Bits & Pieces: Venal, Venial, and End Of The World Stuff

Back when I was an editor and reporter for Newcity, one of Chicago’s alternative weekly newspapers, we ran a regular feature called “Stray Bullets.” Our graphic designer drew up a logo for it: a loaded revolver pointed straight at the reader.

I can’t find the image online and my old copies of the paper are packed away in the shed under mountains of other Big Mike Life Stuff so I can’t reproduce it here. But you get the idea.

Stray Bullets was a compendium of the dopey, too often immoral, quite often illegal things the aldermen, the department heads, and even the mayor of the city of Chicago did the previous seven days. If you know Chicago, you know we could have run the feature every day of the week and had enough material to fill it and then some.

Thing is: we’d never be able to get away with either the feature’s title or the image today. Back then, people understood hyperbole and visual exaggeration. Now, no.

I’m not saying we ought to go back to those good old days. There was nothing more “good’ about them in relation to today.


The deep thinkers who run this city, Bloomington, Indiana, while nowhere near as venal or venial as those in my beloved hometown, can keep up with the Windy City in a race for first place in the overall dopiness category. An example: the Bloomington Police Department for years has been woefully understaffed. The city has thrown a few incentives out there to attract candidates from all over the state. But, it seems, any number of BPD rookies take their training and flee to other cities, where they’ll get paid better.

Not only that, the other day I spoke with someone who has intimate knowledge of the state of Bloomington’s fire department. This person told me the BFD is down a good two dozen firefighters. Some of our firefighters are working 72-hour shifts to cover for the gaps in staffing. That can’t be good.

Neither our cops nor our firefighters are getting paid enough. This town sorely needs to invest in both departments.

Yet, City Hall is gung ho on throwing many millions of dollars at pazzo traffic schemes. Schemes dreamed up, mostly, by highly-paid consultants who live on some peak in the Himalayas and muse on how cities should redesign themselves to make this an Earthly heaven. Among the brilliant plans we’ve seen so far are the already completed bicycle pathway on 7th Street and a proposed transformation of the Walnut/College corridor from adjacent one-way avenues to a couple of two-way drives. Add to them the Hawthorne-Weatherstone Greenway plan.

One might think this town is a snarled mass of cars gridlocked for blocks around downtown, with outlying arteries scenes of massive slaughter of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Maybe that’s the way they see things up atop K-2.

K-2, also known as Chogori in the Kashmir Himalayas.

Now, it’s folly to suggest stopping spending in one area will automatically mean the money’ll go straight into other, more deserving areas. Just that our priorities, as my Grandma Anna would have said, is pazzo.

Anyway, so long as the predicted rain and thundershowers’ll probably keep you inside, you might as well log in to a Zoom meeting scheduled for Sunday, August 6, at 3:00pm, where concerned neighbors will discuss Hawthorne-Greenway.

From what I hear, nobody’s happy about the idea.


Can you imagine any more dichotomous movie theater pairing than “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer”? One is about humankind’s relentless drive to unlock the elemental forces of the universe that may yet destroy life on Earth and the other is about the guy who led the effort to develop the atomic bomb.

The Loved One and I motored up to Greenwood last weekend to catch “Oppenheimer,” where, natch, it was paired with Greta Gerwig’s opus. I hadn’t yet fully grasped all the Barbie-related social phenomena her movie has inspired. So I was shocked to see grown women dressed in spiky heels, brilliant pink gowns, and glittered faces at the theater. It was crazy, I tell you.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not slamming those women here. What they’re doing is no weirder than people of both genders spending hundreds of dollars on licensed caps, jerseys, and jackets to go to their home team’s games.

One more thing: I just discovered there are pop-up Malibu Barbie Cafes in NYC.


I reiterate: even if he’s found guilty of all crimes and misdemeanors, the 45th President of the United States will not spend a nano-second in jail. Again, he and whatever lawyers he hires (and likely stiffs) will appeal and the case will wind its way through the federal appellate court and then the Supreme Court. That’ll take years and years and years.

He’ll be dead by the time that’s all adjudicated. If I were a god-ist believing in some kind of afterlife, I’d be happy enough to know he’ll spend eternity roasting along with his forebears Roy Cohn, Lee Atwater, Andrew Breitbart, Roger Ailes and all the others who created the environment that enabled him to become Leader of the Free World.

1000 Words: Old Joe, Crazy Ron, & Radio Dies

What If…?

Old Joe Biden sure is looking…, well, old these days.

My pal, the Clay City farmer/economist Eli (whose purchase of a Prius last year branded him among his geographical peers as the bastard child of Karl Marx) says Biden’s physical appearance at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania this month reminded him, a bit, of Roosevelt at Yalta.

For the history-deprived among us, the Big Three — Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin D. Roosevelt — met in the Crimean resort town of Yalta in February 1945 to discuss carving up Germany once the Allies finished kicking the hell of of them. Roosevelt at the time was damned lucky to be alive. His blood pressure regularly was topping 200. He looked wan, lifeless. His complexion sallow. His eyes sunken. Roosevelt’s perilous medical condition was well-known among those close to him but was well-concealed from the public.

It was a public, after all, that largely did not know Roosevelt was a cripple. Of course we live in a different day and age now. In fact, even going back almost 40 years, the general populace was apprised of the number of polyps removed from President Ronald Reagan’s colon during a routine colonoscopy. Some 20 years later, we were fully informed about President George W. Bush’s battle with alcohol abuse. In between, we learned about President Bill Clinton’s fondness for cigars innovatively marinated.

Anyway, Biden certainly doesn’t look as bad as Roosevelt did in the waning months of WWII, but he sure doesn’t look like a guy with a long future ahead of him.

Leading me to wonder what will happen if Old Joe keels over in, say, April or May, at the end of the primary season. What’s the Democratic Party going to do? Simply pass the mantle on to Kamala Harris like the Dems did in 1968? The party that year lost by assassination the candidate with the most momentum, Bobby Kennedy, after he won the last primary in California. They screwed over the candidate with the most delegates, Eugene McCarthy, and gave the nod to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, pretty much throwing the election to Richard Nixon. The nation wanted change and Humphrey sure wasn’t it. The backroom kingmakers, though, cared little for what the nation wanted.

This time around, though, my guess is the nation doesn’t want change, especially if the economy remains un-tanked. And should Old Joe turn in his keys to the White House any time between now and, say, this coming November, then a few ambitious Democrats’ll just declare for the primaries and the party’ll select a nominee in more or less normal fashion.

In any case, I hope party sachems are thinking long and hard about these possibilities. I figure they have to be if they’re paying any attention to Biden’s appearance these days.


Florida’s state board of education this week adopted teaching guidelines that assert American slavery wasn’t all that nasty. In fact, by golly, slaves in this holy land actually benefited from their chains. Gosh dang it, slavery, under these teachings, just might turn out to be yet another example of this country giving all the advantages to black people.

Y’know, the canard that lunkheads have been shrieking about for decades now. The canard that reached a deafening roar when a certain incurious, unprepared, insensitive, uncaring, un-read, greed monkey somehow was elected president in 2016 and hasn’t subsided since.

People like Ron DeSantis saw how imbecility paid dividends for the 45th president and the FL Guv has clearly determined to go the multi-indicted pussy-grabber one better. One better? Hell. One hundred times better. The Florida school board was hand-picked by him and he had to have known precisely what they would do once they got their thumbs all over the state’s book learnin’ policies.

So, after musing on the mortality of the sitting president above, I now turn to the potential for the aspiring next president to demonstrate further lunacy. Clearly, he’s doubling down on appealing to the anencephalic mob that loves him. Usually, when people run for president, they tone down their previous edginess. I fear DeSantis, should he remain in the race through the GOP primaries, will only go further.

Don’t be shocked if by this time next year, DeSantis will have carped, espoused, fretted over, or executive ordered the following:

  • Florida’s unemployed and underemployed citizens will be inducted into slavery where they can “develop skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
  • Germany’s Nazi Party will be honored by Florida for establishing concentration camps where Jews gained a sense of unity, pride, and determination
  • In an effort to reinforce the sanctity of binary genderism, all Florida males must wear trousers that expose their genitals (Be proud, Florida men!)
  • All Florida females must have their genitals sewn shut (to be unsewn only by husbandly order)
  • Specialized trucks will begin spraying Florida’s neighborhoods with the COVID-19 virus — what better way to strengthen Florida citizens’ immune systems?
  • Florida’s children will be limited to one hour or less of book reading a month so they may do more shopping and praying
  • Florida’s air will be taken over by private industry and made available to breathe for the affordable price of $10 a day per person.
  • DeSantis will declare that should he win the presidency, his replacement as Florida governor will be a daily revolving cast composed solely of Florida Man.

Wither Radio?

It’s a damned shame. WHPK, the student-run radio station of the University of Chicago, is facing hard times. Real hard times.

The university’s Program Coordinating Council has slashed the station’s funding from a requested $57,000 (peanuts, really) to $20,600 for the 2023-24 school year. The station is appealing the cut but don’t hold your breath.

College radio has been the birthplace of countless professional DJs, show hosts, and administrators as well as big music acts. The reason anybody outside of their own families ever heard of REM, De La Soul, the B-52s, Nirvana, the Cure, Sinead O’Connor, or any of a hundred other eventual big acts is their early airplay on college radio.

It’s unknown how WHPK will weather this withering.

1000 Words: Warrior

Jesse Jackson isn’t on people’s minds these days as much as he was, say, 30 years ago and more. Especially white people.

He was more or less a bête noir (pun intended) back in the days of St Ronald Reagan. When the most virulent anti-Jacksonists weren’t dropping N-bombs on him in their private conversations, they were publicly calling him a grandstander and a publicity hound. As if white leaders were shrinking violets who all cared only for the good of humankind and had no interest in reaping laurels and riches from their work. Y’know, people like to-be-president Donald Trump.

Jackson in 1983.

Jackson ran for president in the Democratic primaries of 1984 and ‘88. Competing against seven other Dems in ’84, including former vice president Walter Mondale, former Dem presidential nominee George McGovern, Ohio senator and retired astronaut John Glenn, horn-dog Gary Hart, and others, Jackson garnered a fairly respectable 18 percent of the primary vote, winning four contests. Four years later, facing another group of Dems including future vice president Al Gore, Hart again (his horn-dogginess forced him out early in that race), Paul Simon (not that one; this one), and others, Jackson did quite well, earning better than 29 percent of the primary vote and winning 12 states plus the District of Columbia. He ran second to the eminently forgettable Michael Dukakis that year. Many observers credit Jackson’s ’88 campaign with paving the way for Brack Obama’s successful run for the nomination and eventual accession to the presidency in 2008.

Jackson’d been a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. during the height of the civil rights fight in the late 1960s. In fact, he was present when King was shot and killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Jackson was in the motel parking lot when the shot rang out. Later that evening he appeared before cameras wearing a blood stained shirt. Andrew Young — future congressperson, mayor of Atlanta, and US ambassador to the United Nations — vividly remembered the scene in an interview for a PBS Frontline documentary, The Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson. Young said:

After they removed [King’s] body, Ralph Abernathy got a jar and started scraping up the blood and said, crying, it was Martin’s precious blood. This blood was shed for us. It was weird. But people freaked out and did strange things. Jesse put his hands in the blood and wiped it on the front of his shirt.

Lots of white people seemed to be far more offended that Jackson would perform such a showboating display than they were that the nation’s leading civil rights activist had been slain by a white supremacist loner.

(L-R) Jackson, King, and Ralph Abernathy on the Lorraine Motel Balcony.

For my money, Jackson’s act only proved he understood, innately, that politics is mainly theater. To many church-going blacks, Jackson’s blood-stained shirt demonstrated that he would carry on King’s legacy and work, just the way Roman Catholics drink wine transubstantiated into the blood of Jesus Christ. Religion, too, is mainly theater.

In that sense, Jesse Louis Jackson, an ordained Baptist minister, straddling both types of stage, is a thespian as accomplished and heralded as Meryl Streep or Marlon Brando.

Journalist Robert McClory wrote in Illinois Issues back in 1984 that criticisms of Jackson’s desire for the spotlight were pretty much spot on. “First of all,” McClory wrote, “let’s clear the air on the Rev. Jesse Jackson and admit the criticisms of him.

“Yes, he possesses a large, demanding ego. He has a deep-seated need, as some of his oldest and closest friends will readily admit, to be at the center of things, to achieve, to prove conclusively that he is somebody. That undoubtedly is related to his growing up poor, black and illegitimate in his native Greenville, South Carolina, and it all makes interesting material for psycho-biographical analyses….”

Jackson gained King’s attention in 1965 when he, Jackson, participated in the historic Selma, Alabama voting rights marches. King named Jackson, a South Carolina native, the leader of the Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket in 1966. It was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference‘s national economic and business advocacy organization. According to lore, Jackson presented himself to then Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, the Democratic king-maker and reputedly  the second most powerful man in the country at the time (exceeded only by President Lyndon Johnson). Jackson asked Daley what he could do to help in Chicago. Daley, it is said, offered him job as a cashier in an expressway tollbooth.

Jackson never forgot the slight, the story goes. If the tale is true, Jackson got his revenge on Mayor Daley in 1972 when he co-led a successful revolt against the Daley-led Illinois Democratic contingent in the party’s 1972 national convention.

After serving as eventual national leader of Operation Breadbasket, Jackson would found Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity, later changed to People United to Serve Humanity). PUSH later would merge with the National Rainbow Coalition to form Rainbow/PUSH. That iteration is still very much active, pushing for universal healthcare, living wages, fair housing, voter registration, gender equality, affirmative action, and environmental justice.

Early on, Jackson would exhort crowds at PUSH events to shout out the mantra, “I am somebody!”

Rainbow/PUSH Headquarters in Chicago’s Englewood Neighborhood.

For a grandstander and a showboater, Jesse Jackson sure has had a profound influence for good in this holy land. Of course, that has never been of much interest to the people who called him a grandstander and a showboat.

In any case, Jesse Jackson, now aged 81 and confined to a wheelchair, has announced he’s retiring from his leadership position in Rainbow/PUSH. As far as I can determine, he’s the last of the King coterie to remain active. Abernathy, Dorothy Cotton, Bernard Lee, Georgia Davis, James Orange, and King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, all have died. Young is in his 90s.

When it came time for America to elect a black president, only a not-too-black, Harvard-educated, mostly middle-of-the-road  figure like Barack Obama would do. The fiery orator, the angry black man, the King protege with blood on his shirt would never do.

Much of white America had apoplexy when the relatively safe Obama took up residence in the White House. The Tea Party, many white anti-government militias, the Trump presidency, and the January 6th insurrection all ensued from that breakthrough.

Imagine how a lot of Americans would have reacted had the fiery, angry Jackson been elected to lead this nation.

1000 Words: Sex Work

Yesterday I found myself in an embarrassing little situation. For a hot minute, I felt I’d said the wrong thing, but had to remind myself I really hadn’t. Okay, so an explanation is in order.

I was visiting a friend, a woman, who’s quite open-minded about most things, maybe even all things. She was born during the Great Depression and had lived through World War II. All her life she was painfully aware that women, by and large, get a raw deal in this world. She can tell tale after tale about how she’d experienced sexism and was denied opportunities due to the simple fact she was born with a vagina. Sexism rankled her from her earliest days and drove her to do all she could to overcome it. And she did, as much as any woman can in this unfair world.

Another, younger woman was present. We were talking about someone all three of us know. The older woman, let’s call her Carla, mentioned that the person we all know has a daughter who is working in a different state as a pole dancer. Carla told us that this woman’s daughter is very lithe and can do the splits easily. Just hearing about that makes my back, the insides of my thighs and, for pity’s sake, even my head sore. The daughter, in fact, is so good at pole dancing and makes so much money at it that she drives a new Cadillac. Her mother is quite proud of her, the other woman, let’s call her Sharon, said.

At which point, I said, “That’s great. I’m glad her mother accepts that she’s a sex worker.”

Dead silence. Both women looked at me through narrowed eyes.

After few uncomfortable moments Carla piped up. “She’s not a sex worker,” Carla said. “All she does is dance. She doesn’t do anything else, if you know what I mean.”

I wasn’t intending to imply that the woman did “anything else.” But, apparently, that’s the message both Carla and Sharon heard. “She’s not a sex worker,” Sharon said.


I asked where the pole dancer worked, figuring I might have missed the news that pole dancers are now working in non-sexual settings. The answer came back that she works in a strip club.

“So, she’s a sex worker,” I said, still feeling a bit red-faced but nevertheless determined to clear up this sex worker murkiness. “She’s taking her clothes off, earning her money by titillating men. She’s a sex worker.”

Again, silence.

The problem was apparent. To me, being a sex worker is just another way for a woman — or a man — to make a living. It’s neither good nor bad, just the way ringing up Cokes and bags of chips at a convenience store or taking claims for an insurance company are. Carla and Sharon, though, must consider the term sex worker to mean nothing but prostitution. Call girls. Bar girls. Street walkers. If you call somebody a sex worker, you’re relegating them to the lowest rung of society.

Why else would there be silences and defensiveness each time I said the woman was a sex worker?

And what if she does do something else? What if, for the right price, she slips away with a customer for some value-added treatment out of sight of the rest of the room? For that matter, what if she is a call girl, a bar girl, or a street walker? Then Carla and Sharon might agree with me that the woman is a sex worker. I’d hope they wouldn’t then relegate her to the lowest rung of society.

See, for an excruciating minute I’d felt as though I’d wronged the woman when Carla and Sharon shot narrowed eyes at me. But I hadn’t. I don’t look upon pole dancers, hookers, sex shop clerks, or anyone who makes a living in the sex industry to be beneath me. I’d been close friends with a couple of women who were career prostitutes back in Chicago. One, Karen, was a street walker; the other, Selene, was a hotel bar hanger. Both Karen and Selene were smart, ambitious, hard-working people. They took great pride in their appearance. They read good books. They appreciated good cooking, comfortable shoes, sunny days at the beach, and sitting on the front stoop on cool summer nights. The read the papers and had strong opinions on politics and world affairs. They were just like you and me.

No surprise there.

Like me, they couldn’t imagine themselves pent up in a stuffy office, playing workplace politics, worrying if the boss liked them or not. They found they could live a comfortable lifestyle by being…, well, sex workers. Both Karen nor Selene talked about how, at first, they occasionally felt lousy about their vocation. They grappled with that feeling and, so each said, eventually realized they didn’t hate themselves for what they did but they’d let other people’s attitudes toward them seep into their consciousness.

Who knows? Maybe both Karen and Selene were fooling me — and themselves. Maybe they really did feel they were losers, that they belonged on the bottom rung of society for being sex workers. But through all our conversations, they conveyed a certain pride that they were strong enough, independent enough, and filled with enough initiative to go out there and earn a living selling sex.

Sex workers are even unionizing in various places around the world. Sex workers unions push for safer working conditions and better treatment from their employers. The unions also can provide support for sex workers who aren’t formally employed, like Karen and Selene.

Loyal Pencillistas know I’ve been a strong union guy all my life, having been a member of a municipal laborers union, the Newspaper Guild, and the National Writers Union over the years. No work I ever did was any more valuable or essential than the work Karen or Selene or any other sex worker does.

I’m an optimist (occasionally). Maybe one day Carla and Sharon will see things that way too.



1000 Words: Generals and Plumbers

And so, Daniel Ellsberg has died. He announced he was dying back in early March. Inoperable pancreatic cancer. A lousy way to go.

Ellsberg closed his eyes on June 16th in his Kensington, California home.

His eyes, metaphorically, were opened in the late 1960s when he worked for the RAND Corporation, a research and think tank that has served as the ego to the Pentagon’s id, as well as the American military’s crystal ball, Ouija board, Yoda and, occasionally, conscience. Around that time, Ellsberg gradually became aware that this holy land’s excellent adventure in Southeast Asia was built on a tissue of lies, exaggerations, public relations messaging and massaging, and the irresistible demands of empire and uber-masculinity.

Ellsberg then proceeded to commit a felony that, he hoped, might open all of America’s eyes to the sham that underpinned our almost 10-year-long war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that resulted in as many as 750,000 deaths, including civilians and soldiers. Nobody really knows how many people died in our Vietnam War — undeclared, technically — from the date in 1955 when we took over the fight from the French after its colonial mastery of the region was involuntarily ended. One of France’s top military commanders in its Vietnam war killed himself after the Viet Minh humiliated French forces at Dien Bien Phu in the spring of 1954. Then France high-tailed it out of Southeast Asia.

Collage: Josh Coe/Ground Truth

Collage: Josh Coe/Ground Truth

The communist insurgent Vietnamese from the north of the thin, crescent-shaped country on the lower right edge of the Asian landmass were dedicated, tough, disciplined and were fighting on familiar terrain. The French were no match for them. America’s military brass, rather than seeing that as a cautionary lesson, decided Hey, we can do better. We’re the world’s most powerful fighting force!

Too often, uniformed fighting men don’t take kindly to cautionary lessons. You’d think the professors in war colleges — the US Military Academy at West Point, for instance — would look at all the failed sieges and attacks of history and then teach future army brass to avoid those mistakes like doves, Quakers, and conscientious objectors. Maybe they do. All I know is the brass that pushed for and executed our Vietnam expedition either forgot or ignored those lessons.

It’s more “manly” to say Damn the torpedos, let’s go in and kick the shit of of those guys than it is to say Let’s think about this for a minute. Here’s an over-the-top example of that kind of thinking: from 1943 through April of 1945, Adolph Hitler forbade his generals and other top war advisors, generally, from criticizing proposed attacks, overanalyzing potential pitfalls of strategy, and even not being upbeat enough despite Germany’s dire military prospects through those years. They were “defeatists,” Hitler said. He fired generals for their defeatism. And so, hundreds of thousands more people died because the German high command  was purged of “defeatists.”

I’m not comparing US military strategists to Germany’s. Well, not totally. Hitler’s Germany was evil to the core. Our evil is far less ubiquitous but it’s there, in spots, rather like little malignant tumors just beginning to grow. We usually can’t even sense their presence but the damage they can do is profound.

As in Vietnam.

Daniel Ellsberg photocopied some 7000 pages of a Department of Defense study ordered by Lyndon Johnson’s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The study was a detailed history of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Formally entitled the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, it laid bare our country’s bullshit. McNamara himself wrote that he ordered the study so that future strategists might learn from our mistakes.

Some 36 DoD analysts, including Ellsberg, worked on the eventual Pentagon Papers. They did so under extremely tight secrecy. They produced 3000 pages of text backed up by 4000 pages of official documents. The study was completed in late 1968. Fifteen copies of the study were printed. McNamara had resigned as Defense Secretary in February of that year. His replacement, Clark Clifford, received the study only five days before he was to leave office on Inauguration Day, 1969. Clifford claimed he never had the chance to read it. The RAND Corp. got two copies of the study.

Ellsberg took the photocopies he’d made and tried to share them with potential 1972 Democratic candidates for president and other anti-war US senators. None would take the documents from Ellsberg because they understood he’d committed a serious federal crime by taking Top Secret-Sensitive classified materials out of the Pentagon. Had they taken the Papers, they too would be committing a crime. Instead, Ellsberg persuaded New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan to look at the Papers. Sheehan recognized they were dynamite. The Times’ lawyers were split on whether the paper should publish Sheehan’s series of articles. Its outside counsel firm told the Times not to do it. The Times‘ in-house lawyer said it had a 1st Amendment right to do so. The paper decided to print the first of Sheehan’s stories about the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971.

The story further invigorated the already explosive anti-war movement.

Now here’s the irony about it all. At first, President Richard Nixon wanted to ignore the whole thing. The Pentagon Papers, he reasoned, only would embarrass his predecessors, Johnson and John F. Kennedy. But his top foreign affairs guru, Henry Kissinger, feared the Papers might put his own top lieutenants at risk (at least one of them had approved Ellsberg to work on the Papers) and therefore embarrass him, Kissinger.

Kissinger then hammered on Nixon the idea that the release of the Papers might endanger the country’s ability to keep secrets in the future and that Ellsberg was part of a cabal of Leftists who wanted to tear the country down. Nixon bought the argument and ordered the creation of a secret White House operation that would discredit leakers, spy on them, and commit dirty tricks to thwart them (homicide was even considered). That operation became known as The Plumbers, a number of whom broke into the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex on June 17, 1972.

Once you start lying, you can never stop.


1000 Words: No Gilded Cage For This Felon

I know, I know… I have no one to blame but myself. I listened to a bit of Right Wing talk radio Sunday night.

It’s not something I’d normally do, inasmuch as I’ve assiduously minimized my news media intake for at least the last 30 years. Just listening to, watching, or reading the mainstream daily news, I discovered, is unhealthy for me. It makes me edgy, almost paranoiac. Every new cancer, every slip in the latest jobs report, every hair’s breadth wiggle in every measurement of public safety, nutrition, nuclear arms, the weather — you name it — is reason for news anchors, editorialists, and opinionators to imply that the sky is falling. No news report has ever begun, “Nothing much happened today….”

And, as I say, that’s just the regular old mainstream news. Imagine what Right Wing talkers shriek about. That side of the fence loves — wallows in — grievance and cataclysm. Were I to listen to Right Wing talk radio for more than the two or three minutes I got Sunday I’d be a juddering wreck, armed to the teeth, looking over my shoulder so much that, to borrow a line from Woody Allen, I’d be doing pirouettes walking down the street.

The reason I fell into the Right Wing rabbit hole was I was looking for a baseball game to listen to. Here in South Central Indiana, I can get at least two reasonably clear radio stations from Major League Baseball cities: Chicago and Cincinnati. Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh occasionally come in and even, sometimes, Atlanta flits down from the ionosphere in dribs and drabs. (For all you non-radio geeks, signals from locales well beyond the horizon must bounce off the ionosphere in the far upper atmosphere for them to be heard hereabouts.)

Turns out all the games were finished by the time I started fiddling with the dial in my car. I landed on Cincy’s WLW, the flagship for the Reds (who, damn them, are doing better than my beloved Cubs this year). WLW is a news/talker that bills itself The Big One. It leans Right — very Right. It used to air a show aimed at long-haul truckers hosted by a guy who called himself Bubba-Bo until his death a few months ago.

Here’s what I learned when I descended into that snake pit last night: the fact that former president Donald J. Trump has been indicted on federal charges  has made the United States the laughing stock of the world. The show host, a fellow named Mike Allen who, I’ve gleaned, is outraged that the Los Angeles Dodgers are staging an LBGTQ celebration this month and, apparently, can’t have enough “right-to-lifers” on his show, was furious. No country, he roared, has any respect anymore for this once-great nation now that Trump has been hauled up on charges.

Allen went on on this vein about the indictment for several long minutes. Then he took a call from a listener. This person informed Allen and his radio audience that Donald Trump promised to “clear the swamp” when he ran for president in 2015 and ’16. “Now I know some rich people, and I’ll bet you do too,” the caller said. The rich, the caller stated confidently, turned on Trump like the jackals they are and did everything in their power to stop him from the aforementioned swamp clearing. Now they’ve got the Justice Dept. to do their bidding and are persecuting this honorable man.

Natch, I yelled at the radio: “Trumps rich, you idiot!” The man has spent his entire life rubbing shoulders with other rich people. He decorates his homes and offices like a sultan. For chrissakes, his old New York City apartment was decorated in 24-carat gold and diamonds, intentionally in the manner of the Palace at Versailles!

Trump, acc’d’g to one British design critic who’s studied the former president’s oeuvre, possesses decor tastes reminiscent of tinpot dictators like Saddam Hussein, Ferdinand Marcos, and Nicolae Ceausescu.

Even if the caller could hear my screed, it wouldn’t have moved him him a single millimeter.

Truth is, Trump’s net worth is irrelevant to people like the caller. To them, he’s as down-to-earth as they are. Most importantly, he’s fighting for them.To hell with those liberal, progressive Democrats who say they’re all for the poor and the working class. Only Donald J. Trump has everyday folks in his heart.

Just A Regular Guy’s Living Room.

That’s why, among many, many, many other reasons, I find the people who say, If only we listen to each other, all our national snarling, our polarization, our continent-wide incompatibility will melt away like magic, to be jaw-droppingly naive.

It ain’t gonna happen for the simple reason we are not only speaking different languages, we’re living in completely different worlds. When a defender of Trump is certain the once and (he hopes) future president and the rich are at odds, then what common ground can be obtained?

It’d be like me saying I once won the Nobel Prize in Literature but, those damned Norwegians, they hushed it up and have erased my victory from the record. You could offer me your ear. You could ask me how I felt about this miscarriage of justice. But the truth will always remain: you’ll come away convinced I’m mad as a hatter and you’ll do your best to cross the street when you see me coming your way.

That’s a pretty good analogy for the Big Lie, that Trump won the 2020 election but it was stolen from him, evidence be damned.

So now Trump will appear in court tomorrow to answer those federal charges. People on my side of the fence are rubbing their hands together in glee. He’s going to jail, they holler.

But he won’t. Even if he’s found guilty in the upcoming trial, he’ll appeal at least twice. The whole thing will take years to play out. Trump is 76 years old and he’s no greyhound. He’ll cash in his gold-plated chips long before this legal drama wraps up.

He won’t spend a single night in jail. You won’t get your revenge, folks.

1000 Words: Pot

I predict my adopted home state of Indiana — and there’s a line I never dreamed I’d write before I got here — will be among the last, if not the very last, to legalize recreational pot.

Even if our state legislature wasn’t so overly-populated by prudes and prigs who think the 1936 panic flick, “Reefer Madness,” was a documentary, I’d be skeptical the Indy statehouse gang would be capable of much lawmaking that made sense. It is, after all, a body from which emerged our current state attorney general, Todd Rokita, who choreographed a persecution campaign against a Hoosier OB-GYN doctor for performing an abortion on a ten-year-old girl who’d been raped. Turns out the criminal case the AG lusted for against the doctor for actually performing the procedure wouldn’t have held much water, so he fell back on the state Medical Licensing Board to reprimand her and fine her $3000 for violating the ten-year-old’s privacy.

See, Dr. Bernard had told a reporter about the case during a pro-abortion rally soon after the procedure. Like any reasonable human being, the doctor pointed out the lunacy of forcing a child to carry and deliver the fetus of her rapist. Many states of late have outlawed virtually all abortions, even those following criminal acts like rape and incest. The state from which the child came was Ohio, which already had outlawed abortion in almost every case, including hers. So, the kid and her caretaker crossed the state line into Indiana to prevent her from becoming a pre-teen mother. Rokita and any number of anti-abortionists went gaga and portrayed Bernard as a blood-thirsty baby killer. Since Indiana at the time had yet to outlaw abortion (following the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade) the best Rokita and company could do was enter a blot on Bernard’s record as a professional and lighten her wallet. Funny thing is, Bernard had never even mentioned the child’s name or revealed any info on her other than she was 10, from out of state, and raped, but that was good enough for the board to rule against her.


The board, by the way, is headed by a fellow named Dr. John Strobel, who specializes in electro-cardiology. In fact, he surgically implanted a defibrillator in my chest nearly a decade ago. He’s a fine practitioner in his field but is also an outspoken opponent of abortion, having taken to the streets to rail against it. The deck, pretty much, was stacked against Caitlin Bernard.

Many on the anti-abortion Right are more offended by the fact that the rapist in this case was, as they describe him, an “illegal immigrant.” The petition linked to in the preceding sentence reads, in part, “It looks like Former President Donald J. Trump was right that Latin America isn’t always sending their best” to this country. The petition also claims the “abortion industry” is a front for a massive sexual abuse cabal.

And people wonder what I mean when I say the worst thing about democracy is the people.

The Bernard case is just the latest weirdness this state’s lawmakers and enforcers have perpetrated. Here’s another from the legislature’s benighted past: back in 2016 — the year that gave us President-elect Trump — the Indiana Senate and House passed a bill forbidding municipalities from banning single-use plastic bags. You, know, those billions and billions of items clogging up our waterways, creating artificial islands in the oceans, strangling gulls and terns and sea turtles and other critters, and, overall, imperiling the environmental health of the planet. Liberal outposts like Bloomington seemed poised to ban plastic bags, as many other cities and the state of California already had done so, but the Indiana statehouse moved quickly to quash that impulse. There’s little the Indiana Senate and House finds more pleasurable than stifling the urges of this state’s few progressive enclaves.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a clump of plastic trash three times larger than the entire country of France.

That might seem a bizarre thing to take pleasure in. And it is. It can be argued that if our prudish and priggish state legislators were amenable to more earthy pleasures like getting baked, they’d be less prone to obsessively try to punish places like Bloomington for being…, well, Bloomington.

More than a hundred years ago, this nation embarked on a crazy, and ultimately failed, attempt to stop people from drinking booze. The only things that resulted from the 13-years-long experiment were the populace’s enhanced thirst for the forbidden stuff and the establishment of a powerful organized crime syndicate. For whatever reason, today there still are many Americans who want cannabis to remain illegal. As if that, in itself, might deter many people from indulging in the drug. Many more, though, want decriminalization.

Just this past month, Minnesota became the 23rd state to allow people over the age of 21 to possess and use recreational marijuana. Some 37 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Yet marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, along with heroin and LSD, by the federal government. Joe Biden promised to support decriminalization during his 2020 run for the presidency. Better than 9 of ten respondents to a 2021 Pew Research poll were in favor of some form of decriminalization. All signs point to an eventual blanket end to pot prohibition, not necessarily tomorrow or next week but some day.

Indiana’s surrounded on three sides by states that allow recreational use. Kentucky, Indiana’s fourth neighbor, still outlaws it. On the other hand, that state continues to honor Jefferson Davis, who was born there but moved elsewhere to eventually lead an armed rebellion against the United States. An estimated 620,000 people were killed in the US Civil War, more than the total number of deaths in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined.

Count the Kentucky legislature among those who might benefit from taking a puff or two the next time they meet..

1000 Words: Know Yourself

Perhaps the primary message I’ve striven to convey through the years via this global communications colossus is the fact that people, by and large, are full of shit.

Old man Shakespeare was right: all the world’s a stage. And the lot of us, the cast of humanity as it were, are a bunch of ham actors.

So barely mediocre are we at the craft of thespianism that we can’t even keep track of our lines and motivations. I mean, an audience has a reasonable expectation that the players on stage at least keep within shouting distance of consistency and believability within the constructs of their characters. If, for instance, Larry David in the next episode of Curb suddenly took to beating the hell out of teenaged hoodlums or even just ignoring his neighbors’ peccadillos, we’d start muttering, Y’know, that just doesn’t ring true.

But the players on this Earthly stage — we  — are as contradictory and baffling as 12-year-olds. To wit: former Chicago Tribune opinion columnist Eric Zorn, who now puts out a blog-newsletter entitled The Picayune Sentinel, this morning talked about the results of a fascinating Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted late this past winter. The poll asked respondents what they thought about government spending. Some 60 percent replied the gov’t blows too much dough. That plays in nicely with the harangue that the Republican Party has hammered us with for more than a half century: the feds, the state, the city, and hell, even half to three quarters of local homeowners associations just piss away money trying to fix problems that ought to magically disappear if only we hitched up our jeans, pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps, prayed to our Judeo-Christian god, forgot about slavery and institutionalized racism, and transported ourselves back to some mythical 1950s nirvana where men were men and women kept their knees together and their mouths shut.

Anyway, gov’t spending. A significant majority of us think it’s way over the top. “People,” Zorn writes, “tend to hate it generally, but like it specifically.”

As in, when asked about gov’t spending that affects them personally, people, for pity’s sake, believe the president, the Senate, the House, the Deep State, and whoever the hell else writes all those checks backed by our hard-earned tax dollars, are damned misers! They’re squeezing us! Pull out that checkbook, they seem to be saying, and write more, more, more checks! All those poll respondents who shrieked the government spends like so many drunken sailors on shore leave are really, again, just like 12-year-olds, convinced mom and dad are abusively denying them their rightful $500-a-week allowances.

When asked their thoughts on government spending in specific areas, people want the feds and every other government entity to commence shooting dollars at us like confetti from cannon.

Here are some things people want the government to spend more on:

  • Education
  • Health care
  • Social Security
  • Medicare
  • Border security

Hell, even 35 percent of respondents complained that this holy land spends too little on the military. If you recall my last EP post, America spent more on its military than the next ten nations combined in the year 2022.

But, of course, 35 pct. is a minority, about the equivalent of the fraction of Americans in thrall to the 45th President of the United States.

The people calling for more spending on the above problems and programs are clear majorities. So, a significant number of people, as indicated by this poll, say the government spends way, way, way too much money while, at the same time, they say the government does not spend enough.

As I indicated at the top of this piece, we’re full of shit. Unless, of course, that poll was restricted to respondents who are full of shit, ignoring people who are not. But you and I know that’s not the case. We live on this planet. We live in this country. We know the vast majority of us are full of shit. Poll any random swath of the American populace and you’ll scoop up a preponderance of people who are full of shit.

If you don’t know it, not only are you full of shit but you have no idea about a basic building block of your own character. I know for a fact that I’m full of shit. I have as many contradictory, pointless, poorly reasoned opinions and stances as any other halfway informed knucklehead pontificating on a personal blog. At very least, though, I’m aware that I’m full of shit. Which makes me a tad less full of shit than, say, those people who responded to that poll.

I’ve long held that the biggest problem with democracy is people. The geniuses who dreamed up the idea of democracy believed, apparently, that an informed, well-read, rational, wired-in electorate could be counted on, in its inherent wisdom, to make the right decisions.

I ask you: are we an informed, well-read, rational, wired-in people? I can’t imagine a soul answering yes.

Is there an informed, well-read, rational, wired-in people anywhere on this Earth?

People complain about the quality of our politicians and leaders, as if those running for president or living in our governors’ mansions should have come to this planet us from another, smarter world. The truth is, they are of us! We’re a bunch of lunkheads, self-interested, wearing blinders, too tired to delve into the nuances of complicated issues, too busy watching “The Masked Singer,” to broaden our horizons. For our leaders, we want people who are just like us.

The fact that we’re full of shit doesn’t particularly offend me. Well, much, anyway. What really burns me is our collective ignorance of our ignorance. We really don’t know we’re full of shit. Which sounds a bit like the Dunning-Kruger Effect that everybody cited a few years back, albeit erroneously.

Even when we try to explain why we’re full of shit, our explanations are full of shit.

My advice: let’s all embrace our full-of-shitness. At least we’d be a smidgen less full of shit than we are right now.


1000 Words: Kill Joy

Not, as a quick scan of the above headline might convey, killjoy as in “one who spoils the pleasure of others.”

No, I’m re-minting the term.

Here’s my new definition of kill joy: the excitement, the glee, the nearly sexual rush that humans get from war.

I’ve hammered on this many a time in this global communications colossus: we love war.

Argue with me all you’d like but you’d be wrong. We get off on war. We write songs about it. We throw parades for our soldiers both before and after wars. We gobble up news from the front. If our country’s not currently fighting a war, we follow closely whatever other countries are slaughtering each other.

Absent real war, we root and scream and devote our undying loyalty to our sports teams. When they win, when they kill the other team, we holler and rejoice and stamp our feet until the stadium shakes. Hell, just this past weekend, Major League Baseball teams donned khaki green and camouflage caps. If we can’t draw blood from our enemies, at least we can homer them to death. There are no plans, as far as I know, for baseball teams to wear caps with peace signs on them.

In this holy land, as a rule, we spend more than half of our entire yearly discretionary budget on the military. The United States paid out some $877 billion for defense in 2022, more than the next 10 countries combined.

Don’t tell me we hate war.

Oh, sure, there are folks who wring their hands and moan about the horrors, the atrocities, the madness of war. They are a minority.

There is no Department of Peace. There is, of course, a Department of Defense. Formerly the Department of War. But the spin-meisters who pondered such things decided, some 75 years ago, that Defense sounded more palatable than War. A sop, I’m sure, to that occasionally loud minority that wails about the evil of war.

Perhaps it is evil. But it sure is a blast.

And, don’t get me wrong, the United States isn’t the only country that embraces war. Almost every other sovereign state in the world honors, celebrates, worships for pity’s sake its fighting forces. It’s just that we spend the most dough and devote the largest share of our industrial and human might to the making of war. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 declared this nation to be the “arsenal of democracy.” We supplied the British and the Russians with millions and billions of things made from iron and steel and any other kind of metal that could be fashioned into ammo and armor. So productive were we as our World War II allies were getting their factories bombed and their economies ruined that we emerged from the Great Depression richer and more powerful than ever. In the years since, we’ve decided that supplying our own military — and much of the rest of the world’s — with bullets, grenades, tanks, fighter planes, mortars, bombers, troop carriers, runways, bunkers, hell, you name it — is flat-out good business. Trust me, if we hadn’t taken up that task, another economic powerhouse would have.

Whenever the national budget’s up for debate our political parties tussle over financial outlays for Social Security or homelessness or health care or education or road building or any of dozens of projects and programs that might make people’s lives safer and more comfortable. Yet, when’s the last time you heard a politician running for office stand up and say Goddamn it, we spend too much money on the military! It’s been a long, long time, primarily because it’s a losing shriek.

The love of war is hard-wired in our genes. Our nearest critter relatives, the chimpanzees, long have been known to engage in war and killing. They kill members of their own species, researchers have found, for the same reasons humans do: to take over territory. That’s why human armies and gangs kill each other.

And the chimps, research has shown, dig the killing. Very few, if any, other animals, birds, or insects organize themselves to kill other members of their own species. The urge to do so is built in to the DNA of Pan troglodytes as well as Homo sapiens. Jane Goodall’s research into chimp behavior in central Africa in the 1970s, a 2010 article in the journal Science claims, found that “male chimps often organize themselves into warring gangs that raid each other’s territory, sometimes leaving mutilated dead bodies in the battlefield.”

The article adds: “Lethal aggression can be evolutionarily beneficial in that species, rewarding the winners with food, mates, and the opportunity to pass along their genes.”

That pretty much sums up humans’ real justifications and rewards for war, despite all the high-minded rationalizations propagandists employ to whip up their respective populaces. We believce we’re fighting for freedom; the irony is, so are our enemies. There must be something more to it.

An analysis of the long, brutal battle for the Ukraine city of Bakhmut in today’s New York Times put me in a mind to ponder our love of war. Bakhmut before last summer was an anonymous salt mining town in northeastern Ukraine, about the size of Bloomington, Indiana. Now, after its 70,000 or so inhabitants have either been killed or forced out, Bakhmut is a dead city. Nobody lives there anymore. Its buildings and infrastructure mainly destroyed. The devastation there has been compared to that of Hiroshima after the nuclear bombing.

The horrible irony is, there was no earthly reason for the Russian and Ukraine armies to fight so viciously over the place. “Bakhmut… happened to be where two armies collided,” the analysis posits. “Pride, defiance and sheer stubbornness quickly gave the city outsize importance.”

There’s been a Bakhmut equivalent in every war ever fought. A strategically pointless place where killing and destruction became total because…, well, just because.

You want a because? Alright, here it is. Because we love war.

Just Because. [Image: Ukrainian Armed Services]

1000 Words: It Came From Beneath the River!

Back when I was a kid, anything that came from the Chicago River was considered toxic. Science-fiction-y toxic. Three eyes and three arms toxic. Eat it and you’re guaranteed to develop tumors inside and out within weeks. Days, maybe.

My beloved hometown’s river wasn’t exactly in the same league as, say, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River.  You know, the one that started on fire not once, not twice, but more than a dozen goddamned times in the heyday of industrial pollution, before the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, before that famous commercial with the Native American shedding a tear over litter and general muckiness.

Mayor Richard J. Daley, the first Pharaoh of the city and a dedicated fisherman, once pledged to clean up the Chicago River to the extent that the citizenry could one day drop lines in the water and see what got snagged on their hooks. In impeccable Chicagoese, Daley said, “D’ere’s nuthin’ so wholesome as eatin’ a fish.”

Hell, Sports Illustrated even ran a small piece on Da Mare’s angling obsession soon after his death in December 1976, including this gem:

[T]he mayor had a vision. He wanted to see clean, edible fish in the river, and he wanted to see them right away. “People from the Loop could catch fish in the Chicago River and barbecue them on grills we’ll put in Lower Wacker Drive.” he told the House Public Works Subcommittee on Water Resources. “They can eat fish and have a bottle of beer.”

The reaction to the above Illinois House Subcommittee testimony was universal derision. As Rick Telander’s SI piece described the river at the time:

An inner-city sludgepot of indeterminate composition and color, the Chicago River had probably housed more cement-encased humans than fish during the last half century. Overflow from the the city’s sewers runs directly into the river during heavy rains, and huge ships churn its waste-filled bottom into noxious ooze. The only time the river has a healthy color is on St. Patrick’s Day, when the Democrats dye it green with food coloring.

Lo and behold, thanks  in large part to the establishment of the aforementioned EPA as well as the national environmental awareness inspired by that iconic teary Native American, the Chicago River over the last 45 or so years indeed has been cleaned up. So much so that many people now climb into rowboats and fish for American eel, black bullhead, bluegill, channel catfish, common carp, green sunfish, largemouth bass, northern pike, and pumpkinseed.

There’ve been no recent reports of fisherpeople dropping dead after eating a Chicago River eel. Nor has there been a spate of local anglers developing extraneous limbs or eyes after downing a bluegill.

Nevertheless, a recent viral Instagram video showing the existence of an elderly gal nicknamed “Chonkosaurus” is jarring. Chonkosaurus is a huge snapping turtle who apparently calls the Chicago River home. A couple of kayakers videoed her sitting on a mound of rusty chains at the point, just northwest of the Loop, where the river splits into North and South branches.

I suppose any mammoth, superannuated snapping turtle would appear to be something out of a Ray Harryhausen 1950s monster movie. Harryhausen’s, along with Bert I. Gordon‘s and others, were my favorite movies in the days when I was fairly certain I could see the same types of creatures crawling out of the Chicago River itself. “Them!” “Beginning of the End,” “War of the Colossal Beast,” and “It Came from Beneath the Sea,” were after-school staples for me in the mid- and late-60s, during that pre-teen prime time when I could flip between those scifi classics, the Cubs game, and the Three Stooges.

The truth of the matter, though, is Chonkosaurus looks like a run-of-the-mill Chelydra serpentina. A Cook County Forest Preserve naturalist has identified Chonkosaurus as a female and suggests she’s probably loaded with eggs. Meaning, I suppose, there’ll be tons more like her popping up here and there along the river over the next few years. Chicago, it should be noted, was the cinematic locale of an attack by a swarm of giant grasshoppers in “Beginning of the End” back in 1957. Now, in 2023, some enterprising auteur ought to lens something called, say, “The Tortuga Terror,” with scenes of titanic reptiles climbing the Willis Tower.

The emergence of Chonkosaurus, of course, isn’t the first time the Chicago River has made national news (other than every St. Patrick’s Day when the river’s dyed green). In August 2004, the tour bus for the Dave Matthews Band stopped while crossing the Chicago River on the Kinzie Street Bridge. The bus driver had decided to empty the bus’s toilet tank through the bridge’s iron grate deck. Unfortunately, just at that moment a tour boat, Chicago’s Little Lady, was passing directly underneath the bridge. Carrying some 120 passengers, the tour boat caught the brunt of the 800-pounds of human shit, piss, and otherwise fouled water pouring down through the grate. About 80 tourists got slimed.

An official report read thusly:

The liquid waste was brownish yellow in color, and had a foul, offensive odor. The liquid human waste went into passengers’ eyes, mouths, hair, and onto clothing and personal belongings, many of which were soaked. Some of the passengers suffered nausea and vomiting as a result….

The bus driver eventually was found guilty of dumping into a waterway and sentenced to 150 hours of community service, 18 months’ probation, and fined $10,000. The tour boat’s passengers, it should be noted, all received refunds when Chicago’s Little Lady returned to its dock.

I don’t suppose many of them enjoyed a hearty meal for the next few weeks after the incident.

Perhaps a new generation of Chicagoans can think wholesome, clean thoughts when the Chicago River is mentioned. Me? I dunno, the river carries a little too much baggage.

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