Monday, May 22, 2017

Dear Donald ...

I’ve been blogging about you forever, it seems, on and off, even before the campaign that has landed you, inexplicably, in the White House. The fruition of your 2016 campaign has propelled you into an office that, frankly, I thought you had no more realistic chance to occupy than any reasonably talented golden retriever.

But we are where we are. You’re in the Trump Hotel at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re obliged, one way or another, to accord you some measure of the respect that this awesome address, and its prime occupant, deserve.

Since Jan. 20th, bloggers, writers and other civic-minded scribes have been wrestling with the language, trying to find a way to describe you that's both accurate and truthful. Some have been using only your last name; I’ve been going with “president-apparent” and “president presumptive” as a way to describe you by title. Once I even toyed with POTUSINO (President of the United States In Name Only) but that was too much jargon by half.

But I’ve since found the approach that works for me. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, I’m giving your current title the simple, elegant, Occam’s-razor grace note it deserves. ...

Read the rest at The Swamp

Image credits: Trump: The Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Carry-on baggage: Trump, the FBI and the I-word

WHEN PRESIDENT* Donald Trump left Friday for his first foreign trip in his new job, he brought along two pieces of carry-on baggage he couldn’t have left behind if he tried. Both will have a lot to do with whether his first White House trip abroad is or is not his last.

First, of course, there was the surprise Wednesday announcement of Robert S. Mueller III, former FBI director, to assume the role of Justice Department Special Counsel investigating possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign to subvert the process and/or results of the 2016 presidential election.

In a letter signed on Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to the post, and tasked the former Marine with leading a “full and thorough” investigation into the actions of the Kremlin in the run-up to the Nov. 8th election.

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Mueller is empowered to pursue “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Rosenstein’s letter also authorizes the Special Counsel “to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”

A chorus of praise went up almost immediately, especially from those who remember Mueller’s long tenure as FBI Director.

“People are really torn up about what happened to Director [James B.] Comey — a good man who has treated very badly by the president,” a senior FBI official told Politico’s Philip Shenon. “The fact that the investigation is now going to be led by Mueller, who is so like Comey in so many ways and who also loves the bureau, is sweet justice.”

In his analysis piece for Politico, Shenon observed: “It’s hard to imagine that this new job is any more intimidating than the one Mueller confronted on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the newly arrived FBI director was forced to deal with the aftermath of terrorist attacks that left more than 3,000 people dead in New York and Washington and put the FBI’s very survival in doubt because of what would be shown to be its well-documented bungling before the attacks.

“Mueller had been on the job at the FBI for exactly one week. The fact that the FBI survived in one piece after multiple government investigations of 9/11, and that Mueller went on to serve another dozen years at the bureau and left with his reputation for independence and honesty largely unscathed, suggests to his friends and admirers that the blue-blooded 72-year-old former Marine is the right man for his new job—and that President Trump and his campaign advisers have much to fear from his investigation.”

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THE SECOND piece of baggage is as heavy as the first one. According to various sources, this was presented to Trump right before he departed from the United States, and it could be a much weightier matter, one he’ll be hard-pressed to ignore.

On Friday, writer-provocateurs Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor, writing in the Patribiotics blog, reported:

Multiple sources close to the intelligence, justice and law enforcement communities say that the House Judiciary Committee is considering Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States.

Sources further say that the Supreme Court notified Mr. Trump that the formal process of a case of impeachment against him was begun, before he departed the country on Air Force One. The notification was given, as part of the formal process of the matter, in order that Mr. Trump knew he was not able to use his powers of pardon against other suspects in Trump-Russia cases. Sources have confirmed that the Marshal of the Supreme Court spoke to Mr. Trump.

As the drumbeat for investigation increases, we can expect to see and hear about more skeptical Trumpeters lawyering up, seeking to cut deals, hoping to satisfy their inner Monty Halls in the hopes of avoiding indictments.

And at some point, for the crowd that left the United States on Air Force One days ago, there’ll be quiet reflection in days to come about what’s necessary to stay out of prison. Maybe they’ll make it an extended vacation.

Image credits: Mueller: Doug Mills/The New York Times. Trump adios: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Seven days in May: House Trump
and the Dumpster fire of the inanities

“Do not ask me about how this looks, we all know how this looks,”
                               -- senior Trump aide to The Daily Beast on May 15.

HOMEOWNERS of any long standing will know that feeling of hyperadrenalized dread when, inexplicably, there’s a fire to be contained in your home — and fast. When you discover the flames that are way bigger than any you’ve seen before that were under control, you move almost in an autopilot mode: isolating the conflagration, looking for any smothering material nearby, moving the burning object as close to the tender mercies of water or a fire extinguisher as fast as possible ... and always being careful not to be a part of what’s going up in smoke.

Working at the White House must feel like that right about now. On steroids. As if it hasn’t been bad enough over the last 120 days or so — with one self-inflicted distraction or another affecting the agenda of President* Donald Trump — a period of seven more or less consecutive days have thoroughly cemented the meme of willful chaos upon the Trump administration. Day after day, one face palm-worthy event after another has come out of this White House, misstep upon misstep, layer upon layer, a misbegotten parfait. There’s been more than one costly screw-up to be minimized. There’s more than one fire to be contained.

The Trump Hotel at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in flames today, from the West Wing to the East Room to the White House lawn, as staffers weep and wail through broken teeth cowering behind the oaken doors of their offices, never far from the bellicose orange cartoon dirigible leading them, the mango Napoleon cursing and shrieking the instructions of a man who may be in the grip of the dark triad of malignant narcissism ... or maybe just a man in thrall to arrogance for the sake of arrogance. No one can say for sure. The halls of the White House are jammed with Dumpsters on fire; senior advisers scream at underlings who quake and dissolve in tears; a Brueghelian vision of rage and lamentations straight outta “The Triumph of Death” ... and somewhere amid the Brobdingnagian shitshow of the Trump White House, over the loudspeakers, the music we might have expected ... the inescapable strains of the Russian national anthem.

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The events of the last eight days or so have come on us so fast, cascading over us in such dizzying fashion, it begs for some way to boil this madness down to something we can get our heads around. We need a scorecard.

Start with what happened on Tuesday, May 9, when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, in a fit of the petulant, defensive pique the president-presumptive is known for. Days later, The Daily Beast reported, “Multiple White House sources confirmed ... that the president was ‘furious’ in the aftermath — causing aides to spend the rest of the week drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.

“An exasperated White House staffer on Friday described a different dynamic, saying the West Wing often struggles to keep up with Trump’s kinetic and unilateral public messaging operation and tweets and interviews that often diverge from the official White House line on the day’s events.

“The resulting tension between Trump’s statements and those of the press office charged with maintaining his public image have some frustrated at their apparent inability to nail down a coherent narrative ...” Which makes sense: You can’t be any more coherent than the boss giving you your instructions.

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WEDNESDAY, MAY 10. The White House lets the Russian government steer the public narrative of Trump’s meeting with two top Russian diplomats by giving the Kremlin-sponsored media exclusive access to the event. Not The New York Times. Not The Washington Post. Not NBC News. Of all the unforced errors of the Trump administration, of all the events connecting Russia with the integrity of the 2016 presidential election, this one was easily the most easily avoided. It’s also the one most likely to yield malign dividends.

The Daily Beast reports: “The White House did not allow American press into the meeting between President Donald Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. But it did admit a photographer from TASS, a state-owned Russian news service. Its photos were subsequently posted on TASS’s website, giving that outlet a monopoly on publishable visuals of the meeting. ...

“Two senior administration officials, one an Obama holdover and the other a Trump appointee, told The Daily Beast that the resulting reliance of U.S. media on a propaganda arm of a foreign government let Russia set the public tone of the meeting and embarrassed the administration amid already contentious discussions with Russian diplomats.”

Trump, a senior administration official told The Beast, is “either in bed with the Russians or too stupid to understand the severity of this mistake. Either way, the implications are truly terrifying.”

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It didn’t advance the Trump meme-let of financial invincibility when the markets cratered on Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell through the floor, shedding more than 370 points.

And there was concomitant fallout elsewhere in the economy: The 10-year Treasury yield made its sharpest decline since last June; gold futures kept rallying; and the dollar, almighty greenback, declined to a point it hasn’t touched since Trump was named the winner of the 2016 election.

It’s not just a domestic matter, either. The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of global economic turbulence, made its biggest jump since the Brexit vote.

“After a protracted period of dormancy, financial markets are beginning to react to developments in Washington in a more unified manner,” reported Robert Brand and Jeremy Herron of Bloomberg News. “The U.S. currency now sits at its lowest level since the day of Trump’s shock win, a retracement some blame on perceptions his legislative agenda faces deeper challenges.”

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WE GOT THE MOAB of House Trump revelations on May 15, when it was reported that Trump knowingly, deliberately, eagerly shared classified information with Lavrov and Kislyak in the Oval Office.

The Beast: “Communications staff and senior staffers at the White House were literally ‘hiding in offices,’ according to a senior Trump aide, as a gaggle of White House press stormed White House hallways just after The Washington Post story broke on Monday evening.” And there was more: When Trump met with his two Russian pals, he talked about firing Comey in terms that couldn't have been less sensitive, or even patriotic. “I just fired the head of the FBI,” he said. “He was crazy, a real nut job.” (The Times reported it on May 19th.)

Some of those “deeper challenges” the Bloomberg News reporters wrote about involve persuading an increasingly skeptical public that Trump has the stones, the brain and the heart to do what’s required to right a badly-listing ship of state. A wave of the latest poll numbers suggests that won’t happen anytime soon.

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According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on May 19th, Trump is auguring in. In this poll, Trump's approval rating with the public has dropped to 38 percent, one of the very lowest it's been since his installation in the White House on Jan. 20th.

That’s Reuters’ take. Gallup’s daily tracking poll was even worse; it reported on May 19th that Trump was underwater with only 37 percent approval. A May 19th Politico/Morning Consult poll, on how The Donald handled Russian-related intel, wasn’t any more charitable.

A May 11 survey from Quinnipiac University had already said much the same, with Trump sustaining serious erosion of support from independent voters, white men and white voters with no college degrees, a major source of his voter base last November. That survey, conducted over the phone with live interviewers among 1,078 voters nationwide from May 4-May 9, gave a Trump a 36 percent approval rating, compared to the 58 percent who approved.

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THERE IS NO way to spin or sugarcoat these sagging numbers,” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said in a statement. “The erosion of white men, white voters without college degrees and independent voters, the declaration by voters that President Donald Trump's first 100 days were mainly a failure and deepening concerns about Trump's honesty, intelligence and level headedness are red flags that the administration simply can't brush away.”

More unspinnable reality: Thanks to Trump & Co., the GOP is losing millennial voters at a dizzying clip. According to a May 17th Pew Research Center analysis, 23 percent of Republican voters ages 18-29 have switched parties since 2015, compared to 9 percent of Democratic voters in the same cohort. As many as half of Republicans 30 and under walked away from the GOP at one point in that two-year time frame.

And then there’s the big poll, the one that matters right now: A May 16th Public Policy Polling survey found that 48 percent of respondents support impeaching Trump, while 41 percent are opposed. The same poll found that 45 percent don’t think he’ll finish his first and only term as our most deeply asterisked president. Forty-three percent think he stays the course.

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With the leadership of House Trump out of the country on its first foreign trip, now we can take stock of those recent seven days in May ... while we get ready for the next seven days, as the reports come back from various foreign capitals alerting us to the embarrassment we just know is coming.

Students of American political history try to make sense of where a president’s going based on where he’s been and what he did when he was there. Trump’s first presidential overseas trip takes place later than any administration since President Johnson. On Sunday, Trump will meet with leaders from Gulf states, and deliver a speech to the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations. From there, the trip continues with stops in Israel, the West Bank, Vatican City, Belgium and Italy.

What could possibly go wrong.

Image credits: Trump: Drew Angerer/Getty Images. James Comey: via NBC News. Trump and Kislyak: Russia in the USA. VIX index chart: Bloomberg. Quinnipiac logo: © 2017 Quinnipiac University.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen,
the Alt-President of the United States

Barack Obama, out of the Oval Office for all of 111 days, has been refreshingly conspicuous in his absence from the White House. With some high-profile vacation stops — and some equally high-profile statements on pivotal matters, foreign and domestic — the former 44th president has undertaken to tweak the rules of ex-presidential decorum, and to stake out new rhetorical territory for a beloved leader on the world stage. You don’t have to be in the White House to speak truth to power ... and look pretty damn good doing it.

Since leaving the White House, the former chief executive of the United States has been making all the right visible moves, with his partner in all things, former first lady Michelle, right at his side.

Having lunch in Manhattan with U2 frontman Bono. Golfing in Hawaii, missing putts with the best of ‘em. Huddling with the chieftains of Silicon Valley. Breaking bread with Warren Buffett in Omaha. Chillin’ with Richard Branson on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. Getting some sun on Tetiaroa, Marlon Brando’s old haunt in French Polynesia.

But it hasn’t all been kite-surfing, cargo shorts, and baseball caps worn backwards. ...

Read the rest at The Swamp

Image credits: Former President Obama: James Devaney/Getty Images. The Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Monday, May 8, 2017

France's landslide of hope

CAN YOU play ‘La Marseillaise’? Play it, and don’t wait for Rick Blaine to tell you it’s OK. Play it loud and long, turn the speakers in the direction of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and crank the volume up to 11 — on Twitter. That’s one way we can be sure that what happened over the weekend in France resonates with President* Trump and the rest of the all-wrong world of the alt-right.

Early Sunday, the news was out: Emmanuel Macron, the centrist candidate in the French presidential election, had defeated Marine Le Pen, the isolationist-leaning right-wing National Front candidate, in an election characterized by many as a choice between nothing less than light and darkness. The vote has positioned Macron, 39, to become the youngest president in the history of France, and its youngest leader since — wait for it — Napoleon.

In an election that was a statistical landslide — Macron beat Le Pen 65 percent to 35 percent, give or take — the French Republic made a presidential choice that was both a dramatic generational change and a strong signal that France, symbolized by its youngest leader in modern times, will very much contend for a leadership role in the shaping of what’s ultimately forged in the crucible that is Brexit-era Europe.

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And either because of those two factors or in spite of them, Macron’s victory as a centrist — in a France roiled with a rising immigration challenge and racked by terrorist violence perversely timed to sway the election — sends an unmistakable signal to the purveyors of the nativist campaign business model.

Stephen Bannon, White House Trump consiglieri, suffers a straight-up repudiation of his plans, via his Breitbart News empire, to templatize the nativist perspective, starting with new web sites based in Germany and France late last year. First step in a global ALEC.

Last year, Bannon was the height of confidence when he talked to The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone, who quoted Bannon from a conversation in July: “So, we look at themes globally as the center-right populist revolt against the permanent political class. Whether that’s [conservative author and political consultant] Peter Schweizer hitting on crony capitalism, or our guys in London following Front National in France. It’s all of one theme. We think that (pro-Brexit UK politician) Nigel Farage will be a politician that rises one day, Donald Trump the next. But it’s a bigger, tectonic plate.”

“And that’s why we kind of laugh at, particularly cable news and sometimes other sites that, they sit there and they’re so wrong on everything.

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IT’S FAIR to say that Macron’s win shows the breadth of that geopolitical “tectonic plate,” the “bigger” he describes, has yet to be confirmed, or even proven. Coming after rejections of nativist and anti-immigrant thinking in Austria’s recent election, France’s support of a centrist agenda shatters the gathering sense of inevitability that the nativists have tried to cultivate in the wake of Trump’s installation. There have also been recent denunciations of the so-called populist agenda in Britain, the Netherlands and Italy.

It’s not all over yet. Ryan Cooper reports in The Week: “There are legislative elections next month, where the National Assembly will be selected. If Macron or parties sympathetic to him don't win a majority, President Macron could be in 'cohabitation' with an unfriendly parliament — akin to divided government in the United States, and similar in terms of the resulting gridlock.” More widely, the German elections are set for September; a victory for the anti-immigration populists there would elevate their status in the one European nation that, on the basis of history, has a powerful vested interest in resisting such a slide back into intolerance. Such an event could reinvigorate populist fearmongering in other elections across the continent.

But for now, it seems, the weight of recent events, the pendulum-swing apparent, is moving the other way. Macron’s victory in France is more than just a win for a charismatic, forward-thinking leader, as impressive as it was. It’s also a victory for the idea that such a resounding, uplifting win is still possible in a time of deep skepticism and corrosive fear.

France just got buried by a landslide of hope. What’s not to love?

Image credits: Macron: Via Los Angeles Daily News. Bannon: Carol Allegri/Reuters.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Rewriting the Right

Less than four months into the unalloyed conservative triumph of Donald Trump assuming the presidency of the United States — an objective deeply desired and widely praised by think-tank and media conservatives — the symbol of American right-wing media and a leading conservative policy organization are going through major changes of their leadership and their missions. Just not the way they planned, or expected.

Change comes at you fast, they say. For these groups, the sudden changes that have already taken place could lead to more upheaval, as the conservative bloc in Washington faces the prospect of having to realign its objectives with something called reality, the reality of changes they can’t control.

The rightward realignment started last week when Bill O’Reilly, the longtime anchor and chief interlocutor of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, was fired, in the wake of numerous sexual harassment lawsuits; anecdotal statements of some who claimed victimization by O’Reilly; and the millions in settlement money O’Reilly and/or Fox has paid out in recent years to make the whole thing go away. ...

Read the full story in The Swamp

Image credits: logo: © 2017 The Heritage Foundation. Fox News Channel logo: © 2017 Fox News Channel. The Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Trump's 'Rookie Error' Revisited

Chuck Schumer asked the question about the health-care bill that no one at the White House asked. The New York Democratic senator put it rhetorically to The New York Times: “Why,” he asked, “would you risk voting yes for a bill that is devastating to your constituents and has no chance of becoming law?”

That plain-spoken common sense bore itself out on April 27th, as the Republican-led House of Representatives failed to come to agreement on the American Health Care Act, again not bringing it to the floor of the House for another vote that was destined to fail, like the original bill was predicted to do, on March 24th.

The bill, with some tweaks and variations, was expected to finally be one of the Trump administration’s campaign Promises Kept (that and the border wall). In fact, the AHCA has become more clearly to the public what it’s always been: a deeply cynical and poorly-conceived effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, one that, by some estimates, would have cost 24 million Americans their access to health insurance.

Read the full report at The Swamp

Image credits: Tweet: @DebraMessing. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

[Unintelligible.]: Trump’s mental health
and the questions that won’t go away

THE WORLD according to Trump is a frighteningly disjointed, bizarro-Tetris-on-steroids, Machiavellian, zero-sum-game mashup of situational identities, convenient allegiances and, always and always, vast financial entitlement. And for all who would have us believe that the Trump world view is animated by intent — that all of this crap, every aspect of his public persona, is on purpose — there’s a growing number of clinicians, mental health experts and health professionals who are coming to a more sobering assessment: Donald Trump can’t help himself, his mental health is bad and it’s getting worse.

Bob Cesca in Salon picked up on some of the behavioral anomalies: “When he desperately avoids details by rotating through his mental rotisserie of superlatives (‘very, very’ or ‘tremendous’ or ‘terrific’ or whatever hyperbolic pitchman gibberish he’s trained himself to repeat), he comes off as an uninformed dolt, conspicuously avoiding questions with more vigor than he avoids strong gusts of wind.

“Conversely, when Trump struggles to repeat issue-oriented details, he comes off as a scattered, barely coherent toddler attempting to repeat something he heard at the grown-ups’ table and failing badly.”

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That’s part of the problem. Some of the rest is found in a partial transcript of a Trump interview with The Associated Press, the president-apparent responding to AP about the importance of the presidency and the responsibilities of the job:

“Number One, there’s great responsibility. When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria. I’m saying to myself, “You know, this is more than just like, 79 missiles. This is death that’s involved, because people could have been killed. This is risk that’s involved, because if the missile goes off and goes in a city or goes in a civilian area — you know, the boats were hundreds of miles away — and if this missile goes off and lands in the middle of a town or a hamlet . . . every decision is much harder than you’d normally make. [Unintelligible.]

“This is involving death and life and so many things. . . . So it’s far more responsibility. [unintelligible].”

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THE PALMER Report, a news blog by Bill Palmer (founder, editor in chief, and muckraker in the best sense of the word), put things in perspective just after Easter weekend: “Over the weekend Donald Trump humiliated himself by not remembering to put his hand over his heart during the Easter Egg Roll, and then taking a kid’s hat from him and autographing it before randomly flinging it into the crowd – seemingly forgetting that the kid had just handed it to him.

“Then he went on Fox News and unwittingly revealed he didn’t remember that Kim Jong-Il gave way to Kim Jong-Un in North Korea six years ago.

“Then he began repeatedly referring to his close ally Paul Ryan as ‘Ron’ during a Tuesday rally in Ryan’s home state. And this came after Trump bombed Syria and then immediately announced that he had bombed Iraq instead.”

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Recently, The Palmer Report retweeted the observation of Brenda J. Iannucci, M.D., a medical doctor and cognitive function specialist in New York state. Dr. Iannucci (tweeting as Brenda Ji) summed up Trump’s apparently deepening lack of recall in the following fashion: “Cognitive failure in Trump: naming functions located frontotemporal regions of brain. Recall and reasoning fail concurrently.”

It’s not the first time health problems have been expressed as the reason for Trump’s rather ... singular behavior, which started before his installation on Jan. 20th.

It’s thought by some that Trump suffers from malignant narcissism, characterized by a thirst for admiration; a more or less universal suspicion of anyone outside an inner circle; aggression ... and a host of other malign behavioral patterns.

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USING from-afar clinical assessments of Dr. John D. Gartner, a psychologist formerly on the faculty at Johns Hopkins, and conclusions distilled from anecdotal examples and the comments of Trump intimates (including ex-wife Ivana Trump), journalist Shane Show came to the “diagnosis” that Trump is plagued with malignant narcissism. Snow’s conclusions, though not coming from a clinician in the field, are nonetheless a compelling read (complete with play-by-play and a scorecard), whether you think he’s right or not.

Snow’s analysis gets additional traction from Gartner, whom Snow interviewed for his blogpost. Gartner described for the journalist the origins of the phrase “malignant narcissism”:

“The concept was developed by a famed psychologist named Erich Fromm, who escaped Nazi Germany, as a way to describe evil,” Gartner says. “He used it to describe Hitler.”

◊ ◊ ◊

In February, The New Republic boldly speculated that our asterisked chief executive “may have an untreated sexually transmitted disease that has led to a condition called ‘neurosyphilis,’ characterized by ‘irritability, loss of ability to concentrate, delusional thinking, and grandiosity.’”

Psychoanalysts and psychiatrists are also considering Trump’s behavior as the manifestation of a “dark triad” personality exhibiting three specific traits: machiavellianism (an inclination toward manipulative behavior), narcissism (excessive love of one’s self), and psychopathy (a lack of empathy).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Killing O'Reilly on TV

Ladies and gentlemen, this long national nightmare is over. Bill O’Reilly, for 21 years the host of The O’Reilly Factor, the voice and face of the Fox News Channel, and on-air avatar of the Pantone-red conservative movement, has left the Fox News building in Manhattan. Long the target and subject of sexual harassment lawsuits alleging wanton misogyny, bullying, intimidation and innuendo, O’Reilly was fired on April 19th, reportedly received an exit payout somewhere in the well-heeled neighborhood of $25 million.

“I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers,” O'Reilly said in a statement. “I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”

Since then, Fox News has been rearranging its lineup, working to fill a gaping hole in its programming schedule. The fallout of O’Reilly’s absence from advertiser-dependent TV will continue for a while, but the impact of his departure will be felt on three fronts more or less immediately, and for maybe longer than “a while” ...

Read the full story at The Swamp

Image credits: O'Reilly: Fox News screengrab. The Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The wannabe emperor’s new polls,
and the ones before that

NEVER IN modern times has an American president fallen so far among so many of his fellow citizens so fast. That’s the main takeaway about the Trump White House from the latest opinion polls, any one of which seem to reinforce the results of the one before that and the one before that.

If the ascendancy of House Trump was a miracle of political aviation, the multitude of surveys from several established polling organizations point to that miracle approaching stall speed … some unknown time before the flagship of Icarus Airlines begins the five-spiral crash we know is coming.

We’ve seen the mountain looming in the windshield from a long ways off. There’s chronology and context growing into our popular perception of this manqué presidency, and it doesn’t look good for House Trump.

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It’s easy to react to one of a collection of the latest polls from a day or two ago or a week ago. That’s part of a snapshot view of the public mood about the Trump administration. What’s telling is what comes next. What comes next is another, closer, wider look at what came before.

The same downbeat reaction to Trump policies and initiatives, the same oppositional perspectives from the voting public, have been the one consistent reaction from much of the voting public that publicly voted his way in November. And that’s the throughline that’s been building for weeks and months.

Never mind the snapshot, the Movie of House Trump is not an especially good one right now, and based on what we know of the director’s previous work, it ain’t gettin’ any better from here on in. The last 100 days don’t augur well for the next 100 weeks.

Read the rest at The Omnibus @Medium

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Three takes on 4/20 revisited

In the midst of a change in the national mood, and anticipating the next wave of entrepreneurial masters of herb, the term "4/20" has truly attained the, uh, high ground in benevolent public perception. This in the face of the rise of a wannabe emperor of a president, and a presumably renascent white supremacist movement. A lot can go down in seven years. It's all different from 2010, when I wrote the piece that follows, and much the same. The time seems right to bring it back; it's here with its historical ironies intact (with a tweak here and there):

What the hell is it about the twentieth of April anyway. For generations now the 110th day of the year has been a source of fascination bordering on … well, not bordering on anything so much as tipped over into obsession.

For numerologists, the number 420 has meant deception, fraud and subterfuge. Fans of nursery rhymes point to the line in “Sing a Song of Sixpence” (four and twenty black birds baked in a pie”). Fans of rock point to Stephen Stills plaintive “4+20,” what you get when you multiply the numbers in the title of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.”

For the rest of us, the calendrical variation of the number 420 — the date April 20th — usually, or at least often, comes to three things:

There’s Adolf’s birthday. Yes, even demons have birthdays. The enduring symbol of how the cult of personality can be twisted into monumental evil was born this day in 1889, in what was then Austria-Hungary. The rest is history more ably recounted elsewhere, and lived, to one degree or another, everywhere.

It’s a comforting idea, the idea that by common consent any associations between Adolf Hitler and April 20 could be expunged from the record of our collective memory, the better to reinforce his expulsion from the garden of humanity. ...

Read the full 2010 post here

Through the Latest Looking Glasses

When Snap Inc., creators of Snapchat, announced in September its plans to roll out its first actual product, the video-enhanced Spectacles eyewear, speculation was strong that the product would be a game-changer in the world of wearable technology.

Fast forward eight months. A Wyoming entrepreneur has taken to Kickstarter as he prepares to roll out his own line of video-enhanced sunglasses, with some tweaks to what Snap wrought last year. But while these upstarts are raising the bar on what’s possible in a wearable-tech market estimated to grow dramatically — to $25 billion by 2019, according to industry analyst CCS Insight — there’s another, more serious side to the wearable-camera trend.

In a nation that’s a collection of states with differing laws governing use of police body cameras, the upstarts could be accidental disrupters, filling a need for public accountability that law enforcement can’t, or won’t, address. ...

Read the full report in OMNI

Image credits: OMNI logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

When Artificial Intelligence = Not Enough Intelligence

It’s a staple of science fiction: the devices made by humans run afoul of their creators by learning how humans think. From the renegade HAL9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey to the replicants in the sci-fi classic Blade Runner to the robot in the 2014 hit Ex Machina, and others besides — all would eventually achieve the same cunning and brutality as the human beings who created them.

On April 13th, the website Science reported the latest unsettling news of how algorithms being used to develop artificial intelligence systems are — like the mechanisms of the movies — getting better at internalizing bad habits of their human creators, via written language and text. ...

Read the full report at OMNI

Image credits: HAL9000 computer image: From 2001: A Space Odyssey (MGM). OMNI logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The, um, Evolution of Donald Trump

THIS TIME a year ago, Donald Trump was throwing red meat to the crowds with both hands at campaign rallies across America; their appetite as political carnivores helped power Trump into the White House. But reality has a way of intruding on fantasy -- to be expected when the fantasy depends on the reality to exist.

Now, we’re starting to see the slightest pivot toward geopolitical and economic reality – realpolitik – taking shape within House Trump. We don’t know for sure who the Donald Whisperer is: maybe Firstborn Plenipotentiary Ivanka Trump, or presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, in his emerging role as a chief personal counselor to the president, a kind of Rasputin in chief.

It sure as hell ain’t Steve Bannon.

Whoever the Oval Office Jiminy Cricket is has been whispering words of a pushback into Trump’s coiffed ear, a recognition of how the big-boy-pants world works -- of what is, finally, the difference between campaigning and governing. ... a difference that Trump has been hard-pressed to observe even before taking office in January.

That pivotal distinction never went away, and it never will. Trump is being dragged, kicking and not quite screaming, to realizing that. There’s a lot of recent evidence to show that process has already taken place. ...

Read the full story in The Swamp

Image credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking.  Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The inconclusive GOP 'autopsy'

Nothing blunts the inconvenient discomfort of failure like the narcotic of success. Achieving victory has a way of obscuring the pre-existing conditions that could have otherwise led to defeat. The Republican Party avoided defeat in 2016, but the GOP had fundamental, deeply structural problems brewing long before the 2016 election. Those problems didn’t vanish when Donald Trump raised his right hand in January. ...

In American politics, a victory, even an unexpected one, makes it hard to believe there’s anything wrong, in your campaign or your party. The thousand-candlepower glow of a win in November — one that ushered in an historic Republican majority in both chambers — has blinded the GOP to the need to come to grips with changes it needed to make as a party, at every meaningful level, before the Trump juggernaut even got started. ...

Read the full analysis in The Swamp.

Image credits: Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC. Elephant X-ray: William Dwight Whitney The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language (New York, NY: The Century Co., 1911)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

‘Rookie error’: The disaster of TrumpCare, the president
who branded it, and the House Speaker who birthed it

We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare — and nobody can do that like me. We will save $'s and have much better healthcare!

@realDonaldTrump, February 2016

YOU KNOW it’s been a bad day at House Trump when the proprietor in chief won’t even tweet about the biggest accomplishment of the day. The one that was intended to be held high as a shining example of presumptive president Donald Trump’s ability to lead a newly-unified Republican government. But there was silence about that biggest accomplishment from TeamTrumpTweet ... which makes a kind of sense: When the biggest accomplishment didn’t come off as planned, well, who wants to own up to that?

On the day after the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s bedrock-legacy domestic achievement, Trump caved on even bringing the ACA’s long-awaited replacement to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

On Friday, in an act of political euthanasia — one that everyday people can understand better than the politicians — the American Health Care Act was withdrawn shortly before an almost-certain losing vote in the House, despite the late-night pleading of Trump administration officials with Republican conservatives who refused to sign on. The bill shorthanded AHCA was quickly and mercifully taken off the respirator by its loved ones, rather than be allowed to die over time, vote by vote, on live television.

If that seems like a harsh rhetorical use of real-life experiences, all apologies. But the fact of how the AHCA went down to defeat implicitly sends that same message: This is how precipitous American lives are down here on the ground, in the real world. “Repeal and replace” was simply not an option, not for Americans who’ve besieged their representatives in emails and tweets, phone calls and town halls for weeks.

“We had no votes from the Democrats,” Trump said on Friday afternoon. “They weren’t going to give us a single vote, so it’s a very difficult thing to do … I think what will happen is Obamacare, unfortunately, will explode. It’s going to have a bad year.”

◊ ◊ ◊

YOU COULD see this coming from a distance. The AHCA never had the populist loft needed to take off. It was rushed, hurried. Obamacare took about a year to gain ground in Congress and gain favor with the public. Trump’s legislation — principally the work of House Speaker Paul Ryan — took less than two months. It didn’t pass the smell test with anyone.

Influential conservative entities from the Heritage Foundation to the Club for Growth hammered Trump’s AHCA mercilessly in the week before the vote. “In many ways, the House Republican proposal released last night not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of Obamacare but expands on them,” Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham said to The Daily Beast on March 14. Others piled on with no fear of retribution.

It was going south for House Trump. We knew it Thursday when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said “we are very, very pleased with the direction this is going.” With a straight face. We knew it when Ryan postponed a planned Thursday vote, pushing it back later in the day and finally cancelling it.

We knew it late Wednesday, when the president-apparent, a big fan of brinkmanship, said he wanted Congress to get behind the AHCA or he would abandon the repeal-and-replace effort altogether.

◊ ◊ ◊

The arm-twisting and gnashing of teeth continued into the night but by Friday morning, not enough had changed. Trump, sensing an all-in, guts-ball moment in the making, dramatically called for a floor vote on Friday. No dice. It wasn’t cooler heads that prevailed, it was mathematics.

The Democrats were a solid bloc against the AHCA. Any more than 22 House Republicans voting against the Trump measure was a kiss of death, and there were a lot more No votes than that. The White House knew it; Trump, consulting with Ryan, the author of this nightmare, opted to, uh, pull the plug.

“I spoke to the president just a little while ago and I told him that the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill, and he agreed with that decision,” Ryan said at a press conference. “This is a setback—no two ways about it. "We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

◊ ◊ ◊

HOUSE MINORITY Leader Nancy Pelosi pulled no punches when the deal went down, with a timeless quote: “Rookie error, Donald Trump, for bringing this up on a day that it is clearly not ready,” the California Democrat said. “You do not bring up your bill just to be spiteful on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. You build consensus ... not the shortest, quickest monstrosity you can bring to the House floor.”

There’s a semantic reason for Democrats to cheer: By characterizing the GOP replacement measure as “Obamacare Lite,” as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul did on March 14 (when TrumpCare was still gathering what looked like steam), Republicans attached to their own legislation a weaker contrasting rhetorical valance that defined it, fatally.

By definition, if you say something is “[Anyword] Lite,” you’ve invested the [Anyword] with a weight that its ostensible alternative doesn’t have. The intended Republican disparagement is an actual Republican compliment. The messaging itself sent the signal that the Republicans knew AHCA was facing an uphill battle.

◊ ◊ ◊

TOM PRICE’S bid for the diplomacy of gradualism had its own unexpected revelation. On March 14, the Health and Human Services secretary told reporters the AHCA is a “is a work in progress, and we'll work with the House and the Senate. As you know, it's a legislative process that occurs. ... People engage and they get involved in the process. Sometimes, to a greater degree, nothing focuses the mind like a bill currently sitting on the table. We’ll work through it.”

With his “work in progress” talk, Price underscored something that was just as true for the GOP replacement for Obamacare as it’s true of the genuine article. Obamacare was never intended as the be-all and end-all, the slam dunk for all the nation’s health-care woes.

From the start, seven years ago this month, President Obama characterized it as a first step, not an event but a work in progress. Price’s comments on March 14th on behalf of the GOP’s alternative plan showed how challenging that process can be. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on.

Friday’s events were an optical and a tactical setback for Trump. By failing to even get the AHCA bill to the House floor for a vote, Trump saw his vaunted reputation as king of “the art of the deal” get the drubbing it deserved. It’s especially galling since last Oct. 24, at a campaign rally, Trump all but guaranteed that a full-on repeal and replacement of Obamacare would be done and dusted within his first 100 days. He only needed 64 to find out how wrong he was.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Race and Racial Impersonation:
Three Views in Three Books

The national dialogue on race, already fraught enough before the Trump presidency and even more so now, will soon feature three new books with which to settle an argument, or start one, about an intriguing variation on the topic that’s still the third rail of American life.

All three books, coming out back to back to back starting at the end of March, will survey the tricky terrain of literal racial impersonation, from personal, journalistic and scholarly perspectives. Their arrival in the culture at virtually the same moment — what they say about this nation and its bandwidth for the uncomfortable — may be just a coincidence of publication schedules.

It’s more likely the inevitable intersection, or collision, of viewpoints on a debate that arouses deep-seated feelings about race and identity, and those insidious pledges of allegiance, the ones we Americans take without realizing it — the ones that say, in so many words, “Stay in your lane.” ...

Read the full story at Humans

Image credits: Book cover: © 2017 BenBella Books

Monday, March 20, 2017

Brown-eyed handsome man:
Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

TO THE LIVING, we owe respect,” Voltaire once observed. “To the dead, we owe only the truth.” By that reasonable metric, the hole in our lives and the depth of the truth of our foundational cultural love are both exponentially bigger, wider today than they were before Saturday, before tragedy and poetry came at us from an unexpected angle, in a statement from the County Police Department of St. Charles, Missouri.

“St. Charles County police responded to a medical emergency on Buckner Road at approximately 12:40 p.m. today. Inside the home, first responders observed an unresponsive man and immediately administered lifesaving techniques. Unfortunately, the 90-year-old man could not be revived and was pronounced deceased at 1:26 p.m.

The St. Charles County Police Department sadly confirms the death of Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr., better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry.

The family requests privacy during this time of bereavement.”

◊ ◊ ◊

A galaxy of kindred spirits and cultural co-conspirators appeared almost immediately. Alice Cooper tweeted that Berry was "the genesis behind the great sound of rock 'n' roll. All of us in rock have now lost our father," he said.

On Twitter, Mick Jagger weighed in, as we knew he would. “His lyrics shone above others & threw a strange light on the American dream. Chuck ... your music is engraved inside us forever.”

Jagger’s Rolling Stones fellow traveler Keith Richards spoke up too: “One of my big lights has gone out.”

@questlove said: “Thou Shall Have No Other Rock Gods Before Him.” And Huey Lewis tweeted a homage, saying straight-up that Berry was “Maybe the most important figure in all of rock and roll.”

Huey Lewis got it right. Chuck Berry wasn’t just present at the beginning. He was the beginning. Before Dylan, before the Beatles or the Stones, before Jagger or Hendrix, before Michael or Bowie or Prince ... there was Chuck.
◊ ◊ ◊

ALL DUE props, but there’s no way Dick Clark could possibly have been America’s oldest teenager. Clark lived and died by the musicians he could put on American Bandstand, including Chuck Berry, who appeared on Clark’s show (already a proven hitmaker) not long after its debut in 1957. Without that music, American Bandstand would have had nothing to stand on, would have had nothing to be. Chuck Berry was the oldest American teenager before Dick Clark ever put his music on TV.

Some of the obituaries from the mainstream media found elaborately deceptive ways to mischaracterize Berry’s role in the music, to somehow place him amid events that were already happening, like he was a man trying to catch a train that’d already left the station. “Journalists are getting it wrong,” Questlove tweeted. “#ChuckBerry didn’t help define or was part of the fabric: he literally was THE STANDARD of rock n roll.”

Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Ray Charles were the A, T, C and G of rock music’s DNA. Either by writing the songs (a genetic code of musical notes), or by synthesizing that code for presentation to a presumably wider and more palatable audience, those four men were generally indispensable to the music that is today so intertwined with our culture, our ethos, our world view.

◊ ◊ ◊

Elvis and Little Richard were as much or more popularizers of music by others as they were songwriters of their own, helping to bring that music into a broader exposure. Similarly, Ray Charles was a composer early in his career, but went on to ultimately become more an interpreter of the American songbook than a composer of the necessaries in that songbook, to any great degree.

Of this necessary quartet, Chuck Berry was the full package: a man with a spirited, dexterous, fiercely original guitar style; the ravenous self-confidence that typified the American ethos of the mid-50’s; the vision to blend country-western motifs with R&B; and a consistent command of songwriting: lean, smart, poetic, lashing, subversively topical, on point in ways that practically no one understood (or at least admitted to understanding).

He codified the swagger, the chords, the style, the sonic vocabulary, the social context of rock n’ roll. On Saturday, Bruce Springsteen called him “the greatest pure rock ’n’ roll writer who ever lived.” And he was.

And if you’ve played a guitar at any time in the last 60 years, you should get down on bended (and maybe arthritic) knee and give thanks. Without Chuck Berry, rock n’ roll does not exist. Full stop.

◊ ◊ ◊

CONSIDER ONE of Berry’s better songs, and one of his lesser-known songs, “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” for a guide on how to speak to an audience no one was paying attention to. The song was a series of slice-of-life vignettes that all hinged on the presence of the character of the title as leitmotiv, as linchpin, as the catalyst no one saw coming.

Arrested on charges of unemployment,
he was sitting in the witness stand
The judge's wife called up the district attorney
Said you free that brown eyed man
You want your job you better free that brown eyed man.

Flying across the desert in a TWA,
I saw a woman walking across the sand
She been a walkin' thirty miles en route to Bombay
To get a brown-eyed handsome man
Her destination was a brown-eyed handsome man.

One lyric does it for me:

Two-three the count, nobody on,
He hits a high-fly into the stand.
Rounding third and heading for home
It was a brown-eyed handsome man
That won the game,
It was a brown-eyed handsome man.

◊ ◊ ◊

He could have been talking about anyone with brown eyes, but he wasn’t. When that song was released in 1956, it was just eight years after Jackie Robinson broke into the major leagues. America was only months into the civil rights experiment started by a very young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. We were a decade away from the Black Power movement, generations away from #Black Lives Matter. But even then, Chuck was speaking to black America. It wasn’t code-switching, it was winking to a black American population that was about to go into the crucible: S’ all right. We’re gonna get through this. Just hold your head up. We’re winners. We’re everything we think we are.

That song was a subliminal anthem for black America. “Arrested on charges of unemployment”? Black people relate, then and now. The song’s an ode to empowerment that didn’t sound like an ode to anything. It celebrated our status as disrupters, as shit disturbers. As survivors.

That song remarked on the African American ability to be (borrowing a phrase from Reggie Jackson) one of the major straws stirring the American drink. It was never announced as such, and certainly not promoted that way in 1956. But it spoke to young black Americans like few things could, at a pivotal time in our history.

◊ ◊ ◊

CHUCK DIDN’T do that a lot. He didn’t have to. He was on point, he was of the moment even when he maybe didn’t realize. In the same song he speaks of “flying across the desert in a TWA.” That name-check is documentary, a marker of our time and our culture. “TWA.” Who did that then? Who does that today?

In the song “Run Rudolph Run,” his indelible Christmas chestnut, Berry catalogs the desires of children wishing for holiday presents according to the 50’s. In the song, Santa’s asked to “take the freeway down,” one of the very first weaves of a fixture of postwar industrial American life into a rock and roll anthem. One little girl in the song wants “a little baby doll that can cry, sleep, drink and wet” — a clever nod to the tail-finned consumerism just starting to rear its head in the 50’s. And so Santa makes haste, with Rudolph lighting the way, “whizzing like a Sabre jet.”

A Sabre jet? There are living Americans old enough to have been a part of that era who don’t even know what a Sabre jet was; that component of 1950’s-era American military technology is something that probably went over their heads, something they'd remember to forget. Not Chuck. The artifacts and everydays of our culture were part of what powered his best songs.

◊ ◊ ◊

“Sweet Little Sixteen” anticipated our ravenous celebrity culture, right down to the pursuit of autographs that typifies that culture today. “You Never Can Tell” (you know, the Jackrabbit Slim song on Pulp Fiction) glorifies the sweet dilemmas of a modern love story. In the seven(!) verses of “Too Much Monkey Business,” you’ll find a catalog of our conflicts with everyday life, as pertinent now as they were when the song came out in 1956.

And the protagonist of “Memphis” pleads with “long distance information,” trying to put a call through in an era way before the digital performance we take for granted today. In the song, covered by just about everyone, Berry presents one of the simplest, most evocative, most eloquent expressions of longing and the desire for human connection ever written:

Help me, information, more than that I cannot add
Only that I miss her and all the fun we had
But we were pulled apart because her mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis Tennessee.

Last time I saw Marie she's waving me good-bye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye.
Marie is only six years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennessee.

Chuck Berry achieved so much because he was of us, and his experience was of us. All of us. At once, his musical vision seemed to be fully-formed and ecumenical, and didn’t hinge on race or gender or other distinctions, even when he did, occasionally. Even when society happily let those distinctions come to bear on him. Constantly.

He paid a price for being so brashly self-assured. A lot of people had problems with that coming from him and people that looked like him. Being a brown-skinned brown-eyed handsome man had its risks and dangers in mid-century America. Just like it does today.

◊ ◊ ◊

PETER GURALNICK, writing in an October 2016 essay that Rolling Stone republished on Saturday, got close to the unknowable core of Chuck Berry:

“He is, like many of us, his own best advocate and his own worst enemy, but the particular problem for Chuck is that, for all of the accolades that have come his way ... to this day he has not been unambiguously embraced in the full artistic terms he deserves.

“There are undoubtedly a multiplicity of reasons for this (race would certainly have to be factored in), but the principal reason that Chuck has not been lifted up on a wave of critical and biographical hosannas is Chuck himself. His unwillingness to ingratiate himself. His unreadable apartness. The deep-seated sense of anger and suspicion that can unexpectedly flare up and turn into overt hostility, with or without provocation (check out the 60th-birthday, star-studded performance documentary, Hail! Hail! Rock N' Roll, which is both brilliant for its uplifting artistry and maddening for its self-inflicted failures). Most of all, I would guess, it comes down to his determined, uncompromisingly defiant refusal to conform to anyone else's expectations but his own.”

◊ ◊ ◊

HE NEVER stopped moving. He never stopped playing. According to the Chuck Berry website, a new album, “Chuck,” will be released later this year (CBS Sunday Morning says it's coming in June). It would be “his first album in nearly four decades,” the website says.

Like Bowie and Prince, both lost to us too soon not long ago, Chuck Berry will be in his next phase what he’s long been in this one: a presence as necessary as oxygen, a force as inescapable as gravity. A figure deserving of respect and truth.

In 1977, when the folks at NASA launched the Voyager I satellite, they included a so-called Golden Record, a phonograph disc that collected a potpourri of the sounds and images of we earthlings of 1977. The sound of thunder, waves breaking against the shore, automobile traffic and the greetings of people in four dozen languages are included; so are the music of Bach, Beethoven, mariachi music and folk music from Azerbaijan.

The record also includes “Johnny B. Goode,” as recorded by Chuck Berry in 1958. It’s the only rock song on the record attached to Voyager I, which, according to NASA, entered interstellar space in September 2013 — the farthest human-made object from the earth.

Which needn’t be a surprise to us. We’ve already known for 60 years what some lucky extraterrestrial in the constellation Camelopardalis will find out sometime over the next 40,000 years:

Yeah. Chuck Berry was out of this world.

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