The Pencil Today:

The Salute

1968. I was 12 years old that momentous year. Had I been like most 12-year-olds, I would have paid little or no attention to anything going on in the world outside my block and my sixth and seventh grade classrooms.

But, see, even at that weird age when the pursuit of pictures of naked women was paramount to any and every other endeavor in my life, I still had time and neurons to devote to things like the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, the snuffed-out lives of a quarter million people in Vietnam, the tanks rolling through the streets of Prague and Chicago, and even one particular moment during a medal ceremony at that summer’s Olympics in Mexico City.

Prague Spring

The Prague Spring, August, 1968

Photos of that moment rank among the most definitive of the 2oth Century. Two black American sprinters raise black-gloved fists during the playing of the national anthem, their way of calling attention to this holy land’s system of apartheid. I stared at those pix in the newspaper for long minutes on end that September. The two runners were vilified and pilloried as if they’d pissed on the flag.


(l to r) Peter Norman, John Carlos & Tommie Smith

Which, in a sense, they had — and, from the vantage point of this 12-year-old just forming his first opinions about the world at large, they were completely justified in doing so.

I thought John Carlos and Tommie Smith were among the coolest guys on the planet. And you know what? I still do.

Netflix Instant is running a documentary entitled Salute right now. It’s the story of how that dramatic moment came to be, the plans for a black boycott of the Olympic games, the rioting in the streets of Mexico City that resulted in the deaths of hundreds, the records set by the sprinters involved, and even the part played by the white guy, Peter Norman of Australia, who stood on the medal platform with Carlos and Smith.


Peter Norman, Before His 2006 Death

Norman, it turns out, fully supported Carlos and Smith in their demonstration. They’d told him what they’d planned to do and he backed them to the hilt. His parents had been Salvation Army officers and had raised him to be more than color-blind.

He, too, suffered in the fallout from the incident, even if he hadn’t raised his fist. But merely because he’d lent moral support to Carlos and Smith, Norman became a pariah in his own land which, BTW, was experiencing its own apartheid battles. Norman was roundly criticized in the Australian press and was even effectively blackballed from the 1972 Olympic games.

If you’ve got Netflix, dial up Salute. It’ll be well worth your time. You’ll even find out why Carlos and Smith raised, respectively, their right and left fists, an asymmetry that has bugged me for some 45 years now.

Spare The Rod

Speaking of 1968, yesterday was Dr. Benjamin Spock‘s birthday. Spock wrote the seminal book Baby and Child Care in 1946. It was the bible for American mothers until he became an anti-nuclear weapons activist in 1962 and, later, an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. In 1968, he was prosecuted by the US Department of Justice for conspiracy to counsel young men to evade the draft. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years in federal prison, although the conviction was overturned in 1969.


Spock, Under Arrest

Spock, the baby doctor, advised parents not to kick the crap out of their kids which, immediately after World War II, was considered to be a revolutionary concept. So, when young people began to take to the streets in the 1960s to protest the war, racism, Jim Crow, and a host of other American ills, Spock’s critics said his call for “permissiveness” in child rearing was the cause of all our problems. He became the Worst Man in the World for the Right, the Michael Moore of his era, as it were.

Book Cover


Spock died in 1998 at the age of 94.

Just a reminder that today’s demonization of the opposition — by both the Right and the Left — is nothing new.

Step Right Up….

I check out the goings-on at World Net Daily now and again, mainly for laughs but also to keep up to date on how deranged the wingnut Right is becoming.

WND bills itself as “A Free Press for a Free People.” Which is accurate only if you equate freedom with sheer lunacy. The site still questions Barack Obama’s citizenship, sees Christianity under constant attack from all sides, and runs the ravings of Rush Limbaugh’s brother, David, who is no less full of shit than his big sib.

From WND

It reveres the likes of Alan Keyes, Pat Buchanan, Ted Nugent, and even the notorious bigot and former Major League Baseball pitcher John Rocker.

Today’s stories include several updates in a regular department called “The Gaying of America,” “news” that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin addressed a “commie” rally and that Duke University has hiked student fees to cover sex change surgeries for them, and one humdinger headlined, “Obama’s Czar Snagged in Castro Love Fest.”

In other words, the authors of the psychiatrists’ manual of mental illnesses, the DSM-5, could have researched their tome merely by observing World Net Daily’s staff and audience and still would have produced a thorough and comprehensive study of the diseased mind.

Anyway, it struck me long ago that WND is chock full of ads for the most preposterous snake oils, patent medicines, magical foods, and investments guaranteed to safeguard your money through the coming apocalypse. Why, I’ve wondered, are all these people so gullible?

The easy answer would be anyone who pays attention to the spewings of John Rocker or Ted Nugent for three and a half seconds would fall for anything. Historian Rick Perlstein, though, has dug up some more profound rationales.


John Rocker

Check out Perelstein’s Thursday piece in The Nation about scammy multi-level marketing firms (pardon my redundancy) and their ever-presence on Right-wing websites. So I wasn’t imagining this after all. Perlstein argues that religious conservatives flock to these scams.

Perelstein writes: “America truly does harbor two separate and nearly incommensurate tribes, ‘Red’ and ‘Blue,’ if you will; how many of us blue folks know that getting roped into coughing up hard-earned money you’ll never see again to Republican-affiliated ‘multilevel marketing’ (MLM) companies — in hustles formerly known as ‘pyramid schemes’ — is as common in Evangelical and Mormon culture as going to yoga class in our own?”

Perelstein’s Nation piece is an extension on an article he did for The Baffler last year entitled, “The Long Con.” In it, he cites one typical day’s ads and news bits on the Right-wing website They included:

  • “Reverse Crippling Arthritis in 2 Days”
  • “Clear Clogged Arteries Safely & Easily — without drugs, withour surgery, and without a radical diet”
  • “High Blood Pressure Cured in 3 Minutes”

“The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence… of tactics designed to corral fleecable multitudes all in one place — and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con end[s] and the money con [begins],” Perelstein writes.


So, the alarmist, conspiracy-theorist, secret cabal exposing, paranoiac tone adopted by WND, among other ultra-conservative platforms, is really nothing more than a clever business model, one designed to excite a captive audience of scaredy-cats enough to separate them from their dough.

Ah, the free market — ya gotta love it.

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