Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Podcasts are essential listening as I do my daily workout. Every morning, up before the birds, I do a series of stretches and a few other things (the plank, e.g.) for about half an hour. Then Im ready.

Been doing this for years. Always, there are headphones clamped about my noggin. But a fella can only listen to so many episodes of Fresh Air before it gets ... stale. (I had to say that. Had to.)

So about a year ago I began looking for new listening material. Where to begin? As a first step I googled “interesting podcasts,” or something equally vague. Came across a list of podcasts with titles that bored me – except for one, Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, or Beautiful/ Anonymous for short. Intrigued, I listened to an episode called “My Aussie Best Friend.” Got hooked.

Also began listening to Stay Tuned with Preet last summer, which I have described elsewhere. Still listen to that. A new one gets uploaded each Thursday. More recently I’ve become a convert to Pod Save America.

In a coffee shop the other day, I asked the woman behind the counter the meaning of her t-shirt, which read “Toxic Masculinity.” She said it was for (from?) a podcast called My Favorite Murder. I listened to an episode the next day. So far, so-so – but Ill listen again. And I like the shirt.

You can find most, probably all, of these podcasts on your nearest smartphone, or on Podbay, among other places.

Even before all of the above, I was an occasional listener to This American Life, and its direct-to-podcast offspring Serial. These, in turn, led me to S-town.

S-town, or Shit Town if you prefer, turned out to be – pardon the cliché – haunting. It is, its website says, “about a man named John who despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it.” He convinces a This American Life producer to investigate what John says is a murder/coverup in his shit little town.

S-town is a limited podcast spanning seven segments, or chapters, each one about an hour long. Midway through the second chapter it becomes clear there was, in fact, no murder or coverup. That should have been enough to send the producer packing back to New York. Except that something happened. If it hadn’t happened, there would have been no S-town podcast. But it did happen, and so there is.

No spoilers here. I shan’t spill any beans. I’ll only say that as I listened, I found myself recalling A Confederacy of Dunces, one of my favorite novels. Written in the early 1960s by John Kennedy Toole, and set in New Orleans, it is the story of Ignatius J. Reilly. “When a true genius appears in the world,” spake Jonathan Swift, “you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

Fictional genius Ignatius reminds me of S-town’s real-life genius John (above, with snake), known to most as John B. Among other things, John B created the maze seen below. The similarities are superficial, Ill grant you that. Both of them way smart, both lonely and isolated southerners. That may be about it.

Anyway, I recommend it. All of these podcasts, even those I make only passing reference to, are recommend – with the possible exception of My Favorite Murder. I do like the t-shirt though.

I forgot to mention RadioLab! And Criminal! And I still love Fresh Air!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

No Joke

All hail Trump!

So far, apparently, it’s being passed off as a joke: Trump’s statement that the United States should try having a “president for life.”

He means himself, of course.

His comment came during a March 3 speech at Mar-a-Lago, according to CNN, which referred to the speech as “closed-door remarks ... a recording of which was obtained by CNN.”

That’s a recording I want to hear, ASAP. Referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has consolidated power and faces little political opposition, Trump said, Hes now president for life ... Maybe well have to give that a shot someday.

MSNBC said, “It is not clear if Trump, 71, was ... in jest.”

I don’t think he meant it in jest. It may have been in the context of a flippant remark, but it was no jest. More likely, a trial balloon.

Of course, I don’t trust Trump any further than I can throw a bowling ball. No one should. This is someone who has attacked a host of American institutions, like the judiciary, the Justice Department, and the media. He went so far as to call the media the “enemy of the people” earlier this year. Yeah, all of these institution are flawed, and represent the one percent. But this is the nascent autocrat in dress rehearsal mode. Trump is far worse than any of his targets – a profoundly damaged individual who has no business holding the office he holds.

I am astonished at how little reaction I have seen to these comments. It’s been not quite twenty-four hours, as this is written. A response condemning these comments should be swift and unambiguous.

“Whether this was a joke or not, talking about being President for life like Xi Jinping is the most unAmerican sentiment expressed by an American President,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Cal) said in a Tweet. “George Washington would roll over in his grave.”

Indeed. The latest buzz in the media seems to be that Trump is coming “unglued.” I keep hearing that.


Update: I heard Trump's recorded comments on MSNBC Monday evening, a day otherwise overwhelmed by the Sam Nunberg nonsense. They were as creepy as I suspected.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Do The Snake (or, Right of Recall)

“Could you do The Snake?”

Trump has almost certainly committed treason. At very least, he should be removed from office – if not blindfolded, offered a last cigarette, and summarily ... well, you can fill in the blank on that one.

This presidential aberration cannot be allowed to continue. A dozen or so years ago, disgruntled voters in California recalled Gray Davis, and handed the governorship to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Unfortunately, there is no mechanism for recall at the federal level. Nor is there a means for a no-confidence vote. A censure would not be enough; impeachment is it. (In spite of appearances, I do not endorse execution.)

“I suppose it might be simpler to add a Constitutional amendment creating the right of recall,” Gore Vidal once wrote, “so that the people, when they realize that the administration is insane, or totally corrupt, or is going to destroy the country through attacks on enemies that are no threat, may act to address the crisis.”

Vidal, who died in 2012, was speaking of Bush II, but we are at that point with Trump. We were there before his inauguration – before, even, his bogus election in November 2016. I’ll spare you his well-publicized laundry list of sins.

He continues to offend. “I had five people outside say, ‘Could you do The Snake?” he said the other day, at the annual CPAC convention. And Trump, that huckster, that P.T. Barnum of the Oval Office, was only too happy to oblige.

As charlatan Trump tells the Aesop-like tale, a woman helps a snake in need. Once he has benefited from this help, the snake fatally bites her.

Apparently “The Snake” is also a song. As the snake’s dying victim protests her betrayal, it goes like this: “Oh, shut up, silly woman, said the reptile with a grin. You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

Trump faithfully quoted these lyrics, and his audience of conservative CPAC louts, recognizing the snake as a stand-in for evil brown immigrants, loved it.

“Could you do ‘The Snake’?”

My only recourse, really, is to mock this fraud, so join me in imagining “The Snake” as an interpretive dance. Eyes closed, arms above his head, hands together, Trump begins with an evocative hip-thrust, thrilling his crowd as he enters a trance-like, anti-immigrant, pro-gun, whirling dervish state, wriggling serpent-like...

Or we can imagine The Snake as a 1950s dance craze.

Another available recourse is the ballot – but while I always fill mine out, I don’t have much faith in the process.