Monday, October 31, 2016

America’s Raiders of the Lost Ark election

Have you noticed the similarity between this year's elections and a certain movie?

It finally occurred to me what’s going on in this nation. We’re not really having an election. We’re having a movie.

It’s a a movie of the thrill-a-minute, surprise-at-every-turn genre. A kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark, edge-of-your-chair piece of outrageous and totally improbable entertainment.

First a Stone Age Insult Comic insults his way to the top of the Republican ticket in a presidential race.

Meanwhile, the Wife of the Former Leader is challenged by Yoda (wrong movie, I know, but you get the idea) for the hearts and minds of the people. Yoda’s cause seems hopeless, but then suddenly it's not hopeless and he seems to be gaining on her until….

She shoots Yoda’s horse from under him. He falls, but then pledges fealty to her. Whereupon it’s discovered that her evil advisor, Lady Debbie of Thuglia, has been necromancing Yoda’s campaign.

But then  the Wife of the Former Leader and the Stone Age Insult Comic have three duels of words. He falters. He is injured. He is about to fall of his horse and onto a row of sharpened pikes.

But no, thanks to the previous machinations of Weiner the Lance, a gremlin from the past of the Wife of the Former Leader,  the Stone Age Insult Comic is saved from certain doom. He is wounded. But he’s struggling back to his feet. And next…

Well, we’ll have to see what happens next. Perhaps the Prehistoric Insult Comic will light a bomb and accidentally blow himself to kingdom come.

Perhaps, just as the fuse burns all the way down to the bomb, the Wife of the Former Leader will charge the Stone Age Insult Comic with a mace, but the bomb will blow up her horse and throw her into the air while he escapes uninjured.

My favorite scene from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark was when Indiana Jones, using only his bull whip, whipped weapon after weapon out of the hands of various approaching evil beings until finally he tires of this, yanks his pistol from his holster, and shoots the final sword-wielding evildoer dead in his tracks. Perhaps Hillary ought to arm herself with a bullwhip and a pistol.

Or perhaps…

Well, no matter how badly you want another bucket of popcorn, no matter how desperately you need to pee, stay glued to your chair. Because this movie isn’t over yet. And you don’t want to miss even a millisecond of the thrilling action to come.

P.S. I’ve been trying to figure out what I make of James Comey, the strewer of land mines that seem to indiscriminately blow up both sides. Is there any motivation, save his self-interest? I think not. Except that every time he makes a move, he shoots himself in the foot, furthering the impression that he's a total dimwit. So I’m just writing him off as a Keystone Cop character who wandered onto the wrong movie set.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The new Donald Trump campaign theme song

The question came to me out of nowhere last evening. Where did Donald Trump develop his affinity for Tic Tacs when he's of a mind to pursue women?

And then the answer popped right back into my head after all these years . It was a jingle I wished I had written (but somebody else did it)  back in my Mad Men days — a song for a mint candy filled with barely disguised sexual innuendo. See for yourself.

The Donald was an impressionable age 25 or so when this spot ran. I think it's safe to say it taught him everything he's ever learned about life.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Poets’ heads burst into flame over Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

I’d better get my prejudices out of the way first. I don’t think it’s the job of readers and listeners to pay painstaking attention to poetry. Rather, it's the job of poets to capture the attention of readers and listeners.

For decades, starting in the 1960s, Bob Dylan has built audiences by interesting people in listening to him. His melodies were not all that melodic. Nor was his raspy voice. But when he sang the songs he wrote, the world looked up and paid rapt attention, then repeated his message, which in large measure during the 1960s and 1970s related to the Viet Nam War.

So I was fascinated by some recent posts on the website of PENAmerica, an organization I strongly admire for the way it champions free expression and advocates for imprisoned authors and journalists. Despite this, the website suddenly has become infested by a swarm of curmudgeonly poets, their knickers evidently in an irate and not very lyrical twist, over Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Smiling-but-grumpy poet 
Amy King

 Their comments are quoted at great length at this link. But before you go there, let me share some observations:
  • From the selection presented by PENAmerica, it appears that while novelists and journalists and editors mostly approve Dylan’s winning the award, most of the poets are enraged by it. Why is that, do you suppose? Do you think jealousy could have anything to do with it? Nah! Or maybe not nah.
  • The essence of the un-lyrical kvetching of America’s poets — or at least of the poetic darlings of academia — seem to be that Dylan’s lyrics are easy to follow. Thus Molly Brodak grouses, “If the written word is truly up against the art of songwriting for the greatest literary prize in all the land, ‘baby, baby, baby, oh baby’ is going to win every time.” 
    Grumpy Poet Molly Brodak
  • It's interesting that Brodak chose that passage rather than “A hard rain's gonna fall” or “the answer is blowin' in the wind,” to name just two memorable lines. As for Brodak herself, she is author of lines of this ilk:
Panic, because suddenly everything signifies,a kind of net of sunlight, pulling all directions at once;
the background's flaw is that it beckons:
the poodle's boat, Noah's palm, the dove-magnet:
a barbarity! A flame at the vanishing point!
Brodak’s complaint is part of an enormous tumor that has been metastasizing its way through academia for the past 50 years or so — the notion that one should have to work hard to understand poetry. Or that otherwise the poetry is unworthy. That’s something that, for example,  none of the many poetic authors of the Bible, nor William Shakespeare, ever proposed. Somehow I’m willing to bet that more people alive today have been touched by the first line of The Book of Genesis, or can recite the first line of Hamlet’s soliloquy, than any of the verses of Molly Brodock.

Grumpy poet Daniel
Schoonbeck seems to think
the Nobel Peace Prize should
promote poets. Peace? What's 
Other complaints include that Dylan is white (Poet Amy King and poet Natalie, Diaz who alternatively nominates Bob Marley); that he’s a pop poet (Amy King); that “…educators do not cite his poems to study in depth,” (Amy King); and that his life’s work has not “changed the way we use language. ” (Amy King.)

All of this caterwauling ignores the fact that the Nobel is not awarded for changing language or becoming a text that students will have to parse if they intend to pass their lit courses, or for promotion of particular artists. There’s a far higher motive at the bottom of it that today’s academic poets can’t seem to grasp:

Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, became painfully aware that his invention might be used to wage war and kill thousands of people. He created the Nobel Peace Prize in the hope that it would be awarded to people who promoted peace in some powerful way. The literature prize, as well as various prizes that promote knowledge in the sciences, are spinoffs of that.

And promoting peace is precisely what Dylan’s songs did. They were part of a movement in the arts, and most particularly in folk music, that made a huge contribution toward putting an end to one of the most bloody and senseless wars in which America has ever engaged — the war in Viet Nam. Bob Marley didn’t do that. Neither did the novelist Don DeLillo, a nice guy and a favorite of the disgruntled poets, but not Nobel-level when it comes to having actually played a major role in discouraging the continuation of a war.

DeLillo's novels are certainly worthwhile. But they do not approach what Dylan achieved in persuading large numbers of people to demand peace. To quote the late David Ogilvy (who will probably be demeaned by the academic poets as a mere "ad man"):

"When Aeschines spoke, they said, 'How well he speaks." But when Demosthenes spoke they said, 'Let us march.'" 

And make no mistake, Dylan had us marching, by the tens and hundreds of thousands, in peace protests that brought down one president because he wouldn't or couldn't end the war, and that forced the next administration to finally put a stop to it.

If I could have one wish, it would be that another troubadour of the Viet Nam era share the prize, a troubadour who employed a single song to tell a story that helped build the anti-war protest of the 1960s. 

I’m referring to Arlo Guthrie and his song, or poem, or story, or rallying cry, “Alice’s Restaurant.” It's a musical tale that starts with a garbage dump, moves on to a draft board physical exam, and finishes with an infectious chorus of war defiance. It is also distinguished for being possibly the longest pop song in American history. You can find it here. Leave yourself plenty of time to listen.

Should Bob Dylan win — and please, Bob, accept — the Nobel Prize? Yes, because all these decades later, the answer to how popular movements help to end wars is still blowing in the wind, while too many American poets who envy Dylan (or Guthrie) are merely blowing smoke.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Tea Party Republican Congressional hack from New Jersey spills his lying bile in my living room. Now I’m mad as hell.

Rep. Scott Barrett. Good thing this
is only a head shot, because his pants
are on fire.
What is it with New Jersey Republicans? Are they all head cases, psychopaths, and habitual liars? 

First we had Chris Christie, whose shenanigans in creating a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish a mayor who didn’t support him made life miserable for hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders. They  included kids on their way to school, and could have cost lives if an ambulance had to get through. And it has unmasked Christie for the malign liar he is.

Now, spewing into my Manhattan living room from Northern New Jersey comes a barrage of wildly misleading TV spots. They’re from Scott Garrett, an incumbent Tea Party Republican member of Congress who evidently can’t stoop low enough to make sure he keeps his butt on his Republican seat.

The advertising depicts a condo apartment building and discusses a woman who, according to Garrrett, was “assaulted” in the building by Garrett's Democratic rival, Joseh Gottheimer.

Garrett’s ad keeps gushing out of my television set. It declares: 

“Gottheimer aggressively intimidated and assaulted her and left her fearful in her own home.” 

And furthermore:

 “Scared and violated, the victim had to move to escape Gottheimer’s harassing environment. That’s the real Josh Gottheimer, and his values aren’t New Jersey’s values.”

"Fearful?" “Violated?” What was this, a Donald Trump-style sexual attack? A brutal mugging? A sex attack and mugging?

Nope. Gottheimer was with his wife at the time. (The apartment by the way, isn't in New Jersey. It's in Washington, D.C.) And the neighbor turns out to be one of those, umm, “difficult” individuals of whom some apartment dwellers say, “There’s one in every building.”

NJSpotlight, an online journal, reports:
According to documents filed in 2007 in Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Gottheimer said he and his wife had entered the building and saw someone they did not recognize in a place where owners’ keys were kept. 
The woman’s complaint said she was retrieving her keys from an unattended key closet in the lobby when “Gottheimer aggressively approached” and “derisively asked if she was the new security guard.” 
“When plaintiff informed him that she was a resident, Gottheimer threateningly waived [sic] his finger in her face and aggressively questioned plaintiff in a loud voice and an intimidating manner about who she was and what she was doing,” the complaint said.
Gottheimer countered that when he and his wife “saw an unidentified/unknown woman searching in a restricted closet/drawer, he asked questions in order to assure the appropriateness of the conduct he was witnessing.”

So the so-called "assault" that desperate T-Party Republican Garrett refers to in his ads consists — even if we assume it’s true — of nothing more than wagging a finger and speaking in a voice that the cranky neighbor perceived as loud.

But wait, there’s more! The neighbor not only attempted to sue Gottheimer, but also another neighbor because of another “incident.” She also tried to sue one of the building’s concierges for, among other transgressions, going to the bathroom in one of the building's toilets, and in addition she tried to sue the building’s management company. Here’s NJ Spotlight again:
She said, for example, that she had been discriminated against because she was Asian, and cited numerous complaints about one of the concierges and the management company that employed her. The concierge, for example, had failed to provide the homeowner with a garage key; twice turned away a cable television technician while other technicians were waiting; twice called police to ticket vehicles making deliveries, and once failed to notify the homeowner when a package was delivered. 
Also named as a defendant was another condo board member who questioned the plaintiff as she was leaving the building gym about whether she had made a complaint to the management company about building employees using the bathroom in a common area. The woman denied making the complaint, and said she felt intimidated by that board member as well.
For a complainant, the so-called harassed woman wasn’t very cooperative. Court papers show at one point the management company’s attorneys asked the judge for an order to compel the plaintiff to answer interrogatories.

Finally, when it looked as if her case was falling apart and was going to cost her a pretty penny in costs and legal fees, the woman dropped the matter. The judge in the case dismissed her case “with prejudice.” According to the legal dictionary Nolo:
“When a lawsuit is dismissed with prejudice, the court is saying that it has made a final determination on the merits of the case, and that the plaintiff is therefore forbidden from filing another lawsuit based on the same grounds.”
In other words, a court has already ruled that the charges are nonsense. Which so far hasn’t stopped incumbent Congressman Garrett from spewing lies into my home via my TV set on an almost daily basis. I find it almost impossible to watch the evening news in New York without being “assaulted” by this lying Republican from New Jersey. Maybe he took lessons from Chris Christie.

Recently, various commentators  been appropriating the old saw about the similarity between making laws and making sausages, and applying it to electoral politics. But that’s a bad analogy.

Watching many Republicans run for office is nothing like watching sausages getting made. It’s more like watching human feces gushing into a vat in a sewage plant.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Is Donald Trump sniffing cocaine?

The thought went through my head each time I've watched him debate Hillary. But I didn't want to blog about it because — well, all I had were suspicions.

But now Donald Trump has brought up the matter. The New York Times reports:
Escalating his criticism of Hillary Clinton’s debate performances, Donald J. Trump came to a state battling a drug epidemic and suggested without any evidence on Saturday that his opponent had been on drugs during their second debate.
And that makes him fair game for my suspicions than when he sniffs, and sniffs, and re-sniffs during the debates, he's trying to keep the cocaine up his nose and the white, cocaine-laden snot from running out of his nostrils and down his upper lip. I mean, look at all of this:

Trust a coke-head to get as crazy as The Donald has been acting during the past two debates.

Trust a coked-up addict to get so hyped at two o'clock in the morning that he starts tweeting insults at beauty queens.

Trust a coke-head to think that somehow he can fool a drug test. 

Trust a coke-head to be paranoid enough to think his opponent must be just as hyped up on Bolivian marching powder as he is — because otherwise why would she be doing so well in the debates? 

Trust a coke-head to think it's perfectly rational to start arming numerous nations with nukes.

And if there's a drug test and Hillary tests negative, or the Donald tests positive?

Why, he'll just say that proves that the tests were rigged. 

Trump doesn't belong in the White House. But it's possible he belongs in Phoenix House.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Does the USA need not more, but less productivity?

When robots steal almost everybody's
work, how will people find any?
A lot of people aren’t going to like what I’m about to say.

Most Republicans probably won’t like it. Quite a few Democrats won’t like it either. I’m going to describe an ugly, civilization-threatening life form that America and the world needs to come to terms with.

I'm talking about robots. Wait up, don’t run!  Listen to this. It could affect your income and your future, or even whether you will have a future.

The robot in my pants

Let me start by confessing that I have a robot in my pants pocket. You may, too. Its name is Siri, and I connect to it via my I-phone. 

Every night I say, “Hey Siri,” and follow that with a request to wake me at a certain time, usually 7 or 7:15 a.m. As I make my request, Siri types out the words that I’m speaking on my smart phone's screen. Then, in a woman’s voice it says to me, “Your alarm is set for 7 a.m."  

Cool, right? Except robots have also begun driving cars, evidently in a safer manner than humans. They’re doing enormous amounts of work building cars — work that used to be done by humans. They screen callers at enterprises ranging from credit card companies to medical labs, eventually directing the caller to an appropriate extension. You've likely dealt with a robot the last time you called for your credit card balance. They screen job applicants and widgets on production lines.

The day is likely not far off when robots will be able to interview people and then write news stories. Or evaluate employees for raises or termination.  They’re already fighting and killing for us in wars — those drones that supposedly save American lives. And the list of things they do, and can do, and are likely to do keeps growing.

They’re coming for your job.

All of the foregoing means that a generation or so down the road, or possibly less, Robots will be doing most of the work that humans now do.

So what should happen to the Americans who lose their jobs to robots? Retraining? Please! There are going to be fewer and fewer jobs to retrain for as everyone from the nasty clerk in the driver’s license bureau, to the charming hospital nurse who brings pills to your bed, to truck driver, to insurance actuaries, journalists and copywriters find machines doing jobs that they used to do.

In the end, the enemy is not cheap workers in foreign countries, or immigrants replacing Americans on the job. The enemy is a microchip driving a machine. And the microchip doesn't care if it replaces you.

We could take the attitude that the replaced people can all go starve. Trouble is, in the long run “they” is likely to include you, your spouse, your kids, your neighbors. With machines doing most of the work, should every suddenly-unproductive person starve? Or should you just be on the dole, collecting a lifetime unemployment income? Or is there another solution?

A solution with long, lovely weekends

It’s time to consider dividing up the remaining jobs a bit more equitably. Instead of one person doing a job for 40 hours a week, two equally capable people could each do half he same job, each of them for twenty hours. Yes, that cuts per-person productivity in half. But it also assures that employment will be spread around a great deal more. 

A shorter work week assures that people will have a place to go each day — perhaps each day of a four day work week instead of a five-day week. It spreads around self-esteem and lessens the opportunities for people who are made to feel worthless getting into mischief.

But where will the money for this lessened productivity come from? 

Make the robots pay

Take the money from the productivity of the tireless robots who are taking jobs from people. Robots earn no salary, require no food other than electricity, need no sleep. While they steal work from people, huge masses of people can steal the fruits of robot labor for themselves.

But that means rigidly controlling how the income that robots earn gets distributed. And it means, for example, that a CEO might have to scrape along on a paltry couple of million dollars a year while a greater share of income goes to an increased number of employees, all of whom are less productive than they used to be. And it means protection in the U.S. economy against imports from places where fewer people are being paid salaries because robots are doing most of the work.

Admittedly, this idea is revolutionary and markedly socialistic idea. But the alternative is a society with far greater extremes of wealth and poverty even than we have today — a society where the 99 percent become an impoverished and idle hatchery for crime and mass insurrection.

For more jobs, we will need people doing less work. Let's have a 20-hour work week.

Feel free to discuss.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Donald Trump turns out to be a lot more toxic than even I would have guessed

The State of California says that even his
mask is poisonous
So we all know that to most people, with the exception of a tranche of largely-white, largely-male voters, seeing or hearing Donald Trump is something like sitting in a room when a 500 pound gorilla infested with fleas, lice and bedbugs walks in and sits down on your couch.

He’s hard to ignore, he looks like trouble, his presence is not only scary but also repulsive, and there’s all kinds of obnoxious stuff buzzing around him. Consequently you have an urge to not only shoe him out, but also to fumigate the premises and then take a shower.

But did you know he was toxic? I don’t mean symbolically toxic, or metaphorically toxic, or even hyperbolically toxic. I mean that even his likeness is real-world, honest-to-lab results toxic.

How do I know this?

I just went shopping on the Internet for a Donald Trump Halloween mask. I found this “Tax Evasion Trump Mask.” With it, on the same web page, came this warning:
WARNING – Certain states require us to provide consumers with special warning for certain products if those products expose consumers to chemicals above threshold levels. We care about our customers’ safety and hope that the information below helps with your buying decision.
FOR CALIFORNIA RESIDENTS: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects and or other reproductive harm. Do not put in mouth or chew.

Chew that one over.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

John Stumpf, Henry Miller, hapless Wells Fargo employees, and a filthy Cockney music hall song

More than 50 years ago, a ballad in
this book taught a lesson that the
John Stumpf scandal teaches us today.
In 1959, certain books were forbidden in the United States, among them Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Little wonder. They contained graphic descriptions of S-you-know-what-X.

Given that the authorities took to jailing Lennie Bruce just a few years later for uttering language that Donald Trump uses regularly on television today, you can understand why you didn’t want to be caught selling a copy of either of Miller’s Tropic books.You could get busted by the same police squad that otherwise spent its time busting hookers and comedians, find yourself publicly shamed as a “pornographer” in the newspapers, and then get sent to prison.

Which is not to say that Americans couldn’t find and read Miller’s books. All you had to do was go to Paris, where, it was said, the booksellers at the stalls along the Seine, over on the left bank, would peddle you a copy, published locally by an outfit called the Olympia Press.

Unfortunately the word got around too quickly, and by the time I arrived in Paris, a college student in the summer of 1959, the bookstalls and some of the bookshops along the Boulevard St. Michel were flat sold out of Henry Miller, drained dry by eager and porn-starved American tourists.

But I did find a consolation prize. It was an English language volume called Count Palmiro Vicarion’s Book of Bawdy Ballads. Some of the ballads, I later learned at the University of Leeds, where I landed for the fall and winter, were reputed to have been written by some of Britain’s most honored poets in their student days.

I wouldn’t know about the veracity of that, one way or another. What attracted me most about the bawdy ballad book was a song that seems to have had its origin in English music halls, circa World War I. Originally a publicly-performable song, its verses had been altered over time by numerous mischief-makers who frittered away their time trying to figure out what rhymes best with various four-letter words.

I was enchanted by this particular ballad because it was a dirty song with a social conscience. I’ll share a few of the more printable lyrics a bit further on, but first a reminder about John Stumpf and Wells Fargo Employees.

By now you’ve likely heard scores of times about John Stumpf’s appearance before Congress, giving testimony concerning the huge scam that occured as employees struggled to satisfy Stumpf’s demands that they cross-sell the living crap out of the bank’s various products.

If you haven’t, and you have the time to spare, watch Stumpf try to verbally wiggle out from under from the righteous lash of Senator Elizabeth Warren before you resume reading:

Now, let us resume so that we can get to those 100-year old filthy lyrics.

In a desperate attempt to meet their quotas and keep the top echelons happy, more than 5,300 employees opened false accounts in the names of their customers and depositors, and charged them fees for the pleasure of being defrauded.

When the scandal finally came out, the 5,300 employees were fired. Even though they would have been fired if they hadn’t defrauded the customers and thus were unable to make their quotas.

And then it came out that scrupulously honest employees who either refused to defraud bank customers or who tried to blow the whistle in The Great Stumpf Swindle were also fired for doing so.
Wells Fargo employees claim they were retaliated against for reporting unethical demands to meet the company's sales goals. 
Wells Fargo paid $185 million in fines and fired 5,300 employees for creating millions of fake accounts, but a half dozen workers who spoke to CNN say they were fired for speaking up! 
One banker said he refused to open up phony accounts and was fired 8 days after calling an ethics line to report the requests. 
A former Wells Fargo Human Resources official said the bank conspired to fire employees for minimal offenses after they made calls to the ethics hotline. He said:"If this person was supposed to be at the branch at 8:30 a.m. and they showed up at 8:32 a.m, they would fire them,"
Most of these employees were making $12 an hour. Poor schlemiels. And what of John Stumpf, who demanded all the cross-selling? CNN money reports:
Stumpf will leave with about $200 million -- made up of cash, Wells Fargo stock and options, a CNNMoney analysis has found. 
Even if Stumpf is fired "for cause," such as violating company policy, he would have to forfeit only a portion of that sum.
Which brings me, finally, to a century-old, much filthified music hall song, which demonstrates that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed over the years.

For reasons pertaining to more-or-less sanitary language and brevity, I’ll only quote a couple of excerpted verses here, but they’ll give you the idea. And I think you'll quickly see how all the song relates, a century or so later, to Stumpf firing not only the $12-an-hour employees who knuckled under his demands and cheated bank customers, but also those who refused. 

She was poor but she was honest,though she came from 'umble stock,And her honest heart was beatingUnderneath her tattered frock.

But the rich man saw her beauty,She knew not his base design,And he took her to a hotelAnd bought her a small port wine.

Chorus: It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor wot gets the blame,
It's the rich wot gets all the pleasure,
Isn't it a blooming shame?

See him riding in a carriage 
Past the gutter where she stands.
He has made a stylish marriage,
While she wrings her ringless hand
See him in the 'ouse of Commons
Making laws for all mankind
While the victim of his pleasure
Lives by selling her behind

Chorus: It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor wot gets the blame,
It's the rich wot gets the pleasure,
Isn't it a blooming shame?