1000 Words: Pot

I predict my adopted home state of Indiana — and there’s a line I never dreamed I’d write before I got here — will be among the last, if not the very last, to legalize recreational pot.

Even if our state legislature wasn’t so overly-populated by prudes and prigs who think the 1936 panic flick, “Reefer Madness,” was a documentary, I’d be skeptical the Indy statehouse gang would be capable of much lawmaking that made sense. It is, after all, a body from which emerged our current state attorney general, Todd Rokita, who choreographed a persecution campaign against a Hoosier OB-GYN doctor for performing an abortion on a ten-year-old girl who’d been raped. Turns out the criminal case the AG lusted for against the doctor for actually performing the procedure wouldn’t have held much water, so he fell back on the state Medical Licensing Board to reprimand her and fine her $3000 for violating the ten-year-old’s privacy.

See, Dr. Bernard had told a reporter about the case during a pro-abortion rally soon after the procedure. Like any reasonable human being, the doctor pointed out the lunacy of forcing a child to carry and deliver the fetus of her rapist. Many states of late have outlawed virtually all abortions, even those following criminal acts like rape and incest. The state from which the child came was Ohio, which already had outlawed abortion in almost every case, including hers. So, the kid and her caretaker crossed the state line into Indiana to prevent her from becoming a pre-teen mother. Rokita and any number of anti-abortionists went gaga and portrayed Bernard as a blood-thirsty baby killer. Since Indiana at the time had yet to outlaw abortion (following the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade) the best Rokita and company could do was enter a blot on Bernard’s record as a professional and lighten her wallet. Funny thing is, Bernard had never even mentioned the child’s name or revealed any info on her other than she was 10, from out of state, and raped, but that was good enough for the board to rule against her.


The board, by the way, is headed by a fellow named Dr. John Strobel, who specializes in electro-cardiology. In fact, he surgically implanted a defibrillator in my chest nearly a decade ago. He’s a fine practitioner in his field but is also an outspoken opponent of abortion, having taken to the streets to rail against it. The deck, pretty much, was stacked against Caitlin Bernard.

Many on the anti-abortion Right are more offended by the fact that the rapist in this case was, as they describe him, an “illegal immigrant.” The change.org petition linked to in the preceding sentence reads, in part, “It looks like Former President Donald J. Trump was right that Latin America isn’t always sending their best” to this country. The petition also claims the “abortion industry” is a front for a massive sexual abuse cabal.

And people wonder what I mean when I say the worst thing about democracy is the people.

The Bernard case is just the latest weirdness this state’s lawmakers and enforcers have perpetrated. Here’s another from the legislature’s benighted past: back in 2016 — the year that gave us President-elect Trump — the Indiana Senate and House passed a bill forbidding municipalities from banning single-use plastic bags. You, know, those billions and billions of items clogging up our waterways, creating artificial islands in the oceans, strangling gulls and terns and sea turtles and other critters, and, overall, imperiling the environmental health of the planet. Liberal outposts like Bloomington seemed poised to ban plastic bags, as many other cities and the state of California already had done so, but the Indiana statehouse moved quickly to quash that impulse. There’s little the Indiana Senate and House finds more pleasurable than stifling the urges of this state’s few progressive enclaves.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a clump of plastic trash three times larger than the entire country of France.

That might seem a bizarre thing to take pleasure in. And it is. It can be argued that if our prudish and priggish state legislators were amenable to more earthy pleasures like getting baked, they’d be less prone to obsessively try to punish places like Bloomington for being…, well, Bloomington.

More than a hundred years ago, this nation embarked on a crazy, and ultimately failed, attempt to stop people from drinking booze. The only things that resulted from the 13-years-long experiment were the populace’s enhanced thirst for the forbidden stuff and the establishment of a powerful organized crime syndicate. For whatever reason, today there still are many Americans who want cannabis to remain illegal. As if that, in itself, might deter many people from indulging in the drug. Many more, though, want decriminalization.

Just this past month, Minnesota became the 23rd state to allow people over the age of 21 to possess and use recreational marijuana. Some 37 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Yet marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, along with heroin and LSD, by the federal government. Joe Biden promised to support decriminalization during his 2020 run for the presidency. Better than 9 of ten respondents to a 2021 Pew Research poll were in favor of some form of decriminalization. All signs point to an eventual blanket end to pot prohibition, not necessarily tomorrow or next week but some day.

Indiana’s surrounded on three sides by states that allow recreational use. Kentucky, Indiana’s fourth neighbor, still outlaws it. On the other hand, that state continues to honor Jefferson Davis, who was born there but moved elsewhere to eventually lead an armed rebellion against the United States. An estimated 620,000 people were killed in the US Civil War, more than the total number of deaths in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined.

Count the Kentucky legislature among those who might benefit from taking a puff or two the next time they meet..

1000 Words: Know Yourself

Perhaps the primary message I’ve striven to convey through the years via this global communications colossus is the fact that people, by and large, are full of shit.

Old man Shakespeare was right: all the world’s a stage. And the lot of us, the cast of humanity as it were, are a bunch of ham actors.

So barely mediocre are we at the craft of thespianism that we can’t even keep track of our lines and motivations. I mean, an audience has a reasonable expectation that the players on stage at least keep within shouting distance of consistency and believability within the constructs of their characters. If, for instance, Larry David in the next episode of Curb suddenly took to beating the hell out of teenaged hoodlums or even just ignoring his neighbors’ peccadillos, we’d start muttering, Y’know, that just doesn’t ring true.

But the players on this Earthly stage — we  — are as contradictory and baffling as 12-year-olds. To wit: former Chicago Tribune opinion columnist Eric Zorn, who now puts out a blog-newsletter entitled The Picayune Sentinel, this morning talked about the results of a fascinating Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted late this past winter. The poll asked respondents what they thought about government spending. Some 60 percent replied the gov’t blows too much dough. That plays in nicely with the harangue that the Republican Party has hammered us with for more than a half century: the feds, the state, the city, and hell, even half to three quarters of local homeowners associations just piss away money trying to fix problems that ought to magically disappear if only we hitched up our jeans, pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps, prayed to our Judeo-Christian god, forgot about slavery and institutionalized racism, and transported ourselves back to some mythical 1950s nirvana where men were men and women kept their knees together and their mouths shut.

Anyway, gov’t spending. A significant majority of us think it’s way over the top. “People,” Zorn writes, “tend to hate it generally, but like it specifically.”

As in, when asked about gov’t spending that affects them personally, people, for pity’s sake, believe the president, the Senate, the House, the Deep State, and whoever the hell else writes all those checks backed by our hard-earned tax dollars, are damned misers! They’re squeezing us! Pull out that checkbook, they seem to be saying, and write more, more, more checks! All those poll respondents who shrieked the government spends like so many drunken sailors on shore leave are really, again, just like 12-year-olds, convinced mom and dad are abusively denying them their rightful $500-a-week allowances.

When asked their thoughts on government spending in specific areas, people want the feds and every other government entity to commence shooting dollars at us like confetti from cannon.

Here are some things people want the government to spend more on:

  • Education
  • Health care
  • Social Security
  • Medicare
  • Border security

Hell, even 35 percent of respondents complained that this holy land spends too little on the military. If you recall my last EP post, America spent more on its military than the next ten nations combined in the year 2022.

But, of course, 35 pct. is a minority, about the equivalent of the fraction of Americans in thrall to the 45th President of the United States.

The people calling for more spending on the above problems and programs are clear majorities. So, a significant number of people, as indicated by this poll, say the government spends way, way, way too much money while, at the same time, they say the government does not spend enough.

As I indicated at the top of this piece, we’re full of shit. Unless, of course, that poll was restricted to respondents who are full of shit, ignoring people who are not. But you and I know that’s not the case. We live on this planet. We live in this country. We know the vast majority of us are full of shit. Poll any random swath of the American populace and you’ll scoop up a preponderance of people who are full of shit.

If you don’t know it, not only are you full of shit but you have no idea about a basic building block of your own character. I know for a fact that I’m full of shit. I have as many contradictory, pointless, poorly reasoned opinions and stances as any other halfway informed knucklehead pontificating on a personal blog. At very least, though, I’m aware that I’m full of shit. Which makes me a tad less full of shit than, say, those people who responded to that poll.

I’ve long held that the biggest problem with democracy is people. The geniuses who dreamed up the idea of democracy believed, apparently, that an informed, well-read, rational, wired-in electorate could be counted on, in its inherent wisdom, to make the right decisions.

I ask you: are we an informed, well-read, rational, wired-in people? I can’t imagine a soul answering yes.

Is there an informed, well-read, rational, wired-in people anywhere on this Earth?

People complain about the quality of our politicians and leaders, as if those running for president or living in our governors’ mansions should have come to this planet us from another, smarter world. The truth is, they are of us! We’re a bunch of lunkheads, self-interested, wearing blinders, too tired to delve into the nuances of complicated issues, too busy watching “The Masked Singer,” to broaden our horizons. For our leaders, we want people who are just like us.

The fact that we’re full of shit doesn’t particularly offend me. Well, much, anyway. What really burns me is our collective ignorance of our ignorance. We really don’t know we’re full of shit. Which sounds a bit like the Dunning-Kruger Effect that everybody cited a few years back, albeit erroneously.

Even when we try to explain why we’re full of shit, our explanations are full of shit.

My advice: let’s all embrace our full-of-shitness. At least we’d be a smidgen less full of shit than we are right now.


1000 Words: Kill Joy

Not, as a quick scan of the above headline might convey, killjoy as in “one who spoils the pleasure of others.”

No, I’m re-minting the term.

Here’s my new definition of kill joy: the excitement, the glee, the nearly sexual rush that humans get from war.

I’ve hammered on this many a time in this global communications colossus: we love war.

Argue with me all you’d like but you’d be wrong. We get off on war. We write songs about it. We throw parades for our soldiers both before and after wars. We gobble up news from the front. If our country’s not currently fighting a war, we follow closely whatever other countries are slaughtering each other.

Absent real war, we root and scream and devote our undying loyalty to our sports teams. When they win, when they kill the other team, we holler and rejoice and stamp our feet until the stadium shakes. Hell, just this past weekend, Major League Baseball teams donned khaki green and camouflage caps. If we can’t draw blood from our enemies, at least we can homer them to death. There are no plans, as far as I know, for baseball teams to wear caps with peace signs on them.

In this holy land, as a rule, we spend more than half of our entire yearly discretionary budget on the military. The United States paid out some $877 billion for defense in 2022, more than the next 10 countries combined.

Don’t tell me we hate war.

Oh, sure, there are folks who wring their hands and moan about the horrors, the atrocities, the madness of war. They are a minority.

There is no Department of Peace. There is, of course, a Department of Defense. Formerly the Department of War. But the spin-meisters who pondered such things decided, some 75 years ago, that Defense sounded more palatable than War. A sop, I’m sure, to that occasionally loud minority that wails about the evil of war.

Perhaps it is evil. But it sure is a blast.

And, don’t get me wrong, the United States isn’t the only country that embraces war. Almost every other sovereign state in the world honors, celebrates, worships for pity’s sake its fighting forces. It’s just that we spend the most dough and devote the largest share of our industrial and human might to the making of war. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 declared this nation to be the “arsenal of democracy.” We supplied the British and the Russians with millions and billions of things made from iron and steel and any other kind of metal that could be fashioned into ammo and armor. So productive were we as our World War II allies were getting their factories bombed and their economies ruined that we emerged from the Great Depression richer and more powerful than ever. In the years since, we’ve decided that supplying our own military — and much of the rest of the world’s — with bullets, grenades, tanks, fighter planes, mortars, bombers, troop carriers, runways, bunkers, hell, you name it — is flat-out good business. Trust me, if we hadn’t taken up that task, another economic powerhouse would have.

Whenever the national budget’s up for debate our political parties tussle over financial outlays for Social Security or homelessness or health care or education or road building or any of dozens of projects and programs that might make people’s lives safer and more comfortable. Yet, when’s the last time you heard a politician running for office stand up and say Goddamn it, we spend too much money on the military! It’s been a long, long time, primarily because it’s a losing shriek.

The love of war is hard-wired in our genes. Our nearest critter relatives, the chimpanzees, long have been known to engage in war and killing. They kill members of their own species, researchers have found, for the same reasons humans do: to take over territory. That’s why human armies and gangs kill each other.

And the chimps, research has shown, dig the killing. Very few, if any, other animals, birds, or insects organize themselves to kill other members of their own species. The urge to do so is built in to the DNA of Pan troglodytes as well as Homo sapiens. Jane Goodall’s research into chimp behavior in central Africa in the 1970s, a 2010 article in the journal Science claims, found that “male chimps often organize themselves into warring gangs that raid each other’s territory, sometimes leaving mutilated dead bodies in the battlefield.”

The article adds: “Lethal aggression can be evolutionarily beneficial in that species, rewarding the winners with food, mates, and the opportunity to pass along their genes.”

That pretty much sums up humans’ real justifications and rewards for war, despite all the high-minded rationalizations propagandists employ to whip up their respective populaces. We believce we’re fighting for freedom; the irony is, so are our enemies. There must be something more to it.

An analysis of the long, brutal battle for the Ukraine city of Bakhmut in today’s New York Times put me in a mind to ponder our love of war. Bakhmut before last summer was an anonymous salt mining town in northeastern Ukraine, about the size of Bloomington, Indiana. Now, after its 70,000 or so inhabitants have either been killed or forced out, Bakhmut is a dead city. Nobody lives there anymore. Its buildings and infrastructure mainly destroyed. The devastation there has been compared to that of Hiroshima after the nuclear bombing.

The horrible irony is, there was no earthly reason for the Russian and Ukraine armies to fight so viciously over the place. “Bakhmut… happened to be where two armies collided,” the analysis posits. “Pride, defiance and sheer stubbornness quickly gave the city outsize importance.”

There’s been a Bakhmut equivalent in every war ever fought. A strategically pointless place where killing and destruction became total because…, well, just because.

You want a because? Alright, here it is. Because we love war.

Just Because. [Image: Ukrainian Armed Services]

1000 Words: It Came From Beneath the River!

Back when I was a kid, anything that came from the Chicago River was considered toxic. Science-fiction-y toxic. Three eyes and three arms toxic. Eat it and you’re guaranteed to develop tumors inside and out within weeks. Days, maybe.

My beloved hometown’s river wasn’t exactly in the same league as, say, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River.  You know, the one that started on fire not once, not twice, but more than a dozen goddamned times in the heyday of industrial pollution, before the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, before that famous commercial with the Native American shedding a tear over litter and general muckiness.

Mayor Richard J. Daley, the first Pharaoh of the city and a dedicated fisherman, once pledged to clean up the Chicago River to the extent that the citizenry could one day drop lines in the water and see what got snagged on their hooks. In impeccable Chicagoese, Daley said, “D’ere’s nuthin’ so wholesome as eatin’ a fish.”

Hell, Sports Illustrated even ran a small piece on Da Mare’s angling obsession soon after his death in December 1976, including this gem:

[T]he mayor had a vision. He wanted to see clean, edible fish in the river, and he wanted to see them right away. “People from the Loop could catch fish in the Chicago River and barbecue them on grills we’ll put in Lower Wacker Drive.” he told the House Public Works Subcommittee on Water Resources. “They can eat fish and have a bottle of beer.”

The reaction to the above Illinois House Subcommittee testimony was universal derision. As Rick Telander’s SI piece described the river at the time:

An inner-city sludgepot of indeterminate composition and color, the Chicago River had probably housed more cement-encased humans than fish during the last half century. Overflow from the the city’s sewers runs directly into the river during heavy rains, and huge ships churn its waste-filled bottom into noxious ooze. The only time the river has a healthy color is on St. Patrick’s Day, when the Democrats dye it green with food coloring.

Lo and behold, thanks  in large part to the establishment of the aforementioned EPA as well as the national environmental awareness inspired by that iconic teary Native American, the Chicago River over the last 45 or so years indeed has been cleaned up. So much so that many people now climb into rowboats and fish for American eel, black bullhead, bluegill, channel catfish, common carp, green sunfish, largemouth bass, northern pike, and pumpkinseed.

There’ve been no recent reports of fisherpeople dropping dead after eating a Chicago River eel. Nor has there been a spate of local anglers developing extraneous limbs or eyes after downing a bluegill.

Nevertheless, a recent viral Instagram video showing the existence of an elderly gal nicknamed “Chonkosaurus” is jarring. Chonkosaurus is a huge snapping turtle who apparently calls the Chicago River home. A couple of kayakers videoed her sitting on a mound of rusty chains at the point, just northwest of the Loop, where the river splits into North and South branches.

I suppose any mammoth, superannuated snapping turtle would appear to be something out of a Ray Harryhausen 1950s monster movie. Harryhausen’s, along with Bert I. Gordon‘s and others, were my favorite movies in the days when I was fairly certain I could see the same types of creatures crawling out of the Chicago River itself. “Them!” “Beginning of the End,” “War of the Colossal Beast,” and “It Came from Beneath the Sea,” were after-school staples for me in the mid- and late-60s, during that pre-teen prime time when I could flip between those scifi classics, the Cubs game, and the Three Stooges.

The truth of the matter, though, is Chonkosaurus looks like a run-of-the-mill Chelydra serpentina. A Cook County Forest Preserve naturalist has identified Chonkosaurus as a female and suggests she’s probably loaded with eggs. Meaning, I suppose, there’ll be tons more like her popping up here and there along the river over the next few years. Chicago, it should be noted, was the cinematic locale of an attack by a swarm of giant grasshoppers in “Beginning of the End” back in 1957. Now, in 2023, some enterprising auteur ought to lens something called, say, “The Tortuga Terror,” with scenes of titanic reptiles climbing the Willis Tower.

The emergence of Chonkosaurus, of course, isn’t the first time the Chicago River has made national news (other than every St. Patrick’s Day when the river’s dyed green). In August 2004, the tour bus for the Dave Matthews Band stopped while crossing the Chicago River on the Kinzie Street Bridge. The bus driver had decided to empty the bus’s toilet tank through the bridge’s iron grate deck. Unfortunately, just at that moment a tour boat, Chicago’s Little Lady, was passing directly underneath the bridge. Carrying some 120 passengers, the tour boat caught the brunt of the 800-pounds of human shit, piss, and otherwise fouled water pouring down through the grate. About 80 tourists got slimed.

An official report read thusly:

The liquid waste was brownish yellow in color, and had a foul, offensive odor. The liquid human waste went into passengers’ eyes, mouths, hair, and onto clothing and personal belongings, many of which were soaked. Some of the passengers suffered nausea and vomiting as a result….

The bus driver eventually was found guilty of dumping into a waterway and sentenced to 150 hours of community service, 18 months’ probation, and fined $10,000. The tour boat’s passengers, it should be noted, all received refunds when Chicago’s Little Lady returned to its dock.

I don’t suppose many of them enjoyed a hearty meal for the next few weeks after the incident.

Perhaps a new generation of Chicagoans can think wholesome, clean thoughts when the Chicago River is mentioned. Me? I dunno, the river carries a little too much baggage.

1000 Words: Wartime

Let’s not kid ourselves anymore. We’re in a civil war.

It’s being carried out right now only by those on the outermost fringes of society. But it’s real. It’s happening.

People are being killed. That, of course, is the basic definition of war. During World War II, for instance, anywhere from 60 to 90 million people lost their lives. The carnage was so widespread and indiscriminate that those whose job it was to actually count the bodies threw their hands in the air after a while and basically said Let’s go with round numbers. And, while we’re at it, we’ll always round up.

That was a hot war. The hottest our war-loving species has ever engaged in. The war we’re in right now, largely confined to the shores of this holy land, isn’t hot. It’s still fairly tepid. It’s a crap shoot as to whether this civil war will come to a boil. Maybe we’ll get lucky and cooler heads will figure out a way to douse it. Then again, maybe not.

Time will tell.

Now our reporters and opinionators are providing us almost daily running casualty totals, reminiscent of the Walter Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley era when newspapers and TV screens’d display the latest death totals in Vietnam, as if they were points on a scoreboard. We’re winning, the totals appeared to say. On any given day, it’d be, oh, 1575 Vietcong dead versus, say, 175 Americans. Woohoo!

Contemporary casualty totals don’t emanate from rice paddies and dense jungles but from shopping malls, schools, gay bars, churches, community centers, movie theaters, drag show venues, and any number of other heretofore unremarkable gatherings of everyday folks.

Everyday folks who are being killed at a rate unheard of in our history, as long as one ignores the countless Jim Crow era extrajudicial executions — but that was a whole other war.

The deaths these days are being carried out by a thin but growing swath of society that feels a need to eliminate another swath of society they see as The Enemy.

And isn’t that precisely what war is all about?

Michelle Goldberg writes in today’s New York Times that the war may well have begun as far back as May 1995, nearly 30 years ago, when Timothy McVeigh truck-bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and injuring 680. McVeigh’s Wikipedia page reads, in part:

A Gulf War veteran, McVeigh sought revenge against the federal government for the 1993 Waco siege as well as the 1991 Ruby Ridge incident and American foreign policy. He hoped to inspire a revolution against the federal government, and defended the bombing as a legitimate tactic against what he saw as a tyrannical government.

For years, McVeigh was viewed as a kook, a one-off, a deranged terrorist who was swiftly apprehended and dispatched to hell six years after his horrifying act. Thank god, America whispered, we don’t have to worry about that kind of thing anymore.

Only, we do.

“McVeigh,” Goldberg writes, “who was a member of the K.K.K. and harbored a deep resentment of women, hoped that blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building would inspire an army of followers to make war on the government. This didn’t happen immediately, although, as the historian Kathleen Bewle has written, there was a wave of militia and white supremacist violence in the bombing’s aftermath. But today, an often-inchoate movement of people who share many of McVeigh’s views is waging what increasingly looks like a low-level insurgency against the rest of us.”

Even if the latest mass shooter has no idea who McVeigh was, he’s likely the man’s spiritual brother. The world, McVeigh “reasoned,” was going to shit and it was incumbent upon him to do something about it. Too often, when authorities pour through the journals and diaries, the social media posts and the hate group memberships, of the latest mass shooter, that same “reasoning” emerges.

None of today’s wholesale killers wear uniforms but they’re soldiers nonetheless. They’re killing “the rest of us” by the hundreds and thousands. If that ain’t a war, I don’t know what is.

America’s official Civil War didn’t pop up as if by magic with the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. There’d been any number of clashes, skirmishes, atrocities, and acts of terrorism committed in the decades before that date. The Civil War, it can be said, began in 1851 or even 1841. The start date of any war usually is arrived at by some manner of agreement among historians. Who’s to say World War II didn’t start with the Japanese Rape of Nanking in 1937? This even though it’s generally held that the war started when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Tell the people of Korea, of Manchuria, of Czechoslovakia, of Austria that the death and destruction they suffered before the invasion of Poland wasn’t war.

Let’s not tell the hundreds, the thousands killed in American mass shootings there’s no war going on either.

Fed a steady diet of grievance, panic, and hatred by Right Wing “news” channels and websites, urged on by provocateurs like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tucker Carlson, and driven by their own deep-seated psychopathologies, today’s mass shooters are merely the advanced guard in what may well become an organized fighting force coming, as Goldberg writes, for the rest of us.

Should some Reichstag Fire-like tragedy occur on these shores within the next few years, say some nut takes a shot at Donald Trump or somebody with tenuous ties to Black Lives Matter plants a bomb at the next NRA convention, more and more people will join with those on that outermost fringe of society to, as they see it, set the world straight

Maybe Goldberg’s right and the first shot was fired in Oklahoma City in 1995. Maybe it was in Memphis in 1968. Maybe Kent State and Jackson State in 1970. How about Philadelphia in 1985?

We’re at war with ourselves even if we don’t recognize it yet.

Maybe we’ve been at war against each other for a hundred or even two hundred years. All I know is in this year of somebody’s lord, 2023, we sure as hell love our guns a lot more than each other.

1000 Words: He Could Taste It

Reams and volumes have been written about neo-fascist opinionator Tucker Carlson and his firing last month from Fox News. Up until this AM, I thought there was little or nothing I could add to the clamor over his exit from the nation’s leading disseminator of whiteness, fear, grievance, and disinformation.

But I caught the news of one of his in-house texts in today’s New York Times and, for pity’s sake, I just wanna scream. Failing that, I’ve decided to throw my dollar’s worth herein.

Here’s the text in question :

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching video of people fighting on the street in Washington. A group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living shit out of him. It was three against one, at least. Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?

Perhaps I’d be better off letting psychiatric professionals parse his text. In it, Carlson is clearly torn between being a somewhat decent human being and an ugly, violent, reactionary beast. Carlson is, as of this date, 53 years old. He’ll be turning 54 in twelve days. We like to think a middle-aged person in his mid-sixth decade on this mad, mad, mad, mad planet might have a better handle on who he is.

Certainly there’s grey area in our thoughts and feelings even as we push 70 or 80 or 90 years old. We’re all constantly growing and maturing (it is hoped), fine tuning our philosophies and morals, becoming (again, it is hoped) a better human being today than we were yesterday or 25 years ago.

Clearly, though, Carlson is grappling with contradictory moral certitudes more befitting a 13-year-old. And, inasmuch as Carlson has reflected and led a huge swath of the American citizenry these last six or seven years, that moral ambiguity is far more prevalent than any of us would ever want to acknowledge among our +330 million national sisteren and brethren.

Now, any one of us might say I’d like to see so-and-so get the shit kicked out of him. That’s throwaway stuff, reminiscent of the key line from “12 Angry Men” where the angriest of the eponymous jury panel shouts “I could kill you!” at the guy he disagrees with. The idea being, those were just angry words not a statement of actual intent.

I don’t know how many times I heard someone say about the 45th President of the United States, “I wish somebody would shoot him.” I never said that myself but I get the emotion behind it. The people who said that weren’t advocating for assassination. They simple wished the then-President Trump would go away.

Let’s put it in simple domestic terms. Even couples in the strongest and most loving marriages are likely to have said to each other, at some point in time, I hate you!

They don’t hate each other, as a rule, but perhaps they do in that moment. In less emotionally charged moments, they wouldn’t grapple with the question of whether or not they hate or love each other. They don’t say, I love my spouse dearly. Our marriage is strong. Yet I hate the hell out of her/him, too.

Then again, a lot of married couples do say that in their most honest moments. Those couples probably are on a fast track toward divorce. If you’re wrestling with the question of love or hate re: your mate, your marriage is teetering.

Similarly, the marriage we share with our fellow Americans is teetering. The hoped-for unity citizens of a single nation should share is being chipped away day by day, hour by hour, thanks to internet-driven polarization and and cable news sensationalism. Thanks, largely, to people like Tucker Carlson.

That said, I haven’t even mentioned Carlson’s line, “It’s not how white men fight.” That one was a stunner. Does he believe white men always fight acc’d’g to the rules of the Marquess of Queensberry? And that, say, black men, women, brown people, and all others not included in Carlson’s idealized bunch — gays and lesbians, trans people, Democrats, liberals, progressives, foreigners, immigrants, civil servants, and so on — fight unfairly, ganging up on individuals, slipping horseshoes into their boxing gloves?

White men, if you follow Carlson’s train of thought here, are the paragon of fairness and decency. In that, he entertains no qualms.  He’s as certain as a middle-aged person should be about, say, whether or not someone he disagrees with should be beaten by a passel of thugs. And, in that, he again reflects the belief of a huge swath of the American populace. We’re better, say many in white America, than all those others.

Carlson wraps it all up with the line, “How am I better than he is?” Which, push comes to shove, is the key idea here. Not the question of whether an antifa kid should be beaten or killed. Not Carlson’s visceral craving to see the kid in pain. Not whether his bloodlust is right or wrong.

All that stuff is secondary to Carlson’s main point — that he and his kind are “better” than others. That’s why Americans are on a fast track to divorce.

1000 Words: Persistence

A quick shout-out before I get into today’s topic. This is related to my last post about recovering from total hip replacement surgery this month. When I was a kid (meaning any time before a couple of years ago), I thought I knew what love was. I didn’t. I have a better handle on it now.

Every day — sometimes two and three times a day — The Loved One has to put my socks and shoes on for me. I’ll be under doctor’s restrictions against that usually mundane task for the next few weeks, at least.

My conclusion? True love is not gushing romance and bliss and batting eyelashes and pounding heartbeats. No, it’s a spouse or mate or significant other hunkering down, despite having her own back issues, to roll up my socks, gingerly roll them on to my exacting tightness specifications, and then lace up and double-knot my sneakers even, sometimes, when she’s fresh out of bed.

That kind of love is not as exciting or arousing as the kind I desperately sought in my 20s, but it’s indescribably deeper and profoundly more satisfying than any other kind I’ve ever experienced. I can only hope to do the same or something similar for her one day.


Now then, persistence. Loyal Pencillistas know I’m a space geek. I have been since I was five years old and Alan Shepard became the first American to sit in a space capsule and be launched 101.2 nautical miles above the Earth’s surface. He was the first American in space, even though Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin beat him to those rarified heights some three and a half weeks previously. Poor Shepard longed to be the first human in space but his Mercury mission had been postponed a half dozen times after its originally scheduled date in 1960. Gagarin’s Vostok 1 mission lifted off on April 12, 1961. He orbited the Earth three times. Shepard’s Freedom 7 spacecraft launched on May 5, 1961. He did not orbit the Earth but flew in a ballistic arc over the Atlantic Ocean.

Another sad turn for Shepard: He climbed into his Freedom 7 capsule at 5:20am that fateful Friday. It was expected liftoff would occur within a couple of hours. Due to miscellaneous delays, Shepard remained strapped in to his capsule for more than four hours. He needed to pee. Eventually, he couldn’t hold it any longer and ground control told him to pee in his spacesuit. In those early space flight days, no provisions had yet been made for crew members to relieve themselves. So Alan Shepard sat in his own urine until he was picked up by rescue helicopter after splashing down at ten minutes to 2:00pm.


Another bit of trivia: When reporters asked Shepard what he thought about during his sub-orbital flight, he replied, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the lowest bidder.”

Anyway, persistence. The space race was driven, largely, by its two participants’ — the USA and the USSR — common desire to show the world who had the bigger dick. For years, the Soviet’s junk loomed huge over America’s paltry prong. The USA told the world on July 30, 1955 it would send an artificial satellite into space in 1957. The Soviets followed suit four days later. Partially to its credit, the USA would be far more cautious about sending machines and people into space than the Soviets were. That and President Dwight Eisenhower’s un-interest in space exploration allowed the USSR to leapfrog the USA therein. The Soviets would launch Sputnik 1 on October 1, 1957. The USA didn’t send a satellite into space until four months later when it launched Pioneer 1.

Sputnik was a hollow ball containing a simple radio transmitter emitting a continuous string of beeps as it orbited the Earth. Anyone with a rudimentary receiver could hear Sputnik’s beeps as it passed overhead so the American populace suffered a collective paranoia. Despite a panicky renewed emphasis on scientific education and the creation of NASA, the Soviets continued to beat the USA to the punch in space even after Gagarin’s ride. The USSR sent the first woman and the first multi-person crew into space. A cosmonaut also was the first human to “walk” in space.

Of course, the USA eventually trumped the Soviets when Neil Armstrong stepped on the surface of the Moon on July 21, 1969. President John F. Kennedy had pledged on May 25, 1961 that America would land a person on the Moon before the decade was out. At that particular moment no one on Earth had any idea how to get a crewed capsule to the Moon and back safely. It’d be like President Biden today promising battery-powered flying cars would replace gas-engine automobiles by the year 2032.

The First Human Footprint on the Moon.

Just getting anything from the Earth to the Moon and back in the late ’50s and early ’60s was a nearly impossible task. It took the USA three tries to get a spacecraft to simply fly by the moon before Pioneer 4 did it in 1959. The USSR’s Luna 2 crashed into the Moon nine months later. Neither country was able to manage a soft landing on the Moon — by an un-crewed craft, of course — until the Soviets’ Luna 9 touched down on February 3, 1966. Between the two countries, there’d been at least 37 previous attempts to either fly by, crash into, or soft land on the Moon before Luna 9’s successful mission. The two countries started launching rockets toward the Moon in the summer of 1958 and couldn’t land a machine on its surface until fully eight years later.

Imagine that kind of sustained failure taking place over nearly a decade in this day and age of the 24-hour news cycle and social media. A single failure these days generates hoots and insults. We demand immediate success and gratification. If something doesn’t work the first time it’s attempted, we pillory its imagineers, its creators, and its operators. For good measure we blame whomever’s in the White House at the time.

Persistence? It apparently no longer exists.

1000 Words: The Body Shop

I went to the grocery store this morning. Stocked up for the week. A normal chore.

Except it wasn’t.

It was my first time out in public, walking, since I underwent my second total hip replacement surgery two weeks ago today.

A few years ago, after I’d completed treatment for cancer in my neck, I decided to embark on a program of fixing up all the things that resulted in me being, essentially, a cripple. Both my hips were diagnosed with Category 4 osteoarthritis, leading me to walk (or, try to walk) like a grizzled old tar on a pirate ship.

Surgery after surgery after surgery.

Standing up from a sitting position took long moments. Sitting down in the first place took even longer. I timed how long it took me to put on my socks and shoes once: six minutes. All this dilly-dallying was in service of me trying to dodge screaming pain. The cats and The Loved One countless times were scared out of their fur by me shrieking in agony because I’d moved one or the other hip joint just the merest fraction of a millimeter wrongly.

My first hip should have been done some time in early spring 2020, but you may recall what was going on in the world at that time. That surgery was delayed for some nine months before my surgeon felt the pandemic was controlled enough so he could resume elective operations. As he threw me out of the hospital after I woke from anesthesia, he said we’d have to wait at least six months before we could re-jigger the other hip.

Next thing I knew, one of my teeth started getting a little funky thanks to cancer radiation therapy, every weekday for six weeks, back in 2016. My oral surgeon said the blood flow through my jaw had been compromised by the daily linear X-ray beam zapping and he wouldn’t yank said tooth until I’d gone through another six weeks, every weekday, of lying in a hyperbaric chamber.

I wrote about the hyperbaric chamber back in the late fall of ’21. Trust me, if you’re claustrophobic, you won’t survive a minute in one of those tubes. The casing is clear, sure, but the space to move around in is only about 36 inches in diameter. The machine creates a high-pressure atmosphere of pure oxygen, forcing billions of Omolecules into me and engorging my arteries with supercharged, highly-oxygenated blood.

Along about the same time, I visited another surgeon to take care of the enormous hole I had in my abdominal wall. This hernia had led to what’s called an incarceration. No, I didn’t have to go to jail, but the pain caused by this medical incarceration was no less bearable than a nickel stint in Monroe County jail. I’d already decided to juggle the order of my surgeries to take care of the hernia first because, frankly, if the hernia and incarceration got any worse the fallout would be devastating. As in send flowers. He, too, said he wouldn’t touch me without me having been locked in the hyperbaric tube for a good long time.

So, I got my tooth excavated in February 2021 and my abdominal wall patched up ( and the incarcerated organ pushed back where it belongs that April.


Now I could have the orthopedic surgeon tackle my left hip. And, by the way, that left hip originally was diagnosed as the worse of the two. As far back as 2019, X-rays showed the left hip completely without any cartilage lining at all. The surgeon suggested we get on it without delay. I told him my right hip was the one that hurt worse, so he deferred to my wishes.

He sliced me open and sawed off the bone ends (ball head of the femur and the acetabulum, or hip socket), screwed and glued replacements for them made of titanium and plastic, and sent me on my way. After I woke up, of course.

Image from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Now that my first hip had been done, I started walking around like there was no tomorrow. Unfortunately, tomorrow came. Because I was gamboling about so much I wore down the bone ends in my right hip to the point that they were shrinking, much like the eraser on the tip of a pencil. The pain was insane.

I finally was able to get the left hip done on April 10th. Recovery from total hip replacement surgery is no picnic, I assure you, but no matter how much swelling and soreness there is, I feel 22 times better now than I did on April 9th.

At last my campaign of multiple surgeries is complete. When I started it, I didn’t even have confidence I’d live long enough to get them all done because, well, I have a couple of other medical issues that could, at any time, turn dire.

I recount all this not to elicit sympathy (although if you want to toss a little my way, I won’t fling it back in your face) but to remind you it’s almost always preferable to live and to get your body repaired quickly and properly.

There are exceptions, of course. People suffering with unbearable cancer pain and who’ve been told there’s no hope rightly would prefer to be wrapped in the arms of Mors, the Roman god of death. A dear friend of mine, who’s a citizen of another country, lost both her parents to cancer. Or, more accurately, suicide. The country they live in allows physician-assisted suicide for people who are suffering and for whom there’s no other way out. Her parents threw themselves a nice party, said goodbye to all their loved ones and friends, and then took the gas pipe or the pill or whatever they do in that country.

That’s an awfully good way to go. And their kids were thankful their parents didn’t have to endure the torture of pain and hopelessness.

Anyway, I’m a million miles away from wishing I could die (although there’ve been moments now and again). I’m all taped and sewed up. My hips don’t hurt. My hernia isn’t burning. My tooth isn’t threatening to turn infected.

The conclusion: Life’s pretty good even if it does kick the shit out of us every once in a while.

1000 Words: We May Be Dumb, But We’re Not Stupid

We’re not stupid. We have brains in our heads and, every once in a while, we use them. We can be fooled, sure. But some scams, some bunk, are so over the top that we’re immune to them.

By we, I mean the liberals, the progressives, and even a few staunch Democrats, for pity’s sake. My we.

As I say, we’ve bought into bullshit before. “Defund the Police,” for one thing. The dumbest most ineffective, most guaranteed to lose us whatever support we’d hoped to gain in America’s heartland (itself a pie-in-the-sky aspiration) slogan ever conjured. The idea behind it made sense: the police are asked to do too much and we ought to devote more resources to mental health crisis professionals, substance abuse emergency responders, and conflict resolution experts to help the cops when they’re confronted by the stoned, the deranged, and the irrational among the citizenry. Defund the Police conveyed none of that message. The only thing Ma and Pa Iowa or Arkansas thought when they heard those three words was, Let’s get rid of the police.

Now any pols who even once uttered that inane slogan are running from it as though from a rabid dog. “What,” they say, baffled, “I said that? Naw! I musta been misquoted.” A prime example: the newly elected mayor of Chicago, Brandon Johnson, who deftly two-stepped away from his earlier support for Defund the Police and was able to win out over his Law and Order opponent.

So, we’re not perfect but we’re not altogether credulous (like members of a certain former president’s idolatrous cult are). That’s why the given rationale behind the Tennessee legislature’s ouster of two of its members yesterday ain’t gonna fool a’one of us. State representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were kicked out of the august Nashville chamber they’d been duly elected to for staging a raucous protest against the southern state’s masturbatorial love affair with guns. After three adults and three kids were gunned down in a Tennessee school the other day, the legislature reaffirmed its commitment to protect the “right” of any and all citizens to possess weapons of war regardless of certain psychological red flags they may already have displayed rather than safeguard a few kids’ lives.

Jones and Pearson led a chanting group of protesters in the statehouse, decrying the legislature’s inaction on sane gun laws. They used a bullhorn to address the room. The protesters made a lot of noise, cried out Shame, shame, shame, and then left the chamber. There was no riot. There was no violence. Nobody died or was injured. Nobody took over any legislators’ offices, defaced paintings and statues, or even took shits on the edifice’s marble floors — all of which happened elsewhere on January 6th, 2021.

Another January 6th? [ABC News video screenshot]

I bring that date up because one of the leaders of the group of majority Republicans who voted Jones and Pearson out of their seats said his party did so because they were afraid the protest was turning into another January 6th.

Jones and Pearson were joined in the protest by a third state representative, Gloria Johnson. She was not ousted by the legislature, although the vote on her expulsion was close.

Gloria Johnson, natch, is white.

She’s not fooled either. When reporters asked her why she’d been spared while Jones and Pearson were not, she replied, sarcastically, “It may have to do with the color of our skin.”

Jones and Pearson were ousted because they are young, troublemaking black men. Period. Gloria Johnson isn’t troublemaking. Perhaps she’s disruptive, an okay way of making waves that’s so valued in the business world these days. In fact, that aforementioned former president is a noted “disrupter.”

Whenever young black men break a rule, it’s a sure sign they’re about to go wild and tear society apart. That’s a lesson passed down by slave masters from two hundred years ago. That’s traditional lore held dear in places like Tennessee.

The mob, the thousands of people who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th, 2021, hoping to overturn the presidential election, crying out for blood, calling for the neck of Vice President Mike Pence and others, a certain revisionist faux-historian now claims, weren’t really troublemakers. Why they were simply passionate participants in good-natured public give-and-take. They were no more dangerous than a couple of guys sitting on barstools arguing over who’ll win next year’s Super Bowl. One Republican congressperson even compared the January 6th riot to a “normal tourist visit.”

Which takes the wind out of that Tennessee Republican who said Jones and Pearson’s ousters were necessary lest the statehouse protest devolve into something akin to January 6th.

What? A normal tourist visit?

These Republicans had better get their stories straight.

These logical inconsistencies remind my of the bar-room spat I had with a Kentucky good-old-boy back around the time the Tea Party was making news. The real danger facing America, he yelled, comes from the goddamned liberals. “They are the most selfish people around,” he hollered.

“Selfish?” I countered. (And, yes, I was yelling too — something I’ve long ago stopped doing when arguing with a member of the Right. In fact, I’ve flat-out stopped arguing with that ilk, period. No sense giving myself a concussion by banging my head against that brick wall). “I thought liberals were supposed to be sob-sisters and weaklings. Nursemaids. Nannies. You’d better get your stereotype straight!”

I didn’t win that argument, of course. People don’t win arguments anymore. Facts be damned.

I wouldn’t win any argument against that Tennessee Republican by pointing out January 6th was supposed to be nothing more dangerous than a school field trip.

Donald Trump may or may not retain his vise grip on the Republican Party as we near the 2024 presidential campaign. Even if he does, he’ll still play second fiddle to the man who penned these lines:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather Scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

1000 Words: Constant News Is Bad News

Back when I was a kid there were basically two ways to get the news of the greater world outside my block.

One was the newspaper. The other was TV. There’d be national news right about at dinner time and then the local news at 10:00pm.

In those pre-video days, it’d take a couple of hours for film footage of a big fire or a shooting in the city to be rushed to the station, processed, edited, and loaded in the control room. If the footage was from Paris street protests or the battlefields of Vietnam, it took a full day or more to get to my TV screen.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t imagine in 1968 or ’69 news getting to me any quicker than it did then. I didn’t even dream of today’s nearly real time reportage via online news sources and social media.

We can, for instance, know just as police SWAT teams and ambulances are pulling up outside a school that a shooter is inside and gunshots have been heard. We know what’s going on before some of the first responders do.

Which leads us to the most deranged development I can think of right now (Don’t worry: tomorrow I’ll think of something even loonier — this is 2023, after all.) Apparently, there’s been a problem with people calling in active shooter reports to 911. These callers, acc’d’g to a report on NPR this AM, provide details such as how many shooters there are, how many shots have been fired, and bits of trivia only a school insider would know. Then, pictures of the school or the area surrounding it are posted on social media, leading to parents panicking and rushing to the scene to see if their kids are alright.

These calls are hoaxes. The phenomenon is called “swatting.”

The city manager of Twin Falls, Idaho fell victim to a swatting incident. He was in a meeting and was told there was an emergency at the local high school. This fellow said he was told, moments later, “there was an active shooter, that there was one person down, that there were three people injured, and it was in a math class.” His kid, he knew immediately, was in that math class at the time.

Ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, helicopters, SWAT teams, reporters, and horrified parents converged on the school.

The local NPR reporter said, “There was no shooter. The call was a hoax.”

It took law enforcement officials about an hour and a half to convince themselves nothing of the kind had gone down at the school. But kids in the school, wired in to the internet, caught false reports of the shooting and messaged their parents that they were alive but hunkered down and scared to death.

Even after a police spokesperson reported that the thing was a hoax, he was bombarded with calls from parents calling him a liar, that their kids were still in danger and that the city was staging a huge coverup.

Does it get any more insane than that?

Oh, yes it does. As the minutes turned to hours, even after the all-clear had been issued, kids kept posting that there were dead bodies, that they’d heard gunshots, that things were still in chaos. Their parents took them at their word.

A local TV reporter says, “…[A]ll this was fueled through social media.”

It couldn’t possibly get more psychotic than that, right?

Wrong. A school in a nearby town was reported to be under siege by a shooter at the same time. Then this, per the NPR reporter:

And on March 2, a whole new wave of calls came in all across the country. Highland Park High School in Topeka, Hastings Public School in Nebraska. In Lawrence, Kansas, police officers shared dash and body cam videos of officers responding to the call about a shooting at Free State High School in real time on Facebook.

All hoaxes.

The reporter added there’ve been “hundreds” of such hoaxes all around the USA in recent months.

A few of them — it’s not known exactly how many at this time because relevant 911 recordings have been impounded by the FBI for its investigation — have been made by a man with a foreign accent.

Many of the hoax callers now offer details that are obviously false or easily debunked after a few moments, the name of a non-existent teacher, say, or pix of arriving emergency vehicles from a wholly unrelated town.

The first thing that came to mind was — the Russians.

And why not? The Russkies flooded social media and fake news sites with all kinds of misinformation, libel, slander and general bunkum in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. At first it was thought Vladimir Putin’s directed his spooks to get Donald Trump elected president, and maybe he did. But far more likely, he only wanted to tear America apart.

He sure as hell did.

And now that Trump has served a term in office with the resultant polarization of the country, what more can Putin’s geeks do?

They can sow even more panic and fear. Nothing makes people more terrified than to think their kids are in mortal danger. A nation in a constant state of panic and fear can turn on itself in the snap of a finger. As an added bonus, swatting then sows even more distrust of the government, as evidenced by all those parents accusing officials of lying about the non-existent shooters. Because, they’ve been led to believe, that’s what government officials always do.

My conclusion? It doesn’t do me a bit of good, nor does it do anybody any good, to get news up to the second, every day, 24 hours a day. I don’t have my finger on the nuclear launch button. I’m not an emergency dispatcher. No news is of vital importance to me this very second.

A little taste of the TV news at dinner time or right before bedtime was plenty when I was a kid. The newspapers kept me abreast of wars and famines and local officials who’d been caught bribing each other. Today’s nearly real time reportage via online news sources and social media has harmed us deeply.

%d bloggers like this: