Soup’s on, Manafort!


What’s up with the smooth operator in the ostrich-skin jacket? He made a deal to tell the truth to the special prosecutor, ostensibly to get some years shaved off his prison time, but then he continued to lie for Donald Trump. I think Charles Pierce is on the right track:

The question, of course, is whether Manafort is completely stupid, overwhelmingly confident that he will be pardoned, or simply frightened by something even more terrifying than the prospect of spending his declining years in the federal sneezer—something like, say, a lovely bowl of strontium-90, served up to him by a concerned former overseas client. I used to laugh the latter explanation off. I don’t do that anymore. Something is happening in Manafort’s brainbox that dwarfs in his mind anything Mueller can do to him.

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Digging deep for ‘new’ Beatles gold


I blew my mind out in a car, driving home from a gig in Bethlehem, PA, listening to “Glass Onion” on the radio. First Ringo’s snare and then bang, the whole bad-ass rhythm section and John singing I told you ’bout strawberry fields… Three verses altogether, with a bridge between the second and third. Oh yeah. The cryptic lyrical references to earlier Beatles songs. Each verse ending with Looking through a glass onion. The string section swooning at the eerie fade-out.

I thought whoa, they don’t make them like that anymore, do they? As if to underscore my thought, the DJ instantly played “Glass Onion” again. Afterwards, she announced that she’d actually played two different versions of the song,  in connection with the recent release of a six-CD remix of the Beatles’ The White Album.

“I couldn’t tell the one version from the other,” I told Swamp Rabbit when I got back to the shack. “They both sounded great. I’d buy the whole boxed set if I could afford it.”

“Why do a fool thing like that?” the rabbit grumbled. “It’s a lot cheaper to download.”

I had to think about that. You could argue that the purchase would be worth it. Co-producer Giles Martin — son of George Martin, the “fifth Beatle” — did a great job of giving The White Album a “sonic tune-up” without messing around too much with the group’s artistic intentions.

But you could also argue that it’s pathetic of me to think about satisfying my craving for new music by purchasing yet another expensive remix of 50-year-old Beatles songs, even if the sound quality is great.

“What you care about sound quality?” the rabbit said. “The only CD player you own is the one in your beat-up old laptop.  Just stream songs to your phone.”

My drunken friend had a point. I’m no audiophile, and the culture has changed. Technology marches on. CDs are becoming a thing of the past as streaming services take over. Recorded music has become more mobile, more affordable, more disposable.  This is good for casual listeners but bad for new artists, who can’t make nearly as much money on streamed recordings as artists made on vinyl and CDs in the old days.

I thought of those miners in South Africa who have had to dig thousands of feet farther underground to find new gold. How much deeper can the record companies dig before they extract the last classic-rock nuggets?

“Where are the new mines, the new sounds, the new artists for the ages?” I said.

“Maybe they’re out there, maybe they ain’t,” the rabbit replied. “One thing for sure is you ain’t gonna find them by living in the past.”

Footnote: There are 125 tracks in all, if you count the demos and session takes. As one snarky critic put it: “The market for a set like this is limited to fetishists and completists and that strange baby-boomer contingent that can’t quite let go of the idea of actually owning one’s own music.” I’m still in the latter category — I like liner notes and cover art and so on — but I’m not buying the boxed set.

 

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Stan Lee’s fan base — kids of all ages


After reading of Stan Lee’s death, I took an imaginary walk through my old neighborhood, past Mitchell schoolyard and Most Blessed Sacrament church,  to Chester Avenue and Whelan’s variety store, which stocked the Marvel comic books I read in my pre-teen years, before sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll stole my soul.

Old Man Whelan’s narrow little domain was crammed with an eclectic and impossibly large inventory of practical goods and practical-joke items. He grumbled non-stop while selling everything from pantyhose to fake dog poop.

Most kids came for the comic books, which cost 12 cents each in those days. Discriminating readers bought Marvel comics,  which featured the full-color exploits of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and other superheroes who — thanks to Lee, and to Steve Ditko and other super-talented illustrators —  were way cooler than Superman, Batman and the other stars on the DC comics roster.

DC’s costumed crime fighters looked stilted and seemed stuck in the 1950s.  Marvel’s characters were hip and ironic and came alive on the page, partly because they were presented as flawed and angst-ridden, all-too-human despite their super-powers. They seemed realistic, once you accepted the idea that they could climb sheer walls (Spider-Man) or throw fireballs (Human Torch) or disappear at will (Invisible Girl).

My sixth-grade friends and I understood that Lee’s superheroes, in or out of their costumes, felt like outsiders.  We felt like outsiders, growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood where conformity was valued a lot more than education. Lee was our hero because his heroes and villains used multi-syllabic words (“I have become invulnerable!”) and his stories were socially relevant. We were comic-book snobs.

I remember wishing the Marvel gang could be brought to life on the big screen, but this didn’t happen until decades later, when special effects technology caught up with Lee and his illustrators.  Lee himself lived long enough (95!) to see his visions realized in those multi-million-dollar Marvel blockbusters that Hollywood keeps cranking out.

It’s strange when you think about it — the fact that so many adults these days — men, mostly — enjoy and identify with comic book heroes as much or more than their children do.  I’ll guessing many of them don’t think of themselves as outsiders and didn’t use Lee’s comics as stepping stones to books and movies for grown-ups.

Lee was an artist and a pop culture visionary, and a grown-up. He didn’t equate his comics with the Great American Novel that he had aspired to write as a young man. But many of his grown-up fans don’t seem to see the difference between the one and the other.

I’m not sure what that’s about — nostalgia, arrested development, postmodernism, the dumbed-down media. Whatever. As Lee might have said, “That’s a question for the sociologists.”

 

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Will media admit to being duped? Nope


I’ll bet a lot of reporters and editors and talking heads hated Krugman for stating the obvious a week before the midterms:

But here’s the thing: Trump supporters aren’t the only people trying to pretend that he’s only doing what everyone does, that Democrats are just as bad and equally liable for the explosion of hatred. False equivalence, portraying the parties as symmetric even when they clearly aren’t, has long been the norm among self-proclaimed centrists and some influential media figures. It’s a stance that has hugely benefited the GOP, as it has increasingly become the party of right-wing extremists.

False equivalence. Let’s present the Trump’s scary “caravan” story as if were factual. even though it is transparently false.  (Not all of the journalists who operate this way work at Fox News.)

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Too many peeps means too few penguins


penguins

African penguins commiserate at Lehigh Valley Zoo

Swamp Rabbit and I were on a sales job at the zoo, discussing what should be done about humans who destroy rainforests in order to expand production of palm oil and soybeans and so on. And how about the greedy owners of  those commercial fisheries who are helping kill off the African penguins?

“We should chop ’em into little pieces and feed ’em to the penguins,” the rabbit said.

He told me it’s not only fishing industry bosses who are villains, it’s the whole human race. It’s the fact that this sub-species of penguin, which is unique to southwestern African coastal areas, is running out of places to breed because human settlements keep expanding.

“But what are people supposed to do?” I said. “Just stop moving into places where wildlife live?”

“You got it,” he said. “There are way too many peeps, Odd Man. It’s time to cull the herd.”

Obviously, he was still reeling from the recent news that humans had helped wipe out 60 percent of the world’s wildlife since 1970. I was sorry I showed him the news story.

We strolled past a little water park reserved for North American river otters,  a woodsy patch for Mexican gray wolves (another  endangered sub-species),  a raccoon in an outdoor holding pen, and a porcupine and skunk in another. The long circular trail eventually took us back where we started. A zookeeper was feeding big chunks of fish to the penguins.

“Zoos give me the blues,” Swamp Rabbit said. “They ain’t nothing but jails, even the nice ones.”

“Not true,” I replied, watching the penguins chow down. “This zoo beats that shack in Tinicum where I live. The food here is better, too.”

 

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Trump’s snake oil still potent


Yesterday I showed Swamp Rabbit a line from a pre-election news story:

Two years of political volatility will culminate Tuesday, when voters for the first time since the stunning 2016 election render a nationwide judgment on whether Trumpism is a historic anomaly or a reflection of modern-day America.

Now it’s Wednesday and the people have spoken. Trumpism isn’t an anomaly, it’s a reflection of the deeply held beliefs of more than 40 percent of American voters.

Trump has slurred Latinos, mocked the physically disabled, bragged of being a pussy grabber. He has declared bankruptcy six times, championed a massive tax cut for the one percent, gutted the EPA, tried to kill Obamacare, antagonized America’s closest allies, started an ill-advised trade war with China, embraced Vladimir Putin and other dictators, obstructed the Justice Department’s ongoing probe of Russian interference in recent elections, and much more.

Trump’s fans don’t flock to him in spite of his beastliness; they flock to him because of it. They look in the mirror and see him. He knows his base is solid, which is why he campaigned so hard in the midterms for candidates who are almost as hideous as he is, but not as popular — Ted Cruz, Rick Scott and so on. His personal intervention arguably helped Republicans maintain control of the Senate and hurt the chances of the African American candidates for governor in Georgia and Florida.

I chattered on and Swamp Rabbit played devil’s advocate. “You don’t know that for sure,” he said.  “Maybe them peckerwoods was just doing what they thought was best for them.”

“They were doing what Trump said was best,” I replied. “They were voting for protection from elitists and Muslim terrorists and uppity blacks and armies of Central American who were coming to steal their jobs.”

I told him that Trumpism in its natural state is a brand of snake oil that first caught on with blue-collar Democrats who backed George Wallace in 1968 and thus helped elect Richard Nixon.  This is the snake oil that also helped elect Reagan and Bush Sr. and Dubya. It became more potent over the decades as right-wing propagandists worked to convince “Middle Americans” that blacks and feminists and heathens and sinister socialists were responsible for the ongoing decline in their standard of living.

“That’s just a lot of talk,” the rabbit said. “What’s it got to do with Trump?”

“He’s the best snake oil salesmen yet,” I replied. “Only a master con man can keep selling it on such a large scale after losing an election by almost three million votes.”

The rabbit stood up and glared. “You ain’t gonna start comparing Trump to them dictators again, I hope.”

“You said it,” I said. “Not me.”

Footnotes: The U.S. is still split in half, just as it was before the Civil War… Yes, Democrats recaptured the House.  Not by much, but it’s a big step… Whatever happened to that investigator? Mueller, I think his name was.

 

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A referendum on Trumpism


Donald Trump’s unwitting accomplices in the media were at it again this weekend, helping spread the lie that Democrats may have tried to “hack” Georgia’s voter registration files. The accusation was made by Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, who also happens to be running for governor. Various media outlets noted that there is no evidence of hacking, but they all ran the story anyway. Is this any way to cover the closely contested mid-term elections?

Never mind. The pundits and the talking heads have got one thing right: The mid-terms are a referendum on Trump and what he stands for.  They aren’t about deciding which Democrats are progressive enough, and which, if any, Republicans are “moderate” enough to deserve our votes.

No Republican candidates deserve our votes. They’ve all ignored or gone along with Trump’s attempts to demonize immigrants, his contempt for a free press, his efforts to scuttle the Affordable Care Act, his tax cuts for the wealthy, his refusal to speak out against racists, his appointment of corrupt Cabinet members, his refusal to release his tax returns, his obstructions of the Mueller probe, his vicious and proudly dishonest personal style. And so on.

There’s no excuse for not voting against the party of Trump. If Democrats retake the House, they can curtail Trump’s inevitable efforts to defy Mueller. In the unlikely event that they retake the House and the Senate… well, then they can stick a fork in the monster, he’s done.

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