Category Archives: George H.W. Bush

Hot Air

Crime Of The Century

So, al Qaeda and its brethren are taking over Iraq right before our very eyes.

Nice, huh?

ISIS Commandos

Iraq’s Nightmare (Photo: Reuters)

Looks like those +125,000 dead Iraqis as well as 4400 dead US soldiers gave their lives for nothing.

Nothing, friends. Not a thing.

Did I mention we’d spent up to $4 trillion USD on that decade-long slaughter?

All because Georgy-Boy Bush and his coatholders and co-conspirators scared the bejesus out of us with talk of mushroom clouds and poison gas attacks — that weren’t going to come because bad old Saddam Hussein was nowhere near possessing such weapons (the nukes) or having the ability to deliver them (the gas) to New York City, Ellettsville, Wrigleyville and points west.

We fought that pointless, bullshit war because the Bush administration — which hadn’t been elected by a majority of American voters, in case you’ve forgotten — believed it was its god-given duty to remake the Middle East so that multinational engineering firms and oil companies could more easily and happily extract dollars therefrom. The fact that Georgy-Boy’s Poppy had not delivered said hegemony to the global plutocracy also was a motivating factor; the Bush family’s Big Dick legacy was preserved, thanks to the rivers of blood Shock and Awe produced.

Bush

Believe Us, America

Sadly, our holy land must reconcile itself to the reality that we have committed yet another crime against humanity.

Not that terribly many of us care.

Hide Your Hate, America

And speaking of America’s crimes against humanity, we did our best to rectify a big one 50 years ago this summer. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the comprehensive Civil Rights Act into law.

July 2, 1964

LBJ Gives Martin Luther King The Signing Pen (Photo: AP)

Throughout the first half of the year, though, the US Senate wrestled over the bill and, quite frankly, its passage was far from assured. Republican senators from southern states filibustered from late March through early June to prevent a vote. Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virgina) alone filibustered for more than fourteen hours on June 10th. Before that, Senator Richard Russell (R-Georgia), told his colleagues, “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states.”

A small group of senators from both parties crafted a compromise bill that eventually passed, leading to the Johnson signing.

The bill, it should be noted, forbids discrimination by federal and state agencies against people on account of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also banned discrimination against those groups by businesses that provide “public accommodation” — hotels, for instance, and restaurants. The bill called for an end to unequal application of laws and eligibility requirements in voter registration as well as in school admissions.

Imagine that respected senators could stand in loud and forceful opposition to those ideals and not be pilloried. Things are different today, of course. People have learned how to hide such bigotry behind code words and misdirection.

At least we don’t tolerate blatant assholery anymore.

Hot Air

We’re Rich!

So, the Dow and the S&P 500 yesterday both closed with the highest numbers in their separate histories. The Dow hit 16,695.47 and the S&P topped out at 1896.65.

CNN Money offers this explanation: “Investors poured money into the perceived safety of blue chip companies and seem to believe the economy is improving….”

Well, isn’t that dandy? So goddamned what.

Dow Jones

Here’s my alternative to the smoke-and-mirrors financial and economic reportage offered by our esteemed corporate media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox, the Wall Street Journal and all the rest of those shit shovelers. Let’s establish a brand new pair of indexes, call them the How? and the Wretched & Poors. They’ll be designed to give us a picture of the economy, not as it affects big shot moneybags investors but you and me.

The How? (as in, how can we afford…?) will be comprised of 30 families who can reasonably be described as Middle Class. They will come from all corners of this holy land and be selected to represent as many family set-ups as possible, including two-parent families, those with no kids, single parent units, gay parents, blacks, whites, reds, yellows and browns, immigrant families, and even single-person households.

Middle Class

A Blue Chip Investment

This new financial and economic index will measure those families in terms of their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly economic buying power. If, say, one of the wage-earners in the family loses her job, that would profoundly negatively affect its standing within the index. Conversely, whenever that family finishes any measuring period, say a week, with a few bucks left over after paying all its bills, why they’ll be hailed as great successes, the hot stock family.

The Wretched & Poors index would be populated by 500 families and individuals who live below a given poverty line, all of whom are as demographically diverse as those in the How? and measured the same way their Middle Class counterparts are.

The Damm Family

Member, Wretched & Poors 500 (Photo/Mary Ellen Marks)

See, the 30 corporate giants followed by the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the 500 common stock companies of the S&P supposedly give us a picture of our nation’s economic health. Problem is, even if, say, McDonald’s is doing fabulously well, its employees just might not be so flush. Wait, let me amend that: they positively won’t be so flush.

Saint Ronald Reagan told us a rising tide raises all boats back some 35 years ago. That’s a pretty image, but it’s inherently full of horseshit. It depends, first off, on the wealthy of America sprinkling their dollars all around the country so that the rest of us thirsty for them can lap the cash up. I know I’m not at all happy about a miniscule elite controlling America’s dough and bestowing it upon me in whatever drips and drops they wish. Second off, those drips and drops, by the time they get to the poorest of us, have pretty much been collected by other wealthy folk, because that’s who the wealthy do business with.

When George H. W. Bush ran against Reagan for the presidency in 1980, he called Dutch’s money plans “voodoo economics.” That’s a nice start. I’d go with “fuck you economics.” As in, we’ve got all the money and we’ll give the rest of you what we want, if you’re lucky and if we make piles and piles of it more than the obscene amounts we already have, and if you don’t like it, fuck you.

In fact, let’s call the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poors 500 the Fuck You indices. My proposed How? and Wretched & Poors indices would be the real economic barometers of America.

Rank

The great city o’Bloomington has been ranked the 15th best burgh in Indiana in which to live by some outfit called Movoto.

Movoto sez a bunch of Indianapolis suburbs as well as Columbus and West Lafayette are better places to live than our town.

The Herald Times ran an editorial on the rankings today. It was a hand-wringing, dear-us screed that asked “How in the world could a ranking of the 10 best cities of Indiana not include Bloomington?”

Kirkwood Avenue

Not The Best?

How indeed? How about a city whose newspaper howls about the tragic unfairness of not recognizing Bloomington as heaven on Earth but neglects even to mention who did the ranking, when it was done, or why.

Yes, your Electron Pencil had to do the digging to find out about Movoto. It’s an online real estate listing service that also runs a blog offering a humorous take on real estate news and trends (wow ⎼ talk about setting a near-impossible goal for yourself!) It’s the blog that did the ranking that so insulted the H-T editorialists. The Movoto blog’s tagline is “The lighter side of real estate.”

The Herald Times brain trust, presumably, was so miffed about the slight that they won’t even mention Movoto’s name.

I’m willing to bet West Lafayette’s paper did, though, and most likely added what a fine and sophisticated bunch of arbiters Movoto employs.

(Golly Gee, It’s Almost) Hot (Out!) Air

That Racial Nirvana — Georgia In The ’60s

And now we know for certain one of the top two reasons Clarence Thomas was selected by George H.W. Bush to replace Thurgood Marshall on the US Supreme Court.

Thomas

Click Pic To Find Out Why

The other is Justice Thomas’s status as spokestool for the plutocracy.

The Bushes; the gift that keeps on giving.

Unseasonably Warm Hot Air

Comet, Heal Thyself

Too bad about Comet ISON, no? Goddamned Obamacare.

Comet ISON

R.I.P.

Zero From The ‘Aughts

Perhaps this is obvious to everybody else, but it just occurred to me this morning as I washed the dishes that the first decade of this 21st Century really and truly sucked.

Dig: The decade/century/millennium began with a double whammy of slam. The great tech bubble blew up, costing countless entitled middle- and upper-middle class white computer geeks their previously privileged spots atop the human pyramid. And a lot of middle class investors lost their little all after betting that tech stocks would carry them through their dotage. Then there was the non-election election of George W. Bush, a putsch pushed along by Supreme Court justices installed by his daddy-o and their patron saint, Ronald Reagan.

The next year, our holy land’s spies and spooks fell asleep at their CCTV security consoles and allowed a couple of dozen lunatic fundamentalist religionists to stage the scariest disaster movie scenes ever seen in New York City and Washington, DC.

What followed, natch, was an overreaction of monumental proportions as this holy land turned into a fighting, spying, hating-on-ragheads military machine. Now, I’d bet more money is spent on making sure American air travelers don’t sneak bottles of mouthwash onto airplanes than is earmarked for useless things like school libraries.

Meanwhile, Americans were urged by their popularly un-elected president to go back to shopping, chop-chop, just to show the world how much we love, love, love freedom. And Americans fell into line, buying anything and everything, including TV screens wide enough to display the entirety of the Grand Canyon. We Americans got so giddy pissing our hard-earned dough away that we began looking upon our happy homes not as safe harbors from the cruel world and anchors of our communities but as ostentatious, in-your-face ATMs-slash-McMansions. We bought and sold houses the way teenaged boys trafficked in baseball cards in the 1980s.

And then that bubble popped, leading to the greatest economic collapse since the Greatest Economic Collapse.

But wait — before that, the president, who, I might remind you, had been elected by a minority of voters, told us Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was perhaps a half hour away from decorating the skies above our greatest cities with pretty and colorful mushroom clouds. To prove his assertion, he sent out his minions and assistants to tell us and the world blah, blah, blah, blah — none of which had a whit to do with Iraq’s capacity to build nuclear weapons, and so we promptly fell into line and gave the Prez the go-ahead to commit our nation to a decade-long pointless war. We did get to see Saddam Hussein’s tonsils, though.

Hussein

Say Ah-h-h

Anyway, back to the housing bubble. Wall Street banksters, quants, and fellow travelers discovered fascinating new ways to fleece investors with mortgage-backed securities and, while they were at it, make scads upon scads of dough for themselves no matter whether their financial instruments were successful or not, preferably unsuccessful because…, well, it’s pretty much impossible to explain why, but the banksters and quants and the rest are sitting pretty right now while the rest of us are still dusting ourselves off.

The banksters and quants and the others were punished by being named to high-level economic advisory positions in the Obama White House and as regulators of the operations they’d transformed into casino games. That’ll show ’em.

Casino

“This Is A Sound Investment, Sir.”

So, today, municipalities that had invested in their crooked schemes are broke, school budgets are being slashed, social service agencies are closing their doors, and the poor are being blamed for all of it. The fiends.

As this was all going on, there arose in this great nation a grass-roots political movement dedicated to the age-old ideals of selfishness, savage competition, refusal to share any wealth whatsoever, anti-intellectualism, and reactionary demagoguery with a sprinkling of racism and misogyny thrown in. They called themselves the Tea Party, which seemed rather euphemistic. I might have suggested they call themselves a Bunch of Big Pricks.

Tea Party

Apple Pie Americanism

Working feverishly behind the scenes, this nation’s spies and spooks, embarrassed by their failure to nab the 9/11 plotters before they struck, expanded their capabilities to eavesdrop on your Thanksgiving email exchanges with your aunt in Kokomo. By the way, you might want to let her know that three cups of sugar in her cranberry orange sauce is a tad much.

And, hey, here are two unforgettable names from the -zeroes: Joe the Plumber and Terry Schiavo.

So, kiddies, that was the ‘Aughts in a nutshell.

You might think I’m being pessimistic but, honest, the future actually looks brighter to me. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Could they?

Your Daily Hot Air

The Right Way To Kill

Here is the second (natch) of the 10 Commandments of the Holy American Empire, Inc.:

Thou shalt not kill, unless it is with bullets or factory-made bombs, then kill away.

Our Pontiff…, er, President, Barack Obama yesterday issued a bull from the Domus Alba (hehe, I’m getting all Catholic-y and Latin-y on you) saying that those nasty Syrian thugs under Bashar al-Assad have just gone too far, what with whacking their own citizens with sarin gas.

We, the faithful, won’t stand for this!

See, we’re a very moral people. We have faith in mass-produced piercing projectiles and explosive compounds (once again, made only in free market-, 2nd Amendment-anointed enterprise facilities). They are sacred and can be used for any purpose their purchasers desire (although most pious Americans use them to free their fellow human beings from the chains of this Earthly realm.)

Machine Gun Factory

Holy Killing Machines

Whew.

Glad we’ve got that all cleared up. The Syrian civil war has thus far claimed upwards of 100,000 people. Most have been killed, of course, by bullets and bombs. And although their premature leave-takings are somewhat regrettable (they are, after all, only brown people), we Americans have always found a way to excuse the air-conditioning of human bodies by means of ammo.

But sarin gas? My god, man! What kind of animals are these Syrians?

We’ll stand for a hundred thousand or even a million bodies being blown to kingdom come by high speed hunks of metal but any madmen who dare to take 150 lives by dropping pellets of poison gas near them must be stopped before the whole of the human race is wiped out.

That’s it for today’s sermon. Go in peace.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

The Reagan/Bush/Bush Supreme Court, which usually swoons and bats its eyelashes at big corporations, dealt Myriad Genetics a huge blow yesterday when the justices ruled unanimously that human DNA cannot be patented.

Human DNA

Not So Fast

Imagine. Myriad and several other mad scientist outfits wanted to put patents on the human genes they’d isolated and identified, forcing other researchers to pay them hefty royalty fees should they decide to delve into those genes themselves. Clarence Thomas, whose utterances I generally take as seriously as those of a ranting street corner preacher, wrote the decision. “Myriad did not create anything,” he wrote, exhibiting a wisdom I’ve found lacking in him since his elevation to the Court by George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Let’s be frank, this decision is a shocker. SCOTUS just last month ruled that Monsanto had the right to squeeze every penny it could out of family farmers who dare to harvest a second generation of soybeans originally planted with the evil agribusiness empire’s pesticide-resistant seeds. In other words, that same unanimous court had ruled that Monsanto will own the rights to all the soybean plantings on Earth within a few years, considering the fact that pretty much every farmer who wants to make a buck on soybeans will use the company’s Frankenseeds.

The Monsanto decision coupled with the work of the company’s legislation-writing lobbyists are prima facie evidence that Big Business is the real government of this holy land.

So, what’s with Myriad? All it wanted to do was own the genetic encoding of every human being on Earth. What could be more entrepreneurial than that? Ayn Rand would have had a string of spontaneous orgasms just thinking about it.

Rand

Own Me, Myriad, Make Me Your Slave!

So here’s the latest scoreboard of the Age of Reagan Supreme Court:

1 — The Good, Decent, and Friendly People of the Earth

998 — Corporate pirates, banksters, war profiteers, polluters, etc.

Well, it’s a start.

The Business Of Piece

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” — Ann Richards

THOMPSON AND KEATON

What a blast in Bloomington tonight!

British songwriter, guitarist, and all-around good guy Richard Thompson plays the Buskirk Chumley Theater at 8pm. And if you’re a film buff, hie over to the IU’s Jacobs School of Music, Auer Hall, also at 8, for a showing of Buster Keaton‘s comedy, “Spite Marriage.” John D. Schwandt will accompany the silent movie on organ.

Bloomington Tuesday Night Stars: Thompson & Keaton

By the way, the tall Thompson (he can give our own Tall Steve Volan a run for his money) came into the Book Corner yesterday. I was fairly busy at the time so I hadn’t taken notice of the celeb in my midst. Only when I ran his credit card did it occur to me that, holy smoke, it’s Richard Thompson!

I showered him with fan praise and — whaddya know? — Thompson showered the Book Corner with his own plaudits.

If you’ve got tix for his gig, you’re in for a big treat.

THE STRIKE: DAY 9

Fingers crossed that Chicago’s teachers approve the proposed deal with the school board this afternoon.

If done, classes will resume tomorrow. If not, the howling from the anti-unionists will become deafening.

Bosses: The School Board’s David Vitale & The Union’s Karen Lewis

The idea is starting to filter out that much of the teachers’ quibble stems from their rigid opposition to the trend toward privatization, not only in Chi but around the nation.

Just a reminder to those who dig privatization: we call them public schools for a reason.

NOT SILVER-TONGUED

Quick question: Is Willard Romney on the payroll of the Barack Obama reelection campaign?

I mean, the guy is running for president, sure, but if he sabotaged himself any more we’d have to grant him honorary membership in the Bluth family of “Arrested Development.”

Mitt Romney Would Fit In Nicely Between George And Lindsay Bluth

Romney washed his hands of responsibility for half the nation at a Boca Raton fundraiser in the spring. He characterized that half as tax non-payers, bums, gold-diggers, and welfare queens. Someone had sneaked a video camera in and caught him in the act.

See, that’s the way Republicans today look at the people of this holy land. The POG had better jump down off its high horse soon or else they’ll be losing a lot more races.

Anyway, Romney’s big mouth makes me think of that great quote (at the top of this column) delivered by Texan Ann Richards at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. She was referring to another patrician Republican running for president at the time, George H.W. Bush.

Somehow Richards became the Texas governor in 1991. How a plain-speaking, unabashedly liberal, feisty female could grab the reins in that antediluvian state is beyond explanation. The Pan troglodytes of Texas came to their senses four years later when they threw her out of office in favor of — oh, my aching head! — George W. Bush.

Had Ann Richards been a pol in, say Illinois, Pennsylvania, or even Nebraska, she just might have become president herself.

NEW SAN ANTONIO ROSE

Here’s a pretty good quality recording of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys‘ 1940s Texas Swing hit.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“The average citizen knows only too well that it makes no difference to him which side wins. He realizes that the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey have come to resemble each other so closely that it is practically impossible to tell them apart; both of them make the same braying noise, and neither of them ever says anything.” — Will Rogers

MODERN PROBLEMS?

Wait, Will Rogers said that in 1928?

UH OH

The story behind every homicide is complicated and often contradictory.

Don’t get me wrong — this George Zimmerman character is one ultra-weird customer. Mix that with a deranged Florida gun law and you get Trayvon Martin on a slab in the morgue.

But it’s not at all hard to imagine a scared kid acting on impulse and jumping this creep who’s been following him at night in a strange neighborhood.

It’s no capital offense, natch, but it adds a layer of nuance to the narrative.

The problem is our corporate media loath nuance. They dig black and white, good and evil, an unhinged racist versus a black teenager carrying a bag of Skittles.

Oh wait — it was an unhinged racist versus a black teenager carrying a bag of Skittles.

Here’s the real nuance the slick news stenographers are missing — Trayvon Martin died because this nation can’t let go of its Wild West mythology. High Noon, baby. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We aim to protect our womenfolk and churrens.

Book it — George Zimmerman saw himself as the hero saving his neighborhood from the savages. The state of Florida put the gun in his hand. He ain’t the only one unhinged in this case.

STRIPPED DOWN JUSTICE

Your Reagan/Bush/Bush Supreme Court at work: yesterday, the Goths who make up the court’s usual 5-4 majority have affirmed the right of jailers to strip search you repeatedly should you have the misfortune to be nabbed for something even so trivial as riding your bike without a bright enough light at night.

Yeesh.

“This Is Gonna Hurt You A Lot Worse Than It’s Gonna Hurt Me.”

Yep. Some poor schmo who was cuffed because of a clerical error and was strip searched twice while in custody for a week, sued a New Jersey county for his ordeal. The guy was arrested for not paying a petty fine (he actually had paid it but his record was mismarked) so he was thrown in with the rest of the hoodlums, gangbangers, homicidal maniacs, child molesters, arsonists, and other assorted thugs that called the county jail home in 2005.

Naturally, jail officials wished to protect their aforementioned guests from such a vicious character so they inspected his anus and rectum a couple of times to make certain he wasn’t smuggling a submachine gun into the joint.

“Yeah, We Found This Up A Jaywalker’s Ass.”

Little did his jailers care that he was a nice, stable, professional man, a finance executive for a auto dealership with a family.

But who knows what such a man might stash in his trunk. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, cited cases of people being arrested for the likes of disorderly conduct and public nuisance hiding tobacco and lighters in their rectums. Naturally, an accused person’s dignity and and decency must be disregarded in the face of such imminent dangers.

So, the five justices who gave us the Citizens United ruling have now determined that your ass is ours should you be suspected of even the most minor transgression.

Hey, did I mention the guy who brought suit was black?

BEER LAKE

The Loved One and I are fast approaching our two-and-a-half year mark here in the garden spot of Indiana, beautiful Bloomington.

I still don’t know my way around a lot of this sprawling megalopolis. And many things still puzzle me. For instance, why is there a That Road?

That’s why I like to read the big glossy, full-color Monroe County map that my neighbor and pal Tom Thickstun gave me about a month ago. And — swear to god — I look up Bloomington things on Wikipedia.

See, I’m a trivia junkie and I look things up at random on Wikipedia. Oh, I know it’s not an authoritative resource. Still, it’s got a lot of cool and fun things in it.

So last night I looked up Lake Monroe. I love the fact that I live five minutes up the road from this fairly good sized, pretty lake. I enjoy taking Steve the Dog down to the Cutright and Paynetown ramps at dusk so we can watch people pull boats out of the water. (Yeah, I’ll admit it — my evenings aren’t as scintillating as they once were.)

Do you realize that the entire project to dam Salt Creek, saw down all the trees in the river valley, and even buy out the town of Elkinsville in order to create the lake cost a mere $16.5M. Man, that’s nothing.

Anyway, I kept scrolling and I came to a Trivia subhead. It reads: “According to the List of countries by beer consumption per capita, the total world consumption of beer is approximately 1/3 of the volume of Lake Monroe at maximum capacity.”

Now, I so want this to be true for the simple reason that someone had to calculate the world population’s intake of beer and then compare it to the volume of Lake Monroe.

One-Third Beer

Who in his right mind would do that?

I mean, if it were you, wouldn’t you look for a lake whose volume matched exactly the world population’s intake of beer?

And is that what’s imbibed in a year? A decade? Since the historic “Tastes great — less filling” debates?

I clicked on the List link and saw nothing in the main article to indicate this startling factoid. If such proof exists, it must be in one of the reference articles cited at the bottom.

Believe me, I wasn’t going to click on all those links in search of this bit of hypertrivia.

Oh alright, I know it was probably some smart-assed college kid who was drunk on an amount of beer equal to 1/3 the volume of Lake Monroe at maximum capacity who pranked this Wiki edit.

And Then He Passed Out On The Back Stairs

Still, I wish it were true.

DISORDER IN THE COURT

Uh huh.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“The law does not pretend to punish everything that is dishonest. That would seriously interfere with business.” — Clarence Darrow

BZZZZZZZZZZZ!

Steve the Dog and I just had a major drama. I was in the process of typing up the entries below when Steve started getting unusually curious about something in a corner of the garage (where I keep my office).

Suddenly, Steve screech-barked and jumped back. I went over to see what was up and I saw a gigantic bumble bee staggering and lumbering around on the concrete floor.

The hair on my arms turned to tiny needles.

A Cute Little Bunny — I Refuse To Post A Picture Of A Bee

Apparently, the bumble bee took exception to Steve’s sniffing and gave him a shiv to the snoot. Bumble bees, I understand, essentially commit suicide when they sting. I would normally look something like this up to verify it but I’m not gonna do it.

See, I have a bee phobia. Wasps and hornets, too. Merely typing the words makes me shudder. I can’t even look at pictures of the brutes or else I’ll spend the rest of the day glancing over my shoulder in a panic.

You think I’m neurotic about these guys? Take my sister Charlotte and snakes. She can bear them no more courageously than I suffer yellow jackets. Swear to god, Charlotte one day cut the picture illustrating the entry for the word snake out of her family’s dictionary. That’s nuts.

Wanna know what’s more nuts? I wouldn’t even have the cagliones to cut the picture of a bee or wasp out of my dictionary. When I was a kid I read my family’s set of the World Book Encyclopedia voraciously — all except the B volume. I didn’t want to take a chance on seeing a picture of a bee.

See? No Bees

This reminds me of an incident that happened in the Book Corner last summer. I was straightening out the half-price book table near the big front windows. Suddenly I heard what I originally thought was the drone of a World War II fighter plane. It turned out to be one of those titanic carpenter bees.

They stand about six-foot-three and have a wingspan of some three yards. This particular one was hurling himself against the window trying to get out of the place. Honestly, he was smoking a cigarette. I’m not certain but I think he might have been carrying a gun.

I almost lost control of my bodily functions. I dashed to the other end of the store.

Right at this time, my pal Mary Damm, a soil biology researcher at IU, walked in. She could see the terror on my face.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

I pointed toward the window where, by this time, the carpenter bee was picking up a large volume and preparing to fling it at the glass.

“You’re afraid of a bee?” she marveled. “It won’t hurt you.”

I looked closely at the bee; he glared back at me and drew one of his fingers across his throat in a threatening manner.

“Look,” I said, almost mewling, “I’m scared to death of these things. I don’t know what to do.”

At this point, Mary started telling me what terrific citizens of the Earth bees are. How they keep to themselves and help propagate countless floral species and how they won’t attack you as long as you don’t molest them.

The bee in the window gave me a terrifying glance and made a shushing gesture in my direction. I think I squeaked.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, “but they still petrify me.”

Almost As Terrifying As Bees

“Well,” Mary observed, “that’s not rational.”

“No, it’s not,” I said, my voice shaking. “That’s why they call it a phobia.”

“Well, do you want me to get it out of here?”

Oh! Had I the courage to get within 50 feet of the carpenter bee, I would have run up and hugged her. As it was, I could only shout out, “Yes, please!”

Then I offered to fetch her a cardboard box and a push broom and a snow shovel. “Whatever you need to do the job, I’ll get,” I said. I remembered seeing an axe in the basement and so I made a move in that direction before Mary stopped me.

“I won’t need those things,” she said. “I work in the fields all summer long. I’m used to bees. They don’t bother me at all.”

She directed me to bring her a soft drink cup and a piece of paper. She carefully and calmly crept up on the bee as he stood there, trying to figure out his next strategy. She gently placed the cup over the bee and slipped the paper between it and the glass. Then she took the bee outside and released him over a planter on Kirkwood Avenue.

The bee buzzed off without a single word of gratitude, the hoodlum.

“That’s that,” Mary Damm said. “See. They won’t hurt you.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said.

Anyway, the bumble bee today. I grabbed the longest broom I could find and positioned myself as far from the bugger as I could. I stretched and craned and flicked him toward the now-open garage door.

I flicked, that is, if flicking is the proper term one would employ to describe moving something the size of a wrecking ball.

Victory! I got the bumble bee out of the garage.

Safe At Last!

Only I’ll be glancing over my shoulder in a panic occasionally for the rest of today.

HOORAY!

I’m the first guy to howl when the Reagan/Bush/Bush Supreme Court issues one of its baffling decisions — say, the Citizens United imprimatur for big money interests to take over the electoral process in this holy land.

So, when the Court does something praiseworthy, as it did yesterday, I’ll have to give it its props.

Usually aligned with the tories and royalists, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, ventured into the world of the sane when he voted with the “liberal” minority to guarantee criminal suspects the right to decent representation.

Kennedy

The gist of the main case before the Court in this question was that prosecutors had offered a suspect’s lawyer a nice plea bargain deal. The client would have served a 90-day sentence for a petty infraction.

The lawyer, though, forgot or neglected to tell the client. The plea bargain offer expired, the client pleaded guilty without the deal in place, and he was sentence to three years in prison.

Only later did the client find out he could have accepted a three-month sentence.

Oh, just in case you’re thinking that murderers and rapists and terrorists will now waltz out of prison or never even serve time because of this decision, well, you’re wrong.

This decision was based on the case of a man who was — brace yourself — driving without a license.

Kennedy wrote that America’s criminal justice system is no longer a procession of trials but a virtual assembly line of plea bargains. Ergo, when a guy is denied a possible plea bargain because his attorney is a knucklehead, he’s being denied justice.

Kennedy was tabbed for the Supreme Court post by President Reagan in late 1987. In fact, Kennedy was Reagan’s third choice to replace retiring Justice Lewis Powell. Old Dutch first named Robert Bork to the Court but Bork’s history as a collaborationist in Watergate as well as the fact that his views on American justice were formed by his attendance at the Cro-Magnon School of Law torpedoed his nomination. Reagan came back with a fellow named Douglas Ginsburg, who, it was learned — horrors! — had occasionally smoked a joint while he was a law student.

Bork Abetted Nixon

So Kennedy, a less reptilian judge than Bork and a man whose lungs were virginal, was named and confirmed.

Since then, Kennedy has been considered a sort-of swing vote in the Court, although he generally pendulates (I just made that word up!) between Right and Far Right as opposed to Right and Left.

The Court since the days of Reagan has become about as Right Wing as a country club locker room. Here’s the current lineup of the Court:

By the way, Kennedy was confirmed 97-0 by the Senate a quarter of a century ago. Doesn’t that kind of bipartisanship seem rather quaint?

Anyway, the Court often rules 5-4 in cases that reflect any cultural or moral divide in these Great United States, Inc. The five, of course, being the quintet of Reagan/Bush/Bush boys.

It’s a court whose core essentially gave us George W. Bush as president. Thanks, guys (and one gal).

“I Owe It All To Sandy O’Connor.”

The lesson? Even though it appears there’s barely a fine hair of distinction between President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, would you really want Romney to start paying off his political debts by naming a sixth conservative to the Court?

And what if this great nation fully tumbles into the Twilight Zone this summer and fall and somehow winds up with Rick Santorum as president? Who’s he gonna name to the Supreme Court? Michele Bachmann?

“No, Really. My Husband’s Straight. No Lie. He’s Into Women. Really.”

All I’m saying is your vote matters this November.

AM I ALIVE?

With all the Big Questions swirling around these days, isn’t it disconcerting to realize we don’t even know exactly what life is?

Oh, I don’t mean all those clever answers like “Life is a long lesson in humility” (James M. Barrie) or “Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act” (Truman Capote).

No, I mean what is life?

As in, what’s the difference between a rock and a human being? We all agree a human being has life, right? And the rock does not.

Not Alive

Now tell me why we know that.

You can’t.

Nor can the greatest life scientists on this weird planet.

Lisa Pratt, Provost’s Professor of Geological Sciences here at IU, for one, can’t tell us what life is. And, hell, she’s a specialist in something called biogeochemistry. Yee-oww.

Pratt told a panel of life scientists at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures yesterday that no one has developed an agreed-upon definition of life so far. “To accept the fact that scientists can’t seem to reach an agreement on the most basic ideas is troubling,” she said.

Alive

It may be troubling to her but I find it rather comforting. Nature humbles us. The imams and priests and lamas of the world tell us they have the answers. The scientists, though, say Search me.

Count me on the side of the scientists.

WHAT’S OUT THERE?

Hey, the weekly Kirkwood Observatory open houses started up again last night.

Kirkwood Observatory, This Past Christmas Day

From now until mid-November the little domed structure just off Indiana Avenue near the Sample Gate will be open to the public. You can peer planets and stars through the Astronomy Department’s telescopes each Wednesday night, provided the sky is clear. Hours are from 9-11pm until mid-April. Every couple of weeks thereafter the facility will open and close a half-hour later due to Daylight Savings Time. After the June solstice, open hours will begin creeping back earlier as the summer wears on.

WHAT IS LIFE?

My favorite Beatle, George Harrison.

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” — Peter Ustinov

PAYOLA DEMOCRACY

Two years ago tomorrow, the Reagan/Bush/Bush Supreme Court turned the national electoral process into a plaything for the uber-rich.

George W. Bush Introduces His Nominee For Chief Justice, John Roberts

Yup. The Citizens United decision came down January 21, 2010, with Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, and Scalia affirming that the more money you’ve got, the more precious your voice is.

Super PACs, the natural malignant outgrowth of the decision, already have proven to be huge influences in the 2012 presidential race. Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have benefited mightily from TV ads placed by their respective super PACs. Of course, both Romney and Gingrich shrug and look innocent when asked about the inflammatory rhetoric of their wealthy cheerleaders.

And don’t think Barack Obama’s own super PACs won’t flood the airwaves come September and October.

COSTA CONCORDIA TRAGEDY IS A SAD JOKE

Humor is tragedy plus time. Not enough time has passed, for instance, for 9/11 jokes. Nor for even JFK assassination jokes. Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, on the other hand, has inspired the well-known “Otherwise, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” stand-alone punchline.

Some tragic events generated macabre jokes within minutes of their occurrence. In those pre-internet days of 1986, the Challenger space shuttle disaster was followed almost immediately by a rush of calls from office to office about Christa McAuliffe and colleagues, “vacationing all over the Atlantic.”

The Costa Concordia shipwreck story is hardly a week old. I haven’t heard any jokes about it yet. Still, the thing is rife with its own ghastly humor.

The Costa Concordia Before The Funny Business Started

I mean, honestly, have you read the transcripts of the ship-to-shore radio exchanges between Captain Schettino and onshore authorities as survivors still were being pulled out of the water? It reads like the script from a Marx Brothers movie, for pity’s sake.

When a port official first contacted an officer aboard the Concordia and asked if there was anything wrong, the officer replied only that there was a blackout on board. The port official seemed a tad skeptical considering he’d already been contacted by passengers on the ship who said they’d been ordered to don lifejackets.

Really, now. Wouldn’t Chico Marx, had he been the officer in question, have just as easily lied to the port official, saying the lights were merely out even as the big ship was sinking?

So the port official asked the officer if he should send help. The officer essentially said, Everything’s fine here (with the aside to the audience: As long as you ignore all those people jumping overboard).

Or Chico might have replied, You’d better or my career will be sunk.

But the real black humor came later after coastal guard Commander Di Falco got hold of Captain Schettino. He’d learned that Schettino (Groucho as Captain Spaulding) was safely esconsed in a lifeboat while passengers still were struggling to get off the ship.

Di Falco, naturally, must be played by Sig Ruman.

Sigfried Ruman As Commander Di Falco

Di Falco: Captain Spaulding!

Spaulding: How do you do, Di Falco? Not so hot, by the looks of you. (Real dialogue: “Yes. Good evening, Commander Di Falco.”)

Di Falco: Now you listen to me! Get back on that ship! (“Listen, Schettino. There are people trapped on board…. There is a pilot ladder. You will climb that ladder and go on board. You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear?”)

Spaulding: I don’t like the tone of your voice, Di Falco. (“… [L]et me tell you one thing….”)

Di Falco: “Speak up!”

Spaulding: Are you out of your mind? That ship is sinking! (“In this moment, the boat is tipping….”)

Di Falco: You idiot! Get up there now and save the women and children! I’ll have your hide for this, you dunderhead! (“… [L]isten, there are people coming down the ladder of the prow. You go up that pilot ladder, get on that ship and tell me how many people are still on board…. Listen, Schettino, you saved yourself from the sea, but I am going to really do something bad to you. I am going to make you pay for this. Get on board, [expletive]!”)

Spaulding: Let’s be reasonable, Di Falco. (“Commander, please….)

Di Falco: “No…. You now get up and go on board. They are telling me that on board there are still….”

Spaudling: Say, Di Falco. There’s no need to raise your voice to me. The rescue is over — I’m safe! (“I am here with the rescue boats. I am here. I am not going anywhere. I am here.”)

Di Falco: “What are you doing, Captain?”

Spaulding: Why, I’m in charge here! Why do you think they call me captain? (“I’m here to coordinate the rescue.”)

Di Falco: You’re now the captain of a rowboat, you hoodlum! (“What are you coordinating there? Go on board! Coordinate the rescue from the ship…! It is an order! Don’t make any more excuses…! My air rescue crew is there!”)

Spaulding: (Looking around.) No wonder I heard helicopters. (“Where are your rescuers?”)

Di Falco: “My air rescue is now on the prow. Go. There are already bodies….”

Spaulding: Bodies? What bodies? (“How many bodies are there?”)

Di Falco: You should be telling me! Great Caesar’s ghost! (“You are the one who has to tell me how many there are! Christ!”)

Spaulding: This is an outrage, Di Falco. You’re asking me to get my new uniform wet. Do you realize how much the dry cleaner charges these days? Besides, it’s cold and dark. (“Do you realize it is dark here and we can’t see anything?”)

Di Falco: Would you like me to bring you a cup of hot cocoa, Captain? (“And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on the prow of that boat…. Now!”)

Spaulding: What are you worried about, Di Falco? The other rescuers are here. [He puts his arms around two comely female passengers.] I like it fine right here in this lifeboat. (“Commander, I want to go on board but… there are other rescuers.”)

And so on.

Later news reports have revealed that Schettino steered the ship dangerously close to the rocks that eventually sank it as a way of “saluting” a friend on shore. Oh, and that he had been seen drinking and carousing with a beautiful blonde just before the ship started taking on water.

Man. This Schettino character is a bigger clown than Captain Spaulding, Rufus T. Firefly, Otis B. Driftwood, and Dr. Hackenbush put together.

THE TEARS OF A CLOWN

“Now there’s some sad things known to man….”

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

From the movie, “The Apartment,” by Billy Wilder:

C.C. Baxter: “Did you hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you.”

Fran Kubelik: (smiling) “Shut up and deal!”

TRAPPING THE WORLD IN MY WEB

So, I got some news yesterday morning. Good news. Problem is, I don’t know if I should brag or play it cool.

Aw, you know me. I’ll brag.

According to my WordPress.com Site Stats, The Electron Pencil has been viewed by people in the following countries: the US (natch), Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Thailand, the Philippines, Iraq, India, the UAE, and Australia.

The Mighty Electron Pencil Tower, In My Backyard

This being the Internet, I assume at least some of those hits are accidents, people misinterpreting a category listing for porn, or scammers trying to empty my checking account. Still, that’s 17 countries spread across all six habitable continents.

Cool, huh?

ONE LESS WHOOPING CRANE

Some son of a bitch shot another endangered whooping crane dead recently. The incident was reported Friday to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. One of only 500 or so of the rare birds left in the US, the crane was found in the Muscatatuck River basin near Crothersville in Jackson County.

The current population of whooping cranes has increased from an alarming low of 21 in 1941. Of the birds now living in the US, some 70 percent are wild; the rest live in zoos and private sanctuaries.

Some whooping cranes can grow as tall as five feet. They graze in marshes and fields, pecking for small animals, fish, berries, and grain.

Adults are brilliant white with black wingtips and red and black masks. A whooping crane liftoff is a spectacular site.

A Whooping Crane In Flight

Did I mention the guy or guys who killed the crane are sons of bitches?

AIN’T THAT AMERICA?

Here is the defining snapshot of our holy land thus far in the infant year, 2012:

Billionaire big-city boss Michael Bloomberg smooches talent-free superstar Lady Gaga at the Times Square ball-dropping ceremony. Moments like these make me think it’s midnight in America, babies.

ROMNEY’S MATE

Look, Mitt Romney’s going to be the Republican nominee for president. He’s that party’s only near-centrist and he’s the savviest politician among the lot of them still in the running.

He’s The One

Remember how he dropped out of the 2008 race even though he was running virtually neck and neck with the eventual nominee, John McCain? Romney’s political instincts told him that the 44th Presidency was going to be defined by nothing so much as the nearly moribund economy.

I mean, Barack Obama’s in hot water only because the fallout from the Great Recession still is raining radioactivity upon us. People blame him for service cutbacks and unemployment even though he inherited from his four predecessors the conditions that caused those ills.

Four years ago, Romney figured, Why should I be the one to take that heat?

Smart choice.

So, when the GOP convenes in Tampa in August, that crafty pol will be the one telling the nation how fabulous things will be with him in the White House.

And Romney will hold up the arm of his running mate. But who will that be?

Mark it, dude, it’s going to be the right winger from our worst nightmares. The GOP’s most energetic base still considers Romney to be Abbie Hoffman with an expensive haircut. He’ll have to throw them the veep of their choice as a bone.

I get this creepy feeling we’re going to be longing for the good old days of Sarah Palin next November.

HELLO 2012

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair at Chez Pencil. The Loved One and I stayed in and made some homemade pizza vanish.

We watched a couple of movies that, by happy coincidence, contained New Year’s Eve scenes: Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” and Charles Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush.”

The Little Fellow Awaits His New Year’s Eve Guests

The years, oddly, seem to be getting shorter. I wonder if calendar makers are cutting back during these tough economic times.

WE DO FACEBOOK SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO

A no-spamily, no brattle zone.

Retro-junkie and film/vid producer Mike Flores posted a link to this old Bob Hope wisecrack last week.

Funny thing is, Hope could have told the joke exactly the same way except substituting “Republican” for “Democrat” and the other half of the country would have roared and said, “How true!”

We all think we’re brilliantly perceptive and the other side is either stupid or mesmerized.

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

This is a gem, a clip from a 1965 documentary on Frank Sinatra. Say what you will about him, he was an artist. This clip, in fact, features three artists: Sinatra, of course; the conductor Gordon Jenkins; and the announcer, Walter Cronkite.

Sinatra in the studio was demanding, mostly of himself. His phrasing and articulation were stunning. His ear was almost inhuman in its sensitivity.

Sportswriters talk about superstars who raise the game of their teammates. That’s what Sinatra did for the other musicians in the studio with him.

Well, we didn’t blow ourselves up in 2011. We’re still here and plugging away, albeit clumsily and often stupidly. In that sense, it was a reasonably good year. Let’s see if we can get another thing or two right in 2012.

%d bloggers like this: