I’m Declassifying Everything I Ever Wrote

That includes everything on this blog, plus Mingus Speaks and the other books and occasional pieces I’ve written. Also, I formerly did a blog called jazzinsideandout.com in this space, which is now offline though I keep copies on my computer of all the junk I wrote for it. All that is now declassified, so you can now read it quite legally—if you can find it.

Trump told NBC News on Friday that he had declassified all the records now held in Mar-a-Lago. He waved his magic wand. No reason I can’t do the same.

Matt Bai wrote recently about how Trump never understood the transiency of the presidency, that a president is merely a temporary custodian of the office. “You’re just hired to manage the place for a while.” Trump instead thinks of himself as a sort of super-CEO, a Musk-like creature with extraordinary powers of command and control. He can wave the wand of declassification whether he’s president or not.

I also decided to take this step in clear violation of the copyright law, which gives me legal control over my writings but which also poses certain conditions I don’t like. People are supposed to come to me for permission to quote or reproduce my stuff. This is a completely out-of-date prohibition since the internet has made any and everything totally available.

Another thing I don’t like: “if employees create works that are within the scope of their jobs, the copyrights are owned by the employers as ‘works-for-hire.’” Wait a minute. Why should working for others take precedence over one’s own creativity? I’ve written a lot of good stuff for other people that they now own the rights to?

Writers are like children; they want to hold on to what they think rightfully belongs to them. Some seem to have never gotten properly toilet-trained. Well, it’s time for all that to stop. Matt, again, has a good take on this:

So, of course, Trump refused to leave the job until forced, and of course he held on to material that clearly belonged in public hands. When the presidency is an acquisition rather than an opportunity to serve, then everything that comes with it is rightfully yours to do with as you please.

Of course I don’t work for the government though I have done contract work for the Navy and government agencies in the past. I have no idea whether any of that stuff might be classified, but it’s  doubtful. So who really cares? I wave the wand of declassification anyway. Let ‘em come to Mexico and search my 58 bedrooms.

Shooting Up My Old Hometown

I grew up in Highland Park and always felt that kind of fondness you have for the place you take for granted and call home. When the shooting started and the reports came rattling in, I couldn’t believe how affected I was. These graphic photos, however, showed a place very different than any I remembered from some sixty years (and more) ago.

The last time I had been there was for my 50th high school reunion in 2002. I really began to form my values in those years at Highland Park High School, where I met and formed great friends and began to learn about the world. The reunion did bring that time back, but the shooting unraveled all those memories, like running a movie in reverse.

I began to detach from home when I went to college, then returned for graduate school at the University of Chicago. But Highland Park was where my father and grandfather built their houses and their lives, so it was always a point of return for me. Chicago I loved but it was never home.

A lot of years have intervened between then and now. My life has taken so many turns since Highland Park that the town seems entirely divorced from my present existence yet so basic to it. This hometown shooting intruded on my expat life like a clap of thunder that wakes you from a deep sleep.

“How dare that freaky sonofabitch massacre those innocent people?” you ask. The answer, of course, is that these mass shootings will continue as long as our doddering political system permits them.

More than when I lived there, Highland Park represents the flourishing of the now-defunct American dream. It gets much media attention because of its affluence and image. Unlike the atrocities in Buffalo and Uvalde, the town has a good police force, the resources to recover, and the attention of a few more angry people like Governor J.B. Pritzker who just might make a difference.

Teaching in a Troubled Time

Our present turmoils have brought me to remember how violent the Vietnam years were, how frequent and widespread the disruptions were, and how we protested and coped. We will likely be in for a lot more of the same now. Have we learned anything from those disruptive Vietnam times? I gave up teaching years ago but my students taught me some lessons.

I was teaching literature at City College in New York in the early ‘70s when the Vietnam disaster was at its height. I had been protesting against the war for years, but now many schools were shutting down, and I remember feeling disdain for the kids who would take over Columbia but without any kind of program. They had to have an agenda if they wanted to accomplish anything, or so I thought. It took a while for me to learn that protests don’t work that way.

It was a very heady and disconcerting time. Columbia was in the throes of protests and takeovers, and they spread to City College. When most of our classes were cancelled, my students still asked to meet in my apartment and other places. They wanted to discuss and learn about literature. So we carried on, for maybe four or five sessions, and finally classes resumed.

Discussing 19th century French poetry while the war was raging and anger in the streets was rising just seemed futile and absurd. Yet there was a sense that doing this provided us a modicum of sanity and substance. I was still trying to be the voice of rationality: when my students began denouncing Nixon, I said (rather smugly), “The nation gets the president it deserves.” Than we all took a break to listen to jazz.

The Vietnam war gave liberals a focus for action. It’s clear that the protests (and the losses) finally did have their effect, changing the political will of those in power. The situation today is much more complex and grievously more dire. There are literally too many fires to put out:

All these calamities (and which did I forget?) are on the cusp of plaguing us for years to come. There are no clear-cut, nicely defined ways to deal with any of them. The plague of Vietnam, we thought then, could be addressed with focused political action. That effort drove Lyndon Johnson from office. Now we have daunting polarization, shifting targets and much-reduced political firepower.

Somehow, I take from my teaching years a faith in the generations to come and their eagerness to learn about literature in the face of a world that they thought was collapsing. I was about ten years older than most of my students—not too old to learn from them. Among other things, they taught me that political order is never fixed, that protests finally can work, and that we ignore the humanities at our peril.

Beyond Words

Fox News Offices this morning

I’ve just reviewed a ton of reactions to the January 6 Committee’s first hearing last night. If the hearings could change one person’s mind, that would be a positive. Other than repeating what the many opinionists have been saying, I don’t know what to add that would shed any great light or express how utterly awful the state of the United States union is.

Nor can I bring myself to write something that would be clever or penetrating. Taking that kind of approach now seems flippant and self-serving. We need fewer of these pronouncements, of which Jonathan Chait provides a good example. Writers seem to be captivated by others’ opinions, whether it be about guns, race, Trump or January 6. Yet one who tries for original thoughts on such subjects is not heeded, he’s just ignored.

The problems confronting the U.S. seem intractable. So, despite all the noise they make, the voters en masse basically ignore their solutions. I’m at the stage where I still keep devouring products of the multi-headed media, only finally to disregard much of what is said. The media is too much with us.

So I’m going to beg off blog writing for a while—until and unless I get my voice back. Let’s all take a break and go to the beach.

A Modest Proposal for the Gun Predicament

Some of you may remember Jonathan Swift’s grand satire on how to deal with the Irish potato famine. He proposed selling babies of the starving poor as food for the greedy rich. Present-day Republicans have gone Swift one better, allowing children to be killed so they can have their guns. And they do this with none of Swift’s irony.

As one of a few who realize how far gone we are, Michelle Goldberg writes:

Guns are now the leading cause of death for American children. Many conservatives consider this a price worth paying for their version of freedom. Our institutions give these conservatives disproportionate power whether or not they win elections. The filibuster renders the Senate largely impotent.

Others express “an overwhelming sentiment” too that nothing is going to change. McConnell’s proposal to look for compromise with the Democrats is just smoke that will dissipate in testy negotiations. Far-right Republicans have proven they prefer violence over compromise. Goldberg  again:

the more America is besieged by senseless violence, the more the paramilitary wing of the American right is strengthened. Gun sales tend to rise after mass shootings. Republicans responded to the massacre in Uvalde by doubling down on calls to arm teachers and “harden” schools.

The history of gun control attempts in this country is a pathetic tale of one failed attempt after another. When I worked in Washington, I recall meeting with the people who worked so hard to get the Brady Bill passed. It did pass in 1994 and the NRA mobilized to kill it four years later. Despite the carnage in Uvalde and Buffalo, I can’t imagine any serious gun control legislation making it through Congress.

Efforts by Republicans in Congress have a long history of universally shooting down every legislative attempt to attack the problem. Every sensible person knows this, yet even now they talk about fig-leaf proposals that cannot properly address the problem. Background checks and red flags will never begin to eliminate the deep culture of gun violence in the U.S. The sorry history of all this is well documented here, and the Supreme Court has long thrown up major impediments and will continue to do so.

And yet, as many of you know, most Americans want very much to “do something” about gun violence—now more than ever. But Republicans are overwhelmingly captive to their conservative, mostly rural, constituents who could conceivably vote them out of office for waffling on guns. Toadies like John Barrasso of Wyoming say things like, “We don’t want to take away the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

So the many people like him, who have been obstructionists to gun reform for as long as I can remember, are the problem. And they will never vote to reform the filibuster, which keeps their minority in power.

So my modest proposal is: just throw the Republicans out. Vote them all out. What else is there to do? They will not change their goal of holding up any and all attempts at gun control, and they have proven that you’ll get no realistic gun reforms while they hold the legislature at bay.

To accomplish this and win back at least the Senate, Democrats will have to make gun reform the absolute centerpiece of their campaigns in the midterms and beyond. Joe Biden and others with any clout will have to speak out in every kind of forum and at every opportunity. For once, they will have to get nasty and loud, and stop playing games of reconciliation with the enemy.

Who knows if this long-shot strategy would work? There is no more real collegiality left anyway. Maybe the voters would finally appreciate some straight talk about how one corrupt party would sacrifice their kids for more guns.

Drinking Heavily and Watching Out for Cockroaches

For some, expat life means socializing and keeping up. The latter activity includes hanging out with friends, gossiping, volunteering for good causes, eating out frequently. Many women I know in Oaxaca spend a lot of time doing these things. I applaud them for it.

Others, both men and women, seem to spend an inordinate amount of time drinking. It’s not just loneliness and cultural disruption, as the common opinion has it. There are two main causes for expat boozIng: one is boredom; the other is disgust with the U.S. political/cultural scene. One more article on Elon Musk and Twitter and I’m ready for a martini.

I don’t socialize a lot, but friends and I have a weekly poker game, which always includes an open bar. Reading, writing, cursing out CNN and the news, and listening to music are activities I pursue to recover my sanity. I’m less addicted to booze than in years past, a good thing.

Oaxaca is in the tropics, after all, and that means cockroaches are always lurking or present. (Don’t believe people who say they never see them.) My compañera in our new house brought her cat here, and that seems to have eliminated most of the problem—but not entirely.

So I conduct roach patrol every morning and stomp on the bastards when I find them. They are not that numerous now, but we older white males seem to have a particular aversion to them. Why is that?

Expats who have adjusted here learn to live with bugs, along with the everyday difficulties of dealing with Mexican bureaucracies, AMLO’s idiotic pronouncements and decisions, the killing of journalists, and the still-horrific numbers of drug murders. To live a life without depending on booze, one must push these things to the background.

It’s pretty much the same with roaches. They are wily creatures who will be here long after humans are gone. Unless you have a bad infestation, just whack ‘em when you see ‘em and, if it’s cocktail hour, pour yourself a short drink.

The pleasures and joys of living here as an expat require one to acquire a certain calmness in the face of mostly unsolvable problems. If you don’t develop that, the booze could take over.

You Think We Got Troubles Now?

Here’s Hunter S. Thompson, one of my favorites, on the situation in 2003:

The U.S. Treasury is empty, we are losing that stupid, fraudulent chickenshit War in Iraq, and every country in the world except a handful of Corrupt Brits despises us. We are losers, and that is the one unforgiveable sin in America. . . .

The American nation is in the worst condition I can remember in my lifetime, and our prospects for the immediate future are even worse. I am surprised and embarrassed to be a part of the first American generation to leave the country in far worse shape than it was when we first came into it. Our highway system is crumbling, our police are dishonest, our children are poor, our vaunted Social Security, once the envy of the world, has been looted and neglected and destroyed by the same gang of ignorant greed-crazed bastards who brought us Vietnam, Afghanistan, the disastrous Gaza Strip and ignominious defeat all over the world.

 . . . . We are like pygmies lost in a maze of haze. We are not at war, we are having a nervous breakdown, again.” (2004)

Michael Brendan Dougherty, writing Friday about the Alito opinion in National Review:

Alito’s drafted opinion manages to do what so few essays and treatises taking up this subject can do: be truthful and shrewd. The publication of this opinion was a sin. But O felix culpa, this opinion should be anthologized with all the greatest writing on the topic of abortion in the United States.

Maureen Dowd in The New York Times on Alito:

Samuel Alito’s antediluvian draft opinion is the Puritans’ greatest victory since they expelled Roger Williams from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Alito is a familiar type in American literature: the holier-than-thou preacher, so overzealous in his attempts to rein in female sexuality and slap on a scarlet letter that one suspects he must be hiding some dark yearnings of his own.

Have the Dems Finally Found a Voice?

Years ago I coached political people in how to give effective speeches. Only a few had the kind of controlled passion that Michigan Senator Mallory McMorrow demonstrated last month. She understood that a speech has to be very personal if it’s going to move you. It has to reflect who you really are.

With the furor aroused by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade debacle, you can be sure that women will dominate the discourse to come. Most men sound foolish and presumptive discussing abortion. Women will inevitably put the issues on a personal level. They will be the best political weapon the Democrats have.

More on Vinyl

Collecting vinyl is a disease, according to a few women I’ve known. (Most women don’t tolerate music played loud either—but you knew that.) In quantities vinyl is heavy, it’s fussy to play, and it scratches easily. Trying to move a big collection takes strong backs, a lot of boxes, and a truck. Vinyl fanciers do have to admit to these charges.

These attributes plus the advent of streaming music killed off vinyl for a long time. Now it’s having a renaissance as witnessed by growing sales numbers and lots of Kumbaya cyber celebration. Google News tells me in the morning about new vinyl pressing plants going online.

So what’s the appeal? I wrote earlier about the better sound of vinyl and how, for me, that makes all the fussiness worthwhile. With the advent of fairly cheap plug-and-play turntables, vinyl becomes accessible to a growing audience of mostly younger fans who relish its kind of tactile connectedness to their music.

But the physicality of picking up a record and placing it on a platter—and the need to get out of my chair to flip it when it hits the run-out groove on side A—has me appreciating each song all the more. Plus, the wonder of seeing a spinning disc with grooves producing harmonic sound never fades.

I’m too old and long in the tooth with vinyl to get a rush like that. For me it’s the warm sound, plus the psycho-physical need to focus on the music, as if you were in a concert hall. Streaming audio (even with expensive high-resolution downloads) forces music to fit into the mental background of what you are doing. The writer of the above quote gets this, and it’s a big factor: “The music isn’t hiding in the background, as it is when I’m streaming digitally. Instead, it’s front and center.”

London’s Financial Times, an unusual source, tells us that vinyl sales for 2021 went over a billion dollars, the highest level in 30 years. Investors rush to acquire music catalogs and copyrights. The calculus of payoffs to all artists (not just the superstars) changes for the better, and that’s been a long time coming.

A band with 1mn fans, each streaming their new album 100 times in a single month, need only get 20,000 of them to buy the vinyl record to gross the same amount. For consumers, vinyl albums resuscitate a culture of gifting and compilations that used to drive a fifth of all transactions.

So it’s not just the big stars but all the scuffling musicians who make out better with vinyl. And so do the listeners.