Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Spector of the Beatles

"I've been Phil Spectored, resurrected." - Paul Simon
And so, on March 23, 1970 - coincidentally, at the start of Holy Week - Phil Spector began the thankless job of trying to make a Let It Be album for the Beatles out of the January 1969 Apple Studios tapes.  He worked in Room 4 at EMI Studios at Abbey Road, concentrating on remixing and editing the songs in an effort to make them sound as alive and as fresh as possible and make the record sound whole. 
He seemed to be the appropriate choice for the job. Spector was as much as an artist as the performers he produced records for, and maybe even more so.  He had pioneered the "wall of sound" technique - numerous overdubs of one instrument, tape echo, and heavy reverberation, and his approach to recording led John Lennon and George Harrison to call him a genius.  And this was from two musicians who had worked with a genius - George Martin.  But Spector was also known for his liberal use of orchestration - he envisioned his records as "little symphonies for the kids" - and those who bought records from his clients the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers would certainly agree.  Let It Be, however, was not meant to be anything of the sort - it was meant to be, as Greil Marcus put it, an album meant to "recapture [a] fading sense of combined self," an album that got back to the essence of rock and roll.  Certainly Spector could make a record like that, as he'd already proved he could do so with "Instant Karma!".  Which approach would Spector take here - basic rock and roll or a grand production?  The answer would be both. 
With George Harrison present for most of the sessions, Spector worked with engineer Peter Bown, using an eight-track tape with seven tracks of music and an eighth track that was a "sync pulse" track for the cameras used to make the Let It Be documentary movie.  They spent the first day of work on mixing and editing, mixing two takes of "I've Got a Feeling," one from the studio and another from the Apple rooftop performance (the latter making it onto the Let It Be album), and editing out backing vocals from the rooftop performance of "Dig a Pony" while leaving the false start in.  It should have been apparent from the editing on the latter song that, while the Let It Be album would be sonically better than either of the two Get Back albums compiled by Glyn Johns, it wouldn't be consistent.  Live mistakes and studio banter would be juxtaposed by edits destroying the "live" concept.  But even bigger alterations were planned; on March 23, Spector also reworked "Across the Universe" and "I Me Mine" for overdubs, and it seemed that he had already decided on an orchestra for the two songs.
It's worth noting again that while "Across the Universe" and "I Me Mine" were not recorded during the January 1969 sessions, they were included on the Let It Be album only because the Beatles were shown rehearsing them in the Let It Be movie.   If these songs were rehearsed but not properly recorded when the movie was made, perhaps it would have made more sense to release these songs as a separate single accompanying the LP and film.  Spector, of course, would have even grander designs for an overdub of another song that was recorded during the January 1969 sessions.
The rest of the week was devoted to mixing the other songs intended for the record.  March 25 saw a remix of "For You Blue," as well as a remix of "Two Of Us" that brought a crisper sound to the song and is regraded by Beatles author Mark Lewisohn as Spector's best production effort on the Let It Be LP.   The following day, March 26, Spector worked to create entirely new remixes of "Let It Be" itself and "Get Back" that differed noticeably from the single release mixes, the former being extended by eleven seconds and getting a heavier George Harrison guitar solo, highly mixed brass and cellos that, ironically, had been scored by George Martin, and an emphasis on Ringo Starr's hi-hat.  (The former two elements were both overdubs recorded in the Beatles' January 4, 1970 session.)  It was also on this day that Spector began a remix of the third song slated for lavish overdubbing, "The Long and Winding Road" . . .
March 27 was devoted to editing the improvised "Dig It" down to an inexplicable length of fifty seconds.  An improvisation recorded earlier in the January 1969 sessions, known as "Can You Dig It?", had ended with John saying in a falsetto voice, "That was 'Can You Dig It?' by Georgie Wood, and now we'd like to do 'Hark, the Angels Come'."  Spector took this Goon Show-style banter and tacked it onto the end of his edit of "Dig It" to, somewhat cleverly, introduce "Let It Be," which Paul McCartney had conceived as a hymn.  (For the record, Georgie Wood was an old-time music-hall comedian in England.  As for "Hark, the Angels Come," that's the old-style title of the Christmas carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," which the Beatles in fact never recorded.)
Finally, after the Easter holiday break, Spector returned to Abbey Road on Easter Monday, March 30 with two recording engineers (Peter Bown not being one of them) and a tape operator to work on the two George Harrison songs, producing a remix of "For You Blue" and concocting an ultimately unreleased sixteen-second loop of the instrumental break in I Me Mine" with sound from the movie overlaid onto it.
Throughout this entire time, Spector displayed the temperament of an artist, exhibiting all sorts of odd behavior.  Bown later remembered him taking a pill every half hour.  Also noteworthy was that Spector had his bodyguard with him, which Bown attributed to the danger of working in American recording studios (I touched on this on this blog back in 2002, when rap turntable operator Jason Mizell of Run-DMC was shot to death in a recording studio); the bodyguard was dismissed before the Let It Be remix sessions ended.  (The fact that Spector shot a woman to death in his own mansion in February 2003 and is now doing time in prison for it suggests that the bodyguard may have been there to protect others from Spector, or at least protect Spector from himself.)
Spector's work on the Let It Be album in the early spring of 1970 was not the only Beatles-related activity going on then at Abbey Road.  Paul McCartney was at the studio complex finishing up his debut solo album, unaware of Spector's presence.  In fact, by all accounts, he was unaware of Spector's project; John, George and Ringo had allowed Phil to go ahead on putting the Let It Be album together without Paul's knowledge, believing that the then-esteemed producer was the best person to make the best of what they felt was a bad situation.  And Paul would be anything but pleased when he heard the final master. Indeed, as March 1970 went out like a lamb, Spector's grandest production job on Let It Be was yet to come.
To be continued . . .    

Monday, March 30, 2020

Pandemic Panic

The United States has the largest number of coronavirus cases of any country.
And the number is over 100,000.
Donald Trump has been fouling up the response to the crisis, yet a majority - yes, a majority - of people surveyed approve of how he's handling it.  This is probably owing more to high marks from people in parts of the country that are less affected by COVID-19 than others, and it's worth noting that his overall approval rating is still below 50 percent.  The small bounce he's getting may be indicative of a desire by Americans to see Trump to a good job, not necessarily a desire to see him get re-elected.  But he dithered when he ordered General Motors to make ventilators, and General Motors was unsure of whether there was a deal or not between the company and the federal government, and he blew off Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York by saying he didn't think the state needed so many ventilators (and also has insulted other governors, including Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and "failed presidential candidate Jay Inslee of Washington).  Other forms of equipment necessary to fight the pandemic are in short supply, and states have to compete with each other and with other countries to buy it.  Trump's order to GM goes a little in the right direction, but not far enough.  People are supporting Trump because he's the only leader we have - except for Andrew Cuomo, of course (more on that later)  - and they want him to get us out of this mess.  But when you think about it, Trump is more infamous for messes he's gotten us into.  He wanted to open the country for business for Easter, but why did he think he could do that when the Indianapolis 500 - which runs every Memorial Day - has been postponed this year until summer? (He's since extended social distancing guidelines through April.)
I could think of more examples, but I don't want to give myself a headache (though that would be preferable to COVID-19).
Congress passed a bipartisan $2 trillion (that's $2,000,000,000,000) relief package to shore up private businesses and help people.  It will help, but it won't be enough.  And don't ask me to break the bill down in detail, but suffice to say that the Democrats improved it and prevented from becoming a full-blown corporate bailout.  So, in the spirit of bipartisanship, let's hope Trump helps get us out of this mess.  But let's not hope he gets re-elected.    

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Inside Information

I can't keep up with all of this coronavirus news.  I want to write about everything else going on the world, but there's nothing else going on in the world.
I'm a little late in commenting on this, and I can't add much to it, but here it is: As you already know, U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, privately warned attended of a luncheon in North Carolina about a month ago that the coronavirus outbreak was going to hit America and hit it hard, calling it "probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic," and then proceeded to sell stocks before the market tanked.  Where did he get this information and why didn't he tell anyone else?
Because Burr (above) shared information in private rather than keep it to himself, he doesn't believe that he violated any insider-trading laws, but just to make sure he didn't, he's asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate him.  Wow, what integrity.  No one is buying this.  Consider this reaction from a leading pundit: "He [Burr] must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading . . ..  He had inside information about what could happen to our country, which is now happening, but he didn't warn the public . . ..  Instead, what did he do? He dumped his shares in hotel stocks so he wouldn’t lose money."  The pundit's name? Tucker Carlson.
You know you screw up badly when you are a Republican and you tick off Tucker Carlson.
Equally appalling is the situation of appointed Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who also sold stocks before COVID-19 eighty-sixed the Dow and who is - MAXIMUM BIG SURPRISE! - married to Jeffrey Srpecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange! Burr sold only (only?) 628,000 to $1.72 million in stocks, but  Loeffler sold between $1,275,000 and $3,100,000 in stock.  Forbes magazine's Jack Brewster (who, by the way, wrote a very good opinion piece about Joe Biden's stutter for Newsweek) reported that both Burr and Loeffler were downplaying the coronavirus crisis even as they were unloading their portfolios. 
While Burr ad Loeffler sold their stocks directly, two other senators had their stock sold by third parties before the market tanked, one Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California and one Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma.  I'm willing to give both of them the benefit of the doubt because of their different situation - even the insufferable Inhofe, who  who was one of the eight senators who voted against an earlier coronavirus relief bill.  But Burr ought to take Tucker Carlson's advice, and Loeffler, running in a special election to complete the remainder of former Senator Johnny Isakson's term, should not be given the opportunity to do so.  

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Correction: March 28, 2020

In "'Abbey Road': The Release," my post from October 2019 about the Beatles' last album, I wrote that it had been certified "the best-selling album of 1969 - and it was only out for the final three weeks of the year."  Oops!  I meant to say that it had been certified "the best-selling album of 1969 - and it was only out for the final three months of the year."  Somehow, no one who read it caught the error, but that's no excuse on my part.  That error has since been corrected.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Music Video Of the Week - March 27, 2020

"Space Captain," Joe Cocker and Mad Dogs & Englishmen (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

"We Will Get Through This?"

The coronavirus crisis has worsened under Trump's leadership but he's getting higher approval ratings for his handling of it.  While Trump gets to be on TV every day, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders can only hold sporadic streaming events - and Biden is still trying to work the kinks out of his home studio.  More and more people are dying and most of the remaining cases remain active.  A large number of Americans are under lockdown and essential services are under strain - particularity hospitals.  Trump wants to re-open the country in time for Easter despite warnings against that and the Postal Service may shut down completely by June.  There are over a thousand COVID-19 deaths  in America now.  Our spring has pretty much been ruined and the rest of the year doesn't look too great either.   And yet TV news personalities who are isolated in and broadcasting out of their own houses are telling us, "We will get through this!"            

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Let the Games Begin Later

The International Olympic Committee has postponed the Tokyo Olympics.  Note that I did not refer to them as the "2020 Tokyo Olympics," as the coronavirus pandemic that necessitated the delay is not expected to subside before the end of this year.  Sports reporters are already saying that the spring of 2021 is the likeliest time the Games will be held.
And since the Olympic flame had already been lit in a solemn ceremony, there might as well be another solemn ceremony in which the flame is quietly put out before it even reaches the stadium.
I never understood why the Olympic organizing committee in Tokyo thought it would be a good idea to hold the Games in  late July and early August in the first place.  East Asian summers are notorious for their volatile weather, which is why the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October and why the canceled 1940 Tokyo Olympics (Japan was too busy conquering the Pacific to stage them) had been scheduled for late September and early October.  Had the Chinese gotten ahead of this virus sooner, as they did with SARS in 2002 and 2003 and H1N1 in 2009, or even if the rest of the world had done so and followed the example of South Korea, which was on the virus crisis in a New York minute, it might have been possible to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until early fall. Now that the virus could hit in a second wave by then, 2021 is thus the target date.  Heck, I'd bet on 2022, because who knows if the virus will be under control by next year?  Speaking of 2022, Beijing is holding the Winter Olympics that year, which seems rather foolish in light of the foul-ups, bleeps and blunders in China's initial handling of the outbreak and already seemed foolish given that Beijing already held the 2008 Games (which wasn't too long ago in the Big Bang scheme of things).  Now is the time to move the Winter Games.
Given the fragility of the environment and the numerous health crises we've had on this planet in the past decade, I would expect to see the Olympics revert to their original state as a low-key sporting event without a lot of pomp and circumstance.  A few of the first Olympiads were in fact held as world's fair sideshows.  The staging of the Games as a grand spectacle actually started with Adolf Hitler's display of nationalism at the 1936 Berlin Games (below), with the 1936 Winter Olympics in the German skiing town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen having offered a sneak preview of the bigger event.  (Nineteen thirty-six was the third - and, understandably, last - time in which the Winter and Summer Games both took place in the same country in the same year.)
So, yes, all of the gaudy opening ceremonies of subsequent Olympiads were the unintended consequence of Berlin 1936.  Heck, the Atlanta Olympic opening ceremony of 1996 was so overblown it seemed like the only thing that could redeem it was if Muhammad Ali were to light the cauldron; thankfully, that's exactly what happened.  And the expensive facilities, the outrageous ticket prices, and the asinine coverage offered by corporate television helped make the Games into a huge, bloated affair, even the once-intimate Winter Olympics.  Its just gets more and more costly to stage them; Tokyo got the Games of the XXII Olympiad by default, because so few cities were interested in bidding for them due to concerns over cost.  It's time to scale them back, being them back to where they were in the early decades of the Olympic movement, and concentrate the whole raison d'être for the Games - sport.
And now for something completely different - sport! ;-)  

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Alexander the Great

Trump has already lied about the seriousness of the coronavirus, saying it was contained (it's never been contained), that it's not different from the flu (it's deadlier), that anyone who wants a test can get one (uh, no. they can't), and that it could be over by July or August (which no one knows, although the virus's ability to spread in hot, humid Singapore is not a good harbinger for the American Northeast in the summertime).
This past Friday, even as Trump saw improvement - yes, improvement - in his overall approval ratings and his approval rating for dealing with coronavirus, Trump told even more lies about the COVID-19 disease, in a press conference, such as how therapies and drug treatments such as hydroxychloroquine are  effective prophylactic measures against coronavirus.  Dr,Anthony Fauci - no longer present at Trump's daily briefings - made it clear that none of this was proven to be true.  Trump also said that you should get tested it you have the sniffles or a sneeze - even though the main symptoms of coronavirus are a dry cough, shortness of breath, and fever.   He did tell one truth - that anyone who doesn't have symptoms of COVID-19 shouldn't get a test.  But he had to say this because there simply aren't enough tests for everyone, as opposed to, say, South Korea, which has the virus under control.  (Trump had also said that the Food and Drug administration had also approved chloroquine for COVID-19 treatment.  In fact, it didn't.)
Having dealt with enough of Trump's blather, NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander (above) asked Trump if it was "possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope" by promoting drugs and therapies that may not be effective (and probably aren't).   Trump replied that he didn't think so, adding, "It may work, it may not work.  That’s all it is, it’s a feeling."   
Alexander then asked Trump if he could possibly communicate directly with to scared Americans.  "What do you say to Americans who are scared ,though? I guess, nearly 200 dead, 14,000 who are sick, millions, as you witnessed, who are scared right now. . .. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?"
No one - except those who know Trump inside and out - could have imagined Trump's response.
"I say that you’re a terrible reporter,” Trump said. “That’s what I say. I think that’s a very nasty question."
Dismissing Alexander and his association with NBC News and NBC's parent company Comcast - or "Concast," as Trump calls it - Trump added, "The American people are looking for answers and they're looking for hope, and you’re doing sensationalism," Trump said.  "Let's see if it works.  It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows, I've been right a lot. Let's see what happens."
What's happening is that hospitals are running low on supplies and efforts by politicians such as New York City mayor Bill de Blasio are banging their heads trying  to get the federal government to help them out.
NBC News defended Peter Alexander as a solid reporter who acted professionally.  Which he did.  We need more reporters like Peter Alexander to help us get through this.  

Monday, March 23, 2020

Tulsi's Out

Last week, Tulsi Gabbard finally ended her impractical residential campaign.  What was as telling as who didn't get out is who Gabbard endorsed for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination upon her exit.
Gabbard, a darling of the far left, endorsed Joe Biden for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, which is an indication that she understands how crucial it is for her party and her country to unseat Donald Trump.  Even though Bernie Sanders remains resolutely in the 2020 presidential campaign despite the fact that he can't catch up to Biden's delegate count, Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, knows that now is not the time for a revolutionary, progressive political agenda; that can come later.  She knows in this time of a global pandemic and a need for steady leadership that we have to return to where we were before those two dual infections - COVID-19 and Trumpism - took over.  She's a patriot who put party and country over politics.  Her endorsement of Biden was her way of telling Bernie to take a hint.
In addition to being the last woman, the last person of color, and the last millennial in the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, Gabbard, a Hawaii congresswoman, is the last candidate from the West.  So, unless Biden gets California's Kamala Harris to be his running mate (not entirely out of the question), the Democratic national ticket will once again have no candidate from the Western states.  Colorado's Gary Hart, the last Democratic presidential candidate from a Western state who had any realistic chance of winning (well, except maybe New Mexico's Bill Richardson), once said in 1987 that the West was the future of America . . . and in terms of Democratic presidential politics, it likely always will be.  Oh, well, maybe Hart, who turned 83 in November 2019, may still live to see a President from west of the Rockies.  Or maybe we can have an Elton John fan in the White House so we can have a President who's from rock of the Westies. ;-)        

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Early to Middle 1970

And now, back to the story of the Beatles' breakup.
Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr - John Lennon wasn't around - spent the first weekend of 1970 working to complete the Let It Be album, at that point still to be called Get Back, holding their last two recording sessions together for 24 years.  On Monday January 5, Glyn Johns, who had complied a Get Back album (above) in the spring of 1969 that the Beatles had rejected, had another go at it.  The second Get Back album would feature re-edits and remixes of the songs intended for the first Get Back album, and two new songs were added - the newly recorded "I Me Mine" from the Beatles' January 3, 1970 session and a remixed version of "Across the Universe," a song that had just been released a month earlier on comedian Spike Milligan's World Wildlife Fund charity album.  (Due to its preponderance of British recording artists unfamiliar to Americans, that album, No One's Gonna Change Our World - cleverly titled after a variation of the key lyric in "Across the Universe" - was not released in America, though it did include the Bee Gees and the Hollies, as well as Cliff Richard, who would not find success in America until the mid-seventies.)  Both songs were included because rough cuts of the documentary film on the making of the album showed the Beatles playing both songs during the rehearsals before the proper Get Back recording sessions commenced ("Across the Universe" had actually been recorded eleven months before the Get Back sessions). If the songs were to be featured in the movie, they had to be on the LP as well.
This second Get Back album, like the first one, would remain unreleased.  The Beatles couldn't decide whether or not they liked it, and John Lennon balked at the idea of Johns getting a producer's credit, even though he was more involved with the project than George Martin had been.  The album was put on ice once again, and George took advantage of the lull by re-recording his lead vocal on his song "For You Blue" on January 8.  (For those keeping track, this was the third Beatles recording session of 1970 and the first to involve only one Beatle.)  Overdubbing and re-recording had been ruled out at the start of the Get Back project, but it was a necessity to complete the record, the tapes having been so poorly recorded.  Several overdubs, all for the song "Let It Be," had already been recorded up to that point.  But as far as John Lennon was concerned, he would have been happy to let the album go it as it was.
"We let Glyn Johns remix it, we didn't want to know," Lennon later said.  "We just left it to him and said, 'Here, do it.' It's the first time since the first album that we didn't have anything to do with it. None of us could be bothered going in. Everybody was probably thinking, 'Well, I'm not going to work on it.' Nobody could face looking at it . . .I thought it would be great to go out - the [crappy] version - because it would break the Beatles. It would break the myth: 'That's us, with no trousers on and no glossy paint over the cover and no sort of hope. This is what we are like with our trousers off, so would you please end the game now.'"
As of January 1970, the Beatles hadn't officially broken up, and there was an outside chance that they might return to the recording studio, but with John, Paul, and Ringo Starr all working on solo records in one form or another, the prognosis for the group's continuation into the seventies was anything but good.  John, for one, was eager to get his new song "Instant Karma!" out after writing it upon his return from a vacation in Denmark (which caused him to miss the January 3-4, 1970 Beatles sessions), and the Plastic Ono Band concept he'd created was the perfect vehicle for his song about the need to help one another and to get our acts together.  The fact that he wrote this song even as he was separating from Paul, George and Ringo was ironic.
In fact, John cut his new song the on the day he wrote it.  He wrote "Instant Karma!" on the morning of January 27, 1970, booked the studio that afternoon, and had the record mixed and finished that night.  It was to be his third single with the Plastic Ono Band, the lineup of which was John, Yoko, and whoever happened to be in the room at the time - this time consisting of of Klaus Voorman on bass, Alan White on drums, George Harrison on guitar and piano, Billy Preston on organ and Beatles assistant Mal Evans on chimes and handclaps.  But there was a new face in the room.  Rather than get George Martin or himself to produce it, John ended up making the record with, at George Harrison's recommendation, the aid of American record producer Phil Spector, who had always wanted to work with the Beatles and hadn't had a hit in half a decade.  The session went so well that John and George thought that Spector might be the one who could make an album out of the Get Back/Let It Be tapes after Glyn Johns had, in their view, had come up short.
Indeed, Spector's use of echo and reverberation, as well as the brightness he got out of Lennon's piano and the cold-fish smack of White's drums, was well-received, and the critics' favorable response reportedly got him the job to make what became Let It Be.  But what most likely sealed the deal for Spector was "Instant Karma!"'s chart performance - it reached number three on the Billboard singles chart in America, becoming the first solo Beatle single to go gold there, and it reached number five in Britain, its chart success in the U.K. no doubt helped by John's presentation of the song on the British pop show "Top Of the Pops" (as seen below).  Its happy-go-lucky melody and positive message certainly helped at a time when negativity was running high.  And its success likely convinced John further that he didn't need to believe in Beatles any more.
Meanwhile, "Let It Be," a McCartney power ballad about Paul's late mother, was mixed by George Martin and released as a single on March 6 in Britain and on March 11 in America.  (It was backed with - of all things - John's comedy track "You Know My Name [Look Up the Number].")  From all appearances, the group was still together, but by this point it was mostly a mirage.  Paul was diligently putting together his debut solo album in secret, playing all of the instruments himself. Ringo had spent the fall of 1969 recording tracks for his debut solo album Sentimental Journey, a collection of pre-rock pop standards that Ringo's mother loved to sing at the local pub with her friends, and he completed the record in March, releasing it at the end of the month in Britain and releasing it in America in late April. (As a rocker who put an album of standards, Ringo turned out to be ahead of his time.)  "Let It Be" inevitably reached number one in America and made it to number two in Britain.  (It was the Beatles' last single in their home country.)  Because "Get Back" had already been out for a year, it was thus decided that "Let It Be" should be the title song of the album and film.  Having gotten the job to bring the album to fruition, Phil Spector entered EMI Studios at Abbey Road on Monday, March 23, 1970 to begin the daunting task.
To be continued . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Pandemic Blues

This coronavirus pandemic is really taking a toll on everyone, including me.  I've been watching nothing but the news - there isn't much else on TV anyway - and one piece of bad news follows another.  Violently wild stock market swings . . . everything shut down . . . the number of U.S. coronavirus cases topping 19,000 . . . Italy experiencing more coronavirus deaths than China with no end to the rising infection and fatality rates despite their national lockdown . . . California, New York State and Illinois closed until further notice . . . no light at the end of the tunnel for anyone except in the form of an oncoming train.  The only "positive" news I hear is the status of coronavirus test outcomes.
We're not getting much relief from the weather where I live, either. We just had some rain, and now  even though it's relatively mild, it's going to be raw and wet this coming Monday with much of the week forecast to be showery.  At least I won't feel guilty for staying indoors.
I was so looking forward to spring . . . turns out that the benign winter that just ended was one of the nicest seasons we've had recently.  I actually got to go out a lot.  And no power outages.
I'm sort of tired now . . . 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Music Video Of the Week - March 20, 2020

"Lies" by the Knickerbockers  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Things We Can Do Without

One of the good things about a crisis as bad as the coronavirus pandemic is that we give up things to get through the crisis only to realize that we haven't missed them when the crisis is over. Perhaps this crisis will lead us to discard things we've just given up to fight the pandemic that we realize we should have gotten rid of a long time ago - and then get rid of them for good.  In fact, I can think of a few things myself.
Intercollegiate athletics.  March Madness, the stupidly and alliteratively named college basketball tournament that always happens this time of year, has been called off not to be rescheduled.  So forget May Madness.  But seriously, why do we have college sports programs in the first place?  The students are regularly exploited for their athletic talents, and they're cheated by being given easy courses to pass to keep them on the teams. (They take music appreciation courses in which they're asked if would like to hear music, and they get a passing grade when they answer, "Yes, I'd appreciate that!")  Maybe if we didn't have college athletics, the students could actually spend more time learning how to really appreciate music as well as literature, history, and classical languages to train them how to think.  And no one would be bribing colleges and universities to get their athletically challenged and academically challenged kids an athletic scholarship for croquet.
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The induction ceremony for the 2020 class, scheduled for May 2, was postponed to a date yet to be determined.  By the time the class of 2020 is inducted - which could be in early 2021 - no one will care and no one will pay attention to the inductions.  So maybe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will, like rock and roll itself, come to an end.  Use the museum building in Cleveland for a performing arts school, sort of a Julliard on Lake Erie.  As for us rock fans, we can go on happily go on listening to Classic Vinyl and Spectrum on Sirius XM (which is the best way to honor rock and rollers) and stop bitching about how N.W.A. can get in when Jethro Tull or the Avett Brothers can't.
Cruise ships.  I have never understood the logic of going on a cruise.  You get on a ship, go around in a circle through the Caribbean, and then get off where you got on in the first place.  In between you stop at ports of call where you don't stay for long, you're "treated" to cheap "gourmet" meals and  lame theatrical productions - usually Celine Dion revues or the like - and you have to put up with a perky cruise director urging you to give table tennis a shot.  The only ocean liners we should have are ones that get you from one place to another, like the Queen Mary 2.  Because if I set sail from Miami only for my destination to be . . . Miami, I might as well have stayed there.     
Obnoxious family members.  Honestly, folks, if you're not missing Uncle Brian or Cousin Earl by now, there's probably a good reason.  Cut the cord already.
Commuting.  And if you can work from home during a pandemic, you can do the same when it's over.  Why drive to work?  You can't even enjoy the drive with all that traffic anyway.
Disney World.  Is there really anything interesting about a giant amusement park in an area the size of San Francisco with stupendously ugly resort hotels and a fake Main Street far less charming that the real one where you live, all connected by glitzy monorails and populated by costumed characters - with the promise of endless pleasure?  Don't be an ass.
Butlin's.  That goes for those holiday camps in Britain as well.  Even the Brits know they're ridiculous.  Asked what the thought of  the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's retreat in India upon returning to Britain, Ringo Starr answered, "It was just like Butlin's."  Having stayed in India for three days, he did not mean that as a compliment.
Presidential debates with audiences.  I've mentioned this before, and I cannot emphasize this enough.  Audience reactions to gaffes or disagreeable positions are distracting and annoying.  If tail-end Boomer Martin O'Malley hadn't been booed for making a foreign-policy argument in favor of generational change in a debate against Boomer elder Hillary Clinton and Silent Generation avatar Bernie Sanders, we'd all have been better off.    
This guy.
That goes without saying.
I hope this has been helpful.
(Things we do need again when the pandemic is over include baseball, dinner dates, hugs and kisses, schools, libraries, museums, auto shows, Nancy Pelosi, social media in case we have another pandemic, chocolate-covered peanut butter patties, and toilet paper - lots and lots of toilet paper.) 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

No parades this year, but there's this . . .

Monday, March 16, 2020

Biden Versus Sanders

So how did what may be the last debate of the Democratic presidential primary season go?
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were able to have spirited debate with no spin, no filters, and, most important of all, no live audience.  Biden showed real strength in dealing with the coronavirus issue and mostly was able to keep his stammer under control.  He held his own against Bernie Sanders' strident attacks on his record, and he did a pretty good job of defending himself.  But he didn't go on the offense often enough, despite some fine points on issues such as climate change and women's issues, and in the times he did go on the offensive, he seemed to be too mannered.  Sanders made valid points on numerous issues, particularly on single-payer health care.  He was also very tenacious and did a great deal to solidify his base.  But he seemed too aggressive and less presidential than Biden, who took advantage of the coronavirus issue and used it as a prime example of why we need to fix things now and worry about great transformative change later, and Sanders was unable to convince me that we can handle radical change when incremental change is more urgently needed thanks to four years of Donald J. Trump.
In short, neither candidate scored a knockout punch.  But both of them came out standing tall.  The voters will have a say on this soon enough.

Sunday, March 15, 2020


Everything just went to hell over this damn virus.
Virtually every sporting event has been cancelled or postponed.  Broadway theaters in New York have shut down. Schools are closing, as are libraries and museums. There are over two thousand coronavirus cases in the United States.  Italy is closed and Denmark and Spain have followed suit.  People are dying faster than they can be treated.  The wife of the prime minister of Canada and the mayor of Miami has tested positive for the virus, as have Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson - in Australia, where it's summer, when respiratory viruses are supposed to recede - and Trump, even as he declared a national emergency on Friday, talked up the private corporations helping out to pump up the stock market.  And he isn't taking responsibility for calling the outbreak a hoax. 
All of this is happening as the Northern Hemisphere goes into spring.  For many, it's been a cold, brutal winter, and a season they've been looking forward to for relief and renewal promises only more cabin fever.  (Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom you all know about, has suggested the disruptions could last three to eight weeks more.) Where I live, we've had a benign winter - dry cold snaps followed by warm, rainy periods that resulted in no snow or ice (though there were a couple of close calls).  The school district in my hometown only needed to use one emergency day.  Now it may have to use the rest of them and push the end of school into July, if that's even legal, as it has closed due to the pandemic.  
What are my sacrifices?  Well, I had already decided not to attend the New York auto show - before it was moved to the week before Labor Day.  So I might still go.  Far less certain is another annual spring event I go to, which was scheduled in May for a day of the week much more convenient for me than in years past - figures, right? -  and what's to come of that is still unknown.  As for other events, I still hope to go once they've been rescheduled, provided they don't get cancelled altogether.  I'll try to concentrate on the positives of spring - the daffodils and the hyacinths, the milder weather, Easter - but somehow it doesn't going to feel like spring with the Masters golf tournament not delaying "60 Minutes." (I make joke! :-D )
Most places that are closed could be open again in a few weeks, but that's not a given.   I hope we can get through all of this with as little disruption as possible.  Well, maybe one small disruption, some trifle that will disrupt Trump's re-election hopes.
We can get through this.  We will get through this.      

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Book Review: "Rocket's Red Glare" by Cy Stein

A Jewish family in the urban American Northeast lives under the threat of a fascistic order when Charles Lindbergh is elected President of the United States in 1940 on the promise of keeping America out of the Second World War.  If that sounds like the storyline of Philip Roth's alternate history novel The Plot Against America, you'd be right.  But if you think that sounds like a storyline for a fast-paced action novel, you'd still be right.  Cy Stein has given the idea of a Lindbergh Presidency a new twist with Rocket's Red Glare, a pulsating story of a young Jewish physics student caught in a web of intrigue and danger.
In Rocket's Red Glare, Sid Peskin lives with his family in the Bronx, pursuing his studies in physics at City College while President Lindbergh consolidates his power and tries to silence his detractors.  In this alternate history, Great Britain is occupied by Nazi Germany and Winston Churchill and his Cabinet have been forced into exile in Canada with the Royal Family.  Donald Trump's father Fred, not Fiorello LaGuardia, is mayor of New York City, and he allows the German-American Bundist groups to terrorize Jews and blacks while conspiring with the White House to shut down the New York Times.  Hitler gives tacit support to Lindbergh's administration, using the young President as a pawn in his quest for world domination, and Fred Trump beseeches the Nazis to help him in his real estate endeavors.  
Sid's intelligence and his ability to figure out mathematical problems quickly capture the attention of a well-known scientist named Leo, as well as a Brooklyn mobster.  Both gentlemen appear to be in a secret anti-Lindbergh group, and they take an interest in Sid's mathematical abilities.  When a physics professor of Sid's at City College is murdered, Sid realizes that physicists are in danger - especially when many of them begin disappearing without a trace. Sid takes a romantic interest in Julia, the mobster's niece, and finds solace in his relationship with her, but his paranoia increases as his suspicions regarding Julia's uncle and Leo grow deep.  What do they want with him?  Are they really part of some anti-Lindbergh group - and if so, who is their leader?
The parallels between this suspenseful story and the present are obvious.  Lindbergh appears to be a stand-in for Donald Trump, and his relationship with Hitler suggests Trump's relationship with Vladimir Putin.  Other historical figures appear in this tale in surprising roles; John F. Kennedy is a young naval officer working for the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, and he may or may not be helping Hoover and Lindbergh quash opposition to the administration.  Lindbergh has made Kennedy's father Secretary of the Treasury in a pathetic attempt to make his Cabinet look bipartisan.  Former President Herbert Hoover is in Lindbergh's Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce until he resigns to protest Lindbergh's declaration of martial law. And some of the greatest scientists in the world - Einstein, Fermi, Oppenheimer - make appearances, as do Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who look to start a crusade for communism and overthrow the Nazi sympathizers in Washington.
Rocket's Red Glare isn't as sober-minded as Roth's novel.  It's an adventure story, pure and simple, as Stein seeks to entertain with a diverting tale of good guys battling the forces of evil.  But beneath that comic book, graphic novel veneer lies a disturbing look at racial and ethnic prejudice, as well as a frightening tie between the past and the present. Consider Rocket's Red Glare a warning of what may yet be as well as a tale of what could have been.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Music Video Of the Week - March 13, 2020

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

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A Gracious and Polite Man Versus an Angry and Defiant Man

Joe Biden won most of the states selecting delegates to the Democratic National Convention this past Tuesday, including the biggest state, Michigan.  Speaking in Philadelphia, Biden, with his wife Jill beside him, said that he wanted to extend a hand to the newer, more diverse generations coming up in the Democratic Party.  He complimented Bernie Sanders for his own presidential campaign and said he wanted to join Sanders supporters in the common goal of defeating Donald Trump. 
And I can count the number of Sanders supporters who were satisfied by Biden's gracious comments on zero fingers.
Yesterday, Sanders emerged to announce his plans for the short term.  Acknowledging his losses in Tuesday's primaries and caucuses, he sounded like he was prefacing a withdrawal announcement with a final show of resistance, in the style of Gary Hart ("I'm not a beaten man, but I am an angry and defiant man").  Well, Sanders let out his anger and defiance, stressing the need to defeat Trump in November and vowing to do what he could to defeat him, but he did not end his presidential candidacy.  Instead he declared that, while he was losing most of the primary elections and caucuses, he was winning the ideological campaign, as the increasing majority of Americans under 50 agreed with his positions on health care, the environment, and economic justice.  And he demanded that Biden answer the question as to what he, as a moderate who sees no reason to fundamentally change the structure of American democracy, what he was going to do about all that.
Sanders might as well have given Biden his briefing book for Sunday's debate - which Sanders says he looks forward to - for all of the advance questions he threw at him.
Well, then, good.  The debate between Biden and Sanders should be the best Democratic debate of the 2020 election cycle.  Not only will it be the first one-on-one debate between the two men, it will be held only with a moderator and possibly a panel, with no audience and no spin room for reporters because of the coronavirus.  That's a good thing.  It will be a classic debate like the old Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960, which also took place without an audience.  It will be a serious discussion between the center-left candidate and the progressive candidate as to where America should go into the 203rd decade of Christendom.  Mano a mano.  Biden versus Sanders.
Sorry, Tulsi.    

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


Coronavirus has infected over a thousand people in the United States.  The number may be even higher, as not enough people have been tested.  Switzerland has already banned large meetings through this coming Sunday, and it may be extended.  Meanwhile, Italy is closed.  There's a lockdown across the country lasting at least until Palm Sunday, April 5.  Don't be surprised if it gets extended to Ascension Thursday (May 21).
College classes are being held online at Ivy League universities and state schools, not just diploma mills.  It looks like the NCAA basketball tournament may be scaled back (well, there's a silver lining!).  And the stock market doesn't know where it's going.
I have a feeling that we can't hand-wash, elbow-bump, socially distance, and cancel our way out of this mess.
Oh yeah, Chinese President Xi Jinping says that the tide has turned in Wuhan and that the virus is receding, even as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere has to extend winter cabin fever through the rest of the year and into next winter to stave off a fever of a more literal and lethal sort while the Southern Hemisphere has to look forward to a disease-infested autumn.  Thanks for everything, Xi.  You're a guy. :-p 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A Plea For Sanity

It looks like Joe Biden is the Democratic presidential nominee-in waiting.  He's expected to win the Michigan primary today be a wide margin, though who knows if that's the case until it happens.
Already I see Bernie bros online attacking Biden as a tool of the Establishment and as an untrustworthy centrist who won't bring needed change to this country as President.  Some may be even thinking of going third party on him in November.  Bernie bros?  Please don't!  I'm not saying Biden will definitely be the nominee, and as a registered independent, I remain neutral in this primary election process, but if Biden is the Democratic presidential nominee, as it now seems likely, I urge you to vote for Biden in November because this time we really don't have a choice!  A third-party candidate will only help Trump, especially in swing states.  Yeah, I went third party in a safe state when the idea of "President Trump" was just that - an idea.  But now it's reality, not a reality show, and even Democratic-leaning voters in safe Democratic states can't take a chance on voting Green or whatever this time.  A second Trump term would be a disaster - especially with the coronavirus outbreak going on.  If we can't have a social democratic revolution at this time - and I still insist that, for now anyway, we can't -we should at least get back to normal.
Look, a Biden Presidency would not only help us do that, it would put back together the Obama legacy, which a more liberal successor to Biden can build upon like Bernie Sanders could have done had he been elected President in 2016. Sanders can't get much done as President if elected anyway; he may still have to deal with a Republican Senate and possibly moderate House Democrats to get anything done. He has not spent one ounce of energy to build consensus or expand his base. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but if he's not the nominee, it's a moot point. So if Biden is the Democratic presidential nominee, than dammit, don't go crazy - vote for him!
Oh yeah, and if Bernie Sanders is the nominee . . .
. . . I'll vote for him.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Gift of Gabbard

When CNN's promotional ads for the next Democratic presidential debate on March 15 said it was "down to two" candidates, it became obvious that Tulsi Gabbard became in 2020 what Martin O'Malley became in 2016 - the Democratic presidential candidate no one wants to talk about unless the talk turns comical.
Gabbard says that she's continuing her long-shot run for the Presidency because she says she has "an opportunity to speak to Americans every single day about the sea change we need in our foreign policy," such as our military spending. Uh, don't we have Bernie Sanders for that? In fact, Sanders' positions on both domestic and foreign policy have made her redundant.  And while she doesn't have Joe Biden's unfortunate ability to make gaffes, her favorable comments about Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and her past comments about gay marriage more than equal every stupid thing Biden has said.  She mostly exists as a candidate for the entertainment value.
The difference between Gabbard and O'Malley, though, mostly comes down to Gabbard being less grounded in reality.  I have long had this theory that, when the Russians released e-mails from the Democratic National Committee through Wikileaks, O'Malley intercepted an e-mail from Debbie Wasserman Schultz to John Podesta that said Martin was the most insufferable boor in the entire Democratic Party and that everyone hated him.  And so, with tears in his eyes, O'Malley realized right then and then there that he had no chance of winning the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.  But at least O'Malley isn't oblivious to the truth of what people think of him.  By contrast, I think Tulsi Gabbard is utterly clueless about how people view her.  Even though Hillary Clinton reportedly said that the Russians were "grooming" Gabbard to run as a third-party candidate to take enough votes away from the Democratic nominee to help Trump win a second term, even though the Democratic National Committee has made it impossible for her to qualify for the primary debates, and even though progressives have completely abandoned her for Sanders, she remains under this delusion that she actually matters.
As with other would-be Presidents who will never occupy the White House, a cult following has developed around Gabbard.  In a way, that's rather nice; she still has a small cadre of people who believe in her and still think she can be President. It's also sort of sad.
Ask someone who knows from personal experience of having supported Martin O'Malley. :-( 

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Auto Show Blues, Part Three

Forget Frankfurt.
Remember when I said I hoped to go the auto show at Frankfurt if it was the last thing I did?  Yeah, about that . . ..  The German International Automobile Show, as the auto show in Frankfurt is called, will not be held in Frankfurt in 2021.  Germany's national automobile association awarded the show for 2021 to Munich instead. Munich (shown above) was chosen in part because it has a good reputation for organizing major events like Oktoberfest.  And while this is in some ways a good deal, considering the Bavarian capital's history and its own automotive heritage (the Bavarian Motor Works, which we all know as BMW, is located there), the show will take on a less traditional theme, looking at newfangled mobility solutions that don't necessarily involve cars and also emphasizing the concept of the digitally connected "smart" city.  It will be less like the Frankfurt shows of yore and be more like a cross between an auto show and the South by Southwest Festival in Austin (canceled this year because of coronavirus, of course).  Anyone expecting a grand auto salon like the Frankfurt shows of yore may be disappointed.
Yeah, well, to quote that great poet David Gates, it don't matter to me.  I'm looking at a future that increasingly appears to exclude foreign travel, and not just because of the coronavirus.  I simply might not be able to spare the time or have the money.  I actually began to look at going sometime last year until an unexpected disruption to my personal life (which I won't discuss here because it's, well, personal), and quite frankly, I think the year 2019 was my last chance of traveling anywhere outside North America.  I think I'll go to the Jersey Shore this summer and look out the ocean in the direction of Portugal, which is due east of New Jersey, and wonder what the other side is like, just like I did when I was a kid.
And if I see any new cars on display this year, it'll probably be at my dealership while I'm waiting for my car to be serviced.
Oh yeah, more good news: Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz are all skipping the 2020 New York Auto Show, citing the great expense involved.  All of these announcements were made before the coronavirus got out of hand.  Among German automakers, that only leaves Porsche showing cars I can't get into and Volkswagen showing cars I can see at my dealer plus a new electric crossover I don't care about!  Why should I even want to go this year at this point?  Call this show "Manhattangrad," as in Stalingrad, seeing how the Germans have retreated from it.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

What a Difference a Week Makes

I didn't want to comment on the Super Tuesday Democratic presidential vote until now because, not only did I have a lot of other things I wanted to get off my plate, I wanted to wait and see how the results of Tuesday's voting would unfold.  
And after four days, I never thought it would unfold like this!
A week and change ago, Joe Biden was looking at either a possible loss or merely a narrow win in the South Carolina primary, and when he got the big win he needed, pundits - oh, those silly pundits! - doubted that he wouldn't get a bounce quickly enough to fare well in the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses just three days after.  When the dust settled, four of his opponents said farewell to the campaign and withdrew as candidates, all but one of them backing Biden.  And while Bernie Sanders is still in the campaign, the polls and the trends indicate that running against Biden will not be as easy for him as running against Hillary Clinton in 2016.  
For one thing, Sanders has to persuade voters why his massive spending proposals make sense at a time when the deficit is skyrocketing and he has no foundation to build them on, thanks to Trump's dismantling of the Obama legacy.  Also, a lot of people who voted for Sanders didn't so much vote for him as vote against Hillary Clinton.  Biden is likely to get more votes simply because more people like him.  Another thing is that Sanders has a problem getting more people to back him.  He should have spent the past several weeks expanding his base and giving skeptical centrist voters reasons to follow him instead of Biden, but he apparently couldn't think of any.  His supporters, though, did give people tons of reasons not to vote for Joe Biden.  Bernie may not have enough people willing to vote for him just because they dislike Biden as passionately as his base does, but for anyone who doesn't like either one of them, there's always Tulsi Gabbard. :-D 
Unless you give Sanders points for being Jewish, Tulsi Gabbard is the last example of diversity in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination campaign. She's a woman, she's a Hindu, and she's part Samoan.  But she has no chance of wining the nomination and everyone in America knows it.  She's made too many controversial foreign-policy statements, and her domestic-policy positions seem redundant in light of Sanders' campaign.  The departure of Elizabeth Warren has led women to bemoan the failure of any of the female Democratic candidates to become the party's nominee and lament that the United States won't have a female President in 2021.  Some have have blamed misogyny for the failure of the female candidates' campaigns in this cycle.  
Ladies?  At the risk of sounding like I'm "mansplaining" here, let's review.  It's not Amy Klobuchar's fault or Elizabeth Warren's fault that they won't be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.  Klobuchar got a lot of momentum, but her failure to capitalize on it had less to do with her campaign abilities than a lamebrained primary/caucus calendar that constrained her.  Neither she nor Warren had the support in South Carolina they needed to go forward.  Warren, the only female candidate to make it to Super Tuesday, only competed in eighteen states.  She might have been a contender at the convention or even won enough delegates for a majority beforehand if the other thirty-two states got to weigh in in a national primary.    I would have voted for either Klobuchar or Warren in November if one of them been nominated.  Despite the underlying fear of a repeat of 2016 - a female presidential nominee losing to Rump - we have to remember that Hillary Clinton was a more polarizing figure than either Klobuchar or Warren, yet she won the popular vote.  Warren would have been a perfect candidate to take on Trump.  Look what she did to Michael Bloomberg.
And that was the really big surprise of the past week.  Bloomberg had the money and the organization, but, as pundits didn't quite figure out until he got out, he didn't have the love and the devotion from voters. Heck, even Martin O'Malley in 2016 had all that!  Bloomberg based his campaign on the idea that the center-left wing of the Democratic Party would abandon Biden, and he calculated that he could fill the gap.  It was all calculation and no passion.  Good grief, people were taking paying jobs with his campaign and actually spent their free time canvassing for someone else, as reported in both the liberal magazine The Nation and the conservative National Review.  But, if you counted the number of Bloomberg supporters who volunteered their own time to the campaign, you'd likely have been disappointed.  
Warren may have gone done, but she took Bloomberg down with her in the debates.  But she also did Biden a favor.  Now Mike is ready to help Joe win the White House and defeat Donald Trump by pulling out his wallet and spending lots of money on Biden's behalf.  And that may be Bloomberg's greatest achievement.
And now that the dust has settled, so have I.  Until next time . . . 

Friday, March 6, 2020

Music Video Of the Week - March 6, 2020

"Let It Be" by the Beatles  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Worst and the Best Of America

The Boston Massacre, an incident in which British soldiers occupying Boston to quell rebellious behavior against taxation on the colonists were pelted with snowballs and stones and responded by firing on the crowd.  Five people were killed, including Crispus Attucks, a black sailor.  The event, which took place 250 years (a quarter of a millennium) ago today, was a shameful moment in American history, both in terms of the provocation of the soldiers and the response from the soldiers. It brought out the worst in Americans  But it also brought out the best.
A thirty-five-year-old lawyer from Quincy, Massachusetts agreed to represent the eight soldiers who fired on the crowd, along with Captain Thomas Preston, who was believed to have given the order to fire.  Adams was not popular for representing the defense, but he believed that the occupying British soldiers were still entitled to a fair trial.
Adams (above, from a 1766 portrait) was able to make the case for Captain Preston, showing how it it could not be determined that he had given an order to his soldiers to fire during the captain's October 1770  trial, which lasted a week.  Captain Preston was acquitted , because it was impossible to prove that he had ordered his soldiers to fire.  The other soldiers were tried in December, and Adams noted how the circumstances of the incident led to the British soldiers firing on the crowd, and he made his now-famous argument about jury decisions: 
"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence . . ..  It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, 'whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,' and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever." 
Two soldiers, who fired directly into the crowd were convicted of manslaughter, but Adams won an acquittal for the other six.  Even before there was a United States of America, an American proved that the right to a fair trial is essential to a functioning democracy.  That is at least an important legacy of the Boston Massacre as the Revolution itself. 

Auto Show Blues, Part Two

I don't really want to stop the show, but I thought you might like to know . . . that the Geneva International Motor Show, cancelled due to coronavirus fears, was supposed to start today.  And even though German automakers introduced the eagerly awaited new generations of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the Audi A3 Sportback, and the Volkswagen Golf GTI (below) in online forums, I'm sure that it wasn't the same as introductions of the cars in Geneva would have been.  I can only say I'm sure, because I've never been to the Geneva auto show, though I would like to attend it eventually.  Maybe next year . . . or better yet, Frankfurt in September 2021.  I have been led to believe that European auto shows are much cooler than the ones here in the New World.
Yeah, about that . . ..  I, of course, live in the greater New York area, and the New York International Auto Show is the biggest car show in the American Northeast.  And until this week, New York State had no cases to report.  Since then, eleven cases have been reported there.  Suddenly, the New York show looks dicey.
Bloomberg News reports that show organizers are planning to disinfect commonly touched surfaces over and over and over and over throughout the show's duration, with paramedics on site to respond to any emergency cases.  Right now, I'm not that easily assured.  Whether or not I attend - the show takes place during Easter Week, opening to the public on Good Friday, April 10 - depends on how bad the coronavirus is in New York by then and how thorough the disinfectant task force is.  I usually go in the latter days of the show, so I'll get an idea of how effective they are in the first few days of the show.  Whether or not the Detroit show, being held in June for the first time this year, can ward off the coronavirus scare remains to be seen.  
Coronavirus or not, this era may be twilight time for auto shows.  They're expensive to set up, more people are checking out cars online, and even the most exciting shows in Europe seem to be resembling giant dealership showrooms more than a festive exhibition.  The auto industry itself is being diminished by a slowing global economy, expensive tech features as standard equipment, and fewer young people feeling the need to buy a car.  And foreign shows seem to be adopting bad American promotional tactics, such as sexily dressed women on the display platforms, even as American shows are getting away from all that.  Also, I find it increasingly hard to get excited by domestic brands as they push more SUVs (excuse me, monster wagons) even as the German brands, which I usually concentrate on at auto shows, seem to be pulling away from auto shows in the U.S. - BMW skipped the 2019 New York auto show for reasons having nothing to do with an infectious disease.  The firm simply didn't think it was worth it.   Audi will still be at New York in 2020.  Too bad the newly introduced A3 Sportback, below, won't be there (we're only getting the as-yet unintroduced A3 notchback sedan).
Despite all that, I still hope to make it to New York for this year.  There will be several new-car introductions there, not all of which will be monster wagons, and I love photographing the cars for my Flickr page and also video-recording presentations for my YouTube account.  And besides, it doesn't feel like Easter without the auto show to go to.  Its not Geneva or Paris, but it's still fun.  And I hope to attend the Frankfurt show in 2021 or 2023.  If it's the last thing I do.
I just hope that, given the coronavirus scare, attending the 2020 New York show isn't the last thing I do.      

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Taking His Hardball and Going Home

Last week, I wrote on this blog that it was time for MSNBC's Chris Matthews to retire after he compared Bernie Bros to the Wehrmacht.  This past Monday, he did just that.  I'm glad to see that Matthews discovered my blog and took my advice.
Okay, Matthews, whom I've always had a love-hate attitude toward, likely never even saw my blog, unless he Googled himself and went through all 170 million results.  But he did in fact retire, thanks not only to his Sanders gaffe but also for a bunch of comments he made to women.  This past Friday, he had to deal with a magazine GQ column from journalist Laura Bassett, who charged that Matthews complimented her appearance by rhetorically asking, "Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?"  At a cocktail party from a single man, that comment might have been appropriate.  But when the supposedly happily married Matthews made that comment to Bassett  just before a televised discussion with her about sexual-assault allegations against Trump . . . uh, yeah, that was more than a little awkward.  In fact, Bassett added for good measure that Matthews "has a pattern of making comments about women's appearances in demeaning ways."
For the record, Bassett is an attractive woman, but that's all I'll say about that.  I may have already said too much.
While all this was going on, Matthews mistook Jaime Harrison, a South Carolina Democrat running for the U.S. Senate there, with Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott, also of South Carolina. Both men are black.  Both of them are also bald, but any fool can tell them apart.  Black people do not all look alike, of course, and Matthews' mistake would have been understandable if this had been a Julie Wolfe-Esmé Marshall situation (two models who look so much alike that when I met Julie Wolfe, I began to tell her that she looked like Esmé Marshall only to have Ms. Wolfe finish my sentence for me), or even if it were a Dom DeLuise-Chef Paul Prudhomme situation.  It was nothing of the sort.
So, on Monday night, after opening his show "Hardball," Matthews - who does not look like Dom DeLuise or Chef Paul Prudhomme - announced his retirement on the air.  And while he finished his sentences - especially the one about how it was time for a new generation more in step with the times to take over at MSNBC and the one about how he was sorry for his demeaning comments about women (none of which involve Julie Wolfe or Esmé Marshall) - he did not finish the hour of his show.  After "Hardball" returned from its first commercial break, Steve Kornacki was sitting in Matthews' place looking as stunned as everyone watching at home must have been.  And so an era ends.  We'll have to wait for a new era to begin; a rotation of different hosts - including, I suspect, the insufferable Joy Reid - will fill in the 7 PM Eastern hour until a permanent host can be found.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Maybe we should have known something was up when Matthews did not take part in MSNBC's coverage of the South Carolina primary this past Saturday, reducing the gaffe-machine squad to just Joe Biden (who urged people to support Jaime Harrison's presidential bid).
Sorry to see you go, Chris.  Well, not really, especially after that remark on Election Night 2012 about how you were glad we had Hurricane Sandy the week before because it brought about opportunities for good politics.
Hopefully, Joy Reid will follow Matthews out the door sooner or later, and maybe also Chuckles the Clown (also known as Chuck Todd).

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Game Changers!

Of all the Democratic presidential candidates who might have gotten out of the 2020 campaign before or as a result of Super Tuesday, Pete Buttigieg was the least likely candidate, in my estimation, to do so.  But that's exactly what he did this past Sunday night.
Mayor Pete suspended his campaign when it became apparent that he could not win a cross-section of Democratic primary voters after having failed to get much if any traction in the South Carolina primary, where blacks are the majority of the Democratic Party.  He put party and country before his own personal ambition, choosing instead to make it easier for the moderate faction of the party to get behind someone who can win.  Buttigieg has endorsed Joe Biden.
It must be embarrassing for former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley to see all three of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates he singled out for being the future of the party fall by the wayside - first Eric Swalwell, then Beto O'Rourke, whom O'Malley supported (Beto is backing Biden now too!), and now Buttigieg, whom O'Malley backed for Democratic National Committee chairman in 2017.  But Buttigieg may be the best hope for the party in 2028 and beyond.  You might want to take note that he is 38, the same age in 2020 that Franklin Roosevelt was in 1920 when he was the Democratic vice presidential nominee (Roosevelt was born in January 1882; Buttigieg was born in January 1982).  FDR did as 1920 Democratic presidential nominee James Cox's running mate what Buttigieg has already done as a presidential candidate - make connections, show loyalty to the party, run hard, and do favors to be owed for in the future.  The difference is that Roosevelt did it purely for personal ambition; he knew the party had no chance against the 1920 Warren Harding/Calvin Coolidge Republican ticket.  Mayor Pete has been campaigning not just for himself but to help defeat Donald Trump, and by withdrawing, he's made it clear that he can put personal ambition aside and concentrate on the main objective the party has - to defeat Trump.  In other words, he's taking one for the team.
Mayor Pete's exit is indeed a game changer.  It will likely have an impact on today's primaries and caucuses, though it's not quite certain who will benefit.  Some people may even vote for Buttigieg anyway, because his name is on the ballot.  Every vote he does get will be an affirmation of his staying power in the party.

But wait! There's more! Amy Klobuchar also dropped out, and she too endorsed Biden.  All of a sudden, Joe Biden looks like the winner he wasn't only last week, with Michael Bloomberg the only threat to Biden's effort to dominate the center-left lane against Bernie Sanders in the progressive lane.  Bloomberg is on the ballot for the first time today in the states voting for Super Tuesday.  It remains to be seen whether he can parlay his spending into real votes.  But with the rest of the moderates in the party coalescing Biden's improbably successful campaign, it's likely to come down to a two-man race between Biden and Sanders.  Things just changed a whole lot.  

Monday, March 2, 2020


I haven't brought up the coronavirus on this blog up to now because I thought there was nothing I could possibly say about it, other than it's bad, like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  But the coronavirus outbreak has gotten worse than "bad."
Over 86,000 people all over the world have contracted coronavirus, which originated in China, with over sixty countries affected, and nearly three thousand coronavirus patients, including two in the United States, have died - these numbers may be higher by the time you read this.  The coronavirus has already forced the cancellation of the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland and, even as I'm wondering if I should even bother going to the auto show in New York this April (more of that later), the Japanese - who have cancelled school across the country for a whole month - are even wondering if they can hold the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.  (The 1940 Tokyo Olympics were cancelled by World War II, but Tokyo did host the Olympics in 1964.) So far, no sporting events in America have been canceled, and there haven't been that many cases here yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the 2020 World Series - which even Hitler or an earthquake couldn't stop, although a greed-motivated baseball strike in 1994 did - also get scrubbed.  Heck, Major League Baseball might want to sit out the whole season!
The Geneva Motor Show was cancelled due to a Swiss government edict banning large events until March 15, the day the show was supposed to end.  The Swiss and the Japanese seem to think the worst of the coronavirus crisis will be over before long, but those bans could be extended.  And even if large gatherings in Switzerland are allowed again as of March 16, the Geneva car show couldn't be postponed for a week or two - there's too much organization involved. Switzerland acted as it did because every nation surrounding it has a report of a coronavirus outbreak.  This past week, the Swiss reported a coronavirus case of their own.  Switzerland was able to stay neutral during World War II because it was protected by the Alps; now the world has gotten so interconnected, geography and topography can't save anyone.
The good news about the coronavirus outbreak is that governments over the world are on it, with South Korea testing thousands of people and disinfecting public spaces and Italy trying to keep coronavirus-infected areas from expanding. The bad news is that the United States has not been one of those countries.  Trump spent several days dismissing the coronavirus scare as a hoax and had put a gag order on health officials who know more about coronavirus than he does.  Without a scintilla of evidence to support his claims, he keeps telling Americans that the coronavirus outbreak will slow down and go away like a miracle.  Oh, it will slow down and go away eventually, but not as quickly as Trump would like it.  He said it would taper off by April; just bear in mind that he didn't say what year.
With the first two coronavirus deaths in America having occurred, Trump is suddenly taking it more seriously than he did before, but his approach is more happy talk and less preparation.  This virus has been around for awhile, as cases showing up only now began weeks earlier.  There are perhaps many more case that haven't fully manifested themselves.   
Even if there were reason to believe that the coronavirus outbreak could taper off sooner rather than later, there's no indication that we're prepared to handle the coronavirus cases we do get, and the number is still rising.  We need more respirators, as this is a disease affecting breathing.  We need a more robust health-care delivery system, something we Americans have not been good at of late.  A lot of the health-care products we use come from China, where, as noted, the coronavirus started in the first place.  While it's beginning to level off there, the Chinese will still take a long time to recover before they're able to export such products to us.  Not too many other countries who make these health-care products - including this one - can make up the gap easily.   Meanwhile, the coronavirus has affected Chinese supply lines for other goods, which is bound to cause shortages elsewhere.  Hence the stock market falling 11 percent last week.
I can't let this go without mentioning one other thing: Even though the coronavirus started in China, the Chinese government tried to silence those who warned about it.  One of the doctors who was silenced has since died.  Now coronavirus is spreading all over the world.  China makes just about everything for everyone else; why did we surrender our economic power to the Chinese?? 
All of us have to be prepared for normal life bring replaced not by temporary circumstances but by a new norm. A lot of us will either have to give up going to special events or be very careful in attending them.  A lot of us may have to telecommute on our jobs.  And we're going to be more socially isolated than we've ever been, even in this social-media-fueled auto-suburb living pattern that already isolates us enough. Me, I am going to the best thing I can do to avoid getting coronavirus . . . wash my hands regularly. :-O