Beethoven No. 6 “Pastoral” Reviews

20150425_132906_001Beethoven completed Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (“Pastoral”) in 1808 writing most of it during the spring and summer, no doubt inspired by the countryside in his beloved Vienna.  It is one of my favorite works by the composer. To honor the spirit of this symphony on this fine spring day some 200 years after its first performance, I thought I would put together a list of recordings of the 6th that are of merit along with notes on the performances, recordings, and pricing.  As a bonus, I am also recommending a handful of Beethoven Symphony cycles that can be purchased at bargain basement prices for the budget minded listener.

Let me say at the outset that I purchased almost all of the recordings I reference as MP3 downloads through Amazon, not iTunes. That is to say that you might not find all of the music or the same prices on iTunes. For the “record”, I do have an iPhone and cannot purchase digital files from Amazon on it, although with an app, I believe it is possible.  I did, however, create a wish list of albums to buy and then accessed the wish list on my PC laptop and purchased the titles on Amazon. You see, I am a Windows guy mostly and until very recently had never used an Apple anything of any kind.

After carefully listening to 7 complete Beethoven Symphony cycles from the ’50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and the ‘00s, AND comparing movements of No. 6 from 9 different recordings back to back; AND after reading countless on-line reviews of what critics and devoted listeners have said about them, here are my opinions and recommendations.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral)

The following are listed in descending  order of preference:

9 Blomstedt – Staatskapelle Dresden $8.99 (1975-1980)

The Dresden State Orchestra under Blomstedt plays flawlessly but it is too bad the quality of the recording from Berlin Classics is not of the highest standards.  The sound is murky and muddled when the strings unite and the full orchestra blends.  The soloists seem to be playing muted instruments at times as if banished to the penalty box, to borrow a hockey phrase.  The pace throughout is fairly even bordering on monotony and on the slow side, similar to Bohm and Szell.  Beethoven seems to be walking with a cane taking care not to stumble on the rocks all around.  The storm in the 4th movement is somewhat agitating and reminds me of rolling through a tortuous car wash with the windows down.

8 Leibowitz – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) $2.69 (1961)

Leibowitz leads the RPO on a fast-paced romp through nature.  His tempi are nearly as brisk as the versions conducted by Krivine and Toscanini.  The storm is a cyclonic burst that sounds artificial, almost comical or melodramatic, but fun I must confess.  Like the Blomstedt recording, the orchestral soundscape here suffers from a lack of clarity at key moments.  I have not heard the original 1961 pressing from Reader’s Digest from which these have been re-issued on The Genius of Beethoven: 100  Classical Masterpieces, but the sound here is slightly distant.  However, considering that you get all 9 symphonies from a widely acclaimed set plus many other Beethoven classics for $2.69, what are you waiting for?

7 Morris – London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) .99 (1987)

Morris commands the orchestra confidently.  The pacing seems on the brisk side in all the movements as if Beethoven were on a 45-minute power walk.  The violins have a tinny, razor-like sound.  This shrillness adds a rough edge to the performance that gives it character and spirit.  However, the recording lacks the richness of sound that I prefer,  rather like skim milk in coffee – it helps to cut the bitterness, but not enough to smooth it out.  Movement No. IV is positively terrifying.  Here, Beethoven takes cover from violent lightening strikes, and tornadic winds emerging with a disheveled look but otherwise undeterred.

6 Boult – Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra of London .99 (1957)

The Boult performance of the No. 6 found on The Beethoven Big Box has grown on me after repeated listens.  The pacing is uneven and the dynamics give the piece an odd level of excitement.  The British Boult evokes a startled Beethoven who might have encountered a bear or lost his way in Epping forest, pausing periodically to check his compass.

5 Tennstedt London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) 9.49 (1984)

The LPO under maestro Tennstedt deliver a solid performance of the “Pastoral.”  Coupled with excellent sonics in a package that also includes Symphonies 3, and 8 plus the Overtures,  this is a desirable recording.  One caveat is that the storm in movement IV of the 6th is a letdown, frankly, with only a few thunderous timpani strikes. I would characterize it as a dreamy thunderstorm that produced a torrential downpour for a few seconds after which a dazed Beethoven wakes up to ask what just happened.

4 Toscanini – NBC Symphony Orchestra $29.99 (1952)

I bought the renowned ’50’s Beethoven cycle on used vinyl for $1 at a Public Library book sale in Warner, New Hampshire some 10 years or so ago.  The vinyl was in “decent” condition so to preserve it, I converted the records to MP3 files.  The sound is pretty rough because of all the pops, scratches, and skips, not to mention the original lackluster mono RCA recording.  It’s hard to get past the limitations of the recording, but if one can, the rewards are the glorious historical performances of the NBC Symphony Orchestra passionately guided and inspired by one of the greatest conductors of all time.

3 Szell – The Cleveland Orchestra $6.99 (’60s)

Szell’s version of No. 6 is almost as good as Bohm’s.  Perhaps his tempi are a bit slower and somewhat plodding and mechanical like a fine tuned march at times, but the Cleveland Orchestra play magnificently throughout.  The instruments are not as present in the soundscape as in the DG recording of Bohm and the VPO, but the sonics are clean and silky. If you want to calm your nerves, Szell may be all the medicine you need.  Even the 4th Movement is serene, never menacing, just a quick and proper no-frills thunderstorm.  At $6.99 U.S. for all 9 Symphonies, brilliantly played, this is the bargain box of the century.  One caution, as some reviewers have pointed out, the 9th is alleged to be a hybrid – starting off with Szell and ending with another conductor and choir.  I haven’t verified this yet, but even if true, it should be no reason to shy away from the set.  The complete Beethoven cycle of Szell on Sony with the full 9th, would run you $30 U.S.  Is the 9th worth 23 bucks?

2 Krivine – Le Chambre Philarmonique $11.97 (2009)

If you like period instruments, this recording is the one for you.  The tempi are faster than most, making one wonder whether they were speeded up as a result of a recording glitch; actually, the brisk pace feels quite natural.  The sound is crisp and clean.  The storm in Movement IV sounds like a twister rolling through the countryside uprooting trees and bushes in its path before petering out.  This bargain price collection of the 9 symphonies was recorded live in 2009 making it the newest and freshest among the group surveyed and highly recommended.

1 Bohm – Wiener Philharmoniker (VPO) $9.49 (1971)

This one is the gold standard. I should point out that I already had the CD in my collection, so I did my own rip.  I wanted to hear the MP3 format so that I could fairly compare the recording with the other selections reviewed, all or most of which I ONLY own digitally. Bohm’s interpretation feels the most realistic. Nothing is rushed or forced. The tempos just seem right.  The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO) sounds passionate, yet controlled. The instruments blend beautifully and shine when individually highlighted. The sound quality of the recording is simply outstanding.  At 9.49 for the digital download, it is not the best bargain among the group reviewed, but it IS the one you want if you only could have one recording of No. 6.

 

Trump as King Richard III and Don Quixote

 

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Dali’s Don Quixote from Rio exhibit

 

After reading Richard III, Shakespeare’s tragedy/history about a power hungry manipulative sociopath who plots his way to the throne of England, I cannot help but think of Donald Trump.  It’s as if Shakespeare modeled Richard Gloucester after Trump.  And while Trump has not actually murdered his adversaries as did Richard, he did destroy his political rivals on the campaign trail and as president has gone after his opponents and critics with a vengeance.  In the following post, I’ll explore the physical, personality, and historical similarities between President Trump (not my President) and King Richard III, the illigimate and brief ruler of England.

Physically, Richard Gloucester, later King Richard, aka Richard III, and Donald Trump share some attributes.  Both are unattractive.  The tall and portly Trump sports synthetic, free flowing, drug induced orange hair.  Richard had a withered arm and hunch back. Both are sensitive and testy about their physical flaws and Trump goes to great length to prove that his hands are above average and that his hair is real.

Psychologically, both men are extraordinarily needy and quite unaccustomed to hearing the word no.  They seem to have not been deeply loved as children and consequently developed inferiority complexes. At one point, Richard admits to hating himself. Trump on the other hand can admit no wrongs. One could argue that both are narcissistic, and incapable of feeling empathy or sympathy for others.  They personalize all events and interactions and value loyality above all else, and become paranoid and suspicious of their closest allies.

Both rose to power by deceit, threat, bluster, and the brutal takedown of opponents. Richard had them all killed while Trump cut them down with viscious verbal attacks. Like Richard, Trump is spectacularly unfit and unqualfied to govern and has surrounded himself with loyal but incompetent and enabling men and women.  And it is yet to be seen who among his loyalists will become suspect and driven out.  Will it be KellyAnne Conway or Sean Spicer who draws the figurative fate of Buckingham? Could Steve Bannon be secretly plotting with the Russians to use Trump and then claim the throne for himself as did Richmond through Lord Stanley?  Will Trump’s reign of terror end as abrubtly as did Richard’s brief tenure on the throne?  The writing may already be on the wall.  Toward the end, Richard became positively unhinged, to the point of flailing wildly with a sword on the battlefield after being unhorsed, not unlike Trump’s incoherent tantrums on Twitter lashing out recklessly in ALL CAPS at ALL critics real or imagined like Don Quixote.

Birds and FDR on a slate colored day

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I’ve been reading Douglas Brinkley’s biography of FDR – Rightful Heritage: The Renewal of America and am fascinated by Roosevelt’s childhood obsession with birds.  As a child of privilege, Franklin had acres and acres of private family owned land to explore.  He particularly enjoyed watching, counting, and shooting birds, not for sport, but for study. As he got older, he began to advocate shooting birds with a camera, not a gun.  Roosevelt was a serious ornithologist.

I too enjoy shooting birds with my camera, although do not consider myself worthy of the title of even amateur ornitholgist.  Nor do I consider myself to be a serious photographer, however, from time to time, I surprise myself.  I do have a sharp eye and the bird in the photograph is proof of that as this particular species, Junco hyemalis, is quite shy and flighty.  And the commonly known Dark-eyed Junco sticks with its own kind not caring to associate with other species. The slate colored specimen I captured snoops around for the birdseed that I tossed out ealier in the day.  The Junco seems to favor sunflower seeds and will fight off squirrels who like them too.  They very often hop from place to place digging aggressively for worms, seeds and other forms of winter sustenance.

Nice to see the Dark-eyed Junco on this gray day.  FDR would have concurred.

 

 

 

Top 10 Reasons Patriots Win Super Bowl

10.  The Patriots have experience in the Super Bowl, winning 4 of 6 under Belichick with Brady at QB.

9. The Falcons are 0-2 in Super Bowls. Dan Quinn as a Head Coach and QB Matt Ryan have never participated in a Super Bowl.  As Defensive Coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, Quinn lost to the Patriots in the 2014 Super Bowl.

8. The Falcons have a mediocre defense, ranked 27th out of 32 teams in points against.  The Patriots have the 3rd ranked offense in the NFL.

7. The Patriots have a superior defense to combat the Falcons superior offense. Turnovers will be key. The Pats have forced 23 turnovers, 2 more than the Falcons.

6. The Patriots have home field advantage having won the Super Bowl in Houston in 2004. Plus, 7 players on the Pats’ roster played college ball in Texas, 2 for The University of Houston, including Tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

5. Belichick is 22-3 when facing a head coach for the first time. He will be facing Dan Quinn as a head coach for the first time.

4. In 21 playoff games, the Pats’ kicker Gostkowski is 29/31 in made field goals. Matt Bryant, the 41-year-old kicker for Atlanta has had very few pressure kicks in playoff games – only 10 field goal attempts in his career.

3. Belichick is regarded as the best coach in the history of the game; Brady, the best Quarterback in the history of the game.

2. Brady is out to prove something after DeflateGate.  His feud with the commissioner is personal.

1.  That Matt Ryan won the MVP over Brady should provide just the little extra motivation needed for Brady to perform herculean feats.  Pats over the Falcons 35-24.

Top 10 Plurals for Goldman Sachs

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Rachel Maddow issued a challenge for viewers to come up with an appropriate plural designation when speaking of Trump’s Goldman Sachs (GS) hires.  You know, like a group of Sachs or a bag of Goldman Sachs or a school of Sachs and so on.  You will recall that Trump has named, hired, or appointed something like 6 from the Wall Street firm.  Interestingly, and some would say hypocritically so, he brutally criticized Hillary Clinton for being “totally controlled by Goldman Sachs.” Well, it looks like he was secretly winking at her when saying this because it appears that it is he, not she who will be controlled by Goldman Sachs.  So how do we refer to a group of GS Trump advisers? Here is my list of top ten possibilities with brief explanations:

  1. A coalition of GS, as in a coalition of cheetah, or perhaps even more appropriate, a coalition of GS Cheetos.
  2. A tribe of GS, as in a tribe of goats.  Maybe they will say things Trump doesn’t like and in doing so get his goat.
  3. A bloat of GS, as in a bloat of hippos. Hippos, as one knows, are potentially dangerous to people and so too might a bloat of GS be if financial regulations are relaxed.
  4. A romp of GS, as in a romp of otters who are slick to the touch and like to playfully romp around in rough waters. Let’s just hope the romp of GS advisers doesn’t romp around with our investments.
  5. A wake of GS, as in a wake of buzzards. Now, this sounds bleak and terrifying, to be honest.
  6. A wreck of GS, as in a wreck of seabirds is not much better. An unregulated Wall Street could wreck the economy again and your retirement account along with it.
  7. A murmuration of GS, as in a murmuration of starlings. Can’t you see them all flying in formation? What a spectacle it would be.
  8. A descent of GS, like a descent of woodpeckers pecking away at your life savings until there is nothing left.
  9. A plague of GS, like a plague of insects I think speaks for itself.
  10. A scourge of GS like a scourge of blood sucking mosquitoes – not a pretty image.

In all fairness, I am not against Goldman Sachs or any other investment firm or big bank as long as they play by the rules and behave responsibly.  It just seems so hypocritical for Trump to have derided Clinton for her connections to Wall Street when it is clear that his administration is going to BE Wall Street.  Well, he did say he was going to buld a wall, I just didn’t expect it to be made of Goldman Sachs.

Top 10 Albums as a Teen

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A tribute to Jobim in the Rio Botanical Gardens. His LP Wave is one of my all-time top 10. 

If you are on Facebook, as I assume most of you are, you may have seen this challenge circulating among your network of friends.  I almost posted a list myself but would have felt the need to explain my choices and in doing so would have violated the spirit of the challenge. So I’m sort of doing an end around the rules and sharing a lengthy blog post with commentary on each of my selections. So here goes and in no particular order and ALL from my high school days. I should note that my tastes have changed or expanded since high school but I still love these albums.

Again, in no particular order with some honorable mentions thrown in at the end AND no repeating artists.

  1. Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow (1975). My big sister turned me on to this album when I was probably 12, and I played it endlessly for a number of years thereafter.  “Diamond Dust” and “‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” are sublime tunes.  It is a guitar masterpiece and perhaps Jeff Beck’s greatest achievement.
  2.  Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced (1967).  Well, I thought of myself as experienced as a teen but little did I know what the real world would be like away from my comfort zone of home. There was nothing like him then and nothing like him now although many bands were influenced by his other-worldly sound including the Beatles who owe him a huge debt.
  3. David Gilmour – David Gilmour (1978).  This was his self-titled solo debut and what a debut.  I loved Pink Floyd then and still do, but I spun this one on my turntable more than I did The Dark Side of the Moon, which was actually the only Floyd I owned until college, although I had heard and liked many of the others including Ummagumma with its mind-altering properties that simultaneously fascinated me and freaked me out.
  4. The Beatles – The White Album. (1968). It is not my favorite Beatles’ record which would have to go to Revolver, but it was the only one I owned as a teen. It does have some great tunes – “Dear Prudence”, “Blackbird”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and is arguably one of the top 5 Beatles records of all-time. See my list of the Top 7 Beatles’ here.
  5. The Rolling Stones – Get Your Ya-Yas Out (1970). I had several other superb Stones records as a teenager, including Their Satanic Majesties Request, Goats Head Soup, and Tatoo You, but the one that stood out and that I played more than the others was the Ya-Yas record. This live album was like being in the crowd and featured some of the greatest tunes from their catalog like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Sympathy for the Devil.”
  6. Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974). I lived in a town with radio stations that never played older Genesis records, so I didn’t even become aware of the band until I heard “Follow You, Follow Me” on the radio from And Then There Were Three (1978). Over the course of my teen years, I bought every Genesis record available.  And while I loved and still love Wind and Wuthering, Seconds Out and Foxtrot, The Lamb is their masterpiece and perhaps the greatest art rock piece that was ever written and incidentally the last studio Genesis record on which the great Peter Gabriel appeared.
  7. Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975). My dad owned Court and Spark (1974) which I liked a lot and so when Hissing was released, I bought it.  This beautifully written and recorded album has stood the test of time.
  8. Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973).  This was the second album I ever bought, and one of the best too.  At the time, I was too young to understand the social significance of the album with its comments on the evils of racism in songs like “Living for the City”. I did feel something of Stevie’s soul on the record and it moved me like no other music. Almost every song on the album is a masterpiece which ranks it, in my opinion, as one of the best albums ever recorded.
  9. John McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist (1978). By this time, I had become interested in jazz-rock and latin fusion and was attracted to Santana’s music. I remember buying a copy of Guitar Player magazine with McLaughlin on the cover. I had never heard of McLaughlin but was fascinated by the cover article describing him as the world’s fastest guitarist. So I ran down to the local record store and bought Electric Guitarist, which featured a duet with Carlos Santana on the tune “Friendship.” This underrated record is a seminal example of fusion.
  10. Steely Dan –  Aja (1977). This band surfaced on my radar with their smash hit, “Do It Again” from Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972). I would have been about 13 when Aja was released and remember hearing “Peg” on the radio. I bought the album just for “Peg” only to discover that all the other tunes on it were better. This is another slickly produced and beautifully sounding record that was never far from my turntable.

Honorable mentions:

  • Todd Rundgren –Todd (1974)
  • Supertramp Even in the Quietest Moments (1977)
  • Earth Wind and Fire – That’s The Way of the World (1974)
  • Crosby Stills Nash and Young –Deja Vu (1970)
  • Fleetwood Mac – Bare Trees (1972)
  • Elton John – Rock of the Westies (1975) the first album I ever bought.
  • Yes – Yessongs (1973)
  • The Who – Live at Leads (1973)
  • Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left (1969)
  • Heart – Dog and Butterfly (1978)
  • Ronnie Montrose – Open Fire (1978)

You might be interested in some of my related posts from the past…or not.

6 Songs of my life

Yes, Boston 2012

Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees

Records of my life

Derek Trucks Band

Wine and Coltrane

Accidental Music

Fast and Loud Review

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Likely neither fast nor loud – picture courtesy of Ribbie on assignment in Montevideo

I don’t watch a lot of TV, and when I do, I typically watch something political like the Rachel Maddow Show – she’s good – reruns of M*A*S*H or The Twilight Zone AND car  shows.  Yes, car shows, even the auctions.  I don’t quite know the attraction really.  I like cars, but am not a collector or anything and drive an underpowered, economical Honda Fit, but I once owned a muscle car, or I should say my parents did – a 1976 Camaro that they bought off the showroom floor at the Cliff Peck dealership in Little Rock, Arkansas.  It was their car until it became mine.  It’s life ended tragically in Denton, Texas in the year of 1986 when a pickup rear ended it at a stop sign, reducing the Camaro to an accordion.  Fortunately, neither me, nor my passenger were seriously injured.  The driver of the pickup was unharmed too and in fact, his pickup suffered barely a scratch.  Actually, what I like more than muscle cars are roadsters.  I don’t have one now, nor have I ever owned one, but my dad once had a 1973 MG Midget and it was with this car that I learned to drive a stick, a skill that I fear is as  foreign to most U.S. Millenials as a self-driving car would have been to me in 1976.  What does any of this have to do with the show Fast and Loud?  The MG nothing – but the Camaro, ah, the Camaro – the crew of Fast and Loud operating out of Gas Monkey Garage (GMG) has featured several and “equivalent” Pontiac Firebirds which I think made me long for the days when I myself drove a muscle car.

I started watching Fast and Loud from the beginning, back when the Gas Monkey Garage worked out of a small workshop, as the Brits from Wheeler Dealers would say.  I remember some of the original “monkeys” like Jordan and Tom, both of whom were later fired during the famous Firebird build.  But of course the stars and founders of GMG make the show watchable and popular. Richard Rawlings, the tall and skinny slicked back hair, goatee wearing owner of GMG, a car aficionado, racer, and businessman who built and expanded the GMG brand, snd who finds cars, and flips them. And then there’s Aaron Kaufman, chief Gas Monkey mechanic, nicknamed the bearded wonder, who repairs and tricks the cars out, often with a newer more powerful engine, a lowered stance and a stunning paint job by former paint master Kasey, who sadly also left the show several seasons ago.  Too bad because he was a funny character and perhaps the chief burnout king.  And then there’s Sue, GMG’s go-to upholsterer on their “junk” cars, as she calls them.  She is notoriously cranky and combative with a sharp tongue to put the “ass monkeys” in their places.  They bicker with her and the banter is always entertaining, which comes off as authentic reality show stuff, but may be a little bit scripted, as most reality shows are.  The other two characters of note are Dennis Collins, who owns a Jeep dealership, or something along those lines, and is Richard’s business partner with much deeper pockets.  They are always finding  valuable cars in a someone’s garage or barn and flipping them for big money – cars like rare Mustangs, a ’63 split window Corvette and the first two Firebirds ever produced.  And occasionally, golden opportunities drop into their laps like that wrecked Ferrari that Aaron restored and Dennis bought in the end.

I like the premise of the show which is a formula for success. Find car.  Flip it right away  or fix/modify (with drama during the build between the “monkeys”) to sell or auction off, often at no reserve.  Sometimes GMG makes money, and sometimes they don’t.  You never know.  The show has been successful with the core cast of Richard, Dennis, Sue, Aaron, and office assistant Christie.  The “lesser” monkeys work in the background and are not that interesting as personalities, but obviously do good work on the cars.  Now with Aaron leaving the show, I’m not sure it will ever be as good.  A self-taught mechanic with wild ideas, Aaron comes off as a brilliant wizard.  He and Richard often clash over the builds – for example over a design element or the budget for a project, but in the end, despite Richard’s doubts and anxieties, Aaron always gets the job done. However, it seems that ever since Richard hired a project manager, Jason Acker, for the Firebird build, Aaron may have been feeling less appreciated.  And whether this is true or not, I think Aaron is simply a car guy and not attracted to the marketing side of the business. He has never seemed too enthusiastic about GMG Bar N’ Grill or Gas Monkey Tequila.  He doesn’t even drink.  So the question becomes, will people still watch the show without Aaron?  Will the missing bearded wizard mechanic, the hipster, self-taught professor of mechanical engineering spell the end of the GMG reality show?

As much as I like Aaron, I do think the show will not only survive, but continue to be popular without the bearded wonder.  Here’s the thing, “King” Richard has star quality.  He’s cocky, but personable, a risk-taker, and a saavy businessman who knows the automobile AND entertainment industry.  Of all the car shows on Velocity, he probably has the most star quality, or star presence of any of the other leading personalities on the network, which includes guys like Mike and Edd of Wheeler Dealers, Wayne of  Chasing Classic Cars, Chip Foose of Overhaulin’, David Grainger of Restoration Garage, Joe Martin of Iron Restoration, and Bruno of Garage Squad.  The only other guys who come close would be Jay Leno, but his show, Jay Leno’s Garage, is an Internet show and not part of the Velocity lineup, and Danny of Counting Cars on the History Channel.

I wish Fast and Loud the best of luck in the future. It is a show that I like to watch to just chill out and wind down. It doesn’t require me to think or anything – and I can just put my brain on autopilot and strap in for the fast and loud ride.

What’s this I hear about Last in Space?

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I was trying to read the lineup of shows on TV from the menu of our cable service without my glasses.  I felt like I was taking one of those vision tests.  I proudly boasted that I could read a blurry row near the bottom of the chart and when called upon to do so, mumbled out random letters and numbers with the word possibly thrown in only to have the doctor request that I try to read again but this time three rows up.

As I squinted at the TV program menu, I thought the networks and stations had just gone live with their new lineup of shows, some that sounded intriguing.  I don’t watch much TV generally, but these new shows had me dreaming of early retirement:

Crimea Minds

This must be a Russian version of CSI.

Family Fraud

They are all unrelated, as it turns out.

The Big Bong

With the legalization of marijuana, this new series comes as no surprise.

Mushroomers

I guess Moonshiners has run its course.

Fiends

This sarcastic comedy is about a group of hateful friends.

Monsters in my Barn

Garage Squid

This might be a spinoff of Monsters in my Barn or one of those shows like Gator Boys.

New Grill

I toggled down quickly as I figured this was an addictive infomercial about a revolutionary grill.

American Mustard

America can do mustard too just as good as the French.

Imperial Lockers

I thought this might be something like an SNL spoof on Impractical Jokers but then again it could be about what the rich and famous store in lockers in train stations throughout Europe.

Morning Joke

I imagine this one to be morning political comedy, not unlike Morning Joe.

Miami, Nice!

…until it gets too hot.

The Last Squid

Based on The Twilight Zone pilot, “Where is Everybody?”

Last In Space

Trump might do better to start a space race, rather than a nuclear arms race.

Radiator

Make sure the kids are in bed as this steamy series is sure to carry an MA rating.

Anderson Copper 300

If I had to guess, I would say this is a 5-hour infomercial for a new compression product.

Chicago Tire

This reality shoe about a tire shop in the windy city is sure to be a big hit.

Last Squid Standing

If I had to hazard a guess, I would go with a deep sea, outwit, outlast, survival show with host Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants.

Little Horse on the Prairie

A homesteader with a pony tries to live the American dream but finds life on the range depressingly difficult.

As Roseanne Roseannadanna might have said, “What’s this I hear about Deep Fried Monsters? Oh, Deep Fried Masters? Nevermind.”

Trump’s Terrible 21 SCOTUS Picks

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I’m still having a hard time accepting and digesting that Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of these United States.  What makes it painful is knowing that Clinton won the popular by more than 2 million votes and that but for voting irregularities including Russian tampering – breaking into DNC computers and the Wiki-Leaks, all apparently with the knowledge and encouragement of the Trump campaign – and GOP voter suppression in key battleground states, she would have won the electoral college and the election as well.  Donald Trump was right – the election was rigged – he and the GOP made sure of it. Now I am in the camp that argues Clinton should demand a recount and mount a challenge where irregularities were found. Unfortunately, she has indicated that she would not and has already conceded and what’s more, President Obama has already, for all intents and purposes, handed him the keys.  I still cling to the possibility that some bombshell will drop that disqualifies both Trump and Pence or that the electors will come to their senses and nominate Clinton instead and then the House follow suit.  I know I am dreaming.  Which brings me to the topic of this post.  The Supreme Court.

In a move of extreme dereliction of duty and disrespect to the President and the Constitution, the GOP has refused to even allow hearings on President Obama’s supreme court pick after Justice Scalia’s death in February.  They argued that the people should decide when choosing the next president.  It was a risky strategy that worked. Ted Cruz and others no doubt argued that 8 justices were all we needed suggesting that even if Clinton were elected, they would not allow any of her picks to move forward. So I say now to the Democrats, game on. Chuck Schumer has indicated that the Dems would use the filibuster if Trump nominates an extreme candidate and there is every indication that he will.

The National Review, a right wing rag, is positively giddy at the prospect of Trump naming William Pryor or Diane Sykes, the later considered an “originalist” that is, she and others being considered view the constitution as a fixed and dead document that the rich, white and privileged male framers might have recognized.  These two and 9 others comprised Trump’s orignal 11 picks.  He has since added 10 more to the list. Talk about turning the clock back.  Both Pryor and Sykes, indubitably, would overturn Roe v. Wade, and specifically Sykes has made statements and rulings that are hostile to LGBTQ rights.  Sykes, the more likely pick is even to the right of Scalia on the ideological spectrum; Pryor ever so slightly to the left of him. See Wapo chart.   I am reminded of the song, “Stuck in the Middle with You.”

Trump’s list of 21 including the aforementioned joker and clown consists of people who want to turn the clock back to a time when women had no reproductive rights and LGBTQ members could not openly and safely even come out.  On this list, you will find judges and even the most ideologically extreme Senator on the Hill, whose views are hostile to immigrants, women, blacks, the middle class, the LGBTQ community, the environment, and unions.  Many are candidates who do not resepct the separation of church and state, and do not favor gun safety measures. You can bet that they would protect the Citizens United ruling, to ensure that American elections can be bought by the highest bidders for generations to come. And if Trump is lucky, and God help us all if he is, he might get as many as three picks during his tenure.  People, Dems, if we don’t apply pressure on our elected officals to block these nominations, we are doomed!

Are there any on the list who would be acceptable?  No.  But if you look at the ideological spectrum chart from the Washington Post article above, those who are the farthest to the left of Scalia would be better than ones closer to his views and preferable to those extreme ideologues to his right. Unfortunately, the article only examined candidates from the federal bench, which I think only includes 9 of the 21. The most dangerous ones, the so-called “originalists” are Gorsuch, Kethledge, Sykes and the Lee brothers.

About all I can conclude here is that Trump’s picks are pretty bad.  There isn’t one that I feel the least bit comfortable with as a progressive.  I like the idea of diversity and ideally, I would like to see another Hispanic or Black or the first Asian or Native American on the court. But as we know, diversity of background does not always make the court more ideologically diverse.  If only the President would make a lame duck appointment and install Merrick Garland.  But that’s not likely to happen.  Best case is for Dems to filibuster the most extreme of the 21.  And if that means blocking all his picks, so be it.  In the words of the GOP, slightly paraphrased, Americans should have the right to say who their next SCOTUS justice will be. I agree. Americans elected Barak Obama and are still waiting for the Senate to hold hearings on his pick.  And don’t forget that Clinton won the popular by more than 2 million votes.  Americans have spoken twice now and deserve to be heard.

Thank You President Obama

Whether you supported President Obama or not, you should be thankful to him for his service.  And while it has been a tumultuous 8 years in which the GOP did all they could to to derail his presidency, unsuccessfully I might add, his accomplishments are many and all the more impressive.  As you evaluate the next presidency, keep President Obama’s achievements in mind.   Then decide if you and the country are better off in 4 years.

Terrorism: No ISIS or Al-Queda terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. The attacks in San Bernadino, Orlando and the Boston Marathon bombings were perpetrated by lone actors.

Unemployment: 4.9% as of October 2016. President Obama took office after the finanical markets crashed and a recession set in.  He injected a stimulus plan, bailed out the U.S. auto industry, and stabilized the economy. As a result, he’s presided over 6 straight years of declining unemployment.  Since 1920, only the Clinton adminstration can boast a better record of straight years of unemployment decline, at 7.

Gas Prices: I just filled my tank for $20 at $2.11 a gallon.  Yes, I have a small car with a small gas tank but still, 20 bucks! In 2012, Trump said that because of a deal the President made with the Saudis, that after the 2012 election, gas and oil prices would “go through the roof, like never before…” Wrong. Gas prices actually fell through the roof since Trump’s comment and are at their lowest levels, factoring in adjutments for inflation, since 2003 when gas prices begin to sharply increase during W’s adminsitration.

Immigration: For the record, I’d like a more welcoming policy.  That said, more undocumented immigrants settled in the U.S. during the W. Bush adminstration than during the Obama administration.  And among those, more overstayed a visa, than crossed the border, which calls into question the need for an expensive wall that U.S. taxpayers would be required to purchase.  Mexico isn’t paying for a wall and even Newt Gingrich confessed that Trump’s promise was nothing more than a rhetorical device a/k/a a blustering lie.

The Markets: If you have a 401k plan, thank Obama for your gains.  The markets respond favorably to calm and stability.  The Dow Jones has increased steadily and reached historic highs since the market crash of 2008.

Health Care: Say what you want about the Affordable Health Care Act, but more than 20 million previously uninsured citizens now have health care coverage. And while health insurance premiums are on the rise, fewer people are dying for lack of care. Were Obama care repealed and not replaced, (and the GOP does not have a detailed workable replacement plan) an estimated 15 million people would lose their insurance.  Folks, guaranteed heath care should be a human right in a wealthy country and part of our social contract. Actually, one of the main reasons premiums are going up is because not enough of the uninsured have enrolled in Obamacare.  Some people are willfully and defiantly paying the penalty to avoid having to buy health insurance at all, some, admittedly for financial reasons, but some purely on principle.  Nothwithstanding the reasons, the  insured are forced to absorb the costs through increased premiums.  And were those who have opted out to get seriously sick or have a costly medical emergency, who do you think would foot the bill if they can’t?

LGBTQ protections:  Human rights matter, including support for marriage equality, and anti-discriminatory laws to protect federal workers and students.

DACA: Immigrant rights matter. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival protects the children of undocumented immimgrants  who meet certain conditions from being deported.  Also, he supported the Dream Act which would have allowed certain undocumented youth who were pursuing education or were in the military and had been in the country for a certain length of time the possibility to earn citizenship.  Though it unfortunately did not pass Congress, the Dreamers’ plight could be addressed in an immigration reform bill which the President had hoped would be taken up before the end of his term in office.

The Supreme Court:  Diversity matters.  President Obama nominated two women to the high court and the first Latina in Sonia Sotomayor. Prior to Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, there had only been 2 other women ever to serve on the court.  He also nominated 171 women for federal judicial vacancies, more than any other President.

Diplomacy:  Just that, as a starting point.  I happen to think the Iran nuclear deal is in the best interest of humanity. They stop tying to weaponize their nuclear program and the world becomes a safer place.  Additionally, we’ve normalized our relations with Cuba after many years of failed sanctions that only hurt the Cuban people and did nothing to bring about political change there. I’ve always thought that the minute we lifted sanctions, the Castro regime would weaken. And it has in some ways such that soon, for better or worse, Havana will become the world’s playground again and hopefully, the Cuban people will benefit from the economic boom.

Climate change:  Our President believes in science and has joined with the rest of the world to try to do something about it.  As a father, he cares about what kind of planet his daughters inherit.

This is not an exhaustive list.  And I could publish a part II.  And while I disagree with some of Obama’s policies, it must be said that he was an exceedingly thoughtful and effective President who was graceful under fire and took the high road when gratuitously attacked.  I will miss him.