Saturday, March 07, 2015

President Obama honours "heroes" of "Bloody Sunday"

President Obama spoke today in Selma, Alabama at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the iconic "Bloody Sunday" civil rights march in which police attacked demonstrators campaigning for voting rights.

"Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African Americans, but for every American," he said.

The speech:

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The theme to "I Love Lucy" (music by Eliot Daniel, words by Harold Adamson)

By Richard K. Barry

Eliot Daniel with Desi Arnaz
Although the iconic "I Love Lucy" sitcom had its original run in the 1950s, it was going strong in syndication when I was a little kid in the '60s. The theme song is still probably the most recognizable in its genre, at least for those of a certain age.

Lydia Hutchinson writes at American Songwriter:
On October 15, 1951, the very first episode of the I Love Lucy show aired on CBS and became the most watched TV show in the U.S. for four of its seven-year run. Fun trivia about the opening theme song is that during the first season the show opened with their sponsor Philip Morris’ animation of stick figure cartoons of Lucy and Desi climbing down a pack of Philip Morris cigarettes. It was scored with Ferde Grofé’s Jr. “The Grand Canyon Suite” theme (a composition from 1931).

From the second season onwards, the “I Love Lucy” signature tune we all know so well became the main theme, and one of the most recognizable pieces of music on the planet. It was written by composer Eliot Daniel who cranked it out in an afternoon as a favour to his old Coast Guard buddy Jess Oppenheimer, the show’s producer. Since Daniel still had another year under his exclusive contract to Fox, he asked Oppenheimer to keep his name out of it. Consequently his name does not appear on first or the second season TV credits for what became one of the most popular TV themes.

Fortunately for Daniel he did later get royalty credits along with the cheques that come with it.

I did not know, before reading Hutchinson's piece, that there are lyrics to the song, written by Harold Adamson. They appeared, performed by Ricky,  in an episode in season three in which Lucy thinks her birthday has been forgotten. 

Don't worry. Everything works out. Didn't it always?

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Charlie Cook's odds on the GOP presidential nominee

Writing in the National Journal this week, Charlie Cook, one of the country's most respected political prognosticators, said this about the GOP presidential nomination race:
Acknowledging that much will inevitably change, at this point Bush and Walker each seem to have about a 1-in-3 chance of winning the nomination—call it 35 percent for each. There's maybe a 1-in-5, or 20 percent, chance that the nod will go to any tea-party candidate, so let's give Cruz and Paul each a 10 percent chance. The rest of the field gets the remaining 10 percent; right now, that's what I estimate is the likelihood that someone other than one of the aforementioned four will win the nomination.

I agree with Mr. Cook but would add that we know so little about how Scott Walker is likely to perform on the national stage that the odds should actually tilt towards Jeb. The big money, the donors with deep pockets, don't like to take chances, which is why they have big money in the first place. They will go with Bush. I don't see them getting behind Walker unless they see something in him, a lot in fact,  that gives them comfort. And money is always the thing that matters.

As well, Jeb is a proven performer. There is no doubt that navigating a nomination process will require placating some very radical right-wing elements in the GOP, which will be a challenge for the latest Bush, just as it was for Romney. So, look for Jeb to go up and down in the polls amongst the party faithful in the long nomination process, and look for others in the race to assume the lead however briefly just as happened in 2012. 

In the end, however, Jeb Bush will be too solid a performer, in a field of the untested, to fail. 

Having said that, I will also agree with Mr. Cook by offering the prognosticator's favourite hedge, acknowledging "that much will inevitably change."

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Friday, March 06, 2015

C. Wright Mills

One of my favourite political thinkers has for a long time been C. Wright Mills (1916-1962).  Mills was an American sociologist known for books like White Collar (1951), The Power Elite (1956), and The Sociological Imagination (1959). He advocated a vision of radical, egalitarian democracy.

In The Sociological Imagination, he wrote about the need for social scientists to "translate private troubles into social issues," which he considered no easy task. Sadly, those with the power and influence in society have made good use of his advice. By using the tools available to them, they are often able to convince too many that their private troubles are their own fault or the fault of others who also have no power.

Mills had a weak heart and had several heart attacks before dying young. Reading his correspondences near the end of his life, it seems clear that his great worry over being targeted by the U.S. security state apparatus hastened his demise. Always a cost to annoying the wrong people.

Above is a classic shot of Mills on a motorcycle.

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Hillary's e-mails or, don't people have anything better to do with their time?

By Richard K. Barry

No one will care about the foolishness surrounding Hillary Clinton's e-mails by the time it matters. In fact, I'm not sure anyone really cares now except a bunch of bored journalists and right-wing hacks.

Or, as Brendan Nyhan put it at The New York Times:

The actual public response to the controversy is likely to be a combination of apathy and partisanship. Few Americans are paying attention to any aspect of the campaign at this point. Those who do notice will most likely divide largely along partisan lines, with Democrats interpreting her actions more charitably, especially once they see Republicans attacking Mrs. Clinton on the issue.

Any significant political costs are also likely to be fleeting because the revelations came so early in the campaign cycle. It is hard to believe that a lack of transparency in Mrs. Clinton’s use of email will have a significant effect on a general election that will be held some 20 months from now. As the political scientist John Sides wrote on Twitter, “In October 2016, no persuadable voter will be thinking about Hillary Clinton’s email account.”

What he said. 


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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Yes please

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Jeb Bush: Keepin' it real, $1 million at a time

By Richard K. Barry

My favourite story in the political press yesterday was about how Jeb Bush is instructing his donors not to give more then $1 million right away.

The Washington Post reported:
The requested limit, confirmed by multiple people familiar with the amount, may mark the first time that a presidential hopeful has sought to hold off supporters from contributing too much money.

The move reflects concerns among Bush advisers that accepting massive sums from a handful of uber-rich supporters could fuel a perception that the former governor is in their debt.

Here's some advice, Jeb. You're not going to fool anybody. Should you succeed, against all odds, to win the nomination or the presidency, there will not be a voter in America who doubts you have been bought and paid for. 

And another thing, most Americans, not the people you usually hang with, consider $1 million a lot of money. 

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Pulp fiction cover art: "The Marijuana Mob" (1950)

By Richard K. Barry

"The Marijuana Mob" was written by Englishman James Hadley Chase (René Lodge Brabazon Raymond by birth). It's a story about private detectives trying to break up a dope ring. 

I understand that James Hadley Chase is one of the best known writers in the crime fiction, mystery, thriller amd detective genre with over 90 titles to his name.

Incredibly, 50 of his books have been made into movies.

Though I am no expert, I believe this type of literature qualifies as pulp fiction, which, according to one definition, is "fiction dealing with lurid or sensational subjects, often printed on rough, low-quality paper manufactured from wood pulp." 

Here are a couple of lines from the book:
She was - in one of those soft, clingy blue nightgowns. I walked towards her and took her hand. It was cold and the room stank from Marijuana smoke!

He came in quietly, cautiously and there was a faded, fixed smile on his dead white face. His drugged, enlarged pupils gave him a blind look. In his right hand he carried a vicious blade!!!

"The Marijuana Mob" was published in 1950, and judging by these few lines and the cover art work, it seems to be one particularly sordid tale. 

Actually, I was just looking for an interesting picture to use as a screen image for my iPad and came across this, which I love, right down to the scantily clad blond, who looks like trouble. 

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Monica Lewinsky: Classic case of famous for being famous

Here's what the magic Wiki says about the origin of the term "famous for being famous:"
The term originates from an analysis of the media-dominated world called The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America (1961), by historian and social theorist Daniel J. Boorstin. In it, he defined the celebrity as "a person who is known for his well-knownness". He further argued that the graphic revolution in journalism and other forms of communication had severed fame from greatness, and that this severance hastened the decay of fame into mere notoriety. Over the years, the phrase has been glossed as 'a celebrity is someone who is famous for being famous'.

Now we hear that Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern and once-up-a-time pal of President Bill Clinton, is slated to do a TED talk in late March.  

Here's the kicker. Lewinsky’s talk will focus on  “a safer and more compassionate social media environment, drawing from her unique experiences at the epicenter of a media maelstrom in 1998.”

In other words, she's going to give a TED talk about what it's like to be famous for being famous. 

I don't care one way or the other about Ms. Lewinsky. I surely do not care what she has to say about this topic. 


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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Joni Mitchell: "Little Green" (1967)

By Richard K. Barry

Joni Mitchell is one of the finest singer/songwriters ever to strum a guitar, and that's not just my Canadian pride talking.

She wrote "Little Green" in 1967 and it appeared on her 1971 album Blue. It's about a daughter she gave up for adoption in 1965, when she was a struggling musician in Toronto.

Recently my wife, Marilyn Churley, published a book about her own experiences of giving a child up for adoption and then, many years later, being in a position as a member of Provincial Parliament in Ontario to help reform adoption disclosure laws.

In 1997, Mitchell was reunited with her daughter, Kilauren Gibb. Around the same time, Marilyn was reunited with her son Bill. Kilauren also worked with Marilyn on reforming adoption disclosure laws in Ontario.

Marilyn's book is called "Shameless, which is available at Between the Lines press. 

(Cross-posted at Listening to Now.)


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Don't go away mad, Christie, just go away

A new poll in New Jersey finds that Gov. Chris Christie is in some serious trouble in his home state.
The most recent statewide survey of registered voters in the Garden State finds Governor Christie mired in upside down public perceptions of his leadership. Thirty-five percent approve of his job performance as compared with 51 percent who say they disapprove. This is the lowest approval and highest disapproval for the governor that PublicMind has recorded for Governor Christie. It’s only among self-described Republicans that the governor finds himself in territory that is more favorable (55% approve/31% disapprove). Coveted demographic groups including independents (33% versus 47%) and women (33% versus 51%) are roundly critical of the governor. All of these numbers are consistent with recent trends documented by PublicMind, as recent as last month.

Let's pull out the most important numbers: 35% approve, 51% percent disapprove. The lowest approval and highest disapproval for the governor ever recorded by this particular survey.  

Maybe, should he actually run for the GOP presidential nomination, he'll benefit from the idea that familiarity breeds contempt and those from other parts of the country less familiar with him will embrace his candidacy.

Doubt it. 

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Guess we'll have Rick Perry to kick around some more

By Richard K. Barry

Not that we didn't see this coming, but former governor of Texas Rick Perry is, as the New York Times writes, putting "pieces in place for a 2016 campaign" because, you know, his 2012 effort wasn't funny enough.

Mr. Perry is moving to establish a “super PAC” to back his effort, and has turned to Austin Barbour, a Mississippi-based lobbyist and political operative to head it, according to three people with knowledge of the moves.

Mr. Barbour’s brother, Henry, is a Republican national committee member who has supported Mr. Perry for years. The brothers’ uncle is Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor and a senior figure in Republican circles.


The aim of the super PAC is to raise large sums of money from donors, largely to finance television ads. Part of Mr. Barbour’s job will be to attract donors and assure them their money is being spent well.

I will freely grant that I thought Ronald Reagan too stupid to be elected president way back in 1980. And I was equally amazed that W. was successful for the same reason, so you probably don't want me whispering in your ear when you're deciding how to place a bet, but Rick Perry? 

I can't imagine, since we're talking about gambling, that the "smart money" set among Republicans thinks having this guy back on stage forgetting pieces of his own platform is a happy scenario.

I am, however, very impressed with the glasses. (I'm imagining the strategy meeting at which it was suggested spectacles would actually make him seem more intelligent to voters. Yeah, that's the ticket!)


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Monday, March 02, 2015

Martin O'Malley gets his snark on

By Richard K. Barry

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley made a somewhat nasty little comment about Hillary Clinton's approach to politics in a speech in South Carolina on Saturday, criticizing the idea of "triangulation" so much associated with the way the Clintons have historically done things. 

The politics of triangulation is a phrase often used to describe former President Bill Clinton’s brand of centrism. It has also been used to criticize Mrs. Clinton as overly poll driven, and liberals have long used it as a cudgel.

Mr. O'Malley's comment was that "[t]he most fundamental power of our party and our country is the power of our moral principles.” He added, "[t]riangulation is not a strategy that will move America forward. History celebrates profiles in courage, not profiles in convenience.”

Take that, Hillary. That had to hurt. 

Of course, you may recall that candidate Obama said similar things in 2007, with some impact. 

Though it is unlikely Hillary Clinton will be seriously challenged for her party's nomination, it would be pleasant if she had to contend with a voice or two from the left. Not that I think it will have much of effect, as voices from the left in American electoral politics are typically barely left-of-centre. Still, it would be nice to hear the sounds. 

I'm already prepared to be very disappointed.

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Whiplash: Ridiculous movie, amazing music

By Richard K. Barry

The music to the movie Whiplash is fantastic. It reminds me why I love ensemble jazz. Unfortunately, the movie is absurd. 

I get the whole idea that achieving greatness requires sacrifice and a single-focus.  I suspect, though, that this could have been conveyed without giving any oxygen to the thought that psychopathology should be a part of the equation. 

 Having said that, J. K. Simmons played a great psychopath and deserved the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, if for no other reason than to show us all what it would be like if Hannibal Lecter picked up a baton. 

"Whiplash," the song which provides the title of the movie, was written by Hank Levy (1927-2001), an American jazz composer and saxophonist whose works frequently made use of unusual time signatures.

Powerful stuff.

(Cross-posted at Listening To Now.)


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Scott Walker could possibly, maybe, be for real

It is true that the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) attendees tend to be younger (with about half of those in attendance in the past few years college-aged), and more libertarian than the GOP base more generally, but the results of their recent straw poll are instructive.

Sen. Rand Paul polled the highest for the third year in a row with 25.7%, which was entirely expected, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who came in fifth place last year, managed to garner 21.4% of the vote to come in a strong second.

As a politically successful, union-bashing governor of a blue state, Walker has been getting noticed by Republicans who are sick of losing the White House to the Democrats.
And though Walker had a weak ground game at the conference, his speech was generally well received (apart from that whole "unions are like ISIS routine).

In any case, CPAC is the county's biggest confab of right-wing grassroots activists and provides a lot of energy for the conservative cause.

Early days, but the GOP has to know they need someone conservative enough to make it through the primary process, but mainstream enough to compete in the general election. If not Walker, I'm not sure I see an alternative.

All of this is not to say that Republicans won't nominate another loser, but, as I said, even they must be getting tired of that.

For those who want to fill in the rest of the CPAC score card.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, finished third with 11.5%, followed closely by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 11.4%.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush — perhaps the most criticized candidate at this conservative conclave — finished fifth at 8.3%.

Other potential presidential candidates — including Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Rick Perry — had less than 4% in the straw poll. Paul also won CPAC contests in 2013 and 2014.

Let the games, er, continue.

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