Hot Air: The Bad & The Ugly

This recent development on the part of the President Gag admin. seems to be yet another of the definitive acts of his unfortunate reign:

I’ve never been under any illusion that this holy land has represented uniformly and without exception, from its beginning to now, from top to bottom, the better angels of human nature. Our land, being the world’s most diverse nation, has always been and remains to this day a mishmash of our entire species’ best and worst impulses.

Still, we held concepts like human rights to be paramount and worth fighting for. We howled whenever other lands violated the rights of their citizens, especially those we didn’t do much business with or who committed the unforgivable sin of embracing communism. We did this even as we denied human rights to many, many of our own citizens. We did our best to look upon our own rights transgressions as outliers, mistakes, the results of isolated bad guys somehow ascending to the top in, say, Alabama and Mississippi. Even as slavery or Jim Crow remained codified in our laws, the victims of those atrocities, many of them, remained hopeful that the high-minded words of the US Constitution, “all men are created equal,” would one day be realized.

As Martin Luther KIng Jr. said the evening of April 3, 1968:

I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

This from a man who’d be executed the very next evening, a fate he knew would eventually befall him because he fought so hard to secure basic human rights for a people detested by so many other Americans.

But Li’l Duce arose from a party that, beginning in the mid-1960s, has spit on and/or pissed on most, if not all, downtrodden, marginalized, forgotten, or despised peoples. The very idea that the Republicans have fought tooth and nail since the ascent of St. Ronald Reagan to deny half the American citizenry its full rights under the law should have been indication enough that the GOP was becoming a malignancy in the body politic.

And now, we’re not even playing lip service to lofty principles. In fact, we don’t even want to be around others who talk about them.

We’re not a dying nation.

We’re dead.

Digging, Digging, Digging…

Got a late start this AM. See, I’m like a lot of other members of my species’ gender — I read in the bathroom.

Why? Hell, why not? As longed as I’m parked there waiting for Nature to act I may as well nourish my mind. And this AM I was engrossed so much in a certain chapter of Seymour Hersh’s new memoir, Reporter, that even after Nature had done its thing, I remained in my home’s littlest occupiable room, standing at the sink, reading Hersh’s account of digging up the story of the My Lai massacre and the US Army’s subsequent attempts to make the scandal go away.

The sad thing is as soon as my contemporaries completely die off — and, believe me, they’re beginning to already — My Lai will be forgotten. For the uninitiated, a US Army infantry company on a routine reconnaissance (read: search & destroy) mission led by Capt. Ernest Medina executed hundreds of unarmed civilians (most sources place the death toll above 500), including the elderly, women, children, and even little babies, in a couple of hamlets in the Quang Ngãi province near the then-North Vietnam border.

Soon To Be Forgotten.

Hersh broke the story nationally, despite Pentagon obstruction and outright lying, despite the lack of interest from the likes of Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington PostLife, Look, and other self-described news gathering organizations, and despite a certain “patriotic” resistance to a reporter stirring up such a hideous pot of shit.

In several instances, the US soldiers forced people into trenches and then opened fired on the mass of bodies therein until not a sound could be heard. One soldier recalled his colleagues ceasing fire to listen for any sounds of life and discovering a toddler crawling out from underneath the blood-soaked pile of humanity. They shot that tiny human being to death as well.

The incident has been compared to Nazi atrocities in Poland, Russia, and other areas the Wehrmacht had invaded, the only difference being the Nazis usually lined their victims up on the lip of the trench so that their lifeless bodies could tumble, efficiently, into the pit.

Similar US Army atrocities began as early as 1965, although those preceding My Lai were not as blatant or numerically astounding. This is not to say US soldiers are more brutal than those of any other country, only that war turns otherwise decent young people into outright savages at times. If a nation must go to war, if it must take the risk that some of its young soldiers will be transformed into beasts, it had better be for a worthy cause. Vietnam was not.

Anyway, Hersh eventually got wide circulation for his scoop by utilizing a small, outsider-ish kind of syndicator, the Dispatch News Service. Some 30 newspapers, including the Hartford Courant, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Bulletin, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, picked up his first piece about the massacre. Those papers’ headlines raised the curiosity of the rest of the nation’s news purveyors. The likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post sent their own reporters out to verify what Hersh had written and then printed stories under their own people’s bylines. In any case, coming just a year and half after the Tet Offensive, stirring the first widespread, Middle-America public outcries against the war, the My Lai revelations further inflamed opposition to the war. It would take another three years for the United States to admit defeat in Vietnam but it can be said Hersh was among the key figures to make that happen. Hell, given what we now know about decades-long quagmires (see Afghanistan) we might still be in Vietnam, fighting insurgents and losing our own soldiers, and perhaps still destroying straw-hut hamlets and every living thing in them, for pity’s sake.

Hersh would win the 1970 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for his series on the massacre.

How did he do it? Well, hell, that’s the reason I stood at my bathroom sink for the better part of an hour this morning, reading his recollection of the story. Some tipster whom he’d cultivated for who knows what eventual end some years before whispered in his ear that some kid named Calley was up on charges for killing a bunch of civilians while in Vietnam. That’s all he had. A last name.

Hersh had no idea what branch of service Calley was in, where he was being held — if anywhere, what exactly the charges were, or where the supposed incident took place. It turned out one member of Calley’s Charlie Company had written to the president as well as high-ranking Army officials to complain about the massacre and demand an investigation. The cat out of the bag, the Army, knowing officers and hundreds of soldiers had participated in the massacre, decided to pin the whole thing on some punk second lieutenant named William “Rusty” Calley. Rusty Calley, the Army was hoping its official records would reflect, was a crazed lone wolf who did the deed while his company-mates were safely ensconced back at their base, sipping orange juice and reading their Bibles.

Hersh knocked on doors and rang phones in the Pentagon, asking about this Calley fellow. Most people had no idea what he was talking about. Several of them, though, hung up the phone or warned Hersh off his line of inquiry. That’s when he knew he had a story.

Another tipster whispered the name Latimer in Hersh’s ear. Latimer was Calley’s defense attorney. Again, all Hersh had was a last name. Hersh had to dig around until he found the right attorney Latimer in Salt Lake City. Hersh essentially borrowed money to fly to Utah to speak with Latimer who revealed, correctly, that he couldn’t say much because Army courts martial are done in military secrecy.

Hersh, though did read some key information off Latimer’s official charge sheet that the attorney had on his desk. The charge sheet was classified information, not to be shared with anyone else. But Hersh, the seasoned reporter, was adept at reading upside down and so found a helpful tidbit. Calley was at Ft. Benning in Georgia.

Hersh flew there. Again he knocked on every door he could and rang every telephone number he could find until he found another tipster who told him where Calley was living. Hersh then parked himself around that address and waited until Calley showed up. In that way, he was finally able to get a face to face interview with the soldier.

Using this time-consuming, hit-or-miss method Hersh dug up some other Charlie Company members, including one guy from Indiana named Paul Meadlo who’d participated in the killings, although he was loath to do so. The next morning, after the massacre, he stepped on a landmine that blew his foot off. At he was being evacuated, he was overheard to say, again and again, “God has punished me and God will punish you, Lieutenant Calley, for what you made me do!”

Where was Meadlo? Hersh had no idea. So he started calling every Indiana town’s directory assistance number, asking for Paul Meadlo. He started with those towns at the north border of the state and worked his way south. Only when he reached the operator in the town of New Goshen in Vigo County, south of the state’s midline, did he find Meadlo. So off Hersh went to Vigo County to interview the man.

By such means, Hersh cobbled together his series of shocking stories.

Again, I feel compelled to mention Hersh never went to journalism school. He simply was born with an insatiable curiosity and an almost-spectrum-disorder drive to find what he was looking for. Do they teach those things in what, for instance, our hometown Indiana University now calls its “media” school?

In fact, there’s a little sticker on Hersh’s book featuring a blurb by the noted suspense novelist John le Carré. It reads:

This book is essential reading for every journalist and aspiring journalist the world over.

I wonder if any IU media school professor will assign Reporter as required reading in next fall’s classes.

Hot Air: Ranting, Waxing, Harmonizing

The Gamut

Just about every Sunday, The Loved One and I take…, well, a Sunday drive. We never plan these things in advance. Sometimes we sit in the driveway with the engine running and scan the map to determine where we’ll go that particular day. We might visit presidents’ homes (Lincoln, Harrison I & Harrison II), a labor leader’s home (Eugene V. Debs), interesting town squares (Salem’s and Corydon’s are particularly neat), waterfalls, hidden lakes, little roadside bakeries, nature sanctuaries, and more.

Yesterday, we went to a favorite place, Madison, Indiana, where we sat on a bench under a shade tree and just watched the waters of the Ohio River rush by.

A funny little thing caught my attention. A medium-sized boat drifted in the current running from east to west. It was not, to use the proper nautical term, “under way.” I figured whoever was aboard just wanted to relax and feel free, untethered to anything, open to the vicissitudes of wind and water, or some such poetic stuff. TLO, scanning the ground around us for pretty, water-tossed stones, looked up and said, “Why don’t they put an anchor out?” then went back to her searching. BTW, the proper nautical term for what she suggested is to “drop anchor.” That’s also a euphemism for something else. Look it up yourself.

Anyway, I kept watching this boat and soon a figure emerged from below decks. A woman. I could tell her gender only by dint of the fact that her black swimsuit covered her torso. Men these days seldom wear such swimwear.

She walked abaft and climbed down the transom onto the swim platform. She removed her footwear (Sneakers? Aqua socks? I couldn’t tell from my distance.) She sat on the platform and dangled her feet in the water. Then she slued around and let herself into the water, facing the stern, while holding on to the little railing on the platform. She remained in that position, only her shoulders and head above water. At first I couldn’t figure out what in the hell she was thinking or doing but, after a few moments, she climbed back up on the swim platform and then back onto the deck.

“Well, sure,” I said, triumphantly, rather like Rosalind Franklin when she identified the helical nature of the DNA molecule, “she just went to the bathroom!”

TLO looked up again and said, “Number 1 or number 2?”

I shrugged. “Search me,” I said.

“Look at this one,” she said, handing me a stone with what appeared to be the remains of an ammonite in it. The last ammonites disappeared during what is now known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event some 66 million years ago. It’s assumed a massive comet or asteroid blasted into the Earth’s surface where the Chicxulub crater now sits in the Gulf of Mexico. The collision raised an unimaginably gigantic cloud of smoke and debris that encircled the planet causing an extended winter and even halting photosynthesis in most of the Earth’s green life. Some 75 percent of the Earth’s species went extinct in the aftermath of the event.

TLO was holding a piece of history that may well have been as old as, say, the pterosaurs, the plesiosaurs, and the last of the dinosaurs.  The event was devastating to life on Earth, sure, but it created an environment in which mammals — and eventually people — could exist.

Together, we’d leapt from a consideration of the most basic human function to the most existential, even cosmic occurrence.

To borrow a line from Truman Capote, how was your Sunday afternoon?

Advertisement For Myself

My editor at the Limestone Post, Lynae Sowinski, passed along this wonderful note. It’s a comment, written by our town’s Nancy Hiller, about my Big Talk/Limestone Post radio interview/magazine article on jazz guy extraordinaire David Brent Johnson.

Posting the comment here just might seem like bragging but, hell, if I don’t brag about myself who’s going to? Plus, Nancy’s take is based on the meat of the interview, which is all DBJ. It’s his story, his life, she’s reacting to.

At further risk of sounding as though I’m logrolling I state unequivocally right here and now that Nancy and DBJ are two main reason why I’ve fallen in love with this town and why I’ve never felt so at home as I do here.

Hot Air: Peas In A Pod

President Gag, as expected, is running around telling the world how fabulous he is for striking a deal with Kim Jong-un. And occasionally adding how fabulous Kim Jong-un is. Suddenly, the infantile leader of the Korean peninsula’s hermetic police state is a brilliant, beloved head of state, a wunderkind, really, by the lights of this holy land’s first psychopathological president.

P. Gag sez North Korea’s nuclear threat is no more, an assertion pretty much every expert on this planet is baffled by, considering no pact was signed mentioning the destruction or cessation of Kim’s nuke research and/or deployment facilities.

My knee-jerk reaction is to simply say Li’l Duce‘s lying again. But after a moment’s consderation, I’ll take that back. He’s telling the truth. His truth, but a truth nonetheless.

See, P. Gag has met Kim, shared a laugh or two, been made starry-eyed by the fealty and obeisance the N. Korean citizenry has bestowed upon him. Li’l Duce has sat at a table with the man he once ridiculed as “little rocket man” and found, mirabile dictu, he likes the guy! In fact, Kim’s the leader P. Gag would love to be. Instead, the American president is beset by all these bastards who prattle on about something called the Constitution, whatever in the hell that may be.

The two men discovered, to their surprise, they dug each other, perhaps because they see so much of themselves in the other. In any case, they’ve agreed, tacitly, not to antagonize each other for the nonce. No more name calling. No more threats to blow each’s other’s nation to smithereens. We’re buds, mang! Sympatico. Peace reigns.

The US, by order of the president, is calling off all future joint war games and “defensive exercises” with Kim’s penultimate bete noire, South Korea. We’re also not going to fly over the Korean peninsula with our nuke-laden bombers nor will we pull into S. Korean ports with our A-bomb-heavy warships. In return, Kim won’t brag about being able to incinerate Seattle or LA. For now.

And — you know what? — it’s going to work. Again, for now. Tomorrow? Hell, that’s some other dumb son of a bitch future president’s worry.

Hot Air: The Core Lesson

I’ve been wallowing in the new memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour M. Hersh entitled, as appropriately as any such thing can be, Reporter.

I type wallowing because that’s what I do with books I love. I’ve never been a fast reader. I chose long ago to mosey through my reading. I like to get the full flavor of a book, to immerse myself in the world the author has created for me. Zipping through a book always seemed to me to be one of those useless things people feel compelled to do, as if it’d make then smarter faster, or in some way eventually more successful.

Remember those late night infomercials for speedreading courses? I also used to see ads for the courses on CTA buses. They all suggested promotions and riches came more easily to those who could knock off the daily paper in ten minutes and devour a book in one sitting. I always figured if that was the price one had to pay for success then success wasn’t worth it.

Truth be told, I feel I’m really devouring a book when I linger over its sentences and paragraphs and even individual words and phrases. Ever see gourmets savoring mouthsful of some fabulous dish? It’s as though they’re holding on to the food long beyond the time necessary to chew it, as if they’re loath to swallow it, thus ending the sensual experience. That’s as much devouring as the table hog who jams fork after spoon of grub into his trap as if some sadistic waiter is about to snatch the plate away.

Other people have told me they do this: when they’re coming near the end of a particularly engrossing novel, they slow down so as not to let the experience end too soon. One can, after all, grieve the end of a book.

Anyway, Hersh is one of the last of a species that’s rapidly going extinct: He never went to journalism school. In fact, he had absolutely zero experience writing or reporting when he was first hired by the City News Bureau in his hometown Chicago back in the early 1960s. In those days — and the decades before — it wasn’t unheard of for newspaper editors to hire people as reporters simply because they had the guts to ask for the job. It takes guts to be a reporter. Now, sadly, J-schools…, er, pardon me, I meant media schools, hammer the guts out of their students. The corporate world, after all, disdains guts. And next to nothing nowadays is as corporate as a news organization.


So, for the next few days, I’ll be throwing quotes from Hersh’s book onto this screen. Here’s the first:

[T]he core lesson of being a journalist — read before you write….

That’s beauty. Simple and profound. Prepare. Study. Know your topic. Simply interviewing people only gives you the slants as seen through their eyes. See what others have dug up and, hopefully, build on that.

I wonder if they teach that in J-…, I mean, media schools today. Or do they just teach you how to stay out of trouble and keep moving forward along your career path?

I’m not just being a smart-ass here. I have the same real question for those who teach in the creative writing department. My mantra has always been, if you want to learn how to write, read.

Jazz Talk

Here’s the link to the podcast of this week’s Big Talk, featuring Bloomington’s prince of jazz, David Brent Johnson. And, in case you missed it, here’s the link to my written profile of him in yesterday’s Limestone Post.

Add a nice bottle of bourbon (I prefer Woodford Reserve) and a Giordano’s thin crust pizza with sausage and green peppers and you’ve got everything you need for a real bang-up weekend.

Hot Air: Two-Fer Thursday

It’s Big Talk Double-Header Thursday, kids. My WFHB radio show, this week featuring jazz maven David Brent Johnson, airs at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM (podcast link to be posted some time after the show airs).

If you’re lacking in patience, click on over to this month’s “Big Mike’s B-town” in our region’s very own lifestyle/politics/arts/sustainability/equal-rights-for-all/et cetera online mag, Limestone Post, for a written profile of the aforementioned nerd/rake who spins platters for WFIU radio.

Then, soon as you’re finished listening/reading, dash out and pick up a copy or two of Limestone Post‘s spanking new first print edition, entitled “A Sense of Place.” It’s got great stuff in it. I should know — I penned two pieces for it, for pity’s sake! Nah — truth is the editorial braintrust (publisher Ron Eid & editorial director Lynae Sowinski) are tops in this town. Their story sensibilities and their corral of freelancers both tower over any other local pub.’s.

So, unbelt and fork over a scant $7.50 for the mag next chance you get.

Hot Air: Politics, Small & Large


Let’s take a trip to an imaginary town somewhere in the Midwest. It’s not terribly big — its population remains well below a hundred thousand — but it’s growing and, as such, suffers from the usual pains. There are construction, roadwork, the influx of soulless sports bars around its charming square, and drug abuse and homeless problems. Old-timers are harrumphing about big hotels and tall mixed-use developments springing up in its central business district.

Town leaders are standing on their heads, trying to spur growth (read: jobs) and raise desperately needed operating revenues. The old timers look upon the changes in the town through narrowed eyes.

The town’s got a first-term mayor whose been doing her best to keep up with the changes and bring town services in line with its burgeoning population. Call her Mayor Pam Johnston. A lot of Mayor Johnston’s decisions and actions have been met with resistance. The old-timers don’t want to see their traditionally charming, heretofore small town become a bursting-at-the-seams city. It isn’t easy for Mayor Johnston to balance the needs of the growing populace and the wishes of those who want the town to stay just as it was, say, ten or twenty years ago.

Mayor Johnston, unfortunately, has a public relations problem. She just can’t seem to roll out new projects and initiatives in a way that’s palatable to long-time residents. There are plenty of bitter pills the populace must swallow as the town expands both outward and, in a lot of cases, upward. Mayor Johnston, sadly, doesn’t have a terribly good bedside manner. She likes to say, “Take this pill. Swallow it right now. And don’t complain about the horrible taste. It’s good for you, dammit!”

Patients, by and large, don’t like treated that way by their doctors. Nor citizens by their mayors.

Lots of people in this imaginary town are grumbling. Many are looking for someone who can challenge Mayor Johnston in the next election. The town does have a rising political star. Call him Manny Trawler. He, too, is a first-term office holder. He’s on the town council. He’s bright, young, ambitious, creative. He’s got a reputation for listening to his constituents. Political insiders as well as wags are whispering to each other that Trawler ought to run against Mayor Johnston in the next election.

Let’s say Mayor Johnston catches wind of the whispering. What might her response be? Let’s consider a few of her options, some of which may be smart, some dumb, some downright abhorrent. Here they are:

  • Ignore the whispering
  • Gear up for a possible primary battle against Manny Trawler, while keeping the effort very quiet
  • Work to correct her own weaknesses that have alienated so many people
  • Start a whispering campaign of her own, impugning Trawler’s character
  • Launch a public education effort to explain to the citizenry how imperative it is for the town to do certain unpopular things
  • Lobby local and state party officials to reject any possible run by Trawler, and work extra hard for the reelection of the incumbent
  • Decide not to run

See, there are plenty of roads Mayor Johnston may take, especially since it’s a good bet she sees the mayor’s office as but a stepping stone to higher office. Ambition can make a person do things s/he’d never imagined before. Then again, some politicians have the depth of character, the inner strength, to act honestly and fairly even when under assault from a potential challenger.

The coming few months for Mayor Johnston will reveal exactly what kind of person she is.

Let’s imagine, for the moment, that the first thing Mayor Johnston decides to do is make a phone call to Manny Trawler. “Manny,” the mayor asks, “what’s this I hear about you wanting to run for mayor?”

Let’s imagine further that Manny Trawler, despite being a political neophyte, is a quick thinker and possesses good instincts.

“Mayor,” Manny says, “I haven’t started any campaign. I haven’t made any decision. There’s nothing, really, for me to say.”

In our imaginations, we can conclude that Mayor Johnston has committed a blunder. She has revealed to a potential rival, Manny Trawler, that she’s at least thinking about him. Manny Trawler might even come to the conclusion Mayor Johnston is…, well, nervous.

In a street fight, the person who shows fear first is usually the loser.

The imaginary citizens of this imaginary town would hope Mayor Johnston’s phone blunder is the low point of the story.


Chris Hedges, whom I like a lot, but also, on rare occasions, find annoyingly righteous, has written another of his apocalyptic analyses of our holy land’s political prospects. It’s on the site, Common Dreams, and it appeared last month. It’s entitled, “The Coming Collapse.” Hedges again has struck true, this time characterizing both our current president and the people, nearly 63 million of them, who were moved to vote for him.

Trump has tapped into the hatred that huge segments of the American public have for a political and economic system that has betrayed them. He may be inept, degenerate, dishonest and a narcissist, but he adeptly ridicules the system they despise. His cruel and demeaning taunts directed at government agencies, laws and the established elites resonate with people for whom these agencies, laws and elites have become hostile forces. And for many who see no shift in the political landscape to alleviate their suffering, Trump’s cruelty and invective are at least cathartic.

Which leads us to the next entry.

Department Of Unintended Consequences

With just a few weeks to go before his wholly unexpected (technical) victory in the 2016 presidential race, candidate Li’l Duce spoke out against AT&T’s offer to purchase Time-Warner. The companies announced their engagement that October, a putative marriage of telecom titans that would create the globe’s largest communications empire. Hell, AT&T already was the world’s largest telecom, meaning the deal would only make the ultra-rich that much richer.

The future President Gag said this of the proposed merger:

It’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.

Wow. Sounds like something right out of Bernie Sanders’ mouth. In fact, Democratic-Socialist Sanders at the same time said whoever should win the election had better “kill” the deal because, basically, it’d hurt consumers.

Disappointingly — and wholly expectedly — Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton remained tight-lipped about the deal. One of her spokesbeings told a TV interviewer: “There’s still a lot of information that needs to come out before any conclusions should be reached.” In other words, We’re scared to death to say anything.

You want Reason # 62,472 why Li’l Duce was able to swipe the election from H. Clinton? There it is, in B & W.

And, make no mistake, P. Gag is no Democratic-Socialist. But he was savvy enough to know the people of this nation are sick to death of the ultra-rich, the wealth gap, the stagnation of wages, the shrinking of the middle class, and the end of “the American Dream.” The average person is going nowhere and her/his kids have even less reason to be optimistic about the future. As Hedges writes, above, Trump has tapped into the hatred that huge segments of the American public have for a political and economic system that has betrayed them.

The nauseating irony is Donald J. Trump is ultra-rich and benefits immeasurably from the wealth gap, the stagnation of wages, the shrinking of the middle class, and the end of “the American Dream.”

Those realities meant nothing to the people who, as Hedges asserted, see no shift in the political landscape to alleviate their suffering, and for whom Trump’s cruelty and invective are at least cathartic

P. Gag made good on his campaign promise when he directed his Justice Dept. to file suit in federal court against the proposed merger. Yesterday, US District Court Judge Richard Leon threw the Justice Dept.’s lawsuit out, saying, essentially, it was groundless and poorly constructed.

Further proof P. Gag will say anything — even something he disbelieves with all his heart and soul — to connect with the disaffected, the aggrieved, in America. He’s no white knight protecting us against big, mean, powerful corporate monoliths; he just hates the shit out of CNN and would do anything to screw the Time-Warner-owned cable news outlet over, up to and including kill a deal that might pump big money into the operation.

One more thing: Judge Leon doesn’t get a pass here. Buried somewhere in his nearly-book-length decision is the assertion that, golly gee, a big operator like the proposed AT&T/Time-Warner would never, ever, do anything to fleece or harm its customers, or at very least squeeze every possible nickel & dime out of them.

Dang, mang, there aren’t any heroes in this story. There haven’t been any heroes in many stories for the last few years in this country. Hell, in this world.

Yeah, guys like Chris Hedges may occasionally indulge in the apocalyptic but can you blame them?

Hot Air: I Hate To Say It, But…

You heard it here first: President Gag’s summit meeting with N. Korea’s Kim Jong-un will come off w/o a hitch and the end result will be a wildly ballyhooed agreement.

How do I know? Simple. Li’l Duce wouldn’t even make the trip to Singapore to meet with his counterpart in global clowndom sans a deal already in his back pocket. Yep. Guaranteed, emissaries of the two borderline psychotic leaders have already hammered out some kind exchange. If there’s one thing P. Gag knows it’s public relations and he sure as hell isn’t going to this meeting at risk of walking away with nothing.

The question remains, Will the pact mean anything? Our current president will make a grandiose announcement about it, lauding himself and his counterpart (but mostly himself) to the skies and promising a better, safer world to come. I’m thinking Kim’s going to walk away from the meeting with a huge bushel-full of economic incentives, grants, loans, business opportunities, and relief from the crushing sanctions now in place against his bizarre little land. Oh, and our own beloved leader and his cronies will also walk away with a pocket-full of business opportunities.

That’s business and that’s what Li’l Duce does best.

Who knows? The whole thing may well turn out to be a plus for the globe. As I’ve written here before, only P. Gag would be capable of getting something done with Kim. Previous presidents have been hamstrung by diplomatic niceties, conventional thinking, and…, well, sanity. Pres. G. simply blew up the whole history of relations between our two lands and said, Let’s start all over again.

And, BTW, that’s why he’s been able to brag that he doesn’t need to do any preparation in advance of this summit, that he’ll know what to do in the first minute of the face-to-face. No other American leader in history would have been so megalomaniacal and deluded to approach such an important conference in a devil-may-care way. The real work’s already been done and P.G.’s simply going to reap the optics rewards.

Y’know what? It just may work.

Big Talk News

This afternoon’s Big Talk Extra feature on WFHB’s Daily Local News at 5pm stars our own Nancy Hiller, wood-chiseler-extraordinaire. She appeared on last week’s Big Talk and today discusses her almost-decision to chuck cabinet-making and become a school teacher when she first moved to our town.

Thursday’s Big Talk will be another of my monthly double-headers with my regularly-scheduled program at 5pm on 91.3 FM and a written-word profile of Bloomington’s Prince of Jazz, David Brent Johnson, in my Limestone Post column, Big Mike’s B-town.

Listen or read (or both!)

Hot Air: Men, Minuscule & Great

…And Proud Of It

Thanks to Susan Sandberg for reminding us of this most telling Christopher Hitchens quote concerning George W. Bush. Funny thing is, had Hitchens been alive today (he died in 2011) I’m willing to bet he would have taken pains to say he’d spoken too soon, that these precise words far better describe our current anencephalic leader than the know-nothing wannabe who was our 43rd president:

He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.


The Cynics Who Stayed Out Of The Cold

Michael Miner, one of my old editors at the Chicago Reader — and, quite possibly, the best editor I’ve ever worked with — still occasionally writes guest media columns for the paper. He was (is) a hell of a writer, too. He used to pen the weekly Hot Type column in the Reader, covering all forms of media from the local to the global.

He gifted us w/ another of his gems on Monday, a eulogy for the drama series The Americans, a Cold War costumer dealing w/ Russian moles nestled in Washington and disguised as a typical American family in the ’80s. I’ve never viewed a moment of it but a few people I know and whose tastes I trust tell me it’s the real deal. It’s on Netflix, to which I subscribe, so I just might tune in soon. Then again, I may have to wait on that because another person recently raved to the skies about Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, also running on Netflix, and my guess is I’m going to go with him first.

In any case, Miner referred to his own quote in a years-earlier piece he’d written about the television show. The quote dealt with the works of John le Carré, the brilliant Cold War suspense novelist. le Carré, nee David Cornwell, was a spook for the British spy outfits MI5 and MI6 in the late 1950s and early ’60s, about the time the leaders of both the United States and the Soviet Union had the wherewithal and, it was assumed, the will to incinerate the surface of the planet with the 25,000 or so nuclear weapons they together possessed. Such were the opponents’ fealty to their respective economic systems, the conventional thinking went, that they’d blow up the lot of us — including themselves — rather than suffer under the other guy’s set-up. Oddly, we now realize neither the communist nor the capitalist system was/is worth a good goddamn.

[I’m betting the house my friend David, the Lake County Republican, will dash off a comment before he can take another breath telling me capitalism is the best thing we’ve got these days. If that’s so, I might respond, then we are, to borrow a phrase from Walter Sobchak, in a world of shit.]

The world of The Americans and St. Ronald Reagan was almost as — or possibly even more — perilous than that that of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Ike and Camelot. Humanity likely has used up all its karmic allotment of dumb luck in that the world’s two superpowers managed to refrain from frying us in either era.

In any case, Pt. 2, Miner’s quote about le Carré was so good I have to put it up here. It goes like this:

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold lowered the temperature of the cold war by squeezing the idealism out of it…. Le Carré redefined the cold war as an elaborate and deadly game played by their cynics and our cynics; and because cynics, even if they don’t care who else gets hurt, have no intention of getting hurt themselves, he made the world feel safer.

I don’t know if either Miner or le Carré believes that assessment accurately depicts the thinking and the men who pointed tens of thousands of nukes at each other from the early 1950s through…, well, today. One of those sides simply goes by another name and, truth be told, is out-capitalisting us, the trademarked capitalists, if the obscene accumulations of wealth by Russian oligarchs and the astounding growth and power of that country’s mobster corporations are any indications. And I can’t make out who is the greedier no-good son of a bitch, Vladimir Putin or our own President Gag, which probably means they’re tied for the (dis)honor.

In any case, Pt. 3, le Carré seems to have got it right. The leaders of neither the US nor the USSR were about to take any action that would put themselves in any danger of instant cremation and/or x-ray overdose. Even during the fabled Cuban Missile Crisis, an event wise guys like to characterize as the closest we’ve ever come to a species-wide cookout, both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev stood on their heads not to hover their fingers over their red buttons.

Now, if American and Russkie leaders had some super weapons that would assure the enemy’s destruction w/o imperiling themselves, sure, they’d have hit their red buttons like lab rats stomping on levers to give themselves hits of cocaine.

What We’ve Become

Speaking of former Reader mainstays, David Jones was the longtime production manager at the fabled Chi. alternative weekly. He waxed poetic yesterday on the 50th anniversary of the death of Bobby Kennedy. Jones recalled that he was packing up the stuff from his dorm room the day before, when he got the news that the California Democratic primary victor was shot in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen. Just a punk kid, a teenager, Jones had to deal with the reality that the nation he lived in was coming apart at the seams.

Jones talked of sensing a pall of mortality hanging over the parking lot at the Wisconsin campus he was leaving for the summer. When you’re 17 or 18, the world should be bright and full of tomorrows. That day, Jones was breathing an air of death.

Jones spoke of the countless What ifs the year 1968 forced us to consider. Not the least of which was What if Bobby wasn’t shot and had gone on to become a major player for the Dem nomination that August in Chicago?

It’s doubtful a deranged science fiction writer could have envisioned the world to come in 50 years that hot, humid June day in the upper Midwest. Who could have foreseen our national mania for fighting like cats and dogs on something called social media? And, of course, who’d have predicted that corporate media would become something so blatantly anti-informational, so deliriously anti-thinking? Dig this Jonesian observation:

Even the death of Bobby Kennedy is discussed on angry talk radio shows as if it was some kind of devious career move.

Yep, that about crystallizes it.

One More Thing

Remember that busboy who crouched down next to the sprawled Bobby Kennedy, supporting the senator’s head as he lie mortally wounded? His name was Juan Romero and he’s pushing 70 now.

He’s been in the news of late, of course. Romero wrapped a rosary he’d taken from his pocket around Kennedy’s hand. Seconds before, Romero had elbowed his way through the mob packing the passageway Kennedy was walking through after delivering his last speech (“… and now, it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there!”) Romero extended his arm as far as he could so Kennedy could shake his hand when shots rang out.

Romero tells us now that in the weeks following the assassination, he received death threats from people who blamed him for Kennedy’s death. If Romero hadn’t clasped Kennedy’s hand, they charged, the candidate wouldn’t have been killed. Proof positive that the hallucinogenic “logic” we’ve come to expect from a huge swath of the public is nothing new.

Hot Air: In Book Heaven

Just picked up a fresh, hot-off-the-presses copy of Reporter, the new memoir by Seymour M. Hersh.

When you’re talking about the best in American journalism, you’re talking Seymour Hersh. He broke the My Lai Massacre story and then, nearly a quarter century later, he was among the first to detail the abuses perpetrated by US military and intelligence personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Funny thing is, when crusading reporters became all the rage in the mid-’70s, it was primarily Woodward & Bernstein who were the popular idols. Sure, they were instrumental in making certain the Watergate burglary and ensuing cover-up didn’t fade into a forgotten mist but, really, plenty of other intrepid reporters did as much or more as they did to bring down the Nixon presidency. But, hell, W & B got a movie out of the whole deal.

Nobody’s yet made a movie about the likes of Seymour Hersh starring either Dustin Hoffman or Robert Redford, although I’d probably cast Steve Buscemi in the role. No matter.

Hersh was the embodiment of Studs Terkel’s old dictum about the reporter’s sacred responsibility to ask the impertinent question. I’ve always believed the reporter’s primary job is to make politicians and other leaders feel uncomfortable. I recall reading, years ago, that NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell was marrying Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan. Sure, she was NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent at the time but, still, Greenspan was a Washington titan and, as such, he was on “the other side.” That’s the key — reporters must always view public officials, either elected or appointed, as “others.’ They’re not your friends. And they sure as hell shouldn’t be your bedmates.

If Andrea Mitchell felt so strongly about Alan Greenspan that she had to get hitched up to him, she should have resigned from the NBC News Department and found work elsewhere. Trust me, she’d have found another job in the snap of her fingers.

Anyway, there’s way, way, way too much chumminess between today’s journalists and their subjects. And the line between officialdom and reporter-dom is being chipped away to the point where, well, it pretty much doesn’t exist anymore. As Linda Ellerbee has observed: “When the anchorman is wearing a colonel’s uniform, that tells you something.”

It makes me think of a line in my upcoming Big Talk/Big Mike’s B-town interview1 with radio personality David Brent Johnson. DBJ went to college thinking he might become a reporter. Early on he realized he wasn’t cut out for the gig. “I didn’t like making people feel uncomfortable,” he told me. “As a reporter, you can’t be like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to put this bank official on the spot.'”

That’s a smart assessment, both of one’s self and the requirements for the job. And, for pity’s sake, it’s not just a job; it’s a calling.

Hersh was so good at his calling that neocon Richard Perle, one of the architects of George W. Bush’s Iraq adventure once said he was, “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.”

Now, that’s a healthy relationship between reporter and subject!

I’m in the process of finishing up Erik Larson’s Dead Wake right now. It’s about the last voyage of the Lusitania, the titanic2 luxury liner that was torpedoed by the Germans in World War I with nearly 1200 people losing their lives. The incident set America on a path to enter World War I, which it did almost precisely two years later. Larson, if you’ve not read him yet, is perhaps the best and most accessible history writer in the English language right now. Everybody raves about his Devil in the White City but I think his best work is In the Garden of Beasts, about the family of the last American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s.

So, soon as I’m finished with Dead Wake, I’ll jump right into Reporter. If I know myself at all, I’ll probably be sneaking peaks at Hersh’s book well before I’m finished with Larson’s.

As I always say, perhaps the fact that gives me the greatest comfort in this life is the knowledge that I’ll never run out of books to read.

[Note 1: My Big Talk episode featuring DBJ will air Thursday, June 14th, at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM. This month’s Big Mike’s B-town column on him will run that same day in the Limestone Post.]

[Note 2: You’ll pardon the pun. In fact, the word works on a couple of levels: the Lusitania was, for a spell, the world’s largest ocean liner, as was the Titanic when it went down. And the Titanic sank a mere three years earlier than the Lusitania did.]

Hot Air: Are You In Or Are You Out?

Been thinking about the differences between the the two political, philosophical, and cultural poles in our holy land these days. Plenty of head-scratchers and navel-gazers have devoted countless hours and neurons to this activity since this nation embarked on its current preamble to civil war.

And, no, I’m not being overly-dramatic when I type those words — civil war. History tells us pretty much every country that has ever existed eventually either gets torn asunder by CW or is taken over by a bigger, more bullying country. Since this nation possesses more than four thousand nuclear weapons in its usable stockpile and boasts by far the most powerful military forces on the planet, it’s unlikely any outside foe would find a way to march into Washington and set up camp.

So, yeah, civil war it will be. When? Search me. It could come later this year or it could hold off for years or decades. That’s the thing about apocalyptic events — they come at their own time and there’s little we can do to hasten or delay them.

Anyway, experts and wags have speculated over the years that conservatives are comfortable following an authoritarian, that they crave a strong, stern father-figure, or that they view the world through fearful eyes, while liberals are more trusting, they believe in the wisdom of the masses, and their preferred daddy-os are more kindly and nurturing. Maybe. Maybe not.

I, though, have noticed one particular difference between liberals and conservatives between these shores. And that difference has meant everything when it comes to organizing voters and winning national elections.

To wit: Conservatives are an extremely forgiving bunch. A person who eschews liberalism and throws her/his lot in with the Right is welcomed with open arms. All is forgiven, all forgotten. Even our current president, who certainly did not lead a conservative, Christian life prior to running for the Oval Office, has been embraced with an baffling vigor by folks who normally condemn philanderers, party boys, serial divorcees, potty mouths, and just about every other thing that has characterized Li’l Duce to this point. All, as I say, has been forgiven. All forgotten.

He’s now one of them, no questions asked.

The folks on my side of the fence though, surprisingly enough, are notoriously intolerant. If a person has ever entertained conservative notions, has ever even thought of pulling the lever for a Republican, or continues to keep conservative social media friends is automatically and forever suspect. Far too many of us are philosophically pure to a fault.

From the global to the local, one must have espoused the party line since birth no matter one’s upbringing or circumstances, no matter how enlightened or educated one has become. A person’s liberalism must be encoded in her/his DNA. There is no redemption. There is no forgiveness.

Hell, scads of my lib sibs condemn even historical figures who grew up and thrived in less aware times, less evolved eras. They could have reflected the prevailing “wisdom” of their times but to my people, because they hadn’t looked decades or centuries into the future to understand how “better” people think, they are therefore evil, not to be read or even contemplated.

The American conservatives of today give you a passing grade if you get 75 on the test. My fellow liberals glance at your test paper and conclude, even if you’ve gotten a 99, that you’ve failed.

That kind of rigidity is not only offensive and annoying, it doesn’t work come election time.


I despise the C-word and think it was entirely inappropriate for Samantha Bee to use it to describe Ivanka Trump. It was a social faux pas.

That said, I hope to hell she doesn’t pull away from it tonight on her show. I hope she rescinds her apology and even doubles down on her original statement. Why? She’s a comedian, for chrissakes! Not an ambassador or a government official.

So she offended a bunch of people by calling Ivanka a C. I hate these after-the-fact bullshit apologies. Like when Roseanne Barr apologized for racially denigrating Valerie Jarrett. Barr apologized to save her sitcom, not because, suddenly, she doesn’t think a certain black human being is an ape.

And I’m sure Samantha Bee suddenly doesn’t think Ivanka’s not a C.

Personally, I’d come up with a better, more imaginative word than a genital slur for Ivanka. And anyone who can’t understand why Barr was fired for her tweet can’t be reasoned with anyway. No matter — the controversy over their respective rhetoric is overshadowing the real news — like Rudy Giuliani’s insistence that the president is above the law or that the administration’s trade policies will screw the hell out of us all or that the president is pushing us into a more dangerous confrontation with Iran or that Li’l Duce has essentially killed off both the New Deal and the Great Society apparatus just for laughs.

Now that shit is really, truly inappropriate.

And, to borrow a characterization from my friend Jeff Isaac, Ivanka’s old man is a prick.

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