Mueller Shrugged

After mulling it over for a day or so, I lean towards the idea that Mueller blinked.

He just couldn’t bring himself to enact the logical consequences of the evidence he accumulated on Trump’s actions in reference to the Russia investigation. Was he ever going to indict a sitting president? Maybe he just couldn’t bear the astonishing sustained brutal assault on the Justice Department and the intelligence services. “One thing about this president: he doesn’t care about collateral damage”. There is no other logical explanation: the evidence of Russian contacts is extensive and definitive; and of course, Trump and his defenders have never bothered to disprove any of it, because they can’t. Mueller identified Russian hackers down to the location of the building from which they operated in Moscow. In a stupid moment of an interview with Lester Holt, Trump admitted he fired Comey because of his investigation of those Russian hackers. That is the very definition of obstruction. But for some reason Mueller just couldn’t take that last step.

I’m sure he hoped Barr would take the burden, and I’ll bet he hopes Congress takes it up if Barr doesn’t (he won’t). Perhaps Mueller judged that in the current political atmosphere, little would have been served by indicting Trump and throwing the entire country into turmoil. Perhaps he hopes that in 2020 the situation will correct itself. But by constantly attacking Mueller (a lifelong Republican) and the FBI and the Justice Department and some of the most reputable criminal investigators in the country, Trump has already done more damage than anyone could have imagined on the day he was elected.

Scary Songs: Galway to Graceland

This Song by Richard Thompson.

These lines:

They came in the thousands
From the whole human race
To pay their respects at his last resting place

I have always had a bit of contempt for Elvis.  I grew up in the 1960’s (born in 1956) and Elvis, to me, was a mere pop artist, a performer of other peoples’ songs, a teen idol, and a ridiculously bad actor.  By the time I was 12, I was listening to Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, and had just been introduced to Leonard Cohen’s brooding debut album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen”.  I loved poetry, and songwriters.  I loved the lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Homeward Bound”, “Suzanne”.   Elvis, in comparison, seemed trite.  Elvis, in comparison, was trite.

The Beatles began to earn my respect with “Rubber Soul”;  clearly influenced by Dylan, songs like “Girl” and “Norwegian Wood” showed a growing artistic maturity that Elvis never evidenced.  Elvis, by this time, was playing Las Vegas, a monument to crass consumerism and treacly kitsch.  He was singing “My Way”, the consummate boring establishment hymn to self-sufficiency and arrogance.

That hasn’t changed a lot.  His body of work still seems trite to me.  And the massive public adoration, to me, is a testimony to his insignificance: the majority of people are superficial and easily led and manipulated.  Elvis was the product of the “star-maker machinery” and never transcended that existence.  He became rich– though his managers and agents siphoned off most of his fortune– and built a mansion and drove a Cadillac and surrounded himself with parasites and embraced all the worst symbols of capitalist privilege.  Some biographers find it tragic that he continued to perform long after his health began to fail.  He continued to perform because he was stupid and greedy.

He died, appropriately enough, on the toilet, exerting himself against massive constipation, tanked to the gills with prescription drugs, which one doctor said he prescribed to him in order to keep him away from illicit drugs.  On the toilet, he had a heart attack and fell forward.  He weighed 158 kilograms (350 pounds).  Even more ridiculous than Elvis himself, is the weird regard in which fans consider his last fatal moments.

His only Grammy awards were, weirdly, in the category of gospel.  The man famous for arousing the sexual desire of millions of young women, only received awards for hymns to the almighty.  I thought that was trivial too.  And ridiculous– what does a man like that really believe about God and religion?  What does it say about God and religion that it meant so much to a man like Elvis, who bought more than 100 Cadillacs in his lifetime and wore religious jewelry because he thought it might, in a pinch, ensure his salvation?

I’m not sure what Richard Thompson thinks of Elvis.  (I just found– to my shock– that Nick Cave, for example, is a fan of “Superstar” by the Carpenters, and “To Love Somebody” by the BeeGees, two of the most anemic pop hits ever recorded).    I’m not even sure– given this song– what he thinks of Elvis’ fanatical followers: he’s too good of a songwriter to lay it on thick.  If anything, he seems sympathetic, if you ignore the subtleties.  But she puts on a pink dress as if she was young again (which makes her seem ridiculous in the imagination) and she is clearly delusional (she thinks she’s married to Elvis)  and, finally, they have to drag her away.

All right– maybe that’s not so subtle.

In 2019, we are confronted with large numbers of peoples denying that global warming is real, embracing Donald Trump and Brexit and neo-fascism and every idiocy imaginable– the thousands from the whole human race.  They are frightening.  They adore Elvis and their massive pick-up trucks and their guns and ATVs and lottery tickets and beer.  “Deplorable” is not the right word for them: it suggests we expect better of them.   But Trump and Fox News have convinced them that their ill-formed conceptions of the world are true and right and deserve to prevail in the political sphere, and that complex information that confuses them is fake.  They are convinced that those intellectual elites who used to be deferred to because they were intellectual elites are only out to trick them out of their pick-up trucks and guns and Elvis and even their genders.



Cool Hand Luke as the Evil Twin of Shawshank Redemption

I hope some lovers of “Shawshank” will take the time some day to watch “Cool Hand Luke”. To me, “Luke” is everything “Shawshank” thinks it is but is not. “Luke” explores the function of hero worship in a society of losers and miscreants, how they make him a sacrificial substitute for their own fears and inadequacies, and how, when he forces them to face the reality of their own weaknesses, they must destroy him. And then, once he is safely expelled, they re-imagine him as the avatar of their own fantasies of power and defiance. It is a fascinating film, and a comment on the type of heroism expressed in “Shawshank”. I call “Luke” the “evil” twin of “Shawshank”, in the sense that it incisively undermines the fundamental myth of the latter, the same way “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, in my opinion, destroys the mythic con of “Dead Poets Society” by showing you the real implications of a charismatic teacher who develops a cadre of followers among his students.

The story:  It is 1948.  Luke (Lucas) Jackson is introduced to us as a miscreant, a rebellious young man who takes a pipe cutter to the parking meters in a small town somewhere and is arrested and sentenced to a work prison.  He is tested by the other inmates, particularly Dragline, to see how tough he is.   When he refuses to knuckle under to the established hierarchy in prison, he arouses the dislike of Dragline, the reigning tough.  But when he proves to be very, very defiant, even challenging Dragline to a boxing match (which he loses, very badly)  the other prisoners begin to admire him.  When he bets that he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs, and wins,  he becomes a hero and even Dragline acknowledges his preeminence.  At a card game, he successfully bluffs a very weak hand and earns the nickname, “Cool Hand” Luke.

He persuades the other prisoners to put maximum effort into a road-building task.  To their own surprise, they finish the job early and get a break from the guards.

When he is denied a temporary release to see his mother before she dies, he bides his time and then escapes, and the admiration of the other prisoners knows no bounds.  Dragline, in particular, idolizes him and never tires of recounting his exploits which grow bigger and bigger with each telling.

“What we have here, is failure to communicate”.  It’s a wonderful scene: the prison warden, having attended a seminar somewhere, seems genuinely, twistedly well-meaning: if you would just obey and respect us, your life would be miserable, yes, but we wouldn’t have to beat you.  They beat him relentlessly sure that they will break him.  And they do.  He becomes so docile and respectful that they make him a “trustee”, and the other prisoners begin to hold him in contempt.  As they relax the strictures around him, Luke breaks free one more time.  Dragline, seizing the opportunity, and intoxicated with Luke’s audaciousness, joins him, only to realize, shortly afterwards, that with only two years left on his sentence, it was stupid decision.

Spoiler alert: the police do catch up with Luke, thanks to a betrayal but the Judas of this film, Dragline.  It is clear that this time the warden does not intend to take him alive.  Dragline does survive, however, to regale his fellow prisoners with his selective rendering of Luke’s defiance and courage.

The summary you will find on the IMDB then ends with “Luke managed to unmask the injustice and hypocrisy of the system in which he was confined… in the final analysis, he could not be broken by the system”.

Did this person really watch the film?  Did he get it?  It is a very common misapprehension of “Cool Hand Luke”.  Most people seem to come away with the idea that Luke was heroic for standing up to brutal, ignorant authority.  I don’t think the movie is really about that.  It is really about how  the role of myth in our culture, how our “heroes” become substitutes for own responsibility for our own freedom and dignity.  Dragline and the other prisoners have surrendered their individuality and self-respect in exchange for a slightly less toxic life in the prison camp.  They have given up something of enormous importance in exchange for a trinket.

You Can Have it Back

The U.S. is now negotiating with the Taliban to return the nation to some kind of hybrid administration that gives a significant amount of power to our former arch-foes.  The current government of Afghanistan is not invited to these talks.  Can there be a more anxious government in the world right now than the government of Afghanistan?

In other words, after almost 20 years of war and the loss of thousands of lives, we are going to restore things to exactly the way they were when we started.

The U.S. has lost this war.  It will never publicly admit it, but it has lost the war in Afghanistan and it is finally going to leave, but not before adding insult to injury.  The Taliban has no interest in a pluralistic, representative government.  They have no interest in the rights of girls and women to an education or any other choice.   Once the U.S. is gone, they will extract revenge on all who opposed them, including the thousands of Afghani volunteers who joined the police forces– at great risk– for $300 U.S. a month.  They will almost certainly drive out their coalition partners and establish a repressive Islamic regime, like the one they had before the U.S. invaded, and after they drove out the Soviets.

Will anybody responsible for this disaster ever be held to account?  The George W. Bush Presidential Library still stands.  Dick Cheney’s daughter sits in Congress.  Rumsveld?  Wolfowitz?  Richard Perle?  Probably serving on boards of large corporations for hugh sums of money?

The dead?  They remain dead and buried and mourned by their families and loved ones who think Colin Kaepernick should just go and piss off.  We are patriotic.  We invite you to use us.  We invite you to offer our bodies as a sacrifice to your political career.  They will name a freeway after you.  They will bury our fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and sisters under the freeway.