Sunday, August 20, 2017

Funny men

Jerry Lewis and Dick Gregory died today, advanced in age.  They represented two distinctive styles of comedy.  Lewis, especially in partnership with Dean Martin, was in the anything-for-a-laugh tradition of silent movies and slapstick, making faces, emitting bizarre sounds and climbing on furniture until audiences literally soiled themselves.  (Plenty of examples on YouTube.)  As he aged and eventually became a solo performer, Lewis developed a sense of Significance often mixed with sentimentality that served him no better than it had Chaplin.  His movies were still funny, but once the French (in particular) proclaimed him a genius he made sure everyone knew it.  He even attempted a Holocaust comedy but wisely shelved it; probably The Day the Clown Cried will never be seen.  He raised a ton of money for medical research, and latterly used interviews to settle scores, as old people do.  He was capable of fine dramatic performances when under control.  He will doubtless get the lion's share of media attention today. 

Dick Gregory was one of the first comedians to function as Hamlet described actors:  abstract and brief chronicles of our time.  As an African American he had no choice, as he saw it, but to offer caustic commentary on the issues of the 1960s in the style of Lenny Bruce and the tradition of Redd Foxx.  All too soon he saw that Mel Brooks was wrong, that you can't destroy evil by laughing at it.  Gregory abandoned performing for writing and political activism, hunger strikes and speeches, "pickets lines and picket signs," as Marvin Gaye would put it.  His comedy career was relatively brief, but without his example there probably would have been no George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Louis CK, Whoopi Goldberg, Patton Oswalt, or Jon Stewart.  If we rely on comedians to pull our rage and despair into focus and keep us a little sane, a little hopeful, we should thank Dick Gregory. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Unpresidented

Twice a year CBS tries to recapture some of its long-ago cachet as the "Tiffany network" by carrying programs that showcase quality at the expense of numbers.  In June they bring the Tony Awards to the tiny audience outside New York City (and the relatively small one inside it) that cares about the Broadway theatre.  In December they present the Kennedy Center Honors, celebrating the lifetime achievements of people in the performing arts (and featuring the ugliest medallion since the men of the USS Reluctant gave Mr. Roberts the Order of the Palm -- but I digress.)  For as long as this has been done, the President and First Lady have hosted a White House reception for the five recipients and shared their box at the Kennedy Center opera house.  That's over.

It was just bad luck, I guess, that the honored this year are three people of color (Carmen De Lavallade, LL Cool J and Lionel Richie), a Latina (Gloria Estefan) and a Jew (Norman Lear).  This was not a Trump demographic even before he endorsed white nationalists and Confederate symbols.  Mr. Lear announced a month ago that he would skip the White House reception, and everyone but Ms. Estefan promised to boycott the ceremony/concert.  So it must have been a relief to everybody, including CBS, when the Trumps pulled out to avoid "political distraction."  In the midst of scandal (Clinton) or unpopular war (G.W. Bush), presidents always showed up, smiling gamely and leading the standing ovations. 

But they were adults.  As people resign from his window-dressing "councils" Trump's response has been to dissolve them, like the six-year-old who cancels his birthday party because no one likes him enough to come.  He couldn't throw out the Nationals first pitch on opening day because, although he's practically decathlon material (according to the Mooch), some fans might have booed.  He can't appear before any crowd that doesn't consist solely of admirers.  Reporters' questions at last Tuesday's "infrastructure" speech so infuriated him that his inner trump burst forth to stun even supporters.  Fake media!  Dishonest!  Scum!  Never must be heard a discouraging word, or a mildly dissenting one, so he was never going to take a chance even with the polite, well-dressed audience at the Kennedy Center.  (Expect a shit-shower of tweets:  "Lionel Richie very OVERRATED!"  "Lowest rated Show EVER!  Sad!")

But Trump is proud of his show business connections, even if they involve wrestling and "reality" TV.  This can't have been an easy choice.  Which explains today's reflexive lashing out at -- wait for it -- HILLARY!  No stamina.  Could never make America great, as he has.  Well, I'm watching the Nazis march through the streets of Boston, vastly outnumbered by anti-haters, and I see a lot of people giving up a summer Saturday to oppose an ideology most of us thought perished in the ruins of Berlin seventy-two years ago.  Maybe Trump is just what we need to remind us that we are and can be great.  If only he would go away.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday rag and bone shop

  Others are fleeing the Leader -- CEOs, arts types, Senator Scott -- while charities cancel their fundraising events at Xanadu Mar-a-Lago, but who is sticking like Gorilla Glue?  These guys.  The evangelical pastors sent by you-know-who to lead Trump in the path of righteousness.  Or in some cases, to call his racist rant "bold" and "truthful" (Jerry Falwell, Jr.).  Is it because they rely on him to facilitate their plans to Make America Medieval Again?  Sure, but Pence would do it far more energetically, even joyously.  It seems clear that these religion hucksters recognize Trump's superior skills and want to learn from him.  For example, when they branch out into "education" they do it with brick-and-mortar institutions like Bob Jones and Liberty University.  Trump University fleeced the suckers with nothing but a couple of DVDs and a binder full of glossy pamphlets.  Truly he is the Son of Professor Harold Hill!  Also, what if he were to leave politics and get into the religion business himself?  The faithful have only so much they can tithe from their wages at the Piggly Wiggly.  Competition is bad for the soul.  Let us pray.

Storm Front is again homeless, having been kicked off its Russian server.  It seems the country has a law prohibiting "hate speech."  Lousy commies. 

Save September 16, Washingtonians.  The Rightzis promise the "mother of all rallies" in your city, and the Juggalo Family (disciples of Insane Clown Posse) had already announced a similar event.  Should be illuminating.  You'll still have Sunday to rest up for Talk Like a Pirate Day.

From Chris Mathews, of all people  (yes, the one who thinks Tip O'Neill is the Pierian Spring of political wisdom):  "If you can't stand up for core American beliefs, if you can't walk away from Nazism, why do you have feet?"  Remind me to stop calling him Tweety-bird.

So what will SNL do with its Grim Reaper costume now that Bannon is gone?  So sad!

Trump always said he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS, and he chose this moment to unveil it.  In response to a terrorist truck attack in Barcelona, he advised them that General John "Black Jack" Pershing (relax, he wasn't really black) ended terrorism in the Philippines by employing "bullets dipped in pig's blood" against the Muslim Moros.  Except, you know, it's utter pig's crap.  Does no one in the White House know about Snopes.com?  Trump seems to think hog products have a magical effect on Muslims.  Also, if you shoot their eyes out they can't find their way to Paradise.  No, wait, that's a John Wayne movie.     

Anybody hear from Guam lately?  It's still there, right? 

Anybody hear from Robert Mueller lately?  Not one leak I can recall.  Man runs a tight ship.  General Kelly must be envious.








Displaced

"Jews will not replace us!" the fine people chanted as they marched through Charlottesville with their tiki torches.  (I never thought I'd write a sentence like that when I enrolled in Famous Bloggers School.)  Well, Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller still "work" in the White House, but Steve "I don't want my kids to go to school with Jews" Bannon is out.  He was fired today or he quit two weeks ago, or maybe he was never there in the first place like Paul Manafort, but clearly the Elders of Zion have pulled the strings once again.  Less than a week ago Trump called him "a good person," adding "He's not a racist!" so, kiss of death, right?  Somebody must think this will damp down the anger about Trump's inability/refusal to denounce white supremacy.  Somebody is wrong. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Lost cause




"The beauty that is being taken out of our cities..."
Image result for forrest statue in nashville  has frightened generations of children, black and white, in Nashville.  This is Nathan Bedford Forrest, traitor and co-founder of the Ku Klux Klan.  Any resemblance to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison is purely coincidental.

Donald Trump managed to type one sentence that was not self-serving bullshit:  "You can't change history, but you can learn from it."  It is impossible to learn anything of value from staring at a statue.  The Lincoln Memorial in Washington carries no reference to his party affiliation, which might explain why Trump only learned he was a Republican last February.  Now he presumes to give history lessons to the rest of us. 

Nobody wants to "change history."  The facts are well known and easily available.  Serious men and women have devoted their lives to the study and interpretation of these facts, which is why books continue to be written and documentary films assembled.  It is generally agreed that a war fought for the preservation of chattel slavery and its extension to new territories was a war against the founding principles and ideals of this country and was well lost.  Those who led armies against the United States are properly called seditious and escaped punishment solely for political reasons.  Their likenesses and their flag were erected in public places years later, not as celebrations of defeat but as monuments to Jim Crow and, later, as a raised middle finger to the civil rights movement.  By then, the South had invented its own narrative of "Northern aggression" and white supremacy and how slavery was actually good for the enslaved.  To its shame, the north largely let them get away with it, which is why we are still, painfully, learning from history. 

Can we agree on one thing?  There is no equivalence between Washington and Robert E. Lee.  The issue is not owning slaves, but fighting against this country.   Who cares if their battlefield tactics are studied at West Point?  So are Napoleon's, and probably Rommel's.  The question is what qualities we seek to honor, and the line is clear.  This is why I have a small problem with Baltimore's removal of the Roger Taney statue.  Yes, he was the slaveowner who wrote the Dred Scott decision, but he was also Chief Justice and he never took up arms against the United States (possibly because he didn't live long enough).  Wouldn't it be fun if Taney was replaced by Earl Warren?  Of course, Warren was the California governor who interned thousands of Japanese-Americans for no offense except their ethnicity, so we can argue about that while we weigh it against Brown and other cases, and debate the meaning of "all deliberate speed" and finally agree that people are complicated and should be seen in their entirety. 

And that's history. That's why you can't learn it from tweets or soundbites or statues.  Or movies, or novels, or whatever white nationalist websites Donald Trump consults.  History is harder than marble or bronze.  Before you enter the discussion, learn a few facts.         

   


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Amazing? Yes. Grace? No.

Image result for john kelly press conference photo    The last time I saw a general with this expression and body language, he was surrendering his army at Stalingrad.  Nice work, Trump.

At this hour, the memorial service for Heather Heyer continues in Charlottesville.  "Amazing Grace" was sung, but not by the president.  Barack Obama would have been there.

Jaws that dropped during the "press conference" (or, if you like, prolonged monkey wank fest)* are being picked up and used for criticism -- Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, Paul Ryan, Bushes 41 and 43, Marco Rubio, John McCain and many other Trump endorsers and enablers have decided that he has gone too far in his empathy for the "good people" who marched with Nazis, as good people so often do.  Anyway, people with what Trump would call "good genes," and we know what that means, wink wink.  Shock has spread around the world, with even Theresa May appalled.  You know who isn't appalled?  When GoDaddy dropped the Daily Stormer website, it quickly found a new host in Russia.  The Stormtrumpers won't miss even a day of directions to the next book-burning and dark hints about the Rothschilds.  Who's your daddy, Donald?  Well, who wants this country damaged beyond repair? 

Trump paused yesterday in his torrent of projectile stupidity to issue one of his easily refuted lies, that he owns "the biggest vineyard" in Charlottesville.  This led the company to issue a statement:  "Trump Winery is a registered trademark of Eric Trump Wine Manufacturing LLC, which is not owned, managed or affiliated with Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization or any of their affiliates."  Forget the politicians covering their asses; forget the capitalists fleeing the Manufacturing Council.  You know you're deep in the shit when even your idiot son doesn't want to be associated with you.  It's bad for business.  Maybe Eric will change his name back to Drumpf.  Yeah, and maybe Ryan will get the House Judiciary Committee to work on articles of impeachment.  And maybe I will win the Tour de France.

"This was an angry, heartfelt appeal to his white nationalist base to stick with him, probably because that base is all he has left," Charlie Pierce wrote this morning.  I'm not so sure.  The "white working class" we're constantly exhorted to care about doesn't seem too upset.  They continue to drag their knuckles to his heartland hate rallies and assure the pollsters of their love, even though their lives have not grown easier and there is no sign of the promised wall.  They still howl "Lock 'er up!" when he invokes the demon Hillary.  Maybe they just don't have access to tiki torches in Pigfart, Iowa.  Maybe they're too wrecked on opioids to march anywhere.  Who cares?  Like a metastasized cancer, Trumpism is bigger than we know.  The necessary surgery grows more complicated and dangerous with every day we delay it.




*"I kept waiting for geysers of blood and bile to erupt from his ears."  Well, that would be a solution, Mr. Pierce.  Fingers crossed.




    








Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Real Donald Trump

 All it took was a night at home in the Fortress of Turpitude, a couple of sessions on the golden throne, and Trump was orange, rested and ready.  He had a tough weekend, between golfus interruptus and the indignity of having to read that limp criticism of white supremacy, stumbling over unfamiliar words like "egregious."  And then the haters out in the street yelling about "blood on your hands" or something, those completely full-size manicured hands, no problem with the hands, believe me -- how are people supposed to sleep?  But the marble floors and the oil paintings of fruit, and the very expensive air freshener, and the Filet-o-Fish and chocolate cake, they restoreth his soul. 

So when the fake media started asking questions, not about all the great infrastructure stuff but that riot in Virginia someplace, he was totally ready.  So many bad people on both sides...on both sides...those alt-left people who want to destroy all of our beautiful history, those racists who want to take down the statues of Washington and Jefferson because they were slave-owners.  Those grandstanders quitting the American Manufacturing Council, who do they think they are?  They're probably working for George Soros anyway.  There's been racism for a long time, so it's Obama's fault, like North Korea's missiles and the opioid crisis and the violence in Chicago.  And wire tapps!

Let's be clear.  The fascists who rant about their heritage and history are full of shit.  They select history that supports their hatreds.  All they know of history is what they want to know and can use.  The United States has a far more recent history of violent opposition to fascism.  It's called the Second World War.  There are people living who took part in it, and if you can't find one, try cable TV, where series like The World At War run continually.  Read a book.  We as a nation said "No" in thunder to the kind of racism that David Duke and Richard Spencer and Steve Bannon  -- "a good person," Trump insisted -- want to celebrate and restore.  We did it with a segregated army and a lot of veterans who returned to the same old Jim Crow, and with Japanese-Americans disgracefully locked up in concentration camps, and with Jewish citizens careful to portray the war as anything but a fight against anti-Semitism, but somehow we did it.  We are trying, inch by inch, to pull ourselves out of the muck that Robert E. Lee and the other traitors represent.  We were, until today.

I think there's far too much fuss about symbols like statues.  Symbols only have the power we give them.  A statue of Jefferson Davis would just be a guy in a frock coat if the social order Davis fought for had been snuffed out in the 1860s rather than maintained for another century.  Most of these statues were erected long after the Civil War, during the Klan resurgence in the early twentieth century; they aren't about memorializing the past, they're about controlling the future.  The flag of treason was run up most flagpoles only in the 1960s, as a retort to civil rights. 

The Justice Department is demanding the names of people who visited DisruptJ20.org, a website where the Inauguration Day demonstrations were organized.  It has no interest in investigating right-wing terrorists.  The EPA, largely in secret, is rolling back every Obama regulation it can find that protected water and air.  The FCC is barreling through approval for Sinclair Broadcasting, an outfit that thinks Fox News is too mainstream.  Thousands of Americans have already been purged from voting rolls because they haven't voted in several years, though it isn't clear how this feeds into Trump's favorite lie about "millions" of illegal voters.  These things are real.  They aren't some birdshit-encrusted Johnny Reb on a sleepy courthouse square. 

Forget the damn statues.  Pull down the monsters. 
       

 

Monday, August 14, 2017

So sad

 This is Heather Heyer, who was killed on Saturday when a car accelerated into a crowd of people protesting American Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

This is what the president* tweeted about it, five hours later:

"Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Va.  So sad!"

First responses are the most honest.  No mention of how she was killed, or why, or by who.  No hint of condemnation of the rally she gave her life to protest, of the young white males screaming "Hail Trump!" and denouncing Jews and Muslims.  No suggestion that this might be unacceptable.  The bare minimum, acknowledging the violence without alienating the base.  Later he will read a mumbling statement from a speechwriter about violence "from every side," whatever that means.  Later, goaded by his own party, he will even name the perpetrators before turning to more important matters, a pharma CEO who resigned from one of his fake commissions rather than serve as a token African American.  That's outrageous.  Hater!

I doubt if he ever bothered to learn Heather Heyer's name.