At Musikfest, waiting for something to happen

The crowd, suddenly there where there was nothing before, is a mysterious and universal phenomenon. A few people may have been standing together – five, ten or twelve, not more; nothing has been announced, nothing is expected. Suddenly everywhere is black with people and more come streaming from all sides as though streets had only one direction. Most of them do not know what has happened and, if questioned, have no answer; but they hurry to be there where most other people are… It seems as though the movement of some of them transmits itself to the others. But that is not all; they have a goal which is there before they can find words for it.

― Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power

What’s cool about Canetti is that he could be describing a neo-Nazi rally, an inner-city riot, or a big carnival like Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA, where I worked all week.

For me, the event was an outdoor sales ordeal intensified by thunderstorms, daily temperatures in the 90s and a cacophony of power generators, crowd noise and cover bands cranking out the greatest hits of the 1970s. For the crowd, it was… I have no idea. Who knows about crowds?

The crowd was small and then it was huge. Madmen babbled at the sky. Tattooed lover boys stalked giggly girls. Old couples sipped lemonade to stave off heatstroke. Women pushed baby carriages, dawdling forward as the sun beat down on their unshaded, screaming infants. No one moved fast except for kids and the grossly obese pilots of those silent go-carts that zip by without warning.

At night the crowd swelled and the lines at the beer vendors’ tents and the porta-potties grew longer. Thousands of strangers ate greasy gyros and drank from glow-in-the-dark mugs. They squeezed past each other, stopped dead, looked like they were waiting for someone to tell them why they were there.

They was waiting for a signal, it seemed, something that would focus their enormous collective energy. I felt an inkling of that energy only once, on the first night, when hundreds of young dancers at Wireless Disco, seeking shelter from a sudden downpour, converged on a big white tent that collapsed under their weight.

But this was only one small segment of the crowd, which covered several square miles. The rainfall was too fierce to allow people to come “streaming from all sides as though streets had only one direction.”

Which was fine with me. I’d rather an ordeal than a catastrophe, so long as the ordeal results in a decent paycheck.

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From ostrich jacket to jailhouse jumpsuit


This is what happens when you have all the money in the world but no heart or imagination:

Paul Manafort — President Trump’s former campaign chairman who’s currently on trial in Virginia on charges of money laundering, tax evasion and conspiracy — reportedly splurged $15,000 on an ostrich jacket. It’s an oddity even among jet-setters, stylists say.

The allegation took flight in federal court Tuesday, where prosecutors charged that Manafort’s luxuries and bank account benefited from his alleged financial fraud. Specifically, attorney Uzo Asonye accused the lobbyist of not paying taxes on money he earned while working in Ukraine for a political candidate, then using the dough on indulgences like a $2 million house, $21,000 watch and a custom, $15,000 jacket made from an ostrich.

He was a high priest of materialism who couldn’t stop buying suits and carpets and houses and weird vanity gifts for himself. A karaoke machine. You simply have to have one if you entertain.

He was a consultant to dictators, a guy who specialized in spreading misery around the world. Where do such people come from, and isn’t it telling that they flock without fail to degenerates like Donald Trump?

He spent much of the past few years on a buying spree, indulging himself while he could, as if he knew he’d eventually get nailed by the IRS or the Russian mafia.

“You can’t take it with you,” should be carved on his tombstone, if he has enough money left for a tombstone.

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John ‘Bomb Iran’ Bolton may yet get his wish


I spoke to the president over the last several days, and President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.
National security adviser John Bolton

Swamp Rabbit and I were watching Donald Trump and his henchmen on TV. I noted that John Bolton looks like God just appeared to him in a burning bush and scared him so bad his goofy mustache turned white. He’s one of those dangerously kooky neocons who, a few years ago, wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the White House. Now he’s a fixture there, echoing a dangerously kooky president who, arguably, would start a major war to take the country’s focus off the criminal investigation that will eventually, inevitably bring him down.

“Mueller might charge Trump, but that don’t mean he’s going down,” Swamp Rabbit said. “He’s the president. He’s got the Supremes and all them minions in Congress on his side.”

I told my friend that Trump and Bolton’s trash talk about Iran might come to nothing, just like his trash talk about North Korea. That Trump will be indicted if Mueller has the goods. That the law is on our side.

“Which law?” he said. “Most of them legal experts say there ain’t nothing in the Constitution that says a sitting president can be indicted. Nobody can tell the president what to do.”

The old rodent has a point. The language in the Constitution regarding presidential crimes is a bit vague. It says a president who has committed serious offenses may be removed by Congress, but it does not say he can be criminally prosecuted while in office.

Few people in the news media are admitting this, but the apparent problem is that “the founders” simply couldn’t imagine an America that would elect a would-be dictator, or a Congress and courts system that would accept and support a would-be dictator’s misconduct, or a gaggle of presidential advisers who were nothing more than demented yes men.

I said, “You’re right, Trump would pull the trigger, or press the button, or whatever it takes to make the heat go away. But I’m hoping the general public will stop him before it comes to that.”

“Don’t count on it,” the rabbit replied. “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran is a pretty catchy tune.”

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When will Trump’s minions stop applauding?

Last week Swamp Rabbit and I watched House Republicans grill FBI agent Peter Strzok and wondered if they really believed Strzok was part of of an FBI conspiracy to link Donald Trump to Russian interference with the 2016 election, even though they knew the FBI had undermined Hillary Clinton’s chances, not Trump’s, by restarting an “email probe” against Clinton right before the election.

And we realized the Republicans at the hearing, every one of them, were trying to make a case they knew was not only false but implausible, in the hope of somehow discrediting special council Robert Mueller if he releases evidence linking Trump to the Russians.

And we had to conclude that the TV hearing marked a new low point for the GOP, the point where they tacitly admitted they’d rather invent untruths and pursue false leads than publicly voice doubts about their dear leader, a dangerous fool who consistently sides with Vladimir Putin against the FBI and the Department of Justice.

And I remarked on the lies and cowardice of the Republicans, and on how none of Joe Stalin’s Soviet minions wanted to be the first to stop applauding when he made a speech, lest he or she be taken out and shot for lack of fervor.

“Hold on there, Odd Man,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump ain’t Stalin and the Republicans ain’t minions. Ain’t nobody gonna have them shot.”

I replied, “You’re right, Trump can’t have them shot. Not yet. But he can rile up his base and have his minions driven out of office if they take sides against him.”

Today Trump and Putin met in Helsinki for a private love session then took questions from reporters. Trump expressed doubt about whether Russia was to blame for election interference, and he voiced confidence that the U.S. and Russia would get along better in the future.

After the Q&A, some Republicans in Congress conceded the Russians really were to blame for election misconduct — hacking, etc. — but only those few who didn’t endorse Trump or aren’t running for office again said anything overtly negative about his conduct. Certainly nothing approaching former CIA chief John Brennan’s charge that Trump’s performance at the Helsinki meeting was “nothing short of treasonous.”

I told Swamp Rabbit that Trump’s minions will continue to applaud him, no matter how rotten his actions, unless the tide turns and they think supporting him might hurt their chances for re-election.

“OK, but just don’t compare Trump to Stalin again,” Swamp Rabbit repeated. “He ain’t no killer dictator.”

“That’s an accident of time and geography,” I replied. “Lucky for us and his minions.”

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A white haven for the blues

So I was upstate again last weekend, speeding home from a sales job, when a road sign on the highway caught my eye: WHITE HAVEN 4 MILES.

“Perfect,” I said to Swamp Rabbit, my sales partner. “White Haven is a town, I guess, but it would be a good name for the whole county.”

We’d just worked a blues festival at which I spotted fewer than a dozen blacks in the audience of more than a thousand people. Hardly any blacks on stage, either. There’s nothing new about this, of course, but I couldn’t help but wonder aloud how a style of music so firmly rooted in black culture evolved into a genre whose fan base is overwhelmingly white.

“What exactly you askin’?” Swamp Rabbit said. “Of course the crowd is white. We’re in Pennsyltucky, not Philadelphia.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “The crowd would have been just as white if the show was in Philly.”

Swamp Rabbit groaned. “Culture is always changing, Odd Man. Most black people who liked the blues are dead now. Each new generation tries to make new sounds. Blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, funk, hip-hop. It was all black music at first but then it was white music, too. You got your BB King, you got your Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.”

I asked what he thought of the tendency of many white people to romanticize the black experience in the Jim Crow South. To appropriate black music, to commodify it. To turn black pain into product, as one blogger put it.

All music these days is product, in case you ain’t noticed,” he said. “The money men ain’t looking for the next new thing. They’re looking to dig up the old thing and dress it up a little different.”

He mentioned an Irish festival we’d worked last week in some white suburb of Philly. The bands played a ghastly hybrid of Irish folk and punk rock at train-wreck volume as the crowd got drunk. It felt like someone was driving a nail through my forehead.

I reminded Swamp Rabbit that the “Irish” music I prefer is by people like Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher who grew up in Ireland playing black music. I confessed to him that I still don’t understand why so many white people in Pennsyltucky — and in parts of Philly, for that matter — embrace black music but avoid or are actively hostile to black people.

“Blah blah,” he said as we drove into the Lehigh Tunnel. “There’s a lot you don’t understand, Odd Man. Just be glad we ain’t gotta work no more of them Irish festivals this summer.”

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Fourth of July in Pennsyltucky

I’m still tired from working July 4th with Swamp Rabbit at a folk fest in upstate PA. Not a good event for sales, too rural and right-wing, and way too hot. I pitched a lot of German Americans with pot bellies and jowls. Some non-Germans too, I guess. One fellow told me no, he doesn’t like clean energy, he was moving to South Carolina to get away from all the socialists. I’ll bet his great-grandparents were socialists.

A corn dog vendor told me he’d trained as an aerospace engineer in his youth and had wanted to be an astronaut but had been too big and heavy to make the cut. I didn’t believe him, but I liked his story.

To be polite, I said it’s a shame the government doesn’t put much money into the space program anymore. The corn dog man said Donald Trump will fix that, wait till he puts together his Space Force. I whipped out my phone and told him, “Excuse me, I’ve gotta make a call.”

Across the road, a bearded man hawked a mysterious lotion to passers-by. “Ladies, would you like some soft, smooth hands?” he shouted, over and over. I pictured him peddling bloody, lopped-off body parts. A special on lady fingers, perhaps. The heat was getting to me. I’d stayed too long in Pennsyltucky.

Swamp Rabbit guzzled water from a gallon jug. It was too hot to drink whiskey, even for him.

I grabbed the jug and said, “You ready to hit the road, rabbit?”

I didn’t have to ask him twice.

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Update — Justice Kennedy, worse than a hypocrite

Jeffrey Toobin is a lawyer who writes for the New Yorker and appears on cable news shows, portraying a legal expert of sorts. Which is why I was surprised to see this in a recent column of his:

So there is some irony in Kennedy’s decision, last week, to turn over his precious seat on the Supreme Court to the least dignified man ever to serve as President.

Toobin had just noted that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s favorite word was “dignity.” He’d used it nine times in an opinion he wrote in the 2015 ruling that guaranteed the right of same-sex marriage in all fifty states.

I thought Toobin would circle back to further explore the irony of Kennedy’s gift to the undignified Donald Trump. But he merely stated the obvious — Trump will choose someone more consistently right-wing to replace Kennedy. Someone who will “tarnish” his legacy.

My first thought was “What legacy”? When did Kennedy ever take the side of working people against the rich and powerful? He voted against his right-wing colleagues on gay rights and abortion rights, but surely he knows his decision to step down on July 31 will give right-wingers just enough time to appoint someone who will work to scuttle those rights.

Toobin apparently chose to ignore the follow-up stories after Kennedy’s announced his retirement — stories that trace the cozy connection between the Trump and Kennedy families.

This would seem to indicate he’s ignoring the main story. The question is why. My guess is that Toobin is too much of a mainstream tight-ass to mention the possibility that Kennedy is as corrupt as all the other people who have chosen to play ball with Trump.

It seems Toobin would have us believe the myth of the Supremes — that all of them are eminent and distinguished and dignified, when in fact most are merely lawyers who went to good schools (usually) and rose through talent (sometimes) and luck to a place where they could wield great power.

Footnote: Last week I naively speculated that Kennedy’s loyalty to the Republican Party may have won out over his commitment to individual rights. But now it seems his greater loyalty may have been to Trump, not the party.

One more: The best piece I’ve seen on this subject was by Michael Tomaski and was headlined “Anthony Kennedy, you are a total disgrace to America.” Pretty blunt, but I’ll take blunt truth over civility any day.

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