(Not) 1000 Words: The Good and The Bad

Nothing one-thousand-word-y today. Just several things meriting a few paragraphs.

So, let’s go.

I quote from a story in this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times:

Neighbors were shocked to hear about the deaths on their normally quiet block.

Now, that’s a boilerplate line from any of a hundred thousand — hell, a million — newspaper articles about murder. In this case, five people were found dead in their home in the upper-middle class Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove. Authorities suspect it was “domestic” in nature, meaning someone the victims knew and loved offed them.

Horrible. Heinous. Of course. But, for pity’s sake, aren’t we savvy enough to grasp that the neighbors’ll be shocked by such a crime? They’d be shocked to learn even one person had been murdered next door. Nobody — even among people in the toughest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods in any city — would say to a reporter, “Yeah, I figured it’d happen. Now, pardon me so I can finish raking the leaves.”

Staying in Chicago — my beloved hometown, natch — today and tomorrow are a couple of notable anniversaries.

Tomorrow, first. On December 2, 1942, physicists led by at least four eventual Nobel Prize laureates conducted the world’s first sustained nuclear chain reaction in a secret lab under the stands at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field. For decades, the event was described among laypeople as “splitting the atom.” It proved that trillions of volatile atoms of uranium could be manipulated into releasing their collective potential energy. Researchers employed by the Manhattan Project then went about the business of developing nuclear weapons, based on the successful Stagg Field experiment.

Talk about a double-edged sword! Many historians feel the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki effectively ended World War II (although others just as forcefully argue Japan already had been defeated; it’s navy and air force crushed, its home islands totally blockaded, and 60 of its cities destroyed by conventional bombing raids). Yet more than a quarter-million human beings were killed in two finger snaps. Tens of thousands of people who survived the initial nuclear bombings would later die of radiation effects for decades to come.

And, after the end of the war countries began arming themselves to the teeth with nukes, so much so humanity soon was in real danger of incinerating itself. It still is.

Table from ICAN (Internationall Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)

Yet, delving into the recesses of the atom has allowed us to understand the basic nature of physical existence; to develop almost magical treatments for cancer; generate usable energy; and gain deeper understandings of chemistry, biology, and physics.

A double-edged sword indeed.

Now, then, today’s anniversary. At about 2:00pm, December 1, 1958, a fire began smoldering in a trash bin in the basement of Our Lady of the Angels grade school on Chicago’s West Side. Within 20 minutes, the little fire grew, emitting noxious smoke and generating superheated gasses that circulated through the building via its ventilation system. Soon, the school was engulfed in an inferno.

A total of 92 kids and three nuns died in the blaze. Thousands of people gathered on the streets and sidewalks surrounding the school as firefighters battled the flames. Many parents stood in the crowds, desperate to learn the fate of their children. The disaster became worldwide news.

My fifth grade teacher was named Pearl Tristano. She was my favorite teacher throughout elementary and high schools (we didn’t have middle schools or junior highs in Chicago in those days). Miss Tristano was youngish, fashionable (she wore colorful scarves, trendy dresses, and fine necklaces and earrings), and she had a sense of humor. She loved to quote lines from the sitcom “Get Smart.” She’d say “Sorry about that, Chief,” if she made a mistake on the chalkboard or “Would you believe…?” if I were caught not turning in my homework. Miss Tristano never betrayed any hidden grief. She smiled more than all the other teachers at St. Giles school, mostly nuns, put together.

I only learned later that Miss Tristano taught fifth graders at Our Lady of the Angels. She was on the job the day of the fire. My guess is she must have been fresh out of college then, as she was still young when she taught me.

A couple of Our Lady of the Angels schoolgirls returning to her class after running an errand told her the stairway was filled with acrid smoke. They could barely get the words out, they were hacking so badly. Miss Tristano pulled the fire alarm.

She witnessed a horror few people had ever experienced outside of wartime. Yet, she was the most positive, joyous teacher I can recall.

I read about her trauma at Our Lady of the Angels in a history of the disaster a few short years ago.

That fire, too, was a double-edged sword. School building codes around the nation — around the world — were rewritten to ensure such a tragedy might never happen again.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the image of a Chicago firefighter carrying the lifeless body of a child victim became as well-known a public service announcement for fire safety as Smokey the Bear.

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Images from the Chicago Tribune/Chicago American photo files.

I don’t suppose Pearl Tristano is among us anymore. But she’ll always live in my memory and my heart.


(Significantly Fewer Than) 1000 Words: Leave Me Alone!

The holidays seem a good time for another rant. And today, Black Friday, is the perfect day to do so. I have, in the past, ranted about the cravenness of this most artificial and pointless of Days. So, here goes a new one.

Before I get to the meat of this rant, let me begin by saying it’s become apparent that precious few stores, services, companies, or corporations care to employ anyone to answer the phone when potential customers call for information. Whether you want to know business hours or the availability of a product or anything else, you have to endure an endless wait through an automated message giving you more extension choices than any sane person might consider reasonable, up to and including “For our racial, religious, and gender accessibility statement, please press 98.”

These businesses might say it costs far too much dough to employ people simply to pick up the phone. This even though the employees of small, locally-owned businesses seem to find the capability within themselves to answer the phone even as they wait on live, in-person customers. So that cost excuse appears to be nothing more than bullshit. Which, BTW, is the premier product most stores, services, companies, and corporations provide.

What makes this state of affairs even worse is the fact that all those stores, services, companies, and corporations find it necessary to employ entire armies of people whose sole function is to harass and harangue you after you’ve done business with them. Go into a CVS or Walgreen’s, say, for a Hershey’s bar with almonds and the checkout machine prints a receipt some three and a half feet long, most of it being a questionnaire probing the deepest recesses of you heart and mind concerning your thoughts and feelings about your “experience” buying said hunk of milk chocolate.

How Was Your Experience?

These places, in addition, can’t even find the financial resources to hire enough people to check you out and take your cash or credit card. Soon, I fear, they’ll be asking us to unload the semi delivering all those Hershey’s bars, Fleet’s enemas, Revlon nail clippers, house brand razors, and Christmas cards, among all the other flotsam and jetsam the store offers. Hell, who needs any on-site employees at all when you really come down to it?

Anyway, even if the place of business does not utilize automated checkout machines, after you’ve given it your custom you’ll be hectored for days and weeks after your transaction via text or email, similarly dunning you for your feelings about that “experience.”

I dunno about you, but I find this whole patronizing, supplicating, desperate need for my attention as annoying as all hell.

Look, if I have a major problem with a business, I’ll pick up the phone or write a scathing email to tell them so. And if things go too unforgivably awry during my “experience” I’ll send a message by never throwing my money that company’s way again. I can name any number of outfits whose doors I haven’t passed through in years because they screwed up so egregiously at one time or another.

That’s the way business has always gotten the message throughout most of our holy land’s history. If you’re happy, you come back. If you’re mildly unhappy, you raise a fuss with some unfortunate manager or supervisor. If the clerk or product turned out to be unspeakably offensive, you resolve never to do business with that place again for the rest of your life.

1985 Yugo GV

The makers of New Coke, the Yugo, the Edsel, and the late 1970s band The Knack all got the message that American consumers had countless better things to spend their money on.

But that simple formula of consumer activism has been relegated to the trash heap of history. Now, that army of supplicants, if one is to believe these businesses’ claims that they’re striving day and night to provide us with the greatest, most satisfying “experience” outside of the times we conceived our eldest children and then watched them being born, must stalk us telephonically, text-ually, or email-ly in hopes of gleaning our merest psychological and emotional reactions to, again, our purchase of a single candy bar.

Enough! Stop! Quit it! Leave me alone!

(A Bit Fewer Than) 1000 Words: 45’s World

I just came across something Patton Oswald wrote during the depths of the pandemic. The gist of it was, the COVID-19 lockdown turned the world into the same kind of hellscape that the 45th President of the United States has lived in, in his head, all his sad, lonely life.

The 45th POTUS didn’t cause the pandemic and the lockdown, but there’s no question he made it one hell of a lot worse than it could have been, starting with his first public utterances regarding the disease. It was all a big fake, he claimed, a hoax perpetrated by his enemies, the Democrats, to make him look bad. From that moment on, the whole COVID and/or vaccine denialism thing spread like…, well, a global virus.

Anyway, here’s Oswald’s peek into 45’s awful, grim mind (all sic):


Donald forced America to live in the only reality HE’s comfortable in. Everybody’s huddled at home, watching TV, eating takeout food, clumsily promoting themselves on Zoom and Til Tok just to stay alive. The only people allowed outside are the people he never sees or acknowledges, the ones who replace the water bottle and cedar shavings in the hamster pen he loves. The act of quietly creating something you like, and having it speak for itself? Loathsome to him. Horrifying. He’s ended all of that. He hates movies, is indifferent to music, even kind of hates sports – because none of them celebrates him. So..they’re gone. A FEW live concerts are allowed – defiant, angry, super-spreader death-throngs that celebrate the “fake plaque” reality he’s decreed. The sports that are played are played in empty stadiums full of cut-outs like Rupert Pupkin’s basement, which is how Donald interacts with the world in his mind. Small business? A quiet, contented person who just wants to run a little used book store or bike shop or boxing gym or restaurant because that’s what they love, and could care less about GLOBAL DOMINATION? Wiped off the face of the earth. Donald can’t stand that. Artisans. Craft. Skills and soul. Hates them. So they’re gone. We are literally living in Donald’s curdled reality, now and forever. And it isn’t that he enjoys (or hates or even feels anything for) endless TV and take-out food and self-promotion and bragging in place of competence and mastery. The joy comes from seeing how miserable everyone else is. He doesn’t want to run around with the other kids playing soccer or hide and seek – but it tickles him to no end to have his dad call the cops and ruin everyone’s chill, goofy fun. Finally, everyone experiences the world the way lonely, spiteful little Donald does, the way he has his whole life. An endless, terrified hustle.

Again, that whole passage is reproduced exactly as originally written, so don’t email me with corrections (even though I generally appreciate that kind of care and attention in my readers).

Oswald has gotten into the ex-president’s head as few people ever have before.

Along the same lines, another jokester, Bill Maher, asked the other day on his HBO show, Real Time, the one question nobody’s been able to answer about the ex-president.

Maher muses: “Someone needs to explain to me how there have been over 1200 books written about the Trump presidency, books that were mostly competing to reveal every detail of his life, and not one of them tells me the one thing I’m most curious about: Who is Donald Trump fucking?”

The idea being, of course, that Melania clearly would rather be touched by a tarantula. “He’s fucking somebody,” Maher continues, “and it’s not Melania and it’s not nobody. He’s a dog and always has been….”

My take is, despite the infamous Access Hollywood tape and the ex-president’s carefully cultivated playboy image from the rollicking ’70s and ’80s, he has never enjoyed sex. In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he engaged in procreation either gaggingly or through the use of artificial insemination. He strikes me as akin to radical religious fundamentalists who only copulate through holes in the sheet.

He’s a notorious mysophobe who famously eschews even shaking hands with other human beings and washes his hands more than an overworked scrub nurse. He’s forever angry and bitter and aggrieved and never truly smiles or laughs. He knows no pleasure, as Oswald suggest above. How, then, can he enjoy the ultimate pleasure? And what better reason could he have for insisting his wives and purported paramours sign non-disclosure agreements?

No, Bill Maher, he doesn’t have to be fucking somebody. If I’m right about that, it goes along way to explain him.

1000 Words: The Panic Party

I often stand in awe of the things people on the Right believe and are scared to death of. For decades, for instance, gun-fondlers have been shrieking to high heaven that “they” are gonna take away our guns. The NRA and its followers have been touting that line since at least the early 1980s.

In the ensuing decades, there’ve been two two-term Democratic presidents as well as a one-termer (thus far). And the US Senate and House have been led by Democrats at various times, occasionally both at the same time. Nevertheless, there’s been no significant federal gun legislation enacted since the Brady Bill in 1993 and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. The latter of which, BTW, lapsed quietly in 2004. Now, gun-loving Americans can freely purchase and possess the equivalent of military firearms easily and relatively cheaply once again, just the way god intended.

Still, when Joe Biden ran against the 45th President of the United States in 2020, the “they’re coming for our guns” canard was tossed around liberally (yeah, it’s a pun) by Republican candidates for everything from dog-catcher to POTUS. We’re nearly three years into the Biden presidency — and he’s been backed by Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress — yet so far…, well, nothing. Nothing, that is, save for a symbolic House vote to approve a new semi-automatic gun ban this past July. Symbolic because there was absolutely zero chance it would pass through the Senate. House Republican opponents sneered at the bill, saying it was nothing more than an election year stunt. And they were right.

Guns remain the most precious, sacrosanct possessions among tens of millions of Americans, second only, I’d guess, to salt- and sugar-laden white-flour foods deep fried in canola oil.

Whoever “they” are, they’re about as effective against gun hoarders as crash diets are against obesity.

The Right also lives in fear of anybody identifying as LGBTQI. The idea of M-to-F trans people using the women’s rest room sends chills up and down millions of people’s spines. What they imagine goes on in women’s rest room is beyond me, but if their worst fears about it were true, there’d be no call for internet hook-up sites anymore.

You don’t hear much about Antifa these days but just a couple of years ago whoever they were occupied the thoughts and terrors of many Republicans. Antifa, they claimed, were burning down our cities. As recently as January 6, 2021 and in the days immediately following, Antifa was portrayed as a gang of brilliant mimes, dressing up as MAGA insurrectionists and storming the United States Capitol.

I could go on and on but you get the picture. The Right and most of the Republican Party live in a constant state of panic. Many, many, many of their frights are about as reasonable as that of a four-year-old certain there is a monster under the bed.

The R & Rs seem to have this whole alarmist thing down pat. Nothing drives people to act like dread fear and Republicans use that to drive people to the polls.

That said, lots of folks on my side of the fence use the same tactic, whether intentional or not.

A few years ago, the Cassini space probe, sent to explore Saturn and its moons, turned its cameras back toward Earth. The resulting photo showed a tiny blue-ish dot, surprisingly modest yet still beautiful. A commenter under one of the news story posts about the photo said something on the order of If we keep fouling the Earth the way we are, that little dot will soon disappear.

Which is no less unreasonable than the fear that “they” are on the verge of seizing everybody’s guns or that drag queens will be kidnapping six-year-olds from public rest rooms. No reputable experts foresee the entire planet disappearing, no matter how much smoke and toxic flotsam we belch into the air and our oceans.

Another Left panic is we’re running out of water. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. The Earth contains the same amount of water it always has. Water does not disappear, nor is it transformed through chemical reaction into something else. There is indeed a water crisis in certain parts of the world but that’s because too many people have migrated to urban centers far from fresh water. And when there are droughts, the rivers and streams that are tapped at a distance to supply those populations run low.

I’ve had two guests on my Big Talk program who were well versed in this. One was a hydrologist and the other researched people’s environmental knowledge and attitudes. Both reinforced my understanding that the Earth’s water is not disappearing, only that it costs too much to desalinate and/or transport water to ocean-bordering or desert cities. The populations of those cities will undoubtedly suffer, even as, for instance, the rust belt cities of the midwest, intentionally built near huge supplies of fresh water are losing people — and have been since at least the 1960s.

And much of the exodus out of places like Detroit and St. Louis and even Chicago was driven by — yep — perhaps the first big R & R panic. Black people were said to be taking over big cities; so said the law and order candidates including Richard Nixon and the Republicans who came after him. Next thing you know, they warned, the Blacks’ll be coming into your neighborhood, for your daughter!

Now places like Las Vegas, Phoenix and southern California have grown huge with emigres from the east and north. With the Colorado River running low and the western mountain snow caps shrinking, people in those locales will be scrambling for drinkable water.

Meanwhile, St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago still have plenty of the stuff.

Rather than addressing this problem, the Republicans scream that schoolteachers are “grooming” students to be gay or to question their gender.

So, yeah, while we on the left can buy into some occasional bullshit, those on the Right appear to living on a strict diet of it.



(A Lot Fewer Than) 1000 Words: The New Library

A paragraph from a Herald-Times story about the under-construction Monroe County Public Library southwest branch caused me to raise an eyebrow this AM. Here’s the graf:

The building will be 21,000 square feet and rest on approximately five acres of sloping lawns on the southwest corner of Batchelor Middle School, 890 W. Gordon Pike. The interior will offer meeting rooms, computer access, study spaces, areas dedicated for young children and teenagers, and quiet nooks for reading and contemplation. In addition to those traditional services, the new branch will feature a teaching kitchen, all-ages collaborative space and amphitheater.

The article adds that much of the heavy construction work has been completed and the branch remains on schedule to open in May. An Indiana Public Media story dated March 5, 2020, reported an estimated total cost of $9 million for the project.

So, what made me go Hmm? None of the articles about the project over the past two or three years has mentioned the simple word, books. You’ll note, of course, the word is missing from the seemingly comprehensive run-down of the new facility’s features in the graf above.

Books — the things that used to be the main and sole purpose of libraries. Library — from the Latin, liber (plur. libri), meaning book (books).

We still don’t know how many books the new structure will contain, nor how many stacks, how much floor space is devoted to browsing, or even whether the MCPL will invest in a whole brand new inventory of books. MCPL librarians may, for all we know, simply grab a bunch of books from existing MCPL sites and move them to the Batchelor site. Who knows?

Now, I guess, books ranks way down among the list of Reasons Libraries Exist. Certainly further down than, say, all-ages collaborative spaces, whatever in the hell those are.

Remember These Things?

1000 Words: You’re Filthy and You Stink!

Longtime Pencillistas know that I haven’t had broadcast TV since the mid-90s, nor have I had cable since, if I recall correctly, the late ‘Aughts.

Ergo, I’ve had very little truck with TV ads for at least a decade and a half or so. I do catch ads on radio. I listen to the sports talk station from Chicago, WSCR-AM. That’s how I learn how much I really need boner pills and a better system for betting on games. At this point in time, sports radio is solely about legalized gambling and erectile dysfunction, if one is to judge by the content of its ads. I also listen to NPR, meaning I’m constantly bombarded with reminders of how generous and altruistic the largest corporations in America are, seeing that they’re the biggest underwriters of public radio.

This past weekend, operating on a tip I caught from the redoubtable Don Moore via social media, I subscribed to a streaming service called Tubi. It has thousands of movies and television programs and is free. For instance, Sunday evening I watched Laurel and Hardy in The Flying Deuces and Richard Basehart and Jack Webb in the film noir classic He Walked by Night. I had scrolled down the list of Tubi offerings and was blown away, what with Stalag 17, Fail-Safe, the whole Peter Sellers Pink Panther franchise, In the Heat of the Night, Stagecoach, Notorious, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, at least two of the four Dean Martin-as-secret-agent Matt Helm spoofs, countless schlocky horror films from the late ’50s and the ’60s, and…, well, the list goes on.

At first I couldn’t figure out what the deal was with this Tubi stuff. Before I committed, I wondered how the company made any dough. My first guess was it would sell my metadata and, if I signed up, I’d subsequently forever be swamped by texts, ads, pop-ups, and — who knows? — midnight visits by door-to-door salesmen.

Turns out the Tubi biz model is advertisement-based. Any movie or program on the channel will be interrupted at odd times by a string of ads, just like broadcast TV was back in the ’90s and, I assume, still is today.

Since I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, I’m quite accustomed to commercial breaks on TV, a hardship, I’d guess, that would be unbearable for younger generations today. There isn’t, to be sure, a Skip Ads button on the screen, lower right. I can picture a 20-something saying Fk this! and switching back to TikTok where there are no such breaks. Natch, they’ll be Ignoring the fact that the entirety of TikTok is an advertisement of some form or another. So, I suppose they’re right; it’s like saying there were no sudden showers yesterday because it rained from morning until night.

To tell the truth, I sort of appreciate commercial breaks. I get to run to the bathroom occasionally and stop off at the fridge on my way back because there’s still some cold pizza left from last night.

So, here we are in the third decade of the 21st century and what are advertisers trying to sell us? Lo and behold, it’s the same shit they were flinging at us in, say, 1968. To wit: that we Americans are the stinkiest, filthiest, grodiest, most messy, germ-infested, pest-ridden fat slobs this side of a frat house.

For pity’s sake, every single part of our bodies, inside and out, and all the surfaces within our homes, as well as every article of apparel that touches our skin is no more clean than the reservoir beneath any given port-a-potty at the conclusion of the annual Pitchfork music fest.

But there’s a product to ameliorate every stain, spill, or stink imaginable. The blades of our ceiling fans, the floor tile near our garbage pails, our hair, our fingernails, our breath, our armpits, and our female parts all are fouled beyond belief but — thank Christ in heaven — there’s a bottle-ful of chemicals, a treated wipe, a spray, or a specialized detergent that’ll make any and all pristine once again.

A side note: advertisers have been hammering women that their nether parts are malodorous and un-fresh since at least the late 1960’s. That’s when Madison Avenue realized women’s junk emitted a distinctive aroma. The ad men were compelled by their very nature to portray such scent as hideous so as to sell females mists, scrubs, and perfumes to mask it. Leading me to wonder why men’s junk isn’t similarly branded. I mean, I’m as clean as all get-out but I’m fairly certain my boys south of the belt line don’t quite smell like freshly baked apple pie. Aren’t there millions — hell, billions — to be made marketing male hygiene products?

Pristeen™ Ad, 1969

Anyway, I’d forgotten how ridiculous — no, deranged — TV ads are and always have been. It’s no wonder Americans are a neurotic, obsessed mess. The very fact that we’re alive makes us as delectable as a plastic trash bag filled with putrid fruit and chicken bones.

We don’t care at all for ourselves anymore and TV advertisement surely has played a major role in our meta-alienation.

But products in gaily colored plastic bottles are our only redemption. One commercial I saw during the Laurel and Hardy movie showed a young women who proudly proclaimed she uses Febreze™ on her sofa cushions every single day. Another women was shown unloading her laundromat dryer and when she pulled out a towel, she was so drawn to its fresh smell that she buried her face in it and appeared to experience an orgasm.

We like to tell ourselves we’re 23 times more sophisticated than the dopes of the 1960s were. This is the internet age after all and everybody knows about dangerous chemicals and subtle advertising manipulation. Why, there was even the much ballyhooed Mad Men premium soap opera a few years ago peeling back the curtain on how ad agencies hypnotized us.

Yet, even today, we’re still desperately afraid we’re a foul, rancid, noxious, funky mess.

1000 Words: No More

Some folks on my side of the fence preach civility and accommodation with regard to the tens of millions of other folks who think the 45th President of the US is this holy land’s savior.

Every now and then some person, pure of heart and with the best of possible intentions, tells us on social media or in an editorial that we must listen respectfully to the views of all our fellow citizens, that we must heed their utterances and feelings, take them into account, and even — perhaps — grant them credibility via our laws.

By and large I buy that. The key half of that sentence being by and large.

I’ve come to realize that people want guns to hunt with and for protection and that doesn’t make them wild-eyed killers. Growing up and living most of my adult life in a big city, often in tough neighborhoods, I’d seen so much random and senseless gunplay that I, for the longest time, yelled for the abolishment of guns. I mean, I’d hit the living floor upon hearing gunshots on any number of occasions through my later years in Chicago. I’d seen gangbangers chasing each other down the street, firing wildly behind them — without taking aim, of course. I’d read about people living in adjacent apartments being shot and sometimes killed when someone next door fired a gun, their homes being so close and the walls so thin. Once gangbangers in my neighborhood in East PIlsen engaged rivals in a gunfight and a little two-year-old girl in a stroller two blocks away was hit by one of their stray bullets. She died within minutes.

The only conclusion I’d thought I could come to was guns ought to be outlawed. Period.

Then I moved down to Louisville, Kentucky and, later, to south central Indiana. I met people who spoke dreamily about glory days when their fathers would take them out hunting. Another guy I knew, who lived just off Lake Monroe, one of the most liberal guys imaginable, told me he kept a couple of rods handy because, were a home invader try to get in, the sheriff might not be able to come to his and his wife’s rescue for 45 minutes or an hour.

See, in my old Chicago neighborhoods, the cops responded within a couple of minutes of me calling them. Sometimes, it seemed, as soon as I’d hang up the phone.

Accordingly, my feelings about guns have evolved.

That seems to be the essence of people’s calls for listening respectfully to the views of all our fellow citizens and taking their feelings and experiences into account. It’s being an adult.

Yet there are limits. And the Republican Party, today’s Republican Party, birthed of Richard Nixon’s law and order appeals of the ’60s, groomed on the anti-busing activism of the ’70s, emboldened by the dog whistles of the Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush campaigns of the 80s, and schooled by Newt Gingrich’s GOPac Memo demonization of Democrats and liberals in the ’90s, has gone to a place where listening to them, hearing their plaints, hoping to accommodate them, is as senseless to me as trying to have a civilized chat with someone who mainlined 10mg of PCP a quarter of an hour ago.

How else can I describe the ravings of the people who are joking about the skull-bashing that Nancy Pelosi’s husband suffered last week?

That’s what all this inane polarization has brought us to. It’s a polarization that’s been nourished for some three decades now by the likes of O’Reilly, Jones, Limbaugh, Breitbart, Bannon, Carlson and all the rest of the squealing, bleating, shrieking blowhards and provocateurs who fancy themselves political observers.

They’re “political observers” in the same way an arsonist might describe himself as a pyrotechnical researcher.

Any number of political candidates, wits, and wags in the last week have cracked jokes about the near-deadly assault and have tried to minimize or even justify it. A bunch of internet idiots have suggested the assailant was really Paul Pelosi’s scorned lover. Virginia’s governor, running for reelection, has exhorted voters to elect Republicans so they can send Nancy home to sit with her recovering husband. All this eliciting millions of likes, rousing laughter, and ear-splitting cheers.

I’m surprised nobody’s come up with the theory that Pelosi herself staged the attack. Is that any more outlandish than the pizzagate and baby-eating lunacies of just a few years ago?

A huge swath of the populace has lost its freaking mind. A lot of them have guns. Most of them are slaves to their own hates and fears. Their “savior” has told them the 2020 election was stolen and they believe him with all their hearts despite there being no evidence such a thing happened. They view the January 6th insurrection as healthy dissent, a “normal tourist visit.

CPAC, QAnon, nativists, white supremacists, neo-fascists, anti-semites, chemtrail-ists, virulent anti-United Nation-ists, 2nd Amendment fetishists who warn of the coming door-to-door gun seizures, conspiracy theorists who believe Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates developed COVID to loose upon the world so they can take the planet over, or that FEMA concentration camps are in the offing, or…, for chrissakes, pick any deranged idea you’d like — they’ve flocked to the Republican Party.

There was an age, in many people’s lifetime’s, when being a conservative, being a Republican, meant simply you didn’t want too much government spending or taxing. When you thought government regulation was an overreach, that the people and the free market were wise enough to ensure that corporations and their products wouldn’t harm us all that much.

I’d never agree with them but at least I didn’t think they were demented.

I can’t say that anymore. And I lack the saintly patience to listen to their ravings anymore. Their feelings, their experiences, their views — none of it — are of any interest to me anymore.

It’s not the time for civility and accommodation anymore.

RAW: Busman’s Holiday

Longtime Pencillistas know I’m the producer and main host of the WFHB radio interview program, Big Talk. (Those of you who aren’t longtime Pencillistas, where in the hell have you been?!)

Occasionally I have guests on with whom I’m so involved in conversation that we talk and talk and talk for an hour or more. And it pains me to have to cut out so much good stuff to fit the interview into my 28-minute time slot.

That happened once again yesterday with Addison and Lewis Rogers, the singer-songwriter brothers who comprise the Bloomington band, Busman’s Holiday.

I’ve done this once before before (with then-outgoing WFHB music director Jim Manion) and have decided to try it again.

The Rogers boys and I had a rollicking time in the Big Production Room at ‘FHB, Wednesday, November 2, 2022. As I say, I hated like hell losing any of it so I’m running the whole shebang here on this global communications colossus. Simply click on that little arrow-shaped thingy at the top of this post for the entire raw interview with them.

Busman’s Holiday: Addison (L) & Lewis Rogers

As I get around to it, I’ll be posting the raw recordings of a number of my recent guests. My interview with veteran reporter Laura Lane is one. She and I sat in the old publisher’s office at the cavernous and empty soon-to-be-abandoned Bloomington Herald-Times headquarters on South Walnut Street. In fact, at one point, she pointed at a sofa off to the side and revealed that, after we were finished chatting, she was going to load the thing into a van and bring it up to her daughter in Chicago.

The echo-y sound I got on the recording with Lane set the mood perfectly as the Herald-Times and newspapers in general are gasping their final breaths.

So, keep an eye and an ear open for future raw posts here, including my chats with playwright, poet, and puppeteer Antonia Matthew and Richard Fish, the producer of her radio theater opus, World War II remembrance, “Antonia’s Home Front”; journalist Steven Higgs, women’s health care advocate Jessica Marchbank; retired CIA spy Gene Coyle, and others.

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Stay tuned here for more raw stuff from the Big Talk archives.

1000 Words: The Right Stuff

The Right — capital R — is on the rise. So says the conventional narrative, courtesy of wits, wags, experts, mavens, doyens, cranks, and other blusterers.

Everybody’s trying to figure out why Marine Le Pen of France, Viktor Orbán of Hungary, the Polish Law & Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) Party, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and, of course, our very own 45th President of the United States, are or recently had been in charge, or are knocking at the door of the halls of absolute power in their respective lands. Add them to the already firmly established regressive, authoritarian, often theocratic strongarms in Iran, Russia, the Philippines, China, and Turkey.

Even Sweden, nice little, unprepossessing Sweden, has a rising, powerful nativist, right wing party that calls itself, bizarrely, the Democrats.

Acc’d’g to Freedom House, a largely American-run nonprofit that monitors such things, “Global freedom faces a dire threat.” The organization reports that in 2021 fully eight of 10 people on this Earth lived in a completely non-free or only partly free country.

As recently as 2009, Freedom House reports, twice as many humans lived in a flat-out free country as they did last year.

So, yeah, we’re clearly heading toward a new Dark Age — that is, if we’re not there already.

And, as I say, thinkers, speculators, navel-gazers, and pontificators are all tripping over each other trying to tell us why, why, why.

Realizing that I, too, am a thinker, speculator, navel-gazer, and pontificator, I’m throwing my own voice into the wind herein to explain what in the damned hell is going on around here.

Most people, sez me, are concerned with one thing and one thing alone: themselves. Always have been. Always will be. I’ve had the opportunity many times to shake my finger at people impatient with dissidents, protesters, complainers, activists and anybody else who isn’t them and has a major beef with the way things are set up either in this holy land or around the world. I call those impatient ones Front Door People. They open up their front doors, glance around, see clean streets, the neighbors washing their cars and tending their gardens, all of them reasonably similar in skin color, religion, class, and aspiration to themselves. The world, they conclude, is a fine place. Why in the hell would anybody complain about anything? For chrissakes, everybody’s got smartphones! What more do people want?

These are the same folks Richard Nixon referred to a little more than 50 years ago as the “Silent Majority.” They don’t kick because they don’t have to. And if somebody else is kicking, well then, they must be troublemakers, damn it!

Sure, there are folks who long for powerful, repressive, tyrants to run things but, by and large, they’re a minority pretty much everywhere you go. There’ll always be the 30-or-so percent who think a murderous bully is preferable to a cautious, thoughtful consensus builder.

That 40 percent, the aforementioned Front Door People, in the middle between the Putin/Trump idolators and those who plant Black Lives Matter yard signs in front of their homes, are the ones who are swinging Righty these days. And. again, it’s because their vision is limited and their ox is not being gored. Right now, that is.

See. the Front Door People would be all for LBGTQI rights, for Blacks Lives Matter, for wealth equity and all the rest if, for example, one of their kids turns out to be gay, or marries a black person, or they lose their job and health insurance coverage and face financial disaster.

Take old Dick Cheney, former vice president of the United States and, for the longest time, a staunch opponent of LGBTQI rights. Then, lo and behold, his daughter came out as a lesbian. Wouldn’t you know it, next thing anybody knew, VP Cheney, the darling of the Republican Party, Tony Soprano’s choice for “president of the universe,” became a warrior for the non-straight.

For years he’d looked out his front door and saw only straight people. If, perchance, a homosexual or trans blundered into his line of vision, he thought to himself, at best, the world’s full of all kinds, a bizarre patchwork quilt, and thank god in heaven I don’t know anybody like that.

Suddenly, his daughter is somebody like that. A person. A person he knows. A person he loves. Hey, she’s not so bizarre. I’ve seen her go to school, keep her house, make a career for herself, laugh, cry, dream, watch TV, win awards, get sick… all the things that normal people do. My daughter, Dick Cheney thought, is normal. So LGBTQI people, believe it or not, must be normal.

Were that daughter straight and found herself pregnant one day when she was, say, 17 years old, the president of the universe suddenly would look upon abortion rights as an awfully sensible thing.

Suddenly, as I say, women who want abortions aren’t irresponsible sluts. They’re my daughter!

The more Front Door People actually experience, are confronted with, that patchwork quilt of humanity, the more they become progressive.

Those who haven’t experienced it resent the bejesus out of trans people wanting to be teachers, the gays who go parading around like they own the place every June, the Blacks who are always pissing and moaning about this and that. They’re all trying to take over, goddamnit! What about my rights?

So when someone comes along to say the Mexicans are rapists and murderers, the Muslims are terrorists, the protesters are communists, the gays and lesbians are grooming our children, and any and all simplistic, short-sighted, self-centered campaign lines, they say, You know what, that guy makes a lot of sense. He talks just like me. I’m all for ‘im!

That guy, they believe, is gonna straighten things out once and for all.

Yeah, the repressive right is growing right now. As more and more people experience the rich quilt of humanity, as more and more voters, especially in America, have darker skin, are working with and loving people of color, are exploring their sexuality, the tide will change.

But in the meantime, the Front Door People are leaning toward strongmen (and occasionally strongwomen) and the damage they’re going to wreak upon the world — that they’re wreaking upon the world as we speak — is setting us back…, oh, I don’t know, to the 1950s, the 1850s, or even a New Dark Age.


1000 Words: The New Queen

I’ve rarely met a woman who can grasp why men like to read in the bathroom. I keep books in the bathroom in case I forget to bring in whatever I’m currently reading while not perched on the porcelain. Right now there are two selections therein: 1) Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall, and 2) The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce.

Marshall, BTW, posits that political scientists and other such self-assured experts pooh-pooh the notion that geography has all that much to do with the actions, reactions, and relationships of the nations of the world. To the contrary, he writes, geography — mountains, plains, rivers, latitudes and longitudes, climate, growing seasons, et cetera — have almost everything to do with how countries go about their business.

See, these are the kinds of things I learn while…, well, doing something else.

Anyway. Reading. In the bathroom or out. A year ago this December, Gallup did a poll asking Americans how much they’ve read in the past year. The 2021 poll revealed, to my surprise, that the citizens of this holy land read fewer book in the past annum than in any year since 1990.

Conventional wisdom holds that people are reading less and less these days. Yet, raw data tells us books sales continue to be brisk. Even as big box retailers like Border’s and Barnes & Noble have either bitten the dust or are just about to, locally owned independent booksellers are flourishing. And Amazon is awash in cash from its online book sales.

So, are Americans reading less in this post-Trump era? I delineate things that way because the election (on a technicality) of the 45th president told us a lot of things about Americans, up to and including that they got (and/or get) most of their information from TV news channels and social media. In other words, they ain’t reading newspapers and Time magazine anymore.

Would that be because Americans aren’t reading much anymore, period?

I still say no. I continue to maintain the American populace is reading at relatively the same rate it has ever done so. Admittedly, my nation’s sisteren and brethren have never been particularly noted for devouring Proust and Kant. I recall reading in the iconic Book of Lists back in the 1970s that the two most widely read books in America were the Bible and Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls.

A deeper dive into Gallup’s figures reveals that Americans, on average, have been reading more and more books on an annual basis ever since 1990. The 2021 figure represents the first non-growth number since that year. So the supposed decline in American reading habits is not at all a trend but perhaps a minor bump in the road.

What are Americans reading? A lot of them — a lot of them — are reading young adult romance author Colleen Hoover.

Colleen Hoover

The Texas housewife and former social worker is the reigning royal in the genre. In the entire publishing universe, for pity’s sake. Not that she’s following in anybody’s footsteps or lineage; Hoover’s success is something the publishing world has never seen before.

While raising three kids in her single-wide trailer home, mopping up spilt milk, and listening earnestly to people moaning about how unfair life was, Hoover decided to write a novel. She scribbled while sitting in a theater waiting for one of her kids’ after school drama classes to end. She didn’t even dream the book would one day be picked up by a publisher, and it wasn’t. She self-published the novel, Slammed, in 2012. A year after that, she self-published a sequel, Point of Retreat.

Then, out of the blue, a book blogger named Maryse wrote the following about Slammed on her website (all sic):

So! Who’s in the mood to read a book that will hook you from the first few lines, make you smile, make you laugh, make you ABSOLUTELY fall in love, and then sigh and sigh and sigh again? YOU? OF COURSE YOU!

I LOVED SLAMMED!!! One of my best books of 2012, EASILY and now, one of my all-time favorites too!! Here is the book that kept me up until 2am (laughing and crying and sighing).

Maryse must have had some hot following back then because, next thing anybody knew, both Slammed and Point of Retreat shot up the New York Times paperback fiction bestseller list. Hoover quit her job as a social worker and devoted herself to writing more novels.

Hoover’s third book, Hopeless, also self-published, hit number one on the NYT bestseller list in January 2013. Then Hoover experienced a temporary lull in sales and fame. Several of her books originally were available for free on her website. But last year, a book-reading community on TikTok went gaga over all her old books, then numbering 22, and Hoover became the hottest bestseller since…, uh, forever.

Hoover’s written two more novels since TikTok turned her into a supernova. This week, for instance, nine the top 13 paperback fiction NYT bestsellers are Hoover’s. Nobody’s ever seen anything like it. Not even JK Rowling burned as brightly all at once.

Even though Hoover tackles such heavyness as domestic and child abuse, infidelity, and toxic families, pretty much all the boilerplate topics she probably encountered as a social worker, her audience is comprised primarily of teenaged and young adult females. Their infatuation over her is astounding. Her fans call her CoHo and themselves CoHorts. She has millions of followers on several internet platforms. The Guardian asked, “Have teenagers taken over publishing?” in a June article on the Hoover phenomenon.

The BookTok social sub-medium that propelled Hoover superstardom is rife with images and videos of CoHorts sobbing, shrieking, mooning, and extolling the author in near orgasmic terms. One fan was seen burying her tear-drenched face in the pages of one of Hoover’s books.

A lot of my literate friends sniff dismissively at the very mention of Hoover’s name. Me? I say as long as people are reading, it’s all good. Hell, I read books about baseball players, a preference, no doubt, many CoHorts would find as silly as can be.

You might not find Colleen Hoover’s Verity in my bathroom or, for that matter, in anybody else’s. As I say, women just don’t get the whole bathroom reading thing.



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