“2 minutes to midnight” – iron maiden (1984)

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Last week, the Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight.  Since 1947, developed by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, the Doomsday Clock is a symbol that represents the probability of a man-made global catastrophe.  Over the years, the distance between the minute hand and midnight has fluctuated greatly.  In 1991, the clock was set at 17 minutes to midnight, the furthest from midnight since 1947, because the United States and Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Since then, things have only gotten worse.

Over the 27 years since our allegedly most peaceful time of the 20th century, the minute hand has crept steadily closer to midnight.  While the threat of nuclear war has been the most prominent criteria for the Doomsday Clock since its inception, the effects of global climate change has contributed to the minute hand’s position since 2007.

The Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight has week.  This is the closest we’ve come to midnight since 1953 when the United states tested its first thermonuclear device in 1952 in an effort known as Operation Ivy to accomplish such a task before the Soviet Union had a chance.  That designation in 1953 represented an active endeavor to advance nuclear capability.  In 2018, the significance of these two minutes stems from the failure of the United States and other world leaders to address looming threats of nuclear war with some leaders even making comments or taking actions that seem to suggest the desire such an outcome.

Speaking strictly about the United States, the use of nuclear weapons has been a desire expressed by Donald Trump.  During election, he asked several times why we even have nuclear arms if we don’t intend to use them.  Since taking officer, he has made threatening remarks against North Korea and even made disrespectful comments against their leader Kim Jong-un, a murderous despot who is starving his own people to advance his country’s nuclear capabilities.

Over the last few years and prior to the Trump administration, the North Korean government has actively worked towards developing their nuclear arms.  With every failed test, they have shown considerable improvement.  In September, North Korea claimed a successful hydrogen bomb test.  On November 29th, the Hwasong-15, the country’s furthest-reaching intercontinental ballistic missile, flew for 53 minutes before crashing into the ocean.  That ICBM has a theoretical range that puts the whole world at risk apart from Latin America and Antarctica.  While a lot of the Kim Jong-un says could be just empty threats and saber-rattling, there is truth to the improvement of his nuclear capabilities.  It was reported today that Mike Pompeo, Central Intelligence Agency chief, believes that North Korea could be able to nuke the United States within a “handful of months.”

What makes the shadow of nuclear war longer is Donald Trump’s mishandling of the issue.  Beyond the name calling and threats of “fire and fury,” there exists something deeper in Trump that adds credibility to our worries of nuclear war.

I recently read The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.  Compiled by Dr. Brandy X. Lee, the organizer of Yale University’s “Duty to Warn” Conference, this is a collection of essays and reports from over two dozen psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals who are executing their professional duty to warn people that their assessments of Donald Trump’s poor mental stability and how he puts the world at risk.

While each professional goes into their own narrative or theory on Trump’s mental health, there is a common thread that suggests they all believe that Trump is unfit to be president and can react in a volatile and unpredictable way.  Trump’s narcissism and need for pure adulation and control could lead to the president making an ill-informed, or even dangerous, decision.  Whether its pure impulse to destroy an enemy or distract the public from the Russian collusion investigation, Trump’s access to the United States’ nuclear arsenal is cause for concern.

The United States is feeling this nuclear threat on a level that hasn’t been seen since the Cold War.  The United States Centers for Disease Control originally planned a session on discussing nuclear disaster preparedness for January 16th.  That session has been postponed for a currently unknown date.  Though the CDC cancelled the session with the promise of a future session scheduled, the fact a federal agency is recognizing an imposing threat validates the general public’s concerns which should motivate our leaders to take action to curb such threats.

On January 13th, an emergency alert was mistakenly sent out to people in Hawaii warning that a missile was incoming, that they should seek shelter, and that the alert wasn’t a drill.  This error was made and the Hawaii government is taking steps to prevent the error being made again.  However, the alert represented a sign of the times; misinformation about a possible threat.  And that is problematic because it reduces the public’s ability to take the government seriously.  Considering the man currently in the Oval Office cannot be trusted and has a questionable mental health status that makes him dangerous, trust is dwindling.

Since the middle of the 20th century, nuclear annihilation has been a reoccurring theme in our popular culture.  Whether such an apocalypse is depicted in films, television, or video games, people ae fascinated by a world impacted by nuclear fallout and the question of man’s ability to survive it.  It is a narrative setting that never fails to create such dynamic stories from a reality that none of us want at all.

The theme of nuclear war is also present in our popular music.  While there are hundreds of songs that cover the subject, none feel more relevant now than “2 Minutes to Midnight” by Iron Maiden.  The heavy metal legends release this protest song about nuclear war on their 1984 album Powerslave.  “2 Minutes to Midnight” is a hard-hitting critical track that condemns the hands of doom that wreak nuclear havoc on people for glamour and greed.  It is the madman’s love of death that threatens our lives.

The song title is a reference to the Doomsday Clock.  The track was released 31 years after the first time the clock was two minutes to midnight and we were closer to nuclear annihilation than ever before.  Now, 65 years after the clock hit two minutes for the first time and 34 years since Iron Maiden released this single, we are now closing in on the brink of nuclear annihilation again.  While that threat was curbed by some of our country’s greatest leaders, we have no one currently in the White House who can fill those shoes.  It is a frightening time being this close to midnight and the only thing we can do is wait it out.

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“crystal blue persuasion” – tommy james & the shondells (1969)

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In recent years, I don’t watch a lot of television anymore.  I watched way too much television growing up.  There just wasn’t much to do.  In Alaska, it got dark early in the winter and, as a kid, you have to go back home during then.  In high school, I was living in a small, rural farming community where having a car (which I didn’t have) was essential to life.  There just wasn’t much happening where I was, so television, video games, and movies were my life.

That started to change when I got to college.  My priorities were shifting.  I became less interested in watching television.  I was living a standard campus life and was busy going to class, working my part-time radio jobs, volunteering at the campus radio station, making out with girls, and, of course, partying.  When I wasn’t doing any of those things, I was playing video games.

Lifestyle changes continued when I graduated, moved to Chicago, and got a full-time job.  I was now working over 60 hours a week while trying to find time to explore a new city and make friends.  I couldn’t waste time watching television or playing video games when I had people to meet and things to do in the Midwest’s cultural epicenter.  Plus, I wasn’t making much money when I first arrived in Chicago.  I needed that money for rent and beer.  And beer is considerably cheaper than new video games.

As I’ve settled into my Chicago life over the years, my interests and priorities have continued to evolve.  That’s an absolutely normal progression people go through in life.  I find it a little amusing to think about the habits and traits I currently embody and compare them to my past self.  I’ve changed a lot and that’s great.  But for the intended purpose of this blog post, I wanted to focus on my media consumption habits and how those have changed.

When I say I don’t really watch television much anymore, I’m not coming at it from the perspective of pompousness and arrogance.  I frankly don’t give a shit what people do with their time.  They can watch all the shows and movies they want.  Someone has to.  Those industries need viewers and funding to thrive and I fully support that engagement.  It just means that I don’t have to participate the same way.  I just find it interesting for me anymore.

In place of all the television watching and video game playing, I’ve filled that time with hobbies and activities that I currently find beneficial to me.  I read a lot.  Probably more than most people.  If you knew me in college, I wasn’t a reader.  I found it incredibly boring and went years without reading a book for leisure.  I go to the gym several times a week.  I volunteer for two different Chicago-area non-profits.  I have an active social life where I do fun things around the city.  I also go for really long walks.   These are the things that bring me peace and where I find relaxation.

My media-engagement habits have changed considerably over the years.  I struggle to even make it through an hour-long show.  I have no issue reading for three hours straight, but I can no longer sit and stare at a screen for that long.  There’s been a few recent shows that have come out that sparked some interest for me, but I opt out when I look at the pilot running time and it says 90 minutes.  No television pilot should be 90 minutes.

As a result of these changing media habits, there are tons of big shows that I have missed over the last decade.  I’m sure they are all fine shows, but I just never had the energy to start any of them.  There were times I made an exception and tried something, but I would soon quit after an episode or two.  That wasn’t for the case of Breaking Bad.

I was really late to the game when it came to Breaking Bad.  The finale for the fourth season had recently aired when I started.  I was very sick for a few days, so I stayed home from work.  Plus, the weather in Chicago was nasty at the time, so I didn’t feel bad about not going outside.  People were telling me for the last year or show to check out Breaking Bad.  And whenever someone makes any kind of recommendation to me, if it doesn’t immediately grab my attention, I just tell them I’ll get to it eventually.  I usually don’t.

Fans of television shows can be kind of funny in the intensity of their devotion.  A common thing I’ll hear about a television series is that you must keep watching because it gets really good.  And I’m always left thinking why should I sit through several hours of bad episodes before I get to the parts.  If a show doesn’t work out the kinks and get good within the first few episodes, it likely won’t ever get good.

Needless to say, I was skeptical about Breaking Bad.  It also, for me, suffered the sin of being a few years old by the time I started.  That’s another thing that keeps me from picking up certain series.  The days of television programs featuring a series of one-off episodes are long gone.  Now, everything is connected and every episode feeds into the next.  It is almost intimidating to start a series that has been around for a few seasons.  I can’t just cherry-pick a few episodes and get the gist of it.  I have to start from the beginning, try to become invested in the characters, and stick with it.  That’s too much work and why I always enjoyed the “Monster of the Week” episodes of The X-Files.

Whatever it was that made me choose Breaking Bad over any other show to watch while sick, I don’t remember.  However, I’m glad I started it albeit a little late.  I was immediately sucked in and convinced that this was something special by the third episode.  For someone who was increasingly becoming less interested in television, I binged-watched all four seasons of the show in such a short span of time.  I was thinking that this show could be one of the greatest television dramas of all time.  There was still the final season on the horizon with one half airing next year and the second half airing the following year.  Something could easily come along and sink the show’s greatness, but I had faith that show could maintain its brilliant trajectory.

When the final episode aired on September 29, 2013, I was absolutely stunned that this journey came to an end.  I became so mentally and emotionally invested in Walter White and the lives he ruined because of his pride and ego.  Breaking Bad had affected me on a level that no other show could mirror.  Everything about it was pure artistry.  From the incredibly acting to the chilling sets, the clever dialog to the shocking twists, and from humanity to the soundtrack, everything worked together so perfectly.

A couple of months ago, I saw some post on social media that the 10th anniversary of the premiere of Breaking Bad was coming up in January.  I couldn’t believe it.  Ten years!  It didn’t seem that long, but I had jumped on board the meth train rather late.  When I saw these posts, I was busy planning my holiday vacation from work.  I was going to have a lot of down time due to my office closing for two weeks at the end of the year.  They had never done that before, so I was going to have a lot of company-mandated free time.

Being such a busy guy, I didn’t know what to do with all that free time.  Breaking Bad has been on my mind since seeing more and more posts about the 10th anniversary.  So, I decided to rewatch the series.  For someone who doesn’t watch a lot of television and never binge-watches anything, you would think rewatching 62 hours of a show where I know everything will happen would be tough.  Just the opposite.  It was amazing.

Watching Breaking Bad for the first time was a unique experience.  With all the surprises and plot twists, experiencing it all fresh was an incredible experience.  I didn’t expect to feel those feelings again.  Knowing the fates of characters and how problems were resolved took out the element of surprise.  However, it didn’t take away the fact that I stilled cared and was emotionally invested.

During my second viewing, I was entranced and shocked and surprised as ever.  I knew on a general level how things would turn out.  But rewatching gives you a different, but not lesser, perspective.  I could pick up on things I missed the first time, remember the details I had forgotten, and truly appreciate just how well everything perfectly fit together.  I didn’t have that sense the first time because you’re so caught up with each new episode.  Knowing how things will turn out, your second viewing feels like you’re watching a few steps back.  You see a larger picture.  And that is when you appreciate how perfectly everything comes together to form one image.  It was a show that didn’t run too long or leave too many things forgotten.  Everything works cohesively and results in a complete work of art.

From my first viewing, I realized early on Breaking Bad had an amazing soundtrack and cleverly used music as a narrative device.  With a second viewing, I realized even more how important and effective music was as a tool.  Whether it was to add depth to a scene, dimension to a character, or contribute to the mise en scène, the soundtrack effectively acts as a character all its own.

When I wanted to write about celebrating ten years of Breaking Bad, despite all the amazing song choices, one stood out above all the rest.  Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” worked well to wrap up the series.  Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” added some tongue-in-cheek humor that made the series so human.  Los Cuates De Sinaloa’s “Negro Y Azul” proved an effective narrative driver.  However, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & the Shondells stands above all the other soundtrack selections.

If I were to consider all the songs featured in the series on their own merit, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” would not be among the top song picks.  However, the track is enhanced through its use as a mood and story enhancer in the context of driving the series.  And no other song does it as well.

“Crystal Blue Persuasion” was featured in the fifth season’s mid-season finale “Gliding All Over.”  The track played over a montage of Walter cooking his blue crystal meth for distribution internationally.  There’s no other audio and the song is almost played in its entirety.  With the single version running at 3:45, that is a lot of time.  However, the decision to almost play the entire song over such an important montage speaks to how expansive Walter White’s influence really is.  The song sings of a new day coming and people changing.  You better get ready to see the light because love is the answer with crystal blue persuasion.

The song was released in June of 1969 for the album Crimson & Clover.   Even since its release and association with Breaking Bad, the song was notoriously connected to crystal meth.  Tommy James’ manager claims that James was inspired to write the song after reading the Biblical Book of Revelation.  However, for music writer Dave Marsh and fans of Tommy James & the Shondells, the song was the blue LSD tablets that were popular at the time as well as James’s affinity for amphetamines.

Without the historical context, the use of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” in the show is cheeky.  With it, it adds a level of subtle humor and irony that elevates its role above every other song featured in the series.

I finished rewatching the series the day before the tenth anniversary of the show’s premiere.  And the show holds up.  It also continues to occupy a special place in me.  I may not be interested in much television anymore, but I very grateful that I took a chance of Breaking Bad.  Perhaps I’m missing out on another show that offers the same experience, but I’m too impatient to even try.  Perhaps someday.

“why? (am i treated so bad)” – the staples singers (1965)

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Last week, members of the Trump administration and various lawmakers met to strike a deal concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy.  DACA allows those who had entered the United States as minors to apply for a two-year deferred action period exempt from deportation and be permitted to get a work permit.  DACA had been put into effect in 2012 during his administration, but was rescinded by the Trump administration in September 2017.  However, a grace period of six months was granted in order to figure out how to deal with the 800,000 individuals affected by the policy change.  The meetings last week align with that grace period

Social media and major media news outlets went into a firestorm when it was reported that Trump referred to immigrants from Haiti and Africa as being from “shithole countries.”  A spokesman for the Trump administration did not deny Trump’s comments, but were later confirmed by the U.S. Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin.  Trump has since denied this comment was made has claimed he is both not a racist person or the least racist person anyone can know.

Paying attention to the news reports and social media feedback on Trump’s latest blunder in a long line of national embarrassments leaves me astounded and wondering if things could any worse.  In short, they can, and I don’t know why I even asked the question.  This new low in presidential decorum has steered this country into a strange and peculiar direction.  I never thought I would ever see national news reports using the word “shithole” so forwardly.

Causal swearing made common on television is not the worst aspect of this latest Trump scandal.  It is the fact that it has now become so apparent that American policy is being driven by a racist agenda.  Prior to this, it was no secret that Trump was a racist.  Even before stepping into the public and political arenas, the specter of racism has followed him throughout his career.  When renting or selling properties through Trump, people of color received a special code on their application that indicated their non-white status which impacted their ability to acquire property or reside in a Trump owned property.  That detail has stood the test of time in illustrating that Trump’s racial prejudices has been long-term.  I could keep going and elaborate on dozens of racist quips or anecdotes Trump has made over topics like the Central Park Five, David Duke, or Colin Kaepernick, but I just don’t have the time.   Plus, the fallout from the “shithole countries” controversy potentially has the biggest impact.

The news media, when reporting on Trump over the years, has always skirted the issue on his racism.  Historically, they suggest that Trump “made racist remarks” or “bigoted statements.”  The issue isn’t that those claims are not true, but they miss the bigger picture.  They are passive statements that don’t say directly that Trump is a racist person.  On the campaign trail when he called Mexicans rapists, those comments were racist as opposed to the candidate being racist.  Whether it was some professional courtesy or ethics issues I am not fully aware of or understand, the journalists driving the national dialogue in our media wouldn’t just call the situation out for what it was.

Since the “shithole comments” were made, journalists and reporters are now making the distinction.  Instead of suggesting that Trump made “racist comments,” they are now truthfully asserting that Trump is racist.  That’s great we’re now crossing that line in honest report, but it also seems a bit too little and a lot too late.  Trump is almost done with his first year as president and he has, on several occasions, shown his true colors as a racist.  He has had one full year to use racism to influence his global and international policies.  If we got to “shithole countries” before the first anniversary, imagine what is going to happen in years two, three, and four (hopefully not more beyond that).

All this happened the weekend before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day where we celebrate the life and legacy of one of the greatest civil rights leaders.  Dr. King was shot 50 years ago this April.  He preached a form of non-violent protest.  He was the voice of a generation and a movement that sought equality for a marginalized people.  So much can be said about this man that I know I couldn’t do him justice.  However, he is a hero and a symbol for hope.

Over the weekend prior to the national holiday celebrating Dr. King, Trump made statements that he wasn’t a racist and attacked Durbin how confirming his racist remarks in the DACA meeting.  Trump suggests he isn’t racist and that he is the least racist person you’ll ever interview or meet.  Funny thing, Don.  Racist people don’t have to go out of their way to prove they are not racist.

It was troubling to see all this just days away from Dr. King’s holiday and then see his message and image coopted by those who actively oppress people of color, women, and LGBT with their policies.  Vice President held a ceremony at the Dr. King monument in Washington, D.C.  Speaker Ryan posted a photo of him staring in awe of a bust of Dr. King.  I don’t know what Trump did, if anything, and I don’t care.  They are all racist men who take active measures to apply their racism in official policy.  The audacity of Pence to praise Dr. King’s message at the foot of his monument when he left a football game just months before when players took a knew during the national anthem is unfathomable.  Hypocrisy at its most blatant.

In the media yesterday, I kept seeing articles and editorials where white supremacists and nationalists were coopting Dr. King’s image and message to prove their racist points against activists like Colin Kaepernick.  Admittedly, I didn’t read any of them.  I just couldn’t bring myself to delve into that bullshit.  The country is still scrambling to resolve the “shithole countries” issue.  I didn’t have the energy to read some bullshit point from bullshit people for bullshit reasons.

Over the summer, I visited Washington, D.C.  While I was there, I made sure to visit Dr. King’s memorial.  I was in awe of the size and power of the display.  King’s sturdy and resilient image coming out of the rock sent shivers down my spine.  I know that I am a white man who has benefitted from our racist society, but I am still moved and emboldened by Dr. King’s message.  Especially during a time with such a racist administration.  I know that I am not the one affected by their racist policies, but I can stand up against them.  Motivated by Dr. King, I can choose to not remain silent.

Roebuck “Pops” Staples wrote “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)” in response to the Little Rock Nine protests.  In 1957, nine black students attempted attend the segregated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.  Three years prior, the United States Supreme Court declared that school segregation was unconstitutional.  Angry protestors and armed members of the Arkansas National Guard stood in the way of their students trying to enter the school.  President Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort the students into the high school three weeks later.

The Staples Singers recorded “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)” in 1965.  According to Greg Kot’s book “I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the Music That Shaped the Civil Rights Era,” the song became a personal favorite of Dr. King’s.  Dr. King would always request Pops to have the song performed when the Staples Singers were singing at any of the civil rights rallies organized by Dr. King.  The song asks why the singer is treated so bad despite having done nothing wrong.  The message is clear, concise, and simple and it served as an effective anthem for the civil rights movements.

I read Kot’s book on the Staples Singers a few months ago.  In December, I got to see Kot interview Mavis Staples, one of Pops’ daughters, about her life and career.  She talked about Dr. King and providing a soundtrack for the civil rights moment which was a big part of Kot’s book.  However, Mavis drew the experience and lessons from the 60s to the contemporary issues we are facing today with the recent rise in white supremacy.  She said she may not be the one to provide a musical outlet to express rage, frustration, and determination in these times, but she championed the artists of today like Chance the Rapper who continue the legacy of fighting for civil rights.

As the blowback from Trump’s “shithole countries” comment continues, it is hard to see where his racism will go from here.  His supporters have been emboldened by his statements and determined to push a white supremacist agenda.  Not only that, but the behavior continues to be normalized.  This wasn’t just one mistake.  It’s another racist comment in a long line of racist comments, but it won’t be the last.  Trump is changing the game on what the nation can claim is presidential.  And his supporters love it.  It makes them energized and they thrive on the chaos and madness.  Saying that people from Africa come from “shithole countries” may be shocking now, but it might become the norm when Trump has the potential to say and do even worse things using the platform the presidency provides.

I am glad that people are angry.  However, I am trying not believe that the anger expressed will only exist in the short-term and be forgotten when something even worse comes along thus normalizing the previous offense.  This weekend will mark one year of Trump.  We’ve got three more.  And until that man is removed from the office, we must fight for this country and for those treated so bad.

“der fuehrer’s face” – spike jones and his city slickers (1942)

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Donald Trump has always had a tenuous relationship with the media.  For over 30 years, he has played it to his advantage while also lambasting it for any criticisms declared against him.  The media has fueled his persona, image, and fortune.  He uses it as a tool to make himself seem larger than life and that’s why this country could never seem to get rid of Trump.

Trump’s assault on the media has only escalated.  After announcing his candidacy in June 2015, he would make broad statements criticizing the media and press for false reporting and conspiring to sabotage his campaigns.  None of this is true.  However, facts mean nothing to his support base who see journalists and reporters as enemies of the state.

Since becoming President, Trump has only exacerbated his relationship with the media.  However, now serving as the Commander in Chief, he toes the line of being a despot when he openly condemns the press on Twitter or in speeches.  There are dozens of leaders in history who have had difficult and antagonistic relationships with the press.  Some were even American presidents.  However, things tended to work out and the freedom of the press remained intact as one of this country’s most sacred principles.

However, the freedom of the press seems be at risk now more than ever.  Trump has successfully vilified the media being the harbingers of destruction to the values his supporters hold dear.  He actively makes statements that are unconstitutional in that they encourage the freedom of the press be dismantled or ignored so they he can pursue his own motives unchecked and unreported.  Censorship is his main directive to further fool his supporters and blind the rest of the country to his treasonous and dangerous activities in the Oval Office.

Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House generated an unprecedented amount of buzz in the news last week.  Wolff, a columnist and contributor to USA Today and The Hollywood Reporter¸ published this book with comments and insight from White House insiders such as Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon.  Comments Bannon and others made in the book were leaked in early reports prior to the book’s publishing date.

Trump became furious with the comments and discredited them along with calling Bannon names and claiming his position in the administration was less significant than it actually was.  He also threatened to sue Wolff if he published the book.  Using Twitter, Trump was able to condemn Wolff and do so in a way that directly connected to his supporters.  The major news outlets carried the story and made the book’s release such a national sensation that it was published four days early and sold out during special midnight releases at various retailers.

Needless to say, within one week, this book became huge and will likely make Wolff a millionaire.  There are dozens of books on Trump’s administration and Wolff’s contribution would’ve been an interesting footnote if it hadn’t been for Trump’s reaction.  He certainly made the situation worse for himself and elevated Wolff’s cultural capital.  Trump, as usual, claimed the book was filled with lies and attacked Wolff’s credibility directly over social media.  By even threatening to sue Wolff, it clearly demonstrates that Trump has no respect for the First Amendment and its protections for free speech and the press.

I currently have a copy of Wolff’s book on hold through the library and I have friends who bought a copy and a currently reading it.  I’ll have it read within the next few weeks, but I have been following the sensationalist news reports and social media posts that have followed the book’s release.  Prior to the buzz, I probably would’ve ignored the book because I didn’t know much about Wolff or even deemed him as a credible source.  Now, with the buzz, I’m curious.

How much this book blew up was indeed unprecedented and I think the reason why is fairly simple.  Keep in mind I haven’t read it so I’m trying to reserve judgment or skepticism, but it does seem that book offers a fair share of confirmation bias for those who believe Trump is unfit to be president.  Wolff, as of when this blog was published, hasn’t been transparent as journalists should be.  He also confirmed that the comments told to him have been unconfirmed, so those statements would be conjecture at this point.  I struggle to refer to anyone who doesn’t verify their sources as a journalist.  However, people are so desperate that they’ll cling on to any semblance of hope that their fears about Trump will be confirmed and that Washington will see the light and remove him from office.

Hope is a good thing to have.  However, you also should be realistic.  For most of this country, we already know Trump is a lunatic and unfit to hold office.  In that regard, Wolff’s book just confirms what we already know.  However, the appeal and lure that a Trump administration insider has some juicy gossip is what really sells this book.  I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know.  However, I still can question Wolff for his decision to release an unverified book as journalism.  We’re all desperate to oust Trump as soon as possible, but the sanctity of journalism must be maintained and upheld.

Personally, I do not absolutely compromise on the First Amendment.  All speech, for me, is free speech and I treat the freedom of the press as something that is holy and Trump’s condemnation of the institution is blasphemy.  Many other world-leading countries don’t have absolute freedom of the press and, as an American, its an institution I uphold as being American and necessity for this country to operate.

That being said, the press can be scrutinized or questioned when it does come to issues of credibility.  Wolff’s unsubstantiated and unverified reports certainly do merit some investigation and discussion.  However, outright banning books or news reports because they may critical of this country’s leader and their administration is absolutely wrong and un-American.

The First Amendment is under attack and not just from Trump.  On the day of the book’s advanced release, a popular twitter account published a parody excerpt of the book.   In the excerpt, an unnamed administration insider claimed his team edited gorilla footage to create a 24-hour closed circuit channel for Trump to watch and even suggested that he watches it 17 hours a day, four inches away from the screen, and talks to the gorillas on TV.  Though the author stated it was a parody, the content is so ridiculous that it should be blatantly obvious that the excerpt is satire.  However, this country is so desperate to believe any reason to remove Trump that many people didn’t realize the excerpt was a work of political satire.

That parody excerpt was shared all over social media.  I read through reactions and comments.  Many appreciated the humor while others were wondering if what they were reading was really true.  However, I read one reaction that made me angry.  Farhad Manjoo, a current contributor to The New York Times, said in a Tweet “don’t tweet screenshots of fake text (of book excerpts, court transcripts, etc.) even as a joke.  You’re making things worse.  The jokes just don’t work in a partisan-echo-chamber-feed world where everything is divorced from context and authorship.”

This is the end of satire, I thought.  I felt Manjoo’s comment was so dangerous and irresponsible especially coming from a member of the press who embodies the principles inherent in the First Amendment.  Not only do we have a political administration attempting to discredit and destroy this country’s freedom of the press, we have an actual member of the press telling us there are times where we’re not allowed to have satire.

I love satire and I hold it close to my heart as sacred. Not only as a firm believer in the First Amendment, but also as a tool.  Laughing in the devil’s face is what takes away his power.  Fear is what makes him unstoppable.  When we fear our leaders and our oppressors, we give them power over ourselves that furthers their tyranny.  However, when chip away at their power and ego with laughter and comical ridicule, they become weaker and we can overthrow them.  That is what makes satire such an important tool.

Fake news and Russian influencing social media during the 2016 presidential election are still major problems this country has to sort out.  I fully understand how misinformation, distributed across all the platforms, can influence people who do not know better.  When Trump claims the nuclear button on his desk is bigger than Kim Jong-un’s, I realize there are some people so uneducated and out of the loop that they believe there is in actual button on Trump’s desk that the cleaning lady can accidentally brush up against and initiate nuclear Armageddon.  I get that, but let’s not use that as an excuse.

By claiming that we can’t have satire because a small percentage of Trump voters cannot, or probably will not, distinguish between satire and reality thus fueling their own echo chamber is no reason why we should stop laughing in the devil’s face.  Our First Amendment freedoms will not go away overnight.  They cannot go away overnight.  However, it can be slowly chipped away.  Trump has been lambasting the media for years.  Silencing your biggest critics is a game of inches and Trump knows that game.  Repeat a lie enough and, eventually, people will believe it.  Start making excuses why satire should be forgone temporarily and we’ll lose all eventually along with other Frist Amendment freedoms.

Manjoo’s comments were well-intentioned, but dangerous.  I went back and thought about all the great pieces of satire in the in the modern age.  I grew up with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.  I loved that Stephen Colbert was asked to speak during the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2006.  Even before my time, there are moments of satire that stand the test of time.  Charlie Chaplin’s gripping condemnation and ridicule of Hitler in The Great Dictator is timeless.  Even the speech in that film resonates today, and that movie came out DURING World War II.  I know a fake excerpt about a gorilla television network is no Chaplin piece, but it still represents the value and impact of satire.

I went back and listened to some of my favorite protest and political satire songs over the weekend.  Doing so, I rediscovered my love for Spike Jones.  In 1942, Spike Jones and His City Slickers recorded a version of “Der Fuehrer’s Face.”  The song was a reworking of “The Nazi Song” written by Oliver Wallace.  Parodying the German tune “Horst Wessel Song,” Jones’ rendition contains hilarious cartoon sound effects and tongue-in-cheek “Heil” salutes aimed at ridiculing and offending Nazis.

The song is sung from the voice of a satirical Nazi soldier.  When he declares “der Fuehrer says we is de master race” and “not to love der Fuehrer is a great disgrace,” the backing band offers a “Heil” followed by a rubber razzer “pfft” kiss-off and a birdaphone (an instrument with a name coined by Jones) sound effect that deflates any sense of Nazi superiority and reduces them to buffoons.  Even a soloist uses a feminine affectation of their voice declaring that the Nazis are “super-duper Supermen.”  The song is incredibly funny in its lyrics and delivery.  And though sung from the perspective of a cartoon Nazi, I doubt anyone was confused about its intent when released.

A version of the song would be later used in a Walt Disney cartoon by the same name in 1943.  Though Disney was a notorious anti-Semite and had some Nazi leanings, the cartoon was a harsh condemnation against the evil superpower while World War II was raging.  The cartoon features Donald Duck experiencing a nightmare where he is working in a Nazi factory producing artillery shells and propaganda.  When he wakes up from this nightmare, he is grateful that he is a citizen of the United States where he doesn’t have to live in a dictatorship dystopia.  The cartoon ends with a caricature of Hitler’s face a tomato being thrown at it.

While World War II is a huge milestone and the current administration’s autocratic leanings are nowhere near Hitler-like levels (yet), my point remains the same.  While Manjoo claims that fake news and the current state of our echo chamber are reasons why we must be careful with the creation and distribution of satire, there were times when this country’s livelihood was more at risk but we still stuck it to the forces of evil with some well-utilized satire (and perhaps a little pro-American propaganda disguised as satire).  Trump is no devil, but he sure is an evil man.  Therefore, we need satire to deflate this blowhard as much as we can until he leaves office in disgrace.

“feels like home” – bonnie raitt (1996)

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New Year’s Eve for me was spent asleep.  I was in Kentucky while my friends all over the country and world were celebrating the end of a monstrously shitty year.  I cannot remember that last time I didn’t stay up for New Years.  I must’ve been a kid.  In recent years, I’m either celebrating with friends or family or travelling.  Either way, I’ve always been up to see that clocks change.

I slept through New Year’s Eve because I had to drive a rental car over an hour to get the Cincinnati airport and I had to leave the house at 3:30 AM to catch my flight.  Most people I know would’ve just stayed up to party, drink a gallon of coffee, and not give a damn before making that trip.  Not me.  Since moving to Chicago, I don’t drive anymore.  So, its very rare when I get behind the wheel.  I wanted to be somewhat rested before speeding down the interstate avoiding potential drunk drivers and an increased state police presence.

I was celebrating New Years in Kentucky because my former stepmother was getting remarried.  She had divorced my father earlier in the year and was marrying a close friend she had known for 15 years.  Even though she is legally not my stepmother anymore, I still think of her as one.  She has been a part of my life for 16 years.  That’s not a relationship you can easily change.

She told me the news about the wedding when I was visiting for Thanksgiving.  The wedding was going to be a quiet affair with family and close friends.  The ceremony was going to be conducted in the house in the front room by the fireplace.  I had already booked my flight for the Christmas holiday just prior to my Thanksgiving trip.  It was only a few days extra in Kentucky, so I was going to make the effort to attend.  After some discussion (and some raised voices) with my airline over my ticketing, I was able to get my flight changed for a price that wasn’t gouging.

The only downside to this trip was that I was leaving really early on New Year’s Day.  So, naturally, no one would be willing or able to take me to and from the airport (especially the day after a wedding).  My celebrations would have to be limited and revolve around my travel schedule. However, at least I could attend.

Prior to the trip, I had some worries.  There was some family drama and hurt feelings expressed about me attending my stepmother’s wedding that was taking place the same year as her divorce to my father.  Walking this fine line requires a delicate balance that takes everyone’s feelings into account while also asserting myself as a grown adult who could make their own decisions.  Still, I experienced some anxiety regarding the matter.

Despite worries about the trip, I had an excellent time and none of the uncomfortable discussions I envisioned would occur actually took place.  The days leading up the wedding were a weird blend of relaxing and eagerness to get back to Chicago and focus on my own needs.  For a while, I’ve been looking for a new job.  I’m currently employed, but I want a change.  For a while, despite my best efforts, I’ve been getting a lot of rejections.  While they sting, I am ultimately looking forward and staying motivated to make that change.  However, the holiday season is notoriously slow with people taking leave and offices shutting down.  It is a period of time where one who is demanding action must force themselves to have some patience and let things work out in their own time naturally.

Between the anxiety I felt before the trip and the anxiety I was feeling about what happens after the trip, I was in a weird flux.  The relaxation and downtime was good, but I’m not used to how much downtime I had.  I was in Kentucky for eight days excluding travel days.  That’s a long time for me.  Most people would’ve made the most of it and forgot about all their cares and worries.  And, for the most part, I did.  However, I still had one active goal that I needed to complete after the New Year.

I met with friends and family I haven’t seen in a while.  And all of them would ask me about my life in Chicago.  They were happy to hear I have a pretty good and independent life and that I have a lot of things going for me such as my friends and volunteering.  They would also discuss with me about what was next and I would tell them about my job ambitions and about a few opportunities I was equally excited and anxious about securing.  So, I couldn’t get all of this out of my head even if I tried because it was a frequent topic of discussion.

The evening before I leave was the New Year’s Eve wedding.  I was texting a friend earlier in the day strategizing on a follow-up plan reaching out to some people about some of the exciting opportunities I was pursuing.  A long time had passed for many of these, but I was still dwelling and thinking about them.  He told me that I shouldn’t waste so much mental energy on the topic and that the positions were likely filled anyway.  I hadn’t thought about it and I was shocked to have that thought in my mind.  I had spent so much time talking about these things and my plans and I didn’t stop to think about what would happen if they didn’t pan out.  Talking about it got me hopeful and a bit obsessed with it.  So, hearing that truth from my friend brought me back down to Earth. Hard.

As I was driving to my stepmother’s house wearing a really nice black pinstripe suit, I was thinking about rejection.  I’m 30.  I’ve been around the block a few times.  I can handle rejection for the most part.  However, sometimes it can still sting.  The funny thing is that I haven’t been rejected for anything.  The issue is that I applied for a job months ago, haven’t heard anything despite my best efforts, and I dwelled on it during a period of time where I didn’t have much going on because of the holidays.  Normally, I can shake these things off.  But this one stuck.

When I got to her house, it was obvious that my head was in a different space.  I was thinking about returning to Chicago and what my next steps were.  And that’s not a good mindset when you’re at a wedding and you should be enjoying yourself.  I was getting frustrated with myself because I only had so many hours to be here before I had to leave to get some shuteye before hitting the road.  I was supposed to be having fun, but I just wasn’t able to do so.

The man my stepmom was going to marry shortly noticed and asked me what was wrong.  I couldn’t believe it.  This was his wedding and I felt like such an asshole that I couldn’t have fun and that it was so obvious on my face that the groom, during his wedding, was wanting to find out why I was being a grump.  I shook it off and said that I was fine.  I just couldn’t bring myself to vent to this guy on his wedding day.  I left the room to get away from people and be on my own for a bit.

I sat in the den alone in the lower part of the house with my glass of wine.  Then, without warning, I just got really emotional and cried.  It is very rare for me to cry because that is not a typical way I express myself, so this was unexpected.  I’m someone who usually just holds things in and destresses at a later time. But, I couldn’t control myself.  These bottled emotions just poured out.  The trip I was somewhat dreading due to family drama turned out really well, dealing with health stuff on my mother’s side, and my own dissatisfaction with finding a new job were all just things I carried with me.  Not having fun at this wedding and the groom wanting to talk about how I was feeling was the last straw.  Too many emotions and they had to come out.

The ceremony was happening soon, so I got myself cleaned up.  I felt pathetic walking back upstairs and assembling with everyone else.  My head hurt and I had a pit in my stomach.  I just didn’t feel well and I wanted to sleep.

Fortunately, all those feelings just suddenly disappeared when the ceremony started.  My stepmother walked through the room with her dark blue wedding dress and her hair done and she had the biggest smile on her face.  I hadn’t seen her smile like that in a long time.  Her husband had a huge smile too.  My little brothers were standing at the sides as ring bearers trying to fight back childish giggles.  The energy was happy, loving, and positive and it elevated my mood.

From when that ceremony started to when I had to leave, I had a great time.  It was great to see the couple exchange vows.  I took pictures of the ceremony and of the couples dancing afterward (I was the only single person there other than my little brothers).  The food was delicious and I ate a ton while also sneaking samples to the family dog.  I was feeling how I should’ve felt.  How I wanted to feel.  This was a feeling I could have if I just forgot about all the bullshit and live in the moment.

The song my stepmother walked out to was “Feels Like Home” by Bonnie Raitt.  Originally written by Randy Newman, the song has been covered dozens of times.  Raitt’s version was released in 1996 and included on the motion picture soundtrack for the John Travolta film Michael.  I remember over the summer ordering a copy of that CD from Discogs.  My stepmother was looking for a copy and the soundtrack wasn’t available to stream online, so I found a good used copy for her.  It is kind of funny how things come back to you like that.

The song is very much a wedding song.  It is a song about falling in love and finding comfort in your partner.  The world around them may be dark with breaking windows and sirens wailing in the night, but there’s warmth and light in the space they made for each other in their arms.  That’s a great image of living in the moment and appreciating what you have.  Things come and go.  We go through good and bad times.  However, the important thing to is take notice of what is valuable and important in your life.  And those are the things that make you appreciate what you have and not let darkness or negativity affect your enjoyment and appreciation.  I can honestly say I am working on these things and that things will get better.  The trick is to not be so hard on myself when things don’t work out and find solace in what I do have that does work out and continues to do so.