2016: the year in music and movies

Since I’m not into Hamilton, this has been a poor year for music. Not much I was excited about came out this year, but the stuff I got that I was excited about, I was really excited about!  Let’s start with MUSIC.

MOST PLAYED ALBUMS of 2016

10. April Wine, Animal Grace. This is an anomaly album in April Wine’s catalog – the one that AW’s die-hard fans love to hate. It’s radio friendly, almost pop music, and I have loved this album since I first got it back in 1984. I freely admit I bought it because of the awesome cover and having heard “This Could Be the Right One” on the radio a couple of times. Fun album, and obviously I listen to it quite a bit. It does sound dated now, as the drum and keyboard sounds are stereotypical for the early 1980s.

9. Ghost, Meliora. Ghost (formerly Ghost B.C.) is a Swedish band that, visually, is taking the piss out of religion. The singer – Papa Emeritus – dresses as an anti-pope character, and nobody knows who anybody in the band is – except maybe for Dave Grohl, who has been known to don the outfit of a Nameless Ghoul and sit in with the band. The lyrics are vaguely Satanic, and I know some people are offended by that kind of thing, but I’ve been listening to Stryper since their first EP came out (The Yellow and Black Attack, 1984) and doing so hasn’t turned me into a Christian, so listening to a dark metal band isn’t going to turn me into a Satanist. Besides, I don’t really listen to the lyrics anyway. Meliora came out in 2015, but I don’t really pay close attention to stuff, so I didn’t get it until this year. It’s fantastic – Ghost’s metal is driven by a solid rhythm section, two guitars and a keyboard. It’s fun, peppy music that isn’t really all that “heavy” when it comes to heavy metal. I can’t even pick out standout tracks, because this is just a fantastic album. My favorite song is “He Is,” followed closely by “Mummy Dust,” which takes on the worship not of Satan, but of MONEY. Great song.

8. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun. This 2014 album was my #1 album of 2015 and has clearly fallen a few slots in the rotation. This is mostly because other stellar albums have come out since then that have distracted me. Still a great album, and IMO Mastodon’s best to date.

7. Cutting Crew, Broadcast. Last year’s #2 falls in the rankings as well, but this album remains one of my all-time favorites.

6. Black Label Society, Stronger Than Death. Zakk Wylde put out a new album this year, but it wasn’t what knocked last year’s #3 down a few notches on this year’s list.

5. AC/DC, For Those About To Rock. Last year’s #10 surges forward on this year’s list. This remains my favorite AC/DC album, and I still believe it’s a stronger disc than the more commercially successful Back in Black.

4. Fear Factory, Genexus. One of my Facebook friends posted the video for “Expiration Date” (which I am listening to as I write this) and I was hooked. It is a long, moody song that not just evokes Blade Runner (one of my favorite movies), but quotes two characters – played by Rutger Hauer and Edward James Olmos – in the song. An amazing song that caps off a really good (and extremely heavy) album. Fear Factory plays a brand of precise, grinding metal driven by the drummer’s double bass pedals. I also dig that the guitarist plays a 7-string, something I’ve been doing a lot since summer. He’s also a fat dude like me.

3. Baroness, Purple. Baroness continues naming their albums after colors, and Purple is their first album since getting a new drummer and bass player. The former drummer and bassist suffered broken backs in a bus crash and left the band to focus on their recovery. Their new drummer plays in a much more straightforward hard rock/heavy metal style than their previous drummer, which caused the band to lose a chunk of its progressive edge. Having said that, obviously I am enjoying this album, though it took me a while to get into it. I think I kept listening to it to decide if I liked it, then kept that streak going because I did.

2. Deftones, White Pony. After I gave myself a 7-string guitar for my birthday back in July, I started researching what bands use 7-string guitars. Deftones turned up, but I couldn’t decide which of their albums to get. My brother Jeremy said White Pony was the best one to start with, and he was absolutely right. One of the songs (“Passenger”) I thought sounded a lot like Tool – and then I discovered that Tool’s singer guested on the song.

anthraxforallkings1. Anthrax, For All Kings. Not just my #1 most-listened to album of the year, but absolutely hands-down my #1 album of 2016. Anthrax doesn’t always appeal to me, but holy shit is this album good. Like FREAKY GOOD. There isn’t a bad song on the album, and better than that, it is definitely “all killer, no filler” – there isn’t even a halfway-decent throwaway track here. Excellent disc from open to close.

Honorable mentions (i.e. #s 11 through 15) on this year’s most-played list are Gojira, From Mars to Sirius; Cake, Fashion Nugget (last year’s #7); Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind; Pink Floyd, Animals (last year’s #14 as well); and Racer X, Technical Difficulties.

My most disappointing purchase of 2016 was Lamb of God’s Ashes of the Wake. I really dig the music on this album – the band – but the singer’s growly vocals are a complete turn-off for me. Fear Factory has the growly vox as well, but they intersperse it with melodic singing, and frankly, I find FF’s music more compelling than LoG’s.

I bought 14 CDs in 2016, as follows (no year indicates it came out in 2016):

  • Anthrax – For All Kings
  • David Bowie – Blackstar. Weird album, and weird listening to it after he died.
  • Deftones – White Pony (2000)
  • Rik Emmett & RESolution 9 – RES9. This is a fun, bluesy album that I enjoy but probably won’t get heavy rotation.
  • Fear Factory – Genexus
  • Ghost – Popestar. More a maxi single than an EP, this disc features one original song and five cover tunes, including the Eurhythmics’ “Missionary Man.”
  • Giraffe Tongue Orchestra – Broken Lines. The second Mastodon spinoff released this year, featuring guitar/vox from Brent Hinds. The main singer is Alice in Chains’ William DuVall and he does a great job here.
  • Gojira – From Mars to Sirius (2005). I resisted listening to this band for a long time, probably because of my irrational resistance to anything from France. Gojira is officially the only thing I like from France, and this album is excellent. Progressive metal at its best.
  • Gone Is Gone – Gone Is Gone. This was the first Mastodon spinoff album to come out, and GIG features bass/vox from Troy Sanders – arguably the raspiest of Mastodon’s three vocalists. GIG is a fun, quick listen that isn’t terribly challenging.
  • Hellyeah – Band of Brothers (2012) and Unden!able. This was a 2-for-1 deal; Hellyeah features Vinnie Paul, formerly the drummer for Pantera. This band is decent, but is not as good as Pantera.
  • Eric Johnson – Europe Live (2014). EJ went a long time without playing “Cliffs of Dover” in concert, but on this European tour he brought it back. It’s as fantastic as ever, as is Johnson’s playing and tone. Well worth the time to listen to this one.
  • Lamb of God – Ashes of the Wake (2004)
  • Slayer – Repentless (2015). My favorite Slayer album to date. Fantastic album! I think it didn’t make the list of my most played albums because I listen to it in the car, so since it’s not on my computer, there’s no count of how many times I listened to it. It should be in the Top 15, though.
  • Zakk Wylde – Book of Shadows II. Not a bad album, but doesn’t measure up to Pride and Glory or the first Book of Shadows. Lots of acoustic guitar and piano showing Zakk’s softer side.

Twenty-sixteen was a tough year for the music industry, with more notable deaths than I can remember occurring in any one year in the past. I even had to add somebody new to the list just this morning, as pioneering prog-rock bassist Greg Lake passed away last night. Here’s the list of 2016’s victims:

David Bowie, Glenn Frey (Eagles), George Martin (Beatles producer), Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Prince, Natalie Cole, Otis Clay, Clarence Reid aka Blowfly, Jimmy Bain (DIO, Rainbow), Maurice White (Earth Wind & Fire), Vanity, Sonny James, Lennie Baker (Sha-Na-Na), Phife Dawg (A Tribe Called Quest), Lonnie Mack, Nick Menza (Megadeth), Prince Be (PM Dawn), Ralph Stanley, Bernie Worrell (P-Funk), Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley’s guitarist), Ruby Wilson, James Woolley (NIN), Shawty Lo, Stanley Dural (Buckwheat Zydeco), Jean Shepard, Joan Marie Johnson (Dixie Cups), Pete Burns (Dead or Alive – he spun you right round), Bobby Vee, Eddie Harsch (Black Crowes), Jean-Jacques Perrey, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones and Greg Lake.

MOVIES

Of the 10 highest-grossing movies of 2016, I saw #9 – Doctor Strange. My wife and kid saw #10, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

We watched #3, Zootopia, on Netflix. It was funny – very typical Disney, though. Slick, pretty and a clear morality tale.

I haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War or Deadpool; I’m kind of burned out on superhero movies. I want to see Deadpool and I had to go see Doctor Strange because my wife thinks Benedict Cumberbatch is hot. Suicide Squad doesn’t interest me at all, nor did Batman vs. Superman.

Movies that came out and I saw in the theater

  • Central Intelligence – my daughter and I loved this comedy starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart.
  • Ghostbusters – more a reboot than a remake, and it was excellent.
  • Star Trek Beyond – good, but not great. Felt like a long episode of The Original Series, which isn’t a bad thing.
  • Doctor Strange – enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away.
  • Arrival – loved this movie AND was blown away. Easily my favorite movie of the year so far – but I haven’t seen Rogue One yet!

Movies that came out I wanted to see but didn’t

  • Jane Got a Gun
  • Hail Caesar! – I like George Clooney and this looked funny.
  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – I have an unhealthy obsession with Tina Fey.
  • Hardcore Henry – the idea of doing a movie that looked like a first-person shooter video game intrigues me
  • Pete’s Dragon – I don’t understand why Disney felt it had to do a live-action remake of what is one of my favorite animation/live action mix films, but they did and I wanted to see it. I love this story, we’ll see what the film does to it.
  • The Magnificent Seven – I have not only a weakness for Westerns, but for Denzel Washington as well. I’d watch him read the phone book.
  • Hacksaw Ridge – the only thing I like more than Westerns is WW2 films, and this story of a conscientious objector who refused to carry a weapon but went to war anyway seems like it would make a good movie.

Movies that came out and I saw on Netflix or Hulu

  • Now You See Me 2 – I didn’t see the first one, but liked this one well enough. It was a little predictable, but not a bad movie at all.

Of course, I will go see Rogue One when it comes out next week, I’m very much looking forward to it.

We lost some big film/tv entertainers in 2016 – man, it was a brutal year for pop culture. Twenty-sixteen claimed Alan Rickman, Dan Haggerty, Abe Vigoda, George Kennedy, Garry Handling, Ken Howard, Patty Duke, Doris Roberts, Guy Hamilton, Burt Kwouk, Anton Yeltsin (who got killed by his own car), Michael Cimino, Garry Marshall, Kenny Baker, Fyvush Finkel, Arthur Hiller, Tommy Ford, Kevin Meaney, Steven Hill, Gene Wilder, Robert Vaughn, Tony Burton, Florence Henderson and Ron Glass.

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your next commerce secretary: wilbur ross, jr.

On 30 November 2016, President-Elect Donald Trump chose 79-year-old Wilbur Ross, Jr. to nominate for the post of Secretary of Commerce in his upcoming administration. Ross announced the selection himself during a CNBC interview that also featured Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for Secretary of the Treasury. Both Ross and Mnuchin must be confirmed by the Senate before taking on their Cabinet positions.

Ross specializes in turning around failed corporations and seems to prefer those in energy and construction circles. Ross is reportedly worth $2.9 billion; Mnuchin’s net worth is estimated to be only about $40 million. Both men have worked many years for Wall Street firms and other financial institutions.

In Trump’s announcement confirming the selection, he called Ross a “champion of American manufacturing” and that Ross “knows that cutting taxes for working families, reducing burdensome government regulations and unleashing America’s energy resources will strengthen our economy at a time when our country needs to see significant growth.”

In 2004, Ross formed the International Coal Group in such a manner that the corporation was free from labor unions, health care plans for its employees or a pension plan. Through a series of subsidiaries, ICG owned Anker West Virginia Mining, which operated Sago Mine in Sago, West Virginia. On 2 January 2006, an explosion collapsed Sago Mine, trapping 13 miners. Only one of the miners survived. At the time it was the worst mining disaster in the US since 2001 and the worst in West Virginia since 1968. Another coal mine explosion in 2010 topped Sago’s death count with 29 fatalities.

In 2005, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited Sago Mine with 208 violations, 96 of them classified as “serious and substantial.” Forty-six of the violations (18 S&S) came in the three months leading up to the explosion. The mine was closed following the explosion, but reopened on 12 March 2006. ICG later closed the mine permanently.

Though various state and federal agencies who investigated the explosion have released documents relating to the disaster, ICG has refused to release any records. A New York Post reporter, Roddy Boyd, claimed that Ross “knew all about [Sago Mine’s] safety problems,” but no proof of that knowledge has ever been released.

Ross served on the US-Russia Investment Fund during the Clinton administration and as New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s privatization advisor. Ross was at one time an officer of the New York State Democratic Party. He has been married three times and has two daughters from his first marriage.

Photo of Ross courtesy of the Palm Beach Daily News (Creative Commons 4.0 license).

higbie, korematsu and the internment camp precedent

“It would be legal, and it would hold constitutional muster.”

Carl Higbie said that, and he was talking to a media mouthpiece about Kris Kobach’s ideas to resurrect the NSEERS program – that is, the program to force all visitors and immigrants from a list of 25 mostly Muslim-majority nations to register with the federal government.

“We did it during World War II with the Japanese,” said Higbie, the spokesman for the Great America PAC, which is one of a number of organizations currently licking Donald Trump’s shoes. Higbie went on to assure viewers that he wasn’t proposing internment camps, he was just sayin’ there’s a precedent for it.

He’s absolutely right – there is a precedent. Let’s look at it.

On 19 February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. EO9066 provided for the establishment of “prescribed” military areas from which “any or all persons may be excluded” based on the discretion of the Secretary of War or the “appropriate Military Commander.”

EO9066 was followed about three weeks later by Public Law 503, which received a total of 90 minutes of discussion across both chambers of Congress before it passed. PL503 provided for the “evacuation” of Japanese-Americans from “prescribed” military areas like, oh, all of California. (“Prescribed” in this case means “identified” or “set aside”.)

In the next few months, over 100,000 people – all of Japanese ancestry and over 70,000 of whom were American citizens – were rounded up, deprived of their private property such as homes and businesses by the US government without any sort of due process, and herded into concentration camps across the southwestern states and as far north as Colorado and Utah.

Because about half the population of Hawaii at that time was of Japanese ancestry, the government decided it would be too much of a hassle to round them up, so they only ever removed a few thousand folks from Hawaii. Logistics trump racism, I guess.

Despite concerns about sabotage and/or espionage performed by these folks, not one of these prisoners was ever convicted on any sabotage or espionage charges. None of them. NOT. ONE. Two separate government investigations into the possibility of sabotage and/or espionage on the part of the interned people showed no evidence of any such intent or effort.

In addition to the Japanese-Americans thrown into concentration camps by this action, about 10,000 German-Americans (including some Jews) and a few thousand Italian-Americans were also sent to camps. Most Americans of European ancestry didn’t stay in the camps long, but a few lingered into 1946, when the camps were finally shut down.

In December 1944, President Roosevelt rescinded EO9066 and ordered the prisoners released. Most of them ended up in resettlement camps until they could reestablish themselves. They lost their homes, businesses, other property and any money they’d had in banks – all of it gone.

That’s all background, because that’s what happened. That’s not where Higbie gets his precedent from.

A man called Fred Korematsu decided he wasn’t going to go quietly to a prison camp, so he evaded capture by hiding out with friends in Oakland, California. He was caught and arrested in late May 1942, and a lawyer called Wayne M. Collins took up his case. (Note: The ACLU stayed out of this so they wouldn’t look bad during wartime.) Korematsu posted bail, but was detained by military police anyway and held in a military jail in San Francisco until his court date in September. He was convicted of violating Public Law 503 and sentenced to probation; after that, of course, he was sent to one of the concentration camps.

(We didn’t call them that in 1942, of course – or even prison camps. We called them internment camps. Softer language because let’s not compare ourselves to the Nazis, after all. “But wait!” I hear you cry. “The US government didn’t know about those German concentration camps in 1942!” Yeah, you’re wrong about that. The US government did know about standard German concentration camps in 1942. It was much later in the war when information about the death camps started to trickle out of Poland. The typical prison-style concentration camps weren’t at all secret. The first one was built in early 1933 near Munich. Everybody knew about it, including the US government. It was because the US government knew about the concentration camps for so long that when word about the death camps started to come out, as horrifying as that was, the government believed those existed, too.)

Korematsu’s appeals eventually made their way to the US Supreme Court, where the justices voted 6-3 that, while “constitutionally suspect,” EO9066 and PL503 were justified “during circumstances of emergency and peril.” (Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944))

THAT, my friends, is the precedent. Roosevelt ordered it, Congress backed it, and the Supreme Court affirmed it. The Justice Department filed a notice in 2011 that the Solicitor General’s defense of the government’s position was in error, but the case has never been overturned.

(The Solicitor General at the time was Charles Fahy, and it was his job to take the government’s side in the case. It has long been suspected that Fahy unethically withheld the Office of Naval Intelligence report that concluded there was no evidence of sabotage or espionage on the part of Japanese-Americans.)

As much as I hate to admit it, Higbie is right. If NSEERS is brought back by the Trump administration, there is legal precedent that could allow it to pass muster with the US Supreme Court if it is ever challenged. We can only hope that the shitheads in the Senate have done their job by then and seated a new Supreme Court justice, and that those nine justices can see that the original SCOTUS decision in 1944 was mistaken and refuse to perpetuate the racist fearmongering that led to the whole situation in the first place.

Fist

ever heard of andrew jackson?

Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. He won the 1828 election by a wide margin in both aspects; he took the popular vote by 140,000 votes

(I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was 12% of the 1.15 million votes cast – the population of the USA was much smaller then.)

and got 178 of the 261 available electoral votes (68% of them).

Seeing as how Jackson beat the sitting one-term president, John Quincy Adams, we could call that a solid mandate from the masses. Not quite a landslide, but a decisive victory nonetheless.

(It should be noted here that in the 1824 election, Jackson won the electoral vote. JQAdams won the popular vote, but failed (obviously) to secure a majority of electoral votes. This set in motion a sequence of events that ended with the House of Representatives using the 12th Amendment to the Constitution to appoint JQAdams as the sixth president, the only time in US history that the HoR has acted to seat a president.)

(Another note, because it’s important: The dominant political party back then was the Democratic-Republican Party. They won six straight elections, but splintered into four factions for the 1824 election, each with its own candidate, which is why the electoral college was such a mess.)

Jackson went on to win the 1832 election as well, beating the well known politician Henry Clay by a wider margin than he had against JQAdams, well over 200,000 popular votes and 219-49 in the electoral college.

After the dissolution of the Democratic-Republican Party, Jackson was key in the birth of the Democratic Party (yes, THAT Democratic Party, though their ideology was more akin to what 21st century Republicans espouse); in reality, he was more what we would (in modern times) call a Populist. Clay, whom Jackson pretty much hated, led the largest opposing faction, the National Republican Party (which is NOT that Republican Party).

Andrew Jackson was born in the Carolina colony to recent immigrants. He was a veteran of the Revolutionary War (he served as a courier at just 13 years old) and, as a result of his commission as an officer in the Tennessee Militia, the War of 1812. He led a combined American and Indian force to victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans, which technically took place after the belligerents agreed to end hostilities.

After the War of 1812, Jackson got more involved in politics and became one of Tennessee’s senators by virtue of his reputation and ambition. His reputation not only included honorable service in the young nation’s two wars, but a victorious duel to defend his wife’s honor, his role in the First Seminole War and his involvement in moving Florida from Spanish to US control.

Due to his experiences in the Carolinas and Tennessee, Jackson talked a lot about how poorly Americans were treated by their federal government. Because of the shitshow that was the 1824 election, he banged the drum of corruption accusations ceaselessly, calling JQAdams’ ascent to the White House a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and the House.

He promised to go after corruption in Washington, to – if you’ll allow me a little leeway here – “drain the swamp.” He promised.

After winning the 1828 election, Jackson set about filling his Cabinet posts. He dutifully appointed political friends and rivals to fulfill promises exchanged for political favors during the election cycle. The thing was, Jackson didn’t particularly care for most of these folks. Instead of leaning on them for advice on how to run his government, he did something else.

He invited his buddies to the White House for bull sessions. This informal group of advisors was known as Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” and they often conducted business in the national interest right there in the kitchen over food, drink and cigars. When you think of backroom politicking, think of Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet.

Lest you think Jackson was reckless, though, he had a plan. For two years the Kitchen Cabinet ruled the Oval Office, annoying the shit out of the actual Cabinet secretaries as well as Congress and – to a smaller extent – the American people. When Jackson got his opening, he tore things wide open. That opening came in the form of Peggy Eaton, the wife of the Secretary of War.

It seems the genteel and/or proper ladies married to other Cabinet secretaries and the Vice President (John C. Calhoun, whom Jackson had a massive falling-out with) didn’t approve of young Peggy or her marriage to Eaton. Peggy was apparently flirty and liked the attention of the male patrons of her father’s bar, and she enjoyed regaling them with her fluency in French and ability to play the piano. She tried to elope with a dashing Army officer, but her father shut that down. Soon after, at just 17 years old, she married a Navy officer called John Timberlake (any relation to Justin?), who was 39 and a drunk. The Timberlakes were friends with John Eaton, a 28-year-old widower and senator from Tennessee. Eaton manipulated the system to help get Timberlake out of debt by getting him posted to a high-paying position with the US Mediterranean Fleet. Rumors of a torrid affair between Eaton and Peggy bubbled under the surface, and some say those rumors were what led Timberlake to kill himself while on station in the Med. The official story is that Timberlake died of pneumonia, but Timberlake was dead no matter what and Peggy was free to marry Eaton.

Sounds scandalous, doesn’t it? Juicy, too! Whoo!

Young Peggy Eaton was by all accounts a forthright, even uppity woman, and her situation and demeanor did not sit well with the other important wives of DC. VP John Calhoun’s wife, Floride, led the ostracizing of Peggy by refusing to invite the Eatons to various parties and other functions as well as refusing invitations from the Eatons. Jackson, remembering the rumors and innuendo surrounding his beloved wife Rachel’s first marriage, took umbrage at this behavior and set about destroying the people treating his friend’s wife so poorly.

After Eaton became Secretary of War, things just got worse in this social situation known as the Petticoat Affair (or Eaton Affair). Martin Van Buren – then the Secretary of State – was so disappointed and humiliated by the whole thing that he offered to resign his position despite the fact that he was unmarried and had no wife to participate in the shunning of Peggy Eaton.

Jackson accepted Van Buren’s resignation, and immediately appointed him as the US ambassador to England. Calhoun, bitter about the unfolding events, conspired with the relevant Senate committees to deny Van Buren the ambassadorship. Remember that Calhoun was the Vice President of the United States at that time.

At that point, Jackson lost his mind (figuratively speaking) and demanded (and received) the resignations of every single one of his Cabinet members except for the Postmaster General, a guy called William Barry. The new Cabinet members owed their loyalties only to Jackson – and most certainly not to Congress – and functioned as a band of bootlicking yes men as “King Jackson” began to expand his reach and power over the nation.

King_Andrew_the_First_(political_cartoon_of_President_Andrew_Jackson).jpg

(Cartoon is in the public domain.)

As for Van Buren, he waited a couple of years and was Jackson’s running mate in the 1832 election (remember, Jackson won). Van Buren went on to win the 1836 election handily, perpetuating many of Jackson’s anti-establishment policies.

From a policy and practice standpoint, and maybe I’ll have to save this for another post some other time, Jackson was a mess. His hatred of the Second Bank of the United States drove him to destroy that financial institution, which compounded a recession that dated back to the Panic of 1825. Economically speaking, things were OK for the USA for a few years starting in 1830, and Jackson got a lot of credit for that, much of which he actually earned. However, his “Bank War” not only erased all the gains he made, but sent the US spiraling into its worst recession up to that point. That recession lasted from 1836 to 1843 and saw its peak with the Panic of 1837, which took place during the Van Buren administration but was a direct result of Jackson’s policies.

I realize this has gotten a bit long and you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all about Andrew Jackson, a guy that’s been dead since 1845. It’s because I’m not just telling you about Andrew Jackson, I’m warning you about Donald Trump.

Yeah, that’s right. Trump.

Like Jackson, Trump believes he is the alpha and omega of the decision-making process that will save the United States. They both surrounded themselves with fawning admirers that formed an echo chamber instead of providing meaningful guidance or any semblance of thoughtful opposition.

Jackson’s initial Cabinet secretaries weren’t bad at their jobs, but they didn’t always do what Jackson wanted them to, so he marginalized and ignored them. When he got the chance, he got rid of them all and brought on people that were willing to do his bidding almost without question. (Roger Taney, who served in multiple positions under Jackson, stood up to him a couple of times, but always managed to do what Jackson wanted done, and more or less in the fashion in which Jackson wanted it done.)

Jackson drained the swamp, as he promised, but once it was drained he filled it back up with an even more odious liquid than he drained out.

The people Trump is bringing on to run his transition team and the people who are being bandied about as possible Cabinet secretaries in a Trump administration are just the first wave. Trump is testing the water – not only for these people, but for Congress and the American people as well.

If these transition leaders and possible appointees end up willing to do only what they’re instructed to do by their lord and master, they’ll no doubt keep their positions in the Trump administration. If they resist, choosing to serve the United States instead of Lord Trump, I have no doubts they’ll hear the words their master made famous – “You’re fired!”

If Congress accepts these transition leaders and possible appointees without comment or resistance, Trump won’t have to bother creating a Kitchen Cabinet. He’ll have one with his actual Cabinet.

If We The People accept these transition leaders and appointees, we’re only setting ourselves up for a bleak future in which Trump continues to force upon the population a string of racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, jingoistic unelected leaders whose ultimate goal – like that of their master – is to use their ideological poisons to pit us against each other so fiercely, to keep us fighting each other so intently, that we become so focused on our own survival that we are blinded to the destruction of our once-great nation.

There’s an ancient parable about frogs. If you take a frog and toss it into a pot of boiling water, it will do whatever it can to get out of the water and stay alive. However, if you put a frog into a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, by the time the frog realizes the water is too hot for survival, it’s too late to escape and it dies in agony.

We’re the frog, and the 2016 election put us in the lukewarm water. Trump is starting to turn up the heat, and unless we stand up to him, by the time Trump shows his hand it will be too late to save ourselves or our nation.

 

Right now I give us a 50/50 chance at surviving Trump’s ultimate reality show.

kobach and his muslim registry

Have you heard of a guy called Kris Kobach? He’s currently the Secretary of State for Kansas, and he’s most well known for a string of anti-immigration and anti-immigrant laws he’s written, supported and/or tried to get passed (sometimes successfully).

He’s one of the super racist guys that President Elect Donald Trump has named to his transition team – you know, the folks preparing the government for the ascension of The Donald.

Kobach wants very much to bring back the registry of Muslims he helped establish during the GWBush administration. Back then, it got some attention – but not as much as you might think, what with 9-11 and all. It’s called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS.

It requires men over the age of 16 from 25 countries – and no surprise here, most of the countries are majority Muslim nations – to register, be interviewed and check in with officials during their time in the USA, whether they were visiting or living here. Because the program was so highly criticized, it was allowed to lapse into disuse in 2011.

I guess this qualifies as the “extreme vetting” Trump wanted done on anybody that comes in from these countries. Paying attention to the people who visit the USA or want to move here for an extended period of time is, I think, important, but having a whole program or even a governmental institution dedicated to that … wait a second – wouldn’t those things fall under Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Ah, so we already have an institution dedicated to that.

OK then, well, adding NSEERS back into the mix and putting it under ICE would still cost a shitload of money, right?  All sorts of people to do the interviews, meet with the Musli- er, I mean registrants – on a regular basis, not to mention the researchers needed to delve into people’s backgrounds. That’s going to be REALLY expensive – anybody who runs a business knows it’s the people costs that get you.  I’m not really comfortable with the government spending that kind of money, especially when everybody running for president keeps promising to cut my taxes. Surely hiring a bunch of people and putting them to work for the government is going to INCREASE my taxes, not cut them.

Now I am not one to identify a problem without offering some kind of solution. In all seriousness, those kind of people really piss me off. I mean, seriously, you’re part of the problem if you don’t offer a way to fix the problem you’re bringing to light. Stop that, and be part of the solution!

Here’s my solution, then, and it’s way cheaper and easier to implement than a bunch of people restarting an old, discredited (and unconstitutional) program. PLUS MY SOLUTION CREATES JOBS! RIGHT HERE IN THE USA! That’s right!

1. Require every Muslim entering the country for any reason to wear at all times on the outside of all of their clothing a simple armband that identifies them as practitioners of Islam.  (Here’s an example I whipped up.)

muslim_armband

2. Make the penalty for not wearing the armband something severe – expulsion at the least, but to be truly effective, the punishment should be execution by firing squad. That will be sure to get their attention.

3. Require that all armbands used for this program be Made in the USA!

See how clean, quick and easy that is? No big bureaucracy required, and everybody will know which visitors or immigrants need to be watched carefully. Maybe we could add a 1-800 number so people that see something can say something.

If anybody know’s Kobach’s phone number or email address, send me that info so I can get in touch with him. I’m 100% certain he’ll be excited by my idea to save the government a ton of money.

I’m pretty sure a program like this existed somewhere else a while back, but I’m not sure how well it worked out. If anybody can point me to a resource that gives some information on how it turned out for the folks that implemented the identification program I’m thinking about, let me know.

gnashing of teeth, rending of hair: trump and the electoral college

There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth over this election, and it’s not likely to end any time soon. I’m hoping it won’t, because our whole system needs an overhaul. We need term limits, we need election reform, we need so much more.

Having said that, people are losing sight of why the Electoral College exists in the first place.

Think about Congress, the way it’s set up.

Members of the House of Representatives are allocated proportionally by population, and that allocation is readdressed every 10 years following the national census. Right now, the House has 435 members. Every state gets at least one rep, but the more populous your state is, the more reps you get. Wyoming has 1, California has 55. By its size and frequent turnover, the House is meant to represent the will of the people.

The Senate was originally meant to represent not the will of the people, but the interests of the States. Each state gets the same number of members – two each – and all laws passed (or repealed) must succeed in both parts of Congress. This was done explicitly to put a check on the power of the people, and if you know anything about our government, you know it’s filled with checks and balances intended to prevent any one component from holding too much power.

When they set up the election process, then, the Founding Fathers did so in such a way as to mimic the setup of Congress. The popular vote represents the will of the people. The electoral vote represents the interests of the states – to a certain extent. There was a huge debate by the Founding Fathers as to how the president should be selected. A good number of them wanted the president chosen by a popular vote; a similarly significant portion wanted Congress to select the president, which is similar to how England’s (and many other countries’) prime ministers are selected.

As with many things in our Constitution, the fighting led to a compromise, and that compromise was to include both things in the process. This compromise was fine at the outset of our representative republic, but it’s come under fire a lot lately. About 80% of Americans wanted to abolish the Electoral College in the late 1960s, and the desire to do so still polls in the 70% range on a regular basis.

In the 21st century, the Electoral College gives a voice to the people living in the flyover states. The United States is heavily urbanized, which puts a ton of people into a small number of states. Urban populations tend to skew left, while rural populations skew right. Because of this demographic distribution, the Democrats enjoy domination in most – if not all – of our urban areas like New York City and Los Angeles.

Clearly, it is possible to win the popular vote and lose the electoral vote, and as a result, five times in our history as a nation we’ve seen electoral victories without a popular vote win. Two of them have happened in my lifetime; George Bush beat Al Gore in 2000, and of course we all know Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Clinton’s mistake, perhaps, was failing to make a serious appeal to those so-called flyover states. Wyoming has but 3 electoral votes, but you put Wyoming together with the other flyovers and you’ve got a large block of electoral votes. That made it straightforward for Trump – all he had to do was focus on the states that could have gone either way, make Clinton look bad there, and ride the media’s wave of publicity and horror right into the White House thanks to the Electoral College.

We in this country tend to have an messianic view of the Founding Fathers, but we should always remember that the majority of them (if not all of them) were members of the 18th century elite. They were overwhelmingly wealthy and owned – in some cases – considerable amounts of land. Every last one of them was white, and every last one of them was male.

I often talk about social contract theory and its importance in the development of the ideologies that led to the formation of the United States. One of the themes running through social contract theory in the 18th century was a hearty distrust and even fear of the masses – the mob, many social contract theoreticians felt, was too dangerous to be allowed to hold any real power.

It is for this reason that the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College – to put a check on the will of the people by creating an institution that can put the brakes on a close election and sway things in favor of the established elite if and when necessary. State governments (especially in the 18th century) were not made up of everymen, and they were not made up of any women or people of color. They were made up of the elite, and it’s where our entrenched oligarchy got its start.

As the tool of the will of the states, then, the Electoral College became the tool of the wealthy elite and enables the ongoing manipulation of election results by the entrenched oligarchical elite we have come to know and love. It functions on fear and loathing, not equality and justice.

You may think I’m crazy, and that’s fine, but when elections are as close as this one and the one in 2000, the wealthy elite of this country can rely on the Electoral College to do their will and overcome the will of the people. At its heart, the Electoral College shows the distrust of the masses that the Founding Fathers held close, and you should never forget that.

The next four years are going to be pretty great for straight, nominally Christian white men and pretty bad for basically everybody else. White women might think they’re safe – hey, Trump loves white people, right? – but we’ll see if his racial ideas outweigh his gender ideas. When the post-Trump anti-white-male backlash descends, however, we’ll see just how hard he grabbed our collective pussy and what kind of damage he managed to do while he was down there.

Fist

it’s time to stop pre-ing everything

We all have pet peeves. I have a friend who gets unreasonably annoyed at people that wear mismatched outfits. Seriously, it bothers him in a way I don’t pretend to understand.

I feel that way about the use of the prefix pre-. It’s being abused and it has to stop.

Pre- has its important uses, so don’t think I’m coming down on the prefix itself. We need precautions and the ability to preclude things. We need to know our predecessors, and of course without the prefix pre- there would be no word for prefix! Without it we couldn’t have premonitions or premeditated anything, and we certainly couldn’t establish prerequisites.

Having said that, we need to stop preheating. An oven cannot be preheated. It can only be heated or unheated.  If it’s unheated, you need to heat it, and if you’re following a recipe, you need to heat it to a specific temperature.  You should do that ahead of time, which is why we say preheat, but step 1 in any recipe requiring the oven should just say “Heat oven to 350 degrees” (or whatever temperature you need) and stop involving pre-.

You cannot pre-board an aircraft. You are either on the aircraft, getting on the aircraft, or not on the aircraft.  If people with special needs are to be allowed on the aircraft ahead of people without special needs, that should be “boarding first,” not pre-boarding.

There is no such thing as a pre-made meal. It’s either ingredients to make a meal or a meal. If you have a friend who has been in the hospital and you make something for them to stick in the freezer as a way to help them out, that’s a meal. When you buy a meal in a box at the supermarket, it’s not pre-made. It’s made. It’s already a meal, you just have to heat it up.

Similarly, you cannot pre-adapt anything. If you adapt something ahead of somebody else needing to use that thing, it’s been adapted. You haven’t pre-adapted. You’ve adapted.

There is no pre-purchasing, only purchasing. No pre-admission, because you’re either in or you’re out. I’ll give a little leeway on preamplify, but I’m standing strong on pre-allocate. There is no pre-arranging, pre-assigning, pre-booking or pre-focusing.

You might believe in predestination, but you need to let go of prefabricating. Seriously, what you’re making either exists or it doesn’t. If it does, it’s fabricated. If it doesn’t, it needs to be fabricated.

Drop your willingness to preformat, prehire and prejudge. Get rid of premanufacturing, premodification and premoistening. These are binary concepts! Something is either dry or wet. If it is wet, it is moist. If it is not wet, it is dry. Period. Just because somebody else moistened your towelette does not mean it is premoistened – it is moist! MOIST I TELL YOU!

You can be preoccupied, but you cannot preoccupy a building. You’re either occupying the building or you’re not. There are no pre-packaged goods. They’re either packaged on unpackaged. You don’t look at a single cigarette and say, “Oh, that’s prepackaged” because it’s not – it’s a loosie. Unpackaged. Again, just because somebody else does it for you does not mean we should be using pre- to define something’s state of being.

Eliminate prepayment, preplanning and prepreparing (that one especially galls me – how the hell do you get ready before you get ready? PREPARE ALREADY HAS THE PREFIX PRE- IN IT FOR THE LOVE OF PETE!! There’s no preprinting, preprocessing or preprogramming. No such thing as prepunched anything, prequalifying for anything (I heard this a LOT during the home-buying process and it rankled me every time – “Are you prequalified for a mortgage?”  “No, I am qualified for a mortgage, I have the qualification paperwork right here. Sell me the damn house already!”) and you certainly cannot prerecord.

Think about how utterly stupid that word – prerecord – is for a second.  When you see something on TV, it is either happening right now (a live broadcast) or it is not happening right now (in some way the event – whatever it is, a sitcom or game show). If it’s not happening right now, you’re watching a recording of it.  We have to stop calling it prerecording because the recording took place before the broadcasting. WE KNOW THAT – THAT’S WHY WE CALL IT A RECORDING IN THE FIRST PLACE!

If your kid goes to school, it’s not preschool – it’s school. Oh sure, they may be four years old and not in kindergarten, but it’s not preschool. I realize fighting this one is a losing battle, but I’m a proponent of prekindergarten over preschool.  Seriously, if the kid is AT SCHOOL it is not preschool.  It’s school!

No prescreening, no preselecting, and no preselling. You can’t presettle, preshrink or preslice. No presoaking, prestamping or presweetening. Absolutely no pretaping (see prerecord, above), pretesting or pretraining. Forget about pretreating, pretrimming and prewarming (see: preheating).

Prewash? Nope, nope, nope. Forget it. If it’s clean, it’s washed. If it’s dirty, it’s dirty. If somebody else washes it for you, that doesn’t make it prewashed – that makes it washed!

I feel much better now and am putting my dictionary – and my high horse – back on the bookshelf, right next to the CD that has the George Carlin routine that inspired this little rant.