Category Archives: Donald Trump

1000 Words: Olio

Notice that word in the headline? Proof positive I’m a crossword junkie. Olio shows up approximately every half dozen crosswords I do. Clue: A four-letter word for Medley. Or Miscellany, Assortment, Melange, etc. It’s one of those words that turn up only in crosswords.

I don’t use it myself (until this very minute) because it just doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t fit its definition. Plus, it sounds and looks too much like Oleo, another crossword word. Short for Oleomargarine. Which itself is a funny word like Omnibus, the grandparent of our commonly-used term, Bus. Or maybe it’s the parent thereof. If, in that case, it’s related on its mother’s side, it would be described as Enate. Yet another crossword word.

See how my vocabulary has been expanded by spending so many hours, months, years — decades, for chrissakes — filling out all those crossword puzzles? Not that I use any of the aforementioned in everyday conversation. Nevertheless they continue to reside in my personal word bank. Or Jargon, Glossary, or Lexicon.

Okay, I’ll stop.

Anyway, Olio. It’s in the hed (an old newspaper contraction for Headline) today because this post will be, natch, a collection of things, as opposed to an essay on a single topic.

Topic No. 1 (obviously): Olio and crosswords.

Topic No. 2: The 45th President of the United States may or may not be indicted today in New York City. He may or may not be arrested or turn himself in. Nobody knows nothin’ just yet. We do know he made a hush money payment to a porn star with whom he dabbled some years ago. We don’t know, just yet, if the funds he used to shut her up came, illegally, from his campaign chest.

But here’s something we do know. Donald Trump is a man who’s never let an opportunity to be in the public eye slip — even if it’s for being involved in a potentially criminal, tawdry bribe. The other day he shrieked out to the world on his Truth Social page that he was going to be busted today, thereby spurring countless idolators to unbelt and send scads of scratch to his campaign and other accounts because…, well, that’s what he does best. Raking in suckers’ dough and portraying himself as ever-aggrieved, the target of vicious, spiteful persecutors, and the Victim-in-Chief, are his primary — and likely only — talents.

In any case, when announcing he was going to be perp-walked, he called for his supporters to come out and protest as the bracelets are being slapped on him. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why there hasn’t been a screaming outrage over this call-out. I mean, the last time he called for protests, a mob stormed the United States Capitol, occupied Representatives’ offices, smeared human shit on marble walls, floors, and statues, broke stuff up, and cost the lives of five people. It was, perhaps, the ugliest scene in Washington, DC since segregationists felt comfortable enough to display their true colors (pun intended) back in the days of Strom Thurmond and Dick Russell.

It’d be like Bernie Madoff announcing from his prison cell he was about to start a new business venture. Or the loon who killed nine Black people in a South Carolina church back in 2015 authoring a book on the history of race relations in the United States.

Donald Trump begging for people to take the streets is a clarion call for violence and mayhem. Yet it seems nobody was terribly disturbed by his call. Except me.

In delving into this, I learned that Trumpists, by and large, are being uncharacteristically circumspect regarding these protests. USA Today reports Trump’s message “seems to be falling on deaf — or at least unwilling — ears.” The Hill quotes House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a notorious Trump coat-holder, as saying, “I don’t think people should protest this stuff.” The Associated Press reports, “Former President Donald Trump’s calls for protests before his anticipated indictment in New York have generated mostly muted reactions from supporters, with even some of his most ardent loyalists dismissing the idea as a waste of time or a law enforcement trap.”

What does this all tell us? Is Trump’s svengali-hold on that 30-or-so percent of the American electorate petering out? Or are the Trumpists playing a strategic hand?

Either way, what Trump did is spectacularly rash, even for him.

Of course, it could be that America, at long last, is beginning to ignore him the way frazzled parents strategically ignore the tantrums of a brat.

Topic No. 3: I’ve lived in Bloomington, Indiana for a good 14 years now. I’ve loved much of it. I told one of my Bloomington pals early on that it was like a dream for me to live in a college town and rub shoulders with professors, lecturers, researchers, and other such cerebralists.

Yet the habitués of academia are not without their quirks. Take a look at this description for an American Comparative Literature Association seminar that took place this past weekend in Chicago:

What key concepts or fundamental principles might best equip theory as an engaged practice for the 21st century? What sorts of norms and ideals should organize criticism and theory: how and why? This seminar asks participants to identify a specific value — i.e. “sustainability” or “freedom” or “impersonality” or “disclosure” or “affirmation” etc. — and to argue vigorously for it. It seeks papers that situate these values both within and against guiding edicts in the tradition of literary criticism and comparative literature.  What principles might better operationalize and animate critical theory? What habits and dictates have precluded value assertion from within literary criticism? How might a specific value for the present and future either extend and explicate or counter and revise the governing conventions of the past?

What in god’s holy name does any of that mean?

My first impulse was to ridicule, mercilessly, whomever wrote the description as well as anybody who signed up for the seminar.

But perhaps I’m just ignorant. If any Pencillistas can decode this paragraph, please help me understand it.

Although any statement containing the word Operationalize seems, de facto, inscrutable.

Operationalize:  Yet another entry in my word bank. And one I don’t suspect I’ll ever actually use.

(A Bit Fewer Than) 1000 Words: 45’s World

I just came across something Patton Oswald wrote during the depths of the pandemic. The gist of it was, the COVID-19 lockdown turned the world into the same kind of hellscape that the 45th President of the United States has lived in, in his head, all his sad, lonely life.

The 45th POTUS didn’t cause the pandemic and the lockdown, but there’s no question he made it one hell of a lot worse than it could have been, starting with his first public utterances regarding the disease. It was all a big fake, he claimed, a hoax perpetrated by his enemies, the Democrats, to make him look bad. From that moment on, the whole COVID and/or vaccine denialism thing spread like…, well, a global virus.

Anyway, here’s Oswald’s peek into 45’s awful, grim mind (all sic):


Donald forced America to live in the only reality HE’s comfortable in. Everybody’s huddled at home, watching TV, eating takeout food, clumsily promoting themselves on Zoom and Til Tok just to stay alive. The only people allowed outside are the people he never sees or acknowledges, the ones who replace the water bottle and cedar shavings in the hamster pen he loves. The act of quietly creating something you like, and having it speak for itself? Loathsome to him. Horrifying. He’s ended all of that. He hates movies, is indifferent to music, even kind of hates sports – because none of them celebrates him. So..they’re gone. A FEW live concerts are allowed – defiant, angry, super-spreader death-throngs that celebrate the “fake plaque” reality he’s decreed. The sports that are played are played in empty stadiums full of cut-outs like Rupert Pupkin’s basement, which is how Donald interacts with the world in his mind. Small business? A quiet, contented person who just wants to run a little used book store or bike shop or boxing gym or restaurant because that’s what they love, and could care less about GLOBAL DOMINATION? Wiped off the face of the earth. Donald can’t stand that. Artisans. Craft. Skills and soul. Hates them. So they’re gone. We are literally living in Donald’s curdled reality, now and forever. And it isn’t that he enjoys (or hates or even feels anything for) endless TV and take-out food and self-promotion and bragging in place of competence and mastery. The joy comes from seeing how miserable everyone else is. He doesn’t want to run around with the other kids playing soccer or hide and seek – but it tickles him to no end to have his dad call the cops and ruin everyone’s chill, goofy fun. Finally, everyone experiences the world the way lonely, spiteful little Donald does, the way he has his whole life. An endless, terrified hustle.

Again, that whole passage is reproduced exactly as originally written, so don’t email me with corrections (even though I generally appreciate that kind of care and attention in my readers).

Oswald has gotten into the ex-president’s head as few people ever have before.

Along the same lines, another jokester, Bill Maher, asked the other day on his HBO show, Real Time, the one question nobody’s been able to answer about the ex-president.

Maher muses: “Someone needs to explain to me how there have been over 1200 books written about the Trump presidency, books that were mostly competing to reveal every detail of his life, and not one of them tells me the one thing I’m most curious about: Who is Donald Trump fucking?”

The idea being, of course, that Melania clearly would rather be touched by a tarantula. “He’s fucking somebody,” Maher continues, “and it’s not Melania and it’s not nobody. He’s a dog and always has been….”

My take is, despite the infamous Access Hollywood tape and the ex-president’s carefully cultivated playboy image from the rollicking ’70s and ’80s, he has never enjoyed sex. In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he engaged in procreation either gaggingly or through the use of artificial insemination. He strikes me as akin to radical religious fundamentalists who only copulate through holes in the sheet.

He’s a notorious mysophobe who famously eschews even shaking hands with other human beings and washes his hands more than an overworked scrub nurse. He’s forever angry and bitter and aggrieved and never truly smiles or laughs. He knows no pleasure, as Oswald suggest above. How, then, can he enjoy the ultimate pleasure? And what better reason could he have for insisting his wives and purported paramours sign non-disclosure agreements?

No, Bill Maher, he doesn’t have to be fucking somebody. If I’m right about that, it goes along way to explain him.

1000 Words: The Only One

I was born in the year of somebody else’s lord, 1956.

Since I arrived in this crazy, mixed-up world 66 years ago, this holy land has staged some 17 presidential elections. I was too young to be aware of the first three. The fourth (1968) grabbed me and got me hooked on the quadrennial ritual ever since. Here are the winners and losers:

  • 1956 Dwight D. Eisenhower; Adlai E. Stevenson II
  • 1960 John F. Kennedy; Richard M. Nixon
  • 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson; Barry M. Goldwater
  • 1968 Richard M. Nixon; Hubert H. Humphrey, George C. Wallace
  • 1972 Richard M. Nixon; George S. McGovern
  • 1976 James Earl Carter, Jr.; Gerald R. Ford, Jr.
  • 1980 Ronald W. Reagan; James Earl Carter, Jr., John B. Anderson
  • 1984 Ronald W. Reagan; Walter F. Mondale
  • 1988 George H.W. Bush; Michael S. Dukakis
  • 1992 William J. Clinton; George H.W. Bush, Henry Ross Perot
  • 1996 William J. Clinton; Robert J. Dole, Henry Ross Perot
  • 2000 George W. Bush; Albert A. Gore, Jr.
  • 2004 George W. Bush; John F. Kerry
  • 2008 Barack H. Obama; John S. McCain III
  • 2012 Barack H. Obama; Willard M. Romney
  • 2016 Donald J. Trump; Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • 2020 Joseph R. Biden, Jr.; Donald J. Trump

Four of those elections were historically tight.

In two of them, the eventual winner actually lost the popular vote.

Two of the elections are thought by many to have been won unfairly.

One of the elections was not decided until the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the eventual winner in a state recount case more than a month after the vote.

In every one of those 17 elections, save one, the tens of millions of people who voted for the eventual loser quickly forgot about their chosen candidate.

That’s because there was always someone else coming down the pike, a comer, a bright shining star, perhaps a savior or a favorite son. Someone new for the electorate to fall in love with.

Hell, the population of the United States in ’56 was 168,078,000. In 2020 it was 329.5 million. No matter how dumb you may think the citizenry of this self-described democratic republic is (or was; and, hell, do I think they’re dumb as bricks!), the voters always at least had the basic smarts to grasp the fact that, there being so many of us, surely someone among us was capable enough, determined enough, good-looking enough, likable enough, and free-enough of closeted skeletons to be worthy to take the Oath of Office in the next election.

Perhaps your book club needs a new leader. You may call that person “president.” But probably not. In any case, you may feel certain no one else among you has the stuff to lead the club into the next year. Or month. Or what in the hell ever span of time you have between books.

That’s because there are six or so members, total, in your book club. One of them is going through a divorce. Another has been diagnosed with cancer. Two are annoying as all hell. Then there’s you and you surely don’t want the job. So that leaves Sharon. She’s the only one who can do the job.

No one else.

As indicated above, there are more people in the United States of America than there are in every other country on this planet, except for China and India. It’s a safe bet there are, perhaps, thousands of people in this nation capable enough, determined enough, good-looking enough, likable enough, and free-enough of closeted skeletons to be worthy to take the Oath of Office in the next election.

That’s why, when our guy or gal loses a presidential election, we quickly start scanning the horizon for the next fabulous candidate.

Even after Nixon lost the 1960 election amid rumors of hanky-panky in Illinois and Texas, Republicans who flipped the lever for him that year swiftly started scouting around for their next candidate. Even Nixon himself attempted to wipe the memory of that loss from his mind, reasoning that making a stink about it would be too expensive and potentially unsuccessful, and the process would throw shade on the entire American electoral system.

I repeat: even Richard Nixon. He was a fellow who forgot no slight and forgave no insult. He was the original eternally aggrieved Republican and even he said, Forget it, let’s move on.

Forty years later, Al Gore won the popular vote and then Bush-loving hoodlums stormed the Miami-Dade County vote counting center, delaying the process and intimidating the counters enough to cast doubt on the veracity of the Sunshine State totals. Nevertheless, Gore sucked it up and said, Forget it, let’s move on.

The rules of the game may be wacky, both Nixon and Gore might have figured, but rules is rules.

Not only did Nixon and Gore figure that, so did all the millions of people who dug them enough to vote for them as president. They, too, by and large, said, On to the next election.

In all the years after the elections from 1956 through 2012, never was there the phenomenon of people waving flags, displaying banners, carrying placards, or otherwise caterwauling about the person who’d run second. Their person. The person they thought was best to lead the country. Who they rooted for, who they agreed with, who they donated money to.

Their guys lost and they moved on. Even in 2016, their woman lost. And they moved on.

Except for all the people who, to this day, wave flags, display banners, carry placards, and otherwise caterwaul about the person who’d ran second in the 2020 election. A man who lost the popular vote both times he ran for president. A two-time loser usually gets relegated to history’s dust bin. Like Adlai Stephenson (he’d also lost in 1952, four years before I came on the scene).

But the 45th President of the United States of America continues to run around the country telling anybody who’ll listen the election was stolen from him — and conveniently neglecting to provide any solid evidence of it.

Tens of millions of Americans are listening to him. Including all those people with Let’s Go, Brandon bumper stickers. Or waving Fuck Joe Biden flags. Or the guy down the road from me who has a huge banner attached to his garage with the words Miss Me Yet? superimposed over the mug of the man who lost the 2020 race.

Do me a favor: look up the word cult.

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: 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: Warped

Pollyannists in the early days of television predicted the new technology would raise the level of the general public’s intelligence immeasurably. Your granny and granddad would spend their evenings watching educational programs, learning about life and the world around them, visiting far-away lands vicariously, viewing “King Lear” or “Rigoletto,” taking in lectures on the atom, say, or Darwin’s theory.

Not The Real Housewives.

Instead, through the years we’ve vegged out on Milton Berle, “The Brady Bunch,” and “Real Housewives.”

It’s a quaint idea to think, at one time in our holy land’s history, some people actually had faith in the better angels of the American nature. Those Pollyannists understood that better angels was a metaphor whereas a significant percentage of our sisteren and brethren even today believe angels, winged supernatural entities, are actually flittering among us.

We Believe.

Far from upping the level of our intelligence, television as well as the movies have skewed how the average person views the world to the point that we’re not just uninformed and uneducated, we’re living in a fantasy world of funhouse mirrors and hallucinatory images.

I’d been thinking about this for many years. Then, in 2016, something happened that brought it all home to me. A man with no legislative experience; no international relations portfolio; no position papers; no writings on war, peace, the environment, poverty, public health, infrastructure, natural resources, energy, political asylum, scientific research, or organizational structure; and proudly possessing no wish or hope to delve into any of these topics was elected President of the United States of America. It was as if upon learning she had leukemia, a person stopped a passing pedestrian on a busy downtown sidewalk and said, Would you treat me for it?

After the election of the 45th President, I tried to come up with a handful of reasons how this turn of events came to be. The one that stood out for me, the inarguable top reason why a lunkhead was bestowed title of Leader of the Free World, was that he’d been a TV star. From 2004 through 2015, Donald Trump came into people’s living rooms playing a successful, bold, non-nonsense, fabulously effective business mogul. His NBC-TV program, “The Apprentice,” drew some 20 million viewers a night early in its run. The numbers dwindled a bit through the years, but even at its low, Trump’s show drew 7.6 million viewers.


That means a significant percentage of the American populace, having known nothing else about him, came to understand that Donald Trump was was the one man who could rescue us from the cesspool our land was turning into. Hell, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz and Chris Christie and Marco Rubio among the rest of his Republican primary rivals were senators and governors and the like, so they couldn’t be expected to fix what they’d helped create, for chrissakes. And Hillary Clinton, a senator, Secretary of State, and wife of a former president, similarly had waded in the mud up to her hips.

No, a man who made billions of dollars, pushing, insisting, arm-twisting, never giving up was the man for us. We knew this because we watched his TV show. A TV show, I might add, he produced. He told us he was the man and we believed it.

“After sleeping,” reads 2021 article in US News and World Report, “Americans spen(d) most of their time watching television….” What we see on the television screen, and perhaps even more so on the movie screen, is life. The boundary between fiction and non-fiction, fantasy and rigorous observation, has been erased. If we’re constantly bombarded by self-aggrandizing images of a shady businessman, if we come to think that our nation’s courtrooms are presided over almost exclusively by black female judges (have you watched any TV since, say, 1981?), if we begin to believe only attractive, young, blonde women go missing (a CNN stock-in-trade chestnut that likely inspired Black Lives Matter), if we believe that baristas live in fabulous Manhattan lofts, it’s because we’re no longer living an authentic life, we’re no longer seeing reality, we’re just sitting at home watching TV (or going out to the movies) and taking that as the true picture of existence.


Here’s a recent example. HBO has released a limited series entitled “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” It’s the purported story the championship run of the NBA’s Los Angeles franchise in the 1980s. Only it portrays Lakers general manager and Hall of Fame legend Jerry West as a mean drunk, Kareem Abdul Jabbar as an insensitive lout, and Magic Johnson as a cad who impregnates his wife’s friend. None of this is altogether true and HBO admits it. In a statement, the programmer said, “HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes. Winning Time is not a documentary and has not been presented as such.”

A True Story, Made Up.

In other words, even though this story is about real people, real events, and a real organization presented as an historical drama, don’t be fooled into thinking any of it is real.

A strict adherence to dictionary definitions might indicate the program is, basically, a lie. But, if HBO would have its way, lying is nothing more than dramatic license.

A few years ago, the movie “The Imitation Game,” sought to portray the life of brilliant mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing. On of the key dramatic story points of the movie was the relationship between Turing and his boss, World War II British Commander Alexander Denniston. Acc’d’g to the movie, Denniston stood on his head to stymie Turing’s efforts to design a machine that would break the German code. Only Turing’s iron will and supreme confidence allowed him to overcome the petty, unimaginative Denniston. Problem was, that’s the precise opposite of what happened. Denniston, in reality, was Turing’s biggest supporter, a person who stuck his neck out to protect the controversial researcher when much of the British military and government would happily have seen him go away.

Now, someone whom history should remember as heroic for helping Turing break the Nazi code, is seen as a movie villain.

There is no more reality, only what we see on a screen. And we’re not the least bit smarter for it.


1000 Words: Recuse Yourself

[No video today, because…, well, I’m lazy. You’re gonna have to read; I hope you can bear it.]

Ginni Thomas

Ginni Thomas, previously known as a run-of-the-mill right wing ideologue, has recently revealed herself to be, in truth, a brainsick conspiracy theory trafficker and a danger to the republic. A lot of people are calling for her husband, US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — himself a rather nightmarish I’ve got mine and to hell with everybody else-ist — to recuse himself from any future potential cases regarding ex-President Donald Trump’s risible if it weren’t so petrifying January 6th insurrection. Ginni, you see, has bought into the Big Lie — that the 2020 national election was stolen by perpetrators unnamed using methods unspecified to jigger the vote counts in locales undisclosed.

The Justice’s bride sent a series of frenzied texts to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, urging the outgoing administration to overturn the vote results by means neither legal, constitutional, or for that matter honorable.

Ginni has a long history of political activism. She was active in her college Republican club and immediately after graduation went to work as a legislative assistant for a newly-elected Republican member of the US House of Representatives. Neither of those activities is — or should be — a deal killer but they reveal where her heart always has been. Later, as an attorney for the US Chamber of Commerce, she fought hard against the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Family and medical leave being perks enjoyed by the residents of more than 120 nations on this goddamned planet. In 2009, she founded a conservative advocacy nonprofit aligned with the Tea Party and in 2010 started Liberty Consulting, dedicated to helping utility companies deny climate change. She also worked hard to defeat equal pay legislation in Congress.

In the wake of the Capitol riot with the “Stop the Steal” canard spreading like malignant cells through the nation’s lymph system, she dreamed of this remedy:

[That the] Biden crime family & ballot co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over the coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.

Phew! And I though I had a propensity for run-on sentences.

Anyway, she’s been a board member of the Council for National Policy, a group that pressured Republican legislators to appoint alternative members to the Electoral College, who, presumably, would put Trump back in office come Inauguration Day, 2021. And on the social medium that she’s so contemptuous of, she has consistently spread baseless “Stop the Steal” charges and even encouraged the Trumpists gathering in Washington, DC on the morning of the 6th.

Clearly, Ginni Thomas has an agenda. Traditionally, spouses of US Supreme Court justices have kept their noses clean when it comes to politics or any other issues that may or may not come before their wives’ and husbands’ Highest Court in the Land docket.

Married People.

The idea being, we want our Supremes not to be swayed by their bedmates’ pillow talk. And, as anybody who’s married knows, keeping one’s better half happy includes listening to them and, if even for appearance’s sake, indulging them.

Still, the Justice and his fellow Republicans recoil in horror at the notion of recusal. They’re trying to position the call as just more political gamesmanship. But it ain’t.

The Thomases swear they don’t talk about their respective businesses when in bed or over the dinner table. Their chitchat in the TV room, though, remains uncommented upon.

I dug up a precedent for Justice Thomas to declare himself out of any cases having to do with the election or the insurrection. Back in 1920, a couple of Italian-American anarchists named Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were accused of murdering two people during a payroll heist at a Massachusetts shoe factory. At the time, both anarchists and Italians were generally viewed as worse scourges than the recent worldwide flu epidemic or cancer or even the possibility of Prohibition. Many, many, many people back then were more than eager to believe that a couple of immigrant radicals were, in reality, bloodthirsty killers. Sacco and Vanzetti were swiftly found guilty and sentenced to death.

Protesters in New York City.

Roars of protest arose among American progressives and many observers around the world. Celebrities voiced support for the two men. Songs were written and impassioned opinion pieces dashed off. Protesters gathered by the thousands in cities around the world. Strong evidence existed both for and against the two men, but the touch point was the mob mentality that swept the nation, the desire to bring the terrible sword of justice down on them. The fact that both men were avowed atheists also helped make them America’s favorite villains at the time. Some commentators even admitted that Sacco and Vanzetti might not have been the actual killers but nevertheless ought to be electrocuted because surely they’d done something rotten in their lives.

One of the people enraged by the whole affair was a woman named Alice Brandeis. She’d donated a large amount of money to the men’s defense fund and publicly called for justice for them. 

Sacco and Vanzetti’s defense attorneys had hoped to gain a stay of execution for them through an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Their hopes rested upon reaching either of the Court’s two progressive jurists, Oliver Wendell Holmes or Louis Brandeis.

The latter being Alice Brandeis’s husband. Justice Brandeis promptly recused himself from considering the defense attorneys’ appeal. To him, it was a simple decision; his wife was a participating party in the contretemps, therefore, he’d been tainted, merely by marital association.

Alice and Louis Brandeis and Family.

Sacco and Vanzetti were executed at midnight, August 22nd/23rd, 1927. Violent demonstrations broke out in several international cities and, subsequently, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts institution drastic court reforms to ensure wrongly convicted defendants could get retrials.

If you can’t see the parallels between the Brandeis and Thomas situations, then you just can’t see. Or don’t want to.

1000 Words: Dumb Luck

We’re living in real fear of the mushroom cloud again for the first time since the Soviet Union collapsed more than three decades ago.

That event signaled the end of the Cold War, the half-century-long standoff between the United States and the USSR with each side brandishing thousands of nuclear weapons and promising to incinerate the planet should the other side push its luck too far.

Following the Soviet collapse, people’s fears about a coming nuclear holocaust eased off. By the time the Millennial generation started becoming aware, few of them gave the merest thought to the dreaded mushroom cloud. Those of us alive in 1962 or 1985 lived in constant panic over the possibility that, at any moment, we’d witness, in the last fleeting second of their lives, the pikadon, Japanese for flash boom, the otherworldly brilliant white light and hellish concussion signaling the detonation of a nuclear bomb over a city.

But, for a tantalizing few years, we forgot about nuclear weapons.

Then, when Donald Trump was technically elected president in 2016 and immediately engaged in a verbal pissing match with the equally lunkheaded leader of North Korea, Kim Jung-un, nuclear dread became a thing again. It wasn’t as acute as it had been a few decades before, but people actually began thinking about the bomb. Now that Vladimir Putin, perhaps even loonier than either Trump or Kim (although it’s a real contest) has launched his invasion of the Ukraine, nuclear anxiety is again becoming foremost in our minds, especially after he reminded the globe that Russia might nuke the hell out of anyone who tried to stop his Ukrainian adventure. Nearly three-quarters of Americans now fear nuclear war may break out sooner rather than later, according to a late March Associated Press/National Opinion Research Centers poll.

But, again, during the thirty-year period after the USSR’s collpase, if anyone thought about nukes, it was the fear that, say, India and Pakistan might find themselves in a shootin’ war or that some terrorist gang might stumble upon an old Soviet bomb and use it to blackmail an entire nation. Even so, not too many people fretted over either possibility.

The problem is, a terrorist group may well have mined, refined and weaponized uranium, and built its own nuke as far back as the mid-1990s.

Oddly, there was a only brief but terrifying report in the New York Times back in 1997 about an unexplained seismic event in Australia a few years earlier. In the middle of the night on May 28th, 1993, seismographs around the world jumped and the very few people within hundreds of miles of a point in the Great Victoria Desert reported seeing a sky-filling flash followed by an earth-shaking rumble.

The blast — or whatever — was so big that scientists at first thought it had to have been a meteor or asteroid striking the Earth. But no evidence of such an event has ever been found. The Times report revealed that the Japanese doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, had purchased a huge tract of land in the desert, had mined uranium, constructed a state of the art refining laboratory, and — here’s the kicker — had been joined by several nuclear scientists from the old Soviet Union.

Aum Shinrikyo, you may recall, was the gang that released the toxic nerve gas, sarin, into the Tokyo subway system in 1995, killing 14 people. It was merely the group’s latest attack at the time. Aum already had carried out assassinations and other less ambitious poison gas attacks in Japanese cities. Investigators determined that Aim Shinrikyo members hoped to trigger World War III, at the very least, or, believing in a predestined apocalypse, wanted to get the ball rolling on it.

Investigators also learned Aum already had tried to purchase a few Soviet nuclear weapons on the black market but had been unsuccessful.

The Great Victoria Desert blast force was estimated to be the equivalent of 2000 tons of TNT — two kilotons in nuke parlance. The nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, for comparison, delivered the equivalent of 15 kilotons. So, if the desert blast really was a nuke, it would have been a baby. Some land-based thermonuclear weapons possessed by the United States and Russia today yield explosive forces in the megaton range — that’s a million tons of TNT.

So the putative Aum bomb — it’s never been proven it was a nuke — would have been a firecracker, albeit one that, had it been exploded over a city, would have killed tens of thousands of people in a…, well, a flash.

Suffice it to say that although the Great Victoria Desert incident remains a mystery, where there’s smoke there’s fire, and there was plenty of metaphorical smoke in the western Australia bush that May night in 1993.

Even if Aum Shinrikyo was only trying to develop new and creative uses for nerve gas to hasten the expected apocalypse, the fact that a cult of loons was mining uranium and recruiting nuclear engineers should terrify the bejesus out of us to this day. Aum Shinrikyo has been de-fanged in the years after the Tokyo sarin attack, but there surely exist in the world plenty of doomsday-ists and similar hoodlums hoping to put millions of us out of our misery.

Why hasn’t it happened yet? Why, when they had the chance, did the United States and the Soviet Union refrain from frying the planet? Why, for that matter, haven’t any of the purported nuclear states — the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea — pressed the button as yet?

A pollyanna might suggest that the threat of existential annihilation has prevented world leaders, presumably sane, from ending it all. But what if one of those nine nuclear states comes to be headed by a psychopath? And what if one or more of them happens to be in power as we speak?

Equally as terrifying, how lucky are we that no doomsday cult or wild-eyed terrorist organization has, as yet, accumulated enough money, materials, and maniacs to wipe a city off the face of the Earth?

How long will our luck hold out?

Hot Air: Enemies

I want to get this on the record as the United States marks a half million fatalities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No, let me correct that. I need to get this on the record.

The number of American dead in the last year because of this illness is greater than all the soldiers and civilians killed when we as a nation turned against ourselves in the Civil War. The number of dead by the virus has exceeded that of the combined American fatalities of World War I, World War II, and Vietnam together.

The previous President of the United States of America criminally and morally abdicated his duty as the leader of this nation from the very onset of this health emergency. A true leader, one who thought a bit more about the welfare of his people and his country, would have said something on the order of the following as the novel coronavirus first made inroads on these shores:

We are facing an enemy. One that is as dangerous and fraught with peril as any hostile army we have ever encountered. We must come together now to conquer it.

We are a strong people, a determined people. We have faced crises and terrors time and again throughout our history. We will face this crisis and triumph.

We will sacrifice. We will suffer hardship and grief. But we will emerge united and well for having made the effort, a truly patriotic effort to eradicate the virus that has invaded our nation. We love our nation and that is why we will embark on this fight.

Join with me as I put on my mask. Join with me as I maintain recommended social distancing. Join with me as I stay indoors as much as possible. It won’t be easy. We won’t be terribly comfortable. We’ll feel hemmed in. Businesses will suffer. People will lose income. Our world will be changed.

We’ll do all these things, and we’ll do them now, because that is the best and quickest way for us to return to normal. And we will return to normal because — it bears repeating — we are a strong and determined people.

That’s what the previous President of the United States of American could have said in mid-March 2020, when the real impact of the pandemic was becoming known.

But no. Here’s the message the President of the United States of America imparted to the 335 million citizens of the nation at the time:

This virus is a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats and my other enemies to make me look bad.

That message completely ignored the danger to be faced by 335 million people. The president’s sole concern was himself. As it ever has been.

Two Scourges.

And so, a half million people are dead. The bells of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC today pealed 500 times in succession, one ring for each thousand Americans dead. Many experts say that 500,000 figure is short, that because of misdiagnosis and other factors, the real number may be closer to one million. As far as I’m concerned, half a million is plenty.

And, as far as I’m concerned, when that criminal, that immoral former President of the United States of America dies, this world will be a better place.

Hot Air: Rush to War

Rush Limbaugh is gone and that’s that. He became part of our collective consciousness about 30 years ago and that was far too long for such a verbal vandal to hold sway. And hold sway he did.

I had a friend named Terry for whom I worked back in the early- and mid-’90s. Terry idolized Rush. I spent a lot of time in Terry’s little red pickup truck as he blared WLS in Chicago carrying the man’s program in the afternoon. Every day. Every single goddamned day.

Terry and I argued like cat and dog back then. Seemingly every sentence out of Rush’s gaping face hole drove Terry to exclaim “YEEE-aaaah!” and me to scream, “You’re both fuckin’ deranged.”

Truth is, Terry and I dug the ongoing fight over Rush. Neither of us really saw him as the voice of a huge swath of the American population. To me, he was just an over-the-top, lonely voice broadcasting from some uncivilized backwoods to a few thousand equally lonely borderline sociopaths. To Terry, he was the courageous voice of righteousness whom the vast majority of Americans were ignoring.

We enjoyed our fighting over him because it seemed more a game than a cultural touchstone. Sadly for our country, that’s what Rush became. He was as important to the growth of the Tea Party, Trump, the border wall, climate change denial, misrepresenting Black Lives Matter, hatred of women, obsessive anti-Clintonism, and all the rest of the dog whistles and overt calls to idiocy he spewed for lo these many decades as any other living human being.

It can be argued he was one of the single most important people in the history of the country. As recently as last year, his radio program attracted a daily average audience of 15.5 million, a jaw-dropping number considering how much the overall radio audience has shrunk since the dawn of the internet. One of St. Ronald Reagan’s pet projects, tearing down the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, allowed radio stations all over the country to air Rush’s viewpoints without having to present opposing opinions. It was deregulation run amok and led to a dramatic growth spurt for Right Wing blowhards in all forms of media. Rush was the chief blowhard. He earned, it has been estimated, more than half a billion dollars yelling into his microphone over the years.

Melania Trump Hangs the Medal of Freedom on Rush.

A current friend of mine has said Rush became popular because he raised his middle finger to all those “politically correct” hall monitors who wanted to tell the rest of us what to do. My friend is right. Rush’s listeners detested college eggheads telling them what to think and say — as if some TA at the likes of Oberlin College held any sway over breakfast diner conversations in Topeka, Kansas. But Topekans and millions of others like them felt aggrieved, felt assaulted for chrissakes, that they had to feel guilty for calling Black people colored or woman bitches among their pals. Thanks to Rush, they were granted the imprimatur to substitute instead the N-bomb and the C-bomb.

They felt free at last. Much like a three-year-old pulling out his penis in front of the dinner guests.

More truth: Having lived in this college town, Bloomington, for a touch more than ten years now, I can attest that “political correctness” — or, as I prefer to characterize the phenomenon, orthodoxy v. heresy — is alive and well and, in fact, probably more insidious than ever. That said, Rush’s strategy of fighting it employing racism, nativism, misogyny, male idolatry, anti-intellectualism, and every other evocation of hatred and incuriousness in his sick arsenal is not so much refreshing as flat out evil. What we need is a voice that says “Fuck you, don’t condemn the whole of me because you disagree with a sliver of my perspective. I’m still in the fight with you.” Key words: “with you.”

But that brand of “good behavior” isn’t turning us into wholly self-centered, hateful, incurious, regressives. It’s just annoying and we can handle that. It was the reaction to “political correctness” that’s destroying us.

More than anything else, Rush led the charge to skew, perversely, the very nature of public discourse. Hand in hand with Newt Gingrich, aided by the former Speaker’s infamous Gingrich Memo, people who dissented from their orthodoxy no longer were opponents but satanic child molesters.

No wonder so many Dittoheads and Right Wingers armed themselves to the teeth and are itching for the coming civil war.

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