Monday, January 30, 2017

Donald Trump May Not Be Adolph Hitler, But He's Doing A Good Imitation Of Him

COMMUNITIES DIGITAL NEWS
Donald Trump is not Adolph Hitler.  Nor was Hitler a rapacious Manhattan real estate developer who made several fortunes on the backs of poor working stiffs.   
But there are deeply uncomfortable similarities between Hitler's satanic quest to Make Germany Great Again and Trump's campaign to do the same for Amerika . . . er, America.  And woe to those who don't see the similarities and the menace a Trump presidency represents in this context a mere 10 days since the narcissistic boy-man took and promptly violated his oath of office with a smorgasbord of pronouncements and actions, notably his Muslim ban (which of course did not involve countries in which he has business interests) that are strikingly similar to those of Der Führer. 
Using Nazi analogies is typically a loser's game.  
Comparing someone or something to Hitler or the Third Reich stifles debate, almost always is in bad taste and triggers inevitable side debates about whether calling someone a Nazi is as bad as calling them a "kike" or "nigger." Then there is Godwin's Law, which states that as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches inevitability. 
In the interests of full disclosure, I have broken what for me has been a cardinal rule about not using Nazi analogies.  This is when I have written about the Bush administration's embrace of torture techniques right out of the Nazi playbook, as well as the deafening lack of response from most Americans to this and other outrages not unlike the Germans who failed to speak out against the excesses of the Third Reich.  My first such reference was in 2007, and I feel even more strongly now that these analogies have been apt given the circumstances. 
But Mr. Godwin can rest easy, because in a coincidence that is seriously serendipitous, an acclaimed new biography of Hitler makes the case that there are deep similarities between Herr Donald and Der Führer without intending to do so.   
The book is Hitler: Ascent (1889-1939) by Volker Ullrich, and the similarities -- again, without intent -- laid out by the German historian-journalist are so unsettling that there are accusations that Michiko Kakutani's review of the book in The New York Times is a thinly-veiled Trump comparison.  It is not hard to see why.  This is because just about everything that Kakutani says about Ullrich's book reflects warnings that Trump should not be dismissed as just another crackpot who was born with a platinum spoon in his mouth.   
Chillingly, Ullrich sets up his 1,008-page portrait by stripping away the mythology that Hitler created of himself in Mein Kampf as just another talented guy.  (The comparison's to The Art of the Deal, Trump's Mein Kampf, which means "My Struggle," are rather mindblowing.) 
Ullrich warns in an introduction that "In a sense, Hitler will be normalized -- although this will not make him seem more 'normal.' If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific."  Ditto for The Donald. 
Let's go to the comparisons -- yet again without intent -- in Ullrich's own words: 
Hitler was an egomaniac who "only loved himself," a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and a "characteristic fondness for superlatives" who had a "keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people." 
* Hitler had a "bottomless mendacity" that took advantage of the latest technology to spread his message and "was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth." 
* Hitler was an effective orator and adept at assuming various masks and feeding off the energy of his audiences, concealing his anti-Semitism beneath a "mask of moderation" when trying to win the support of middle-class liberals. 
* Hitler specialized in big, theatrical rallies staged with spectacular elements and adapted the contents of his speeches "to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners." 
* Hitler peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers and fomented chaos by playing to crowds' fears and resentments in "offering himself as a visionary leader who could restore law and order." 
* Hitler presented himself in messianic terms, promising "to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness," although he typically was vague about his actual plans while painting "the present day in hues that were all the darker." 
* Hitler virtually wrote the book on modern demagoguery by using repeated emotion-based "mantralike phrases" consisting largely "of accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future." 
* Hitler's ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of adversaries who failed to understand his ruthlessness and tenacity, as well as partners who believed "he was not serious or that they could exert a moderating influence on him."  
There is another comparison to be made between Hitler and Trump: Cowardice. 
Like Hitler, Trump never does dirty work himself.   And Trump hides behind his enforcers, as did Hitler.   Trump's Muslim Ban (which is the work of Steven Bannon, his very own Heinrich Himmler), is itself a study in cowardice, and never mind the inevitable walk back after the proverbial hit the fan with global criticism, widespread protests and court injunctions.   
That's not going to stop Trump, just embolden him as it would have merely emboldened Der Führer.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

'If I Had A Rocket Launcher . . . Some Son Of A Bitch Would Die'

IF I HAD A ROCKET LAUNCHER
By BRUCE COCKBURN 
Here comes the helicopter -- second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher . . . I’d make somebody pay
I don't believe in guarded borders and I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher . . . I would retaliate
On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate
Cry for guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher . . . I would not hesitate
I want to raise every voice -- at least I've got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher . . . Some son of a bitch would die

AUDIO AND VIDEO HERE 
 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Yes, Trump Is Crazy. And It Is Republicans Who Hold The Keys To The Kingdom

THE CAINE MUTINY
Lost in the debate, such as it is, over whether Donald Trump is crazy is that there is a calculated cruelty to his actions -- an ethnic, racial and sexual brutality, a blood thirst for dominance and humiliation -- that is all too American considering our shameful history of subjugation and conquest, yet so un-American considering that so many of us and so many of our forebears have aspired to be better than that. 
We are watching with morbid fascination the not slow-motion crackup of a man who is determinedly leading the U.S. to disaster, all the while telling ourselves as we wallow in our seeming helplessness that we saw the ship of state approaching the iceberg and anticipated the grinding collision of immovable objects, but couldn't do much of anything beyond scratching our heads, fingering our worry beads and taking to the streets in goofy pink caps as something awful was happening to our beloved country. 
We knew that Donald Trump was temperamentally unsuited to be president, but his first week in office has been a five-alarm fire.   
Beyond Trump declaring that Muslims and millions of other immigrants will be deported, a border wall built, torture and black-site prisons re-instituted, government agencies gagged and perceived enemies punished, there has been a tsunami of leaks from his inner circle over their alarm concerning his incessant television watching, tweeting, disinterest in the details and consequences of policy positions that rank amateurs are drafting, anger over inauguration crowd estimates, dwelling on conspiracies theories and obsessing about his image.  His staff, meanwhile, is so overwhelmed by power struggles that it can barely function.  
So how's that democracy thing going, anyway?  
§  
It has taken barely a week for the first flurry of articles to appear concerning a little-remembered section of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution about what can happen if the president is deemed unable to serve.   
Section 4 reads:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body of Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
We are, of course, getting ahead of ourselves.   
Cynics might suggest that Republicans would not take such a drastic action -- a legislative version of The Caine Mutiny, if you will -- until after a new Supreme Court justice is confirmed, tipping the balance back to the dark side, or most of the right-wing agenda is enacted, but in any event it is Republicans who are privately talking about how the king could be deposed since it is they who hold the keys to the kingdom. 
There is ample precedent for such an action, although not quite under the bizarre circumstances in which we find ourselves with a messiah who grows into my Cheeto Jesus moniker a little more  with every passing day.   
There has been a temporary transfer of power several times since the JFK assassination, which prompted the amendment, once when Ronald Reagan had cancer surgery and twice when George W. Bush had colonoscopies, and of course when Gerald Ford rose to the highest office from the ashes of the Watergate scandal.   
§  
When I wrote not quite above, I was alluding to the closing days of the Reagan presidency when it was obvious The Gipper was losing his gripper as the early stages of Alzheimer's disease set in.  What we have with Trump is even more obvious -- classic psychopathy -- and he has nearly four full years to serve.   
I have argued that Trump's impeachment may not be a question of whether, but when and why because the logjam of unethical and possibly criminal behavior piled up behind him is so immense that it will have to give way.  But deposing the guy because he's nuts would be so much less messy.   
Tragically, that blood thirst for dominance and humiliation is not necessarily a sign of insanity.  After all, Trump is merely upholding a shameful aspect of our heritage. The question would then be when it can be determined that, all things considered, Trump finally has gone too far.   
And what, pray tell, will Trump have had to do to go too far considering what he already has done?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How The News Media Must Respond To Trump If Its Credibility Is To Survive Him

ANDREW HARNICK / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Aside from some exemplary individual work, the news media failed miserably in covering Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.  Now that Trump is president and has made it abundantly clear that the men and women responsible for following and analyzing his every word and deed are his greatest enemy, and by extension the nation's, the question is whether the news media is capable of facing down a man for whom being truthful simply is not possible after he pretty much got a free pass when he merely was a pretender to the throne. 
How the news media responds to Trump -- and it must be in a forceful and effective way to have any chance of succeeding -- will say much about whether it is capable of reclaiming its vital Fourth Estate role as a guardian of our values, something it pretty much pissed away during the campaign.  I for one am pessimistic that the nation's leading newspapers and their brethren are up to this hugely daunting task because it will require nothing less than blowing up the archaic professional model that has much to do with the media's malaise in the first place.
The task is so daunting because Trump and his minions have taken an extremely effective trick from the Joseph Goebbels playbook.  (Yes, the Nazi analogy is appropriate.  If you don't like it, tough.)   
That trick is to create a lie-based alternate reality -- or "alternative facts," as Trump administration spokesmouth Kellyanne Conway unashamedly puts it -- to dispute the real facts presented by its arch enemy, a media vulnerable to bullying, its credibility in the toilet because charges that it is a purveyor of "false news" have been remarkably successful despite our historic reverence for constitutionally-guaranteed press freedoms that have been the envy of the world.   That trick, with a big assist from the Kremlin, substantially helped Trump get "elected" and will grease the skids of his reality show administration unless the media fights back. 
As the headline to the right from this past weekend would appear to show, at least The New York Times is fighting back, but The Times is on a fool's errand because it is unable to prove that its facts are right and Trump's are wrong.  It is unable to do that because the professional model to which it has faithfully hewn is worn out.  Then Trump came along and completely broke it.   
Not only have the very foundations of American democracy been in jeopardy since Trump's emergence, so has the media's greatest asset -- its credibility.  We live in an era of subterranean expectations, hyper-intense partisanship and seismic changes as technology has accelerated the transition from print to digital and video and unfiltered social media grab an ever large share of our already short attention spans.  Yet The Times and the rest of the pack have continued to cling -- like a shipwreck victim to the hull of a leaking lifeboat -- to the now obsolete model of giving "balanced" treatment to presidential candidates and presidents alike.
Giving "balanced" treatment has been hammered into generations of reporters and editors as their holy grail, and it pretty much worked when it came to candidates and presidents past, but it has now collapsed under the weight of ludicrousness because of Trump, who shatters the comfy middle-of-the-road mold of yore by being an unapologetic racist, nativist and misogynist, and a raving liar.   
The damning passage excerpted above is not from one of The Times's scolds, who were in full howl during the campaign as the first celebrity presidential candidate repeatedly played the Gray Lady like an about-to-be-fired sucker on The Apprentice, but from Liz Spayd, the newspaper's public editor, as it calls its in-house ombusdsman.   
I'll reiterate that on an individual basis, some Times reporters did fantastic work during the campaign in getting past Trump's lies and penetrating his unsavory backstory, but it is now four for four on failing to properly cover the biggest stories of the millennium -- and it's long past time for it to wise up. 
The Times was negligent in reporting government malfeasance before and after the 9/11 attacks, and buckled under Bush administration pressure to not reveal its failures.
The Times was not merely tardy in recognizing the inherent wrongness of the Iraq War, it produced some of the very reporting that prolonged the illusion of its rightness. 
The Times was much too late to acknowledge let alone challenge the Bush Torture Regime, which was hiding in plain sight, let alone using the word torture (ew!). 
And The Times was grossly irresponsible in failing to inform its readers -- when doing so might have changed the course of history -- that U.S. intelligence agencies were investigating credible reports of covert connections between Trump's campaign (the "bank server" in the above passage) and Russian officials trying to influence the outcome of an election Trump went on to win.  As history now shows, Vladimir Putin's flunkies, with an able assist from FBI Director James Comey, succeeded.   
Orwell's 1984 arrived 33 years late and nobody told The Times.
SAVO PRELEVIC / AFP-GETTY IMAGES
So if the hoary "balanced" treatment model is busticated, with what should it be replaced? How to reclaim that essential Fourth Estate role? 
For starters, editors must acknowledge among themselves -- perhaps at one of those big national conferences where they love to preen -- that they cannot beat Trump at his own game, and despite the efforts of papers like The Times and Washington Post, as well as a few vigilant websites including Vox, The Atlantic Monthly and Daily Beast, they're getting clobbered in the battle of "alternative facts" versus "real facts."  The traditional way of covering the president is dead, so perhaps they can dig a big hole out behind the conference hotel and bury it. 
Then, having come to terms with that reality, publications with a conscience as well as cojones, must impose a new policy:  Anything they deem untrue emanating from Trump and his administration will be embargoed until when and if its truth can be verified.  And so readers will have to become acclimated to stories like this, and there should be a slew of them: 
Will that work?  Well, it has to work. 
When Trump swore the presidential oath last Friday before a paltry crowd a fraction of that for Obama's 2009 inauguration and some 3 million-plus people were preparing to march in protest in hundreds of U.S. cities on Saturday, something considerably more important than bragging rights was at stake.  That would be the credibility of America and its press. 
Trump promptly lied about the inauguration and march crowd estimates, twisting and spinning like a banana republic dictator.  Or his pal Putin.   
Trump's lies were further validated on Saturday by press secretary Sean Spicer in a tantrum in the White House briefing room, codified by Kellyanne Conway on Sunday in her Meet the Press tutorial on "alternative facts," and followed by the inevitable disambiguating walk-backs by Spicer and Conway on Monday morning.  But by Monday afternoon, the lie machine had revved back up with Trump using his first White House meeting with congressional leaders to yet again falsely assert that up to five million illegal immigrants had cost him the popular vote.
The conventional wisdom, so consistently wrong during the presidential campaign, is that Trump will quickly find that what worked in the campaign does not work well in government.   
But that so-called insight fails because Trump's will not be a government in any traditional sense but rather a clique of oligarchs who are walking conflicts of interest worth an extraordinary $14 billion.  Not counting the stray $100 million or so that one of his Cabinet nominees found in a pants pocket.  
Trump is intent on creating his own reality, and that is considerably easier when you can simply make stuff up and get away with it.  He also understands that the road to unchecked power begins by being able to control what the public reads and hears, and he knows he has nothing to fear from the news media.  That must change.   

Appreciating A Living Legend: The Bob Dorough Trio Live At The Deer Head Inn

If you include the rhythms Bob Dorough beat out on his highchair tray back in Cherry Hill, Arkansas as a toddler, the bebop jazz legend has been composing, arranging and performing music for an extraordinary 10 decades.   
That seems like an awfully long time until you consider that one of the things that makes jazz so special, which is to say so timelessly vibrant, is that its elders never stop playing or giving back, and the youngsters are eager to learn from them.   
Live at the Deer Head Inn is Bob's zillionth album and happened to be recorded on December 12, 2015, his 92nd birthday.  When he called me on New Years Day to make sure he had a correct mailing address so he could send me a copy since we had missed his 93rd birthday and CD release party (we were at the Blue Note in New York City for Chick Corea's birthday party; he's only 75), Bob described the evening as perhaps not being among his best performances. 
I beg to differ.   
Aralee Dorough, Steve Berger, Pat O'Leary and Bob
Bob is at his most laid back on Live at the Deer Head Inn, playing before a packed house of family and friends with the added bonus of his daughter, flautist Aralee Dorough, sitting in with Daddy-O, Steve Berger (sublime on guitar) and Pat O'Leary (ditto on bass) on several numbers.  The album is beautifully produced by Bill Goodwin and exquisitely recorded, mixed and mastered by Ken Heckman of Red Rocks Studios, with superb liner notes by jazz scholar Pat Dorian, parts of which I have unashamedly cribbed for this review.   
Aralee is a story in and of herself. 
She was only a few years out of her own highchair when Bob escaped Long Island City, a gritty New York City suburb, for a quaint village near Delaware Water Gap, which is even quainter although it does boast a traffic light.  The Gap is home to the Deer Head Inn, the oldest continuing in operation jazz club in the U.S. and a living embodiment of the notion of the older cats sharing their magic with the younguns, who mature into older cats themselves and in turn share with the latest up and comers.
The biggest reason for Bob's move was so Aralee could start first grade and grow up in a bucolic setting, and this altruistic act was to have unexpectedly wonderful consequences beyond her becoming a great musician in her own right and eventually principal flautist of the world renowned Houston Symphony.   
The Poconos at one time probably had more jazz clubs per capita than anyplace anywhere, a happy consequence of the area's resort industry and one man -- Bob Newman, who had played in Woody Herman's Thundering Herd big band before becoming music director at Mt. Airy Lodge, a gig he held down for most of the 1960s and 70s.   
Newman put together extraordinary house bands that would back the biggest stars of the era, many of whom would play Mt. Airy and other big resorts on a Saturday night and then appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York City the next night.  Those were the days. 
A musician leaving Mt. Airy to return to New York had to drive by the Deer Head to get to the Portland Bridge and Route 46, the main drag between the Delaware River and the Lincoln Tunnel before Interstate 80 cleaved the heart out of the region, and they would stop in and jam until the cows came home with the immortal John Coates Jr. and other Deer Head regulars.  (It was at pianist Coates's knee that an up and comer by the name of Keith Jarrett cut his jazz teeth.) 
Dorough, who of course played in Newman's house band at Mt. Airy, was one of the first musicians to move to the area from New York, arriving in the early 1960s.   
The trickle was to turn into a flood that included tenor saxophonist Al Cohn, trombonist Urbie Green, piano-vocalist David Frishberg, bassist Steve Gilmore and Russ Savakus, woodwind artist George Young, keyboard player Wolfgang Knittel, and drummers Bud Nealy and Live at the Dead Head producer Bill Goodwin, who drummed for alto sax great Phil Woods, first lived in the attic of Dorough's house and eventually lured Woods to the Gap. 
Ray Noble's "The Touch of Your Lips" kicks off Live at the Deer Head, which concludes a scrumptious one hour and change later with Bob's signature song, his very own "Devil May Care," with a stopover somewhere in between for my fave of the evening, "Flamingo," a hit for Duke Ellington Orchestra vocalist Herb Jeffries on the eve of World War II, with Aralee blowing the socks off the house and Bob, Steve and Pat riffing over, under, around and through each other as if they had played together forever.  Which they sort of have. 
I used to write that Bob was the most famous jazz musician no one had ever hear of but you actually had heard if you or your kids grooved to School House Rock, the ABC Saturday morning teevee show that transfixed youngsters of all ages from 1973 to 1985.  Bob penned the lyrics and music and sang "My Hero, Zero," "Three Is a Magic Number," and many of that show's other gems, proving that the words educational and hit song could coexist in the same sentence.   
My beyond trite line about Bob not being known turns out to demonstrably false, a phrase that recently has reentered the lexicon for unfortunate reasons.  (Hint: Its mailing address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.)  You can't listen to a great jazz station for even a day without hearing "Devil May Care," if not sung by Bob himself, then covered by Diane Krall, Jamie Cullum or some cat on a trumpet.  Miles . . . Miles . . . Miles . . . Miles somebody or other.   
"Devil May Care" is an anthem to not giving a damn and I've never heard Bob do it the same way twice. This rendering is especially soulful, starts in the middle with the bridge and includes a second bridge that at first sounds like "Girl From Impaema."  But not quite.
Bob  has played and sung with Blossom Dearie, Ornette Coleman, Art Garfunkel, Chad Mitchell, Sam Most, Bill Takas, Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, Donald Fagan, Miles . . . Miles . . . Miles . . . Miles somebody or other and, of course, all the Poconos-based cats.   
He does not have a classically beautiful voice like Tony Bennett or Joe Williams (who along with Frank Sinatra share Bob's birthdate).   Indeed, his voice is something of an acquired taste, which led the estimable Will Friedwald to write in Jazz Singing (1990) that "Anyone who's ever taken a singing lesson resents the hell out of Bob Dorough for having the nerve to pass himself off as a vocalist."   
Oh, and by the way, I am still waiting for Bruce Springsteen to call and say he's mailing me his latest CD.
Photographs © Mitchell Kezin 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Okay, Donald Trump Is A Very Bad Man, But It's Time To Begin Fighting Back

© ARTOFMARKBRYAN.COM 
The estrogen fueled post-inauguration protest marches, which drew millions of people as compared to the woefully undersubscribed crowds that showed up to watch Donald Trump put one of his small hands on the Lincoln Bible and lie, were heartening, although I do wonder where all of you were in November.  But most importantly, the marches beg the very big question of what do we do now?   
Our expectations for Trump were subterranean to begin with.  But the level of deceit is nevertheless staggering as he determinedly ignores problems that cry out for attention and calls forth an apocalyptic vision of other problems that his meddling will make much worse and embarks on a scorched earth governance while the cauldron of bad behavior and scandal that has bubbled under his capacious rump for decades comes to a boil.   
But all this was to be expected and still leaves the very big question of what do we do now?   
The first thing we do is come to terms with  the fact that Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate ripe for exploitation.  By the practiced right-wing noise machine.  And by the Russian hacking and false news campaign with an able assist from the maladroit James Comey.   
The second thing we do is accept that the Democratic Party is nearly as rotten as the Republican Party.  Both are deeply addicted to money, which is the crack cocaine of politics, and the only substantial difference between them is that Republicans are almost as morally bereft as their new president.   
The third thing we do is get the Democratic National Committee and its affiliates out of the business of merely being reelection machines to feed that money addiction and into the business of fundraising for all the important stuff that needs to happen in between elections.
The fourth thing we need to do is tell the Bernie Sanders told-you-so diehards, who are still bleating like spoiled brats over how The Bern' could have kicked ass, to please shut up and either get on the bus or get off it.  And enough about abolishing the Electoral College.  It ain't gonna happen.
The fifth thing we do is what the Republicans have been doing very well at the state and local levels and the Democrats much less so.  It's called organizing, and not just through what is left of labor unions.  Trump doesn't want to build bridges, which only enhances our opportunities to do so.  
As my friend, former colleague and all-around wise guy Gene Seymour says, now is the time to "think slow and act fast." 
Writes Gene:    
I'm getting sick to the point of nausea with those on both sides of the matter arguing over "purity" in progressive ideology.  Why bother at all with these clammy arguments when we live in a country where ideology -- anybody's ideology -- matters about as much to its citizens as Euclidian geometry does to a house cat?  Whatever hard feelings remain from the election, telling Susan Sarandon to go fuck herself isn't the same thing as making sure kids don't go to bed hungry or that their out-of-work-since-forever parents can't imagine themselves as anything other than poor.  FOCUS, PEOPLE!!!    
The focus needs to be on organizing and resisting -- and resisting and organizing -- and that effort needs to be concentrated in the burbs, as well as in small towns and rural areas where Trump did especially well and there is virtually no progressive political presence.   
This may be less daunting than it seems because one of the big stories of the coming months will be the slow realization of Trumpkins that they are being betrayed bigtime by their hero. These are the very Americans often most in need of the government safety net that is about to be shredded into itty-bitty pieces by their elitist president and his inner circle, people who have never gotten their hands dirty, let alone taken out the trash, and are worth an extraordinary $14 billion not counting the stray $100 million or so that one of his Cabinet nominees found in a pants pocket.  
One of the other big stories -- if we choose to write it -- is that there is a tactical advantage in the reality that things are going to get much worse as a mean-spirited and inept president in way over his big orange head and his oligarch advisers take the keys to the national car and set abut wreaking havoc.   
So let's do it. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Our Regular Programming Will Resume After Navel Gazing & Heavy Drinking

The words of the immortal Eliot Rosewater, as rendered by Kurt Vonnegut, seem highly appropriate at this parlous juncture in our lives: 
"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — 'God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.' " 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Book Review: The Transcendent Beatitude Of Dan Leo's 'Railroad Train to Heaven'

She looks like my junior high school librarian, but that's another story
I have just finished reading a great antidote for the totally effed up era in which we live -- Dan Leo's marvelous Railroad Train to Heaven, a pean to a simpler time when both culture and soda were pop and a self-effacing poet from Northeast Philadelphia by the name of Arnold Schnabel was communing with a chain-smoking Jesus.  Conveniently, they both smoked Pall Malls.   
Identifying the primary cause of the effed-upedness of the era is a piece of cake (or perhaps a bite of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpet) while defining Railroad Train to Heaven is a good deal more challenging: It is a coming-of-age novel not unlike Catcher in the Rye, although Arnold is 42 years old.  It has the elements the best pulp of L. Sprague de Camp.  The descriptive richness of Marcel Proust.  The open tap consciousness of Jack Kerouac.  The whimsy of Terry Pratchett.  A dollop of Philip K. Dick.  Yet it is original.   
Railroad Train to Heaven is the first volume of excerpts from Schnabel's sprawling memoir, which he wrote in small copybooks.  It opens in the summer of 1963 with Arnold on indefinite leave from the Reading Railroad and recovering from a mental breakdown in the guest house of his three maiden aunts down the shore (as they say in Philly) in the Victorian town of Cape May, New Jersey. Home is the rowhouse neighborhood of Olney in Philadelphia's Near Northeast (a geographic designation long out of vogue) where he lives with his widowed mother and has worked as a brakeman for the Reading since age seventeen.  He is an appropriately guilt-burdened Catholic, usher at St. Helena's R.C. Church, ever the gentleman while socially inept, utterly inexperienced in love if not lust, and enjoys writing lyric poetry and drinking Manhattan cocktails and Schaefer's beer.   
Familiarly if obscurely known as the Rhyming Brakeman, Arnold has been contributing a small masterpiece of poetry a week (self described as touching on "the ordinary life of ordinary people") to the estimable Olney Times for decades.  Ensconced in Cape May, he falls in love for the first time and careens into a series of sometimes hallucinatory experiences with people ordinary and famous, not to mention the ever-in-need-of-a-light Jesus.  Space and time are delightfully altered, but Arnold still dutifully submits a poem each week no matter how warped the contours of his not exactly Boswellian life have become.   
He is befriend by beatniks after his nightly swim off Cape May Point.  They invite him back to their apartment, where he has his first taste of marijuana.
Rocket Man put a record album on.  It was a very strange sort of saxophone jazz, strange to me, anyway, who normally never listened to anything stranger than Lawrence Welk or Larry Ferrari, although I guess they're pretty strange too in their own ways. 
"You dig coal train, Man?" said Gypsy Dave. 
"Coal train?" I asked. 
"Yeah, Train, man." 
"Train?" 
"Yeah, John, coal train." 
Now I was totally confused.  Why was he calling me John? 
I said nothing. 
The strange saxophone wailed. 
"I think he digs the train," said Rocket Man, coming over to where we were sitting on the floor around one of those great wooden spools that you normally wrap cable around. He sat down, smiling.  "Doncha, Arnold.  You dig the train, man." 
"Well, of course I do," I said, doing one of my little imitations of a sane person.  "The train, after all, has really been my whole life -- " 
"Your whole life?" said Gypsy Dave.  "He was rolling another "joint" on a record album cover.  "That is really heavy," he said.  "I mean, I dig the train, and the bird too, and you know, a lot of cats, but I wouldn't say they're my life.  But the train means that much to you." 
Everyone in Cape May (well, at least the townies) knows that Arnold has had a breakdown, and he is chagrined to find that women -- and a cavalry of them chase Arnold through the pages of Railroad Train to Heaven, including the lovely Elektra, a Bohemian jeweler who is his first inamorata -- are attracted to him because of that.
What was it about insanity that women found so appealing? 
. . . Why now?  Why were all these females emerging from the woodwork only now? Where had they been hiding during all my former grey celibate years?  Was I that much different now? 
Suddenly in the middle of a flight, in the middle of a step, I halted, panting, sweating. 
Yes, I was that different. 
Who or what had I been before my breakdown? 
I'll tell you what: a sort of walking mummy, mechanically thumping through the world swathed in the thick stale wrappings of a personality that wanted to worship and serve some imaginary great father who had deigned to grant me this half-life I lived. 
It took going insane for me to shed those stale wrappings.  Perhaps something inside me had willed me to go insane in order to shed those foul rags.  But shed them I did, and I walked out of that hospital like a naked child. 
Later -- much later -- Arnold is struck by lightning on the beach.  He wakes up and Jesus is standing over him with that eternal cigarette in his fingers.  They are in front of a wrought-iron gate, beyond which a cobblestone path leads to a very large Victorian house. 
"Where are we?" I asked. 
"That's my father's house," he said. 
"Am I dead?" 
"That's a very good question, Arnold." 
"You don't know?" 
"If I knew for sure, I'd tell you.  Between you and me it doesn't look too good, but, look, we'd better go talk to Peter and my old man."  
My only complaint with Railroad Train to Heaven: If this were a starred review, I would knock a half a star off the big five because, in contrast to the wonderful storytelling, the typography and formatting of the trade paperback edition has all the sizzle of a 1963 Chevrolet Biscayne station wagon.
Dan Leo identifies himself as a professor of classics and physical education at Olney Community College (which yet again did not qualify for a post-season bowl game last year), but I and other readers know him from his most excellent blog, where he has been excerpting Arnold's memoirs since 2007. 
Beyond the effed-upedness of the real world, literature today is typically much too derivative.  But Railroad Train to Heaven is very, very good.  It is truly original, and like great literature, its seemingly simple, laugh-out-loud narrative belies deeper meanings lurking just below the surface of Arnold's fantastical experiences. 
Leo promises additional volumes.  Arnold never exaggerated, so I have to believe him.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

With All Due Disrespect: The Case Against Trump's Legitimacy Is Overwhelming

DONKEYHOTEY  
The hoary rituals underway in Washington this week are repeated without fail every four or eight years. 
The lobbyists' revolving door spins ever faster.  The news media courts the new Inside the Beltway players and they the news media.  There is a mad scramble for the best corner offices.  The hills are alive with the sound of paper shredders.  And at noon on a day in the third week of the first month of the new year following the quadrennial ratfuck known as the presidential election, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court swears in the winner. But while Donald John Trump ostensibly will become president of these United States on Friday, unlike his 44 predecessors, he was not elected.  He was elevated from sleazy celebrity television stardom by Russian hackers and the director of the FBI in a before-the-fact coup d'état.    
Absent a constitutional or statutory mechanism, this is a done deal and not merely a really bad case of partisan sour grapes as your crazy brother-in-law in the cherry red baseball cap tried to tell you at Christmas dinner. 
And although vaguely akin to the asterisk next to George Bush's name that leads to a footnote about the Supreme Court throwing the 2000 election to him, the Orwellian circumstances surrounding Trump's elevation are a cancer that will eat away at his presidency, although not for the next four years.  This is because Trump probably will not serve a full term, or anything near it as the skeletons -- as opposed to the saints -- come marching in.     
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John Lewis spoke for many of us -- a majority of voters, anyway -- when he said the other day that "I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president."   
Trump, true to form, attacked the beloved civil rights icon for his act of patriotism, or at least exercise of free speech, in a series of tweets bordering on hysteria from Trump Tower, where he is lurking with his loyalist cadre while creating the veneer of accessibility.  Trump enters office with less popular support of any new president in modern times and seems intent on continuing, if not deepening, the polarization of the election.  More insults but no healing for The Donald. 
The irony of the fact that Lewis was getting his head split open by baton-wielding cops during civil rights marches while Vietnam draft-deferred Trump was playing squash at Fordham and gearing up for a lifetime of lechery and shady business practices, as well as discriminating against people of Lewis's persuasion, was lost on no one except that minority of voters like your crazy brother-in-law who think Cheeto Jesus is going to Make America Great Again even if it isn't broken.   
Yet.   
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The evidence against Trump's legitimacy has gone from persuasive to overwhelming. 
The Russian intervention, which Trump has kind of sort of finally acknowledged may have happened after days of blistering jeremiads against the U.S. intelligence community he will now lead, at the least deeply tainted the election.   But it was FBI Director James Comey's delegitimizing conduct that stole it from Hillary Clinton, and as erratic as public-opinion polling was during the campaign, post-election polling shows a convincing and marked drop-off in her support after a Comey blast a mere 11 days before balloting. 
I come slowly to accepting conspiracies, but I cannot escape the feeling that there is a seriously creepy backstory to Comey believing it was appropriate to make repeated disclosures during the campaign about the investigation into Clinton's emails but he still refuses to say if the FBI is investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russia. 
The Justice Department inspector general's investigation into Comey's conduct will go nowhere, as likely will the congressional probes into Russia's interference.  But there is a possible upside to this grotesquery: Trump craves nothing more than respect, but he is not going to get it so long as he makes up his own rules and doesn't care what anyone else thinks, and that may end up helping to limit his power while making somewhat easier the task of Republicans to impeach him when the skeletons pile so high atop his scorched earth style of governance that you won't be able see the flag flying over the Capitol dome.   
John Lewis will not be attending the inauguration.  Neither will I.  Barack Obama did much to restore my faith in the power of government to do good, but a peculiar consequence of the turmoil of the past several weeks is that I now respect the office of president more than ever, although this does not mean that I have to respect the man. And I will not respect President Trump.