Digging deep for ‘new’ Beatles gold

I blew my mind out in a car, coming home from a gig in Bethlehem, PA, listening to “Glass Onion” on the radio. First Ringo’s snare and then bang, the whole bad-ass rhythm section and John singing I told you ’bout strawberry fields… Three verses altogether, with a bridge between the second and third. Oh yeah. The cryptic lyrical references to earlier Beatles songs. Each verse ending with Looking through a glass onion. The string section swooning up and down at the eerie fade-out.

I thought whoa, they don’t make them like that anymore, do they? As if to underscore my thought, the DJ instantly played “Glass Onion” again. Afterwards, she announced that she’d actually played two different versions of “Glass Onion,”  in connection with the recent release of a six-CD remix of the Beatles’ The White Album.

“I couldn’t tell the one version of the song from the other,” I told Swamp Rabbit when I got back to the shack. “They both sounded great. I’d buy the whole boxed set if I could afford it.”

“Why do a fool thing like that?” the rabbit grumbled. “It’s a lot cheaper to download.”

I had to think about that. You could argue that the purchase would be worth it. Co-producer Giles Martin — son of George Martin, the “fifth Beatle” — did a great job of giving The White Album a “sonic tune-up” without messing around too much with the group’s artistic intentions.

But you could also argue that it’s pathetic of me to think about satisfying my craving for new music by purchasing yet another expensive remix of 50-year-old Beatles songs, even if the sound quality is great.

“What you care about sound quality?” the rabbit said. “The only CD player you own is the one in your beat-up old laptop.  Just use your phone.”

My drunken friend had a point. I’m no audiophile, and the culture has changed. Technology marches on. CDs are becoming a thing of the past as streaming services take over. Recorded music has become more mobile, more affordable, more disposable.  This is good for casual listeners but bad for new artists, who can’t make nearly as much money on streamed recordings as artists made on vinyl and CDs in the old days.

I thought of those miners in South Africa who have had to dig thousands of feet farther underground to find new gold. How much deeper can the record companies dig before they extract the last classic-rock nuggets?

“Where are the new mines, the new sounds, the new artists for the ages?” I said.

“Maybe they’re out there, maybe they ain’t,” the rabbit replied. “One thing for sure is you ain’t gonna find them by living in the past.”

Footnote: There are 125 tracks in all, if you count the demos and session takes. As one snarky critic put it: “The market for a set like this is limited to fetishists and completists and that strange baby-boomer contingent that can’t quite let go of the idea of actually owning one’s own music.” I’m still in the latter category — I like liner notes and cover art and so on — but I’m not buying the boxed set.

Forget about Melania — they’re ALL whores

“I really don’t care, do u?” was the message scrawled on a cheap jacket Melania Trump wore on her way to visit a detainment facility – a jail, really — for kids who were separated from their parents by U.S. border guards.

Was there a hidden meaning, or was Melania merely stating the obvious?

The Washington Post received thousands of e-mails from readers responding to reports of the incident. Most of the e-mail writers expressed contempt for Melania and said they weren’t surprised by her stupidly insensitive fashion choice.

Many of them seemed fixated on the notion that Melania is a whore, what do you expect? They mentioned that she had worked in the soft-core porn industry.

One person wrote “…there are names for women who are willing to sell their, uh, integrity for money.”

Another asked “Why would anybody care about the overt opinion of an individual who has sold both her body and her soul to the devil for the metaphorical 30 pieces of silver?”

Whoa! Washington D.C. is crawling with prostitutes and most of them are men. They attach themselves to men who have money and power, and they do whatever they must to keep their jobs. They trade their souls — and their bodies, sometimes — for a little bit of money, in the hope that they can further their careers by pleasing their sugar daddies.

Centers of power have always attracted such men, but the current crop of prostitutes seems more blatant and shameless, probably because Trump is a dictator-type who demands out-loud professions of loyalty from underlings.

A case in point: Can you think of anything more sickening than the video of Trump’s cabinet members sitting around a table and pledging allegiance to him, one by one? What sort of men would behave like this? They couldn’t have been more obsequious if they’d knelt down and fellated him.

So let’s not make too big a deal of Melania’s behavior. Her face is inexpressive, maybe because of Botox. She doesn’t say much, and her rare public statements would seem to indicate she’s not too bright. She may have unwisely sold her body to a bloated monster in return for financial security. (Nothing new about that.)

But she’s not destroying the environment, or chipping away at our First Amendment rights, or giving further tax breaks to billionaires. She’s not in the same league with the whores who help Trump make policy decisions.

To single her out is nothing less than sexist. That’s a word I don’t often use, but there it is.

Trump has nothing to ‘lose’

Reporters and White House insiders seemed to agree yesterday that Donald Trump was “losing it” I wondered what they were talking about. Did they mean his ability to put aside personal problems and focus on the welfare of others? Was it his sense of humor, his grip on reality, his human decency?

He never had any of those things, so how could he lose them? He is what he is – the ultimate ugly American, obsessed with the ownership and sale of things, content to believe that greed, fraudulence, ignorance and arrogance are virtues, not flaws.

Trump apparently threw a tantrum in the White House after learning the FBI had raided his personal attorney’s home and office. Later, in front of reporters, he called the raid “an attack on America,” as if nailing down evidence of his corrupt conduct, in and out of office, was akin to Pearl Harbor or 9-11.

But there’s no point ranting about Trump, he is what he is. What’s exasperating is his fan base, that malignant mass of white Americans who refuse to renounce him, to admit they were suckers for having voted for him. Many of them admire him, precisely because his persona reflects their own worst selves.

Trump tweeted this today:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!

Nice and new and smart. Gas killing animal. In a little while, Trump fans might get to see the real-world consequences of having elected a fake macho man who thinks it’s a good idea to risk World War III by punching adolescent threats into his phone.

The awful truth: Our fearful leader is happy to risk World War III, if only to divert attention from the Mueller probe, which seems to have hit pay dirt. That’s the kind of guy Trump is.

It takes a village of ‘experts’ to craft Hillary’s spiel

Swamp Rabbit explains Hillary's quandary regarding income inequality
Swamp Rabbit ponders Hillary’s income inequality quandary

The headline — “Economic plan is a quandary for Clinton ’16” — was provocative. The lede was downright bizarre:

With advice from more than 200 policy experts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.

“She’s betwixt a rock and a hard place,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Ain’t gonna be easy to solve that there quandary.”

“The poor are being cheated because of laws that are too favorable to the wealthy,” I said. “At this point, the wealthy should understand this. It doesn’t take 200 experts to state the obvious.”

I wondered why I felt so worked up about Hillary’s campaign strategy. Then I remembered I’m one of the poors, living in a shack in the Tinicum swamp with an alcoholic rabbit. It galls me that she is trying to successfully mimic Elizabeth Warren’s call to correct income inequality, but without endorsing any of Warren’s remedies for the problem.

“She’s just another Democrat trying to win without changing the status quo,” I said. “She’d rather alienate millions of poors than risk alienating her hard core of wealthy campaign contributors.”

The rabbit shoved some twigs in the wood stove and looked at me funny. “What’s so odd about that, Odd Man? If wealthy people quit givin’ her money, how’s she gonna afford all them experts that tell her how not to piss off the wealthy?”

Pope Francis vs. Bill Maher, pope of snark

Pope Francis in the PH

Poor Pope Francis, cast into eternal darkness by comedian Bill Maher, host of Real Time and unofficial head of the Church of the Latter Day Snarks:

“I was starting to really like this pope,” Maher said during his monologue on Friday. “He’s dead to me now. Oh yeah, f*ck the Pope. Look, George Bush said it: you’re either with us or against us. Apparently the Pope is not with us.”

Maher was disappointed that the Pope said religion should be off-limits for insults at the same time that he condemned the attack against the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo that left 12 staff members killed.

I say, f*ck Bill Maher. He prides himself on being politically incorrect but his knee-jerk rejection of ideas that clash with his point of view is just the opposite — politically predictable. His snarky act has gotten old.

I don’t agree with Pope Francis on this one — no institution should be “off-limits for insults” — but most of his other social criticisms are on target. Bottom line, he always takes the side of the poor against the obscenely wealthy, the oppressed against the oppressors. Which is more than you can say for Maher and his fellow limousine liberals, who have more in common with hardcore Republicans than with progressives.

Credit where it’s due: Swamp Rabbit just reminded me that Maher’s golden moment as a social critic came soon after 9/11, when he told Middle America that people who crash airplanes into skyscrapers are anything but cowards — that we were the cowards for “lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.” “Now that was politically incorrect,” the rabbit said.

Correction: When Francis became pope, I thought he’d turn out to be another corrupt figurehead who wore funny hats. I was wrong, except for the hats.

Seeking disaster’s bright side in Atlantic City

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian is like Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss, or Eric Idle in Life of Brian. He always looks on the bright side of life, even life in Atlantic City, which has been in a downward spiral for years thanks to corrupt and incompetent public officials and casino executives.

In his State of the City speech this week, Guardian argued that A.C. could get back on the winning track by diversifying its economy instead of continuing to depend almost entirely on revenues from crumbling casino businesses. Fittingly, Guardian made his speech in the ballroom at Caesars, whose parent company had just filed for bankruptcy protection.

Smart people warned A.C. to diversify decades ago, to make it more “family-friendly” before casinos became legal in nearby states and drew away a large percentage of the gamblers. It didn’t happen. Four of 12 A.C. casinos went dark in 2014, throwing thousands of people out of work. Gaming revenues have shrunk to almost half of what they were eight years ago. You might say Guardian is planning radical surgery for a patient who’s already been wheeled to the morgue — unless you look on the bright side.

Give the mayor credit for a good pep talk, even though he hit a sour note when he said, “At least we are not Detroit.” This was like saying we are not London during the plague years, or Dresden after the fire bombs.

Atlantic City is many times smaller than Detroit and should have been much easier to fix. It has a beach and a boardwalk and an ocean, and it once had legions of chumps journeying from far and wide to blow their money on games of chance. It was a test case for the argument that legalized gambling was a good way to jump-start depressed communities.

So much for that argument. Casinos care about casinos, not communities. When they can no longer plunder, they run.

‘Abundance with attachment’ is right-wing doubletalk

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Swamp Rabbit and I huddled next to the wood stove and pored over a cheery Christmas article by economist Arthur C. Brooks, who wants people to make an attitude adjustment regarding possessions. He urges readers to “collect experiences, not things,” and to “steer clear of excessive usefulness” meaning don’t make it a rule to do only those those that are a means to some practical end. And to “get to the center of the wheel” — to belief in something that transcends wealth and fame and other temporal joys.

“Who’s this here article for?” the rabbit said. “I ain’t got nothin’ in the world but a head of lettuce and that bottle of Wild Turkey you give me for collectin’ this here firewood.”

“He wrote it for the one percenters who feel guilty about their piggishness and want to be absolved,” I said. “He takes it for granted that all of his readers are wealthy, or close to it.”

I pointed to the one instance in the New York Times article where Brooks mentions Americans who don’t fit his target demographic: “For those living paycheck to paycheck, a focus on money is understandable. But for those of us blessed to be above poverty, attachment to money is a means-ends confusion.”

“I don’t know anybody ain’t livin’ paycheck to paycheck, or without no paychecks at all,” the rabbit said. “What planet is this guy on?”

“It’s not so much a planet as an alternate universe,” I said. “The other 99 percent of us don’t exist in his universe, unless there’s a need for babysitters or someone to clean the windows.”

I told the rabbit that Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank whose boosters include Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney. This helps explain why he writes things like “Celebrate the bounty that has pulled millions out of poverty worldwide” instead of mentioning that income inequality in the U.S. has been increasing since the 1970s. It’s why he focuses on the angst of the affluent rather than on the millions in the world who can’t make ends meet, despite their so-called bounty.

His message is that the well-off should embrace their possessions without becoming “attached” to them, because all things must pass. It’s a contemporary version of Billy Graham-style Protestantism, with the same underlying message: Enjoy your wealth but praise the Lord. Throw a bone to the poor to confirm you are unselfish and worthy of heaven. Fight big government efforts to feed the poor, that’s socialism.

“He’s part right,” the rabbit said. “You can’t take it with you. Ain’t it obvious?”

“What’s not obvious is his agenda,” I said. “He pretends to be turned off by the commercialization of Christmas but he’s a crusader for the free-market capitalism that has made Christmas so ugly. He pretends he has transcended materialism in order to advance it. ‘Abundance without attachment’ is a bullshit expression, a contradiction in terms. I’d like to punch him in the face. His editor, too.”

“Get a grip, Odd Man,” the rabbit said, reaching for his bottle. “A couple of hits of this will take the edge off.’

I could smell the bourbon as soon as he broke the seal. “I might take you up on that,” I said. “But I’m afraid I might become too attached to the stuff.”

Jesus and the prosperity gospel

This month, I’ve been reading biblical scholar Reza Aslan’s fascinating “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”, and highly recommend it. One of the things that really got my attention was how he described the political uproar of Jesus’ time, and the deep wish for a political savior. Sounded a lot like the Tea Party!

Aslan said his favorite representation of Jesus was from the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, and then pivoted to the issue of the prosperity gospel.

“The fastest growing Protestant movement in North America is this movement that is referred to as the prosperity gospel,” he said. “This is the gospel preached by people like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes — and when I say people, I mean charlatans. The argument of the prosperity gospel, if I can put it flippantly, is that Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley. That is basically what the argument is. That what Jesus wants for you is material prosperity, and that if you literally give, you will literally be given tenfold. That’s not a metaphor, as it is in most churches. It is literal. You give me $10 and Jesus will give you $100.”

“This is as profoundly an unscriptural interpretation of Jesus that exists,” Aslan remarked. “I mean, if there is one thing that is just so clear cut and just not open to interpretation at all of any kind when it comes to Jesus’s message, it is his condemnation of wealth.”

“And yet, not only does this version of Christianity exist, as I say, it is honestly the fastest growing version of Protestant evangelical Christianity in North America. That’s because Jesus can be whatever you want him to be, and the Christian message can be whatever you want it to be.”

Earlier in his speech, Aslan said that Jesus advocated an “absolute reversal of the social order, in which those on the top and those on the bottom will switch places,” citing Luke 6:20-26.

Porn flick about Comcast would be called ‘Insatiable’

Swamp Rabbit and I were reading that Comcast, the nation’s No. 1 cable provider, has bought out Time Warner Cable, the No. 2 provider. I wondered aloud what’s become of the Federal Communications Commission, the outfit that is supposed to prevent media corporations from establishing monopolies that exploit consumers. And where is the so-called Department of Justice? These questions are at least as old as the 1980s, when Ben Bagdikian wrote The Media Monopoly.

“The FCC done got neutered,” the rabbit said. “I been livin’ in this swamp for years, but I know that. Where you been?”

Good question. I try to keep up with change, but I can’t figure out how the feds justify allowing companies like Comcast to make such crudely obvious power grabs. It’s hard to overestimate the effect of Comcast’s multimillion-dollar lobbying efforts, or the power of David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president. But still…

Here’s part of the explanation, from Guardian UK’s Dan Gilmor:

America’s cable companies grew up in the cozy embrace of local governments that gave them monopoly franchises, which they’ve expanded over the years via mergers and acquisitions, not just normal growth. The noncompetitive local franchise model means that when one cable giant buys another, the customers generally have the same choices as before for subscription TV (cable or satellite) and internet service (cable or phone company DSL).

Whose interest is served by such a deal? The shareholders of TWC and Comcast would be thrilled, for sure. So would the NSA and other surveillance statists, who would undoubtedly be happiest if we reverted to the era when a single behemoth telecommunications enterprise served, for all practical purposes, as an arm of the spy services.

The other main winners would be the remaining telecom “competitors” that would be part of an ever-cozier oligopoly of enterprises that upgrade reluctantly and, compared to providers in other developed nations, grossly overcharge their customers. So look for more mergers, even less user privacy, higher prices and – if this is possible for the generally loathed cable companies – even worse service.

Call it the reality of pervasive political corruption. As City Paper’s Daniel Denvir wrote:

Philadelphia’s elected officials will no doubt line up to back Comcast, which recently announced its plans to build a second (taxpayer-subsidized) skyscraper here in its hometown. This is a company that works hard to make political friends, and which is energetically supporting Gov. Tom Corbett’s imperiled reelection campaign.

But still… Isn’t it the job of the feds to make sure gluttonous corporations don’t morph into entities so powerful they can crush competition by buying the people who write the laws? And wasn’t that a naive question?

Maybe the current FCC commissioners and the DoJ have decided today’s media monsters are too big for quaint anti-trust laws. We should know by the end of the year.