Monday, September 17, 2018

The Kavanaugh Karavan

The Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination just got a whole lot more interesting, with the news that his party-rape-attempt accuser unveiled herself. No longer an easily-dismissed accusation from over 30 years ago, there is now a name, a face, and a lot of uncomfortable details to digest.

In a nutshell, California psychology professor Christine Ford says that when she was 15, she was at a party where a blind-drunk Kavanaugh (and another guy) dragged her into a bedroom, held her down, clamped his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream and tried to remove her outer clothing and bathing suit. She estimates they were 17 at the time.

At one point, the “other dude” jumped on the pile and knocked them all to the floor, which gave her the chance to get out of the room and lock herself in the bathroom, until the boys went away.

Now, when I first heard that there were high school-era accusations, my first thought was that I know I’d hate to be judged, in my 50s, by what I did in my teens.

HOWEVER.  Even at 17, I sure-enough knew not to pin girls down and try to rip their clothes off (and whatever else he had a mind to do next). Even drunk, even young, even desperate and hormone-fueled, decent people know right from wrong. This isn’t even close. There is no equivocation; this is wrong.

First of all, if true, this should be a disqualifier for a Supreme Court nominee. Second of all, of course it’s true. Do you think this woman came out in public lightly? Do you think she’s looking forward to the fun of a Congressional hearing about the most traumatic episode of her life? Of course not. No one does this for fun, fame or riches. She only went public because her identity was leaking anyway, and reporters were showing up to her home and classroom.

Her attorney said, “She is willing to cooperate. What she's not willing to do is to be part of this bloodletting that happens in Washington."

She knows she risks becoming the next Anita Hill; who remains a cultural punchline to every joke about pubes in the workplace.

The Republicans are already gearing up to make her testimony as grueling as possible. They already know she has a believable story, because:

·        She told her therapist and her husband about the incident back in 2012.
·        She tried to conceal her identity to avoid the spotlight (unlike someone who’s in it for the fame).
·        She took a polygraph test, administered by a former FBI agent, and passed.

They better tread carefully. The shit that flew during the Anita Hill testimony won’t fly now and they’ll come off like misogynist bullies.

Not that they care though… nothing is more important to GOP leadership than getting a hard-right conservative on the Supreme Court. That’s the whole reason they still support Trump, (now that they have their tax cuts in hand). They need one more of their guys on the bench to make sure their next legislative scams; voting ID laws, gerrymandering, limiting or overturning Roe, stripping environmental and banking regulations, ensuring dark money flows freely to campaigns… all see the final action of being upheld in the highest court.
Ford’s testimony must be compelling if anything is to change. Merely being inconvenient will not move Republicans off this guy. They literally cannot be shamed. They stood fast amid near-universal condemnation when stonewalling the Garland nomination, knowing the result, (another conservative justice rather than a moderate or liberal) would cement their political domination.

Kavanaugh is already running with the Republican playbook, by denying everything. Just this weekend, I read in Woodward’s book that Trump, himself, counseled a colleague, “When faced with accusations from other women, just deny, deny, deny. Never admit anything. Kavanaugh is a quick study.

Right-wing media is already going nuts about this being a “hit-job,” and arising with suspicious timing.

Timing? Let’s talk about timing. They are trying to ram this nomination through, withholding requested documents, limiting hearing times, accelerating the process, for the sole reason of getting him confirmed before the November elections. There are two reasons for this:

·        So they can campaign to their base about packing the court with their guys,
·        In case they lose control of the Senate and risk the Democrats doing exactly what the Republicans did to the Garland nomination.

I don’t think they care what we unwashed masses think, especially not Democrats. If this runaway train is to be derailed, it will only come from fear of losing elections. That means Republicans will have to make their views known that they will not tolerate an attempted rapist getting a lifetime appointment to a position that literally drives the direction of their lives.

But considering the people the GOP already supported, a statutory rapist in Alabama, a pussy-grabber and serial cheater in the White House, I’m not optimistic.

Power trumps morality in the conservative world. Morality only a club used to criticize others.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Odd Bits - The Patriotic Edition

The story of the week has to be the turmoil in the White House brought on from the Bob Woodward book, “Fear,” and the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times written by a “senior administration” figure, both describing the chaos in the oval office. The op-ed goes so far as to say the senior staff has to remove paperwork from his desk before he can damage national security by signing some order expressing the tantrum of the day.

First, let me talk about the op-ed. That one went off like a bomb because it was purported to be written by an administration insider and speaks for other unnamed White House staff members.

Naturally, there was a huge uproar in trying to figure out who wrote it. One by one, administration players spoke out or released statements denying they were the writer.

Early money had it pegged on the VP, because of the appearance of a word, “lodestar,” which Pence frequently uses. Then it came out that it is a common tactic of White House leakers to pepper their leaks with terms known to be used by others.

For example, if a leak read, “Fuckin’ Ivanka thinks she runs the fuckin’ place but she wouldn’t know her fuckin’ tit from a tort. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” everyone would assume the quote came from Bannon.

I think that instead of denying it, every person on staff should have come forward and say that he wrote it, like it was a Spartacus moment.

Or at least like a Life of Brian moment:

Or in this case,

Further leaks indicate that the Prez is tearing the place apart looking for the writer AND claiming he should have taken ownership.

Right. That’s what the writer should do right before he quits because once that’s public he’s gone… fired, and probably prosecuted under the Being Unfair to the President Act. (I’m thinking BUPA is one of those announcements that got lifted from the Resolute Desk.)

The most convincing sleuthing I saw attributed the op-ed to Jon Huntsman, Trump’s Ambassador to Russia. It says the writing style, moral code, and sphere of expertise is right in line the former Republican candidate for president. We’ll see.

Woodward’s book seems to be telling the same story as the Michael Wolff book, in overall point if not the same examples. And like “Fury,” it set off another round of press-bashing and criticism.

What Trump doesn’t understand is that this is what real journalists do. When Woodward publishes something like this, he has it cold or it doesn’t run. He’s used to “News” outlets like Fox, where they basically go, “It’s bad news for liberals? Run it!” Whether it’s true or not doesn’t factor in.

And just because a source is anonymous doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And as Woodward says, the sources aren’t anonymous to him. They’re also corroborated. If someone gives an anonymous account of a meeting, he finds out who else was at the meeting and confirms the story.

That’s how journalism is done at the highest levels, like at the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, etc.

So even when Trump claims he never said those words, or that he doesn’t talk like that, you have to look at the process. First of all, his being paraphrased by others probably helped him sound like less of a dunderhead.

Second of all, unless the writer is in the room (where an event happens) with a recorder, getting information from others is always like a game of telephone. He must rely on the recollection of others. Even in confirming, it’s unlikely two people will recall a spoken line exactly the same way. It’s up to the writer to first and foremost capture the point, if not the exact phrasing. So pay no mind to the “I don’t talk like that” or “I never said those words” denials.

And obviously, all the staff and cabinet members will deny they said any of it. They have to if they want to keep their jobs. But that doesn’t make the information they provided, knowingly or unknowingly, wrong.

It’s also funny how Trump was lauding Woodward back when he was writing about Democratic administrations. But now that Woodward is pointing at him, he’s a hack. Got it.

Just further evidence that this guy will say anything at any time, as long as it suits him. He has no principles but his own self-anointed infallibility.

The sad part of this whole mess is that, in terms of fixing or changing anything, none of it really matters. The Republicans in Congress are not going to act against their president until their voters make them. And the GOP base thinks Trump is king and everyone else is lying. Or, they just want to be able to shit on non-white people again, like they did back in the good old days.

Even when Mueller files his report, I won’t put it past these clowns if they just shit-can it. They can literally keep this report from ever being made public. Mueller is investigating the president. Only Congress can remove him from office.

Judge Not
The other sideshow in town has been the Kavanaugh hearings. No doubt, he was well trained in the art of not saying a damned thing about what he thinks on any issue. And the Republicans are again engineering the process to their favor while doing the exact opposite from what they demanded from the Democrats when the tables were turned.

They withheld hundreds of thousands of requested documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush Administration, and then release like 40,000 pages at 3AM, the night before the first hearing. The last thing they want is for any information about the guy’s background to leak out and give the public the chance to demand “no” votes from their senators.

Still, plenty has come out, like his belief that presidents are essentially above the law, and that Roe v Wade is not “settled law.”

That last one comes heavily into play because the Republicans need the votes from Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, both of whom support abortion rights. The judge made his case to both of them personally, assuring them that he considers Roe to be “settled.” However, recently unearthed emails of his say just the opposite.

Also, his nomination was cultivated by the Federalist Society, as was everyone on the list Trump used to choose his nominee. The Federalist Society is opposed to abortion rights and it is a guarantee that every judge on their list agrees with them. There is literally no mystery on Kavanaugh’s stance on abortion.

Right now, it appears to me that Senator Collins is tap-dancing furiously to maintain the illusion that Roe is safe with this prospective justice. First-hand accounts from visitors to her office say they’ve seen her staffers taking calls from constituents, telling them they’ll relay their concerns to the Senator, but not writing down or recording a single word.

I think Collins is already in the bag and is merely trying to save face, in the midst of intense lobbying pressure. If she (and Murkowski) vote down this nominee, they’ll be punished by the party leadership (and not to mention donors). If she votes “no,” next thing you know, she’ll be facing a well-funded challenger in the next primary.

Republicans are rushing the whole process because they know there’s a real threat of losing the Senate this November. And if they do, they’ll have no chance of getting a guy like this approved. And the Democrats will be especially salty about how the GOP robbed them of Merrick Garland’s rightful seat on the bench, by bending Senate rules and years of precedent to benefit themselves. There’s no reason the Dems should refrain from doing the same.

Just Boo It
The NFL started up again amid more Anthem controversy, this time instigated by Nike and their Colin Kaepernick ad. Much hue and cry came forth, of course, with zero new ground being broken. There’s still a giant swath of the country that finds it easier to claim offense rather than to see someone else’s uncomfortable point of view.

All this standing at attention and lapel pins and reverence for the flag and an old song… I call it Easy Patriotism. Adhering to it is easy and it costs you nothing in time, effort, or money. It’s shallow toadying; a way to say, “Look at me and how patriotic I am!

You want to impress me with patriotism, stand up for the first amendment when it means having to hear something with which you disagree. Fight to have the rights granted by our Constitution applied to all, not just the white or the powerful or the privileged few. Demand that our leaders work for everyone, not just their rich donors.

People always claim they’re defending the military. You want to defend the military, stop permitting their use as a land and resources acquisition team. The military is for defending this country and its principles, which includes the right to disagree and to protest. And by “protest,” I mean protest where people notice. That’s the whole point! People have to notice.

Those saying, “Not here, not now,” really mean, “Not ever. Or at least not where I can see it. I don’t want to have to think about how others are getting beaten, arrested or killed, on account of not being white.

Because then we might have to do something about it.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Robo-Racism

Last week, we heard about the racist dog-whistle that the Republican nominee for governor of Florida blew while running against an African-American opponent, when he told a crowd that they couldn’t afford to elect the other guy because he’d “monkey it up.”

I can’t even call it a dog-whistle. That was blatant. Naturally, he claimed that it was just an old expression, but there is no one in his generation or any to follow, who is not aware that any reference combining a black person and a monkey or ape is highly offensive by default, and steer way clear. Hell, Howard Cosell almost lost his career 35 years ago over the same thing and that was an accident. (It was a phrase he’d used on mic in the past, referring to both black and white players.)

With this particular door now swinging wide open, this weekend saw an escalation of blatant racism in politics. In both Iowa and Florida, residents began receiving racist robo-calls espousing principles of white power.

In Iowa, the calls were about deporting all the “invaders from Mexico,” and declaring that America should be white-only.
In Florida, the calls consisted of a caricature of a black dialect, complete with jungle noises, about how if they vote for the Democratic nominee, among other things, he’d make sure that no more black people go to jail.  

When I heard about both of these calls, my first thought was that they couldn’t have come from the Republican nominee or official Republican establishment. There’s no way they are that stupid that they would allow something so blatant. Even if, down deep, they agreed with the content and intent, they’d know that it would eventually be linked back to the source, which could not be allowed to be them.

I thought it sounded like the work of the Russian instigators because this is exactly what they do… drop firebombs into the culture and then fan the flames.

Eventually, I found where the source was identified, right off the bat, to some Nazi, white-supremacist group in Idaho, who runs a blog.

If the GOP is smart, they’ll try to rein these guys in. If these kinds of calls continue, there are a lot of people who won’t bother to find the source; they’ll just assume it’s the work of the new Republican party.
Or, maybe they’ll soft-pedal their opposition because deep down, they believe that white America is genuinely racist, and count on white fear to turn out in November. I guess it remains to be seen.

It could still be the Russians though. Maybe this is how they’re going to work this election year… by backing and funding others. Maybe they had access to phone lists from Iowa or Florida, or the technical capability to conduct a robo-call campaign. I have no idea how sophisticated the Idaho people are. I know if THIS blog ever wanted to conduct a massive phone campaign, I’d have no idea where to even start.

I’m calling it here… don’t be surprised if these calls get somehow tied back to the Russians.

That said, Happy Labor Day, and happy birthday to Bluz Sister, who turns… um… another year older on Tuesday.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Odd Bits - The Maverick Edition

Leave it to ol’ John McCain to leave everyone all riled up, even after his death.

I saw today that after flying the White House flag at half-staff over the weekend, the Trump Administration has it back up to full-staff already. The recent precedent, when such a dignitary passes, has been for it to remain at half-staff until the funeral. Just one more thing that if Obama had done it, there would have been seething rage pouring from the Right.

It was a shame that Senator McCain passed so soon. While I didn’t agree with his politics, he was a gentleman of conviction and class, and a throwback to when politics wasn’t a zero-sum game.

Everyone’s mentioning that town hall clip where he cuts off the lady blustering about how Obama was an untrustworthy Arab, telling her that he is a real American and a fine man, one with whom he has a difference of opinion.

Would that all politicians man-up and squash hysterical misinformation like that. Of course, it might have cost him the election, being all decent in the face of ginned up anti-foreigner propaganda.

Same with his refusal to “go negative” during the campaign. In the HBO movie “Game Change,” the story of the McCain/Palin campaign, his advisors implore him to drop the civility and go negative against Obama. Release the Palin and all the froth she could whip up.

John McCain refused, saying he wanted to run a civilized campaign and talk about the issues rather than denigrate his opponent’s name and character. I’m pretty sure that also cost him dearly in the election.

I respect his principled decision, but I fear he will be the last Republican to take such stand. The modern Republican base will not be happy with a campaign about mere policy. They’ll want blood. And “Lib tears.” And if they lose on that platform, hey, it’s just more evidence that George Soros and Hillary Clinton have the whole thing rigged, right?

Rest in peace, Senator McCain. At ease.

***

Selective Attention Rages On
Last week, authorities found the remains of Mollie Tibbets, that Iowa girl who had been missing for over a week. It had been a story on my Yahoo page, seemingly, forever. After all, the missing was a nice looking, white, college girl. Black girls go missing all the time without creating a national story.

And then, it turns out she was killed by an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Cue the nationalistic politicization machine!
 Yep, by objecting to children being torn from their families and put in cages, Democrats hate you and want you killed by the brown scourge.

Why is it that we can’t seem to entertain multiple thoughts at one time? Can’t we keep families intact (many of whom are not “illegal” at all, but merely seeking legal asylum), while still creating a rational immigration process that bars dangerous people from entering?

Note to Republicans: Being brown is not indicative of being dangerous. But the Right is so racist today, they try to give credit for Johnny B Goode to Michael J Fox.

The unspoken part here is that statistically, the number of people killed by illegal immigrants is dwarfed by the number of people killed by good old home-grown Americans. But no one is willing to do anything about that
It’s like, “I’m Amurcan and I demand to be killed by only another red-blooded Murcan, preferably one who is using a Second Amendment-protected semi-automatic firearm. We can’t have these ferners coming in here and doing all the killing… that’s OUR job! Hooah!”

Case in point: we had another mass shooting this weekend. Another anti-social, sullen, white boy shot up a video gaming contest after losing his match. Whatever happened to just throwing your controller after getting blown out on Madden? Sheesh!

If only there was a “good guy” with a gun there, to fire back and totally not hit anyone else in a crowded, panicky room. But here we are again, with two dead, (plus the shooter via suicide) and over a half dozen more injured. Can’t you just smell the “freedom” in the air?

Funny how “freedom” usually smells like gunpowder.

***

Locally, there’s been some news around town that the City of Baltimore is trying to be better prepared to save people who fall in the water at the Inner Harbor. Walking to work this morning, I saw some new life preserver stations lining the waterway leading to the Harbor.

I think they have more work to do. Considering the quality of the Harbor water, they need fewer stations for life preserver rings and more stations for Silkwood Showers.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Music Associations

Following last week’s Springsteen post, I wasn’t going to write about music again so soon, but then I saw this graphic on Facebook:
I thought it looked like the makings of a fun post, so what the hell, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m answering these as songs I like, even when not specified, and not just as a trivia test. I will list song/artist/album (when known) and my rationale. Many of these songs I’ve mentioned here before, so look for the links for additional information.

1)      A song you like with a color in the title: Still Got the Blues, Gary Moore, (title track). Also considered Back in Black, but I like this slow, smoldering, soaring blues number better. RIP Gary Moore. Also reminds me of those several months where I was a regular in a little Schenectady strip bar.

2)      A song you like with a number in the title: I Can’t Drive 55, Sammy Hagar, VOA. Also 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. (j/k) Great driving beat for a great driving song. (Not the best, however, see #7.)

3)      A song that reminds you of summertime: Let’s Go, The Cars, Candy-O. I could really pick any song by The Cars. They were always a primo summer band to me. Lots of sunny-day, top-down music.

4)      A song that reminds you of someone you would rather forget about: The Dream, David Sanborn, Change of Heart. This was an instrumental jazz sax track that I always associate with that girl from Cleveland who put me through the ringer, both in the 80s and the 2000s. Nice song, but it’s impossible for me to separate the two.

5)      A song that needs to be played LOUD! Rock You Like a Hurricane, Scorpions w/ the Berlin Philharmonic, Moment of Glory. The power chords of the Scorpions meet the original heavy metal of a full symphony orchestra… this track ROCKS.

6)      A song that makes you want to dance: Shout, Otis Day and the Knights, Animal House Soundtrack. This was THE dance/party song of my college years. And of course, we all would do the “gator.”

7)      A song to drive to: Roll On Down the Highway, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Not Fragile. There are so many good “driving songs,” but this one is a favorite. You want to know frustration? Being stuck in traffic when this one comes on.

8)      A song about drugs or alcohol: I Ain’t Drunk, I’m Just Drinkin’, Albert Collins, Cold Snap. Great party song that came out just after we stopped having Barn Parties.

9)      A song that makes you happy: Let it Ride, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Bachman-Turner Overdrive II. Always reminds me of when I saw them in concert in the 80s and they opened with this song. And it was stone cold perfect.

10)   A song that makes you sad: Keep Me in Your Heart, Warren Zevon, The Wind. It hurts every time I hear it. This was the last song Zevon recorded for his final album, made while battling terminal cancer. And I have a tight association between this song and my late friend, Brill, who introduced me to Zevon way back when.

11)   A song that you never get tired of: Up to my Neck in You, AC/DC, Powerage. I had this album for over 20 years before I really paid attention to this song and now I’m obsessed with it, due completely to that long, slow-building, simmering and explosive guitar solo. I yearn for the days when we used to go all out on the “air-guitars” during barn parties. I would have nailed this one.


12)   A song from your preteen years: Spirit in the Sky, Norman Greenbaum, Title Track. From a very young age, I loved that nasty, greasy, grungy guitar lick. The heck with the smarmy “uplifting” lyrics, this had a grooooove!

13)   One of your favorite 80s songs: Hells Bells, AC/DC, Back in Black. This was the song that opened the door to me for AC/DC. Believe it or not, at one time I hated them. Hell’s Bells made me rethink my position and I’ve been rocking out to them for almost 40 years.

14)   A song that you would love played at your wedding: Some Kind of Wonderful, Grand Funk, All the Girls in the World Beware. As a matter of fact, I’ll be getting married next summer and if we were playing music, I’d play this song. So far, it’s the only “Our Song” we have. Why? Because when we first started dating steadily, I hugged her and said, “My Babeh!” Then she said, “Mah Babeh!” And we went back and forth going “Mah Babeh” like they do at the end of the song. The fact that she picked that right up told me I had found the right girl.

15)   A song that is a cover by another artist: Jumpin Jack Flash, Aretha Franklin, Jumpin Jack Flash Soundtrack. Also, the same song by Johnny Winter. Both artists put their mark on it. Aretha belts it out with funk and gospel choir backing vocals. Johnny tears it up with a lot of yelling and a wicked, high-speed guitar solo. (RIP Aretha.)

16)   One of your favorite classical songs: William Tell Overture, Glen Campbell, B-Side to the Southern Nights single. Found this by accident. As a joke, I got my mom the Southern Nights single (she hated that song) but I found this on the back, with old Glen pickin’ it along with the orchestra. Hiyo Silver!

17)   A song you would sing a duet with on karaoke: Disorder in the House, Warren Zevon (with Bruce Springsteen), The Wind. I’d sing the Bruce part because it doesn’t require any actual singing. I couldn’t carry a tune with a forklift.

18)   A song from the year you were born: Hit the Road Jack, Ray Charles, (1961). I had to look up some songs from ’61 and among all the doo-wop and saccharin orchestral tunes, this was the one with the most “cool.” Brother Ray doesn’t play.

19)   A song that makes you think about life: You’ve got a Friend, Carole King, Tapestry. I had a hard time coming up with a song that makes me think about life. I ended up thinking about friends and how awful life would be without them. I have a number who would come running if I called their names, as would I if they called mine. That’s life. (OH! That totally should have been my song! That’s Life! (I’d go with the David Lee Roth version over Sinatra, though.)

20)   A song that has many meanings to you: Funeral for a Friend, Elton John, Goodbye Yellowbrick Road. I wrote a whole college paper on what I heard in this instrumental. It was the combination of mourning the loss of a loved one (during the slow/sad parts) and the fond remembrance of good times past (during the upbeat parts.) This was a favorite of my late friend Brill’s and mine. That he passed so young made the song all the more poignant to me.

21)   A favorite song with someone’s name in the title: Johnny B Goode, George Thorogood, Live: Let’s Work Together. As George calls it, “The Rock and Roll National Anthem.” Chuck Berry basically invented rock and roll with this song.

22)   A song that moves you forward: Ride On, AC/DC, Dirty Deeds. Who would have thought I’d find inspiration from these guys? But once, long ago, while feeling sorry for myself in a far-away hotel room, this blues ballad picked my ass up and stood me back on my feet. Got me moving again.

23)   A song you think everybody should listen to: Tanqueray, Johnny Johnson, Johnny B Badd. I have many of these, but this is one of the coolest songs I ever heard, yet hardly anyone knows about it.

24)   A song by a band you wish was still together. Don’t Pass Me By, Georgia Satellites, Open All Night. No question that the band was going to be the Satellites. It’s a cryin’ shame they only cut three albums. This was my favorite, a cover of an old Beatles/Ringo Starr song that they totally raved up.

25)   A song by an artist no longer living: Pride and Joy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Texas Flood. This song sent my musical taste in a whole new direction. One song, one time. I was hooked on SRV and the blues.

26)   A song that makes you want to fall in love: Moondance, Van Morrison, Title Track. First time I heard it was in the movie “American Werewolf in London,” during the love scene. Made me want to go take a shower with a cute nurse, immediately! (This activity proved to be more romantic in theory than in practice.)

27)   A song that breaks your heart: Into the Fire, Bruce Springsteen, The Rising. As mentioned in last week’s post, I bought the CD based on seeing Bruce and the band play it in concert (on TV). It’s still hard to listen to because it never fails to bring back the feelings of 9/11/2001.

28)   A song by an artist with a voice you love: Bat out of Hell, Meat Loaf, Title Track. Possibly my favorite song of all time. Powerful vocal performance amid pounding piano and howling guitars. I think Meat is the greatest rock singer of all time.

29)   A song you remember from your childhood: Zorba the Greek, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Going Places. I remember tons of songs from my childhood but this was a favorite. It’s a whole party in four and a half minutes. No wonder Greece is in such bad shape. Who can get anything done with all the dancing and “Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-yip-yip-yip?”

30)  A song that reminds you of yourself: Oreo Cookie Blues, Lonnie Mack, Strike Like Lightning. 
“Chocolate on m’fingers/Icing on mah lips
Sugar diabetes and/Blubber on mah hips
I keep the night light burnin’ in the kitchen, baby
So I can go downstairs and cruise…
I got da Oreo Crème Sandwich, Chocolate Covered Cream-Filled Cookie Blues.”

Monday, August 13, 2018

My Top Ten Bruce Springsteen Songs

A few weeks back, Sweetpea and I got into a conversation about our favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. Bruce is an artist we both like a lot, but it’s funny how profound our differences are about what we like.

On her part, she’s into meaningful lyrics, and so favors songs she can sink her brain into.

On my part, I see two distinct Bruces. I tend to favor Loud, Fun, Rock Party Bruce over Mumbly, Introspective, Navel-gazing Bruce. But when talk went to our Top Tens, I found I had a bit of both in there.

Now, I’m sure my list will rile a lot of life-long Bruce fans. I was never one of those. While I liked Born to Run, once I really listened to it, I didn’t give him much more thought until he took over the world with the Born in the USA album. I saw him on that tour in the Pontiac Silverdome and that performance colored my opinions about a couple songs.

So I’m basing my Top Ten not just on the songs alone, but their significance in my life and memories that they conjure up. I’m not saying these are his critical best, but they’re the ones I like best. Now without further ado, or like Bruce, without an opening act, here are my Top Ten Bruce Springsteen songs.

10) “Dancing in the Dark,” Born in the USA album, 1984. No, it’s not the greatest song in his catalog, but it was catchy, fun, and most importantly, hit the country like a nuclear bomb, raining down the magic of Bruce like so much radiation. This album came out at the onset of MVT and this was his first real music video, where he escapes the watch-cap-wearing mumbler image and debuts the buff, energetic all-American guy image. And to kick off the magic Springsteen touch, the cute girl he pulls out of the crowd to dance with him grows up to become Courteney Cox.

He may have been energetic in concert in years before, but only the people in attendance knew about it. This song and video broke him nation-wide, to the point that people from all generations knew about Bruce. The album went on to spawn seven Billboard #1 singles.

9) “You’re Missing,” and” Into the Fire,” The Rising album, 2002. The Rising was Bruce’s 9/11 album, coming out the summer after the twin towers fell. The last thing I wanted was to hear an album about 9/11, so I avoided it for a while. Then one night, I stumbled over a Springsteen concert on TV, in which he was playing his new songs.

Hearing both of these songs moved me to near tears. From the sad violin of You’re Missing to the haunting imagery of Into the Fire, the spare message of unresolved pain was searing. I got up from the couch, went to the computer and ordered the CD that night. These songs are so powerful, I rarely listen to them anymore, but I’ll never forget them. When I hear Into the Fire, all I can think about is this photo:
“Up the Stairs, into the fire…”

8) “Jungleland,” Born to Run album, 1975. I never even heard this song until well into my college years in the early 80s. I was listening to a lot of Meat Loaf at the time and this 9-minute opus seemed to fit right in, with its drastic tempo-changes and rock opera energy. And I loved how Steven King quoted from it and referenced it in the title of perhaps my favorite book of all time, The Stand.

7) “Born to Run,” Born to Run album, 1975. I loved the desperation of the lyrics, the great release of rock and roll energy, and the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-ala-Phil Spector production. This was Bruce’s Bat Out of Hell. (Like I said, I was listening to a lot of Meat Loaf.)

6) “Badlands,” Darkness on the Edge of Town album, 1978. I was never drawn to this song until I saw it played in concert. It was this one bit that I loved, in the bridge, where at each break in the lyric, drummer Max Weinberg would nail this huge bass drum strike. Like:
Talk about a dream [BOOM]
Try to make it real [BOOM]
You wake up in the night [BOOM]
With a fear so real…” [BOOM}

I’ll never know how Max gets such a huge sound out of such a tiny drum kit. Good sound tech guy, I guess.

5) “Downbound Train,” Born in the USA album, 1984. Bruce sings the blues. It’s not as rockin’ as I usually prefer but he does such a great job of making you feel the sadness of the character facing the emptiness of his heart. It was riveting in concert.

4) “Stand on It,” Born in the USA album, B-side single, 1984. This was the B-side of the Glory Days single and in my book, far outshines the A-side. Stand on It is a 50s-inspired rock and roll romp, with a bouncy bass line and killer piano laid down by “the Professor,” Roy Bittan. This song would be a natural for swing dancing. Here, see for yourself…

3) “Trapped,” USA for Africa, 1984. This was Bruce’s contribution to the USA for Africa/We Are the World album. It was a song by reggae star Jimmy Cliff, that Bruce did as a live cut. And live is where it thrives. I love the massive volume changes between the soft verses and the slamming chorus. Backup singer and future wife (at the time), Patti Scialfa cuts through the sonic field like a laser with her background vocals.

2) “Cover Me,” Live 1975-1985 box set, 1986. I always liked the original, from the Born in the USA album, but the live version is far more powerful. When I saw it played live, you didn’t even know what song it was from Patti’s “Nowhere to run to baby/Got nowhere to hide…” intro, not until Bruce came in with an echo-effected, strobe-lit “Cover me…”

In the live version, the guitars howl louder, the bass pounds, and the drums thunder, just the way Bluz likes it!

1) “Further On (Up the Road),” The Rising, 2002. Bruce’s 9/11 revenge song, the one that said, after of all the heartbreak and fear, the tears are dried and now it’s time to go and get some.

Got on my dead man’s suit, and my smilin’ skull ring
My lucky graveyard boots, and a song to sing
Got a song to sing, to keep me out of the cold.
And I’ll meet you further on up the road.”

This one starts starkly, with only Max’s hi-hat and snare drum beat, and as the song progresses, more instruments get laid on until the sonic field is jam-packed with guitars, mandolins, and huge backing vocals.

Other Bruce “Honorable Mention” moments, (in no meaningful order):

1. Contributor, “We Are the World,” 1985. I think his part redeemed the whole thing, because face it, this song was pretty lightweight and sing-songy. Then when it comes to Bruce’s turn to echo the chorus, he brings that lion’s roar of his to the show and provides a little vocal firepower.

2. Backing vocals and guitar on Warren Zevon’s “Disorder in the House,” 2003. When Warren Zevon was diagnosed with a fatal lung disease, he went directly into the studio and began what would be his last album, “The Wind.” His rock star friends came out in force to contribute whatever was needed to the effort.

Bruce showed up to provide vocal accompaniment on Disorder in the House, and play electric guitar, including three long wild-ass solos. After as he wound up his third one, Zevon looked up at him from the control panel and said with mock amazement, “You ARE him!” You can see for yourself right here:

3. My Ride’s Here, (live) “Enjoy Every Sandwich,” 2004. Following Zevon’s death, an album was released of various artists performing Zevon songs. Bruce and the E Street Band contributed a soft, affectionate version of “My Ride’s Here.” You can hear the love for his friend in his earnest introduction.

Note: The album title was taken from a comment Zevon made to his close friend, David Letterman, who asked how it felt to live with a fatal diagnosis. Warren said something like, “It makes you want to enjoy every sandwich,” meaning, appreciate the little things in life.

Monday, August 6, 2018

All Photo-Ops Are Not Created Equal

Perhaps you’ve seen this meme on Facebook.
Here’s why it’s complete bullshit.

1)      It’s a president’s job to meet with world leaders, no question. You can see by each of the first five shots that these were informal photo-ops, not two leaders having secret meetings. And a shot of Trump acting like a comrade of old Vladdie wouldn’t have been a big deal either if that’s all there was. When all the leaders are pouring out of a G-8 meeting, people mix and pose for photos. That is indeed, fine.

2)      Prior to the first five photos, there hadn’t been overwhelming evidence shown that Russia had hacked private political emails and released them to damage one political party. Further, we hadn’t yet seen evidence that Russia had engineered a social media campaign to divide the country, sow unrest, and ultimately back one candidate over another. Also, Russia hadn’t forcefully annexed Crimea or sent fighter jets to counter our military operations in Syria.

3)      None of the people in the first five shots had a private, one-on-one, meeting with Putin, in which there were no witnesses (save for translators), and with no transcriptions of the meeting made available to the public or even other Cabinet members. All we know about what went on in that meeting comes from the comments of two seasoned liars, both of whom will tell whatever story suits their purpose at any given moment.

What we have here is another logical fallacy of false equivocation. Five of these examples are nothing like the last one, therefore any comparison is misguided. But the creators don’t care about that; they just want their base to get pissed off about it and blame the media.

This country is careening down a dangerous path right now, with all the drummed-up antipathy toward the media, social and otherwise. To this president, any media outlet that’s not fawning over him, not telling everyone what a great job he’s doing, is “The Enemy.”

Journalists are doing what they’ve been doing for centuries, reporting on what politicians do and say, and are receiving state-sanctioned death threats for it.

I’m certainly not the first to warn that the prosecution and suppression of journalists is a primary tool of dictators. I can’t understand why the Right, supposed to be so super-patriotic, is determined to shred one of America’s founding principles. Their tribalism run amok is stripping this country of the very greatness they pretend to revere.

Sad.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The GOP Playbook - A Study in Attaining and Maintaining Power

For whatever their flaws, you have to stand in amazement regarding the Republicans’ success in amassing and maintaining their power. Even after the thrashing of the 2008 elections, they never lost control for more than a couple of years. In fact, the Obama years might have been their most important, because while they were not governing, they were very, very busy laying the groundwork for their return.

In looking back over their methods, I’ve distilled them down to three main, interconnected areas… A three-pronged attack, if you will. Here’s what they did.

1.      De-emphasized and belittled education.

I’ve written about this before. In fact, let me quote from myself:

Republican leadership does not want an educated electorate.  The last thing they want is for people to think for themselves or be able to dissect a statement or argument.  What they want is pliability and obedient workers who do what they’re told.

“Look how long Fox “News” has been railing against the “Eastern elite,” or “egg-headed intellectuals.”  They’ve been demonizing intelligence since Day One by holding the most educated among us up to scorn.

“Just look through an aggregated news web page like Yahoo.  Every time you see a blurb about college protests, or liberal professors, or university political correctness gone wild, check the source.  Guaranteed it will be from Fox, or the Federalist, the New York Post, or other conservative mouthpieces.

“This is no accident; they want you to distrust places of higher education. 

“Conservative power brokers know that college can teach people about how to spot logical fallacies and how to pick apart arguments, political positions, and media advertisement, (political and otherwise).”

A population lacking in critical thinking skills is susceptible to the weapons-grade propaganda aired by Fox “News” and social media memes sponsored by the Koch Brothers and state-backed Russian hackers.

Keep in mind the Sinclair Broadcasting is trying to become the largest TV station ownership group in the country. If their latest purchase attempt goes through, they’ll be able to broadcast into 70% of America’s living rooms, complete with required conservative messaging.

By degrading the reputation of scientists, they make it easier to call scientific findings into question when they conflict with conservative philosophy. (That philosophy is to never let anything get in the way of higher profits for big business.)

To achieve this, Republicans push educational systems that “teach to the test.” Or in other words, evaluate teachers by who can get their students to regurgitate various facts on command, on which they get tested.

Republican governors and legislatures who routinely slash school budgets know that there’s not much in the way of freedom or creativity without money. Art and music? Gone. Critical thinking? Forget it.

They also push for more vocational schooling. I call it the Judge Smails rule. “The world needs ditch-diggers too.”

While I don’t have any quarrel for learning a trade for those whose career goals are low, it’s a direct path to life with little critical thinking.

All these chunks Republicans take out of education serves a single purpose: to ensure we’re unequipped to fully understand or combat the degree to which we’re being screwed.

2.      Engaged an exhaustive campaign to fill state and local offices with conservatives.

This may be the most important step of all. You see all those educational issues? They can’t be done without control of school boards and city/state government. There are an awful lot of issues, large and small, that begin at home.

This is the step that places them in power and then entrenches them there. Why? Because governorships are important. Governors preside over the Congressional redistricting that happens every 10 years. And if the houses of state legislature are Republican-controlled as well, a Governor has no meaningful pushback when it’s time to redistrict. And GOP governors have gerrymandered the US House of Representatives into a perpetual bastion of conservative power.

The state knows exactly where its Republican and Democratic voters are, so they ensure that as many of their opponents are included in as few districts as humanly possible, leaving all the other districts to be controlled by Republicans.

Granted, states like Maryland have just as completely gerrymandered the state for the Democrats, but we’re an outlier here. Republicans control far more of the heavily gerrymandered states.

Gerrymandering can only control the House, so Republicans need something else to rig the Senate and Presidential votes. That’s where “Voter ID” comes in. I’ve written about that before, too.

This is where Republicans pretend there’s a massive problem with voter fraud, despite zero evidence that A) there is a meaningful problem and B) requiring an ID from a voter would have prevented it. To combat this “problem,” they then pass a law requiring voters to present valid state IDs in order to vote.

This is meant to discourage non-drivers, (meaning those who can’t afford a car, or idealistic students), seniors (meaning old people who don’t want anyone messing with their Medicare or Social Security), or anyone of color. All of these groups are seen as likely Democratic voters.

They make sure that the only IDs recognized are the hardest to get. State IDs and NRA licenses… in. Student IDs and library cards… out. And then, to make things as inconvenient as possible, they close or limit hours of licensing centers in urban areas, reduce or eliminate early voting hours, and limit the number of voting machines in city precincts, so the lines are longer. They pull driver’s licenses for anyone who owes money for court costs. They “clean” voter rolls using aggressive means, without notification, so that people don’t know they’re no longer registered to vote until they show up on Election Day.

All of that is designed to discourage and suppress the vote of likely Democratic supporters, and it’s only possible when you have control of state government in census years.

3.      Appointed conservative judges up and down the bench.

This is to ensure that once power is achieved, the self-serving laws they enact remain intact. And it’s not just the Supreme Court that matters. There are hundreds of federal judgeship and appeals courts that allow or disallow legislation. Once they’ve packed their own people into these roles, many of them for life, the odds are that much better than their nefarious legislation gets upheld.

Laws on same-sex marriage, gerrymandering, gun control, abortion, voter suppression and unlimited anonymous campaign contributions will only stand as long as the judiciary signs off.

Mitch McConnell was willing to ignite a national furor by holding up a Supreme Court nomination for 10 months because it meant a shot at keeping a conservative-majority bench. (And the Koch Brothers told him to.) That’s how important appointing judges is. Republicans stonewalled judicial appointment for years during the Obama administration. Now they’re filling seats like it’s a Beyoncé concert.

The judiciary is the last check on government power. Once that check is in the hands of judges who believe corporate entities are people, the other 98% of American citizens are screwed.

***

This is how completely the Republicans are in control. They did the hard work and are reaping the benefits now. The only way Democrats can reclaim control is to do (or undo) exactly what the GOP has done. Democrats have to go hard after local offices… city council, mayors, school boards, state assemblies, houses of delegates… whatever they’re called in locales across the country.

People have to show up and vote. Demonstrations and protests don’t do anything unless they translate into votes. Democrats have to pull back the curtain and show people what Republicans are up to and what how their law-making will affect our daily lives. We must convince people that government is meant to serve the people and not business entities. We have to convince moderates and independents that we’re right and our opponents are wrong.

We have to put scientists back on scientific boards and toss out the industry shills who have no agenda other than eliminating anything that costs big businesses money.

We have to clear the way, permanently, for any two consenting adults to marry and enjoy all the rights and benefits that go with it. We have to make it clear that if you open a business, you serve whoever walks in the door or at least make a reasonable accommodation, regardless of what your religion says.

We have to leave reproductive decisions up to the people who are involved in the reproduction and keep government and the rest of the general public the hell out of it.

We have to enact an immigration policy that works, that doesn’t involve ineffectual vanity projects that cost $25 billion.

We have to reclaim our place as leaders on the world’s stage and act like the super-power we are. We need to lead with our allies and stop elevating our enemies.

We have to fight off the out-sized influence of the NRA and do something about semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

We have much work to do. The Republicans did theirs and they won’t give up power without a fight. And it won’t be a fair fight, that much is obvious, judging from the 2016 election. The amount of money at the Republican’s disposal will be staggering.

But money can only buy attempts to influence. It doesn’t buy our vote.

We have to make our voices heard. We have to run for offices. We have to register. And we have to VOTE.

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Moving Story

Well, my luck held out. Now I live someplace else.

After what seemed like an eternity of preparation, Sweetpea and I are engaged in a raging case of premarital cohabitation.

Last night was especially weird. Most Sunday nights, I leave her place around 7:00 or 8:00 pm and go back home. This time, I didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Like I said in the last post, I’ve been staying at her our place since 7/13. I used vacation days for last week, so every day I went back to my apartment to pack up the last of my crap, and do all the things I didn’t want to do yet when I still stayed there. (Like take down the blinds. On the bottom floor, I don’t like that people can look right in.)

I also went down my list of services and utilities I used, to update my address with them or discontinue services. There’s something about filing your change of address with the post office and voter’s board, that makes it seem very official and past the point of return.

I’d been worried about the movers showing up on Wednesday, but I needn’t have been… they got there an hour early and beat me there by a few minutes, as I detoured for breakfast. Croissandwiches in hand, I let them in and showed them around. By this point, there weren’t any boxes left to be moved; just furniture.

These guys flew into action. One second all my furniture is there, the next, everything’s got blankets taped around them and were being carried out the door. And in addition to being super polite and respectful, these dudes were strong. They didn’t look like body-builders, but each one could carry a large piece of furniture by themselves. (Those days are long gone for me, if I even had them in the first place.)

Seeing a place I once inhabited stand empty is always a melancholy experience for me. Granted, it’s the same view as when I move in, but it’s a different perspective. When you’re moving in, you see all the potential. When moving out, it’s just an empty shell of what used to be; the location of good times and bad.
After a little more than an hour and a half, I bid a temporary adieu to my apartment and we all headed down the road, to reverse the entire process.
Fortunately, the dog was spending the day at Sweetpea’s sister’s house, or else he’d have gone ape-shit with all these strangers tromping around his house. He gets angry when someone has the audacity to walk down his street!

Having movers bring your furniture into your place is like being a traffic cop, only you don’t recognize the cars. A guy would go, “Mr. Bluz, where do you want this?

I’d be like, “I don’t know, what the hell is it, under that blanket?”

At least I had Sweetpea to help direct traffic. Well, except the times where I had one idea about where something should go, and she had another. It didn’t happen often, as we’d already discussed where the big pieces would go. But we still had some undecided items. With dudes carrying them around, we had to decide quickly.

It was funny; one guy commented on my “Steeler Fan Parking Only” sign that was hanging in the basement. Knowing Sweetpea was a Baltimore girl, he told me, “You got that Steelers sign up on the wall so you can see it as soon as you come downstairs. You must be the boss around here.”

I said, “Dude, it’s in the basement. If I was really the boss, it would be upstairs!”

The movers were done at the three-and-a-half-hour mark, which brought me a bill of about $650. Considering all I didn’t have to do, it was totally, completely, worth it.

It’s a bit overwhelming, though, once the movers leave and it’s time to start putting things away. It’s like, you just don’t even know where to begin. But Sweetpea and I have a saying… “Just start chopping wood.” In other words, pick something, do it, go on to the next thing. Repeat.

So we started with the low-hanging fruit and worked out from there. By the time she got back with the dog, I had the TV in the living room working. By the Thursday, I had the stereo equipment hooked up and functional. Not that it didn’t have some frustrating moments.

I wanted to use my component system set up in my giant, heavy-ass entertainment center. But she doesn’t like speakers hung on the wall (like mine were) so I figured we’d use her small Bose speakers. But my receiver needed speakers with raw wire attachments. Her Bose speakers had the usual jacks.

Earlier in the week, I texted my buddy, the VP of Hell No and expert on ancient stereo components, to ask him if I clipped off the jacks, would that raw speaker wire work? I didn’t want to ruin her speakers and not have it work. He waved me off that idea and said I could get an adapter with the raw wire on one side and the jack on the other.

Awesome! I ordered a couple from Amazon, and when they arrived Thursday, I set up the stereo equipment and moved the speakers. At that point, I re-learned the old lesson about assuming. I really should have looked at her speakers. If I had, I’d have seen that they didn’t have jacks after all; they were connected with the raw wire. Just as I needed. Without any adaptation necessary.

Oh well. Amazon is good with returns. And after a good tussle and a lot of naughty words, everything works. We can play CDs, LPs, and cassettes. (Cuz that’s what we have, in spades.)
Friday, the cable guy came, which was the last major piece of the puzzle. Both she and I had cable, but I wanted to transfer my service to her address and have her kill hers. The cable company would provide their triple play service, of TV, internet, and phones so she could kill her phone and internet service too.

Also, since we cumulatively owned four TVs, we wanted to use them all. Her main TV went downstairs to the future Man Cave/Escape Room. My main TV went into the living room. Her bedroom TV stayed there, and my bedroom TV went into the back bedroom. With that arrangement, we’d need cable wired to the back bedroom, and office, where the computers would be.

Took the guy over 4 hours but he got it done and everything worked perfectly, phones and all. The only thing I’m missing now is another mirror system, to watch TV from the can. But you can’t have everything, can you?

We’re about squared away now. We’ve just got some more kitchen stuff to integrate, and we need to find a place to store my towels and linens. And then we just have to find that daily rhythm, which so far eludes me.

We both have very different ideas on what constitutes tasteful decorating. She prefers clean, clear, open spaces. If it were up to me, I’d have every square inch of wall space covered with a picture, painting, photo, album cover or poster. And every centimeter of horizontal space with a figurine or some other tchotchke placed on it. So there’s some negotiating to be done, for sure.

One happy side effect of this move… I get to cut down my key ring by two keys. No more house/deadbolt/mailbox keys; now just one simple front door key. I feel lighter already.

We went out to dinner Friday night, and I forgot my wallet, even though I created a place specifically for it, where I’d never forget it. (Thanks for covering, Sweetpea! I owe you another dinner.) That’s when I realized that old habits weren’t transferrable. Just because I had a regular place for my wallet at my old apartment, doesn’t mean the same mechanics are in place at the new house. I’ll just have to count on repetition to engrave it into my brain.

The same thing happened to her. She had to move where she used to keep her purse, and then went off without her phone, which right by where she used to keep her purse. It’s all interconnected. We just have to develop some new behavioral synapses.

It’s the same with a lot of simple tasks that I’ve done in a particular way for the last 20 years. Like getting dressed in the morning. I used to lay out my clothes the night before… shirt on a hook, pants on a hook beside them, socks and undies beside my ottoman, shoes within reach. I’d come out of the bathroom, which was attached to the bedroom, put on undies and socks, pull the shirt off the hook, pants go on, sit back on the ottoman and put on my shoes. Done.

Now, the bathroom is in the hall and my clothes are in the back bedroom. I have to figure out what comes in the bathroom with me, where I hang my clothes, and where I put my shoes. All this is complicated by the fact that if the dog wants attention, he will grab any pair of socks, undies or shoes that he can reach, whether from the bedroom, bathroom or wherever, and parade around the house with them.

On this one, I’m probably going to have to settle for less than perfect efficiency. It won’t kill me.

And on the bright side, I get to live side by side with the love of my life.

I look forward to seeing what happens next.