A different version

Everybody knows Ray Charles’s version of this song. Here’s Becky Kilgore’s and Dave Frishberg’s cover, from their “Not a Care in the World” album.

I think I first heard these two together on Fresh Air about fifteen years ago, and it was a revelation to hear her sing and hear Frishberg (who wrote “I’m Just a Bill” for Schoolhouse Rock a long time ago) play. I’ve been hunting up albums by the two of them ever since, and there aren’t many. Here’s a list of Kilgore’s records, and here’s a list of Frishberg’s discography. These two are old-timers: Frishberg is 84 years old and Becky is 67.

Is he gone?

So the house is being renovated and Donald had to leave for a couple of weeks, huh? Maybe he’ll decide he’d rather not go back to DC and work. Stranger things have happened, although not with the Presidency.

My dad had a 31-year Navy career. Two weeks after he retired from the Navy he went to work for a large local bank. After ten years there he got home from a family vacation and resigned. He and I never really talked about his reasons, but I think he just felt he’d rather putter around the house and travel abroad than deal with the bank’s construction-loan customers anymore. Mom left her museum job shortly thereafter and they traveled a lot until he passed away in 1993.

I suppose it’s too much to hope that Trump will do the same.

The Lark Ascending

There’s a scene in Eric Flint’s “1632” in which a collection of Spanish Army soldiers is holed up in a castle, besieged by a regiment or so of combined 21st-century American and 17th-century German soldiers. As an act of psychological warfare, the American general starts playing music (yes, this is reminiscent of the tactics the US Army used against Panama’s Manuel Noriega in 1989). The playlist begins with selections from the Stones, the Doors and CCR and moves on to Dylan and Elvis. But then it shifts to classical music, beginning with Wozzeck and moving through Night on Bald Mountain and “Bydlo” from Pictures at an Exhibition. Then comes “The Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt followed by “Arise ye Russian People!” from Alexander Nevsky and on to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” through “Immolation of the Gods” from The Ring of the Nibelung. The bombast ends with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8. After a few lovely pieces of orchestral music, it culminates in The Lark Ascending, which the general’s wife thinks is the most beautiful piece of music ever written.

I confess I’d never heard of it when I first ran across it in the book. It’s certainly well known, though.

In a 2011 poll of listeners to choose the nation’s Desert Island Discs, the work was chosen as Britain’s all-time favourite. From 2007 to 2010, the piece was voted number one in the Classic FM annual Hall of Fame poll, over Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and another work of Vaughan Williams, the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. In 2011–2013 it was usurped by Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, but was placed first in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

For you science fiction film-watchers, “The piece was used as the last surviving piece of Earth culture in the 2015 Syfy miniseries Childhood’s End, which was based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke.”

Here it is, performed by Janine Jansen and the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the 2003 Proms.

More white supremacy

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that two white Senators from the Deep South would author legislation meant to keep non-English speakers out of the country.

As usual, Trump makes claims which aren’t substantiated. Trump said the measure “will reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars.” I suppose he means that the new immigrants won’t be the fieldworkers who come in now. It’s supposed to be a points system:

Under the plan — if approved by Congress, which will be a heavy lift — the highest point-getting candidate, for example, not including special circumstances, would be a 26- to 31-year-old with a US-based doctorate or professional degree, who speaks nearly perfect English and who has a salary offer that’s three times as high as the median income where they are.

Not too many refugees fit that profile, I imagine.

In addition, the senators propose to cap annual refugee admissions at 50,000 and to end a visa diversity lottery that has awarded 50,000 green cards a year, mostly to applicants from African nations.

Cotton said that while some might view the current immigration system as a “symbol of America’s virtue and generosity,” he sees it “as a symbol we’re not committed to working-class Americans and we need to change that.”

Give me a break. Any “merit-based” system which offers higher points the higher the education level is not aimed at “working-class people.” The current system, which lets people in if they’ve got family in this country already, is far more welcoming to those workers than this proposal, which would virtually eliminate family ties from the admission criteria. Hey, too bad for your spouse, your mother, your father, your aunties and uncles and your grandparents, but they wouldn’t contribute much anyhow, would they?

Trump just wants to win something in Congress, but he keeps backing lousy horses.

Slow to admiration

Up until today I had never purchased a single record/CD by Van Morrison. The man’s been performing since 1964, and heaven knows I knew “Gloria” by his band Them, released sometime between ’64 and ’68. But I never got around to buying “Astral Weeks” or “Moondance” or any of his other albums. I knew some of the songs, but they never hit me hard enough to cause me to buy his work.

Well, I finally got around to it. “Self,” I said, “your music library has many many CDs by great musicians, and many many more by one-hit wonders, so how is it that you have no Van Morrison, who’s a genuine icon by this stage of the game?”

Here you go:

Two discs, 37 songs. Arranged chronologically. I think I’ve listened through about 1971 so far.

Is Obamacare safe?

It looks like it, for now. The Senate is showing little interest in any encore votes anytime soon.

Trump on Monday threatened to end subsidies to insurers and also took aim at coverage for members of ­Congress.

But the White House insistence appears to have done little to convince congressional GOP leaders to keep trying. One after another on Monday, top GOP senators said that with no evidence of a plan that could get 50 votes, they were looking for other victories.

“We’ve had our vote, and we’re moving on to tax reform,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top lieutenants, speaking of the next big GOP legislative priority.

Of course, this is making Trump and his team unhappy, but that doesn’t seem to worry the Republican Senators.

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), brushed back comments White House budget director Mick Mulvaney made on CNN on Sunday urging Republicans not to vote on anything else until voting on health care again.

“I don’t think [Mulvaney’s] got much experience in the Senate, as I recall,” said Cornyn as he made his way into the Senate chamber. “And he’s got a big job. He ought to do that job and let us do our job.”

However, we can’t let our guard down. We have to figure out a way to pressure Trump and HHS’s Price to continue paying the cost sharing reductions and to use the money budgeted for soliciting new users to sign up on the exchanges. Recently that money has been used to do just the opposite: the Administration has spent taxpayer money on a public relations campaign aimed at strangling the ACA. It’s also used federal resources to lobby Congress for passage of the Republicans’ “repeal and replace” legislation, which is prohibited by law. The Government Accountability Office has now agreed to investigate and force HHS to explain itself.

Bully pulpit?

Trump is a nasty unpleasant human being. Can we all agree on that? Good.

In addition, he seems unable or unwilling to persuade people to do what he’d like them to do; all he seems capable of doing is bullying them. Case in point:

“I talked to the president at length about that exact issue yesterday,” Mulvaney said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He continued, “What he’s saying is, look, if Obamacare is hurting people, and it is, then why shouldn’t it hurt insurance companies and, more importantly perhaps for this discussion, members of Congress?”

Currently each Congressional office can qualify as a small business for purposes of meeting the subsidy requirements of the ACA (they mostly make too much to fit the low-income standards if they tried to buy health insurance on the individual market). This is what Trump is threatening to take away from Senators and Representatives. As usual, he doesn’t know the details. If he did he might realize that the staff assistants and secretaries and constituent service people in each Congressperson’s office would be the ones seriously hurt if he made good on that threat. Of course, he doesn’t realize that both the Senate and House bills he’s been wanting would seriously hurt a lot of the people who voted for him. I’m sure he’s been told, and I’m equally sure he doesn’t much care. He wants to chalk up “wins” for himself and his Administration and the devil take the hindmost.

He is a stupid and uncaring man.

The final Amelia Peabody book

Years and years ago I recommended a series of books about a family of archaeologists excavating Egypt in the late 19th-early 20th century. They were written by a woman using the pen name Elizabeth Peters. Her real name was Barbara Mertz; she died in 2013. She left an outline and notes for another book in the series at the time of her death, and after some discussion and apparently with some trepidation her friend and fellow mystery writer Joan Hess took on the job of writing it.

If you’re an Amelia fan, you will appreciate this. It’s published!

Mertz set each of the twenty books in a single archaeological excavation season. The new one covers the events of 1912-1913. In a talk at the Library of Congress in 2003 Mertz said that

her overall plan was to continue the series chronologically through World War I and end with the events surrounding the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, as the aging of the characters in real time presented a challenge to extending the series further. Although her age is only given in the first book, Amelia Peabody would have been seventy years old—and Emerson 67 or 68—by that point in history, making their often physically trying acts of heroism less and less credible. This stated goal was accomplished with the publication of Tomb of the Golden Bird in 2006.

She then expected to go back and fill in the gaps, which “The Painted Queen” does.

Who is the Painted Queen of the title? Why, Nefertiti, of course!

I’m looking forward to reading it. It’s always a crapshoot when someone else tries to pick up where a deceased author left off, but I’m willing to give it a try.

Is this zombie really dead?

The Senate couldn’t pass the “skinny repeal” bill tonight. It failed on a 49 Aye – 51 Nay vote at 1:30 AM. Senator John McCain provided the 51st vote against it.

There will be pages of analysis and post-mortems in tomorrow’s papers and probably a bunch of surly Trump Tweets too. I just hope the repeal effort is now dead and maybe, just maybe, these so-called legislators can bite the bullet and work together to try to improve the law where it’s needed.

Control your impulses, turkey

Why did Trump tweet a reversal of policy toward transgender military personnel? If this reporter in Politico is right, it’s because a House bill which contained funding for his precious border wall was being held up by a bunch of so-called fiscal hawks (that’s their excuse; I suspect the usual bigotry) who didn’t want any Pentagon money used for gender reassignment surgery.

Numerous House conservatives and defense hawks this week had threatened to derail their own legislation if it did not include a prohibition on Pentagon funding for gender reassignment surgeries, which they deem a waste of taxpayer money. But GOP leaders were caught in a pinch between those demands and those of moderate Republicans who considered the proposal blatantly discriminatory.

So the hawks went around DoD Secretary Mattis and directly to the President to get him to pressure the Republican leadership. Did he do just that? Of course not, because he never thinks about consequences. Not even the hawkiest of hawks wanted to debate expelling transgender personnel from the military, but Trump’s tweet said exactly that.

“[P]lease be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

That went way beyond what anyone in the House would admit wanting him to do.

To make him look like even more of a fool than he already has on this issue, a Rand study commissioned by the Pentagon last year has emerged which shows that the reassignment surgeries would be likely to cost the military between $2.4M and $8.4M annually, in a military health care budget of $6.2 billion. That’s about 0.13 percent.

The military spends $41.6 million annually on Viagra alone, according to the Military Times analysis — roughly five times the estimated spending on transition-related medical care for transgender troops.

The trouble is, Trump can never back down from one of his stupid tweets. He is incapable of admitting he made a mistake. Now. several thousand military personnel who are transgender have had their lives and careers turned upside down because of one impulse by a man who has no self-control.