Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Happy Couple

Hip hip hooray for Harry and Meghan!
And I'm sure this marriage will be more blessed than the last one between British royalty and an American divorcée.

I couldn't help but notice how many American women - especially actresses - have married Britishers, but you don't hear too much about British women marrying American men - Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are an exception.  So why don't more Britgirls marry Yanks?  Isn't it obvious?  Women from both sides of the Atlantic  prefer British men because, well, let's face it - we American dudes are uncivilized and generally stupid!
Look at the barbaric idiot running the country. 
As fate would have it, I know a British woman who married an American and lives in New York.  They celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary this year.
Their tenth.
Weird.   

Friday, May 18, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - May 18, 2018

"Still the Same" by Bob Seger  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"

At first hearing, the Beatles' White Album song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is a carefree pop song about a boy who meets a pretty girl, proposes to the pretty girl, and marries her, and they live happily ever after with their children.  But there's a lot of stuff going on here that wouldn't be happening if this weren't a Beatles track. 
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" (illustrated above by artist Victor Moscoso) was Paul McCartney's effort to incorporate reggae in the Beatles' sound, and while it's the first time the Beatles first explored this uniquely Jamaican pop form, it wasn't their first foray in Jamaican music per se; John Lennon incorporated a middle eight in 1964's "I Call Your Name" that drew heavily from ska.  The characters in "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" are Jamaican, with Desmond tending a pushcart in a London market and Molly as a beautiful calypso singer who steals Desmond's heart.  But unlike John's purer, harder approach to Jamaican music, Paul fused a reggae beat to a breezy, upbeat style typical of the English music-hall sound.  When American actor/singer Joel Grey - who actually covered "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" on an album of rock and folk-rock covers - described this song as "a kind of crazy, West Indian vaudeville turn," he turned out to be pretty accurate.
The Beatles recorded two different arrangements of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," the first one a more conservative version in an A major key.  John grew to hate the song, finding the love story too cutesy-pie and the music the sort of sound that "grannies" would love.  Ironically, he helped Paul improve the song; a few days after the A major version had been completed, a stoned John walked in to the studio, banged out the song's piano introduction in a B major key as hard as he could, and declared that this was the way it should be played.  That version was the one that made it on the White Album.  In their book "The Worst Rock and Roll Records Of All Time," Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell dismissed "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as "a substandard Beatles tune redeemed only by its energy."  One can argue whether or not the song is substandard, but there's little doubt that the less energetic, more mannered A major version, issued on Anthology 3 in 1996, is, despite having its charms, clearly the inferior take.  The version that made it on the White Album is a fun recording that will find even the song's critics singing along.  (And John probably liked the song more than he was willing to admit, as his laughter and ad-libs on both versions suggest.)
But anyone who thought "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is just another one of Paul's silly love songs obviously never noticed the cheekiness of Paul's approach to it.  Paul sings about Desmond and Molly with a campy vocal style that suggests a demented compère in a sleazy London nightclub - no wonder Joel Grey, who famously played the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret, loves this song - and Paul nods and winks through each verse.  And then there's that twist at the end.  At first we hear that Desmond runs the pushcart with the kids and Molly still sings with her band, but as the song reaches its conclusion and the final verse is repeated, Molly runs the pushcart with the kids and Desmond makes himself up as a woman and takes Molly's place in the band.  A reference to transvestism - two years before the Kinks' "Lola" (and Ray Davies is no slouch himself in the realm of cheek and camp).  Paul claimed it was a mistake that he kept in because John, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr all liked it.  I don't think so.  He doesn't slip over the names when he sings them in the wrong order.  He doesn't stumble awkwardly through this final verse.  He sounds like he knows what he's doing.  No, the rejected A-major doesn't have the same lyrical twist, but I've always suspected that Paul planned from the start to reverse the roles on what he figured would be his definitive vocal take.  (The hostility toward Paul from John and George over this song must have led Paul to take out his frustration with getting his vocal right on George Martin; when the Beatles' producer suggested to Paul that he sing "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" with a lilt in his voice, Paul replied, "Well, you come down and f**kin' sing it!")
And the title?  Paul got that from a friend of his named Jimmy Scott (below), a Nigerian conga player based in London who contributed percussion to the first recording of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."
Scott would use "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as a common catchphrase, which is said to mean "life goes on" - the key lyric of the song - in the language of his African ethnic group, the Yoruba.  Scott sued Paul, claiming to have invented the phrase himself, and he wanted a cut from "Ob-LaDi, Ob-La-Da" because of it.  Paul thought that this was ridiculous, but he did agree to help Scott with his legal fees in an unrelated case, at which point Scott dropped the suit.
Life goes on.
And if you want some fun . . .
Joel Grey aside, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was covered by the Scottish pop group Marmalade (below) and released as a single; their festive version topped the British pop charts in 1969.  (Their version retains the transvestism reference.)  Marmalade are best known in the United States for their much less festive song "Reflections Of My Life."     

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

O Jerusalem!

Now that Trump has opened the U.S. Embassy in Israel - or at least a makeshift version of it - in Jerusalem, Palestinians are rioting in the occupied territories over official American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital when Palestinians want it to be a capital of their eventual state.  The United States wants to continue to achieve a peaceful solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the Palestinians want nothing to do with American mediation any more because they don't see us as an honest broker.  And they probably wouldn't trust us even if a Democratic President moved the U.S. Embassy back to Tel Aviv sometime in the future.   
Multilateral mediation? The Arab states have their own internal problems, and the European has more sympathy than power to being a Palestinian state about.  Short of a herculean effort by the United Nations, there doesn't seem to be much of a prospect for that.
Jerusalem will never be a neutral city or a free city-state, because both the Israelis and the Palestinians at least agree on a position against that.  I don't understand why any future Israeli-Palestinian border can't just go right through the city and effectively create two cities of Jerusalem.
After all, we have two Kansas Citys.
To respond to the complaint that Kansas City has no religious significance, I need only point out that Kansas City is near the place along the Missouri River where Mormons believe Jesus will return.
Not making that up.
And if there's a world war over the Middle East, expect Moroni to blow his horn signifying the Second Coming. 
No word on what Robert Jeffress would think of that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Derecho De Mayo?

A derecho-type line of severe thunderstorms ripped through - an ripped out - a good chunk of Maryland and Virginia yesterday, and another, similar line of thunderstorms is expected to tear through New Jersey, ad the merriless month of May 2018 continues.  This lousy weather has forced me to cancel plans already, and it may end up canceling my electrical and/or cable service for I don't know how long. 
Stay tuned . . . I may be back. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Turning Stamp Collecting Upside Down

One hundred years ago today, a day after the United Stes Post Office issued its first air mail stamp - for domestic air mail, of course, as transoceanic airmail wouldn't be possible until the late 1930s - stamp collector William Robey experienced every stamp collector's dream when he bought a 100-stamp pane of the 24-cent Jenny stamp, so called because it depicted a Curtiss JN biplane, in a Washington, D.C. post office.  For a mere $24 - the same price Dutch colonist Peter Minuit paid the Indians for Manhattan Island - Robey got an investment that paid back handsomely.  He resisted early efforts to get him to sell the pane, risking a bigger fortune in the event that other inverted-center panes turned up, but he carefully waited for the right moment to sell it.
As it turned out, eight other panes of the Jenny stamp had been printed upside down when the printing-press workers fed the stamps in the red printing press one way and fed them in the blue printing press the other way.  Numerous bicolor stamps of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had been printed with inverted vignettes before, but quality control had so improved by 1918 that only one inverted pane of this bicolor stamp got through.  The other eight were destroyed by the Post Office.
Robey was pressured by the government to return the stamps to postal authorities, but he continued to wait for an opportunity to sell his stamps.  He did so in a few days, selling them to stamp dealer Eugene Klein for $15,000 - about $258,000 in today's money.  Klein than sold the pane to Colonel Edward H.R. Green for $20,000; Green then numbered each stamp on the back with a pencil, according to their pane positions, and broke it up into blocks and singles.  In 1969, a single stamp sold for $280,000; for comparative purposes, Robey's original sale price of $15,000 for the whole pane was the same as $37,000 in 1969 money.  Copies of the stamp have gone missing, one stolen and recovered after many years, and the Mystic Stamp Company owns the plate block - a block of four stamps with the color plate numbers in the selvage - from the pane.  A single stamp is now worth $977,000.
Most stamp errors are hard to quantify, but it is an established fact that there are no more than one hundred Inverted Jenny stamps.  It remains the greatest error printing in U.S. philatelic history. 
The rate for domestic air mail in 1918 went down to sixteen cents, then six cents, as air mail service improved - the 16-cent and six-cent stamps issued later that year, not so coincidentally, were each issued on one color only.    

April Showers Bring May Rain

I waited through a dismal April to enjoy a nice warm May, but it's been cold and rainy these past couple of days, and more rain is to follow this week.  And tomorrow will feel so summery that we could get the sort of severe thunderstorms that normally come in July and August.   
As if that weren't bad enough, some computer projections are looking at serious tropical storm affecting the American East Coast by the end of this month, before the hurricane season even starts.  
According to the projection, which I won't show here because it's too arly to take it seriously and it's also too scary to look at, it could hit the Northeast almost a year to the day after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement.
This year has been a disappointment for me and whole lot of other people . . I'm hoping the weather doesn't turn it into a disaster. :-O :-( 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Net Neutrality Is Circling The Drain

Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai has announced that Internet neutrality will go out of existence on Monday, June 11.  So if you try to access an environmentalist or anti-poverty activist Web site, you can expect to be out of luck.
But maybe not.  This Wednesday, May 16, the Senate is expected to vote on preserving Net neutrality via a resolution, and if the pro-Net-neutrality forces can get one more vote for a simple majority, that would be half the battle won.  There would then be a push to get at least 218 House members to support the Senate's resolution.  To say that it would be an uphill battle is an understatement.  That's why there are going to be massive demonstrations at congressional district offices tomorrow to get the resolution through.
But, even after all that, come Tuesday, June 12, when you click onto a site that your Internet service provider can't tolerate, or doesn't want to have compete with its own site (for streaming movies or whatever), the image below will be all you get.
After waiting thirty minutes for it to load. 
I thought Net neutrality was supposed to officially end in April.  I was wrong, obviously, but not as wrong as Net-neutrality activists will be if they think they can stop its repeal this late in the game.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Dear Imprudence

So Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.  That was expected.  What happened next was unexpected.
The United States's withdrawal from the Iran deal this past Tuesday was the dumbest thing Trump has done since last Thursday.  It re-imposes sanctions on Iran that will hurt the Iranian people more than it hurts the Iranian leadership, the sanctions will cost American companies that have already pursued business interests with Iran, like Boeing, billions of dollars, it allows the Iranians to enrich uranium sooner rather than later, it will cause a rift with the Europeans and prevent their companies from doing business with Iranians due to the sanctions, and it makes the U.S.'s word on honoring commitments as valued as a used Kleenex.  Even if Martin O'Malley or some other Democrat does become President in 2021, no one will want to deal with this country out of fear that another Republican President will go back on this country's word.
So what was unexpected?  The stock market did not go down. In fact, it's been increasing over the past three days.  Oil prices fell because of French and German commitment to preserving the deal (a deal a Democratic President will not be able to rejoin for the reasons sate in the previous paragraph).  This is despite Israeli attacks on Iranian positions in Syria.  It's also despite Iran's threats to go ahead and start working on the bomb, as evidenced by this statement by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: 
"The President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has been tasked with taking all necessary steps in preparation for Iran to pursue industrial-scale enrichment without any restrictions, using the results of the latest research and development of Iran's brave nuclear scientists."
So America will go on like the future is going to be like the present only more so - no jolts, no surprises, no crisis arises, our economy goes along as it should.   Nowhere was this more apparent than yesterday's meeting between Trump and auto company executives seeking relief from fuel-economy standards that would - HORRORS! - force them to make smaller cars and dial back their SUVs.  This is going on as Trump tries to force California to give up its higher fuel economy standards, a policy that has the support of the car companies.
You know, I'm going to look forward to seeing gas hit ten dollars a gallon.
Meanwhile, Trump's eagerly awaited summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un take place one month from today in Singapore. and I'm anticipating it like I anticipated the premiere of Shanghai Surprise in 1986 - I didn't like what the two major players did on their own, and I'm not looking forward to their collaboration!  Trump has praised Kim as an honorable man for releasing three American hostages, all Korean ethnics, and said that Kim was "really excellent to these people."
In fact, they were tortured.
Those of you old enough to remember John F. Kennedy's disastrous summit meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961 and how Khrushchev "savage" Kennedy can expect a similar savaging of Trump next month. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - May 11, 2018

"If I Can't Have You" by Yvonne Elliman  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand-corner.)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Glass Onion"

Many people write off the Beatles' White Album song "Glass Onion" as a cosmic joke John Lennon was playing on us by offering up these enigmatic lyrics referring to Beatles songs from the previous year or two and having a laugh on us for always trying to find in the songs meanings that were never intended.  But when you peel back the surfaces of this onion, interpreted below in an ekphrasis painting by Lacey Bryant, you find the clue to what this song is about - and it's not that the walrus was Paul.
"Glass Onion" is mainly a self-referencing song in which John revisits the numerous places his and Paul McCartney's lyrics have taken the Beatles' listeners to.  "Glass Onion" specifically recalls images from "Strawberry Fields Forever," "I Am the Walrus," "Lady Madonna," "The Fool On the Hill," and "Fixing a Hole," suggesting that all of the surrealistic landscapes offer a clue into what this other place behind the glass onion really is.  And here's another clue for you all - John's insistence that "the walrus was Paul" was simply John saying, as he said, "something nice to Paul," possibly complimenting him for being a complex songwriter in his own right, spinning freewheeling imagery as good as John's.  (Let's get things straight - it was not a clue to a story that Paul McCartney was dead.)  John even tries to take credit for one of Paul's songs: "I told you 'bout the fool on the hill; I tell you, man, he living there still."  Paul takes it back with a brief recorder riff.
"I threw the line in - "the walrus was Paul" - just to confuse everybody a bit more," John later said.  "I mean, it's just a bit of poetry. I was having a laugh because there'd been so much gobbledygook about Pepper - play it backwards and you stand on your head and all that."   
Well, here's another clue for you all: To get to this other place you can go to, you have to stand on the Cast Iron Shore.  That lyric refers to the south bank of the Mersey River in Liverpool, having been home to a cast-iron foundry and containing a lot of rust residue from ships that had scraped the foreshore.  The shoreline itself turned red from the ferric oxide that collected in the sand.  To see this other place, you have to stand in reality and look beyond it.
So where's this other place you can be?  Listen to me.  "Glass Onion"'s various references to earlier songs are part of an ongoing joke among the Beatles - they're always looking back on their earlier work with a bit of cheek.  When Ringo Starr sang "Tell me why" in the Rubber Soul tune "What Goes On," John, remembering the earlier Beatles song "Tell Me Why," can be heard calling out, "We already told you why!"  Later on the White Album, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" references "Yes It Is," a 1965 Beatles B-side, by title.  To find this place beyond the bent-back tulips, you can't just go back to 1967.  You have to go back farther.
Well, here's the last clue for you all: In "Glass Onion," John refers to a song that goes farther back than any Beatles song I've mentioned so far.  Most Americans may not have noticed it back in 1968, because the song in question had never appeared on a Capitol album and would not appear on a Capitol LP until long after the Beatles broke up.  When John informs us of another place to go, he's referencing the Please Please Me track "There's a Place" ("There's a place where I can go") and that song tells us what this place is.
It's John mind.
If you want to understand anything John said, you had to get his head. And even then you would have hard time figuring out what he was saying.  But everything flows in John's mind, and through his mind you see how the other half - the artists and the poets that the Beatles represented - live.            
The music of "Glass Onion" is a parody of the group's trippier sound from Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour; the band's biting rock melds with a sly, almost strident string arrangement that takes over at the end and takes the song to its lumbering conclusion.  (The opening drum tap is the first time Ringo's playing appears on the White Album.)  As if the coy lyrics weren't enough to confuse the fans, John originally wanted to add, instead of the strings, some incomprehensible sound effects to make the song even more obscure - a ringing telephone, the sound of glass (a glass onion?) breaking, and British soccer commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme (below) shouting "It's a goal!" - all played over and over and over and over in the fadeout.
John did a mono remix of his idea while George Martin was on vacation; Martin, upon his return, suggested the string arrangement as a more sensible alternative.  The aborted mono remix of "Glass Onion" with John's sound effects appears on Anthology 3.  It's too bad John had to listen to George Martin; his sound effects would have been one more banana peel that could have slipped up Beatles fans back in 1968, especially the ones smoking dovetail joints. :-D         

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Eric the Palm-Faced

Hours after the New Yorker, hardly a bastion of Trump-style conservatism, reported that one of Trump's greatest adversaries, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, was engaged in all sorts of forms of verbal and physical abuse against four former girlfriends, Schneiderman resigned in disgrace and humiliation.  Trump's minions are expressing their glee over Schneiderman's fall instead of engaging in the classy act of expressing sympathy or sorrow for the women involved because of the abuse committed against them.
And the abuse is brutal.  Schneiderman literally slapped them around, and tried to choke some of them in the process.  He even used racial epithets against one girlfriend, Tanya Selvaratnam, an author an actress of Sir Lankan descent. it seems he called her his slave.  Schneiderman professed his innocence in stepping down, saying that he was quitting so as not to distract the New York State Attorney General's office from the numerous cases it is pursuing - including a suit against the Federal Communications Commission for killing Net neutrality and protection of immigrants.  But get this - Schneiderman also handled a case against Harvey Weinstein and was a supporter of the Me Too movement.
Awkward!
Trump may have been handed is biggest gift yet, because there will now be a state of disarray as the the state of New York has no short-term direction in pursuing the many suits against Trump's administration - some of which would involve prosecuting's Trump aides under New York State law if Trump pardons them. The New York state legislature will select a new Attorney General by the end of the week to finish the remaining months of Schneiderman's term - unlike in New Jersey, where the state attorney general serves at the pleasure of the governor, New York chooses state attorneys general by popular election - but with the New York State Assembly under Democratic control and the New York State Senate under Republican control, a consensus candidate may not emerge so easily.  And whoever is chosen might end up being a lame duck.
And if Schneiderman's successor is someone who decides that he or she has no business going after Trump, states like New Jersey and California will lose a powerful ally in their own battles against the White House.
Even if Schneiderman's explanation of the charges were to be taken seriously, it's best that he quit.  He admitted that he was involved in questionable sexual behavior with his girlfriends (he's not married, having been divorced since 1996), but it was consensual sex in acts of role-playing.
Oh, my God, he's one of them!
As long as people like Schneiderman are allowed to serve in public office, the Democrats will remain the party of deviancy and hedonism in the eyes of Middle America.
The New Yorker article was co-written by Jane Mayer and - you guessed it - Ronan Farrow.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Deal or No Deal?

Although he has until Saturday to decide whether or not to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, Donald Trump has announced that he will reveal his decision tomorrow.  I think we already know what it is.  He's only withdrawn from more international agreements than the French have withdrawn from battlefields, so why would this be any different?   
Okay, Trump has understandable reasons - really - for opposing the deal.  It has a sunset clause on its nuclear program, it can still test ballistic missiles, and Iran can still intervene in the affairs of other countries (just like we do!).  And we let them have all that money back, yada yada yada.  Israel, not a signatory to the deal, opposes it, which is understandable only to people who understand Israel.  But the British, the French, the Germans, the Russians and the  Chinese, the other signatories to this deal, all believe that while it is a flawed deal, a flawed deal to keep Iran's nuclear program at bay is better than no deal at all.  So they say . . . and so I agree.  
So why are so many Americans like Trump opposed to it despite the numerous arguments in favor of it?  Why do Americans have a grudge match against Iran that the British, the French, the Germans, the Russians and the Chinese don't?
You don't suppose it's because Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China never had 52 citizens kidnapped in their own embassies in Tehran and held for over fourteen months, do you?  
I'm not taking Trump's side here, remember, I'm just offering a theory to explain his madness . . . 

Mr. Lonely

This year marked the seventh annual Montclair Film Festival in Montclair, New Jersey, and it just wrapped up yesterday.  Movies starring Rachel Weisz and Claire Danes were screened - Rachel Weisz herself appeared to talk about her latest movie with Montclair's currently most famous resident, Stephen Colbert - and there were several documentaries and indie films as well.
And I didn't see a single one of them.
This was the first Montclair Film Festival that I didn't attend.  I might have been able to find a movie I like, maybe two, but the only place I could find a brochure was online, in PDF form.  I don't have the patience to thumb through a 164-page brochure online.  I would have preferred to get it in print, but I couldn't find a print copy anywhere.  And when I did learn of an interesting movie that looked like it was worth seeing, there was always a reason not to go. I found a documentary on rocker Joan Jett that looked good, but it suddenly seemed ridiculous to spend fourteen dollars on a non-fiction film about a rock star I'm only a casual fan of and whose records I don't own.  I didn't even bother to look what was playing on weeknights, because I was always busy with something else.
I ended up watching movies on video that everyone else saw four months earlier . . . and the person I watched them with kept rewinding and pausing the videos - in other words, the exact opposite of the experience of seeing them in the theater - for one reason or another.  I used to go to the movies with a friend, but my friend moved away recently.
This hasn't been a great year for me.  In addition to personal issues, I don't get to hang out with friends that much or go to events like the Montclair Film Festival.  I missed a screening of another movie last month, a movie I actually helped on as a crew member, because it was screened only once, and at an inconvenient place and time.  I skipped the annual Beatles convention for the second time in a row this year for the same reason.  This past weekend there was a miniature music festival in Montclair I'd forgotten about, and I stumbled onto it while riding on my bicycle. There were several performers lined up for it, but the act playing at the time I was there was a rap quartet.
I biked out of there like a bat of hell.
I'm going to have to get used to spending less time looking for fun in the public realm and resign myself to the fact that my free time is limited to being alone and being lonely - riding on my bicycle, reading, listening to my CDs, or wasting time on Facebook to connect with people I can't see in real life.  Also, tending to my stamp collection.  I belong to a stamp club that I don't go to meetings of because I normally work on the days it meets and it recently moved its meetings to a building that's out of my way to work.  Until it moved there, it met in a place I could stop at on the way to work, and I could at least put in  an appearance at the meetings.  No more.
And my old Meetup groups broke up.  Both of them.  One of them was a dinner group in which I was the only male.  Being in the company of women may seem like a dream come true, but it was obvious that the women only wanted each other's company.  I'm still glad I went to the dinners.  Both of them.  Needless to say, I haven't been in contact with anyone in either group.  We all just drifted apart, I guess . . .
So what am I left with?  Not much.  I'm lonely, period.  I have to concede that I am not a part of any crowd.  I don't have the worldliness or the income to hobnob with people who can afford to go to a film festival that screens a Rachel Weisz movie and is attended by Rachel Weisz herself.  I certainly don't have the worldliness to live in a town that would have such a film festival.  I'll come out and say it - I have no social life, and I ought to stop pretending that I do.  When we're children, we pretend - we play make-believe games, little skits for our own amusement.  I'm too old to pretend that I'm a part of anything.
Sorry to bum you all.  Why I am going on about my personal hangups?  Because I'd rather do that than talk about Donald Trump.  

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Win Back Your State - Game Time

Martin O'Malley is serious - dead serious - about helping the Democrats win back power in the midterm elections six months from today, even though the Democratic Party establishment considers him politically dead.  At this point, the national party doesn't have a message, doesn't have a strategy, and doesn't have a clue.  But state and local parties and candidates have all of that, and Martin O'Malley is hell-bent on toughening up for the November elections to come. This is how he explains it in his fundraising e-mail for his political action committee, or PAC:
*
Something really new is happening for the Democratic Party.
From Ohio, to Florida, from New Hampshire to Iowa  -  and beyond -  State Democratic Party Chairs all tell me the same thing. "This year, we have more qualified candidates, Martin, than we have qualified campaign staff."
Say what you will about Donald Trump, he has been the greatest recruitment tool our Party has had in a long time. (Yes, I called him a “tool.”) He has also been a huge help — “HUGE HELP” — when it comes to building crowds for marches and protests. But, good candidates and big demonstrations aren’t enough to win back our states. We need to run campaigns that win elections. So, let’s fill the space between this new grassroots energy and the ability to run winning elections all across our country.
Last weekend in College Park, Maryland, our new Leadership PAC  -  Win Back Your State  - held our first "training camp" for new campaign staff. Many of those who signed up for a full day of training were totally new to electoral politics. Some were recently retired and wanted to make a difference this year when our country needs us most. Kathleen, new to campaigns at the age of fifty, had driven down from Philadelphia. Ian, a college student at George Washington, already had some prior campaign experience in South Africa of all places. We even had a father-daughter team  -  Wesley and Karen from Howard County, Maryland  -  who joined in a full day of lectures, trainings, and simulations on everything from running an effective door-to-door operation to designing effective messages for social media.
This was our first Win Back Your State Training Camp, but with your help, it won’t be our last. Every state matters and every state needs good people who can actually run campaigns. So, please join me in bringing forward a new generation of campaign leadership from the grassroots up.
There is goodness within our country. It’s just waiting to be called forward.
Great nations sometimes make bad mistakes; good nations correct them quickly.

- Martin O'Malley 
*
It's great to see someone take charge like this.  Maybe it will inspire Tom Perez to do something constructive.  If he needs the training, I'm sure I can find a bicycle with two extra wheels to help him get started. :-p
O'Malley knows what the stakes are.  If the Democrats don't win back power at the state or federal level, they'll be crippled even more going into 2019 as Republicans seek to consolidate their power to suppress the vote and prepare to take control of redistricting in advance of the 2020 census.  And it's a pretty safe bet that if the Democrats go down in 2018, they will most likely not only lose the congressional elections in 2020 but the Presidency as well.  And if they lose in 2020, the party is doomed.  That will really be it.
Click here to donate to Win Back Your State.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The U.S. S.J. Is Back

So it turns out that Father Patrick Conroy of the Society of Jesus was forced to resign his position as U.S. House chaplain because some Republicans wanted an evangelical Protestant his place, and some of them found Father Conroy to be too liberal (because Jesuits care too much about the poor!).
Well, Father Conroy is back.
Father Conroy rescinded his resignation. Borrowing a page from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who refuses to be intimidated while overseeing the Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Father Conroy chose to stand his ground and not let himself be pushed around because of politics.  House Speaker Paul Ryan did something normally associated with Democrats - he caved - and let Father Conroy have his job back.
Catholics will remember this slight from the Republicans.  And Catholics will make damn sure the Republicans pay dearly in the November elections.
I can think of one Catholic who's ready to do just that.   
Did I happen to mention that Martin O'Malley was educated by Jesuits? :-O :-D

Friday, May 4, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - May 4, 2018

"Out Of Control" by the Eagles  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.) 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Dear Prudence"

The Beatles wrote most of their songs for the White Album at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's spring 1968 ashram in Rishikesh, India, and many of them were based on encounters with their fellow Transcendental Meditation students.  These songs also benefited from an additional influence - Scottish folk singer/songwriter Donovan, who also attended the ashram and taught John Lennon and Paul McCartney chord fingerings they would write songs around. John's "Dear Prudence" is an example of a song musically influenced by Donovan that was about another ashram participant. 
Prudence Farrow (seen at left with Ringo Starr) is the sister of actress Mia Farrow and the aunt of journalist Ronan Farrow.  Now a film producer and a meditation teacher who's been happily married since 1969, she was a lost soul who went to the Maharisihi's retreat in India to meditate herself into pure bliss after an acid trip that was anything but blissful.  While the other participants in the ashram were earnest at reaching inner peace, Prudence Farrow was dead serious about it. She would spend all day and all night meditating in her bungalow. Having already started her own yoga institute in Boston in 1967, Prudence wanted to learn Transcendental Meditation and became a teacher of that as well, and so sought to study with the master himself, the Maharishi.  Her sister Mia and brother John went with her.
John Lennon and George Harrison were assigned to be Prudence's classmates in what would now be called a "buddy system" in American summer camps.  It was their job to look after her, but, in the spirit of Paul McCartney's fictional grandfather from A Hard Day's Night, she would look after herself.  "I would always rush straight back to my room after lectures and meals so I could meditate," Prudence remembers, leaving John, George and Paul (Ringo left after three days) to their own devices. "John, George and Paul would all want to sit around jamming and having a good time and I'd be flying into my room."
John had his own recollection of the experience.  "She'd been locked in for three weeks and was trying to reach God quicker than anybody else," he later said.  "That was the competition in Maharishi's camp - who was going to get cosmic first."
John and George tried to coax her out of her bungalow in each morning and encourage her to take advantage of the beautiful weather, but they didn't have much luck.  John turned his pleas to Prudence to snap out of it into a platonic ode to her, reminding her of how beautiful she was, how life was beautiful too, and how she should really give reality a try.  When she returned to America, she didn't do too badly; she received numerous degrees from the University of California at Berkeley in Asian studies, including a Ph. D.  
Prudence Farrow (above, in a more recent picture) was flattered when she first heard the song and thought it was beautiful in its own right.  And it is.  The guitar riff that carries "Dear Prudence" shows the influence of Donovan's jaunty, angular fingerings on John's composing style, and together with George's Eastern-flavored guitar intricacies, they weave a brilliant musical tapestry that becomes more complex as the song progresses, especially as it goes into the middle eight.  Paul McCartney's elliptical bass keeps the rhythm steady, and his crisp drums (Ringo was still temporarily out of the group when this was recorded) keep the beat on course but then burst into a heavy barrage of as John makes one last plea for Prudence to "come out to play."  Throughout, John's call to Prudence to appreciate the singing birds, the blue sky, and the daisy chain of clouds remind us how much spiritual fulfillment there is in the joy of nature.
After fifty years, I think it's time to acknowledge Donovan as a major player in sixties British rock rather than the hippy-dippy fool he's made out to be.  I got angry when a pop critic in my local paper chided the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for inducting Donovan (below, with Paul McCartney in India) ahead of a rap duo he thought was more deserving of such an honor.  One rap record influences another, and they sound just the same - exclusionary, tuneless, and unnecessarily mean.  But if not for the influence of Donovan's dexterous chords, there wouldn't be a White Album as we know it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Politically Incorrect

Right now I'm experiencing big-time schadenfreude as fans of bigmouth rapper Kanye West try to get their jaws off the floor.  As part of his promotion for his latest record, West, long famous for sticking it to the honky by attacking George Walker Bush as a racist on live TV, or declaring rap to be the new rock and roll and sitting back as his fans defended attacks on his musical ability from David Crosby and Micheal McDonald by counterattacking them, just praised the honkiest honky of them all.  He actually praised Donald Trump.
For only the second time in my life, I'm applauding West for his actions, this time for defying political correctness and ethnic tribalism.  (The first time I applauded him was when he was on that live-TV telethon for Katrina victims and declared, "George Bush doesn't care about black people.")  He's a black man who digs Trump, and his fans and his politically liberal defenders in the pop press are aghast that he could endorse a man famous for his racially charged rhetoric. Like, how could he do such a thing?  Well, fellow liberals, we're supposed to be for freedom of expression and we're supposed to be resisting assaults on a rights to free speech - and now it doesn't feel so good when someone you admire disappoints you and disgusts you by voicing an pinion you don't agree with - especially after you tried to shut up and shut down white guys who think "rap music" is an oxymoron when they had a problem handling Kanye West.
And just remember, I don't like Trump either.  I don't like Kanye, for that matter.  And I still think rap is not music - I happen to be listening to Gordon Lightfoot as I type this - but Mr. West has the freedom to say what he wants as well as the freedom to be a jerk.
Ditto Joy Reid. The MSNBC host, known for shaming and ridiculing anyone who disagrees with her identity-politics-driven world view with a smug stupidity that defines people of her ilk, had been caught having made homophobic insinuations against Democratic U.S. Representative and former Republican Florida governor Charlie Crist (who may or may not be gay) a few months ago, and she apologized. Now some homophobic writings from her blog, written back sometime around 2006, have surfaced and embarrassed her. Reid snapped that the blog posts weren't hers, saying that someone must have hacked into her blog and tampered with it by writing those awful things about gays to make her look bad.  Although she never took responsibility for writing them, many so-called liberals accepted her "apology." MSNBC has stood by her, as have folks like Dan Savage, who would rather play guessing games about Charlie Crist's sexual orientation than address Reid's lies. "I, a known homosexual, would like to offer Reid an olive branch, because the thing is, she's right. Despite his two heterosexual marriages, Charlie Crist could definitely be gay," Savage wrote. "It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to see Crist at a Key West drag brunch."  Savage went on to say that people evolve, and he added that whether Joy Reid was a homophobe once before, it doesn't matter now, since she's not a homophobe today.
Uh, Dan, I don't care if Crist is gay.  I don't care if Joy Reid has evolved (her cavalier dismissal of anyone who has an opinion contrary to her own clearly demonstrates that she hasn't evolved enough).  But that is not the issue! She lied about never having been a homophobe and not having written those blog posts!  There is no evidence that her blog was ever hacked!  She's as much a practitioner of fake news as anyone on Fox News, but we can't say that about her because she's so good at making conservatives feel uncomfortable and because she's on our team? 
Ha ha, I'm not on anyone's team.  I'm too hip for the Republicans and too square for the Democrats.  After all, I like Gordon Lightfoot.
I used to like Joy Reid, but her superiority complex and her holier-than-thou attitude wore thin with me.  I even put her on my beautiful-women picture blog. After this incident, someone went into my blog and replaced Joy Reid's picture with pictures of a model who happens to have the same last name.
That someone was me.   See, I take responsibility for what I write. I express regret for something I put out and have second thoughts about it later.  Also, I don't mind or care if something I write on this blog will tick off someone I'm supposed to agree with on everything.  I know that attitude won't make me many friends, but as a Martin O'Malley supporter, I already know what it's like to be an outcast. :-p

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Go Further?

The Ford Motor Company has gone batsh--.
Ford just announced that it will no longer make and sell passenger cars in the United States and Canada, except for the Mustang.  Even though the company made a profit in the first quarter of 2018, the profits have mostly come from SUVs and crossovers.  Ford hatchbacks and sedans have lost so much market share in their respective segments that the company has decided to kill off all of them rather than discontinue some of them and replace others.  Ford doesn't want to keep any of these cars as loss leaders while the SUVs and crossovers make money because the profit margins wouldn't be as big.
Ford didn't so much kill these cars as let them wither on the vine.  Once these models went on sale, Ford didn't bother to freshen or improve them.  The Fusion is a competent car but is regarded as somewhat bland, and despite the popularity of the Focus in Europe, it's not as good or as competitive against Japanese makes and the Chevrolet Cruze. The Fiesta (shown above)?  If there's anyone left who buys subcompacts in These States or the Great White North, they're more likely to go to their Honda dealer for a Fit.  My mother's Fit, which I occasionally drive, is dull, but it's extremely versatile and incredibly efficient.  The Fiesta simply couldn't give the same value for money, even though I've been told that the Fiesta ST is a blast to drive.      
If traditional cars had a bigger share of the North American market, Ford might have considered re-investing in its car line, but with cars accounting for less than a third of the vehicles sold in the New World, Ford saw no incentive.  I still say that this is an insane move and one that will come back to bite the company in its proverbial rear end.  Not everyone wants an SUV, a crossover, or a pickup truck.  The only reason SUVs are so popular in the first place is because advertising agencies have suckered impressionable consumers into thinking that they're chic, powerful, and formidable vehicles, fortresses on wheels. They're really pretentious station wagons, supported by crude platforms and notoriously uneconomical when it comes to fuel consumption.  And to respond to the inevitable counterpoint that SUVs are more fuel-efficient these days and come in a variety of sizes - some of them based on traditional car platforms - to cater to customers who may not like a traditional SUV on a light-truck chassis, I would point out that all SUVs and crossovers, no matter their engines and dimensions, have higher ground clearances that offer degraded handling and make them difficult to drive, and many of them are so bulky they're subject to heavy cross winds that are hard to drive through.
And, they're ugly.
I don't want only big ugly wagons to choose from when I have to buy a new car.
And face it, the bigger the SUV, the better in the eyes of SUV customers.  They love the sense of superiority they get from driving at a high perch in such monstrous vehicles, made possible by a loophole in the corporate average fuel economy requirements that exempted light-truck platforms from higher standards, a loophole Detroit exploited after it tried to compete against the Japanese in the traditional-car market segments in the 1980s and demonstrated its inability to do so.  All we need is one big oil crisis - which could happen as soon as John Bolton makes Iran glow in the dark - to kill the SUV market (and Ford) overnight.
Incidentally, that wouldn't be the first time that Ford got screwed by spiking oil prices.  When the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 caused the first big oil crisis, Henry Ford II, who was then chairman of his family's company, refused to follow GM's lead and make smaller cars, ignoring the advice of his company president, a guy named Lee Iaccoca, who would later become CEO of Chrysler and save the company by banking on - you guessed it - smaller cars.  (Iaccoca would later make mistakes that again put the company on the edge of going the way of Studebaker, but that's another story.)  Ford eventually had to catch up with GM and was still trying to do so when the Shah of Iran was overthrown and another oil crisis resulted.       
Fortunately, GM isn't so foolish this time, either.  Mary Barra, GM's current CEO, says her company still recognizes the value of the traditional-car market segment, and she has made it clear that sedans and hatchbacks will still be available even as GM continues to compete aggressively in the SUV/crossover market.  Volkswagen, meanwhile, has recommitted itself to the North American car market with its new Jetta even as it pushes its new Tiguan and Atlas SUVs.  And Toyota has brought a hatchback back to its long-running Corolla lineup in the States.  But I can't help but wonder if GM, Volkswagen and Toyota are merely offering a temporary reprieve for us fans of traditional cars.  Because a fear I voiced awhile ago on this blog seems to be coming true - either we drive around in big ugly wagons or we take the bus.
When America needs a bad idea like that, Ford will put it on wheels.

Monday, April 30, 2018

I'm Backin' the U.S. S.J.

Father Patrick Conroy, Society of Jesus (S.J.) - not to be confused with Pat Conroy, the recently deceased novelist - lost his job as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives (he was either fired or forced to resign) because House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Jesuit Catholic priest wasn't meeting the spiritual needs of many House members.
Like the need to have supply-side economics sanctified as a force of good.
At the time of the House vote on the GOP tax reform bill that is now unfortunately law, Father Conroy apparently said a prayer for the poor who would inevitably be hurt by the law.  Speaker Ryan, himself a Catholic, said that the prayer had nothing to do with Father Conroy's departure, though Father Conroy has insinuated otherwise, and that many Protestant House Republicans felt he wasn't good at meeting the pastoral needs of their respective denominations.   While House Democrats - Catholic and otherwise - aren't buying this, many Catholic House Republicans aren't buying it either.  One such Republican, Peter King of New York, told The Hill that he regularly consulted with Father Conroy and had never heard complaints about him from anyone.
As if Catholics didn't get enough flak in Washington - remember those DNC e-mails? - Protestant House Republicans expressed a desire for a chaplain who had family of his or her own, eliminating Catholic clergy from consideration from the job for obvious reasons.  (Conroy is only the second Catholic priest to hold the position of House chaplain.)  And if that weren't enough, some House members criticized Conroy for not doing enough to console the after the 2017 shooting at a GOP baseball team practice session.  This is a charge even Texas Republican House member Joe Barton finds preposterous, saying his own interactions with Father Conroy after the shooting were positive.. 
I'm standing with Father Conroy.  Part of the role of a chplain is to be an honest broker, and he or she shouldn't be afraid to stand on principle. Also, military and government chaplains are expected to handle all faiths and not be partial to one or the other.  Jesuits happen to be skilled in ecumenicalism.
If non-Catholic Republicans are uncomfortable with a Jesuit priest pastoring to them, maybe they ought to think twice before they go back to tearing down that wall between church and state.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Na, Na, Na, Gonna Have Some Jail Time?

Guilty.
Bill Cosby, now convicted of sexual assault in one out of 59 cases, will soon face sentencing.  People are talking about jail time.  Really? Jail time for a man who turns 81 in July?
It's too bad he's gone blind, because a better punishment would have been to make him sit through all of the movies he made after he stopped working with Sidney Poitier.  And make him watch The Devil and Max Devlin twice.  
In which case, how about have all 59 women slap him once?  Or let Andrea Constand slap him 59 times?  Better yet, have him listen to the audio-book version of Michael Eric Dyson's "Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?)" . . . 59 times.
Right.  Let's move on.  Hey, hey, hey!  

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Mr. Macron Goes To Washington

So this Frenchman walks into a joint session of a Republican-majority Congress and starts talking . . .
That's the joke.
But there's nothing funny about the concerns French President Emmanuel Macron voiced in his speech before Congress this past Wednesday.  After some laudatory remarks about the special relationship between France and the United States and the long alliance between the two countries - longer than our alliance with the British, which didn't even take root until the 1870s - Macron stressed the importance of an interdependent relationship between the U.S. and its European allies, urging the United States to avoid a trade war, rejoin the Paris climate agreement, make the transition to a carbon-neutral economy, understand the value of rules and regulations in economics (Macron is a trained economist), and, most important at this particular moment, stay in the Iran deal.  He also vowed that Iran would never get a nuclear weapon.  
Macron's speech got some applause from Republicans, especially his remarks on trade.  But when he touched on all of the other major points, he might as well have been reading a chapter from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," for all of the good that it did to persuade the GOP majority.  Indeed, when he stressed the importance of regulating economies and climate science, neither House Speaker Paul Ryan nor Vice President Mike Pence (who was there as the presiding office of the Senate), sitting behind the French leader,  bothered to acknowledge those comments.
Macron has charmed and flattered Donald Trump to try to reason with him on this state visit, in which the two men have forged an unlikely and peculiar friendship, though their only commonalities are never having held elective office before and marrying women not of their own respective generations.  It got Macron a state dinner.  But he still can't get Trump to admit that the Paris Agreement is a good idea (he didn't try on this trip), trade remains a point of relative disagreement, and it looks more and more like the Iran deal - the last remaining pillar of Barack Obama's "legacy" - is on borrowed time. Oh yeah, those of you still angry with Debbie Wasserman Schultz for promoting Hillary Clinton and thus giving us Donald  Trump and thus threatening the Iran deal, bear in mind that Wasserman Schultz, along with several other Democrats, were skeptical about the deal.  
It is just at sort of cluelessness and duplicity among the Democratic establishment that let Trump get elected President and why Democratic leaders so richly deserve not being invited to the Macron state dinner.
And if Macron wants to change Trump's mind about the Iran deal . . . maybe he can give him a ten-page pamphlet that explains the benefits of the deal in monosyllabic words . . . maybe one that features Babar!                
Yeah, I tick off everyone . . . 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - April 27, 2018

"The Mighty Quinn" (Quinn the Eskimo)" by Manfred Mann  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.) 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Back In the U.S.S.R."

So off we go with the first song on the Beatles' White Album . . . "Back In the U.S.S.R."
For those of you Beatles fans too young to remember . . . the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a country comprised of numerous eastern European and northern and central Asian ethnic homelands.  The fifteen largest of them, including Russia, were separate states in a federation ruled by a central government in Moscow under the auspices of communism, an economic order in which everything is owned by the state.  It was created from the remains of the old Russian Empire.  The Soviet Union broke up in December 1991; three of the republics, the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, had already seceded, and calls for independence within the remaining twelve republics led the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to dissolve the union, resulting in fifteen countries where there had once been one.  Russia, the largest Soviet republic, then assumed the U.S.S.R.'s place on the United Nations Security Council.  "Back In the U.S.S.R." is probably the only Beatles song not from the group's psychedelic period to become dated and obsolete.   
Paul McCartney got the idea from the Beatles' visit to India to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  Mike Love of the Beach Boys was another student at the Maharishi's retreat, and he and the Beatles spent their free time playing music and jamming together. McCartney and Love had a common affinity for Chuck Berry (above), whose 1959 single "Back In the U.S.A." had inspired the Beach Boys' "California Girls," about the geographic diversity of young American women, and the melody of the "Beach Boys' "Surfin' U.S.A." borrowed the melody of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen."  Over breakfast at the Maharishi's retreat, Mike Love thought it would be fun to do a Soviet version of "Back In the U.S.A."
"Back In the U.S.A." celebrated uniquely American cultural icons such as hamburgers, skyscrapers, and superhighways, but Berry was simultaneously showing patriotism for his homeland and expressing frustration over all the freedoms and possessions that a black man like himself could not enjoy in America.  (As rock critics Greil Marcus and Tim Riley suggested, when Berry sang about how glad he was to be living in the U.S.A., he was being racially ironic.)  "Back In the U.S.S.R." turned Berry's song around completely, celebrating a country that made no pretense of guaranteeing freedom to anyone and was personified by cultural artifacts that no one would ever desire, such as bugged telephones and collective farms - and Russian balalaikas in place of American guitars.
The Beach Boys themselves, at Love's suggestion, got satirized when Paul recast "California Girls" to a Soviet setting in the bridge of "Back In the U.S.S.R.", celebrating the girls of Moscow and the Ukrainian Republic.  He even threw in a reference to Ray Charles with a reference to "Georgia On My Mind," the song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell that Charles recorded the definitive version of in 1960, taking note of the fact the Georgia was both the name of a Soviet republic and an American state.  George Harrison (below, with Love), a Hoagy Carmichael fan, must have loved that.
The song convinced the American conservative movement what they'd suspected all along - that the Beatles espoused communism and anti-Americanism.  (Right-wing paranoia hit an all-time peak in 1968, with the Vietnam War going badly against the Communist insurgency and the Soviets invading Czechoslovakia.)  The memoir writer John Paul Godges recalled his Polish immigrant father breaking his copy of the White Album because he couldn't tolerate a song that sounded pro-Soviet, as the Soviet Union dominated Poland at the time.  Ironically, the Beatles had been banned in the Soviet Union because the Kremlin thought they promoted Western capitalist decadence that took attention away from the struggle against those controlling the means of production. 
The song itself was recorded by the Beatles in the style of Chuck Berry with a Fats Domino-style piano riff and Beach Boys-style backing harmonies.  John Lennon played six-string bass. George later revealed that the song was also a cheeky take on British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's "I'm Backing Britain" economic campaign. 
"I wrote that as a kind of Beach Boys parody," Paul said in 1984.  "And 'Back In the U.S.A.' was a Chuck Berry song, so it kinda took off from there. I just liked the idea of Georgia girls and talking about places like the Ukraine as if they were California, you know? It was also hands across the water, which I'm still conscious of. 'Cause they like us out there, even though the bosses in the Kremlin may not. The kids from there do. And that to me is very important for the future of the race."
Ray Stevens later recorded his own Beach Boys parody, "Surfin' U.S.S.R.", about a Soviet naval squadron that parties with Americans when their submarine runs aground in California.  A master satirist in his own right, Stevens was off his game this time; by 1988, when "Surfin' U.S.S.R." was released, the joke was old and the Beach Boys (then enjoying a hit single with "Kokomo") were parodying themselves unintentionally.    
The legacy of "Back In the U.S.S.R." came full circle when the Beach Boys performed on the National Mall in Washington for the 1984 Independence Day celebration.  Drummer Dennis Wilson had died in an accident the previous December, so Ringo Starr sat in with them.  Inevitably, the Beach Boys and Ringo performed "Back In the U.S.S.R." in the concert.  Ironically, Ringo hadn't actually played on the Beatles' recording of "Back In the U.S.S.R."; he had walked out on the group, frustrated by Paul's perfectionism and his own lack of faith as a drummer.  He eventually returned to the group, but the Beatles went ahead and recorded this song without him.  The drumming on "Back In the U.S.S.R." was Paul's.  
Once you hear the airplane sound effect that begins (and also ends) the original Beatles recording, you know that the White Album is going to take you for the ride of your life. :-)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Locked and Loaded

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says his country will no longer test nuclear weapons.

Donald Trump sees this as positive step in advance of his planned summit with Kim later this spring.
Uh, Donald?  The reason Kim isn't testing nuclear weapons anymore is because he doesn't need to test them anymore.  The experimental phase is is over - North Korea is now a nuclear power!  Kim wanted those weapons because he believes that peace can only be achieved from a position of strength.
And where did he get that idea from?  He got it from us!
Specifically, this guy.
Or maybe you don't remember the American arms buildup of the early 1980s.
Right, now that Internet neutrality has officially bitten the dust, I don't expect this post to get very far . . .

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Matter Of Trust

I promised a commentary on Martin O'Malley's speech at a New Hampshire event from earlier this month.  Here it is.
At the Politics and Eggs event at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, O'Malley (above, from the event) boiled down America's problem to one thing - trust.  No one trusts the politicians to tell them the truth or even care about their concerns, no one trusts the media to get the news straight, and on one trusts each other.  He said it was important that people rebuild that trust and start listening to each other, and he added - once again, for those who didn't listen to him the 534,961,654 times he said it before - the Democrats have to focus on what people outside Washington are saying rather than merely attacking the opposition.
Think anyone will listen now?  Judge for yourself: O'Malley made this speech this April 3, less than three weeks before Tom Perez filed that idiotic lawsuit against various Trump actors.
For those of you who did not come to this blog by way of my Facebook and Twitter pages, where I posted direct links to the speech (which included a Q&A session), the link to it is here.  One caveat - it plays like any live speech on C-SPAN would.  No flash, no glitter, just some smart politics.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The White Album 50 Project

November 22, 2018, a Thursday (and also Thanksgiving in the United States), marks the fiftieth anniversary of the the release of the Beatles' eponymously titled double album, colloquially known as the White Album for its plain, white cover. 
I already wrote a review of the White Album back in May 2015 (available here), but I am going to revisit this monumental record like I revisited Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for its fiftieth anniversary last year.  I'm going to be a little (a lot, really) more adventurous with the White Album, though.  I took closer looks at only a few songs from Sgt. Pepper in 2017, but over the next thirty Thursdays before Thanksgiving - starting this Thursday, April 26 - I am going to look at every track on the White Album, one track a week.  In between I hope to recall a couple of anecdotes about the making of the White Album and how it broke new ground . . . and almost broke the Beatles.  (They came close to breaking up a year and a half sooner than they did because of this record.)
Why am I doing all this?  Because first of all, as Paul McCartney once said, it's the bloody White Album, so shut up. :-) Second of all, it's going to be great fun revisiting every song (and "Revolution 9").  And thirdly, I'm sick and tired of commenting on American politics, and I would prefer to talk a whole lot less on the subject; this project gives me an excuse to do just that.
Besides, with Net neutrality officially being canceled right about now, I need to write about something that won't get me blocked by Internet service providers.  I could theoretically get blocked for knocking Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and maybe even blocked for promoting Martin O'Malley (though Internet service providers are more likely to laugh at me than block me for that), but come on, who's going to block celebratory blog entries about the Beatles?
And I also have a soft spot for the White Album, as it's the first double album I ever bought that wasn't a movie soundtrack or a greatest-hits compilation.
While all this is going on, expect me to also comment later this year on the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine animated movie and on the fiftieth anniversary of the debut album from Family, the title of which - Music In a Doll's House - prevented the Beatles from naming the White Album after Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House when Family's album came out in July 1968.  I'll be back on Thursday with my first White Album commentary, on the opening song, and there are no prizes for guessing the title. :-)    
Below are the classic portraits of the Beatles, photographed by John Kelly, that came with the original vinyl release. :-) 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

You Don't Fit the Suit

Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez (below) said he was going to do something about Trump when he took over his party's chairmanship, and today he filed a suit against the Trump campaign, the Russian government, Wikileaks, and Paul Manafort for hacking the DNC's e-mail server and releasing those unflattering e-mails about Hillary Clinton that Perez says tipped the scales for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Wait a minute - I thought he said he was going to do something about Trump.
So let me see if I have this straight.  The Democrats are suing numerous entities on charges of a conspiracy that Robert Mueller has not yet proven existed, with little thought toward coming up with a message that will resonate with voters in this year's midterm elections, and they're going to spend exorbitant amounts of money - even as the national committee struggles to keep the party from going bankrupt - on this suit instead of on support for Democratic candidates and for get-out-the-vote operations in November . . . and they're doing it to send a message to the Russians and warn them not to tamper with the midterms (a problem state election boards should be doing something about) and also to fire up a Democratic base to vote for candidates in the general election who more often than not will be candidates favored by the Clintons while the party tries to stop progressives in state and local primaries - even, I believe, in states and districts where progressives can actually win - and continues purging progressives from positions of power.  
Does this all make sense to you?  Because it sure doesn't make sense to me.
Even more nonsensical is how the DNC has a lot of damn gall to sue anyone for rigging the system when the DNC itself was so good at rigging the 2016 primaries and caucuses to prevent Martin O'Malley from gaining any traction and to prevent Bernie Sanders from getting anything with the traction he actually gained.  One progressive by the name of Amir Amini summed up this hypocrisy on Twitter quite nicely: "So the DNC is suing a foreign country for being unfair to the Hillary Clinton campaign in an election in which the DNC was caught undermining democracy itself, violating its own rules and colluding with the [Clinton] campaign and the [mainstream media] to stop Bernie."
And Martin.
Next time the DNC wants to rig a primary process and collude with the press and a corporate presidential campaign to put the least winnable presidential candidate forward in the general election, maybe they should consider getting a better firewall for their server.   
Also, DNC factotums should think twice before firing off any e-mails that may make someone like Hillary "look bad."
But then, Hillary didn't need any help with that.
Many progressives seem to agree that this suit is a way for the Democratic establishment, which backed Hillary Clinton to the hilt, to get back at those who stood between Hillary and the White House while continuing to refuse to acknowledge that it was a mistake to nominate her for President in the first place.  In other words, they're trying to . . . exact revenge?  Oh no, you don't, DNC!  After you screwed my candidate, you don't get to avenge being screwed yourself!  You don't have to leggo my Eggo, but keep your filthy hands off my Pop-Tarts! ;-)    

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Money For Nothing

It's that time of year again, when I comment on the latest class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.  The class was officially inducted in ceremony last week (April 14).   This may the best class in a longtime, for one simple reason - no rappers are included!
And yes, I saw that Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize in arts and letters for his artless word salad, a distinction no rock and roller has ever achieved.  I can hear it now from rap fans - "White racists are upset that Kendrick got a prize no white guy with a guitar ever got - HA!"  Go jump in the lake, ya crummy clowns.
So what of this year's inductees?  Well, they're a mixed grill, but they're still more or less deserving of the honor of being enshrined in the great hall in Cleveland.  So let's take each act one by one:
Bon Jovi.  Bon Jovi were one of the most annoying bands in the 1980s.  Their songs were puffed up by lightweight pop-metal arrangements and their lyrics were weighed down by obvious clichés. So why do they belong here?  Their music got better over time. "Who Says You Can't Go Home," from 2005, has a good, fist-pumping vibe, and even some of their older songs sound better with age; the more you listen to "Livin' On a Prayer," the more meaning and heart you derive from it.  Also, Jon Bon Jovi is a nice guy who's donated to worthy charities.  He's not the arrogant jerk we remember from the Reagan years, and I don't think anyone misses that guy.  Also, he has a great sense of humor, Asked once what he thought of having inspired so many pop-metal bands of the late eighties and early nineties, he replied, "I'm sorry."  Not exactly contrition of the sackcloth-and-ashes variety, but I'll take it.  
the Cars.  This one's a slam dunk.  The Cars re-invented power pop with a sleek New Wave style and appealed to fans who'd thought they didn't like power pop or New Wave.  The brilliance of "Good Times Roll" and "Let's Go" cannot be denied, and the achingly beautiful "Drive" was a strong enough song for former Family frontman Roger Chapman to cover. Also, anyone who's seen the Cars' promotional videos can appreciate their ability to poke fun at listeners and themselves - and their video for their single "Tonight She Comes" made much better use of model Tara Shannon (full disclosure - she's a Facebook friend of mine) than Huey Lewis and the News's videos ever could. :-D
Dire Straits.  Oh, come on, how could you not induct this band?  Mark Knopfler is one of the most articulate songwriters in rock and roll,, a subtle guitarist who remained true to rock's traditions while the punks were questioning the old way of doing things.  That talent produced great radio hits like "Sultans of Swing," as well as  clever observations like "Lady Writer," the great ballad "Romeo and Juliet," and the wildly misinterpreted satire "Money For Nothing," a song from their 1985 album Brothers In Arms disguised as a lament of the influence of MTV on rock but actually a lighthearted jab at blue-collar music fans who envy rock musicians.  And Brothers In Arms, with its heartfelt tribute to fifties rock, "Walk Of Life," and its gentle ballad "Why Worry" (a song Art Garfunkel worked into his repertoire), is one of the most humanistic LPs of the 1980s.   
the Moody Blues.  A pompous and pretentious album like 1967's Days of Future Passed should have disqualified these guys for induction, as it inspired several other "concept albums" in which, as Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell wrote in "The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time," "a performer in love with his own ideas erects a wobbly album around a concept that could be summed up in a simple three-minute song."   Days of Future Passed revolved around the theme of a day from dawn to darkness; Family proved Guterman and O'Donnell right just a year after with "Mellowing Grey," the second track on their debut album Music In a Doll's House (the fiftieth anniversary of the release of which is this July).  That song summed up a dawn-to-dusk passage of time in less than three minutes, and with much more tasteful orchestration.  And oh yes, Family aren't being inducted this year either.  So why should the Moody Blues get inducted?  Because they also came up with some good records, like their cover of Bessie Banks' "Go Now" (sung by original member Denny Laine, who later joined Paul McCartney's Wings) as well as songs like "Ride My See-Saw" from their 1968 LP In Search of the Lost Chord and "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)" from their 1972 Seventh Sojourn album.  I'm sorry . . . I have to forgive them for Days of Future Passed when I hear "The Voice" from 1981's Long Distance Voyager - that is a great song that qualifies them for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction alone.
Nina Simone. Her social consciousness as a civil rights activist and her sultry delivery of songs such as "I Put a Spell on You" make her induction a no-brainer.  I have to wonder, though, what Simone, who died in 2003 (it was fifteen years ago today, in fact), would have thought of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the silly white boys mentioned above.  If anything, it would have been great, had she lived, to see her jam with the Moody Blues and hear her croon "Nights In White Satin" with Justin Hayward.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  Sister Rosetta got inducted for being an early influence. And why not?  She was one of the few female blues guitarists in the pre-rock era, and she used distortion and heavy riffs in her music, inspiring Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix.  That enough is reasons to induct Sister Rosetta, the "Godmother of Rock and Roll."
A class comprised entirely of white male performers and black female performers, with the white guys representing pop-metal, power pop, straight rock, and prog and the black gals representing soul, blues and jazz, makes for an interesting spin on the idea of diversity, and this is as interesting as it's going to get.  Because you can bet your sweet candy bar that the inductees for 2019 will lean more toward the pop side of rock and also include at least one rap act for honkies like myself to blow a gasket over.  And a lot of more deserving acts will be snubbed, and I've already mentioned Family.  And I really don't see a reason to mention other snubs again (*cough cough*, Jethro Tull, *cough cough*) when there are so many rappers that the Hall is bending over backwards to honor.  Which means that, when he becomes eligible, Kendrick Lamar will be inducted.
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. DAMN!