Monday, April 14, 2014

SNL Lite

Has anyone noticed how the cast and producers of Saturday Night Live have taken over comedy programming at NBC? Now, every night is a Saturday Night Live, except for SNL itself, which ain't so great these days. With the recent occurrence of Jimmy Fallon taking over for Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show, and Seth Myers moving into Fallon's old late-night spot, with SNL alumnus Fred Armisen as his bandleader, former cast members of the durable sketch-comedy program can be seen on TV virtually every night of the week. Now in its thirty-ninth season, Saturday Night Live has been shepherded (except for four years) by Lorne Michaels, who has been called the "Kingmaker of Comedy." Michaels has the golden touch when it comes to discovering and promoting new comedy talent. The list of legends who have served under Michaels' tutelage is jaw dropping: Belushi and Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, and ad infinitum. If a cast member was lucky enough to create a successful recurring character, Michaels' might back you in a movie deal. Without Lorne Michaels, we would never have had such classic films like, "Wayne's World: 1 and 2," "Coneheads," "A Night at the Roxbury," and "MacGruber." There's no questioning Michaels' comic empire, so my question is, how did SNL go from being an edgy, satiric, and sardonic show into what's now considered prime time network programming?

It seemingly began when head writer and "Weekend Update" anchor Tina Fey, quit the show to write and star in a prime-time program called 30 Rock, produced by Michaels, which was basically a parody of SNL, including a character based on Michaels, played by Alec Baldwin. Then came "Parks and Recreation," produced by Michaels and starring Amy Poehler. NBC even made room for Chevy Chase in the cult comedy Community. Michaels has recently produced the movies, "Mean Girls," and "Baby Mama," and the bizarre TV show Portlandia, starring Late Night bandleader Fred Armisen. Fey and Poehler co-hosted this years' Golden Globe Awards on, guess which network? And please put your answer in the form of a question. During last week's edition of SNL, there was even an ad for American Express featuring Tina Fey. They're everywhere, like The Walking Dead. In addition to the sitcoms, movies, and SNL, Michaels will also produce the Tonight and Late Night shows. On Sundays, he'll conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. For a sixty-nine year old man, that's a lot of stress. I trust Michaels' blood pressure is steady enough to prevent him from pulling an Elvis and doing a header into the shag carpet of the executive men's restroom at 30 Rockefeller Center.

Of the 139 cast members who appeared on SNL, many have gone on to film and television careers. Of note, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the current star of the HBO program, Veep, also was a featured player in, oh...what was his name? You remember, that obsessive-compulsive comedian who had a show about nothing? Conan O'Brien was plucked from obscurity by Michaels, who put him in late-night and produced his show for four years. If you're counting, that's three current nighttime talk-show hosts coming from the Michaels' stable. The Tonight Show moved from Los Angeles back to New York because of Michaels. And, of course, there's always Senator Al Franken. If you ever find yourself missing former cast-members, just check your local TV listings. There's Conan on TBS, Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Fox, Tim Meadows in Bob's Burgers, Kevin Nealon in Weeds, Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell in The Spoils of Babylon on IFC, and Memphis' own Chris Parnell with Ana Gasteyer on Suburgatory, on ABC. The familiar thing about these actors is that they all played recurring characters on SNL. The problem with the current cast of SNL is that there are so many of them, no one's character has much of a chance to re-occur.

All those late-night talk shows need writers and staff, editorial directors, floor managers and the like. Judging from last weeks' SNL starring Seth Rogan, it would seem that the best of them packed their joke-bags to join Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers. Rogan is mildly humorous, but I outgrew fart jokes in Junior High. The current cast has seventeen members, including six newcomers, in contrast with the original seven in 1975. It's like getting transferred to a different prison. It takes time to learn everyone's name. Also, I am not as enamored of Jimmy Fallon as others seem to be. Like Leno before him, I think Fallon tries a little too hard, and his bromance with Justin Timberlake has become disturbing. I was always a David Letterman kind of guy, and his announced retirement might have been more sorrowful had it not been for the news of who will be replacing him. Steven Colbert has, for the past nine years, had the most subversive show on television in The Colbert Report. Assuming the role of a self-described, "well intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot," Colbert has taken his outrageous character all the way to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where he had the balls to skewer an oblivious George Bush to his face. Colbert has said that he will drop the character for the late night gig, so I'll be tuning in to find out who he actually is. It will be something new, and that beats dumbed-down, re-packaged, and re-cycled sketches from Saturday Night Live every time.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Candlelight, AM Radio, & You



Last Thursday night, we were preparing for a gourmet dinner of Super-Lo fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and basketball, when a lightning bolt exploded like a neutron bomb in my back yard and knocked out all the power. I screamed a spontaneous epithet regarding the almighty, which was probably unwise in this situation, and my wife felt an ozone wave shoot down her left arm. Our neighbor across the street was outside with her daughter and not only felt the same sensation, but the child was knocked off of her feet. She claimed that she could "hear the sizzle." Suffice it to say, it was the closest bolt of lightning to come my way. We were prepared for a power outage ever since the hysterical "Snowpocalypse 2014" forecasts our local TV weathermen predicted last month and our flashlights were nearby, so after we checked our drawers and pried the dogs off the ceiling, Melody lit a candle while I cursed the darkness.
 
I immediately suggested that we go to a sports bar, but Melody envisioned scenes of rowdy, college jersied superfans chugging pitchers of beer, and there was still time enough for Light, Gas, and Water to be on the case. Besides, everyone expects the electricity to return soon, even with an hour or so inconvenience. So, candles burning and fresh batteries in the radio, we settled in to wait for those guys to do what they do. It had been awhile since I had rolled up and down the AM dial, but we found a station playing romantic music from the forties, made more nostalgic by the static caused by the storm outside. The music seemed to grow cornier the longer we listened, but after darkness had fallen and they played "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree," I couldn't take it anymore and preferred silence to Tony Orlando and Dawn. Melody and I were forced to talk to each other without the television in the background serving as white noise. We discussed many things while waiting for Godot to restore the power, but he never came. While I am usually calm in a crisis, my wife tends to become a bit fidgety. While I was relaxing in my chair, she was peeking out the windows searching for a truck with lights on it. I reminded her of the "watched pot" proverb, but it didn't help.
 
The only thing that worked on my cell phone were the games, so I began playing Bejeweled Blitz as a form of Zen meditation during the terrible thunderstorm. Melody inquired, "So, now you're playing a game?," to which I replied, "What else should I be doing?" We laughed at the ridiculousness of it, but I put the phone down when I realized that someone's nerves were on edge. I found the NCAA Tourney game on the radio, but since we didn't know the players, we might as well have been listening in Bulgaria. We had resigned ourselves to the possibility of days without power and were only opening the refrigerator sparingly to save the frozen food when we heard the loud talk of rough men in the driveway. It was LG&W to the rescue and soon power began returning to the houses all around us, just not ours. I remained calm but my wife forged out into the storm to talk with the crew. As it turned out, they were about to leave when Melody pointed out three additional houses still in the dark. She even showed them the utility pole closest to the strike. A brave, raincoated soul began ascending the pole and located the problem. "Only a matter of time," I thought, "and I can still catch the second game." A sudden blast shattered my anticipation. It wasn't like the bunker bomb shock of the lightning strike. It was more like incoming artillery. But the transformer had exploded and thrown the entire neighborhood back into total darkness.
 
While Melody apologized to our neighbor over the phone for the renewed blackout, I was thinking about which friends I could impose upon to slouch on their couch and ask them to turn on the game. But it was late now and we may as well face the darkness. It would be hours before a maintenance crew could fix the damage. At least assured that the process was underway, Melody grew calmer. She even danced in the dark to the big band music. In what seemed like waiting out a nine inning ballgame, the lamps finally came alive and the coolerator began humming. One problem remained. We had no cable or Internet. This meant dealing with Comcast, which was more frightening than the thunderstorm. After spending half the night on the phone with a service rep who sent continuous, useless signals to the cable box, I was assured that if I called first thing in the morning, a field technician would come right over to fix the problem. That was Thursday. Our cable TV and Internet service were finally restored on Sunday, just in time for me to write about this little slice of life. I was disappointed to have missed the basketball games until I heard the results. Both the Vols and Grizzlies lost and Kentucky won. I would have been more depressed had I watched the games. It's good to be rewired now that the storm has passed. Maybe next time the TV weather guys could give us a "heads up."
 
 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Cleaning

Now that warmer weather has arrived, it's time for our annual spring cleaning of the people and things that were the most annoying during the past year. We're not attempting to silence anyone or discourage anybody's artistic expression, but there are a few people that might be wise to just back up a few steps. These are the folks and events that frazzled the nerves unnecessarily and generally made life more frustrating to fathom. Among the most puzzling aspects of American culture is our obsession with making morons famous and our insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip. Naturally, this combination places one celebrity couple in the nexus of ignorance and arrogance. They go by the collective name of Kimye.

Rapper Kanye West and butt model Kim Kardashian have a gala wedding ceremony planned on May 24, in Paris. Wedding guests will be required to sign confidentiality agreements and surrender their cell phones to security to insure no footage will be leaked until the ceremony is shown on E! Entertainment's "Keeping up With the Kardashians." Their toddler, North West, is to be the crawling flower girl. This is in contrast to Kim's first televised wedding to pro basketballer Kris Humphries, presented as a two-part, four-hour reality special for the same network. The marriage lasted seventy-two days, but the divorce made for great ratings. Thankfully, Kanye is a bit more in line with the Kardashians' publicity machine. For instance, he now wants to be referred to as Yeezus and has admitted with typical modesty, "I am the number one living and breathing rock star. I am Axl Rose; I am Jim Morrison: I am Jimi Hendrix." Once, when Dick Cavett asked Jimi Hendrix if he was the best guitar player in the world, Hendrix bowed his head and said, "Oh no. Let's just say I'm the best guitar player sitting in this chair." Guess who's getting a new postage stamp in their honor, and it ain't Yeezus?

Justin Bieber has had such a year getting acquainted with law enforcement, he's hardly had time to record those hideous songs. First, his California mansion was raided by police after Bieber's neighbor complained the pop star threw eggs at his home causing 20,000 dollars in damages. That's one helluva lot of eggs. He appeared in a Canadian courtroom to testify about an alleged assault by one of his bodyguards on a photographer and was reported to go off on a few paparazzi himself. In February, one of Bieber's security guards and a driver were arrested for felony theft in Atlanta. For Justin's nineteenth birthday celebration, he and his entourage were kicked out of a London nightclub over a disagreement involving underage guests. Then came the arrest in Miami for drunken driving, resisting arrest, and driving without a licence. Police stopped Bieber while he was drag racing in a yellow Lamborghini against a red Ferrari through a residential neighborhood, which all sounds like the makings of a Chuck Berry song. To begin the new year, Bieber was deposed in a Dallas courtroom regarding an assault by one of his bodyguards. Dallas Morning News reporter Leonard Pitts reported on seeing the video; "It was not a pretty picture. Bieber comes across as a twerp so snotty and insolent, even Mother Teresa would want to smack him." If I hear that "Baby" song one more time, I'll smack him my damn self.

Miley Cyrus is reported to have recorded "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," so fans of the Beatles should hunker down for the worst. Her controversial performance at last years' VMA awards was neither provocative nor sexy; it was just nasty. Her vulgarity bordered on child pornography, since Miley lacks the sex appeal of a grown-up. And her so-called "twerking" against the groinal region of Marvin Gaye tribute artist Robin Thicke was a joke. Miley lacks the ass needed to properly twerk and should have offended all real women who possess this ability. A new slogan arose to protest the poseur: "Twerkers of the world, unite." And, please try to keep that revolting tongue to yourself.

Local Weather went berserk this winter with such never before heard terminology like, "polar vortex," "thunder sleet," and "frozen fog." There has never been so much bureaucratic hysteria over so little since the invention of the green screen. Channels 3 and 5 went wall-to-wall weather so many times, with headlines like Icestorm 2014 and Snowmageddon, that you could have closed your eyes and imagined you were in Buffalo. And then, nothing happened, except maybe a milk sellout at Kroger's. The stations claim all this coverage is in the interest of public safety, but I think maybe it gives the meteorologists a chance to dazzle everyone with their new technologies, and even the network news can't stop them. If you give them the toys, they will play with them. This past winter proved it, and a lot of credibility went the way of that five inches of snow we were certain to receive.

Twitter once had the potential to be an invaluable tool in the dissemination of information. Now, it's become a graveyard for news accuracy and has been transformed into a platform for celebrity feuds, mindless gossip, and trash talk. The twitter user with the most followers is Katy Perry with 50.2 million, as compared to 41.3 million for Barack Obama. Of the 500 million registered users, 750 tweets are shared per second, or 64,800,000 per day. Every cynic, crank, and crackpot can spew their poison into the "twitterverse" under the guise of anonymity and never have to be accountable for their words. This is a world of rage and spite that I choose to avoid. When I want to read truly humorous tweets, I just check out Dave Cousar on Facebook.

There are many others in the running: Vlad "The Invader" Putin, Louie Gohmert, George Zimmerman, all the Bush's, Janis Fullilove, and the perennial continental queen of venom, Sarah Palin, but you get the picture. All these folks need to back off a bit so another assortment of goons can step forward to aggravate us with meaningless, mindless, offensive behavior. I think it may be just about time for another Mel Gibson eruption, so I believe I'll dust my broom.

Monday, March 03, 2014

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

 
There's a new Grammy exhibit at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music titled "The Grammy Goes to Memphis" that is both interesting and revealing. The actual statues presented to Elvis, Otis Redding, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and others are collected and displayed for the first time. A highlight film of area Grammy winning moments is featured along with a wall listing all the great artists from the Memphis area who have received the coveted award. Full disclosure requires me to tell you that the Stax Museum is also my place of employment, but it  explains why I've had the chance to sit and stare at that wall for several hours at a time. All the names you would expect are there: Sam Phillips, Johnny Cash, Al Greene, even Sheryl Crow from Sikeston, Missouri. An impressive number of Grammy awards have been bestowed upon the Stax family of artists, including Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MGs, The Staples Singers, and Sam and Dave. The prestigious Grammy Trustees' Award has gone to Stax President Al Bell and company co-founder Estelle Axton. There is one glaring omission, however: the name of Jim Stewart is missing. I first thought it was an oversight and hastened to try and correct the error, but the co-founder and contributor of the first two letters of the name "Stax," has never been recognized or celebrated by the Recording Academy.
 
Perhaps Mr. Stewart prefers it that way since I understand that he is a private person, but it seems odd that his sister, Estelle, and his partner, Al Bell, would each receive one of the Academy's highest awards, but not Stewart. I don't know Jim Stewart personally and have only met him once, so I have no axe to grind here for anyone, but if not for Stewart, all those famous names on that Grammy wall would have never been known. Stewart and Axton's leasing of the Capitol Theatre in South Memphis in 1958 and opening the doors to the talent in the neighborhood began a renaissance in Soul music that still reverberates in the popular culture. The former banker and country fiddler who fell in love with Ray Charles' music, supervised and produced some of the most unique sounding recordings of the twentieth century. And he did it by working with musicians, singers, talent, and administrators who were both white and black, right in the middle of the Jim Crow era of race relations in the South. For people like me, who grew up under segregation but never understood it, this rich and untried collaborative effort was, and is, a source of great pride. Watching films of the MGs and the Memphis Horns backing up the Stax stars and driving audiences crazy all over the world is still a thrilling experience. It's not just the Recording Academy that owes Stewart long overdue accolades and appreciation, so does the city of Memphis.
 
Mr. Stewart's contributions to popular music have not gone unrecognized. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, but sent two granddaughters to receive the award in his behalf. This may be of great interest to visitors of the Cleveland museum, but what about the old hometown? Along with Sun Records scion Knox Phillips, Stewart's persuasion was instrumental in bringing the chapter of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences to Memphis, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year. The local organization also recognizes its most vibrant and vital contributors to what has become known as the "Memphis Sound." In annual programs and ceremonies over the years, NARAS Memphis has paid special tribute to Rufus and Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, and the legacies of both Sun and Hi Records. It's highest honor, the Governor's Award, has been presented to Rufus Thomas and Estelle Axton, but no Jim Stewart. The man who produced Otis Redding's "Respect," can't seem to get any from the same chapter he helped to establish. Either Stewart called and personally insisted that he not be further involved in these awards and such, or somebody's asleep at the switch.
 
In Robert Gordon's perfectly pitched, new Stax biography, "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion," he describes Stewart selling his interest in Stax to Al Bell in 1972. Yet two years later, when the company began feeling a financial squeeze from all quarters, Stewart re-invested his assets in an attempt to save what he had helped to create. In the resulting bankruptcy and padlocking of Stax by the same bank for which Stewart once worked, he lost his fortune and his home. Stewart has remained retired from the music business and semi-reclusive in his private life, yet he attended the opening of the Stax Music Academy and has generously advised and assisted the young musical talents who were not yet born during Stax's heyday. I have always believed in sending your flowers to the living, because afterward, you can't smell them. Estelle Axton's Trustee's Award from the Recording Academy was given posthumously. Jim Stewart is 84 years old. A man who has touched so many lives and literally altered the social fabric of the cosmos deserves at least an "attaboy" from his acolytes; can I get a witness?
 
 




Monday, February 17, 2014

From Russia With Luge


Enough with the commie Olympics already. It's difficult to take a winter sports festival seriously when the snow in Charleston, South Carolina is deeper than the site of the games. There was more ice in Atlanta than there was in Sochi. Seriously, one afternoon in the city chosen to host the quadrennial ice capades, the temperature soared to sixty degrees, transforming a powdery overcoat of machine-enhanced snow into a layer of sno-cone ice that lacked the bubblegum flavor that some of the hapless skiers might have preferred. I mean, who skis when it's sixty degrees? In the south, that's considered warm enough to swim. By the way, if snow skiing is considered a sport in the winter Olympics, then why is water skiing not a sport in the summer Olympics? And this Biathlon business is not a sport. The combination of cross-country skiing while pausing to target shoot with a scoped-rifle is basic training for the Swiss army.
 
The problem with the winter Olympics is that they're just not American. Every year, people all over the United States are breaking legs attempting to ski, because skiing just isn't an American sport. It's an Alpine sport that began when Heidi needed a doctor and the fastest way for grandpa to get down the mountain was on a couple of old bed slates. Now, the men's downhill is a test of the technology as much as the skier. If you want to go skiing in the U.S. you have to either be part of the fortunate one percent who can afford a ski lodge in Park City, Utah, or else you have to go to a ski resort. In either case, it screams of elitism. Anybody can learn to swim or run fast but skiing is a rich man's sport. You first have to book a flight and a room-combo, well before snow season, to a mountainous ski resort. Then upon arriving, if there is no snow, that's your problem. If it's snowing there are other arrangements to make: ski lessons, times on the slopes, doctor's appointments. But before you do anything, there's all that gear you need to buy. I suppose that they rent you your skis, but no self-respecting resort attendee would consider wearing any protective garments previously worn by another. That's too much like renting bowling shoes. Each ski student must have the weather protective, one-piece garment that they used to call a leisure suit back in the day. Then there's the helmet, goggles, and gloves, and the de-rigueur insulated, Michelin Man, overcoat. Not to mention the plaster casts for sprains and breaks. Personally, I don't care to participate in any sport where a St. Bernard is involved.
 
The only other race as exciting as the mens' speed skating was watching Bob Costas' pink-eye race from his left eye to the right. He remained in his post like a trouper before his malady began to frighten and disgust viewers, when he was properly relieved to receive treatment. There's a sort of sports poetry in Bob Costas ending his iron man streak of Olympic broadcasts and Derek Jeter announcing his retirement from baseball in the same week. Back to the men's speed skating, which is a more accessible sport to the ordinary human than skiing, since everyone remembers that ankle pain when first attempting to step on the ice. Speed skating is an exciting sport but the skaters' suits have become so aero-dynamic and skin tight that they may as well skate naked just like the ancient Greeks. I understand it's necessary to keep a tight package for wind resistance sake, but if everyone skated naked, it would be the only sport that rewarded the man with the small penis. Also, if they would like to make skating even more thrilling, make them skate on dry ice. That would add an incentive to remain upright. One more X Games-themed idea: they should ban ski poles on the mountains and make them gut it out like surfers and ski jumpers.
 
During Vladimir's Olympics, Putin himself made appearances at some of the more macho events. It's good that he passed on the men's figure skating and the teams ice-dancing, or his head would have exploded. He might have admired U.S. figure skater Jeremy Abbott's reaction to his critics after crashing and burning in the men's short program. Abbott exploded during an interview and told his detractors to go fuck themselves. Some of Abbott's competitors' costumes were so outlandish, I was afraid Putin would order the Russian police to arrest them on the spot for pro-gay propaganda. Putin's glassy stare and mirthless smile conjure up images of those old KGB agents who would stab someone with the tip of a poisoned walking stick. In fact, that's who Putin is. When I heard that the U.S. hockey team beat the Russians in a shootout, I thought that meant the squad had to escape under the cover of CIA sniper fire. The greatest anticipation now remaining is whether the return of Bob Costas will yield yet another infection of some sort, and whether the yellow tap water is responsible. CNBC reports that the 2014 Olympic Games will cost an estimated fifty-one billion dollars, the most expensive in history. Even Mitt Romney criticized Putin, calling the games an "unsavory" vanity project. If only this country could spend that kind of money on roads and bridges. Putin's Winter Olympics at Sochi do prove one thing: if you build it they will come.
 


Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Fabs at Fifty

It was fifty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. That's a factually incorrect statement but a good opening line to talk about the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on American television. To commemorate the event, Beatlemania will be sweeping the airwaves once again all this week with special concerts, documentaries, celebrations and dedications. For younger viewers it will be a chance to see real time footage of the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, (they made three in successive weeks), and the chaos that ensued. For old fans like me, it will be an opportunity to relive a revolutionary moment in the history of rock music, along with the 73 million other viewers that tuned in the night of Feb. 9, 1964. The date is significant because, after that, nothing was ever the same.
 
The Ed Sullivan Show, on Sunday nights, was a variety show that featured acts as varied as opera singers and acrobats, plate spinners and flamenco dancers. On Feb. 9, I was enjoying a Sunday dinner of hamburgers and spaghetti at Granny's before we settled in front of the TV to witness the Beatles' debut. Of course, the elders tsk, tsked, while I went crazy. I was eagerly anticipating the Beatles' television debut because I'd already bought the album. While cruising east on Walnut Grove on a clear January afternoon, something came on the car radio unlike anything I had ever heard and I knew it must be that English band I'd been hearing about. I made an immediate left on Perkins and headed for Pop Tunes. They only had the new single in stock, (which I still have in the original sleeve), but promised to call me when the LP arrived. Shortly afterward, I got the call that "Meet the Beatles" had arrived and snatched up one of the first copies. That evening, my friends and I got together to listen to first one side, and then the other, over and over again, completely captivated by this raw and exhilarating new sound. We also marvelled at their matching Prince Valiant haircuts, their tailored suits, and their Italian boots with the raised heels that immediately and for everafter became known as "Beatle boots." The next day, we started to let our hair grow.
 
I realize the potential risks of my writing about the Beatles morphing into the rantings of an old geezer raving about his favorite band from days of yore. Lord knows, I wouldn't care about hearing someone from my parents' generation talk about the first time they saw Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians. But the Beatles' music has not only endured, it has thrived. Their long-awaited songs finally becoming available for internet download was received with the enthusiasm usually reserved for the latest, hottest thing. The 2009 release of "The Beatles Rock Band" video game, where participants simulate playing Beatle songs with controllers shaped like musical instruments, was a huge success and helped boost sales of the newly remastered Beatle albums on CD. It's never surprising to hear that some of the most enthusiastic Beatle fans are the children, or even the grandchildren, of your friends. The band's unmatchable career, development, and the evolving message in their music has become a generational phenomenon, and if this week's festivities are any indication, the music will continue to resonate into the foreseeable future.
 
In celebration, CBS news is presenting a "live, interactive event," at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on Sunday, from 5-7 PM Central, fifty years to the day of the Fabs' live performance, featuring "rare footage from CBS News' extensive archive of the Beatles first three days in New York City." A special tribute concert, sponsored by the Grammys, will air in Ed Sullivan's old time spot following the news special. Taped in Los Angeles the day after the Grammy Awards, featured artists include a reunited Eurythmics, with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, John Mayer, and a Ringo/Paul reunion in which they do play Beatle songs. If that weren't enough to satisfy your Fab Four fix, following the Grammy special, Paul and Ringo come full circle and will appear live on a special David Letterman Show, airing, of course, from the Ed Sullivan Theatre. All week, leading up to Sunday, all Letterman's musical guests on his nightly show will play Beatle songs. On Feb.8, commemorating the Beatles' iconic arrival at New York's JFK, the airport will host a celebration and dedicate a historical marker. A new Beatle book has been released titled, "The Beatles: All These Years. Vol.1- Tune In," by Mark Lewisohn, whom the New York Times called "the most serious historian to have examined the Beatles' lives and work." I guess so, because this first of three planned tomes runs 803 pages long and only goes up to 1962. For those like me, who love the Beatles, all this activity shows that the Lads from Liverpool are going to be around for a long, long time. Strawberry Fields Forever, baby.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Kiss Chris Christie Goodbye

    To the tune of:
Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye
     (public domain)
by Gus Kahn and Randy Haspel
 
Kiss Chris Christie goodbye/ Goodbye Christie don't cry.
You tried to close the bridge to Fort Lee/ Because the mayor said you were portly.
The scandal has you on the ropes/
There go your presidential hopes.
Your nose grows longer when you lie,
So kiss Chris Christie goodbye.
 
 
 
This is going to be fun. Everyday in every way, new revelations emerge, not just about the ugly political payback which snarled traffic from Ft. Lee, New Jersey to the George Washington Bridge, but about the entire workings of the Chris Christie administration. There will be hearings, and subpoenas, and witnesses, and great political theatre, all over the misuse of public infrastructure to punish a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse the Governor for re-election. Christie's "may this buck be passed from me" speech at a press conference defies logic. When Christie says the chocking traffic jams were ordered by members of his staff without his knowledge, that can mean only one of two things: either he's a liar or a fool. In either case, he has effectively disqualified himself from the 2016 presidential sweepstakes. It's technically possible that Christie never heard about the bridge debacle. It's called "plausible deniability." It's an old Nixon trick. He might have told members of his staff, "Go and do what you have to, just don't tell me about it." In this scenario, Christie is like the lawyer, Tom Hayden, in The Godfather, who doesn't wish to hear information that could make him liable in a court proceeding. But if Christie's closest aides pulled off this entire stunt under the Governor's nose without him noticing, then he's an idiot, and we've already had one dumbass president. 
 
Among this oddball cast of Jersey Shore, somebody's getting immunity from prosecution, and then it all spills out, right on the clean carpet. Christie is already under a federal investigation regarding how his administration spent twenty-five million dollars of government aid after Hurricane Sandy to promote tourism. At the request of NJ Democratic Senator Frank Pallone Jr., the Inspector General at HUD conducted a preliminary review of the expenditures and found enough evidence to justify a complete audit. Among the findings were that Christie hired a public relations firm close to the Governor's office, even though another firm's bid for the job was for two million less. The difference was that the linked-in PR firm offered to feature Christie and his family in commercials touting the Jersey shore while the other firm did not. Seeing Chris Christie on a beach has the opposite effect from the commercial's intent and would encourage me to find another place to swim. Then there is that additional two-or-so million dollars that Christie cost his state by declaring a special election because he didn't want to be on the same ballot with newly elected Senator Cory Booker.
 
The latest accusations come from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, another Democratic mayor who had the temerity not to endorse the Governor's re-election campaign. Zimmer accused the Christie administration of holding Hurricane Sandy relief funds hostage to her approval of a real estate deal  benefiting an outfit called the Rockefeller Group. When she balked at the proposal, the hundred million dollars in governmental aid that flooded Hoboken had requested was reduced to the $300,000 that they received. A Christie spokesman replied that the allegations were, "outlandishly false," but after the Governor's adamant denial, Mayor Zimmer told CNN that, "I stand by my word." Then Zimmer went off to a meeting with U.S. Attorneys. Other stories have surfaced about the Governor leaning on people or meting out punishment to his foes. The New York Times reports stories of "a former governor stripped of police security at public events," and a university professor who lost state funding for pet projects because of negative comments he made about the Governor. This is the behavior of the potential future President of the United States. For Christie to claim that he never heard a word about it is like Clinton saying, "I never had sexual relations with that woman."
 
We've already been through this once. Every bit of this activity is reminiscent of the Nixon administration: the dirty tricks, the political payback, the persecution of perceived "enemies," the lying, the cover-up. Who needs this again? It will make for entertaining TV in the coming weeks, but Christie can kiss his presidential ambitions goodbye. The tired cliche, "stick a fork in him," seems appropriate in this case. I would never make fun of the morbidly obese, but the Governor has gone and gotten that lap-band stomach operation that seemed to work so well for Al Roker and Al Sharpton in preparation for a 2016 presidential run, and it ain't ever gonna' happen. He may as well reverse the procedure and start eating again. Then he can truly become another fat-cat Republican also-ran in the ongoing implosion of the party. Christie's apologetic statement that "I am not a bully," caused an airborne public flashback directly to Richard Nixon's famous quote, "I am not a crook." Whether it was public denial or merely self-denial, the same is true in both incidences. Richard Nixon was a crook and Chris Christie is a bully. Make that, "was" a bully. Need I say, "the bigger they come?"
 
 

 


Monday, January 06, 2014

Olympic Dreams



One good thing about staying alive for awhile is, if you haven't pickled your brain, you have personal recollections of occasions that later became historical events. Specifically, I still recall the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and the controversial events surrounding the games. In a backdrop of international student uprisings during that fateful year, the unrest had come to Mexico. For starters, student-led protest marches against the Mexican government's political suppression, particularly of labor unions, grew to half a million by August, the month of the opening ceremony. Ten days before the games were to begin, the Mexican president made a fateful decision and troops ordered by the government to break up a crowd in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas opened fire, killing dozens and arresting thousands more in what became known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. Critical voices in this country began expressing concern over the Mexican government's ability to furnish adequate security for the games, yet off we went, colors flying.

During the Games themselves, the 200 meter race gold medalist Tommie Smith, and bronze medalist John Carlos, turned a typical medal ceremony into one of the most dramatic and iconic moments in Olympic history. Having split a pair of black gloves in advance, the teammates bowed their heads and raised their gloved fists in a black power salute when the National Anthem began to play. This was the summer after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and only two months after the murder of Robert Kennedy. The civilized world was railing against apartheid while race riots had erupted in over 100 cities in the United States. Smith and Carlos' bold act of defiance in the face of what was sure to be a fierce, if not violent, backlash, illustrated that beneath the facade of unity presented by the national Olympic team, race relations were deteriorating at home. Both runners were suspended from the national team and were banned from the Olympic Village. The famous photograph of the event clearly shows that both men are wearing black socks with no shoes. During a ceremony forty years later at the annual ESPN Espy Awards, when the pair received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, Smith explained that this was to represent black poverty in America. Their dissent was the lasting impression of the Mexico City Olympics. For that simple reason, I hope that during the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, they have the grandest, wildest Gay Pride Parade that the old Soviet Empire has ever seen. Maybe something along the lines of the ones they have in Key West, except more flamboyant.

Russian President Vlad "The Impaler" Putin, the quasi-dictator whose soul was memorably examined by George W. Bush, has been forced to issue statements in recent days stating that despite Russia's recent spate of cruel anti-gay laws, both gay athletes and their guests would be welcome in Sochi without fear of arrest or deportation. In addition, Putin granted amnesty to two members of the feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, who were serving jail terms for their guerrilla performances critical of the president, and he pardoned an old Kremlin rival whose popularity made him dangerous enough to be locked-up. This doesn't guarantee protection from roving bands of skinhead-type groups whose brutal attacks on homosexuals are currently making international news, or from terrorist bombings, like the New Years' twin attacks in a town near the site of the Games. Putin's promise of "total annihilation" of the terrorists should be cold comfort to the athletes who will be living in what is leading up to be an armed camp within a police state. The anti-gay sentiments in Russia have only been stoked by Putin who last June, signed a law allowing the police to arrest tourists or foreigners suspected of being gay, or even pro-gay, and detain them for up to fourteen days. In July, Putin signed legislation banning gay couples from adopting Russian-born children and put into law a bill classifying "homosexual" propaganda as pornography, subjecting anyone advancing a sympathetic viewpoint toward the LGBT community to arrest and fines.

In return, President Obama made a point of meeting with gay activists during his September trip to the G2O Summit in St. Petersburg and has announced that neither he, Michelle, nor Joe Biden will attend the Olympics, the first time since 2000 that a president, first lady, vice president, or ex-president has not participated in the opening ceremonies. Putting an additional piledriver to Putin, Obama has appointed several famously gay athletes and officials to his personal delegation, including tennis legend Billie Jean King, and women's ice hockey medalist Caitlan Cahow. After years of declining to answer questions about his sexuality, figure skating star and Olympic delegate Brian Boitano has publicly come out just in time for the games. Ready or not, the rainbow connection is coming to Russia. In an editorial, the New York Times reminded readers of a provision in the charter of the International Olympic Committee that states, "every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind." With any luck, we might get to witness the U.S. Olympic delegation to Sochi practice a little sport with old "Pooty Poot."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reindeer Games

Zwarte Piet
Here are the latest dispatches from the front in the War on Christmas. Another of Fox News' soulless talking blond provocateurs, Megyn Kelly, found her own little hot spot in the frigid northeast snow after her pronouncement last week that both Santa and Jesus were white. While discussing an article written by Slate's Aisha Harris which called for a more inclusive image of kindly Kris Kringle, and described her childhood confusion of seeing a white Santa in the shopping mall and a black Santa in her home, Megyn Kelly said, "this is yet another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa." Then, attempting a humorous aside for all the world's children who may have been tuned in to The Kelly Files, she added, "by the way for all you kids watching at home, Santa is white but this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa." While her panel of white experts looked on in amused fascination, Kelly injected, "Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that's a verifiable fact," then adding with a wink, "as is Santa. I just wanted you kids to know that." Not knowing when to stop digging, Kelly concluded her Santa diatribe by asking the eternal question, "How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy of the story, and just change Santa from white to black?" After enduring a firestorm of media ridicule, Kelly, who has a law degree, blamed the "liberal press" for "race-baiting." Kelly's remarks are so dumb on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin, but she has yet to realize that her views reflect a certain smug, white entitlement that gives other Caucasoids a bad name.

St. Nicholas, the patron saint of thieves, prostitutes, sailors, and children, is where the Santa Claus story begins. Nicholas, or Nikolaos, was a fourth century Greek Bishop of Lycia, in what is now modern day Turkey. Known for his generosity to children and the poor, Nicholas may well have been an oily-skinned, Mediterranean man reeking of garlic and feta cheese. A fifteenth century Russian icon in the Swedish National Museum pictures St. Nicholas as a black man. The Westernized version of Santa begins with the Dutch legend of Sinterklaas, who parallels Odin, a major god among the Germanic people. It seems that the white bearded Sinterklaas brings gifts to children on his feast day accompanied by his posse of mischievous helpers with black faces known as "Zwarte Piet," literally translated, "Black Peters,"- Megyn Kelly's worst nightmare.  In the middle ages, the feast day of Sinterklaas, December 6th, was known for mass displays of public drunkenness. Today, Sinterklaas doesn't arrive in Holland in a sleigh, but on a steamboat from Spain, every year in mid-November for your visual entertainment. Sinterklaas was eventually merged with the swarthy St. Nicholas and England's Father Christmas to bring us the jolly Santa we have come to know.

The white Santa didn't emerge until 1881 with a Thomas Nast illustration of Clement Moore's immortal poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," or what is currently known as "The Night Before Christmas." In Moore's poem, old St. Nick is depicted as a morbidly obese, red-suited man with red-cheeks and proboscis gin blossoms, probably indicating a drinking problem, who forces miniature, "tiny," reindeer to haul his fat ass through the snow. If such a man appeared committing these acts during daylight hours, the A.S.P.C.A. would have him arrested for cruelty, especially to poor Rudolph, who wasn't allowed to join in the reindeer games, a bi-ennial, arctic caribou athletic competition. And if Santa is from the North Pole, either he's the only white man there, or he's an indigenous Inuit, an Alaskan people who crossed a land bridge from Asia in the first century AD, known for their high suicide rate- I guess because Eskimo elves are hard to find and Santa only pays minimum wage. This would likewise make Mrs. Claus an Inuit, whose diet consists of fish and caribou. Now we know what happens to the reindeer that can't cut it anymore.

As for Megyn Kelly's "verifiable fact" that Jesus was white- I'm certain that He is on the blue-eyed picture on her wall, but that is in conflict with historical and geographical certainties. We know that Jesus was a Semite, born in Judea, and appeared among his contemporaries as one of them. This means that He was likely a dark-skinned man with curly black hair and facial features typical of the Semitic people of the time- or what some lesser informed individuals once referred to as "Jewish looking." If Jesus sat next to Megyn Kelly in an airport, she would likely report Him to the TSA as a terrorist. Yet Kelly remains oblivious to the heart of the contention that white people should dictate the appearance of what non-whites should revere. It's an extension of the "we want our country back" mentality that has permeated the Tea Party-driven Republican agenda and their propaganda arm, the Fox News Network. In Kelly's world, allowing an ethnic group other than her own a different interpretation of the appearance of a fictional character is an act of inclusion that is simply beyond her comprehension. The renowned, twentieth-century, western philosopher Frank Zappa once said in his 1966 song Trouble Every  Day, "Hey, you know something people? I'm not black, but there's a whole lots a times I wish I could say I'm not white." 

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Pope Is Dope

Although I am not a Catholic, I survived Catholic school, where I learned a thing or two about a Pope or two. So, I can say with all sincerity that the new Pope is dope. My papal-span is like an arc, beginning with Pius XII, who was sometimes referred to as "Hitler's Pope," and ending with Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, Jr. of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi infantry. The resigned Pope's father, Joseph Ratzinger, Sr., was a member of the Nazi "Order-Police," under the control of the SS, an inconvenient fact that was whitewashed from Pope Benedict's Wikipedia bio. I guess Benedict took his red Prada shoes of the fisherman into retirement with him since Pope Francis would never tolerate such a display of personal vanity. In his short tenure as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis has given the faithful so much change and hope for the future, he should be called the Barack Obama of Catholicism.

Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on Dec. 17, 1936. I believe that any Pope who shares my birthday must be destined for greatness. Now I have someone to brag about who was born on the same day as I was besides such Catholic luminaries as Manny Pacquiao, Bob Guccione, and Chris Mathews. It's no coincidence that the new Pope took the name Francis. Born in Buenos Aires, which has one of the largest concentrations of poor of any major city in the world, the new Pope is named for Francis of Assisi, the saint mostly known for his concern for the well being of the poor. Pope Francis has stated that he will remain in the Vatican guesthouse rather than live in the apostolic Palace and he will motor around Vatican City in a 1984 Renault with 186,000 miles on the speedometer. I'm certain the Vatican's guesthouses are nice digs, but it takes discipline to refuse the Palace. Most startling of all was the manifesto written by the Pope last August and released last week.  The 224 page "apostolic exhortation," is called the Joy of Gospel, and though it was mainly written as instruction for priests and pastoral workers, Vatican correspondent John L. Allen wrote in The Catholic Reporter that the work "amounts to Francis' 'I Have a Dream' speech." While adhering to basic Catholic tenets, Francis' populist views, according to Charles Camosy of Fordham University, "would likely be considered too liberal for a prime-time speaking slot at the 2016 DNC convention,"

Of course, Americans of a certain political bent have rejected the Pope's message as radical leftist propaganda. Famous Christian thinker Sarah Palin reared her ugly head to declare the Pope as far too liberal. Other politicians have had so many running commentaries that differ with the Pontiff, I thought it might be fun to compare some quotes:

"Some people continue to defend trickle-down economic theories that place a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power."  Pope Francis
"The supply-side claim is not a claim. It is empirically true and historically convincing that with lower rates of taxation on labor and capital, the factors of production, you’ll get a bigger economy." Former Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp

"Justice requires...mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income." Pope Francis
"I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution. It’s never been a characteristic of America."  Mitt Romney

"It is vital that government leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education, and healthcare." Pope Francis
"And what is Obamacare? It is a law as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed slave owners to come to New Hampshire and seize African Americans and use the federal courts to take them back to federal… to slave states.”  New Hampshire State Representative Bill O'Brien

"The Church has no wish to hold back the marvelous progress of science. On the contrary, she rejoices and even delights in acknowledging the enormous potential that God has given to the human mind."  Pope Francis
"All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell."  Georgia Rep. Paul Broun

"Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."  Pope Francis
"You can't help those who simply will not be helped. One problem that we've had, even in the best of times, is people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice."  Ronald Reagan

"I exhort all countries to a generous openness which, rather than fearing the loss of local identity, will prove capable of creating new forms of cultural synthesis."  Pope Francis
"Just build the damn fence." Senator John McCain

It's so refreshing to hear the Pope say, "We have to state without mincing words that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor." Francis expounded that there could be "no solution" to the world's ills until "the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality." This stuff is enough to make a free-market capitalist's head explode. "I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor." Oh oh. The Pontiff just took out the entire Republican Congressional Caucus. Pope Francis' message appears to be resonating. His favorability rating among Catholics is almost 80 percent and lapsed members are returning to their churches with a renewed commitment. It's incredible what one dedicated man can do to restore faith to a disillusioned people. Just ask Jesus.







 
 


Monday, November 18, 2013

History For Dummies

History is a funny thing. When you have an understanding of it you can spot it rattling down the street like a steam roller and you can leap out of the way in time. When you're oblivious to history, you never see it coming until it rolls you over and transforms you into road pizza. If you are a political actor in the current tragi-comedy taking place in the U.S. Congress, and also ignorant of history, the rest of of us have seen this tedious play before and in the third act, you can depend upon the past sneaking up and biting you in your collective dumb asses. So it is with the Tea Party suckers who have been bamboozled by the rich man's agenda. Senate Republicans propose bill after bill to cut the top income tax rate and abolish the estate tax, or now that it has been Frank Luntzified, the death tax. Their agenda has nothing to do with helping the middle class, yet they know there is a grass roots movement behind them who are anti-government and hate Obama. As long as the plutocrats make nice, the plebeians will do their dirty work for them. Thus, the mainstream Republicans have made an unholy alliance with radicals and racists, and if history is a harbinger of things to come, the Tea Party will either devour the GOP from within, or become a fringe third party.

As the Republicans look toward 2016, their best chance to win the presidency is with the right-wing Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. But he's not right-wing enough for the clueless caucus of the GOP, who seem to prefer the plagiarist Sen. Rand Paul as their candidate. If I may just make an aside here, I realize that having sport with someones looks is the lowest form of criticism. Having said that, am I the only one that thinks Rand Paul looks like Lee Harvey Oswald? They have the same pinched, weasel face and an expression of combative, smug assurance. Paul is the perfect Tea Party candidate. He's a libertarian one moment and a right-wing flame thrower the next. He has said, "I have a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We've come to take our government back." Paul has also expressed reservations about provisions of the Civil Rights Act and had an aide on his staff who was forced to resign when it became known that he was a former shock-jock and Neo-Confederate activist known as the "Southern Avenger." The Tea Party is thought to be made up of the common angry citizen but a current Pew Poll shows the typical member to be older, whiter, and wealthier than your average yahoo. The same poll found that forty-nine percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party. But that ain't gonna stop them and they will continue to be a tapeworm in the GOP's small intestine.

The parallel universe in which the Tea Party exists is the same one that once enraptured the Dixiecrats. They were also a party that favored home-rule and opposition to the Federal government. But before that, they were part of a post-war Democratic coalition that included the "Solid South." The South could be depended upon to vote Democratic because of a poisonous political bargain to accommodate racists and white supremacists within the party. When Harry Truman established a Presidential Commission on Civil Rights, there was a rebellion in the party among the far right. At the 1948 Democratic Convention, when the platform committee adopted a Hubert Humphrey plank calling for civil rights, the right flank bolted and formed the States Rights Democratic Party, better known as the Dixiecrats, and nominated a presidential candidate of their own, J. Strom Thurmond, the miscegenating Governor of the great state of South Carolina. Their platform was to protect the Southern way of life beset by an oppressive federal government, and to uphold Jim Crow laws concerning voter suppression and white supremacy. Even after an ignominious defeat, the segregationists were welcomed back into the party, and remained there well into the sixties.

When the Democratic-sponsored Voting Rights Act of 1964 and Civil Rights Act of 1965 were signed into law, Lyndon Johnson said that the Democrats had probably lost the South for a generation. Even LBJ underestimated the right-wing resentment that animates the opposition nearly fifty years later and manifests itself in the Tea Party. Richard Nixon made all the pigeons flock to him with the cynical "Southern Strategy" of 1968. The GOP started whistling "Dixie," and all the goobers converted to Republicanism. Tricky Dick won seventy percent of the popular vote in the deep South, but lost ninety percent of the black vote. And so it stands. The Democrats didn't win a lot of elections after 1968. Even Jimmy Carter lost the South when running for a second term. The Dems payed dearly for their embrace of right-wing radicals and segregationist Southern politicians, but it was necessary to purge the obstructionists to construct a true progressive agenda. The radicals are still on the right-wing, railing over Obamacare now just like they did over civil rights in the past. But they are the asp in the bosom of the Republican Party now, and if they don't get their way come convention time, history says they're gonna bite.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Back In Your Burqa

Last week Melody and I celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary. Thank you. It was my pleasure. When asked why I waited so late in life to get married, I reply that I was just waiting for Melody to come back on the market. I'd been kind of interested in her for some time, but she kept marrying the wrong guys. I first met her forty years ago when she was a young hippie chick working in an Overton Square leather shop owned by my former college roommate. She drove a black VW Beetle and lived in a communal house on Edgewood Street. I admired her spunk and good humor, but mostly I was impressed with her sense of independence. Melody could hang with the big dogs and possessed a quick wit that allowed her to give as good as she got. I quickly began eyeballing her as my potential new girlfriend, but she wasn't studying me. When I was sitting on a tall barstool playing and singing at the Looking Glass, Melody worked in the cloakroom because she was too young to come in to the bar. When it was late and the crowd had cleared out, she came in anyway to listen, and I sang the Bee Gee's song "Melody Fair" for her. I got a hug and kiss, but still no dice. I probably should have asked her out on an actual date, but that seemed so passe' in the freewheeling seventies.
 
Before I could manage to clearly express my feelings, she got married, but even after that we remained friends. I had no choice because she married my saxophone player. When they moved to California, we lost touch but for second-hand information. I later heard she was divorced and remarried and living on a naval base in the Philippines, and I was bewildered by the thought. Years passed and Melody faded from memory, although mutual friends would occasionally speak of her. Then, my band played for the thirtieth high school reunion for the White Station class of 1967, and Melody was there with her sister. We laughed and talked and I was reminded of how fondly I felt about her but she was still a married woman. Several eons later, I was playing in a club with an acoustic trio when Melody and her husband came in with a large group. I checked out the lucky guy. He looked like he could kick my ass. It wasn't that much later when she came back in one night with some girlfriends and I was told she was separated. We had the obligatory dinner and a movie and shortly thereafter, I concluded that some damn fool had discarded a perfectly good wife.
 
Our friendship rekindled, I noticed how easy it was to spend time with her and how much we had to talk about. I had just recently escaped an emotionally abusive relationship and was nursing a battered ego, so Melody was like oxygen. After a period of going middle-aged steady and winning the tacit approval of my teenage step-son and daughter-to-be, marriage seemed like the next logical step. I would finally get to hang out with Melody. We approached the Rabbi at Temple Israel and agreed to take Jewish classes in return for his blessing. Melody was charmed by Micah Greenstein and we both agree that he has so much charisma, if he weren't a rabbi, he could start his own cult. When he asked if we had any personal additions to our vows, I replied that right after Melody said, "I do," I would like the Rabbi was to say to her, "Now, get back in your burqa." We shared a chuckle and forgot about it until the actual ceremony where I wasn't entirely sure that I wasn't going to pass out at any moment. I made it through the whole deal before God and everybody and was only waiting for the Rabbi's pronouncement when he said, "And now, Randy, it's time for you to get back in your burqa." I guess you had to be there, but it sure made me guffaw. Whenever I see the Rabbi, I like to tell him that he married us so good, I believe that it stuck.
 
At age 54, I would never have considered living with a teenage high-school boy, because all I to compare him with was me. As a grown-up, I most certainly wouldn't tolerate living with a teenaged me. Fortunately, Cameron, my step-son, was already a good guy and the only "Dad" thing I insisted on doing was playing catch in the backyard. Melody's daughter was already off at college, but since I never had offspring, I enjoyed teaching a young man how to tie his tie and drive a car. I was delighted to contribute cuff links and cummerbund to his first formal attire and to advise him that a gentleman always wears a pocket square. The rest of the time, he pretty much stayed in his room and I would see him when he surfaced to eat. I liked all his buddies and when they gathered, I was reminded so much of my own youth, I had to restrain myself from participating in their frivolity and risk appearing the old fool. Now that eleven years have passed, everyone's grown and on their own. It's back to just me and Melody once again, if you don't count the three rescue dogs, and she's still happy to see me when I come home from work. We recommend late-in-life marriages. Your priorities change from a half-mad, youthful, libido driven relationship, into one of good conversation and companionship. That's where all that pre-marital friendship comes in handy. Besides, it's good to have someone to argue with about what to watch on television for the rest of your life.
 


Monday, October 21, 2013

The War on Thanksgiving

Before the Fox News Network gets the chance to gin up hysterical indignation over their patented, annual "War on Christmas," I would like to address a more pressing issue that needs immediate attention, and that's the War on Thanksgiving. The War began two years ago when our Muslim president gave a three minute Thanksgiving speech without mentioning the word "God." He did mention that "Love your neighbor stuff," and say "God bless you" at the end of the speech, but where were the biblical references? Enraged religious conservatives took to the airways and social media to rail against the secularization of our sacred commemoration of the marriage between Miles Standish and Sacajawea by the shores of Gitche Gummi, after which, they threw a party that made Plymouth rock. The director of the website Christian Newswire wrote, "Thanksgiving (is) the one American holiday originating within Christian culture. God's providence was demonstrated when the Pilgrims discarded socialism after a year of absolute failure and embraced capitalism. Redefining Thanksgiving as anything other than a call to give thanks to the one true and living God is an attempt to remove God from America's one true Christian holiday." He liked the adjective "true" a lot.

After the president's Godless address, he went outside to the Rose Garden and pardoned a fat Thanksgiving turkey. Who is Obama to interfere with our nation's annual turkey genocide? And if turkeys start getting pardons, what's to keep them from seeking revenge? We need tryptophan to combat the onslaught of annoying relatives' endless questions about what we've been up to. It serves as a natural sedative and combats the desire to tell them to go and do impossible anatomical contortions. Ben Franklin claimed a preference for the turkey as our national bird, and I'm certain that old Poor Richard never sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner of bald eagle. In fact, Franklin invented the phrase, "Let's talk turkey." This year, Obama's past failure to mention "God" by name, accompanied by the Christian Newswire's declaration that capitalism is holy, has emboldened parade-sponsor shylock, Macy's, to break with their one hundred and fifty-five year tradition of closing on Thanksgiving. They used to give their employees the day off because someone had to blow up all those balloons, but the only Miracle on 34th Street this year will be an accident free parade. They now will have fewer employees on the street to make sure a wayward balloon doesn't hit a light pole and fracture someones skull, like the giant Cat In The Hat balloon did to a female bystander in 1997. Now that Macy's has thrown down the gauntlet, can Dillard's be far behind? And if capitalism is next to Godliness, what becomes of cleanliness? Has the lust for consumer goods caused us to lose the desire to clean ourselves?

Commercialism is destroying our faith-based custom of devouring oversized meals before attending after-dinner worship services that feature the age-old morality play of the Cowboys versus the Redskins. And speaking of Native-Americans, or Indians, as they called them back in the Puritanical days, I wonder how they celebrate Thanksgiving? It's been a few years now since that first shindig when the Pilgrims had the Wampanoag over for Thanksgiving supper, but unfortunately, that was the last act of kindness by the new settlers towards the indigenous population. Why should Native-Americans still be sore at the sons of English refugees? They gave us maize, weaving techniques, and planting advice, and we gave them syphilis, whiskey, and smallpox. Isn't it time to squash the grudge? This year, the Judaeo-Christian day of Thanksgiving is threatened by encroaching Judaism. For the first time in over a hundred years, the first night of Hanukkah, or Chanuka, falls on the same day as Thanksgiving. Personally, I never could get too excited over a holiday where there's a discrepancy over how to spell it, but Hanukkah is a celebration of the Jewish victory over the Greeks in 165 BCE, when Judah and his merry band of Maccabees arranged Olympic-style games for young Jewish athletes and the Olympic flame burned for eight nights. I'm being facetious, of course. The eight day celebration is in reference to the Beatles' song, "Eight Days a Week," because some ultra-Reform Jews believe that the Lord created the earth and the heavens in seven days rather than six, and on the eighth day, He created the Beatles.

This cosmic convergence has even been given a name- "Thanksgivukkah," which was created and trademarked by a Jewish mother from New England named Dana Gitell, who has also snatched up the Twitter handle, created a Facebook page, and started selling tee shirts. Boston Mayor Tom Menino has proclaimed November 28th, "Thanksgivukkah," in the traditionally Irish-Catholic city, saying, "This is an once-in-a-lifetime event. It's a day to celebrate the diversity of our city and the spirit of working together to make Boston a better place." What kind of heretic does he think he is? Just because the event won't repeat for another 79,043 years, is that any reason to sacrifice our traditional values on the alter of political correctness and declare the day as "special?"  Let's return the heavily religious connotations that Lincoln recommended back to Thanksgiving, then we can put the "cai" back in Chanuka. However, if you don't say "Happy Thanksgiving" to me, I won't answer you. None of this "Merry Turkey Day," or "Happy Gobble Day," and if we don't nip this "Thanksgivukkah" business in the bud, the next thing you know, the Jews will be trying to claim Jesus and we'll all be lighting turkey-shaped menorahs. In fact, a nine-year-old New York City boy has patented a turkey-shaped menorah, called a "Menurkey."  At my house, we will still be having our traditional holiday meal of Bar-B-Q Turkey and chopped liver with fried latkes served over cheese grits- and for dessert: small, mesh bags of chocolate coins. Then we'll make burnt offerings to Hanuman, the monkey god, and pray for an end to the sequester just as the Founders intended. Until then, happy pre-holidays to all y'all. Now let's discuss this War on Halloween.

Monday, October 07, 2013

That's Entertainment

My wife has informed me that I've been doing nothing but ranting and raving around the house over the ongoing government shutdown and the yellow rat bastards that created it, only the sole recipient of my eloquent fury has been her, and she's worn out.
Melody said, "I hate it when you do that!"
"Do what?" I innocently inquired.
"You know what you're doing. You're not talking to me, you're writing that thing and practicing it on me." We've only been married eleven years. Melody should know by now that I would angrily soliloquize, thing or no, about these half-wit anarchists that have sold-out our government for a pittance, gaining nothing. But she has suggested, for the benefit of my mental health and her own, that I should try to write something humorous, like I used to before pridefully ignorant peckerwoods began dictating a Santa's list of demands before agreeing to fund the government. I'd like to, but what's funny lately? PeePaw scaling the walls of the shuttered World War II Memorial in D.C.? Anyway, to please my wife, which is never unwise, I've decided to return to entertainment. So now, I would like to do one of my favorite political impressions that I'm forever being asked to do at parties- the angry Tea Party Republican. Ladies and gentlemen, with your permission, let me just strap my holster to my leg and present for your enjoyment, that friend or relative that we, particularly in the South, know only too well.

   "Hey bub, let me tell you one damn thing right off the jump, I don't consider myself one of those Tea Party crazies. I'm a conservative libertarian. All the polls show that the majority of real Americans don't want Obamacare because it was shoved down our throats by one political party. Obama is eager to destroy America and about half the country can see that. Vladimir Lenin referred to American liberals as "useful idiots." Lenin used them, but he was disgusted by them. Nobody but liberals want to live under totalitarianism.The liberals want all power centralized in a world government. Then they can dismantle America at their leisure and institute any form of tyranny they want. Americans have become mindless, dependent sheep. They are so addicted to government handouts, they will believe anything to keep those out of office who will take away their freebies and make them work for a living. The less intelligent must receive unending subsidies and hand-outs provided by those who actually earn money. Obamacare is socialist legislation, passed along party lines as a gift for the country's first African-American president, because not supporting it means you are a racist. The whole deal is just another giveaway to people who refuse to be responsible for their own lives. I still believe he is not a citizen of the USA and he is trying to destroy America from within and create hate for the rich by playing on the poor. He is the worst president we ever had, but Americans have become too politically correct to handle the truth."

Laughing Yet? Maybe a bit too harsh? You're right, it probably was too coherent for a Teabagger. Let me change my vocal inflection and give you my imitation of a right-wing, conspiratorial, doomsday prepper.
   Ahem.."Liberals don't do well under the light of truth. It makes it harder for them to fabricate their B.S. That's why they're for a censored media. Obama is nothing more than a hand puppet for the global Oligarchs he serves. After Hillary is elected, we will be a third-world nation until we're absorbed into the coming totalitarian New World Order. Hillary Clinton in 2016 will be America's first female, Marxist, bisexual, necromancing president. The Bible says Satan is the father of all lies. Politics is Satanic. The Democrats will blame Republicans if Obamacare turns out badly. It's just another theft of working people's money and giving it to the freeloaders. There ain't no free lunch. Just wait until the sale of your home will be taxed three percent to pay for Obamacare. Obama and the crooks he's surrounded himself with have carried their Chicago-style, thug politics too far. We are not yet to the point for the need for open rebellion, but we're heading that way. I hope you liberals like what's coming down the pike, because its your heads that will be on a pike. See you in the gulags. Maybe then you'll listen. "

Pretty far out, huh? I'm thinking of doing a one-man show if I can get corporate sponsorship. And if you think my rhetoric is much too radical for the mainstream, I must now tell you that I took all the above quotes directly from the "comments" section of my last several posts. And I didn't even include the personal attacks- wonderful statements like, "You are a very bad advertisement for the University of Memphis School of Journalism. Anyone with a grain of sense can see that you are a small-time, deluded muckraker and a sorry joke of a yellow journalist." Here's another dart: "You're the most prejudiced, one-sided, prevaricating commentator I've ever read. Stick to writing self-serving stories about yourself." Or, on the topic of race: "You brand anybody who disagrees with Obama a racist. You stereotype worst (sic) than any racist I have known. You are crazed over the issue of skin color. You are a virulent racist and an avid fan of baby murder." And while we've broached the topic of women's reproductive rights: "Aren't you glad that your mother was pro-life- at least in your case? Good luck after you close your eyes for the last time, and that shouldn't be many years hence." And my personal favorite; "When the Jews wipe out Iran and start looking for race traitors, you better hide under the bed." It makes me wonder, why should I labor so hard over these articles or fret about deadlines? This stuff practically writes itself. You've been great. Please tip your waitress- I'll be here all week.

 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Fall Season

Hi kids. Uncle Randy checking in once again. Happy Fall to all. Fall always reminds me of fresh starts and new beginnings. This rapid weather change, however, makes me believe that we are going to pay for that reasonably mild summer we experienced in Memphis. Which reminds me, I hope everyone gets their flu shot this year, that is, if you don't believe that the vaccine is a secret government conspiracy to make you sick enough to wish you had health insurance. In that case, you're in luck. Obamacare is due to kick-in on October 1st, and as I predicted in these pages, we are already seeing the formerly infallible insurance companies running competing advertisements for affordable policies. That's different already. For someone like me, who went without health insurance for a decade because of the dreaded "pre-existing condition," the Affordable Care Act is a long awaited remedy. For a person who receives all their information from Fox News and right-wing websites, it's the worst thing to hit America since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

With only days before the law takes effect, the Republicans are scrambling around like cockroaches, attempting anything and everything to derail or delay Obamacare. The Tea Party led House Republicans passed a bill to alot money to run the government, without funding Obamacare, technically a violation of the law. If the Tea Party began telling the American people to stop paying their income taxes, or to ignore the speed limit, wouldn't they be aiding and abetting the commission of a crime? The Koch brothers have been running television ads that show a creepy looking Uncle Sam with a wicked smile preparing to perform a gynecological exam on an unsuspecting young woman. The grotesquery is supposed to convince younger people to opt-out of Obamacare. This is where you younger folks come in. I understand that the Affordable Care Act is unpopular and that the right-wing hysteria has had its effect, but all the bill does is deliver thirty million new customers to the health insurance industry. The problem isn't Obamacare, it's the health insurance scam that the medical/pharmaceutical complex forced upon us in the first place. Now that we're all in this together, the first step out of this trap is to at least make health insurance affordable and available to everyone.

The health care act allows a young person to remain on their parents' insurance until age twenty-six. I know you're feeling great now, but when you start getting close to thirty, things begin to happen. You may be fit enough to play on a Park Commission basketball team, until you're diving for a loose ball and get your teeth knocked out, which actually happened to a friend of mine. Another friend was a teammate in a softball league until he tore out his knee sliding into home. You'll be happy you have health care on these occasions, not to mention actual illnesses that require a doctor's care. So, young people's participation is necessary to make the law effective, despite the Koch brothers' efforts to convince them otherwise. Obamacare is the settled law of the land, yet the House bill to defund the  act allows the "loyal opposition" to kick their forty-second attempt at killing the law over to the Senate, where it stands no chance of passing, but every chance of becoming the partisan, political spectacle of the fall season. All eyes will be on the man Sarah Palin refers to as "Tea Party Ted,"- Texas Senator Tom, I mean Ted Cruz. The first term senator, whose naked presidential ambitions are embarrassing, has vowed to do "everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare," including a promise to filibuster any spending bill that does not defund the health care law. Majority Leader Harry Reid, doing his Don Corleone impression, responded, "Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead. Dead."

Ted Cruz is living proof that a degree from Harvard ain't what it used to be. He may possess a rich intellect, but he displays poor judgement. That leftist rag Wall Street Journal called Cruz's idea of using the continuing resolution to defund Obamacare as "crazy." Sen. John McCain said it was a "bad idea." Before "Tea Party Ted" was to appear on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace said he was "stunned" to receive opposition research on the Senator, "from other Republicans." Cruz, the neo-Joe McCarthy, has labelled Social Security a "ponzi scheme," and said that "Sharia law is an enormous problem in this country." Oh yeah, he voted against the Violence Against Women Act too. Even his fellow conservatives despise him. Outspoken Rep. Peter King of New York said, "He should stay in the Senate, keep quiet. If he can deliver on this, fine. If he can't, he should keep quiet from now on and we shouldn't listen to him." Harry Reid will merely strip any language about defunding Obamacare from the spending bill and send it back to the House. Then it's up to "Crying John" Boehner to either find the votes to pass the Senate bill and prevent a government shutdown, or stand with the Tea Party and go down with the ship. If you recall, the last government shutdown was a disaster which led to the fellating of President Clinton. The deadline is September 30, and if you think this is exciting, just wait until next month's self-inflicted crisis over the damned debt ceiling, when the Tea Party lunatics attempt to delay the implementation of Obamacare for another year. I'm not a lawyer, but I watch a lot of television. Isn't this legal grounds for obstruction of justice?

 

Monday, September 09, 2013

Bombing For Peace

That clever Barack Obama with his Kenyan, colonialist, socialist tactics. I see what he's doing. He's using an old cold-war Manchurian mind-control trick he learned in an Indonesian madrassa when he was in training to take over the world. Obama is using the ancient technique of turning someones greatest desires against them, in this case the back-bench Republicans, who would love nothing more than to see the election of 2008 declared unconstitutional and Obama deported. Like using reverse psychology on a child, the Svengali president is using the irrational, frothing hatred of the Tea Party Republicans against the very idea of a Barack Obama in order to obtain his genuine goals. Look at the record. This man distinguished himself in the Illinois Senate by declaring against the Bush Iraq War resolution when other Democrats were too timid. He came into office vowing to end that same Iraq War, and he has. Troops in Afghanistan are loading up the trucks for a trip back down the old Khyber Pass, getting the hell out of hell. Obama doesn't want war in Syria. He's a pacifist who pals around with people like William Ayers, the peace terrorist. This whole "getting congressional approval for a military strike" is a sham. Obama's a peacenick. He even won the Nobel Peace Prize. If he tells this Congress he wants health, they'll vote for sickness. If he says he wants war, they'll give him peace.

It's not as if President Assad is the first lunatic to use chemical weapons. I can still hear echos of George W. Bush sputtering in exasperation, "but he gassed the Kurds," in reference to Saddam Hussein. That wasn't a sufficient reason to invade Iraq then, and it's not reason enough to invade Syria now. The President has assured us that no such thing would ever take place- no "boots on the ground," in the current politspeak. The problem is that the trust factor of the American people in their elected leaders has been so eroded by the Bush lies, they are hesitant to provide that trust to anyone again. Obama cites Bill Clinton's successes in Bosnia and Kosovo, where a bombing campaign ended a brutal dictator's reign and stopped a genocidal Serb forces' terror. Folks that can still remember that far back may also recall Mr. Clinton's response to the Al Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa. When Clinton lobbed a couple of Cruise missiles into terrorist bases in Afghanistan and a suspected chemical weapons plant in the Sudan, he was in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and his opponents claimed the strikes were just a diversion from the ongoing testimony of the sordid details from his sex life- "Wag the Dog," they called it, after the popular Dustin Hoffman movie.

Bashar al Assad was hoped to be a more enlightened leader than his dad, Hafez al Assad, who ruled Syria by violently suppressing dissent. Bashar is an Opthamologist who lived in London for awhile and even once made a statement praising democracy, yet he's just proven himself to be a more efficient killer than his father. The pictures coming out of Syria of victims of chemical attacks are undeniably heartbreaking and are deserving of a response. Where's the Muslim Brotherhood when you need them? Syria is surrounded by states capable of attacking their weapons cache, so why does the U.S. have to do it? In 2007, Israel made a secretive air strike against a partially constructed nuclear reactor deep within the Syrian desert. Because the operation was subject to a news blackout, tensions in the region remained unchanged- and what was the ferocious Syrian retaliation? Syria complained that Israeli jets had violated their airspace. If Israel felt threatened by Syria's chemical weapons today, would they not act again? There are atrocities committed around the world every day. Although the U.S. claims the moral authority, we no longer have the wherewithal to be the international dispenser of justice. I can still recall DuPont manufactured chemical weapons called Agent Orange and Napalm that were used on civilian populations in Vietnam. They were classified as defoliants, but they killed just the same. Which, among the angry nations of the world, should have decided what our punishment would have been, and who would have delivered it?

Obama's caution is understandable. When he ordered missile strikes against Libyan air defenses for murdering anti-Gaddafi protesters in March 2011, his objective was achieved, but it led to Benghazi. If he's looking for a precedent, all he need do is look to the Republican hero, John Wayne- I mean Ronald Reagan. In 1986, in response to a bombing in West Berlin by a terrorist group based in Libya, Reagan ordered the strafing of Muammar Gaddafi's personal residence. The result was the expulsion of the terrorists from Libyan soil. There's never been a war that the Republicans weren't willing to join, yet suddenly, usually hawkish conservatives are sounding like John Lennon. Tea Party heroes like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have led the opposition to any proposed action, while old guard Republicans like John McCain and John Boehner favor strikes. Obama stepped into his own trap with this "red-line" stuff, and it was wise to leave it up to a Congress that would refuse him ice water in the desert. Rand Paul said, "No on wants to go into Syria," despite the president's assurances that we were not "going in" anywhere. Yet there are always those unintended consequences.

As of this writing, the president has not yet addressed the nation, but it's beginning to look like public, as well as congressional, sentiment is turning against him. And as we grow closer to hostilities, the Tea Party is accusing Obama of "wagging the dog," to detract from their singular pursuit of the Fox News created Benghazi scandal, and for taking up precious time that could be spent attempting to disassemble Obamacare. The chemical attacks in the Damascus suburbs are an outrage to humanity- just the sort of thing for which the United Nations was formed to address. If they refuse to act, the fleet's already there. We're the nation that killed the whole Hussein family, what's another missile or two between murderous tyrants? The president could accept an alliance with France just to drive critics like Donald Rumsfeld nuts. But Obama doesn't want to go to war. If he wanted to end the massacre of civilians in Syria, he could fire a targeted Cruise or Tomahawk, or whatever missile is the latest thing, and send it right up Bashar's Assad. Problem solved- or as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson put it, "It's better to apologise than to ask permission."