1000 Words: Not To Be Forgotten

Earlier this week, we celebrated the anniversary of the March on Washington. Its formal name was “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

Most of us remember it as the time Martin Luther King Jr. uttered the line, “I have a dream.” Those four words were only a tiny part of his 17-minute speech but they’re the ones that ring in our hearts and memories to this day.

King, Speaking at the March on Washington.

An aside: I’m not able to post video of King’s speech here, nor are many people able to do so. Film footage of it is not in the public domain. Members of King’s family own the rights to it, as well as a bunch of other King-related materials. Swear to god, you can get it on Amazon. Acc’d’g to this January 2017 article in the Washington Post, not even the makers of the 2014 film “Selma” could use the footage because it already had been grabbed and paid for by Steven Spielberg for a movie he wanted to make.

I bet a lot of people think the March on Washington was strictly a King rally. A quarter million people gathered on the Mall in Washington, DC on that brilliantly sunny, hot August afternoon. People came on buses, by hitchhiking, by carpooling, by train, even by foot from all over the country. Young and old. White people, too, in a town where, a scant 38 years before, 30,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan marched in a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. By the time of the March on Washington, the KKK had been relegated to the American fringe, albeit an awfully powerful, too often deadly fringe. A fringe that held sway with local, state, and national politicians even as King stood on the speaker’s platform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that August Monday. (A fringe that still carries weight today, albeit under different banners.) King at the time was the biggest name in the fight for civil rights in America. King today is pretty much the only name many of us remember in the fight for civil rights in America.

The fact is King was only one of many activists, advocates, celebrities, and swells invited to the event. So, who was sending out those invitations?

The March on Washington was the brainchild, and the result of the hard work, of two people whose names are largely forgotten in 2023 but who, all those years ago, were titans in the effort to bring equality and rights to all American citizens, even — gasp! — those with dark skin.

These two were A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

Randolph (L) & Rustin.

There’s not one child in a hundred today who’d be able to tell you who those two fellows were. Hell, there’s not one adult in a hundred. Well, among white people, at least.

Randolph was a labor union leader. He’d formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters back in 1925, the same year that huge crowd of KKK members had marched in Washington I mentioned earlier. Born in Jim Crow Florida in 1889, Randolph remembered seeing his mother sit on the family front porch, a shotgun at the ready in her lap, as her husband, armed with a pistol, set off for the Putnam County jail to confront a white mob trying to lynch a black man being held there.

Randolph felt the crush of institutionalized racism, southern apartheid, northern segregation, and the visceral fear white America felt about Black people, naturally making him feel as though he were not of this holy land. He was pushing 30 years old when the Bolshevik revolution overturned the ruling order of Russia and sent waves of panic around the world. Randolph was inspired by the idea of socialism, as well as the organizing tactics of the socialist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or “the Wobblies). He wasn’t the only Black person, alienated by America’s vicious racism, who flirted with — and were courted by — this nation’s sworn philosophical enemies. singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson was another. The novelists Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, too.

The likes of J. Edgar Hoover reacted to these flirtations/courtings by attempting to paint all civil rights activists as dangerous, godless commies.

I’ll attempt to defend Randolph, Robeson, Wright, and Ellison by saying the true horrors of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and the potential for tyranny in highly centralized communism were not realized and/or understood for many years. Marx’s ideas sound good on first reading but, in practice, they’re quite a few steps worse than late-stage American capitalism.

By World War II, Randolph had emerged as America’s top civil rights leader. In 1941, he and Rustin began discussing a mass march of the nation’s capital to protest discrimination and demand jobs. The two were partly inspired by Gandhi’s pacifist protests and resistance against the British Raj. A few federal laws and executive orders over the next few years temporarily satisfied civil rights activists but outright racism had re-stoked the fire by the early 1960s.

Rustin labored under two “handicaps”: not only was he Black, he was queer. He was a brilliant organizer, putting together the famous Freedom Rides and helping form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In addition to co-organizing the March on Washington, he formed numerous support groups for tenants, workers and voters. He kept a low profile because of his homosexuality, otherwise his voice might have become as loud, nationally, as King’s.

Freedom Riders.

Raised in relative affluence by his grandparents in a small town near Philadelphia, Rustin as a child met civil rights giants like W.E.B. Du Bois because his grandmother, Julia, a Quaker, was active in the early NAACP. He began talking — and thinking — about things like systematic racism and Jim Crow laws at a very young age. By World War II, he would be a key actvist in the fight to protect West Coast Japanese-Americans who were being interned and their possessions seized.

It wasn’t until the Reagan Era when Rustin finally began agitating for gay rights. He titled his 1986 speech for gay rights in New York City, “The New Niggers Are Gay.” Those were the days when the strategic and thoughtful use of the N-bomb imparted a heft, an urgency, rather than simply being a dirty word.

The March on Washington wasn’t Martin Luther King Jr.’s baby. It was Randolph’s and Rustin’s.


1000 Words: A Failed Nation?

What does it mean to say a nation has failed?

Is Niger, currently wracked by a military coup d’état, its neighbors girding to invade it, a failed nation?

When the British were nearly bankrupt at the end of World War II and compelled to give up their global empire, was the UK a failed nation?

Speaking of World War II, was Nazi Germany, the self-proclaimed Thousand Year Reich, a failed nation?


Acc’d’g to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, a failed nation is:

…a state that is unable to perform the two fundamental functions of the sovereign nation-state in the modern world system: it cannot project authority over its territory and peoples, and it cannot protect its national boundaries.

What about the United States itself? Are we a failed nation?

A huge percentage of our holy land’s population thinks so. A New York Times/Siena College poll reveals 37 percent of American voters think the US is a failed nation.

Us. Niger. The Nazis. Bet you’d never seen that grouping before.

One’s in chaos, another was burned off the face of the Earth, and the third…, is currently the globe’s biggest, most robust economy, its most powerful military force, and the country hundreds of millions — maybe even billions — of people look to as the place to be.

My grandparents, and maybe yours, looked at the United States a century and more ago as the land where the streets were paved with gold. They came here and found out otherwise but, truth be told, they made scads of money, bought comfortable homes, put their kids through college, and counted themselves among the most patriotic of Americans (even though so very many of them were terrorized and persecuted by those who considered themselves even more patriotic).

In any case, this isn’t Busia and Dziadzia‘s USA anymore. Nor Pappou‘s or Yaya‘s. Not even Papaw‘s and Memaw‘s.

I don’t know whose country this is anymore but, apparently, more than a third of us think, “It ain’t mine.”

That’s got to be what people mean when they say the US is a failed nation. Guess who, more than anybody, thinks so — yep, Republicans.

You know what? They’re right. Many, many, many people on the Right grew up thinking this nation was the bastion of white Christians, ruled by men, with women keeping house, LGBTQIs keeping in the closets, Black men carrying bags at the train station, and all other ethnic immigrants either running restaurants or forming criminal syndicates. This ain’t that land anymore.

It was, a long, long time ago.

And that’s likely why so many people think this isn’t their land anymore, that it’s a failed nation.

It has failed them. It changed. Blacks became more than Pullman porters. They became college professors and neurosurgeons and prima ballerinas and, by god in heaven, president! Women started running companies. Lesbians hosted TV talk shows. Italians ran cities and states and even became Speaker of the House. Women became men and men became women. The whole world had gone crazy!

That is if you bought into the faulty reasoning that the world today should still be just like that long gone place where there were white Christian men and… everybody else.

Now white Christian men are — can you believe it? — just a part of everybody else. And for some mysterious reason, scads of people, including those who aren’t white Christian men, wish it were otherwise.

Well, maybe not so mysterious. Maybe they’ve been led down their scary, grievance-filled path by sly politicians, click-hungry internet moguls, ratings-addicted cable execs, formerly peripheral lunatics, Russian bots, and, most loudly, an incurious, unprepared, unread, pandering, borderline personality disordered greed monkey who somehow became president and hopes to become one once again.

Their United States hasn’t existed for at least 40 or 50 years. That nation, thankfully, did fail.

But the nation we live in today, for all its sins and all its warts and malignancies, is not, by definition, failed.

It will one day. Fail, that is. All empires collapse. All nations die. That’s the commonest thread of human history.

Everything ends. So do dreams and — luckily — nightmares.

1000 Words: Enemy of the People

Lucky you, for I’m about to add to the list of things you ought to be scared to death about.

In this year of somebody’s lord, 2023, each of us on this planet has plenty of things that keep our eyes saucer-like as we lie in bed at night. And here I am with more news, as if you needed to be reminded, that we’re living in an era when authoritarianism and neo-fascism are becoming seductive to a growing swath of the American populace.

To wit: armed police busting in on newsrooms. Y’know, the kind of thing they do in Putin‘s Russia, Orban‘s Hungary, or any other locale ruled iron-fisted-ly. It happened again this past week, right here in the Land of the Free, and it wasn’t a one-off. Punishing the press has happened too often of late within this great democratic republic whose Constitution’s very First Amendment calls, unambiguously, for Freedom of the Press.

I stress the word unambiguously because, over the last 50 or so years, an entire major political party on these shores has built a foundation upon the mistaken belief that the Constitution guarantees plainly, obviously, and explicitly that every citizen herein ought to be able to pack as much heat — handguns, shotguns, rifles, automatic firearms, military-grade assault guns; in short everything and anything that can fire metal projectiles either into you or through you — as his/her budget and storeroom can allow. It doesn’t, of course. The Second amendment contains the qualifier “well-regulated,” although the gun fondlers of this nation blink when their eyes pass over that phrase.

Here, we’ve been fighting like cats and dogs for a half century over the existence of that hyphenate. We haven’t needed to fight all that much about the contents of amendment No. 1 because it’s clear. Freedom of the press, along with the other liberties guaranteed by the amendment, is a given.

So sacred is the Freedom of the Press idea that the US government, for chrissakes, even dropped a lawsuit against several publications in 1979 that wanted to print a step-by-step guide to making a thermonuclear weapon. Now, we’re not taking about possessing a thermonuclear weapon, a putative right that, I’d guess, any number of Second Amendment fetishists might say every American was born with. The Progressive magazine and the University of California at Berkeley’s The Daily Californian student newspaper both published the info, both were hauled into court and, ultimately, both were allowed to publish the stuff.

Not that it would make any difference in your or my everyday life inasmuch as building a hydrogen bomb entails the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars to employ countless physicists, metallurgists, chemists, mathematicians and other assorted technicians as well as the building and maintenance of sprawling laboratories, uranium refinement reactors, huge gas centrifuge factories, vast tracts of land on which to test explosives, and all the restrooms, cafeterias, and HVAC facilities needed by the aforementioned employees.

Nevertheless, the US Gov’t got jittery when it found its most cherished secrets were about to be disclosed and then stood on its head to prevent it from happening. The US Supreme Court said, in effect, Well, let us think about this for a bit, until events and the understanding that Freedom of the Press is largely absolute caused the Feds to back off.

But that was all more than 40 years ago. This is a new day and age.

It’s a day and age, though, when the leading Republican candidate for the presidency has already told his followers that the news media is the “enemy of the American people.” Hitler’s Joseph Goebbels and Stalin’s Lavrentiy Beria would have slapped him on the back. And he’d have said, Thanks, guys.

Police in a tiny Kansas town raided the newsroom of the local newspaper this past Friday, seizing computers, cell phones, and other materials, the result of a spat between the paper and a local restaurant owner. The restaurateur carries a lot of sway in the town, especially with its police force. The police chief of the town — Marion, pop. 1922 — says the raid was carried out because the paper had violated the restaurant owner’s privacy. The paper, The Marion County Record, was investigating the politically active restaurant owner’s past drunk driving citation. The paper already had decided against running a story about the incident.

The Record‘s publisher and editor, Eric Meyer — whose home also was raided for materials — said:

This is the type of stuff that, you know, that Vladimar Putin does, that Third World dictators do. This is Gestapo tactics from World War II.

Meyer and his staff of a half dozen are trying to figure out how to publish The Record‘s next edition without their computer files and notes. The raid, by the way, may have contributed to the death of the paper’s co-owner. A story published yesterday on the paper’s website says the co-owner, whose home also was raided, was unable to eat or sleep after the raid. “Stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief after illegal police raids on her home and [the newspaper’s] office,” the owner collapsed and died Saturday afternoon.

Nothing new here. The publisher of a small weekly newspaper in Concord, New Hampshire was arrested a year ago this month for failing to clearly mark political advertisements as such. The law requires such markings and the publisher was obviously wrong in failing to do so. Cuffing and booking the publisher, though, seems a tad…, well, fascist.

A Clark County (Nevada) official who was being investigated by a Las Vegas newspaper stabbed to death the paper’s reporter assigned to the investigation last September.

In the last half decade, newspapers in Colorado, North Carolina, New Jersey, California, and New York have been financially punished by local governments for what elected officials deemed to be less than fawning coverage. In all of the cases, the papers were denied local announcement ad placements, usually a key element in a newspaper’s yearly revenue. “Such retaliation is not new, but it appears to be occurring more frequently now, when terms like ‘fake news’ have become part of the popular lexicon,” writes New York Times reporter Emily Flitter.

Fake news. One of the former president’s favorite ejaculations.

Enemy of the people indeed.

1000 Words: The Drunken Cat

I’ll be running back and forth among topics today like…, well, the sloshed pussy mentioned above.

My various partners and I have had cats since as far back as 1980 and I still get a kick out of their wholly unpredictable mad dashes to and fro. These crazy sprints are entertaining and often hilarious but, in truth, can be just a tad frightening.

You have to ask yourself as the cat is tearing from one corner of the house to another, Has this creature lost its mind? And is the next act him sinking his claws into my jugular vein?

This gets me to thinking about that book How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You. I had to look it up to find out who the author was and, Google being Google, I got sidetracked to a study released in 2015 by some animal behavior researchers from the University of Edinburgh. Kitty cats, they posited, would murder you if they could.

Yep. The USA Today story I found on the research contained this chilling revelation:

If you ever thought your cat was anxious, insecure, suspicious or aggressive toward you, you aren’t making it up…. If they were bigger they probably would consider killing you.

Your House Pet and You.


Get ready because my big story on the quality of Lake Monroe’s water is coming out next week, Wednesday, August 16th, in Limestone Post magazine. It’s part of the Deep Dive project, a collaboration between the LP and WFHB radio news, funded by the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County. Each month LP runs an in-depth story on one issue of vital local importance or another, to be followed up by several weeks of related coverage during the WFHB Daily News at 5:00pm, weekdays.

Lake Monroe at Sunset. [Image: The Loved One]

Publisher and editor Ron Eid has been doing yeoman work keeping Limestone Post alive and covering local and regional topics. Eid not terribly long ago turned the operation into a non-profit, a move in keeping with what’s going on elsewhere in this holy land. My newspaper alma mater, the Chicago Reader, has gone non-profit, as did one of the major Chicago dailies, the Sun-Times.


Jumping (or sprinting) back to cats. That book I mentioned? How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You? Jeez, I must be getting old and forgetful because it was written by one of my favorite cartoonists. Matthew Inman. His website, The Oatmeal, is one of my regular go-to bookmarks. I hit it at least a couple of times each week.

Is this the first slip in my long slide toward dementia? I’ll keep you up to date — if I remember.

Anyway, Inman’s book, published in 2012 by Andrews McMeel, was a New York Times bestseller (briefly), for pity’s sake.


Truth is, I prefer dogs to cats but over the years I’ve had four times as many felines as canines. There’s a simple reason for that: cats are easier to care for. My old pal, the late Steve the Dog had the unforgivable habit of waking me up every morning before sunrise to go outside. He had big floppy ears — he was a beagle/border collie mix — and upon waking up at that ungodly hour, he’d shake his head, his furry ears whapping loudly, causing my eyes to go saucer-like.

Then he’d sit at a distance of about three feet, just staring at me. No matter how much I wanted to ignore him and fall back to sleep, I could feel those eyes burning a hole in me.

Cats, OTOH, rarely stir from their slumber, save for their occasional aforementioned tears through the house. I loved you, Steve, but I loved my sleep in the dark AM just as much.

Steve the Dog.


Even Disney’s getting into the sports gambling racket. Not terribly long ago, sports gambling was viewed as a vice, even a threat to the moral fiber of our great nation. Now, every major professional sports team is hooking up with a gambling outfit and municipalities all over the country are getting stand-alone bookie joints.

Sports betting blogger Ally Mielnicki writes this month that my new home state of Indiana has an annual online gambling handle of more than $12 billion. Residents of my old home state, Illinois, she writes, have dropped $24 billion on sports betting since legalization in June 2019.

Who’s doing all this betting? Pew Research last September reported one in five adult Americans bet on sports in the past year. In May, ESPN found that 67 percent of young men living on college campuses bet on sports.

ESPN is owned by The Walt Disney Company. The Evil Empire of American entertainment long had eschewed any connection to gambling, fearing it might taint the company’s wholesome image. Not so anymore. ESPN is tying in with PENN Entertainment, a sports book, in a 10-year, $2 billion deal. The reason Disney’s now okay with this unholy marriage? ESPN hasn’t been holding up its end of the empire’s bottom line.

Back to who’s doing this gambling. As ESPN mentioned, it’s largely young men. Lest we forget, it’s young men on campuses who fill out the rosters of college football and basketball teams, the money trees that U. presidents and trustees shake gleefully. With players likely dropping whatever scratch they have on legalized sports gambling, perhaps even betting on — or against — their own teams, scandal can’t be far behind.

Big scandal. Huge scandal. Scandal that probably will shake college sports to the core.


Walgreen’s, which doesn’t have a location in Bloomington but is in Bedford, Columbus and Martinsville, has come up with a trick to get panhandlers away from its front doors. Locations around the country are broadcasting classical music, including Bach and Rossini, outside the store.

Apparently, panhandlers don’t like it and move on.

The retail pharmacy chain has been doing the classical music thing for more than a year.

I wonder what old Gioachino Rossini would have thought about that, had he been able to see into the future.


1000 Words: Honeymoon

The US Women’s National Team in soccer lost in the FIFA World Cup tournament this past weekend. Meaning they had to go home while the likes of Jamaica, Morocco, and the Netherlands play on in hopes of winning the whole shebang. And winning the whole shebang is precisely what the US team has done in the last two Cup cycles. They’ve been the best in the world for a long time and now must cede that honor to another country’s team.

Perhaps it can be considered a temporary thing, a loan as it were, of the Cup to some spunky upstart while the US juggernaut re-jiggers and roars back to grab the big prize next time around. That’s the optimistic way of looking at it.

The realistic view, though, may be to concede that much of the rest of the world is catching up to the US team.

That’s what I’ve gleaned thus far in the news reports about this year’s Cup. You see, I’ve never cared an iota about soccer. I remember the name Mia Hamm because she was married to a guy who played shortstop for my beloved Chicago Cubs about 20 years ago. I guess she’s retired now. So’s the other woman I remember, the one who tore off her shirt after the US women’s team won the Cup some time in the ’90s. I forget her name.

Y’know, her.

As for the men’s game, the only player I can think of is Messi, which is an awfully bizarre name for someone who’s purportedly the best in the world. And I only know his name because he recently signed a bazillion-dollar contract with some sad sack American team owned by a gazillionaire.

So, it’s not as though I have any animosity toward, or am specifically bored by, the women’s game. No matter which gender is playing soccer, I’d rather watch the hummingbirds at our feeders out in the backyard.

BTW, those little shits are aggressive cusses! It seems hummingbirds are forever flying around like Spitfires and Messerschmitts above London during the Battle of Britain. Who knew?

Well, I do now. That’s why I heartily recommend you put up hummingbird feeders in your yard. The show is spectacular even when — or especially when — they’re not fighting each other. Hummingbirds have to eat one and a half to three times their weight in nectar each day. Their wings beat at a rate of 53 times per second, so fast they’re a barely discernible blur. And they hover, for gosh sakes! It took we humans thousands of years to figure out how little critters like hummingbirds and bumble bees actually hover and we could only do so upon the advent of high-speed motion picture photography.

Hummingbirds put on a show, indeed.

So do athletes, especially the professional variety. We pay them ungodly amounts of dough so we can embrace them, hope for them, identify with them, and win with them. When we lose with them, god help them.

Women have been emerging in team sports the last few years. It might well have been that championship game when the American player tore off her shirt that sealed the deal. That, as I’ve indicated, was about a quarter of a century ago. I had to look it up: Brandi Chastain got worldwide recognition, un-topped, in 1999. Six members of the current team weren’t even born when she graced magazine covers, newspaper front pages, and TV replays for weeks after that US victory.

Then again, maybe that’s why the US team got dumped early this time around. It seems long in the tooth. Eight of the 23 players on the current team are in their 30s, with three others knocking on that Old People’s Home door. That’s the way it plays in most other team sports, so I figure it’s the same in soccer. Thirty in professional sports is dotage.

Anyway, I got to thinking about all this while listening to daily reports on NPR about the US women’s team this year. The commentators and reporters speak of the team in almost hushed, reverential tones, as if the players are deities descended to Earth to walk among us. Sort of the way sportswriters used to treat baseball, football, basketball, and hockey players back when I was a little kid.

Then, in the 1960’s, things began to change. Several books were written by players, exposing the pro athlete’s world to us mortals. Jim Brosnan, a decent pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds wrote The Long Season, published in 1960. Offensive lineman Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay came out in 1968. And then there was the tipping point, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, published in 1970.

Those three books, in succession, revealed more about the lunkheaded, benighted, goofball, mean, unforgiving, insular, suspicious, paranoiac world the professional athlete moved around in. And those very adjectives could be used to describe most of the individuals who’d devoted their lives to reaching the big leagues.

After that, reporters stopped protecting pro players, the way they’d covered up Ty Cobb’s racism; Babe Ruth’s prodigious drinking, eating, and fucking habits; Mickey Mantle’s night life; Joe DiMaggio’s wife-beating; and countless other examples of the athlete caught with his pants down. Now, pro athletes are targets for everybody connected to broadband.

The sports website, Deadspin, for instance, runs a regular Idiot of the Month feature, culminating in an Idiot of the Year. Every pro’s slip of the tongue, swing at a domestic partner, line snorted, hooker paid-for, firearm charge, bankruptcy, sign-up with Saudi executioners, or other misdemeanor or crime against humanity is immediately reported, re-hashed, and then parsed for its place in the annals of sports debauchery. As opposed to the Gee-Whiz school of sports journalism, today’s reporters seem only happy when pro athletes are unmitigated assholes.

New York reporters in 1925 told the world Babe Ruth missed most of the season because he had a bellyache from eating too many hot dogs when, in reality, he was put out of action by drinking like a fish, eating like a hog, and allegedly contracting a case of syphilis. He may well have ravished teammate Lou Gehrig’s drunk wife while on an ocean liner a couple of years later, too. That, natch, was never reported.

He wouldn’t have gotten away with any of it today.

I wonder how long female professional athletes will enjoy their media honeymoon.

Bits & Pieces: Venal, Venial, and End Of The World Stuff

Back when I was an editor and reporter for Newcity, one of Chicago’s alternative weekly newspapers, we ran a regular feature called “Stray Bullets.” Our graphic designer drew up a logo for it: a loaded revolver pointed straight at the reader.

I can’t find the image online and my old copies of the paper are packed away in the shed under mountains of other Big Mike Life Stuff so I can’t reproduce it here. But you get the idea.

Stray Bullets was a compendium of the dopey, too often immoral, quite often illegal things the aldermen, the department heads, and even the mayor of the city of Chicago did the previous seven days. If you know Chicago, you know we could have run the feature every day of the week and had enough material to fill it and then some.

Thing is: we’d never be able to get away with either the feature’s title or the image today. Back then, people understood hyperbole and visual exaggeration. Now, no.

I’m not saying we ought to go back to those good old days. There was nothing more “good’ about them in relation to today.


The deep thinkers who run this city, Bloomington, Indiana, while nowhere near as venal or venial as those in my beloved hometown, can keep up with the Windy City in a race for first place in the overall dopiness category. An example: the Bloomington Police Department for years has been woefully understaffed. The city has thrown a few incentives out there to attract candidates from all over the state. But, it seems, any number of BPD rookies take their training and flee to other cities, where they’ll get paid better.

Not only that, the other day I spoke with someone who has intimate knowledge of the state of Bloomington’s fire department. This person told me the BFD is down a good two dozen firefighters. Some of our firefighters are working 72-hour shifts to cover for the gaps in staffing. That can’t be good.

Neither our cops nor our firefighters are getting paid enough. This town sorely needs to invest in both departments.

Yet, City Hall is gung ho on throwing many millions of dollars at pazzo traffic schemes. Schemes dreamed up, mostly, by highly-paid consultants who live on some peak in the Himalayas and muse on how cities should redesign themselves to make this an Earthly heaven. Among the brilliant plans we’ve seen so far are the already completed bicycle pathway on 7th Street and a proposed transformation of the Walnut/College corridor from adjacent one-way avenues to a couple of two-way drives. Add to them the Hawthorne-Weatherstone Greenway plan.

One might think this town is a snarled mass of cars gridlocked for blocks around downtown, with outlying arteries scenes of massive slaughter of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Maybe that’s the way they see things up atop K-2.

K-2, also known as Chogori in the Kashmir Himalayas.

Now, it’s folly to suggest stopping spending in one area will automatically mean the money’ll go straight into other, more deserving areas. Just that our priorities, as my Grandma Anna would have said, is pazzo.

Anyway, so long as the predicted rain and thundershowers’ll probably keep you inside, you might as well log in to a Zoom meeting scheduled for Sunday, August 6, at 3:00pm, where concerned neighbors will discuss Hawthorne-Greenway.

From what I hear, nobody’s happy about the idea.


Can you imagine any more dichotomous movie theater pairing than “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer”? One is about humankind’s relentless drive to unlock the elemental forces of the universe that may yet destroy life on Earth and the other is about the guy who led the effort to develop the atomic bomb.

The Loved One and I motored up to Greenwood last weekend to catch “Oppenheimer,” where, natch, it was paired with Greta Gerwig’s opus. I hadn’t yet fully grasped all the Barbie-related social phenomena her movie has inspired. So I was shocked to see grown women dressed in spiky heels, brilliant pink gowns, and glittered faces at the theater. It was crazy, I tell you.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not slamming those women here. What they’re doing is no weirder than people of both genders spending hundreds of dollars on licensed caps, jerseys, and jackets to go to their home team’s games.

One more thing: I just discovered there are pop-up Malibu Barbie Cafes in NYC.


I reiterate: even if he’s found guilty of all crimes and misdemeanors, the 45th President of the United States will not spend a nano-second in jail. Again, he and whatever lawyers he hires (and likely stiffs) will appeal and the case will wind its way through the federal appellate court and then the Supreme Court. That’ll take years and years and years.

He’ll be dead by the time that’s all adjudicated. If I were a god-ist believing in some kind of afterlife, I’d be happy enough to know he’ll spend eternity roasting along with his forebears Roy Cohn, Lee Atwater, Andrew Breitbart, Roger Ailes and all the others who created the environment that enabled him to become Leader of the Free World.

1000 Words: Old Joe, Crazy Ron, & Radio Dies

What If…?

Old Joe Biden sure is looking…, well, old these days.

My pal, the Clay City farmer/economist Eli (whose purchase of a Prius last year branded him among his geographical peers as the bastard child of Karl Marx) says Biden’s physical appearance at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania this month reminded him, a bit, of Roosevelt at Yalta.

For the history-deprived among us, the Big Three — Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin D. Roosevelt — met in the Crimean resort town of Yalta in February 1945 to discuss carving up Germany once the Allies finished kicking the hell of of them. Roosevelt at the time was damned lucky to be alive. His blood pressure regularly was topping 200. He looked wan, lifeless. His complexion sallow. His eyes sunken. Roosevelt’s perilous medical condition was well-known among those close to him but was well-concealed from the public.

It was a public, after all, that largely did not know Roosevelt was a cripple. Of course we live in a different day and age now. In fact, even going back almost 40 years, the general populace was apprised of the number of polyps removed from President Ronald Reagan’s colon during a routine colonoscopy. Some 20 years later, we were fully informed about President George W. Bush’s battle with alcohol abuse. In between, we learned about President Bill Clinton’s fondness for cigars innovatively marinated.

Anyway, Biden certainly doesn’t look as bad as Roosevelt did in the waning months of WWII, but he sure doesn’t look like a guy with a long future ahead of him.

Leading me to wonder what will happen if Old Joe keels over in, say, April or May, at the end of the primary season. What’s the Democratic Party going to do? Simply pass the mantle on to Kamala Harris like the Dems did in 1968? The party that year lost by assassination the candidate with the most momentum, Bobby Kennedy, after he won the last primary in California. They screwed over the candidate with the most delegates, Eugene McCarthy, and gave the nod to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, pretty much throwing the election to Richard Nixon. The nation wanted change and Humphrey sure wasn’t it. The backroom kingmakers, though, cared little for what the nation wanted.

This time around, though, my guess is the nation doesn’t want change, especially if the economy remains un-tanked. And should Old Joe turn in his keys to the White House any time between now and, say, this coming November, then a few ambitious Democrats’ll just declare for the primaries and the party’ll select a nominee in more or less normal fashion.

In any case, I hope party sachems are thinking long and hard about these possibilities. I figure they have to be if they’re paying any attention to Biden’s appearance these days.


Florida’s state board of education this week adopted teaching guidelines that assert American slavery wasn’t all that nasty. In fact, by golly, slaves in this holy land actually benefited from their chains. Gosh dang it, slavery, under these teachings, just might turn out to be yet another example of this country giving all the advantages to black people.

Y’know, the canard that lunkheads have been shrieking about for decades now. The canard that reached a deafening roar when a certain incurious, unprepared, insensitive, uncaring, un-read, greed monkey somehow was elected president in 2016 and hasn’t subsided since.

People like Ron DeSantis saw how imbecility paid dividends for the 45th president and the FL Guv has clearly determined to go the multi-indicted pussy-grabber one better. One better? Hell. One hundred times better. The Florida school board was hand-picked by him and he had to have known precisely what they would do once they got their thumbs all over the state’s book learnin’ policies.

So, after musing on the mortality of the sitting president above, I now turn to the potential for the aspiring next president to demonstrate further lunacy. Clearly, he’s doubling down on appealing to the anencephalic mob that loves him. Usually, when people run for president, they tone down their previous edginess. I fear DeSantis, should he remain in the race through the GOP primaries, will only go further.

Don’t be shocked if by this time next year, DeSantis will have carped, espoused, fretted over, or executive ordered the following:

  • Florida’s unemployed and underemployed citizens will be inducted into slavery where they can “develop skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
  • Germany’s Nazi Party will be honored by Florida for establishing concentration camps where Jews gained a sense of unity, pride, and determination
  • In an effort to reinforce the sanctity of binary genderism, all Florida males must wear trousers that expose their genitals (Be proud, Florida men!)
  • All Florida females must have their genitals sewn shut (to be unsewn only by husbandly order)
  • Specialized trucks will begin spraying Florida’s neighborhoods with the COVID-19 virus — what better way to strengthen Florida citizens’ immune systems?
  • Florida’s children will be limited to one hour or less of book reading a month so they may do more shopping and praying
  • Florida’s air will be taken over by private industry and made available to breathe for the affordable price of $10 a day per person.
  • DeSantis will declare that should he win the presidency, his replacement as Florida governor will be a daily revolving cast composed solely of Florida Man.

Wither Radio?

It’s a damned shame. WHPK, the student-run radio station of the University of Chicago, is facing hard times. Real hard times.

The university’s Program Coordinating Council has slashed the station’s funding from a requested $57,000 (peanuts, really) to $20,600 for the 2023-24 school year. The station is appealing the cut but don’t hold your breath.

College radio has been the birthplace of countless professional DJs, show hosts, and administrators as well as big music acts. The reason anybody outside of their own families ever heard of REM, De La Soul, the B-52s, Nirvana, the Cure, Sinead O’Connor, or any of a hundred other eventual big acts is their early airplay on college radio.

It’s unknown how WHPK will weather this withering.

1000 Words: Warrior

Jesse Jackson isn’t on people’s minds these days as much as he was, say, 30 years ago and more. Especially white people.

He was more or less a bête noir (pun intended) back in the days of St Ronald Reagan. When the most virulent anti-Jacksonists weren’t dropping N-bombs on him in their private conversations, they were publicly calling him a grandstander and a publicity hound. As if white leaders were shrinking violets who all cared only for the good of humankind and had no interest in reaping laurels and riches from their work. Y’know, people like to-be-president Donald Trump.

Jackson in 1983.

Jackson ran for president in the Democratic primaries of 1984 and ‘88. Competing against seven other Dems in ’84, including former vice president Walter Mondale, former Dem presidential nominee George McGovern, Ohio senator and retired astronaut John Glenn, horn-dog Gary Hart, and others, Jackson garnered a fairly respectable 18 percent of the primary vote, winning four contests. Four years later, facing another group of Dems including future vice president Al Gore, Hart again (his horn-dogginess forced him out early in that race), Paul Simon (not that one; this one), and others, Jackson did quite well, earning better than 29 percent of the primary vote and winning 12 states plus the District of Columbia. He ran second to the eminently forgettable Michael Dukakis that year. Many observers credit Jackson’s ’88 campaign with paving the way for Brack Obama’s successful run for the nomination and eventual accession to the presidency in 2008.

Jackson’d been a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. during the height of the civil rights fight in the late 1960s. In fact, he was present when King was shot and killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Jackson was in the motel parking lot when the shot rang out. Later that evening he appeared before cameras wearing a blood stained shirt. Andrew Young — future congressperson, mayor of Atlanta, and US ambassador to the United Nations — vividly remembered the scene in an interview for a PBS Frontline documentary, The Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson. Young said:

After they removed [King’s] body, Ralph Abernathy got a jar and started scraping up the blood and said, crying, it was Martin’s precious blood. This blood was shed for us. It was weird. But people freaked out and did strange things. Jesse put his hands in the blood and wiped it on the front of his shirt.

Lots of white people seemed to be far more offended that Jackson would perform such a showboating display than they were that the nation’s leading civil rights activist had been slain by a white supremacist loner.

(L-R) Jackson, King, and Ralph Abernathy on the Lorraine Motel Balcony.

For my money, Jackson’s act only proved he understood, innately, that politics is mainly theater. To many church-going blacks, Jackson’s blood-stained shirt demonstrated that he would carry on King’s legacy and work, just the way Roman Catholics drink wine transubstantiated into the blood of Jesus Christ. Religion, too, is mainly theater.

In that sense, Jesse Louis Jackson, an ordained Baptist minister, straddling both types of stage, is a thespian as accomplished and heralded as Meryl Streep or Marlon Brando.

Journalist Robert McClory wrote in Illinois Issues back in 1984 that criticisms of Jackson’s desire for the spotlight were pretty much spot on. “First of all,” McClory wrote, “let’s clear the air on the Rev. Jesse Jackson and admit the criticisms of him.

“Yes, he possesses a large, demanding ego. He has a deep-seated need, as some of his oldest and closest friends will readily admit, to be at the center of things, to achieve, to prove conclusively that he is somebody. That undoubtedly is related to his growing up poor, black and illegitimate in his native Greenville, South Carolina, and it all makes interesting material for psycho-biographical analyses….”

Jackson gained King’s attention in 1965 when he, Jackson, participated in the historic Selma, Alabama voting rights marches. King named Jackson, a South Carolina native, the leader of the Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket in 1966. It was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference‘s national economic and business advocacy organization. According to lore, Jackson presented himself to then Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, the Democratic king-maker and reputedly  the second most powerful man in the country at the time (exceeded only by President Lyndon Johnson). Jackson asked Daley what he could do to help in Chicago. Daley, it is said, offered him job as a cashier in an expressway tollbooth.

Jackson never forgot the slight, the story goes. If the tale is true, Jackson got his revenge on Mayor Daley in 1972 when he co-led a successful revolt against the Daley-led Illinois Democratic contingent in the party’s 1972 national convention.

After serving as eventual national leader of Operation Breadbasket, Jackson would found Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity, later changed to People United to Serve Humanity). PUSH later would merge with the National Rainbow Coalition to form Rainbow/PUSH. That iteration is still very much active, pushing for universal healthcare, living wages, fair housing, voter registration, gender equality, affirmative action, and environmental justice.

Early on, Jackson would exhort crowds at PUSH events to shout out the mantra, “I am somebody!”

Rainbow/PUSH Headquarters in Chicago’s Englewood Neighborhood.

For a grandstander and a showboater, Jesse Jackson sure has had a profound influence for good in this holy land. Of course, that has never been of much interest to the people who called him a grandstander and a showboat.

In any case, Jesse Jackson, now aged 81 and confined to a wheelchair, has announced he’s retiring from his leadership position in Rainbow/PUSH. As far as I can determine, he’s the last of the King coterie to remain active. Abernathy, Dorothy Cotton, Bernard Lee, Georgia Davis, James Orange, and King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, all have died. Young is in his 90s.

When it came time for America to elect a black president, only a not-too-black, Harvard-educated, mostly middle-of-the-road  figure like Barack Obama would do. The fiery orator, the angry black man, the King protege with blood on his shirt would never do.

Much of white America had apoplexy when the relatively safe Obama took up residence in the White House. The Tea Party, many white anti-government militias, the Trump presidency, and the January 6th insurrection all ensued from that breakthrough.

Imagine how a lot of Americans would have reacted had the fiery, angry Jackson been elected to lead this nation.

1000 Words: Sex Work

Yesterday I found myself in an embarrassing little situation. For a hot minute, I felt I’d said the wrong thing, but had to remind myself I really hadn’t. Okay, so an explanation is in order.

I was visiting a friend, a woman, who’s quite open-minded about most things, maybe even all things. She was born during the Great Depression and had lived through World War II. All her life she was painfully aware that women, by and large, get a raw deal in this world. She can tell tale after tale about how she’d experienced sexism and was denied opportunities due to the simple fact she was born with a vagina. Sexism rankled her from her earliest days and drove her to do all she could to overcome it. And she did, as much as any woman can in this unfair world.

Another, younger woman was present. We were talking about someone all three of us know. The older woman, let’s call her Carla, mentioned that the person we all know has a daughter who is working in a different state as a pole dancer. Carla told us that this woman’s daughter is very lithe and can do the splits easily. Just hearing about that makes my back, the insides of my thighs and, for pity’s sake, even my head sore. The daughter, in fact, is so good at pole dancing and makes so much money at it that she drives a new Cadillac. Her mother is quite proud of her, the other woman, let’s call her Sharon, said.

At which point, I said, “That’s great. I’m glad her mother accepts that she’s a sex worker.”

Dead silence. Both women looked at me through narrowed eyes.

After few uncomfortable moments Carla piped up. “She’s not a sex worker,” Carla said. “All she does is dance. She doesn’t do anything else, if you know what I mean.”

I wasn’t intending to imply that the woman did “anything else.” But, apparently, that’s the message both Carla and Sharon heard. “She’s not a sex worker,” Sharon said.


I asked where the pole dancer worked, figuring I might have missed the news that pole dancers are now working in non-sexual settings. The answer came back that she works in a strip club.

“So, she’s a sex worker,” I said, still feeling a bit red-faced but nevertheless determined to clear up this sex worker murkiness. “She’s taking her clothes off, earning her money by titillating men. She’s a sex worker.”

Again, silence.

The problem was apparent. To me, being a sex worker is just another way for a woman — or a man — to make a living. It’s neither good nor bad, just the way ringing up Cokes and bags of chips at a convenience store or taking claims for an insurance company are. Carla and Sharon, though, must consider the term sex worker to mean nothing but prostitution. Call girls. Bar girls. Street walkers. If you call somebody a sex worker, you’re relegating them to the lowest rung of society.

Why else would there be silences and defensiveness each time I said the woman was a sex worker?

And what if she does do something else? What if, for the right price, she slips away with a customer for some value-added treatment out of sight of the rest of the room? For that matter, what if she is a call girl, a bar girl, or a street walker? Then Carla and Sharon might agree with me that the woman is a sex worker. I’d hope they wouldn’t then relegate her to the lowest rung of society.

See, for an excruciating minute I’d felt as though I’d wronged the woman when Carla and Sharon shot narrowed eyes at me. But I hadn’t. I don’t look upon pole dancers, hookers, sex shop clerks, or anyone who makes a living in the sex industry to be beneath me. I’d been close friends with a couple of women who were career prostitutes back in Chicago. One, Karen, was a street walker; the other, Selene, was a hotel bar hanger. Both Karen and Selene were smart, ambitious, hard-working people. They took great pride in their appearance. They read good books. They appreciated good cooking, comfortable shoes, sunny days at the beach, and sitting on the front stoop on cool summer nights. The read the papers and had strong opinions on politics and world affairs. They were just like you and me.

No surprise there.

Like me, they couldn’t imagine themselves pent up in a stuffy office, playing workplace politics, worrying if the boss liked them or not. They found they could live a comfortable lifestyle by being…, well, sex workers. Both Karen nor Selene talked about how, at first, they occasionally felt lousy about their vocation. They grappled with that feeling and, so each said, eventually realized they didn’t hate themselves for what they did but they’d let other people’s attitudes toward them seep into their consciousness.

Who knows? Maybe both Karen and Selene were fooling me — and themselves. Maybe they really did feel they were losers, that they belonged on the bottom rung of society for being sex workers. But through all our conversations, they conveyed a certain pride that they were strong enough, independent enough, and filled with enough initiative to go out there and earn a living selling sex.

Sex workers are even unionizing in various places around the world. Sex workers unions push for safer working conditions and better treatment from their employers. The unions also can provide support for sex workers who aren’t formally employed, like Karen and Selene.

Loyal Pencillistas know I’ve been a strong union guy all my life, having been a member of a municipal laborers union, the Newspaper Guild, and the National Writers Union over the years. No work I ever did was any more valuable or essential than the work Karen or Selene or any other sex worker does.

I’m an optimist (occasionally). Maybe one day Carla and Sharon will see things that way too.



1000 Words: Generals and Plumbers

And so, Daniel Ellsberg has died. He announced he was dying back in early March. Inoperable pancreatic cancer. A lousy way to go.

Ellsberg closed his eyes on June 16th in his Kensington, California home.

His eyes, metaphorically, were opened in the late 1960s when he worked for the RAND Corporation, a research and think tank that has served as the ego to the Pentagon’s id, as well as the American military’s crystal ball, Ouija board, Yoda and, occasionally, conscience. Around that time, Ellsberg gradually became aware that this holy land’s excellent adventure in Southeast Asia was built on a tissue of lies, exaggerations, public relations messaging and massaging, and the irresistible demands of empire and uber-masculinity.

Ellsberg then proceeded to commit a felony that, he hoped, might open all of America’s eyes to the sham that underpinned our almost 10-year-long war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that resulted in as many as 750,000 deaths, including civilians and soldiers. Nobody really knows how many people died in our Vietnam War — undeclared, technically — from the date in 1955 when we took over the fight from the French after its colonial mastery of the region was involuntarily ended. One of France’s top military commanders in its Vietnam war killed himself after the Viet Minh humiliated French forces at Dien Bien Phu in the spring of 1954. Then France high-tailed it out of Southeast Asia.

Collage: Josh Coe/Ground Truth

Collage: Josh Coe/Ground Truth

The communist insurgent Vietnamese from the north of the thin, crescent-shaped country on the lower right edge of the Asian landmass were dedicated, tough, disciplined and were fighting on familiar terrain. The French were no match for them. America’s military brass, rather than seeing that as a cautionary lesson, decided Hey, we can do better. We’re the world’s most powerful fighting force!

Too often, uniformed fighting men don’t take kindly to cautionary lessons. You’d think the professors in war colleges — the US Military Academy at West Point, for instance — would look at all the failed sieges and attacks of history and then teach future army brass to avoid those mistakes like doves, Quakers, and conscientious objectors. Maybe they do. All I know is the brass that pushed for and executed our Vietnam expedition either forgot or ignored those lessons.

It’s more “manly” to say Damn the torpedos, let’s go in and kick the shit of of those guys than it is to say Let’s think about this for a minute. Here’s an over-the-top example of that kind of thinking: from 1943 through April of 1945, Adolph Hitler forbade his generals and other top war advisors, generally, from criticizing proposed attacks, overanalyzing potential pitfalls of strategy, and even not being upbeat enough despite Germany’s dire military prospects through those years. They were “defeatists,” Hitler said. He fired generals for their defeatism. And so, hundreds of thousands more people died because the German high command  was purged of “defeatists.”

I’m not comparing US military strategists to Germany’s. Well, not totally. Hitler’s Germany was evil to the core. Our evil is far less ubiquitous but it’s there, in spots, rather like little malignant tumors just beginning to grow. We usually can’t even sense their presence but the damage they can do is profound.

As in Vietnam.

Daniel Ellsberg photocopied some 7000 pages of a Department of Defense study ordered by Lyndon Johnson’s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The study was a detailed history of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Formally entitled the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, it laid bare our country’s bullshit. McNamara himself wrote that he ordered the study so that future strategists might learn from our mistakes.

Some 36 DoD analysts, including Ellsberg, worked on the eventual Pentagon Papers. They did so under extremely tight secrecy. They produced 3000 pages of text backed up by 4000 pages of official documents. The study was completed in late 1968. Fifteen copies of the study were printed. McNamara had resigned as Defense Secretary in February of that year. His replacement, Clark Clifford, received the study only five days before he was to leave office on Inauguration Day, 1969. Clifford claimed he never had the chance to read it. The RAND Corp. got two copies of the study.

Ellsberg took the photocopies he’d made and tried to share them with potential 1972 Democratic candidates for president and other anti-war US senators. None would take the documents from Ellsberg because they understood he’d committed a serious federal crime by taking Top Secret-Sensitive classified materials out of the Pentagon. Had they taken the Papers, they too would be committing a crime. Instead, Ellsberg persuaded New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan to look at the Papers. Sheehan recognized they were dynamite. The Times’ lawyers were split on whether the paper should publish Sheehan’s series of articles. Its outside counsel firm told the Times not to do it. The Times‘ in-house lawyer said it had a 1st Amendment right to do so. The paper decided to print the first of Sheehan’s stories about the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971.

The story further invigorated the already explosive anti-war movement.

Now here’s the irony about it all. At first, President Richard Nixon wanted to ignore the whole thing. The Pentagon Papers, he reasoned, only would embarrass his predecessors, Johnson and John F. Kennedy. But his top foreign affairs guru, Henry Kissinger, feared the Papers might put his own top lieutenants at risk (at least one of them had approved Ellsberg to work on the Papers) and therefore embarrass him, Kissinger.

Kissinger then hammered on Nixon the idea that the release of the Papers might endanger the country’s ability to keep secrets in the future and that Ellsberg was part of a cabal of Leftists who wanted to tear the country down. Nixon bought the argument and ordered the creation of a secret White House operation that would discredit leakers, spy on them, and commit dirty tricks to thwart them (homicide was even considered). That operation became known as The Plumbers, a number of whom broke into the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex on June 17, 1972.

Once you start lying, you can never stop.


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