Kim Jong-un Funny #2

Telling a joke…

The Kim Jong-un Funnies – Collect them all!

* * *

Advertisements

Manchester: Hive of Industry

The Internet is all abuzz with this lighthearted tribute to Manchester, Mancunians, science fiction, and bees. But is the author simply winging it?

Last Tuesday was the one year anniversary of the tragic terrorist attack at a Manchester concert venue which killed twenty-two people and injured hundreds more. The day was marked by prayers, speeches, tears, floral tributes, and capped by a mass sing-along in Albert Square estimated at over ten thousand people:

I always think singing says more than sermons, but I did watch part of the services at Manchester Cathedral live via YouTube.

I had written something serious at the time of the event last year. But as laughter is also good medicine, I thought I’d post something funny about Manchester’s renewed identification with the bee as a symbol of– what, exactly?

An article in The Guardian suggests: ‘Peaceful but not to be messed with’ – how the bee came to symbolise Manchester. Apparently, Manchester’s cotton mills were once colloquially known as beehives.

The beehive in pop culture: a hairdo.

But neither industriousness nor spikiness seem the qualities which formed the iconography of bees after the 2017 terrorist attack. Rather, it’s as if the Mancunian hive mind suddenly hit on cheerfulness as a quality of bees. They don’t give in to despair or melancholia, don’t isolate themselves and pine. They stay together, fly right, and keep to their schedules. They carry on producing sweet honey.

A cute, cheerful bee courtesy the People’s History Museum in Manchester

Like Mancunians post May 2017, bees are also an endangered species:

And in a diverse city which can’t always agree on words, the bee may be a shared icon which transcends language, a visual code signifying oneness and positivity. In a city where people practice many religions (or none at all), the bee may have become a universal symbol for feelings that would otherwise get lost in translation.

But how does science fiction treat the bee, particularly bad or camp sci-fi? This pressing question, pondered by sages, is precisely what we’ll tackle in the clips below:

Before viewing our next sci-fi clip, let’s take a short musical break. After all, the lilting melodies of Rimsky-Korsakov might have a soothing effect on bees:

Bees! Are you soothed and sleepy yet? If not, perhaps the style was too vigorous. What we need is a more innocent, childlike approach:

Still not sleepy? Well, tonight’s Late Late Late Show happens to feature:

In response to such an eccentric artefact from the 70s, one can only wax philosophical and say: It be what it be…

Conclusion

Clearly, cheerfulness and industry are not the only qualities we can ascribe to bees. Their hive minds may strike some as a threat to human individuality, and their female superior culture can easily be twisted into a femme fatale meme.

Their industriousness might be given a murderous bent by the perennial mad beekeeper. And even the casual stray bee has proven a nuisance to Wimbledon competitors. But I think Mancunians have the right idea in staying busy and cheerful.

The Manchester Evening News reports that the Tree of Hope established after the Manchester bombing is now home to a colony of bees.

Bonus Clip
Potent Quote

“But I still don’t understand what motivated them.” –Captain Peters (Cliff Osmond) at the end of Invasion of the Bee Girls

MSTie Trivia

When riffing on The Deadly Bees, Crow T. Robot suggests these book titles:

  • How To Raise Bees To Kill People
  • Beekeeping for Lunatics
  • Apiaries for the Criminally Insane

Mike Nelson: Just for today I thought I’d communicate as the bees do.
Tom Servo: Bees communicate through movement and odour.
Mike Nelson: I’ll just be using movement.

MST3K’s Michael J. Nelson dressed as a bee, flanked by robots Crow and Tom Servo.

Souvenir Shop

This lovely bee girl ring as worn by Anitra Ford is available from manchestersouvenirs.co.uk. JK

Barnburner Encore
Riddle

What does this post have in common with the New Testament?
Answer: They’re both concerned with bee attitudes!

* * *

No More Targets!

What makes people hunt other people like animals, or hunt animals for that matter? Let’s explore a clip from the movie Targets, a UK demo against fox hunting, a great song from The Pentangle, and a rare reference to the Hunt Saboteurs in Doctor Who. But first this bunny hugger rabbits on a bit…

I feel like I’m in a grim version of Groundhog Day where every day I wake up to another school shooting, the latest in Santa Fe, Texas.

A talking head stressed that people in the community often feel like they’re to blame in some way, but said they’re absolutely not to blame — the only ones to blame are those who continue to oppose sensible gun laws. Though largely true, this is an oversimplification. We desperately need sensible gun laws, but the kind of society we have collectively created is also a factor in random acts of violence.

Our society is increasingly impersonal, based on material goods, mass entertainment, and high technology. Because we’ve not been able to agree on certain core values, we fail to teach them to the children in our schools. We need to help children foster peace, insight, compassion, and a sense that each human being has worth because he or she is created in the image of God. Or, if the latter idea about God has become too controversial, then let us at least teach them that there is something at the core of the human spirit which is noble, and that in spite of quarreling, in spite of suffering at each other’s hands, we must not harm human life or wantonly take the life of another.

I had to arrive at these ideas through some effort — certainly my parents and schoolteachers never explained them to me, though there were one or two teachers who created a caring space in which positive human values emerged naturally. And later on in life, as I began to consciously explore spirituality, I had a wonderful teacher in the person of Sri Chinmoy, who was a fount of all those good qualities with which we would hope to imbue our children.

But like many from my generation, I had already suffered greatly in adulthood before discovering these truths. It is much better if children receive good grounding in spiritual or (as a fail-safe) humanistic values before they have to confront the challenges of the adult world, which may include brutal competition to survive economically, as well as temptations to merely anesthetize oneself. There are many factors underlying the present opioid crisis, but certainly two factors are the sense of hopelessness which some people feel, and the view (reinforced by endless TV commercials for wonder drugs) that chemicals are the way to solve our problems, regardless of dreadful side effects (masked by pictures of puppies romping, children playing, kites flying, and lovers holding hands).

I suppose a third factor is the ultra-rationalist belief that we are merely collections of chemicals, that consciousness is a phenomenon which arises from chemical reactions, and that when our bodies die, our consciousness, our entire existence, dies with it. Some other time, I’ll discuss at length the “God delusion” and simulation theory as further hindrances to spirituality. The point is that these various views of human life as essentially meaningless estrange us from those truths which we need in order to value each other, to recognize the sacredness of human life, and to come to feel deeply that we would never want to kill a fellow human being.

I’m sometimes critical of our political leaders — the present batch in the White House being particularly corrupt and unenlightened. But I can also see things from their point of view. These are people who subscribe to materialism (perhaps having inherited it as their default view), and who feel driven to strive for money and fame — much more than any of us actually need. Lacking grounding in higher values, they are obsessed with money, sex, and power, and are eager to destroy each other in order to scramble to the top of the scrap heap.

Without making this another rant against Donald Trump, one thing I hear repeatedly from talking heads is that he’s never had to pay a price for doing dirt to people. His (possibly ill-gotten) riches have allowed him to pay off those he’s wronged (when forced to), like enrollees at Trump University. His campaign of hatred against the noble Barack Obama has not hurt Trump appreciably, nor has his womanizing. To the extent that the president is a role model for the nation, this particular role model confirms the worst materialist suspicions: that you get ahead in life by being a creep and throwing your weight around. Do it to the other guy before he does it to you! Truth is whatever the guy with the biggest megaphone, biggest bank account, and biggest army says it is! In this sense, it may be argued that materialism leads to authoritarianism.

But again, a critical issue is that there are seemingly no consequences for wrong action. The reason human justice is often harsh — amounting to years of torture in subhuman conditions — is that we do not collectively understand or believe in the law of karma. We view things from a narrow human time frame, and mistakenly assume that because someone like Donald Trump can act like the worst sort of blaggard and yet become president, therefore we should adopt a crude, materialist view of life. This is the lesson our children learn by osmosis from Trump’s ascent to power.

Spiritual insight tells us, however, that just because we do not see the punishment with our human eyes does not mean there is no punishment for wrong action. In this life we may act like the worst kind of corrupt king, but in the next life we may be born a blind beggar who has to fight with dogs for scraps of food.

When we throw out many spiritual insights acquired over the ages — including the insight that “As you sow, so shall you reap,” this has destructive ripple effects throughout society, including an increase in a particular type of mass shooter psychosis. Here, a person is seized by the notion that he will kill dozens of people and then kill himself, and that will be the end of it. He does not realize that for causing unimaginable suffering to dozens of people, he himself will have to undergo terrible suffering — if not in this world, then in the next.

So, to come back to my original point, there will always be a small percentage of insane shooters; and sensible gun laws can limit the amount of damage they inflict. But to the extent that we collectively subscribe to the view that human life is meaningless and valueless, and that there are no lasting consequences for wrong action; and where we construct a technocratic society devoid of human empathy; and where we fail to teach our children ideals of peace, love, and compassion, and fail to instill in them a proper understanding of the laws of the universe (which exist independently of our human codes and statutes), then we do bear some limited responsibility for mass shootings.

Of course, I don’t mean this in a fundamentalist “fire and brimstone” sense. I mean simply that we share in the societal environment we create. If we pollute that environment instead of tending to it with care, we may end up with freak weather conditions or mass shootings. We need to be more conscious of what we do, and not inflict harm through carelessness.

As a child, I had Grimm’s Fairy Tales, some of which were truly horrifying. I still remember the mean girl who “trod on a loaf.” She pulled the wings off flies, and then in hell the flies settled on her and could not fly away because she had pulled off all their wings.

There’s a lesson in environmentalism here. As human beings, we are collectively stewards of this beautiful planet which God created, or which arose spontaneously from His Soul. As president Kennedy remarked in a famous commencement address at American University in 1963:

Let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.

Much of the speech in question dealt with peace. This brings me back to a theme I’ve oft sounded in response to mass shootings: Peace studies. It will help us to recognize (one might even say “admit”) that in an increasingly technocratic age, what we lack is compassion, insight, empathy, and inner peace. To recognize this is a kind of breakthrough; for only when we recognize the lack of something do we consciously seek it out, find methods to cultivate and attain it. To realize that we are presently lacking in certain core qualities which make us truly human is not to take a negative or defeatist approach. Rather, it is to take a positive, proactive approach to diagnosing our present malaise — of which opioid addiction, random shootings, and political corruption are only symptoms.

The qualities which we presently lack cannot be forced on society or on any individual; but as individuals we can become more conscious, and so help to foster a more conscious society in which hatred is less, injustice is less, and children grow up feeling loved and protected rather than like walking targets.

Segueing into the promised media clips: Targets was the name of a 1968 Peter Bogdanovich film dealing with the inexplicable (and impersonal) quality of mass shootings:

2018 is (ironically) the fifty year anniversary of Targets, but we are still dealing with the modern “flattening effect” or loss of empathy. The film is more complex than a one-dimensional study of a social phenomenon, however. It features multiple perspectives, and includes Boris Karloff as Byron Orlock, a retiring horror actor who is nonetheless a principled, old-school gentleman repulsed by violence in real life — but who tells a chilling story in this scene:

Learn more about Targets (which is partly based on real life mass shootings) from these two insightful YouTube reviews:


From hunting human beings we transition to hunting animals. The royal hunt plays a grand role in the history of England; and of the various political factions which exist in the UK, monarchists and Tories are perhaps most inclined to support a continuation of that tradition, while British Labour tends to champion animal rights.

Arguably the best British folk group from the late 60s/early 70s was The Pentangle, and their 1969 album Basket of Light included a remarkable flight of fancy called “Hunting Song”:

Much as I love it, the lyrics contain an element of cruelty:

As I did travel all on a journey
Over the wayside and under a dark moon
Hanging above a mountain

I spied a young man riding a fine horse
Chasing a white hart and all through the woodland
Head of a hunting party

And there followed after ten kings and queens
Laughing and joking, the white hart they’d seen
Bloodied running into the bushes…

Perhaps this cavalier, privileged attitude on the part of the hunting gentry is what spawned a counter-movement known as the Hunt Saboteurs (or “Sabs”), who first emerged in the winter of ’63 and continue on to this day, interfering in hunts by various physical means.

A rare (if fleeting) tribute to the Hunt Saboteurs occurs in the 1989 Doctor Who story “Survival” — the last story broadcast during the “classic” period. There, Ace (played by Sophie Aldred), visits her old stomping ground of Perivale in West London. Most of her friends have mysteriously disappeared, but one friend (Ange, played by Kate Eaton) is still around, looking waiflike with her collecting tin for the Sabs:

The story is interesting for a number of reasons, not least that it serves up an inversionist view of hunting, with catlike creatures on horseback hunting humans! (More here.)

doctor-who-survival-cheetah-person-cat-person-karra

Fast forward to 2017, when Prime Minister Theresa May threatened to end the UK’s ban on fox hunting, thereby spawning some lovely, creative, colourful, and humourous demos by animal rights activists:

While it’s always risky to characterize or stereotype entire movements, I think many animal rights activists are motivated by a sense of compassion and caring, and an insight that we are all fellow creatures on this planet. We should treat each other well and not hunt each other. In short: No more targets!

I don’t mean to be simplistic. With slogans like “Save a fox, hunt a Tory,” protesters are obviously embracing an element of class warfare. And as with all movements, animal rights can devolve into fanaticism or the assumption that “We are absolute good, you are absolute evil.” At one time, culling the fox population through hunts perhaps made more sense than it does today.

Earlier I mentioned TV commercials we have in the US made by drug manufacturers, where a long list of scary side effects is recited while viewers are shown pictures of puppies, children, kites flying, and lovers holding hands — certainly no pictures of the actual health catastrophes being enumerated! In other words, propaganda.

Likewise, the notoriously anti-liberal Daily Mail ran a pro fox-hunting spread with seemingly dozens of high definition colour photos. Lots of puppy dogs licking children’s faces, pretty ladies and handsome gentlemen in full riding regalia (including UKIP’s Nigel Farage), but not a single dead fox. Just sayin’…

Apart from all the politics, I must say I find it easier to identify with the beautiful people who turned out for the anti fox-hunting demo — though I suspect that somewhere among them might have been Edina Monsoon wearing one of her more eccentric outfits.

An alternative to harming living creatures is the mock fox hunt pictured here:

This first person account titled “Adventures in Mock Fox Hunting!” is less visual, but more informative.

Not to digress, but our curious commercial culture is such that generic nouns are frequently appropriated by companies for their own ends. In searching Google for “mock fox,” I had to wade through a number of commercial listings before getting to “the real animal.” FOR FOX SAKE!!!

And to really not digress, we could move from mock foxes to mock turtles, like the one Alice encountered in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This in turn inspired a song by the Bruford band called “Fainting in Coils:

As a youthful maniac in search of ultimate guitar chops, I was led not only to Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, but also to the slightly-less-well-known Alan Holdsworth, who did some of his best work with Bill Bruford’s group. (Their styles are somewhat opposite: McLaughlin tends to pick every note (like Django Reinhardt), while Holdsworth (who also plays violin) makes extensive use of legato technique.) But there’s no way I’m going to get from there back to my original topic, so no point even trying. Heavens to Murgatroyd! (Exit, stage left.)

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Potent Quote

“Not a very efficient way to hunt, is it? All that noise and pantomime just to slaughter one little animal.” — Doctor Who (Sylvester McCoy) from “Survival”

Bonus Clips



* * *

Top 10 Ways to Avoid Watching the Royal Wedding

Warning: Contains herring

I know you don’t want to watch the Royal Wedding. But you might be tempted, cajoled or bullied into it. You need excuses. I be providing…

1. Spend the day in quiet contemplation of your navel (unless your navel comes equipped with a 24-hour news channel).

2. Move to Windsor, and hope that (as with other sporting events) the Royal Wedding is subject to local blackout.

3. Arrange a different type of blackout by hanging out with your local wino, making a detailed examination of his Thunderbird collection.

4. Hijack a plane to Lithuania, and spend the day touring local facilities:

(Lithuania! White, smiling, and composed in 7/4 time. No speed limits on bicycles, and 25 litas buys you a loft the size of Pittsburgh. Pizza with assorted prewar car parts is the local delicacy.)

5. Smother yourself in cream sauce and pretend to be a herring!

(Hiding in the jar ensures that no one can find you and spritz you with Royal Wedding pics.)

Ways 5 to 10

To be filled in by reader. Be creative, but non-violent! Anything excessively kinky will be forwarded to the proper authorities.

This post brought to you by Invest Lithuania, coming soon to a pup tent near you. Mr. Hiatus Lemon-Elderflower, fund advisor.

* * *

Kim Jong-un Funny #1

Prepping hard for summit

According to reports emerging from the hermit kingdom, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is hard at work preparing for his June summit with President Trump. Just as we in the West find it difficult to comprehend the politics and culture of a land so foreign, our Eastern counterparts evidently have a reciprocal problem. It’s hard for even Americans to make sense of our present government; but with the aid of a jerry-built gizmo, the North Korean leader hopes to become inured to its subtleties.

The Kim Jong-un Funnies – Collect them all!

* * *

Will The Real Mr. Magoo Please Stand Up?

Mr. Magoo, the animation world’s tribute to blind capitalism

The president’s spinners are (metaphorically) exercising their diaphragms. As a counterpoint, let’s take a mystery tour through film, TV and literature, sampling everything from Rocky and Bullwinkle to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

According to Washington scuttlebutt, Donald Trump has a pet name for Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Mr. Magoo. But implicit in Rudy Giuliani’s recent statements to the press is the claim that Trump paid attorney Michael D. Cohen approximately $460,000 blindly, without knowing the reason. This rather absurd claim is being made by Trump loyalists in an effort to thread the needle. Trump supposedly knew enough about the things Cohen was “fixing” to pay him $460,000, yet had no specific knowledge of the Stormy Daniels payment.

If Sarah Sanders has lost all credibility as press secretary, perhaps she could be retrained to function as a seeing eye dog — that is, if Trump is really blind and not just faking. No slush fund would be needed to meet with her expenses. An occasional crumb of truth should square things with The Sarah, if not too much of a shock to her system.

On the other hand, when it comes to spinning tales about Trump’s dalliances, Kellyanne Conway may deserve the nod as top service dog. Capping a week of not-to-be-believed moments, Conway appeared on State of the Union last Sunday, claiming that when Trump stated point blank aboard Air Force One on April 5 that he had no knowledge of the payment to Stormy Daniels, he was referring to his knowledge back in 2016, not his present day knowledge. Jake Tapper soldiered on with grim determination:

Conway’s phrase “democratization of information” (referring specifically to the president’s tweets) is a novel way of saying “oppression of the masses through short, targeted nuggets of propaganda aimed at a fifth grade reading level.”

Her implication that the end justifies the means, and that a 3.9% unemployment rate excuses Trump for being a walking embarrassment in most respects, is infuriating to people who know that the present downward trend in unemployment began during the Obama era, and that in addition to (ideally) forming sound policies, a president must also be truthful and well-spoken.

It pains me to think that if you manage to (temporarily) stuff an extra $10 a week in the pocket of the average worker, he or she might not care about the stench of corruption wafting from this White House. Is that what America has come to? Maybe it’s time sell off the Statue of Liberty, or turn it into a Trump-style combination casino and knocking shop.

At one point in the interview, Conway mistakenly cites T. S. Eliot, giving me an excuse to chime in:

As we measure out our lives with coffee spoons,
Do we dare to say impeach?

She also references “the sheer volume and velocity” of what Trump puts out in “just one breakneck week.” I shudder to think, volume and velocity of what? I’ll wager he ensures full employment for that little mustachioed man who cleans up after the parade:

Yes friends, a parade of corruption the volume and velocity of Trump’s will require a huge (or bigly) cleanup effort — and not everything left sitting in piles on the street will be rose petals.

I’ve remarked in the past that this administration has bad energy and attracts sharklike folk who lie shamefacedly. What more can one say? I’m reminded of an offhand comment by Chris Matthews that Nixon had a sense of shame which Trump lacks. While Nixon agreed to resign in the end, Trump may have to be dragged kicking and screaming from the White House, surrounded by flunkies claiming that he hasn’t really been indicted or impeached. It’s all Fake News. “Ride a painted pony, let the spinning wheel spin!”

Our march of memes to describe a clumsily corrupt administration rolls on. We know things will end badly, but how many light bulbs will get broken at the end of the day? In this regard, it’s well to remember that in the annals of the unsighted, before Mr. Magoo there was Mr. Muckle:

And lesser-known than either is the “help me” guy from Rocket Attack U.S.A.:

Now if that isn’t an apt meme for the Trump administration, I don’t know what is! Except possibly “Hodge Podge Lodge,” a locale found in the original Mr. Magoo cartoon from 1949:

One imagines the main dish served at Hodge Podge Lodge is word salad — a concoction Trump’s PR flacks routinely fling chimplike at reporters, as does Trump himself. In “100 Days of Gibberish,” Guardian contributor Lindy West quotes this passage from an April 2017 AP interview with The Donald:

Well he said, you’ll be the greatest president in the history of, but you know what, I’ll take that also, but that you could be. But he said, will be the greatest president but I would also accept the other. In other words, if you do your job, but I accept that. Then I watched him interviewed and it was like he never even was here. It’s incredible. I watched him interviewed a week later and it’s like he was never in my office. And you can even say that.

— Donald Trump (full transcript here)

West describes Trump’s rhetorical style as “untethered from both meaning and reality.” Imagine trying to translate him into French or Japanese! Quoted in the Japan Times, Chikako Tsuruta says: “He is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid.”

The Japanese prefer polite speech, so translating Trump’s off-color remarks laced with epithets attacking his enemies points to “a long-standing dilemma dogging the profession — whether to sanitize the words of a controversial speaker.” Still, if you eliminated everything that’s crude, illogical, or untethered from reality, you’d be left performing John Cage’s famous 4’33” of silence:

Between Trump and the chattering class responding to him, silence is needed now more than ever — that and peaceful morning meditation music.

Other than flinging word salad, distracting attention is another technique favoured by Trump flacks: Don’t look at Russian collusion, look over here at this banjo-playing bear!

Getting the public gradually accustomed to shocking news also seems to be a thing. It’s no secret that the endless scandals plaguing this administration can lead to outrage fatigue. Some suggest that this is being cynically milked. Take Rudy Giuliani’s series of inane TV appearances, such as his recent interview with George Stephanopoulos:

Like Conway, little by little Giuliani is trying to normalize the phenomenon of Trump having a slush fund to pay off porn stars. Of course that’s what all celebrities and “people of worth” do. And taking the Fifth? Well natch the president wouldn’t want to answer questions from a special counsel engaged in a WITCH HUNT!!! Trump taking the Fifth is as American as motherhood and apple pie.

Watching the interview and harkening back to the Japanese issue of genteel speech, I wonder: At what point does “the president’s top attorney” become “a slippery bastard who can’t be nailed down on even the simplest of facts”? (Gomenasai.)

As Stephen Colbert points out, a recent Trump tweet included the phrase “There is no O…”

For those familiar with James Thurber’s brilliant book The Wonderful O, this sounds an ominous gong of totalitarianism. For as Thurber noted, if the letter “O” were outlawed, we should have to throw out everything from cellos and mandolins to calico and clocks — even the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act so prized by pork-lovers in Congress — which itself would have to be outlawed, except that we should need a different word, since even the word “outlawed” would be outlawed, along with Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump.

Come to think of it, I could probably give up calico and clocks in exchange for losing Stormy and Donald. But playing the mandolin… Ah, now that would be a true sacrifice.

The Sleeping Gypsy, by Henri Rousseau (1897)

Sidebar: Break it to me gently

The 90s TV show Northern Exposure was a treasure trove of practical philosophical wisdom, including tips on breaking bad news gently. It was set in the mythical town of Cicely, Alaska, where events took on an air of magical realism, such as a man fusing with a satellite which re-enters earth’s atmosphere piping hot.

The unfortunate victim is Rick (Maggie O’Connell’s boyfiend), and it falls to Dr. Joel Fleischman to break the news. Feeling awkward and tongue-tied, he resorts to telling a joke:

Joel (uncomfortable): Hi Maggie, how are things?

Maggie: Rick didn’t come home last night, okay? If he wants to behave like a child, then let him! I mean, if I have to be the bad guy, okay! But I am not going to have another death on my hands! I mean, alright, I admit it, I do — I’m sensitive. I’ve lost four boyfriends. Four! Do you know how that feels? And of course I ask myself, is that me? Is it something I do? What is it, Fleischman? You want to tell me something, I can tell by your face.

Joel (uneasy): Yes. Yes… I do. I want to tell you something. A joke!

Maggie: A joke?

Joel: Yeah! You see, this guy goes on a trip and he leaves his cat with his friend. Well, he calls his friend and asks how the cat is. His friend says, “The cat is dead.” The guy says, “Geez! God! Couldn’t you break the news to me a little more gently? You know, lead into it: Your cat crawled up on the roof, there was a loose tile and it took a little fall… like that?” Next month, the guy goes on another trip, calls his friend, and asks how his mom is. The guy says, “Well, she crawled up on the roof and there was a loose tile…”

Maggie (laughs): Not bad!

Joel (leans forward earnestly): Rick crawled up on the roof…

Taking their cue from this vignette, spinners for the president shouldn’t immediately let fly the news that Trump and Cohen conspired to establish a secret slush fund for paying off porn stars. Let them begin with a more genteel admission. Not “The cat crawled up on the roof,” but rather “Stormy Daniels went down on…” Oh, never mind!

(You see, you made it to the end, and there really was a Stormy Daniels joke.)

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

* * *

The Trump-Cohen Reptile Fund

Have you heard enough confusing statements from Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, and Sarah Sanders about the Stormy Daniels payoff?

Oh, you want more? Well, here’s Jimmy Kimmel’s wrap-up of last week’s events:

These multiple versions of reality begin to feel like slow torture. But the insanity doesn’t end there. Here’s a paragraph from Rudy Giulani’s walkback statement of May 4:

My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.

Now, if I didn’t know better I’d swear these guys are taking a page from the old Monty Python Confuse-A-Cat playbook, making an organized effort to produce inane results. (“I hope to God it works!”)

I’m also reminded of Schrödinger’s cat. It’s like in one version of reality, you open the box and Stormy Daniels is dead, traces of catnip trailing down her blouse; in another version of reality you open the box and she’s live and well, strutting her stuff.

In one version of reality, Donald Trump doesn’t know anything about a payment to Stormy Daniels; in another version of reality he and Michael Cohen have gamed it all out as early as February 2016, with Cohen taking out loans against his property to start a reptile fund that couldn’t be traced back to Trump, and Trump later reimbursing him via structured payments disguised as a “retainer.” Welcome to the Reptile of the Month Club! Only one in fifty reptiles makes it through our exclusive screening process…

As consumers of information, we are like readers of Philip K. Dick’s novel Martian Time-Slip, in which a character experiences a schizophrenic break with reality, and keeps reliving the same event multiple times — each time with a different outcome. (An aside: Someone uploaded the audiobook of Martian Time-Slip to a media site, and end users complained that there seemed to be something wrong with the audio — some parts repeat. They didn’t get it that the character is reliving the same event over and over again…)

In political dictatorships — whether left-wing or right-wing — reality is determined arbitrarily by the dictator.

In the spiritual realm, if we voluntarily seek the counsel of a teacher who embodies truth, then it can be very beneficial to see the truth through his or her eyes.

But in the realm of politics, when we are saddled with an uncouth and ignorant leader who keeps changing reality under our feet day after day, this is meant to wear us down and break our spirit as a people. It’s similar to interrogation techniques where a captive is subjected to psychological manipulation such that he must parrot the views of the interrogator (even knowing they are wrong), or else face torture. Take this Orwellian tableau:

O’Brien stands beside the bed, and Winston feels that O’Brien, who is the torturer, is also somehow a friend. The aim of O’Brien is to teach Winston the technique of doublethink, and he does this by inflicting pain of ever-increasing intensity. He reminds Winston that he wrote the sentence: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four.” O’Brien holds up four fingers of his left hand, and he asks Winston how many there are. Winston answers four a couple of times, and each time the pain increases (this is not done to make Winston lie, but to make him really see five fingers instead of four). At the end of the session, under heavy influence of drugs and agony, Winston really sees five fingers. Now Winston is ready to enter the second stage of his integration…

— from “Work: Summaries & Interpretations: Nineteen Eighty-Four”

This concept was borrowed for a very disturbing two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Chain of Command.” There, Captain Picard is tortured by his Cardassian captor in order to get him to say he sees five lights when there are only four. At this stage, the purpose is not to extract any particular information, but simply to enforce a relationship in which the interrogator controls the reality experienced by the target.

In a similar vein, Trump’s tweets and Sarah Sanders’s press briefings are meant to drive home the message that Reality is whatever we say it is. Facts don’t matter. What we said yesterday doesn’t matter. If we say the opposite today, that’s not changing our story.

It’s also like the Donovan song that toys with Zen Buddhism: “First there is a payment, then there is no payment, then there is.”

The president spoke to the NRA on Friday, and I saw no indication that he would keep his promises to families affected by the rash of school shootings:

(See also Trump’s America: Teachers With Guns.) So, we know that Trump doesn’t just lie about personal matters, but about substantive policy matters as well. We’re used to politicians lying, but sometimes a difference in degree amounts to a difference in kind.

This brings me back to a point I made in Trump’s Mental Fitness: An Expert Opinion. Impeachment is a political process. A political leader who lies constantly, who saps the strength of the nation, who cheapens truth, and who uses the mammoth megaphone of the presidency to say, in effect, that I alone determine the nature of reality, is not a fit leader. Whether or not he’s been found guilty of a crime is beside the point. In a democratic nation which values truth, he must be removed from office by constitutional means, because truth matters.

Sidebar: A Chinese mystery

In a post about Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant and other views of the immigrant experience, I mentioned Wayne Wang’s outstanding film Chan Is Missing. There, the main protagonist laments: “This mystery is appropriately Chinese. What’s not there seems to have just as much meaning as what is there.”

The same is true of Trump’s infamous Air Force One comments of April 5 to AP reporter Catherine Lucey. The video is usually truncated, omitting Lucey’s final question and what Trump does not say in response. Transcript:

Catherine Lucey: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

President Trump: No. No. What else?

Catherine Lucey: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to her allegations?

President Trump: Well, you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.

Catherine Lucey: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

President Trump: No, I don’t know. No.

Catherine Lucey: Did you ever set up a fund of money that he could draw from?

President Trump: [Silence — no response — ignores the question]

Trump seems extremely eager to issue vocal denials about the Stormy Daniels payoff; but when Lucey asks a question designed to get at whether there was a slush fund Cohen could have used to make the payment, Trump suddenly falls silent. We now know why.

While the details are still emerging (and the spinners are still spinning), today’s version of reality is that circa February 2016 (just after Trump had significant primary wins and began to look like a serious candidate), Michael D. Cohen may have begun setting up a campaign-related slush fund. He may have used personal funds from home-equity lines of credit as discussed in this Wall Street Journal article.

Later, as stated by Trump’s new personal attorney Rudolf Giuliani, President Trump reimbursed Cohen by means of monthly payments of $35,000, which Giuliani alleges were a “retainer” for Cohen’s services, even though (according to Giuliani) Cohen did “no work” for Trump during this later period in which the “retainer” (or repayment) was being serviced.

The possible implication is that in February 2016, Cohen (and/or Trump) recognized that one or more people would need to be paid off to get Trump through the election, and that the funds should not be directly traceable to Trump. Cohen therefore set up a slush fund using his personal finances, expecting to be reimbursed covertly by Trump later on, which appears to have been done.

While both Trump and Giuliani claim that the so-called “retainer” was legitimate and represented common practice, investigators might view it as a “structured payment” intended to hide financial irregularities, or even crimes.

Common sense suggests that the payoff to Daniels a few days before the election was campaign-related, and is therefore subject to campaign finance laws. Such laws often treat innocent oversights with no more than a fine; but where there appears to be a willful conspiracy involving multiple persons, multiple payments, intentional concealment, and possible bank fraud, criminal prosecution does not seem so farfetched, at least to this non-lawyer.

What tomorrow’s version of reality will bring, who can say? One hopes, the truth — but with this administration, one learns to expect the lie du Jour.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Links

Trump Is Said to Have Known of Payment to Stormy Daniels Months Before He Denied It (The New York Times)
Trump and His Aides Have No Idea What They’re Talking About (The Atlantic)

* * *

On Fox News, Giuliani Confirms Slush Fund, Plausible Deniability

slush-trump-cohen-giulianiSquaring the facts, and calling b.s. on Trump’s ghosted tweet…

In Drain the Swamp or Pad the Reptile Fund? (April 9), I offered what I thought to be the most likely explanation for Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels a few days before the 2016 presidential election.

I suggested that Cohen had standing orders from Trump to pay off women who might blackmail Trump or write “true confession” stories for the media, and that Cohen had access to a general purpose fund — sometimes called a “slush fund” or “reptile fund” — from which to make such payments. If the fund ran dry, Cohen knew it would be refilled or “padded” later. He fully expected reimbursement.

A key point in my theory was that Cohen’s witting role was to be the cutout man, so that Trump himself would not know the details of such settlement(s) involving payment, and could therefore maintain plausible deniability when grilled by reporters.

I included video and analysis of Trump’s answers (and non-answers) to reporter Catherine Lucey aboard Air Force One on April 5. There, Trump seems eager to issue vocal denials that he knew anything about the payment to Daniels, but suddenly clams up when Lucey asks if he ever set up a fund which Cohen could draw from. (That last bit is important, but is usually not played.)

Appearing on Fox News on May 2 and May 3, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has now largely confirmed this theory. Like most spinners for Trump, Giuliani is discursive. He nevertheless claimed or implied:

– That Trump only learned the specifics of the payment to Daniels quite recently.

– That the payment to Daniels was “funneled” by Trump to Cohen through Cohen’s law firm.

– That Trump paid Cohen a “retainer” of approximately $35,000 a month to take care of matters like “some Stormy Daniels woman” and not bother him about the details, just as Giuliani would do for his clients (who are “busy people”).

– That the $130,000 payment to Daniels was covered by this monthly “retainer.”

– That the payment had nothing to do with politics or the election, but was rather a personal payment by Trump to Daniels to help save his marriage.

– That Trump paid Daniels this large sum despite her claim of a sexual affair being false and extortionate.

– That no campaign funds were expended, and no campaign finance laws were criminally violated.

– That at worst reading, Donald Trump simply failed to report this contribution made from his own pocket, funneled through Cohen as part of a standing arrangement.

– That Trump spent $100 million of his own money on the campaign, compared to which the $130,000 payment to Daniels is insignificant.

– That such a failure to report is not usually treated as a criminal matter, and should not have resulted in “storm troopers” “breaking down” Cohen’s door.

Overall, Giuliani’s statements conform to the general theory of a slush fund from which Cohen could draw, giving Trump plausible deniability about payments made. Quite a few of Giuliani’s claims nevertheless remain suspect. For example:

– A general retainer doesn’t usually cover specific large settlements.

– In aboveboard operations, the client isn’t intentionally kept in the dark about settlements reached and large payments made by his attorney.

– Giuliani is invoking the “John Edwards defense”: that Trump paid off Daniels a few days before the election for personal (rather than political) reasons. This defense worked for Edwards, but may not work for Trump.

A rather pressing question is: Why did Trump and Giuliani decide that at this juncture in time it’s better for Trump to be seen as an outright liar than to continue to deny making the payment to Daniels? The volte-face is, after all, one of the most difficult public relations maneuvers to pull off. (Fox News tastefully avoided showing Giuliani’s feet. Was he wearing flip-flops? Regardless, this stinks to high heaven.)

The most likely explanation is that the court-authorized raid by the FBI on Cohen’s various premises turned up hard evidence that Trump was funneling money to Cohen to facilitate the Daniels payoff, so the previous claim that Cohen had “gone rogue” was no longer even vaguely tenable.

This is only speculation on the part of this lowly blogger, based on reading news accounts and listening to statements made by the various protagonists. But if you read my post of April 9, you’ll see I pretty much nailed it.


Sidebar: Trump tweet seems to have been ghosted

If you know Trump’s bombastic, emotional (not to say illogical) style, you may seriously question whether this 3-part tweet dated May 3 was really written by Trump, or by one of his attorneys:

The complex sentence structure, legalese, lack of typos (bar one), and correct use of capitalization all point to a ghost writer with experience drafting legal briefs. (Maybe we should call him “Little Docket Man.”)

I suppose some bright young thing could write a Twitter app that would mangle an otherwise cogent statement, turning it into a Trump tweet, adding elements of mania and illiteracy, and pasting NO COLLUSION! NO COLLUSION! NO COLLUSION! in appropriate (or inappropriate) places. Ain’t science wonnerful?

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

* * *

Top 5 Retro Snow Videos from UK

Enjoy this ultra cool retrospective, plus discussion of The Twilight Zone, Doctor Who, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and The Bobbsey Twins. More Storm Emma too.
“Snowmen of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your carrot noses!”

Snowman figure with carrot nose at Mount Selwyn snowfields, New South Wales. Courtesy http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-08-15/snowman-with-carrot-nose-at-mt-selwyn-nsw/2840274

UPDATED! It’s no secret that I love snow. As we close out winter once and for all (a freak May Day snowstorm notwithstanding), I wanted to post these Top 5 Retro Snow Videos from the UK. I’d already stumbled on them when doing my earlier top snow videos post, themed on Storm Emma and Beast from the East. I hope you saw it, because in addition to some really beautiful snow scenes shot by everyday people, it also included a laugh-out-loud clip of Piers Morgan doing his Yorkshire and Hampshire accents, bringing ITV’s Good Morning Britain to a grinding (but hilarious) halt.

These retro clips have a different character, putting us in touch with snows that fell long ago on a different world. Why should we care about a snow that fell in 1947 or 1963?

Writing in an American populist vein, W.P. Kinsella — author of Shoeless Joe (later made into the film Field of Dreams) — suggested that “the one constant through all the years has been baseball.” A romantic notion that works fantastically well in the film, but may have less than worldwide appeal. Snow is another great constant, and as I wrote in Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow:

There is an individual occurrence of snow, and then there is the archetype of snow. What we want to do is move from the individual to the archetype. Everything has its essential nature, and the nature of snow is that it is holy. Believe in this, and contemplate the falling snow as it blankets even one lone tree.

Viewing snow that fell long ago — before there were things like smartphones, Internet, Brexit, and Trumpkins — may link us with the past and invoke that universal archetype. (In modern parlance, Trumpkins are Donald Trump die-hard supporters; but of course, there was a dwarf named Trumpkin in The Chronicles of Narnia.)

Here then, are my Top 5 Retro Snow Videos from the UK:

The Midnight Sun – Before Global Warming Was a Thing

Science fiction is often good at predicting coming trends and reacting to them emotionally, politically, and sociologically. We are just entering the era of robots as a widespread form of replacement workers, but Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 novel Player Piano is one of many SF works which dealt with the consequences of automation long before the reality was upon us. Even earlier were Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, nine of which were collected and reframed for the 1950 book I, Robot.

So it is with global warming, which wasn’t a thing in 1961 when Rod Serling penned “The Midnight Sun” for an episode of The Twilight Zone:

Here, the cause of global warming is not environmental abuse and neglect (nod to Scott Pruit), but rather a one-off event: a sudden change in the Earth’s orbit bringing it ever closer to the sun. Through this device, Serling mostly avoided the politics but dealt with the emotional and sociological effects of a superheating planet.

Scary Snow in Doctor Who

New Who famously takes things we think of as pleasing or comforting, and makes them scary — snowmen and angels being two examples. The Doctor Who 2012 Christmas Special (called, appropriately enough, “The Snowmen”) serves up this chilling view:

Richard E. Grant is only slightly less scary in Posh Nosh:

And not at all scary in Agatha Christie’s Marple:

MST3K and Space Technology

The idea of retro clips naturally calls forth its opposite: modern inventions which are offshoots of the Space Race. This riotous clip from Mystery Science Theater 3000 #401 (where the movie riffed on is Space Travelers a.k.a. Marooned) lists a bewildering variety of inventions supposedly spurred by the Space Race. “Swirled yogurt: essential for space flight!”

LibriVox vs. the Bobbsey Twins

No, it’s not a Japanese sci-fi title. LibriVox is a wonderful project that makes public domain audio recordings of classic literature readily available on the Internet. The Bobbsey Twins are characters from a long-running series of children’s books written under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope.

As a child, I inherited a good many hand-me-downs from my aunt on my father’s side, whose cellar piled up with books and toys that her own children had outgrown. So I got an Erector set (an original A.C. Gilbert one), which the British and French would know better as Meccano. I also inherited an ever-burgeoning collection of Bobbsey Twins books, such as The Bobbsey Twins in Tulip Land — a title which promised amazing adventures to my young mind.

Much like myself, the Bobbsey Twins exist in a kind of chronological stasis, with the older pair of twins (Nan and Bert) frozen at 12, and the younger pair (Freddie and Flossie) perpetually 6 years old. I, of course, am perpetually 5, so still look up to my elder literary siblings. 😉

I don’t recall ever owning The Bobbsey Twins at Snow Lodge (1913), but it’s a title that does turn up on LibriVox. So here’s an audio-only retro snow clip read by Rachel and SuperCoconut:

Cute, but definitely riffable MST3K style! In her “7 Bits About the Amazing Bobbsey Twins,” Ann Silverthorn notes:

The Bobbsey family was in the 1%. The Bobbsey’s were blessed with the services of an elderly “colored” couple, Dinah and Sam, that had been with them for many years. Dinah did all the cooking for the family, including some tasty fried chicken, and Sam drove a truck for Mr. Bobbsey’s lumber business. If the family lived today, they’d never use the term “colored,” and they’d never remark that the couple had the “whitest teeth the children had ever seen.”

We’re not quite finished with Storm Emma…

I observed no palpable cheering up after my last batch of Storm Emma videos, so here’s a couple more I really like. I’m a city boy, and am moved to see how rural folk (including farmers) cope with massive snow. I also love seeing the seas grown all wild, breaching the borders which men have set for them:

If YouTube often appears to be a vast wasteland, yet it remains a medium for people to share homespun images which can move us by their honesty, and which present an unmediated view of nature.

As the weather heats up, I hope the snow-themed media clips will help you keep cool. I pity NYC carriage horses working when the temperature climbs to 99 in midtown; but they also have to work in snow, as my short film Salvation illustrates.

Michael Howard

* * *