We Hum Along to Infidelity

There is a video of a group of children performing the song “Gentle on My Mind” in this cheerful, anodyne style that makes you sit back and think, oh, how wonderful that he (the songwriter) has such warm thoughts about his girl.  She must be so pleased that he’s thinking about her after he stayed a few nights and then ran off.

Have you ever hummed along to it?

Have you ever taken note of the lyrics:

And it’s knowing I’m not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that are dried upon some line

There are many strange paradoxes in popular culture: our contempt for men who “love ’em and leave ’em” for their cruelty and selfishness, and our worship of songs like “Baby the Rain Must Fall” and “Gentle on my Mind”.  Our cancel culture, about men who cheat.  Our public disapproval of philanderers.  But most people still hum along, as they do with a song about killing an unfaithful wife (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”).

“Gentle on my Mind” is pretty poetic about it:

I dip my cup of soup back from a gurglin’
Cracklin’ caldron in some train yard
My beard a rustling, cold towel, and
A dirty hat pulled low across my face

This gets kind of weird.  Not only is he dumping her– like Gordon Lightfoot in “For Lovin’ Me”, but he’s wandering around like a hobo, not working, evidently, and surviving on soup with his fellow derelicts in “some train yard”.  Quite a picture for his beloved, while she’s warming to the idea of being “gentle on his mind”.

So the gentle part means she isn’t going to put up a fuss about him dropping in for sex now and then, leaving his sleeping bag behind her couch, and then taking off whenever he feels like it.

Elvis Presley recorded it.  So did Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  But, Aretha Franklin?!  Yes, she did.  Well, that’s liberating!

John Hartford wrote the song, he says, after watching “Dr. Zhivago”.  And from personal experience.

Maybe I misunderstand the lyrics.  Maybe the poor guy had no choice but to move on and eat soup in the train yard.  But it doesn’t sound like it:

Though the wheat fields and the clothes lines
And the junkyards and the highways come between us
And some other woman’s cryin’ to her mother
‘Cause she turned and I was gone

Who’s right?  Well, let’s expand it a little.  Let’s consider Hartford’s wife.

The story of the song narrates the reminiscences of a drifter of his lost love, while moving through backroads and hobo encampments.[2] Betty Hartford, who later divorced her husband, noted to him the similarity between herself and the song’s female character. She questioned John Hartford about the man’s negative feelings toward his marriage. Hartford said he likened her to Lara and attributed the man’s feelings about being trapped in a relationship to his “artistic license”.

There you go.

It was, at one time, one of the most played songs (in all versions) on radio in North America.

Men thinking kindly — or not– about the women they abandoned

To the “Christians” who Voted for Donald Trump

Millions of people who claim– like you– that Jesus Chris is their model, their leader, their hero— voted for and embraced Donald Trump.

Your religion obviously means absolutely nothing. Not a thing. It’s the badge of a private club you belong to that only seeks to further the material interests of its members. Nothing you ever proclaimed about virtue or sin or spirituality or loving your neighbor or blessing the meek or not casting stones– nothing!– can be even remotely connected to this crass, self-serving, pussy-grabbing, materialistic, manipulative, liar.

Say no more. Your actions have proclaimed the truth about your church and your religion. It is an empty shell.

Google is Getting Useless

Google made their name as an efficient search engine delivering streamlined results quickly and effectively. Is it just me or has Google the search engine become mostly useless nowadays. Too many paid results, and even more bad results– pages that might have a word or two of your search string but are otherwise irrelevant. I used to feel confident I would find a few useful results in the first few pages. Lately, I’ve actually– gulp– resorted to Bing, occasionally. And sometimes I just actually give up. I don’t have time to go through a hundred pages to find the one that actually helps me.

As IBM discovered when the Department of Justice was investigating them for monopolistic practices (way back in the 1960’s), too much information is as useless as no information.

In fairness, it’s not just Google’s fault.

Oh yes, it is.  By mastering the competition for profiting by manipulating search results, Google is king of turd island, the exemplar, the model for all that has made the Internet a fucking monstrous garbage heap of  excrement.  Facebook is a close second.

The $4K Concert Ticket

“Regardless of the commentary about a modest number of tickets costing $1,000 or more, our true average ticket price has been in the mid-$200 range,” he continued. “I believe that in today’s environment, that is a fair price to see someone universally regarded as among the very greatest artists of his generation.”  NY Times

I never find it not weird that people will pay astronomical sums to sit squeezed into a sports stadium to see Paul McCartney, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen,  Elton John, the Rolling Stones, and others, mainly for songs they created 40 or 50 years ago (which recent McCartney song did you really want to hear?).

Full disclosure: I recently went to see Bruce Cockburn at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener.  But he performed solo, just him and his voice and acoustic guitars, and he didn’t cheat.  And it was my wife who really wanted to see him.

Years ago, we paid a wee little amount to see Nellie McKay in Toronto at the legendary  El Mocambo. We were right up at the front of the stage, and we got to chat with her afterwards (I still have my autographed CD). She was at the stage of her career where she was producing the songs that people would today be paying $4,000 to hear, had she not opted out of the plastic-ware star-making music machinery because of creative differences with her publisher.

It was a fabulous concert experience, amazing songs, engaging… so much better than sitting in row 9,999 a thousand feet away from the stage to watch someone who, to be generous, is somewhat past his prime. Sometimes, as with the Beach Boys, the REAL keyboard player is in the shadows behind the drummer. Sometimes the real drummer is behind the drummer. Very often, the performance is autotuned, “live”. Very, very often additional instrumentation has been pre-recorded and added in– even vocals.

At least I rather expect that Springsteen won’t be autotuned. But then again, the logic seems to be “if everyone else is doing it” (and they are)…

If you like live concert experiences, I heartily recommend looking for an up-and-coming performer playing smaller, intimate venues.

The Coming Convergence and the Blessings of Being a 10-year-old Mom

I am surprised by the views expressed by “pro-life” individuals in this survey and interviews in the New York Times.

What is striking is how flexible these individuals are about when abortion should be legal and when not.  Years ago, Right to Live declared that the minute a sperm fertilizes an egg, you have a human life that is entitled to the full protection of the law, even in cases of rape or incest.   They still declare that, but real people– real Republicans– don’t believe it.  They seem to be open to the idea that there should be “reasonable” limits– even up to 12 weeks.  And they believe that abortions should be allowed in cases of rape.

They are also under the mistaken belief that a mother’s life is more at risk of death or serious injury in an abortion than she is in child birth.  That is flatly not true.  Stunningly, even the pro-choice panel the New York Times convened for the same purpose believed it.  That messaging from Right to Life has taken hold.

How stupid are the Republicans?  Well, I bet Mitch McConnell understands that the Republicans need to embrace a “safety-valve” on the issue: tolerate some flexibility and some exceptions so they can say they haven’t banned all abortions.  But other hot-heads in the party seem determined to take a hard line, even when it comes to that 10-year-old girl (perhaps, one commentator asserted, she doesn’t appreciate the blessings of being a mother).

What remains to be determined is just how much of a factor this might be in the coming mid-term elections.  Probably, the economy will matter more, even when the perception that the economy is in a mess is wrong.  Inflation is a problem, but employment, consumer spending and confidence, hiring, and productivity are all favorable.  Nobody cares: they want to believe that Biden is a feeble old man who is out of his depth, so they insist that the economy is a disaster.

The New McCarthyism

There are two kinds of news sources prominent today. One, the older institutional part, identifies a story, sends a reporter, interviews people, acquires documents, submits to an editor, contacts the parties for possible confirmation or not, and then publishes. The other one goes to air to millions of listeners immediately with, for example, provocative claims that there is no 10-year-old girl in Ohio who was raped at 9 and was pregnant and had to go out of state to get an abortion, claiming this was all a plot by the Democrats to steal more votes. When it emerges that the story was true, they don’t apologize because … well, why don’t they? Because their listeners don’t really care about facts and information? I don’t know. It’s not just this one story: there are dozens of examples, maybe hundreds. They rarely publicly admit they got it wrong, or lied, and even more rarely apologize. They have discovered that most of their listeners don’t seem to mind; they aren’t about to change the channel.

Their listeners aren’t watching the January 6 Congressional Committee hearings, even if almost every witness has been a staunch Republican, and Trump’s own appointees to the judiciary have consistently rejected claims of a stolen election. The “Deep State” is so deep that even Trump, apparently, was fooled at times.

I don’t know how we get past polarization if people don’t listen even when their own side is telling them they are wrong. People like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio are complicit: they don’t like Trump but are frightened of standing up to him.

In the 1950’s, McCarthyism had the same dynamic. Respectable conservatives didn’t like him but were scared to call him out. Eventually, he was found to be ridiculous and people moved on. (He once accused Santa Claus of being a communist infiltrator.)

One can only hope.

Celebrating Incidental Achievements: the Home Run Jacket and the Blue Jays

I always felt that Cal Ripken’s “ironman” streak of consecutive games hurt the Orioles’ chances of winning the division. It put the focus on individual achievement at the expense of team success. In the same way, I don’t believe the Blue Jays will go anywhere until they ditch the home-run jacket. It’s not what you’re there for. It’s a distraction. It celebrates incidental success rather than game-winning performances, like Hernandez’s single in today’s game or Garcia’s terrific two innings of work. It’s like, “look at us, we hit home runs!” instead of “we had the bases loaded with nobody out in a one-run game and actually drove in a couple of runs” or “we put in a pinch runner for our best hitter and he didn’t get picked off” (Zimmer did get picked off at a critical moment in the game) which they haven’t done a lot of lately.

The Death of Stalin

You thought “Succession” was hilarious?  The story of minor-league talents battling it out to take over the family business from a toxic patriarch?

“The Death of Stalin” is a terrific movie about the end of the life of quite possibly the worst dictator the world has ever known.  It is reported to be one of Barack Obama’s favorite films.  It was banned in Russia, which, of course, is hilarious.  It was also criticized by some for historical inaccuracies, which, of course, is also rather absurd: it is a comedy.  The comedy lies in the kind of chaos created when an authoritarian, melomaniac, paranoid leader dies without leaving a clear line of succession.

It drives me insane to read, in IMDB, an explanation of why they made the “strange” decision to have the actors speak in plain English, instead with an amusing Russian accent!  The assumption is that they should have had them speak with Russian accents, which is actually a really, really strange idea.  But these are Russians talking to each other in Russia.   Do viewers think that Russians or Germans or French people speak to each other with funny accents?

If you say, that’s what people expect, it is only because they have been trained to expect that moronic approach, the way they have been trained to believe that bullets arrive at their target simultaneously with the sound of the gun being fired: they have been trained by early Westerns which chose not to allow audiences to learn the truth.

The best solution is for them to speak in their real, native tongue, with subtitles, but having them speak fluent English is a good option, and far, far, better than the stupid accent idea.

Stalin

Estimates vary, as they will, but Stalin was probably singularly responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

Key players:

Lavrently Beria

  • Became head of the NKVD in November 1938.
  • Proposed and master-minded the Katyn Massacre in March 1940.
  • just before Stalin’s funeral, he had the army units in Moscow replaced with his own NKVD units and cancelled all the trains coming to Moscow.

Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor)

  • Closely associated with Vladimir Lenin.
  • Ran Soviet Missile Program during World War II.
  • Discredited Georgy Zhukov to curry favor with Stalin who was jealous.
  • Briefly succeeded Stalin as Premiere and “first among equals” (March 5, 1953)
  • Eventually sidelined by Nikita Khrushchev.  Attempted a palace coup against Khrushchev in 1957 and expelled from the Presidium and exiled to Kazakhstan.

Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin)

  • Negotiated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany in 1941.
  • Part of the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death to plot things out.
  • his wife, Polina, had been arrested by Beria, with Molotov’s passive consent.  Three days after Stalin’s death, Beria did indeed release Polina to Molotov, presumably to cultivate support in the ongoing power struggle at the Politburo.

Nicolai Bulganin

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Lazar Kaganovich

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Anastas Mikoyan

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Nikita Khrushchev

  • Brought back from Ukraine to Moscow in 1949
  • Regarded by British Diplomats as mouthy and misinformed and inarticulate.  They were far more impressed b y Malenkov, though the movie portrays him as a bit of a dunce.

Vasily Stalin

  • Stalin’s son
  • Called to his father’s side after his cerebral hemorrhage, he was drunk and angry, shouting at the doctors

Svetlana Stalin

  • Stalin’s daughter.  Reported that her father’s death was “difficult and terrible”.
  • Beria had been very friendly with her as a little girl, like an Uncle

Maria Yudina.

  • famous pianist who played piano at reception at Stalin’s lying in state
  • 9 years before his death (unlike in the movie which places the event the very night of) she had played the concert shown in the movie, and had been roused out of bed to repeat the concert for a recording
  • Wrote a note to Stalin which she placed in the record sleeve saying:  “I will pray for you day and night and ask the Lord to forgive your great sins before the people and the country.”  She was not arrested.  She died in 1970.

Georgy Zhukov (died June 1974)

  • got along well with Eisenhower; tried to supply food to Berlin after war
  • however, did nothing to stop the brutal rapes and pillaging by Russian soldiers
  • unlike everyone else around Stalin, he refused to kowtow; openly dismissive of Stalin, and openly contradicted him at times
  • did loot Berlin; was caught and made an abject apology
  • Brilliant Soviet military general who guided the stand-off in Stalingrad.
  • his arrest of Beria did occur, but 3 months after the funeral (June 1953), and Beria did get a trial and was executed in December 1953.
  • supported Khrushchev’s bid for power, but, by 1957 lost favor and was forced to retire
  • never returned to a position of influence after that
  • some historians believe he exaggerated his role in WW II.

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Inventor of the GPS

Dr. Gladys West, The Black Woman Who Invented The GPS, Gets Honored By U.S. Air Force At The Pentagon  [BusinessGhana]

That seems remarkable.  Not just a woman– a black woman!  Of course, those mean men in charge of the Pentagon made sure she didn’t get credit.   For inventing the GPS.  Everybody knows its true.

Or is it.

The first clue is that most of the websites that refer to Gladys West (the “Dr.” came much later in life– she was not a “Dr.” when she worked for the Air Force)  is the oblique tone of the reference: her work contributed to, was essential to, helped, contributed largely to, and so on.

You ask yourself: is it in the interests of the Air Force to quietly accede to some exaggeration here?  So they could be seen to be honoring a black woman?  So they could be seen to be addressing a historical injustice?  So they could be seen as progressive and enlightened?  If someone thought they were now exaggerating her role, would that person dare to speak up?

The header, “The Black Woman Who Invented the GPS”, is a lie.  She was involved in some of the research required for the project, but to say she “invented GPS” is a gross distortion of her role.   It’s the kind of lie Hollywood embraces.  It’s the kind of lie middling America adores.  It doesn’t really offend conservatives (because it makes it look like they always were colorblind when it came to talent) and it totally gratifies white liberals because it vindicates their politics and their self-satisfaction, and everyone else is glad to feel like they are not really racist because, after all, they enjoyed this film, just like they enjoyed “The Green Book” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”.

It does not help your cause to exaggerate.  To lie.  The next time I see a headline insisting that a black woman saved hundreds of lives or stopped a war or built an airplane or solved pi or defeated the Nazis– well?  Did you really?