Hot Air: My Town, My Blood, Et Cetera

Bene Bloomington

Here’s the best of Bloomington:

The Tenor Clears His Pipes.

My pal Charlotte Zietlow (you can see her sitting on a sofa behind the performer, facing the audience), threw a house recital at her Green Acres crib yesterday afternoon. There were violins, a cello, a pianist, and a singer (a tenor, pictured). Charlotte has a grand piano in her living room and has graciously offered its use to any serious Jacobs School student who’d care to plink away on it. So, one of them put together Sunday’s really big show.

I parked myself in her enclosed back porch where I sat in a rocker, enjoying the strains, watching the crows and house wrens jockey for position on branches and wires, and keeping an eye via smartphone on the finale of the Cubs/Brewers weekend series at Wrigley Field. All in all I felt, for the nonce, as though I was in a perfect place. Scherzos and adagios, deep blue skies, brilliant redbuds, flittering, fluttering birds, and a houseload of civilized souls.

It all reminded me why I love this place.

For balance, though, see the entry below (you’ll know it when you see it).

Gabbing

Lots of Big Talk recording this week. Visiting me in the studio will be authors Tristra Newyear and Michael Koryta (they both have new novels coming out) as well as the founder of Bloomington Fading, Derek Richey.

Tune in to WFHB, 91.3 FM, Thursday at 5:30pm for the Tristra show. Her new tome is entitled The Tomb and the Stone and it’s set in the Asian part of Russia, a locale we Murricans know next to nothing about. So, yeah, I’ll be asking her what in the hell’s going on in that part of the world when I grill her in the studio.

Wise Blood

Okay, so the FIFA World Cup in soccer is set to begin in Russia on June 14th. Most of the world (except, notably, me) is as excited about this as if scientists had developed a macaroni & cheese that tastes good and isn’t fattening. BTW: The human who does come up with such a thing will be hailed as no one since Newton.

Anyway, sports talk radio is running ads already for the big tourney. The Score, 670 AM in Chi., features a commercial tying in the genetic ancestry operation, 23andMe, and the games. The idea being, Renaldo is Portuguese, what if you find out you have Portuguese ancestry? Same with Messi and your own possible Argentine background. Would you, the voiceover guy asks, root harder for them?

Let’s leave aside the fact that I couldn’t care less if my sports heroes are “of my blood.” That fact that Greg Luzinski was of Polish extraction did nothing to tamper my loathing for him. Of superior importance to me was that he played for the detestable Philadelphia Phillies. Nor does Anthony Rizzo’s Italian-ism mean much to me. I love him because he’s a Cub. The thing that gets me here is the realization that these so-called scientific ancestry businesses are standing on their heads to figure out ways to get you to fork over your hard-earned lettuce to them.

Imagine taking a DNA test just to find out of you and your fave sports star share some putative common background. We’re weird.

Torture

Speaking of the advertising world, I noticed Last Week with John Oliver recently did a tangential bit on those loathsome Kars-4-Kids commercials. Have you heard or seen them?

Every time I hear the loathsome lyrics on the radio — one-eight-seven-seven cars for kids, donate your car today — my skin crawls. They are the most insipid, idiotic, annoying, murder-inducing pieces of noise I’ve ever heard and, hell, I remember Tony Orlando and Dawn singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree.”

In the This Week piece, Oliver cites some political ad that shows a nice, white, middle class family sitting down to dinner when, suddenly, the flash of a nuclear explosion obliterates the scene. The tagline follows: It only takes one. The idea being Iran is run by madmen brown guys who are aching to their cores to drop atom bombs all over America.

Oliver gasps and remarks how emotionally and morally repugnant it is to use the nuclear flash in a commercial to prove some partisan point or another. There is only one commercial where it’s acceptable, he allows. Cut to a TV ad of the Kars-4-Kids thing, with a rock band of little seven- and eight-year-olds banging out that horrible song. Then, suddenly, there’s the nuclear flash and the scene is obliterated. Thank you, Oliver says.

I’ve detested the K4K ads since the very first time I heard them several years ago. Each time they air, I become more convinced I will never, ever, ever donate a penny to an outfit that would so assault my eardrums, insult my intelligence, and piss all over my ear for music, no matter if they save every kid on Earth from every disease known to humankind.

I have my standards, after all — although I do on rare occasions feel slightly guilty for not wanting to save every kid on Earth from every disease known to humankind. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

Batty Bloomington

This one’s for those of you who don’t live in Bloomington. Wanna know a little bit about my adopted town? Try this.

Within the last couple of months I’ve caught two comment threads on Facebook that as near as anything on this planet define our fair metropolis.

  1. Some guy puts up a joke-y post showing a sonogram of what appears to be a puppy in a womb. The poster says something about how he and his wife (they’re well into their 60s) will hear the pitter-patter of little feet around the house soon, etc. Some commenters get in on the spirit of the thing but one guy is outraged. He writes: “Pregnancy is NEVER something to joke about, no matter who you are. 1 in 8 women can’t have kids and 1 in 4 women have dealt with a miscarriage, and the last thing we want to see is someone joking about a pregnancy announcement, especially on Easter. Call me one of those snowflake liberals or whatever, but this is something that hits home for a lot of girls out there.” This comment is ❤’d by no fewer than three people.
  2. Another guy puts up a post saying he’s got several animals at home and he always says goodbye to them when he leaves for the day. This is followed by a serious-as-a-heart-attack comment thread wherein several people warn him about the trauma he’s visiting upon his furry friends. Dogs and cats, goes the sentiment, are emotionally damaged when the house human leaves. Rubbing it in by saying goodbye only compounds their agony. These comments, too, are Liked and Loved.

I’ve been living in this town for going on nine years now. I’ve so far seen the best and the most ludicrous of this singular place.

Hot Air: Mystery No More

The current New York Times bestseller, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, has a hell of a backstory in addition to its chilling, breathtaking subject matter. The book is about a crazed murderer/rapist who attacked women at home alone, women with children in the house, and married couples. He apparently indulged in bizarre rituals while committing his crimes, including brewing himself tea during his attacks, sometimes placing cup and saucer on his tied up victim’s prone body. He allegedly wreaked his terror east of the San Francisco Bay for at least a couple of decades, starting some time in the 1970s.

It’s the kind of case that draws obsessives to study it, to try to solve it, and, really, to creep the rest of us out because, jeez, what kind of a person wants to devote his or her life to mulling such sustained ghastliness?

Michelle McNamara, for one. She became essentially hypnotized by the tale about a dozen years ago, writing about it in her blog, True Crime Diary. Her independent digging kept the investigation alive even as police officials fretted that the trail was growing cold. The last suspected victim was attacked some 32 years ago. While the killer was going about his business, his crimes were attributed to a couple of different ghouls known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker. McNamara tied the crimes together and dubbed the single perpetrator the Golden State Killer.

McNamara was the wife of comedian Patton Oswalt. She suffered from depression (no wonder) and was taking psychiatric medications when, two years ago last week, she died in the middle of the night, victim of an undiagnosed heart ailment perhaps turned fatal by the drugs she was taking. She’d still been working on a book about the Golden State Killer. It remained unfinished at the time of her death.

Thanks to her widower’s celebrity, another true crime writer finished the thing and it was released this past winter. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark continues its run on the NYT hardcover nonfiction bestseller list. And yesterday, California officials announced an arrest in the case. DNA and other types of evidence tied a former small-town cop to several of the killings.

The Suspect.

The man is 72 years old. His mug shot does not resemble that of a terrifying madman. Rather, it’s of a sad-looking, disheveled old coot. One, though, who in his younger days attacked his victims, it is alleged, often at a rate of two per month. His crimes, according to reports, not only changed how inland Californians lived their lives, but how police and hospital personnel dealt with rape victims.

Patton Oswalt, for his part, said on Twitter, “Goodnight, Michelle. You did good. You aimed a light and helped the hunters catch a monster.”

Hollywood screenwriters can only wish they could come up with stories as wild as this.

 

Hot Air: We’ll Miss Him? That’s Crazy!

Slapstick Strategy

Isn’t it clear by now that what President Gag has been doing since his inauguration — since the beginning of his adult life, for that matter — is blurt outrageous stuff as a preamble to actually sitting down and negotiating with different parties?

It’s the old street brawl philosophy: Make your opponent think you’re crazy so s/he will be completely disoriented and off-guard when the real blows fall. In fact, Richard Nixon wanted to use the same gambit with the North Vietnamese. He called it the madman theory. He directed his negotiators and his diplomats to float their concerns to Ho Chi Minh’s people that Nixon was losing it, that he was ready to snap at any moment, that — for chrissakes — he might even nuke the North if he should wake up in a bad mood tomorrow.

This brand of posturing works occasionally, especially in one-on-one, immediate situations where reactions come from the gut, where the adrenaline flow overrides the logical precincts of the brain. It worked when Li’l Duce was trying to negotiate down his debts — and, truly, there is no scarier moment to a banker than to confront the possibility that someone he’s lent a hundred million dollars to just might walk away from his obligation.

At those moments, the future P. Gag had primed the pump by throwing those bankers off balance with his manic, scattershot pronouncements and irrational insults. Then, when the banker and he actually got down to cases, Li’l Duce started speaking rationally. The bankers were so relieved that they became more likely to supplicate him, to make a deal while he seemed, well…, sane.

I’m telling you, he’s doing the same thing now on the world stage.

Problem is, the stakes are higher. A miscalculation could result is something worse than a bad credit rating for himself. Push another egomaniacal, megalomaniacal, borderline sociopath to the brink and he just might press a red button.

The Doctor Is OUT IN

I’ve done scads of pedestrian psychology assessments on the current president since before he even won the White House on a technicality.

The thought occurs to me that when we get a sane, decent human being in the Oval Office again, things’ll be awfully damned boring around this holy land.

Have you ever known someone who was romantically involved with a crazy person? Sure, they’re relieved once the relationship is over, once the high wire act, the drama, the excitement is done and gone. Still, they might miss that excitement now that they’re married to a sane person. Y’know, things have gotten sorta boring.

The Best Money Can Buy

Republicans across the nation are targeting Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly. They figure any Hoosier Democrat is in a position analogous to the poker player who stays in the game despite holding only a couple of treys. The GOP this primary season is fielding a trio of contenders for the party’s nomination, a triad of Trump-lites. In fact, Todd Rokita, for pity’s sake, often does show and tell with a cardboard cutout of the president at his campaign events. Sheesh. Anyway, big donors are going to flood the campaign coffers of the primary winner. And make no mistake — Democrats from sea to shining sea will throw dough at Donnelly, too.

“The Bosses of the Senate,” by Joseph Keppler, 1889.

Indiana for the next six months will be awash in money. Can you imagine elections wherein big-dollar contributions are outlawed? Where the candidates run on ideas and character, heart and intellect?

No, I can’t either. This is, after all, America.

The End (Delayed On Account Of Rain)

Hell, it’s been so cold and rainy so often that a record number of baseball games have been postponed this month. I mean, this crazy weather is playing havoc with everything. Dang, mang, even that Rapture predicted for Monday was postponed.

Has a makeup date been set yet?

Hah! Yeah, I know — all Rapture dates are made up dates. Heh.

Hot Air: Books & Stuff

Just reading the book Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids by Nicholson Baker. It’s a journal of a sort, recounting the author’s adventures as a substitute teacher in a Maine school system. Baker is known for his lovingly (some might say obsessively) descriptive nonfiction books like The Mezzanine, Vox, and The Fermata. He’s also penned the history, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization.

The style of his highly personal book-length essays like The Mezzanine and Substitute is pure slice-of-life. He’s less telling a story than taking a snapshot or, more accurately, creating a gigantic album of word pictures. Baker got himself a substitute teacher certificate so he could research his latest book. It’s a glimpse into the 21st Century American classroom — he recounts his assignments from primary through high schools. So far, I’ve only gotten through his first two assignments and already I’m shaking my head over the weirdness that passes for today’s educational strategy. For instance, he describes his high school students using their iPads in class.

Indispensable?

There’s been a mania of late to provide every single student in certain schools with a tablet computer. At first glance, it seems a good idea. After all, the students can logon to the internet and do research on every topic imaginable. What a fabulous teaching device, no?

No, I say.

There are already things like books, newspapers, and magazines, all of which are fine fodder for reaping info. Yet not every student takes advantage of the school library. It’s the same with tablet computers. Not many students use them for research. More likely, they’ll find their way to game sites, social media, and other destinations otherwise known as wastes of time.

The truth seems to be that the computer manufacturers have done a bang up marketing job, convincing school districts that their students will wither and die on the vine if they don’t have iPads or Android-based devices in their hands every second of the school day. The likes of Apple and Samsung have donated units to key school systems, seeding big metropolitan areas and whole exurbia and rural regions with the idea that these expensive toys are indispensable in the classroom.

It’s the great American idea — you’ve got to buy things in order to accomplish anything. Wanna ride a bike? Hell, you’ve got to deck yourself out in a gazillion dollars-worth of protective gear, biking cleats, fashion uniforms and a hundred other purchasable items. You wanna teach kids about the world and life, well, hell, you’ve got to spend  five hundred bucks a pop on a tablet.

Spending money and buying crap — it’s the American way.

The Lively Art

I’ve been catching up with my podcast posts for Big Talk. Yesterday I put up the April 5th show featuring computer savant James Clawson, an ass’t prof. in Indiana University’s School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering. His mission in life, (ironically, in light of the above entry) is to get mobile device life smartphones and tablets into the hands of the sick. That is, if you have breast cancer, you’ll get your jittery hands on an iPad loaded with software that helps you navigate through the latest advances in treatment , puts you in instant touch with experts in the field, and helps you figure out what in the hell your doctor’s talking about or what your insurance provider demands of you in addition to the deed to your firstborn, who’s probably now full-grown.

Here the link to the Clawson show. Coming up in the next few weeks, on the air (and subsequently on podcasts), authors Michael Koryta, Tristra Newyear, poet and singer Ross Gay and Kacie Swierk as well as The Back Door owner Nicci Boroski, (a couple of chestnuts from the days when Big Talk was merely an eight-minute feature of the Daily Local News) and other treats.

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB 91.3FM with a bonus, Big Talk Extra — sort of a BT unplugged — every Monday during the Daily Local News at five.

A Sure Thing

Speaking of books (were we?), I can’t wait to get my hands on Barbara Ehrenreich’s new one, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer.

Ehrenreich one of the top long-form journalists working today and one of my fave authors to boot. Her masterpiece was Nickel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, an investigation into survival in 21st Century America. She made headlines herself when, soon after publication of that book, she announced she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her subsequent Harper’s magazine article “Welcome to Cancerland” as well as her 2010 book Bright-Sided, examined the business of cancer and the bizarre ways we in this holy land are encouraged to view everything while wearing a happy face (spoiler alert: it’s good business).

Anyway, Nat. Causes posits that even though America has built up a multi-billion-dollar health and wellness industry — above and beyond our conventional allopathic health care system, which itself is laden with more and more magical thinking these days — they ain’t nuffin’ we can do to prevent death. We’re mortal, folks. Period. And no amount of health club memberships or juice fasts will belie that reality.

That’s not pessimism, BTW.

Hot Or Not?

Interesting take on beauty and the American perception thereof in yesterday’s New York Times. It came in the form of a rumination about Amy Schumer’s new movie I Feel Pretty.

Schumer

The flick’s plot entails the lead character — played by AS herself — waking up from a clunk on the head one day believing she’s supermodel material even though everybody else on the planet can see she’s not. Nevertheless, simply because the Amy character has confidence and believes she’s rail-thin, high-cheekboned, and cantaloupe-breasted, she gets by in life more easily than when she accurately saw herself as an average schlub.

The NYT piece says that conceit is indicative of our refusal to upend impossible standards of beauty and lays the onus on the 99% of us who are less than world-class knockouts.

Check it here.

Hot Air: Resurrection

For the last ten days, for the most part, I’ve been an internet hermit. A confluence of factors has caused me to withdraw. Or maybe it was only one factor — a revisiting of the depression that has pestered me since I was a kid. That’s more like it.

The wish to stay in bed all day long. The crankiness. The inability to find pleasure in anything. The overwhelming desire to carbo-load. The dearth of any reason to do anything. I’ve been through all this before. It’s nothing new. I knocked off Zoloft in the summer of 2016, a few months after I’d completed my chemoradiation therapy. The Zoloft for years had warded off these semi-regular dips into the cold dark cellar. This time I had to fight the fight w/o the drug.

Usually the descent takes months and it certainly did this time. The fall continues until I hit some kind of psychological concrete surface. I consider this month of April to have been the splat.

Certainly this ludicrous weather hasn’t helped. The trees usually are sprouting leaves or at least budding by now. The blossoms usually brilliant and fragrant at this time. But the trees are still bare and what blossoms that have managed to poke out are dull. Or is it just me?

In any case, my self-prescribed therapy regimen has included long stints on the stationary bicycle, daily drives to different So. Indiana towns’ libraries to work, a monk-like focus on a particular writing project, and a series of long monologues delivered internally, acknowledging the nothingness and exhorting self to wait the storm out.

It’s working, to be sure. I’m even listening to music again, something I find almost impossible to do when I take my dives. In the throes of depression, music is nothing more than clangs and scratches.

When the mind and the heart are not sick, music is itself drug-like. I could swear, when all is well, I can feel those pleasurable substances like endorphins coursing through my blood vessels when I catch sound of a particularly moving piece of music, “An American in Paris,” say, or “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”

Last night I listened to a compilation of the incidental music from the TV show, “Arrested Development.” Most of it was composed by David Schwartz who’s a veteran TV scorer. Fans of “Northern Exposure” might recognize his early stuff. In any case, Schwartz’ AD tunes moved me — and that’s one way I know I’m coming out of the hole.

Which reminds me of a bit Richard Lewis used to do. He couldn’t understand why neither his parents nor his grandparents ever evinced any signs or signals that they loved each other. There were no casual caresses, no hand-holdings, no lingering glances. No evidence whatsoever that the mates found each other alluring.

He concluded that both his parents and grandparents had somehow found a secret place in which they could be tender toward one another or even — gasp! — to make love. They’d put on several layers of heavy winter coats, wrap themselves in scarves, smash furred hats on their heads, hunch over, and leave the house for an undisclosed location where they’d board an elevator to take them down hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth and there, out of earshot and eyeshot of the rest of humanity, they’d consummate their respective marriages. And at the huzzah moment, they wouldn’t holler or moan but would simply splutter, Uunnghh.

Now that’s funny. And now I can laugh about things like that again after a several-month hiatus from silliness.

Double Big

Did you catch yesterday’s Big Talk? It was one of those two-fer days with an airing of the show on WFHB and the concurrent publication in the Limestone Post of Big Mike’s B-town. The subject? Bloomington’s very first female firefighter, Jean Magrane.

Jean hooked on with the BFD in 1987 and eventually worked her way up to captain before she retired in 2013. The hose-lugging lads of the BFD acted toward her as any previously segregated group of males might toward a Double-X chromosome colleague. A tidbit from the interview (and profile): Jean did not meet another female firefighter for some seven years after she’d been hired by the BFD.

Magrane and her first captain, Bill Headley, at her retirement party.

Go here for the WFHB podcast and here for the Limestone Post piece.

And tune in every Thursday for Big Talk on 91.3 FM. Big Mike’s B-town runs every four weeks on the LP so the next one will be Thursday, May 17th.

I’ll keep on talking and writing as long as you keep on listening and reading.

The Unforgiven

Just caught sight of a cool T-shirt — it’s a football jersey knock-off with the number 7 and the name Kaepernick emblazoned above it. And the other side reads, “If he ain’t playing, I’m not watching!”

Colin Kaepernick

Some grad student was wearing the shirt this AM in the HQ of this global communications colossus, Hopscotch Coffee. I never would have figured this particular person to be a football fan but the Colin Kaepernick tale made plenty of non-sports folks aware of the NFL and its patronizing, barely tolerant attitude toward its players of color.

If your skin is brown or black, the NFL’s billionaire owners dig you only if you behave. And to those plutocrats in charge of America’s biggest sports business good behavior means only that you never acknowledge that you have brown or black skin. If you beat your wife or girlfriend, if you run a dog fighting operation, if you run with murderers and gangsters — all that can be forgiven.

Colin Kaepernick to this day remains unforgiven.

Tragedy

A tip: Scan this fascinating story in today’s New York Times about a deadly fire that killed nine graduate students in a Cornell University residence center in 1967. The fire was one of a series of suspicious blazes around that time, leading investigators and observers to conclude it was arson. No one’s ever been charged.

The story, though, focuses on some guy who was a Cornel student at the time, an ROTC cadet who later became a Marine. It seems this fellow has become obsessed — no exaggeration — with the fire in the years hence. So much so that my knee-jerk reaction was to blurt, “He did it!”

Of course there’s no real evidence this fellow has committed any crime. It’s a compelling read nevertheless.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if you blurted out the same thing.

All About Us

Another tip: Keep your eyes peeled for the Limestone Post‘s special print edition, “Sense of Place.” It’ll be all about — what else? — Bloomington. What is it, publisher Ron Eid and his conscientious crew are hoping to answer, that makes this place so…, well, Bloomington?

“Sense of Place” will hit the streets in about a month and a half with a big release party scheduled for the evening of June 1st at the I Fell Gallery.

Hot Air: The Voting Season

I’ve been sort of incommunicado on the interwebs for a few days and that’s just fine by me. As I’ve mentioned previously in these precincts as well as on soc. med., I sometimes get tired of hearing my own voice.

In any case, today’s a big day — and not just because it’s the Chicago Cubs home opener (after yesterday’s scheduled HO was snow/colded out).

April?

Today, my fellow citizens, is the first day of early voting in the Indiana state primary. From now through noon, Monday, May 7th, you get to pretend you run this country by casting a ballot at any of the early voting centers hereabouts. Go here for locations in Monroe County. You also get to vote on the actual primary election day, Tuesday, May 8, at your local polling place. The general election is Tuesday, November 6th.

This election cycle is a biggie inasmuch as it’s President Gag’s mid-term gauntlet. Remember the last big mid-term beauty contest? That’d be the election of 2010, the year after Barack Obama took office and during which his party lost both the House and the Senate, bringing us right up to this day and age wherein the hijacked Republican Party controls everything in the known universe, up to and including the White House, the House, the Senate, the vast majority of statehouses and governors’ mansions, and even the US Supreme Court, for pity’s sake.

Funny that, since every big deal national election year, the total number of Democratic votes exceeds that of the Republicans, so either my math skills are fercockt or something else very fishy is going on around this holy land.

This week’s Big Talk will feature the respective chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties, William Ellis and Mark Fraley. Both came to the WFHB studios to record with me yesterday and, mirabile dictu, not a voice was raised in anger nor a drop of blood spilled. In fact, the two party sachems actually like each other. Well, they get along awfully civilly, let’s say that.

An interesting little tidbit: I pressed Ellis on whether his party sees Li’l Duce as an asset or a drawback and, in answering, he danced around the Q., implying that, well, if a Rep. wants to hitch her/his wagon to P. Gag’s, that’d be fine but it’d be just as well if a GOP candidate establishes a healthy distance from the party’s national standard bearer.

Brought to you by the Republican Party.

I find that most telling. In a street brawl, if you sense any weakness in your opponent, any little opening or letting down of the guard, you exploit it, fast and furiously. When a county Republican official hints that its current Big Boy isn’t necessarily the ticket to victory and, in fact, may be considered in some quarters the equivalent of a pair of cement overshoes, that’s a mighty big opening.

And why in the holy hell aren’t the Dems taking it? Why aren’t they screaming the name Trump! at the tops of their lungs every minute of the day? The key to victory is to go strong, simple, and direct. One word. Trump. That’s the stuff to give to the troops. That’s what the hell the Republicans did for eight freaking years, their passport to controlling every legislature and executive branch known to humankind in this year of somebody’s lord, 2018. They screamed Obama from morning till night and often hollered his name in their sleep.

If even the Republicans themselves sense the man-boy at the top might be a hindrance, then it’s the duty and responsibility of the Dems to make sure every single right-thinking citizen of these United States knows it, today, tomorrow, the day after, and every single goddamned day until Nov. 6.

Look, the last charismatic leader the Reps. had was Saint Ronald Reagan. And nobody — nary a sole — among the party faithful ever hinted at or even entertained the notion that he might be a lead weight. If St. R. told them they all ought to jump off a cliff, there’d have been a massing of leapers at every single ledge in this nation. Today, though, plenty o’Republicans are about as nauseated by the state of the current administration as Dems are.

Acknowledge that fact, Dems! Rub it in. Don’t let anybody forget the party that kowtowed to nativists, the gun lobby, the radical religionists, and even the white supremacists, reaped what they’d sown in their current Pres. Way too many Dems these days are afraid of alienating somebody or something by harping on the Trump connection too much. Nonsense!

Go simple: The Republicans = Trump. There’s your message. Now, start hitting people over the head with it.

Big Talk Links

I haven’t posted the podcasts of my last two Big Talks because 1) WFHB’s website was down; and 2) I forgot to do so when the website came back up. Anyway, herein I present the link* to the Thursday, March 29 edition featuring a couple of clips from former United Nations ambassador Samantha Power‘s speech at Indiana University last month, spliced in w/ me telling the story of former B-town mayor Frank McCloskey who, as a Congressbeing in the 1990’s, became a hero to many in the world when he pushed for the US to intervene to stop the genocides in the then-new republics of the former Yugoslavia. Phew! How’s that for a run-on sentence? Power, for her part, had won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on thaose and other genocides and ethnic cleansings. She immortalized McCloskey in her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

Last week, Thursday, April 5th, my Big Talk guest was James Clawson, a prof. at IU’s School of Informatics. He was a youthful computer geek who, while earning a master’s and PhD at Georgia Tech, worked passionately on bridging the gap between computer geekdom and the more traditional health care world. His post-doc project at GT entailed developing and studying the efficacy of a portable device designed for breast cancer patients. The little Android notebook connected those patients with other patients, with their own and other doctors, with research and the latest findings on the disease, and served as a data diary for them as they embarked on what Clawson calls their Cancer Journey.

Clawson: Bridging the gap.

Okay? Again, here’s the link* to the Power/McCloskey show and here’s where you click* to get the Clawson episode.

And remember, Monroe County’s major party majordomos, William Ellis and Mark Fraley, will chat with me over the airwaves this coming Thursday, April 12th, on WFHB, 91.3 FM.

We’ll talk.

[ * MG NOTE: Well, I’ll be damned! Here I sit in the Jefferson County Public Library in Madison, Indiana, ready to click on the Publish button for this post and what do I realize but that I’ve forgotten to bring the audio files of the aforementioned Big Talk episodes to upload to WordPress. Hah — speaking of fercockt! So, cool your heels for just a little while longer until I get home and upload those episodes. I’m beginning to think I need either a long vacation or an enforced stay in a sanitarium.]

 

Hot Air: The Dead Tell Tales

The New York Times found itself in hot water not long ago. The reason? Its obits section historically has been weighted heavily — almost exclusively — toward men. The paper is now trying hard to undo that injustice with something called the “Overlooked” series. More on that in a bit.

I love reading the NYT obits. I have for years. I discovered the beauty, the treasure trove, the literature, for chrissakes, that well-written obits can be as far back as the summer of 1983. It was in July of that year that I happened to be thumbing through the NYT. I’d never before read the obits, thinking them the ghoulish pastime of old fogeys. Somehow, though, my eye was arrested by this headline:

Developer of the Quonset hut. Really? You mean some person, somewhere, actually had to come up with this idea? For pity’s sake, Quonset huts are so simple, so elementary, I’d thought they were more or less hard-wired into our brains from the time we as a species descended from the trees on the African plain. But no. A guy — of course, a guy, because, as I’d learn more than 30 years hence, the NYT almost never marked the deaths of brilliant women — had actually sat down before a drafting table and had drawn up the first of the giant-caterpillar-like structures. Well, here, let’s let the obit writer, anonymous to us at this remove, explain:

When the United States entered World War II, the Fuller company received a contract to develop a shelter that could be transported easily and assembled quickly. Mr. Dejongh led a group of Fuller engineers who were sent to Quonset Point, R.I., where they built a steel half-cylinder that was to fill a variety of purposes at military bases around the world.

US Army Quonset hut on Attu in the Aleutian Islands.

This DeJongh fellow was an engineer for the George A. Fuller Construction Co. in New York City. He was born and educated in the Netherlands and moved to the US in the 1920’s. He and his crew of engineers at Fuller designed the famed Seagram, Union Carbide, and other notable towers in NY as well as Denver’s Mile High Center and a bunch of high-rises in Washington, DC. He also designed the world’s first ski tramway, located in New Hampshire.

Then World War II started and he came up with that basic, essential structure, the Quonset hut.

And — who knew? — it was named after some podunk town in Rhode Island. Well, I’ll tell you who knew — anybody who’d read his New York Times obituary. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better history course than that found every day in the NYT obits.

Today, for instance, the deaths of the following poor souls were noted therein:

  • Drue Heinz
  • William Prochnau
  • Alfred Crosby
  • Herbert Kaiser

I honestly couldn’t have ID’d a single one of them until today. Now, though, after reading their obits, I know that Drue Heinz was a member of the pickle and ketchup empire who threw boatloads of dough at authors and editors, some of whom started the likes of The Paris Review, Antaeus, and Ecco Press. She even purchased a manor in Scotland and turned it into a writers’ retreat called Hawthornden Castle.

William Prochnau was a war correspondent and the author of Once Upon a Distant War, about the journalists who, early on, saw the Vietnam War for the fiasco it really was. His reporting and writings landed him on President Richard Nixon’s notorious enemies list.

Alfred Crosby parlayed his fascination with Columbus and his landings in the “new world” into a study of how the early European migration here changed this continent’s very environment. He combined the disciplines of biology, ecology and geography in an effort to understand what Columbus and those who followed had wrought, coining terms like “ecological imperialism.” Crosby eventually earned the nickname, “the father of environmental history.”

Herbert Kaiser was an American diplomat who’d developed skin cancer while stationed in South Africa in 1971. He was treated in that country and learned his excellent care came about solely because he was white. That nation’s blacks, he learned, were sorely underserved by doctors and medical facilities. He and his wife, Joy, would go on to fund the Medical Education for South African Blacks nonprofit foundation, providing grants, scholarships, and other assistance to non-whites in the country.

And, coolest of all, I learned about Bessie B. Stringfield, the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami.” Here’s a photo of her and her Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide:

Bessie died in 1993. Her obit ran today as part of the NYT’s “Overlooked” series, wherein the paper publishes newly-written obituaries about women who died years ago and were, at the times of their deaths, not considered worthy of inclusion in its pages. What a life she led! Here’s clip from her new obit:

Her legend was big enough to warrant a posthumous induction into the Hall of Fame of the American Motorcyclist Association in 2002, nearly a decade after her 1993 death. Hundreds of women motorcyclists make an annual cross-country trek in her honor. She has been memorialized in a comic book and mentioned in a documentary and a book about women motorcyclists by Ann Ferrar, a friend who is also working on a memoir of her friendship with Stringfield.

A masterful storyteller, Stringfield amazed people with her accounts of being chased off the road as she traveled through the Jim Crow South; performing stunts on the Wall of Death at carnivals; and serving as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider for the U.S. Army in the 1940s. Her childhood, in her telling, was Dickensian: born in Jamaica to an interracial couple; left motherless at a young age; abandoned by her father on a Boston street; and adopted by a benevolent Irish Catholic woman who treated her so well that she gave her a motorcycle when she was 16 years old.

As I said, cool.

Throw those elementary school textbooks away. You’ll get a better, more comprehensive education studying the obits.

 

Hot Air: These Days, 50 Years Ago

Memory plays tricks on all of us. I’ve had it in my head for years — for decades — that my life changed, my consciousness was awakened, at about 6:00pm, Thursday, April 4, 1968. In my memory, I was sitting in my family’s living room at 1621 N. Natchez Ave. in Chi., the TV tuned to Channel 26, at the time a sort of weirdo off-brand station on the UHF dial that aired old slapstick movies, constant repeats of an Italian documentary on bizarre cultural practices and superstitions called Mondo Cane, and pro wrestling. Maybe I was channel surfing (although prob. not as we didn’t have a clicker in those days — I would have had to get up and walk over to the TV to change channels) or maybe I was hoping to see some old Buster Keaton nugget, but instead all I got was a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. and somber music.

It was a picture like this.

The station kept that picture up, accompanied by a succession of dirges, all night long. I remember being alone. Who knows where my parents were. My bro. Joey was away at college in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I remember tears coming on, unexpectedly. Then I began sobbing. At first I felt like a fool — or, in the language of my peers and the times, a femme — for wanting to cry. But I couldn’t stop myself so I let go and wept deeply. From that moment on, I’d come to understand, I had become a citizen of the world rather than a dopey kid who worried about being thought a femme.

The death of the civil rights icon, the hero to much of Black America (and the Satan to all my white neighbors) touched my soul. I didn’t know him. He didn’t live on my block. I hadn’t trick or treated at his house nor had I shoveled his snow. His fight was never my fight — hell, I was white and on top of the world, a position due only to the color of my skin, a dynamic the man himself thought intrinsically evil. Yet I cared about him, his ideals, his battles. And at 6:00pm that April Thursday, an unusually warm one, it all came together for me — the world, the struggles of others, empathy, awareness, all of it crystallized in my pre-teen brain. I knew — 12-year-old me — at that very moment of Martin Luther King’s death that the world had changed.

Only it wasn’t 6:00pm on that Thursday. My memory — the neurons and axons, the dendrites and synapses, the connections they formed, the pictures and sounds and smells they etched into the storage areas of my developing mind, had squished a couple of days together to form a slightly false memory.

King was shot at 6:01pm that Thursday, acc’d’g to the best records I can find. He lay bleeding to death on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, his colleagues and aides holding towels against the gaping hole in his cheek, jaw, and neck to stanch the flow for some minutes until the ambulance arrived. Then he was whisked to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis where emergency room doctors struggled to keep him alive for the better part of an hour. He was pronounced dead at 7:05pm.

So I couldn’t have been watching Ch. 26’s homage to the fallen man at 6:00pm that Thursday. In those pre-smartphone, pre-social media days, news — even the world-shaking variety — travelled at a glacial pace. It took a full hour from the time James Earl Ray’s finger pulled the trigger on his Remington Model 760 rifle until the TV networks aired the first bulletins on the shooting, acc’d’g to the New York Times. In the documentary, King: Montgomery to Memphis, the producer of a show in New York takes to the stage, interrupting the proceedings, to announce that King had died. The audience gasps. New York plays and concerts begin at 8:00pm, Eastern Time. The show in question was just about to begin when the producer broke the news.

I couldn’t possibly have heard the news until it was dark in Chicago. I recall it still being light out when I saw the picture of King and heard the funereal music. So it must have been the next early evening, or even late afternoon, that I had my epiphany. Perhaps that’s why I was alone in the living room. My mother would have been cooking Friday night dinner. It was still Lent — Easter was nine days away — so she’d have been frying fish. My father probably wasn’t home from work yet. My brother, as noted above, was away at college.

I’d come home from school with a sky full of smoke overhead and the blare of sirens near and far, a continuous cacophony. The riots had begun already. Even though the West Side black neighborhoods that were blazing, on Madison St. and Roosevelt Rd. from Cicero to Western avenues, were miles away, the acrid stench of the fires pierced my nostrils. My mother wouldn’t have let me go outside to play after school that afternoon. Our neighborhood might be overrun by hordes of enraged black men. Some neighbors sat on their front stoops cradling pistols and shotguns, waiting for the assault to begin. It never came.

As I understand things, a lot of white people to this day are still waiting, their guns at the ready.

When my father did come home from work — he was the shipping and receiving manager for a box company deep in the South Side black ghetto — he told my mother he’d had to turn his lights on as he travelled northbound on the Dan Ryan Expressway and then westbound on the Ike. The blacks, he explained, were going to stop cars that didn’t have their lights on in remembrance of King and beat the offending drivers. Whether that fear was warranted or not, I can’t say. I can’t find any mentions of such actions in the newspaper accounts of the those days. But in my neighborhood, any crazy rumor about black men turning violent was taken as gospel.

As the years progressed, both my parents’ attitudes toward Black America hardened, this despite my family’s refusal to honor the school boycotts following the announcements of busing and integration plans. Our house was splattered with eggs after my mother had refused to sign a petition against busing. But when my sister’s family broke up and it was learned she’d taken up with a black man, the racial amity that my mother preached at the dinner table and my father seemed to endorse by his silence would never be spoken of again.

But, at the age of 12, finding myself keening over the death of Martin Luther King, my own attitude toward black human beings began to race in the opposite direction.

Years later — decades later — my mother’s feelings toward black people softened. I don’t believe she died with the stain of hatred on her heart. My father? To the day he died, he maintained that Martin Luther King, Jr. was “a troublemaker.”

Funny thing is, in retrospect, I agree with him. Only my definition of troublemaker isn’t the same as my father’s.

 

Hot Air: Heroes

Former United Nations Ambassador and current Harvard law professor Samantha Power spoke yesterday at Indiana University. I was there and, I kid you not, she was out of this world.

Samantha Power

Power was born in Ireland and came to the US with her mother when she was nine. She went to college at Yale and earned her law degree at Harvard. Then she went out into the world and became a war correspondent, covering atrocities in the former Yugoslavia during the Balkan wars there in the 1990s. She’d write a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, recounting what she’d seen in southeastern Europe.

In that book, she told the story of Frank McCloskey’s efforts to get the United States to do something — anything — to stem the bloodshed in Bosnia, Croatia, and other former Yugoslav  states. McCloskey at the time of the Balkan wars was a member of the US House from Indiana’s 8th District. He also was a former mayor of Bloomington.

His tireless efforts to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Balkan countries eventually forced a reluctant America to act against the aggressors and war criminals in the former Yugoslavia. It’s a hell of a story and I told it yesterday on Big Talk.

Frank McCloskey

I’m posting the podcast of the show here because the WFHB site is down right now. Yesterday’s Big Talk sounds a bit different because I used musical bumpers — I’d expected to be able to question Power about the McCloskey story, but the School of Global and International Studies auditorium was packed to the rafters for her speech. I couldn’t elbow my way near her. I’d pre-recorded my narration earlier in the week and left spots open to paste in Power’s clips. Unfortunately for purposes of the show (and very fortunately for every other reason), Powers spoke exclusively about diplomacy and the ability of America to affect world events through, well, talk.

Speaking of talk, Power’s own talk was strong, straightforward, accessible, and down-to-Earth. Hell, if she hadn’t been foreign-born, she’d have made a bang-up president! If you’re looking to point out a female role model for today’s young girls, Samantha Power is as good as you’ll find.

I mentioned this last week and it bears repeating: Say what you will about the presidency of Barack Obama (under whom Power served) but the people he brought with him were brilliant and caring, and they possessed innate gravitas. As opposed to the hoodlums and clowns you-know-who has surrounded himself with in today’s White House.

That all said, here’s yesterday’s Big Talk:

 

Hot Air: Little Steps & A Big One Backward

Others

The cover of National Geographic‘s April issue is stunning in its beauty as well as the underlying message that, well, there ain’t much diff. between black people and white people. You and I might have known that already but, truth be told, it’s awfully easy to forget in this overheated corporate media environment where every mention of the races reinforces the notion they are species from two separate planets.

Twin Daughters Of Biracial Parents.

The race that we call “Asian,” BTW, is from the opposite side of the world so, yeah, those people are different, but only sorta. As for the Australian Aborigines, well, they simply don’t even exist — and that’s true even in the eyes of most of the population of Australia.

Apparently, NatGeo is doing a mea culpa for the decades and decades it’s spent turning dark-skinned folks into fascinating museum or art gallery exhibits. And that’s nice but, nevertheless, the mag and the foundation remain pretty much stuck in the 1950s with regard to POC. That’s a hell of an advancement from their previous stance, which allowed the mag to display the naked breasts of African black women because — let’s be frank — those people weren’t as worthy of the phony-baloney modesty that prohibited the publication from exposing good white women’s mammaries.

Aren’t those African black women interestingly weird?, seemed to be the message. Seemed to be — hell. The mag may as well have come right out and said we can look at an African black woman’s exposed upper body for the same reason we can watch a dog lick its privates. We (whites), the unwritten tenet held, are civilized human beings and, therefore, superior to both of them.

I’m glad NatGeo is finally trying to inch its way into the 21st Century. But don’t forget, the outfit has a long, long way to go. For further reading along this line, check out this take on the issue in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Women & Our Singular President

A little tidbit I discovered while reading a New York Times essay about Catharine MacKinnon, the legal scholar and radical feminist who penned the landmark 1979 book, Sexual Harassment of Working Women. That eye-opener actually positioned the term sexual harrassment front and center in the debate over the role of women in our holy land. MacKinnon and her sisteren called for a complete restructuring of society to eliminate male dominance and repression, and how can you argue with that? The NYT essay’s author, Ginia Bellafante, contrasted CM’s work with that of Helen Gurley Brown who, in the ’60s, was viewed as a feminist but by today’s lights is about as much of one as, say, our current president. Bellafante describes Gurley’s Cosmopolitan magazine operation and her books as “a feminism of patriarchal compliance.”

Which brings me to the tidbit. The essayist describes Brown and her 1968 book, Sex and the Office, thusly:

… Brown’s sequel to her loopy best-selling instructional Sex and the Single Girl, she delivered a playbook of the way young women should understand male bosses that included lessons in making them feel godlike. Colleagues were potential sexual partners and the cubicle was Tinder: “Though it may seem to the untrained eye that you are selflessly working on office projects together, what you are really doing is sinking into them like a cobalt treatment so that you may make off with them after work.”

Not, as it were, woke.

Now, here’s the kicker: Sex and the Office was re-issued in 2004. And guess who gave it an imprimatur with “an enthusiastic blurb.” Yep. Our very own future President Gag.

As if you needed more evidence, the fact is we elected president a reanimated corpse from the year 1952.

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