Author Archives: glabwrites

Back From The Dead

The Pencil, that is. This global communications colossus has been lying in state since early July and for weeks, even months, before that The Pencil was on life support. But, yea, a miracle! Here we are — you, me and The Pencil — in the midst of the weirdest, goddamnedest year most of us have ever experienced.

Some of us, to be sure, have experienced at least one other similarly novus annos singulos (all you medical and law students ought to get this one forthwith); that would be the heart wrenching, trauma-inducing 1968. Of course, you have to be one of the oldest bats among the populace, as I am, to compare the two, experientially. Somehow, our nation held itself together in the wake of that fateful year. Will the same outcome play after this one? I ain’t makin’ no bets, babies.

On the streets of Washington, DC, April 1968. [Bettmann Archives]

Anyhow, here we be, you and me.

And in the midst of all the horrifying happenstances, revelations, realizations, knee-jerks, and preps for the coming end times, here’s a smidgen of good news. Actually great news, if I may be permitted to crow.

The book, Minister’s Daughter: One Life, Many Lives, is out and available for you to whip out your wallet and unload $17.95 plus tax and shipping & handling in order to groove on its literary genius (if I do say so myself). It’s the memoir of Bloomington’s treasured political doyenne, Charlotte Zietlow, written by her and me.

Minister’s Daughter has been a project six years in the making. Yep, Charlotte and I first sat down with our voice recorders in August 2014, even before the Chicago Cubs had won a World Series and the nation somehow fell under the spell of a repulsive grifter who promises to turn the world’s last remaining superpower into a tinpot banana republic. It’s been that long but, I daresay, worth the wait.

Charlotte got cooking in the political sphere in 1960 when she, too, fell under a spell, in her case to a young, handsome, inspiring senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy. “Kennedy made me feel as if I could make the world better,” Charlotte remembers. She goes on to add: “We just thought: Here’s this man, he was vibrant, exciting. There was a lot to be hoped for.”

Ha! Hope. What a quaint concept. And isn’t that a damned shame? Yeah, there was a time when people actually had hope. In 1960, humans were on the verge of rocketing off into space, curing cancer, inventing flying cars, building the first lasers, and reading for the first time — it’s true — Green Eggs and Ham. It was a heady time. I won’t bother to recount all the horrors humanity visited upon itself that same year because, y’know, why kill the buzz?

Despite humans being humans and doing their usual utmost to kill, maim, and otherwise wreck the day of their fellow species-mates, 1960 was a time of great hope and wonder. A rich man’s kid whose daddy-o demanded nothing less of him than to attain the presidency of the United States of America represented this holy land’s dynamic, vigorous, boundless future. Natch, he had the top of his head blown off a few short years later but still…, well, loads of people dreamed of better days to come as they listened to Kennedy’s endearing Boston accent and gazed, dewy-eyed, at his tanned, sexy face.

Charlotte was one of them and she’d go on to serve as a Democratic Party field volunteer through three presidential elections and numerous state and local races before spending a year, with her family, in communist Czechoslovakia. There, in the old Slovak capital Bratislava, she learned to cherish even more her beloved American democracy after witnessing the repression, the dream-killing visited upon a nation that dared to challenge the Soviet juggernaut. Czechs and Slovaks were punished, brutally, and many were disappeared after Warsaw Pacts tanks and hundreds of thousands of Eastern Bloc soldiers tromped down the streets of Czechoslovakia’s cities.

Prague Spring

“What we had,” Charlotte says, “was something worth fighting for.”

If you’d like a test drive, keep an eye on the Limestone Post as an excerpt from Minister’s Daughter specifically recounting parts of the Zietlows’ stay in Bratislava runs soon.

If you’ve no need of a teaser and want to cop the tome right now, feel free to put in your pre-order at the Book Corner (812.339.1522), on Amazon (even if Jeff Bezos doesn’t need any more of your dough), through me at glabagogo@gmail.com, or wherever you buy e-books.

Hot Air: Five Years

When I went through chemo-radiation therapy for cancer in my neck, I marked the posts on this global communications colossus journaling the ordeal with the label My Olive Pit. That, in fact, is what the malignant lymph nodes surrounding my larynx felt like. And, yeah, I should have called them My Olive Pits, plural, but from the time I sensed the first one growing in me — I found it while in the shower and, at that moment, every hair on my body stood straight out with the seeming bristle of steel wool — the singular just sounded right. Here’s the logo I developed for that series:

And when I’d type in the label, I’d place a little trademark superscript next to it — like so: My Olive Pit™ — which tickled a lot of my readers. The whole idea was to treat the thing with as much humor as I could muster. In fact, when I learn about friends and acquaintances joining the Cancer Club, I advise them to find the humor in it as well. Jokes, irony, laughter, and amusement can be found there. They can be found anywhere.

When people fear they may soon be staring death in the face, humor just may deter them from speeding that appointment along by their own hands. Indeed, cancer can make us want to throw ourselves necktie parties. Even when the doctors tell us the treatment is coming along fine, the pain, the discomfort, the nausea, the grossness of it all can make us want to lament, Dang, I’d just as soon not wake up in the morning.

Squeezing a touch of humor in among the constant tears and gnashing of teeth is a survival mechanism. It worked for me. And should you ever be informed you’ve joined the Club, it may very well work for you.

Anyway, I was diagnosed in November, 2015. From that moment on, I was examined, treated, studied, fussed over, palpated, zapped, poisoned (yes, poisoned; what do you think chemotherapy is?), sliced open, glued, stitched up, probed, prodded, jabbed, punctured, and a hundred other unpleasantries by no fewer than 15 different doctors. That’s the way these things go.

Let’s see, there were my…

  • Family practice physician (who pegged the Pits as cancer)
  • Ear, Nose & Throat specialist (otolaryngologist)
  • Pathologist (who examined the cells in my lymph nodes)
  • Radiation specialist
  • Oncologist #1
  • General surgeon (to implant my drug port)
  • Gastroenterologist #1 (to examine my throat, esophagus, and stomach for irregularities)
  • Gastroenterologist #2 (to insert a feeding tube into my belly)
  • Dentist (my teeth had to be in top-notch condition before radiation would start)
  • Periodontist (my gums, too)
  • Cardiologist #1 (to make sure my pre-existing genetic heart malformation wouldn’t complicate things)
  • Oncologist #2 (because Oncologist #1 was on vacation)
  • Cardiologist #2 (because Cardiologist #1 moved)
  • Cardiologist #3 (because Cardiologist #2 retired)
  • Oncologist #2 (because Oncologist #1 moved out of state)

The whole shebang continues to this day. And I really mean this day; I saw my ENT guy — a big Cubs fan, BTW; he’s got posters and pix of Wrigley Field and Kyle Schwarber on his office wall — this morning. My oncologist and my ENT guy alternate with each other, one and then the other seeing me every few months. They feel around the outside of my throat, they dig with their fingers under my tongue, they look at all sorts of scans and X-rays. The ENT guy occasionally shoves a hose up my nose, down my larynx, and into my trachea to make sure no new Olive Pits are growing there. Oh, sure, his nurse sprays my nasal passages with local anesthetic but I still gag every time he jams that little hose in me. After a while, a cancer patient learns to accept these kinds of intrusions with a shrug.

Before every single visit with one or another doctor, I fret. Sometimes it’s just a general fretting. There’s a background dread that cancer will reappear in my neck or will develop somewhere else. Hey, one of the primary causes of cancer is radiation exposure. Ironically — humorously ironically, I might add — I was strapped under a linear beam accelerator, a multi-million-dollar ray gun, every weekday over a six-week period during radiation therapy. It was hoped that the ray gun in conjunction with the poison (okay, chemotherapy) would blast the tumors into smithereens. The cure might well become another cause if my luck runs out. So there’s that worry.

Another is my nearly constant search for new lumps. I run my hands over any and all bodily locales that might get cancerous when I’m in the shower, in the car, in my recliner, hell, sometimes in the grocery store, looking for the next Olive Pit emergence. You’d be shocked how often I find little lumps, suspicious but minuscule irregularities on a bone, in some soft tissue, on my tongue, anywhere really. So, I wring my hands until the next time I see either my oncologist or the ENT guy. Sometimes the lump is scary enough that I call for an unscheduled visit. The doctors insist I do that and I’m happy to because if I don’t, getting a good night’s sleep becomes problematic. I ought to play the Lottery because so far, knock on wood, none of the little lumps has been proven malignant.

Alright, so I’m now nearly five years into this mess and, yep, five years is the generally accepted length of time the cancer experts call for treating and monitoring my particular cancer. After my chemo-radiation therapy was completed in the spring of 2016, I was declared in remission. And, lemme tell you, hearing the word remission after all that was like being told I’d won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and a lifetime free pass to every pizzeria in the nation.

This coming November will mark exactly five years since I was diagnosed. If my luck holds, the next time I see my ENT guy, he’ll tell me I’m cancer-free, and that’s the official term for it. He’ll still want to see me every year for the rest of my life but that’ll be cool. It’ll be like visiting with a fellow soldier who shared a foxhole with me. I ought to bring a bottle of bourbon in for those visits.

The years 2016 and 2020 are the bookends in this five-year struggle. That first year (I don’t count ’15 because I found out about my cancer so late in the year) I suffered through treatment, rejoiced at its effectiveness, went delirious when my Cubs won a World Series, and then fell into a funk when You-Know-Who was elected to the presidency on a technicality six days later. What a year.

Yet ’16 was almost as nothing compared to 2020. There’ve been natural and man-made disasters galore, a pandemic and lockdown, a recession bordering on a depression, street rebellions, and even a Saharan dust cloud sweeping over the country. Yet come November I might be declared cured of cancer and that You-Know-Who knucklehead just might be evicted from his palatial Washington DC digs. What a rollercoaster this year may be!

I can only hope 2021 turns out to be a bore. I need a little rest.

Hot Air: In & Out Of Touch

Her eyes filling with tears, Charlotte Zietlow says, “I feel terrible about all this.”

The longstanding doyenne of the Democratic Party here in Bloomington found herself smack dab in the middle of a maelstrom over the weekend. In a clumsy effort to show solidarity with the Enough Is Enough marchers who gathered at Dunn Meadow and then paraded to courthouse square Friday, Charlotte displayed a sign on her balcony railing reading, “This old white lady says All Lives Matter.”

The all-lives-matter variant on the Black Lives Matter is generally viewed as a Trumpist, racist response to the call for justice and equity by people of color.

Charlotte tells me she was unaware of how hurtful the all-lives-matter line is.

She might have known that had she been an habitué of social media. Alas, she’s not. Charlotte can’t see well enough to read her computer screen these days. Now fast approaching her 86th birthday, she’s struggling to remain a step ahead of the inevitable physical breakdown we all will be subject to. Charlotte keeps abreast of world and national events via her TV, always tuned to one or another of the political news and talk channels when she’s not indulging in watching tennis or soccer games. A voracious reader until a few short years ago, she’s now only able to gobble up audio books.

All the latests dos and don’ts many of us learn through Facebook, Instagram, or whatever other instant communication platforms people use today zip right past her. The cable channels, MSNBC for instance, don’t run breaking news chyrons warning the populace that the all-lives-matter thing is taboo (as well it should be).

Charlotte found out the rules of that game the hard way. Almost immediately after the sign was hung on her railing, Charlotte’s phone began ringing. Friends and colleagues, including members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, wanted to know what in the heck she was doing. As soon as her faux pas dawned on her, Charlotte had the sign edited to read Black Lives Matter. That might have been the end of the tempest but activist and a candidate for Bloomington’s city council last year, Daniel Bingham, posted pix of the original sign on his Facebook page.

The reaction was swift and passionate. Commenters suggested she was losing her mind, that she was suffering from Alzheimers’, that she’d been hoodwinked by her caregivers, and even that she was a longtime racist. One fellow, I’ve been told (I did not see his comment), allegedly said her balcony windows would be an easy target for anybody who wished to heave a rock at them. If this person did indeed post that or a similar comment, it would immediately be taken down for violating FB’s violent speech guidelines.

Knowing Charlotte as well as I do — and, I might add, in a way that the most vehement of the commenters under Bingham’s FB post do not — I’ll guess her original message was in keeping with her lifelong belief that we’re all in this together. She became politically active with the rise of John F. Kennedy and cut her activist teeth in the era of the hippies, anti-war protesters, and civil rights marchers of the 1960s and early ’70s. Power to the People, was a favorite line at that time. Black Power might have seemed too divisive for her tastes. All of us are being screwed in one form or another, so let’s not single each other out; let’s, instead, fight the power as one.

That take rankles a lot of people of color these days. Their allies, too.

But that’s only a guess. I will say for certain though, after working with Charlotte for the last six years on her memoir, that she’s as sickened by the mistreatment, the dehumanization, the abuse, the inequity people with dark skin suffer daily, hourly…, hell, by the second as the most vociferous 22-year-old marcher last Friday. She, like me, is unable to walk well enough to join the dramatic, historic protests. We’re both deeply disappointed because of that.

The only difference is I’ve caught on via social media how inflammatory, how wrong, the line All Lives Matter is. Charlotte, again, has come to that chapter of civics class late. Tardiness, of course, does not mean one has lost one’s mind.

And if she is racist, she’s as racist as I am, or any white American, inasmuch as we all were born and raised in a profoundly racist society. I’ve been trying to shake that virus for more than 60 years and I’ll bet I’ll still be doing it by the time I quit this world. That’s how deeply ingrained white supremacy is in us. But Charlotte is no more racist than any of the white marchers Friday nor any of the passionate, enraged commenters under Danial Bingham’s Facebook post. As much as they’ve hollered, rightly, for justice, she’s written and enacted laws, she’s ordered local government agencies and departments to change their ways, she’s spoken to neighborhood groups and political caucuses, for that same justice for people of color.

A little more background on the sign genesis: the caregiver who Charlotte directed to draw up and hang the sign originally declined to do it. “I don’t feel right doing this,” she told Charlotte.

Late this afternoon (Monday) a friend who spoke with Charlotte before the sign was drawn up, posted this comment under Bingham’s FB post:

I happened to speak with Charlotte by phone before the march began. Her intention and her heart was to participate in the march because she cares profoundly about Black Lives Matter. It was all that we could do to persuade her to stay home because of the pandemic. Since she could not go to the march, she asked me if I thought it was a good idea if she were to hang a sign from her balcony that said; “Old white lady says Black Lives Matter.” I told her it was a fabulous idea. As some of you know, her eyesight is failing and she had help making the sign. In the course of the sign’s making, something was lost in translation. Charlotte’s intent was to stand for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Confusion, to be sure, reigned. Perhaps a directive was misspoken or misheard. The incident shouldn’t negate all the good Charlotte’s done since she came to this town in the summer of 1964.

And, for the ten thousandth time, the people on my side of the fence have to — have to! — stop strangling each other.

 

Hot Air: The People’s Court

I’ll cut to the chase before it even begins:

  1. The court of public opinion does not operate under the rules of the courts of American law. Nor should it.
  2. The people we elect to office should be held to higher standards than the rest of us.

That’s the stuff of today’s Pencil. Now here’s the stuffing. The IDS has reported that three figures in Brandon Hood’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for Indiana’s 9th District seat in the United States Congress have resigned and are calling for Hood to drop out of the race. One of them, a volunteer, has charged that Hood sexually harassed her and then acted in a threatening manner when she told him to buzz off. The alleged incidents were witnessed by Hood’s campaign manager and an organizer. All three have severed their relationships with the Hood campaign and have called for him to quit the race. The Bloomington police have been notified of the accusations but no criminal charges have been filed.

Brandon Hood

One of the local organizations supporting Hood, the Rose Caucus, has withdrawn its endorsement, acc’d’g to the Herald-Times. (My search for a website for the group turned up no results.)

Joey Bollings of the IDS reports the campaign volunteer claims several other women have come forward on social media to accuse Hood of sexual harassment since the alleged incidents came to light earlier this week.

The Volunteer’s Facebook Post.

Thus far, Hood is keeping mum regarding the developments. Hood appeared on my WFHB radio interview program, Big Talk, in 2017, when he was running for the Democratic nomination for the seat the first time. In both campaigns, he has positioned himself as a champion for the working person and a political outsider.

Hood, Laura Lane of the H-T reports, has had a couple of scrapes with the law the last few years. He was charged with theft and possession of a controlled substance in September, 2018. A woman for whom he’d done home repair work claimed he’d stolen some prescription medications from her. Hood agreed to a deal in that case, pleading guilty to misdemeanor public intoxication and paying restitution to the women. Earlier this year, he’d been placed on probation for a separate case of public intoxication, for which he is serving probation until July.

A Subsequent Facebook Post by the Volunteer.

The story brings back memories of the Amanda Barge contretemps in early 2019. Barge, then an up-and-comer serving in her first term as Monroe County Commission and already a declared candidate for the Democratic nomination for Bloomington mayor, was reported by the IDS to have pressured a county contractor for sex and romance. The contractor had recorded Barge pestering him for an intimate relationship. Barge was forced out of the running for the nomination and subsequently resigned as Commissioner. A licensed social worker who ran her own practice here, she moved away from the area later in the year and has established herself in another state.

A Democratic Party activist has written on social media: “Let’s not do the Bloomington thing where we seem to feel the need to destroy people.” It was a comment under a post linking to the IDS story about the charges against Hood and was an obvious reference to the earlier Barge incident. Another commenter, noted for frequent political statements on social media wrote: “Like how the community destroyed Amanda? Sick of double standards…” A different commenter, referring to both the Hood and Barge situations characterized Bloomington as a “hate culture.”

Hood had been an administrator of the private Facebook group in which the above comments were posted. He has since been removed from that position.

These objections and characterizations might be valid if the accusations against Hood and Barge were hearsay. I have heard unflattering anecdotes about both Hood and Barge in the aftermaths of the accusations against them. I won’t recount them here because they are indeed so much hearsay and, on the part of several accusers, sour grapes. Truth is, I’ve never given these particular accusations much credence.

Why? Simple. None of gossipers was able to offer the slightest evidence for any of their professional and/or official charges. No one was able to produce written documents or recordings to back up their assertions.

Hood’s actions as laid out in the IDS article were observed by three separate people, at least one of whom reported them to the police. The three were not Hood’s enemies or antagonists. In fact, they embraced him to the extent that they either were employed by his campaign or volunteered to help him get elected to public office. A careful reading of the article and of both the volunteer’s and one of the campaign employee’s statements indicate that up until the very moment of the incidents, all three gave Hood their loyalty and trust. It was, they say, only Hood’s actions and his subsequent refusal to apologize or even acknowledge them that caused them to turn away from him.

Were this a jury trial in Monroe County Circuit Court, we’d need more, definitive evidence to convict Hood of a crime. To be sure, the Bloomington police have determined there isn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges against him in this case. But they — and the courts — operate under more stringent standards than the voters do.

Same with the Barge story. She can be heard pestering — even pressuring — the county contractor on the recording. Copies of her text messages to the contractor along those lines also were presented in the original IDS story. Again, a savvy defense attorney might easily persuade a jury that none of this was enough to return a guilty verdict against her. The attorney would be correct; guilt can only be arrived at beyond a reasonable doubt.

The stakes in a court of law extend to putting the guilty in jail, ordering them to do community service, and/or slapping them with punitive fines. These are real retributions that we in a (purportedly) just society wish only to be visited upon those who have been found, again, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have broken the law.

But our court, the court of public opinion, isn’t so hamstrung. We want our public officials and candidates for elective office to be innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. When three friends of a candidate attest that he’s done something wrong, it’s eminently reasonable for us to believe them. When we can listen to a recording and read a politician’s text messages implicating her in exerting the power of her office over a county contractor for personal benefit, it’s reasonable to conclude, yep, she did it.

That’s not too much to ask. Our loyalty to, and our preference for, any particular candidate should indeed be free of doubt. If we should turn against Hood as many of us turned against Barge, he won’t go to jail. He won’t have to give up a year of weekends or vacations to pick up garbage at the side of county roads. He won’t have to pay a hefty fine. He’ll simply go back to doing what he’s been doing all along; that is, making a living as a private citizen.

And isn’t that precisely what happened to Barge? She’s not confined to a jail cell; she continues to ply her trade, albeit in another state.

All we ask for is exemplary behavior from our candidates and elected officials. Those who run for public office had better be certain their houses are in order. Hell, I wouldn’t run for office; there’d be a dozen or two things in my past I’d have to either explain away or do my damnedest to conceal. Nobody’s perfect, me especially. But I’m not so oblivious to think my mistakes, my idiocies, my peccadilloes, and my harebrained life of the last 40 or so years wouldn’t make an awful lot of voters think long and hard about my fitness for office.

Ideally, we want people better than ourselves to be our leaders and our representatives. That doesn’t sound like hate to me. That sounds like good sense.

Hot Air: When The Possible Is Impossible

There’s a reason things, actions, hopes, dreams, schemes, plots, and plans can be called impossible.

If, by calling them impossible, you’re looking at them through an unjaundiced, unbiased eye and you’re not engaging in hyperbole, you do so because reason, reality, the twin fascisms of nature and human behavior, and a good bettor’s eye will tell you some things simply can’t be.

I can’t walk through the brick wall that separates my living room from the front yard. Impossible.

I can’t levitate and transport myself to another land. Impossible.

I can’t become a NASA astronaut nor can I become a Major League Baseball player. Impossible and impossible.

I can’t afford to purchase a private jet. Impossible.

Can’t Do It.

Other things have been called impossible, wrongly so. Back in my hometown, for years and years any number of people would say, quite confidently, that the Chicago Cubs could never win the World Series. Impossible, they’d say. They were wrong. The year 2016 was their comeuppance.

That same year saw the ascension of an unprepared, incurious, self-absorbed, amoral, inexperienced, crass, mean, unread, obsessively greedy, pathologically lying, reactionary bully to the presidency of the United States. Funny thing was, the idea that such a thing might occur was never called impossible — at least accurately so. It was a joke, sure; Matt Groenig saw to that. It was unlikely, of course. All the polls leading up to the election indicated that. Political/social/cultural odds touter Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight told us on the eve of the election that a Clinton victory stood a 70 percent chance of coming true. That looks like a prohibitive favorite but it wasn’t. It meant Clinton stood a hair better than a 2-1 chance to win. Donald Trump, under that scenario, had a 30 percent chance of emerging victorious.

Not impossible. If you bet on Trump winning, sure, you’d be buying the long shot. But the reason people take risks on long shots is, every once in a while, they pay off.

Here’s another proposition that’s not impossible: the Democratic Party could put up a progressive, scandal-free friend of labor, an advocate for universal single-payer healthcare, a responsible environmental steward, a candidate pledged to topple the stacked economic deck that funnels ever more wealth into the hands of those who have it already, a passionate protector of the consumer, a cheerleader for renewable energies, a fighter against Citizens United, an adherent of established scientific research, and countless other attributes dear to “our side.” The party could run that person — say, a black Puerto Rican lesbian who grew up in abject poverty but worked her way up by dint of hard work and an unerring focus on what was right and fair, a graduate of Harvard who’d served as head of a global NGO that brought food, medical care, and education to poor children on every continent save Antarctica.

Could that person win the November, 2020 election for president? Y-y-y-y-yes. But the chance that might happen are vanishingly small, comparable, in fact, to the chance that I might walk through my living room brick wall, a potentiality advanced physicists tell us is…, well, actually possible. Here are some comments made by physicists on an online discussion forum asking the question, “What is the probability of a person walking through a wall based on quantum mechanics?”:

  • The probability is non-zero, very small, but non zero.
  • It’s a number which isn’t zero but is too small for any computer to even begin to calculate.
  • It’s so low that if our entire universe were composed of copies of yourself and walls dedicated to attempting this feat from now until all the neutrons in the universe decayed, we still wouldn’t realistically expect to see it happen.

Get the point? Something can be possible while simultaneously being impossible. Call it Schrödinger‘s Morning Line.

Erwin Schrödinger: A Tout For The Ages

That straw candidate I described above would make a lot of people happy. Perhaps millions of people. But to win a national election, you must make tens of millions of people happy. Or at least not nauseated.

I’m thinking of Joe Biden. He doesn’t make tens of millions of people happy but he does, indeed, make that many not want to spew projectile emesis around the room. And that’s what’s needed right now after nearly four years of the Trump circus. We need someone who reminds us of gentler, more civil days.

I, for one, would vote for that straw candidate in a heartbeat. But I am certainly not the average American voter. That candidate would scare the bejesus out of too many people. I’d loved to try to persuade them that she would be the best thing ever to happen to them but it’d be a thankless and ultimately failed task. She may even be the candidate of the future, perhaps in 2028 or ’32. But not now. Not today.

We’re not going to see the “revolution” this year. For now, what Americans want is to relax. To take a deep breath and not have to worry about their blood pressure every time they go online or watch TV news. For the next four years, we want to take a break from high noon politics.

Joe Biden, that blithe, doddering, familiar, wired-in pol who’ll keep his liver-spotted hand steady on the tiller until 2024 or such time as his creaky ticker goes out, is the guy for now. And it may be that his running mate — be she Kamala Harris, Val Demings, Stacey Abrams, or whomever — will be the president seeking to be reelected in ’24. Who knows when the chess-playing wraith will challenge him to a game?

It’s Time, Mr. President.

In any case, this coming presidential term will be a transition and not a revolution.

We revolutionaries have a lot of work and a lot of planning to do over the next four years in order to make our candidate’s chances a tad better than those of me walking through a wall or becoming a NASA astronaut.

Hot Air: The Constant Alarm Warps Us

Had this COVID-19 pandemic been dropped on the world in, say, 1969 or even 1999, we’d be viewing things a hell of a lot differently. For instance, our social media is awash in jaw-dropping and often infuriating stories about people gathering in large groups sans PPE, stores being opened and filling up with customers not observing social distancing etiquette, and even lunkheads turning to violence — or at least threatening same — in resistance to good, prudent protective guidelines.

You’d think the whole nation has lost its mind, especially when you see posts about armed protesters marching up state capitol steps carrying placards calling for the beheadings of Anthony Fauci and/or Bill Gates.

How common are these incidents of idiocy? How many convenience stores are posting signs like this:

This sign, supposedly, had been posted last week in a Kentucky store. Andy Beshear is the Democratic governor of Kentucky, so there’s that overlap. Resistance to pandemic restrictions seems to be confined to the MAGA cap crowd, Trumpists who view any and all Democrats as conniving arch-villains creating viruses and shutting down stores and making people lose their jobs for…, for…, well, I have no idea what in the hell for and, thus far, they haven’t cited any possible motivations for this vast conspiracy either. Other than, I suppose, Democrats and liberals and blacks and gays and abortionists and Mexican rapists just want to destroy our perfectly holy land just for the fun of it.

Millions of us see pix of this sign and other images of enraged protesters confronting heroic hospital-scrub-clad front line workers and all the other bizarre tableaux of people acting like jackasses. We see the images within minutes of the incidents occurring. The images assault our senses every day.

These people, for chrissakes, are everywhere!

But are they?

The internet has shrunk our view of the world, taking this huge globe, 29,901 miles in diameter, jam-packed with 7.8 billion human souls, and stuffing it into our 13″ laptop screens. It has warped our perception of the world. In 1969 or even 1999, no one was constantly confronted with examples of outlying behaviors. Had COVID-68 been our crisis, we’d get our info from the six o’clock national news on TV and the daily newspaper. Neither would carry on a regular basis stories about simpletons in southeastern Kentucky forbidding mask-wearers from entering their stores. Maybe the newspaper might carry a story like that, but it’d be a tiny filler piece on a deep inside page, the kind of story that’d make readers go, Huh. Imagine that. It takes all kinds.

No one would be alarmed by it because we’d see by the story’s placement and the scant column inches devoted to it that it was not indicative of any large-scale behavior. We’d throw open the Indy Star or Chicago Sun-Times and see headlines about presidents Nixon or Clinton telling us to wear our masks. We’d watch Walter Cronkite of CBS or, thirty years later, CNN’s Bernard Shaw demonstrate how to put the mask on. And that’d be it!

Sure there’d be anencephalics in backwater environs saying, “Hell no, I ain’t gonna wear no sissy mask,” but we wouldn’t have to listen to their spewings or see pix of their bizarrely-inspired signs every goddamned day of the week.

An opinion article in a recent issue of The Atlantic asserts the vast majority of us are four-square in favor of a continuing lockdown and maintaining strict PPE and social distancing protocols. I’d guess the same kind of majority would have held in 1968 or ’98. The author of the piece, David A. Graham, writes:

A poll from the Washington Post and the University of Maryland… finds that eight in 10 Americans oppose reopening movie theaters and gyms; three-quarters don’t support letting sit-down restaurants and nail salons reopen; and a third or less would allow barber shops, gun stores, and retail stores to operate. An NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll last week found similar numbers. Nine in ten Americans don’t think sporting events should have crowds without more testing; 85 percent would keep schools closed, and 80 percent would keep dine-in restaurants shut.

Wow. These are overwhelming figures. This nation rarely in the last 30 years — hell, as far back as I can recall — has been so unified.

Sure there are the lunkheads and the anencephalics within those minorities but the key takeaway here is those minorities are vanishingly small. Just as they would have been in 1969 or ’99.

Maybe we’re not as doomed as many of us — and me — fear, after all.

Counting Grains Of Sand

My pal and two-time guest on Big Talk, Jeff Isaac, has been putting his thoughts down in a blog for the last couple of months. Jeff is about as partisan as a person can be — he’s as slanted in his views as I am, for pity’s sake! — and that’s why I enjoy his stuff. He’s the James H. Rudy professor of political science at Indiana University. He’s been editor-in-chief of Perspectives on Politics and senior editor at Public Seminar, both academic serial publications dealing with how our species’ baffling political relationships work.

As far as I’m concerned, parsing global politics’d be a task comparable to counting the number of grains of sand on a medium-sized beach. Folks like Isaac and his poli sci colleagues around the world dig that kind of Sisyphean toil. And if you, too, dig delving into whys and hows of global politics, you might click on over to Isaac’s blog. His most recent couple of posts deal with IU’s and Purdue’s plans to reopen for in-person classes this coming fall.

Isaac’s blog is entitled Democracy in Dark Times, although googling those four words won’t get you very far. Here’s the link to it.

Black Was The Week That Was

I’m fascinated by the year 1968. I turned 12 that year and was starting to become a news junkie. Believe me, ’68 was a year for news like no other. Unless the year was 1969 or even 2020…, but we can quibble about that another time.

One of the things that was going on in ’68 was the continued emergence of black faces on the nation’s television screens. Things had started rolling in 1965 when the NBC espionage comedy/drama, I Spy premiered. It featured a couple of United States secret agents posing as world-traveling tennis bums, Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson. The two were played by Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, respectively.

Culp (L) and Cosby in I Spy.

The big takeaway was Scott/Cosby was a black man. Never before had a black man played a lead role in a television series, except for the cartoonish stereotypes Amos ‘n’ Andy in the early 1950s. Cosby in I Spy played a talented, engaging, three-dimensional, adult, dark-skinned man — as revolutionary a concept as TV had ever offered to that point. Nevertheless, I always had the impression that the white Robinson was really the boss of the duo. Remember, this was not terribly long after movie mogul Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures had issued his edict that no black person should appear in one of his movies unless s/he was in a subservient position. And Cohn’s attitude certainly was not unique in the TV and film industries.

When, in ’68, the TV detective series Mannix intro’d a black character, the two leads — Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) and his secretary Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher) — gave hints that they might be sweet on each other but, even as late as 1975 when the series was cancelled, they’d never cashed in on those feelings. The very idea that a white man and a black woman could kiss or fall in love was as anathema to TV as portraying a child molester at work. And were their positions switched — say Mannix were black and Peggy white — a putative coupling between them was simply out of the question.

Fifty-two years ago, there were no black anchors on national TV news. No black men ran businesses on our TV screens (that’d come later, in 1972 with the premier of Sanford and Son — and Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) was a comedic junkman, not a three-piece suit CEO. The few blacks that got TV work by ’68 were exclusively servile. They were secretaries or nurses (back when nurses were not as independent and esteemed as they are today). They were elevator operators and taxi drivers. That is if they appeared at all in our living rooms.

Nevertheless, whatever inroads blacks characters made on TV by 1968 were eye-opening, earth-shattering even.

For a week in February, 1968, Johnny Carson handed the reins of his Tonight Show to Harry Belafonte. Back then, The Tonight Show was a staple in American homes. A huge percentage of Americans tuned in to the NBC-TV program each night before going to bed — that is, those who didn’t have the set in the bedroom already. My old man concluded every weekday of his life with the closing theme of The Tonight Show, the ashtray on the side table next to his recliner filled with Tareyton butts.

The Tonight Show, February 1968

My Daddy-o was no virulent racist in 1968 (I should add, yet; family events over the next few years would change all that) but he wasn’t going out marching in the streets for integration either. He was, probably, as average as can be for a white working man regarding race in America. My father never opined about the week Belafonte hosted The Tonight Show. For all I know, my father might have refused to watch the show; I have no recollection the event. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised because Belafonte, rather than welcoming the likes of Henny Youngman or or some plate-spinning circus act on the show, hosted an all-star cast of activists, politicians, cultural icons, rebels, quasi-revolutionaries, and esthetes, all of whom were revered for their broad-mindedness. And, yes, that was the term used in those days for white people who thought black people ought to get a fair shake.

Take a look at this lineup of some of Belafonte’s guests:

  • Robert F. Kennedy
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Bil Cosby
  • Lena Horne
  • Melina Mercouri
  • Nipsey Russell
  • Leon Bibb
  • Paul Newman
  • Wilt Chamberlain
  • Zero Mostel
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie
  • Petula Clark
  • Dinonne Warwick
  • Robert Goulet
  • Tom and Dick Smothers
  • Sidney Poitier
  • Marianne Moore (Poet Laureate of the United States)
  • Thomas Hoving (Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Mostel and Bibb (a Broadway singer and civil rights activist) both had been blacklisted by the obsessively anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s. The white people listed above, by and large, had been out-front civil rights supporters, most of whom even appearing at the 1963 March on Washington. Some 15 of the 25 guests who appeared with Belafonte were black.

Suffice it to say, that lineup would be the equivalent of, say, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Noam Chomski, and The Dixie Chicks appearing as judges on American Idol today.

Belafonte (L) and Bobby Kennedy

Belfonte was the only black man who could be asked to host The Tonight Show because he was urbane, educated, sophisticated, articulate, white-sounding, and — most important — safe. Stokely Carmichael, to be sure, would not have been asked to fill in for Carson.

I wish I could say I saw any of the Belafonte episodes. I don’t even remember reading about it at the time. That’s a damned shame. I learned about it because there’s a new documentary out now called “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show,” directed by Yoruba Richen, who produced and directed for 20/20 and Independent Lens and directed the 2013 doc, “The New Black.” Even more of a damned shame, it was common practice back in those days for TV stations and networks to reuse the videotapes of shows; much of the footage of the Belafonte week has been lost forever.

Nevertheless, Richen has cobbled together a doc and it was scheduled to have been shown at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival. That event, of course, was cxl’d due to the COVID crisis. I don’t know if any of the streaming services or cable channels will pick up the documentary but I’ll be keeping an eye open for it and as soon as I find something out, I’ll let you know.

Hot Air: Not Too Swift Regarding the Race

A woman online yesterday lamented the passing of the Memorial Day holiday weekend sans the Indy 500. She typed something about missing the roar of the engines.

Seems simple enough, no? The 500 is one of this state’s few nationally recognized symbols. It is, perhaps, the only thing people in other states know about Indiana; I’ve long held that if Indiana is not the most anonymous of the 50 states, it certainly is running strong for the title. Hell, I grew up in a state and city that borders on Indiana and the only thing I and my friends ever really knew about it was it has foul-smelling air, it’s covered by a dense layer of smog, and it’s flat. Of course, our only reference point for the state was the far northwest corner of it, chock full of industrial society’s Vulcanic forges and dumps. We could literally see the plume of haze hanging over Indiana from our vantage point dozens of miles away on the cool shores of Lake Michigan and if we should have happened to find ourselves for some godforsaken reason near southeast Chicago — the Hegewisch neighborhood, specifically — we assumed the mucked up environment there was just spillover from Indiana. (It wasn’t, the simplest inquiry would reveal; Hegewisch also was home to steel mills, oil refineries, and garbage landfills. But we weren’t at all interested in simple inquiry.)

A T-bird Sets the Pace in 1961.

Anyway, it wasn’t until I moved to South Central Indiana when I was 52 years old that I discovered the state actually is a little bit more than just Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and foul air and water.

If the people of Indiana’s next door neighbor and kin by alphabetical order don’t know anything about the state, imagine how in the dark those of, say, Hawaii or Vermont are about it.

So, yeah, the Indy 500. Our claim to fame. (And don’t go hollering about Kurt Vonnegut or Cole Porter or Hoagie Carmichael. No one — no one — outside of Indiana would ever connect any of those names with the Hoosier State.) The big race is not to be this weekend. It has been rescheduled for August 23rd. And I doubt anyone’d be so rash as to place the smallest bet against that date being broken as well.

The Biggest Crowd In Sports.

Perhaps half a million people converge on the little suburb of Speedway outside Indianapolis each year to watch — or at least hear — super-fast cars go around in circles. Or ovals. Or whatever they go around. What other event in this holy land attracts half a million people? Not even the Super Bowl, the most sacred of American Sundays.

So, the woman, exhibiting understandable state pride, mourned its absence. As I say, simple, right?

Wrong. Here was another fellow’s comment about this year’s race-less Memorial Day: “What did you expect? The Indy 500 people are probably liberal, too.”

And therein lies one of the most telling examples of where we are in America today. Everything — e-ver-y-thing — is a litmus test. You’re either on one side or the other, period. And if you aren’t on my side on every single issue, every splitting of a hair, why then, you’re a bad person. You’re one of them.

The commenter, obviously, is equating adherence to pandemic precautions to being liberal. Bad. Them.

He could have said, “Aw, for pete’s sake, we coulda run the race. Things are getting better. And we gotta get back to normal sometime.”

See, that’s an argument, in the real sense of the word. Here are some definitions of the term argument as offered by Merriam-Webster:

  • the act or process of arguing, reasoning, or discussing;
  • a coherent series of reasons, statements, or facts intended to support or establish a point of view;
  • a reason given for or against a matter under discussion;
  • a form of rhetorical expression intended to convince or persuade.

There’s a few more. The venerable lexicon even offers one definition as “mathematics: one of the independent variables upon whose value that of a function depends.” Among all those denotations there is, lonely and seemingly in contrast to all the rest, this one: “an angry quarrel or disagreement.”

This year, today, now among us, there is only that last definition. If we’re arguing, we’re not trying to talk each other into accepting a point of view. We’re screaming to the world I am right and you wanna destroy our cherished way of life!

The pandemic response, however you support it or not, however you keep to it or flout it, is just another sign of how bad a person you are. The people who want to get on with life aren’t just antsy or even ill-informed. They are bad. They’re dangerous. The sooner they die off, the better for the rest of us.

If you wear a mask, why then, you’re a sissy. A coward. Probably gay. Worse, you’re a liberal.

Me? I wear a mask. I stay away from strangers. I rarely go out in public — only to the Kroger for tomatoes, fish, rigatoni, and bourbon. But I really get that others are eager for life to resume as before.

I’m not talking about those who carry military-style automatic weapons into McDonald’s or brandish placards calling COVID-19 a hoax and call for Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates to be beheaded. They are loons. I wouldn’t even try to argue with them. Argue, that is, in the classical definition of the word. I wouldn’t be able to persuade them. They’d be incapable of hearing or grasping my “reasons, statements, or facts.”

They are, indeed, “dangerous.”

No Argument Here.

It all makes me wonder if I, too, have fallen under the universal litmus test spell. Am I just another knucklehead who thinks anybody who disagrees with even the tiniest sliver of what I say “would be better off dead”?

Nah.

Hot Air: All News, All The Time

Did you miss the Big Talk broadcast yesterday? Then click on over to this week’s podcast. My guest was Jack Dopp, the big cheese at Bloomington News. He and his crews have been bringing daily newspapers into the city — as well as surrounding areas — since the early 1970s. He goes back to the days when workers had to drive to Louisville and Indianapolis and Chicago and back all through the night to get the news to our town. He’s one of the last local figures who harken back to the glory days of newspapers.

History, in the Indy Star and the Bloomington Herald-Telephone

Entire generations including people creeping up on middle age — those, for instance, who are 35 or so — have grown up without depending on the daily paper for news of the city, the state, and the world. The daily newspaper is fast becoming a relic.

Jack’s story is a sort of history of daily newspapers from 1970 onward.

Sadly, Jack will fetch his last batch of papers Sunday, May 31st. His contract with the Indy Star will not be renewed. The Gannett Co., the paper’s owner, will ship the Star as well as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal down this way from now on. I hesitate to predict how long Gannett will be willing to do that.

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM.

More Media

In January, 1978, the Chicago Sun-Times broke the Mirage story. The paper’s investigative team had concocted the wildest scheme to expose petty corruption in a town that was world-famous for it. They persuaded the paper, along with the Better Government Association, to buy a dive bar in an area of town that was, at the time, decayed. The bar was in a dilapidated building and its clientele was as broken down as the neighborhood and the structure. (The River North area now is among the most desirable locations in Chi. in which to live and run a business.)

Reporter Pam Zekman and BGA investigator William Recktenwald assumed aliases as a married couple and bought the saloon, using Sun-Times dough. Then reporter Zay Smith and another BGA investigator went to work as bartenders and a couple of the paper’s photographers posed as repairmen, setting up secret cameras to catch kinky building and safety inspectors, cops, lawyers, and accountants holding their hands out, looking for bribes. The reporters and investigators intentionally did not correct the bar’s structural or consumer safety violations and willingly participated in bribing the men whose job it was to enforce the city’s ordinances covering such things. The bribes usually were for piddling amounts — ten bucks here, 25 there — but the guys who took them had blocks and blocks of similar establishments from which they collected, making their weekly or monthly draws handsome indeed.

Reporter/bartender Smith then wrote a 25-part series detailing the whole dirty business. The upshot was the city pretty much cleaned up the petty restaurant, bar, and convenience store bribery that had gone on for decades in Chicago. Zekman, Smith, et al were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1979. They did not win the award.

Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, who’d already been lionized and idolized in the book and film, All the President’s Men, was the most powerful voice on the Pulitzer committee at the time. A man who rubbed shoulders — and reveled in it — with the high and the mighty in the nation’s capital, convinced the committee to snub the Sun-Times because the paper’s investigation had been based on subterfuge. Apparently, Bradlee looked askance at reporters going undercover to get a story.

See, when Bradlee was hobnobbing with the likes of John F. Kennedy, he never disguised himself. He made sure The Beautiful People understood he was one of them. Nor did he go undercover when one of his reporters, Janet Cooke, came in with a 1980 story about a Washington, DC 8-year-old heroin addict for which she won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize. When it was discovered Cooke had fabricated the story, Bradlee rode to rescue saying it’d never happen again — despite the fact that it had happened, under his watch.

Smith, Tending Bar [Image: Jim Frost/Sun-Times]

As Mike Royko was to argue soon after, if he were the editor of a paper and his reporter came in with a story about adults helping a small child shoot up junk, his first instinct would not have been to run the piece and then nominate it for an award, but to demand the reporter reveal the precise names and locations of the participants and immediately drop a dime to the cops. Bradlee, of course, chose a different path.

Anyway, Zay Smith, the author of the 25-part Mirage series, died earlier this month of lung cancer. He was 71 years old. His obit rightly should have included the notation that he’d shared the 1979 Pulitzer Prize with his colleagues. It didn’t, though; one of The Beautiful People saw to that.

Hot Air: Roar!

DNR rangers are back in the Paynetown State Recreation Area entrance shack, checking for annual passes and, when necessary, charging people admission to get in. Inside the park, the general store looks to be ready for business just as soon as Indiana’s five-step program allows for campsites to open.

When I arrived for breakfast/crosswords/reading at about 11am, the beach was fairly well-populated, pickups pulling boats on trailers were lining up at the ramp, and people out for a walk singly, in pairs or in groups almost outnumbered the park’s turkey vultures.

I’m afraid these developments spell the end of Paynetown as my own little private reserve. For the last couple of months I’ve enjoyed a certain solitude there as the rest of Hoosier humanity either hunkered down indoors or flouted the strictures of the governor and good sense to bounce around in public spreading their little corona-adorned organisms.

Truth be told, my mornings and evenings at Paynetown, rain or shine, warm or cold, windy or calm, have been as instrumental in me maintaining my sanity as anything during these COVID lockdown days. These days are fast coming to an end, annoyingly premature on the one hand, dangerously so on the other.

Paynetown At Sunset.

One thing missing from Paynetown during my halcyon days there this spring were the sounds of roaring motors pushing craft this way and that across the lake like so many laser beams during an Alice Cooper concert in 1973. This AM, middle-aged guys piloting cigarette boats and younger versions of same riding Jet-Skis like bucking broncos turned the otherwise serene lake into a din.

As I sat there reading the fourth volume in Robert A. Caro’s magisterial biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson — I’m addicted, I tell ya! — it occurred to me that out of the entire panoply of useless, pointless, exasperating human inventions, the Jet-Ski holds an honored position. I can even justify — just barely, mind you — the existence of cigarette boats if I were to twist logic into an Escher drawing and say, well, it’ll get you quickly from dock to fishing spot or, more likely, hidden cove where you can bonk an easily impressed divorcee outdoors w/o fear of being caught. Haste, in the latter case, being valued greatly.

But the Jet-Ski is not a mode of transportation. You don’t use it to get anyplace. You use it to move, at speed. Once your wrist tires of holding its throttle at max, you slow down, come to a stop, look around, and then gun the thing back up to top speed in the opposite direction. Have I stressed the machine’s uselessness enough?

And, as an accoutrement to the Jet-Ski’s speed, it roars like a thousand lawn mowers racing against each other. The Jet-Ski, of course, scrimps on the muffler end of its gas engine because, y’know, a muffler is biggish and heavy-ish and who needs that just for the sake and comfort of people sitting on the shore hoping to hear the more dulcet sounds of waves and red-headed woodpeckers?

Man, I gotta go fast and if that bothers you that’s your problem!

Yeah, it’s a problem. And it’s mine.

Weaponized “Fun”

Jet-Ski™, I now have learned, is the trademark for a particular product manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Motorcycle & Engine Company of Tokyo, Japan. The generic moniker for such things is “personal water craft” (PWC),  a euphemism if I’ve ever heard one. It puts one in mind of a canoe or a kayak, oared by a serene nature lover in silence among god’s green things. Nuh-uh.

There are, in fact, two categories of PWCs: 1) the “runabout” or “sit-down” where one or two riders, naturally, sit down while plowing through the water at the speed of sound, and 2) the “stand-up” on which a sole rider…, well, you can guess the rest.

Acc’d’g to a University of Vermont study at the end of the last century, PWCs accounted for one of every thirteen registered water craft in the US but they were involved in 36 percent of all boating accidents.

Watch This Video Only If You Want To Get The Poo Scared Out Of You.

Concerned that PWC users were dropping like flies when they and their craft smashed into unyielding objects on lakes and rivers all over the country, the USCG in 1999 started negotiating with manufacturers. Pointing out that riders and, all too often, innocent bystanders were killed or maimed in loud, gory splashes, the Coast Guard got a consortium of them (Kawasaki, as mentioned, as well as Yamaha, Sea-Doo, and even a Canadian outfit named, believe it or not, Bombadier, among others) to agree to an industry standard maximum speed of 65 mph for the things. For pity’s sake, you mean to tell me the things went faster than that at one time? Yep. Even at the new speed limit riders can be seriously injured by falling off and hitting the water or slipping into the pump-end output. Hell, riders can even sustain injury opening their mouths at 65 mph and being hit by a spray blast of water or a bird or even big insect.

The things must be loads of fun. But, y’know, I gotta go fast….

Pomp, Circumstance & Uncertainty

Charlotte, Upon Acceptance To IU Four Years Ago.

Did you miss Thursday’s Big Talk? My guest was WFHB deejay and member of the Indiana University 2020 graduating class, Charlotte Wager-Miller. The idea was to hear from a typical grad looking ahead to real life during these COVID-19, potential economic depression days.

Charlotte, to be honest, is really not all that typical, as you’ll find if you listen. Nevertheless, she’s facing the same uncertain future as hundreds of thousands of other 2020 college graduates. Go here for the podcast of my chat with her.

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM.

Hot Air: Cleaner (and Safer?)

Doing a little research yesterday into the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed, some observers have estimated, 100 million people across the globe, I found that many — if not most — deaths might have been attributable to poor hygiene.

See, people weren’t as…, shall we say, anal about body cleanliness a hundred years ago as we are today. The truth is, it wasn’t until the latter part of the 19th century that people even started thinking about taking weekly baths — and that didn’t really become a habit for millions until well into the 20th. Now, of course, we scrub and perfume and primp and preen from morning until night, the better for outfits like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Colgate-Palmolive to keep us addicted to Crest™, Dove™, and Mennen Speed Stick™.

May As Well; It’s October.

There’s good and bad in this evolution of body care. The bad: we strip our hair and skin of essential oils and interfere with the body’s natural protections against microbes by showering and shampooing every single day with harsh chemical-laden products. The good: most deaths (not including those attributable to old age) in the old days were caused by infections and other maladies that could have been prevented if only people had known to wash their hands, their areas, and other appendages on a regular basis.

The Spanish Flu, I learned, not only made sufferers feel sick as dogs, it also profoundly weakened the body’s immune system, making people who carried the virus susceptible to a legion of infections and illnesses. And since people weren’t exactly religious about washing the day’s grime off themselves, the little bugeroos that love to frolic about in skin-oil laden filth had a field day. And should there have been even the slightest tear in the skin — a common occurrence for people who often engaged in manual labor — those bugs got to enter Valhalla, the juicy, warm, nutrient-filled playpen that is the inside of the body. Once inside they were able to overwhelm whatever cellular defenses the body attempted to muster and, next thing you knew, you were being laid out in a wooden casket, waiting to be picked up by the horse-drawn carts that would pass by every day or so, collecting the dead. Yep, that’s how quickly people were keeling over.

And don’t forget the war that was raging in the trenches throughout Europe. Any good history of World War I will convey to the reader the misery, the stink, the hork-inducing nastiness of the excrement-, urine-, and food waste-tainted environs around those foxholes. Tens of thousands of American soldiers (and hundreds of thousands of European civilians) died of disease, including Spanish Flu, during that calamitous conflict.

The Typical WWI Trench Wasn’t Exactly Your Great-Great-Grandma’s Kitchen.

The good news is that kind of thing won’t be too much of a factor as we continue to see the death toll rise from COVID-19. The successive waves of death that followed the original toll from this 21st century virus, it is to be dearly hoped, won’t be as dramatic this time around.

Looking To The Future

The young adults who graduate this month from Indiana University and countless other factories of higher educ. around this holy land are facing a real world unfamiliar to alums of years past. Even as recently as last year, college graduates could entertain reasonable hopes their parents’ six figure investments in their future would pay off to some extent or another.

Wager-Miller

I mean, if a 22 y.o. with a Bachelor’s in, say, Viticulture & Enology (yep, Cornell U. offers that degree program) wasn’t enough to qualify you to immediately step into a position as sommelier at Le Bernadin in Midtown Manhattan, you could reasonably expect to score a gig at your local package goods store.

Now that COVID-19 is making even operators of carry-out liquor stores wonder if they can stay in business past the end of the month, the Class of 2020, collectively, has to be chewing their fingernails, unsure of where and how they’ll land that $250,000 a year position they were certain they’d get after cramming and cribbing through four years of college.

So, this week, joining me on Big Talk will be a member of last week’s IU graduating class, Charlotte Wager-Miller. She’s a typical college grad (well, not really all that typical, as you’ll find out) but she’ll be tackling the same lockdown economy, to be followed by a potential depression, that hundreds of thousands of other fresh-ex-students are.

Tune in today at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM. And come back here tomorrow for a link to the podcast of the program, as always.

 

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