Author Archives: glabwrites

1000 Words: Obsessed

The Loved One and I take regular, weekly drives through the hinterlands of southern Indiana. Now, before you tell me I ought to get out of the car and walk or hike a bit, please be aware I can hardly walk due to still having one hip joint with Category 4 osteoarthritis. That means the ball and socket no longer have any cartilage cushion between them. It’s bone on bone, baby, and that’s a formula for howling pain.

But enough of that. Today’s screed has to do with people who seem to have a one-track minds.

As we make our way through small towns and winding farm roads, we see an endless stream of billboards addressing abortion. And the topic ain’t controversial. Every single one is an anti-abortion scold.

Some examples:

My heart began beating at 23 days — accompanied by a picture of a cute little toddler with a blanket partially covering her head.

I felt pain before I was born — with a similar aww-inspiring pic alongside it.

A baby is God’s miracle gift.

Black people didn’t choose slavery. The Jews didn’t choose genocide. Babies don’t choose to be aborted.

And of course, the old standby:

Choose life.

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If we were to try to count the number of such signs during any of our Sunday drives, we’d soon become overwhelmed by the immensity of the task.

Now, for the sake of this post, I’m going to give the people on whose property these sign are erected, as well as the people who pay to have them put up, the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume they honestly and truly believe ending a pregnancy before birth is a crime, both morally and, now that the Trump Supreme Court has had its say, legally. I’m not always so generous, though. My sneaking suspicion long has been that a lot of anti-abortion-ists simply can’t bear the idea that women like to have sex. They think all women have to do is not engage in it. Problem solved.

But, damn it all, these women keep spreading their legs and getting pregnant and then blithely murdering the infants inside them. And they do it again and again and again.

Let’s ignore the blatant falsehoods in that line of thinking. Let’s ignore it all right now. Let’s, as I say, give these folks the benefit of the doubt.

Today, we were behind a guy in a pickup plastered with anti-abortion bumper stickers, including this one:

93% of Woman Who Had Abortions Regret It.

Which is rather presumptuous on his part, wouldn’t you think? In his mind, those seven percent who are cool with their decision to abort must be ghouls.

Again, let’s assume these folks hold dearly in their hearts the unshakable belief that all human life is precious and to end one is the most heinous crime of all.

Why, then, is abortion the only ending of life that drives them to put up signs, to hang banners down from highway overpasses, to harass women trying to enter abortion clinics? Why, why, why?

They’re not out hanging banners calling for an end to the murder of already-born people. They’re not calling for an end to war. They’re not agitating for safer cars and highways, where tens of thousands of Americans each year are killed in crashes. They’ve yet to weight in on the Flint, Michigan water supply crisis that was responsible for countless deaths. The don’t have bumper stickers calling for the arrest and conviction of the Sackler family for their part in the opioid epidemic.

I don’t see any such signs, placards, billboards or bumper stickers decrying anything but the ending of a pregnancy prior to term.

They don’t march around their town squares demanding an end to rape.

They don’t hint at any concern for industrial pollution or global warming, both of which already have caused immeasurable sickness and death around the world.

That’s why I refuse to call their crusade “pro-life.” It’s not.

It’s solely anti-abortion. Anti- a few other things as well but, as I say, let’s ignore that today.

1000 Words: Movie Magic

I had a fun and informative chat with IU Cinema director Alicia Kozma yesterday afternoon. It was the first time I’ve recorded an edition of Big Talk in the WFHB studios since February 2020.

Kozma.

That time, I shot the breeze with the Busman’s Holiday boys, Lewis and Addison Rogers. Next thing any of us knew, the nation — hell, the entire world — was being shut down. So for some 27 months I’ve been recording Big Talk editions à la Marc Maron — in my garage. It took quite a few tries but I think I was able, eventually, to get a pretty decent sound quality even as I was squeezed in among the lawnmower, The Loved One’s hot rod, some old rolled-up carpeting, the washer and dryer, and tons of other clutter.

Lewis (L) & Addison Rogers.

I figured I’d venture out into the world yesterday so I reserved one of the station’s recording studios. It was a blast seeing the old community radio gang again — GM Jar Turner, news director Kade Young, and development director Brooke Turpin. The big news at the station is Kade cut off his extremely long pandemic hair and Jar has let his tresses grow down to his shoulder blades. Brooke’s mop remains stylishly trimmed.

As for me, well, I haven’t worried about the hair on the top of my head since the 1990s. That emanating from my ears and nose, though, must be controlled using Wahl machinery.

By the way, did you know the word glabrous means free from hair? Ironic, isn’t it? I mean, it’d be like the 45th President of the United States being surnamed Noble or Goode. Hair has sprouted in generous amounts from every corner and niche of my bod since I was an early teen. This even though my scalp became largely desolate starting in about 1981.

Glabrous.

Anyway, in researching Alicia Kozma, I learned about a woman named Stephanie Rothman. She’s one of Kozma’s fave producer/directors and was one of the very first female top executives in Hollywood.

Rothman was the first female winner of the Directors Guild of America fellowship while a student at the University of Southern California. Cult film director Roger Corman hired her as an assistant straight out of college. Stephanie worked in every possible position on Corman-produced movies with titles like Beach Ball, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, and Queen of Blood. Her stint with Corman was an invaluable apprenticeship where she learned every aspect of making a commercial movie. Corman eventually tabbed her to direct It’s a Bikini World.

Rothman.

This all came about in the 1960s when Hollywood saw women as good only for parading their breasts onscreen. Sure, there were female directors and/or producers — Ida Lupino comes to mind — but you could count them on one hand that’d suffered the loss of three fingers in a farm accident.

Lupino.

Rothman hated working on what was called the “exploitation” genre. Kozma defines exploitation films as those made on the barest of budgets, designed to make quick box office money at, say, drive-in theaters, and which featured plenty of jiggling female flesh and a whole hell of a lot of violence.

“I was never happy making exploitation movies,” Rothman said. But she did so because women directors were rarely hired or bankrolled a half century ago. The only job she could find was at an exploitation factory.

Corman.

Rothman did, though, inject a mote of enlightenment into the process. She directed the films Student Nurses and The Velvet Vampire for Corman. As long as the exploitation film formula demanded nudity to one degree or another, Rothman chose to have as many male actors shed their clothes as female actors. And as long as she had to include violent scenes in her movies, she strove to show the results of that violence, both physical and emotional. She also focused on female leads as more fully developed characters rather than simply unclad bodies prancing around the screen.

Kozma calls Rothman the “anti-Russ Meyer.”

A Russ Meyer Opus.

She split off to start her own production company, Dimension Pictures, with her husband, Charles S. Swartz. Rothman directed three Dimension films: Group Marriage, Terminal Island, and The Working Girls. She scripted Beyond Atlantis for Dimension as well. In all of them, she took an exploitation standby, unbridled male desire, and extended it to include that of her female characters. It may be hard to believe today, but the idea of a female movie character really wanting to engage in sex back then was utterly groundbreaking.

Still, Rothman remained unsatisfied with the whole exploitation thing. Even when she left Dimension in 1975 and hoped to make serious films, she couldn’t because Hollywood had typecast her as an exploitation director. She couldn’t win.

Alicia Kozma says she’d love to get Stephanie Rothman to make a personal appearance at the IU Cinema sooner rather than later. Rothman, who hasn’t worked on a film since 1978, is now 85 years old. She remains healthy and energetic, acc’d’g to Kozma. The IU Cinema director has her fingers crossed that Rothman may soon make her way to Bloomington.

Sometimes when I think I might like to retire from radio, I simply remember I get to meet and chat with cool folks like Alicia Kozma. And learn about others like Stephanie Rothman. So I’ll stick with Big Talk for the foreseeable future.

(The podcast of my chat with Alicia Kozma will post later today at 6:00pm on the WFHB website. Podcasts of all previous Big Talks can be found here.)

1000 Words: Scientists Are People Too

The thing that appalled people most when Charles Darwin published his landmark 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, was their realization he was saying, in essence, humans are animals.

Darwin.

Hamlet, wallowing in his depression, poked fun at his species-mates’ vision of themselves:

What a piece of work is man!

How noble in reason!

How infinite in faculties!

In form and moving

How express and admirable!

In action how like an angel!

In apprehension how like a god!

The beauty of the world!

The mourning Danish prince meant precisely the opposite of what he was saying, but his words reflected what the vast majority off people then believed. That we humans are a cut above lions and tigers and bears. And turtles and slugs and gnats. Hell, bacteria and beetles as well. But especially chimps and gorillas and orangs, the critters who look and act most like us.

In this Year of Their Lord 2022, I’d go so far as to say most people alive today still hold in their hearts the idea that there are the animals and there are humans, and never the twain shall meet. A man running for a Georgia congressional seat named Herschel Walker, a former pro football star, scoffs at the whole idea of evolution. “Why are there still apes?” he asked during a March interview. Walker, BTW, is endorsed by none other than the 45th President of the United States of America. The former president, I’m thrilled to add.

Walker stands a good chance of re-taking the seat for the Republican Party. He’s tied in the opinion polls with incumbent Raphael Warnock (D-GA). That means a hell of a lot of people in his district don’t care that he’s blissfully unknowledgeable about, and even contemptuous of, one of humanity’s bedrock scientific premises.

Walker, Proudly Uninformed.

For pity’s sake, should Walker proclaim tomorrow that gravity is a hoax his poll numbers wouldn’t budge an inch.

We might comfort ourselves by saying evolution deniers and the rest simply are uneducated. Largely, that’s true. There is, as Isaac Asimov and Susan Jacoby have observed, a deep and historical vein of anti-intellectualism and anti-science in this holy land.

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” — Asimov

This mindless tolerance, which places observable scientific facts, subject to proof, on the same level as unprovable supernatural fantasy, has played a major role in the resurgence of both anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. — Jacoby.

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Funny thing was, the people who most loudly and vehemently pilloried Darwin for his groundbreaking idea were the scientists of the day. Same thing happened to a fellow named Alfred Wegener, a German scientist who, in 1912, proposed that the continents were floating around the Earth like life rafts. The science establishment at the time found his hypothesis inane. Some fellow scientists declared his ideas “delirious ravings.”

Nikola Tesla was ridiculed by mainstream researchers also fiddling around with electricity during his time. Tesla, in fact, was squashed by the predatory and insatiable patent acquisitor Thomas Edison, who used Tesla’s unfortunate mental illnesses against him. It was like saying Nina Simone was a lousy singer because she was bipolar and suffered PTSD.

Take the case of a 19th century Hungarian obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis. Every OB/Gyn of his day wondered why childbirth was such a risky endeavor for women, all women, poor and rich, educated and not, in every country on Earth. Well, at least all woman whose deliveries were assisted by doctors. Imagine that — having a licensed, trained medical professional guiding you through the process of birth actually put your life at risk. The lightbulb went on over Semmelweis’s head in 1847 when he published a paper suggesting doctors’ dirty hands were responsible for the trouble. He proposed a ludicrously simple solution: doctors should wash their hands! Semmelweis’s advice was pretty much ignored for years. He was incarcerated against his will in a mental institution at the end of his life.

A Simple Solution.

Which, itself, raises the point that many people throughout history who’ve advanced groundbreaking discoveries or advocated for huge social change were either actually mentally ill or labeled as such by the establishment. It often takes, after all, someone who’s been kicked out of “normal” society to be able to proclaim its dearly-held practices or treasured beliefs are wrong. Think John Brown and so many others. But that’s a discussion for another post.

This post, though, was inspired by a couple of gorgeous videos I discovered this past weekend. One covers the discovery that an enormous asteroid crashed into the Earth some 65 million years ago, wiping out many of the planet’s animal and plant species including, famously, the dinosaurs.

The Chicxulub Crater, on the Yucatan Peninsula and in the Gulf of Mexico.

It took the combined efforts of geophysicists Antonio Camargo-Zanoguera and Glen Penfield as well as those of Walter and Luis Alvarez, son and father, geologist and physicist, respectively, over a period of a decade to establish that, indeed a massive hunk of rock had crashed into the Earth and thrown up an unimaginably gigantic cloud of debris, blocking out the Sun, causing plant photosynthesis to mostly cease, starving plant-eating animals and, subsequently, meat-eaters. Some 75 percent of the species on Earth died out, leaving tiny, skittering, bug-eating critters like early mammals among those that survived. Those mammals then evolved into more complex forms.

It can be said that had the Chicxulub Crater impact never happened, humans wouldn’t have come into being.

But again, scientists who’d been brought up to believe the Earth and life’s history was a glacially slow process with minute, incremental changes rejected any notion that a catastrophic event bringing about dramatic changes in the land or the critters living on it could have occurred .

Those scientists resisted with all their might Camargo-Zanoguera’s, Penfield’s and the Alvarezes’ findings.

So many times throughout history new discoveries have not been accepted by the old guard until that generation died out. They cling to their old ways of thought as desperately as they cling to their own youth. It still happens today.

So, here’s the first video, an explanation of how the Chicxulub Crater was discovered and the development of the dinosaur extinction theory, followed by a beautiful imagining of what the asteroid looked like, in real time, as it descended from space and crashed into the Earth.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

 

 

1000 Words: Sheep’s Clothing

The way it rolls these days, people who disagree with you regarding politics, social issues, the law, even what kind of pizza you prefer — thin or thick crust — are evil.

Ogres. Villains. Sick and depraved. In need of immediate psychiatric help. Dangerous.

If you’re not taking an intransigent side, if you’re not treating every conceivable issue as yet another harbinger of the Death of Western Society or the End of All Life on the Planet, why, you’re just burying your head in the sand. You’re a slacker. For pity’s sake, you’re the reason why  this whole earthly house of cards is the merest jostle away from tumbling into history’s shitcan.

Americans are now so locked into this fetishistically binary perspective that even those who agree on 95-99 percent of things can turn on each other like rabid dogs when they quibble over details or one expresses a view that’s .05 of a degree off from another’s.

Make no mistake: There are indeed villains, those whose views aren’t simply troubling or misguided, whose gathering power should be resisted, perhaps even by force. Racists. Women haters. Homophobes. Nativists and supremacists. Fascists. Idolators of tyrants and demagogues. Even climate change deniers. These are people who present a danger to the health and lives of either a significant slice of humanity or the whole bunch of us at once.

But, as I say, the way we roll today is everybody who disagrees with us is an immediate or long-term danger to our health and lives. Those damned dangerous thin-crust lovers!

Part and parcel of this is the conceit that we can spot the ogres, the villains, the sick, and depraved merely by looking at them. The lunkheads who cruise down Main Street in their jacked-up pickups, enormous Confederate flags flapping in the wind, their diesel smokestacks belching thick black smoke. Or the NPR listeners with their rainbow bumper stickers and Black Lives Matter lawn signs.

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Everything’s a symbol now. Take, for instance, an ad that’s been aired in the past by by Georgia congressbeing Marjorie Taylor Green (Note: You only need to watch the first 30 seconds of this clip, otherwise you’re gonna want to stick your head in a gas oven):

Did you notice the car that MTG blew up was a Prius? That’s all she needed to convey. The hybrid Toyota can only be owned and driven by a godless, commie, socialist, cross-dressing, homosexuality-grooming, Moslem-coddling pantywaist. Merely by showing that car, she ID’d every anti-American evil-doer and all the shibboleths associated with such a miscreant. Simple. Effective.

Yes, Marjorie Taylor Green is indeed one of those people whose burgeoning power, whose very ideas, should be resisted vigorously. She and her cohorts in the Senate and the House — Ron Johnson (R-WI), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and so on, ad nauseam — are, truth be told, ogres and villains and largely sick and depraved. The Republican Party has to answer for all the racists, the anti-intellectuals, the gun fondlers, the hate spewers, the science and reality deniers it has attracted over the last half century. So much so that these stuck-in-adolescence chest-thumpers essentially run the party now.

But not every Republican is a pan troglodyte whose emotional and intellectual maturity was stifled before she or he got out of short pants. And that’s the baffling thing. What if the ogre, the villain, is a nice, otherwise decent human being?

An example. A woman — let’s call her Gladys — came into the bookstore the other day. She wanted me to order a book called The Plot Against the King. I’d never heard of it. The biggest wholesale book distributor in the country didn’t carry it. So, I told her I had to research it.

Gladys smiled and thanked me. I’d seen her in the store before. She’s always been perfectly pleasant. Mannerly and respectful, complimentary and appreciative. The kind of customer who makes it a pleasure to be in the service industry.

My google search didn’t turn up any good results. I typed the title into the Amazon search field and, lo and behold, it came up. It was a children’s book. Here’s the cover:

See the character portrayed in the middle? Gee, he looks familiar.

Turns out the King is none other than one Donald J. Trump! And the Plot is a nefarious conspiracy instigated by Hillary Queenton, in which she employs the ruthless FBI, led by the evil Komey, to bring him down.

Natch, the two named antagonists are clumsy plays on the real life Hillary Clinton, no introduction necessary, and James B. Comey, the FBI chief at the time of the 2016 election who, ironically enough, released a report on candidate Clinton’s use of a personal email server while she was Secretary of State. That report, you may recall, revealed just days before the election, is often credited with turning the vote against her. Think, “What about her emails?” and “Lock her up!”

The book basically posits that Trump was a regal, benevolent leader who was nearly brought down by people who not only hated him but hated America as well. It’s got a happy ending in that the Plot didn’t succeed, try as all those Trump- and America-haters might. The book’s author, someone named Kash Patel, is positioned as a valiant, tireless digger-of-the-truth.

Here are a few reader reviews on Amazon:

  • This is the most spectacular children’s book ever!
  • Thank you, Mr Patel! By writing this book, you’ve given us an important opportunity to warn our kids and grandkids about the lengths to which bad actors will go to further their nefarious ends.
  • A must-read for kids.
  • Kash tells the story of the evil witch of Arkansas and how she tried to take down the King of and for the people.

Frankly, I don’t know if these are authentic commenters or ringers put up to it by Patel and his heretofore unheard of publisher. Nevertheless, I find it wild that people want to convey to children that Trump was a king. One commenter said it was the best way to make kids understand who Trump was. Apparently, simply referring to him as the president is too tough for kids.

One reader commented on a book review site:

  • I wish we really had a king.

What am I to think or do here? Gladys doesn’t wave the Confederate flag. Slight and aging, she’d be unlikely to drive a pickup with a diesel smokestack. She may not even own a powerful rifle like Marjorie Taylor Green.

Life can be so confusing sometimes.

1000 Words: Hair, A Eulogy

The very first album I ever owned was the original cast recording of “Hair.”

To this day, whenever I’m feeling in a chipper mood, I sing one or another of its songs to myself. The off-Broadway production of “Hair” opened in 1967. I didn’t become aware of it until 1969, when I was 13. Someone, I forget who, got the album for Christmas that year. I’m sure my sister, Fran, was involved somehow. She’d have been hip to “Hair” before any of us.

We put that disc on my brother Joey’s phonograph and blasted it. Back in those ancient days, hifi audio was, shall we say, wanting. Fran’s kids were running around singing and dancing to it, trying to make sense of the lyrics — even these:

Sodomy

Fellatio

Cunnilingus

Pederasty

Father, why do these words sound so nasty?

Masturbation

Can be fun

Join the holy orgy

Kama Sutra

Everyone!

The only words the kids got right were sodomy and masturbation. My father said, “Take that goddamned thing off right now!”

Dad’s reaction alone was enough to convince me I had to have the album. So I saved my allowance and bought it a few months later. I think it cost $2.49, a fortune for me. It was worth it.

By the way, I don’t suspect the play’s writers, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, were espousing the practice of child molestation. Their inclusion of the term pederasty was simply another instance of their overriding theme of throwing the forbidden into the audience’s face. On the other hand, what with the late ’60s’ embrace of drugs and any and all sexual pastimes, I can’t be too certain.

One of my favorite anecdotes about the play involved the actress Diane Keaton. The future Oscar-winner (for “Annie Hall”) joined the cast after the play had moved to Broadway in 1968. At the end of Act 1, there was a scene where the cast took off its clothes, no doubt a big reason it became such a hot ticket. In any case, not all the cast members were thrilled about disrobing on stage so Ragni and Rado began offering a $50 bonus to all those who agreed to do so. By the time Keaton joined the cast, pretty much everyone was shedding their clothing at the appropriate time. Except her.

Keaton (center) with fellow cast members Barry McGuire and Steve Curry.

It may have been modesty or a refined sense of propriety that drove Keaton’s decision. I’ve heard it suggested that it was strategy. See, after a few weeks Keaton stood out at the end of Act 1. She became known as The Chick Who Kept Her Clothes On. Notoriety can be as indispensable as talent to an actor.

How about this anecdote: a couple of Apollo astronauts attended the Broadway opening of “Hair.” They walked out during the nude scene.

Based on what I’ve read about NASA astronauts, I feel safe in assuming they didn’t split due to their own prudeness. In fact, this may be the first time the words astronaut and prude, in any form, have appeared in the same sentence in print. NASA, it can be assumed, had hammered it into them that they should always be cognizant of their public image.

I learned this afternoon that James Rado, who wrote the play’s book with Ragni, with Galt MacDermot writing the music, has died at the age of 90.

Rado as Claude Hooper Bukowski in the 1968 cast.

Ninety, for chrissakes! “Hair” was the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. It was about love and peace and the war in Vietnam and drugs and throwing off the chains and…, well, hair. Long hair. It was about the kids. For the kids. Or, really, for the adults who fancied themselves still kids or at least wanted to be seen as with-it enough to know what the kids were doing.

And I was kid when I discovered it. I was rebellious. I wanted the war to end. I was on the side of Stokely Carmichael and Cesar Chavez and the Chicago Eight (later, Seven). I thought the adults had fucked everything up.

What I’ve learned in the ensuing years is adults always fuck everything up. It’s what we do, no matter how long our hair is.

Gimme a head with hair

Long, beautiful hair

Shining, gleaming

Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there (Hair!)

Shoulder length or longer (Hair!)

Here baby there mama

Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair (Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair!)

Grow it, show it

Long as I can grow it

My hair

I let it fly in the breeze

And get caught in the trees

Give a home for the fleas in my hair

A home for the fleas

A hive for the buzzin’ bees

A nest for the birds

There ain’t no words

For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder

Of my…

Hair (Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair!)

Grow it, show it

Long as I can grow it

My hair

I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy

Snaggy, shaggy, artsy, matsy

Oily, greasy, fleecy

Shining, gleaming, streaming

Flaxen, waxen

Knotted, polka-dotted

Twisted, beaded, braided

Powdered, flowered and confettied

Bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied!

Oh say can you see

My eyes if you can

Then my hair’s too short

Down to here

Down to there

Down to where

It stops by itself

1000 Words: Evidence

So, the Big Hearings continue today. As more and more truths are revealed, so the thinking goes, more and more people will come to the realization that the 45th President of the United States of America was a bad man.

The Committee Even Has Its Own Logo.

But, kids, that ain’t gonna happen.

Fealty to the Commander-in-Chief between Barack Obama and Joe Biden is not based on any kind of rational thinking. That is, of course, unless you consider getting corporate deregulation; increasingly restrictive voter access; climate change denial; an administration based first, second, third, and last on nepotism; dog-whistle, code word, and outright racism and xenophobia; purely self-interested erosion of the citizenry’s faith in the electoral process; cozying up to the world’s strongmen; and…, and…, oh, you can fill in the rest, more important than any notion of a healthy democracy.

If you believe that these House hearings on the January 6th Insurrection will sway minds and loyalties because folks will weigh the evidence and come to a considered conclusion, you’re living in a dream world. That type of thinking would be definitive of the term rational thinking. And — let me iterate —  love of the sole president ever to be impeached twice is flat-out not in any way evidence of a voter’s rational thinking.

As Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg writes this AM:

Remember when Donald Trump bragged he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote? An uncharacteristic thing for him to say, in that it was true. But subsequent events bear him out, and we free of his mesmeric influence should never forget it. He doesn’t lead a party, but a cult.

That, in a nutshell, is one big diff. between today’s major American political parties. When a smart, effective senator like Minnesota’s Al Franken got accused, scurrilously, of molesting model and radio broadcaster Leeann Tweeden back in 2017 (the alleged incidents took place in 2006), his party cohorts threw him under the bus immediately. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand demanded he resign. And what did he do? He ran. And not for office, but for the hills.

Score one less smart effective member of the Santa Democratic Caucus.

It didn’t matter that the allegations were amplified and broadcast by right wing provocateur Roger Stone and radio loon Alex Jones, both of whom turned the charges into worse sins than any ever committed by the Nixon White House, the Nazis, Attila the Hun, or the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Stone (L) & Jones.

A good Republican would have said, Who ya gonna believe, me or some slutty ex-Hooter’s hostess and Frederick’s of Hollywood mannequin who once appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine? And, whoever he was, he wouldn’t have run for the hills. It’d have taken some 25 or 30 more similar allegations from other women before his party tired of defending him and he’d be compelled to depart Washington, tail between his legs.

See, Republicans defend each other. Democrats? Well, the first time they hear a hint of untoward behavior about you, they turn on you with a vengeance.

Even when the hint turns out to be untrue. Tweeden’s charges actually described comedic skit bits the two were performing on a USO tour in the Middle East. I notice even after that’d been established, Gillibrand and Co. neglected to say to Franken, “Oops, our bad. Come on back and caucus with us once again.”

Had Franken been a Republican and the same story played out against him, he’d be in line for the 2024 nomination for president. And his biggest selling point would have been the fact that he’d whupped the slutty ex-Hooter’s hostess and Frederick’s of Hollywood mannequin who once appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine. She and the liberals who believed her.

That’d be good enough for an additional 10 to 20 million votes.

We’re learning very little that’s new in the hearings. They are more theater than criminal trial. And that’s fine by me. I’ve always held that politics is more theater than anything else. Need I point to a more illustrative example of that than, say, the very man who’s being investigated by the House committee?

Spiderman’s Foe.

About the only revelations that I hadn’t heard before were that Ivanka Trump told her old man she believed the president’s loyal Attorney General William Barr when he said there was absolutely no evidence the 2020 election had been stolen. And that her loathsome husband, and in another world Marvel Comics multimillionaire arch villain Jared Kushner, told her the night of the election the two of them had better pack up and ditch DC because the Trump run was kaput.

Rats, I’ve heard, tend to desert sinking ships.

In any case, there are exactly two types of people in this holy land these days: those who despise Ivanka’s old man and those who idolize him. Now, that latter category might only amount to 35 percent of the electorate but they’re solid as a rock and they vote, braving pandemics, hurricanes, mass shootings, and mobility scooter breakdowns to show up at their polling places the first Tuesday every November.

But if you’ve got 35 percent of the nation’s voters in your back pocket, you only have to sway another 15.1 percent to your side in order to win.

Even if a majority of people believe the 45th president is a clear and present danger to democracy, and his party a cult in thrall to him, if they all don’t get out and vote every single election, then whatever they think is irrelevant.

Hearts and minds aren’t going to be changed by these nationally televised hearings. Everybody’s already dug in their heels. And, again, when it comes to the electoral numbers game, it isn’t the total number of people who believe or advocate for anything, only the number of people who vote.

The Dems do have a couple of things going for them this year: the US Supreme Court’s expected rejection of Roe v. Wade and the epidemic of mass shootings by mentally ill individuals with easy access to military-grade weapons. Anger over those two issues just might swing the 2022 off-year elections.

I’m not holding my breath.

1000 Words: The End

Now that I am, shall we say, of a certain age, I’ve been wrestling with the notion that one of these days — hell, one of these minutes — the world’s population will decrease by exactly one: me.

By the way, aren’t the French terrific for all their mots justes, all the ways they can comfortably express things that otherwise are too frightening or off-putting or sensitive to even mention? The line I use above, “of a certain age,” comes directly from the French, d’un certain âge, referring, of course, to the most ancient of fossils, lucky to still be able to draw a single breath. Wordmeister William Safire in 1995 wrote about the term in the New York Times. Funny thing is, acc’d’g to Safire, the numerical age the line refers to has been going up steadily ever since it first appeared in print in the English language in 1754. Its first usage, way back then, says he, implied a not terribly superannuated female who clearly was not interested in getting married. And, back then, if a woman remained unmarried by the age of, say 28 or 29, well, she was officially and incontrovertibly a spinster. Which term itself illustrates how colorful and rich the English language can be.

Anyway, let me admit right here and now that the tangent I took in the above paragraph was my way of avoiding the topic at hand, which is my own mortality.

So, let me try to take that plunge again.

I’m 66 years years old. No longer can I pretend to be middle aged. I’m collecting Social Security. I’m semi-retired. These days, I find myself incapable of doing only seven tenths of the things I could do when I was 40. And hell, I was no kid when I was 40, for pity’s sake!

I have more comorbitities than fingers on my right hand. I swallow nine prescription drugs every morning to keep various organs and systems functioning at some minimal level. It takes me precious seconds to remember people’s names or blurt out some witty remark in casual conversation, things I was able to do in the time it took for my synapses to fire just a few short years ago. It too often hurts to walk, stand, sit, or lie down. A defibrillator is implanted in my chest. I have at least one metal joint, with a second due as soon as I can face the prospect of another surgery. My knees creak. My bowels balk. My hair is white.

Speaking of hair, more grows out of my ears and nose than on the front half of my scalp.

And, speaking of short years, each passing one becomes shorter and shorter as I grow older. On my last day of school when I was in eighth grade, I could look forward to a summer vacation that would last forever. September? Who cares?! That’s as far in the future as the year 2525.

Now, years are like weeks. Weeks like minutes.

I am old. The corollary: I’m that much closer to death.

There. I’ve said it. Death.

Truth is, I’ve been thinking about — and trying my best not to think about — death since I was a kid. Search me why, but from my earliest memories I can recall justifying decisions by saying to myself, How will I feel about this when I’m on my deathbed? Conversely, the very idea that there would be a deathbed in store for me was a notion that scared the living bejesus out of me.

How could this world go on without me in it?

One of the landmarks of adultness is accepting — grudgingly — the reality that the world indeed will continue to spin, that people will still go to work, make love, visit the Grand Canyon, bounce their children on their knees, laugh, cry, run, jump, nap, smell flowers, and sneeze from their pollen even after I die.

Child development experts long have recognized that the youngest of children see all existence as this thing that revolves around them. When a six-month old is hungry, someone comes out of the murkiness and feeds them. When that young’un loads her diaper, bang, someone’s there to take it off, clean her nethers, and put on a fresh, new one. All this happens as if by magic. The kid doesn’t have to do anything but be.

Then we go through a series of often difficult, occasionally traumatic realizations that the universe contains a few more things in it than us. Than me.

After a few decades, we start to grasp that the universe, in fact, does not need me. That when me no longer exists nothing really changes. The following characters viewed themselves as the most important, indispensable individuals in the world: Ramses II, Alexander the Great, Qin She Huang, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Charlemagne, Genghis Kahn, Mehmed II, Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, Peter the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Victoria, Joseph Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. All ruled significant swaths of the world. All died. The world went on.

Were they, somehow, able to look back and see how the rest of humanity went on laughing, crying, running, jumping, napping, smelling flowers, and sneezing from their pollen even after they were gone, would they be surprised?

The six-year-old still residing in me would be. The 66-year-old wouldn’t. I came to that realization, again, grudgingly.

The landmark moment came to me one night, in a terrifying dream. I was standing on the edge of an abyss. Next to me was a black, empty, endless chasm. I couldn’t stop it from happening so I fell into it. I’d never felt so terrified, so panicky, yet so liberated in all my life.

Endless nothingness.

I realized the dream was a metaphor for dying. That’s the way we writers think. Just our luck.

In any case, ever since that night, I’ve been reconciled to the idea that, yep, one day — maybe even one minute from now — I’m going to die. I can’t fight it. I can only accept it.

Mind you, I didn’t say I was entirely thrilled about it.

 

 

 

 

1000 Words: Trendy

Bill Maher on his weekly gabfest “Real Time” recently put forth an opinion that is sure to get him run out of town, any town, but especially a college town. Take Bloomington, for example, a town filled with folks who believe with all their hearts and souls they know what is right and just and good and, damn it, you’d better listen.

Well, Bill Maher isn’t listening. He caveat-ed that it’s good and great that people confused about their assigned genders — and those not confused but certain their specific assignment is in error — are becoming more welcomed in workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, and the whole of western society in general. His kumbaya props established, he then pointed out, awkwardly and sloppily, something I’ve suspected for a while: that today’s focus on gender fluidity and trans people in general is largely The Latest Big Thing.

I could rip apart his essay piece by piece, talking about how he mixes up gays and lesbians with trans people and cites stats about the one while trying to make the point about the other and…, well, as I say, it was a mess. Hidden somewhere in his pile of confusion was something I’ve suspected for a few years now.

I wrote several years ago that the increasing number of young men who wore skirts or halters or painted their fingernails or otherwise thumbed their noses at the rigid binary gender rules the world has imposed since…, oh, forever, seemed to be today’s version of my generation’s Long Hair.

See, I grew up in the late 1960s and into the ’70s, a time of dramatic social and cultural change. And those who wanted the world to know they were on the right side of that change very often communicated it by growing their hair long. That went for both males and females. The guys sprouted wild bushes or mussed, asymmetrical, tortuously parted mops, or even long, straight, Rapunzel tresses. The young women of the day tended to go the long, straight route, a la Julie from The Mod Squad.

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Signalling.

By 1970, merely by shunning the barber, you were able to let everyone know you were against the war in Vietnam, you supported civil rights, you were concerned about the environment, and more. Dang, long hair just might have been one of the most effective communications tools ever conceived.

And let’s not forget youth’s eternal urge to shock the bejesus out of mom and dad, the school principal, the cops, the fussy old lady neighbor down the block or, simply, The Man.

In the ’70s, I grew my own hair out at different times in a shoulder blades-length cascade of waves and curls and a beach ball-sized white boy ‘fro. Then, a few years later when I was 23 and 24 and my pal Sophia and I went out clubbing and dancing all night long, I wore eyeliner and colored fingernails and dangling ear piercings. I did those things because I thought they made me look cool and I wanted all the passing frat boys and South Side lunkheads who’d see me to know I wasn’t one of them. Mom and Dad and The Man, too.

Today, that 22-year-old barista who has a five o’clock shadow and shoulders as wide as a doorway but is sporting a slinky, sleeveless dress and affects a Kathleen Turner-style coy yet come-hither accent may or may not be grappling with his-in-the-process-of-becoming-her gender identity. Or he-slash-she may simply be saying, Hey, Mom & Dad, up yours!

Like Maher, I don’t say this to denigrate people wondering what their genitals mean, why their packages aren’t maturing as magnificently as others’ of their putative gender, or why they feel so wrong in their own skin. Just that I can’t shake this feeling that signaling gender fluidity may be hot today and a lot cooler tomorrow.

And it isn’t just the rebellious young doing this displaying. At the bookstore not long ago a sweet little old granny came up to me and asked if we carried any books for trans children. I asked: “How old is the kid?”

“Three,” she replied. “He — oh, I should say they — are questioning their gender.”

I resisted the urge to to silently stare at her with my head cocked to the side, like a dog hearing a doorbell on TV. Three years old. As George Carlin once observed, a three year old hasn’t even located his dick yet. And he wasn’t talking about gender questioning.

Bill Maher noted:

Maybe the boy who thinks he’s a girl is just gay…. Maybe the girl who hates girly stuff just needs to learn that being female doesn’t mean you have to act like a Kardashian…. I understand being trans is different, it’s  innate, but kids do also have phases. They’re kids; it’s all phases: the dinosaur phase, the Hello Kitty phase. One day they want to be an astronaut, the next day you can’t get them to leave their room. Gender fluid? Kids are fluid about everything! If kids knew what they wanted to be at age eight, the world would be filled with cowboys and princesses.

The people I know who’ve undergone sex reassignment surgery spent years wrestling with their own feelings, trying to understand their nearly inscrutable perceptions and reactions, working with counselors and medical professionals, undergoing genetic and hormone testing, and any number of other hurdles.

Being trans is not like putting on a new shirt. If that barista is indeed shouting to the world that he despises the rigid binary sex typing imposed on us from birth onward — hell, people paint the nursery either pink or blue even before the kid is born! — and that everyone deserves dignity and respect no matter where they reside on the huge gender spectrum, then I’m with him. But if he’s wearing that slinky, sleeveless dress and doing a breathy Kathleen Turner voice for the same reasons I made my eyes up, polished my fingernails, and wore a dangling earring 40 years ago, at least let’s recognize that there are far fewer trans people these days than people trying to make a point.

And his display, in a lot of ways, is a slap in the face to people who’ve endured the ordeal of becoming trans.

1000 Words: Gay Too Soon

It was some time in the late 1970s. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, there were a few puffy, white cumulus clouds scuttling across the sky. It was a perfect day to be in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.

Not that the Cubs were any good; they never were from mid-1973 through the end of 1983. The only reasons I’d want to be in the Wrigley Field bleachers back then were the historic beauty of the ballpark, the glorious summer day, and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the characters who preferred the cheap seats.

Those characters that day were giving hell to the Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder, a fellow named Glenn Burke. He was the team’s fourth outfielder but for some reason was starting that day. A finely chiseled, extraordinarily athletic, and exquisitely handsome person, Burke never achieved stardom in Major League Baseball. It was as if Michelangelo had cut his figure from a huge slab of marble, but Burke never was able to master the art of hitting major league pitching. It’s no insult to say that as hitting a pitched baseball long has been known as the most difficult feat in all sports. Burke hung around the bigs for just four years.

He was beloved in the Dodgers clubhouse. He was a happy-go-lucky, jocular, fabulously dressed, breath of fresh air in an environment that too often can become oppressive due to the overwhelming pressure to win, to succeed. The Dodgers already had a long tradition of succeeding at that time and have carried that tradition though to this day. The team was and is not usually prone to suffering lousy players. Glenn Burke offered the promise of becoming a great one. Sadly he never did.

“I tell you, he was the life of the party,” longtime and peripatetic manager Dusty Baker, Burke’s teammate on the Dodgers, told a reporter for a story in today’s New York Times. “He’d get out and dance; he could dance his butt off. He’d crack on anybody, and we loved having Glenn around. Glenn was a big part of our team, man.”

He came up to the Dodgers in 1976, played in a couple of World Series with them, and was abruptly traded away in May, ’78. His teammates were shocked when they heard the news. A number of them openly wept in the clubhouse. Burke was only 25 years old when Los Angeles pulled the plug on him. This Greek god of an athlete conceivably could have become great star as he entered his prime years but the Dodgers’ brass had their own reason for wanting to be rid of him.

Glenn Burke was gay.

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The High and Lows of Glenn Burke’s Life.

Burke, at first, wouldn’t come out to his bosses but most of his teammates knew about his private life. To their credit, they didn’t care. Even big tough guys like Dusty Baker embraced him, despite baseball’s long tradition of imposing a crushing homophobic, misogynistic mind set on its players.

Somehow, though, the Dodgers brass found out about Burke’s love life. The story goes that Dodgers’ general manager Al Campanis summoned Burke and offered him a $75,000 honeymoon if he would only get married. Burke, reading the handwriting on the wall, responded, “To a woman?”

Next thing anybody knew, Burke was shipped off to the Oakland Athletics for pennies on the dollar. Another story goes that Oakland manager Billy Martin, a notorious hard-ass, described him as a “fag” when informing A’s players of their new teammate. Later, Martin, no longer able to bear being around a gay man, mistook for Burke a young minor leaguer playing outfield outfield during a spring training game. “Get that motherfucking homosexual out of there!” Martin ordered. The young player was promptly sent back to the minor leagues, ending his major league career before it had even started. So it can be said Burke’s sexual orientation ruined two players’ careers — although it’d be far more accurate to state old hard-assed men’s ass-holiness really did that trick.

In any case, we in the bleachers that beautiful summer day knew nothing about Glenn Burke’s private life, only that he was wearing the uniform of a hated enemy, so several thousand bleacherites razzed him mercilessly. Finally, after six or so innings of enduring verbal abuse, insults, slurs, and the almost-constant, loud incantation, “Burke, you suck!,” he’d had enough. Burke turned away from the field of play, faced us, and grabbed his package, the look on his face clearly conveying the opprobrium, “Fuck you!”

There was silence for a moment then, suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped, the bleachers erupted in raucous laughter and cheers. At least half of the crowd gave Burke a standing ovation. People raised their beer cups to him. A few saluted. Burke’s face then broke into huge grin. He saluted back. The razzing, the insulting, the slurring, the endless chants of “Burke, you suck!” stopped. For the rest of the game, Burke was almost as popular among the bleacherites as if he were a member of the Cubs.

I’ve never forgotten that incident. Glenn Burke gave back to the bleacherites in language and gesture they appreciated. He won them over by playing their own game.

Much of Burke’s life after baseball was sad. He came out in a 1982 Inside Sports magazine profile. He competed in the Gay Games that year and won medals for sprinting. But later, he had problems finding work and got into substance abuse. He was homeless for a while and spent some time in jail on drug charges. Then he contracted AIDS. He died, after living his last few months with his sister, in 1995.

Times have changed, thank goodness. After Burke’s troubles became widely known, the Oakland A’s helped him with his living expenses. Major League Baseball honored him at the 2014 All-star Game. The A’s have named their annual Pride Night for him. He was elected to the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.

And tonight, the Los Angeles Dodgers are honoring his surviving family at their ninth annual LGBTQ+ Night celebration.

This holy land has come a long way since the late 1970s, even if we still have a hell of a long way to go.

 

1000 Words: Homeless and Helpless

Here’s a little story about what a weird town Bloomington is. In fact, we may take this to another level and count it as an indictment of liberals in generals. Loyal Pencillistas, natch, know I’m about as liberal as liberal gets. By that, I’m referring to the old 1960s definition of the term, not the newish-slash-retro def. that equates liberalism with the excesses of late-day American capitalism. I don’t know much about that; I leave it to economics majors, philosophy buffs, and other navel gazers to champion that particular usage.

When I say I’m liberal, it means:

  1. I stand four-square against the military-industrial complex (which, BTW, is the real, honest-to-gosh incarnation of today’s American economy, with Hollywood, fossil fuels, and the gun industry playing slightly smaller roles in the scheme of things);
  2. I long for the day when the wealth gap is dramatically narrowed. I believe billionaires are not to be revered but, instead, seen as they really are: ruthless, soulless, aggressive, likely borderline sociopathic acquisitors of more dough and things than they or their descendants will ever, ever, ever, ever need;
  3. We, the richest society in the history of the human species, should care for the weakest, least fortunate of our brethren and sisteren;
  4. Health care is a right and should be paid for by our tax dollars;
  5. Abortion, too, is a right;
  6. As are education, housing, food, water, and mobility;
  7. Gun ownership should be highly regulated, as called for in the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution;
  8. White America must make amends, proportionally, to black Americans and all people of color for the benefits of empire we enjoy, an empire built on their backs;
  9. Public schools, a free and vibrant press, literacy, scientific awareness, rational and critical thinking, and political engagement are the pillars upon which a thriving democracy stands;
  10. Rights and responsibilities are equally essential in a free society;
  11. We, both individuals and effective government regulators, must watch corporations like hawks;
  12. We must embrace The Other, all Others, and keep our doors open to the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse, the homeless, and the tempest-tossed, as Emma Lazarus so eloquently put it.

I’m sure there are more identifiers for What A Good Liberal Should Be but these dozen ought to do for now.

That all said, I realize even those who buy into these bullet points can be as dopey as many of the Republican, conservative, obsessive free marketeers who’ve somehow wormed their way into federal and state power around the country despite the general electorate being, according to a lot of polls, attuned to the liberal, progressive agenda. How that happened would take six volumes to explain, but it did.

Anyway, dopey liberals. We have ’em here in Bloomington in excess, as this tale will illustrate.

A business owner I know, a downtown retailer, found himself in a pickle the other day. A clearly deranged man stood outside the retailer’s establishment, verbally harassing passing women, threatening them with rape, going into excruciating details about what he’d do to them in the process of raping them, spitting, cursing, and otherwise scaring the crap out of pedestrians and shoppers.

The man might have been dangerous so, rather than confront him, the retailer called the cops, figuring they’d tell the man to take a hike at the very least.

Instead, the retailer was told by the police dispatcher that there was nothing the cops could do about the situation. Which, by the way, had gotten so bad that customers in the store had to be allowed to exit in the rear so as to avoid the threatening man.

The retailer couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Here was a clearly deranged soul causing a disturbance on the street, interfering with commerce and free access to the sidewalks, and actually vowing to visit violence upon the citizenry. Certainly something in the law covered that.

But no, the retailer, was told, the city’s and the police department’s hands were tied. As long as the man wasn’t actually whacking a woman on the head or grabbing her pussy or whatever sick misogynists wish to do, he was violating no laws.

Not even disturbing the peace? the retailer asked. Sorry, no.

The retailer told the dispatcher he didn’t believe it. So the dispatcher promised some functionary from city hall would call him to explain further. Twenty minutes later, the phone rang. It was the functionary who sang a tale of helplessness. The law says…, the functionary explained, our hands are tied, the city council, lawyers, the homeless situation, and so many other rationalizations for inaction that the phone call lasted a good 25 minutes.

To which the retailer commented, bullshit.

The city of Bloomington, indeed, has been grappling with the problem of homelessness, mainly by doing everything it can to make sure the homeless stay out of sight. And the shouting man in front of the store exhibited all the signs of being, himself, homeless.

College students and activist (read: liberals) have screamed bloody murder about the homeless in Bloomington for years now. The city has responded, when not coming up with ways to make the homeless invisible, by granting the homeless extraordinary leeway in their behavior on the streets. The college students and activists see this as a victory, albeit small, despite the fact that nothing, really, has been done to find the homeless homes, to get them health care, to remedy the mentally ill among them.

An aside: the other day I saw an obviously homeless man laying on the sidewalk, blocking the crosswalk at College and 1st streets. I called 911 to report a man being down. The dispatcher told me nothing could be done. I wasn’t surprised.

Anyway, the upshot to all the screaming bloody murder by college students and activists has been the homeless of Bloomington are now able to plop down in the middle of the sidewalk, unmolested by the authorities, or can promise female passersby the worst methods of sexual assault. Yet, the homeless remain without homes, health care, mental health treatment, dignity, security, and safety.

But the screaming bloody murder college students and activists have got the cops to leave them alone.

Very alone.

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