King Donnie the Deplorable Puts On a Show

Mao Zedong, formerly known to most of us as Mao Tse-Tung, was known to the Chinese people as Chairman Mao, but also as the Great Leader, the Great Teacher and the Great Helmsman, among other appellations. Next to Mao, North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il seems rather modest. Hitler was officially known as Führer und Reichskanzler (“Leader and Chancellor of the Reich”). Mussolini was informally known as il Duce (the Leader). 

In the New York City tabloids, the Orange Menace used to be known as The Donald. Perhaps he’s satisfied now with simply being the President, the Commander-in-Chief  and (with due sarcasm) the Leader of the Free World. But if today’s meeting of the cabinet offers a clue, there’s at least a Blessed Leader or Master of All He Surveys in his (and our) future.

According to White House reporter John Harwood of CNBC, the President opened the proceedings just how you’d expect:

He began with an opening statement laced with the sort of wild, self-congratulatory boasts that are his trademark. 

“Never has there been a president, with few exceptions … who has passed more legislation, done more things,” Trump declared, even though Congress, which is controlled by his party, hasn’t passed any major legislation.

He hailed his plan for the “single biggest tax cut in American history,” even though he hasn’t proposed a plan and Congress hasn’t acted on one. He said “no one would have believed” his election could have created so many new jobs over the past seven months (1.1 million), even though more jobs (1.3 million) were created in the previous seven months.

Typically, a president’s initial comments mark the end of on-camera coverage of White House Cabinet meetings, with administration aides then escorting members of the small press “pool” out of the room. But Trump invited reporters to remain as he called on his senior-most advisers to “go around, name your position” and say a few words about the administration’s work.

Later, on Twitter, Harwood wrote: “In covering [the White House] over 4 decades, I’ve never seen a [President of the US] elicit flattery from aides like Trump today”.

According to The Washington Post:

… White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke up to thank Trump “for the opportunity and blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”

Priebus said he was offering words on behalf of everyone in the room. But one by one, pretty much everyone else seated around the table took the opportunity to lavish their leader with praise, too, as the media looked on.

“It’s an honor to be able to serve you,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I am privileged to be here,” said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. “Deeply honored.”

“What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership,” Tom Price, secretary of that department, added when it was his turn to speak. “I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”

Brian Beutler of The New Republic described it a more subjectively:

[He] assembled his entire cabinet at the White House on Monday, and, in a display of dominance and humiliation like none I’ve seen in an advanced democracy, invited everyone in attendance to go around the table praising Dear Leader before the press corps. The whole creepy-bordering-on-obscene spectacle lasted about 11 minutes.

[A video of the entire 11 minutes is provided]

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao looks like she’s been taken hostage, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (the only one who didn’t essentially swear loyalty to Trump) is clearly pissed, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sounds desperate to keep his job (reportedly, he is). 

It’s been clear for years that everyone who agrees to work for Trump eventually abases themselves, but it usually isn’t as plain as it is here, with multiple supplicants surrounding him, essentially being ordered to humiliate themselves.

Remember how King Lear begins? The old guy meets his daughters and asks “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Goneril goes first:

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare…

Cordelia doesn’t have much to say, but Regan does:

I profess myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love.

Of course, Lear proceeds to lose his mind and eventually drops dead from all the stress he’s endured. If only life in Washington was that simple.

The Death of Maggie Roche

Oh, hell. Maggie Roche of the folk rock vocal group, the Roches, died of cancer on January 21, 2017. She was 65.

I didn’t see that before. Maybe there was too much other news that day. Actually, there was. It was the day of the big Women’s March and the day after a certain presidential inauguration.

The New York Times printed a nice obituary, which includes remarks from her sister: 

She was … too sensitive and shy for this world, but brimming with life, love, and talent…. She was smart, wickedly funny, and authentic — not a false bone in her body — a brilliant songwriter, with a distinct unique perspective, all heart and soul.

“Speak” is one of her songs. She wrote the words and music:

The time has come for me to speak
Uh oh the time has come
And while the silence picks on me
I pray to not be dumb

So I am hunting for the words
Just wait til I find some
I need some syllables do you
Know where to get them from

When I am in my house alone
My speeches take a week
But from my lips when you are near
A sound will seldom leak.

There’s that feeling when someone younger than you dies and you think, well, after all, she was X years old.

Death is the ultimate form of escapism. The internet has nothing on death.

Something Musical, Not Political

Maybe you know what song this is.

It plays over the closing credits of a recent French movie called Things To Come (L’avenir). Hearing the song a couple days ago, I thought it was so good that I wondered who recorded it. It sounded very contemporary, so I was quite surprised to see it was recorded in 1959. It was an album track by a group called the Fleetwoods, from Olympia, Washington. Their two #1 hits, “Come Softly To Me” and “Mr. Blue”, came out that same year. 

Researching the song, I came across a site called World’s Music Charts. I don’t know anything about the site, or how they calculate their results, but based on their collection of music charts from various countries, they have this song listed as the world’s 4th most popular song. Not the 4th most popular recording, but the 4th most popular song.

From its Wikipedia article:

It has since become a standard and one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, most notably by the Righteous Brothers. According to the song’s publishing administrator, over 1,500 recordings of [it] have been made by more than 670 artists in multiple languages.

In 1955, three versions of the song charted in the Billboard Top 10 in the United States, and four versions appeared in the Top 20 in the United Kingdom simultaneously, an unbeaten record for any song. The song and “Do They Know It’s Christmas” are the only songs to reach number one in four different recordings in the UK. [The Righteous Brothers] version achieved a second round of great popularity when it was featured in the 1990 film Ghost.

The song was written for a little-known prison movie by two songwriters, Alex North and Hy Zaret, who never became famous. 

Here it is as performed by the Righteous Brothers in 1965. It was originally intended as an album track, not a single, and although Phil Spector took credit for the production (that’s the kind of guy he was), it was apparently one of the Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley, who produced it. You’ll recognize it when you hear it.

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And here is the Fleetwoods version from their album Mr. Blue. This doesn’t sound like six years earlier to me. I hope you enjoy it, which you might even if you don’t like the famous version. This one is very different.

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PS: Want to do something about what happened in Washington today? This might help.

In Memoriam

From Saturday Night Live, April 1978:

believe… next week’s Time cover… will be about the recent communication from outer space. 

Well, what — you mean a foreign planet will actually send a message next week? 

No! A foreign planet actually SENT us a message last week. Next week, the government will reveal the message to the public. 

You see, it all started on August 20th, 1977, when NASA put up a recording of the sounds of Earth on Voyager I. A two-hour long tape included, uh, natural sounds of animals, … a passage from the Koran in Arabic, messages from President Carter, United Nations Secretary Kurt Waldheim, music — everything from classical to Chuck Berry. 

Uh — and you’re saying that the, uh — another civilization has found the tape? 

Yes. They’ve sent us a message that actually proves it. It may be just four simple words, but it is the FIRST positive proof that other intelligent beings inhabit the universe. 

Uh — what are the four words? 

The four words that came to us from outer space — the FOUR words that will appear on the cover of Time Magazine next week — are:

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Chuck Berry,  1926 – 2017

Hail, hail, rock and roll

Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news

Maybe some day your name will be in lights, saying “Johnny B. Goode Tonight”

 

 

Apple Core! Baltimore!

Finishing my apple this morning, I remembered what used to come next. If you were with a few of your friends, someone would yell “Apple core!” Somebody would respond with “Baltimore!” Next there’d be a question: “Who’s your friend?” At which point, one of us would name somebody else in the group, for example, “Mike!” Then the person holding the apple core would throw it at Mike. This was funny stuff.

I assume this was a fairly common experience for young people in Southern California fifty or sixty years ago. Or maybe my friends and I were the only idiots who did it. I’m wondering now because a brief survey of people who grew up on the East Coast didn’t find anyone who remembered it. (It’s not the kind of thing a person would tend to forget, even after fifty or sixty years.) Presumably, if nobody did it on the East Coast back then, nobody is doing it here now. 

I can’t remember which person in the group called out the opening “Apple core!” or who responded with “Baltimore!”. Nor do I remember who had the honor of naming his “friend”, i.e. the target. But I’m pretty sure it didn’t work the way Donald Duck and either Chip or Dale did it here:

Assuming this was a widespread practice on the West Coast, but not the East Coast, it’s yet more confirmation that the West Coast is the Best Coast. (I’m leaving out the Gulf Coast for obvious reasons.)

For the sake of completeness, here’s the full 1952 Disney cartoon. It’s called “Donald Duck Applecore” and includes Donald’s jazzy theme song under the opening credits.

Finally, for completeness, I should point out that the “Apple core, Baltimore” rhyme appeared in an earlier, feature-length Disney movie called “Melody Time”. It was part of a dance number in the Johnny Appleseed segment. But it apparently took years for the Disney people to invent the best part (throwing the apple core at someone like Mike).

PS: The other Donald still sucks.

Corporate Life As Depicted On My Old Bulletin Board

There were four cartoons on the bulletin board in my office for many years, back when I was paid to help the wheels of finance capitalism turn. Maybe there was a theme that united them. Of course, not everyone liked them as much as I did.

The first one was by Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of The New Yorker, who recently announced he’s leaving that job. It’s the most famous one he drew.

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The other three were by Gary Larson, who drew The Far Side for 15 brilliant years.

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So is there a theme here? We have a businessman subverting standard practice; a gorilla who sees himself as more complex than his peers; someone in a horrible situation who thinks it’s worth stating the obvious but is afraid he might make things even worse; and two spiders with very high hopes doomed to failure.

It was a “successful” career, but no wonder I still have bad dreams about the place.

Submitted For Your Approval

Many of us with gray hair find it almost impossible to encounter a bizarre situation without invoking the title of an ancient television show. It ran from 1959 to 1964 and was in black and white. The program was created and hosted by Rod Serling (1924-1975), a talented writer and Unitarian from upstate New York with a reputation in the TV industry as an “angry young man”.

Sometimes the best part of a Twilight Zone program was when Serling appeared on screen to introduce the show and then later to comment on the weird or scary stuff that just happened. And there was that great theme music!

Given the recent tragedy, it’s safe to say that millions of Americans, including whoever created the image below, had the exact same thought: “It’s like we’re in The Twilight Zone“.

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To worldwide acclaim, a reporter for Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper named Damien Love used his “TV Highlights” column to brilliantly say the same thing (text below):

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 “After a long absence, The Twilight Zone returns with one of the most ambitious, expensive and controversial productions in broadcast history. Sci-fi writers have dabbled often with alternative history stories – among the most common is the “What If The Nazis Had Won The Second World War” setting – but this huge interactive virtual reality project, which will unfold on TV, in the press, and on Twitter over the next four years, sets out to build an ongoing alternative present. The story begins in a nightmarish version of 2017 in which huge sections of the US electorate have somehow been duped into voting to make Donald Trump president. It sounds far-fetched, and it is, but as it goes on it becomes more and more chillingly plausible. Today’s feature-length opener concentrates on the gaudy inauguration of President Trump, and the stirrings of protest and despair surrounding the ceremony, while pundits speculate gravely on what lies ahead. It’s a flawed piece, but a disturbing glimpse of the horrors we could stumble into, if we’re not careful.”

Believe it or not, that was all preface to what I really wanted to share today. 

Some linkages between The Twilight Zone and the current crisis aren’t so successful:

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We’ll have to wait and see if the Republican Party committed suicide or not, but the real problem here is that Rod Serling never opened The Twilight Zone with “Imagine if you will”. Nor did he say “Consider if you will”, although he sometimes asked us to “imagine” something.  

How do I know this? Because we have Wikiquotes and internet browsers with a “Find” feature. 

It’s amazing but true. One or more devoted souls have transcribed everything Rod Serling said during the five-year run of The Twilight Zone. You can read every word right here.  

Mr. Serling once said “Pleased to present for your consideration”, but it turns out he preferred the word “submitted” as in “Submitted for your approval”:

“Respectfully submitted for your perusal, a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of 350 pounds. Origin: unknown.” (“To Serve Man”, March 2, 1962)

“Submitted for your approval: the case of one Miss Agnes Grep, put on Earth with two left feet, an overabundance of thumbs and a propensity for falling down manholes.” (“Cavender Is Coming”, May 25, 1962)

“Major Robert Gaines, a latter-day voyager just returned from an adventure. Submitted to you without any recommendation as to belief or disbelief.” (“The Parallel”, March 14, 1963)

“Submitted for your approval or at least your analysis: one Patrick Thomas McNulty, who, at age forty-one, is the biggest bore on Earth.” (“A Kind of a Stopwatch”, October 18, 1963)

He also liked “picture”:

“Picture of the spaceship E-89, cruising above the thirteenth planet of star system fifty-one, the year 1997.” (“Death Ship”, February 7, 1963)

“Picture of an aging man who leads his life, as Thoreau said, ‘in a quiet desperation.’ (“A Short Drink From a Certain Fountain” (December 13, 1963)

When we used to listen to Mr. Serling’s clipped, sonorous tones each week, we supposed the present age would feature marvels like a three-day workweek and astronauts voyaging to Jupiter and beyond. Some things have turned out better than expected, but we haven’t cured the common cold, it’s legal to parade around with a six-gun on your hip in much of the United States and a mentally-ill game show host in thrall to a foreign dictator will soon be the Commander-in-Chief. I mean, it’s like living in The Twilight Zone.