Political Potpourri for Presidents Day 2018

Donald Trump tweets, Scott Pruitt fires his food-taster, and unboxing the new MAGA buckets set to replace food stamps. Plus sleepy reflections on Trump’s State of the Union, and another tribute to Anthony Scaramucci.

Trump’s tweet solution no solution at all

To the budding satirist, Trump’s latest tweetstorms provide an embarrassment of riches. In one Who’s Afraid of Virginia Trump? entry, he has the Russians “laughing their asses off.” The burden of responding to it all becomes too great, which I suppose is the point: Massive outrage fatigue, and late night comedians collapsing under the strain of too much delectable raw material. Atonal music and riots in the streets.

Trump’s tweeted “solution” to gun violence of simply reporting troubled people to “the authorities” assumes that “the authorities” really care, and have both the knowledge and resources to stop a person like Nikolas Cruz before he goes postal. Who is the highest authority in our land? Some would say Donald Trump. But is Trump in control himself? Does he have real solutions to complex problems? If you reported Nikolas Cruz to Donald Trump, Trump would probably send him to Guantanamo. Problem averted, you say. But people with unpopular political views might also end up in Guantanamo. “The authorities” sometimes turn out to be jackbooted thugs, even in America. Not all of them, but enough of them that our security forces can be subverted — turned in the direction of fascism by bad leadership at the top. The president sets the tone.

I have no experience with immigration issues, but some would say this is happening now with ICE. Hateful, anti-immigrant attitudes on the part of Trump filter down to enforcement officers, who then feel justified enforcing the rules in a harsh and inhumane manner, sending the signal that there’s a war on immigrants and America is not a friendly place to visit (unless you’re of Normegian stock).

America has the potential to be a light to other nations, but it also goes through dark, Nixonian periods when people are rightly afraid of “the authorities.” According to historian Jon Meecham, comparing Trump to Nixon is unfair to Nixon.

Scott Pruitt fires food-taster

We’ve grown accustomed to administration officials hitting the scandal sheets with their lavish travel, fondness for tobacco stocks, and photo ops running their begloved hands languidly through great steaming piles of money.

It should come as no surpise, then, that EPA chief Scott Pruitt recently fired his food-taster. It was not a cost-cutting measure. When reached for comment, Pruitt explained the move thusly:

“I have very sensitive taste buds, and need a food-taster who will suss out not just poisons, but also ingredients which lack the perfect freshness I desire. My old food-taster, Hermione, who is now in intensive care at Walter Reed Medical, was good with poisons, and saved me on a number of occasions when radical environmentalists tried to spike my ambrosia breakfast with life-threatening chemicals. Now, I have nothing against life-threatening chemicals, but they don’t make a good mix with pâté de foie gras. My new chef– I mean food-taster, Louie, is an expert in all matters culinary. He knows how to ensure that my favourite dish — dolphin prepared with just a soupçon of powdered rhinocerous horn, in a light, sweet, crude sauce — has only the freshest ingredients and will not interfere with my delicate constitution. I can but add: Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”

Pilot program to swap food stamps for MAGA buckets

I was fortunate to be chosen for a new pilot program initiated by Donald Trump which seeks to replace the old food stamps with a government-issued bucket of foodstuffs whose contents never vary:

– Chicken McNuggets*
– MAGA hat
– copy of Hustler

(*Requests by vegetarians for Eggplant McNuggets have been soundly rejected by administration officials.)

As one of the first to sample the new MAGA bucket, I can confidently say that it takes the notion of gubment cheese to unparalleled new heights. Like the army’s MREs or “meals ready to eat” (sometimes dubbed MRVs or “meals ready to vomit”), the new MAGA bucket will assault your folk and pop sensibilities!

The Mooch is back, and Cuomo’s got him

Just when you hoped you’d finally seen the last of Anthony Scaramucci, he turns up again on Chris Cuomo’s new (well, old) primetime miniseries on CNN. Fresh from his Broadway stint in the musical version of Goodfellas, Scaramucci’s appearance coincided with the news that Donald Trump gave the order to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but had to demur when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign.

Scaramucci poo-pooed Trump’s legal culpability, but seemed more interested in selling vacation packages for Davos, Switzerland, where the uber-rich go to escape the merely rich. Scaramucci’s return to major media is worthy of a song:

Tony The Mooch (to the tune of “Minnie The Moocher”)

Folks, here’s the story ’bout Tony the Mooch
He really up and screwed the pooch
Was only hired to vex Reince Priebus
Once that was done he had to leave us.

Blue mirrored shades and blind ambition
No sense of conscience, no contrition
He said: “I want to kill those nasty leakers,”
“Or make them smell my dirty sneakers.”
But here’s the truth, and it’s a corker:
He leaked his guts to the New Yorker!

[Chorus]
Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-hi (Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-hi)
Ho-dee-ho-dee-ho-dee-ho (Ho-dee-ho-dee-ho-dee-ho)
Hee-dee-hee-dee-hee-dee-hee (Hee-dee-hee-dee-hee-dee-hee)
Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-ho (Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-ho)

He had a dream about the King of Trumpland
He’d be the Mooch’s money pump man
He’d buy him oil wells from Plains to Charlotte
The Mooch would be Trump’s fawning harlot.

The plot was hatched and Mooch took over
It looked like he was in the clover
His praise for Donald waxed effusive
But soon his language grew abusive.
He nearly won, but had to spoil it
‘Cause Tony had a mouth as foul as a toilet.

[Chorus]
Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-hi (Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-hi)
Whoa! (Whoa!)
Hee-dee-hee-dee-hee-dee-hee (Hee-dee-hee-dee-hee-dee-hee)
Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-ho (Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-ho)

Trump’s State of the Union

From posts like this one, the reader might glean that I come from an arts and spirituality background, not so much politics. Watching Trump’s State of the Union speech, I found myself getting rather depressed. The stories he told to score political brownie points struck me as surreal and grotesque — like things you might read in a supermarket tabloid. I countered by passively-aggressively falling asleep.

On the fringes of consciousness, I suppose I transformed some of his stories in my mind. There was the North Korean who was persecuted for stealing a kumquat. His head was chopped off, yet he didn’t die. He was found by a Christian missionary, who placed his head on a roller-skate and gave him a push in the direction of China. When he got to China, he proceeded to construct a Christian cathedral entirely out of chopsticks. The Chinese didn’t like it and put a bounty on his head. So he roller-skated all the way to South Korea and became a famous radio DJ.

I admit the details may be off, but that’s the sort of story Trump delivered in a tired, plodding manner, reading disinterestedly from a teleprompter. I found it depressing and highly alienating.

Afterwards, some commentators gave him good marks and suggested that the stories he told were emotionally moving. I wish I could have been moved, but the surreal and grotesque nature of the stories plus their lifeless delivery made me feel sad that I am other than those for whom the stories evidently had meaning. My review coming from an arts and spirituality background is that the State of the Union was a depressing spectacle with no connection to reality, no life-breath, and no genuine insight into the things which creative people aspire to.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t live in Donald Trump’s reality. Maybe if somebody painted the walls a brighter color, and let in a little sunshine… And the bedding could use airing out! Is that a Chicken McNugget I see peering out from between the sheets? Flanked by a MAGA hat and…

Michael Howard

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

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Joyce Hatto and Ethics

I began this blog by pondering whether ethics is masculine and spirituality feminine. If compassion and forgiveness are significant aspects of spirituality, they’re also qualities we tend to associate more with women than men. It’s not surprising, then, that the most compassionate rendering of the back story behind the Joyce Hatto scandal comes from Victoria Wood in her BBC treatment Loving Miss Hatto.

I’m working on spec on an article about Hatto and her husband William Barrington-Coupe (known as “Barry”). There are some new factual developments concerning the U.S. side of what was a distinctly British scandal; but in this post I’m less interested in going over the facts than examining the ethics of loving (or hating?) Miss Hatto.

Wood’s treatment is based (very loosely) on “Fantasia For Piano” — Mark Singer’s definitive piece in The New Yorker. If you’re unfamiliar with the matter, that would quickly get you up to speed. The essence is that about a hundred classical piano recordings released under Hatto’s name turned out to be plagiarized in whole or in part from other artists. Head leper is William Barrington-Coupe, who had a dodgy past and is generally considered something of a con man.

Opinion about Hatto herself is more mixed, with those who knew her personally hoping against hope that she was unaware of the nature or magnitude of the fraud committed by her husband. Yet, by most accounts it was more than simple fraud; it was also a hoax (which has a somewhat different complexion than a fraud, implying an artistic playing with reality). And beyond either hoax or fraud, there remains the very real question of whether Hatto and hubby became potty in their senior years. Was the illusion that cancer-ridden septuagenarian Joyce nonetheless had a prolific recording career a form of folie à deux?

In real life, there are baffling, enigmatic, and pathological elements to the story; but sadly, to make a winning film for the Beeb, Victoria Wood had to simplify the characters and iron out many of their real world contradictions. What we get, then, is a sentimental love story in which both Hatto and hubby emerge as flawed but likeable characters. It’s them against the world, and we’re on their side:

The first of two trailers ends with Barrington-Coupe being arrested for failing to pay the purchase tax on radios he imported from Hong Kong. It’s portrayed as less of a crime and more of a typical Barry “muddle.” Joyce and Barry are middle-class folk up against a classical music establishment filled with “dessicated old shirt-lifters” (as Barry calls them). All’s fair in love and marketing, and Barry’s early mission is to “sell” Joyce as an international concert artiste to the great British public, despite her crippling stage fright and bouts with nerves:

Ethics 101 tells us that lying, cheating, and stealing from other artists is execrable behaviour; but Wood is not so much an ethicist as a romantic. In her research for the film, she plainly came to identify with Hatto and to find something heroic in her struggles. The very title “Loving Miss Hatto” may well be a defiant retort to the hatred hurled at the couple once their fraud, hoax, or call-it-what-you-will was unmasked.

Even in a country with socialized medicine, a multi-year bout with cancer must be an inconvenient and impoverishing thing. Wood depicts the couple as leading a modest lifestyle, but occasionally being able to afford cake due to the income from pirated CDs. She makes Joyce and Barry eminently real to us in the tradition of inversionist outlaw flicks like Bonnie and Clyde (to which she makes explicit reference) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The people victimized by the couple — conned, lied to, and cheated — are little seen and not given the same warm treatment.

Still, notwithstanding its upside-down ethics and inversionist outlook, Loving Miss Hatto is an enjoyable and sympathetic portrayal (though it would have been better at an hour than an hour-forty). I can’t help liking the film characters despite knowing that the reality was somewhat darker. If you don’t care to put your ethics in your back pocket, you can always watch The Great Piano Scam for a tougher appraisal:

 Michael Howard

Interesting Joyce Hatto Links

The Hatto-Howell letters:
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2007/Feb07/Hatto_Howell.htm

Promotion of Joyce Hatto — 2006 archived page:
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Jan06/Hatto2_recordings.htm

Jed Distler Reviews the Lost René Köhler BBC Recordings:
http://www.classicstoday.com/review/review-13553/

Letter published on Overgrown Path blog:
http://www.overgrownpath.com/2007/03/joyce-hatto-other-story.html