Monday, April 24, 2017

Seeing Green

NBC News and the Daily Kos - two media outlets who think Hillary Clinton is a goddess - recently commented on a December 2015 dinner that celebrated the tenth anniversary of Russia Today (now known by its initials, RT), the English-language Russian TV channel.  Two Americans attended the dinner and were seated at Russian President Vladimir Putin's table. One was now-disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The other was Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.    
Dr. Stein is being called a traitor by establishment Democrats for being present at that dinner.  There's no evidence that she colluded with the Russian government and conspired with Putin to defeat Hillary Clinton.  She was at that dinner because she saw RT as a vehicle to get the message of her presidential candidacy across to American voters who, had they stuck to mainstream media, would not have even heard of her.  But the problem with the RT association is that the news channel is seen as a pro-Kremlin propaganda machine to influence the American electorate, and the optics of Dr. Stein at that dinner were unfortunate.
"Jill Stein was a part of Russia’s plan for the election," insisted Mark Sumner of the Daily Kos. "They gave her what the U.S. media had denied - attention and flattery. In return she praised RT and chastised the American media. Both sides got just what they wanted."
Yeah, well, I didn't make my decision to vote for Dr., Stein this past November based on any Russian propaganda.  I voted for her because I couldn't bring myself to vote for Trump or Hillary after my original and second choices - Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders - got eliminated.  If NBC News and the Daily Kos - both engaged in the sort of Russophobia associated with the Republicans during the Cold War - want to keep fueling such hysteria to explain away Hillary's loss, fine.  But they shouldn't blame anyone other than Hillary and the tone-deaf supporters who gave her the Democratic presidential nomination for Donald J. Trump.
Yet they're still blaming Dr. Stein.    
 "Stein did well enough to help Russia achieve its aims," Sumner wrote. "Her vote totals in the crucial states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan were all greater than Clinton's margin of defeat, and arguably denied Clinton an Electoral College victory."
Not entirely true. Trump beat Hillary in Pennsylvania by 68,236 votes; Dr. Stein won 48,912 votes in that state, meaning that Hillary would still have been some 20,000 votes short without Dr. Stein on the ballot. But here's where my research found something interesting. I had said here earlier, based on the numbers I heard, that Dr. Stein's vote total in Michigan was greater than Hillary Clinton's margin of defeat and that her vote total in Wisconsin was less that Hillary's margin of defeat.  In fact, they were greater in both states; Trump beat Hillary in Wisconsin by 27,257, and Dr, Stein's vote total in Wisconsin - 30,998 - was indeed greater.  In Michigan, Trump beat Hillary by 10,704 votes, and Dr. Stein got  a greater tally of 51,463 votes.  But the election had already been called for Trump before Michigan's total was finalized, meaning that, without Dr, Stein, Hillary could have won Michigan but still would have lost the election.  And as long as Hillary was never going to win Pennsylvania even without Dr. Stein on the ballot, she could have topped Trump in Wisconsin and Michigan and still lost.
Got all that?
The bottom line is that even if the Russians did influence the election - and I'm saying that they did or didn't - Hillary lost the election not because of Russian propaganda or minor-party opponents but because she was a lousy candidate and should never have been nominated.
Having said all that, I'm not supporting Dr. Stein for anything any more, despite having voted for her in November.  Why?  Because she failed to do what she was expected to do.  Win the Presidency?  No, no one expected her to do that!  She was, though, expected to get at least five percent of the vote for the Green Party to get the party federal matching funds for the 2020 presidential election and help develop the Greens as a credible alternative to the Democrats.  She failed.  And when the election was over, I hit the reset button.  The day before the election, I was a supporter of Dr. Stein.  On Election Day, I voted for Dr. Stein.  The day after, I was a Martin O'Malley supporter again.  Because he was and he remained my first choice for President.  
The U.S. Green Party may one day be a party like its European counterparts and win enough seats in Congress and in state legislatures to get concessions from major-party caucuses, but it's never going to replace the Democratic Party as the major opposition to the Republicans.  Meanwhile, the "unity tour" between centrist Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez and progressive non-Democrat Bernie Sanders has been a flop, showing how bewildered and rudderless the Democrats are.  Again: I believe that the Democrats could go full Whig and disintegrate before 2020, allowing a new party to fill the void.  I still want Martin O'Malley to run for President in 2020.  But not necessarily as a Democrat, any more than Abraham Lincoln and William Seward would run for President in 1860 as Whigs.  Of course, they both ended up running as members of a new party altogether.     
As for Dr. Stein, she has already been the Green Party presidential nominee twice, and she will be seventy years old in 2020.  Thanks for being a voice of reason, Dr. Stein, but you should do what Hillary won't . . . retire from the political scene and let someone else carry the banner going forward.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Private Browsing For Private Profit?

One of the many crimes against democracy that Donald Trump has distracted us from with his foreign policy MO -"speak loudly and carry a really big stick" - was his signature of a new law that allows Internet service providers to sell people's private online information - including our Internet browsing histories - to various companies, so that we can be advertised to more easily than we already are.  The new law got reported, then the media went on to other things so you'd forget about it, because, hey, some Internet service providers are owned by the same companies that own broadcast media outlets (I ain't namin' names).
"Your Internet data belongs to you, and nobody else," Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) told his constituents in an e-mail.  "But it’s clear the Trump Administration favors corporations over your right to privacy. We must fight back."
Yeah?  How?
Senator Booker's suggestion was to sign a petition of his (which I did) and contribute to his campaign fund (which I didn't).  But it's clear that we as Americans need to find a way to make it unprofitable for Internet service providers to sell our browsing information.  Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who voted for the legislation, suggested that we simply stop using the Internet, which is roughly the equivalent of living in Phoenix and choosing not to drive.
We can't avoid the Internet entirely.  So here's what I propose what you can do to frustrate your Internet service provider when it wants to sell your browsing information.
First, try to browse as many sites with little commercial value as possible in addition to commonly visited commercial sites you yourself may visit regularly.  Browse Web sites for historical societies, for example.  After all, there's no money in history - not much of a future in the past.  You don't have to browse them exclusively, just enough to get them thoroughly in the mix of your browsing history.  And read, really read the content on historical-society sites, don't just click on them and move on - because you just might learn something.
Second, abstain from buying anything online, because that's what Internet service providers look for the most.  Consider, oh, I don't know, buying things in brick-and-mortar stores - live, in person!  Just buy something online if you can't find it anywhere in stores.  And if you do buy something that's not widely available in stores, your browsing information will only reveal that you buy unpopular products, and who's going to make money off that?     
And now for the fun part.
Third, browse commercial sites that are completely and utterly useless to advertisers.  Like this one!

Go out with a professional clown? Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it! :-D
Fourth, type in URLs for non-existent Web sites.  Or click on this link a couple dozen times a day, as it links to absolutely nothing but this:
Here are some more made-up URLs to click on.  How about this one?
And, for good measure, how about this one? 
Remember, whether you click on these links or enter your own made-up URLs, do it over and over so your Internet service provider will leave your history alone and bother someone else.
Finally, if you really want to visit a useless site that your Internet service provider can't make a dime off . . . well, there's always this blog.
Now, if you'll excuse me I have, a date.  Green hair, auguste-style face, red nose, makes balloon art and bakes a mean custard pie . . . could be the one. ;-)   

Friday, April 21, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - April 21, 2017

Medley: "Processions" / "No Mule's Fool" by Family (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

May In June

After denying that she would seek an early election in Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May is now doing just that, calling Parliament to stand for a vote in June in an effort to shore up public support for her Conservative (Tory) Party.
May wants a larger majority in the House of Commons for the Tories to strengthen Britain's position going into negotiations with the European Union over British withdrawal from that body.   She doesn't have a solid mandate with the current Tory caucus, and she hopes that she can put Labour aside for awhile, as that party is spectacularly weak despite - or even because of - underfunded social programs and the socialistic Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party.
Right now, the only thing that's stopping May from getting that solid Conservative majority she wants is the party of the Liberal Democrats, a left-of-center group that opposes a hard, clean break from the European Union and demanding a "Brexit" strategy that will produce "a Britain that is open, tolerant and united."  They can do it, too; they forced the formation of a coalition government in 2010 after the Conservatives failed to gain a majority in Parliament, which involved a lot of compromising to get anything done.
As for May, the shock was not that she broke her promise to avoid another election until 2020 but that she broke it so soon.
European politics are about to get even more interesting.

Correction: April 20, 2017

In my March 21, 2017 post about Martin O'Malley, "Martin O'Malley: Good News, Bad News," I mentioned Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and called him "the Senate's only black Democrat."  Not true, at least not any more; the Senate has another black Democrat, Kamala Harris of California, who took over Barbara Boxer's seat in January 2017.  And, like Booker, she's being talked about for the Presidency in 2020, and she's being called the female Barack Obama - because, like Obama in 2008, she would be competing for the Presidency four years in other first Senate term.   
The error, which I obviously regret, has been corrected.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Look For the Girl With the Sun In Her Eyes

Continuing with a look at some of the songs on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for that album's fiftieth anniversary, I turn to "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds."
We all know the story.  John Lennon rode over in his chauffeured limousine to his son Julian's nursery school to pick him up, and there was Julian with a painting he did in class, showing a little girl wearing sparkly orbs and surrounded by stars. When John asked Julian what his painting was supposed to be, Julian said, "It's Lucy in the sky with diamonds."  John loved it and wrote a song about it, thus engaging in the art of ekphrasis - bringing a piece of fine art to life in music and/or verse (and one could argue that "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!," though based on a commercial poster, was yet another form of ekphrasis). 
When "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" came out on Sgt. Pepper, fans immediately saw the acrostic spelled out by the first letter of each noun in the song's title - "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" - and immediately thought the song was about an acid trip.  As for John Lennon's explanation of how the title was prompted, well, no one was going to buy that.  
Except that the elder Lennon was telling the truth. And here's a picture of the younger Lennon's art work to prove it.
It may be the most valuable piece of refrigerator art ever conceived. :-)
Not only was the painting real, so was Lucy.  She was one of Julian Lennon's nursery school classmates, and by all indications, Julian liked her a lot.  Why else would he immortalize her in a painting?  And I'm sure he thought she was cute.
In fact, she was.  Below is Lucy O'Donnell, Julian Lennon's first muse.    
It's worth noting that John Lennon's song characters were almost always real people.  Lucy, Mr. Kite, Dr. Robert, Bungalow Bill, Polythene Pam . . . all were based on folks John knew or learned of in his travels.
Lucy herself remembered the painting.  "I remember Julian and I both doing pictures on a double-sided easel, throwing paint at each other, much to the horror of the classroom attendant," she said in 2007.  "Julian had painted a picture and on that particular day his father turned up with the chauffeur to pick him up from school."
But what of "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" itself?  The song is musically unique in that the verse sare in three-quarter time with the choruses in a 4/4 time signature.  A good deal of the verses are chordless, and the melody abruptly shifts keys, going from A major in the verses to B♭ (B-flat) major for the pre-chorus, and G major for the chorus.  Performed mostly with an organ and a Leslie-speaker-filtered guitar riff played by Paul McCartney and George Harrison, respectively, "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" also features an Indian tamboura that gives it a more exotic flavor, topped with a really spaced-out John Lennon vocal.  No wonder people thought the song was about LSD.
I've always loved this song for having such literary words, and when someone finally got around to asking John Lennon if the lyrics were, umm, pharmaceutically inspired, John replied that the lyrics were inspired by Lewis Carroll's writings, which meant that John inadvertently answered yes.  Carroll was a heavy drug user, explaining why "Alice In Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" were so trippy.  But John couldn't have known that when he read those books as a boy.  And who cares?  A land of tangerine trees under marmalade skies with cellophane flowers of yellow and green growing so incredibly high certainly sounds like a wonderful paradise.    
The song would become a favorite of Beatles fans and make its way into popular culture in unforeseen ways.  A human fossil discovered in 1974 in eastern Africa, projected to be almost four million years old, was named Lucy because one of the paleontologists at the fossil excavation site was playing the song on a cassette tape.  That same year, Elton John covered "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" for a single that, apart from greatest-hits compilations, is not included on an Elton John album (paradoxically, the original Beatles version is an album track that was never commercially released as a single); Elton's cover went to number one in the U.S., and it featured John Lennon himself on guitar and backing vocals.  And a short time after the release of Sgt. Pepper, New Orleans rocker John Fred listened to the song and misheard the title as "Lucy in disguise," the misheard chorus subsequently producing a parody song called "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)" . . . but that's another story.
(Less well known is Lindisfarne's parody, "Alan In the River With Flowers," written by Lindisfarne leader Alan Hull.)  
The story of "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds," however, does not have a happy ending.  Lucy O'Donnell - who got married as an adult and became Lucy Vodden (her adult photo is above) - eventually came down with lupus and died of the disease in 2009 at the age of 46.  Julian Lennon, who had reconnected with his old friend, wrote a new song for her, simply called "Lucy," and recorded it with his friend James Scott Cook and American songwriter Todd Meagher, releasing it soon after.  The proceeds of the record's sales go to lupus charities in Britain and America.
"Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" still remains an astonishing song and a worthy part of the Beatles' canon. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Just The Way She Is

Hillary Clinton, I'm sure, is a Billy Joel fan.

  
I may be wrong, for all I know, but I may be right.
And what led me to that conclusion?
Billy Joel is indeed a talented singer-songwriter, though he tends to be simultaneously underrated by the critics and overrated by his fans.  But in their 1991 book The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time, Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell called to my attention an annoying quirk Joel has.  Occasionally, he has written lyrics in his songs that are phrased to deflect blame to others.  Guterman and O'Donnell gave two examples.  One was "You May Be Right," in which Joel's narrator sings about the crazy, insane things he's done, from riding his motorcycle in the rain to walking through the predominantly black Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant by himself (accidental racism?), and explains to the woman he's addressing that she's made him do all of that ("If I'm crazy, then it's true / That it's all because of you").  Another was "We Didn't Start The Fire," Joel's list of postwar historical events that attempted to show Generation Xers that the world wasn't really a better place in the 1950s, in which the refrain insists that Baby Boomers tried to fight the fire of human history while denying any responsibility for adding fuel to the flames.
I found two more on my own.  In She's Always a Woman," Joel sings about a woman who's capable of all sorts of malice and blames it not on the woman but on the second party he's singing to - "Blame it all on yourself."  (The song, to be fair, was written about his then-wife Elizabeth's negotiating skills and how she used them to get Joel out of bad business deals.)   Two years after Guterman's and O'Donnell's book came out, Joel released his River of Dreams LP, whose song "The River of Dreams" featured the following lyric: "And I've been searching for something / Taken out of my soul / Something I would never lose / Something somebody stole."
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has blamed numerous people for her loss in the 2016 presidential election - James Comey, misogynistic voters, Bernie Sanders, the Russians, white working-class voters, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson . . . everyone but . . . herself.    
Okay, maybe she's not a die-hard fan of Billy Joel's music.  But I have a sneaky suspicion that these are her four favorite Billy Joel songs. 
Especially "We Didn't Start The Fire."  Because being a Baby Boomer politician means never having to say that anything is your fault.   

Monday, April 17, 2017

Failure To Launch

Donald Trump is suddenly an internationalist.  He thinks the Chinese aren't so bad after all and the Russians aren't as cool as they seem.  I guess that proves it, the Russians had nothing to do with getting Trump into office - like, they were going to take a chance on promoting an irrational dude who just might turn against them?
It is in this milieu that the Trumpster decided to drop a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb on an Islamic State contingent in Afghanistan, which earned him condemnation from . . . the civilized world.  Even anti-Islamic State Afghans were appalled at this move, as it killed only a few dozen terror commandos while causing destruction that went beyond "mass."  It makes me wonder if Trump would use a bazooka to kill a mosquito.
And, as these guys will tell you, there's nothing more dangerous than a wounded mosquito.
If using a megabomb with an acronym that sounds like the name of a town in Utah was meant to scare North Korea into thinking twice about testing a missile that could carry a nuclear warhead, it didn't work.  Kim Jung Un had the missile fired anyway.  It didn't work.  
Meanwhile, speaking of misfires, the Democrats - you knew this was coming - ran a Bernie Sanders liberal, James Thompson, in a special election for the U.S House seat in Kansas vacated by Mike Pompeo when he became CIA director, and Thompson lost . . . but he could have won, despite the fact that Kansas has been a solidly Republican state since the the then-Grand Young Party shepherded the state into the Union in 1861.  But the Democratic National Committee, either convinced that Thompson would be blown out of the water (and so it wasn't worth the effort to help him) or so embarrassed that a progressive somehow got the nomination that it didn't want to be associated with him, didn't give Thompson the extra money and support that could have put him over the top.   The Democrats are now planning to blow a similar special U.S. House election in Montana, where another Sanders liberal is running for an open seat as the Democratic nominee, by ignoring him as well.  They seem to be concentrating more on tomorrow's special U.S. House election in Georgia to replace now-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, where Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff is running in an open primary and could get 50 percent plus one and avoid a June runoff.  If he doesn't win a majority, though, he'll have to face a single Republican candidate in June instead of several, and then it will be even harder for him to get above 50 percent.
Uh, Dems?  You sure you thought out your special-election strategy well?
It looks like this misfire is going to bomb.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Marty Feels the Bern

And he felt it on his foot.  Just after he put it in his mouth.
This past week, Martin O'Malley did a podcast interview about the 2016 presidential election and the future of the Democratic Party, and the topic eventually gravitated to who could have defeated Donald Trump if Hillary Clinton had not been the Democratic presidential nominee.  O'Malley said that he was certain he could have won, and he also said Joe Biden could have won.  I agree with both assessments.
But get this.  He also said that Bernie Sanders would have lost.
I disagree.  But more significantly, Bernie Sanders supporters also disagree - vehemently.
Progressive Facebook pages lit up this past week with Bernie backers hurling one insult after another  at O'Malley, calling him every epithet in the book.  Adjectives used to describe O'Malley have included "egotistical," "self-delusional," and "stupid."  
This is nothing new; Martin O'Malley has had to put up with such insults for the past couple of years.  What's new is that he's being insulted by Sanders supporters.  Managers and strategists in both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns treated O'Malley with disrespect and scorn during the 2016 primary campaign, and so did rank-and-file Hillary supporters ("Martin who?" was a favorite taunt of the Hillbots).  But I encountered numerous Sanders supporters on Facebook who were respectful toward O'Malley and his supporters, and they found Marty to be quite admirable; some of them even said they would have backed him had Sanders not run.  O'Malley's remark about Sanders erases a good chunk of the goodwill he had cultivated among Sanders supporters, who will likely have to look for another presidential candidate to get behind in 2020 due to Sanders's age, and they will be a force to be reckoned with then.  As someone with a formidable progressive record that compares pretty well with Sanders's, O'Malley had - and may still have - a realistic chance of winning over these voters, but he hasn't done himself any favors by telling Sanders supporters that their candidate would not have defeated Trump.
Even worse, O'Malley made a lot of good points about the issues and the challenges of rebuilding the Democratic Party in this same podcast interview, but thanks to his egregiously stupid remark about Bernie, no one is going to care about any of that.  Nice going, Marty.
Fortunately, O'Malley has a chance to recover.  Not too many people may have noticed what he said about Sanders because his comments were overshadowed by Sean Spicer's godawful comments about the Holocaust, which were twelve trillion times worse. Right now, O'Malley is scheduled to visit New Hampshire on April 23, with some campaign-style stops and a town-hall meting on the itinerary.  He'd best be careful at the town hall meeting, because someone's bound to ask him questions about his remark about Bernie Sanders, and Marty may be foolish enough to try to answer them.     
And if I may play devil's advocate for a moment . . . what if turns out that O'Malley was right about Sanders?  As I recall, I posted a blog entry in March 2016 in which I discussed O'Malley's observation that Donald Trump could possibly win the Presidency.  And we all knew that that was a preposterous thing for him to say.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - April 14, 2017

"Here Comes The Sun" by Richie Havens (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Turn To Stone

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the class of 2017 was held a few days ago, and as always, I have something to say about it. Lots to say in fact.  Rock and roll seems to have reached a critical condition where it struggles for relevance in this century even as the Hall struggles to be taken seriously.   Right now, both seem to be losing their respective battles.  I mean, the keepers of the Hall inducted a corporate rock band that was a leading cause of rock's decline in favor of rap, and at the same time, they induct another rapper!  Go figure.
So what do I think of the new class of inductees overall?  Well, I'm glad you asked, because I was going to tell you anyway.  So here it goes:
the Electric Light Orchestra.  Jeff Lynne's classical pop-rock band did for strings what Chicago did for brass instruments - that is, they turned their sound into such a cliché that it got really tiresome really fast.  But I'm glad ELO got inducted.  Why?  Because a lot of their seventies hits were very good in spite of their overuse of strings.  Notable examples include "Do Ya," a remake of Lynne's old song from his time with the Move, as well as "Strange Magic" and "Showdown," and I always loved the humor of "Don't Bring Me Down" - including the fact that Lynne occasionally sings the song's misheard bridge lyric, "Don't bring me down, Bruce!" instead of the correct lyric, "Don't being me down, Gruß" ( a German-language term of endearment), in live performances.  But there's another reason Lynne deserves to be honored.  As a member of George Harrison's Traveling Wilburys, he injected life into his fellow Wilburys' recordings.  He co-produced Roy Orbison's last album and Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever LP, and he helped the three surviving Beatles turn two demos of unreleased John Lennon songs into actual Beatles songs, the last two new Beatles songs ever released, for the group's Anthology series.  Heck, Lynne should be in the Hall for that last achievement alone.
Joan Baez.  Joan Baez should definitely be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though she herself doesn't consider herself a rock and roller.  Because she did record songs from her buddy Bob Dylan with great care and feeling, she inspired Dylan on more than one occasion, and she helped infuse rock with political awareness.  Just forget her awful cover of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."  Never mind that.
Journey.  Journey's induction is proof that the inmates are running the asylum - or, at least, the fans are running the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (fans can vote now).  What was so bad about Journey?  Well, for one thing, Steve Perry (who showed up at the induction ceremonies but did not perform with the group) has a voice with all the charm of a methane fire, the group's founders - guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Gregg Rolie - never showed the same spark they had when they were in Carlos Santana's band and Carlos was calling the shots, and Journey's music was always coldly programmed to fit into an AOR radio format - a radio format that has fallen on hard times since Journey's eighties glory days.  Stop believing, already.  As I said back in December, the banality of Journey and other corporate rock bands of their ilk made rock so boring and predictable that kids turned to rap for excitement, relegating rock and roll to a long and steady decline.  Quite an achievement, eh? And certainly a big reason for why we have to suffer the insufferable induction of . . .
Tupac Shakur.  No, no, no.  Rap is not rock, and it's not even music.  Next!
Yes.  Just say no.  Despite a few clever progressive rock tracks like "Roundabout" and "Long Distance Runaround," most of Yes's music was meaningless twaddle, and Tales From Topographic Oceans wasn't even good enough to be twaddle.   Their reputation is based on a few choice cuts from their early-seventies albums Fragile and Close To the Edge and their 1983 hit single "Owner of a Lonely Heart,"  but if classic rock radio were forced to dig deeper into their catalog and play more of their work, Yes would have never even made it on the ballot.  And when was the last time you heard any edits from Tales From Topographic Oceans on the radio?  Good grief, even Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick is held in higher esteem, and that was supposed to be a joke!         
Pearl Jam.  Absolutely, unequivocally and definitely a must for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their music, part of the Seattle grunge scene of the early nineties, gave voice to a generation - mine - of frustrated slackers done in by Reaganomics before we even got into the workforce, and frontman Eddie Vedder is still singing and speaking for us all these years later.  Rock on! 
And the recipient of the Award for Musical Excellence. . .  
Nile Rodgers.  I begrudgingly acknowledge Rodgers' honor, which would be easier to do if he hadn't worked with Madonna and Duran Duran.  But he did produce David Bowie and was likely an inspiration for Prince, so sure, why not?  And some of those Chic records he was a part of were okay.  Just don't get me to try to dance to any of them at a party.  No air guitar in them. ;-)
As always, I have my complaints.  The aforementioned Jethro Tull are still shut out again, while Family - more progressive on one album than Yes were over the course of ten albums - apparently remains ineligible for simply never having broken through commercially in America.  (Thanks for nothing, Bill Graham.)  And while hope springs eternal for 2018, I'm not holding my breath.  And if the Hall wants to honor another corporate rock act, at least induct Foreigner - Lou Gramm is a great singer, and they belong in there for "Long, Long Way From Home" alone!
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was originally established to honor rock and roll performers but has since gone on to include performers representing a variety of pop styles.  Or so I've been told.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Fly The Unfriendly Skies

An overbooked United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville meant that the airline had to ask at least four passengers to give up their seats in order to make room for crew members.
Except that the crew didn't ask anyone - they told people to deplane.
Well, that's' the price you pay when you but one of the last four tickets that should never have been sold.
Except that the passengers who were told to leave were chosen at random, not told to leave based on any time-of-purchase stamp on their tickets.  I haven't flown in eighteen years, so I don't even remember if there is such a thing on an airline ticket - oops, boarding pass.     
So what happens when a passenger who paid for his ticket and followed all the rules is told to get off the plane to correct a mistake that wasn't his own and refuses to to do so?  United gets a bunch of guys to bodily eject him from the plane and almost literally throw them out.
So much for the customer always being right. :-O
Gee, Louisville is only three hundred miles from Chicago, why didn't the poor guy just take the train?
Oh, that's right - he couldn't!
Louisville, as the Amtrak route map excerpt shows below, has no Amtrak service.  (Note also that the map doesn't even bother to show Louisville.)  In fact, apart from a small town near the Mississippi River and along the border with Tennessee, the whole state of Kentucky has no Amtrak service!
And as I recall, in 2011, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time, Republican Hal Rogers, refused the Obama administration's request for Amtrak funding, and he was from . . . Kentucky.  
Is there any good news in the United story?  Yes - airline passengers are boycotting United, and its stock is in the toilet.
One more thing: Go Greyhound. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Syria Trumps America

There were probably better ways to react to the government of Syria using chemical weapons in its own people, especially children, but firing fifty Tomahawk missiles into a Syrian air base, as Donald Trump did this past Thursday, was not one of them.  Even though it was a limited strike on a Syrian air base (which was back in operation after the attack), and even though the White House sought to ensure that the Russians would be out of harm's way by notifying them advance, this could escalate an already tense situation.  Maybe we are not headed for a third world war, but this action - which took place one hundred years to the day after the U.S. entered World War I - puts this country in an even more perilous situation as far as maintaining stability in the Middle East is concerned.
The perversity here is that Trump said he had no tolerance for military intervention in Syria or other foreign countries during the presidential campaign, when Hillary Clinton was the one supporting tougher action in Syria by establishing a no-fly zone over the country, which, if enacted under any President, could start a bigger conflict with Russia.  And if Trump is really concerned about the welfare of the Syrian people, why doesn't he let Syrian refugees come to America?
One politician, who fervently supported taking in Syrian refugees, was just as fervently opposed to intervention in Syria and was also against "regime change" there.  Speaking particularly in opposition to Hillary's call for a no-fly zone in 2015, he said, "This could lead to an escalation of Cold War proportions because of an accident, and I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the United States."
His name?  Martin Joseph O'Malley.
But you probably didn't hear him say that, because the media were too busy making fun of him for saying in a presidential debate, "I think Assad's invasion of Syria will be seen as a blunder," when he meant to say Vladimir Putin instead of Assad.  Really classy, guys.  :-( 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy (1973)

Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album was a transformative moment in the band's history, opening their music beyond basic heavy metal, but while there was still some of that on their follow-up effort, 1973's Houses of the Holy, their music had become even more diverse - so much, that to continue calling them a heavy metal band was like still calling the Beatles a pop-rock band after the White Album was released.
Houses of the Holy is an extremely varied and spectacularly rich set of songs that matches Led Zeppelin's artistic vision with their virtuosity.  Singer Robert Plant shows himself to be much more versatile, offering some of his trademark wailing when the situation calls for it but showing moments of depth and even tenderness at other times.  Jimmy Page produces more economical guitar riffs with a sharper and clearer sound while John Paul Jones offers fluid bass lines and inspired keyboard work, but drummer John Bonham - the heart of Zep's sound - remains as forceful as ever, bringing the songs vividly to life with his assaults.
Houses of the Holy (yes, there is a song by that name, but it was left off this album and released later) takes unexpected turns from start to finish; while the band packs a punch with the opening cut, "The Song Remains The Same," the dreamy, pensive folk of "The Rain Song" and the exquisite melding of acoustic and electric guitars in "Over The Hills and Far Away" add depth and color to the group's music.  No longer a blast of bombast, Led Zeppelin deliver ballads and straightforward rock and roll with the same power but with much more subtlety.  Other songs stand out for their deviations away from the typical Led Zeppelin sound; "The Crunge" is a cheeky soul jam, "Dancing Days" is joyous pop (with one of Page's most inspired solos ever), and "D'yer Mak'er" (the title being a pun on how the Brits say "Jamaica")  playfully goes for a reggae vibe.  Throughout the record, Plant's lyrics go from the simple to philosophical with no guile and no grand pretentiousness; his thoughts and his sympathies are clear and direct, complementing the assured command of his vocals.
"The Ocean," the closing song written as a tribute to Led Zeppelin's oceanic fan base, seems to capture all of the various styles and sensibilities of the songs that precede it, ending with an explosive coda that finds Zep having the time of their lives.  "Oh, so good!"  Plant calls out toward the end, neatly summarizing the quality of the whole album.  Even more than the fourth album, Houses of the Holy makes the case for Led Zeppelin as a multifaceted band.  Maybe that's why it's the first Led Zeppelin album to be anointed with a proper title.      
(This is my last record review for awhile; I need another break.  Where's that confounded bridge? ;-) )

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Pop-Mart

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I bore as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." - Edgar Allan Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado" 
Martin O'Malley has had to endure more injury and insult than any presidential candidate in recent history.  When he announced his candidacy, the press took it less seriously than Donald Trump's.  Commentators trained themselves to laugh at the mention of O'Malley's name.  As noted on this blog, he was the only 2016 presidential candidate that every other candidate in both parties joined Trump in ridiculing.  I think even Lawrence Lessig made fun of him.      
So . . . after all the ridicule, after all the put-downs, after all the snark . . . what does a guy like Marty have do to get a little respect?  How about vengeance?
Yes! O'Malley should remember every member of the Democratic establishment who ever pulled strokes against him (i.e., most of them) and every person in the media who did the same (i.e., all of them) and get even with the whole lot of them.  He ought to get back at every snarker, doubter, and detractor and get back hard.  And here's how he ought to do it:
  • Win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 (if the party still exists by then). 

  • Win the 2020 presidential election.
Revenge will be his.
But that's not all I have to say here.  I would also like to take this opportunity to propose an official food for the 2020 O'Malley presidential campaign . . .
. . . the Pop-Tart.
Yes, the humble Pop-Tart, that overprocessed but delicious toaster pastry from Kellogg's - in multiple flavors - that tastes best out of the box rather than heated up.  Do I propose this idea because it would be a good way for O'Malley to connect with the white working class?  Because it would generate political contributions from the Kellogg Company - and give Marty a leg up in the company's home state of Michigan?  Because Marty can't afford anything better to feed his campaign staffers?  No, not for any of these reasons.  I think that the Pop-Tart should be the official food of the Martin O'Malley campaign for this reason . . .
Pop-Tarts are a lot like revenge.  They're sweet, and they're best when served cold. ;-)         

Friday, April 7, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - April 7, 2017

Manassas - The Full 1972 "Beat-Club" Performance (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

World War I - 100 Years

A century ago today, the United States Congress declared war on Germany, acting on a request from Democratic President Woodrow Wilson (below), and joined the Allied Powers in World War I.  The declaration came as a result of German harassment of American shipping and the infamous telegram sent by German Foreign Minister Alfred Zimmermann to Mexico urging that country to join the German-led Central Powers alliance and invade the American Southwest to reclaim land ceded to the U.S. by Mexico in 1848.
Wilson's call for America to "make the world safe for democracy" placed the U.S. on the world stage, bringing it out of its isolationist stance and priming it for the lead role it would play in World War II.  But World War I, a hundred years after the United States entered it, remains a topic of disinterest in These States.  Although a national World War I memorial is finally being built in Washington, Americans by and large seem to care little about the conflict and the social and political changes it wrought for the nation.  Good grief, the Postal Service won't even issue a commemorative stamp for the centennial anniversary of American entry into World War I, preferring instead to honor Latin American cuisine.          
But then, when the war ended, Americans preferred to forget about it and tried to go back to a pre-war mindset in the 1920s - "back to normalcy," as Wilson's successor as President, Republican Warren Harding, called it.   But too much had changed, what with urbanization and immigration changing the country's social fabric and America having to take more of a responsibility to help prevent a second world war, although it never joined the League of Nations, the organization that was Wilson's idea for keeping world peace.  Wilson's Republican opponents in the Senate had rejected the Treaty of Versailles, which would have required American entry into the League; yet two Republican Secretaries of State in the 1920s, Charles Evans Hughes and Frank Kellogg, would later help broker agreements pertaining to peace and disarmament.  Franklin Roosevelt, who had been an Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Wilson, would come to understand the value of internationalism.
It's time for this country to reassess how it conducts itself in the world, as times are changing again and U.S. dominance is no longer assured.  First, we have to look back at World War I and see how we got here in the first place.   

Rain and Wind and Thunder, Oh My!

It doesn't look like much on the model map for 2 PM Eastern Time today. 
The American Northeast is getting one to two inches of rain today, as much rain as we got on Tuesday.  So what? you ask, that's obviously nothing you can't handle.
Well, what if I told you that the ground was already well saturated before Tuesday, and we're no under a flood watch for the second time this week? 
What if I also told you that a strong wind is also expected - mainly in the upper teens in terms of speed but also with gusts of 40 miles an hour possible?
What if I also told you that my area could get severe thunderstorms with even higher gusts that would almost certainly topple trees onto power lines and cause outages that could last a long, long time?
What if I also told you that I have to go out today four times? 
Well, I am telling you all that - right now.  This could be the worst storm my area has seen in a long time, even counting the recent winter storms we've had.
Since we haven't had an electrical outage of an hour or longer for awhile, and since my power utility has been reliable in very nasty weather of late, I'm cautiously optimistic that we will not lose electricity.
Our cable service, on the other hand . . . :-O
Stick around . . . I may be back.    

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Gorsuch and Such

The Whigs - er, Democrats - clearly don't know when and how to pick a fight.
Despite getting support from Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp of, respectively, West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota - two states that admittedly would not have existed were it not for Republican administrations bending the rules - and also Democratic senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch faces an otherwise united front of the Senate Democrats ready to oppose him to the point of filibustering his nomination.  Although he is a right-wing honky, he is highly qualified, he has impeccable credentials, and he is likely the best Supreme Court candidate that anyone is ever going to get from a Republican President - especially the current Republican President.  Democrats are nonetheless ready to filibuster him for two primary reasons:
  • He's right-wing.
  • He's a honky.
But I understand he does have a good singing voice.
Look, this is a fight Democrats are bound to lose.  They could pick fights they can win, like one on health care, but they'd obviously prefer to let ordinary citizens do the fighting.  But Gorsuch is going to get on the Court.  Not only does he have at least 55 votes, but if the Democrats try to stop him, Senate Republicans will likely change the rules to prevent a filibuster and steamroll the minority (something the Senate GOP is very good at!).  I know that the Democrats are also trying to avenge Merrick Garland for never getting a hearing, but when they try to deny someone like Gorsuch an up-or-down vote for a petty reason like that, they further denigrate an already denigrated legislative chamber, and they further politicize an already politicized confirmation process.  In other words, it means that the Democrats are no better than the Republicans are.
That's precisely why six percent of the American electorate voted in 2016 for third-party presidential candidates.
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer has suggested that no Supreme Court nomination from Trump should go ahead until the legitimacy questions regarding Trump that have been raised by alleged collusion with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign have been put to rest.  Yeah . . . Chuck, you're going to have to do better than that.   
The Democratic strategy against Gorsuch does not make sense when Gorsuch would be replacing the late Antonin Scalia on the Court, because it wouldn't change the court's ideological balance.  They also insult the handful of Republican senators who wanted Merrick Garland to have hearings.  It's best for Democrats to hold their fire until Trump tries to name a right-winger to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer should either one of them die or retire.  If  Democrats waste their time stopping Gorsuch and cause the Republicans to change the filibuster rules irrevocably, there will be nothing - nothing! - to stop the GOP next time, when it counts!  If Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is bluffing on the proposed rule change, it's better to call his bluff later rather than now. 
And by the way, I don't want to hear any complaints from Democrats about those of us who voted for Jill Stein and how we didn't care about what would happen with the Supreme Court.  What, you were afraid of someone who only pays lip service to the middle class but looks out for corporate interests and is a complete narcissist getting into the White House and choosing Supreme Court justices?  Well, that's why I didn't vote for Hillary.  If you were afraid of losing the opportunity for a Democratic President to name a Supreme Court justice, why didn't you back someone other than Hillary for the Democratic presidential nomination?  Why didn't you at least get elected a Democratic Senate that would have gotten Garland confirmed in President Obama's last seventeen days in office?  Why didn't you lobby hard for Garland to get confirmation hearings before the election?
(Pointless aside I couldn't resist: Both Merrick Garland and Neil Gorsuch have seven-letter surnames starting with the letter "G."  Ya think this is Trump's way of tweaking his opponents?)        

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Long Distance Runaround

You'd think that, since Donald Trump wants to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, he'd make a commitment to building up and modernizing Amtrak.  Actually, he seems set on destroying it.
The proposed budget cuts affecting Amtrak's Gateway rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York under the Hudson River - a project Trump backer and New Jersey governor Chris Christie supports - have gotten the most attention, but generally overlooked by the mainstream media (which relies on airline commercials) is the proposed elimination of Amtrak's long-distance trains, like the Empire Builder from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest, shown below.
Amtrak doesn't get a lot of ridership on its long-distance lines.  The national passenger railroad uses its profits from the more lucrative Northeast Corridor to fund the long-distance routes.  The Trump administration says it wants to end subsidies for these long-distance lines so that Amtrak can "focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services."  Nice rhetoric, but to do so would undermine the idea of a national passenger rail service and also likely undermine support for any passenger rail.
"Amtrak operates 15 long-distance trains across the nation, and these routes offer the only Amtrak service in 23 of the 46 states we serve," Wick Moorman, Amtrak's president an chief executive officer, said in a statement. "These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services.  Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently - we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in [fiscal year] 2016 - but these services all require federal investment."
Former Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi was anathema to liberals, but he supported Amtrak, and I, for one, was grateful for his support.  But he also made it clear that legislators outside the Northeast wouldn't support a system that benefited only the eight states on the Northeast Corridor line - "No national system, no Northeast Corridor," he said.  He had a point, and the point could be made for the other fifteen states with Amtrak service that includes trains other than long-distance ones.  We in these 23 states can't count on lawmakers from the other 27 states, especially those from states that don't even have Amtrak service (like South Dakota or Wyoming), to support Amtrak if it doesn't benefit the whole country.  It's not called Netrak or Caltrak, it's called Amtrak - "Am" for America.  Take a look at Amtrak's route map; the problem isn't that there are too many long-distance train routes, there are too few!      
Good grief, Idaho only has Amtrak service in the tip of its panhandle.  The population centers in the southern part of the state are completely shut out.
I can't help but wonder if Trump's Amtrak spending proposal is just a Trojan horse to get rid of the system altogether.  Trump is a businessman who wants to run America like a business, and any businessman knows that passenger trains make little if any profit, so I am highly skeptical of his intentions.  It could be very well be that passenger intercity trains will soon be as extinct as passenger pigeons, at least in this country.  Apart from Americans who live in towns with commuter rail service - I am not one of them - the only time any of us will get to ride a train is if we travel abroad (yeah, right!) or go on a tourist train using cars and engines only slightly older than most of Amtrak's fleet.
Sad.     

Monday, April 3, 2017

Trump To Planet: F*** YOU!

Okay, everybody, resist this!
Donald Trump took his biggest swing yet at stopping environmental progress last week, reversing Barack Obama's clean-power plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal-powered electricity-generating plants, regulations on curbs of emissions from oil production, restrictions on hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), and a ban on coal leasing on federal lands.  "We're going to go in a different direction," a senior White House official told reporters ahead of last Tuesday's order. "The previous administration devalued workers with their policies. We can protect the environment while providing people with work."
Ah yes, work in the energy sector . . . opportunities for work in every part of it - oil, coal, gas - except solar, wind and other renewables.
I feel like a cannibal who's overeaten - I want to throw up my hands.  Although the Paris agreement, which Trump wants to cancel, was not mentioned, this policy reversal means that the U.S. Government won't be doing its part to curb greenhouse-gas emissions at least for the next four years - and by 2021, it may be too late.   I sure would like to know how we can protect the environment and provide all of these jobs in a fossil-fuel economy.  Maybe Trump has a secret plan, like the one Nixon had to end the war in Vietnam (which the North Vietnamese did by winning it).
The good news in this - and I know I'm grasping at straws here - is that environmental groups are already planning to sue to prevent this rollback from taking place, and there are all sorts of legal hurdles to keep Trump's actions from taking effect immediately.  Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson - a former oilman, no less - supports the Paris agreement, meaning we still need to find a a way to honor it it if Trump takes Tillerson's advice and stays in.  Several businesses that use a lot of energy - including General Electric and Wal-Mart! - are going ahead with their own plans to reduce fossil-fuel dependency.  Also, several states, like California, are pursuing their own environmental agendas and pushing for greenhouse-gas reductions.
State-level action.  And isn't that what EPA chief Scott Pruitt wants? ;-)
Oh yeah, where I live, we've had a couple of inches of rain in the past week, and we may get a couple more this week.  I know this is a rainy time of year, but that much rain in under two weeks?  The line is, "April showers bring May flowers," not "April downpours bring May flowers!"  Climate change is making weather more extreme.
Did I happen to mention that my area is under a flood watch as I type this?
P.S.  Don't start acting smug about all this, Hill-bots; Hillary Clinton promoted fracking in other countries as Secretary of State and said that anti-fracking activists should "get a life." 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Rosie Vela - Zazu (1986)

In the 1980s, it seemed like every top fashion model wanted to date a rock star or marry a rock star.  Rosie Vela, long at the toppermost of the poppermost of the modeling profession, wanted to be a rock star.  The Texas-born Vela had long been an aspiring musician, writing songs and playing keyboard instruments, and she'd studied music in college.  So when she got a recording contract with A&M Records, she was more than ready to prove she was not just another pretty face.
Zazu is every much in the vein of mid-eighties pop, its nine songs dominated by synthesizers and heavy, pulsating drums, but Vela distinguishes herself with ethereally personal songwriting and a sultry vocal style - yes, she's a beautiful model with a voice to match! - that suggests contemporary jazz blended with lyrical introspection reminiscent of Suzanne Vega's first album.  But she also had three big supporting players - Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, working together here for the only time between the Dan's split in 1981 and their regrouping in 1993, and Steely Dan producer Gary Katz, who produced this album.  They clearly found a kindred spirit in Vela, whose personal ruminations about love and relationships shine with the impeccable taste of Katz's production and the crisp playing from not just Becker on guitar and Fagen on keyboards, but from a lineup of session men that included guitarist Rick Derringer and drummer Jim Keltner. 
It's still Rosie Vela's record.  Her songs, from the light-hearted and warm "Magic Smile" and the bright "Boxs" (no typo, that's how she spelled it), brim with imaginative lyrics and honest emotion, with a pulsating, jazz-influenced sound.  "Fool's Paradise," the opening cut, offers some punchy percussion and stinging guitar, while "Interlude," despite its slightly mellow vibe, has a strong drum-and-keyboard arrangement that adds muscle to her heartfelt vocal.  "Taxi" pulsates with a non-stop, urban whirlwind that brings to life Vela's images of riding in a cab while addressing her lover, while "2nd Emotion" simply rocks, with Rosie displaying more energy than her already pumped backing band.  And the closing title track?  You get so lost in the dreaminess of "Zazu" that you're sorry it couldn't go on longer.             
In an ideal world, Rosie Vela should have gone on to an esteemed singing career like her fellow model Whitney Houston did, but despite Zazu's moderate success in Britain, listeners in her home country passed it by, and Rosie never released a follow-up.  Too bad.  Having no doubt done her share of catalog work as a model, she could have produced a substantial catalog of a different sort. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Clarification: April 1, 2017

In my February 28 post about the TRAPPIST-1 solar system, "Sun Bright and the Seven Planets," I wrote that "the nearest planet takes a couple of days to ground TRAPPIST-1." Oops!  It should have read that "the nearest planet takes a couple of days to go around TRAPPIST-1."  Sorry about that.  The original typographical error, which I regret, has since been corrected.   

Friday, March 31, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - March 31, 2017

"Respect" by Aretha Franklin (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

No Fake News Here!

This past Sunday I saw a report on "60 Minutes" on fake news and the sites that promote it.  Scott Pelley showed how fake-news sites proliferate across the Internet and how they're designed to get the attention of ideologically charged audiences by using fake Twitter accounts known as "bots" to spread them as far and wide as possible.  They have people on the left and right believing the worst about each other's political opponents - I'll grant that not everything reported about Donald Trump is true - and that's pretty much how that story about a Washington pizzeria that was reported to have been the center of a child sex-slave operation run by Hillary Clinton got started.  That, of course, led to a person who believed the worst about Hillary going there and shooting up the place.
One of those "fake news" purveyors, Mike Cernovich, defended his work in an interview with Pelley, saying that his information about the Clinton campaign and the Democratic left (which, remember, are not one and the same) is a counterpoint to the official line from the Democratic Party, his "facts" based on his own "reporting" - like having a doctor Hillary has never met examine her based on a clip of her showing signs of fatigue (from an illness) and attributing it to Parkinson's disease.
Well, you won't find any fake news here.  Because, apart from a piece on a Swedish Christmas fair that I reported on here because I had no other place to publish it, I don't report news stories on this blog, and I have made it clear that this blog is not meant to be a news source.  It's just social and cultural commentary, essays about personal experiences, and the occasional book or record review.  And my blog "Pictures of Beautiful  Women" is just that and nothing else.
You know, the world would be a whole lot better if those of us who write blogs without any news value remembered that we are just reporting opinions and hearsay without presenting them as the facts.  I merely comment on what I've heard, and if it sounds fishy or fake, I either say so or refuse to even dignify the story with commentary. Look, the Internet is meant to spread free speech, but free speech is a responsibility that has to be taken more seriously.  I am responsible for saying that what you read on this blog is not the gospel, just me mouthing off about whatever happens to be on my mind.
That's why this blog is called "Miscellaneous Musings."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Splendid Time Was Guaranteed For All

Continuing my look back at select songs from the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album in the fiftieth anniversary year of its release, I turn to a song that is one of my favorites from the LP but is widely disregarded by other rock fans.  I refer, as you may have already gathered from this post's title, to "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"        
John Lennon was prompted to write the song from an old circus poster he bought in an antique shop in Sevenoaks, Kent while there with the other Beatles to film the promotional video for "Strawberry Fields Forever."  Just about every lyric and character in the song came from the poster (shown above).  Pablo Fanque (below), whose real name was William Darby, was a black circus performer and the first black man in Britain to own a circus.  In his employment were all-around performer William Kite and acrobat John Henderson and his wife Agnes.  The horses, the hoops, the wooden cask (the "hogshead") on fire, and the trampolines (the word referred to springboards rather than stretched canvases) were all part of the show; the particular gig this poster advertises took place on St. Valentine's Day, 1843.  But on a Tuesday, not a Saturday, and at Rochdale in northern England, not at Bishopsgate, which is a ward of London; John changed the day of the week and town in order to fit the meter and the rhyme scheme.  (When I first heard this song on a cassette, without a lyric sheet, I thought I heard that Mr. Kite would perform his feat "as bishops gaze."  I had this vision of Anglican bishops staring at Mr. Kite in wide-eyed wonder! :-D )
The Beatles recorded "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" at EMI Studios at Abbey Road in nine takes in February 1967 with Paul McCartney's bass, Ringo Starr's drums, backwards guitar from George Harrison, harmonicas, and George Martin on a harmonium, an organ that requires a lot of foot-pumping to play.  It was the perfect instrument for a song like "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", as it almost got the sound of circus music perfect.  Almost.  John didn't think the group captured the flavor of the circus, and he said to Martin, "I want to taste the circus . . ..  I want to smell the sawdust on the floor."  Martin knew exactly what he needed - a calliope, a keyboard instrument using steam whistles, which was quite commonly used in Victorian circuses.
Unfortunately, there were no steam organs around, so Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick had to create a circus atmosphere from existing calliope recordings.  Since circuses are known for commotion and noise, Martin and Emerick decided to take recordings of authentic steam organs, chop them up and create a chaotic backwash.  Emerick did just that, cutting up calliope tapes in different ways - straight across, diagonally, whatever - threw them up in the air, and reassembling them . . . only to have the pieces play in the same order as before.  So he turned some of them around, turned some others upside down, and, according to some accounts, crumpled up others, stomped on some of them, dipped a couple of them in a glass of soda (which must have made the tape machine heads really sticky!) - anything and everything to distort the sound and make it random.  The hurdy-gurdy middle eight and the chaotic steam-organ music at the end of the record, with an organ run of the song's melody running along, are the result of that experiment - which pleased John Lennon very much.
"Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" was banned by the BBC on the grounds that "Henry the Horse" was a reference to heroin, but in fact there really was a waltz-dancing horse in Pablo Fanque's show - except that he was called Zanthus.  I love this song.  Not only is it so musically inventive, but it shows what a genius John Lennon really was - I mean, how many other people would have the clever idea of writing a song around a Victorian circus poster?  Of course, not everyone liked it.  In fact, Lou Reed famously called it "absolutely unbearable." Even John Lennon didn't think much of it when the Beatles recorded it, but he'd changed his mind by 1980.  By then he called the song "pure, like a painting, a pure watercolor."
"Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" is the perfect song about the circus, its veneer of innocence contradicted by the cynical sneer of John Lennon's ringmaster character.  Every time I hear it, I'm ready to see Mr. Kite challenge the world.  Just remember, the band begins . . . right about now! :-)  (Note the timestamp below.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Resist The Democratic Establishment

Okay, I was wrong.
I'd given up on activism and thought that resistance to Trump was futile.  I was pretty much expecting his atrocious health care bill to pass, that there was nothing the people could do about it, that phone calls and town halls weren't going to help, and there was nothing the Democrats could or would do about it.
That last point was the only thing that turned out to be true.
The people stopped this bill cold dead, and congressional Democrats simply stayed on the sidelines and watched the show.  Apparently, the only member of Congress who had anything to do with helping to organize voters was Bernie Sanders, and he's only an independent who caucuses with the Senate's Democrats. 
Sanders, who has been helping the Democrats with "outreach" efforts, may have inadvertently proved that the people can form a new party if they so choose.  They certainly have the energy.  Sanders is now the most popular politician in the country right now, and his efforts at organizing people to help the Democrats may very well end up hurting them.  There are calls for a convention to start a new party; the resistance against Trump may lead to just that, meaning that the people are going to have to resist the Democratic Party as well.
So where does that leave Martin O'Malley (you knew  I was going to bring him up eventually)?
It's quite simple, really.  With Sanders clearly too old to run for President in 2020, O'Malley should tap into the progressive movement and be ready to jump ship and join whatever new party may emerge if necessary.  In the meantime, he should keep doing what he's been doing - connect with grass-roots activists, help progressives get elected to local office, and show up at every demonstration for which he's available.  He should also keep tabs on the issues, go over policy with aides and advisers, and formulate an agenda to serve as a counterpoint to Trump's - and come up with a strategy to sell it.  He already has an idea to reform the Affordable Care Act - an all-payer system, the system used in his home state of Maryland and explained in greater detail in this New Republic article from David Dayen.    
No one is paying attention to O'Malley right now, which may be a good thing.  He can spend a lot of time under the radar building a strong foundation for another presidential run.  And don't be surprised if he does end up running in 2020 . . . and as something other than a Democrat.     

Monday, March 27, 2017

Parliament

Another terrorist attack . . .
First Paris, then Brussels, then Berlin, now it's London's turn.  London became the latest national capital affected by terrorism in the latest wave of Islamic extremist attacks. This time it was a British-born convert to Islam who turned a sport utility vehicle into a weapon, as he ran over several people outside Parliament and then tried to crash the gate in front of the building.  He then got out of his vehicle and fatally stabbed a policeman before being shot to death.
It's getting so that people all over the West will be to afraid to venture out into the world.   I don't know what's going on, and I feel ill-equipped to do any more than acknowledge it.
I have a nasty feeling that an attack in Washington may not be far behind . . .. :-O   

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Elton John - Honky Château (1972)

Honky Château is the album that established Elton John as a bona fide rock and roll star.  His three previous studio albums presented him as a melodically gifted music composer and as a fine singer, but it was with Honky Château that he became a more disciplined and more focused artist.  The stately, almost symphonic pop that dominates many of his earlier records gives way here to a warm, light-hearted sound that encompasses a greater variety of musical forms - New Orleans soul, steamy country blues, gospel, and even some doo-wop, all with a solid piano-rock base.
Honky Château takes its title from where it was recorded - namely, the Château d'Hérouville, an old, run-down castle outside Paris with a recording studio that was only in slightly better condition than the rest of the property.  The casual atmosphere clearly benefited the music; now working without Paul Buckmaster's grand orchestral arrangements, Elton and producer Gus Dudgeon yielded a simpler, more honest and less pretentious vibe, and it shows in the accomplished playing of guitarist Davey Johnstone, the crisp rhythm section of bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson, and the touches of brass and synthesizer lines that provide extra color.  But the biggest improvement came from Elton's lyricist, Bernie Taupin.  Bernie was now writing lyrics following conventional song form, with clearly defined verses and refrains, more than ever, having abandoned the free-form prose that was evident on the Black Album or on Madman Across the Water.  His words are more straightforward here, leaning more toward teen romance, adult love, and American folklore, and his directness is reflected in his one-word titles: "Mellow," "Salvation," "Slave," "Amy," "Hercules."  The good news is that Bernie hadn't lost his quirks; the LP's third song, "I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself," is a cheeky parody of teen-angst pop that delivers threats of suicide with a wry smile. 
For all this alone, Honky Château is an essential album for causal Elton fans as well as die-hard ones, but three stand-out tracks make it all the more a must-have in any rock record collection - "Honky Cat," the joyous opening song, with its thrill of discovering the big city from the perspective of a country boy; "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," the somber flip-side of "Honky Cat," with its sensitive ruminations of life in a then-deteriorating New York City and the subtle arrangement of Elton's piano and vocal and  Johnstone's mandolin (with an ironic nod to Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem"), and: the great "Rocket Man," a tale of an astronaut's ennui and dissatisfaction that's one of the most humanistic sets of song lyrics Bernie Taupin has ever written.  Elton, backing it with some of his most inspired piano work, sings it with the same sensitivity and care that he brings to his all songwriting partner's lyrics, which reminds us why, as a musician and a singer, he is on par with Elvis Presley or the Beatles.  Little wonder, then, that Honky Château would be the first of seven consecutive chart-topping albums in America for Elton within four years.      

Saturday, March 25, 2017

No Deal

Well, the Trump health care bill is kaput.  Trump tried to ram through Congress a health care bill that would have destroyed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), done serious damage to Medicaid, kicked 24 million people off their health insurance plans, and given tax breaks to the rich.  He set out to negotiate a deal, and he was left with nothing.  And without those tax breaks,  Trump's infrastructure-spending plans and Paul Ryan's tax reform plan are all but dead in the water.  The costs in this bill were too great even for many House Republicans, and even my own congressman, Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) - chairman of the House Appropriations Committee - wouldn't support it.  The party's conservative wing didn't like the health care bill because it didn't go go far enough in repealing and replacing the ACA (imagine!).  So, after nine weeks, the S.S. Trump Presidency is already aground.
Democrats had best not get too cocky, though, because last time I checked, the Republicans still control the White House and both houses of Congress, Neil Gorsuch is headed for the Supreme Court, and not only has the Dakota Access Pipeline been resumed, the Keystone XL pipeline has been approved as well.  Among other Obama-policy reversals.  Let me make this clear: The people brought down the Trump health care bill.  Congressional Democrats didn't sabotage the Republicans; the Republicans sabotaged themselves.  The Democrats did nothing.  Nothing.  The Democrats still have a lot of work and catching up to do if they want to get back in power (great laughter at that, I'm sure) and avoid going full Whig.  If the Democrats, who are more unpopular than Trump these days, want to be taken seriously, they have to show leadership.
Just standing there and gloating is not a show of leadership.    

Friday, March 24, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - March 24, 2017

"Madman Across the Water" by Elton John (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Comey, Gorsuch, Whatever . . .

James Comey can't not tell the truth.  The FBI director publicly leveled with everyone about Hillary Clinton, and now he's doing the same about Donald Trump.  I love this guy.  
On Monday, he came right out and said there is no evidence whatsoever that Trump got wiretapped before taking office by President Obama, and yet Trump painted himself in an even deeper corner by refusing to admit he was wrong. He did tweet ecstatically when he said that Comey proved that the Russians had nothing to do with influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.  Not so fast - what Comey meant by that was that there's no evidence that the Russians hacked voting machines to stuff the electronic ballot box.  But he does believe that the Russians may have been responsible for the leaks of Democratic National Committee (DNC) e-mails and fake-news Internet posts that may have swayed enough people to vote for Trump.
On the other hand, the recent revelation of the government legally recording Trump campaign staffers in 2016 in an effort to get more intelligence on the Russians - not wiretapping, but an action that might have snared more than a few Trump aides - has made the waters even murkier . . .
Be that as it may, even if the Russians did hack the DNC, what they uncovered wasn't fake news.  It was true - an uncovering of real efforts to tip the scales for Hillary and manipulate the voters with a flawed general-election candidate.  And by the way, now that he doesn't have to campaign for her anymore, Martin O'Malley says he's done with the DNC.
I may be done with the whole damn party.  Because, also this week, Senate hearings for the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill a Supreme Court seat President Obama should have been allowed to fill began, and despite the fact that the Republicans are going to get him confirmed one way or another, even if it means suspending the filibuster rule, Democrats have no idea or strategy as to what the hell to do about it.  If they fight the nomination, they'll get steamrolled and look like fools.  If they acquiesce to it, the base will never forgive them, and party disunion will ensue.  
Delay it by trying to tie it to the Russia investigation? You're going to have to do better than that, Senator Schumer.
Those who say we'd be a whole lot better off if Hillary had won and picked Antonin Scalia's replacement on the High Court forget that Democratic hopes of retaking the Senate and controlling the confirmation process faded long before it became apparent that Hillary was actually gong to lose the election.  They also forget that the Republicans were ready to do to any Supreme Court nominee she would have put forward what they did to Merrick Garland - ignore said nominee. And her nominee would not have been another William Brennan or Thurgood Marshall - it would have been a centrist.  Merrick Garland, who's at least slightly left of center,  might be a Supreme Court justice today if the public had pressured Mitch McConnell into allow hearings, but no, the Democratic base was dissatisfied with the fact that he was just another white guy, and so couldn't get excited for him.  Yet another example of identity politics ruining America for everyone.  Now the hapless Democratic caucus in the Senate is trying to figure out how to avenge Garland without having it backfire on them.
But then, who cares when only 43 percent of Americans can name any Supreme Court justices and the other 57 percent are the ones who will be most affected by the rulings of a Justice Gorsuch?  Not that the Democrats did a lot to push the issue in the 2016 elections.
Face it, Democrats, you blew it.  While I'm glad to see Trump cratering, I'm also glad to see you doing the same.  Whig out and let a new party take your place.  It's over.