Category Archives: Mark Twain

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” — Lenny Bruce

MAN WAS HIS PET, AFTER THE HOUSEFLY*

In this holy land it’s a lot easier to believe in god than it is not to.

America’s biggest holiday is Christmas.

Our coins read “In God We Trust.”

Every candidate for president must declare what a pious soul he or she is.

We say “… one nation under god…” we we pledge allegiance.

Both houses of Congress begin each day’s proceedings with a benediction delivered by a professional believer.

When someone sneezes we say, “God bless you.”

When we’re annoyed we say, “For Christ’s sake!” When we’re really mad we say, “God damn it.”

When we go to war, we ask god to help us blow the brains out of enemy soldiers’ heads.

In America, god is everywhere.

This weekend the putative creator of the universe will be the object of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of special assemblies.

There will be, for instance, a series of “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies in cities around the country. These folks believe their BFF in the sky doesn’t like sex and is miffed because employer health care plans will soon be forced to cover contraceptives.

One Way To Get Under God’s Skin

Unindicted co-conspirator Pope Benedict XVI travels this weekend to Mexico. Monday he hops over to Cuba. He’ll draw huge throngs in both countries.

And Saturday, atheists will crowd the Mall in Washington, DC to proclaim that they have no invisible friends or protectors. Organizers hope the Reason Rally, also dubbed Woodstock for atheists, will attract some 30,000 godless souls.

When I was a kid, a woman named Madalyn Murray O’Hair made a big splash. She was America’s most well-known atheist in the 1960s. It seems her son Bill was compelled to participate in Bible readings while a student in the Baltimore City Public Schools. So she filed suit, which eventually made its way to the US Supreme Court as part of a broader case.

I was a nominal Roman Catholic at the time. My parents (Ma, mostly) still went to church and dragged me along. Ma and Dad wouldn’t drop out for another five or so years. I couldn’t drop out of the faith because I’d never had it.

However, I had some clubbish loyalty to the faithful and so felt that Madeline Murray O’Hair, who soon would found American Atheists, was a villain. She was called “America’s most hated woman.” It didn’t help that O’Hair was pretty much a lunatic.

The Most Hated Woman In America

So even though I had no particular allegiance to any god, I was on the side of those who did. But I was a kid.

By the age of 12, I’d given up childish things — like blind loyalty — and started thinking for myself. The nuns at St. Giles school had told me god was love. They’d said I must love him.

Man, I had a tough time with that one. How do I love god? I mean, he’s this big, powerful guy who doesn’t say much and is always aggravated. In fact, he’s just like my father.

So I imagined kissing god’s cheeks profusely. See, Ma always made me kiss Dad goodnight. He’d sit there in his recliner, purportedly watching TV but actually dozing noisily. I’d have to stretch and strain to plant my tender little lips on his sandpaper face. He wouldn’t budge an inch.

“Wait’ll I Get My Hands on You!”

I figured that’s the way it would be with god. I’d imagine myself up in heaven, standing on a chair on my tiptoes, raining smooches on god’s abrasive cheek. He, too, would remain impassive while I gushed over him.

By 12, that fever dream didn’t cut it anymore. I never did figure out how to love god.

I’m not going to Washington for the Atheists’ Woodstock. I’ve long believed atheism is about not being part of a team.

Christians’ll have an easier time of it at their rallies here in America, as well as in Mexico and Cuba. They can all pat each other on the back and say how great it is to be the apple of god’s eye.

What are the atheists going to do? You can’t really celebrate the non-existence of something, can you?

Actually, I don’t even like the term atheist. There is, of course, the association with Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s weirdness. Then there’s the matter of identifying myself by what I’m not.

It’s like joining a club for people who’ve never murdered anyone. After introducing yourself and proclaiming you’ve never taken a life, there isn’t much else to do.

A better term might be Other — as in the only box I can honestly check on an application that asks me my religion.

I’m a devout Other.

(* Quote from Mark Twain’s “Letters from the Earth.”)

IMAGINE

My second favorite Beatle.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Most artists work all the time. They do, actually, especially good artists. They work all the time. What else is there to do?” — David Hockney

FROM THE CHELSEA TO EAST PILSEN

Reading about the time Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived in New York City’s Chelsea Hotel got me thinking about a few years that I spent living and working in a similar milieu.

The Chelsea was the storied Manhattan locus of artists, writers, actors, musicians, and many other ne’er-do-wells. Arthur C. Clarke lived and wrote there — he penned “2001: A Space Odyssey” in his cramped room. Dylan Thomas wrote and died there. Mark Twain spent time there. So did O. Henry, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Brendan Behan, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Thomas Wolfe.

The Chelsea’s visual artists included Christo, Julian Schnabel, Frida Kahlo, R. Crumb, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Willem De Kooning, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

More musicians than can reasonably listed here called the Chelsea home as well. People from Edith Piaf to Iggy Pop received their mail at the Chelsea.

The Chicago art scene at the turn of this century was centered around the East Pilsen neighborhood just southwest of the Loop. In 1998, I moved into a first floor apartment on 17th Place and, later, lived at Carpenter Avenue and 18th Street. I spent my days clacking my keyboard at the Hardware Cafe coffeehouse on Halsted, one of the neighborhood’s social centers.

The Chelsea mixed creative types with drag queens, hookers, and poet-wannabes. East Pilsen melded working artists with gang-bangers and people who claimed to be artists mainly because they couldn’t keep a day job.

One night I watched two neighborhood toughs stroll out of Pauly’s Tavern at 18th and Union, conversing and laughing, looking for all the world like the best of friends until one guy cold-cocked the other, dropping his pal to the ground like a sack of sugar. The puncher picked up the punchee, brushed him off, and the two resumed conversing and laughing as if nothing had happened.

The writers, actors, painters, sculptors, and other societal misfits of East Pilsen learned to steer clear of the thugs and hellions. But we found each other. We were not as celebrated as the Chelsea artists, but we worked as hard. Then again, none of us labored as diligently as our New York counterparts at becoming celebrated, so there is that.

Below, I present a reprint of a story I wrote for the Chicago Reader 12 years ago.

ON EXHIBIT: A SECRET SOCIETY SHOWS ITSELF

A year ago this month I was abducted by a tough-looking character with a filterless Camel dangling from his lips. He placed a callused hand on my shoulder and said, “Come with me.” I hesitated. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You won’t get hurt.”

He brought me to a nondescript storefront in East Pilsen, where I was forced to listen to a CD of some Deep South banjo picking. A group of people got up from a table full of steaming food, danced around me, and placed leis and chains around my neck. A cape was draped over my shoulders and a titanic sombrero balanced on my head. A fellow who looked to be the leader of this mob handed me a two-foot-long pipe brush. “This is your scepter,” he said.

“Welcome to the weekly meeting of the Ever-So-Secret Order of the Lampreys,” this fellow — we’ll call him K — said. “You’ve been selected as our adjudicator. It is your duty to judge the art that’s been made over the last week by our members. Tonight you are all-powerful. You are a deity. Wield your power wisely.” He motioned for me to sit in a chair.

For the next two hours I watched and judged as some two dozen sculptures, drawings, paintings, poems, and musical pieces were paraded before me. All the artwork, I learned, was inspired by a single word: “bodacious.” The Lampreys fittingly are a bodacious bunch.

“A couple of years ago I was sitting around thinking, ‘All I ever do is make stuff for clients,'” says K, a tall guy with a Dixie accent and hair that changes colors as often as the wind changes directions. “I do architectural ironwork and ceramic and marble work. I enjoy making objects; it’s a good way to make money. But I like to make sculpture. I like to make useless objects. So I brainstormed with my buddy S, my roommate at the time.”

K and S had met when S crashed one of K’s parties. K throws parties at the drop of a hat. He’ll even celebrate the night before a party. His semiannual pig roasts are known far and wide, attracting hundreds of artists, musicians, old hippies, bikers, manic-depressives, bookies, and schoolteachers. K took an immediate shine to S, a sculptor from Australia, and hired him to work in his metal shop. A couple of weeks later, S and his girlfriend, L, moved into K’s spare bedroom.

“We were drawn together,” K says. “He had a similar problem.” S spent every waking hour making art for his portfolio. His only concern was the business of making art. K and S brooded over glasses of whiskey one night. They mooned over their idealistic days as aspiring artists. “It was a blast back then,” K says. “Then we started taking ourselves too seriously.

“So we decided to make an object once a week that’s not related to our portfolio, our clients, to anything. It would be absolutely non-marketable. L told us about this big Sunday brunch at her family’s house in Australia. Everyone had a standing invitation and would get fed well.”

K found it impossible to pass up yet another excuse for a party. He and S planned to make new pieces for a brunch the following Sunday. “That first week, there were the two of us,” K recalls. “L thought it was kind of cool, so the next time there were three of us. Someone heard about it, and the next week we had four.” Within months the revolving cast of artists and hangers-on numbered in the dozens. Soon the brunch became a ritual that had to be codified.

“We decided we would no longer own our pieces,” K says. “They would become property of the group. We also figured if we were going to present our pieces formally there should be some kind of ceremony with someone chosen to preside over the presentation.” Thus began the tradition of kidnapping some unsuspecting sap to be the adjudicator.

“The adjudicators are dressed awfully silly,” K acknowledges. “You cannot have a secret society that doesn’t have a set of absurd rules. With this comes a great deal of pomp and circumstance. We take it to the extreme by allowing the adjudicators to believe they are all-powerful. There was one adjudicator who demanded that we all get naked. We thought about it but then realized there were some members who didn’t want to. So there was a coup. We shouted, ‘The King is dead; long live the King!'”

The adjudicator bestows an array of fanciful awards. A scrap of polished wood is known as the False Gem of Hope. A well-worn wig is the Matted Hair of Revulsion. The Sardines of Delusion is a can of (what else?) sardines, while the Banana of Ill Repute is a two-year-old black, shriveled banana.

“This whole idea caught on,” K says. “Everyone we invited to the meeting started participating. We come from a lot of different backgrounds. We have trolley drivers and carpenters. There are some people who’ve never made art before. One guy, a computer programmer, joined us for the word ‘spicy’ and sewed 400 chili peppers to a pair of boxer shorts and wore them and nothing else, dancing into the room.” With so many making art, it became obvious a weekly theme was in order. So at the end of his or her term, the adjudicator has the task of choosing the next week’s word. “Our first word was ‘structure,'” K says. “Then we had ‘symmetry.’ We had ‘beef.’ Then there was ‘lagniappe,’ a little something extra. Then there was a made-up word from sci-fi, ‘grok.'”

Early on someone suggested the group needed a name. A lightbulb went off over K’s head. “Society has always viewed artists as lampreys, sucking on its soft, fleshy underbelly,” he says. “We decided to claim the name. We suck.”

These being artists, a late-morning starting time for the brunches was as welcome as a 3 AM alarm clock blast. The Lampreys began to gather later and later in the day. Now dinner is served at around 8:30 or 9 PM.

In November 1998 the Lampreys erected an altar to the memory of scientist Nikola Tesla for a Day of the Dead exhibit. “Tesla was a nut,” K says. “He was a Lamprey.” Someone described it to Chuck Thurow, director of the Hyde Park Art Center. Thurow dropped in on a Lamprey meeting and decided, almost on the spot, to offer the gallery to them for an exclusive show.

“3½ Months of Sundays” will open this Sunday, March 5. The group will erect altars to such overlooked geniuses as Sen No Rikyu, who several centuries ago elevated the simple Japanese afternoon tea to a formal ritual, and Philo Farnsworth, who invented the TV picture tube but had to sue RCA to earn royalties. The altars will surround a centerpiece containing 2,000 Lamprey pieces, displayed together for the first time.

“One of the problems with showing Lamprey work is it’s not very commodified,” K says. “It’s not something we can sell. We can’t be shown in a typical gallery because there’s no money to be made off us. It’s more about the process and the meeting each week. The object becomes de-emphasized and less precious. The collection becomes fascinating.”

I was fascinated that Sunday night a year ago. After I’d reviewed all the art and passed out the awards, K told me I had one final duty: choose the next week’s word. I pondered for ten minutes and then wrote on a big chalkboard the word “mortar.”

Immediately K stripped off my royal raiment. “Now you’re nothing,” K shouted gleefully. The tough-looking character with the filterless Camel dangling from his lips smirked. “You’re just like one of us,” he said. I couldn’t wait to come back the next Sunday.

The opening party for “3½ Months of Sundays” will be held from 4 to 6 PM this Sunday at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5307 S. Hyde Park Blvd. A closing party will be held from 5 to 9 PM on Saturday, April 15. Call 773-324-5520 for more information.

— M

(Originally published in the Chicago Reader, March 2, 2000)

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee of the refuge of the grave and denied it.

“For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

“We ask it in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.

“Amen.” — Mark Twain, from his short story, “The War Prayer

FAIR IN WAR

David Jones, the recently retired director of Indiana University’s Center on Southeast Asia, shook his head  and muttered, “My god.”

He was thumbing through this morning’s paper in Soma Coffee and had come upon yet another story about that Army sergeant who apparently went out and systematically killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan.

House Of Death

This latest bit that made Jones splutter was the suggestion that the as-yet unnamed sergeant was drunk when he committed the alleged deed.

Jones railed about what he perceives to be an attempt to excuse the soldier. He also expressed a fear that the incident may lead to a web of deceit or even unlock secrets about greater atrocities.

At which point, I mused that, rather than look for individual bad guys to string up, thereby making ourselves feel better about this nasty business of war, we ought to look upon the killings as a natural result of war.

War, I said, pushes all its participants to the edge of civility and even sanity. The most fragile of those participants, I concluded, often snap.

My Lai

Were Jones an orator of my school, he would have said bullshit. Unfortunately, the vocabulary imposed upon him by academia precludes him from employing such piercing and effective terms.

Still, my hypothesis was, in Jones’s estimation, full of crap.

“Then we should have opened up the doors to all the jails that held those who participated in the Holocaust,” Jones said.

How can I argue with his point?

OUR BASTARDS ARE MORE BRUTAL THAN YOUR BASTARDS

Studs Terkel called it “The Good War.” World War II often is seen as a battle of good versus evil.

Really, all wars are carried out so that “good” will prevail. Leaders of nations are opportunistic and duplicitous, sure, but none has ever been so brazen as to try to convince his people they should sacrifice their lives because theirs is Lucifer’s mission.

But even the defeated Germans and Japanese today acknowledge that the beating they took in the 1940s was deserved.

The United States won its war with Japan for a variety of reasons. The outcome of the war, essentially, was sealed only six months after Pearl Harbor when the US Navy decimated the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway. Had Japanese leadership not been so bloodthirsty and ambitious, that nation would have sat down with the US to negotiate a peace soon after.

Midway

But Japan didn’t. The war would rage on for another three years. Millions of lives were lost because the Japanese bosses couldn’t bear to accept reality.

It was feared that the only way to end the war would be to invade the Japanese mainland. That meant we needed a fighting force even more bloodthirsty than the Japanese had.

No one was more bloodthirsty than Curtis LeMay.

LeMay

As a rising star in the Army Air Corps, LeMay earned a reputation as a demanding, innovative, brilliant, cutthroat strategist and leader. Robert McNamara described him in a report as “the finest combat commander of any service I came across in war. But he was extraordinarily belligerent, many thought brutal.”

LeMay was transferred from the European to the Pacific theater in 1944. He rose to become the commander of air operations against the Japanese mainland. In his new role, he instituted the practice of massive nighttime, low-altitude, incendiary bombing raids on Japanese cities.

Under this plan, American bombers attacked 64 Japanese metropolitan areas. Most Japanese housing was constructed of highly flammable wood and paper. The bombing raids, carried out from March through August, 1945, destroyed 40 percent of the structures in those cities.

That’s the equivalent of an enemy destroying almost half the land area of every US city ranked by population from New York to Anchorage, Alaska. One raid took place on March 10th over Tokyo. The ensuing firestorm killed 100,000 civilians and destroyed 250,000 buildings. Estimates of the number of civilians killed in all the raids range from a quarter to a half a million. Some five million Japanese were made homeless.

The Day After

Another aspect of LeMay’s strategy was called Operation Starvation, aimed at disrupting Japan’s food distribution channels. Its name alone says all you need to know about it.

LeMay himself was quoted as saying he would have been tried as a war criminal had the US lost the war.

Then the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two attacks served as exclamation points for America’s argument that Japan should surrender unconditionally. The war ended six days after Nagasaki.

Punctuation

The Good War.

Again, even the Japanese today agree that the good guys won.

Curtis LeMay, therefore, was one of the good guys.

War.

 

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.” — Fran Lebowitz (h/t to RE Paris)

GOOD RIDDANCE, ANDREW BREITBART

“I’ve never killed a man but I’ve read several obituaries with glee.” — Mark Twain

Andrew Breitbart is dead. The Earth is now a better place.

Like Twain, I don’t care much for gloating when a bad guy dies but in this case, Whoopee!

Gone, Baby, Gone

Breitbart was a character assassin, an amoral ideologue, an agent provocateur, and, well, a dick of the highest order.

Here’s the difference between a warthog like Breitbart and a human being of decency. When Shirley Sherrod heard about his death, she said, “The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning. My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time.”

Sherrod: A Gracious Victim

This from a woman whose career serving in government was derailed by a phony-assed, maliciously edited video produced by none other than Mr. Breitbart.

And speaking of phony-assed, maliciously edited videos, it was Breitbart’s airing of the ACORN footage that led to that social service organization’s eventual bankruptcy and demise. Nice work, Andy-baby, pissing on all those folks who need food, housing, and legal services for your own professional advancement.

Naturally, the Republican candidates for president are mourning his passing as though a great public servant is gone from the scene. Rick Santorum calls his death a “huge loss, in my opinion, to our country.” Mitt Romney remembers him as a “loving husband and father.”

“Aw, He Was Such A Nice Guy.”

Reminds me of when any notorious Outfit boss kicked the bucket back in Chicago. No matter that he’d been responsible for corrupting labor unions, forcing the Mob’s way into legitimate businesses, and murdering loan sharks, recalcitrant shopkeepers and potential witnesses, his neighbors would say he was such a nice guy and a real fine family man.

Hey, people, even A. Hitler was kind to his dog Blondi. That doesn’t excuse him for his evil acts.

Anyway, Breitbart — though not Hitler or a capo, but profoundly destructive in his own way — joins such luminaries as J. Edgar Hoover, George Wallace, Orval Faubus, Curtis LeMay, and Lee Atwater in the pantheon of dead evil Americans.

It’s irrelevant that he was “a loving husband and father.”

“Welcome To Hell, Andy!”

PAYING THE PIPER

Now that Mayor Mark Kruzan doesn’t have to worry about reelection for a while, he can level with Bloomington voters about the state of the city’s finances.

They ain’t good.

Kasey Husk of the Herald Times reports this morning that Kruzan says there are “dark clouds on the horizon” for us.

Potential Cover Shot For Bloomington’s Annual Financial Report

The reason Kruzan waited until now to drop the bomb on us, apparently, is the potential that voters could have blamed him for the economic mess we’re in. That would have been stupid, of course, but then again no one ever accused the electorate, either here or nationally, of being remarkably brilliant.

Smart Enough To Know We’re Not All That Smart

Hell, an entire major political party is fired up by proud anti-intellectualism. (I won’t even link to that party — you can guess which one I mean.)

So no, the city’s empty pockets aren’t Kruzan’s fault.

But we know where the blame primarily lies — all those clever, conniving, duplicitous investment banking house unindicted felons who played our economy for hundred of billions of dollars in fees and bonuses and left it dry.

Check out Michael Lewis’s book, “Liar’s Poker” for an early snapshot of the unregulated, greenback-worshipping, hyenas that populated Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Wall Street money-squeezers back in the mid- and late-80s.

Not a one of those reprobates has ever served a minute in jail. Yet guys like Mark Kruzan have to worry that voters may turn on them because of the sins of Wall Street.

We can only hope there is a hell so that Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, and the rest of their aiders and abettors can join Andrew Breitbart in it.

IT’S ALL RELATIVE

With Russia’s presidential election three days away and Vladimir Putin looking like a shoo-in, we’re being inundated by news stories and commentary about what a despot the former KGB spook is. Deep thinkers are howling about how un-democratic the supposedly-now-democratic heart of the former Soviet Union is.
No doubt Putin’s goons have had “meetings” with dissenting journalists, his spies have added a dash of “strychnine” to the soup of neighboring pols or fed polonium pellets to expat whistle blowers, and his PR flacks are hard at work manipulating the minds of Russian couch potatoes.

That’s all true. Plus, Putin is such a charismatic tough guy that when he met the notoriously untraveled George W. Bush, this holy land’s president-at-the-time tumbled into a deep man-crush over him.

Putin Porn

Yesterday, though, I caught another side of the story. Former IU writing professor Erlene Stetson and her husband visit us at the Book Corner nearly every day when they’re in town. Her husband was born in Germany and they keep homes in both countries.

The husband — whose name I never catch because we start talking about world events and history immediately, leaving little time for idle chit-chat and social niceties, so let’s call him Mr. Stetson — started ruminating about Putin and Russia.

“It is amazing,” Mr. Stetson said, “how things have changed in Russia.”

He was talking about the Russia of today vis-a-vis that of such sweethearts as Joseph Stalin and his successors.

Mr. Stetson pointed out that even if the Russian press and TV outlets are manipulated and intimidated now and again, they’re still a hundred-fold freer than the old state media apparatus was under the Communist General Secretaries.

He also says the recent mass protests against Putin and Russian voter fraud would never, ever have been tolerated in the Soviet days.

Russia, 2012

Eastern Europeans of a certain generation view the new Russia in a state of near-awe these days, according to Mr. Stetson. Not that they envy Muscovites and the like, just that the relative relaxation of traditional Russian authoritarianism is so jarring in comparison to the bad old days.

Of course, it’s easy to look good when the object of comparison is a tyranny that, under Stalin, murdered tens of millions of people to maintain discipline, advance ideology, and just for the fun of it.

This reminds me of revisionist historians who decry the so-called Fathers of Our Country for owning slaves and treating women as decorative appendages.

White men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did indeed “own” human beings, including their lovely brides.

“Property”

Viewed through today’s lens, Washington and Jefferson appear to be monsters.

In their own day, though, the framers of the US Constitution were the most progressive thinkers on the face of the Earth. They eschewed divine authority and legislated nobility out of existence. Yes, the only US citizens that counted were white male land-owners.

But that was a hell of a leap forward from previous social set-ups. We’ve been taking leaps in fits and starts ever since.

As the late, astute Molly Ivins once wrote, “It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”

MERCEDES BENZ

“The Lord” and Money — perhaps this should be our national anthem.

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

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

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

RICK SANTORUM’S PROBLEM

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

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

Rick Santorum?

Let me ask that again — Rick Santorum?

Rick Santorum Wore This Suit While Decrying Gay Marriage

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

But Rick Santorum?

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

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

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

Rick Santorum’s Problem(s)

IGNORANTIA LEGIS*

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

Gerstman

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

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

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

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

Some vacation.

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

Some confidence.

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

KILL YOUR TV

Make sure you read at least ten books this year.

Here are ten of my faves:

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

Angier

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

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

FRICTION

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

The Pencil Today:

SMARTEN UP

Leave it to Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

YOU WANT US TO TEACH YOUR KIDS TOO?!

So, the Monroe County Community Schools Corporation is going to spend a quarter of a million dollars installing security cameras and buzz-in doors at local schoolhouses.

New MCCSC boss Judy DeMuth has made it clear her administration’s top priority is “safety.”

The Herald Times in an editorial today says, “…[T]here really is no amount too high to pay for student safety.”

Who Needs Teachers When You Have Security Guards?

Yes indeed, our children will be safe. Not necessarily educated, considering the recent massive cuts in school funding, but safe.

BOOKS? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ BOOKS!

Speaking of silly things like book larnin’ and other socialist plots, the Monroe County Public Library faces a $600,000 shortfall for fiscal year 2013.

Plenty Of Books But Where Are The Guns?

Thankfully, the philosopher-statesmen in the Indiana statehouse have enacted a concealed carry law permitting patrons to bring their artillery into the library.

Library hours may be cut. Staff may be slashed. Books and materials acquisition will be curtailed.

But we’ll be safe.

PROGRESS

Just to prove I’m not totally down on this holy land in the year 2011, allow me to take you back to the year 1900.

The late Howard Zinn in his excellent “A People’s History of the United States” tells of the “Rules for Female Teachers” a Massachussetts small town board of education issued a 111 years ago:

  1. Do not get married.
  2. Do not leave town at any time without permission of the school board.
  3. Do not keep company with men.
  4. Be home between the hours of 8:00pm and 6:00am.
  5. Do not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
  6. Do not smoke.
  7. Do not get into a carriage with any man except your father or brother.
  8. Do not dress in bright colors.
  9. Do not dye your hair.
  10. Do not wear any dress more than two inches above the ankle.

There. I wonder if the kids were as safe then as they are today, though.

Oh, and Number 11: Crush Your Abdomen

WORDS ARE FOR LIBERALS, DEMOCRATS, AND OTHER REPROBATES

Cowboy Rick Perry may have had some trouble in recent weeks expressing himself in terms that speakers of the English language can fathom. Some have accused him of being overwhelmed by the complicated task of speaking.

But yesterday, speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition, he proved himself far superior to the outmoded concept that words have, um, meaning.

Words?

The Republican candidates for president had gathered ’round to tell America’s Jews how much they love, love, love them.

This despite the fact that most Jews in this holy land vote Democrat. But the Republicans are the party of god and in these United States god is the Judeo-Christian big man.

Over the centuries, Christians may have gotten a lot of mileage blaming the Jews for inspiring the crucifix logo design. Still, Christians see Jews as their forefathers, albeit mean, old step-forefathers.

So, the party of god sent its best and brightest to the RJC’s tsuzamenfor in Washington to court voters.

The only GOP contender not to show up was Ron Paul, who wasn’t invited. He has committed the unforgivable sin of calling for a cutoff of aid to Israel. Cowboy Rick also has come close to uttering that dastardly line.

Perry last month called for slashing foreign aid to all countries “to zero” and then making them prove they are loyal, malleable, and/or starving enough to death to earn back our largesse. Naturally, reporters later peppered Perry with questions about our best pals in the Middle East. “What about Israel?” came the query from all sides. “Even Israel,” Perry said.

It would be interested to see how Perry could talk his way out of that one.

He did his best.

Perry told the RJC that the several billion dollars the US government ships to Israel each year is not “foreign aid.”

Golly, foreign aid, Cowboy Rick implied, is money we flush down the toilet for countries full of brown people and folks who are not sufficiently enamored of our sacred system of predatory capitalism.

The dough we send to Israel, the Cowboy explained, is, well, “strategic defensive aid.”

Oh.

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