Category Archives: Resist

Hot Air: Human Heroes

Babe Ruth, for at least half a century, was the most famous professional athlete in existence. Perhaps even the most famous person, period. His name was so intertwined with the game — and, by extension, with America itself — that Japanese soldiers in World War II running toward US positions would scream, “Fuck Babe Ruth!”

Babe Ruth

Sportswriters and even Hollywood screenwriters spun tales worthy of a descendent god about him. He visited a dying kid in the hospital and promised to hit a home run for him; he did so and the kid recovered. He got mad at the pitcher in the 1932 World Series, pointed toward the bleachers and immediately hit a home run in that very spot. He hit a dog with a vicious line drive once and scooped the critter up in his arms and ran down the street, still wearing his spikes, to get the pooch to the veterinarian

All bullshit. Pure bullshit.

Sports fans lapped it all up and sportswriters endeared themselves to their subjects by churning out such hagiographic drivel.

Here are a few facts about the Babe that the newspapermen of his day kept under their hats.

  1. Ruth missed almost a third of the 1925 season when he was hospitalized for what newspapers characterized as the “big bellyache heard ’round the world.” Supposedly, the Babe had eaten too many hot dogs at one sitting. The essential untruth of that story is easily debunked: people overeat all the time; they don’t have to go to the hospital and miss several months of work. Nevertheless, that was the generally accepted spin. Truth was, Babe Ruth had either contracted a venereal disease (he was a profligate, nearly pathological swordsman, another factoid neatly glossed over by reporters) or was institutionalized so he could “dry out,” the preferred terminology of the day for alcoholic rehab.
  2. Ruth and his teammate Lou Gehrig originally were quite friendly but eventually became estranged. Sportswriters ascribed their chill to mutual jealousy or some other such innocuous human failing. The truth, once again, was far more fascinating. It seems one off-season the New York Yankees sailed around the world so they could play exhibition games in foreign countries. At one point during the barnstorming tour, several sources agree, Lou Gehrig burst into the Babe’s room and the two had it out. Gehrig’s wife, you see, was in Ruth’s room at the time and either was drunk (she’d been trying to stay away from booze but Ruth got her drinking) or was in the process of having sex with the Yankee’s cleanup hitter. Either way, Ruth and Gehrig did not speak for years afterward.

Two essential truths emerge:

  1. The American public too often prefers whitewashed hokum to harsh truth
  2. Professional baseball players forever have been young (both chronologically and psychologically) knuckleheads whose morals and everyday behavior resemble that of rutting hogs more than cultural icons.

God forbid journalists might reveal certain truths about our holy land’s cherished sports heroes. That’s the way sports reporting went until the spring of 1970 when baseball pitcher Jim Bouton’s memoir of his 1969 season, Ball Four, was released by World Publishing.

Bouton told the unvarnished truth about what went on in Major League Baseball dugouts, clubhouses, team planes and hotels, and the saloons ballplayers frequented until the wee hours. Ballplayers routinely took methamphetamine pills, “greenies,” before games. Entire teams would climb up to the roof of Washington’s Shoreham Hotel so they could peep in guests’ windows (the structure was L-shaped) in hopes of seeing women undress. Mickey Mantle and his coterie of pals drank like fish. General managers cheated players out of money as a matter of course. Ballplayers cheated on their wives and girlfriends just as frequently.

Bouton emerges from the baseball commissioner’s office after being excoriated for writing Ball Four.

Ball Four was a rollicking, groundbreaking — hell, even revolutionary — sports book. It not only told the tale of pro baseball players in the late 1960s, it addressed race relations, anti-war protests, the generation gap, literacy and anti-intellectualism, labor unionism, and a plethora of timely, timeless topics. It was named one of the books of the century by the New York Public Library. Time magazine named it one of the 100 greatest nonfiction books of all time.

I read it in the summer of 1970 when I was 14 years old. I already was hooked on baseball, thanks mainly to my mother who faithfully followed the Chicago Cubs on her transistor radio as she kneaded bread dough. At that age, I was ripe to fall in thrall to a witty, comparatively sophisticated, iconoclastic jock. After devouring Bouton’s book, I turned around and read it again, cover to cover. I’ve re-read it a dozen or more times since.

I loved the idea of poking authorities in the eye, sneering at hidebound fuddy-duddies, overturning the apple cart, and spitting into the wind. Ball Four changed not only the jock memoir forever but sportswriting in general as well. Over the next few years, I’d recognize that journalists like Mike Royko and Studs Terkel, my heroes, had been doing the same things in the political and social arenas too. Years after that, I discovered Molly Ivins who, too, was a rebel. They all — Bouton included — were cut from the same bolt of cloth.

Jim Bouton last week, Wednesday, at the age of 80. He’d been battling cerebral amyloid angiopathy and had suffered a debilitating stroke in 2012.

Tonight, I plan to dig through my boxes of books to find my well-worn copy of Ball Four. I can’t wait to read it for the umpteenth time.

[ Here’s a terrific interview with Bouton, aided by his wife, Dr. Paula Kurman, a speech therapist. Bouton, at the time of the interview, had great difficulty speaking and remembering. His final days must have been a special hell for such a gifted raconteur. ]

Bouton and his wife, Dr. Paula Kurman, dance outside their home.

Hot Air: Prime Suckers

I don’t begrudge any businesses for creating whatever phony-baloney “Days” they want in order to fool their potential customers into thinking they’re getting special deals or real steals. America since it’s inception has been the world’s safe haven for clever snake oil and used car salesmen. Even — or especially — in today’s “enlightened,” instant information environment, people still fall for any smooth talker’s patter.

If history has shown us anything, it’s that humans are easily swayed, falling for emotional, terror-inducing, flattering, or pseudo-scientific appeals. We think we’re smarter today than were the yokels of 1850 or the illiterate, pre-technological wandering tribes of the Middle East of 2500 years ago. By and large, we’re not.

So if, say, retailers today want to try to persuade us that we must go out and shop for shit at 1:00 in the morning the day after Thanksgiving because, by golly, by doing so we’ll save more money than we’ll even spend, for chrissakes, why then they’re only engaging in what can be considered the one true American tradition. People who want to sell you crap will tell you anything you want to hear and you’ll eat it up because you want — nay, you need — to believe it.

It’s a dance that’s been played here since the Founding Fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” but then went on to pen a Constitution that codified the sub-human status of slaves.

Today, apparently, is Prime Day. Okay, fine. Amazon can declare today anything it likes. It can offer bushwa sales and unbelievable deals. It’s just that we, the people, don’t have to buy into the bullshit. Our newspapers and electronic media do not have to run blaring headlines in their news holes, telling us it’s Prime Day. We don’t have to remind each other when we meet on the street that it’s Prime Day.

NBC’s Today Show Treats It As News.

Just as we don’t have to consider Black Friday or Cyber Monday actual days. They’re not. They’re conceits dreamed up by public relations and advertising people, perhaps the least likely souls on this planet to whom we should look for definitions or parameters.

So, to the next person who says to me today is Prime Day, I say to you, Please shut up.

Just Guys

Bloomington is ground zero for hero worshipping Buddhists, the Dalai Lama in particular. People in casual conversation actually refer, to that religion’s current global head as “His Holiness.” The Dalai Lama visited this town nearly ten years ago and people still recall the event in dreamy, reverent tones, as if…, well, some kind of god descended upon us and gifted us with his presence.

There’s even a Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center and monastery here, on Snoddy Road, founded by old man Gyatso’s brother, a fellow named Thubten Jigme Norbu. For some Bloomingtonians, it’s the center of the universe.

The Dalai Lama, for my money, is a guy (real name: Tenzin Gyatso; born 1935 in Takster, Amdo, Tibet to a family of farmers and horse dealers) who specializes in issuing the type of kindergarten platitudes that college town seekers of Truth and Knowledge and All Things Good & Right eat up.

I don’t have anything against Gyatso, the guy, just as I have no particular quarrel with, say, Jorge Bergoglio, AKA the Roman Catholic Church’s Pope Francis. I’m sure they’re both swell fellows and, likely, riveting dinner guests. But I don’t figure either of them possesses any superhuman insights or can access a divine pipeline. Their employers, however, to one degree or another, are as suspect as any big corporation or association of people, filled with blowhards, zealots, ambitious ladder climbers, influence peddlers, and — yes — jerks.

Buddhism, apparently, does not inoculate its adherents against the baser, more repulsive aspects of our species, no matter what the Dalai Lama’s fanboys and -girls swear. To wit: There’s a strain of Buddhism — run by Lamas less celebrated hereabouts than the 14th D.L. — becoming overwhelmingly numerous and powerful in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. These Buddhists detest Muslims and rant and rave against practitioners of that religion from morning until night. And if someone blows up a mosque, say, well that’s tough shit because Muslims are the bad guys, not like us. Sound familiar?

Even the current Dalai Lama has stuck his foot in his mouth a time or two. Again, that doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. He’s not.

He’s just a guy.

Hot Air: Dosing The Electorate

Among the many, many, many, many things that make President Gag unqualified to hold the highest office in this holy land is his inability — as well as his refusal — to act like a president.

And I’m not talking about his insulting, bullying, victim-playing behavior as illustrated by his constant Tweeting. Or his mocking a handicapped reporter. Or his urging of violence at his campaign rallies. Or unilaterally pulling out of this nation’s ratified treaties on a whim. Or even his failed attempt at staging a Soviet-style military parade on the Fourth of July.

There’s precious little I agree with him about but his campaign promise to reel in prescription drug prices seemed uncharacteristically (for him) sensible. But, see, even when he wants to do the right thing, he does it the wrong way. Precisely the way a president shouldn’t do it.

P. Gag’s admin. had instituted a policy wherein pharmaceutical companies would have to reveal the prices of their drugs in TV advertisements if those prices exceeded $35 a pop. The idea being if the drug cos. are compelled to be, y’know, honest about the scads of dough they charge for life-saving or life-enhancing dope, they just might be less inclined to mark said meds up to the moon, as has been the industry’s practice at least since the 1970s.

Problem is, Li’l Duce had his Dept. of Health and Human Services issue the mandate, which the drug outfits immediately challenged in court. Yesterday, the US District Court in the District of Columbia ruled that HHS had no authority to issue such a proclamation.

This fits in nicely with P. Gag’s overall philosophy of governance: If I say it’s so, it is so. His in-house atty’s should have known better than to allow him to do things this way. The proper way to pressure Big Pharma into curbing its greed would be through legislation — y’know, working with the House and the Senate to craft laws that’d accomplish, legally, what the White House has tried to do extra-legally. That’s how presidents get things done. But this prez never has been fond of working with anybody, much less a democratically-elected group of representatives who might not uniformly genuflect before his might and majesty.

Then again, perhaps P. Gag and his mouthpieces did indeed know they were going at it the wrong way. Who would really believe this president is interested in taking the side of little human beings against the titans of any industry? The way the TV ad requirement was rolled out seems so fercockter, ab ovo, that the cynical among us — me, natch — can suspect Melania’s Beard and his coat-holders wanted the effort to fail.

Li’l Duce‘s angling for the 2020 presidential race — which right now seems a bit of a long shot for him, depending on how much the Dems can avoid shooting themselves in the foot twixt now and then — and fighting for lower prescription drug costs is a perfect vehicle for him to portray his administration as your pal, fighting for your rights and well-being. As a candidate, he positioned himself as a man of the people, a ludicrous conceit but one that worked, saying more about the American people than anything else. He’s not a man of the people. He’s a man of the plutocracy, of the exceedingly tiny elite that controls too much of the world’s wealth. Of course, he can’t campaign on that image.

He can, though, say over the coming 17 months that he fought to lower drug prices but the out-of-touch courts (and, somehow, the Obama Deep State — I’m sure he’ll squeeze that straw man in there somehow) prevented him from helping all us little people.

Call me cynical, sure. But these are awfully cynical times we’re living in.

 

 

Hot Air: Hoosier History & Other Nuggets

Slave Indiana?

The Loved One and I got back home yesterday afternoon around six or so after our traditional Sunday Drive. We’d gone down south, looking for the Cedar Farm mansion, another of Bill and Gayle Cook‘s rescues. It’s an antebellum house, built in 1830 by a couple named Jacob and Elizabeth Kintner. It’s described as a “plantation-style mansion,” one of only two remaining in Indiana.

Upon hearing of it Saturday — a couple I know had gone there Friday afternoon and told me about their trip — the place aroused my curiosity. Was Indiana, I wondered, ever home to slaveholders? More on that later.

The Cooks bought the place in 1984, another in their series of renovations and outright historical rebuilds for which they’d become famed in these parts before old man Bill turned in his timecard in 2011. This particular structure is not open to the public. The couple I knew who’d visited it Friday jumped through a bit of a hoop to access the place. The wife, a docent at IU’s Eskanazi Museum of Art, had met Gayle at a fundraiser for the institution. The woman’s husband’s birthday was on July Fourth so she had the bright idea to contact Gayle Cook and ask if she could take her husband to the Cedar Farm for a celebratory picnic. Gayle Cook happily agreed to let her and her husband on the grounds for the event.

I figured we’d at least be able to see the house, if only from afar. Even the Wikipedia page on the place features a photo taken from what appears to be several counties away, so I didn’t expect to get any extremely close up view.

The Kintner-Withers House on Cedar Farm.

Confident to the point of cockiness, I assured TLO we could sneak our way onto the property so as to get a peek at the mansion. The farm is on a bend of the Ohio River in Harrison County, a few miles south of Laconia, Indiana, pop. 50 (2016 est.) The area boasts lovely terrain, with rolling hills and a few bluffs and ravines, like much of southern IN as one nears the Ohio. Seemingly endless corn and soybean fields dotted with catalpa trees dominate the landscape with nary a McDonald’s in sight. Much of the area probably resembles, more than a little, the surrounding terrain when the mansion was built.

Anyway, we drove for what seemed hours over pavement that wasn’t even marked with lines and then turned onto Cedar Farm Road. Calling it a road seemed the height of presumption. It was nothing more than a pair of parallel dried mud and pebble tire ruts. At one point, The Loved One had to get out of the car to move a downed tree branch. We inched more than a mile down this path, through dense forest, until we came to a locked gate. All we could see was more trees so we never even got the slightest glimpse of the house.

Now, let’s talk slavery. The history of one of this holy land’s mortal sins in Indiana is strange and surprising. The French who settled in these parts in the late 1700s kept slaves as did some of the local Native American communities with whom the French were allied. Now that shocked me; I had no idea Native Americans kept slaves. The French slaveholders introduced the practice of slavery to the Native Americans and, presumably, engaged in slave trade with them. Some historians also hold that Jesuit missionaries persuaded Native American tribes to hold battle prisoners as slaves rather than simply execute them. Many slaves held by Native Americans were themselves Native Americans.

A set of French-inspired laws allowed slaves in what would become Indiana to live slightly better-quality lives than their counterparts in, say, Alabama. Families could not be separated, for instance, and torture and mutilation were banned. When the new United States established the Northwest Territory in 1787, slavery was largely forbidden but when Indiana became its own official “territory” in 1800, its first governor, the future President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, was himself a slaveholder. People like Harrison who’d moved to the territory from slave states were allowed to keep their slaves. The explorer George Rogers Clark also “owned” a couple of slaves when he set up shop in Clarksville, near present day Louisville. Harrison and his allies quickly drew up laws in hopes of circumventing the new nation’s slave ban in the larger territory.

After a few short years, though, abolitionists took over the territorial legislature and by the time Indiana became a state in 1816, they were in complete control here. That year, Indiana’s pro-slavery factions lived mainly in the eastern part of the state and were largely immigrants from Kentucky and points south, all slave states. But Indiana’s first state governor, Jonathan Jennings, was a staunch abolitionist and when he won Indiana’s first gubernatorial election over slavery advocate Thomas Posey, he declared Indiana a “Free State.” Jennings then led the legislature to pass iron-clad anti-slavery laws.

So, by the time the Kintners built their home on the Cedar Farm, there should have been few, if any, slaves in Indiana. I imagine, though, at least a few slaveholders continued the practice in the hinterlands which, it can be assumed, was pretty much the entirety of the state. It would have been one thing to ban slavery here in the early 19th Century and quite another to enforce the law in areas that even today are hard to get to by car.

Did the Kintners own slaves? Was their plantation-style mansion a locus fraught with all the negative connotations similar plantations in, say, Georgia carried? No one quite knows at this remove. One source holds that the total slave population of Indiana in 1830 was a mere three. Again, who can say for certain?

Ticked Off

I collapsed in my recliner when we got home and, falling asleep, I was bedeviled by an itch on the back of my leg near the ankle. Eventually, I sensed it was due to a bug and, when I took a close look, I discovered a tick slurping up as much of my blood as its body could hold.

I swatted the thing off and inspected the bite site. Sure enough, there were the two telltale mandible punctures. I made a note to inspect the site regularly for then next few days or weeks for the bulls-eye rash that might develop if this particular insect had injected me with the Lyme Disease virus. I immediately consulted the Centers for Disease Control website and found that at least half a dozen different rash presentations indicate Lyme infection. Sheesh.

Ticks

I have a dear friend whose life for the last three decades has been turned into a kind of hell by Lyme Disease. She has suffered mightily and been debilitated by the illness.

Every spring and summer newspapers and websites warn us about keeping ticks off our bodies, some experts going so far as to recommend we never venture outdoors with exposed skin. It’s hard to imagine anyone wearing long pants and long sleeves even on the hottest days of July and August. Still, early onset Lyme Disease can cause fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Later, untreated Lyme can cause severe headaches, neck stiffness, body rashes, arthritis, joint swelling, facial palsy, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, nerve pain, shooting pains or numbness in the hands and feet, and problems with short-term memory.

Jesus Holy Christ!

All that from a little bugger no bigger than 4 millimeters across who’d attached itself to the skin over my Achilles tendon!

So, if you run into me over the next year or so and I can’t quite remember who you are, you’ll know why.

An Even Littler Bugger

The New York Times reported a week ago that scientists at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, have actually produced images of individual atoms using a combination of technologies. The uber-geeks at San Jose combined an MRI machine with scanning tunneling microscope features to create the portraits. Here’s a picture of the machine itself:

Image: IBM Research

And here’s a link to the abstract of the researchers’ paper submitted to the scientific journal Nature Physics.

Democritus, The Laughing Philosopher, back in Ancient Greece (c. 460-c. 370 BCE), was the first to theorize that all matter is composed of tiny particles, so minute as to be unseen by the naked eye. One of his A-ha! moments came when he passed outside a bakery and caught a whiff of freshly baked bread. How, he asked himself, was his nose able to sense the nearby presence of the bread?

His conclusion: Invisible particles of the bread were floating in the air and somehow stimulated the inside surface of his nose. He noodled on this for a time until he speculated that there were things called atoms (or a-toms — tom being the Greek root for cutting and a- the prefix for not). “Nothing exists,” he pronounced, “except atoms and empty space. Everything else is opinion.”

It’s said philosophers in both India and China came to the same conclusion right about the time Democritus came to his. Which makes sense: Just about every advancement in science and knowledge including inventions (the car, nuclear power, calculus, the germ theory, etc.) has come about simultaneously in several locations around the globe. Meaning all our awareness is based on the continuing accumulation of bits and pieces of data, gathered together and interpreted by many individuals unaware of each other, but reading many of the same books and synthesizing the work of learned people who came before them. Or, as Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Four Images of the Same Titanium Atom (Willke, et al)

Anyway, when I was a kid teaching myself how to read by thumbing through my family’s World Book Encyclopedia set, I came upon the entry concerning the splitting of the atom. Not able to decipher all the words in the entry, I asked my mother what it was all about. Said she: “It’s when scientists can cut an atom in half.”

My mother not being a nuclear physicist, this would have to do. I mulled this over for a long while. I concluded these scientists must have had awfully sharp knives. I even went to the kitchen drawer and pulled out our sharpest knife, a serrated blade we used to cut freshly-baked bread. Later, I watched my mother slice bread with it. I asked: “Aren’t you cutting atoms in half right now, Ma?”

“I don’t think so,” she said.

I thought she was wrong. Of course she was cutting atoms in half! She was, after all, using our sharpest knife. My mother, I concluded, was doing precisely what the world’s most celebrated scientists were doing — splitting the atom. Only she didn’t even know it.

I was no Democritus but I like to think I shared with him a sense of curiosity and a need to understand why and how things worked.

 

Hot Air: America & Stonewall

Yesterday’s Big Talk was a repeat of my January 17th, 2019, episode featuring Zaineb Istrabadi.

Istrabadi

I selected her for this year’s Fourth of July program because, as an immigrant, I consider her to be the model American. Her family came to this country because they actually feared for their lives in their native Iraq back when the Ba’ath Party was just sinking its talons into all phases of life in that historic land. The Istrabadis came to America because it promised freedom and safety, the same reasons tens of millions of other individuals and families from foreign lands have come here.

Zaineb, too, is scared to death that this holy land will devolve into something ugly. For my money, there’s already plenty ugly hereabouts, yet America still offers a modicum of freedom and a smidgen of opportunity for both its native citizenry and those who wish to become Americans.

A person who truly loves this country ought to be afraid, even in the best of times (although, quite frankly, I don’t know what years were “the best of times” here, considering the Native American holocaust, slavery, Jim Crow, and the sins committed throughout history by our plutocrats). Any time human beings amass power, there’s a chance they’ll use that power for their own edification and to hell with what’s good for the rest of us. A good rule of thumb: Fear those in power, always.

It reminds me of my days riding motorcycles. I never for a single moment lost my fear of being on a bike. You can have a fender-bender in a car and walk away from it. But if you have a collision on a motorcycle, there’s a damned good chance you may never walk again. Or even breathe. I loved my motorcycles and, today, mourn the fact that I’m physically unable to operate one. Yet I was always scared. As I should have been

Likewise, we Americans should always be afraid our country might turn rotten, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love it. To continue the motorcycle metaphor, this country speeds forward in a precarious balance; we — the riders — hoping not to slip onto the hard concrete surface of tyranny or smash into oncoming anarchy. Lots and lots of us firmly believe things are turning rancid already. I happen to be one of them. Still, I hold out hope the Trumpification of America just might be a blip on history’s radar screen. I ask people, again and again, what do you think: Is Trump a bump in the road or is he the road?

Anyway, here’s the link to the Jan. 17th (and yesterday’s) Big Talk with Zaineb Istrabadi.

Riots

Here’s a fascinating trove of trivia I discovered as last week’s 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots approached.

Image: NY Daily News/Getty Images

The Stonewall Inn was a Mob-owned bar with two dance floors on Christopher Street in Manhattan, New York City. The place opened in 1967 and was one of quite a few gay bars owned by the Genovese crime family as well as other hoodlums in New York, mainly because their clienteles were ill-served by “legitimate” business owners and, because gay men at the time generally were loath to being outed, customers at such places were, well, docile. Nobody wanted to start trouble in a gay bar because that would only bring the cops and attention to the place. Later, the Mob in New York and pretty much every other big city in America ran adult book stores for the same kinds of reasons. A guy playing with himself in a movie booth or two fellows meeting for anonymous sex in said booths certainly wouldn’t start trouble lest the world might find out about their embarrassing proclivities.

If there’s anything Mobsters like, it’s a docile clientele. The only thing they like more than that is making lots of easy money and, let’s be frank, selling sex and/or booze are two of the easiest money-making propositions extant.

In any case, homosexual acts being illegal in New York State (as well as 48 others states in the union; only in Illinois were homosexual acts not illegal at the time — who knew?) NYPD officers raided the Mob-run gay bars on a regular basis. Keep in mind, though, the police and organized crime traditionally have been, shall we say, friendly rivals in this country. The cops never failed to drop a dime to the managers of the gay bars about to be raided that night so that excess money, liquor, and sensitive patrons (politicians, celebrities, big businessmen, and — yeah — police brass) could be moved out of the place before the doors were busted down. By the way, most of the liquor served at the Mob-run gay bars was of the watered-down variety, just like the swill the Mafia served at its strip joints.

When the disturbances on Christopher Street broke out on the night of June 28th, 1969 (actually it was during the early morning hours of said date), it was because New York cops busted the joint, this time looking to round up whichever Mobsters happened to be in the place at the time. The story goes that for some odd reason, the Stonewall’s bosses had not made their regularly scheduled payoffs to the local police and so the raid was ordered to put the fear of god back in them. Who knows why the hoodlums were in arrears? Somebody on one side or the other had failed to deliver on his part of the deal, that’s all the cops needed. These are the days, BTW, before Frank Serpico and others laid bare the sickening, all-encompassing corruption inside the NYPD.

In any case, female cops along for the ride in the raid, took suspected drag queens into the bathroom to check on their junk. Those with guy junk, natch, were hauled in, transvestitism being illegal in New York as well as most of this holy land in those benighted days. As the cops started loading Wise Guys and drag queens into their paddy wagons, the bar patrons who’d been allowed to leave the place and who remained on the street out front, started throwing pennies and then rocks at the cops and their vehicles. More people joined the crowd and the next thing anybody knew, riots broke out both that night and the succeeding one.

The rest, of course, is history.

More Trivia

Doucette as Truscott.

BTW: The author of one of the pieces I link to above is a fellow named Lucian K. Truscott IV. The name rang a bell when I first saw it. Truscott turns out to be the grandson of World War II General Lucian Truscott, Jr., who was instrumental in developing the US Army’s first commando unit, the 1st Ranger Battalion. He also was a chief planner of the Allied invasion of Sicily as the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. In the movie Patton, he was played by veteran war and cowboy picture actor John Doucette.

All the numbered Truscotts were military guys. The general’s grandkid, Lucian the fourth, a graduate of West Point, made a name for himself when he challenged the United States Military Academy’s requirement that all cadets, even non-believers, attend chapel services. The US Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the cadets who did not want to attend services. After graduation, Truscott served in Ft. Carson, Colorado, where he wrote articles detailing the heroin addiction problem in the Army and blowing the whistle on what he considered an unjust court martial. His superiors threatened to send him to Vietnam unless he knocked off writing such pieces. He elected to leave the Army with a less than honorable discharge and went to work as a reporter for the Village Voice. He then wrote a novel called Dress Gray, dealing with a homosexual murder scandal at a fictional military academy. The book was made into a 1986 NBC-TV miniseries starring Alec Baldwin.

Truscott IV’s piece on the Stonewall Riots is a must read.

Hot Air: A Southern Sojourn

Barreling down the interstate at 80 mph for a total of 30-plus hours within a five-day period can make a human think a lot of things, some of which are compelling and others…, well, the mind can go through some bizarre acrobatics.

First, a couple of random observations:

  1. The Loved One and I took a quick trip to Florida by car last week. We made it all the way through, a thousand miles, on the way there; we were way too exhausted to drive much more than six hours at a stretch on the return trip. So we pulled off the Interstate and crashed at a Fairfield Inn just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, as the sun set Wednesday. We were starving, too, and there happened to be a Cracker Barrel across the street. Too tired to hunt down any other food options, we elected to go to that mecca of senescence. The thing is, I’m at an age now when I feel extremely uncomfortable eating in a Cracker Barrel. Twenty years ago it wouldn’t have bothered me; I could rationalize that my being there was a lark, an anthropological expedition just to see how the old fossils ate. Now, dammit, I am that old fossil, right in Cracker Barrel’s target demographic. Ugh! The fish was great, though. Came with broccoli which, at this age, I need more than ever — and if I have to explain why, you’re just not my age yet.
  2. Visited my cardiologist last week and got a little insight into how much doctoring — especially specialty doctoring — can simply engulf a human, making her/him almost oblivious to everyday life. He remarked on the skunk pin I have attached to the strap of my bag. I told him I’d got it at Hopscotch; it’s the logo, sorta, of the place. Anyway, he said, “Oh, I love Hopscotch! I’ve been there. It’s amazing what they do with their lattes!” He went on to describe in great detail the leaves and other decorations baristas create with their pours. The thing is, he said this as if some Hopscotch Einstein had just invented latte art the day before yesterday. He had no idea baristas have been drawing designs in foamy drinks since the days when…, well, baristas were obliged by law to be surly and contemptuous. And I thought, wow, this poor guy doesn’t get out much, does he. Lucky for me, I suppose.

We visited TLO’s sister who lives in what’s called the Space Coast, the collection of towns surrounding Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. As an added bonus, we were rewarded with the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, loaded with 24 satellites including Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson‘s Lightsail 2, an experimental solar-powered spacecraft, the descendants of which may one day travel to other star systems.

It’s been a dream of mine since I was six years old to witness the launch of a rocket at Cape Canaveral. And, yeah, my dream was realized. More on that later.

No, Not That One!

If you’ve ever considered motoring down to Florida keep this in mind: the state of Georgia is the largest single landmass on Earth. Cartographers have found it is larger than the combined surface areas of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Had the wagon-bound pioneers rumbled the length of the state from north to south rather than meandering through to the Old West, they’d still be en route. The ancient Polynesian daredevils who boarded floating rafts for the journey from their South Pacific islands to present day South America were, in comparison, taking brief afternoon joyrides.

The first time we took the car route from Bloomington to central Fla. some years ago, it felt as though we’d been trapped inside the Prius cabin for seasons rather than hours by the time we hit the Georgia border. A bit more than hundred miles more and we were entering metro Atlanta. Phew, I said. We’re almost there.

Uh uh. Nope. Nowhere even close to being there. There was still a long ways away. The way I’d figured it, Georgia’s next door to Florida and Atlanta’s well south of the state’s northern border so, jeez, it’ll prob. be an hour or two and we’ll be, um, there. How wrong I was! See, the reality is Atlanta’s almost precisely halfway between our Indiana home and the Space Coast.

Of course I was thinking with my exhausted driver’s brain, the one that tells me I’ve had my hands glued to the steering wheel since birth so, in all fairness, the end-of-trip relief ought to be forthcoming. Rand McNally, on the other hand, a more objective observer than my exhausted driver’s brain, insisted that the state of Georgia, the biggest in the union east of the Mississippi River, is extremely lo-o-o-ong, N through S. And Interstate 75, the fastest route through the length of it, cuts a diagonal from the outskirts of Chattanooga down to south of Valdosta. It takes, easily, six to eight hours to get through the state depending on how many times you have to pee (three or four), eat (maybe just once if you time it right), and get lost when you’re forced to turn off the Interstate due to torrential downpours and spectacular thunder and lightning storms (twice, this trip).

By the time we arrived in Port St. John, Florida, The Loved One and I were helping each other make post-divorce plans and I was working out a scheme to ditch the car in the nearest alligator-infested waterhole, of which there are countless numbers just off to the side of any road.

Florida. It’s a weird, weird place. Of course, you know that already. You may even have visited websites dedicated to the loons that populate our holy land’s third most populous state. And the number of Florida oddballs, reprobates, and scary monsters has so grown of late that the humorous crime author Carl Hiaason, whose novels specialize in the bizarre humans who call the state home, has even stated recently he’ll pretty much have to quit creating his alternately laughable and petrifying characters because there are too many of them in real life now.

After dodging rainstorms of biblical proportions, we drove at night through Ocala and Lake City, a couple of typical Florida cities, in that they’re home to more — much more — than their share of sadists, con artists, dopes, conspirators, miracle purveyors, and slapstick plotters. The streets of the two rain-soaked towns somehow struck me as pregnant with evil. “This place,” I said aloud, “is alive with as yet uncommitted murder.”

The Loved One didn’t catch this mot because she was snoring.

America’s nuttiest state is definitely Florida. Scariest, too.

Don’t forget, President Gag lives there, too.

The Good Old Days

There’s a bunch of gas stations-slash-general stores placed strategically off I-75 in Georgia, the names of which are awfully…, shall we say, offensive. There are the Magnolia Plantation and the Plantation House for instance, the former outside Tifton and the latter, Arabi.

Both places are built to resemble antebellum plantation manors with gas pumps out front.

Plantations, of course, being where slaves were forced to live. In a sense it’d be like finding a gas station/store called Dachau Camp a few kilometers outside Munich, complete with an entrance gate emblazoned with the slogan Arbeit Macht Frei.

The Loved One and I wondered if many people of color stopped in to these Plantation places.

And, BTW, the town name Arabi is not, according to local lore, an antiquated insult. People who live there like to tell the world the name comes from the mangling of some early resident’s surname.

Tow Heads

Swear to god in heaven this is true: There is an International Towing & Recovery Museum. Yep, the homage to wreckers and greasers sits outside Chattanooga. It was started at the end of the last century by a group called — again, swear to god in heaven — the Friends of Towing.

The place is chock-full of sculptures like this one:

Notice the taillight of the submerged vehicle below the rescuee’s dangling feet?

The site’s Towing Timeline tells us, for instance, that in 1916 a fellow named Ernest Holmes built the first twin-boom wrecker in — you guessed it — Chattanooga. It adds that in 1977 the first magazine dedicated to the art, American Towman, was published. Lo and behold, I find that American Towman, “Towing’s Premier Magazine,” still exists. Perusing it, I learned that this year’s Tow Expo will take place in Dallas August 15-18 and “The World Largest Tow Show” happens December 4-8 at the Atlantic City (New Jersey) Convention Center. Mark your calendars.

The place has a Hall of Fame. The website features a button that’ll bring up a pdf of the Hall nomination form, so if you know any tow truck drivers whom you believe are tops in their field, get on it. There are now more than 300 inductees in the HoF.

There’s even a Wall of the Fallen at the museum, dedicated to the brave men and women of towing who’ve died in the line of duty.

The gift shop features such indispensable items as this toddler T-shirt…

… and this 1969 Ford F-100 Diecast Tow Truck ( 1/24th scale).

Who knew?

The Confederate State of Indiana

Funny thing is, for all the stereotype images we hold of the deep south, I noticed there were no more Trump 2020 bumper stickers or rebel flags on display throughout Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida than you’ll find during any Sunday drive within a radius of 20 miles around Bloomington, Indiana.

Does that say more about the deep south or Indiana?

The Space Geek In Us

Both The Loved One and I are suckers for NASA and rocket porn in general. TLO still gets teary-eyed every time she sees footage of Chief Flight Director Gene Krantz reminiscing about getting the Apollo 13 astronauts back to Earth in 1970.

Waiting For The Boys To Come Home.

When we found out there’d be a launch while we were in Fla., we were overjoyed.

SpaceX sent up its Falcon Heavy rocket at 2:30am Tuesday, by chance The Loved One’s birthday. We found a perfect spot to watch the lift-off at the eastern edge of the town of Port St. John, a straight shot across the Indian River. The spot is not known to the space tourists who travel to Florida for launches. They crowd Merritt Island and Port Canaveral, looking north toward the historic Launch Pad 39A. When Apollo 11 blasted off almost precisely 50 years ago, hundreds of thousands of folks crowded the Space Coast to witness history, and countless people actually staked out spots and camped weeks in advance.

We joined a couple of dozen people at the boat ramp in the public park just off US Hwy. 1. All were locals in the know save for a family of four from Norway, the father of which told me they just happened to be in the neighborhood and found out about the launch. And — swear to god — after revealing this, he added, “What a country!”

We could see the Falcon Heavy, bathed in floodlights, on the launch pad some 10 or 12 miles away. It looked like a bright white needle, no bigger than my pinky fingernail.

With a minute to go before ignition, dead silence fell over the group. All eyes focused directly east, across the Indian River. Even a rowdy group of 20-something beer drinkers near us looked on in mute awe. And then, a piercing flash emanated from a point where the horizon met the inky sky.

Ignition!

See that ghostly little rectangle to the left of the burn? That’s the 53-year-old Vehicle Assembly Building, erected specifically for piecing together the 363-feet-tall Apollo Saturn rocket that sent astronauts to the Moon. It was, at one time, the single largest building on Earth. Just to give you an idea of scale.

The ignition flash was silent. At that distance, the noise of the blast-off would take some time to reach us. That noise, BTW, can actually kill a human being should that poor soul be unfortunate enough to be too close to the launch. NASA (and the Russians) have devised a number of ways to baffle the sound, which can exceed 220 decibels.

Then the Falcon Heavy rose from its pad.

Nearly a minute later, a guy pointed at the water between us and the launch pad. He announced: “Here comes the sound wave!” Sure enough, as the wave radiating toward us finally arrived at our shore, a deep, almost frightening rumble commenced, sounding a bit like the eruption of a volcano. It continued for a minute or so as the rocket rose slowly heavenward. By now we all craned our necks and stared nearly straight up at the gradually disappearing dart of fire reaching the upper atmosphere. Even after so long a time, the rocket itself, generating some 5.5 million pounds of thrust, was only traveling at just above the speed of sound. The weight of the entire vehicle, rocket and payload, was better than 1550 tons, a hell of a lot of weight to hoist into orbit. Eventually, the rocket would reach a speed of up to 24,000 mph.

The missile pierced through some upper atmosphere cloud and haze ceilings, creating a pretty, multi-colored splotch in the night sky. It jettisoned its two lateral boosters which reignited their engines after a moment to slow their descent to Earth. Then the Falcon disappeared and the boosters went dark. None of us stirred because more of the show was to come.

About two minutes later, the boosters fired their engines again as they made their way to a point on the ground near the launch pad. They slowly descended, growing brighter by the second, a scene straight from a science fiction movie. Then, slowed to an apparent crawl, they touched down and our whole crowd cheered and then became quiet

Someone broke the silence, asking, “Where are the sonic booms?” Local TV stations and newspapers had been warning residents for a few days that the landing boosters would produce alarming sonic booms. Yet we heard nothing. Another person said, “Just wait.”

A minute later, without warning, two pairs of sonic booms — Ba-BOOM!, Ba-BOOM! — sounded. We could actually feel the pressure from them against our skin and in our hair.

With that, the show was over and we all seemed inordinately happy and tired. And no fireworks show tonight or tomorrow night can even begin to compare.

Like the guy said, What a country!

Hot Air: Hate Is A Crime

I’d always considered myself a 1st Amendment absolutist.

One huge reason I’ve donated money to the ACLU throughout the years is that organization, run and populated by a lot of Jews, defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, a largely Jewish suburb of Chicago. I thought that was a brilliant and beautiful example of honoring a sacred tenet of our Constitution, even at potential cost to themselves.

In light of the Identity Evropa issue at the Bloomington Farmers Market, though, my thoughts on this have evolved. Organizations that espouse white supremacy and the inferiority of races and ethnic groups are fertile grounds for violence, often fatal. As such, they should not enjoy the full, unfettered protection of the Constitution. Armed robbers, rapists, child molesters, embezzlers, and many other miscreants and reprobates are denied full Constitutional rights once convicted. We accept that. We also accept that people who meet to plot crimes can be charged and convicted merely for talking about breaking the law. In other words, we say, “Hey, you bunch of guys conspiring to rob a bank, you can’t discuss your plot nor can you even gather together.”

That’s a blatant denial of their 1st Amendment rights. And entirely justified.

So, basically, when neo-Nazis or other supremacists get together for a chat, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume a vicious crime might be a potential outcome of that tête-à-tête. Any time two or more members or sympathizers of racist organizations exchange two words it’s essentially a conspiracy to commit a crime.

I’ve really struggled with this reassessment. Like anybody else, I’m challenged by shades of gray. Life is a hell of lot easier when I can simply say, “The sacred law is such and such and that’s that!” Well, the 1st Amendment isn’t sacred to me anymore. It’s useful. It’s necessary. But it isn’t immutable. And it doesn’t apply in every conceivable situation.

Neo-Nazis and other supremacists see certain human beings as…, well, less than human beings. That’s step one on the path to murder.

I understand our local government feels hamstrung in dealing with the Schooner Creek people who peddle their squashes or whatever at the Bloomington Farmers Market. The mayor, his department heads, and the city council, I’m certain, are frightened by the possibility of a long, costly court challenge should they oust the Schooner Creek people from the Market for their alleged racist communiques. Although, I’m just as certain a creative city government can conjure ways to make Schooner Creek go away without even referring to any chat room banter, videos, money donated, or Tupperware parties held to benefit racist, misogynist, homophobic, or otherwise hateful ideological gangs.

Yep. I’ve said it: just talking neo-Nazi, supremacist shit should be a crime. Just as it is in a lot of European countries that three quarters of a century ago were ravaged by a gang of white people who thought other people were less than human.

The Supreme Court exactly 100 years ago ruled that, in the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a person cannot shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater as a joke. The Court has thus already ruled the 1st Amendment right to free speech can be curtailed. Saying whites are better or more important or somehow more valuable than other people of varying hues is the moral equivalent of yelling “Fire!” in that crowded theater. And people who get beaten or killed because they’re brown or lesbian or trans or female are the practical equivalent of the poor souls who were crushed or suffocated to death at the exit doors of the theater, especially when the beaters and killers have been inspired by neo-Nazi, supremacist talk.

You want more? Okay, read this devastating look back at a hideous series of incidents that wracked both Chicago and Bloomington 20 years ago this week, from the magazine Forward:

Hot Air: Summertime, And The Blogging Is Easy

Summer 2019 began a few minutes ago, as I write this. We’ll enjoy more daylight hours for the next week to ten days than at any other time of the year. Here in Bloomington, there’ll be traces of light in the northwest evening sky until well after 10pm. I spent a July 4th at a friend’s home in neighboring Owen County a few years back and was pleasantly surprised to note the sky retained a hint of blue even after 11pm. For a guy who merely survives through the dark days of December and January, this time of year gooses the mood almost as effectively as a refreshing bourbon cocktail.

June 21st, besides being one of my favorite days of the year, has been the date of a few notable events:

  • 1989: The US Supreme Court ruled that the burning of the American flag is a form of protected speech (Texas vs. Johnson).
  • 1964: Civil rights activists Goodman, Chaney & Schwermer were brutally murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi.
  • 1945: The final skirmish in the Battle of Okinawa ends, making it the final hurdle prior to a planned invasion of the Japanese home islands in World War II.
  • 1900: China declares war on the United States, Great Britain, Germany France, and Japan in the midst of the Boxer Rebellion (or Yihetuan Movement).
  • 1791: King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, and their immediate family flee Paris during the French Revolution.

And these people were born on this date:

  • 1905: Jean-Paul Sartre (author: Nausea, No Exit, The Crucible screenplay)
  • 1912: Mary McCarthy (author: The Company She Keeps, A Charmed Life, The Group)
  • 1957: Berkeley Breathed (cartoonist: “Bloom County,” “Outland,” “Opus”)
  • 1983: Edward Snowden (whistleblower)

Listen, You!

Here’s the link to yesterday’s Big Talk, featuring Herald-Times columnist and autism educator Adria Nassim.

Nassim

 

Hot Air: Simple, Really

A simple statement; a simple truth: We are allies with a government that condoned and most likely ordered the literal butchering of a journalist as a warning to anyone else in the country who would dare to question the ruling tyranny.

A simple question: What does that make us?

Hot Air: Olio

No, not oleo. These two homophones are standards in the New York Times crossword puzzle especially on Mondays, the easiest day of the week for puzzles, when four-letter words dominate.

  • Olio: [from the Spanish olla podrida, a stew with a variety of ingredients] 1) a miscellaneous mixture: hodgepodge; 2) a miscellaneous collection as of literary or music selections, acc’d’g to Merriam-Webster.
  • Oleo: [short for oleomargarine] 1) margarine, ibid.

I don’t care for margarine. But a stew, or a miscellaneous collection? Yeah, that’s more to my tastes.

Herein lies an olio of fun facts.

LSD & Baseball

Dock Phillip Ellis was a Major League Baseball pitcher from 1968 through 1979. He was never the best pitcher in the game but for a few years he was awfully good. In fact, one year — 1970, June 12th to be precise — he pitched a no-hitter, a feat some of the greatest pitchers of all time never accomplished. There have been exactly 300 no-hitters thrown since 1876, many, many of them by mediocre or flat-out lousy pitchers who, for one game, happened to catch lightning in a bottle. Nevertheless, it’s a rare and notable performance.

Ellis’s no-hitter was singular — as far as we know — in the annals of baseball history. He did it, he claims, whacked out on lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). He’d begun tripping with his girlfriend on an off-day, Thursday, for his team. Some 24 hours later, after also drinking screwdrivers and smoking pot, he dropped another tab for a total of “two or three” hits altogether. He hadn’t realized Thursday had become Friday and at about 2:00 his girlfriend reminded him he was scheduled to pitch that evening. He rushed to the ballpark, arriving a scant hour and a half before game time (the day’s pitcher usually comes to the ballpark five or six hours before the first pitch).

Still tripping, he took to the mound. Here’s how he describes the experience [sources: 1, 2, 3, 4]:

I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the catcher’s glove, but I didn’t hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters, and the bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes; the ball was large sometimes. Sometimes I saw the catcher; sometimes I didn’t…. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I though I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix who was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate.

Here’s a fabulous animated video of the event, by director James Blagden:

The video was released in 2010. Now comes word that Ice Cube is producing a feature-length movie for theatrical release about that June day 49 years ago. Yep. The rapper-turned-movie-mogul is partnering with industry big dogs David Permut and Jeff Kwatinetz to make Dock, starring O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) as the altered-state moundsman.

Captain America

Speaking of Hollywood movies, the motorcycle Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider was known as “Captain America.” It became perhaps the most famous bike in history. Fonda and director Dennis Hopper, acc’d’g to lore, used four different bikes during filming, each one at some point in the production being damaged or destroyed. The final one, wrecked in the climactic scene, was refurbished by actor Dan Haggerty (Grizzly Adams) and sold at auction in 2015 for $1,350,000.

Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theater and an old pal of Fonda’s, told me on Big Talk a couple of weeks ago that Fonda and Hopper wanted to call the film Captain America, but Marvel Comics, the license-holder of the name, told the counterculture filmmakers to take a hike.

Here’s the iconic opening scene from the movie:

Your Dog & Thunderstorms

Everybody who owns a pooch knows how spooked canines can be during thunderstorms. Researchers are discovering it isn’t just the loud booms that turn our furry pals into quivering wrecks.

It turns out hounds are extremely sensitive to changes in ambient electromagnetism and atmospheric pressure, both of which vary dramatically as storms approach. It’s the electromagnetism thing that’s remarkable here. Dogs’ coats become imbued with static electricity as the storm nears, making their lives hell as everything they come into contact with that isn’t grounded gives them shocks. That’s why, people who’ve studied this say, lots of dogs like to take cover in the bathroom. See, bathtubs, sinks, and toilets are grounded so hiding around them relieves the static charge accumulating in their fur.

Is there anything we can do to alleviate our buddies’ discomfort? Why, yes. In fact, Martha Stewart came up with the idea and researchers have endorsed it: simply rub your dog down with a dryer sheet in advance of the storm (it’s probably best to use a brand that’s not scented and don’t get too much of the waxy crap on the fur lest the dog ODs on it, licking its coat after the storm passes).

Big Talk

Last week’s Big Talk featured outgoing WFHB news director Wes Martin. He’s leaving the station and Bloomington after July 1st. WFHB’s new news director will be one-time station intern Kyrie Greenberg.

Tune in to the WFHB Daily Local News today at 5:00pm for this week’s edition of Big Talk Extra, wherein Wes talks about his stint as editor of an English-language newspaper in Thailand. Martin muses on the un-free press extant in the Southeast Asian country and the remarkably free version of which we enjoy in this holy land.

%d bloggers like this: