Category Archives: Bill Bryson

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Woe Is Them

So, the Me Party-ists will form a conga line before the House Appropriations Committee beginning today to tell the world how mean and rotten the feds have been to them.

The poor things had to fill out extra forms in order to receive tax exempt status for their efforts to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick. It’s tyranny, I tell you! Hitler was a wuss compared to the Kenyan freedom-hater whose name we shall not even breathe [and it’s probably phony anyway.]

Tea Party Anti-Tax Rally

Social Service

See what I’m doing here? Just trying to be as full of horseshit as the Tea Party-ists and their fellow mollycoddlers and squealers.

Natch, breitbart.com and WND are shrieking to high heaven that the Muslim, commie, fag, abortionist who currently occupies the White House illegally is trying to crush the Tea Party and other saintly patriots not via guns or imprisonment but — worse, far worse — through red tape. Oh, the humanity!

Alright, people, looks like I have to say this again. Those right wing conservative groups were trying to game the system by applying for tax exempt status. They are not — repeat, not! — social service organizations.

In fact, their raison d’être is not to feed the hungry, house the homeless, or heal the sick. Quite the contrary. According to the Tea Punks and their philosophical patron saint Ayn Rand, the hungry, the homeless, and the sick deserve to be that way. Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan and Rand Paul are leaders — successes — not because they were born on third base but because they hit a triple.

Rand

Rand: “Me. Me. Me. Me. But, On The Other Hand, Me.”

The sooner this holy land rids itself of the lamprey eels that are the hungry, homeless, and sick, the better we’ll all be.

Why do you think these Radical Right-ists are four-square in favor of slashing funds for social service agencies? The only honest social service agency is the one that recognizes that the mud people and the undesirables have no place in this great free market heaven that once was and will be again.

Tax exempt, huh? Like I’m gonna pay with my tax dollars for them to spread their hork-ish, self-centered, whitey-jive without a fight.

If You’re Unhappy, I’m Happy

Not that the excessive self-love of the Me Party-ists is anything new in these great United States. I was thumbing through Bill Bryson’s neat book, Made in America, last night and came upon this passage:

By 1990, America’s sense of declining economic prowess generated a volume of disquiet that sometimes verged on the irrational. When a professor of economics at Yale polled his students as to which they would prefer, a situation in which America had 1 percent economic growth while Japan experienced 1.5 percent growth, or one in which America suffered a 1 percent downturn but Japan fell by even more, 1.5 percent, the majority voted for the latter. They preferred America to be poorer if Japan were poorer still, rather than a situation in which both became more prosperous.

Honestly, they’d rather suffer as long as the dirty Japs were suffering, too? That’s not schadenfreude; that’s lunacy.

Hiroshima Aftermath

This Ought To Make Those Students Happy

It’s also telling that the poll’s respondents were students in an economics course, meaning they were most likely business students. As in future leaders who, for their very own benefit, will lay off tens of thousands, sully the air and the water, sabotage the success of others, and, overall, commit countless crimes against humanity.

Future Tea Party-ists, in other words.

Living For The City

For a brief, precious moment, we actually gave a damn about the problems of other people. How quaint!

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE (REDUX)

“This preposterous idea, that things must pay their way or be dispensed with, is perhaps the most intractable legacy of the Thatcher years, so much so that it has become received wisdom even among many liberals. But when you think about it even for a nanosecond, it is perfectly obvious that most worthwhile things don’t begin to pay for themselves. If you followed this absurd logic any distance at all, you would have to get rid of traffic lights, schools, drains, national parks, museums, universities, old people and much else besides.” — Bill Bryson

FOR PROFIT HUMANITY

I ran the above quote the day I ranted and raved about Margaret Thatcher, who was the British bête noire analog to this holy land’s Saint Ronald Reagan.

The world that Thatcher and Reagan have wrought is an ugly place. The two Tory-ists created a global playpen for the most acquisitive, aggressive, ferocious, and predatory among us. Greed not only became good, it became sacred.

Greed Is Better Than Good

We live in a world of financial smoke and mirrors, where wealth is built on phoney-baloney projections, salesmanship, and transaction fees. Our bubble economy pops every few years now, maiming the general populace but never, ever scuffing the shoes of the plutocracy.

This is the world of the Profit Kings. No item, product, or service — soon, perhaps, not even the very air we breathe — is worth anything unless it generates a profit.

I think of this because NPR ran a report this morning on ambulance services in sparsely populated and rural sections of the country.

As you know, since the 2008 financial catastrophe, municipalities, counties, and states have been slashing services left and right because their investments turned out to be no more tangible than soap suds.

EMS services have suffered mightily in places like Colorado where one representative ambulance service answers an average six calls a day. The private companies and government agencies that run similar ambulance operations find the business of saving lives to be a lousy one.

Bad Business

The private companies aren’t able to bill Medicare or Medicaid enough to recoup their operating costs and the government agencies claim they just can’t see their way clear to footing the bill for a handful of daily runs.

So, more and more ambulance services are being cut back or eliminated entirely.

See, everything must make a profit. Or at the very, very, very least, pay for itself.

But, as Bryson points out in the quote, the gang of us humans have a desperate need to do things for each other that won’t make us scads of dough. Like putting up stoplights at intersections or even providing a home for the US Constitution — the piece of paper, that is, not the fever dream Bible-like concept that Ron Paul and Sarah Palin blather about.

Throw That Thing Out; It Costs Too Much To Keep Up

Funny thing is, for all the talk about NPR being such a liberal tool, nowhere in the report is it mentioned that the idea that ambulance service should make a profit or even pay for itself is, well, just nuts.

Even the liberals have bought into the Thatcher/Reagan Profit King world.

When I was a kid, I used to hear about a fellow named Albert Schweitzer as the paragon of humanity, a guy who lived among the poor and barefoot, who espoused a universal reverence for life, who agitated for peace, who brought advanced medical care to pre-technological societies. I don’t recall ever hearing about how profitable Schweitzer’s operations were.

Albert Schweitzer

His work was a cash sink. Albert Schweitzer was a very bad businessman indeed.

Now there have been criticisms of Schweitzer, his methods and aspects of his philosophy, in the ensuing years. I won’t argue for or against them here. I’ll only say my image of Schweitzer, flawed as it may have been, was of a man who gave of himself without concern for cost.

He wasn’t in it for a buck.

In fact, his outfit lost dough.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan would have been very disappointed.

TUESDAY DOINGS

Click.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“To me, if a heterosexual has the right to do it, then I have the right to do it.” — Harvey Fierstein

RIGHTS

Personal to Barack Obama: Well done sir!

It’s about time a president came out in support of gay rights.

The President Comes Out

Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage was a watershed event in LGBTQIA history. It’s like Hubert Humphrey simultaneously electrifying and appalling the 1948 Democratic National Convention with his “bright sunshine” civil rights speech.

Oh hell, here’s the meaty paragraph of Humphrey’s thunderous call for equality for the nation’s blacks:

“To those who say, my friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years too late! To those who say this civil rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!”

Humphrey Comes Out

Humphrey’s passionate speech is credited with pushing enough fence sitters over to the civil rights side of the argument that had been raging within the party. After black soldiers fought and died for the US in World War II, the call began to go up for equality on the homefront. Black activists, northern urban bosses, and liberals beat the drum for civil rights. Most southern Dems at the time were racist white men to whom the ideas of integration and voting rights for blacks were as horrifying as, well, the idea of two men or two women marrying are today to most Republicans.

Political insiders thought the Dems would never accept a civil rights platform in ’48 but after Humphrey’s heartfelt, courageous plea, the party did.

Humphrey took a huge chance, going up to the dais and arguing the case for dark skinned Americans. He gambled with his political career. He gambled as well with the future of the Democratic Party. The southerners soon thereafter began to drift away from the Dems. Strom Thurmond got so huffy that he cranked up his own party, the short lived Dixiecrats, dedicated to segregation, Jim Crow laws, and those euphemistic “states’ rights.” The “Solid South” eventually  took up permanent residence within the GOP.

Obama’s statement the other day isn’t as dramatic as Humphrey’s was. Still, it’s in the ballpark. A politician — a being traditionally loath to alienating even a sliver of the electorate — steps up and says To hell with it all: I have to say what needs to be said.

Of course, the argument can be made that Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage will alienate no one — those who are sickened by the idea of gay marriage likely wouldn’t have voted for him anyway. And the endorsement now probably will energize his base.

My take is Obama always was in favor of gay marriage all along but was hesitant to say so for fear of teeing off the black Christian community. His advisers probably told him those folks weren’t going to vote for the GOP ticket no matter what he said.

A STAND AGAINST MURDEROUS HATE

So it’s a fortuitous coincidence that I’m in the middle of re-reading Bill Bryson’s book, “A Walk in the Woods.” In it, he describes his attempt to hike the 2000-mile-plus Appalachian Trail.

When he hits the Pennsylvania leg of his journey he mentions a terribly tragic tale of murder on that part of the trail.

I did a little research and now will flesh out the story of Claudia Brenner and Rebecca Wight. In 1988, the two young women were hiking the AT. They happened to be a couple. A 29-year-old man who essentially lived on the trail encountered them and, apparently suspicious, tailed them. It seems he saw the two exchanging words and gestures that proved they were lesbians. He didn’t care much for the notion; he also carried a .22-caliber rifle.

He Carried A Rifle

Claudia and Rebecca were spooked by the guy but eventually lost sight of him as they hiked. By late afternoon, they’d found a nice clearing in which to set up their camp for the night. They looked around and determined that they were alone. With nightfall approaching, they also figured any other hikers would be setting up camp as well so they believed they had enough privacy to engage in a bit of au naturel lovemaking.

Now, this was a scene that might inspire poets and painters. Certainly Sappho made a name for herself describing such encounters. Who among us, after all, hasn’t fantasized partaking of a “refreshment” (h/t to Mark Twain) in such an edenic setting?

Sappho

What with the gentle breeze, the setting sun, the chirp of birds, the buzz of bees (hopefully far off), and the soft blanket of clover underneath them, Claudia and Rebecca were surely in a state of near-ecstasy when eight shots rang out.

One shot hit Claudia in the arm, another in the face. Three more shots peppered her head and neck. A shot also hit Rebecca in the head; a second entered her back and exploded her liver. One of the shots missed. The two tried to flee but Rebecca’s injuries were far too severe for her to get far. She directed Claudia to go for the police while she lay in the forest. Claudia did everything she could to stanch her partner’s bleeding before she left.

Unnatural Penetration

Claudia stumbled through the woods for four miles and finally reached a road. She tried to flag down a ride but, partially dressed and covered in blood, she apparently freaked out the occupants of the first car that came along and it sped past her. A second car stopped and raced her to the nearest town. The cops dashed off to where Claudia said her mate was waiting. Claudia was taken to the hospital.

While in the hospital, Claudia learned Rebecca had been found dead. The cops also found a knit cap, 25 bullets, and the rifle in a spot 82 feet from where the two women had been making love. The items belonged to a man named Stephen Carr.

Carr was found a week and a half later hiding out in a Mennonite community. He told police he’d come north from Florida, which he left because he was sickened by the sight of men kissing in public there. At his trial, Carr claimed the sight of the two women making love turned him mad with rage. He also claimed to have been raped as a child as well as in prison before the shooting. Carr’s attorney eventually agreed to enter a guilty plea on his behalf in exchange for life without parole.

Brenner wrote a book, “Eight Bullets: One Woman’s Story of Surviving Anti-Gay Violence.” She went on to become an activist against gay-bashing.

One more thing: Claudia and Rebecca had driven to Pennsylvania for their leisurely hike. They’d parked their car in a lot at Dead Woman Hollow.

The growing acceptance of LGBTQIA people, punctuated by Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage, certainly won’t stop lunatics like Stephen Carr from hating queers. But at least they know now that the person in the White House isn’t on their side.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

Sunday, May  13, 2012

IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibits, “Blended Harmonies: Music and Religion in Nepal”; through July 1st — “Esse Quam Videri (To Be, Rather than To Be Seen): Muslim Self Portraits; through June 17th — “From the Big Bang to the World Wide Web: The Origins of Everything”; through July 1st

IU Kinsey Institute GalleryExhibit, “Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze”; through June 29th

◗ Ivy Tech Waldron Arts Center Exhibits at various galleries: Angela Hendrix-Petry, Benjamin Pines, Nate Johnson, and Yang Chen; all through May 29th

Trinity Episcopal ChurchArt exhibit, “Creation,” collaborative mosaic tile project; through May 31st

Monroe County Public LibraryArt exhibit, “Muse Whisperings,” water color paintings by residents of Sterling House; through May 31st

Monroe County History CenterPhoto exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

Buskirk-Chumley TheaterCardinal Stage Company presents “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”;  2 & 7pm

IU CinemaFilm, “The Kid with a Bike”; 6:30pm

Bear’s PlaceRyder Film Series, “Keyhole”; 7pm — “444 The Last Day on Earth”; 7:45pm

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

“This preposterous idea, that things must pay their way or be dispensed with, is perhaps the most intractable legacy of the Thatcher years, so much so that it has become received wisdom even among many liberals. But when you think about it even for a nanosecond, it is perfectly obvious that most worthwhile things don’t begin to pay for themselves. If you followed this absurd logic any distance at all, you would have to get rid of traffic lights, schools, drains, national parks, museums, universities, old people and much else besides.” — Bill Bryson

Author Bill Bryson & Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

CREEPY, SPOOKIE, ALTOGETHER OOKIE

Cartoonist Charles Addams was born on this day in 1912 (h/t to Google). His work graced the pages of The New Yorker magazine for many years. His fictional “Addams Family” eventually became the eponymous sitcom.

Well, fictional to an extent. It’s said both his wives looked uncannily like Morticia Addams. And by the way, if you’re making a list of very hot female sitcom stars, Carolyn Jones as Morticia has to rank at least in the top five.

Gomez And Morticia

SPEAKING OF GHOULISH WOMEN

Back to Maggie Thatcher. Is it my imagination or is her image is being remade these days, thanks in part to that new movie, “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep?

All of a sudden it seems Thatcher is being repositioned as a great icon in the history of the advancement of women. Never mind that she rose to the top employing all the mannish characteristics that have pushed the world to the brink of catastrophe time and again. She was stubborn, insensitive, bellicose, nationalistic, and smug. She cared far more for an economic philosophy than for trivial things like human beings.

When she pushed her country to go to war for some godforsaken piece of rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I observed that she was merely trying to show the world that her dick was as big as any man’s.

In fact, there’s a scene in the movie dealing with the lead-up to the Falklands War. The character playing US Secretary of State Alexander Haig, himself a former Army general, cautions her against being so gung-ho about sending battleships full of soldiers to fight over the little islands.

Thatcher: “We will stand on principle or we will not stand at all.”

Hiag: “But Margaret, with all due respect, when one has been to war….”

Thatcher (interrupting): “With all due respect sir, I have been to battle every single day of my life. And many men have underestimated me before!”

Need I mention that there’s a huge difference between breaking the glass ceiling and a “principle” which cost 907 lives, 1843 wounded, 11,428 taken prisoner, a cruiser, 2 destroyers, a submarine, two frigates, four cargo vessels, a half dozen other sea craft and 75 aircraft?

By the way, British warships and submarines that were part of the expeditionary fleet were armed with tactical nuclear weapons, just in case, I suppose, the Argentinians failed to grasp Thatcher’s “principle.”

Argentine Dead After The Battle Of Goose Green

OCCUPY UPDATE

As of last night, one woman remained in People’s Park, refusing to leave despite Mayor Mark Kruzan’s eviction order. She’d chained her tent to a tree and stayed inside, refusing to come out when city workers descended on the scene to clear away any personal belongings that were left by the protesters.

Apparently, the city is not going to force her to leave just yet. Officials are hoping to avoid an unpleasant scene.

City officials lauded the Occupiers for the most part, saying many of them helped city crews clean up the park.

Now Bloomington police will again enforce the regular 11:00pm-5:00am park curfew.

And yesterday, Josh Johnson was was arraigned before Judge Mary Ellen Diekhoff. He’d been arrested during the New Year’s Eve Dance Party disturbance Saturday night and Sunday morning. He was charged with two felony counts of resisting arrest with injury to a police officer.

SNICKERS

Ranker.com today presents a list of the best candy ever made. Snickers is ranked number one.

I have absolutely no quarrel with that.

SUNRISE, SUNSET

Finding it difficult to wake up in the morning these days? It may be because these days have the latest sunrises of the year, according to Earthsky.org.

The science site explains why the late sunrises in the Northern Hemisphere and the concurrent late sunsets in the Southern do not coincide with the solstice (which, in 2011, was December 21st.)

WHAT’S SO FUNNY ABOUT PEACE, LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING?

Elvis Costello once said he couldn’t wait for Margaret Thatcher’s state funeral so he could dance on her grave.

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” — Queen Gertrude in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet

Hamlet And His Mom (They’ve Got Nothing On Rick Santorum)

RICK SANTORUM’S PROBLEM

So, now we can go back to forgetting that Iowa exists.

Republicans in the cornstalk state staged their beauty contest last night and, in the end, couldn’t decide who had the prettier face, Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum.

Rick Santorum?

Let me ask that again — Rick Santorum?

Rick Santorum Wore This Suit While Decrying Gay Marriage

Sheesh! Talk about good news-bad news. I mean, the vast majority of overall-ed voters rejected the notion of a Michele Bachmann presidency, which will go a long way toward ensuring that I get a sound sleep tonight. That’s the good news.

But Rick Santorum?

Here, in his own words, is the guy whom 30,007 Iowans think ought to be able to name the next Supreme Court justice: “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.”

Man, Rick Santorum would wake Hamlet’s shrink from his nap.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when it comes to guys who pontificate the way Santorum does, the “problem” they have is trying to ignore the endless pictures of homosexual acts that crowd into their imaginations every time they turn the lights out.

Rick Santorum’s Problem(s)

IGNORANTIA LEGIS*

Eek. Monroe County Auditor Amy Gerstman has done the right thing by saying she won’t run for another term.

Gerstman

But with the latest revelations about her county credit card use for personal expenses, she might do herself a favor and make an appointment with one of the fine attorneys over at Bunger & Robertson to see if she ought to start packing her toothbrush for a little stay away from home.

Gerstman has purchased gifts, groceries, dinners, and other personal items using at least three of the four credit cards registered under her office’s name. The Herald Times reported this morning that she also paid her kids’ private school tuitions with one of the cards.

The auditor (for the moment) has apologized and says she’s paid back all the money. That’s nice. But if a guy robs a bank and, while being chased by the cops, runs back into the bank claiming he wants to return the loot, the heat still slaps the bracelets on him.

By the way, that fourth credit card? Gerstman claims her office has forgotten the password to access online information about it. She also says the bank lady who normally helps her with the account has been on vacation. Both County Commissioner Marty Hawk and the H-T requested info on that card more than two months ago.

Some vacation.

Oh, and another thing. Bloomington Alternative ran a little piece when she announced her run for the office in 2008. Scroll down to the third paragraph where she’s quoted as saying, “There needs to be a change, restoring confidence is essential.”

Some confidence.

* The legal profession’s shorthand for the Latin, Ignorantia legis neminem excusat (ignorance of the law is no excuse.)

KILL YOUR TV

Make sure you read at least ten books this year.

Here are ten of my faves:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  • Goodbye, Columbus: And Five Short Stories by Philip Roth
  • The Canon: A Whirlgig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier

Angier

  • The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson
  • Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris (the science writer, not the entrepreneurial self-help goof)
  • Ball Four by Jim Bouton & Leonard Schecter
  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro (a so-far three-volume bio of the 36rd President with the fourth book due out this spring)
  • Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos H. Papadimitriou
  • A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present by Howard Zinn
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

A simple truth: books make you smart; TV makes you stupid.

FRICTION

The band Television was fronted by the very talented Tom Verlaine along with high school chum Richard Hell. Born Thomas Miller, Verlaine adopted his stage surname from the French poet Paul Verlaine. He said he did it as an homage to Bob Dylan who also renamed himself after a tragic versifier.

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