Thursday, May 25, 2017

'Sgt. Pepper' Fun Facts

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Doctors Are In

I thought I'd let others do the talking on my blog this time.
After NBC News and the Daily Kos - two apologist media outlets for the Democratic establishment, the latter being especially adept at mainstream-liberal smugness - reported on a trip Green Party leader Jill Stein made to Russia in December 2015 in an effort to paint her as a stooge of Vladimir Putin and a willing participant to undermine Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump's benefit, Dr. Stein waited for awghile to muster up a defense.  She finally offered one last week.  Here are are comments in their entirety:  
NBC recently reported that I had been at an event in Russia along with Vladimir Putin in 2015. Notice that whenever you see this story in the corporate media, it consists of nothing more than a photo, because if they reported any of the facts behind the photo it would undermine the story they are trying to invent. In reality, the NBC report didn’t say anything that wasn’t in my campaign’s press release about the Moscow event in December 2015. My trip to Russia, like my visit to the COP21 climate conference in Paris as part of the same trip, was about promoting diplomacy, peace, and international cooperation on pressing global issues. I criticized the militaristic policies of both the Russian and US governments, and proposed an alternative vision: working together on a “Peace Offensive” to de-escalate conflict in the Middle East and around the world. I was one of a number of American advocates for a more peaceful and just foreign policy in Moscow, including Thom Hartmann, Rocky Anderson, Ray McGovern, Max Blumenthal, and Jesse Ventura. The Moscow conference featured public figures, politicians and academics from across Europe and North America, as well as journalists and major media leadership from India, China, Russia, Europe and the US. It was an honor to be able to address the international community, and show them we Greens are fighting for a foreign policy based on international law. human rights and diplomacy, not on economic and military domination.
It is not only justifiable to attempt to communicate with other nations, it’s essential to do so if we are to have any hope of solving the gravest threats to human survival: endless war, climate meltdown and the threat of nuclear conflict. The Greens are the only political party with a plan to address all these issues. No wonder we are under attack by both Democrats and Republicans, and their surrogates in the corporate media, even outside the election cycle.
NBC and other corporate media outlets have tried to create the impression that I refuse to answer questions about my Russia trip. Actually, I have answered these questions so many times I’ve lost count, but when the corporate media realize that the answers don’t support their pre-conceived smear narrative, they refuse to print the facts. No, I did not speak with Vladimir Putin. Nor did I receive any payment from Russia. Why has one reporter after another, after hearing these facts, decided not to publish them? Why do they choose instead to encourage sensational conspiracy thinking based on a photo?
This transparent campaign of neo-McCarthyism perfectly demonstrates why Americans’ trust in mass media has plummeted to an all-time low.
This is just the latest in a long line of smear campaigns from the corporate media. For a look at the many desperate attempts to discredit our grassroots movement, check out our “Haters Gonna Hate” page debunking the smears.
It’s time to withdraw our trust and support from these masters of misinformation, and put our resources towards building independent, non-corporate people’s media to provide the truthful information we need to create the future we deserve.
Meanwhile, the fact that Democratic apologists are attacking us outside of an electoral campaign is a great sign. We have become a force to contend with and they are rightly worried. The American people are clamoring for a new way forward and together, we're creating a future whose time has come, that puts people, planet and peace over profit.
And then there was Dr. Cornel West, who supported Dr,. Stein in the 2016 presidential election and had supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016  Democratic primaries.  He went on Bill Maher's HBO talk show a couple of weeks after Maher criticized him and others for supporting Dr. Stein at Hillary's expense.   Although Dr. Stein never a came up in the tête-à-tête that resulted over the election results, it is worth watching and Dr. West's comebacks should be taken quite seriously.  Here is the video of that exchange.
 

Peace, bro.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Cast of 'Sgt. Pepper'

I'm not talking about the movie.
The cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the most innovative sleeve of its day and is still the most influential cover of all time.  Its use of color and detail was striking enough, but its artistry - the use of famous faces joining the Beatles - er, Sgt. Pepper's band - in the photo - brought originality and imagination to pop record album covers, which before then mostly resembled cereal boxes.  You've seen album covers of the early sixties, with their loud copy full of exclamation points and boastful superlatives, the artistes posing stodgily with frozen smiles.  After Sgt. Pepper, the rules had changed for both the contents of rock albums and the sleeves they were encased in.
So how did the Sgt. Pepper album cover come about?  Well, in March 1967, with the LP nearing completion, the Beatles approached fine artist Peter Blake at the suggestion of Blake's art dealer, Robert Fraser, with their idea. Since they were pretending to be another group entirely, giving a concert, they envisioned a cover showing Sgt. Pepper's band having just completed their show in a park.  Blake eventually came up with the idea of a collage of people from the concert's audience - made with cutouts and with wax figures from Madame Tussaud's wax museum in London - and asked the Beatles who'd they like to have in it.  John Lennon and Paul McCartney came up with a whole list of entertainment celebrities and historical figures, while George Harrison came up with a list of Indian gurus.  Ringo Starr didn't bother submitting any names.  Blake and Fraser also added names, and Michael Cooper was commissioned to take the photos.
It took two weeks for Blake to construct the set, and various props were added.  A stone bust of a male figure was added, along with several smaller stone figures and, at John Lennon's suggestion, a portable television set - John correctly predicted that TV would become more influential than it already was.  The boy who delivered the flowers asked to contribute, and he added the guitar made out of yellow hyacinths.  By March 30, 1967, the day of the photo session, everything was ready.  The Beatles posed in their fluorescent satin suits and spent three hours posing for not only the front cover but for the back cover and gatefold.  Below is an outtake from the Sgt. Pepper photo session.
There were many faces in the crowd, some famous, others less so, but the diversity of personalities was astonishing - authors and movie stars congregated with philosophers and sculptors.  And gurus.  Among the figures in the background are Lenny Bruce, Marlene Dietrich, Laurel and Hardy, Bob Dylan, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe (though not together, and not with Jack Lemmon), nineteenth-century British prime minster Sir Robert Peel, Karl Marx (that was sure to offend the John Birch Society in America), Johnny Weismuller, Oscar Wilde, Fred Astaire (who was pleased by the honor), Edgar Allan Poe, and former Beatle Stu Sutcliffe, a painter and the group's original bass player, who tragically died young.  There were even even a couple of sports figures - soccer player Albert Stubbins, and also former heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston, who, ironically, refused to pose for photos with the Beatles in real life when the Fabs visited Miami in 1964 at the time Liston was preparing to fight Cassius Clay, soon to change his name to Muhammad Ali.  Ali did pose with the Beatles then, of course.
Even more ironically, Liston's wax figure is positioned next to wax figures of the moptop-era Beatles, included by Robert Fraser because he thought it would make sense that the Beatles would want to check out the show of Sgt. Pepper's band.  
The Beatles were asked by their record company to seek permission from the people still who were still alive to have them featured on the Sgt. Pepper album cover, which their manager Brian Epstein painstakingly handled.  Most of them said yes, but Mae West, depicted third from left at the top, initially refused to be included.  "What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?" she said.  But the Beatles asked her to reconsider in a personal letter, and West, touched by their effort, changed her mind.
Some people, however, were left off the final cover photo.  Out of either cynicism or a desire to make some sort of statement with opposing avatars of pure goodness and pure evil, John Lennon had wanted to include Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler, but good taste prevailed and the idea was rejected.  But at least seven other personalities who were featured in the collage were either barely seen or blocked out of view altogether in the cover photo that was chosen.
Here is the same outtake depicted above, with colored circles around the pictures of people who were not visible on the Sgt. Pepper cover.
Leo Gorcey of the Bowery Boys, circled in black, is shown with fellow Bowery Boy Huntz Hall to the right.  But while Hall was kept in, Gorcey had to be painted out.  He requested a fee for being included, but EMI refused to pay a fee to anyone.  And while Mohandas Gandhi, the avatar of non-violent protest, was a no-brainer for inclusion on the cover of the record that would become the soundtrack for the Summer of Love, EMI chairman Sir Joseph Lockwood feared that record buyers in India would be offended by the idea of Gandhi being trivialized by having him standing around with Sonny Liston or actress Diana Dors (the British Marilyn).  So Gandhi, circled above in red, was painted out.
Two more got in by a hair . . . literally.  Albert Einstein was also chosen, and the outtake photo clearly shows his head, circled in white, but in the photo chosen for the cover, he's mostly obscured by John Lennon, and so all you see is his famous hair.   Note the green arrow in the picture below. 
I've seen a couple of guides to who's who on the Sgt. Pepper album cover incorrectly identify the gent between Albert Stubbins and Lewis Carroll as Einstein; in fact, it is Indian guru Lahiri Mahasaya.
Bette Davis was also chosen, and a cutout of her as Queen Elizabeth I was added to the collage (as indicated by the blue circle in the outtake photo above), but except for a sliver of her hair (or her crown - hard to tell), she was obscured by George Harrison in the chosen picture, as indicated by the black arrow in the picture below.        
But that was still better than not getting in at all, a fate that befell the image of American actor Timothy Carey.  He's the guy circled in green in the outtake photo above.  Carey was known for playing violent characters in movies, and the cutout of him for the Sgt. Pepper collage was from his role as Nikki Arane in  Stanley Kubrick's 1956 movie The Killing (as shown below).  But George's hat completely obscured him in the chosen cover photo. 
Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni were added, but, as seen below, they ended up behind the wax figures of the Beatles and Sonny Liston, as did a duplicate image of Shirley Temple (who's also shown standing next to Dietrich).  And the doll wearing the Rolling Stones shirt is a Shirley Temple doll.
The Sgt. Pepper album also came with cardboard cutout inserts - a stand-up picture of the Beatles, various badges and chevrons, a clip-on mustache (a parody of Beatle wigs, the group  now offering the chance for the fans to copy their facial hair), and a portrait of Sergeant Pepper himself that was based on the stone bust on the front cover.  Deleted from subsequent LP reprints, the inserts returned when the original Sgt. Pepper CD was issued in 1987 when the CD, like other CDs of the time, was issued in an oversized cardboard longbox to prevent record-store shoplifting.  The cutouts were printed on the longbox, but when longboxes were replaced by security tags, the inserts disappeared once again.
There's no understating the effect that the Sgt. Pepper album cover had on rock album artwork.  More so than the offbeat stretched-image photo on Rubber Soul or Klaus Voormann's black-and-white collage/illustration on Revolver, Sgt. Pepper encouraged other rock artistes to come up with bold, colorful covers in response.  Imagine how the covers of Family's Music In a Doll's House, the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, any Yes album cover or even Rush's Moving Pictures - among many, many more - could have been possible without Sgt. Pepper coming first.  There were also numerous parodies, the earliest example being the interior art work for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It For the Money (originally intended for the front cover but relegated to the inside of the sleeve by Zappa's label, Verve Records, out of fears of recrimination from EMI).  One thing was for sure; after Sgt. Pepper, no one ever again put out an album cover that resembled a cereal box.  
Peter Blake never got rich from creating this cover, because Robert Fraser sigend the copyright away.  "But it has never mattered to me," he said in 1987, "because it was such a wonderful thing to have done."  And rock music would be all the better for it.
Click here for a full list of the personalities on the Sgt. Pepper cover.  No Jack Lemmon, though.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Lay Down Your Candles

I had a feeling that the "resistance" against Donald Trump was going to fail when I went to an anti-Trump vigil in New Jersey on Inauguration Day and everyone started singing Melanie's "Lay Down (Candles In the Rain)" after getting lit white candles to hold up in the air.  
Four months later, it seems to me that the resistance lived its life like a candle in the wind.
For all the talk about resisting Trump, dig this:  His administration has already undone several environmental regulations, set Net neutrality on the path to oblivion, and set Jeff Sessions loose on civil liberties.   Not one of his legislative initiatives has been stopped by Democrats in Congress, and the popular outcry against his health care bill repealing Obamacare was a temporary victory, as he got it passed in the House on the second try.   
And get this.  The number of Americans identifying themselves as Republicans, according to a poll taken early this month (May 2017), has increased two points since early November 2016, from 27 percent to 29 percent, while, in that same time frame, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats decreased three points, from 31 percent to 28 percent.
You suppose that has anything to do with the Democrats dropping the ball since Trump's inauguration?  Yes, I think so.  The Washington Democratic establishment has remained tied too closely to corporate interests, and the Democratic National Committee has given no support to special-election nominees that it's deemed too liberal.  The Demorcats haven't flipped a single Republican seat to their column in the special congressional elections held since Trump won the Presidency.  The most popular politician in the country is Bernie Sanders, who ran for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination and continues to advocate a strongly liberal, pro-worker, pro-middle-class agenda that Democrats have continued to ignore.  
It makes sense that Bernie Sanders isn't actually a Democrat. 
Trump has managed to hold on to and consolidated his power despite his unpopularity because the Democrats haven't offered an agenda that people who are resisting Trump can rally around.  And let me say that while it is true that the Russians tried to meddle into our presidential election and any possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign or Trump itself should be dealt with, the Democrats can't just hang their hats on that and hope people will merely come out to vote against Trump and for the Democrats in 2020.   
Meanwhile, in what can only be seen as a mockery of the movement, Hillary Clinton has joined the resistance, which is like McDonald's joining the effort to promote healthy eating.  Her plan is to raise money for the Democrats and help Democratic candidates for office through her new organization Onward Together - an ironic name for a group started by someone whose political career is at a standstill while she promotes identity politics.  This goes on while members of the old Democratic guard in Washington refuse to give up their leadership roles or admit to the fact that their own complacency led to Trump's rise.  Don't expect Nancy Pelosi to aid the resistance when she won't even support single-payer health insurance. 
The grass-roots resistance hasn't done a good job either.  It remains to be seen if any of these resisters can take over the Democratic Party and move it to the left or found a new party altogether, but right now things don't look good.  They're too busy protesting against Trump in the most trivial manner.  They'd rather lay down with candles and sing insubstantial folk songs.
Fifty-four percent of the American electorate in 2016 voted for someone other than Trump for President, but if the so-called resistance doesn't get its act together and cohere, it won't be able to muster a majority around a single presidential candidate or a single vision that can oust Trump in 2020. Conclusion: In spite of everything going on with the Russia investigation, it's still Donald Trump's world.  The resistance is simply lighting candles in it.   

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Clarification: May 21, 2017

In my post about the imitation soundtrack album for the ill-fated 1978 Sgt. Pepper movie, issued by Springboard Records, I wasn't sure I made it clear that Sgt. Pepper movie producer Robert Stigwood put the legitimate soundtrack record out on his RSO record label, so I reworded it.
Back later.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Uncle Charlie Declares War On the Internet

The rule established two short years ago by the Federal Communications Commission - affectionately known as Uncle Charlie in CB radio slang - establishing a free and neutral Internet is dead.  This past Thursday, the FCC voted two to one to end Net neutrality and allow your Internet service provider (ISP) to have more leeway over the Internet, which means that the big company that lets you access the Internet could (will?) decide that certain sites - like streaming services from companies owned by rival ISPs or any sites that your own ISP may find politically offensive - will take more time to upload or won't load at all.  And if you want faster lanes for some Internet traffic, you'll have to pay more.  It's not going to happen right away, but the decision begins the process of dismantling yet another achievement of the Obama administration.
The FCC's chairman, Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer,  says that the rules keeping the ISPs' filthy hands off our Internet are too burdensome and too cumbersome to allow more services and more choices for consumers, and he says that they also hobble innovation.  He also believes that the Internet is a commercial, not a public, enterprise (proof once again that the only public entity in America anymore is Eliot Spitzer's sex life) and so should be regulated by the Federal Trade Commission.  Except that the FTC wouldn't have the ability to enforce rules of fair play even if there were any such rules to speak of.  Small wonder that Pai got praised by one communications company executive for "remaining focused on creating a light-touch regulatory environment that is pro-consumer, pro-investment, and pro-innovation."  And anti-freedom. 
Pai (above) is all but forcing Congress to decide how Internet access would be governed.  There's a possibility of creating new legislation to determine who writes the rules for the Net, which Pai seems to want to make Congress do, but the deadlock on Capitol Hill renders that possibility unlikely.  And, oh yes, in case you're thinking that a Democratic President will reverse Pai's reversal of Net neutrality in 2021, rest assured (rest assured, that is, if you work for AT&T or Verizon) that the Republican caucuses in Congress, having already established themselves as permanent majorities through gerrymandering and voter restriction laws, are now working to pass a law that would make it illegal for a presidentially appointed agency to change regulatory rules without congressional approval.      
But what about all of those pro-Net-neutrality e-mails and comments to the FCC that crashed Uncle Charlie's Web site?  Pai blamed it all on hackers.  End of discussion.
I guess it's time for me to finally start doing what I've been threatening to do here for awhile - stop talking about politics so much.  If I keep going after Trump, many of you might never get to read what I think about him, because any anti-Trump page will probably take so long to load (if it loads at all) that you won't even bother trying to read it.  My Family page and my beautiful-women picture blog likely won't be affected, but I'll have to take former George Walker Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer's advice and watch what I say in this space.  I might just stop discussing politics altogether.  Maybe I'll just talk about classic rock here. 
I know that anything I write about classic rock won't be blocked by ISPs.  Because classic rock is overwhelmingly white, mostly male, familiar, and out of step with the times - just like the folks who provide our Internet service.   

Friday, May 19, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - May 19, 2017

"Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him) Goodbye" by Steam (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This Just Got Interesting

The title is ironic.
The Justice Department has just appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling into the U.S. presidential election and helping Trump.  This is a positive step, but it's a baby step at best.  A independent prosecutor needs to take the reins of this investigation, and the White House seems unfazed by this latest development.  Trump maintains his innocence.
"As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know - there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity," Trump said in a statement reacting to the Mueller appointment. "I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country."
Gag me with a spoon.  Well, we'll see about that.
Meanwhile, things on Wall Street got really interesting yesterday - the Dow Jones average dropped over 300 points over more news about Trump's possible meddling into the FBI's Russia investigation.  And did I mention that he's beginning his first foreign trip as President?  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Fake 'Sgt. Pepper' Movie Soundtrack Album

In discussing the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, I inevitably find myself coming back to the execrable 1978 movie based on that album.  You know the story: Pop impresario Robert Stigwood, the manager of the Bee Gees, owned the movie rights to 28 Beatles songs - all but five of them from the Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road albums - tried to weave them into a coherent rock opera, and convinced both the Gibb brothers and Peter Frampton to play Sgt. Pepper's band, resulting in what became the Cleopatra of rock movie musicals.  As bad as the movie was, the soundtrack album - including wrongheaded Beatles covers from Frampton and the Bee Gees but also wrongheaded Beatles covers from George Burns, Alice Cooper and Frankie Howerd (Frankie Howerd?) - was even worse.  Indeed, it's generally regarded as one of the worst albums of all time.  The Beatles themselves were not happy about any of this, and neither were their fans.  When radio stations tried to play some of the selections from the movie soundtrack album, Beatles fans angrily called into these stations, demanding that they revert to playing the original Beatles recordings.  The stations caved to the pressure; just as no one wanted to bother with the movie, no one wanted to bother with the soundtrack record.
Well, what if I told you that someone put out an imitation Sgt. Pepper soundtrack record?
That's right - someone ripped off a ripoff!
Pictured above is an album of anonymous covers of the Beatles songs in the Sgt. Pepper movie, put out by Springboard Records.  Springboard was a Los Angeles-based budget label that, in addition to putting out cut-rate compilations of various recording artists, put out LPs from anonymous studio bands that recorded copycat covers of pop hits and - you guessed it - movie soundtracks.  Before the Sgt. Pepper movie came out, Springboard, guessing that it would be as big as hit as Robert Stigwood's two previous pop musical productions, Saturday Night Fever and Grease, tried to get in on the act by rush-recording and rush-releasing this fake soundtrack record performed by the soundalike group "Abbey Road '78." Abbey Road '78's job was not to copy the original Beatles recordings; their job was to copy the Beatles covers that the cast of the Sgt. Pepper movie recorded to lip-sync to in the film.
That's right, Springboard thought it could swindle record buyers into buying a record that had imitators of Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees (and others) singing Beatles songs.  But then, there was a lot of foolishness in the record business in 1978.  Consider the Kiss solo albums.
When the Sgt. Pepper movie tanked, this fake soundtrack record ended up creating more headaches for Stigwood's RSO record label (which issued the real soundtrack record) than for Springboard.  See, when the legitimate soundtrack album bombed, the unsold copies were sent back to RSO . . . but so were copies of the fake Springboard release.  About a million copies of the Springboard album, by some estimates, were sent to RSO along with copies of the actual RSO album.  The joke went like this - the Sgt. Pepper movie soundtrack album was shipped double platinum, and returned triple platinum.  And it was all because record store employees, in sending back to RSO all of the records that said "Sgt. Pepper" and "movie" on the sleeve, couldn't tell the difference between the real movie soundtrack album and the ripoff.  Ironically, that was a mistake that Springboard was counting on record buyers to make!  And not all of the Springboard records went to either RSO or back to Springboard itself.  Some of them remained in record stores, left in discount and cut-out bins, with eight-track versions cropping up in discount department stores and selling for fifty cents as late as the mid-1980s.  
On his blog "Classical Gas Emissions," Ben Century sums up the stupidity of this imitation soundtrack album quite succinctly.  "The only thing worse than a bunch of famous artists doing bad Beatles covers," he wrote in 2008, "is . . . a bunch of nobodies doing bad impressions of famous artists doing bad Beatles covers."
Capitol Records, the Beatles' American label, probably made out the best from all of this.  When the Sgt. Pepper movie soundtrack came out, the label capitalized (no pun intended) on the fact that it had the original Beatles recordings available and promoted the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album as if it were a new release.  It even issued the title song and "With a Little Help From My Friends," backed by "A Day In the Life," as a new single, and there was even a Sgt. Pepper picture disc!
Cool, huh? :-)
I've confessed to having seen the Sgt. Pepper movie, and I also admit to having owned the RSO Sgt. Pepper movie soundtrack album (I was twelve years old, for Pete's sake), but eventually, I happily graduated to the Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road LPs that, er, inspired the movie.  As we learned from the animated movie Yellow Submarine, the Beatles could pass for Sgt. Pepper's original band, because they were the originals.  So why settle for a mere copy?  
And so, why settle for a copy of a copy?   
The Sgt. Pepper movie failed because Robert Stigwood, who died in 2016, essentially asked the biggest names in late-seventies pop to pretend to be the Beatles in a movie based on an album the Beatles made pretending to be other people.  The big joke about the fake Springboard release was that Abbey Road '78 pretended to be other people pretending to be the Beatles. 
Oh yeah, here's Abbey Road '78 pretending to be Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees with their recording of "Getting Better."  And it can't get any worse than this.   

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trump Did WHAT?

Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian ambassador to the United States and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when he met with them at the White House last week, according to the Washington Post.
 It gets worse. The information he revealed to the Russian diplomats had been given to the United States regrading the Islamic State terrorist group, and the the source, identified only as a foreign partner, told the White House not to share the information with the Russians. The information is so sensitive that other foreign governments allied with the U.S. aren't privy to it.
It gets worse. MSN reports that Trump's decision to share this information with the Russians "risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State."
It gets worse. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, one of the few credible members of this administration, denied the story, saying that Trump "did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known," thus denying something that has nothing to do with the revelation that the Washington Post reported.
And congressional Republicans go la di da di da, da-diddy-diddy da, de da, la di da di da, da-diddy-diddy da, de da . . .
I should retire this blog and start a new one devoted entirely to popular culture. Commenting on current events is beginning to make my head spin.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Wacky Weather

Yeah, that . . . 
This past weekend we got another two-inch rainfall in my area, the third - or fourth - heavy rainfall this spring, and it's only May 15.  Temperatures have been downright chilly, at one point reaching below 40 degrees Fahrenheit one night this past week.  And the normal spring pollen hasn't helped matters for me any.  
Temperatures should get back to normal early this week . . . before they get above normal - way above normal - later this week.  How about 90 for a high on Thursday, with a heat index of a couple of degrees higher than that?
So after wearing sweatshirts all last week, now I'm going to sweat?  And we have to get our fans out sooner rather than later if we want to get any sleep Wednesday and Thursday nights?
No climate change, huh? 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

We Were Talking . . .

One more look at a song from the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, released fifty years ago this year, before the big June 1 anniversary release date and some posts about other aspects of the album . . .
Many Lennon-McCartney songs had been prompted by quips that came out of nowhere, as evidenced by the titles.  The title song of A Hard Day's Night was written around one of Ringo Starr's malapropisms, "Eight Days a Week" from Beatles For Sale was inspired by the frustration over long work hours that a chauffeur for Paul McCartney expressed, and Sgt. Pepper's own "Getting Better" was written based on on temporary replacement drummer Jimmy Nicol's answer to how he was doing substituting for Ringo on the first part of the group's 1964 world tour while Ringo recovered from tonsillitis.  George Harrison, ever the non-conformist, wrote a song around an entire conversation.
"Within You Without You" came out of a conversation George had over dinner with German artist/musician Klaus Voormann at Voormann's London home. Voormann, who knew the Beatles in Hamburg, was now a bass player and playing in Manfred Mann's eponymous band.  The conversation - which was hardly the stuff of bourgeois pleasantries - was deeply philosophical, in which George and Klaus began talking about how a cold, modern world could benefit from sharing love after realizing that change was only possible from within . . . and how the space between us was getting in the way of that.  George found his way to a harmonium (a type of organ) that Klaus had in his house and began playing a tune to his thoughts on the conversation - "We were talking . . ."   He had a song in no time.
George brought "Within You Without You" to EMI Studios at Abbey Road as an untitled song on March 15, 1967, but he eventually decided to name if after the refrain, which was the song's central point - "Life flows on within you and without you."  (The title omitted the conjunction.)  George brought in Indian musicians from London's Asian Music Circle to play the tabla, dilruba, tambura and swarmandal, and he had the studio decorated with Indian tapestries - and burned some incense - to create the proper mood.  He gave the Indian musicians, their names lost to history, the basic melody from which they improvised their music; Indian music is all improvisation.   Below is one of the musicians hearing George play the melody.  Wonder if anyone can at least identify him?      
George and Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall each played tamburas along with the Indian musicians, and Western classical musicians would be brought in a week later to add strings.  The result is an incredible fusion of Eastern and Western musicianship weaving together in a profound pop song.
"Within You Without You" is George Harrison's best Indian-flavored Beatles song musically, and it's also considered one of his best sets of lyrics.   Listening to it, you feel transported to a higher, much more pleasant state of being.  And George's paraphrasing of the Gospel According to Matthew in the lyrics ("For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?") was a nice touch.  John Lennon, for one, had nothing but praise for the whole song.  "One of George's best songs," he said in 1980.  "He's clear on that song.  His mind and his music are clear.  There is his innate talent; he brought that sound together."  Ringo Starr called it "brilliant."  
While the music of "Within You Without You" flows seamlessly, there is one moment where the song - indeed, the entire Sgt. Pepper album - is suspended in time.  It occurs at 3:36 into the song; the music just seems to pause and hang there for a split second before fading and then resuming with the tap of the tabla.  It's as if time itself has stopped completely, if only to remind us that everything is fleeting.  The song ends with some laughter from the audience at Sgt. Pepper's band's show, which George threw in to bring some levity to an otherwise philosophically heavy song, though it almost sounds like crying.   
"Within You Without You" is a very special song.  It is the only George Harrison song on Sgt. Pepper, it is the longest track on that album except for "A Day In the Life" (more about that later), and it was the last song to be completed for the album (it was mixed after every other song on the LP had been finished).
It's also the only song on the Sgt. Pepper album, apart from "Lovely Rita," not to be disemboweled for the 1978 movie of the same name. ;-)  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Comey-Hither

My, how Trump's opinion of James Comey has changed!
Trump fired the now-former FBI director because he had lost his faith in Comey's ability to run the investigative bureau.  Or so he said.  He had no problem with Comey investigating Hillary Clinton's e-mails and going over the top with how he disclosed information about the investigation, and only now Trump thinks that was a violation of protocol?  Comey's real violation of protocol was having the audacity to . . . investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In fact, he seems to have said as much to NBC's Lester Holt. :-O
Who recommended Comey's dismissal?  That depends on who you ask.  The White House press office and Vice President Pence said that the President acted on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein - a man so obscure that people have trouble getting the pronunciation of his surname straight (it's "Rosenstine," not "Rosensteen") - but the brief memo Rosenstein wrote on Comey's recklessness gave no indication of such a recommendation.  Besides, Trump himself says he decided to fire Comey and had decided to do so on January 21 but was waiting for a good day to do it . . . before deciding that May 9 was as good a day as any.
When the FBI director is investigating your presidential campaign,  the best day to fire him is the twelfth of never.
Rosenstein - who was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General by a Senate vote of 94-6 just a few weeks before, is overseeing the Russia investigation after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself for having talked to a Russian government official.  It turns out the dismissal of Comey was endorsed by . . . Jeff Sessions.
Sessions won't comment on that.  He's too busy for pushing for punitive action against drug dealers that are out of proportion with their offenses.  Trump, meanwhile, has tried to get information on the investigation from Comey himself and has threatened him not to talk to anyone. "James Comey," Trump tweeted, "[had] better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
"Tapes?"
But so what, Trump himself isn't under investigation, right?  At least that's what he asked Comey, thus compromising the Russia investigation . . . just like when Bill Clinton conferred with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch over Hillary's e-mails on that plane, forcing Lynch to refer to Hillary investigation to . . . James Comey.
Awk-ward!
Democrats ought not to get cocky about this.  They were calling for action against Comey for how he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation, now all of a sudden he's a great guy?  Best to let the FBI speak up for Comey; he was well liked in the bureau despite reports to the contrary.  Look, although I'm no fan of Hillary, I don't approve of how Comey handled his investigation of her.  But even though he's made a few mistakes, he's been persistent in pursuing justice, and he's helped the FBI come a long way from its more embarrassing moments of the past twenty years.  Like this one.  
I don't hold out much optimism for this affair - which could be bigger than Watergate - getting investigated satisfactorily, given the partisanship involved.  Democrats are calling for a special prosecutor.  Republicans, including the insufferable Mitch McConnell, are insisting that the congressional investigations - the House investigation compromised to some degree by the behavior of Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) - continue until they run their course.  Senators from one party making appeals to the other over the matter on the Senate floor might as well be reading excerpts from "Trout Fishing In America" to each other.  But it's becoming more likely that Trump's administration will soon be dead in the water. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - May 12, 2017

"Happy" by the Rolling Stones  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

An Open Letter To Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State

Dear Secretary Tillerson:
Congratulations!  On your job? No, not that - I'm congratulating you on the fact that you're getting this open letter I'm writing to you, as open letters are a distinction I bestow onto very few people (although I wish I hadn't wasted it on Anthony Weiner).  And I've written this open letter because I actually like you.
I know a lot of people don't like you, Mr. Secretary, but I do, although I can't explain why.  So here's why I feel compelled to write you an open letter today.  You know that Paris thing?  Not the French election, the agreement to do something about climate change, which President Obama helped negotiate and signed back in 2015 and which your boss, Donald J. Trump, wants to pull out of. I hear that you support keeping the United States in the agreement and that you believe that climate change is real.  Yes! Thank you!  You show great genius, Mr. Secretary, because, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, genius is being able to hold two contradictory ideas in one's mind simultaneously.  Or, in your case, you, as Exxon's former CEO, think oil is an essential fuel for the future . . . and you want to do something about climate change!       
So here's the deal, Mr. Secretary.  Your boss, Donald J. Trump, is going to the Group of Seven summit later this month, and I assume you're tagging along. He says we won't decide on an American withdrawal - an "Amexit" - from the Paris Agreement until after he's conferred with the leaders of the other six nations in the group.  You think the agreement is important, you think we should stay in it so we don't become a total pariah on this planet, and you're the Secretary of State.  Here's my simple request:  Make sure you get your boss on board with this deal! 
I know your boss, Donald J. Trump, thinks global warming is a hoax, although he believed it before he didn't, and that he canceled federal programs Barack Obama had started to make us compliant with the agreement, but several states, including California, and many cities and towns are already pursuing climate-change-fighting programs, and so state and local action may compensate for federal action and allow us to remain on the right side of history.  In other words, we can stay in the agreement without your boss, Donald J. Trump, having to do a thing to implement it.  Your boss keeps his promises with his base, we stay in the deal and let folks like Jerry Brown take the lead, and you get to save face with the rest of the world for the sake of international diplomacy.  Everyone's a winner!
Yes, Mr. Secretary, I know my idea is a crazy one, but it just might be crazy enough to work.  So please, whatever you do, keep telling your boss to keep this country in the Paris Agreement, and those of us who believe in climate change, as you do, will take it from there at the state and local level, at least until we get a new President.  Of course, when your boss leaves office, he'll be out of work, and so will you.  But here's the best part - you'll get to spend more time with your grandchildren.  And if you help save the Paris Agreement, you'll know that they will benefit from it the most.
Sincerely,
Steven Maginnis
P.S.  I'm not kidding when I say this Paris Agreement is important for the planet's future.  Don't do what this country did a hundred years ago; it wouldn't participate in another international agreement hammered out in France, the Treaty of Versailles, and so we didn't join the League of Nations, and we all know how that turned out.  Ask anyone in Poland.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Le President Macron

Hail to le chef!
Emmanuel Macron, the former centrist economy minister of France, was elected the twenty-fifth president of France.  He defeated right-wing harridan Marine Le Pen by twenty percentage points.
Macron has vowed to combat terrorism, keep France as a strong and active player in the European Union and work to gain the trust of France's disaffected blue-collar workers, and he is expected to have France take the lead on climate change from us stupid and ignorant Americans - and invite American scientists to come to France to work on the problem.  
Hey, Monsieur le Président élu,want to invite some American bloggers? 
Macron is not only the youngest man elected president of France (he's 39), he's the first French president of En Marche!, a party Macron, a former Socialist, formed in April 2016 - which, as of this writing, was thirteen months ago.
Democrats, take note - you could be replaced by a new party that could form any day now (Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley,. I hope you're reading this!).  We could have a new left-of-center party like En Marche! - complete with an exclamation point in its name - by 2020, whereas you, Democrats, could be une marche futile.       
Once again, the French have saved Western civilization.  Nationalist thugs similar to Le Pen have also foundered in Austria and the Netherlands, which also benefits Western civilization.  And America, as another French leader, World War I-era Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, once said, continues to go from barbarism to degeneration without the necessary interval of civilization.  
And Macron's win has made things so much easier for the International Olympic Committee.  Had Le Pen won the French presidency, the members of IOC, faced with holding the 2024 Olympics in either Paris, a capital of a country run by a right-wing moron in skirts, or in Los Angeles, the second largest city of a country run by a right-wing moron with long ties, would have tossed a coin.  Now Paris should definitely get the Olympics for 2024, especially when it hasn't hosted the Games since 1924.  Everyone involved with the LA Olympic bid committee should just turn out the lights and go home.  
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a passport to renew.            

Monday, May 8, 2017

Ironies Of the Gary Hart Scandal

Things have a way of turning out ironically, and Gary Hart's aborted 1988 presidential campaign, the first attempt at which ended thirty years ago today with Hart's bitter rant against the media, is proof positive of that. Among the highlights:

  • Hart's association with a woman not his wife was revealed after reporters from the Miami Herald tacked Hart down at his Washington townhouse, staked him out, entrapped him, and painted him into a corner.  The next day, E.J. Dionne's profile of Hart in the New York Times Sunday magazine appeared with the following title: "Gary Hart: The Elusive Front-Runner."
  • Dionne's article included a quote from the candidate daring reporters to follow him around.  Not only had the Miami Herald decided to do so before the quote appeared in print, Dionne almost edited it out.  
  • Hart traveled to the Bahamian island of Bimini on the yacht Monkey Business with his friend William Broadhurst, who acquired the yacht for the trip, and their two female companions.  It turns out that the provocatively named yacht wasn't Broadhurst's boat; he only leased it so he could pick up his own boat, which was anchored in Bimini.
  • Hart - best known for a fleeting presidential bid - lives in Evergreen, Colorado.  His house is in a ravine called "Troublesome Gulch." 
  • When Hart made his first public appearance after the sex scandal broke, as mentioned in my post from three days before, he denied any impropriety with the hope that he had ended the controversy.  Two days later, with the press still making him feel the heat, he turned to a campaign aide and said, "This isn't going to end, is it?"
  • Hart denied that anything improper happened on the Monkey Business; a year later, it was seized by the Coast Guard in an unrelated drug bust. 
  • When he quit his first presidential bid on May 8, 1987, he said he had planned to make a short statement announcing his withdrawal but then said that he thought to himself, "Hell, no!"  His supporters in the room cheered . . . for all the wrong reasons.  
  • In his withdrawal statement of May 8, 1987, Hart declared, "I'm not a beaten man, but I am an angry and defiant man."  Yeah?  Then why was he quitting?  (As noted before on this blog, I have since referred to his May 8, 1987 withdrawal statement as his "Anger and Defiance" speech.)
  • I was in college in the spring of 1987, and my final assignment for the writing course I was taking at the time was to write an article based on a pre-determined premise.  I originally chose to write a piece explaining why Gary Hart would be the forty-first President of the United States, but it didn't hold muster with my professor, and I ultimately wrote about something else. The due date for this assignment - which I was supposed to send on spec to a magazine - was . . . May 8, 1987.
  • Hart's "Anger and Defiance" speech not only drew comparisons to Richard Nixon's Last Press Conference of 1962, it led to comparisons of Hart's personality to Nixon's, revealing many similarities (both were loners, both were secretive, both viewed the press with suspicion). Hart had been George McGovern's presidential campaign manager in 1972.  No prizes for guessing who McGovern's opponent was.     
  • Hart had declared his 1988 presidential candidacy on April 13, 1987 - Thomas Jefferson's birthday anniversary, celebrated as Jefferson Day by Democrats, though, if that was an intentional historic reference. no one got it.  When he withdrew a month later, he paraphrased Jefferson in expressing fear that America would get the government it deserved.  Most reporters in the room felt Hart got what he deserved.  
  • Hart's attempt to seem Kennedyesque seemed contrived to many people, but after his sex-scandal downfall, then-"Saturday Night Live" cast member Dennis Miller said, "You know, for a moment there, he almost did remind me of Jack Kennedy!"
  • Hart had only 3 percent of the vote in polls ahead of the 1984 Iowa presidential caucuses . . . because no one knew who he was.  (He won 16 percent.)  He received 3 percent of the vote in the 1988 Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses after re-entering the 1988 presidential campaign . . . because everyone knew who he was.  (He withdrew from the 1988 campaign a second time a few days after.) 

Ah, irony . . .

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Maher's Attacks

Bill Maher used his "Real Time" show this past Friday night to take Jill Stein supporters to task for voting for the Green Party presidential nominee instead of Hillary Clinton.  He made the argument that if the had not been such "liberal purists," they wouldn't be bitching about Neil Gorsuch, Scott Pruitt, or his tyrannical executive orders.
Uh, yeah . . . let's remember a few things about the election:
Hillary Clinton lost because she failed to carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  If every Stein voter in those states had voted for Hillary, she would have won Wisconsin and Michigan but not Pennsylvania, and Trump would still have won.
I voted for Jill Stein.  I live in New Jersey.  Hillary won New Jersey with a majority.  My vote absolutely did not affect the outcome, and Maher's statement denigrates people who voted their conscience and took a big risk to help the Greens get federal funding for next time.
Dr. Stein came in fourth in the popular vote, with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson third.  Republicans and centrist and center-right independents who dislike Trump and who could have voted for Hillary - voters Hillary could have possibly won over - gave Johnson vote margins larger than Hillary's defeat margins in some states.  Why isn't Maher taking Johnson voters to task?     
Oh yeah, Maher told Stein backers - including Dr. Cornel West - to go f**k themselves.
Guess Dr. West won't be a guest on his show anymore.
Stein voters - and Johnson voters - are not to blame for Trump. Hilary is to blame for Trump because she was a lousy candidate.
Meanwhile, Hillary says she takes responsibility for loss while still deflecting blame for it to others.  Come on, Hillary, even your husband parses words better than that.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Trumpcare Mark Two

They . . . did it!
House Republicans voted to overturn the Obama health care law wth one vote more than necessary.  This revised bill proposes does everything the failed bill did -  causing 24 million Americans to lose their coverage, using the savings from the bill for a tax cut for the one percent, cutting Medicaid and defunding Planned Parenthood, and increasing premiums on older Americans.
So what's the difference between this bill and the one that failed in March?  This one creates a pool of eight billion dollars to help people with pre-existing conditions, a tweak inserted by Republican Representative Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, which has no chance of actually working.
In other words, it doesn't help anyone with pre-existing conditions.  It only pretends to.
"Insurers will take the money and still charge sick people much higher premiums," says former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in explaining MacArthur's tweak. "Or avoid sick people altogether."
I'm furious at a certain party right now.  I mean the Democrats.  They spent Obama's two terms losing one election after another, they refused to even comment on the health care law in their campaigns, they rigged the 2016 primaries and caucuses to nominate the most beatable Democratic candidate for President since Walter Mondale, and they couldn't even pick up a Senate seat in Louisiana or a House seat in Kansas in special elections that were held after Trump won.  They didn't even stop the first Trumpcare bill (public outcry did).
House Democrats started singing the chorus of the sixties classic rock song "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" to Republicans, suggesting that the Republicans would be out the door in the next election, but it's the wussy Democrats who should be shown the door - preferably the door to an empty ten-story elevator shaft.  They are completely useless as a party of the people - they're too busy hanging out at Metropolitan Museum of Art galas or hobnobbing with celebrities who regularly attend them - and the party's national committee has even insisted, responding to a class-action lawsuit brought by Bernie Sanders supporters accusing the Democratic National Committee of fraud in the presidential nomination contest, that it has the right to tip the scales to get the presidential nominee it wants over the choice of the people.    
Time for the Democrats to go the way of the Whigs.
The bright side of the Trumpcare bill?  It's not likely to survive in the Senate. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hart Failure

"I was a [Gary] Hart supporter.  I'm a Hart supporter because he f**ks.  Do you know what I mean?" - Jack Nicholson
"Life is a comedy . . . written by a sadistic comedy writer." - Woody Allen
*
It's been three decades since Gary Hart, former Democratic U.S. Senator from Colorado, went from being the soon-to-be forty-first President of the United States to being an political outcast.  We all know what happened; he took a boat ride to Bimini with a woman not his wife and two other people in late March 1987, and the revelation came out after the Miami Herald staked him out in his Washington townhouse in early May 1987 and found the woman in question - and the two other people from the Bimini cruise - in there with him.  Considered a savior of the then (and now) moribund Democratic Party when he announced his candidacy for the party's 1988 presidential nomination, Hart went from messiah to pariah a week after the sex scandal broke.  Many people believe that being caught with another woman caused his downfall, while others point to the bitter withdrawal speech he made when he ended his candidacy less than a month after declaring it.  I, on the other hand, think that Hart sealed his fate when he addressed a convention of newspaper publishers at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York thirty years ago today.
Hart's speech before the convention had been previously scheduled, and he'd planned to take advantage of such an influential audience to flesh out his policy proposals - those "new ideas" we'd kept hearing so much about.  Hart had also hoped to get in solid with the press, who never seemed to like him all that much.  But the Miami Herald's reporting on his dalliance with another woman while his wife was back in Colorado irked him, as it interfered with his ability to get his message out.  It also happened to call his judgment into question, as Hart had long before been accused of being a womanizer.  So on Tuesday, May 5, 1987, Hart, in his first public appearance since the scandal broke, preceded his prepared speech by denying that he'd spent the night with the woman in question (I don't mention her name when I bring up the Hart sex scandal, as I prefer to protect the innocent), explaining that she had in fact left his townhouse through a back door, and lashing out at the reporters of the Miami Herald for staking out his townhouse and reporting that he had spent the night with another woman.  Hart was careful to single out the Herald's reporters while lauding the commendable work the rest of the press did, saying he had no problem with the media overall.   But the notoriously private Hart was visibly peeved when he said that the Miami Herald's story was "written by reporters who, by their own admission, undertook a spotty surveillance, who reached inaccurate conclusions based on incomplete facts, and who, after publishing a false story, now concede they may have gotten it wrong."
Then Hart (above, at the newspaper publishers' convention) addressed the story itself, saying in a carefully worded statement that, while he made a mistake by "putting myself in circumstances that could be misconstrued. . .. That goes without saying" (gee, ya think?), he "absolutely did not" do anything immoral.  So satisfied, Hart then made it clear that he wanted to move on and went into his prepared speech.
Hart, in fact, had made two mistakes - both of them fatal.  First, though he was careful to attack only the Miami Herald reporters who had staked out his townhouse and not the press in general, he failed to realize, as Matt Bai explained in his book about the Hart scandal, "All the Truth Is Out," that reporters show solidarity with any reporters attacked by a politician.  As Bai wrote, reporters are like NATO member countries - they consider an attack on one of them to be an attack on all.
Hart's second mistake, a mistake Bai failed to grasp, was the tone of finality he used in his denial of having done anything "immoral."  By emphatically denying charges of impropriety and then making it clear that he didn't want to talk about it before going to his speech, Hart was telling reporters that he considered the matter closed and was putting it behind him.  Wrong, wrong, dead wrong!  When a public figure does something ethically dubious, be it in public life or private life,  it is up to the news media to report the indiscretion and let people make up their own minds as to whether or not it's something that should cause concern.  It is not for the public figure in question to dismiss the indiscretion out of hand and move on to other topics.  In those immediate moments before he gave his speech, Gary Hart showed arrogance, contempt for the press, and a desire to shape a narrative to his own benefit.  Yes, the issue of whether or not Hart was a womanizer was silly and meaningless.  But it wasn't what he did or didn't do that sank him; it's how he handled the issue.     
Hart should have known he dug the hole he was in even deeper when Richard Capen, the publisher of the Miami Herald, offered a rebuttal in the question-and-answer session that followed Hart's speech.  "He's an announced candidate for President of the United States, and he's a man who knows full well that womanizing had been an issue in his past," Capen said.  "We stand by the essential correctness of our story." Capen conceded that while it was possible that someone could have left Hart's house through a back door, he added that, ''clearly, at minimum, there was an appearance of impropriety."
So what did Capen think of Hart's policy proposals?  He didn't.  No one in the room thought anything of it.  Because after Hart told the press how to do its job, no one really cared what Hart was proposing.  Indeed, the question-and-answer session part of his appearance was devoted to questions about the sex issue and his Washington townhouse, not about taxes or spending, and Hart's answers were evasive and furtive.  (It was at this point that Hart addressed the Bimini trip and dismissed it by saying it was made "in open daylight," with no effort to conceal it.)  News reports on Hart's appearance at the convention didn't even mention the policy speech - not even the New York Times' report.     
Oh yeah, after Hart left that convention with his tail between his legs, the reporters who were there to cover it learned the name of the yacht Hart and his traveling companions used for their Bimini cruise - the Monkey Business.
Awk-ward!
And Hart's carefully worded denial of wrongdoing turned out not to be so carefully worded.  He only set himself up for a gotcha question the next day from Paul Taylor of the Washington Post at a campaign appearance in New Hampshire.  Hart had said he did nothing immoral.  This led Taylor to ask Hart if he thought adultery was immoral.  Hart said yes.  Then came the follow-up question from Taylor that changed American political journalism: "Have you ever committed adultery?"
"Uh," Hart sheepishly replied, "I do not have to answer that question."
And then came more reports of Hart's womanizing, questions of his judgment and lack of common sense - including a column from pundit William Raspberry, who said that Hart's lack of common sense overruled his keen intelligence - and finally, his withdrawal from the Democratic presidential campaign (pictured below) with a nine-minute statement that excoriated the press and left no doubt of his arrogance and his superiority complex, as he sought to "shift the blame for his downfall," as humor writer Paul Slansky put it, "from his own rampant libido to those who reported on it."  His lashing out at the press for not covering his candidacy fairly and his self-absolution of all blame for his rapid fall so deeply echoed Richard Nixon's famous "Last Press Conference" of 1962 that Nixon himself wrote Hart to tell him that he "handled a difficult situation uncommonly well."
Awk-ward!
No one outside Hart's family agreed with Nixon's assessment.  Even pundits who were appalled at the Miami Herald's journalistic conduct and its exploitation of tabloid-ready subject matter like a sex scandal didn't agree with Nixon's assessment.     
Hart, by the way, replied to Nixon, explaining that the gist of his withdrawal statement was his desire that Americans ''focus national attention away from what is temporal, sensational, and irrelevant to the real challenges confronting our nation and our world.'' 
"In other words," the New York Times later opined, "what's really important are the issues, but the media is focused on irrelevancies, like Gary Hart's veracity and character."
The flaws in Hart's character came out in how he handled the adversity of the sex scandal.  He thought he could control the narrative and move away from an embarrassing topic in the conversation, and he just couldn't handle the fact that he had no control at all over what the media were going to report about him . . . and when he wanted to proceed with his presidential campaign on his own terms, the media would . . . not . . . let him.  Life sucks when you can't make the world bend to your will, doesn't it?  Ask Donald Trump.
Hart's attitude not only destroyed his own political career (though he did return to the 1988 Democratic presidential campaign in December 1987 for, as it turned out, three months), it all but crippled the Democrats.  Left in 1988 with no viable presidential candidates with anything resembling national standing, the party crossed its fingers and ended up nominating for President Michael Dukakis, an honorable man who turned out not to be ready for prime time when he went against Republican presidential nominee George Bush, then the most beatable Republican nominee for President since Barry Goldwater.  Hart has since become a minor figure in history, an unknown cipher to the young people who were born in the late eighties and early nineties and who backed Bernie Sanders in 2016.  However, there is a whole generation of Americans who remember Hart as the guy who f**ked.
And on that fateful Tuesday at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, he f**ked . . . in public.  

Music Video Of the Week - May 5, 2017

"American Dream" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Not Again

I thought the Affordable Care Act repeal bill in the Republic House of Representatives was dead.  But after only a month of its failure, the House is bringing it up again, and this time it might go through. The Senate is a different chamber altogether, but the Republican majority will do its darnedest to get it to Trump for his signature.
I also thought that after the rainy April we had, we'd get a break from the wet weather for awhile.  But April downpours being May downpours; tomorrow my area is supposed to get one to two inches of rain - the equivalent of one to two feet of snow - and the ground is still saturated from all the rain from April.
Did I happen to mention there could be thunderstorms also? 
I also thought I'd taken care of my radiator fluid after it got to low and I had a local VW dealer take care of the problem just before New Year's Eve.  Almost four months to the day later, the fluid got too low again, and I had to add water as a stopgap solution.  I called the dealership that serviced my car in December, and the service guy told me that the water I added should fix the problem until my next regular service.  I've since learned from other Volkswagen owners online that if it doesn't, the water pump could be failing.
Oh yes, just when you thought he was gone for awhile . . . James Comey is back!     

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nullifying History

"Why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?"
So rhetorically asked Donald Trump in a recent interview, during which he theorized that Andrew Jackson, a staunch Unionist, never would have let the Civil War happen.
Old Hickory, Trump said, "had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said 'There's no reason for this.'"
There's just one problem: Andrew Jackson died sixteen years before the Civil War began.
Trump apologists quickly stepped in to do damage control, musing that Trump meant to point out that President Jackson had to deal with the Nullification Crisis of 1832 - in which South Carolina nullified a federal tariff law - and moved to establish the sovereignty of the federal government over the states.  (In his "Proclamation to the People of South Carolina," Jackson wrote, "Disunion by armed force is treason.  Are you really ready to incur its guilt?")  Trump himself sought to clarify his position with this Twitter statement:
In fact, Andrew Jackson, the first Democratic President, facilitated the coming of the Civil War because, for all of his manly blustering on the need to preserve the Union and despite his break from his original heir apparent, South Carolina's pro-nullification John C. Calhoun, in favor of Martin Van Buren, Jackson was a slaveowner who supported the expansion of the institution and supported annexation of the slaveholding country of Texas in 1844, seven years after leaving office.  When Van Buren, having succeeded Jackson as President in 1837 and then having been voted out of office after one term, tried for a comeback in 1844, his refusal to endorse Texas annexation led Jackson to support James Knox Polk for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Polk was nominated and elected, and Texas was brought into the Union.  Jackson, like Polk, also opposed federal infrastructure projects, and he killed the Second Bank of the United States as President.  Both an infrastructure program and the Bank might have helped the slave states diversify their economies and led to the abolition of slavery without a war.   Yet Trump still lauds Jackson for seeking compromise to prevent a war.
No, that was Henry Clay.
Clay, who was also a slaveowner, nevertheless supported infrastructure spending, the Bank and tariffs to help American industry,  and he brokered compromises in Congress over slavery to preserve the Union.  Clay died in 1852 thinking he'd done that, and, as historian David Jacobs noted, was "spared the knowledge that nothing at all had been resolved by his compromises."
As an ironic footnote, Fort Sumter was fired upon on April 12, 1861 - what would have been Clay's 84th birthday.  As for the second Democratic President, Martin Van Buren, who lived to see the Civil War, he supported Stephen Douglas - who supported Kansas's decision to outlaw slavery by popular vote despite objections from the national Democratic establishment - for President in 1860 and, when the Civil War began, announced his support for President Lincoln.
If there was ever a possibility that a President could have prevented a civil war, Jackson's policies made sure that such a time would never come.  That we have a President who knows nothing about the history of this country beyond the sanitized Disney version - and he probably didn't know anything about the Nullification Crisis before someone told him about it the other day - is an absolute embarrassment.   

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Correction: May 2, 2017

In my post "Fly The Unfriendly Skies," a post about United Airlines that also touched on Amtrak service in Kentucky or lack thereof, I wrote that "apart from a small town near the Mississippi River and along the border with Tennessee, the whole state of Kentucky has no Amtrak service!" The town I was referring to was Fulton, Kentucky, but in fact Fulton is not the only Kentucky community with Amtrak service. Ashland does, too, and I overlooked that even though it is clearly shown on the Amtrak map that was appended to my post. The original error, which I regret, has since been corrected.

Trump 100

Here are Trump's most significant accomplishments as President of the United States:

  • He signed a lot of executive orders.
  • He pushed a health care reform bill that failed.

That's it - and that's all.  Even the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court isn't something he can take credit for; he simply filled in a name from the Heritage Foundation and Mitch McConnell pushed it through.  The threatened government shutdown over the budget for the rest of the fiscal year - hardly a monumental accomplishment (well, maybe it is, these days) - was a bipartisan deal in Congress that was worked out with no input from the White House. Trump himself was disgusted with deal, even if it did boost military spending (maybe because it left Planned Parenthood funding alone) and said the country needs a shutdown when the 2018 budget is debated in September.
He also said that, after a hundred days, he found the job of President of the United States harder than he expected and he misses his old life.  Well, I know of someone who'd be happy to take over for him.
Oh, you know I was gonna bring Marty up, honey! :-p