Monday, April 23, 2018

The White Album Project

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

You Don't Fit the Suit

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

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Money For Nothing

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - April 20, 2018

"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

RFK or FKR?

I belong to three Martin O'Malley Facebook groups, two of which I've become the de facto administrator of in the dormant period before potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 start declaring their intentions.  One of these Facebook groups is called "MARTIN O'MALLEY 2020: HES PRETTY MUCH JFK WITH DANK BICEPS AND PLAYS GUITAR."
Awkward, but it gets the point across.
When O'Malley was first talked about as a possible Democratic presidential candidate this time four years ago, pundits were comparing him to John F. Kennedy because of his Irish Catholic background and his devotion to public service.  Sometimes, though, I think the Facebook group I belong to should be called "MARTIN O'MALLEY 2020: HES PRETTY MUCH RFK WITH DANK BICEPS AND PLAYS GUITAR," because I think he aspires to be more like Robert Kennedy than President Kennedy - someone who can cut across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic barriers and build bridges, someone who can get Americans behind a common cause for a better tomorrow.
The problem is that, for now, anyway, O'Malley aspires to be like Robert Kennedy but hasn't been successful at emulating him.  Not only has had trouble bringing everyone together, he hasn't had any luck bringing anyone together - not beyond his core supporters, anyway.  Marylanders consistently go on his own Facebook page and excoriate him for his record as governor of Maryland, blaming him for the state's persistent troubles and mocking his Win Back Your State PAC by saying that Marylanders already won back their state when they elected Republican Larry Hogan (whose re-election this year is all but inevitable) to undo O'Malley's agenda.  And despite campaigning for Hillary Clinton with Jesse Jackson, despite his solidarity with John Lewis against Trump, despite his tribute to Muhammad Ali on Twitter, black people have long since decided that O'Malley is not and never was for them, taking dead aim at his record as mayor of Baltimore and continuing to blame him for Freddie Gray's death. Marylanders who don't even live in Baltimore still go after O'Malley on his Facebook page for even that, blaming him for the troubles of a city that's been on life support for the past fifty years.
Robert Kennedy got his own share of hatred from his opponents - a National Review cover depicting him as a viper was ready to run but was pulled as a result of RFK's assassination - but despite his own efforts at bringing people together in sixteen years of elective executive office, O'Malley is building bridges that no one wants to cross.  People on either side of a bridge O'Malley built would sooner burn it.  The bright side? Robert Kennedy, a complex figure like O'Malley, turned people off with own aggressive criminal-justice stance and equivocated on running for President in 1968 before throwing his hat in the ring late, disappointing numerous people who stayed with 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy.  However, RFK ultimately found his voice as a leader.  Martin O'Malley is still in the process of cultivating his own voice.  He can't be counted out yet.  But for now, a lot of people, particularly in Maryland, are calling him expletives, like "motherf**ker."  While Hillary Clinton gets applauded for just showing up somewhere and while Bernie Sanders is cheered on for his "revolution," Martin O'Malley, who could be either another RFK or another JFK, is currently getting FKUs.
But then, O'Malley has a disadvantage Bobby Kennedy never had - a record in elective executive office.  Running a city or a state is a great way to make yourself enemies who tell you what to do with yourself.
The Kennedy comparisons to O'Malley from 2014 and 2015 faded when it became apparent that  Democrats - including his own senator and his mother's employer, Barbara Mikluski (O'Malley's mother, also named Barbara worked for Senator Mikulski as a secretary) - wanted nothing to do with O'Malley in 2016.  He then began drawing comparisons to Democratic also-rans past, the inference being that he was just the latest in series of useless lightweights.  (Then-Senator Mikulski said in 2015, that she wished O'Malley well, but that she was for Hillary, subliminally diminishing him in anger for having the gall to run for President in Hillary's year.)  Right now O'Malley is trying to help a party that refuses to acknowledge or appreciate him and lacks credible alternatives to an O'Malley presidential candidacy in 2020 win back power in 2018 with his PAC.  If Democrats score big this November, O'Malley, who's beginning to win friends and influence people through Win Back Your State, will go from an FKR to an RFK (or a JFK) pretty fast.       

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Comey-Out Party

Former FBI director James Comey has brought America together across partisan lines in a way that no one has been able to for fifty years.  Democrats and Republicans universally hate him.
Comey is promoting his memoir, which comes out today, in a series of interviews and public appearances, and the comments he's made so far arr bound to enrage everyone and satisfy no one.  He told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that Donald Trump might have put himself in a compromising position that could be exploited by the Russians, and said that he had tried to consult with Trump to see if there were anything that the Russians might have to incriminate him.  Comey, in all fairness, doesn't say that the Russians have any incriminating evidence of malfeasance, personal or public, against Trump - "It's possible," he says - but he does pass judgment on Trump's overall.
"A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they're pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person's not fit to be President of the United States, on moral grounds," Comey said.
As for the FBI's October 2016 re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton that likely sank her presidential ambitions?  Comey said that he expected her to win the presidential election, and an investigation into unseen e-mails on the laptop in the possession of her assistant Huma Abedin's estranged husband Anthony Weiner was, he felt, necessary to get out in the open as soon as possible. He thought Hillary was going to win the Presidency, and he wanted to clear her of any charges before rather than after the election so she wouldn't enter office as a compromised President, though it's hard to imagine how anyone named Clinton could enter the White House without being compromised under any circumstances. "I would so much rather Anthony Weiner had never had a laptop," Comey said.
Trump, of course, called Comey a slimeball in public.  (A far cry from Franklin Roosevelt's public line "I welcome their hatred" about his adversaries, and even a far cry from what he said about Thomas E. Dewey in private after Dewey lost the 1944 presidential election to him: "I still say he is a son of a bitch.")  But Democrats have long been ticked off at Comey also, as evidenced from a clip of Democrats questioning Comey's motives in the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails from 2015 and 2016 now playing in a video released by the Republican - the Republican - National Committee.  And Comey's explanation of the Weiner laptop investigation doesn't fly with Democrats.  U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, who would have given up his powerful Senate seat for the worthless presiding officer's seat overlooking the Senate floor as Vice President had the Democrats won the 2016 election, said that the FBI had also been investigating Trump but did not divulge the nature of the ongoing investigation before the election and should have done the same for Hillary.  Had Comey divulged the re-opening of the case after the election, and had Hillary won, it still would have cleared her before the inauguration and no harm would have been done.
Comey writes about his entire career in public service, not just his last year as FBI director, and he credits himself for helping to reform an FBI now under political suspicion.  Indeed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation certainly has more credibility than it did back in the days of J. Edgar Hoover or even the tenure of director Louis Freeh, whose tenure was noted for letting the real Atlanta Olympic bomber go while going after the wrong man and could only catch the Unabomber with the help of his brother (sorry, I couldn't resist the dig).  But Comey's involvement with the toxic politics of today has, if not slimed him, made him a bit unclean, as no politically involved American - Democratic, Republican, independent - wants to touch him with a ten-foot-pole.  (Which is funny, considering Comey's massive frame.) Comey will make a lot of money from this book but likely won't return to public life any time soon after.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Raining All Over The World

Or so it seems.
We in the metropolitan New York City area have gotten up to two inches of rain - in some areas three inches - and some of that rain fell at an inch an hour, which is like getting a foot of snow.  Not a nor'easter, not a line of  severe thunderstorms, but stormy enough to make people wonder what the hell is going on with this weather (*cough cough*, climate change, *cough cough*).
Oh yeah, the stormy weather we got is a by-product of a major April blizzard in the Plains that also handled the upper Great Lakes region and southeastern Ontario.
It may be spring, but the extreme weather that's been going on since late February is hardly over.  Thanks to a phenomenon no one can comprehend (*cough cough*, climate change, *cough cough*), this period of extreme weather is only just beginning.
And thanks to Scott Pruitt and his new coal-lobbyist deputy, it's not going to end. >:-(   

Sunday, April 15, 2018

But Syri-ously . . .

Donald Trump is being applauded for working with the British and the French on a trilateral approach to handling the humanitarian crisis in Syria by lobbing a few missiles in Bashar al-Assad's chemical-weapons facilities after a chemical attack by the Syrian government against its own people.  Let's break down that premature acclaim:
Trump's manly posturing against Syria's benefactor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, doesn't back up the attack.  The Western allies attacked three specific targets in the country but avoided Syrian air bases, lest the U.S., Great Britain and France provoke Russian forces - and there were certainly no attacks on Russian installations despite Trump's earlier tweet.  This attack does nothing to deter Assad; an attack on a chemical-research facility lauded as having set back research work on lethal gases.  I don't think the Syrians need to do any more research on the subject; they've finished their homework.
Assad is still winning the civil war.  The rebels have been forced to surrender all over the country, and now it's only a matter of time before he puts down the rebellion completely.  There's no justification for Assad's use of chemical weapons on his own people, but this strike against him isn't going to deter him.
If we are really concerned with the welfare of the Syrian people, we should let in more Syrian refugees and take the burden off Europe. But Trump isn't willing to do that.   
Trump has suggested that this attack could lead to negotiations to end the Syrian civil war.  The President has taken the lead in establishing possible negotiations - President Macron of France, that is, who is quickly turning out to be the de facto leader of the Western alliance.   American involvement is already nil, what with the Russians, the Iranians, and the Turks having held high-level summits on Syria at which the Americans were not invited.  But then, Trump was against continued military involvement in the Islamic State-dominated areas of Syria - and thus against against continued military involvement in Syria period - as recently as a week earlier before he was for it.
Abstaining from an attack Russian forces at least prevents a third world war, but it also shows how much Trump wants to pretend to get tough on Putin when Putin likely has him under his thumb.
"What?  James Comey just put out his memoirs?  I didn't hear about that!"  Exactly - because of Syria.
Hillbots will likely sneer at me for going third party on the Democrats in 2016 in part because Hillary Clinton was thinking of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria could provoke the Russians.  I can hear Hillary supporters now - "Green Party voters said that if I voted for Hillary, we'd have a war in Syria - well, I voted for Hillary, now we have a war in Syria!"  Ha ha ha. But I'm not laughing.  And yes, I still think Martin O'Malley (you knew I was going to mention his name) was right; we shouldn't do anything in Syria that could provoke a wider conflict simply to get rid of Assad, and Putin's involvement in Syria will be a blunder for the Russian leader.  Getting involved in that bed of thorns for a base or two on the Mediterranean will only come back to bite the Russians in the rear just like our involvement in Iraq bit us.  
And any effort to prevent Iranian access to the Mediterranean through Syria can be checked with that nuclear agreement with Iran - you know, the one Trump and Mike Pompeo want to ditch?
My commentary is done here. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saving Facebook

Get it?
So here's what I think about the news that data and information from Facebook's users were given to Cambridge Analytica in England and used in 2016 by its best known client, the Trump campaign, to target voters . . . is Mark Zuckerberg insane?
I, personally, am not bothered by the distribution of user data to Cambridge Analytica, because the Trump campaign couldn't have done anything with data on me. First of all, I can't stand Trump.  Second of all, I can't stand Hillary. Third of all, my support for Martin O'Malley, and then Jill Stein, probably aroused more guffaws among those who saw it than anything else.  But using information people only want to share with friends and violating their privacy without permission goes beyond the pale.        
I pretty much make a lot of posts public (not just limited to friends), because I rarely post anything personal.  If I don't want people to know something, I don't mention it on Facebook.  What is the kicker here is that Facebook allowed people's data to be used in a way that they hadn't intended.  It was based on their likes and dislikes, and as innocuous at that seems, such data has been used before by advertisers to pitch directly to Facebook users based on such information.  But the Cambridge Analytica ploy made this date available and exploitable in ways no one would have allowed if given the chance to stop it.   
Facebook has put the following message on its home page regarding the application "This Is Your Digital Life," which got so much information for Cambridge Analytica in the first place: 
"We understand the importance of keeping your data safe. We have banned the app 'This Is Your Digital Life,' which one of your friends used Facebook to log into. We did this because the app may have misused some of your Facebook information by sharing it with a company called Cambridge Analytica. In most cases, the information was limited to public profile, page likes, birthday, and current city. You can learn more about what happened and how you can remove apps and websites anytime if you no longer want them to have access to your Facebook information. There is more work to do, but we are committed to confronting abuse and to putting you in control of your privacy."
More work to do. But can anyone trust Mark Zuckerberg to do it?
Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg got out in advance of Zuckerberg's testimony on Capitol Hill, apologizing profusely to every news media figure who interviewed her.  And when Zuckerberg did testify before members of the House and Senate, he offered pat, safe answers to the lawmakers' pat, safe questions.  Some of them may not have fully comprehended how Facebook operates.  And Zuckerberg was able to talk a great deal and say little.
Again, I like to think I'm pretty careful about what I share on Facebook and what I don't (I have made my love for Volkswagens obvious, but why would Volkswagen want to advertise to me, a loyal customer for eighteen years with no intention of abandoning the brand?), so I was not really scared by Zuckerberg's evasive testimony.
Mike Pompeo's evasive testimony was what I had a problem with.  A homophobic hawk as Secretary of State? :-O 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - April 13, 2018

"Night Fever" by the Bee Gees  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Man Who Made Volkswagen

It was fifty years ago today, April 12, 1968, that Heinz Nordhoff, the first German postwar CEO of Volkswagen, died of a heart ailment after devoting two decades of his life and career to the company that is now Europe's largest automaker.  His death was not as highly noted as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination eight days earlier or Robert Kennedy's assassination shortly thereafter, but Nordhoff's passing affected the automotive world as profoundly as the deaths of Dr. King and Senator Kennedy affected the world in general.
Nordhoff worked for General Motors' Opel subsidiary before World War II and had been instrumental in bringing the original Kadett subcompact to market even as Ferdinand Porsche was working to develop for the Third Reich what became the Volkswagen Beetle.  When the war ended, Nordhoff was barred from working in the American zone of occupation for having received a medal from the Nazis, and he was soon recruited by the British to run the VW plant in Wolfsburg, in the British occupation zone.  Nordhoff scoffed at the idea - he found Dr. Porsche's little Volkswagen to be a crude, cheap, underdeveloped car.  But he needed a job, and so he accepted the position.  Once he came to appreciate the Beetle's durability and versatility, he set about improving the car's performance, amenities and assembly quality, as well as the potential to improve all three of those characteristics.

Heinz Nordhoff, more than anyone else, made the Beetle a cultural icon all over the world.  His attention to detail made the Beetle a solid, reliable car that everyone could afford, and its simple engineering made it easy to maintain and economical to run.  The Beetle's derivatives - larger sedans and the iconic Microbus - expanded Volkswagen's reach and made the brand the most loved car make on the planet.  And it almost singlehandedly revived the German economy.  At the time of Nordhoff's death, the Beetle was at its peak both mechanically and in U.S. sales.  But VW in 1968 was rising toward a fall.
The company was suddenly facing serious competition from Toyota in the import-car market in the United States, with Toyota's new Corolla being more modern and advanced than the Beetle was.  New product was needed to compete both in America and in Europe.  Nordhoff's immediate successors as CEO of Volkswagen wasted little time in developing new vehicles to replace the Beetle and its derivatives, but these men lacked one quality that Nordhoff had in spades - vision.  Volkswagen eventually came up with a new generation of cars - with engines cooled by liquid mounted in the front and driving the front wheels as opposed to the Beetle's rear-mounted engine cooled by air and driving the rear wheels - but many observers believed that there was no sense of distinction and no uniqueness to separate them from the competition.  Such distinction would take years, in some cases decades, to cultivate. And the teething problems that came from Volkswagen making cars with next to no experience in liquid-cooled, front-engine vehicles (what expertise it had came from its purchase of the Auto Union and NSU car companies in the sixties) compromised VW's reputation for quality.  The lack of vision and the failure to recognize a need for VW to preserve a unique identity led to many years being lost, particularly in the American market, where the "Asian tsunami" of Japanese and South Korean cars left Volkswagen and other European makes struggling. Some of them, particularly the French makes, just gave up in the States, and VW almost did as well.
Ironically, Nordhoff himself may have been responsible or VW's post-Beetle woes by refusing to give up on the Beetle even after its engineering became dated.  And even had he lived, he wasn't going to be with the company for much longer; at 69, he was planning to retire in the autumn of 1968.  But Volkswagen painfully felt his absence once he left the scene.  The Golf might have saved the company from disaster when it finally debuted in the mid-seventies, but one question remained for the automaker's executives that Nordhoff wouldn't have had to ask.  What, in this new era, was a Volkswagen? Was it still an everyman's car?  Was it a performance-oriented driver's car?  Was it a medium-market car for a prosperous upper middle class?
Volkswagen is all of these things, of course, but the one thing it is, and should be, above all else is this.  It's an honest value.  It's a car that offers a lot for the money with a pleasurable driving experience.  It's a quality that Nordhoff picked up as soon as he took over Volkswagen from the British.  "Offering people an honest value," Nordhoff once said, "appealed to me more than being driven around by a bunch of hysterical stylists trying to sell people something they really don't want to have."
It's a quality that almost got lost due to the lack of vision that persisted at VW or for so long, which undoubtedly led to substandard reliability in its cars, higher retail prices and maintenance costs, missteps like the Phaeton luxury sedan, and, ultimately, the diesel scandal.  It was a quality Nordhoff adhered to, lest he let VW get complacent and allow the firm to merely coast on its achievements.  "What an auto company loses in the market today," Nordhoff explained in 1963, "it probably can't recover in the next fifty years."
Fifty years after Nordhoff's death, Volkswagen is a much smaller presence in the United States than it was in 1968.  But as it continues to offer more interesting product, with a commitment to both excellence and quirkiness, and also continues to perfect its new modular platform, it seems to be slowly coming to terms with Nordhoff's wisdom.  VW isn't going to sell the 800,000 cars in America this year like it once hoped to - not even if it counts sales from its other brands, like Audi and Bentley - but it's committed to finding a vision as it makes its way down the road to full recovery.  Even if today's VWs don't resemble the aircooled VWs of Nordhoff's day, they are beginning to reflect the identity and vision that Nordhoff knew was always essential to making a car special.

After all, it's not a car.  It's a Volkswagen.          

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Paul Is Dead (Politically)

It hasn't been confirmed as I type this, but shout it out loud - noted classic-heavy-metal fan Paul Ryan will not seek another term in the House of Representatives, thus ending his tenure as Speaker.    
First Reince Priebus, now Ryan . . . I hope the last remaining member of the Wisconsin Axis of Evil, Scott Walker, falls next.
Ryan's exit suggests that he knows that the Democrats will likely take back the House in November - unless the Democratic National Committee's Tom Perez blows it, in which case that dimwitted dullard Kevin McCarthy of California will likely be the next Speaker.
Now we fight.  If there was ever a time to get involved in the midterms to stop the GOP, this is it.  Just don't bother to make yourself available to the Democratic National Committee - go to Martin O'Malley's PAC instead.
Win Back Your State.  Because the DNC won't. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Driven To Distraction

With Robert Mueller possibly getting closer to finding out what really happened with regard to Russian influence in the 2016 election and a possible trade war with the Chinese, Donald Trump is getting desperate.  He tired to reconnect with his base by sending National Guard troops to the border to Mexico to stop illegal immigrants from crossing.  The Guardsmen won't have to do much . . . the flow of illegal immigrants over the southern border is currently at its lowest point since 1971.     
Tariffs against Chinese products?  I'm all for it, so long as it's done the right way.  But Trump is going about it in such a cavalier fashion that it might have the unintended consequence of making it impossibles for American farmers to sell grain and soybeans to China and cause a severe agricultural recession.  Most of the states and counties affected supported Trump in 2016.
The attempt to ignite the Republican base by highlighting illegal immigration may backfire on Trump and the GOP when they see Guardsmen lying about and doing nothing.  (You know what Republicans think of layabouts!)  But they might be distracted enough not to realize that teachers in reliably Republican states are striking for not only better pay but for more money for their schools, so they don't have to pay for their own supplies.  By the time these Republican voters, who think the education is bad or you, see that they're about to be hit with the biggest sh--storm since the Never Again anti-gun movement, it'll be too late.
Meanwhile, the FBI raided Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's office to investigate his alleged payment to Stormy Daniels.  And Trump, bemoaning the loss of attorney-client privilege (which isn't relevant in this case), wants to get back at the FBI for looking into this sex scandal by . . . firing Robert Mueller, an ex-FBI guy investigating Russian meddling in our elections?  That makes no sense at all . . .
I can't believe I just covered so much ground in such a short post . . ..      

Monday, April 9, 2018

Taken For Granite

Martin O'Malley has been making the rounds in New Hampshire - ostensibly to rev up Democrats for the 2018 midterm elections and campaign for and support local Democratic candidates, but of course New Hampshire is the home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.  O'Malley refuses to speculate on a possible 2020 presidential bid, saying he still has to think along and hard before he decides on that.  And possibly pray as well - he was educated by Jesuits, remember.
The good news is that people aren't making fun of O'Malley anymore.  His recent engagements up in the Granite State actually got some good notices, and two New Hampshire talk-radio hosts complimented him for his articulate, direct speaking style.  (Note: The quality of your speaking style is inverslye proportional to your ability to win votes.)   The bad news is that many people still regard O'Malley as an afterthought, largely because he was only able to compete in one state (Iowa) in 2016 as a presidential candidate and the voters there wasted no time in telling him to get the hell off the stage. Pundits and late-night comedians go out of their way not to mention him in talking about 2020.  They'll say the next Democratic presidential candidate should be another black guy, like Eric Holder or Cory Booker, or perhaps a woman, preferably Kamala Harris, who being a half-black, half-South Asian woman married to a white man, is Jesse Jackson's entire Rainbow Coalition, her own balanced ticket.  Or they look to the Kennedys - look, Bobby's grandson Joe is a rising star!  Or Kirsten Gillibrand, who holds the Senate seat once held by Bobby Kennedy and Hillary Clinton (though the Kirsten for President craze has cooled somewhat).  Or maybe Hillary again!  They're even encouraging 76-year-old Bernie Sanders to run again because, well, he's the most popular politician in the country and because aging Baby Boomers who suddenly won't trust anyone under 60 are just as suddenly saying that age doesn't matter.  Bill Maher has been hoping for another Sanders run, insisting that older people have a lot to contribute.  The 62-year-old Maher has said that if Sanders doesn't run, there'll be no one else, unless Gavin Newsom, Jerry Brown's likely successor as governor of California, should decide to run for President after only two years as governor.  And that other geezer, Joe Biden, is being taken seriously at the age of 75.                
And if all else fails . . . there's always Oprah.
O'Malley has been ignored in large part because of what pundits seem to perceive as a nerdy, pollyanna-ish approach to public service on his part that's more out of 1960 than 2020.  (In New Hampshire last week, O'Malley even got upstaged by Ohio governor John Kasich, seen as a possible GOP primary challenger to Trump in 2020.)  Also, there's O'Malley's insistence that the Republicans are the Democrats' opponents rather than their enemies (hardly the best way to win over bloodthirsty Democratic partisans, especially Hillary partisans already offended by O'Malley's mere existence), and also his low popularity among blacks, a linchpin of the Democratic base.  And yet it's Michael Steele, the nation's most prominent black Republican, who has been among the first to suggest that O'Malley might be a major presidential contender for 2020.  When he suggested this to Chuck Todd on MSNBC, Todd, known for cavalierly dismissing people, suggested that Steele, who is from Maryland, was biased toward a fellow Marylander.  But Steele quickly schooled Todd on how O'Malley has been making a lot of "interesting noise" in politics (I assume he meant O'Malley's Win Back Your State PAC) and reminded Chuckles the Clown that O'Malley is very good at retail politics and with hand-to-hand campaigning.
Todd found that he couldn't argue with that.
I maintain that O'Malley will run, and once he throws his hat in to the ring, there will be some difficult days for him as he moves forward, given all of the people who still expect little if anything from him.  But if and when he gains traction out of first Iowa and then New Hampshire, you can expect more people to take Martin Joseph O'Malley very seriously.
And then we break out the Pop-Tarts.
O'Malley made a 96-minute speech at a New Hampshire event last week, and it's online.  I'll comment on that once I get the chance to actually watch it.       

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Arteon For Arteon's Sake

Several months ago I promised to look at Volkswagen's new four-door coupe, the Arteon.  And because I'm sick and tired of commenting on the dysfunction coming out of Washington, now is the perfect time to do it.
Let's do it. 
Due to go on sale later this year, the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon replaces the CC in the brand's lineup, offering the room and comfort of a Passat in a much more stylish package.  The chiseled shape of the LED headlights blending into the grille immediately makes it clear that this is not your father's Dasher, and the aggressive wheel rims look like they're ready to tackle any road.  As elegant and refined as the Arteon looks, it has a very basic and utilitarian feature - a rear hatch, which lifts up high and provides for he sort of versatility normally found in the Golf and its many imitators.  I've always found hatchbacks on touring cars to be oxymoronic, not very classy, but here I'm willing to make an exception.  Very much so.  In fact, the hatch is the most interesting part of the Arteon - it has an integrated spoiler.

The Arteon features a two-liter TSI turbo four that produces 268 horsepower - impressive for such a small engine in such a large car - mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with an optional all-wheel-drive system.  Its suspension can be tuned to provide two different rides, Sport and Comfort, respectively allowing sporty driving on twisting, turning roads or a nice relaxing ride on ling-distance interstate highway trips.  Inside, there's lot of technological goodies, such as a touchscreen entertainment system that plays radio stations and downloaded music through eleven speakers, via a 700-watt sound system.  Sorry, no CD player (of course!).  And if you're into analog read-outs, I have bad news for you . . . the dashboard controls are all digital.  But you do get massaging front seats!

All heady stuff from the last mainstream European auto brand that still sells mass-market cars in America, but Klaus Bischoff, head of design for the Volkswagen brand, thinks there's a market for this car.  "The Arteon combines the design elements of a traditional sports car with the elegance and space of a fastback," he says. "It’s an avant-garde business class gran turismo that speaks to the heart and the head alike." 
As soon as I realized that Bischoff, a German, peppered his English-language statement with French and Italian phrases, I knew he was serious.  Because the Arteon is a very international car, aimed primarily at, of all people, the Chinese, who are known to love long-wheelbase cars with a low-slung, lean look.  But it could also appeal to Americans, since it has a sophisticated, Teutonic feel to it that many VW diehards find lacking in the Tennessee-built NMS (New Midsize Sedan) Passat.  The fastback design is more intriguing than the Passat's conventional profile, so much that people in These States will forgive the large hatch door reminding them that the Arteon could do double duty hauling two-by-fours.
Not that prospective Arteon buyer would be transporting any two-by-fours . . .
Oh yeah, the price.  It comes in at an average of $38,000.  Not cheap, but over-the-top expensive like the similar $69,700 Audi A7.  That's why the Arteon is a people's car and the A7 ain't.  That said, I can't afford an Arteon.  However, I approve of this CC replacement, if only because it shows that Volkswagen is still committed to offering traditional passenger cars in this country with a strong German heritage, despite all of the emphasis on American-style SUVs these days.  It's because of all of those Atlases and Tiguans that VW is able to offer more cars like the Arteon.  
And it's certainly nicer than the NMS Passat.   
No sale date has been announced for the Arteon, as far as I know.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Melt My Heart Like . . .

You know the drill.
It snowed for awhile yesterday where I live, but then it got warmer and turned into a cold rain. The snowstorm forecast for my area for today isn't going to hit here after all, though it will affect Virginia, and after this my area gets just typical April showers.  
We're done with April snow this year.  But we may not be done with snowy Aprils.  Climate change is likely the reason the polar vortex has come so far south from the Arctic this past month and affected the weather in Canada and the northern United States for so long, and we have not only had recent examples of bitter cold - first in early 2014, then early 2015, and more recently this past Christmas - we're getting cold periods in April, sometimes brought about by violent weather, like the severe thunder-hailstorm that ended an unbelievably mild period in late March and early April 2016.  And even though last April wasn't particularly cold, it was a year ago yesterday that we got one of the most severe spring storms in the Northeast in recent memory, as it threatened to flood a good deal of New Jersey. 
Get used to more bitterly cold winters and to spring snowfalls in the Northeast, and get used to larger tropical storms anywhere hurricanes can hit - which now includes Ireland.
I'm thinking of sending Environmental Destruction Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt a one-way bus ticket home - not just for when he loses his job, but to remind him that we need alternatives to mass car use like public transportation (Amtrak doesn't go to Pruitt's home state of Oklahoma) and stop buying so many damn gas-guzzlin', carbon-spewin' SUVs.  And, bus fares are a whole lot cheaper than the first-class air travel Pruitt so obviously loves.
It's supposed to remain chilly for the next few days in the New York area.  Meanwhile, at the Masters golf tournament, it's expected to be comparatively mild this weekend, with temperatures reaching 64 degrees Fahrenheit.  Augusta, Georgia is just the place to be. ;-)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - April 6, 2018

"Pride (In The Name Of Love)" by U2  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Pruitt Out Of Gas

While the rest of the world is maximizing fuel economy in their cars and continuing to invest in the technologies that can make cars even more efficient, Environmental Destruction Agency administrator Scott (where are all the rhymes-with-glass-poles in this country named Scott?) Pruitt is rolling back gas mileage standards from the Obama administration that would have doubled corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) numbers in the automakers' lineup by 2025.  He says it's impractical to expect that from automobile manufacturers.
Ahem . . . sure, if you want to keep selling SUVs and pickup trucks.  The government is just pandering to American car manufacturers who don't want to take the time or the money to invest in smaller, leaner cars, the sort of cars Europeans have bought for decades - some of which have been made by General Motors, before it sold Opel and Vauxhall to PSA, and Ford.  And despite some decent fuel-sipping cars, along with electric cars and hybrids, the two manufacturers really don't have their hearts in more ethical vehicles, when gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs bring in higher profits because it takes so much raw material to make them. And a nation of consumers brainwashed by clever advertising, folks who love the power and feel of a big vehicle, keep buying them.  I've only known one person who ever needed an SUV, and she grows her own food and keeps a coop of chickens.  She needs a big vehicle to transport her feed and seed. 
Gone are the days when automakers could make the size of a subcompact an asset in These States.  Even Volkswagen, who once urged car buyers to think small and consider a Beetle, is pushing big SUVs in America now.  We are told that the automakers who do business in this country are merely responding to consumer demands, but much of that demand is fueled, no pun intended, by government activity - not just lower CAFE standards but subsidized gasoline, which is why it's so inexpensive and why oil companies are so highly profitable.  And Scott Pruitt, a fossil-fuel energy producer's wet dream with eyes, is happy to keep the system rigged against small cars.
Pruitt's time as America's chief environmental outlaw maybe over, though, as a lobbyist for a liquefied natural gas producer has given the EDA (formerly EPA) chief a sweetheart deal in the form of low rent on a condominium apartment in Washington even as he's been racking up expensive travel bills at the taxpayers' expense.  Trump is happy with the job Pruitt has been doing to enable private industry to run roughshod over a land, air and water, but he may have to let him go for his bad press and for casting the White House in a negative light.  Don't start doing backflips if Pruitt leaves the administration soon; Trump will simply find someone worse to run the environmental office.
Who could be worse?  I don't let myself think about it.
In a very related story, General Motors announced it's discontinuing the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact while Ford is considering discontinuing the Fiesta in the U.S. market.  Could this be because they don't have to offer smaller cars to meet the now-discarded fuel economy standards Obama issued?  Gee, ya think? >:-(   

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

One More In the Name of Love

It really amazes me that fifty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Americans are coming more apart than together and are drawn even more to people who divide us and set us against each other for selfish reasons and destructive agendas.  American civilization has not only become more divisive, it has become coarser, more violent and less free.  Poor people of all races and colors are constantly diminished and shamed, we have a President who seeks to maximize his power to the point of being authoritarian, and for every Trump voter who wants to return to an America that never was, there's a smug leftie who wants to celebrate differences without adhering to common standards - like civic duty and a shared purpose.  And when we're not denigrating each other's dignity, we're bombing people in other countries that stand in the way of American hegemony, just as we did in Vietnam . . . and Grenada . . . and Iraq . . ..
I really can't say anything that hasn't already been said about how far we have not come since the assassination of Dr. King, who was the apostle of non-violence, brotherhood, equality, and the rule of law, but Dr. King's last speech ever, delivered in Memphis fifty years ago today, pretty much sums up how daunting the long, hard climb to a better world was then . . . and is now.
This video is a edit of two excerpts from that speech, referring to plans to fight an injunction against striking sanitation workers in Memphis, whom Dr. King was there to help, to deny them there right to protest.  I tear up every time I hear this . . ..  

Monday, April 2, 2018

Easter Monday Snow

We thought we'd been spared.  After a bitter, stormy and snowy March that left many people at the end of their tethers - that would include me - we thought April showers would come our way, but instead we got April snow for today, Easter Monday.  And a couple of amateur forecasters on social media - not all of whom are sloppy novices - keep warning us about a major snowstorm of emergency proportions approaching for this coming weekend.  That is less likely to happen at this point - computer projections have been retreating from that prediction somewhat - but the prospect of any April snow shouldn't be taken lightly.  April snow usually melts quickly, but it can stick around long enough if it comes down hard and fast enough . . . and stay cold long enough thereafter.  If that sounds ludicrous, check the weather records for the American Northeast for April 1982 and see how much snow fell on April 6 . . . and how long it stayed cold thereafter.
But then who needs a big snowstorm this coming weekend when today's snow turned out to be worse than expected?  Originally forecast tow be two or three inches, it's almost six inches deep.  The good news is it will be gone in couple of days.  The bad news is that we're going to get a heavy rain, which means a lot of flooding due to rainfall on top of the melting snow.  Meanwhile, I can also assume that the scheduled pickup of yard debris from the March 7 storm in my town has been canceled.  Until further notice.
We're being told five or six days out from the next system not to worry about a repeat of 1982, except for this one guy who gives weather forecasts for my area on social media.  Of course, we were also told not to worry about Hurricane Sandy five or six days out.  As for this weekend's snow maker, well, I'm crossing my fingers.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Out Like a Lamb

It took awhile, but the vote in the special election in Pennsylvania's Eighteenth U.S. House District is officially in, and Democrat Conor Lamb (below) has won.  His victory, however narrow, is an embarrassment to Trump, who carried the district by 20 points.
Lamb ran on local concerns and economic issues, meaning that he distanced himself from the national party and its establishment leaders.  In other words, he ran talking about the real concerns of the voters.  No identity politics, no "cultural" issues, none of that stuff, just the basic worries about jobs, the economy, education, infrastructure, and health care.  Martin O'Malley's Win Back Your State PAC, which discourages Democratic candidates for office from talking about Trump, backed him, and Democratic strategist Lis Smith said that Lamb's victory shows that Democrats can win Republican areas by running on local issues and not on the issues of the coastal elites.  Lis Smith, by the way, is a veteran of Martin O'Malley's presidential campaign.
I wonder how much Democrats will learn from this win.  They'll probably keep pushing Trump as an issue to get out the vote for the midterms but miss the point of Lamb's victory - responding to voters.  Even if Democrats don't nationalize the midterms, the Republicans might, and Tom Perez at the Democratic National Committee may not be well-equipped to counter such a strategy.  But the victory of Lamb, who will run for a full House this November in a newly redrawn district thanks to a court-ordered redistricting due to gerrymandering, has been a major wake-up call for the Republicans and a sign that the wave waiting to wash them out of power in November is in fact a tsunami.  The Democrats now know how to win. All they have to do is follow through.             

Friday, March 30, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - March 30, 2018

"I'm Eighteen" by Alice Cooper  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Make "Make America Great Again" Great Again

"Make America great again?"
Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign slogan has long carried a lot of negative connotations for his political opponents, many hearing in it a hostility toward people of color and an aversion to the idea of white men having to share power with anyone else.  When Trump said, "Make America great again," his detractors heard "Make America white again," or "Make America illiberal again."  So, of course, did the Trump base.  And in fact, that's what Trump was pretty much suggesting -  going back to the 1950s and putting black people back in low-paying service jobs and preventing them from voting, keeping Mexicans from emigrating into this country, or putting women back in the kitchen, all of that stuff.  
The only thing is that, putting aside that coded message for a moment, it was easy for anyone in 2016 to argue that America was no longer great. Because a country that lags behind the rest of the developed world in health care delivery, public transportation, math and science education, and children's welfare while ranking first in gun deaths, low voter turnout, billionaires, and pregnancy-caused deaths is not great.  It is in fact the opposite of great.  A country that used to have good-paying jobs you could build a life on but has since outsourced them to other countries and has not replaced them with the sort of jobs you need to sustain the middle class is also the opposite of great.    
When people who voted for Trump heard him say he wanted to make America great again - a phrase, by the way, that he stole from Ronald Reagan - not all of them heard the exclusionary, discriminatory message he was sending.  Many of them heard the idea of bringing America back to a time when its manufacturing base was second to none, its educational system was among the finest in the world, and its public works were public and worked.  I've seen memes on Facebook suggest the same thing, asking if we remember how, in the 1950s, people were more polite, only one parent had to work, and children could play by themselves in the park or in the street without their parents having to worry about their children's pictures ending up on milk cartons.  And besides, back then milk was sold in bottles - and delivered by truck.  If people want to go back to the 1950s, it's the best of the 1950s they want to return to - a respected war hero as President, movies with fewer special effects and more character-driven stories, and pop stars who could actually sing and play music - that is, a culture far less coarsened than it is now.  Many of them do not want to go back to the dark side of the fifties - right-wing demagoguery, war in Korea, a mendacious political hack as Vice President, and black people being denied their civil rights.
Ironically, we either have or are about to have all of that.  Trump has restored the worst elements of the fifties without bringing back good-paying jobs or the sense of decency associated with the Eisenhower years.  Even more ironically, his 2020 campaign slogan is expected to be "Keep America Great" - "because I already made America great again!"     
The Democratic response to Trump's 2016 slogan was pathetic.  Hillary Clinton insisted that America "never stopped being great," and even Martin O'Malley insisted that "America already is great" -  the rebuttal, I suppose, you would expect from the incumbent party in control of the Presidency, as the Democrats were at the time.  But these rebuttals ignored all of the problems Barack Obama had not been able to solve.  (I know, I know, he had to deal with Republican majorities in Congress, but that excuse is only valid up to a point, as Obama was never really the liberal Republicans made him out to be.)  Many people thought that Trump was an honest broker for telling the truth about America - namely, that it was in decline.  But how many people who voted for Trump ever suspect - despite ample evidence during the 2016 campaign - that Trump would accelerate America's decline?  And do Trump loyalists, those die-hard base supporters who did vote for him knowing what he really meant by "Make America great again" - restoring white patriarchy - and continue to support him, really think America is great again when they still can't get a good-paying job or send their kids to college?
Back in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was laying the groundwork for America to become a right-wing, supply-side utopia and his successor George H.W. Bush was locking in Reagan's changes, it was the Democrats who said that America was in decline, and even though none of them ever said they wanted to make America great again, in those exact words, they did say they wanted to return America to being a place that was on the rise.  Walter Mondale promised an "American Renaissance" in jobs and education when he accepted the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination.  Gary Hart wanted to redefine Democratic liberalism and pursue new policies that would prepare America for a new post-industrial economy.  Michael Dukakis espoused policies that would provide the same opportunities for Americans that his immigrant parents had, and his 1988 campaign slogan was "The best of America is yet to come."  (In other words, make America better.)  And I definitely remember Richard Gephardt - who was talking about unfair trade practices long before Trump - say in in 1989 that America was "in decline."  And even before Reagan became President, Democrats were talking about renewing America's exalted position; Jimmy Carter's 1979 "crisis of confidence" speech was in fact a call for Americans to rediscover civic virtue and return the nation to greatness.  This was all before Bill Clinton came along and redefined the Democratic Party as a party happy to get along and go along with the corporate neoliberal forces that make America anything but great.
Trump clearly has no interest in truly restoring America's greatness.  The only thing he really wants to aggrandize is himself.  The message of restoring America's greatness - a greatness that disappeared sometime between the last moon landing and the first oil crisis - was, Reagan notwithstanding, a Democratic message untainted by racial and patriarchal overtones before Trump stole it for his own nefarious schemes.  This is yet another message that Democrats have to steal back.
Which means they can no longer pretend that America never stopped being great.  Those who do pretend so are themselves great . . . a great disappointment.     

Monday, March 26, 2018

So Stormy

My time is brief today, and  I only have one other blog entry on tap for later this week before my next Music Video Of the Week for Friday, so I'm going to be very succinct in my reaction to Anderson Cooper's "60 Minutes" interview with porn actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels.
The cover-up is always worse than the crime.  Everyone knows that Donald Trump is a skank and that having a sexual encounter with anyone - porn actress, Playboy model, Shakespearean actress,  haute couture model (yeah, right - like any woman of the latter two professions would have anything to do with the Donald or that the Donald would have anything to do with them) - when your wife has just given birth to your son is the height of skankishness, but being a skank is not a federal offense.  What is a federal offense is how the Trump team tried to cover it up by covering up the cover-up, assuming the allegations that Clifford and her lawyer enunciated in last night's interview are true.
If this doesn't being Trump down from a legal standpoint, his affair with Clifford will still be his undoing. Because people will be so tired of hearing of his sexual peccadilloes that they'll vote him out of office just so they don't have to hear about him anymore.
Aside: I don't think it's a coincidence that porn actor, professional wrestler, and rapper are three of the most disreputable professions ever conceived and that porn actors, professional wrestlers and rappers go by such outrageously stupid stage names. Stormy Daniels?  Sergeant Slaughter?  Dr. Dre?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Guns and Trains

Two things America does not handle well.
The marches against school gun violence in the schools in Washington and elsewhere drew hundreds of thousands of high school students and adults yesterday, and I'm certain many people across the country were impressed. Except the people who run Washington.  None of them were in town anyway; they'd gone home after approving a dismayingly bipartisan spending bill that gives lots of money to the military to buy . . . destructive weapons.  Because Milk Mustache Man needs his toys.
The spending bill that was passed gives money for the Gateway passenger-rail tunnel under the Hudson River, between New York and New Jersey, but it doesn't specifically mention it; it just makes sure that there's money there, but, as House Speaker Paul Ryan explained that it gives the White House the decision on Gateway. Trump wants to cut off funding for the tunnel and make both states pay more for it, which political analysts explain as part of a grudge match between Trump and Chuck Schumer and a way for Trump to punish states that went Democratic in the 2016 presidential election.  Apart from that, no one can give a reason why Trump would oppose an infrastructure project.  News flash: Republicans hate passenger trains. (Well, except for Tri-State Republicans, and one of those exceptions is retiring House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who has made Gateway a priority.)  If this were a third automobile tunnel that New York and New Jersey wanted to build under the Hudson, it would have been built already.
Those of us who live in the Greater New York City area should get used to finding alternatives to rail travel to cross the Hudson, like, say, the ferry.  Me, I'm ready to take a boat that crosses something a little wider than the Hudson . . . and I want to buy a one-way ticket for it. >:-(             

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Return of Milk Mustache Man

He's back! :-O
The greatest super-villain of all time, the all-American bullet-headed Saxon mother's son - the evil, the merciless Milk Mustache Man!
He's back to fight the forces of good.  He's not interested in talking - he's here to kick your ass!  He has access to the President of the United States; he's his new national security adviser!  Now Milk Mustache Man is going to tell the President to go after any foreigner who gets in America's way . . . Russians, Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans - no, make that all Koreans! - those fruity Britons and Frenchmen, and if we have to attack Canada, Milk Mustache Man is going to make sure we do that too!  The nuclear deal with Iran? Forget it - bomb 'em!  North Koreans got  nukes?  Milk Mustache Man will nuke them - and tell them to go nuke themselves!  Milk Mustache Man's desire is to take over the world for an evil international syndicate - known as the Trump Organization - and he plans to shoot first and ask questions never!  He's got no time for talk, he's gonna start World War III right here and now!  Milk Mustache Man will not rest until his enemies - including the Europeans - are completely annihilated! And he's starting with the Democrats!
Who can save us now?     
No, not Flash Gordon.  Because Milk Mustache Man isn't a comic book character - he's for real!  And he has access to the man with the nuclear football!  We're doomed!
(It has been rumored that Milk Mustache Man is sometimes disguised as a foreign policy expert named John Bolton.) 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - March 23, 2018

"Country Road" by James Taylor  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Toys Were Us

Toys "R" Us, at its peak America's biggest toy store chain, its stores the most generously stocked toy stores with the biggest selections, is going the way of Montgomery Ward, Gimbels, and other storied retail names (not to mention the Kiddie City and Playworld toy store chains operated by Lionel, Inc.) as traditional mass-market retailing goes the way of the dodo in the face of competition from online retail.  Charles Lazarus - the store's name is a play on his own - founded his first store in 1948 in Washington, D.C., starting out selling juvenile furniture but shifting his focus to toys and later starting offshoot chains, Babies "R" Us and the since-closed Kids "R" Us.  At  its peak, the chain, headquartered in Wayne, New Jersey (just west of New York City) had 1,758 stores all over the world.
The downside of Toys "R" Us's dominance was the threat against smaller independent toy retailers, but Amazon is even more of a threat to retailers big and small, as it is out to rule the world by monopolizing the supply and distribution of consumer goods.  The loss of Toys "R" Us makes it harder for toy companies to market its products through brick-and-mortar stores, and as for surviving toy stores and toy store chains . . .  the smaller the company and the smaller the store, the greater the threat.  Amazon underscored just how much of the retail business it hopes to dominate by showing interest in Toys "R" Us stores . . . not to take them over and run them but to use them as local warehouses once they're vacated.    
It's a brave new world for our kids to play in. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Twenty Rules For Making a Movie Based On 'Sgt. Pepper'

It was forty years ago this coming summer that the career-killing rock musical movie based on the Beatles' classic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, hit the theaters. I was reminded of it by the news that Alice Cooper, whose mustache played a villain in this movie with its wearer in a supporting role, will be involved in another rock musical - a live production of Jesus Christ Superstar, to be broadcast on NBC this Easter Sunday, April 1, with Alice as King Herod (and John Legend as Jesus).
Regular readers of this blog will know that I saw the Sgt. Pepper movie when it first came out in July 1978, when I was twelve years old and didn't know much about the Beatles beyond their greatest hits, and I actually liked it without having a clue of what the Beatles were all about . . . like the people who made this movie.  Having long since come to realize what an awful movie it is, and knowing how sacrilegious it was for its producer - music mogul Robert Stigwood, then the Bee Gees' manager (and also the producer of the original production of Jesus Christ Superstar) - to trash the Beatles' greatest work not called Revolver, I have made it my life's mission to discourage people from ever seeing this movie, which has since become an inexplicable cult favorite (and - danger, Will Robinson! - was released on Blu-Ray disc a few months ago).
But today, I want to take a kinder, gentler approach to the Sgt. Pepper movie, even if it is what film critic Janet Maslin called "a business deal set to music," and concede that, while the Sgt. Pepper movie was bad, maybe the idea of making a movie based on Sgt. Pepper isn't.  If I may quote the late Roger Ebert . . . "It's not the idea, it's what you do with the idea."  
Back in the early nineties, in their book "The Worst Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time," Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell made a list of the fifty worst albums ever and placed the Sgt. Pepper movie soundtrack LP at number 43 (only 43?), explaining how to make such a bad movie in the form of a "recipe for disaster" ("Ask Frampton and the Brothers Gibb to act . . ..  Except them to act.").  I'm not going to tell you how to make the worst possible movie based on Sgt. Pepper, but I am going to tell you what to do and what not to do if you want to make a movie based on Sgt. Pepper and want to have any chance of making it work - in the form of twenty rules.
My recommendations:
Don't kick off your movie and soundtrack album with a third-tier pop star.  The first singer you hear in the 1978 Sgt. Pepper movie and on the soundtrack record is that of Paul Nicholas.  Who?  Nicholas is a British singer and actor who, as a singer, is one hell of an actor.  He's best known in America for his role as Cousin Kevin in the Robert Stigwood-produced film version of the Who's Tommy and for the lame disco hit "Heaven On the 7th Floor," released on Robert Stigwood's record label. Guess who his manager was.  Uhh, Robert Stigwood?  Come on, if you're already managing the Bee Gees and you have Peter Frampton co-starring with them in your movie, why do you need one of your flunkies to start off your show?  Why do you even need him in the show?
A movie based on the Sgt. Pepper album should only feature the songs from Sgt. PepperStigwood could have had his production crew concoct a screenplay with a plausible storyline based on just the songs on Sgt. Pepper, with dialogue to drive the plot in between, but as he had the movie rights to even more Beatles songs from other albums, he insisted on using all of them - 28 songs in  total, to be exact - for a rock opera with no dialogue, killing any chance the screenwriter had to come up with a coherent story.  Proof that less is more.
Don't invent characters that already aren't in the Beatles songs from Sgt. Pepper Billy Shears did not have a stepbrother named Dougie, a character completely made up for the movie and played by . . . Paul Nicholas.  This was the entertainment version of making up a patronage job at City Hall.
Don't name your characters after places in Beatles songs.  The heroine in the 1978 Sgt. Pepper movie, the wholesome girlfriend of Frampton's Billy Shears, is named Strawberry Fields.  Please - what self-respecting couple would name their daughter after a fruit? This was just an excuse to feature "Strawberry Fields Forever," originally recorded by the Beatles for Sgt. Pepper but released separately, in the movie.  And when Strawberry the character, played by singer/songwriter Sandy Farina, sang the song in the movie, it made no sense - she sang about  . . . visiting herself?  What was next?  A pretty nurse named Penny Lane?  And her Uncle Albert Hall?
If your heroine is white, your anti-heroine vamp should not be a woman of color.  The Sgt. Pepper movie featured a sexy disco singer named Lucy (no prizes for guessing her featured number in the film) who tempts Billy Shears when he signs a record contract and becomes her label mate.  Lucy was played by Dianne Steinberg, whose mother was Martha Jean the Queen, a pioneering black female radio DJ; she was to R&B radio what Allison Steele was to rock radio.  It is blatantly racist to have a woman of color play the slutty, vampish female character when her rival for a man's affections is a lily-white good girl.  This was not fair to Dianne Steinberg, and it was an insult to her mother's legacy as a pop-music trailblazer.
Make up your mind about the vamp.  One thing I could never figure out after seeing this movie - was Lucy supposed to be a villain, like the evil characters trying to take over the world, or was she just a bad girl with a heart of gold who simply liked making lots of money as a singer?  Either she's a villain or not.  Make it clear one way or the other. But then, as long as Dianne Steinberg was in this movie to provide sex appeal, it didn't matter what her character was supposed to be.
Though I have to admit, she did have sex appeal.
The characters in your movie should resemble the characters in the Beatles songs that they're named for.  In the Sgt. Pepper song "Being For the Benefit For Mr. Kite!", the title character was a circus performer.  How, as played by George Burns in the movie, did he become the mayor of a small town in the American Midwest?
Sgt. Pepper is British.  Why was this movie set in America, even though half the cast was British?  If you must make your characters in a Sgt. Pepper movie American, at least get Americans to play them. Or, if you get British actors to play Americans, at least make sure they're trained to do American accents. 
Show, don't tell.  The story in Sgt. Pepper was so convoluted, it being based on two-dozen-odd Beatles songs and all, that George Burns narrated the tale to keep it moving along.  As I said in an article about this movie that was published several years ago in a Beatles-fan magazine, if a movie needs a narrator to tell you what's happening, it usually means that nothing is happening.
Comedians are not rock stars.   
Rock stars are not comedians.

You saw that coming, didn't you?
No robots, and no electronic vocals.  The Sgt. Pepper movie gave Mean Mr. Mustard a pair of female robot assistants who "sang" of the song of that name.  The electronic voices, supplied by the Bee Gees (what, you had Peter Frampton and his voice-box guitar and you didn't ask him to do it?), were so distorted you couldn't make out the words.  But then, if you could, you would have wondered why Mr. Mustard's sister Pam wasn't in the movie to take him to see the Queen so he could shout obscenities at Her Majesty. (See how it's impossible to turn 28 Beatles songs into a rock opera?)
Don't get Giles Martin to produce the music.  Beatles producer George Martin produced the soundtrack record for the Sgt. Pepper movie because his wife suggested that another producer would give the Beatles' songs less respect.  Martin's work was respectful, all right, but unless he worked with recording artists who brought some originality to their Beatles covers - mostly, he didn't - it wasn't much else.  Don't bother Martin's son Giles, now the caretaker of his father's work with the Beatles, and ask him to reproduce Beatles music for a new Sgt. Pepper movie.  He just reproduced the original Beatles album.
Get an experienced screenplay writer.   The guy who wrote the screenplay for the Sgt. Pepper movie had never written a screenplay before.  So, you think, we've all got to start somewhere?  Not at the top!  
No outrageous props.  In a key scene set in Hollywood, the Sgt. Pepper movie used a six-wheel topless limousine and had brandy snifters the size of potpourri bowls to symbolize the decadence of the music industry circa 1978.  Dudes, you had Donald Pleasence play an unintentional parody of Robert Stigwood while sporting a bad toupee - that wasn't enough?     
No spoken-vocal recitations of Beatles songs in your movie.  Unless it stars William Shatner.
Your leading lady should not be upstaged by the extras.  It's sort of embarrassing when your heroine is less interesting than a pair of overweight clowns acting as her outriders in a circus-parade sequence.
But the sexy ballerina mimes were a nice touch. 

I want you - I want you so badly! :-D
Don't make your storyline about a good-guy rock band saving the world from the forces of evil.  Because that's what Yellow Submarine was all about.  What made Robert Stigwood think he could remake Yellow Submarine as a live-action movie with Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees and George Burns singing the Beatles' songs?  Please come up with something more original.
Don't use a deus ex machina to end your "story."  The Sgt. Pepper movie ends with Sgt. Pepper himself, played by fifth Beatle Billy Preston, setting everything straight with magic powers to allow the movie to have a happy ending.  This was just a way of admitting that no one knew how to being the movie to a proper end. 
And finally . . . no glass coffins.
Definitely no glass coffins.  If you must have funeral scene, we don't need a glass coffin to see who's dead.  It not only looks vulgar, it's rather creepy.  Especially if you have someone singing "Golden Slumbers" to the person inside the coffin.
And no pallbearers singing "Carry That Weight."   
Now, if you follow these rules, I can't guarantee that you'll make a good movie.  But if you break these rules, you could end up making a worse Sgt. Pepper movie than this one.  Please don't give into temptation and ignore my advice.  Life is too short to waste it on making another movie like this.  As Paul McCartney found out when he made Give My Regards To Broad Street.
Though if you have a circus-parade scene and use sexy ballerina mimes, I won't complain. ;-)
Especially if they're blonde.
Love is all, love is you, sweetie! ;-) :-D