dresses to impress.  Here she is in a stunning red and green evening dress with Dawn Gallagher and two gentlemen - photographer Hamid Bechiri (in hat) and L.J. Kirby, who used to work at Studio 54.
Ah yes, Studio 54, the disco nightspot popular in the 1970s among the many people who attended this year's fashion reunion party, though I was too young to frequent 54 back in the day - not that I would ever have been let in, as they would have sized me up as a Jethro Tull fan.  Jethro Tull records there were not, obviously, among the records played at this year's spring fashion party, but there were plenty of records from Donna Summer, the Silver Convention, and Gloria Gaynor, and although I prefer the Cars' "Let's Go," which revolves around the lyric "I like the night life, baby," I had to put up with Alicia Bridges singing "I Love the Night Life" instead.  However, I can honestly say that I would rather hear Carol Douglas sing "Doctor's Orders" (which I heard at the party) than hear Carl Douglas sing "Kung Fu Fighting" (which I didn't).  But some classic rock did make its way into the soundtrack - the Beatles ("I Saw Her Standing There," appropriate for a setting with so many beautiful women), the Rolling Stones ("[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction"), and Sly and the Family Stone ("Dance To the Music," of course).  
And Nancy can dance to all of it. :-)
She sure can cut a rug . . . or could have if there had been a rug on the floor.
Yours truly got in the picture more than once, such as in this photo of me with model Asia Dyrkacz, taken by my pal Fred DeVito . . .
. . . and in this selfie.  Recognize the lovely lady in the background? ;-)
It was another night to remember fondly, made sweeter by Catherine Roberts' surprise appearance. As someone I've known longer than anyone else at the festivities - even Nancy - she obviously holds a special place in my life, and, well, I'll leave it at that.  To those who still ask me how iconic and how distinguished she is as a model, well, I need only show you one of her Charles of the Ritz ads from the late 1970s.
One picture is worth a thousand words. :-) 

Monday, May 29, 2017

John F. Kennedy - 100 Years

Born one hundred years ago today, John Fitzgerald Kennedy entered the office of President of the United States with a great deal of promise, with only part of it fulfilled.
Kennedy entered office in 1961, at a time of new possibilities, when new nations were forming in the Third World and the Soviet Union was pushing ahead to explore space.  It was also a time when European countries, more than fifteen years after World War II ended, were re-emerging with established democratic governments and re-affirming their places in the world.  The United States, by contrast, had slipped into a period of complacency brought on by a sense of conformity and contentment in the Eisenhower years.  John F. Kennedy came into office declaring that we could do better - but only if Americans were willing to do better.
Kennedy challenged the nation by talking about what he, as President, expected of the American people, not what he would offer them.  In that respect, he got the nation to start thinking about creating a more just society, bearing the burden of preserving liberty, and building a country that would be second to no one.  The success of the Soviets in sending a man in orbit around the earth inspired Kennedy to lead the country toward putting a man on the moon and returning safely to earth before 1970.  He initiated the Peace Corps to foster goodwill among the newly independent nations of Africa and Asia.  He moved forward on civil rights not only from being offended by bigotry but from being appalled by its lack of reason.  "Kennedy was not a bigot," Richard Reeves wrote in 1993.  "In fact, like many of his generation, he thought prejudice was irrational, a waste of emotion and time." 
Unfortunately, the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963 left his Presidency as unfinished as a Schubert symphony.  His domestic agenda and his commitment to civil rights - manifested in his June 1963 address on the topic - were stymied in Congress, and the space program was only beginning to move beyond John Glenn's 1962 triple orbit around the earth.  The centerpieces of his domestic agenda would be left to his successor, Lyndon Johnson, to push through Congress, and the moon landing would ironically take place six months to the day into the administration of Kennedy's old nemesis, Richard Nixon.  The major question involving Vietnam - would Kennedy have withdrawn American troops and advisers had he lived?  - remains unanswered.  But his cool, deliberative approach to defusing the Cuban missile crisis suggests that he likely would have.
Kennedy's greatest legacy as President was encouraging and inspiring America to do better and not to be satisfied with standing pat.  It is a sentiment has been tapped by JFK wannabes like Gary Hart, a cartoon Kennedy for the cartoon republic that was 1980s America, and sought by politicians too young to remember Kennedy, like former President Barack Obama.  But, in all actuality, no one possessing Kennedy's virtues and values - not even Kennedy himself - could possibly inspire Americans today to pursue public service.  People are too jaded.  Kennedy's questionable personal life would not have survived the scrutiny of today's 24-hour news cycles, and he likely would have withered from relentless criticism on social media.  Indeed, he might have been laughed at by urging Americans to pledge service to country today to provide for a better world tomorrow.  
After all, look what happened to the most Kennedyesque presidential candidate since JFK himself, Martin O'Malley.                      
I supported O'Malley as someone who hoped to see the Kennedy story repeated, but in a more indulgent, more ignorant, and more cynical time, it's hard to imagine anyone repeating the Kennedy story.  The unfinished work he left behind and the squandering in trust in government of Johnson and Nixon left a big hole in this country, but Kennedy's example shows that his faith in public service and what it means to be an American can be revived.
But it's going to take a long time before we regain the ability to revive it.  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

America The Pariah

I always supposed that if another Republican got into the Presidency, the United States would be the skunk of the world once again.  But under Donald Trump, we've become the sort of animal even a skunk would avoid.
In his first trip abroad as President, Donald Trump has managed to insult European leaders, lend succor to a feudal regime in Saudi Arabia, picked a fight over trade with the Germans, gotten the rest of the world worried about the fate of the Paris climate agreement, and shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro - a country neither Trump nor his supporters had likely heard of before now - when Montenegro made its debut as a NATO member at the alliance's annual summit.  Even worse, Trump demonstrated his ignorance of how NATO works when he said that the money that 23 of 28 NATO members haven't paid through spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense  was money that the American taxpayers were owed back.
Imagine a leader so ignorant of how diplomacy works that you're glad Rex Tillerson is Secretary of State.
Trump did pull one amazing coup.  He drew old enemies France and Germany closer together by aming them realize what a common enemy they have in him.  French President Emmanuel Macron snubbed Trump at the NATO meeting, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel assumed leadership of the West by declaring in her NATO summit address that Germany was ready to stand for human rights and open borders all over the world - two ideas Trump has always had problems with.  Trump also angered his distant German cousins (his German immigrant grandfather changed the family name from Drumpf) by vowing to stop the exports of German cars to the United States in response to Germany's trade surplus with the U.S.  Trump claims that the Germans have harmed the U.S. auto industry with their unfair trade advantage and their plants in Mexico, somehow forgetting about their plants in the American South.  (Hey, Donald, you don't think it's possible that BMW and Mercedes buyers simply prefer Bimmers and Benzes over Cadillacs, and it is possible the VW owners prefer Volkswagens over Chevrolets and Americanized Toyotas because German engineering is far more sophisticated?)
As of this past week, Volkswagen shares are down 2.2 percent, while BMW and Daimler AG shares are each down 1.5 percent lower.
Uncoincidentally, I have decided to take my sweet time renewing my passport, which expires this fall.  Because I don't see myself going abroad for as long as Donald Trump sits in the White House.  It's a shame, really, because at my age, I have everything I want - a Volkswagen, an impressive record collection, a nice digital camera, et cetera - and my last unfulfilled desire is foreign travel (not counting travel to Canada, which I've been to twice).  When I was in college, I saw my classmates travel to England, Germany, Italy, and Russia when I hadn't even been to Chicago (my trip there in 1994 was my first trip outside the Eastern time zone).  I've always wanted to go to London, Dublin, Paris, possibly Vienna or Berlin, and maybe even Vilnius.  Attempts to visit my maternal grandfather's hometown in Italy with my mother never panned out.  And so now in the middle of middle age, it looks like I'll again have to put foreign travel off indefinitely - not only because of lack of time or money, but because of that blow-dried pantload in the White House.
Because right now, traveling through Europe with a U.S. passport in your pocket is like going anywhere with a "KICK ME" sign on your back.
And if Trump throws VW out of the States, don't expect me to get over it.  If I can't have another VW when my Golf gives up the ghost, I'd sooner ride the bus than buy a Toyota.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Manchester

We live in a scary time when we realize that violence at pop concerts is not restricted to drunk and stoned hooligans at rock or heavy metal shows.  Ariana Grande is, by all accounts, a sweet, bubbly singer influenced by rhythm and blues with an urge to get people to get up and dance.  She does not instigate rebellion or anarchy at her shows.  Her fans are, like the singer herself mostly young and female.  So an Ariana Grande concert is the last place you would expect any danger - least of all from Grande herself, despite the fact that she actually has a hit song called "Dangerous Woman."
Maybe that's exactly why a suicide terrorist chose to blow himself up at Grande's Manchester, England show early this week.
You know what nauseates me?  I've heard arguments that you can't call a suicide bomber a coward when he's willing to take his own life, but it takes a special kind of horrible person to blow himself up at in a concert hall full of teenage girls and young women.  An Ariana Grande concert is the last thing you should have to lock up your daughters from.  
I've seen this before, but never like this.  In 1982, at a show by the punk group the Lords of the New Church, some idiot took a BB gun and shot at the stage, hitting lead singer Stiv Bators.  (Bators escaped serious injury.)  When I was a teenager, such an attack was as bad as it got in any concert.  An incident like that seems very, very inconsequential now. :-(  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - May 26, 2017

"New Frontier" by Donald Fagen  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

'Sgt. Pepper' Fun Facts

Here are some interesting trivial tidbits about the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to amaze your friends with!
On the back cover of Sgt, Pepper, George Harrison appears to be positioning his fingers to make the letter "L," while John Lennon appears to be making a "V" shape with his hands and Ringo appears to form an "E."  The three Beatles are supposedly trying to spell the word "LOVE," but Paul, his back to the camera (taken as a clue by some fans that he is dead), doesn't provide an "O."  In fact, this is a mirror image, as evidenced by the outtake photo below.  Ringo, John, and George are making the same shapes, in reverse, with their hands, but Paul - facing forward - is merely holding his hands together.  No love here.
Official Beatles biographer Hunter Davies sat in with John and Paul while they composed "With a Little Help From My Friends" at John's house in Weybridge outside London.  As Davies describes the songwriting session, John and Paul would exchange ideas back and forth and sometimes jam on the piano or ad-lib a bit when they got stuck.  John's wife Cynthia and Beatles associate Terry Doran were also in the room.  The date was March 29, 1967 - one day before the photo session for the Sgt. Pepper album cover.
"With a Little Help From My Friends" was recorded the same day it was written, during a late-night session.  At the beginning of the session, it was still untitled, so Paul - noticing that John had an injured finger - gave the song the working title of "Bad Finger Boogie."  Two years later, when the Beatles' Apple record label signed a Beatlesque group called the Iveys, Paul had them change their name to Badfinger.
During a Sgt. Pepper session, EMI producer Norman Smith, a former Beatles recording engineer, stopped by and introduced the Fabs to a new London band he was producing - the Pink Floyd.  (The definite article was later dropped from their name.)  The two bands exchanged what was described as "half-hearted hellos."
Former Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who had not yet joined Floyd in 1967, owns the original "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" painting done by Julian Lennon.
As noted in an earlier post, "Getting Better" was prompted by drummer Jimmy Nicol's response to how he was faring as Ringo Starr's temporary replacement during the Beatles' 1964 world tour: "It's getting better."  Though Paul wrote the bulk of the song, John contributed the line "It can't get no worse," which Paul described as a comment that was "so John."
Paul wrote "Fixing a Hole" about the home improvement project he was undertaking at a house in Scotland he'd just bought.  He'd retreat there after Abbey Road was released, pondering how to go forward in the 1970s.
I mentioned before that the name Rita in "Lovely Rita" was inspired by an assonance rhyme with "meter." There are two different stories of how Paul came up with the idea of writing a song about a parking meter attendant in the first place.  One story goes that it was supposedly prompted by an American friend of Paul's when, while walking down a London street, Paul and his Yankee pal saw a female parking meter attendant - a new phenomenon in Britain then - and the unnamed American said to Paul, "I see you've got meter maids over here these days." Paul says he came up with "Lovely Rita meter maid" as a result while at the piano at his father's home in Liverpool.  Some time later, though, a real-life parking meter attendant named Meta Davies claimed to have inspired the song when she gave Paul a parking ticket.
"Lovely Rita" features comb-and-tissue-paper percussion.
"Good Morning Good Morning" was inspired by a breakfast cereal jingle John heard on television.  The line "It's time for tea and meet the wife" refers not to having tea with one's spouse but instead refers to having tea while watching "Meet The Wife," a British sitcom that had ended its run in December 1966.
What was the inspiration for the title song of Sgt. Pepper?  It depends on who you ask.  One story says that the words "sergeant" and "pepper" came to Paul for no apparent reason, while another story goes that he and Beatles assistant Mal Evans were on a plane together and Evans asked what the "S" and "P" on the bags that came with their in-flight meals stood for.  "Salt and pepper," Paul said, following it with a joke - "Sergeant Pepper." The Lonely Hearts Club Band was inspired by the colorfully named brass bands that populated the north of England at the time.
A dog whistle follows the fade-out of "A Day In the Life."  The frequency is barely noticeable to human ears on the CD version.
The chatter in the inner groove of side two that the Beatles placed there as a joke played for two seconds on record players with automatic pickup, ad infinitum on those without.  Played forwards, it sounds like the Beatles are saying, "Never curse your tanning underwear."  Played backwards, it allegedly sounds like "We'll f**k you like Superman."  Engineer Geoff Emerick insisted there was no intended hidden meaning.   A reproduction of the run-out groove was included on the original compact disc release and re-mastered vinyl and cassette versions of Sgt. Pepper in 1987; it had been deleted from British vinyl editions of the album after its original pressing and had never been included on previous American vinyl pressings.
The inner groove notwithstanding, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first Beatles album to appear in the U.S. exactly as it did in the U.K.
The Dutch designer group The Fool did a psychedelic painting for the LP cover's gatefold (below).  It was rejected. 
Producer George Martin wanted Geoff Emerick to get a credit for his engineering work, but an unidentified EMI boss nixed the idea in an in-house memo with three question marks next to Martin's request.  The 1987 compact disc issue gave Emerick his well-deserved credit.
The working title of the LP was One Down, Six To Go, a reference to their January 1967 contract with EMI, which apparently required them to deliver seven albums.
Sgt. Pepper is the only Beatles album not released in the U.K. on a Friday, the day of issue for new recordings in Britain in the 1960s.  The Beatles wanted it out on the first of the month to make a symbolic statement, and the first day of June 1967 - its month of release - happened to be on a Thursday.  Ironically, it was released on a Friday in the United States - the next day, June 2, 1967.  Record releases in the U.S. happened to be on Mondays or Wednesdays at the time. 
The launch party for Sgt. Pepper was held on May 19, 1967, at Beatles manager Brian Epstein's house in the Belgravia section of London.  The photo of the Beatles below is from the launch.
That's a lot of fun facts.
And, as a bonus, here is a picture of the Sgt. Pepper cutouts I alluded to in an earlier post.
Never curse your tanning underwear. :-D