Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Should Critics Give Trump a "Fair Trial"?

Criticism of Donald Trump has roared from the blocks like Usain Bolt and those who voted for him and even traditional Republicans hopeful for conservative policies to be implemented at whosever behest have taken umbrage en masse to what they perceive as contempt prior to investigation. They urge detractors lay off, take a breath or as is most said and written in my anecdotal experience of observing this backlash, to give Trump a “fair trial.”

What does that mean though? With the stakes as high as they are in the case of any presidency, is it wise to abandon any of the checks and balances that are in place? Whether they are rules of governance or simply the benefits of living in a free and functioning democracy, shouldn’t citizens feel at liberty to exercise every available means of exchange without its validity being challenged over some imagined buffer the president-elect is supposedly entitled to?

Presidential assessment and treatment by the public, the press and colleagues develops as a result of sequential events, each of which are stamped with a decision that reflects a presidential tendency, and that in turn will play its part in the full measure of a president's time in office. The case can be made that this early in the process, those tendencies are still taking shape. One could also very credibly say that the office itself has a way of making the president. But let’s not be na├»ve. These cabinet picks are with a few exceptions conspicuously antagonistic and craven, and there is no starry-eyed circumspection going on in the Trump camp. It is game on. The opposition can’t afford to rest and it shouldn’t be expected to.

What is a “fair trial,” then? Is it kind of like a Mulligan in golf? And how many does Trump hypothetically get? If it’s three gaffes and then he has to start behaving, I am going to say number one was impugning the credibility of the CIA and the FBI, number two was kicking off a possible trade war with China, and number three was kicking off a possible Russian nuclear arms race. Is the “fair trial” a matter of degree rather than quantity? Or is it a use-by date? Perhaps the request is that the opposition to Trump defer for the most part until January 20th.  All this, of course, is absurd.

There should be no limiting spigot on the criticism that will and ought to come Trump’s way.  It’s fair and it’s how we do things here. Of course one should ideally debate from an informed and calm perspective (physician, heal thyself), but there is no reason to silence objections with regard to Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump supporters who still insist that the squawking from the left is uncalled for and that Trump deserves a “fair trial” can take heart in the very real possibility that he may indeed have one at his impeachment.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cello Scrotum is Real

Apparently a hoax medical article was written describing an affliction called Cello Scrotum. The article made it through a series of reputable editorial boards and became a great source of delight for components of the medical community that appreciate such monkey business. The piece warned of the adverse effects of the scrotal exposure to lower middle frequencies resulting in adverse affects to the male of the species’ nether regions.

I tell you now, and I stake upon this assertion my reputation with the readership to which I have in my thirty-plus year career as a journalist never lied, Cello Scrotum is real.

My sister’s third husband, the one she truly loved, was second cellist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and developed the syndrome at the height of his career. He became impotent and his wife, my sister, an ebullient and fertile flower with the morals of an alley cat and a biological clock that was ticking like a jackhammer, naturally drifted away from him. My ex-brother in law’s heartache has made me acutely aware of the health hazards faced by musicians and I have made it one of my chief missions in life to do whatever I can to battle this scourge wherever I can, or at the least, to raise awareness.

It is in this spirit that I would like to call attention to a far more rare, but equally debilitating and more than tangentially related condition called Flute Face, in which the flautist victim’s embouchure is frozen in a permanent pucker, the corners of the mouth stretched taught and the center of the lips protruding in a grotesque kiss. Even I, humanitarian that I am, when presented with Flute Face, must turn and look away.

Would that Flute Face were the end of it, but once I began looking into music-related human disfigurement, I realized it was just the beginning. Let’s discuss Trumpet Lung. My roommate at Oxford played valve brass instruments for thirty years in the saloons and speakeasies of the United States on elevated stages before the smoking bans. He gulped lungful after lungful of beer-stenched and smoke-filled rooms. I will miss him.

The list goes on. Guitar Nipple. The unlucky guitarist’s left nipple has suffered such abrasion as to nearly be swept off, as though ground down by forty-grit paper on a belt sander or pumped up to full turgidity with a massage cup and then raked over with an emery board. I once interviewed Peter Frampton for Creem Magazine, and when I mentioned the rumor that the headshot cover of Frampton Comes Alive was selected in part because of his rumored case of Guitar Nipple, he retreated to his dressing room and refused to complete the interview.

Then there is Bass Balls. The low-slung Fender Precision bass is notorious for causing an unusual swelling of the testes, some such having grown to the size of pomegranates. Tuba Gut. Use your imagination. The colon pinched, intestines large and small dammed by a piece of plumbing worthy of the public toilets of Rangoon, who could expect anything but internal mishap? The stools of Tuba Gut victims resemble earthworms, thin, ribbed strands in varying grotesque shades of green and brown. If someone could live with that, I could live with my throat cut.

Sax Knuckle. You don’t want this. Trombone Neck. It usually afflicts third and fourth chair saxophonists. So why do they call it Trombone Neck? Have you ever been struck repeatedly in the back of the neck with a metal instrument over a period of years? I didn’t think so. Don’t laugh. It’s not funny.

If you have a heart, you are still reading. Let me tell you about Violin Chin, a horribly disfiguring facial affliction that manifests itself in multiple layers of stripped away chin flesh. Likewise, if you have ever seen a person afflicted with Quad Carpal, you know that this once fine drummer now resembles a dead cartoon animal, its legs and feet distended in a motionless mockery of their former gift.

So as not to appear ethnocentric, I must include world instruments in my crusade. Ukulele Rotator Cuff. Common in the Pacific, this life-altering condition turns happy Polynesians into crippled and woebegone men, their once radiant smiles now twisted into scowls of eternal agony.

Is the singer safe? In a word, no. I give you Mic Stand Hand. Repeated removal of the microphone from and insertion into microphone clips can lead to chafing of the vocalist’s hand, wholly independent of the various hepatitis strains present in most microphones used in nightclubs and the other hepatitis strains singers seem to pick up on their own.

Then of course, there is Maraca Eyeball. Some people are born with a lazy eye. Maraca players accidentally develop one. That way, they keep an eye on each maraca without twisting their necks. It is a sad and crippling affliction, but frankly, after all of the years of wild shaking, apish gesticulations and vain stage antics, it is among all of the musical maladies the one affliction for which I feel little sympathy.

Such antipathy is not the case with Bagpipe Elbow. After years of gigging at mostly solemn occasions, the pressure on a piper’s consistency is such that they never will fail, even if it means passing out or jamming their elbow into the airbag at an alarming rate. Additionally, after these layings to rest and commemorations, and usually before, the mourner/revelers in question have partaken of the cornucopia of their fatherland, scotch. A cirrhotic liver is often an adjunct condition to Bagpipe Elbow.


So please, when a musician complains of this ache here or that pain there, take him or her seriously. It could be a chronic case of Violin Chin, Flute Face, Banjo Hands or worse, and if you ignore it, you’ll never ever forgive yourselves.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

More Light, Less Heat, a Post-Truth Promise

It is a mighty task to identify in any kind of helpful detail the great American divide, mightier still to indemnify its architects, and mightiest of all to offer strategies for repairing it.

The most basic question is whether the union should be preserved. I think it must, but the schism is so stark right now that the question is being begged, and if it isn’t answered, it festers. East-and-west is east-and-west, and the Heartland is the Heartland, and never the twain shall meet. This paraphrased Kipling is a reductive and oversimplified but not necessarily inaccurate description of the current American political dynamic, and its greatest schism is so obvious most third graders could spot it on a map. It’s geography. It’s where you hang your hat.

American culture is both broad and deep, but so are its cracks, and these fissures exist across race, age and education to a large degree, but geography is an obvious and entrenched divider, never before more clearly articulated than in this recent presidential election. In the view of some components of an exasperated left, red states ought to form a government with its own representatives that favor conservative social impositions, while blue states should proceed with their own strategies for the future, marshaling resources for initiatives important to progressive sensibilities.

This idea is Civil War 2.0, and in the minds of its proponents, it doesn’t have to be a shooting war at all. It could indeed be the first “civil war.” Many liberal democrats hold the fact of willfully having pulled a lever or punched a card in order to effect the election of Donald Trump as a litmus test of decency. The chief driving force of any liberal Democrat is equanimity for all people, and Trump’s rhetoric on matters of race and religion are such anathema to the progressive person that for many, a hard line in the sand was drawn between them and Trump's supporters.

On the other side of the Weltanschauung, a fair percentage of people living in the Midwest and in the Deep South come from multi-generational occupancy of the land with some amount of the ancestry even predating the United States, and they have an in-the-bone sensitivity to encroachment. States rights as an American ideal are a part of curriculum learning from the earliest grades in Southern school systems, and the Civil War has been painted as a disagreement over just that philosophy rather than one over the slave economy. More importantly than a wildly different early understanding of American history though, in my opinion, more so even than this terribly bloody and never-quite-resolved history, is that liberals just damn make a mountain man sick.

These people are one generation down from men who volunteered for Korea and picked up a bum leg hunkered down in the frozen Chosin Reservoir or who shoveled coal into a blast furnace twelve hours a day when they were sixteen. Then if they were lucky they landed a job they hated in a factory that bent their backs and stole their hearing. But it paid for the car, two weeks away each year and three healthy kids. These Southern and Midwestern voters must honor what their parents went through. They have heard these stories their entire lives and as unfulfilled as their parents may have been, now even the factories are gone, no one past their own governors seems to give a damn, and they don’t know what to tell their children. 

When someone comes in and tells them they are going to bring those old manufacturing jobs back, they know at some level that it’s magical thinking, but it’s an indication that at least federal attention to their plight might garner some attention. What Democrats needed to have been doing in the rust belt is making it easier for low-income people to get into vocational and technical schools to adapt to a changing market.

More people are losing their good job to a robot than they are to an immigrant, and increasing access to education is right in the Democratic bailiwick. But rather than bang that drum with a sincere understanding of what is at stake, Hillary Clinton addressed the topic with now legendarily clumsy rhetoric: “We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” This is an often-quoted, out-of-context part of a much longer and very thoughtful answer, but even so, a candidate who was truly steeped in the agony of these dwindling economies would never have been able to utter those words.

When a hardscrabble Deep South, Midwest or High Plains voter hears someone with any Ivy League degree tell them about how a $15 an hour minimum wage or better yet, a guaranteed income would result in a higher GDP because a sufficient percentage of the population would be creative in the time they would be away from work and would more than make up for any who might take advantage of such a system—“wait right there while I blow your damn fool head off with one of my many guns,” says the indignant rancher whose father was the one shoveling coal into a blast furnace twelve hours a day when he was sixteen, and who barely hangs on to the ranch he and his father worked the last thirty years of the old man’s life. If you ask him about it, he might tell you he loves Trump. Or he might tell you the Democratic Party gave him nowhere else to go this year.

Left and right, red and blue, we don’t seem to like each other much, and why should we? We suck. I suck, and so do you. Admit it. You do. As do I, as I have previously acceded. I am hoping that I may have caught my breath though. And I hope you have too, so, fellow web ranter, if you’ll try to smarten up, I will too. Fair enough? Fair enough. I promise, this will be harder for me than it will be for you. We will continue to encounter armchair historians who might utter something the likes of, “Say what you will about Vietnam and Iraq, the one war the US should never have gotten involved with was the Civil War.” The punch line below the Mason Dixon would be, “Then the Yanks would be Canada’s problem,” while the northern version would be, “Then the South would be Mexico’s problem.” I reject this. I reject it out of hand.

The social divide was vast in the nineteenth century. And it was geographical. It is likewise vast and geographical now, but is it worth breaking up over? Is it as acute now as it was then? Was it a good idea then? As tempting as it may sound to some parties on both sides, it must never happen. While some counties in some states are for all intents and purposes wholly red or blue, there are no states that are, with even the bluest of the blue and reddest of the red commanding two to one majorities. That still leaves millions of conservatives in California and New York and millions of progressives in the South and the Midwest. Further division is truly not an option, and those closest to the center on both sides must rise to a shared national obligation of bringing more light than heat to the way we speak with one another, albeit often through an antiseptic medium that invites bypassing normal human courtesies.

This is the spiritual side of the great divide, but the practical side in this case will surely rule the day if we can’t quite figure out that what we think we might want isn’t what we really want. A Divided States of America will never happen if only over the question of who controls the military. I think we can all agree that the South may not have the nukes. The last thing geopolitics needs is good old boys cranking up the Molly Hatchet and threatening North Korea.

Seriously though, the red states would really hate to lose the troops and the blue states would hate to lose the nukes, and once you tried to get started, the military as its own entity might suddenly have its own ideas. Unless Washington becomes a walled-off divided city like East and West Germany or post-war Jerusalem and you want kids on either sides of the border zones TP-ing and egging each other’s houses on Halloween, secession is madness. If for the Halloween reason only, we need to learn to get along. 

Abraham Lincoln was a brilliant man, much smarter than me, and probably you if you don’t have the brains not to have stopped reading this by now (I do appreciate it though), so his conclusions at a similar precipice bear hefty consideration. He thought the preservation of the union of these states to be “the last, best hope of Earth.” Our destiny to hang together as a nation from sea to shining sea, is baked into our Constitution, it has been baked into our geography, and it should have been baked into our sense of national unity, of being in it together, which in my life has never been this fractured.

Ours is a nation that was predicated on genocide, perpetuated by slavery, maintained by exploitative labor schemes and is now sustained by perpetual war. Over the course of this experiment, an exemplary democracy was built, with no greater stage on Earth for heroic individual achievement and self-actualization. I don’t suggest that the one set of exaltations is either a fair or a necessary trade for the opposing pool of shame it juxtaposes, merely that it is so. But I also imagine a world without solid US participation and I see chaos and exploitation at a far greater level than exists now, and we cannot be our best for the world while we focus on warring from within.

If we accept that we are stuck with each other, then what to do? Can we attempt to frame our political opposition in a less caricatured way, in one that seeks to appreciate the circumstances that nurtured this opposing viewpoint? Only in comic books and in cartoons does the villain wring his hands and twirl his mustache, cackling with glee as he imagines the havoc he will wreak upon the unsuspecting city. Heartland distrust in the liberal university sociology professor comes from a place that is rooted in square deals and firm handshakes, and distrust of the heavily armed citizen comes from empathy for America’s thousands of innocent gun victims. If it is a case of talking at rather than talking to, the conversation will continue to devolve and perhaps even worse than civil war, the nation will stick together with all of the love and joy of a bad marriage, its opposing poles swirled together in a forced puree in which each of the two ingredients regard the other as a putrefaction of the recipe.

Within the two-party system, the extremes of each will forever be untenable to the mainstream of each. The committed racist, the committed bigot, the committed homophobe, of which there are many thousands in the ranks of Republican voters, will never be accepted colleagues of the vast preponderance of modern progressives. There is identical truancy of common ground among virtually all conservatives for open borders, guaranteed incomes, and other far-left impositions of governmental authoritarianism.

Where there is a prayer of fence mending is between estimable and open-minded individuals who are personally positioned closer to centrist positions on whatever bone of contention ends up in the topic barrel. Responsible conservative gun owners and progressives from rural backgrounds who can drop ten rounds in a silver dollar-size grouping from a hundred yards on iron sights could have a conversation. In my Pollyanna vision, enlightened disciples from either camp on any issue could then deliver the sane presentation of the actual argument when the conspiratorial version comes up in conversation over wine and cheese at the art opening, or over beer and pretzels at the Dew Drop Inn.


Anyway, what is this interminable screed about? I suppose it’s a promise to move along this continuum on a case-by-case basis rather than on presumption of Trump using the presidency as a branding enhancement, which is still what I think he’s up to. I also think there is a right wing coup underway that is wholly independent of the Trump presidency, and that may unwittingly be in at least part undone by Trump’s own wild idea of what the presidency is about. Likewise, Trump himself may get upended by some of his own cabinet picks. I guess the point is, you really can’t say until you see it happening, which though it hasn’t yet, seems to be a gathering storm. My own promise in this post-truth era is to be a little old-fashioned and try to stick with the truth. More light, less heat, my friends, and thanks for reading.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Trump Cabinet Possibilities: At Least Meatloaf is Out of the Running

If the question of the day is whether the neocons would capture the Trump presidency, his cabinet suggestions do not yet answer that question. There are indicators that he will indeed become the lapdog of right wing ideologues, John Bolton being considered for Secretary of State being one strong example of an acquiescence to that school of thought. Bolton is one of the great chickenhawks of our time, famously confessing that, “…I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,” but who was elemental in laying out the WMD bed of lies that served as pretext for the war in Iraq, and who gets visibly moist when speaking of chemical weapons.

Fair enough on the rice paddy situation, but Bolton’s enthusiasm for military solutions to nearly everything over the course of his administrative career can I think fairly be considered through this lens, and whether or not personal hypocrisy factors into assessing Bolton’s possible appointment, if you thought Hillary was a hawk, this guy is a cassowary. Mitt Romney, under “active consideration” for secretary of state, would be the wiser choice. If it turns out to be Bolton though, defense manufacturing stocks would be an excellent investment right now.

Also in the neocon hawk (but not chickenhawk) department is James Woolsey, who is reportedly being consulted heavily for security advice; Woolsey has never met a devastating military incursion he didn’t like. The refreshing aspect of Woolsey’s world view though is that he is a staunch environmentalist, driven in large part by his I think correct disposition that energy is a security issue. Add to that Trump’s hot-off-the-presses appointment of four-star general James Mattis as secretary of defense, and you have to think that Trump is getting ready to kill people and break things. Mattis is not a neocon doctrinaire like Woolsey, and he’s certainly not a chickenhawk like Bolton. He’s a serious choice, but in the chain of envision, strategize and implement, he is the big gun at the end of that process. My guess is he will be blowing things up fairly soon and my guess is also that he will be doing it extremely well.

I do not feel at all good about the other general Trump has on the team. In reading about General Flynn, I am surprised that he was promoted as rapidly as he was. He seems like a fool. Inconsistent in communication style and content, he is famous for leaving great chaos in his wake and a palpable grumbling dissatisfaction among his staff and colleagues, hardly desirable attributes of a leader at that level. In reading General Flynn himself, his writings are undisciplined and beneath standards I would expect of someone in his position in terms of organization and clarity. He doesn’t strike me as smart. When I read accounts of him in a hunt for positive reports, the terms “high-energy,” “workaholic” and “passionate” are what come up frequently. In my opinion, high-energy, workaholism and passion can be detriments rather than virtues if they are aimed in a twisted direction, and with Flynn, they are.


We could go down the line and make predictions, but as far as military spending and doing, “Give War a Chance” seems to be the aborning Trump administration plan, though the appointment of Romney over Bolton would install a governor on proactive militarism as a strategic preference. In any case, I am relieved that Meatloaf is apparently out of the running for any and all cabinet posts.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Maybe We're Best Off Letting Trump Be Trump (Within Reason)

Well, what to say about this whole mess apart from assessing it for what it is: a catastrophe. It’s a catastrophe for the world and it’s a catastrophe for the United States. We have elected tyrants and we have elected fools in this country, but never have we elected a psychopath. Nixon was close, but with Trump, we have installed into the White House a deranged and uniquely unqualified amateur whose capacity for damage is worth worrying about.

The presidency of course has checks and balances, and on issues of consequence a stubborn minority opposition can present dramatic obstacles as we observed throughout the Obama administration. On the other hand as the Iraq War attests, a president can lead the charge into great damage. It is hard to imagine that Trump won’t wish to fiddle with this new thing, the presidency, with much the energy a child might express toward a new toy, and it’s even harder to imagine his caprices succeeding, but it’s easy to imagine them courting disaster. How big a disaster depends on how big the idea is and as we all know, Trump thinks big league.

Trump is not firm in his ideology and has swayed dramatically over the years on key issues, always tilting toward whatever was most expedient financially or for brand enhancement. It is my belief that he doesn’t subscribe personally to a lot of the racial and religious antipathy that buoyed his candidacy. However, he now has to follow through and present some cardboard replica at least of the grander idiocies he promised his base. Not that railcars teeming with weeping families and disrupted international travel over some clumsy implementation of the Muslim ban would incur any cognitive dissonance that would effect a crisis of the presidency on Trump’s part. As I’ve suggested before, his ideology is a moving target, his moral compass a weathervane, his personal ethics a vast wasteland.  

All of this though, makes him a real target for pernicious forces that are not nearly so circumspect about their antipathy toward the rest of the world and elements of American society deemed less worthy. I nudge of course to the neocon crypt that opens up once every four years and looses its ghouls to see if it’s possible to throw more American kids into the meat grinder in devil’s trade for the Halliburton and Bechtel bottom line. The great question as I see it is whether Trump has enough energy left after this bruising campaign to be himself, the obstinate rule breaker, the one who steers his own course against all advice good and bad, or whether he will be captured by the cabal of neocons that have been wringing their hands and salivating, hopeful for another manageable president in the tradition of George W Bush.

It’s anybody’s guess. I am hoping for four years of what we might want to think of as a casino presidency; a kleptocracy where the house always wins and so do a few customers, but where most people more or less have a good time and the bouncers keep the broken noses to a minimum. The other option is for him to fall captive to the neocons, and we’ve already seen what they can do.