Hot Air: The Lively Art of Conversation

Sometimes I wish Big Talk was an hour-long program or even an hour and a a half. Such was the case for yesterday’s episode featuring Dr. Rob Stone, our town’s most passionate voice advocating for universal, single-payer health care.

Stone on the Stump. 

Stone had been a fixture in the Bloomington Hospital emergency room for some 28 years and now specializes in palliative and hospice care. But he’s been active — nay, hyper-active — in orgs. like Medicare for All: Indiana (he was a founder and now is director) as well as the Indiana state coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program. One of his great heroes was Dr. Quentin Young, a Chicago-based advocate for universal health care and, for a time, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s personal physician.

In case you missed yesterday’s broadcast, here’s the show, in toto:

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30 pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM. The entire Big Talk archive resides here.

Lively

BTW: The headline? That was the tagline for a WTTW-Ch. 11 Chicago late Saturday night gabfest called Kup’s Show. Hosted by Chicago legend Irv Kupcinet, Kup’s Show was the final iteration of a talk show he’d originated in 1952. Kup, as he was affectionately known, actually was among the very first pioneers of the talk show format in the then-nascent television medium.

Kup (R) with Liza Minelli & Sammy Davis, Jr.

In fact, by 1957, Kup had earned such a reputation that he was called in to serve as one of a revolving set of hosts to replace Steve Allen on NBC’s The Tonight Show. Producers eventually tabbed Jack Paar to replace Allen.

Kup’s Show — originally called At Random — for many years ran as an open-ended program. Kup sat around a coffee table with three or four guests gabbing about world events, philosophy, sports, Hollywood gossip, and much more until the group was talked out. Often the show, which originally aired live at midnight, might run, according to one source, until 5:30am. Kup would introduce each and every episode with his slogan, “Welcome to the lively art of conversation.”

Kup (L) with Marlon Brando.

Kup retired from hosting the weekly program in 1986.

He’d been born and raised in the old Lawndale neighborhood on the West Side, then populated by Eastern European Jewish immigrants and their kids. Kup earned a football scholarship to Northwestern University but was forced to leave after he brawled with a fellow student. He transferred to the University of North Dakota and, after graduation, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. A shoulder injury put an end to his pro career after a single season and he came back to Chi. to work as a sports reporter for the old Chicago Daily Sun. That paper eventually merged with the Chicago Times to become the still-existent Chicago Sun-Times.

While still at the Sun, Kup took up writing a short gossip column. Capitalizing on Chicago’s position as the nation’s central rail hub, he’d hang out at any of the city’s trans-continental railway stations and snag Hollywood actors, directors, and producers for interviews while they waited for their connecting trains to either coast. Owing to geography and his own doggedness, he became one of the nation’s premier gossip columnists, along with the likes of Drew Pearson, Hedda Hopper, Luella Parsons, Ed Sullivan, Herb Caen, and Walter Winchell. By and by, Kup became so powerful that the stars started coming to him. He held court at the Ambassador East Hotel’s Pump Room restaurant, much as his cinematic counterpart J.J. Hunsecker did in “Sweet Smell of Success.” The Pump Room’s maître d’ would send limousines to the rail stations to pick up the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Otto Preminger to have them deposited at Kup’s legendary Booth One table.

Karyn Kupcinet

In November 1963, scarcely a week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Kup and his wife Essie’s daughter Karyn, an aspiring actress, was found dead in her West Hollywood apartment. The LA coroner ruled she’d been strangled — her hyoid bone was broken — and called her death a homicide. The killing was never solved. One published rumor held that Karyn had been a paramour of JFK and that she’d called a local telephone operator minutes before Kennedy was shot, warning that the event was imminent. That theory goes on to assert that Kup himself was somehow privy to a Chicago Outfit plot to kill Kennedy and that his daughter was rubbed out as a warning to keep his mouth shut. That theory remains specious to this day.

Kup expressed a grieving father’s certainty in his memoir, Kup: A Man, an Era, a City, that Karyn’s lover and fellow aspiring actor Andrew Prine, who’d go on to have a long career as a TV drama character actor, and who at the time of Karyn’s death was breaking up with her, was somehow involved in the killing.

Kup (R) and Jimmy Hoffa.

Kup’s Show (and At Random) featured guests as diverse as Martin Luther King, Jr.; LA Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda; Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Malcolm X, presidents Richard Nixon and Harry Truman; and Liberace.

Kup’s wife Essie, a notorious chain-smoker, died in 2001. Heartbroken, he made sure she was buried with two fresh packs of Pall Malls. Irving Kupcinet died in 2003 at the age of 91.

Hot Air: They Bought Our Democracy

Fascinating story in today’s New York Times about Cordelia Scaife May, an heiress to the Mellon family banking, oil, and aluminum fortune.

It turns out this woman’s foundation has bankrolled anti-immigration organizations over the years to the tune of at least $180 million. It can be said that the nativist, anti-immigrant carbuncles of our holy land might not exist without regular fresh injections of her dough through the years. Considering the fact that Li’l Duce began his then-quixotic presidential campaign in 2015 by demonizing brown people trying to enter the United States through this nation’s southern border and then, somehow, actually won the 2016 election (on a technicality), it can be further asserted that her money largely put the current president in office.

The Scaife/Mellon clan long has been active in political affairs, hoping in the main to turn America into a heretofore unimagined (except by them) corporate valhalla where the citizens serve as nothing more than voiceless, powerless worker ants in a global pismiric playground for multi-billionaires.

A fellow named Richard Mellon Scaife bankrolled the original “vast Right Wing conspiracy” against the Clintons way back when Bill was gov. of the state of Arkansas. See, throughout the late ’80s, Republican and Right Wing strategists figured the biggest potential threat to their burgeoning hegemony would be a charismatic southern Democrat, one who would be slavish to corporate interests while espousing moderately progressive social issues. That’s pretty much the dictionary def. of one William Jefferson Clinton.

Scaife was the sugar daddy for the American Spectator‘s “Arkansas Project,” a dedicated, obsessive probe into every pore and orifice of the future president’s life and doings. Scaife and his cohorts feared the holy hell out of the Kennedy-esque (in many more ways than one) Clinton. Hillary’s hubby, natch, didn’t disappoint the gumshoes, considering his nearly pathological predilection for extracurricular sex. It was the Arkansas Project that dug up Paula Jones, who served as the starting gun for an eventual race to impeachment.

(For a nice portrait of the concerted effort to smear the Clintons off the face of the Earth, check out The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, by investigative journalists Joe Conason and Gene Lyons.)

Don’t kid yourself, it wasn’t a lovingly decent concern for the well-being of easily manipulable young women falling under the sway of the Rhodes Scholar charmer. The likes of Jones et al were mere pawns on the Right’s chess game of nullification and obstructionism. Scaife and his minions essentially set into motion a slow-moving coup, with Mitch McConnell’s shoplifting of Barack Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court pick and the dumb luck of President Gag’s Electoral College victory that same year serving as nails in the coffin of what we once naively referred to as our democracy.

Make no mistake, that inherited Mellon industrial fortune has brought us to this day where Republicans, corporate evangelicals, reproductive rights abrogators, ecological terrorists, and white supremacists run the White House, the Senate, the US Supreme Court, and two-thirds of this nation’s statehouses.

Money walks while everybody else talks.

 

Hot Air: Bill of “Rights”

I’ve had my eardrums blown out any number of times at the Aragon Ballroom. The old, cavernous live music venue on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood was the site of more Ramones and Iggy Pop shows that I attended throughout the years than I can remember.

In fact, I recall one such show w/ Iggy as the headliner and the Ramones as the openers on a fall Saturday night sometime in the late ’70s. Sandwiched between the acts was the old hard rock guitarist Leslie West. He’d played with Mountain, who’d appeared on the Woodstock stage the second day of that historic cultural touchstone. Hardly ten years after the definitive love/rock gathering of humanity in the mud of upstate New York, West and others like him would be considered old men, dinosaurs of a bygone era in rock. West at the time of the Aragon show was, shall we say, corpulent, putting him at esthetic odds with the gaunt kids who dug punks like Iggy and Joey Ramone. The combined weight of those two wouldn’t equal one of Leslie West’s thighs and the crowd surely let him know it. I could make out shouts of “fat pig” and “fat asshole,” discernible over the earsplitting booing and hissing as he played. Punks, it should be said, were not Gandhian nor were they particular astute. Whoever’d put the show’s card together should have been fired posthaste. It was like pairing Kelly Clarkson with Tierra Whack today.

The saddest moment of the entire evening came when, lo and behold, it was announced in the middle of West’s set that it was his birthday. A big cake with scads of lit candles was wheeled out onstage. The booing and catcalling only increased. A bottle, then another and, ultimately, a shower of them came flying in ballistic arcs from the crowd. West and his bandmates beat a hasty retreat, cutting their set short. It would be the last time I ever took in a show at the Aragon, even though I’d stayed through to the end and watched as Iggy climbed an amp tower and beseeched the crowd to dare him to leap off it into their arms. Iggy always put on a fun show and I’d be willing to bet he was appalled that a fellow touring pro had been treated so rudely by the audience.

(L-R) Pop, West, Joey

My first ever show at the Aragon was for a southern rock band called Black Oak Arkansas, whom I’d seen at a 1972 Labor Day weekend rock fest, familiarly known as Bull Island, on the Wabash River. To this day I can’t adequately explain why I went to the Black Oak show at the Aragon, considering I pretty much loathe the band’s sound. Perhaps it was because I’d wanted to re-visit the groove I felt the first time I’d heard them, seeing as how I was tripping my ass off on some type of acid or another at that time. The Black Oak/Aragon show was in 1973 and I recall my ears ringing — nay, screaming for the next three or four days. The Aragon’s sound quality was notoriously bad. Chicago Reader rock critic Bill Wyman described the Aragon sound in a January 1991 piece as “legendarily weird.”

Wyman went on to write: “The domed roof and the balcony running around the sides and back of the hall take bass notes and turn them into a reverberating rumble. The simple expedient of turning the bass down, people familiar with the hall’s acoustics say, clears things up considerably — but this tends to fly in the face of the prejudices of sound people….”

That “reverberating rumble” was a signature of every show I’d ever seen at the Aragon. By the time I went to see Iggy and the Ramones with Leslie West in the late ’70s, I’d grown wary and weary of attending shows there. My ears would shriek and my head would pound continuously in the aftermath. I knew every show I’d heard there was pushing me thismuch closer to deafness when I’d hit the age of, say, 55.

As I said, the abominable treatment the crowd gave Leslie West pushed me over the edge and I never went back to the place.

Nevertheless, the Aragon holds a special place in my heart, a precious memory of my 50 years in my beloved hometown. It was right around the corner from the massive Uptown Theater, where I once saw Brian Ferry, and the old Al Capone hangout, The Green Mill, where, one night on a first date while a jazz band did a set, I did ten quick pushups next to the bar just to impress the girl I was with. Impress her I did; we went on to wage an intense, passionate three month affair that, when it was thankfully terminated, left us both mentally and emotionally exhausted. All around the Lawrence and Broadway intersection were little 24-hour taquerias and supermarket-sized Chinese restaurants, all of them fabulous and all patronized by an endless parade of people of every race, color, and sartorial preference, drag queens, gangbangers, pinky-ring-wearing hoodlums, cops, and sax-toting buskers. It was the kind of scene I miss dearly now that I live in South Central Indiana, although I don’t know how comfortable I’d feel back there now that I can’t throw thumbs* as readily and capably as I once could.

[ * Back when I was a teenaged thorn in society’s side, “throwing thumbs” meant fistfighting. I learn today, it means liking too many things on Facebook. Slang, natch, like formal language itself, is a fluid thing.]

Anyway, I bring up these recollections of the old Aragon Ballroom because I read this morning that the place has sold naming rights to an operation called Byline Bank. I’d never heard of Byline Bank before which, I suppose, is as good a reason as any for it to plaster its name over things. You’d think a byline bank would be a newspaper typesetter’s convenience so he wouldn’t have to spell out, say, Martha Gellhorn‘s name from scratch every time she filed a story.

Byline Bank, it turns out, is a regional financial institution with some 50 full-service locations in the Chicago and Milwaukee markets. Like most banks, it’s been bought and sold more times than a 1995 Toyota Corolla and it’s only gone under the name Byline since 2015.

Now, the old Aragon will be referred to in advertisements and news stories as the Byline Bank Aragon Ballroom. The only good thing about it is they’re keeping the Aragon Ballroom part of the appellation.

I detest the promiscuous naming of things after corporations. I realize that’s the way of the world these days and resisting it is akin to trying to stop the waves of the ocean. Chicago, for instance, is home of Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox ballpark, and quite possibly the most hideously monikered playing filed in this holy land. Then again, there are the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland; the StubHub Center outside LA; the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville; Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Texas; and Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina, named not after the legendary movie tap dancer but the Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits chain of LDL pushers in the southeastern United States.

Corps. over the decades have paid billions of dollars for the privilege of pasting their names over stadia, buildings, bridges, theaters, performance venues, rapid transit stations and even, if you can believe it, a section of the Antarctic Coast.

Satellite image of the Walgreen Coast.

The naming rights phenomenon exists and it ain’t going away. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Hot Air: Bye-bye, Sugar Daddies

Lots of folks are starting to think we’re now going to make sure lunatics can’t get their mitts on war weapons. The El Paso and Dayton slaughters, they reason, are two too many. This holy land, the reasoning goes, has reached its limit and we’re all about to get sane re: guns.

Republicans, generally the most rabid of 2nd Amendment zealots, one by one are beginning to utter rhetoric heretofore reserved only for gun control advocates. Hell, even the current occupant of the White House is calling for more stringent background checks, for pity’s sake.

Things are changing, it’s said, because we’ve had enough.

As usual, the conventional wisdom is…, well, full of shit.

The rational among us for eons have been screaming and holding our collective breath for reasonable restrictions on the availability of automatic weapons and the ability of hate-mongers and the mentally whacked-out to purchase them as easily as copping a new set of Michelins. We long have supposed the reason promiscuous trigger-pullers are given carte blanche hereabouts is that a majority of the public wants unrestricted access to shootin’ irons.

That’s never been true. Poll after poll through the years — through the decades — indicate most of us have wanted and continue to want real regulations on the buying and selling of homicide hardware. We haven’t changed through the years. Something else has.

That’s the NRA. Over the past year or two, the gun manufacturing industry’s heavy lifter has been beset by scandal. There’ve been infighting at the top, revelations that certain NRA officials have been looting the group’s coffers for personal gain, and a subsequent significant drop-off in fundraising. Suddenly, the NRA has become something to shrink from. Politicians who’ve sucked up to the NRA every election cycle now find that money tree drying up.

Consequently, erstwhile dependable congressbeings and statehouse lizards are becoming more normal when it comes to firearms legislation. Normal being the rest of us who haven’t been paid scads of dough by Smith & Wesson and/or Remington Outdoor via the Nat’l Killing Ass’n to do their murderous bidding.

Dylanesque?

Didja miss this past week’s Big Talk? Don’t sweat it. Here’s the podcast of my interview with musician and goodwill ambassador Travis Puntarelli:

TP is an oft-roving minstrel who for the nonce has put down roots once again here in his hometown of Bloomington. A high school dropout who went on to study tons of things at Indiana U., he’s traveled this land from s. to shining s., co-busking w/ other troubadours and balladeers. In fact, the latter is now the sorta-name of his latest aggregation of music-makers: The Balladirs, more info on which to be found here.

BTW: One of our town’s other street musicians and an overall peculiar* character himself (* in the most complimentary sense), Marc Haggerty, who’s long harbored the biggest of big boy crushes on TP, describes the object of his adulation as a lyricist and songwriter to rival none other than Nobel Prize-winner Bob Dylan.

Puntarelli (screengrab from the documentary by Maya Piper, click for full video)

Such is the width and breadth of the aura that surrounds one Travis Puntarelli. Listen for yourself above or here.

Hot Air: Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me

The Limestone Post and its regular feature, Big Mike’s B-town, both still exist, oh yeah.

This week my profile of Adam Nahas, the big potato at Artisan Alley, ran in the online mag that covers everything vital and interesting in So. Cent. IN. Here’s the link to that story. It’s the partner piece — in spirit if not in time — of my Big Talk of May 16th featuring Nahas himself.

You may listen to the podcast either here:

… or here on the WFHB website. If you’ve got a spare few minutes, I’d recommend going to the ‘FHB site anyway because it’s chock-full of other great radio things, including countless episodes of Interchange hosted by the program’s now-emeritus host/producer, Doug Storm.

In any case, tune in to Big Talk next week for a convo w/ Dr. Rob Stone, our town’s most prominent voice calling for real, effective health care reform. Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm, immediately following the Daily Local News, on WFHB, 91.3 FM. As an added bonus, Big Talk Extra, continued conversation with the previous week’s guest airs every Monday during the Daily Local News at 5pm.

Half A Century?

Speaking of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the Top 40 hit by Harry Nilsson was played constantly on my hometown pop stations, Chicago’s WLS and WCFL, during the fateful summer of 1969. Fifty goddamned years ago, kids! And, yeah, that was the two-word name of the ditty, even though most of us refer to the 45* by it’s memorable four-word opening line.

[ * If I need to explain what a 45 is, you prob. aren’t going to be interested in this entry at all anyway, so there. ]

Click Image To Hear The Song.

The song hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that summer and later won a Grammy award. It charted on both Billboard’s Adult Contemporary and Pop Singles lists in ’69. ET also gained widespread fame as the signature tune in the movie Midnight Cowboy, the very first X-rated flick ever to win the Academy Award™ for Best Picture. The song was written by legendary folkie, Fred Neil. Midnight Cowboy director John Schlesinger tabbed Nilsson to croon a tune for his upcoming pic about a male prostitute, Joe Buck, and his pimp with a limp, Ratso Rizzo. Nilsson wanted to do a song of his own writing called, “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City.” Schlesinger nixed that tune and called for Nilsson to sing the Neil-penned cover instead, a wise choice. ET went on to sell more than a million records and has been described in the New York Times as “a landmark in the classic rock era.”

A little more trivia: the Mad magazine parody of Midnight Cowboy, to the best of my recollection, Senator, was entitled Midnight Wowboy and the main characters were named Joe Cluck and Ratface Ratfink. God, I loved Mad magazine. Buck and Rizzo were played in the movie, respectively, by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman.

Times change, natch, and Midnight Cowboy would likely be aired on network television now with minimal bleeping. Back in ’69, though, its themes of male prostitution and homosexuality made half the population faint dead away. For my money, MC is one of the bleakest, most depressing movies I’ve ever seen. If the movie’s very last scene doesn’t chill your heart for days after viewing it, you’re probably dead in the soul.

Fade Out.

Hot Air: Numbers Game

The New York Times today reports that up to a quarter of our species-mates on this planet are in danger of going dry. That is, the fresh water available to them is vanishing.

For example, Mexico City, acc’d’g to the report, has drained its groundwater to such an extent that the city itself is starting to sink.

The cited “quarter of humanity” figure that’s on the brink of going thirsty is based on the total populations of the countries whose big cities are most at risk. There are a gazillion reasons for this crisis, including building over lakes and ponds, mega-scale agriculture operations, recreational and esthetic uses, and global warming, among many others. All of them, though, have to do with one simple fact.

There are too goddamned many of us on this Earth.

Add to that, the world’s dominant economic system, capitalism, is essentially a pyramid scheme whose continued success depends on a constant flow of new participants (i.e. people) in order for markets to expand and wealth to increase. Economists refer to this in a term they have accepted as sacred — growth.

Growth will be the death of us all. It’s starting to kill us already.

The NYT article mentions a number of potential fixes for this crisis. Population control is not one of them. Global overpopulation is just about the last taboo when it comes to the topics we argue about over coffee, bourbon, or our device screens.

Hot Air: I Repeat, Let’s Outlaw Hate Groups

[I argued the same point in my post of July 2, 2019. It’s worth arguing it again after another white supremacist gunned down people because he was afraid people darker-skinned than he is are in the process of overrunning his fantasy world.]

For 99.9 percent of my sentient life I’ve been a 1st Amendment absolutist. It pains me to say this but the events of the last few years — oh, hell, I should say the last few decades — have caused me recently to start sanding the sharp corners off my rigid adherence to that precept.

I’ve come to the conclusion of late that membership in a white supremacist organization should be considered an illegal act. We’ve seen too many mass shootings — especially since Li’l Duce was elected president — inspired by or forewarned in white nationalist or outright racist social media outlets. It has become clear that these organizations are breeding grounds for violent and too often homicidal acts committed by people who buy into their sociopathic stances.

We’ve already accepted the idea that belonging to an organization whose aim is illegal activity can, in and of itself, be grounds for criminal charges. On a national level, we call it the RICO Act. Enacted in 1970 after President Richard Nixon signed the joint Senate-House bill into law, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act calls for criminal charges to be brought against any individual who belongs to or is associated with an interstate group whose purpose is to violate the law. Funny things is, the very name of the Rico statute itself is an example of racism, inasmuch as it was drawn up to target members of the Italian crime syndicate, ergo the appellation, Rico. Keep in mind the name of the main character in the 1931 Italian mobster movie, Little Caesar, was Rico or, more formally, Caesar Enrico Bandello, as played by Edward G. Robinson. The name Rico, like Guido or Vito, became, in our culture, code for law-breaking Italian. It was a microscopically more refined way of saying wop.

Nevertheless, the RICO Act over the years has been utilized to prosecute a wide variety of reprobates including the Hell’s Angels, the Latin Kings, several corrupt municipal police departments, Michael Milken, and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), in addition to the Gambino and Lucchese New York City crime families and the Chicago Outfit.

Federal prosecutors in all those cases determined that simple membership in said groups constituted an intent to commit crime.

The central message of white supremacist organizations is that certain groups of human beings are inferior to people of the pseudo-scientifically-denominated “Caucasian race.” In other words, their raison d’être is hate. And hate begets violence. Ergo, the actions of the likes of Patrick Crusius in El Paso this past weekend and Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Both men — and hundreds of thousands of others — cut their murderous teeth on either white supremacist websites or social media or both.

Both — and many others like them — either hinted at or directly proclaimed that they would visit harm upon members of non-white groups.

Think of it this way: If I write on this blog that I want to rob a bank, I’ve broken no laws. No doubt the authorities’ll flag that post and subsequently put a tail on me or at least monitor my blog for further indications of upcoming mayhem. But if one or more other people post comments that robbing a bank is a swell idea and even offer suggestions on how to do it, the feds and the local authorities likely would have probable cause to run us up on conspiracy charges. See, nobody’s robbed the bank yet, but at least a couple of dopes are noodling the heist and that’s good enough for prosecutors to start filing charges.

Same with the white supremacist element within our society. I suppose it’s no crime for someone to say “I hate black people” or “White people are better” in whatever rhetorical ways those sentiments can be conveyed. But when two such supremacists begin circle-jerking it’s not at all unreasonable to conclude that others’ll join in on the discussion and, at some point, a disturbed individual (okay, more disturbed individual) will come aboard and be emboldened to march into a church or a Walmart and start mowing down people whose skin is the merest shade darker than his.

Ken Lay and his Enron cohorts didn’t take jobs with that company simply to become notorious criminals. But the culture and operating procedures adopted by it eventually called for them to defraud and rob members of the public. Lay et al easily could have washed their hands of the felonious stink of Enron. They could have quit. They had options. They were, at one point in time, well-respected operators in the legitimate business community. What other big-time energy company in America wouldn’t have welcomed Ken Lay with open arms? But, no, they chose to stick with an organization whose success was predicated on a continuing pattern of such unsavory acts as foisting worthless stock upon the company’s pensioners in lieu of honest remuneration. Thus, the RICO Act lawsuit filed against the Enron capos. Enron itself ceased to exist. Everybody was out of a job, including those who had no idea crimes were being committed.

Similarly, not every poster on a white supremacist website wants to go out and shoot black, brown, or Muslim people dead. But once a member of the group or poster to its website does so, they all must share in the blame. They have all encouraged that person to commit his crime against humanity.

Am I calling for hate to be illegal? No. I am calling for gatherings of haters to be broken up under the law. Just like John Gotti’s Italian-American social club was smashed using existing federal statutes.

Hot Air: No Christmas In July

Another anticlimax, yesterday’s testimony by Robert Mueller before a House committee.

It’s anticlimactic for the very simple reason We the People (excluding, of course, those Trumpists who still hold — god knows how — to the demonstrably false proposition that their president is somehow a decent human being) expected way, way, way, way too much from the Special Counsel. They felt the same way back in March when US Att’y Gen. William Barr released his whitewashed version of Mueller’s final report. At that time, the anti-Trump forces (including anybody and everybody who’s paid the slightest bit of attention to events since the grifting, not-officially-yet-diagnosed personality disordered chief executive first declared his candidacy for King of the United States) were crestfallen when the very first sentence of Muellers’ report failed to read “Donald J. Trump is a depraved psychopath whose 2016 election victory shall be immediately overturned because he’s such a jerk.”

Mueller, previous to that, had been viewed as some kind of combination of Shane, Rambo, a White Knight, Batman, and even a justice-serving Supreme Being who’d redeem our tainted nation. The Mueller Report, as it’s now known, was hoped to right the wrongest wrong committed in our holy land since slavery was outlawed and the Native American holocaust petered out for lack of any remaining appreciable numbers of potential victims.

So it was leading up to Mueller’s appearance yesterday before the House Judiciary Committee. The Pollyannas among us hoped, prayed, gritted their teeth and crossed their fingers that the salient words to emanate from the former FBI director’s mouth during the hearing would be, “Here’s what I really meant to say in the report: Trump is an agent of the Russian spy services, Vladimir Putin possesses a specially-fitted dog collar for him, he was urinated on by Russian hookers, he fondled his daughter’s breasts regularly, he’s broke, he doesn’t know how to read, he moonlights as a stick-up man, and Melania detests the very sight of him. Oh, and his kids are felons and at least one of them is mentally disabled.”

Well, guess what. He said none of that.

Not the superhero many ached for.

What Mueller did say was Trump and his Mob were not at all exonerated by the Special Counsel’s investigation; the Special Counsel was legally and by Justice Department directive unable to indict him; the president and his people were involved in highly-questionable, quite possibly illicit activities during and after the 2016 campaign; and the president is liable to be indicted for those and other transgressions after he leaves offices.

Which, for my money, should be as good as a kick in the groin for Trump reelection campaign.

Sadly, there are still tens of millions of Americans for whom those findings are irrelevant and will gleefully mark an X next to the incumbent’s name come November, 2020. There is, after all, the stain of a dark-skinned president’s legacy still to be thoroughly bleached from this nation’s swiftly shrinking alabaster soul.

That said, the ’20 contest remains a pick-’em affair, with many on both sides of the aisle still anticipating the Democratic Party to shoot itself in the foot once again.

We’re disappointed in the Muller Report and its fallout when, in reality, we should be disappointed only in ourselves.

Hot Air: Human Heroes

Babe Ruth, for at least half a century, was the most famous professional athlete in existence. Perhaps even the most famous person, period. His name was so intertwined with the game — and, by extension, with America itself — that Japanese soldiers in World War II running toward US positions would scream, “Fuck Babe Ruth!”

Babe Ruth

Sportswriters and even Hollywood screenwriters spun tales worthy of a descendent god about him. He visited a dying kid in the hospital and promised to hit a home run for him; he did so and the kid recovered. He got mad at the pitcher in the 1932 World Series, pointed toward the bleachers and immediately hit a home run in that very spot. He hit a dog with a vicious line drive once and scooped the critter up in his arms and ran down the street, still wearing his spikes, to get the pooch to the veterinarian

All bullshit. Pure bullshit.

Sports fans lapped it all up and sportswriters endeared themselves to their subjects by churning out such hagiographic drivel.

Here are a few facts about the Babe that the newspapermen of his day kept under their hats.

  1. Ruth missed almost a third of the 1925 season when he was hospitalized for what newspapers characterized as the “big bellyache heard ’round the world.” Supposedly, the Babe had eaten too many hot dogs at one sitting. The essential untruth of that story is easily debunked: people overeat all the time; they don’t have to go to the hospital and miss several months of work. Nevertheless, that was the generally accepted spin. Truth was, Babe Ruth had either contracted a venereal disease (he was a profligate, nearly pathological swordsman, another factoid neatly glossed over by reporters) or was institutionalized so he could “dry out,” the preferred terminology of the day for alcoholic rehab.
  2. Ruth and his teammate Lou Gehrig originally were quite friendly but eventually became estranged. Sportswriters ascribed their chill to mutual jealousy or some other such innocuous human failing. The truth, once again, was far more fascinating. It seems one off-season the New York Yankees sailed around the world so they could play exhibition games in foreign countries. At one point during the barnstorming tour, several sources agree, Lou Gehrig burst into the Babe’s room and the two had it out. Gehrig’s wife, you see, was in Ruth’s room at the time and either was drunk (she’d been trying to stay away from booze but Ruth got her drinking) or was in the process of having sex with the Yankee’s cleanup hitter. Either way, Ruth and Gehrig did not speak for years afterward.

Two essential truths emerge:

  1. The American public too often prefers whitewashed hokum to harsh truth
  2. Professional baseball players forever have been young (both chronologically and psychologically) knuckleheads whose morals and everyday behavior resemble that of rutting hogs more than cultural icons.

God forbid journalists might reveal certain truths about our holy land’s cherished sports heroes. That’s the way sports reporting went until the spring of 1970 when baseball pitcher Jim Bouton’s memoir of his 1969 season, Ball Four, was released by World Publishing.

Bouton told the unvarnished truth about what went on in Major League Baseball dugouts, clubhouses, team planes and hotels, and the saloons ballplayers frequented until the wee hours. Ballplayers routinely took methamphetamine pills, “greenies,” before games. Entire teams would climb up to the roof of Washington’s Shoreham Hotel so they could peep in guests’ windows (the structure was L-shaped) in hopes of seeing women undress. Mickey Mantle and his coterie of pals drank like fish. General managers cheated players out of money as a matter of course. Ballplayers cheated on their wives and girlfriends just as frequently.

Bouton emerges from the baseball commissioner’s office after being excoriated for writing Ball Four.

Ball Four was a rollicking, groundbreaking — hell, even revolutionary — sports book. It not only told the tale of pro baseball players in the late 1960s, it addressed race relations, anti-war protests, the generation gap, literacy and anti-intellectualism, labor unionism, and a plethora of timely, timeless topics. It was named one of the books of the century by the New York Public Library. Time magazine named it one of the 100 greatest nonfiction books of all time.

I read it in the summer of 1970 when I was 14 years old. I already was hooked on baseball, thanks mainly to my mother who faithfully followed the Chicago Cubs on her transistor radio as she kneaded bread dough. At that age, I was ripe to fall in thrall to a witty, comparatively sophisticated, iconoclastic jock. After devouring Bouton’s book, I turned around and read it again, cover to cover. I’ve re-read it a dozen or more times since.

I loved the idea of poking authorities in the eye, sneering at hidebound fuddy-duddies, overturning the apple cart, and spitting into the wind. Ball Four changed not only the jock memoir forever but sportswriting in general as well. Over the next few years, I’d recognize that journalists like Mike Royko and Studs Terkel, my heroes, had been doing the same things in the political and social arenas too. Years after that, I discovered Molly Ivins who, too, was a rebel. They all — Bouton included — were cut from the same bolt of cloth.

Jim Bouton last week, Wednesday, at the age of 80. He’d been battling cerebral amyloid angiopathy and had suffered a debilitating stroke in 2012.

Tonight, I plan to dig through my boxes of books to find my well-worn copy of Ball Four. I can’t wait to read it for the umpteenth time.

[ Here’s a terrific interview with Bouton, aided by his wife, Dr. Paula Kurman, a speech therapist. Bouton, at the time of the interview, had great difficulty speaking and remembering. His final days must have been a special hell for such a gifted raconteur. ]

Bouton and his wife, Dr. Paula Kurman, dance outside their home.

Hot Air: Prime Suckers

I don’t begrudge any businesses for creating whatever phony-baloney “Days” they want in order to fool their potential customers into thinking they’re getting special deals or real steals. America since it’s inception has been the world’s safe haven for clever snake oil and used car salesmen. Even — or especially — in today’s “enlightened,” instant information environment, people still fall for any smooth talker’s patter.

If history has shown us anything, it’s that humans are easily swayed, falling for emotional, terror-inducing, flattering, or pseudo-scientific appeals. We think we’re smarter today than were the yokels of 1850 or the illiterate, pre-technological wandering tribes of the Middle East of 2500 years ago. By and large, we’re not.

So if, say, retailers today want to try to persuade us that we must go out and shop for shit at 1:00 in the morning the day after Thanksgiving because, by golly, by doing so we’ll save more money than we’ll even spend, for chrissakes, why then they’re only engaging in what can be considered the one true American tradition. People who want to sell you crap will tell you anything you want to hear and you’ll eat it up because you want — nay, you need — to believe it.

It’s a dance that’s been played here since the Founding Fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” but then went on to pen a Constitution that codified the sub-human status of slaves.

Today, apparently, is Prime Day. Okay, fine. Amazon can declare today anything it likes. It can offer bushwa sales and unbelievable deals. It’s just that we, the people, don’t have to buy into the bullshit. Our newspapers and electronic media do not have to run blaring headlines in their news holes, telling us it’s Prime Day. We don’t have to remind each other when we meet on the street that it’s Prime Day.

NBC’s Today Show Treats It As News.

Just as we don’t have to consider Black Friday or Cyber Monday actual days. They’re not. They’re conceits dreamed up by public relations and advertising people, perhaps the least likely souls on this planet to whom we should look for definitions or parameters.

So, to the next person who says to me today is Prime Day, I say to you, Please shut up.

Just Guys

Bloomington is ground zero for hero worshipping Buddhists, the Dalai Lama in particular. People in casual conversation actually refer, to that religion’s current global head as “His Holiness.” The Dalai Lama visited this town nearly ten years ago and people still recall the event in dreamy, reverent tones, as if…, well, some kind of god descended upon us and gifted us with his presence.

There’s even a Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center and monastery here, on Snoddy Road, founded by old man Gyatso’s brother, a fellow named Thubten Jigme Norbu. For some Bloomingtonians, it’s the center of the universe.

The Dalai Lama, for my money, is a guy (real name: Tenzin Gyatso; born 1935 in Takster, Amdo, Tibet to a family of farmers and horse dealers) who specializes in issuing the type of kindergarten platitudes that college town seekers of Truth and Knowledge and All Things Good & Right eat up.

I don’t have anything against Gyatso, the guy, just as I have no particular quarrel with, say, Jorge Bergoglio, AKA the Roman Catholic Church’s Pope Francis. I’m sure they’re both swell fellows and, likely, riveting dinner guests. But I don’t figure either of them possesses any superhuman insights or can access a divine pipeline. Their employers, however, to one degree or another, are as suspect as any big corporation or association of people, filled with blowhards, zealots, ambitious ladder climbers, influence peddlers, and — yes — jerks.

Buddhism, apparently, does not inoculate its adherents against the baser, more repulsive aspects of our species, no matter what the Dalai Lama’s fanboys and -girls swear. To wit: There’s a strain of Buddhism — run by Lamas less celebrated hereabouts than the 14th D.L. — becoming overwhelmingly numerous and powerful in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. These Buddhists detest Muslims and rant and rave against practitioners of that religion from morning until night. And if someone blows up a mosque, say, well that’s tough shit because Muslims are the bad guys, not like us. Sound familiar?

Even the current Dalai Lama has stuck his foot in his mouth a time or two. Again, that doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. He’s not.

He’s just a guy.

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