Stairway to Mediocrity

I stumbled upon this:

Stairway to Heaven – Heart 

And I wrote this in the comments:

Utterly reeking of smug, self-congratulation. And the resounding conviction that if you played it perfectly with a 5-piece band, nobody would understand just how monumentally great it is; so you load the stage with the biggest number you can get and make it a mess of layers and noise and gesture until everyone in the room realizes that yes, I have good taste because I liked this song that is reputably a classic, so everyone says. I would have replaced the entire ensemble with 4 Hawaiians with ukuleles and kazoos in a desperate quest for something fresh and interesting.

It’s very hard to tell if “Stairway to Heaven” really is a good song anymore because it has become completely encrusted with myth and grandeur and self-importance and ridicule over the years.  I thought it was a pretty grand song when I was in college, after I heard it for the first time.  Nice picked guitar.  Nice flute.  Nice big electric guitar entry.   The lyrics?  Suggestive of some kind of cosmic sensitivity, about selling out, about “buying” self-respect and redemption, about some “heaven” that is not defined or articulated or even really expressed.  Some allusions to natural beauty.  That condescending final big statement: “to be a rock and not to roll”.

A room-mate of mine who became a pastor in a Christian Reformed Church listened to it carefully one day and them solemnly pronounced, “that’s what it’s all about isn’t it Bill: ‘to be a rock… and not to roll'”.  That was my first clue that the song was hopelessly mired in pretension and posturing and fake sensitivity.

I should have quoted back to him Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sit Down Young Stranger”:

The answer’s in the forest, carved upon a tree
John loves Mary,
Does anyone love me.



For God’s sake, she is the wife of a former president.

That is the problem at the heart of the four-part series “Hillary” on Netflix, a carefully crafted and manipulated portrait of the woman who lost the 2016 presidential election to the most ridiculous candidate in the history of the U.S.   The astute observer will immediately detect the subtle direction of the edits, the selectivity, the omissions, all intended to convince you that Hillary Clinton did not ride to prominence on the coattails of her husband, and that her influence and power within the Clinton Administration and her subsequent career as Senator and Secretary of State and presidential candidate were the fruits of some kind of legitimate mandate, and not the product of opportunism or privilege, and that the only reason she lost to Donald Trump was the embedded misogyny of American political culture, and the unmitigated gall of Bernie Sander’s fanatical followers to not turn up and vote for her.

What must not be displayed is the obvious: her entire career in politics was founded upon the success of her husband, Bill Clinton, who assembled a team of political operatives and ran for election as Attorney-General, and then Governor of Arkansas, and then President of the United States.  This is not to say that she was not a talented lawyer, or political manager.  This is to say that she would never have served as Secretary of State, or run for the Senate, or for President, if it had not been for the fact that her husband ran and won first.

“Hillary” tries– too hard– to convince you that Hillary Clinton was so remarkable, so amazing, and so diligent and perceptive and astute, that she earned her way into the White House, and to the Senate, and into Obama’s cabinet, and then as the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party in 2016.

So we are shown clips from the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign in which we offered two contradictory narratives, simultaneously true and not true.  One, that she was a liberated feminist who contributed mightily to the campaign on both a strategic and policy level, and, two, that she became a substantial liability after insisting that she had no intention of staying home and baking cookies.  While insisting that she did not compromise her principles, we are shown the new haircut, the demur stage presence, the tailored outfits, the girlish exuberance– bouncing on the stage with Tipper Gore– but told to believe that through some magical osmosis, America elected her to be an active and involved First Lady.

The right comment from a reporter or columnist at that moment would have been to point out that this established something about her character, a suspicion, that never went away.

Let’s go back further.  Bill Clinton won his first election as governor of Arkansas and then lost his second attempt, then won his third attempt.  “Hillary” would have you believe that it was because she became a better governor’s wife.  Every other political analyst knows it was because Bill Clinton reversed his position on capital punishment, purely out of political calculation.  What was that again about authenticity?  “Hillary” itself begins to raise suspicions about their interest in the truth.

That’s the seed of America’s disaffection with Hillary Clinton: the “documentary” (it is not a documentary: it’s a flattering piece of Hillary advocacy) shows us Hillary scoffing at the idea that she presented a calculated image to the American people and subtly affirms her view.  Why did people ever think she was not authentic or genuine?  It’s a mystery!   And then she proceeds to claim to be baffled as to why, after the scandalous bail-out of the banks after the 2008 crisis, people would want to know what she said to Goldman-Sachs for $200,000.  Why didn’t she just release the text of the speech she gave to them?  She says, because she was using it as leverage to force Bernie Sanders to release his tax returns.


“Hillary” would have you believe that all Bernie Sanders talked about during the 2016 campaign was her corrupt ties to the banking and investment industries.  No mention of Vince Foster’s suicide on July 20, 1993.   (as of the first episode and 1/2) and the travel office scandal.  We’ll see…


I watched the episode (3) which covered the infamous Vince Foster suicide.  And no surprise: not a word about “travel-gate”.  In summary, the Clinton’s became convinced that the travel office, headed by one Billy Ray Dale (who had served under two previous presidents) which organizes flights for members of the press corps when the president travels, was disorganized and unaccountable and possibly even corrupt.  They wanted to replace the staff with some of the their friends from Arkansas.  It was also believed that staff members in the White House travel office were leaking gossip about the Clintons’ marriage to the press.   So the Clintons had seven members of the staff fired and replaced with Arkansas associates.  And then were very surprised to learn that the media– which was quite friendly to the staff of the travel office– thought the firings unjustified and driven by ulterior motives.  Republicans sensed an opportunity and cried foul.  The whole thing blew up and became the Clintons’ first unpleasant public scandal.

There were rumours that Hillary had been pushing the firings which she categorically, publicly denied, even to investigators.


A two-year-old memo from White House director of administration David Watkins surfaced that identified First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as the motivating force behind the firings, with the additional involvement of Vince Foster and Harry Thomason.[39] “Foster regularly informed me that the First Lady was concerned and desired action. The action desired was the firing of the Travel Office staff.  Wikipedia

It is important to note here that there is evidence that the travel office really was somewhat corrupt and that it did favors for the press, which may be one of the reasons the press seized on the story.  There were investigations before the Clintons but nobody had proceeded with charges or disciplinary actions.

During the investigation, Hillary Clinton was question by investigators and she vehemently denied that she had anything at all to do with the firings.  This was a lie.

Hillary Clinton lied to the press and to investigators about her role in the affair.  And, in “Hillary”, she lies again, pretty shamelessly, mocking those who thought there was anything to the scandal.

“Hillary” wants you to believe it is honest and truthful by carefully choosing the scandals we all already know about to relate to us (look– they even talk about Genifer Flowers!) while conspicuously ignoring the ones that will never play well.  “Hillary” proffers lots of straw men to knock down and badly wants you to believe that people didn’t like Hillary Clinton because she was strong or opinionated or a woman.  How easy to believe she is really a wonderful, honest person who never deserved any of the vitriol directed her way.  But the fact that they ignored the more unpleasant facts about her career (and the one overwhelming fact I stated in the first line of this piece) just confirms what people have always thought about the Clintons: they are not authentic or honest or straight, and a good deal of the misfortunes they encountered in their careers– including losing the 2016 election– were deserved.

But life is endlessly ironic.  The Republicans, without a doubt, harbored a vicious, vindictive, irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton, and, yes, there really was a conspiracy to destroy their political careers, funded by wealthy right-wing investors in cooperation with Republican operatives and ultra-conservative media personalities, and, eventually Vladimir Putin and the Russians.  Mr. Comey became an accidental accessory when he announced that he was re investigating her “missing” emails just days before the vote in 2016.

Hillary Clinton should have been elected in 2016 not because she was a good candidate for president but because her opponent was incredibly awful.  The truth is that Bernie Sanders would probably have won that election had he been the Democratic nominee.  Clinton was a bad choice, given her long history in Washington, the way she polarized voters, and her privileged access to Washington politics as the wife of the former president.

And, yes, her fundamental dishonesty.


Fleabag Season 1 Episode 4

There was a scene in “Fleabag” episode 4 that kind of stunned me.   Fleabag is at a “silent retreat” with her sister Claire, an unwelcomed gift from their dad.  Next door is a men’s retreat in which a leader hilariously tries to train men to not call women sluts or mock them when they receive promotions.  She sees Bank Manager there– someone she had previously flirted with while negotiating a loan for her cafe.  She strikes up a conversation with him, over smokes, and he tells her that he has been forced to attend the workshop as a consequence of some inappropriate behavior at work.  He touched a woman’s breast, twice.

Fleabag immediately offers him her breast to touch.  He frowns and says, “I’m trying to quit”.

I immediately tried to imagine a similar scene in a CBC comedy, or on an American Network.  I don’t think it’s possible.  I think there would have been shrieking and threats of violence and boycotts and a new hashtag and resignations all around.

I thought of Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul, Korea, who committed suicide after a secretary went public with accusations of sexual harassment.  His offense seems to have consisted of repeatedly hitting on her.  He sent her pictures of himself in his underwear.  He pressed his body against her while taking selfies.  He kissed a bruise on her leg.

“I felt defenseless and weak before the immense power,” the woman said in a statement released through her lawyer at a news conference on Monday. “I wanted to shout at him in a safe court of law, telling him to stop it. I wanted to cry out how much he has hurt me.”

It is politically incorrect to think:  for this, he felt his only choice was to commit suicide?  Was the secretary not able to warn him that she would go to the police if he continued the harassing behavior?  We are not told if she did, but the prevailing wisdom among activists is that she shouldn’t have to.

The secretary is not apologetic.  In fact, she is angry that people feel bad about Park Won-soon– who was a sterling advocate for progressive women’s issues his entire career– and not sufficiently considerate of her feelings.

I was disappointed.  I thought she might say something like, “the way he treated me was wrong but I am horrified that an otherwise admirable person felt driven to this terrible act.”

I thought Fleabag’s reaction to the Bank Manager was admirable.  It was “what’s the big deal?”.    It was the act of a truly liberated woman, self-confident, independent, and wildly immune to the “system” that we are led to believe oppresses women.  She would have told Park Won-soon to fuck off and that would probably have been the end of it.

But then… later, Fleabag tried to convince Claire to take a job in Finland that she was reluctant to take because she would be away from her husband, Martin.  Fleabag told Claire that Martin had tried to kiss her, which was true.    Martin denied it and claimed Fleabag had tried to kiss him.  We learn later that Claire always did believe Fleabag but chose to stay with Martin for reasons of her own.

Unlike her interaction with Mr. Bank Manager, this was disappointingly conventional and hypocritical of Fleabag who has herself seduced married or attached men.

“Fleabag” is an outstanding series– you should see it.  It is fabulously original and witty and sometimes transcendent, as when the priest delivers the homily at Fleabag’s father’s wedding, and when Fleabag’s father tells her that he likes Claire.


Michael Flynn is Set UP

“The Federalist” declares that that the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn was a “set up”. That’s clever. I may inform the police, the next time I get a ticket, that I was “set up”: obviously, you were out to catch people who were speeding.  You decided to park on the side of the road with your radar gun to see if I was speeding.  That’s entrapment.

This logic is fairly typical of conservative, right-wing media, trying to make it sound like they–just like those real journalists at the New York Times and Washington Post– have the goods on someone.  Yes, yes, our deeply researched investigation (we looked at three websites) has uncovered the shocking story of how the FBI, believing the Michael Flynn may have been coordinating Trump’s foreign policy with Russian interests, decided to try to trap him into coordinating with Russian interests so they could charge him with coordinating with Russian interests.  The bastards!  They even tricked him into confessing, and pleading guilty– oh the perversity of liberals and the media!



Wisconsin’s Supreme Idiots

“Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work, among other ordinarily lawful activities?” Justice Rebecca Bradley asked.

This is from a justice of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.  I am not making this up.  This is one of the questions this justice, Rebecca Bradley, a Republican appointee, asked when considering whether or not a State Governor should have the authority to take emergency measures in the face of a pandemic.

I’m not sure I don’t like her logic.  Let’s think about it.  How about this:

Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to join the military, learn to kill people, and travel overseas to participate in mass killings?

Absolutely.   Or:

Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for smoking weed in the privacy of his own home, at no inconvenience to other citizens?

Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for driving on one side of the road and not the other?

Case dismissed.

SNL Stars

The list of comedians commonly assumed to be the big stars of SNL includes:

  • Chevy Chase
  • John Belushi
  • Bill Murray
  • Eddie Murphy
  • Martin Short
  • Chris Farley
  • Tina Fey
  • Will Ferrell
  • Billy Crystal
  • Dan Ackroyd
  • Amy Poehler

Quick– name a single important movie that any of these “stars” made?   Name a movie made by an SNL alumnus that mattered.   All right– maybe these:

  • Lost in Translation
  • Driving Miss Daisy
  • Groundhog Day
  • Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Ghostbusters
  • Punch-Drunk Love
  • Enough Said
  • This is Spinal Tap

Okay, some of these were okay as entertainment.  None of them, with the exception of “Groundhog Day”, which was, at moments, transcendent, or “Lost in Translation”, really mattered in any serious way.  “Punch-Drunk Love” was completely out of character for Adam Sandler (so out of character it’s the only Sandler movie I can stand) and doesn’t really qualify as the product of an SNL alumnus.

So, while reading the book “Saturday Night Live”, I kept cringing when someone or another would go on and on about what a great “star” so-and-so was when I couldn’t think of single movie this star was in that was important in any way to me– except, perhaps, Bill Murray.  Here’s another discussion of the issue.  In fact, Tina Fey’s “Date Night” had the singular honor of being one of a very, very tiny number of movies I simply walked out on.  Now, I rarely give up on a move no matter how bad it is because I consider it always educational to see what Hollywood is up to even if the answer is “not very much”.  But it is well known that SNL alumni have starred in some of the worst movies ever made in the past 45 years.   That is amazing, and it’s a testament to the power of celebritydom in modern entertainment.  Hollywood moguls routinely believe that a well known comedian will draw droves of fans to their movies.