Republicans Grasping at Straws: Defending the Indefensible

Dum_and_Dee

And those who had lied for hire;
the perverts, the perverters of language . . . 
     Ezra Pound "Canto XIV"

Hey, Lindsey and Tom, I’ve read Emmanuel Kant, and you’re no Emmanuel Kant (Though You Might Qualify as Lindsey and Tom Cant)

Dig these arguments.

Argument 1

Lindsey Graham:  There’s no quid pro quo because Trump didn’t explicitly say, “Hey, man, unless you dig up some dirt on Hunter Biden, we’re not going to sell you any more weapons.”[1]

No, Trump said after President Zelensky mentioned purchasing more Javelin missiles from the US, “Hey, man, we’ve done a lot for you, you not so much for us.  I need a favor.  Dig up some dirt on Hunter Biden.”

See, it can’t be a quid pro quo unless it’s spelled out explicitly.  He needed to say “no dirt on Biden, no weapons.”

We’ll just ignore that soliciting a foreign national to aid in an election is against the law.  Gotta have an explicit quid pro quo.  No explicit quid pro quo, impeachment a no go.

Argument 2

Tom Cornyn: The Whistleblower wasn’t present during the call.  It’s second and third hand information, which automatically renders his claims invalid.

Of course, Linda Tripp want present when Monica Lewinski performed fellatio on President Clinton, but as the poet says, “But that was in another [century], and besides the wench is dead.”

Shall I lower myself to make an argument by analogy?  The hearsay argument is like the rumors about this year’s Folly Gras celebration on beautiful Folly Beach, SC.  People there described a drunken shitshow.  I mentioned it some off-island friends, but they dismissed my account as secondhand and therefore not credible, even though scores of eye-witnesses agreed on what transpired.

Folly Gras 2019 1.0

An artist’s rendition

But wait, back to DC.   Hey, Tom, it seems to me like the transcript memo was pretty damned accurate.  Also, there might be a witness or two who might corroborate?

You’re gaslighting, my man.  You’re from Texas, right?  Remember the Alamo.

Non-Readers

Here’s a partial list of Republican Senators who haven’t bothered to read the nine-page eloquently clear whistleblower complaint:

Mitt Romney

Martha McSally

Lisa Murkowski

Rob Portman

Tim Scott (who had started reading but hadn’t finished it yet)[2]

Todd Young

Mike Baun

Makes you wonder if they’ve ever read the Constitution.  Most Pocket Constitutions consist of 34 pages, and the prose isn’t nearly as accessible.

Anyway, this scandal pales compared to the fact that Hillary stored her emails on a secret server.

Oh Wait, But There Is a Super Duper Private Server Where the Administration Hides Trump’s Conversations with Foreign Leaders

 From Carol E Lee of NBC News:

The whistleblower, whose complaint is at the heart of calls for an impeachment inquiry into Trump, also asserted that White House officials have misused the classified system multiple times to bury “politically sensitive” information detailed in records of the president’s interactions with world leaders. Former and current intelligence officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that, if true, such misuse should spark an investigation into the potential mishandling of a classified system.

Oh, by the way, Tom, the validity of this story about the secret server has been corroborated, which brings to mind that old saw that “it’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.”

We shouldn’t Tax Obliterated Attention Spans with These Damning Extra Added Complications

Although named in Trump’s call as a potential intermediary in digging up dirt on Biden’s son, Attorney General William Barr hasn’t recused himself, and he gets to decide who gets prosecuted.

World Leader Zalensky bragged in the call that he stays at Trump Hotels in New York, which brings to mind that constitutional bagatelle, the Emoluments Clause.

Oh, yeah, and Trump’s suggestion that it would be smart like in the good ol’ days to execute whoever leaked to the whistleblower, which sounds somewhat like witnesses tampering.

Anyway, I’m about to hit 500 words, so I better quit in the off chance my junior senator Tim Scott stumbles across this little piece of debased liberal propaganda.


[1] “Any more weapons in your war against my BFF Vladimir.”

[2] Boooor-ing

 

 

 

 

 

Dressing the Part

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String Bean Akeman

Ken Burns’ latest epic documentary Country Music is [cue embarrassed throat-clearing] educational.

Of course, I’m well aware of the tradition of minstrel shows, but I didn’t realize that at the Grand Ole Opry (and less famous venues) white performers sometimes blackened their teeth, donned battered straw hats, and smoked corncob pipes to appeal to  audiences, who, if you check out vintage videos, appear to be well-dressed and well-groomed.  In other words, for whatever reason —  nostalgia perhaps? — they embraced the stereotypes of impoverished hillbillydom.

Although I don’t remember my maternal great-grandmother, my mama told me that she smoked a corncob pipe, and her son, whom we, the grandchildren, called Kiki, suffered dental deficiencies that made some of those blackened-tooth hillbillies look like Eric Estrada.  Although he spoke perfect grammar (albeit in a thick Dorchester county brogue), Kiki had to quit school in the third grade to work on the family farm.  I remember visiting his sister Creesie, who, in fact, didn’t have indoor plumbing, though she did own a large, imposing, non-functional organ. I was absolutely terrified of roosters, and my scampering to the outhouse was a harrowing experience. You can read about it in detail here.

Kiki was a big fan of country music and performed himself as a young man in quartets.  If I was at his house on a Saturday afternoon, I’d be subjected to about three straight hours of country and western on Channel 5, and I became slightly familiar with some of the artists featured in Burns’ documentary, for example, Little Jimmy Dickens, Ernest Tubb, Porter Wagoner, and Dolly Parton – all of whom I looked down at from the bridge of my freckled Scots-Irish nose.

None of the above-mentioned performers chose to come off as impoverished hillbillies. Porter and Dolly had their suits made by Nudie Cohn, who also fashioned Elvis’s stage costumes.  Minnie Pearl, of course, a caricature created by Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, wore gingham dresses and her signature straw hat with its $1.98 price tag attached, but she was a gentle satirist, and Minnie such a delightful persona that you couldn’t help but like her.[1]

porter and dolly

minnie

At any rate, I’ve been able to overcome my childhood prejudice and now appreciate Hank Williams, Sr., Waylon and Willie, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Graham Parsons, Roseanne Cash, Dwight Yokum, and several other performers.  The Burns documentary is introducing me to artists who had slipped through the canyon-like crevices of my spotty education.

Perhaps earlier in my life, these country stereotypes hit a little too close to home.  Poor Aunt Creesie, poor Cousin Trim. We didn’t attend either one of their funerals.


[1] By the way, Sarah Ophelia Colley, who had a theater degree from Ward-Belmont College, purchased that famous hat in Aiken, SC.

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The late great Gram Parsons sporting the coolest country costume of all time

Miles Davis’s Restless Musical Journey

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Illustration by Oliver Barrett of The Atlantic

Although I’m not a musician, I seem to find myself hanging with them an awful lot.  For example, in college I roomed with Warren Moise and accompanied him and his band Wormwood on many a gig.  When Warren decided to drop out and make a go at being a professional musician, he invited me to join Wormwood as soundman or light man or something or another, but I stuck to the unglamorous academic life of a sophomore living in Tenement 9 in the so-called Horseshoe of the University of South Carolina.[1]  Later Warren later returned to school, became a lawyer, but still writes songs, like this one recorded by the Band of Oz.

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The next year I moved off campus with another musician, Stan Gibbons, who played bass for a rock cover band called Buddy Roe. After Buddy Roe broke up, Stan got into jazz, and it was he who turned me on to the Miles Davis album Bitches Brew, which I didn’t dig, and believe me, I got to hear it on numerous occasions, like non-stop for a couple of months. I still don’t dig it, but now that I’ve finished Ian Carr’s two-inch thick (658 pages) Miles Davis, The Definitive Biography, I have come to appreciate why Davis became such a restless innovator and to see his refusal to settle for the profitable status quo as a mark of heroic artistry.

Born to upper middle class parents, Miles Dewey Davis III grew up in East St. Louis where his father practiced dentistry.  Although he grew up in a household awash in music, it was classical music that his African American family embraced. His sister played the piano and his mother the violin.  As Carr puts it in the biography, “After Emancipation, it was the professional men and ministers of the church who were the heads of the new black society, and they were at pains to get rid of any customs that were too ‘negroid’ or which harked back to slavery.  It often happened that leading black citizens became the most fanatical imitators of white society. ”

However, that great corrupter of youth in those days, the radio, turned Miles onto Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, and Roy Eldridge, so he took up the trumpet, played in the school band, but also at social clubs.  By the time he was sixteen and still in high school, he had joined a music union and came under the tutelage of Clark Terry.  This was in the 40’s.  Once he graduated, he talked his parents into letting him go the Juilliard instead of Fisk University.  At the Juilliard, he lived what Carr calls “a Jekell and Hyde” existence, trafficking with classical music by day and jazz, particularly bebop, by night.

Bebop was the first jazz innovative movement Davis got into.  Soon, he found himself attending Charlie Parker gigs, and in 1945 he joined Charlie Parker’s group. During this period, he shared the stage with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane.

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Trane and Dizzy

So began his career, a career that featured a series of departures that usually irked the mainstream jazz community.

Weary of bebop, Davis and cronies Gil Evans and Jerry Mulligan among others started experimenting with the idea of having their instruments imitate human voices, creating  more melodic jazz than bebop.  After this so-called “birth of the cool” phase, Davis, now hooked on heroin, played what is called “hard bop.”  He signed with Prestige records and locked in a room by himself kicked his H habit cold turkey, .  Next came modal jazz, and in 1959 Davis released Kind of Blue, which is the best selling jazz album of all time.  In the 60s as rock replaced jazz as the cool pop music, Miles embraced the sound of the guitar, and “went electric,” much to the chagrin of jazz purists, and hence Bitches Brew.

 After Wynton Marsalis publically criticized Miles for abandoning “real jazz,” Miles responded:

What’s [Marsalis] doin’ messin’ with the past?  A player of his caliber should just wise up and realize it’s over . . . Some people, whatever is happening now, either they can’t handle it or they don’t want to know. They’ll be messed up on that bogus ‘nostalgia’ thing. Nostalgia shit!  That’s a pitiful concept.  Because it’s dead, it’s safe – that’s what that shit is about!  Hell, no one wanted to hear us when we were playing jazz. Those days with Bird, Diz, Trane – some were good, some were miserable . . . People didn’t like that stuff then. Hell, why do you think we was playing clubs?  No one wanted us on prime-time TV.  The music wasn’t getting across, you dig!  Jazz is dead![2]

Point taken: innovation is often frowned upon, misunderstood. Why, after all the success of Born in the USA, did Springsteen follow that up with Nebraska?  Why did Dylan abandon acoustic folk for the electric guitar, and why does he constantly reconfigure his songs so that at a concert he might be halfway through “Blowin’ in the Wind” before you recognize it?

Maybe because for them it has gotten old, stale.  You don’t have to like the new product; I much prefer Kind of Blue to Bitches Brew.  However, unless you’re a great musician, you probably should keep your mouth shut and let the masters do their thing.

It’s your thang, do what you wanna do.

I can’t tell you, who to sock it to.


[1]You can read about my travails with my roomies here, a situation that had me literally threatening to hang myself to university officials.

[2]I suspect Miles used a different mode of expression at Juilliard.

 

Where Has All the Body Hair Gone?

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The other night as I was surfing through channels, I stopped to watch a few minutes of Goldfinger, a film whose scenario is about as farfetched as you’ll find outside a fairy tale.

I mean, a virgin sharing accommodations with seven libido-less dwarves (who actually enjoy working in mines) strikes me as more plausible than a fleet of propeller-driven light planes overtaking Fort Knox, enabling an insane gold fetishist to come within seven seconds of detonating an atomic bomb.

rackham_snowdrop3

 

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6 Cornfed domestic terrorists

Nevertheless, in the first half of the Sixties, James Bond was the paragon of male coolness.  Sean Connery, of course, was Bond’s first incarnation: six-feet-plus of epicurean machismo blended[1] with superhuman savoir faire. Not only is Bond’s frontal lobe capable of performing spectacular main-frame-fast lifesaving calculations, but he can also distinguish by bouquet the year of an obscure Tuscan Vintage or by sight the Chinese dynasty that produced the vase he encounters in the resiquite subterranean compound.

Unlike any of today’s pouting male models (who seem dangerously close to choking to death on their own smugness),  Sean Connery’s Bond was almost as hirsute as Ronnie’s co-star Bonzo.[2]

Dig this, for example:

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as compared to this:

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For whatever reason, body hair viscerally disgusts Late Empire fashionistas. Mention to anyone under thirty that European women just recently started shaving their armpits, and the retching becomes audible.  Yet, back in the 60’s, testosterone-needy would-be Bonds were actually purchasing chest wigs.

Nowadays, hair removal has migrated down under as a visit to Bond’s old hunting ground,  La Cote d’ Azur, will confirm.[3]

Men as well as women in the Late Empire shave their legs, pluck their knuckle hair, and wax their derrieres.

On the other hand, these same trichophobes think nothing about decorating their bodies with indelible designs fashioned by meth-addicted artisans.

gothic tatoo

I don’t think I’d chosen gothic for this particular message.

I really don’t know how body hair became taboo in an age when most men would, if given the choice, choose a large penis over a large IQ, so I’ll leave it to you to ponder such earth shattering questions as I descend the stairs of my book-lined study  [cue the Bond guitars] to munch on some Caspian caviar, have a glass or two of the Macallan’s 55 year-old Lalique, and then [guitars discordantly morphing into banjo picking] watch me some football.

scotch

A bargain at only 14K


[1]Shaken, not stirred

[2]Or, if your prefer, Tarzan’s co-star Cheetah

[3] Or save a few Euros/dollars and consult a voyeur web site.

 

The Old Masters

Frequent visitors to this blog (all three of you) have no doubt noted a predilection to illustrate my rants with paintings of Bosch and Brueghel, Juvenalian satirists of the highest order; however, when it comes to unflattering depictions of the human race, those two Old Masters share many a Flemish cousin who can also render grotesqueries and human folly with Chaucerian panache.

The Ugly Duchess

Take the above masterpiece, Quentin Massy’s (1466-1530) portrait of Margaret, Duchess of Carinthia, also known as Margaret Maultasch (“Satchel-mouth”), though best known as The Ugly Duchess.  

An exquisite warning to in-breeders everywhere, she, of course, is the great-great-great grandmother of the Duchess Alice encounters in Wonderland.

The Ugly Duchess’s famous issue also include the Cowardly Lion:

AKA Bert Lahr (pictured below in drag)

In Auden’s frequently anthologized poem “Musée des Beaux Arts,” he notes that 

About suffering they were never wrong,

The Old Masters; how well, they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along [. . .]

He goes on to describe the suffering’s occurring “anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot” and cites Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus as an example.

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In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

But it’s not only suffering that goes on in the untidy corners of the paintings of Flemish masters; plenty of hankypanky takes place there as well.

Take this example from the above-mentioned Massys, The Ill-Matched Lovers.

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Note while the lecher’s hand is copping a not-so-surreptitious feel,

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the young woman’s transferring his purse to her companion,

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a literal Fool.

Quentin-Massys-Ill-Matched-Lovers-Detail-fool

Anyway, it’s not all tongue-clucking burlesque; these masters certainly could capture beauty when in the mood [not to mention pre-photographic perfection (check out the instruments at the bottom)].  

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Caesar van Everdingen, Pegasus and the Four Muses

Nevertheless, for whatever reason (an overabundance choleric humors, perhaps), I prefer the Old Masters’ satire to their high mindedness. 

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I leave you with these details from Bosch’s The Wayfarer.

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Oink, oink, say the piggies. Splash, splash goes the urine.

The Rattle of Bones and Chuckle from Ear to Ear: A Tribute to Tom Waits

Editor’s Note: My old blog Late Empire Ruminations is coming down soon, so I’m curating pieces from there that are not so topical. This post comes from September 2010.

Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege for the strong. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Trans. Walter Kaufmann)

The phrase that gives this blog its name – ragwater, bitters, and blue ruin – comes from the Tom Waits song “9th and Hennipen” where

All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes

And the moon’s teeth marks are on the sky.

Tom Waits, the man, I think, could be Frederick Nietzsche’s poster boy for Beyond Good and Evil.  TW is a man who has created and recreated himself, always pushing into the future, ignoring the insect buzz of the masses to remain absolutely true to himself.  Although not quite [cue Dusty Springfield] the son of a preacher man (like Nietzsche himself, Jung, and Hesse), Waits is pretty damned close, the son of two California school teachers, who by profession had to preach the status quo, part of what Yeats dismissed as “the noisy set/Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergyman/The martyrs call the world.”

This pigeonholing may be unfair to Waits’ parents who perhaps on the first day of school each year refused to hold their hands to their hearts and pledge alliance to the flag of the United States of America, but I kind of doubt it.  After his parents divorced, Waits lived with his mother in Richard Nixon’s hometown of Whittier, California.  Once he had a record contract in hand, TW moved to the Tropicana Motel in LA.  Living the nightmare you might say.

Waits Lounging in his room at the Tropicana c. 1976

More and more it seems to me that the philosopher, being of necessity a man of tomorrow, has always found himself, and had to find himself, in contradiction to his today: his enemy was always the ideal of today.” Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

What went right here?  How did this middle class product come to eschew 1) the comforts and security of carpeted dens for seedy decadence 2) the prevalent hippie zeitgeist of the 60’s for the retro Beatnikism of Cassidy and Kerouac 3) rock-n-roll for jazz, later jazz for polka?  

Always restless, TW has never settled on one groove, no matter how lucrative.  Only perhaps the German language is equipped to produce a label for his music: Volktingedbluejazzindustrocabaretmusick.

In the course of the 38 years since TW signed his first recording contract, he has produced a body of high quality popular music that deserves inclusion in the pantheon that houses Bob Dylan, Cole Porter, and Johnny Mercer.  As the Wall Street Journal’s (the very mouthpiece of hipdom) pop critic Jim Fusilli raves: 

Interestingly enough, in later years, TW’s has shifted from the streets of New Orleans and piano jazz eastward to the cabarets of Weimar Berlin and accordion-laced rumbas.  Among the many influences on Waits’s body of work – Stephen Foster, Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael – stand Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, late practitioners of German Expressionism, working their dark magic in the black shadows of Nietzsche’s colossal influence.  How appropriate that Wait’s first musical Frank’s Lost Years debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater and that his collaboration with William S. Burrows, The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bulletsopened in 1991 in Hamburg.  In his most recent incarnations, he seems German, a sort of Chaplinesque figure, part Kafka, part Brecht, a sort of skid row ubermensch who by heroically forsaking the comforts of mediocrity descended into an underworld of gothic grotesqueries and emerged triumphant, the master of his own fate, a hero armed with the secret knowledge of suffering.

She has that razor sadness that only gets worse

With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by

And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet

til you’re full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin

And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen…

And I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen it all

Through the window of the evening train.