Thursday, April 28, 2016

Twain on Trump

There is a company that specializes in selling mints in “cleverly” ornamented little containers. The latest are the “Hillary” mints whose cover features a beaming Clinton with the captions “Hillary for Peppermint” and “A mint whose time has come.” Unlike the Obama “Don’t like the Affordable Care Act? Take two of these and call me a socialist in the morning” mints, it didn’t even have the honesty to be satirical or ironic, let alone amusing.  Why is it that people choose to deceive themselves by portraying Clinton as a source of “positive” energy, when the truth is she is a cruel, selfish and vindictive individual with no ethical values?

I recently encountered a person who urged people in her general vicinity to go out and vote this year. I enquired about who she was voting for; perhaps I should not have been surprised to learn it was Clinton. She claimed that Bernie Sander was too “liberal” and was “unelectable.” That of course set me off. Sanders had as much chance or better than Clinton against anyone in the Republican field—particularly given his lack of “baggage.” That he was not “electable” was a pro-Clinton media shibboleth. What did I have against Hillary? That she was corrupt and a liar. What could I be referring to? I ran down the list of her ethical and moral “irregularities” dating from 1979, including the Foster “suicide,” all of which were greeted with exasperation (as for Foster, he was “suicidal,” to which I retorted that all roads there led straight back to Hillary Clinton and her unethical and fanatical demands on a man who prided himself on honesty). When she observed that Clinton was more suitable because she was more “conservative,” I cynically observed that “So she is lying about being a ‘liberal’ now?” which ended that line of conversation, although I overheard her say that the anti-Hillary voters would eventually learn the error of their ways. Personally, I plan on boycotting this fraud of an election.

But that is an anecdote; it is mere repetition of sordid truth, and I wanted to give the issue of Clinton a rest for a minute or two. After all, another of these mint cases features the usual blustering caricature of Donald Trump, the presumptuous Republican candidate who wiped out the field in this past Tuesday’s primaries, continuing the truism that even supposedly intelligent and “informed” voters in both parties tend to follow the herd. Betraying the company selling these mints political bias, the caption reads “National Embarrassmints”—ha-ha—with Trump wearing a cap with a “Make America Stupid” logo. There are, of course, different levels and varieties of “stupid,” as mentioned previously.

In any case, I again defer (or refer) to Mark Twain’s judgment on such matters. What would he say about Trump’s attracting mobs of thugs and fascists, which apparently constitutes at least a third of white voters?

There are many humorous things in the world, among them the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.

On the notion of unabashed white supremacists who are flocking to Trump’s standard that birds of a feather naturally flock together simply on the notion that they are “prettier” than other species: 

(While watching Londoners pass by his window) No end of people whose skins are dull and characterless modifications of the tint which we miscall white…It seems to be designed as a catch-all for everything that can damage it. 

On the habit of many in white America to damn select minorities to damnation, particularly during election campaigns—just substitute the mentioned despised group for today’s flavor of the month (i.e. immigrants from south of the border): 

It was in this way that the boy (who was throwing rocks at some Chinese immigrants) found out that a Chinaman had no rights that any man was bound to respect; that he had no sorrows that any man was bound to pity, that neither is life nor liberty was worth the purchase of a penny when a white man needed a scapegoat, that nobody loved Chinamen, that nobody befriend them, that nobody spare them suffering when it was convenient to inflict it.

Trump also wants to make America “great” again, and that of course would include inflicting great pain on our foreign “enemies.” Bernie Sanders is opposed to continuing U.S. “interventions” in other country’s affairs, but Clinton apes Trump’s chest-thumping stupidities in trying to shoe-horn our hypocritical “principles” into unwilling countries whose cultures and religions we haven’t the foggiest understanding of, and continuously get it “wrong” over and over again, making bad situations ten time worse for us, and many more times worse for the inhabitants touched by the meddling of our armchair politicians and presidential wannabes. In his essay “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” Twain sets us straight on such failures of moral capacity:

That’s shall we go on conferring our civilization upon the people that sit in darkness, or shall we give these poor things a rest? Shall we bang right ahead in our old-time, loud, pious way, and commit the new century to the games, or shall we sober up and sit down and think it over first? Would it not be prudent to get our civilization tools together, and see how much stock is left on hand in the way of glass beads and theology, and maxim guns and hymn books, and trade gin and torches of progress and enlightenment (patent adjustable ones, good to fire villages with, upon occasion), and balance the books, and arrive at the profit and loss, so that we may intelligently decide whether to continue the business or sell out the property and start a new civilization scheme on the proceeds?

Thus all of this country’s bombs and bullets make a greater impression than our “butter” on the “beneficiaries” of our benevolent need to loot countries of oil and seek to manufacture “allies” against those who just wanted us to leave them alone. The “blessings” of Western civilization may appear to those who have benefitted best from it in this country that everyone desires it as well, although even in this country, it’s legitimacy for all citizens does not stand up to bright lights. Why should it elsewhere?

(Those who sit in darkness) have become suspicious of the blessings of civilization. More—they have begun to examine them. This is not well. The blessings of civilization are all right, and a good commercial property; these could not be better in a dim light. In the right kind of light, and at a proper distance, the goods a little out of focus, they furnish this desirable exhibit to the gentlemen who sit in darkness:

Twain then sets forth a list of stereotypically admirable traits of Western civilization, noting that “It will bring into camp any idiot that sits in darkness anywhere.” But

The brand is strictly for export—apparently. Apparently. Privately and confidentially it is nothing of the kind. (The manufacture of wars to “deliver” it have) a sort of dim, vague respectability about it somewhere, if he could only find the spot; and that, by and by, he can scour the flag clean again after he has finished dragging it through the mud…And only for money? 

Do those people who are the recipients of this country’s need to boast in their faces of our “superiority” have any right to oppose our unwanted and misguided interventions in their affairs? During the Boxer Rebellion in China, a peasant uprising supported by the empress dowager against foreigners, but mainly a reaction against the violation of Chinese customs by Christian missionaries and converts, the German Kaiser was one of many “offended” European rulers who demanded reparations from the Chinese for their losses in the country. Twain observes

Would Germany charge Americans $200,000 for two missionaries and shake the mailed fist in her face, and send warships, and send soldiers, and say “seize twelve miles of territory, worth 20 millions of dollars…”And later would Germany say to her soldiers: “March through America and slay, giving no quarter; make the German face there, as has been our Hun-face here, a terror for a thousand years; march through the great republic and slay, slay, slay, carving a road for our offended religion through its heart and bowels.”

Twain was writing over a century ago, and it would appear that nothing has changed save time and place. But that doesn’t excuse our activities in Vietnam, Iran, Panama, Iraq, Libya, Syria or any other place where we lied, bullied and offended.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Clinton and "the lie of the silent assertion"

With the presidential election quickly becoming a contest between one candidate fanning the flames of white supremacy in the manner of your typical Ku Klux Klansman, and a career criminal for whom corruption is a part of her very essence, I vacate the stage to this country’s most accomplished satirist. In his advanced years, Mark Twain became more and more cynical about human nature, raging in his own inimitable way against various examples of human failings. On occasion he let his self-righteous anger get in the way of facts, but most of the time he was spot-on with his observations. In his essay “My First Lie and How I Got Out of It”—which more or less describes Hillary Clinton’s life-long occupation—he spoke of that peculiar kind of lie that denies that what people know is wrong is actually “wrong.”

It is thus that Clinton supporters are infected with what Twain called “the lie of the silent assertion”: the “silent assertion that there isn’t anything going on in which humane and intelligent people are interested” which “is hard at work always and everywhere, and always in the interest of a stupidity or a sham, never in the interest of a thing fine or respectable.” To put it more bluntly, it is in the service of the assertion that “nothing is going on which fair and intelligent men (or women, probably more so in this case) are aware of and are engaged by their duty to try to stop.” 

Outside a few uncorrupted examples in the media (such as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board which urged voters to examine Clinton’s history of corruption and deceit, and deem her unqualified to be president), there has been universal denial by the mainstream media that Clinton’s continuing inability to stop from heaping lie upon lie on her already steaming, putrid pile of perfidy is something anyone should be interested in. During debates it was seen as a “personal attack” to ask her to explain any of her numerous crimes. 

And because of the media failure, a majority of voters also seem to believe that there is nothing of interest to them. It was all so “long ago” that it is like some naughty thing done as a child, the memory of which might cause some temporary embarrassment, but is quickly relegated back to the dark hole from which it inconveniently escaped. For Clinton, there are many such “memories” eagerly awaiting “inconvenient” escape; Bernie Sanders has not wished to make them an “issue,” but Donald Trump and his supporters might not choose to be so “genteel.” 

But of course, in reality evidence of Clinton’s corrupt, unethical “values” continues to this very day, only waiting for the day when the FBI does its duty and releases a recommendation of criminal charges against Clinton and her aids in relation to the server business and what other crimes are related to it. Not of course that I have any expectation of this, since one suspects that the FBI does not want to be accused of “sexism” in making trouble for a media-anointed female candidate that many have made a vicarious connection to, and any pain inflicted on Clinton is like sticking a pin in a voodoo doll for  her intellectually and ethically zombie-like followers. 

The lies just go on, and on, and on. People either do not care or refuse to see the lies, and unfortunately their lies are the ones that ultimately count in the end; without that mass of lying, Clinton would be just one more anonymous liar amongst them. Unfortunately, what we see is a mob of thoughtless lemmings who follow the lie that Clinton lies for them, not for herself.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The price of "real" change

It has been six years of  President Obama and Congress attempting to outdo each other in setting fires that soon expire for lack of suitable combustible material—merely the expectoration of a lot of hot air that quickly dissipates in cold reality. It has been like trench warfare—a lot of facing off of sides, maybe lobbing over a missile or two to let the other know they are still around just in case they try to attack, only to be mowed down by a lot of heated rhetoric and running back to the safety of their battlements. 

The country seems to desire a radical change of direction. 45 percent of both Republican and Democratic voters want this change, although their aims only intersect directly on trade issues. Even the reports are that now Republicans are resigning themselves to the probability that Donald Trump will be their candidate.  This is not good news for Hillary Clinton; these voters don’t want what Hillary Clinton offers, which is neither left nor right nor anywhere, but simply a megalomaniacal acceptance in her own gender “entitlement.” If half of Bernie Sanders supporters refuse to vote for Clinton due to their intense detestation of her corrupt, unethical and unprincipled cupidity in her unbridled grasping for power and ill-gotten wealth, it is highly unlikely that Clinton can be elected no matter how many polls the Clinton News Network releases. 

Worse for Clinton is if they choose to vote for someone else, in the perhaps mistaken belief that some “tasteful” change can overcome the “distasteful”—which is generally the case with white voters, who are generally not the targets of the distasteful part. What does Clinton offer that overcomes the desire for decisive change of direction? Maintenance of the status quo, which basically is what her “realism” equates to? Or in the face of a Republican majority in Congress, it is either more trench warfare, or Clinton does what the Clintons have always done: cave in to the Republicans—or is it merely exposing their true selves—and support legislation that serves the “needs” of well-off whites, to the detriment to the low-income and minorities. Of course, Clinton might support such “liberal” causes that are part of the radical white feminist/misandrist agenda, but these have more to do with self-serving tyranny than any “progressive” impulse. 

I think Clinton must be prevented from achieving the White House, because she has no respect for law or lawful behavior, to the point being pathological. I think she has some serious psychological issues. There is no doubt that if Bill Clinton had not been elected president in 1992, both he and Hillary would have been so embroiled in and even convicted of numerous charges stemming from Whitewater and the Madison Guaranty scandals that they would never have been serious candidates for president. It is just a horrible circumstance that the preferred opportunity of achieving this, Bernie Sanders, is being lost because the media has repeatedly failed to expose Clinton’s long record of corruption, perjury and hypocrisy, supporting her merely because of gender while pretending she represents something else.

The passing of Prince, and of contemporary music generally

The passing of Prince, one of the megastars of the 1980s’ pop world, last week is a reminder how much music has changed for the worse. He may been short (relatively tiny at five-feet tall), but after the release of Purple Rain, Prince he was generally acknowledged as a giant, the most important and innovative musical artist of the decade. I wasn’t really a fan of his, but being someone who appreciated a tight and tuneful song, I liked Rain and the follow-up album Around the World in a Day, which had put-off some Prince fans but I found to be an attempt at a “Beatlesque” sound.  

Prince was a rarity even then: a multi-instrumentalist, particularly proficient at guitar, and wrote a continuous quantity of good-to-great songs, charting a string of singles that included five number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100. There was certainly no mistaking Prince from other artists at the time. Unlike other superstars of the Eighties, like Billy Joel, Bruce Springstein, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, he represented the zeitgeist of the Eighties music scene; unlike Madonna, he was a musician promoting music, not using music to promote himself. He was certainly an enigma with his “androgynous” appearance, his tendency to wear 18th century-styled outfits (usually purple), and his sometimes inscrutable pronouncements and behavior. 

There have been “tributes” from current “artists” who really have no clue about his level of professionalism and dedication to the art of music. A great singer with a naturally agile voice, he didn’t need Autotune to “fake” a sound he couldn’t produce (like, say, Lana Del Rey), something that has turned most “singers” into almost indistinguishable robots or singing chipmunks. Perhaps what he thought of them could be gleaned from these comments from USA Today interviews:

“Nobody is learning how to make music, how to read and write it, and how to play. I worry that we’re raising a whole generation that’s going to turn out nothing but samples and rehashes.” That was in 1991. 

“You can’t bring a prerecorded event to the stage. You have to be able to vibe off the audience and let a song marinate. Keep it alive! Where can you see a real band anymore? You can’t get a machine to play like my drummer.” Anyone notice how often “singers” and “musicians” lose their “queues” and look ridiculous in the process? Like Katy Perry pretending to play a flute with a stage hand holding a mike to it—and when she lost her “key” he was still holding it in place like an idiot as the instrument “played” on and Perry was acting all flustered in embarrassment? Or Ashlee Simpson’s cosmic meltdown on Saturday Night Live?

“I’m single, celibate and sexy. I feel free.” I thought I’d just throw that in there as an antidote for the Adeles, Kelly Clarksons, Fiona Apples and Alanis Morissettes of the world.

Anyways, this give me an opportunity to mention how awful the “music” business is today, the contemporary part of which continues to make me cringe in agony. Before Billboard decided to use the Soundscan system to chart albums and singles, what songs and albums that were put out generally were controlled via separate  charts, like the “mainstream” Billboard Hot 100, the R&B chart, the Country chart, and so on. “Hardcore” songs from the “genre” charts rarely made it onto the “mainstream” chart, the charts from which most contemporary radio stations chose their song lists. In that way, what music was put-out was largely controlled by the large music companies.

But with the advent of the Soundscan era, any song from any genre could not only make a huge splash on the “mainstream” chart which originally catered mostly to the taste of young white listeners, but to dominate it. Thus rap and hip-hop sales started to muscle-out rock and pop, and an “industry” out to make money, went to where the money was “now,” and that “now” doesn’t seem to ever end. Oh sure, there are are exceptions, of course. I liked songs like Fun’s “We Are Young”  and Maroon 5’s “Sugar” which reminds me of Earth, Wind and Fire from a distance, although close-up both songs tunefulness and harmonies are just barely winning over the auto-tune robotics and thin production. 

The alleged “top three” in contemporary “pop” music—Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Adele—are part of the problem. Great songwriters, like, say, Paul Simon, knew how to transform a simple sentiment into something eloquent and universal, such as this selection from his “Something so Right”:

Some people never say the words I love you
It’s not their style to be so bold
Some people never say the words I love you
But like a child they’re longing to be told

On Jimmy Kimmel Live a few years ago, Kimmel presented Swift with some examples of her own lyrics, expressing a “need” to know what they meant. One example was this:

You always knew how to push my buttons
You gave me everything and nothing

I’m not going to quote Swift’s convoluted effort to apply “meaning” to this expression, or her pompous failure to realize that Kimmel was poking fun at her, later claiming that some made-up lyrics that she didn’t write that actually made sense wouldn’t get much “praise” from critics. Swift must have spent a long time with her team of “song” writers to come up with something this vapid and vague, which probably doesn’t matter because you can’t quite make them out between the autotune mixer and  the loud, droning electronic drum sound that is only “instrument” that is actually heard. 

Beyonce, on the other hand, uses convoluted vocal gymnastics to carry utterly tuneless songs. Some people might think this is “talent,” but such an excuse is utterly unworthy of those great singers of the past who could naturally carry a tune. Maybe vocalists like Swift and Beyonce might actually be forced to “sing” if they had better songs to work with and didn’t use Autotune, but somehow I doubt they’d get the point, or would their “fans.” I sorely miss the old days when I could appreciate the truth of what Robert Christgau wrote in his review of Carole King’s Tapesty: “Not that lyrics are the point on an album whose title cut compares life to a you-know-what--the point is a woman singing. King has done for the female voice what countless singer-composers achieved years ago for the male: liberated it from technical decorum. She insists on being heard as she is--not raunchy and hot-to-trot or sweet and be-yoo-ti-ful, just human, with all the cracks and imperfections that implies.” 

I think Adele could be a “great” singer without Autotune, and with songs that actually have melody, but unfortunately she panders to the conceited, arrogant, self-serving, self-pitying  “victims” of the world—you know, the "educated" ones who have good jobs, make a lot of money and get themselves on the cover of TIME magazine. More to the point, Adele is no Karen Carpenter; an album of her songs just sound like one long boring drone. Maybe some orchestration might help—except that it is kind of hard to reproduce on a computer.  

There was a time when every three months there was a complete change in the radio playlist, instead of the same damn dozen “songs” played endlessly for a whole year, or so it seems. It just shows the complete loss of music appreciation that Prince spoke of. Truly talented musicians and songwriters can transform the mundane into the sublime, songs that can for a brief time turn the world from what it is to what one would like it to be, which is what occurs to me every time I plug in my mp3 player to listen to my favorite songs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Unfortunately, we now have a generation or two who know only the rude, self-serving and the vulgar.