Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Georgia Back On Our Minds

Stacey Abrams is running for governor of Georgia again.

The press, no doubt pushing a narrative to pleases their media-baron bosses with no regard to how it could threaten democracy in America, is already making Abrams the long shot in next year's gubernatorial election because she is a Democrat who will be running in a Republican year in a state where the voting laws have been tweaked to all but ensure a Republican victory.  I agree that, as of now, her election to the governor ship is highly unlikely - but not for the reasons above. Read on.

On the Republican side, Governor Brian Kemp - who rigged the last Georgia gubernatorial election in his own favor as the state's Secretary of State, the office with power over the voter registration lists - is facing a challenge from former U.S. Senator David Purdue, who has gotten himself in solid with Donald Trump while Trump is angry at Kemp because Kemp accepted Joe Biden's win of the state's electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election.  Kemp's supporters, however, point to his strong conservative record as a reason to give the governor another term.  Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, who is not running for re-election himself, supports Kemp and says it's time for the GOP to admit that Trump lost and move on.  Georgia Democrats are counting on a big Republican bloodbath in the primary campaign before the GOP picks a nominee in the Georgia gubernatorial primary on May 24 while the Democrats get behind Abrams and present a united front throughout.

So why do I think Abrams will be unsuccessful, if it's not because of trends favoring Republicans - again, pushed by media narratives - or voter-suppression laws?  Simple  It's because there are a lot of white people in Georgia who will go through hell and high water to make sure that a black woman will never sit in the governor's chair in Atlanta.

It comes down to that simple fact.  Sorry. 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Another Cuomo Bites The Dust

Although I will not post lists of winners and losers of the year that the end of the year or any other year going forward, I do have to admit . . .  2021 hasn't been a good year for anyone named Cuomo.

Chris Cuomo, a star anchor at CNN, has been fired when it turned out that he helped his brother Andrew deal with sexual harassment allegations much more than he admitted to.  He crossed the line from being a journalist reporting on the story to being a politician's brother being a part of the story, and it was conduct unbecoming a reporter.  As Chris Cuomo has a law school education, he should have known what he did amounted to a  lack of journalistic ethics.

CNN did the right thing and it should be an example for how a responsible cable-news outlet should react to such conduct,  Meanwhile, at Fox News, Tucker Carlson is allowed to be an advocate for right-wing extremism based on lies, and Laura Ingraham is so insufferable for her blatant bigotry and intolerance that she actually makes me miss Megyn Kelly.  Maybe Fox News is getting the message, to some extent.  After comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to Josef Mengele, former serious reporter Lara Logan has suddenly disappeared from the airwaves, albeit without an explanation from Fox.  Her show "Lara Logan Has No Agenda" has been displaced by the fact that Lara Logan has no program.

At at moment when nightly cable commentary programs are in flux, with Rachel Maddow planning to move from nightly commentary and reporting to producing and hosting documentaries, it will be interesting to see how CNN handles things going forward.  In the meantime, Michael Smerconish will fill in Cuomo's 9 PM Eastern tie slot, and at MSNBC, there's still Lawrence O'Donnell at 10: 00 Eastern.

Oh yeah, I didn't want to bring it up, but Chris Cuomo has been fired for a second reason; there's a sexual harassment charge against him.  I'm just glad their father Mario isn't alive to see any of this.  At least Andrew's and Chris's sisters haven't stained the family name; ironically, they can't carry it on to the next generation.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

No More Winners and Losers Lists

I thought I might make truncated lists of winners and losers of the year  for the end of 2021 - five on each list - and I had some probable candidates for either side.  But as the year has worn on, I have come to a decision.  Not only will there be no winners and losers lists this year on this blog, there will be no winners and losers lists for any year hereafter.

If there's one thing 2021 has taught me, it's that we are all winners and losers at one time or another, and quantifying successes and failures is a waste of time.  I don't pay enough attention to current movies or TV shows to gauge the biggest hits and flops, for example, and politicians such as President Joe Biden have proved that one can experience the best of times (declining COVID cases in the spring, the infrastructure bill) and worst of times (Afghanistan, Delta) all at once.

Also, looking at individuals who have had good years, I've noticed how the wrong people tend to have great success, all of it undeserved.  A particular celebrity I don't like now stars in a TV series that is described as the biggest hit show of 2021.  Why do I want to acknowledge that?   And a person's or institution's failure can overshadow its biggest success.  Netflix, for example, won a record number of Emmys in 2021, but subsequent fallout over Dave Chappelle's Netflix show, in which Chappelle badmouthed transsexuals, rendered that achievement meaningless.   

Sports?  Katie Ledecky solidly asserted herself as the greatest female swimmer of all time at the 2020 - no, 2021 Tokyo Olympics, but her victories don't mean so much when there was practically no one there to see them in person thanks to COVID.  And even though the U.S. men's soccer team won the CONCACAF Gold Cup, their failure to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics made them a laughing stock once again.  You gotta feel sorry for these guys.  Even when they win, they lose. 

I can't do this anymore.  I'm rarely satisfied with my lists after I've published them, thinking I might have left someone out or might have been premature in choosing whom I left in - some of choices for winners at the end of one year were overturned by their colossal failures the following year - and it's a pain in the neck to construct these lists.  So that's it.  I'm done.  No more winners and losers lists.  It's over.

Sorry. 


Saturday, December 4, 2021

"Gimme That Vaccine, Maxine!"

I'm a poet, and I know it.
Here's something else to wax poetic about: While President Biden fights COVID, the Republican Party is fighting his fight against it by opposing vaccine mandates, testing and PPE requirements, yet they keep blaming him for the rise in COVID cases. 
Why do the Republicans fight policies designed to alleviate and solve problems and then deflect the blame to the Democrats?  Mainly because it works.  Ronald Reagan blamed unemployment and failed foreign-policy initiatives on his watch on Jimmy Carter, Newt Gingrich blamed runaway spending on Bill Clinton despite being a strong proponent of increased military spending, right-wing talk radio hosts blamed 9/11 on Bill Clinton despite George W. Bush's lack of engagement with efforts to stop bin Laden, and John Boehner blamed a sluggish economy on Obama after blocking his efforts to improve it.  And look what happened: Reagan and Bush the Younger were both elected to second terms as President and Gingrich and Boehner became Speaker Of the House.
By blocking Biden from fighting the pandemic and dodging the blame for blocking him and thus not paying a price politically, Republicans think they can win back Congress in the 2022 midterms - especially if they can also keep concentrating on immigration (except that Biden went ahead and kept a Trump policy in place to have Mexico keep migrants bound for America for processing) and inflation (though the economy is still strong and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will likely raise interest rates gradually to reverse it).  If inflation does ease and immigration becomes less of an issue by November 2022, well, a perpetual pandemic is the GOP's magic bullet.
But get this: Thanks to the omicron variant - the omicorona, I call it - vaccination rates in America are spiking now.  More people are taking this seriously.  And Biden has wisely decided not to offer any happy talk about the future like he did when Delta first appeared here.  More and more people on the same page, and it's not one in the GOP's playbook.  Although the Republicans are pandering to their base, the fact is that over 71 percent of Americans 18 and over - that is, Americans of voting age - are fully vaccinated.  Not all vaccinated adults are Democrats, of course, but most unvaccinated adults are Republicans.  If Republicans think they can rely on the unvaccinated to people them to victory in the 2022 midterms while President Biden and the Democrats continue to work diligently at trying to get things done for the American people - with plenty of time for their efforts to bear meaningful fruit before November 2022 - they're going to have to play a better hand than that.
Although, voter suppression remains an ace up their sleeves.          
Try to hang on, Maxine. 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Christmas Music Video Of the Week - December 3, 2021

"Mistletoe and Holly" by Frank Sinatra (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Rule THIS!

The Mississippi challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court to Roe v. Wade, which guarantees the right to an abortion, is likely to succeed.  Especially when you have conservatives - including one from my hometown, which is so reflexively Republican it doesn't have a single Democrat on its town council and has a slew of anti-Biden and anti-COVID-restriction signs on its lawns - determined to overturn it.

But, that's not a given.  I'm sure Chief Justice John Roberts, who wants to preserve the Court's integrity, can get another conservative justice to join with him and the liberal justices to come up with a compromise ruling that can let Roe v. Wade stand and still uphold mild restrictions in more conservative states.

What if Roberts can't do that? 

Well, in that case, if you're a pro-choicer . . . you're toast.

Oh yeah, don't think you can get Republicans voted out of office in the midterms because the only people who vote on this issue are . . . Republicans.

The end.    

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Goodness, Gracious, Barbados

The West Indian country of Barbados became a republic on Tuesday, having spent its first 55 years of independence as a realm of the British Commonwealth with the queen of Great Britain as their head of state and represented by a governor general.  The move to republicanism has been seen as a way of dissociating Barbados with the legacy of slavery - when it was a British colony, the British apparently carried out a slave system on the island for the sugar trade that was more brutal than the slave system in the American South - and most Barbadians are descended from slaves. There was an apology and regret about slavery and its legacy from Prince Charles, who attended and spoke at the ceremony for the new Barbadian government.  But another reason the Barbadians wanted to be a republic was because of national pride and a greater desire for self-determination.  Having a foreign monarch as a head of state can get in the way of all that.  

Dame Sandra Mason, the country's governor general, became the first president of Baraboss, and one of the new republic's first acts was to declare Barbados' own Robyn Rihanna Fenty, known professionally her middle name, as a national hero.

Rihanna? A Barbadian national hero?  I've heard her sing.  In a country with a population half the size of that of Wyoming, I guess they can't do better.

At least Barbados knows when to let go of the mother country and assume full responsibility for its affairs of state.  Australia and Canada remain realms of the Commonwealth, each recognizing Queen Elizabeth II as their sovereign and each having governors general of their own.

Which isn't really necessary when Australia and Canada have national heroes such as, respectively, Courtney Barnett and Joni Mitchell.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

"The Beatles: Get Back" - Review

Back in July, I expressed regret that Peter Jackson's docu-series The Beatles: Get Back would be streaming on Disney +, meaning  I would have to pay to subscribe to Disney + in order to see it.  Well, I did just that - and I got a special introductory offer from Disney that the company no doubt conceived to lure potential long-term subscribers who wanted to see The Beatles: Get Back.  Two dollars for the first month.  And I saw all three episodes over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

So what did I think of it? I liked it a lot. 

That's hardly a professional review, so let me elaborate.  The Get Back docu-series, using unreleased footage from the original Let It Be documentary directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, shows a band still very much together and eager to overcome the bad vibes that took over the making of the White Album, as they set out in January 1969 to rehearse new songs for a planned live performance on television - either with or without a live audience, and either in London or in some exotic locale like an ancient Roman amphitheater in Libya that was under consideration.  (Such a show would have taken place before Qaddafi took over the country later that year.)  This time the vibes were much more positive, and the Beatles are shown working diligently on new material at Twickenham Film Studios and sorting out which songs to play and which to leave for later.  We are surprisingly treated to material that most of us didn't even know existed - songs that were partially or completely written but never properly recorded - like "Commonwealth," a Lennon-McCartney satire on the effort by the British government to get immigrants from former British colonies to go back home.  In between, they get along like they did in the moptop years, and Peter Sellers (at Twickenham to attend a casting session for The Magic Christian, which also featured Ringo Starr) stops by to join in on the levity.
George Harrison's sudden walkout on January 10 is far less dramatic than originally thought.  Despite Beatles docudramas showing George getting pissed off and slamming his guitar case shut before storming out, George announced his departure quietly, with no hysterics, and walked out just as nonchalantly.  His discussions with Paul McCartney in the previous days over arrangements show that he was frustrated and felt underappreciated, and an audio recording of Paul and John Lennon discussing George's departure show that they clearly loved the guy and wanted to give him the space he needed to keep him from leaving the band.  George, who had misgivings over a live show on TV, returned after the Beatles decided to instead record an album of live studio performances complemented by an outdoor gig in London, the specifics of which were to be determined.
The Apple Studios segments of The Beatles: Get Back put those sessions in much different context than the Let It Be movie, just as its Twickenham scenes do.  The Beatles and Billy Preston (who joined them for the Apple sessions) run through songs, tell jokes, experiment with arrangements and riffs, and ultimately perform the takes that made it on the 1970 Let It Be album
.  (There's also a more complete take of the traditional Liverpool song "Maggie Mae" shown here than the one heard on the Let It Be album, though neither take made the 1970 Let It Be movie.)  Producer George Martin is seen being very much involved in the project, and co-producer engineer Glyn Johns (fresh from having co-produced Family's second album) brims with the eagerness and professionalism that made him the greatest British record producer not named George Martin.  As the series progresses, Lindsay-Hogg gets the band to agree to a concert on the roof of their own Apple building at 3 Savile Row - the January 30 rooftop gig is shown with more depth than in the original movie, where Lindsay-Hogg had to deal with time constraints.  Here, Peter Jackson lets loose, showing familiar scenes from different camera angles, extra performances (the Beatles performed a few songs on the roof more than once) and, interestingly, what happened after the rooftop gig ended.  They're pleased with how it turned out, and they're eager to see the project through with a studio performance of the lighter, more ballad-oriented numbers, which occurred the day after.     
If I have any complaints about The Beatles: Get Back, it's that there are few scenes apart from the rooftop gig in which a full take of a song is presented, and the Apple studio performance session from January 31 is shown in bits and pieces alongside the closing credits of the third episode.  But Jackson's docu-series makes clear three key facts.  First, the Beatles had gotten back to where they once belonged, but fateful business decisions involving pop impresario Allen Klein (with whom John met during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions) took them away from that place. (Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman both attended the Get Back/Let It Be sessions regularly, but their presence was welcomed, with neither one interfering with the Beatles' work.)  Second, the sessions were not "the most miserable sessions on earth," as John remembered them; the memory of the misery stemmed more from the finished product that Phil Spector wrought after two failed attempts at a Get Back album from Glyn Johns than the actual recording sessions.  Third, Michael Lindsay-Hogg proved himself to be a masterful conductor, getting the Beatles to see their project through and orchestrating one of the most compelling and most ambitious projects for a group striving to make a straightforward, live, honest record after having pioneered some of the most complicated and sophisticated recording techniques . . . and getting the Beatles to appreciate the joy of playing music again. Especially when they played up on the roof.
But it also begs this question, which I've asked before: After shooting over sixty hours of footage, the 1970 Let It Be movie was the best Lindsay-Hogg could come up with?  
So yes, I enjoyed The Beatles: Get Back, despite a few quibbles, and I'm glad to know that Glyn Johns is not insane.  He's always remembered these sessions as being productive and cordial, and for many years he was in a minority of one.  Jackson has vindicated him and thankfully refreshed Paul's and Ringo's memories - and made new memories for the rest of us.
*
Oh yeah, the Let It Be LP has been reissued in a "Super Deluxe" package, with a book of Ethan Russell's photographs (just like the original album's 1970 British release), rehearsals, Glyn Johns' original May 1969 
Get Back album, and an EP of Johns' remixes of "Across The Universe" and "I Me Mine" intended for his revised January 1970 Get Back album supported by remixes of the original "Get Back" and "Let It Be" singles.  Too expensive for me, and not really worth it for me either; I have a bootleg of Johns' May 1969 Get Back album, and it reinforces my opinion that Spector's album was the more presentable one, though that doesn't let Spector off the hook for his inconsistencies and unnecessary orchestral overdubs.  And, to be honest, one thing Jackson's docu-series cannot revise or change is the quality of some of the songs, songs such as "Dig a Pony" and "For You Blue." Though, I would like to hear Johns' remixes of "Across The Universe" and "I Me Mine" out of curiosity.  (Spector did a good job with both of them, but as they were not recordings from the actual Get Back/Let It Be sessions - they were only included on Let It Be because the Beatles were shown in the original movie rehearsing them at Twickenham - they should have been put out as a non-album single.)  And to be fair, Johns' album probably sounds better professionally remixed.  It' nice to know that anything here that we'd like to hear out of curiosity will likely be up on YouTube in a few months.  
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Disney + subscription to cancel. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Monday, November 29, 2021

Omicron?

Oh, swell, another COVID variant.

The World Health Organization declared the new variant discovered over the weekend in South Africa as a variant of concern, and in this pandemic, concern is usually a prelude to disaster.  This variant could be more contagious than Delta and may even evade vaccines, suggesting a real-life Andromeda strain that is incurable and could wipe out humanity completely,

But it probably isn't.  What little data there is suggests that the symptoms from what I am tempted to call the "omicorona" are milder than previous strains (I still hate the use of the word "variant," it sounds like they're taking about a German station wagon), and vaccines are likely to either be effective or adaptable to the new strain.  The question is, it they have to be adapted, whether people already vaccinated and boosted should get a fourth shot.

While we wait a few days for the verdict (swell, another word beginning with the letter "v" associated with this pandemic) on this strain, I ought to explain why the Greek letter omicron was used to name this COVID strain.  Because the next two available letters had problems.  The next available one was "nu," and calling it the "nu" variant could easily be taken to mean it's the "new variant," suggesting a possible riff in the tradition of Abbott and Costello.  ("I heard of a new COVID variant.  What is it called?" "The nu variant."  "I know it's new, but what is the name of the variant?" "No, nu, not what!" "What?" "No, nu."  "Look, I'm trying to find out that name of the variant." "Which one?" "The new variant."  "That's the name of the variant!" "What?" "What the name of the variant is." "That's what I'm trying to find out!") 

Gallows humor there.

The next letter after "nu" in the Greek alphabet is "xi," pronounced "she," just like the surname of a certain world leader from a country where last names come first spells and pronounces his surname.

And we want to make sure that he doesn't take offense, right?  Especially when he made omicron, or nu, or xi happen?  Or did he?
For he may be Xi, but what I'm told is never, never for certain.
And I'm told, and I'm told he's a virgin.  
More gallows humor . . . 
But I'm not kidding around when I say this: Any new COVID "variant of concern" is serious.  Get vaccinated if you haven't and get boosted if you have.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

On Justice

I have refrained from commenting on high-profile criminal court cases of late, mainly because I wanted to wait for them to be over, and as two major cases have been decided, I can no longer remain silent on them.

First, the Kyle Rittenhouse case in Wisconsin.  He should have been held responsible for the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, the two men he fatally shot during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.  Yes, I know he says he supports the Black Lives Matter movement, and the evidence may suggest that he did indeed fire his weapon in self-defense, but what was Rittenhouse doing there in the first place as an armed minor?  He just gave wannabe vigilantes an excuse to go into protests involving progressive activists and discourage them from demonstrating by packing a rod.  Even Bernhard Goetz, the infamous "subway vigilante" who shot teenagers in the New York subway system because he said they were about to rob him, didn't get this much sympathy, and President Ronald Reagan - never a critic of law and order - refused to offer sympathy for him. But Rittenhouse gets to go to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving. 

And in Georgia, where the Ahmaud Arbery murder case was decided?  Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan are as guilty as sin and deserved to be so found.  They overreacted because of the sight of a black man - a black man - jogging through their neighborhood because they thought he was a robber?  He resembled someone else?  What, are the McMichaels and Bryan suggesting that black people all look the same?  Hardly a justification for shooting someone.  Arbery was hunted down by the defendants and shot to death in an attempt at a "citizen's arrest" in which the arresting citizens shot first and asked questions rarely.  Fortunately, Georgia's citizen's arrest law has since been repealed.  The defendants say that they will appeal the decision, but I don't see that going anywhere.
While the Rittenhouse case shows that the judicial system in this country isn't perfect - hey, consider the judge who oversaw the trial - the murder case in Georgia shows that the system can and does still work. 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Clarification: November 27, 2021

In my post "Award THIS!", in which I attempted to take Cardi B down a few notches, I got taken down by typographical errors.  I mentioned how I preferred musical artists who "sing actual lyrics," but AutoCorrect somehow changed it to "sing actual lovers."  What?  Also, I referred to a tasteless performance Cardi B gave with some other tasteless chick without specifying that it was at this year's Grammys.  Although I still risk getting complaints from post-millennial hip-hop fans about how a classic-rock-loving white guy over 40 like myself has a lot of damn gall picking on minority female rappers for lack of taste when I don't have enough taste or sense to catch all of my typos - and maybe I'll get an eye roll and an "Okay Xer" as well - both errors have since been corrected.

Check out my new typo alert picture above.  This will be used again the next time I make a mistake big enough to issue a correction or clarification for.  Hopefully that won't be soon.  

Friday, November 26, 2021

Music Video Of the Week - November 26, 2021

"American Pie" by Don McLean (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Back On Tape

Current events at this time are too much for me to comment on, so I thought I'd update all of you on a post I wrote last month.  I have a new cassette player.

My old cassette player, actually a Spectra-made Studebaker (yes, Studebaker, like the car) cassette/compact disc player, had a bad cassette deck, so I successfully replaced it under warranty with the exact same model.  My new cassette/CD player (like the one below) works just fine, not playing tapes at too slow a speed, and so I am happy again.

I think the problem with the old one was that I hadn't broken it in soon enough.  I got it for Christmas in 2019, but when COVID hit a few months later, I lost interest in playing music.  I probably let it atrophy too long, and I also let it literally collect dust (never a good thing to do with stereo equipment).  This new one should last longer and work better, now that I'm wiser in how to care for it . . . and how often I should use it.  Because lack of use of a product can be just as bad as abuse.  Anyway, with a working tape player again, I don't have to replace my tapes with CDs for now, so I'm thankful for that on this day before Thanksgiving.

Back later . . . 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

I'm On Instagram!

Really.

Actually, I've been on Instagram for months, but only now am I able to post anything on my account.  I just learned that you can now load pictures and videos onto  Instagram from a desktop or a laptop instead of a smartphone, which I do not have.
I intend to post pictures on Instagram that define my personality and illustrate my various interests.  I don't intend to post so many pictures of myself, because that's narcissism.   I'm boring, but the people, places and things I like and love are not.  Also, I hope to use my account as a tool in my fight to have Volkswagen bring the base eighth-generation Golf to North America.  In fact, my first two pictorial posts concern that very issue.

So why don't you check out my Instagram page at this link to see what its about? See you there. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Postage Due

Louis DeJoy holds on to the office of Postmaster General for the time being.  But hopefully not for long.

President Biden announced that he will appoint two new members of the Postal Service's board of governors to replace a Republican and a pro-DeJoy Democrat, which makes the current Postmaster General's hold on power tenuous and his time likely numbered.  As there are already four other Democrats on the board, Biden can only appoint one more Democrat, so one of his appointees must be a Republican.  The Republican, Derek Kan, is a former aide to Mitch McConnell and now runs an e-commerce fulfillment company.  The Democrat, Daniel Tangherlini, is a former administrator of the General Services Administration under President Barack Obama and also served as the chief financial officer of the Treasury Department.

Tangherlini and Kan replace governors whose terms are expiring, and Biden may have to wait to appoint an additional Democratic postal governor to get DeJoy removed.  That day can't come to soon enough.  DeJoy has deliberately slowed down mail by dismantling postal sorting and routing equipment deliberately, and charging extra for parcels during the holidays.  DeJoy says this is all necessary to keep the Postal Service from losing money, but his cure is clearly worse than the illness.  
I'm just glad he never became a doctor.

Did I happen to mention that the logistics company he founded does business with the Postal Service?

It's getting to the point where we may have to mail Christmas cards this week to ensure they get to where they're going before New Year's.  And if you have Hanukkah cards to mail, well, you're already out of luck, as Hanukkah is next week.  Me, I'm getting tired of all of these mail delays.  I mailed a cable bill payment two weeks ago and it only got to its destination late last week.  Too many people have overdue bills simply because the payments didn't get there in time.  If this is DeJoy's idea of quality service, I's sure hate to see what he considers substandard. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Call a COP

After watching the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, for days to get an idea of what happened, a lot of us, now that it's over, are wondering . . . what happened.
It doesn't look like much did.  There was just a lot of pledging.
According to Wikipedia, the agreement reached at the end of COP26 included pledges to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 (which accounts for 90% of current global greenhouse gas emissions, pledges to reverse deforestation by 2030, pledged to stop funding the use of coal in "developing" (read Third World) countries, and a promise - a promise, not a pledge, so it must be worth something, from India to get half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.  There were also commitments from automakers and auto-producing countries to make cars more eco-friendly, and I will address that in a separate post.
As or everything addressed here, well, pledging means little, just as pledging allegiance to the flag and pledging fidelity to a fraternity or sorority have become rote exercises, so it will be awhile before we see anything resembling action.  For now, though , I have hope that something good - something - will come out of this just-concluded conference in Glasgow.
And I'm still not sure I know what happened there. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Boost THIS!

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention just authorized COVID booster shots for al adults in an effort to end the pandemic sooner rather than later.  But I fear it will end later.

Here's the deal, folks.  Yes, COVID boosters will provide extra protection for longer than the original two-dose vaccinations, as the two-dose regimen wanes after six to eight months, and boosters can only be a good thing.  But meanwhile, 41 percent of Americans remain unvaccinated and, while the initial-dose rate has picked up in recent days thanks to COVID vaccinations for children, the fill-vaccination rate has gone from increasing 0.1 percent a day to 0.1 percent every three or four days. Meanwhile, after dropping to 60,000 new cases a day in late October, the seven-day average for new cases is rising again, as it is in Europe, and Florida has actually enacted legislation to prevent county and municipal governments and  private businesses from requiring vaccines and face coverings.  And speaking of the latter, part of the reason we have to keep wearing "FCs" in the other 49 states is because of a lack of testing, combined with the government's failure to trace infection chains.  And, as always, we don't know how many people have recovered from COVID or how many people have it now.  

And what good are boosters if we can't give everyone their first two doses?

And yet, former FDA director Scott Gottlieb - who accurately predicted the current spike in vases - thinks we'll be out of pandemic mode after the first of the year.  I hope he's right.  I don't want to live in a world where face coverings are as much a permanent and essential part of our wardrobe as undershorts.   That, to me, would be utter dystopia.  To think . . . a child born today might have to ask his or her parents, "Mommy, Daddy . . . What's a smile?" ๐Ÿ˜ฎ 

As if we'll have any reason to give one. ๐Ÿ˜ข

Friday, November 19, 2021

Music Video Of the Week - November 19, 2021

"Tiny Dancer" by Elton John  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Build Back Bigger?

Why, why, why, why, every time President Biden promotes electric vehicles, is he always showing off electric SUVs and pickups the size of Ohio? 

He was in Detroit yesterday pointing out the benefits of electric vehicles and how developing them and installing more public chargers for them will make American companies and workers more innovative and prosperous, as he's done before.  Instead of speaking next to a Chevrolet Bolt or a Ford Mustang Mach-E, though, he extols the virtues of vehicles such as the humungous Ford F-150 Lightning or, as he did yesterday, the obnoxiously big GMC Hummer.

A car guy like Biden should know that, gasoline-powered or electric, such big vehicles take too much raw material to produce, they're too cumbersome to drive, and they're little more than refrigerators in wheels.

Dear Mr. President: Stop pandering to red-state voters who won't give up their pickup trucks and off-road wagons who will never vote for you anyway.  Start promoting small, compact, fun-to-drive EVs instead!  Americans should learn that bigger isn't always better, and we can't have our cake and eat it too by purchasing and driving monster wagons that don't emit carbon monoxide.  These monstrosities have made driving an absolute terror for those of us who appreciate the small size and agility of a Volkswagen compact.

Yeah, I bought German.  And I will again, if VW ever sends its Golf-sized ID.3 to the States!    

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Award THIS!

And now for the lighter side of the news.

Cardi B is hosting the 2021 American Music Awards.

Sort of like a conspiracy blogger serving as master of ceremonies for the Peabodys.

Look, I don't even pretend to follow popular music anymore.  And while I keep an ear out for actual bands that play actual music with actual instruments and sing actual lyrics, well, in all actuality, that sort of music is no longer, well, popular. 

Cardi B's disgusting performance on the Grammys this year with that horse chick named Megan - which, astonishingly, got praise from music critics obviously to scared to say anything negative about a Puerto Rican female rapper, lest they get accused of saying anything racists, misogynistic, or elites - should have made it clear that she is a burlesque artist and not a musical artist, but tastelessness is increasingly replacing musical ability as a standard for success in pop.  Good grief, for her tastelessness, Lady Gaga could at least sing, which is why she doesn't need to dress up in meat dresses anymore.  But today's "music" hardly requires and musical talent.  Just bitch into a microphone, attack your critics for being out of step, and you can prosper.  And then you get to host a meaningless award show that pretend to be devoted to "music." 

As for the sort of music I like, people increasingly blow it off, and I'm sure Joy Reid still uses her air time on MSNBC to smugly point out that rap continues to grow in popularity and respect while rock and roll hasn't produced anything worth mentioning in the past twenty years except Nickelback, who are talked about for all the wrong reasons.   And anyone who clings to traditional pop and rock is noting but a snob.  

So be it.  As a long-time "M*A*S*H" fan, I always identified with Hawkeye and B.J.  Now I seem to identify with Major Winchester.

Please . . . Springsteen! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

19 and 6

The challenge to President Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandates as issued through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will be heard in this courtroom.

This is the courtroom of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, which won by lottery the right to decide the challenges to the mandates.  Alas, the Sixth Court of Appeals has a conservative majority, fortified by Trump appointees.  Legal experts are already leaving the OSHA mandates for dead because of that.  The plaintiffs charge that the mandates are too broad and unworkable and fail to take differences between workplaces into account - an argument sure to please many a right-wing judge.  Others say it will certainly go to the Supreme Court, where the conservative majority has, like that on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, been fortified by Trump appointees - Trump appointed more Supreme Court justices than any other President since Reagan.  This is all happening as another wave of COVID infections is taking shape - much to the indifference of the businesses and the Republican-led states that initiated this challenge.

Before you throw up your hands and declare that the vaccine mandate is doomed and that COVID is going to infect the large minority - about 41 percent - of Americans who have not been and will not be vaccinated an prolong the pandemic until the end of time,  just bear a few things in mind.  First, COVID cases, as previously noted, are rising again, and the pretext of the suits was the fact that cases were declining . . . that is, until recently.  That ought to give the Sixth Circuit judges some pause.  Second, the Supreme Court has already rejected three challenges to vaccine mandates, so if President Biden does have to appeal to the Supreme Court, his chances there are better than in the Sixth Circuit.  Third, there are other lawsuits pending against the OSHA mandates  - from labor unions who think the mandates don't go far enough and want to expand them to include smaller businesses.  Most of them are suing in the more liberal Second Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New York City. 

There's still a chance that the mandates will survive court challenges, and if they don't, the Biden administration is likely to craft new ones to satisfy the complaints against the old ones.  It may be working on them already. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

"American Pie" - Fifty Years

It was fifty years ago this autumn that Don McLean released his second album, American Pie, and while the album has long been considered respectable example of classic folk rock, containing fine songs such as "Till Tomorrow: and the Van Gogh tribute 'Vincent," the title song towers over not just the rest of the LP but over everything McLean has ever done.
Don McLean wrote "American Pie" with the knowledge that his contract with United Artists Records was on thin ice, so he decided that if he had only one shot at making an LP, he as going to give it all he had.  "American Pie" came to him as he was pondering the loss of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper -  real name: J.P. Richardson -  in the February 3, 1959 plane crash that took their lives . . . the day the music died.  He thus began writing a song that he said was about America and how its popular culture and its sense of optimism and progress fueled a great musical, cultural and social revolution in the 1960s, only to have it crashing down.  The song begins with a lament of the loss of Holly, Valens and Richardson, then picks up with a quicker tempo and with scenes of youthful innocence and marveling at the joy of early rock and roll and how rock evolved into a multifaceted musical form with the exuberance of the Beatles and the innovative songwriting of Bob Dylan.  The verses capture the thrill of musical discovery but then pivot to how America underwent a loss of trust in society, as the Vietnam War intensified and rock got more political.
There are numerous references to pop-cultural figures, including the Beatles as "sergeants," and possibly Dylan as "the jester," a mischievous figure that sings with the voice of the people and upends the ruling class.  Or was the jester a leader or a comedian - maybe Lenny Bruce, whom music critic Ralph Gleason once referred to as a secular saint? - shaming the rulers of America by stealing the king's crown?  The fourth verse finds the sergeants playing a tune at the halftime at a football game, with everyone wanting to get up to dance, only to find discord when the players try to take the field and begin the second half.  Was this a reference to the Summer of Love being interrupted by the resumption of a militaristic game like American football, devoted to territorial acquisition?  
More clear is "American Pie"'s fifth verse, with its obvious references to the Rolling Stones' disastrous concert at Altamont, where the peaceful vibe of the sixties gave way to a new, dark reality.  But who was the devil laughing with delight at the end?  Mick Jagger?  Richard Nixon? An archetypal record company executive realizing that rock could be taken over and controlled by the suits, it be turned into just another cynical product, now that cynicism had perverted it?
The sixth verse of "American Pie" returned to a slow, dirge-like tempo, lamenting the end of rock and roll's glory days and is innocence, with illusions to the death of Janis Joplin and the closing of New York's Fillmore East, the "sacred store" (which is a bank now).  The Father Son and Holy Ghost referred to leave, possible a reference to Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers but maybe still a reference to Holly, Valens and Richardson and that day the music died.  McLean is left to look at the aftermath of the sixties and the prospect of new decade much less idealistic the the one before it.  It seemed ironic that McLean would suggest such a dire forecast in 1971, a year of ever more innovation and brilliance in popular music in which many monumental records were made.  But as the seventies wore on, the music began to reflect deeper cynicism and skepticism, rock eventually gave way to disco, and punk rendered rock's most respected veterans and artisans irrelevant in a new, nihilistic age.  And then came that day in December 1980 when the music died yet again.  
McLean has never explained whom he was signing about specifically in "American Pie," but the mirror he held up to his homeland revealed a country of contradictions that people wrestle with today, even as popular music continues to change and reflect the times - times that seem more dire and more cynical with each passing year as Americans aim to regain a sense of optimism and renewal.  Promises from our leaders ("It's not a good bet to bet against America" - Joe Biden) and efforts by recording artists who want to say something with their music rather than just sell a catchy tune they know "the kids" will buy (think of any indie band you can name) can only move so far toward such optimism and renewal.  And the loss of both is why "American Pie" still resonate fifty years on, as well as just being one hell of a song that encapsulates American cultural history and social structure perfectly.
Below is a clip of Don McLean explaining "American Pie" in a TV interview from the Netherlands.   

And now, the song.  With the words.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Quick

Republican New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli conceded to Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Friday.  And despite his obvious disappointment about the outcome, Ciattarelli made it clear that he let the vote count play itself out, even though he thought voting rules in New Jersey allows the counting process to go on too long.  He also made it clear that there was no fraud, there were no indications of irregularities, and there was no mathematical way he could win the election even when all of the votes are counted.  One can only hope that Ciattarelli's graciousness will inspire other Republicans to pull away from Trump and his accusations of fraud.  His fellow New Jersey Republican Chris Christie has already made the case that the party put Trump and his rants about the 2020 election behind them.

Christie, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, may or may not have a political future, but Ciattarelli just might have one.  He'd hoped to succeed Murphy as governor of New Jersey, and he might yet do that; he's already made it clear that he hopes to run for the governorship again in 2025.  (Murphy will be term-limited.) And given how close he came to winning this time and the goodwill he won with his concession speech, he's very much a favorite.         

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Garland On Top

When it came time for Joe Biden to pick an Attorney General, the front-runners for the job were former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was a thorn in Trump's side in the early days of his term, and former U.S. Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, who has a strong civil rights record.  But Yates, apparently was too politically sensitive four such a choice, and Jones, of course, is a white male Southern Protestant who didn't check any "diversity" boxes. Merrick Garland seemed to be an appropriate choice; he's cordial, he's methodical, he's drama-free, and the post of Attorney General was a nice consolation prize for a man who had been rejected for a Supreme Court vacancy because the Senate Republican majority wouldn't grant him a hearing.

Nearly ten months after President Biden took office, though, it appeared that, up to that point at least, Biden had misjudged his man.  The U.S. House January 6 select committee cited Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress in refusing to honor a congressional subpoena to cooperate in their investigation of the insurrection, and their referral went to Garland's desk and stayed there for three weeks or so.  In all that time, liberals were frustrated that he hadn't moved to get Bannon indicted, insisting that Yates or Jones would have moved much more quickly.  It looked like Bannon was never going to be indicted 
Until yesterday.  A federal grand jury indicted Bannon on one count of refusing to answer a subpoena and one count of failing to provide documents to the select committee.  Bannon is expected to turn himself in on Monday. 
Merrick Garland got a lot of flak from the left for not moving faster enough against Bannon, but it is now obvious more than ever that he has been living up to his vow to go by procedure and make his decisions based on the merits of the law and not on the altar of politics.  He more or less got the green light from Tanya Chutkan's ruling against Trump's effort to protect his presidential papers in the National Archives, which made it easier to pursue the indictment.
Garland's statement on the indictment reads as follows: 
"Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the Department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law, and pursues equal justice under the law. Today's charges reflect the Department's steadfast commitment to these principles."
The case in federal court is going to take awhile to reach a conclusion, and the January 6 select committee may be done before it's resolved.  But any witnesses called by the committee in the meantime - including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows - now have incentive and reason to cooperate with the investigation. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Music Video Of the Week - November 12, 2021

"A Heart In New York" by Art Garfunkel (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.) 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Murphy's Law of Reassessment

The past week and change has caused me to look at the aftermath of the 2021 elections again, especially the gubernatorial election in New Jersey.

As you may recall, I mildly criticized Governor Phil Murphy for winning by less than the polls indicated he would.  Well, I was apparently too harsh on him, even if professional pundits continue to be.  As of this writing, Murphy has won 51 percent of the vote, and he leads Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli by 2.8 percentage points. His vote count has only gone up since last Tuesday.  A clear majority of New Jersey voters obviously want him to have another term. The last time a Democratic governor of New Jersey was re-elected, the top song in the country was "You Light Up My Life."  It was that long ago (1977, for the record).  And also, when you remember that there were four key races this year - this, the New York City mayoral election, the California gubernatorial recall election, and the Virginia gubernatorial election - the Democrats won all but one of them. 

Three out of four ain't bad, but you'd never know that from TV commentators not named Rachel by their mothers or named Maddow by their fathers.  You'd also never know how historic it was that Murphy was the first re-elected Democratic governor since Brendan Byrne (who won re-election the same year that Ed Koch was first elected mayor of New York City - again, 1977 was that long ago).  And so the takeaway is that the Democrats got shellacked, largely on the basis of  Republican wins in local races in New York State that no one cares about nationally and on the fact that the Democrats lost control of the Virginia House of Delegates - never mind that they still control both houses of the New Jersey legislature.

In no way am I suggesting that the Democrats don't have to worry about messaging or responding to voters' concerns in 2022; that's still a big deal. So is the presence of "progressives" who want to take money away from police departments when Eric Adams, the biggest winner in the Democratic Part this year, won the mayor's office in New York City by pledging to defend the police rather than defund them.  (He's an ex-cop.)  But the lashes the Democratic Party took last week were more from a wet noodle than a cat of nine tails.

However, the election in New Jersey is still a concern, because Jack Ciattarelli still won't concede to Murphy, despite being behind him by a larger percentage of the vote than Terry McAuliffe ended up behind Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin in Virginia - and McAuliffe has already conceded.  In no other major election this year has a losing Republican refused to concede, mainly because they lost by a lot.  But by losing by only less than three points, Ciattarelli has remained adamant about waiting it out until the last vote is counted - and then he might ask for an expensive recount.  And Ciattarelli supporters are already making charges of fraud and vote rigging, though the candidate has not endorsed these charges.

I was afraid of this.  The first Republican challenge to the results of an election after President Biden's inauguration is taking place not in California or in New York City but in New Jersey.  New Jersey, a state whose residents are known for their hard-handed, hard-edged belligerence.  We have rappers from Essex County who could scare the hell out of South Bronx rappers, and I'm just talking about the sista rappers.  "The Sopranos" played like a documentary about the state, and in some ways, it is.  The unofficial state motto is an expletive.  Our largest city, Newark, is nicknamed Brick City.  We're so tough, we made a state park out of a rail yard.  And a lot of our bad-asses voted Republican in this election.  So, you can imagine how scared we should be if Ciattarelli supporters descend on Trenton to disrupt Governor Murphy's re-inauguration.

Jack should concede now, if he doesn't want a demonstration in Trenton in January 2022 to make January 6 look like a church social.  This is dangerous. ๐Ÿ˜ฑ   

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Infrastructure Bill

President Biden finally got his infrastructure bill passed this past Friday, and while it couldn't help Terry McAuliffe in Virginia - Phil Murphy won re-election in New Jersey in part by what he achieved in Trenton, not what Biden had been trying to achieve in Washington (more on that later) - it did help set up the Democrats for a midterm election campaign in 2022 that might not be as awful as what the pundits are predicting.  Bu then, the pundits are making predictions for November 2022 based on what's happening in November 2021, which makes about as much sense as when they made predictions in November 2019 for November 2020.  Because in November 2019, the Democrats had no presidential front-runner, the economy was ascendant, Trump was riding high despite the threat of impeachment, and there was nothing threatening international stability - except maybe this weird SARS virus that suddenly emerged in central China, but hey, it wasn't like it was going to be any worse than the original SARS virus from 2003, right?

Anyway, I can't tell you what's in the infrastructure bill that is now law, because there's too much in it. So why don't I show you? 

All nice things we now can have, not unlike the nice things that are taken for granted elsewhere.  My only complaint is that highways get more money that railways, and the $66 billion to be spent on rail is divided between passenger an freight rail. Translation: Don't expect TGV-like bullet trains for Amtrak any time soon.  Or any time later.  Be thankful if current Amtrak service is expanded.

The reconciliation bill, which will give us even more nice things, should be passed before the first of the year, albeit in a truncated form.  Once that's done, and hopefully with the pandemic possibly in retreat, the Democrats should have enough talking points to help them in the 2022 midterms - provided they can get voters to understand how these achievements will help them lead better, happier lives.  That's the problem; Democrats are as good as messaging as I am at playing the guitar.  I can play the notes, but I can't make music.  Democrats - the party of hip-hop - have to present their message on how their policies work for all of us by presenting it as if were a song that everyone will want to sing along to, not just hit the right notes.  And they have to start to effectively present their message now.

If the don't do it, the Republicans could make massive gains in 2022 and then we'll be singing different songs - Mahler's Kindertotenlieder

Music is the language with which I speak.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Happy New Year?

The Biden administration has outlined its requirements for COVID vaccines at large companies through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  For companies with 100 or more employees, starting Tuesday, January 4, 2022, every employee has to either get vaccinated or subject himself or herself to weekly testing.

As soon as the order was handed down, though, multiple states and individuals - led by the Marquis de Sade of elected officials, Florida governor Ron DeSantis - sued to stop the directive, and the arch-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals put a "temporary" stay on it.  The court's response, however, seemed to aim at making that stay permanent, as its wording was highly critical.

The Biden White House thinks it can win this case as it potentially makes its way up to the Supreme Court, where previous efforts to stop vaccine mandates have failed and where this effort will likely fail as well.  But as all of these cases proliferate in the court system, a different kind of case - COVID cases - continues to proliferate, as the number of infections seems to be rising faster than the number of vaccinations.  And they probably are; the vaccination rate has stagnated to the point where it can take up to three whole days for the rate of full vaccination to go up by a tenth of a percent, whereas it had previously taken only one day.  The death count will likely go up too, still not likely to reach two million to be as deadly as the 1918 pandemic in terms of a percentage of the population but still far more deaths than the 1918 pandemic per capita, and we can't afford any more deaths no matter how you measure them.  Recoveries?  No, the media still can't be bothered to report on those, though according to CoronaTracker.com, 37 million out of 47 million cases have been closed as of this past Sunday, for a 78.9 percent recovery rate.  

Bit, thanks to long COVID and continued vaccine resistance, along with a still-too-high seven-day new-case average, maybe none of that matters.  The only way out of this pandemic is to get more people vaccinated, and hopefully this court case will be ruled in favor of President Biden and we can indeed have a happy 2022.  Until we do get enough people vaccinated, though, we're going to have to continue to walk into banks looking like we're about to hold them up.  No wonder banking online is so popular these days.

Monday, November 8, 2021

"Stairway To Heaven" - Fifty Years

Fifty years ago today, Led Zeppelin issued its untitled fourth album, and the fourth song on that fourth LP became first in the hearts of fans of classic rock.

"Stairway To Heaven" is one of those monumental songs from the seventies that defined every form of popular music that rock has influenced or has been influenced by, from folk balladeering to the Delta blues to tight-fisted guitar-based rock.  It summed up everything rock stood for and still stands for today, with its positive message of self-discovery and enlightenment.  It proved that Led Zeppelin had a deeper message to present lyrically and musically than that in the sexually charged, blues-based songs of their previous albums or even similarly constructed songs on this fourth LP.  As I wrote back in February 2014 in my review of the album sometimes called Led Zeppelin IV, the song is "[an] ethereal epic track that brilliantly displays the complexity, the power, and, yes, the subtlety of Led Zeppelin's music as it slowly builds from an introspective musing into a searing rock performance - the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove."

"Stairway To Heaven" came about in a rather impromptu way, with guitarist Jimmy Page writing the music over an extended time, taking it from small pieces of music that had been taped.  Vocalist Robert Plant came up with much of the lyrics while sitting next to an evening log fire at a former workhouse for the poor - the sort of place Charles Dickens wrote about - called Headley Grange, where numerous bands recorded and rehearsed. "Headley Grange was somewhat rundown; the heating didn't work," Page later remembered.  "But it had one major advantage. Other bands had rehearsed there and hadn't had any complaints. That's a major issue, because you don't want to go somewhere and start locking into the work process and then have to pull out."
The lack of heat and the Victorian ambience, along with the rustic fire in the hearth, may very well have inspired the esoteric, pastoral lyrics of "Stairway To Heaven," with their inviting images of a songbird in a tree by a brook, forests echoing with laughter, and bustled hedgerows, with the promise that if you're headed down the wrong path, "there's still time to change the road you're on."

Page built up the arrangement of "Stairway To Heaven" in much the same matter as the Beatles' "A Day In the Life," were the music started out quietly and introspectively, with an acoustic guitar and recorders (from bassist John Paul Jones); electric guitars are eventually brought in for more texture as the pace of the tempo slowly increases.  The song is firmly planted in California folk-rock when John Bonham's drums come in, but the anticipation of a full flowering still hangs heavy in the sound.  That flowering comes with an explosion of heavy rock with a melodically fluid but menacing guitar solo from Page almost in the same style as Martin Barre's solo in Jethro Tull's :Hymn 43."  (Such complex melodicism would eventually cause the punk revolt of 1976 and 1977, but that's another post.)  Plant's voice, in the middle range, mutates back into his piercing Chipmunks-on-speed vocal as he delivers the lyrics of "Stairway To Heaven" that sum up the song and the promise of rock and roll:

And as we wind on down the road,
Our shadows taller than our soul,
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard,
The tune will come to you at last
When all is one and one is all . . .
To be a rock and not to roll.  
The band slows down and brings the song in for a landing, with Robert Plant left on his own to recall the stairway one last time.  It rivals the crashing E major chord of the aforementioned "A Day In the Life" and the gong of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" as one of the most memorable closing moments of  a classic-rock song. Except that "Stairway To Heaven" closed side one, not side two, of the album it was on, unlike "A Day In the Life," which closed the Beatles'  Sgt. Pepper, or "Bohemian Rhapsody," which, apart from a 71-second instrumental version of the British national anthem at the very end, closed Queen's  A Night At the Opera.  Using "Stairway To Heaven" as a side one closer demonstrated that Led Zeppelin not only had more to offer on side two of Led Zeppelin IV (and it did), but had more musical surprises to come thereafter - surprises that would include straight folk ballads, reggae, danceable pop tunes, and R&B.  "Stairway To Heaven" is one of the most transcendent songs ever offered up by a major rock  band.  And no mater how overplayed it is on classic rock radio, it's a song that deserves its ubiquitous presence.     
This post is dedicated to fellow Sirius XM urban talk host and fellow Drew University alumnus Karen Hunter, who once mocked now-former House Speaker Paul Ryan for still listening to Led Zeppelin in the 2010s.  I love you too, Karen. ๐Ÿ˜› 
And now, the song . . .

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Steely Dan - Gaucho (1980)

In which the coolest band of the seventies begins a new decade and ends its run on a whimper.

Off the road for years and down to just Walter Becker and Donald Fagen relying on a revolving door of backing musicians, Steely Dan had gotten just a little too comfortable in the studio by 1980, and Gaucho was the result of their complacency.  The album is a set of songs offering clichรฉd depictions of the same sort of seedy characters they'd so vividly brought to life on earlier albums, and the music on Gaucho shows that Steely Dan's music had calcified into subdued, overproduced "smooth jazz" arrangements.

Conceptually, Gaucho mirrors Aja, with epic songs that allow the session musicians to stretch out but with none of the warmth and intimacy that characterized that earlier album.  The sound is quite antiseptic, and the effect is soporific enough to listen to as an alternative to a Sominex.  :Hey Nineteen,"  Gaucho's hit single about a May-December romance, is interesting mainly thanks to Steve Gadd's drumming, but even with Bernard Purdie's shuffling beat, "Babylon Sisters" actually makes depravity sound boring.   "Glamour Profession," like "Babylon Sisters" a song about the decadence of southern California, has a little more punch to it, but no heart, either.  And you would expect a song like the title track, about a guy being used by a friend to do favor for his friend's partner, to be edgier than the actual song is.  And the pseudo-blues-rock arrangement for "Time Out of Mind" almost evaporates into thin air.

The problems with Gaucho are largely the sedate keyboards and the relaxed brass sections, and there's no one comparable to a Skunk Baxter or an Elliott Randall to provide a memorable guitar solo.  (Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler played a solo for "Time Out of Mind," but his contribution got edited and mixed down to almost nothing.)  Becker and Fagen certainly didn't do their session players any favors; the basic tracks were subjected to numerous retakes, and the songs underwent countless remixes before the duo were satisfied, though more often than not they settled for whatever they could get.  Steely Dan let the perfect be the enemy of the good on Gaucho, and as a result the album wasn't much of either.  No wonder Becker and Fagen, apart from helping Rosie Vela with her 1986 album ZaZu, wouldn't work together again for over a decade.

(After four album reviews - all of which were downers, more or less - I'm taking another break from reviewing records.  I should be back soon, and at least I got them started on a semi-related basis again.)

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Election Inspection

The Democrats look like they could go back to going full Whig.  After the election returns this past Tuesday, how could you not come to that conclusion?

Terry McAuliffe's nomination for a second nonconsecutive term to oppose Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin (above) was one of those classic bad ideas that was plausible enough that no one would challenge or question such a preposterous idea.  McAuliffe got the nod to run again not so much for his record as governor from 2014 to 2018 but because of his position in Democratic insider politics and his fundraising ability.  Also, he's a friend of the Clintons.  And he seemed to feel as entitled to the governor's mansion in Virginia as the Clintons did to the White House.   But he screwed up in saying that parents did not have a say in how children were educated - revealing his ignorance of elected school boards - giving Youngkin a perfect issue to run on.  And when Youngkin responded in kind by suggested with a campaign commercial that Toni Morrison's "Beloved" shouldn't be taught in AP literature (though the ad did not mention the book by title), McAuliffe couldn't even use it to his advantage.   President Biden was chastised by some pundits by deflecting blame for the Democrats' loss in Virginia from his inability to get his agenda passed; McAuliffe's foibles as a candidate suggest that Biden was right.  He was such a lousy candidate he took the Virginia Democratic Party down with him; it appears that the party lost control of the lower house of the state legislature.  Two of the new Republican members took part in the January 6 insurrection.

(By the way, if you go back to my post from this past Monday and make a sentence from the first word of each sentence in it, you'll see that I called Virginia right.)

Biden certainly didn't have anything to do with the surprise result in New Jersey, where Phil Murphy won re-election as governor by far less than expected.  Murphy ran on his progressive record and didn't shy away from his policies but he failed to enunciate his accomplishments as much as he should have and he completely ignored the issue his Republican opponent Jack Ciattarelli hammered away on repeatedly during the campaign - property taxes.  It turns out a lot of people still care about that!  Murphy, relatively speaking, was one of the big winners among the Democrats this past Tuesday.  He stays in office with most of his agenda in place and he's in a position to secure his legacy, and he is now the first Democrat to win a second term as governor of New Jersey since Brendan Byrne in 1977.  But he should have won by more.
The disappointing results Democrats had in Virginia and New Jersey were local, but nationally they still have a problem.  Republicans blame the Democrats' losses on the Democratic agenda.  Listening to them, you'd think nobody in America wants paid family leave, expanded Medicare coverage, or universal nursery school.  (Hey, I just called Joe Manchin a nobody!)  Well, it makes perfect sense that voters rebelled against the Democratic agenda - because a lot of voters thought the Democrats wanted to rename schools named for Founding Fathers in honor of black nationalists, teach "critical race theory" in those same schools, tear down statues of Jefferson and Washington, and, oh yes, defund the police.  Because even when they talk about paid family leave, Medicare dental coverage and all those other nice things, they still can't articulate their agenda in clear-cut language, and what they do say gets drowned out by so-called "woke" members of the Squad.  So it makes sense the the biggest winner among Democrats, New York Mayor-elect Eric Adams, is an ex-cop who would rather defend the police than defund them.  (Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, hos Republican opponent is a cat lover and has sixteen cats at home; that was the only thing I liked about him.)     

Oh yeah, it's so obvious that woke-ism is so out of place in These States - even in our major-league cities - that Buffalo mayor Byron Brown was re-elected as a write-in candidate after losing the Democratic nomination to a self-described socialist!  

But the muddled message wasn't the only issue - so was the fact that the Democratic Congress was supposed to deliver the goods and spent much of the past year arguing with each other.  In the end, they were the only people who were "woke" on Tuesday.

The Democrats still have a chance to cut their losses in the 2022 midterms, if they prove they can govern and pass legislation that will help the people.  Last night, they got off to a good but troubled start; the House finally passed President Biden's infrastructure bill, which now goes to the White House for the President's signature.  But distrust remains over the reconciliation bill, and there's a long way to go to get that settled.  Moderates, however, have committed themselves to voting on it ,later, so maybe we can still build back better.  And maybe get voting rights legislation passed.  Or, we could end up seeing a Republican Congress in 2023 passing a whole new round of tax cuts.  

And by the way, speaking of voting rights . . . voting rights were expanded in Virginia and New Jersey, and look what happened. 

Oh yeah, congratulations to Michelle Wu for becoming the first elected female mayor and mayor of color of Boston.