Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas Music Video Of the Week - December 15, 2017

"Cool Yule" by Bette Midler  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Another Day Of Decision

I'll get to Doug Jones later.  But right now . . .
The Federal Communications Commission will kill Net neutrality tomorrow.
We're about to get hit with a Pai in the face.
There's only one way to stop FCC Chairman Ajit Pai from imposing a rollback on Internet regulations keeping the network open and free. and that way is to urge Congress to enshrine Net neutrality into law.  Pai is one of three Republicans on a five-member commission, and that's a majority.  This is what Republicans have always wanted to do - get rid of Obama-era Internet rules.  Oh, sure, there will be lawsuits to stop Pai after the vote goes through, but congressional intervention is the best and only way to stop this once and for all.
I shudder to think what a neutrality-free Internet, governed by Internet service providers, might look like.  I know that this blog could be blocked due to all of the hard-hitting political commentary I've written here.  I'm even concerned that my beautiful-women picture blog could be affected.  Suppose a woman running an ISP has a problem with any blog or site celebrating women with feminine beauty as the main focus?  She might even have a problem with the preponderance of fashion models on my blog - "My God," she might say, "who is this jerk to celebrate women who are only famous because of their looks?"  Now, that's obviously an extreme case, but here's another problem; this blog is on a service owned by Google. What if my ISP has a problem with Google because it's competing with its own search engine? How about people who use Flickr, owned by Verizon subsidiary Yahoo, but don't have Verizon as their ISP?  Does that mean Flickr customers who use an ISP other than Verizon will have to pay more money than they already do to use it, if not every site is treated equally?  And what about social media?  Are Facebook and Twitter suddenly susceptible to user fees imposed by ISPs because you're using the ISPs' network to access those sites?
And of course, if I say anything bad on this blog about content provided by an ISP - say, a TV show on a channel owned by an ISP - that could be blocked as well.  I'm just glad I don't stream movies and TV shows online, because anyone who does will have to pay through the nose and the mouth to do it. 
It's easy to blame Trump for this, and it's an equally easy shot to say that this is part of his quest to have total control over everything, but the truth of the matter is that this rollback of Net neutrality would have happened even if another Republican presidential candidate from 2016 - Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich - had been elected to the White House, because any one of them would have put Ajit Pai or someone like him in charge of the FCC.  Especially if Ted Cruz had been elected President.  The Texas senator declared Net neutrality to be "government control of the Internet," as assertion so laughable it would be funny if it weren't serious.     
I will not be posting tomorrow.  I want to show everyone tomorrow what my blog will be if my ISP moves to silence me with Uncle Charlie's blessing.
That is, nothing.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Day of Decision

Well, today's the big day in Alabama, and I honestly don't know who is going to win the special Senate election.  But the Republicans will have many headaches in the near - and far - future if Roy Moore wins.
As for Al Franken . . . what happens in Alabama may have an impact on what happens in Minnesota.  For now, Franken's Senate seat is safely in Democratic hands, and Mark Dayton, the Democratic governor, will appoint a Democratic caretaker senator in Franken's place until a special election is held.  But Republicans have gained so much support in mainly Democratic Minnesota over the years, and they've been so competitive in recent statewide elections, that a special Senate election isn't a gimme for the Democrats. Although the state has not been carried by a Republican presidential candidate since 1972,  Republicans have done very well in Senate elections.  In 1976, the state was represented by two liberal icons in the Senate, Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale; a little over two years later, with Humphrey dead and Mondale as Vice President (you will note that I did not take the obvious easy shot), both of Minnesota's senators were Republicans.  More recently, Franken won a close 2008 race for his seat against incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman that wasn't called for months.  And by the way, Hillary Clinton only won the state in the 2016 presidential election by 1.5 percentage points.
Michael Smerconish of CNN has suggested - not reported, only suggested - that Franken could rescind his resignation if Moore wins today's election in Alabama.  But Franken could also choose to run in a special election to clear his name and let the voters ultimately decide whether he should go back to the Senate.  I don't know of any precedent for such a ploy in the modern era, but in 1881, when U.S. Senators were elected by state legislatures,  Republican senators Roscoe Conkling and Thomas Platt of New York resigned their seats to protest President James Garfield's civil service reform policy and offered themselves as candidates in the special election for the very seats they vacated, hoping for a win to demonstrate their political power.  Just one word of warning to Franken - Conkling's and Platt's strategy failed.  They were conservatives at a time when the New York state legislature was dominated by moderate Republicans, and so the two ex-senators were not re-elected.
As for Doug Jones, the Democrat opposing Roy Moore in Alabama and a former federal prosecutor, don't count him out.  He has been very competitive, he has a reputation for fairness and justice, and he is revered by black voters in Alabama for successfully prosecuting the perpetrators of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing as U.S. Attorney in northern Alabama.  He also was instrumental in coordinating  state and federal resources against Centennial Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph for another bombing in  Birmingham - an abortion clinic in 1997.  Jones also advocated that Rudolph be tried first in Alabama for the clinic bombing before his trial in for the Olympic park bombing in Georgia.  If Jones loses, it won't be for lack of trying.  But even some conservatives, like radio host Hugh Hewitt, think he's going to win.
Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be bumpy night . . ..

Monday, December 11, 2017

12/11?

Pipe bomb.
Near the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
Specifically, in a pedestrian area in the subway station beneath the bus terminal.  To be precise, it was in that long pedestrian tunnel connecting that subway station to the Times Square subway station a block away.
Lockdown.  Four injured.  One man in custody.  A second bomb might be in the vicinity.
Right, I may not be going into Manhattan any time soon . . . :-(      

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jerusalem

Donald Trump has announced that the United States will officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (where the Israelis already have their seat of government) and move the U.S embassy there from Tel Aviv.  Trump's rationale - now there are two words you don't normally put together - is that Israel has the right to put its capital in the city of its choice "like every other sovereign nation" and that the Israelis and the Palestinians will be spurred to work out a peace agreement on that pretext.  Acknowledging the idea of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and theoretically forcing the Israelis and the Palestinians to go back to negotiations and decide the final status of Jerusalem in a two-state solution, Trump thus concludes, is "a necessary condition for achieving peace."
Geez, even his decision to withdraw America from the Paris Agreement on climate change made more sense. 
This doesn't even make good nonsense.  Jerusalem is a holy city that has been held dear by the three great religions of the Indo-European world - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  The Jews claim it as their citadel, the place where they established their civilization, but so do the Christians for the arrival of Jesus in the city to celebrate Passover and His subsequent crucifixion and resurrection.  Muslims consider it the third holiest city in their faith, after Mecca and Medina; it was in Jerusalem where the Prophet Muhammad spoke to God and where the act of turning to Mecca for prayers was established.  Jerusalem is where the Semites and the Canaanites may have settled, but it has become a holy place for millions of people in the region and billions of people around the world.  It belongs to the children of Israel, yes, but anyone raised in the Islamic or Judeo-Christian tradition is a child of Israel. 
The Palestinians have lived in Jerusalem for centuries through the years of imperial rule by Arabs and Turks, and their claim to the city has long been respected, if not exactly endorsed, by the United States until Trump, who's a religious scholar like I'm a jet pilot, blew it up.  I admit that I myself am not much of a religious scholar, either.)  In 1995, Congress passed an advisory act recognizing that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel, But Presidents Clinton, Bush the Younger, and Obama waived a final decision on it to help the peace process move along and to conform with American security interests.  Trump's declaration that the U.S. Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem takes away any incentive by the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians in good faith with an unbiased broker to facilitate the peace process.  The United States just put the American thumb down hard on the scales for the Israelis.
A friend of mine alerted me to this reasonable proposal that was first offered in 1948, when Israel became the Jewish state in and the Palestinians were offered a state but turned down the offer because the Palestinians were at odds with the Jews for reasons that boiled down to issues land and property in the partitioning of the region.  The idea was the concept of corpus separatum - Latin for "separate body," the proposal to make Jerusalem a city free of national identity and open to all.  It was an idea not unlike isolating Washington, D.C. in its own federal district and making it a city of all the states in the Union, and even though the separation of Washington hasn't worked out very well,  thanks to tensions between the federal government and the locals, the internationalization of Jerusalem and taking the politics out of its fate makes perfect sense.  The next best thing, of course, would be to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine, with the Israelis in the west and the Palestinians in the east.  Instead you have Trump, an unlettered President of a country too young to appreciate the specialness and the complexity of a city that goes back four thousand years, taking a hard line on an unfair position in defiance to everyone in Europe and the Middle East, satisfying only . . . Israel.
I think he's doing this to stir up and split the Democratic-leaning Jewish vote.  But he's jeopardizing not only the peace in the region but in the world, as his decision only serves to rile up Islamic extremists and anger regional powers - regional powers where, incidentally, so much of the world's oil is.
Oh yeah, before Ajit Pai lets ISPs silence me, I can't help but mention that World War II was started over a dispute over the future of Danzig, the free Baltic port city of German and Polish residents that Poland had a right to use for an outlet to the sea, which had caused tension with Germany.  The Third Reich used Danzig as an excuse to invade Poland, and the first shot in the war's European theater was fired from a Kriegsmarine battleship in Danzig's harbor.  And Danzig - now the Polish city of Gdańsk - was purely an issue of economic power. Jerusalem is a far, far more sensitive case. But don't expect Trump to get that.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Franken Sense

He - Al Franken - just resigned from the Senate over charges of inappropriate behavior towards women.  
The junior Democratic senator from Minnesota was forced to step down after most of his female Democratic Senate colleagues called for his resignation.  His exit has divided the Democratic Party not over sexual misconduct itself but how to deal with it.  Many progressives are angry that a U.S. Senator with such a strong progressive record, particularly on women's issues, could be forced out for a few relatively harmless incidents of groping that had yet to go through the Senate Ethics Committee - many of which Franken has denied - when  there is clear evidence of far greater indiscretions against Donald Trump and Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore despite their own denials.  To them, this shows that Democratic lawmakers are unwilling to stand by their own colleagues when they are facing issues of sexual misconduct and let them fall because of Republican charges of double standards while the GOP brazenly stands by fellow Republicans who have done worse and are allowed to get away with it.  Like the Republicans say in regard to Moore,  these Democrats say that Franken's fate should be left up to the voters.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who was up front in getting Franken to quit, doesn't think so.  She says that there should be no distinction between groping and assault and that there should be zero tolerance for all forms of sexual impropriety, even an unwanted peck on the cheek.  She hopes that, by purging Democratic ranks of sex offenders of all sorts, Democrats will be able to claim a moral high ground and show that they will stand against any and all such behavior to shame the Republicans.
The pressure on Franken to resign couldn't have come at a more inconvenient time for congressional Democrats; House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi stood by Michigan congressman John Conyers when he was found to have paid out a claim involving a sexual-harassment charge to avoid litigation, only to retreat from her support and urge his resignation once more charges arose.  Pelosi made herself look both insensitive to the women involved and noncommittal in her support of Conyers as a result, satisfying no one with her flip-flopping.  But by attempting to take the moral high ground and stay there once and for all, the Democrats don't appear to realize what a risk they're taking. Because the moral high ground doesn't matter to Republicans, who have won elections by going low and hitting below the belt.  And so far, the Democrats' high-ground game hasn't worked out as they might have liked.  Moore and Trump are shameless to the point that they now have each other's backs, even after Trump unsuccessfully supported Luther Strange in the Republican primary for Alabama's Senate seat.
Franken himself made a resignation speech that was so eerily reminiscent of Gary Hart's bitter presidential-campaign withdrawal speech of May 1987 that I half-expected Hart to write him a commendatory letter for it.  Franken took to the Senate floor defending himself against charges of impropriety with a defiant tone that gave every indication that he was prepared to fight it out, only to bow to peer pressure and step down.  He did so with the same contempt toward the Republicans for supporting Trump and Moore that Hart had displayed toward the press, inevitably earning criticism for his attitude - except that Franken has an actual case against the Republicans.  One could argue that he has a case against Gillibrand for forcing him out for purely political reasons, given that she hopes to use women's issues in a possible candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.  "Gillibrand's moves against leading figures in her own party," observed CNN's Eric Bradner, "have positioned her to turn her focus to Republicans and make an aggressive case against Trump."    
So what do the Democrats do now?  My advice to them - though I know they'll never listen, since they wouldn't listen when I told them to nominate Martin O'Malley for President - would be to pivot their focus to taxes. health care, Net neutrality, and other pressing issues even as they continue to call the Republicans on the sexual harassment issue.  Because the Republicans are in an even more precarious situation. If Democrat Doug Jones wins Tuesday's U.S. Senate special election in Alabama, the Democrats gain one Senate seat on top of the two Senate seats they picked up in 2016, and in a state in the Deep South at that.  If Roy Moore wins, the GOP becomes the party of sexual predators, which will stay on the back of the voters' minds going into the 2018 midterms.  And the Democrats' high-ground approach to sexual misconduct in their battles with the GOP may have already begun to bear fruit, albeit low-hanging fruit; Representative Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona has resigned over charges that he tried to persuade a female staffer to serve as a surrogate mother when he and his wife wanted a child, and another Republican, Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas, is under a House ethics investigation for having used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim.  A black congresswoman has called on him to resign - Mia Love, the only black female member of the GOP House caucus, whom you already know about from a previous post.
Somewhere, he - Al Franken - is smiling.
And with allies like Gillibrand, who needs adversaries?  O'Malley in 2020.   

Friday, December 8, 2017

Oh, Snow????

Yesterday,  I wrote that no serious snowfall was expected in my area any time soon, so I didn't have to worry about the leaves that have stubbornly refused to fall from out Japanese maple trees.
I can start worrying.
A forecast for a light dusting of snow in New Jersey tomorrow has turned in to a forecast for as many as three to five inches.  I'm right on the line and could see the higher number. 
And so could our trees.
So the less likely scenario for this weekend's weather that was expected not to happen will, in fact . . . happen.
I give up . . ..  Nothing goes right anymore. :-(

Christmas Music Video Of the Week - December 8, 2017

Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby 1957 Christmas Special excerpt  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand-corner.)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Leaves That Didn't Fall

More intimidating than the dog that didn't bark.
We have four Japanese maple trees on our property, and there's this usual cycle they go through every November.  One day the leaves are in a muted red shade, as they have been all spring and summer.  Then, they suddenly turn a vibrant red a couple of days later, and soon after that the they quickly crumple and fall.  When the leaves on our Japanese maple trees started to change this fall, they didn't crumple; the only turned a pale grayish red.  I then waited for them to fall all at once, like they did before, so I could rake them.
And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited . . . until suddenly it was December.
It's December 7, and the leaves on our Japanese maples still haven't fallen.  (The picture above is of one of our trees, taken December 5.)  A friend of mine said that the warm autumn we've had up to now altered the transfer of water and sap to the cells in these trees that feed the leaf stems.  As the leaves lose photosynthesis and die off, a layer of cells connected to the leaf stems called the abscission layer is supposed to close off the flow of nutrients to the leaves, allowing the leaves to fall; when that doesn't happen and dead leaves stay on the trees, this is called marcescence.
Marcescence happens periodically in all sorts of trees, mainly oak trees, but I've never seen it occur in Japanese maple trees until this year. This is actually pretty scary - a species of tree not shedding its leaves as it's supposed to. There are two major disadvantages to marcescence.  One is that the dead foliage on a tree during the winter season causes the tree to use more water than it should have to.  The second, and far worse, disadvantage is that it can lead to great excessive damage to the leaves and/or branches in bad winters, because the snow can accumulate on the dead leaves and cause the limbs to fall from the limbs' failure to support the weight of the snow - exactly how so many tree limbs came down in my area during the October Surprise snowstorm of 2011.  Back then, many leaves on the trees were changing color but had not yet died.  But a tree limb full of dead foliage is no lighter than a tree limb with still bearing leaves that are green or changing color along with leaves that have already died.
Okay, I'm worried.  I hope the abscission layers on these trees finally close off and let the leaves fall.  Maybe the cold - a cold snap is expected next week - will do it and then the leaves on or Japanese maples will tumble to the ground.  Fortunately, there's no major snowstorm in the foreseeable future as I type this - just a dusting.   But if they're still on the trees when it starts snowing big time, all bets are off.  Because this episode of marcescence, which I believe was indeed caused by a warm fall, isn't unique to our Japanese maples - other Japanese maples in my area still bear their dead leaves.  And while ours aren't impeding any electrical wires, others are.  Some of them are growing right into the wires.
And there are people in my Republican town who still don't believe in climate change.     

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How the West Was Lost

Donald Trump rolled back land protections granted by the Clinton and Obama administrations to acreage in Utah under the 1906 Antiquities Act.  He announced that the two national monuments would be downsized to allow the state to take over the land for - you guessed it - commercial purposes.  The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which includes Broken Bow Arch (below), will have its area reduced by half, but the Bears Ears National Monument will be reduced in size by as much as 85 percent. 
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made the recommendations, and Trump can easily say he's merely following the advice of an expert.  Right.  Zinke is a former Montana congressman, and like most hack politicians from the West, his only expertise is in opening up more federal land to drilling, timber clearing, and in the case of Utah, mining and fossil-fuel extraction.  Hardly surprisingly, Utah's all-Republican (and all-Mormon) congressional delegation enthusiastically supports the move. 
There's nothing new about the western states wanting to do what they please with federal land and opposing the federal government's attempts to regulate it.  But what is new in this case is that Trump is reversing the monument protection established by his predecessors in such a brazen, sweeping manner.  There are few examples of the land preservation rollback that Trump has pulled.  Some of America's most beautiful and most ecologically sensitive landscapes could be lost forever, now that the monument declaration for much of the land has been rescinded. 
The land is also the site of ancient Native American artifacts and sacred burial grounds, mostly of the Navajo tribe. Navajo and other Indians of the region have wanted to ensure the land's preservation, but the white men who represent Utah in Congress (and Utah's Representative Mia Love, the only black woman in the House Republican caucus) can't be bothered with such concerns.  Representative Robert Bishop, who represents Utah's First House District, not only is among the staunchest opponents of the Antiquities Act, he also advocates for the repeal of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, saying that he "would love to invalidate" the law to spur economic development in his district.
I once called Utah, because of its landscape and because of its historic role as the Mormon homeland, America's Israel.  I didn't realize how right I was; just as the Israelis have built their Zion on the land taken from the Palestinians without regard to their culture, so the Mormons have built a Zion indifferent to the cultural concerns of  the Navajo and Ute tribes that populated the land first. 
Trump's land grab could set a dangerous precedent for future repeals of Antiquities Act protections - not just by his own administration (rumor has it that he's eyeing the rollback of a national marine monument in Hawaii declared by President George W. Bush) but by future administrations.  Because some legal experts say the only Congress can modify a presidential declaration of a national monument, this rollback is going to be challenged in court. Yvon Chouinard, the founding CEO of the Patagonia outdoor gear company, laid down the gauntlet for everyone against this rollback.
"I think the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits," the 79-year-old Chouinard said in an interview with CNN. "We're losing this planet, and we have an evil government. And not just the federal government, but wacko politicians out of Utah and places. I mean, it's evil. And I'm not going to stand back and just let evil win."
Evil.  Wacko.  Whoa, you better watch out when you start calling Mormons epithets like that.
Patagonia is already suing.  Go get 'em, Mr. Chouinard. :-)  

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Border Control

Donald Trump just pulled the United States out of yet another international agreement - specifically, the United Nations Migrant and Refugee Compact, which sets international guidelines for how people fleeing persecution and pestilence are treated and advocates for their protection and their safety.
Why?  Because the compact does not comport with Trump's policy toward immigration.  Though he made it clear as a candidate for President that he was fine with accepting immigrants so long as they come to the U.S. legally, what Trump didn't say was that he plans to dramatically reduce the number of immigrants allowed to come into this country - including refugees.  Victims of war need our help?  Not our problem. 
By the time Trump gets through, every treaty and pact we've ever entered into will be invalidated. The United States will be working in concert with no one on anything.  That's pretty scary when you realize that Trump might decide to go it alone on attacking North Korea if he feels the situation calls for it - and H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser, says that the situation increasingly calls for it.
And that could produce a lot of refugees.
This policy change is far more damning than Voyage Of the Damned.  It doesn't just show that Trump is indifferent to the rest of the world and is ready to isolate the United States from the rest of the world to score political points at home.  But it also signifies that, as a President eager to pursue a policy that keeps people out, he can just as easily employ his border-security policies to keep people . . . in.
Congressional Republicans are likely to continue backing Trump even if and after the tax reform bill becomes law to satisfy his base.  They must be voted out of power.  Hurry, November 2018. :-O    

Monday, December 4, 2017

Flynn and Taxes

Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former national security adviser, agreed with special counsel Robert Mueller to plead guilty to lying about his contacts with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, after it turned out that he had asked the ambassador on December 29, 2016 to, as CNBC reported, "refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day" while Barack Obama was still President.  Trump had opposed the sanctions and Flynn apparently was trying to tell Kislyak to stay calm and wait for the incoming administration to take charge and initiate a friendly relationship.
Even if you don't think Russian intervention caused Trump to win the Presidency - I think they intervened in the election but I don't think they were instrumental in Trump's victory -  Flynn has been under investigation for allegedly planning a kidnapping and a Turkish cleric living in exile in the U.S. and having him sent back to Turkey.  And if all that weren't mind-boggling enough, Trump has now tweeted that he fired Flynn for lying to the FBI about his meeting with Kislyak, suggesting that he knew all along that Flynn had lied when he asked then-FBI Director James Comey and was therefore trying to obstruct justice.  Then, of course, he later fired James Comey.
Trump could be forced out of office soon.  But as far as preventing him from doing irreparable damage to the country, it's already too late.
Because the Senate just passed its tax reform bill by a 51-49 margin. Bob Corker of Tennessee was the only Republican to vote against it.  They got it through after last-minute revisions to the bill that, I understand, were written on the back of a Chinese takeout menu.  And even though the differences between the Senate bill and the House bill have to be worked out in a bicameral conference, no one thinks there'll be any problems with that.  And Trump, the chief instigator of tax reform, will proudly sign it before the first day of Kwanzaa and rhetorically ask black voters what they could possibly have to lose.
The final bill will likely eliminate state and local tax deductions and possibly also eliminate the Affordable Care At's individual mandate and thus possibly eliminate . . . the Affordable Care Act.  The biggest benefits go to the wealthy, and the pressure on the deficit will mean cuts to public assistance and the sort of amenities that make a country worth living in.  
Because of procedural rules, there's nothing the Democrats could do to stop this bill, and to be fair, they didn't have the time or the ability to digest or even read the last-minute changes to it.  But the Democrats did a lame job in opposing it, concentrating more on the deficit than on the threat to domestic spending and, as a result, arguing against the tax bill on the basis of Republican talking points, which did the Democrats no favors.  They only tipped the scales to the GOP in the debate, and scale-tipping is something Hillary supporters know a thing or two about.   The pressure this tax law will put on expensive, Democratic-leaning states will short-circuit the progressive agenda and doom incoming New Jersey governor Phil Murphy to failure before he's even sworn in.
Thus, despite Democratic victories in  2017 gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, the party has gone back to going full Whig. 
On the bright side, now that tax reform is all but done, maybe Republicans, no longer needing Trump to pass their agenda, will go ahead and help remove him from office.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Rap It Up

The Grammy Awards nominations just came out, and white male artists were shut out of Album of the Year, which shocked a lot of people. 
Quite frankly, I don't know why anyone was so surprised by the fact that none of us honkies got nominated for Album of the Year.  The truth of the matter is, white men in popular music have been marginalized by mass taste, and the Grammys are trying to reflect mass taste.  It doesn't matter if a white man makes a superior album (and today's fans and critics will tell you that he can't).  Today's pop audience likes music that makes you want to dance, and we white men aren't good at that sort of thing. We're good at making music you can play air guitar to, or writing boring artistic songs (as Britney Spears would put it) about the meaning of life.  But today's pop audience wants nothing to do with that.  And unless one of us is a cute guy named Justin, they want nothing to do with us.  I don't know how Ed Sheeran got anywhere.
The 2018 nominees for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' most prestigious award include Melodrama by New Zealandic singer Lorde and 24K Magic by Bruno Mars.  If either one of those LPs wins, I'll have no problem with that.
But here's the problem I do have: The other nominees are rap albums - Childish Gambino's Awaken, My Love!" Kendrick Lamar's DAMN and . . . 4:44 by Beyoncé 's husband, Mr. Shawn Carter.
The preponderance of rap records in the album of the Year Grammy nominations for 2018 is nothing short of a calculated insult.  Never mind race or sex here.  The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) has not only embraced rap with fervor, it's also told us rock fans that our music doesn't matter.  It's also telling us to get over the fact that rap is the dominant form in pop today and deal with it.  We can complain all we want that rap isn't real music, but we're going to be told to keep our damn traps shut because we're obviously racist.  
One guy on Twitter pretty much set the tone of the attack on anyone who dares to suggest that rap isn't music. "White racists are shook that no white men got nominated for AOTY [Album of the Year] at the Grammys this year. They have the nerve to ask how 4:44 was nominated. How was Beck nominated? How did he win AOTY over Beyoncé?"
How was Beck nominated for Morning Phase back in 2015?  How did he win the 2015 Album of the Year Grammy over Beyoncé?  Maybe it was simply a better album, you twit.  I'll wager that Morning Phase is even better than 4:44 because Beck uses real instruments and actually sings his lyrics.  And to respond to the inevitable point that Beck uses electronics and rap verse in some of his songs . . .  yes, and those are my least favorite Beck songs.  The only thing more painful than listening to a black rapper is listening to a white rocker trying to rap.
I can't deal with people like this anymore.  I am sick of seeing dislike for rap always being explained as a racist rather than an aesthetic issue, and I'm tired of seeing rock acts dismissed and written off for being anachronistic and antiquated.  (One online article I recently read made fun of the current crop of rock bands by talking about how lame they are.  I almost threw a garbage can at the desktop monitor!)  The asinine political correctness in popular music that celebrates rap as a shining, innovative example of America's rich musical "diversity" and the dismissal of complaints about rap as some sort of bigoted "rockism" is unnecessary, misguided, exclusionary, and unbearable.  And if NARAS is going to celebrate rap as music while diminishing rock, then, as far as I'm concerned, they're as wrong to celebrate rap as they usually are when they award the Best New Artist Grammy - an award that has gone to folks like Debby Boone, A Taste of Honey, Milli Vanilli, and, of course, Chance the Rapper.
Oh yeah, Beyoncé's husband got eight Grammy nominations in all this time.  He's bound to go home from the Grammys with something.
In many ways, this is a victory for Kanye West, who's known for sticking up for Beyoncé on her behalf and for hip-hop/R&B in general.  After he interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009 when she won an award he thought should have gone to Beyoncé, he was dissed for being a jerk because he interrupted a woman, and Beyoncé herself took the stage with Swift to show that there were no hard feelings.  But when West interrupted Beck's Grammy acceptance speech by momentarily getting onstage with him, Beyoncé and her husband were laughing and applauding wildly in response to the gesture. Although West apologized after charging that Beck was not a real artist, he got what he wanted.  Rock music, whether it's alternative rock performed by a white guy like Beck or traditional rock performed by a black guy like Gary Clark, Jr., is no longer thought of as artistically or culturally relevant.  Kanye doesn't just want rock to fall by the wayside, he wants to push it there!
There may be a new alternative-rock station in New York City, but it's merely one battle won in a war that continues to be waged.        

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Melania Christmas

The First Lady of the supposedly United States, Melania Trump, unveiled  the Christmas 2017 decorations at the White House in this first holiday season of the Age of the Donald.  Melania's decorations include 53 Christmas trees, 71 wreaths, more than 18,000 lights and more than 12,000 ornaments.
Now, you'd think that our foreign-born First Lady (our first foreign-born First Lady since John Quincy Adams' wife Louisa), coming as she does from Slovenia, would bring a little homey Old World charm to the White House Christmas displays.
Think again!
The decorations are as cold and sterile as Melania's marriage.  Looking through this doorway, you feel as if you're entering the inner sanctum of a space station.
Step back, and you feel like you're standing in the middle of the atrium of one of her husband's skyscrapers.
This room looks so cold and empty that the presence of a single person makes it look even deader than it already is.  No cheer, no warmth, none of that stuff associated with Christmas. The decor along the East Colonnade, though, does bring Halloween to mind.
As white and unsettling as the President himself.
And if you think this looks scary already, it looks downright creepy when more dimly lit!
Michelle Obama's holiday decor for the East Colonnade invited you to come in and have some Christmas cookies.  Here, you'd be afraid to walk down the hall for fear of being kidnapped by a witch and thrown in an oven!  Melania wants to have you for tea?  Yes, my pretty, and you'll taste quite scrumptious with tea!
The decorations don't look any better in a brighter light.  In fact, they look even more sterile.
I've seen mausoleums with more warmth than this. This decor doesn't conjure up the sound of  Christmas carols, it recalls "The Immigrant Song," Led Zeppelin's song about Vikings conquering and plundering the Nordic landscape.  Valhalla, I am coming! 
The decor in the picture below has an air of familiarity to it, though.  It reminds me of being in the mall.  Now if she plays Mannheim Steamroller in the background, Melania will have the Paramus atmosphere down pat!  
I will give her this much credit; she did make the Red Room look very festive.
But when you have a room that's already painted in a cheerful color and adorned with paintings of Dolley Madison and of Angelica Van Buren, Martin Van Buren's pretty daughter-in-law - two beloved White House hostesses themselves - it's hard to screw up this room.  Heck, you couldn't decorate the Red Room for Christmas badly unless you tried extremely hard.  But then, Melania doesn't have the desire to try extremely hard at being First Lady.  
Gotta love the Nativity scene, though.
Ooh, look - they remembered to include black people!
It's nice to see the Nativity scene reinstated after the Obamas took it out of the White House Christmas decorations.  Oops!  Correction - the Obamas always had a Nativity scene.  But they probably didn't have one that looked like the birth of Jesus took place in a palace.  This looks just a little too opulent for the birth of a carpenter's son.
Don't look for a Menorah - the Trumps aren't encumbered by cultural sensitivity.  But Melania did remember the mistletoe! 
Just make sure soon-to-be Senator Moore and the President himself aren't standing under this when the White House hosts a holiday party for Congress!  Senator Franken?  Oh, he won't be there.  No Menorah, remember?
I'm sure Melania did her darnedest to produce some Christmas cheer in a house that hasn't seen much joy for most of the year, but it seems phony and insincere, much like the arguments in favor of the tax reform bill.  She's so cold and cheerless, even the sight of ballerinas, who danced at the White House to celebrate its Christmas decorations, didn't warm her heart.  Take a look at the official White House video for yourself; the ballerinas are dressed in white, have frozen smiles on their faces, and have their hair in buns tighter than their rear ends, yet they look like they're having more of a good time than Melania, who stares at them like a motorized-mannequin impersonator awaiting her cue.  See, I told you it was like Christmas at the mall! 
Very sad. The one time where Trump's penchant for gold made sense, and the White House dropped the ornament on this one.
My second choice for President in 2020 is Disney CEO Robert Iger, and not because I want to see the White House look like Disneyland in Christmas 2021.  No, I hope Iger runs because his wife is Willow Bay, the former Estée Lauder model and the anti-Melania.  If you look at Willow Bay's old Lauder ads from the eighties, particularly the Christmas ads, you'll notice the tasteful settings and dignified objets d'art in the background that look grand without being cold.  I'd like to think that some of the interior design schemes in those ads must have rubbed off on her.
And because her husband is Jewish, the holidays at the Iger White House would definitely include a Menorah. 
But, at least we now know that the war on Christmas is over.  Christmas lost.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Christmas Music Video Of the Week - December 1, 2017

"Step Into Christmas" by Elton John  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Menendez Mistrial

After all the speculation that New Jersey Democratic lawmaker Robert Menendez's U.S. Senate seat was in trouble due to his corruption trial, Menendez walked out of the federal courthouse in Newark a free man when the judge declared a mistrial. 
The jurors - one of whom could have been me - decided that Menendez was guilty of no more than helping out a friend,  the friend happening to be a wealthy optometrist, but that Menendez's actions probably weren't illegal.  That's it, and that's all.  No verdict.  So it looks like Menendez will be able to serve out the remainder of his Senate term, which expires in January 2019, and not have to worry about serving a term of a different sort.   
But he might not get another term in the Senate.  Menendez's poll numbers in New Jersey are so low, they almost rival those of Chris Christie.  New Jersey hasn't elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972, but, given that New Jersey Republicans have won half of the twelve gubernatorial elections since then, don't be surprised if they are competitive against Menendez in the state's 2018 U.S. Senate election.
And I can definitely see outgoing lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno going for Menendez's seat.
Why?  Because just as Christine Todd Whitman's failed Senate bid in 1990 was a dry run for her successful gubernatorial run in 993, Kim Guadagno's failed gubernatorial bid could be a dry run for Menendez's Senate seat.  Republicans who lose elections don't quit running for office until they get elected to something or can't run any more, a tradition started by Harold Stassen.
But of course, November 2018 is a long way off, even as November 2017 comes to a close today.  Menendez (below) has time to get his mojo working again.  A week in politics is a life time and a year in politics is an eternity.  A month ago, people were talking about Menendez being in jeopardy; now they've forgotten about Menendez and started talking about Al Franken being in jeopardy     
What would I have done had I been on that jury?  I doubt that I could have reached a verdict as well.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An Immodest Proposal for Preserving Net Neutrality

I wrote last week about the end of Net neutrality as if it were inevitable, and it probably is. But maybe I'm wrong.
The only thing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai understands is power.  That's why Pai laughs off comments on the FCC's message board pleading with him to preserve Net neutrality - "Look, I'm scared, I'm scared!"  Pai's allies in the telecommunications industry and their backers in Congress only understand power, also.  So don't waste your time writing to Uncle Charlie (i.e., the FCC) to demand that Net neutrality be preserved.   Here's a better idea.
Find a U.S. Senator - any U.S. Senator - on record for supporting Net neutrality.  If he or she happens to represents your state, so much the better.   Write to that senator and urge him or her to use the power every senator has to hold up legislation to block something important . . . like, say, the continuing resolution renewal. The U.S. government is operating on a continuing resolution in the absence of a real budget, and it is set to expire on December 9 if it is not renewed.  If it expires, the government will shut down.
Tell that senator to block a vote on the continuing resolution unless and until Congress agrees to enshrining Net neutrality into law. No free Internet, no continuing resolution.  Then find another senator and repeat the process.  Write to as many senators as you can.  Call their offices if you can.  Keep track of how many senators respond to you; follow up on the ones that don't.  
Do you remember that song that was a hit back during the 1979 oil crisis, the song suggesting that the U.S. withhold shipments of agricultural products to OPEC member states if they didn't lower the price of oil - "Cheaper Crude Or No More Food"?  Well, I'm proposing the same idea here.  We the people should have our senators hold the continuing resolution hostage to preserving Net neutrality.  If there's actually a completed budget to vote on (yeah, right), they should hold that hostage to ensure that Net neutrality is preserved.  Heck, they should block a vote on raising the debt ceiling, if that's possible, to get Congress and Trump to agree to preserve a free Internet.  Yeah - "Free the Net or no more debt!" :-D 
We ought to do something.  Anything.  Well, anything that's legal.  Because unless we do something, we're all going to get hit on December 14 with a Pai in the face.
Act now before the FCC board has its Net neutrality vote on December 14.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

She's Just Wild About Harry

And now for the lighter side of the news (actually, this blog is the lighter side of the news) . . .
It's official:  His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (call him Harry), and American actress Meghan Markle are engaged.
The happy couple are getting married in 2018.  The wedding promises to be Britain's biggest event of the year.
Right, we gotta stop European royalty from marrying our actresses and depleting our movies and television productions of our bright young female talent.  But when you realize that Hollywood is run by perverts, you can see that we have our work cut out for us.  
Hmm . . . Prince Harry or King Harvey - what's it gonna be? As if the answer weren't a foregone conclusion.
And while they didn't marry royalty, it's easy to see why Elizabeth McGovern and Jennifer Connelly also married Brits.  

Monday, November 27, 2017

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

I gave up long ago on keeping track of all of the unscrupulous males who were caught making sexual advances and exhibiting other forms of improper behavior toward women, from assault to rape, but what caught my attention was Charlie Rose getting caught with his pants down . . . literally.  Rose always came off as the thinking person's talk show host, a gracious, mannered Southern gentleman . . . and it turns out that he has a dirtier mind than Howard Stern.  And Howard Stern, potty mouth that he is, is actually a family man and a nice guy. 
Al Franken, meanwhile, apologized for improper behavior toward a woman while on a USO tour before he was elected to the Senate, and many commentators were quick to note the difference between Franken, who admitted his deed and apologized, and Roy Moore, the Alabama U.S. Senate candidate who has been accused of pedophilia and whose accusers are credible despite his denials.  Then it turned out that Franken groped other women as a U.S. Senator.  Meanwhile, Detroit congressman John Conyers is facing charges of sexual harassment, which he denies, even though he paid a settlement to save everyone involved from going through a legal process.  This isn't a Democratic or Republican issue or white male or black male issue . . . it's a male American issue, and it makes American men look like bigger louts than the rest of the world thought they were.
I believe that Franken and Conyers should resign from their seats in Congress.  And I believe so because of Roy Moore.  Alabama being Alabama, Moore, barring a major disaster, is likely to win the special election for the state's open Senate seat despite every Republican in Washington taking the side of Moore's accusers.  With Moore, who's backed by Trump, likely to be an embarrassment for the Republicans nationwide as a U.S. Senator, and with pressure to do something about him, Democrats should set an example by dissociating themselves from their letches to prevent charges of hypocrisy and take the lead against mistreatment of women.  Franken is inconsequential - he's an entertainer, for Pete's sake, and his home state of Minnesota isn't likely to put a Republican in his place - and Conyers is too old anyway.  Conyers is part of the Democratic gerontocracy that has hobbled the party for too long, and even though there's something cynical to get him to quit the House so that younger House Democrats can finally move up to higher positions of responsibility, that wouldn't be a bad thing.  The 88-year-old Conyers did quit his position as ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.  Not good enough - he should just leave the House, period.  Good grief, he was first elected to the House from Detroit in 1964, the same year the Supremes recorded their first big hits there.  Give it up, dude, you're through.
As for Charlie Rose, who lost his jobs at CBS, Bloomberg and PBS, I've heard that PBS is looking to replace his program with a new talk show.  Some, I have been led to understand, have suggested getting Oprah Winfrey to replace him.
Republican efforts to defund public television suddenly look attractive . . .     

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Genesis - 3x3 (1982)

The rise of punk in Britain in the late seventies meant that British progressive bands known for their innovative but pretentious rock music had to adapt to the changed musical landscape or fall by the wayside.  Genesis were more successful in adapting than most such bands, slowly evolving with a more streamlined, pop-oriented sound while still keeping one toe in art rock, as their early-eighties albums Duke and Abacab proved.  But Genesis's attempt at a prog-pop compromise left their sound, well, compromised; while the band - down to a trio since the departure of lead singer Peter Gabriel and, later, guitarist Steve Hackett - came up with interesting singles, their albums were not as consistent.  So a Genesis extended player - a record with more material than a single but not a full-length album - made sense.
3x3 is a British-release EP of three songs that Genesis - drummer/vocalist Phil Collins, guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford, and keyboardist Tony Banks - recorded during the Abacab sessions but left off that album.  It was not released in the United States, since, except for a brief period in the mid-eighties, EPs were never popular there.  (Its contents were included on the U.S. edition of the 1982 double concert/studio album Three Sides Live, the studio-track side being side four.)   The songs on this record provide an excellent sampler of Genesis's music at the time, with elliptical keyboard riffs, tight guitar passages, and some punchy rhythms. As a singer, Collins shows a surprisingly diverse range, going from tough to wistful with ease.  "Paperlate," the first cut, is a forceful commentary on working one's way up to the top, with a brilliant contribution from Earth, Wind  Fire's horn section -much better than their playing on the Abacab track "No Reply At All."  The group gets wistful with the autumnal ballad "You Might Recall," a tender but strong paean to a lost love.
Collins has disavowed the third tune, "Me and Virgil," an earnest effort at fusing Americana with a modern sound; it tells the tale of two brothers in the country who take care of their mother until she dies and then go off to find themselves in the city.  The song is indeed too long and loses its way musically, but the premise is still interesting, and the vignette of the dying mother is touching.  "Me and Virgil" sums up 3x3 as much as the previous two tracks; it shows Genesis as a band smaller and more musically diminished than the grand enterprise Peter Gabriel fronted, but determined to carry on and find new means of expression.  Criticized for their pomposity in the seventies and their mainstream pop sound in the eighties, Genesis has nonetheless come up with enough good work to earn a place in rock and roll history, and the songs on 3x3, while varied in quality, are more than just a bunch of tunes that deserve to go by like leaves upon the water.
(I've never reviewed an extended player before!  This is the last record review of mine for awhile, I need another break.)  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Martin O'Malley Looks Forward

Martin O'Malley has all the makings of a 2020 presidential candidate.  When he tells the press that he "just might" run again in 2020, it sounds more like like a definite affirmation than a hedge-betting answer.
For proof that O'Malley means that he definitely will run for President again when he says he "just might," all you have to do is look at what he's doing now.
O'Malley is setting up a new political action committee (PAC) for Democratic candidates for state and local offices. The PAC, Win Back Your State, is meant to help Democrats running for state legislative, municipal and school board offices get elected, because such offices are where the Democrats need to rebuild if they have any chance of regaining one of both houses of Congress in 2018 and the Presidency in 2020.  He's also doing this to subvert the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which continues to act aloof from the grass-roots elements of the party.  O'Malley has sent a message to local Democrats that they shouldn't bother looking for support from the party elites in their efforts to win lower offices.  Rather, they should just go out and compete for them, and he'll be there to help.  And not just with money; he plans to continue campaigning in person for whoever asks him for the favor.  It's the perfect way to get support from local Democrats for another presidential run.   
O'Malley is trying to buck up Democrats still reeling from and demoralized by Donald Trump's election to the Presidency.  O'Malley's efforts may seem obsessive, even maniacal; even his wife Katie thinks so.  "My wife said to me, 'Why do you keep going out there?' And I said, 'Because I feel like I’m doing something good for my country. You want me to sit at home and throw stuff at the television?'" he said in a recent interview.  "Life is all about how we transform our grief. There are a lot of Democrats who, for the last year, have been wallowing in grief. I, instead, decided to get out on the road and help really decent people who are running."
And in case you think he's crazy, former Vice President Joe Biden has started a similar PAC as well.
But O'Malley is doing even more.  Having visited Iowa and New Hampshire more than any other Democratic presidential hopeful in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, he has continued to visit those two states into 2017.   O'Malley is well-known in both states as a result of having campaigned aggressively for the Presidency at a time when the establishment was behind Hillary Clinton and insurgent Democrats moved to Bernie Sanders.  As Seth Masket explains in this must-read column at FiveThirtyEight.com, O'Malley set himself up in 2015 and 2016 for a second presidential run by spending a great deal of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he has since also positioned himself to play the long game in courting support among grass-roots Democrats for the party's presidential nomination while the party establishment is too rudderless to control the nomination process for 2020 as it did for 2016.  The DNC is not only rudderless, it's broke; the Republican National Committee has continued to raise and save more money than the DNC.  Is there anything the DNC has more of than the RNC?  Yes - debt, to the tune of $3.2 million.  And though the Republicans are driving up the debt in Congress, the RNC is debt-free with more money rolling in by the day.    
O'Malley is not taking the reality of Trump's Presidency in silence.  But he's not taking any guff from establishment Democrats, either; the DNC snubbed him once before, and now he's returning the contempt as he helps down-ballot Democratic candidates on his own.  That's not a way to get Democratic establishment support for a presidential candidacy (and who cares about them?), but it's a way to get the rest of the party to support you.   Katie O'Malley may think this is all quixotic now, but let's see what she thinks about it when she makes her debut as First Lady at the 2021 presidential inaugural balls.      

Friday, November 24, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - November 24, 2017

"Hello Goodbye" by the Beatles  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

This Is the End of the Internet

Offer up your best defense, but it won't be good enough.
After a vote in May to begin the termination of Internet Neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to vote on a final set of standards in December to allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to do whatever they want with the World Wide Web - which means charging customers more for service, charging Web sites a premium for faster downloads, and blocking some Web sites - including blogs - altogether.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says that companies will be free to innovate and to expand service without what he calls the government's "heavy-handed" regulation of the Internet.  The only thing the service providers have to, er, provide to customers in return for unlimited abilities to limit Internet access is an easily accessible Web site spelling out their content policy in an effort to provide "transparency."  Violations of this rule could allow Uncle Charlie (that would be the FCC) to fine the ISPs.
Any fines, of course, would probably be the equivalent of paying a 25-cent fine for dumping garbage on someone's property.  (Arlo Guthrie, remember, had to pay fifty dollars for that back in 1965, which would be about $390 today.)  
Regulation of the Internet would be transferred mostly to the Federal Trade Commission, an acknowledgement that Pai considers the Internet to be a commercial enterprise, not a public medium.  Just to make it clear - giving the Federal Trade Commission regulatory control of the Internet is like giving  an octogenarian security officer the authority to arrest a bank robber. 
This marks the end of the Internet as we know it - and I feel awful.  Money-making companies that provide Internet service - I ain't namin' names! - now have carte blanche to restrict and block Web sites and blogs that they don't like.  Do you have a Black Lives Matter advocacy site?  Sorry, your Internet service provider's CEO may have a problem with black people making trouble over the police.  Does your site advocate for high-speed rail?  Whoops, your ISP owns a television network with a lot of ad accounts from automakers.  Forget about it.  Do you oppose Trump?  You get the idea.
Oh, your ISP might let you access some sites they find questionable - for a price.  So if you see a 50 percent increase in your Internet connection fee, that will explain it.  Of course, you might be able to buy a premium package to get the same basic service you get now.  You just won't be able to afford the mortgage on your house.  And if you live in a state with a Democratic governor, don't expect him or her to try to regulate the Internet and preserve the old regulations within your state's borders; Pai has made it clear that state enforcement of Internet neutrality will not be allowed.
If I may use another analogy, ISP control of the Internet will be the equivalent of the anecdotal story I heard about newsstands in a hotel chain run by Mormons (again, I ain't namin' names!); it is said that the chain's bosses ensure that magazines such as the Atlantic, the New Republic, and Harper's don't appear in the newsstands in their hotels' lobbies.  (They apparently contract the Mormon Church's Word of Wisdom.)  A lot of people don't like Pai's rule change, but they are too powerless to stop it; the Republicans have a majority on the FCC's board and so hold all the cards.  I've heard about threats to file suits against the dismantling of Net neutrality, but whom can anyone sue?
I really don't know if my blog, given all of the controversial opinions I've expressed on it (like my hatred for rap), would be subjected to censorship, but my gut tells me that my ISP may not have a problem with it.  But yours might.  If it turns out that too many ISPs are blocking my blog, I suppose I could terminate it and start a new opinion blog under a pseudonym - say, "Kevin McClaine" - but as soon as Kevin McClaine started posting numerous blog entries supporting Martin O'Malley's presidential prospects in 2020, they'd know it was me.       
So I don't know what to tell you.  Except, welcome to the new era of Internet censorship.  When you go online after December 14, you may not get to access the Web sites you want.
But you'll get to look at a lot of this. :-(
(Note: To make it clear, www.action-now.com is not a real Web site.  But this is what you might start seeing from a lot of Web sites that are real. >:-(   )

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

For Those About to Rock In New York City . . .

FIRE!!!

After six years without a commercial new-rock station, New York City has such a station once again.  WBMP-FM, the station broadcasting on the old 92.3-megahertz frequency of the old alt-rock station WXRK-FM, or K-Rock, switched from a hit-radio format to an alternative-rock format this past weekend, and it's been marking the occasion by playing the first ten thousand songs with no commercial interruptions.
It's been a long time coming - six years to be exact.  WRXP-FM was the last big station in New York to play alternative rock, and it also played classic rock in between newer and locally based rock artists.  It was the brainchild of MTV personality Matt Pinfield, who hoped to bring back the sort of rock station that prospered on the New York airwaves in the early seventies.  The call letters suggested a "rock experiment" (although they were supposed to stand for "rock experience"), but that experiment failed; the station's owner, the Merlin company, switched it to an all-news format in 2011, and the station became WEMP-FM, but that format failed too.  Except for a brief return of WRXP for three months in 2012 before Merlin sold the 101.9-megahertz station in New York to CBS Radio and 101.9 FM began simulcasting an AM sports station, there hadn't been a commercial rock station in New York from 2011 until now except for WAXQ-FM, which only plays "classic rock" - rock your dad likes.  This format change might not have been possible if not for the fact that 92.3's parent company, Entercom, merged with CBS Radio.  
I've always had a problematic relationship with commercial New York radio.  In the 1980s and early 1990s, I would alternate between K-Rock, which was then a classic-rock station, and WNEW-FM, which played both classic and present-day rock.  Then in the mid-nineties, K-Rock went alternative and WNEW dropped classic rock from its playlists.  Look, I had nothing against nineties rock, but I was still steamed over the sudden lack of a classic-rock radio outlet; there should be an acknowledgment of the past on any rock station, and the Stones or Hendrix should have been played along with Garbage or Blind Melon in the nineties and should be played along with the Strokes and Kings of Leon in this century.  Fortunately, there was always WDHA-FM in northern New Jersey, and later, WXPK-FM in Westchester County, New York.  But suburban stations don't always have the most reliable signals, of course.
Eventually, WAXQ began playing classic rock, but then WNEW - which tried to bring classic rock back to its playlists - disappeared in 1999, WXRK went off the air ten years later (and had been off the air in 2006 and 2007 during a failed experiment with FM talk-radio on that frequency), and WAXQ grew boring.  By the near end of the two thousand zeroes, I had long since discovered public rock-music station WFUV-FM and had largely gotten off commercial radio, but when WRXP came along in 2008, I was pleased to listen to it and was grateful for that . . . until it went off the air.  Since then, it's been nothing but public radio for me.
But now WFUV is becoming predictable, and it's beginning to pull some punches with the music, sticking with the same tried-and-true artists and not going far enough beyond that self-imposed limitation.  The new ALT 92.3 could shake things up going forward, with Entercom claiming that it will have "an expertly curated playlist with local, informed discovery," which I take to mean that it will push more new rock bands and solo acts and a time when new rock acts have trouble getting attention in an era dominated by pop divas and rappers - something WRXP tried to do.  Entercom's President of Programming, Pat Paxton, says of the new station, "In a city where alternative music is a way of life, we are thrilled to finally fill the void in radio in New York City. With the launch of ALT 92.3, we will cater to the passionate / core audience who have helped define the genre for decades -- and we couldn’t be more excited to turn up the volume."
Rock on.
Yeah, there will be no inclusion of classic rock in the mix, but trust me, a station that plays new rock and no classic rock is better than no station playing any rock at all.  And remember, commercial radio is entirely dependent on ratings and demographics.  Not too long ago, Big Radio decided that New York was a hip-hop/R&B town with no room for a new-rock format, and while market research has apparently indicated that this has changed, ALT 92.3 will only last as long as the ratings justify it.  And rock is still in trouble after relentless competition from hip-hop that, sorry to say, still continues.
How long will this new-rock station last?  I'm beginning to wonder how long rock itself will last.  I have been led to understand that WAXQ is increasingly centering on "classic" rock recorded after 1980, with less emphasis on rock of the 1960s and 1970s.  That is, the music of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin is slowly fading from radio, just like the music of fifties rock pioneers like Chuck Berry and Little Richard seems to be fading away.  (True, you can hear all of this on satellite radio, but not everyone has sat - I don't!)  All popular music is of its time, so we in the New York area should enjoy ALT 92.3 while we can, before rock's time is up.  To those who dismiss the idea that rock could ever fade away entirely, try to find a big-band pop station on the radio today (again, 40s on 4 on Sirius XM doesn't count).
In the meantime, for those in the Big Apple ready to rock . . . I salute you. :-)      

Monday, November 20, 2017

While You Were Out . . .

While the mainstream media have been paying a great deal of attention to the sexual harassment charges against Roy Moore and against him - Al Franken - here are some news stories you might have missed:
The House voted 227-205 to pass a huge tax reform bill.  It gives most of its tax breaks to the wealthy, with permanent corporate tax decreases and temporary tax cuts for individuals.  The Senate has a tax reform bill that pretty much does all of that plus gets rid of the Affordable Care act's health-insurance mandate, undermining the health-care law.  The final bill could eliminate deductions for state and local taxes and throw budget plans in high-tax (and mostly Democratic) states in disarray. 
The Trump Administration decided to cancel an Obama rule that barred elephant heads and tusks acquired by hunters from being imported into the United States.  Trump himself doesn't like hunting, doesn't see the sense in it, and doesn't understand the appeal of it - but his grown sons love it!  (Trump has since put the regulation repeal on hold as a result of public outcry.)
The Federal Communications Commission just repealed a regulation limiting the number of television stations a broadcaster can own in any given market, and it's also cleared a path for a potential buyout of Tribune Media by the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group, which means that Big Media will able to promote arch-conservative politics in every local broadcast market with few - if any - competing broadcast outlets to provide a counterpoint.
And the Koch brothers want to by Time magazine and Time Warner's other print-media outlets.  You think Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue is vulgar now?  Just you wait!
An alliance of fifteen countries led by the United Kingdom and Canada - other countries in this alliance include Denmark, Finland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, New Zealand, Ethiopia, and Mexico - has formed to oppose the proliferation of coal-based energy at the 23rd Conference of the Parties climate-change summit in Germany, which the American government and the American media have largely ignored.  I learned this news from the Web site of a British newspaper.
And, more than two hundred thousand gallons of oil from the Keystone Pipeline leaked in South Dakota. 
So the news is basically American greed, American stupidity, American arrogance, American suppression, and American ignorance.  Good night, and have a pleasant  tomorrow. >:-( 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Elton John - Madman Across the Water (1971)

The musical arranger Paul Buckmaster, who died this month (November 2017) at 71, worked with artists ranging from David Bowie to Carly Simon, but he will be bestremembered for his work with Elton John, for whom he concocted orchestrations on songs on the latter three of Elton's first four albums.  Madman Across the Water, from 1971, is the best of those three records.
Mind you, Madman Across the Water isn't perfect; some of the songs, the lyrics of which were of course written by Bernie Taupin, border on pretentiousness, and the music sometimes seems overproduced - which is to be expected with an album with over twenty different backing musicians across nine tracks.  But the album overall is a solid amalgamation of disparate influences, with some stinging rock and touches of country and gospel blending with art rock and stately chamber music. 
Part of what makes this album work is how Buckmaster understood the drama and poignancy in each song and how he knew when to bring his orchestra in and when to hold back.  The results are fascinating, from the stirring strings and choir of "Tiny Dancer" (Taupin's valentine to his first wife Maxine), anchoring steel guitar riffs with great dignity, to the drama of the title track, a biting rocker about a mental-hospital patient, in which the orchestra comes in crashes in with a loud, ponderous sense of doom.  Buckmaster restrains himself at the right times; he leaves a gritty blues-rock tune about lowlifes like "Razor Face" alone, and his work on the country-rock of "Rotten Peaches"bubbles quietly under the surface.  Yet he brings some symphonic flair to "Holiday Inn," a charming song about a rock star's life on the road (though Family's "Part Of the Load" remains the best song on that subject) that somehow manages to blend a mandolin with a sitar successfully.
Bernie Taupin's progress as a lyricist here shows steady growth over the songs on Elton's two previous albums (the Black Album and Tumbleweed Connection, both from 1970), but while he is more accomplished with song form on Madman Across the Water, he still goes overboard at times; the majesty of "Levon" is almost undermined by his impressionistic words, and however sympathetic "Indian Sunset" is to the plight of native Americans, his images of indigenous American culture sound clichéd and ill-informed (the Iroquois and the Sioux never fought each other because they lived in different regions of North America).  But ultimately, this is still Elton John's record; his music is solidly written and gives Buckmaster and producer Gus Dudgeon a strong foundation on which to build.  Elton's piano is impeccable throughout, and his peerless vocals bring meaning and urgency to even Taupin's most pompous lyrics.  "Levon" is a musical masterpiece, with Elton's impassioned performance rising to the occasion opposite Buckmaster's stirring strings, and the sensitivity that Elton brings to the other songs on Madman Across the Water shows how well he responds to Dudgeon's direction.
Elton's confidence here is in full bloom on the choir-dominated gospel-influenced "All The Nasties," in which he and Bernie answer their critics, a demonstration of how he was more than ready to charge ahead into the seventies, a decade he would come to dominate musically.   But having made an album worthy of Phil Spector's grandest ambitions, he was ready to move on; he wouldn't work with Buckmaster again for awhile.  Madman Across the Water's weepy but mercifully brief and appropriately titled closing cut, "Goodbye," signified the end of Elton's London orchestral phase.  Soon he and his production team would be in a rundown recording studio in France (re)discovering the joys of simpler pop.   But Madman Across the Water is why Elton is regarded as a serious artist and why Buckmaster is regarded as the person who helped him become the artist he is.  (Rest in peace, Paul Buckmaster.)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Is Martin O'Malley Ageist?

Does Martin O'Malley have a problem with old people?
No, this picture of O'Malley isn't him responding to such a loaded question.  But I'm still asking it.
We all remember how O'Malley dismissed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as being tied to the politics of the past - i.e., they're old.  O'Malley's slogan for his 2016 presidential campaign was "New Leadership," which was his way of saying, "I'm not old."  And I don't need to tell you again about how he got booed during a presidential debate in saying he wanted to offer "a different perspective from my generation" on foreign policy in response to his over-65 competitors.
So yes, I think he does have a problem with older people.  He looked at the two Medicare-age people running for the Democratic presidential nomination and decided to run himself because they'd been getting long in the tooth, the way the punks and the grunge rockers thought that it was time for the older generations of  rock and rollers to hit the showers.  But this distrust O'Malley has for anyone over 65 who's not his mom (his mother Barbara worked for five-term U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski [D-MD] until the very day Mikulski retired; Barbara O'Malley was in her late eighties when her boss stepped down) goes back a long way.  In the summer of 1983, many liberal Democrats looking for an alternative to Walter Mondale, the front-runner for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination, turned to Alan Cranston, the senior U.S. Senator from California, and his presidential campaign, which was centered around nuclear disarmament.  O'Malley preferred Gary Hart, who was more of a long-shot presidential candidate than Cranston.  Of course, Hart won the 1984 New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, giving Mondale a run for his money, while Cranston was the first 1984 Democratic presidential candidate to quit the race.  When O'Malley himself was a long-shot presidential candidate in 2015 and 2016, he cited Hart and how he came out of nowhere at a time when people were talking about Cranston, and he dismissed Cranston's presidential bid in retrospect.
Cranston was 69 years old in the summer of 1983, when the Democratic presidential hopefuls for 1984 started campaigning in earnest in Iowa and New Hampshire; Hart, who promised a "new generation of leadership" (sound familiar?) was 46.  Also, Cranston was three years younger than President Ronald Reagan but looked a hundred years older.   Maybe O'Malley didn't mean to scoff at Cranston's advanced age when he was talking about the 1984 campaign, but that's how it came across.  O'Malley is obviously drawn to youth and vitality; he has little tolerance for age and tradition.
And that's a good thing. Because the Democratic gerontocracy is getting ridiculous.  The party elders have gotten too elderly, and they are too set in their ways.  Nancy Pelosi is 77; her fellow San Franciscan,. Dianne Feinstein, is 84. Neither one of them have quite come around to single-payer health care yet - and at their ages, we shouldn't expect them to.  Joe Biden will be 78 years old in 2020 - and he's thinking of running for President again?  Give that man a Harold Stassen bumper sticker!  And Bernie Sanders, who will be 79 in 2020, may also run?  Seriously?  There's no one under 65 who can go after that dotty septuagenarian Donald Trump?  The very fact that Bill Maher is still talking up Sanders as a potential presidential candidate for 2020 and complaining against ageism (while ignoring younger presidential prospects like, well, O'Malley) doesn't make sense until you realize that Maher will turn 65 in January 2021.   
What some may see as ageism, I see as a healthy reaction to an encrusted, tired Democratic establishment that has no new ideas and no new blood, and I see that this establishment must be retired. Not that they'll go quietly.  O'Malley has urged young Democrats to go out and try to challenge and wrest power from the old guard, because they have to understand that they're not going to be handed power by the old guard.  And that's the right attitude for a young, multiracial party rank-and-file when it's run by a bunch of old white people.
I just hope O'Malley stops talking about his beginnings in the 1984 Gary Hart campaign, because that ironically only shows his age (54).  You see, millennials neither know nor care who Gary Hart is.  The number of people who remember him are few, and those few don't remember him too fondly (and given the political climate around the "sex issue," who could blame them?).  So if O'Malley wants to be taken seriously, he has to stop reminiscing about his own past and stay focused on the present.
In case you're wondering, Martin O'Malley turns 65 in January 2028 - which, if he is elected President in 2020 and re-elected in 2024, would mean he'd be getting ready to retire himself.
I have more about O'Malley - and his latest endeavor - coming soon.