Hot Air: Monday Meanderings

The Fix Is In

As long as you can’t get a fair shake in this holy land, as long as there are too few well-paying jobs left, as long as people need two or more dead-end gigs to make ends meet, and as long as Congress can’t seem to do anything about it, you might as well settle for channelling all your rage toward millionaire football players who kneel during the national anthem.

That’ll fix things.

Washington Then, Washington Now

I gushed yesterday about my favorite mayor of all time, Chicago’s Harold Washington.

Former editor extraordinaire Linda Oblack, among the loyalest of loyal Pencillistas, read the bit and pointed out Ira Glass of This American Life, himself a Chi-towner, did an hour-long love letter to the late mayor back in 1997. The TAL piece marked the ten-year anniv. of Washington’s untimely death. Ten years after that, Glass updated the piece just as another Chicagoan, Barack Obama, was kicking off his run for the presidency.


I asserted yesterday that it can be said Washington’s success as mayor — the city didn’t blow itself to smithereens as some had feared if a black man took the Fifth Floor office — made it possible for Obama to become this holy land’s C-in-C. Tom Bradley of Los Angeles had preceded Washington by ten years as chief executive of one of America’s three biggest cities, but no one’s ever viewed LA as a normal place. I mean, it’s where the likes of the Manson Family, the Beverly Hillbillies, Chyna, the Captain and Tenille, Pauly Shore, Michael Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, the Kardashians, Morton Downey Jr., and Mamie Van Doren hold (or have held) sway. So whatever happens in LA means nothing to the rest of America.

But when Washington ran Chi. and the city flourished, white America — at least a portion of it — sat back and thought Hey, maybe these colored guys ain’t so bad after all.

That sliver of microscopically enlightened white America helped propel Obama to the White House.

And, speaking of the White House, its current occupant and Harold Washington had something in common. Something big and unmistakable. Each spoke (or speaks) fearlessly, with little regard to repercussion, pronouncing what he thought (thinks) was (is) an eternal and inarguable truth. President Gag spews whatever effluvium — it isn’t worth rehashing his bombast here — but Washington spoke truth to power, indicting rhetorically a Chicago Democratic machine that screwed over its loyal black base and a Chicago Police Department that routinely brutalized dark-skinned youths, among other bête noires of les noirs Chicago.

The essential diff., of course, is Li’l Duce is an imbecile whereas Harold Washington was brainy and supremely articulate.


So, here’s the podcast of Glass’s This American Life piece on Washington. It’s a hoot:




I’m reading a book entitled The Biological Universe right now. Author Steven J. Dick, an astronomer and proud child of Evansville, Indiana, who at various times in his life has served as historian for NASA as well as the US Naval Observatory, takes a look at all the possibilities that life may indeed exist in places other than this mad, mad world.

Steven J. Dick

Dick, BTW, is the uncle of a pal of mine, Chris Chandler, who’s a digital producer at WLKY-TV in Louisville. Chris brought Uncle Steve over to the Pencil’s alternate HQ, Hopscotch, last spring, for the sole purpose of meeting me. Chris figured correctly that I — a space geek of the highest nerd order — would be thrilled to meet a guy with his uncle’s pedigree. The author signed my copy of his book and I sat outside on the Hopscotch porch just goggling the man as he spun tales about astronauts and rockets he’d know.

Anyway, the conclusion one must come to when considering extraterrestrial life is this whole shebang, this cosmos, this everything, is made for life. Indeed, fostering life just may be its raison d’etre.

Which reminds me. When I was a punk teenager, and even back before those primordial days, UFOs were the big thing. TV newscasts often featured breathless accounts of UFO’s sighted and the panics and hazy suppositions that ensued. A fellow named J. Allen Hynek made himself into a minor celebrity by giving credence to UFO spotters in the post-World War II era. He was even cameo’d in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Not a Documentary

In the ’60s and ’70s, a slew of grocery store bestsellers about long-ago visits to Earth by dudes from another planet came out. The champion author of such tomes was a fellow named Erich von Däniken. The erstwhile Swiss thief, fraudster, and embezzler penned such blockbusters as Chariots of the Gods? and Gods from Outer Space, the gists of which were humans were a bunch of grunting primates who were elevated to our present level of brilliance by aliens who visited the Earth tens of thousands of years ago. Much of the general public gobbled his stuff up. Others, like Carl Sagan, were a little less infatuated. Sagan wrote:

That writing as careless as von Däniken’s, whose principal thesis is that our ancestors were dummies, should be so popular is a sober commentary on the credulousness and despair of our times. I also hope for the continuing popularity of books like Chariots of the Gods? in high school and college logic courses, as object lessons in sloppy thinking. I know of no recent books so riddled with logical and factual errors as the works of von Däniken.

No matter — von Däniken’s books were hot sellers and the topics of Sunday dinner conversations from one end of this holy land to the other. There also were Whitley Streiber’s Communion and the books, TV shows, and talk show appearance based on the case of Barney and Betty Hill, a New England couple who claimed they were abducted by aliens. Alien abduction became a huge deal in the ’70s with reports surfacing seemingly every other day of hapless citizens being snatched by interstellar hoodlums who, for some odd reason, loved to probe human anuses. A Roper Poll in the ’90s indicated as many as four million Americans believed they’d been abducted by aliens and then released. It got to the point that people who hadn’t been snatched off lonely roads in the middle of the night were feeling left out.

The Hills

Then, suddenly, talk about UFOs and ancient astronauts died out. Why, I don’t know.

Now, with the discovery of new exoplanets every week and improvements in telescopic and radio technology, it seems a cinch that life outside our solar system will be discovered sooner rather than later. With the current rage for anti-science and the populace’s invigorated addiction to credulousness, just imagine how people are going to react to that news.

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