Say a little prayer for us

If we weren’t in crisis as a nation, I’d be mourning the passing of Aretha Franklin by listening to her albums, and trying to put into words what her music has meant to me. As the nation is in crisis, though, I’m just listening to every song of hers that I can find, while reading through post-primary polling data, trying to decide where I should get involved.

I know, having lived through the 2016 election cycle, polls can be horribly wrong, but, as of right now, the folks at FiveThirtyEight are giving the Democrats a 74.6% chance of retaking the House, which is currently controlled by the Republicans, who hold 236 of the 435 seats in the chamber. [The Democrats currently hold 193, and there are 6 vacancies.] So, to retake the House, the Democrats would need to hold every seat they currently hold, and pick up 24 seats currently held by Republicans. And, according to the FiveThirtyEight model, as of right now, “there is an 80% chance that the Democrats will gain anywhere from 14 to 58 seats.” So, it’s conceivable that we can do this. We just need to stay strong, knock on every door, give till it hurts, and flip 24 seats… The question I’m struggling with is which of these races I should try to help with, seeing as my district is solidly Democrat.

Above, you can see a FiveThirtyEight graphic showing the current situation on the ground in Michigan, where, according to their modeling, we have a decent chance of picking up three seats… the Michigan 7th (where Republican incumbent Tim Walberg currently leads Democrat Gretchen Driskell by only about 2.5 points), the Michigan 8th (which FiveThrityEight considers a “toss-up” between incumbent Mike Bishop and Democratic challenger Elissa Slotkin), and the Michigan 11th (which is currently leaning Democrat, with Haley Stevens leading Lena Epstein for the seat being vacated by the reprehensible Dave Trott).

These are three seats, right here in the state of Michigan, that we can flip… and we now have fewer than 100 days to do it. So, how can we help get these three women into Congress, where they can vote to protect health care, fight for working class Michigan families, and act as a check against the corruption of the Trump administration?

I’d like to say more, but it’s time to go sit on the porch with a beer and listen to Aretha Franklin without the computer glowing in my face… Before I go, though, here are links where you can learn more about Gretchen Driskell, Elissa Slotkin, and Haley Stevens, all of whom you can donate to through ActBlue.

[note: I know this is primarily a political post, but, if you feel so inclined, please feel free to write your thoughts about Aretha Franklin here.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Ypsilanti’s Art 1&2, and the archeology of porn

A while back, I saw that someone online had shared this old photo of Washington Street, and, thinking that someday I’d have the time to look at it more closely, I tucked it away in a file. Well, this evening, as I was just looking through my files for a photo of former CIA director John Brennan for a post I was thinking about writing, I stumbled across it again. And, this time, I actually spent a little time looking it, first wondering whether or not I might be able to date it, based on what could be seen, and, second, thinking about what, if anything, of historical importance might be gleaned from this single photo. [If you’re curious, a larger version of the photo can be found here.]

While I didn’t get too far on the question of what might be interesting to record from an historical perspective, I think, based on the movies listed on the marquee of the former Martha Washington Theater, which had become the Art 1&2 in 1971, I have a rough idea of when the photo may have been taken.

According to my research, Frankie and Johnny were Lovers and Hot Channels came out in 1973, and Pleasure Masters and The Devil Below (the actual title was Angel Above – The Devil Below) came out in 1974. [As I just discovered, all of these films can be found streaming online. The previous links, however, are all work-safe.]

Here, if you’re curious as to the plots, are the descriptions I was able to find online. And, no, I didn’t watch any of them… at least not yet.

Frankie and Johnny were Lovers: “American folklore goes nutty and smutty with Frankie and Johnnie Were Lovers, and, ‘Oh Lordy, how they could love!’ Especially since Frankie is played by everyone’s favorite pouty-cheeked sex starlet, Rene Bond, and Johnnie is her frequent co-star and then-paramour, Ric Lutze. As the trailer proclaims, ‘Lovers in real life, they give the performances of their careers!'” [note: I can’t read the phrase, “Oh Lordy” without thinking of former FBI Director James Comey, and, because of that, I can’t help but imagine that he’s the author of this review.]

Hot Channels: “Husband Davy Jones is in the market for sex, since wife Darby Lloyd Rains doesn’t seem interested. He invests in a Mark III Sensulator, which costs, in 1975 dollars, about the price of an expensive new car. But all he has to do is load up a tape(!), put on the headset and be transported into a virtual world (before anyone ever called it that) of babes who want to have sex with him. Darby discovers the gadget, tries it out – there’s a setting for women as well – and buys one for herself.” [note: Could this be among the first explorations of virtual reality in popular culture? According to Wikipedia, the first movie to depict virtual reality was Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Welt am Draht, which was also released in 1973, but it is possible that Hot Channels came out first?]

Angel Above – The Devil Below: “While reading the Necronomican one night, a teenage girl accidentally calls up the Devil. When he tries to have sex with her, she rebuffs him. As punishment, he sees to it that her vagina not only has a mind of its own, but can speak it, too.” [“She paid the ultimate price for her curiosity,” says the poster.]

Pleasure Masters: “No matter what you’ve heard about oriental girls, you’ll flabbergasted by young Kikko!,” says the poster. [note: Whose idea was it to use the word “flabbergasted” in an add for a adult film? That seems really odd and antiquated to me, but I suppose it makes sense if you consider that they were going after an audience born in the 1920s. At any rate, I’m fascinated by the use of words like “lordy” and “flabbergasted” in these advertising materials, and I’m wondering, if I look long enough, if I might be able to find early ’70s porn advertising using the phrase, “I swanny,” which is something my grandmother in Kentucky used to say.

When I started researching this post, I was thinking that perhaps a film festival might be in order. Reading these write-ups, though, I’m not so sure how good of an idea that would be. I can deal with Satanism, and talking vaginas, but my sense is that anything with the words “oriental” and “teenage” should probably be steered clear of. But, to be honest, I am interested in investigating Hot Channels further, as I’m curious as to how the filmmaker envisioned virtual reality. Maybe we could watch it somewhere and have a panel of scientists discuss it, or something… Or, maybe, we could just listen to the audio. [I just found the audio for Angel Above – The Devil Above trailer on YouTube, and found it to be quite interesting.] Or, maybe not… I’m sorry, but I just can’t help but churn out ideas. It’s the way my OCD-addled mind works.

OK, so, if I had to guess, I’d say this photo was taken in the late fall of 1974, or early 1975… Can someone who was living here at the time either confirm or deny that based on what can be seen in the photo? And, if you work in some kind of secret government facility where you do photo enhancement work, I’d like to know what the signs say outside the old Spaghetti Bender, and what, if anything, we can determine about the people that can be seen… especially the person at the far right, who seems to be wearing a fur coat… How cool would it be if, working together, we could find one of these four people, and ask them what they might remember about this afternoon. Maybe they could even speak before our international Hot Channels symposium… You just know, looking at this photo, that the guy in the green jacket, striking the bigfoot-like pose, has a story to tell.

Posted in Art and Culture, History, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Today in Obstruction of Justice: Peter Strzok fired from the FBI without cause

After over a year of vilification by the President, the FBI today fired Peter Strzok, the former head of FBI Counterintelligence, who, by sending a few personal texts disparaging Donald Trump during the campaign, gave fuel to the Republican conspiracy theory that a “deep state” plot was in the works against the Trump Pence 2016 campaign. This theory, of course, had been completely debunked during a series of show hearings called by Republicans friendly to the President, which only demonstrated that Strzok, regardless of what his personal feelings may have been about Trump and his likely conspiracy to collude with a hostile foreign government to win the White House, did nothing whatsoever to influence the outcome of the election against the candidate. But that didn’t stop Strzok from being fired today, over the objections of the director of the FBI office that generally handles employee discipline, who had suggested that the agent face only a 60-day suspension and a demotion.

The following is from the Washington Post.

…Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s attorney, said FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich ordered the firing Friday, Goelman said the move undercuts the FBI’s repeated assurances that Strzok would be afforded the normal disciplinary process.

“This isn’t the normal process in any way more than name,” Goelman said, adding in a statement, “This decision should be deeply troubling to all Americans”…

The President of the United States then took to Twitter, essentially taking credit for the firing, presenting it as an example of him fighting back against a “rigged,” politically-motivated investigation.

“Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI — finally,” Trump tweeted. “The list of bad players in the FBI & DOJ gets longer & longer. Based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the Witch Hunt, will it be dropped? It is a total Hoax. No Collusion, No Obstruction — I just fight back!” he wrote.

As there is no evidence whatsoever that either Strzok or the FBI did anything to either harm the Trump campaign, or help Hillary Clinton, it would appear, at least to me, that the firing, whether or not the President himself demanded it, was political in nature. And, as such, this appears to be yet another instance of obstruction of justice from an administration led by a man who, on national television, told Lester Holt that he’d had fired FBI director James Comey for refusing to let go of “the Russia thing” and stop the investigation.

Here’s the letter posted by Strzok’s attorney, who, you can be sure, will be suing the government on behalf of his client for wrongful termination.

Oh, and here’s an interesting addendum… Bobby Goodlatte, the son of Republican House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, came out today to say that he was “deeply embarrassed” by his father’s role in the attack against Strzok. [I’d love to see other family members of prominent Trumpists following suit.]

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Now that Omarosa is out, Kellyanne Conway cannot name a single other African-American working in the West Wing

On the first anniversary of last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” event Charlottesville, as white nationalists gathered across from the White House to bemoan their loss of agency in a changing America, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway went on ABC’s This Week to discuss the new book by fired White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman. Well, during the the interview, journalist Jon Karl asked Conway a relatively straight-forward question; “Omarosa was the most prominent, high-level African-American serving in the West Wing on President Trump’s staff. Who now is that person?” Here, if you haven’t see it yet, is Conway’s painfully labored response.

Conway, as you just saw, was finally able, after a painfully long period of stammering, to name two African-Americans in Trump’s orbit. The first name that she offered was that of Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And, when she was informed that Carson did not, in fact, work at the White House, she then offered the name “Ja’Ron,” perhaps referring to Ja’Ron Smith, the administration’s Director of Urban Affairs and Revitalization, who likewise does not work in the White House.

The following excerpt comes by way of Think Progress.

…Smith, as the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey notes, is a “mid-level aide” who works in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a building adjacent to the White House. Conway, in other words, was not able to name a single black person who works in the West Wing.

It is unlikely that Smith has much interaction with the president or with people in the president’s inner circle. In addition to their job titles, many White House aides are classified by their rank. The highest rank is “assistant to the president,” a level that includes the very most senior aides such as Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Conway herself.

Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who is black, held the rank of assistant to the president while she worked for President Trump, but it is unclear why. Her job title was Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison, which placed her below the more senior official who ran that office. With rare exceptions, subordinate officials within White House offices are not typically classified as assistants to the president.

The next highest rank is “deputy assistant to the president.” As of the middle of last year, more than two dozen White House officials held this rank, including top deputies to officials at the assistant to the president level and heads of relatively minor offices within the White House. Ja’Ron Smith is not one of these deputy assistants to the president.

Rather, Smith is a “special assistant to the president,” a more junior rank held by officials who often have their own policy portfolios, but typically are well outside the president’s inner circle. About 80 people on the White House payroll hold the rank of special assistant to the president. Some examples of officials who hold this rank include the president’s social secretary, the associate director of the personnel office, and the executive assistant to the chief of staff…

And, with that said, here are two other pieces of information that you might find of interest. First, it would appear as though most White Houses have between 400 and 568 political staff working in the West Wing. Second, an estimated 12.7% of the U.S. population is black… So, Kellyanne Conway was unable to give the name of even one black person working on a White House political staff of 400 or more, when, statistically speaking, there should be over 50, assuming the composition of the White House workforce reflected the makeup of our country. And Conway could not name one. [This doesn’t, of course, mean that no African American’s are working on the political staff of the White House. It would sound as though, however, none of them are higher ranking than Ja’Ron Smith, who does not work in the West Wing.]

If you wonder why Trump is revered by the white nationalists who today gathered outside the White House, I think you have your answer.

Oh, and if you want a little more racism…. Axios is reporting today that, when Omarosa was working in the White House, at least one of her co-workers found her to be “a physically intimidating presence.” “I’m scared shitless of her,” this former male colleague of Omarosa’s told Axios. It sounds as though, based on this reporting, they’d wanted to fire her for a while, but felt as though they couldn’t because, “she was the only top-level official in the White House who was African-American.” And, when they did fire her, it was apparently a big deal, as Trump chief of staff John Kelly did it in the White House Situation Room, which is only supposed to be used for national security meetings… And we know this, of course, because Omarosa recorded their conversation, in violation of all known White House norms. But that, I guess, is what you get when you hire people you know to be “low-life” reality television personalities to work in the White House.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Blackbeard’s Ghost

Last night, Arlo and I watched the 1968 Disney film Blackbeard’s Ghost, starring Peter Ustinov, Suzanne Pleshette, and Dean “the poor man’s Jimmy Stewart” Jones… After having spent about 20 minutes sorting through our options, we’d narrowed it down to two movies, and Arlo decided against Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, having determined that a movie about pirates might have more bloodshed. [As Arlo and I may well be descended from Captain Robert Maynard, the Royal Navy officer credited with killing Blackbeard off the coast of North Carolina in 1718, I suppose it’s only natural that we’d gravitate toward such fare.]

Well, I was going to give the movie, which came out on February 8, 1968, just eight days after the start of the Tet Offensive and three days before I was born, a terrible review here on the site… but then it occurred to me that, had a high school track coach really summoned Blackbeard’s ghost to a seaside retirement home for the elderly female descendants of pirates by accident back in the mid ’60s, and explained to the world’s most violent of pirates that, in order to free himself from an eternity in limbo, he’d have to do a good deed, it’s probably not all that unlikely that said pirate would concoct a plan that involved placing a big bet on the local university’s hapless track team with a local gangster and then help the lovable team of oddball losers win an incredibly important inter-collegic meet though ghostly deceit, using his invisibility and rum-fueled, super-human strength. I mean, sure, it seems a little far-fetched to have an invisible Blackbeard throwing the scrawnier members of the track team over the bar during the high jump competition, but, really, doesn’t that sound exactly like the kind of thing that Blackbeard might have done if it meant securing his freedom so that he could once again travel the high sees aboard a ghost ship?

[Arlo’s favorite part of the movie took place during the track meet, when the invisible Blackbeard interfered with the handoff of a baton during a relay race, sliding a hotdog into the hand of one of the receivers… something the young runner didn’t realize until he was a few hundred yards away.]

At any rate, I’m enjoying thinking about the movies Disney had in production in the late ’60s, just before Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and the whole world went to hell. When Blackbeard’s Ghost went into production in ’66, I don’t imagine many people would have imagined what was just around the bend, and how dramatically youth culture was about to change… And, to give you an idea of just how fast this transition was happening, just two weeks after Blackbeard’s Ghost hit theaters, Easy Rider started shooting. Granted, Disney kept churning out movies like The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, but it seems in retrospect that they were a bit of an anachronism. But, maybe, with news coverage of the Vietnam war racing up, and America’s cities on fire, people still wanted that mindless, family-friendly escape.

[Speaking of Easy Rider, if you’re at all curious about how it came to be made, I’d suggest checking out the episode of Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast featuring Peter Fonda.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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