I wasn't planning on writing about politics today, but it's hard to ignore Trump's meltdown today. He's been able to take time off from the golf course to leave about a dozen squealing tweets, many of which have bizarrely, remarkably and pathetically been slamming the mayor of San Juan and the people of Puerto Rico for not doing enough and criticizing the relief effort.
As the expression goes -- no, really.
It's difficult to pick just one tweet as an example, and it's the full panoply of them all in their full glory together which is most damning of all. But this one will suffice --
Yes, you read that right. And no, this isn't a parody from The Onion. Nor was his account hacked. There are a dozen more almost like this.
To put it in full perspective -- The president of the United States, while relaxing at the golf course, is criticizing the mayor of San Juan for complaining during a humanitarian crisis, after her country has been destroy and people even in hospitals are dying, without water, electricity gas, and food.
If anyone even things of defending Trump, step back and consider this -- for the sake of argument, even IF Trump was right that the relief effort has been great and the criticisms have been so unfair ("IF"), when your country has been destroyed and you're in the midst of a humanitarian crisis don't you think it's understandable if every single person there complained and that it would be a good, mature, proper, adult thing for anyone, let alone a leader to do to cut them all some slack and let them VENT as much as they wanted, to get every last ounce of angst from their system?!!!!
Even IF Trump was 100% IN THE right (and he's so wrong that the concept of "right" doesn't register), the proper response from any human, let alone the president of the United States is -- "I understand why the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, is so distraught, I can't imagine the horror she's going through trying to save her devastated city and country. She sees the devastation around here. What she's unable to see from the middle of Hell is that we have a great relief effort under way and are working to improve it all the more. And I look forward to meeting with her when I arrive in Puerto Rico on Tuesday. I send all my heartfelt good wish and send, too, American support and supplies."
That's how you respond, even IF you were in the right. Which he's not. When you're in the wrong, you shut up and hide out in the golf clubhouse.
One thing you don't do, ever, is try to shame the mayor of Puerto for complaining. And shame the people of Puerto Rico for not doing enough. And shame TV news for broadcasting what you try to claim is "fake" -- when all the people just have to look and see the devastation and misery. When the people of Puerto Rico don't have to watch the TV news (if they had a TV or electricity), but just have to look out their window (if they had a window).
And it's worth noting whimsically, that today's Trump Twitter meltdown against the mayor of San Juan comes on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Don't tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor. And isn't watching, on today of all days.
What's most stunning of all is that it seems like Trump did the near-impossible, but with criticizing Puerto Rico and most especially mayor of San Juan while at a golf course during a humanitarian crisis, Donald J. Trump may actually have gone too far for most people. It's not that he finally crossed the line -- it's done that many times -- but he may just have gone over the cliff.
From the archives, this week's contestant is Alex Strong from Bloomington, Indiana. This is one of the more unlikely songs I've heard Bruce Adolphe hide in a classical style. Somewhat as a result of that it's a pretty easy song to guess, I think, but that nonetheless makes it quite fun to listen to. The classical style is definitely gettable, too, although it's from a period that most people probably have a difficult time differentiating between several of the better known composers of the era.
As I've mentioned the past couple days, though the perception may be that the film Wasn't That a Time was just a concert film of The Weavers' historic 1980 reunion at Carnegie Hall, in truth it is a full-fledged documentary about everything leading up to that and a look at their career, along with appearances by Peter, Paul & Mary, Arlo Guthrie, Holly Near, Don McLean and others. I had embedded video of that concert yesterday and was going to add another today, but then realized that that would just reinforce the erroneous perception. So, instead, here's a promotional clip that PBS put together when they aired the documentary, directed by Jim Brown.
It all began at a family picnic where the four members of The Weavers -- Pete Seeger, Fred Hellerman, Ronnie Gilbert and Lee Hays -- got together and performed for the first time since they'd broken up in the 1950s after having been Blacklisted. Happily, a camera was present, and the footage here is of that very picnic when they picked up their instruments and voices just for the sake of celebration.
Much of the film follows their trying to decide whether to pursue things farther and actually have a reunion performance at Carnegie Hall, where they'd given a famous concert in 1957. They talk about it, try some things out, rehearse, and decide they can pull it off, and the camera captures it all. And this wonderful segment has some of that. Surprisingly, my favorite part is not the music itself, terrific as it is, but the looks of beatific joy on the faces of the family members and friends realizing that they're hearing this glorious music come out of these four people, having heard about it all these decades and listened to records, and known about the Blacklist causing the group to separate, but now finally getting the chance to actually experience all four together for the first time in their lives. And knowing how meaningful this is to their "Weaver" relative. Up there, too, is the reaction of The Weavers themselves when they finish their first song -- most notably Ronnie Gilbert, as she talks to the camera about her uncertainty and giddiness of it all. And the piece then ends up at the Carnegie Hall concert. It's all tied together by Lee Hay's affectionate, humorous and pointed narration, which he both wrote and delivers.
To keep repeating myself, it's a great documentary. It's about survival and triumph, filled with great music. And oozing joyful passion through, which is particularly clear in the final shot here of the Carnegie audience. Check the film out, it's available on Netflix.
Apparently there's a real thing called Sea Otter Awareness Week. It should live forever, but no matter. Regardless of its existence, this from the Oregon Zoo was just added to my list of favorite tweets. I retweeted with a comment that I don't know who writes the Zoo's tweets, but the person should get a raise.
The other day, racist graffiti was found outside the rooms of five black cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The superintendent there, Lt Gen Jay Silveria, addressed it swiftly and bluntly. , Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy. He assembled the school and in no uncertain terms lectured them.
It starts off well, though somewhat generically, though the grip of his voice, look and demeanor spoke much more forcefully than his words. But soon enough, those words changed. And they matched his presence.
I'll only quote one sentence. "If you demean someone for any reason -- get out."
As I watched Lt. Gen Silveria, it was not difficult to think, "This is how a leader deals with a problem when racism occurs." And nowhere in his speech did he suggest that bad as the racial slurs were, there were some very fine people among those who participated. Nowhere did he say that there were many sides to the issue. There was one side causing the problem, and he excoriated it. It was difficult to to think, this is how a leader deals with racism, not by a tweet or a couple sentences, but a pointed, blunt 5-minutes tongue-lashing.
"The president has dealt with that," his spokesperson tried to tell us when question about why Trump didn't actually address racist hate after Charlottesville. No, he didn't and hasn't. And he waited days to try to pretend he did. Lt. Gen. Silveria dealt with it. Immediately. He even brought up Charlottesville. He understand that what happened there was disgraceful. And there was only one side.
As I mentioned yesterday when posting those five featurette films of The Weavers made in 1951, I would be posting a few clips from a tremendous documentary about them and their reunion concert that was made 30 years later, in 1981, Wasn't That a Time.
This is an absolutely tremendous film. If it was just a concert film alone it would be great. But it's much more than that, working on three levels. It begins with The Weavers reuniting for a family-and-friends picnic the year before, and it goes so well, that they start talking about maybe doing a reunion concert at Carnegie Hall. (Following in the footsteps of their famous Carnegie Hall show in 1957.) And we see all the rehearsals as they try to figure out if it will work out. It's as fascinating and fun as the final concert itself. (And indeed they are in good voice.) And there is also a great deal on the history of The Weavers, putting this reunion and that final concert in important and emotional context. And then of course there's that concert.
By the way, when the reunion concert was announced for its one-night only performance, the ticket response was so immediate that they added a second concert.
As I wrote, if you don't know of The Weavers, they were a wildly popular folk music group in the 1950s whose outspoken support for labor issues and unions and such got them Blacklisted. They eventually split and went off to their own careers. Pete Seeger clearly had the most success, though the others -- Fred Hellerman, Ronnie Gilbert and Lee Hays -- didn't fade away. Indeed, the documentary deals with all their post-Weaver careers. Hellerman became a successful record producer, Gilbert had a career stage acting, and Hays recorded four children's albums with a group The Babysitters, one member of whom was Alan Arkin.
I can't recommend Wasn't That a Time highly enough, most especially if you're a fan of The Weavers, but also if you like folk music. And honestly, even if you're not someone who listens much to folk music this is still a really wonderful documentary, period, about history, survival and triumph. I saw it in a theater when it was initially released and was boggled when it didn't get an Oscar nomination. I don't know if it didn't qualify for some reason, or if they missed deadlines or if not enough people simply liked it as much as I did -- or what? I truly don't think it's the "not enough people" reason, though. It subsequently was shown on PBS and was so popular that they now repeat it periodically during Pledge Drive time, and even spawned a sort of sequel, Isn't This a Time?, focusing on a tribute concerto to Harold Levanthal, the legendary manager of The Weavers and other folk artists. (And when I say legendary...there is no hyperbole involved. I mean it. He managed The Weavers, Woody Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Theodore Bikel and Peter, Paul & Mary, and others. That's legendary.) So, why it wasn't even nominated for an Oscar, I have no idea. I've recommended it to many, and the response has pretty much consistently been, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!" It's available on Netflix, and probably Amazon Prime...so get it!
To give further credit, the director of the documentary is Jim Brown. He made that follow-up documentary I mentioned, Isn't This a Time? and also a documentary on Pete Seeger, The Power of Song, as well as a great documentary a year ago, 50 Years with Peter, Paul & Mary, all of which I believed aired on PBS.
A few things to mention. As I noted yesterday, there is one particularly fascinating contrast between the 1951 films and this documentary. When you watch the featurettes, the group's bass Lee Hays comes across as so wooden you swear he wishes he were anywhere else. But in the documentary, he's hilarious. He wrote the script to the film, provides the narration, and is the emcee of sorts at the reunion concert. It's a revelation to discover how hilarious he is. Sardonic humor, to be sure, but really funny. And I should add he was a prolific songwriter. Among the many songs he either wrote or co-wrote are "If I Had a Hammer," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" and the title song of this documentary, "Wasn't That a Time
His appearance is also very touching, making his humor all the more moving. That's because as he makes clear, he had diabetes, and as a result had both of his legs amputated. He's in a wheelchair the whole film, and it's handled with great grace and high spirit. The affection all The Weavers have for one another is pronounced, but their affection for Lee Hays stands out. (Be sure to watch the faces of the other three as they listen to Hays talking with the audience -- not just filled with affection, but even surprised by some of his quips and breaking into laughs.)
For context in this clip, it's also important to know that the Carnegie Hall reunion concert took place in 1980, not terribly long after Ronald Reagan took office as president. There are references to this throughout the film that are clear, but not in this clip.
Also, what's fascinating is the applause and cheers of that reunion audience. It's like none I've heard. Loud, to be sure. But it is interlaced with affectionate passion, as everyone there completely understands the meaning of these four legends reuniting after having their careers and lives torn apart by the Blacklist. I almost love listening to this unique audience reaction as much as anything,
So, here's a clip -- but again, get the full documentary. This though at least will give a touch of how rich the concert portion of it is. And I'll have a few more clips.
But for starters, this is the opening song of that reunion.
I had a Twitter exchange a few nights ago which had me weary for a while. On the one hand, it was just a simple, personal exchange and of no importance to reference it. But more than that, I realized that it oddly sums-up a problem with political discourse today, what I'll called "blind listening. It happens on both sides, to be clear, though I feel comfortable saying that I think it occurs far more on the conservative end. Yes, I know I'm biased about that, but I have reasons to support thinking that's the case. After all, the Far RIght are the people who are able to listen to Donald Trump talk and completely disregard all the utterly-hellish things he says about Gold Star families, ridiculing disabled people, grabbing women against their will, dismissing military heroes who were tortured in captivity and so much more which would sink any other candidate into oblivion. Furthermore, this is the man who specifically said he could shoot someone in the middle of the streets of New York and his supporters would still follow him. And these are the disciples who chided Democrats by saying, "You people listen to what he says, rather than what he means. We listen to what he means, rather than what he says."
So, I stand by my position that this phenomenon I dealt with last night is far more common among conservatives.
It began when I received a reply from a Trump supporter who disagreed with something I'd written. Shocking, I know. (Oddly, I'd written it quite a few weeks ago, but apparently it just came into her field of vision.) For a specific reason which will become clear soon, I'll leave out for the moment what I had initially written. But it concerned Trump's pardon of Joe Arpaio. As readers here might imagine, what I wrote was not positive. And to that, the dear woman replied --
"No Sheriff Joe is great such a good man and law officer and the President did a good thing. I am glad"
My initial reaction was to explain why Joe Arpaio is as far from a great and good man as a breaded fish stick is from my car repairman. But before diving into to what would surely be a head-numbing endeavor, I checked back to see what, in fact, I'd written weeks earlier. When I saw it, all I could do was sigh deeply, since it turned out to just be a simple lead-in for people to click on a link I had provided to an article I wrote. (Something on these pages, in fact.) So, rather than debate her on the merits, what I instead tweeted back was --
"Clearly you didn't read my article, since it had ZERO to do with if Arapaio deserved a pardon. It was on problems Trump caused himself."
And so it was. You may recall it. I presented five reasons why the Trump pardon was seriously problematic for Trump himself, regardless of whether or not Arpaio was a great and good man who deserved it. (For instance, I noted that the public tends to not like pardons in general, and this particular pardon was foolish for Trum because it not only saved Arpaio merely about two weeks in jail, but Arpaio accepting the pardon was an admission of guilt.) That was what the article was about. And the tweet. That it was on problems Trump caused for himself. To which she quickly replied -- which is the point of all this:
"That is not what was written i just answered what I saw."
And that, in a nutshell -- pun intended -- is when I realized we had in a single sentence a microcosm of TrumpLove acolyte fandom, whose fingers-in-the-ear deafness not only explained the breakdown in rational discourse, but also explained a significant reason why so many people could vote for such a sociopathic, racist, egomaniacal, lying, misogynistic, incompetent con man, ignoring all that and blindly hearing what they wanted to hear. As a result, I realized all I could reply was --
"That is not only PRECISELY what was written, almost 'word for word,' but I also provided a link to my article which explained it in detail."
And, in fact, I was being spot-on honest and accurate, without hyperble. It was PRECISELY what was written, almost "word for word." And that then brings us to what the initial tweet was that I written. What I had written was, and I quote --
"I believe Trump caused FAR more problems for himself with Arpaio's pardon than is generally perceived. Here's why - " (And I then included a link to the article.)
Boy howdy, as far as I can tell, "It was on problems Trump caused himself" is indeed pretty darn word-for-word close to "I believe Trump caused FAR more problems for himself."
But in Trump-sighted fantasy eyes, she just -- well, as she herself said, she just answered what she saw. Never mind the words that were actually written. And written in really simple, clear English. (And never mind that she stopped there, after only 18 words, and didn't even bother to read the actual article it linked to which I specifically said ("Here's why -- ") was the total point of the comment.)
Perhaps 18 words is the limit of her stamina, and anything more hurts. I don't know. Actually, in phrasing that previous sentence, I had initially written, "...is the limit of her comprehension," but realized that "comprehension" wasn't a standard that was appropriate.
Yes, it was just a personal exchange. But "I just answered what I saw" was simply to vast a concept in today's conservative universe that I couldn't pass it up.
Some people merely see what they want. Some people don't listen to "What he said" and only interpret for themselves, what they more comfortably believe he means. Some people would indeed still support a person even if he shot someone in the middle of New York. Some people choose to ignore reality because it's too inconvenient for them, and instead accept a sociopathic misogynistic racist con man because the con is easier for them to swallow.
A fool and their country is soon parted.
For all the folksinger groups that exploded on the music scene in the 1960s, the granddaddy of them all was The Weavers, which was massively successful the decade before, culminating in a famous concert at Carnegie Hall. Pete Seeger was the best-known and the only one to have a solo career later (and renowned at that), but the others were integral and kept working, as well -- Fred Hellerman on guitar, Ronnie Gilbert (who many women in folk music later credited with showing them it was okay to throw back their heads and belt) and bass Lee Hays.
The problem for the group came as a result of its era, coming during the period of Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC hearings in Congress, as well as Blacklist. Being on the vanguard of protest music and labor union rights, the Weavers got hit hard and ultimately were Blacklisted. They broke up and went off to their own careers. Famous as Seeger was, he couldn't get on national television (though had a local show in New York) until the Smothers Brothers invited him on in 1967. And even there, he was surrounded by controversy, as his protest song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," was cut by CBS censor. A few months later, though, in February 25, 1968, the network relented and broadcast the song.
Happily, The Weavers reunited briefly in 1980 and a joyous documentary was released the next year about it, Wasn't That a Time, an utterly uplifting tribute to survival. I found some clips from that and will post them in the coming days, but for now I thought it would be even better to show this video which presents the The Weavers in their prime.
It's actually five videos, edited together. Back in 1951, the group was popular enough to film a series of movie featurettes. And this is all of them. It's pretty stilted, as far as filming goes -- I've love the hand-slapping during "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena" -- but the musicianship is a treat.
How early is this? During this "Tzena" number, they refer to the "new country of Israel."
Odd too is that, stilted as the whole group is on film (or perhaps "formal" might be the better description), they're comparatively lively in relation to Lee Hays who borders on wooden, looking almost as if he'd rather be anywhere but there, perhaps back at the office working on accounts. I don't mention this as a slight, but for a bizarre contrast with him. When you see those upcoming clips from the 1981 documentary, not only is Hays credited with writing the lively and thoroughly entertaining narrative of the film, but he's a total hoot, really the sardonic comic center of the group as he serves as basically the concert's very witty and informative emcee. (I should note that along with Seeger, Hayes was the prolific song-writer of group, most famously co-writing, "If I Had a Hammer" and many others.) I should not, too, in advance, that the documentary is far more than a recording of the reunion concert but that's only the culmination, as the film begins at a family picnic a year earlier with the old friends get together and perform a bit, which becomes the germ of an idea, that then builds through the rehearsals, the story of their lives, and finally the triumphant concert back in Carnegie Hall.
But that's 30 years ahead. For now, here are The Weavers when they topped the music world.
Before we hit the end of the month, I guess I should get around to posting the latest "The Writers Workbench" tech review column. It's titled, "Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Something" and we look at a couple of intriguing portable products -- an audio device, as well as a powerful, multi-purpose charger.
The X-Mini Xoundbar is an elegant, very small, portable speaker from a company that tends to put out very nice products. But it's the myCharge AdventureUltra which intrigues me the most. It's the kind of portable charger I've been watching for a few years, and several companies are starting to get it right. At the moment, myCharge (another company I like) has the smallest and lightest of them. It's a high capacity charge, but what makes it special -- though there are others like it that hold more storage, but are heavier and bigger -- is that it has an AC outlet built-in, so (for instance) you can take this on a picnic or car-camping and bring along some home comforts, like a blender or toaster-oven. Or take it on a long airplane flight for your laptop.
As always, because it's a pain to re-code the original article, which is written for the Writers Guild Online website, here's the link to it there, already posted.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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