1000 Words: When A Car Is More Than A Car

A friend of mine just bought himself a shiny new Prius. He got it in a primary color and you can see it coming from a long ways away.

This friend — let’s call him Eli — had to jump through scads of hoops before he got his new ride. He lives out in the hinterlands, farm country, but regularly comes in to Bloomington for a variety of reasons. Mainly, I’d guess, because he wishes he could live here.

But his family owns a big farm and so he must help with all the things farmers do. Now, I haven’t the foggiest idea what most of those things are other than planting seeds, throwing a little water on the soil, waiting a few months, and then reaping what ever pops out of the ground. This farming business entails one hell of a lot more than that, Eli assures me, and I believe him. Some of the wheeled machines a large farmer must have carry six-figure price tags and are equipped with GPS devices that actually assist in the creation of those straight lines you see whenever you drive past corn or soy fields.

And, by the way, if aliens ever do visit the Earth and happen to pick this state to land in, they’ll come away certain that the only two flora on this planet are the aforementioned corn and soy. People rave about tomatoes and carrots and cucumbers and all other sorts of vegetation they’ve copped at the weekend farmers market, but I sure as hell have never seen fields rife with them. Indiana appears to be the center of the corn and soy universe.

Fittingly, Eli’s family’s farm grows corn and soy. And he drives a big air-conditioned tractor, with LCD readouts and video screens and navigation systems that can guide him to Neptune.

But that big tractor runs only in the fields. For road driving and the occasional drag race, he must hop into his shiny, new Prius. It took Eli about five or six months to get his Prius, mainly because the dealer he went to signed him to a deal and next thing anybody knew, there were no Priuses available. Something having to do with supply chains and cargo ships parked in the Pacific outside California’s ports. While boatloads of Priuses were waiting to be docked, the price of said hot rod jumped through the roof. A Prius that listed for at $35,000 last summer suddenly skyrocketed to nearly fifty Gs.

The way Eli figures it, the dealer felt loath to sell him his primary-color four-door at last year’s price. But that’s what Eli’s contract called for. Eli says the dealer likely kept telling him his Prius hadn’t arrived week after week, month after month, every time Eli called, in hopes Eli would say Hell with it, I’ll go somewhere else.

But Eli’s a determined fellow. A lot of Indiana farmers are. Making a living growing stuff in the ground demands a hard head and a stubborn nature. Eli was determined to get his Prius at last year’s price as his contract called for. Four months passed and the phone calls between Eli and his dealer became less than chummy. Eli eventually contacted Toyota’s corporate office and demanded satisfaction. Not even that worked.

Eli demanded his earnest money back and, at first, the dealer told him to take a hike but, as I say, Eli being stubborn, he insisted. Finally the dealer sent Eli a check for his money and implied he hoped never to see Eli again in this life or the next.

Eli called another dealer, asked for the same Prius and was told, mirabile dictu, that very model was sitting in the lot waiting for someone like him. So Eli hopped in his old clunker, dashed over, and bought the car in record time.

Eli was happy. His car gleamed. As indicated earlier, he lives out in the sticks and so can be seen coming down the road from miles away. Especially now that’s he’s driving a primary color car. And a Prius.

What Eli forgot is the Prius is more than just a hybrid import in this weird age. It’s s symbol, a bete noir for the MAGA set. And there are MAGA people galore in Eli’s neck of the woods.

Eli has been subjected to harassment from strangers since the day he drove his new car off the lot. Several times a week people flip the bird at him, shout insults, give him foul looks, and worse.

Last week, Eli was tooling down a country road at 60 mph and saw, far up ahead, a car pull up to the intersection. The car had plenty of time to either cross the road or make a turn but, oddly, it sat there, as if waiting for Eli’s Prius to pass. As soon as Eli went by, the car pulled out after him, caught up with him, and, overtaking him, tossed a big rock at his hood.

Eli’s shiny new paint was chipped all the way down to the primer. His hood was dented, too. Now he has to get his entire hood repainted and the dent lifted out. It’ll cost him real money for the repair.

“I knew the people around my farm wouldn’t be happy about my new car,” he says. “But, still, I didn’t think they’d go to such lengths to express themselves.”

See, the MAGA crowd has adopted the Prius as the new emblem of the commie, trans, fag, Black Lives Matter-loving, libtard, sicko Enemy of the People. Georgia congressbeing Marjorie Taylor Greene, for one, aired a campaign ad early on in this election cycle in which she, firing a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, blew up a Prius.

The Prius had the word SOCIALISM in huge white block letters painted across its side. “In 2022,” she announced as she took aim, “I’m going to blow away the Democrats’ socialist agenda.”

We might give her the benefit of the doubt and say she intended the ad to be symbolic (although I wouldn’t).

Problem is, more than few MAGA types lack the cerebral capacity to grasp symbolism. To them, there’s a war going on and folks who want to drive eco-friendly hybrid vehicles are the enemy.

1000 Words: Curiouser and Curiouser America

It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Quick: what do you think of when you hear the words White Panther Party?

I’ll guess you’ll imagine the following:

  • Pasty-face militiamen camping out in Michigan’s woods
  • Chronically aggrieved grown men and their sons fondling AR-15s
  • Their campground festooned with Confederate flags and Make America Great Again banners
  • Pickup trucks with ridiculously oversized tires
  • Camo cargo pants galore

First Impressions.

I know I saw all those things in my mind when I came across the three words last night. Then again, the words evoked a distant memory. Now where in the hell had I heard about the White Panther Party before?

Ah, yes! Now I remember.

Truth is the White Panther Party was a loose association of far-left radicals inspired by Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party back in 1969. Newton was one of the founders of the Black Panthers. In an interview he’d been asked what white people could do to support him and his cause. He responded that they could start a White Panther Party.

So, a bunch of folks in Michigan, specifically around Ann Arbor — then a national locus of radical liberalism — took the cue and ran with it, if I may be allowed to mix metaphors.

Odd, isn’t it, that Michigan some 50 years ago was pretty much the center of the left world. The likes of Tom Hayden and Alan Haber wrote the Port Huron Statement in the state and went on to form the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) there back in the early 1960s. The irony is Michigan is now known as a haven, a headquarters even, for far right radicals. The guys pictured above are members of a Michigan militia. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands just like them, training in camps around the sate.

Anyway, the White Panther Party spread from Ann Arbor to other archetypical leftist haunts like Portland, Oregon and San Francisco and even inspired a United Kingdom branch. The Party espoused an olio of aims, to wit (all sic):

WHITE PANTHER PARTY 10-POINT PROGRAM

    1. We want freedom. We want power for all people to determine our own destinies.
    2. We want justice. We want an immediate and total end to all cultural and political repression of the people by the vicious pig power structure and their mad dog lacks the police, the courts and military. We want the end of all police and military violence against the people all over thew world right now!
    3. We want a free world economy based on the free exchange of energy and materials and the end of money.
    4. We want free access to all information media and to all technology for all the people.
    5. We want a free educational system, utilizing the best procedures and machinery our modern technology can produce that will teach each man, woman and child on earth exactly what each needs to know to survive and grow into his or her full human potential.
    6. We want to free all structures from corporate rule and turn the buildings over to the people at once!
    7. We want free time and space for all humans-dissolve all unnatural boundaries!
    8. We want the freedom of all prisoners held in federal, state, county or city jails and prisons since the so-called legal system in Amerika makes it impossible for any man to obtain a fair and impartial trial by jury of his peers.
    9. We want the freedom of all people who are held against their will in the conscripted armies of the oppressors throughout the world.
    10. We want free land, free food, free shelter, free clothing, free music, free medical care, free education, free media, EVERYTHINBG FREE FOR EVERYBODY!

Rather ambitious, I’d say. And, to be honest, as naive as ambitious. At risk of insulting the authors, I imagine a small gathering of earnest, intense, sophomore philosophy majors writing this manifesto in the middle of the night in a dorm room, a healthy percentage of them peaking on Orange Sunshine. Then again, said authors may well have considered my portrait a rousing compliment.

They Even Had a Logo.

The WPP actually accomplished a few things. Teaming up with the nascent Rainbow Coalition and other civil rights organizations, the WPP participated in food distribution programs for the needy and organized free concerts in the park in several cities. Oddly, in 1983 the WPP took umbrage when then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein called for a ban on handguns within the San Francisco city limits. The WPP staged a petition drive demanding a recall election. They were successful inasmuch as they garnered enough signatures  to make it happen but Feinstein was able to stay in office with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Funny, isn’t it, how we’ve aligned and re-aligned ourselves around guns through the decades. In 1967, the Black Panthers themselves demonstrated on the steps of the California statehouse armed with .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45 pistols, all proudly displayed. “The time has come,” they said, “for black people to arm themselves.”

California whites were apoplectic, including then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. The state legislature quickly wrote a strict gun control law banning the open-carry of firearms and forbidding the carry, open or concealed, of firearms in or near the statehouse. It was one of the very strictest gun control laws in the country. And you’ll never guess who endorsed the law — yep, the National Rifle Association.

Of course, this turnabouts like these are nothing new in American politics. For instance, the Democratic Party up until 1968 was home to the most virulent of southern segregationists. That’s when Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign poached the likes of white supremacist senators Strom Thurmond and Richard Russell and the rank and file that saw eye-to-eye with them from the Dems. That Southern Strategy led directly to today’s political alignments.

Hell, this very week many right-wing Republicans are screaming to high heaven about jack-booted FBI agents raiding the 45th president’s home in southern Florida, looking for potential criminal evidence. Quite the about face from the days when Republicans thrived thanks to their “law and order” messaging.

And don’t forget, the Republican Party arose from the abolitionist movement and produced its first president, Abraham Lincoln. You know what he did regarding slavery. Now it’s the preferred party of white supremacists. Go figure.

Times change, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and politics makes strange bedfellows. Pick whatever stale adage you’d like. The Democrats in, say, the year 2050 may be calling for a repeal of the 1st Amendment even as the Republicans are becoming LGBTQI+ champions.

Hey, in 1956 the Republican Party platform called for Social Security to be extended to cover millions more people, expressed support for labor unions, advocated for equal pay regardless of gender, proposed a five-year program to build more public schools around the nation and, mirabile dictu, urged the passage of an equal rights amendment.

See how far any Republican candidate would get with those talking points in 2022.

 

 

1000 Words: No News Is Good News

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Woody Allen

If you recall (or have the ambition to click on) my last post, I mused on what I consider to be both a worldwide and national depression. Yep, the lot of us from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe have fallen, and continue to fall, into a deep funk. Especially we here in the United States. Which is ironic considering we’re the richest, most comfortable, most well-fed people on Earth.

If you’d somehow found yourself transported back in time, say to the early years of the 20th Century and told a person alive at the time, a Brit for instance, that there’d be a country more than a hundred years hence, the vast majority of citizens of which have cars, refrigerators, air conditioning, telephones and personal computers in their pockets, machines that quickly and efficiently wash and dry their clothes, that clean their floors, that scrub their dishes, that person would immediately envision a grinning, blissful people.

But we’re not. Far from it.

Perhaps it’s written into our DNA that we’re more comfortable facing dire situations than not, that peril makes us feel alive. That when most of our physical problems and the need to labor at everyday chores have been eliminated, we must thrash about and look for other, often imagined, menaces and struggles.

Then again, the lot of us face the twin perils of global environmental catastrophe and nuclear holocaust. We’re the first species in the history of the world, willingly, blindly, blithely, to set into motion our own collective demise.

But the vast majority of us don’t think about our Homo sapiens gang going kaput, en masse. There’s nothing puzzling about that. For one thing, the idea that we can rub out some eight billion of ourselves before the next time my beloved Chicago Cubs win a World Series is so monumentally alarming that we naturally pretend it can’t be so. If we really thought about how close humanity is to extinction, by our own hand, we’d be lining up to jump off the tallest building of every city and town on the planet. For another thing, the mechanisms by which this speeding train is heading toward catastrophe are complex and not well-understood even by many of the smartest among us.

Who, after all, truly understands what Daniel Ellsberg calls “the doomsday machine”? That’s the hair-trigger system by which the nuclear-armed powers operate, with the slightest miscalculation, rounding error, mentally unstable rogue player, or geopolitical misunderstanding leading to a massive exchange of megatonnage. And, for that matter, think of how easily fossil fuel industry flacks have sown misinformation about human-caused climate change over the last half century.

It’s not as though the threat is that of a masked intruder, breaking into the house, clunking us over the head, and swiping all our aforementioned gadgets. That’s easy to grasp.

The Earth’s average annual temperature rising by a couple of little degrees leading to mass death is not.

So I don’t think we’re funked out because of climate change or H-bombs.

Take a Sunday drive through Trump country and you’ll know that the overwhelming plurality of citizens therein aren’t within a light-year of actually getting how close we are to sea-level rise, weather-weirding, hemisphere-wide storms, or thousands of mushroom clouds sprouting within the next half hour. Yet, they, too, are as depressed as any Bloomingtonian who’s hip to climate change or the threat of the Bomb.

Some 74,216,154 Americans voted for the incumbent president during the last national election. By doing so, they demonstrated either their agreement with him that climate change is the bunk and that we need more, more, more thermonuclear weapons or their ignorance of his stances on those topics, which is just as bad.

Anyway, they’re as unhappy as environmentalists and/or peaceniks.

We’re all unhappy, for different reasons, to be sure, but in the long run it doesn’t matter what has made us unhappy. We all think the whole race/nation/world is hurtling headlong into oblivion.

Fox News tells us transsexuals, Black Lives Matter folks, lesbians and gays, women who seek abortions, atheists and agnostics, Democrats, socialists, communists, losers pathologically envious of billionaires, and aging hippies leftover from the hated ’60s are destroying this holy land. And Fox News’ holy land is the United States of America, circa no year whatsoever, because the nation that they long for never, ever existed.

NPR tells us domestic violence is epidemic, much of the western US is ablaze, the cops are habitually shooting young black men to death, corporate leaders are raping and pillaging the globe, the Republicans are in the pocket of coal and oil companies.

Don’t get me wrong; I buy into all the above NPR viewpoints to one extent or another. Nevertheless, it’s the fixation on the horrible that’s troubling me. And NPR sure knows how to fixate.

The thing is, humans also have loved, aided, and comforted each other since Homo erectus as well. There never has been a time when humans have not killed each other or loved each other. The optimist in me believes we’ve opened our hearts to each other far more than we’ve sunk daggers or fired bullets into each other.

The fact that we haven’t blown ourselves to smithereens as of yet means we’ve made one or two good decisions of late.

But the news is all bad, seemingly more bad than ever. We must want it that way, inasmuch as corporate media news isn’t at all about some vision of Truth, but about clicks and viewers and subscribers.

So, I’m taking a well-deserved, therapeutic, long break from the news. As Boris, the character in Woody Allen’s Whatever Works said:

My father committed suicide because the morning newspapers depressed him. And could you blame him? With the horror and corruption and AIDS and global warming and terrorism and the family values morons and the gun morons. “The horror,” Kurtz said at the end of Heart of Darkness, “the horror.” Lucky Kurtz didn’t have the Times delivered in the jungle. Ugh! Then he’d see some horror.

I’ve had it with the news for the time being. I don’t want to kill myself.

1000 Words: We Need A Shrink

I’ve long held that nations can become depressed — or even mentally unbalanced — just as individual people can. Take a look at Germany in the 1930s. That, babies, was one whacked-out country.

In fact, the entire world experienced what I like to describe as a global nervous breakdown in the middle of the past century. Humanity became so deranged that we found justifications for destroying entire cities, employing previously undreamed of technologies. We all know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but several of the firebombings of Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg, and many, many, many more were as lethal in terms of sheer numbers of humans incinerated as the two nuclear bombings in Japan.

When Gen. Curtis LeMay, the US Army’s air chief, was asked in early summer 1945 how long the war might last, he replied it’d end sometime in the fall. By that time, he reasoned, there would be no more Japanese cities left for his Air Corps to bomb.

Of course, our war mania was driven by the war manias of Germany, Japan, Italy, Romania, Hungary, and the Soviet Union. We like to tell ourselves that our bloodlust was in the service of good while their’s was evil. That’s true. But, man, we took war mania to a whole other level, didn’t we?

After some 60-75 million people were slaughtered during World War II, we could pat ourselves on the back and say at least the evil Nazis and warrior-mentality Japanese were thwarted. That’s true, too. Yet, we found ourselves aligned with an equally ghoulish, sadistic gang of hoodlums in Joseph Stalin’s USSR. And then, next thing we knew, the two of us — the US and the Soviets —  were threatening to, and earnestly preparing to fry the entire planet just to achieve some sort of economic and political superiority.

Crazy.

People used to say, Has the whole world gone mad? Well, the answer then was, Hell yeah!

And, guess what: we’re going off our rocker once again.

World War II came in a paroxysm of violence and terror. It started in 1937 with Japan’s vicious incursion into China and ended in Tokyo Bay when Hirohito’s representatives signed the surrender instrument aboard the USS Missouri in September, 1945. Eight years. Perhaps a long time in terms of the lifetime of a cat or dog, but the blink of an eye considering the hard and time-consuming work of snuffing out the lives of tens of millions of human beings.

Today’s insanity threatens to wipe out a number of us that’ll dwarf WWII’s total. And we have a choice of poisons: slow death by global climate change or a quick end by worldwide nuclear holocaust.

Oh, you forgot about the Bomb, didn’t you? There remain tens of thousands of nuclear weapons sitting in silos, resting on racks in submarines, filling arsenal warehouses, and even being built in the garages and labs of loners entertaining a death wish for much of the life on this planet.

We may not think of these twin swords of Damocles during every waking moment of our lives. Yet, the perils they represent surely reside in our subconscious, driving our thoughts and feelings.

Making us…, well, crazy.

America, this holy land, years ago began to hurt itself, the way a psychologically troubled teen mutilates herself or drugs himself into oblivion. The most obvious symptom of this is the epidemic of mass shootings. It’s gotten to the point where the next mass shooting, be it in a school, a mall, a church, a statehouse, or a daycare center, will be nothing more than simply another mass shooting. No surprise. No Shock. Just way things are in 21st Century America.

That ain’t normal. That ain’t sane.

The teen girl with slashed wrists and the teen boy with glassy eyes are merely the most dramatic, outward signs of their years-long internal suffering, the psychological and emotional strife they’ve endured for far too long. Our weekly mass shootings are the same thing. A clear, unmistakable playing-out, a panicky attempt to communicate to the world what pain we’ve been holding in for years and years. Decades, even.

And if the rest of us aren’t running around opening fire with our AK-47s or what in the hell else is the rapid-fire death machine of the moment, that doesn’t mean we haven’t slipped into a mental crisis as well.

Americans are depressed right now as never before. The future, we agree, looks dim. No matter which side of the political fence you stand on, you see the other side as the arch villain harbinger of the end of civilization. So our elections now are life and death battles rather than course corrections. Our young people aren’t hopeful for a good job or a home of their own. Global warming’s going to bake us or drown us or otherwise turn us into a pathetic band of survivalists. The blacks and the Mexicans and the Moslems and whoever else is not us is just around the corner, hordes of them, fixing to steal all our hard-earned wealth and possessions, and they hope, to kill us once that’s accomplished. The feminists want to stop every woman from becoming a mother; the anti-abortionists want force every woman to be a mother.

What’s the use? Why go on?

You want proof we’re pathologically depressed? Polls show that young people are having sex less now than at any time in decades. Sex, that hopeful, life-affirming refreshment, that act of optimism, of love, of vitality, is becoming a drag. What, again, is the use?

When I turn the radio on each morning to hear the news, I’m bombarded by stories of racism, environmental catastrophe, personal violence, corporate crime, political corruption, misogyny, and more. There was a time when the news told us we were rocketing to the moon or developing affordable computers everyone could have or seeking a cure for cancer or even just winning the most gold medals at the Olympics.

Not so in 2022. We aspire to nothing. We have no aims. We’re only getting emotionally prepared for Armageddon.

We’re messed up and either we fix our heads — and damned soon — or we go flat-out bonkers. All of us. This time humanity isn’t going to stop at merely slashing our wrists, snorting some meth, or killing only a few tens of millions of us.

1000 Words: Filled To The Brim

There’s nothing particularly new about people believing in the craziest conspiracy theories. Nor is there anything novel about people being astoundingly uninformed about some of the most basic precepts of science.

Today, in the year of their lord 2022, there are appreciable numbers of people who believe, for instance, that gravity is a hoax; that the world is flat; that there is a universal cure for cancer that Big Pharma is suppressing; that the CIA and other fun-lovers are criss-crossing our skies with what we suckers think are jetliner contrails but are actually “chemtrails” — toxic, mind-altering substances being sprayed from tens of thousands of feet in the air so they will descend upon us and…, and…, oh, hell, I dunno, screw us all up in some way.

Look What They’re Doing To Us!

The aforementioned conspiracies are relatively recent in human history, being they’re mostly high technology-based. But for thousands of years, people have believed with all their hearts and souls that there exist individuals who can read minds, tell the future, move physical objects simply by thinking about them, and cure the sick through magic or prayer.

And, essentially since the first hour early humans were able to communicate ideas to others, there has been in almost every society, every culture, every book of laws, the guiding thought that an all-powerful being lurks about, one who created everything in existence, who listens to our anguished pleas, grooves on our adoring praises, knows the future, and regularly sentences certain reprobates to the fires of an eternal hell. This omnipotent being, I might add, is a tad forgetful: in the world’s biggest religions he has neglected to forbid things like slavery, rape, child molestation, domestic abuse, ecological plunder, and a host of other atrocities.

So, basically, we’re all full of shit. Me too, although my full-of-shitness does not encapsulate the hypotheses enumerated above.

We’ve been full of shit for all our species’ history. It didn’t just start when a certain grifting businessman decided he wanted to become the Leader of the Free World. Although, truth be told, since that incurious, proudly uninformed greed monkey took the collective mind of a huge swath of the American electorate hostage, we have elevated full-of-shittery to an art form. It is now the hallmark of most American political and social discourse.

In this century alone, we’ve seen millions of people buy into 9/11 Trutherism, Birtherism, Stop the Steal, Pizzagate, Grooming, and scads of other inanities I won’t list here because it’d depress the bejesus out of me. This entire century — this entire millennium, for pity’s sake! — kicked off with the Truther phenomenon. Even after an overwhelming preponderance of the planet’s structural engineers, demolition experts, intelligence insiders, analysts, and other appropriate brains stood on their heads to explain how the Twin Towers and other buildings collapsed, millions believed the entire 9/11 operation was an inside job. Millions may indeed still believe it was a Black Bag or False Flag or whatever in the hell else the theorists want to brand it as.

I was reminded of this today when an incident came into my mind. It occurred in the late fall or early winter of 2001. We were all still displaying our American flags (remember that?) and walking around in a state of barely-controlled panic following the coordinated attack on this country by a gang of radical theocrats. I’d gone into a currency exchange on the southeast corner of LaSalle and Chicago avenues, just north of Chicago’s Loop, to cash a check. An aside: my Indiana friends might not know what a currency exchange is because this state doesn’t allow them. Known as poor people’s banks, they are private businesses where folks can cash paychecks, pay utility bills, get payday loans and license plates and their documents stamped by a notary public, among a ton of other services.

There was a long line at the currency exchange on this particular, frigid, sunny morning. As about a dozen of us waited, two people, a man and a woman, struck up a conversation. The man took a crisp twenty-dollar bill and folded it so that the resulting image resembled the Twin Towers belching smoke. You might recall that trick. Here’s a how-to for for it.

When the man finally produced the image of the smoking towers, the woman gasped.

I must add here that the image looks like the burning, stricken World Trade Center only if you want it to. Check the links above and you’ll see what I mean. Also, I learned today that there was a five-dollar bill corollary. Folding a fin similarly produced an image of the Twin Towers unscathed.

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In any case, the woman shook her head knowingly and pronounced, “There it is! That proves it was all a conspiracy!”

As if, you know, the conspirators had, months or years before the event, gotten into the design room at the United States Mint and got a willing artist to draw up origami-like pictures of the Twin Towers pre- and post-attack. Simple, right? Happens all the time.

As Julius Caesar said, People believe only what the want to believe. Or words to that effect. He actually said, Men believe…, because his belief was only thoughts originating in the minds of humans who possessed penises counted.

As I said, humans have been full of shit for all our history.

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1000 Words: We Blew It

The last time I felt optimistic about America, this self-imagined “beacon on a hill,” was, to be precise, the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 2008.

That date might ring a bell for you. It was the night Barack Obama was declared the winner in that year’s United States presidential election.

That night I bought into the pronouncements by so many wits and wags that this nation had at last advanced beyond its racist past, that we were hurtling headlong into what some had already dubbed a “post-racial America.”

Hah!

Now I realize I was as self-deluded as all those state lottery jackpot winners who told themselves their problems are over, that they’ll be on easy street for the rest of their lives.

You know, all those folks who pissed away their prize money and now they have nothing left but empty bank accounts, insuperable debts, alienated friends and family, and even thoughts of suicide. Or at least the wish that, their god willing, they’ll go to sleep tonight and never wake up tomorrow morning.

We — I — pissed away something, too. Something different, even more dear than dough. We pissed away every ounce of goodwill and hope that we imagined Obama’s election would endow us with. We Americans value precious little, being smug participants in a throw-away, consumer culture. We figure even if we smash, lose, mar, stash, or forget about every goddamned thing we ever bought, owned, inherited, or found under the cushions, we can always get another one. Hell, get me over to Walmart or link me to Amazon, it’s no big deal, I’ll just buy a replacement. Whatever it is.

Problem is, there will never be another First Black Man Elected President of the United States of America, as symbolic an event as ever occurred here. There’ll never — ever — be that sublime moment, that opportunity, for us to atone and move past one of our nation’s cardinal sins, the creation of an empire so hugely dependent on the stolen labor of a kidnapped people and the subsequent institutional marginalization of their daughters and sons.

We were thisclose to absolving ourselves of that sin.

Or so we though at the time. So I thought.

We were deluded. I was deluded. As deluded as a certain other ex-Commander-in-Chief about the outcome of the 2020 election.

At least my — our — delusion was positive. Optimistic. Actually, Pollyannish. And, like all Pollyanna’s dreams, it was impossible.

We thought the racists, the haters, the twisted supremacists and the nativists and the proto- and crypto- and Neo-fascists, the militia members, the Hitler idolators, the Confederate flag wavers, the survivalists, the paranoiacs arming themselves against the hordes of Mexicans and Muslims and other brown-skinned people as well as the feminists and homosexuals who are right around the corner for Christ’s sake, the droolers chomping at the bit for the coming civil war, all those people, in short, whom we perceived to be such a laughable, tiny minority back in 2008, would henceforth scuttle back under their rocks and never again show their faces in polite society.

Only our society has turned out to be not quite so polite.

The starter’s pistol shot came the moment Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell declared the entire aim of his party was to make the Barack Obama presidency a failure. But the dash actually had begun years — decades — before that. The bullet had been supplied by Newt Gingrich 15 years before when he laid out his nefarious plan, the infamous GOPAC Memo, roadmapping the GOP’s plan to turn Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, and anyone not four-square in line with his new order into enemies of right and good. Enemies of the state.

And even before Gingrich, there were the Birchers and other obsessives who actually believed figures as apple pie-ish as Dwight Eisenhower were radical dangers to the nation. To mix my metaphors, they were the ones who planted the seeds that sprouted, eventually, into the America we live in today.

Seeds. Bullets. Take your pick. It doesn’t matter one whit.

For years — decades — we thought that hateful, paranoiac gang, all of them, were outliers, so few in numbers and so isolated from each other that they couldn’t get anyone elected dogcatcher. Republican strategists, though, recognized them as a reliable, rock-solid bloc that’d provide the party with a foundation in every election from the local to the national.

We’d underestimated their numbers and then the internet served to connect them all, instantaneously. And certain 24-hour news peddlers went to work on the psyches of tens of millions of people who otherwise would have been repelled by them. Suddenly, Mom and Pop America found themselves sharing fears and grievances with heretofore whackos.

Add clever gerrymandering, the Electoral College, and strategic judicial appointees at every court level, and voila, Republicans now control most state governorships, most statehouses, and, most important, the United States Supreme Court. This despite the fact that a slim majority of Americans support the Democratic Party over the Republican.

While the coalition that came together to put a black man in the White House in 2008 and then reelect him in 2012 was drifting off to sleep, believing with all our hearts our problems were over and we’d be on easy street for the rest of our lives, the Republican Party worked harder and more passionately than ever to take over and manipulate every niche and nook of our country, from dogcatcher to school board member to county commissioner to governor and, at last, to president. Even though the Democratic nominee for president has won the popular vote in seven of the last eight national elections, the Republican have captured the White House on three separate occasions in that time. Those Republicans have named five of the current justices serving on the United States Supreme Court. The court that this past session has remade America. And that promises to further remodel it in coming terms.

The Republicans achieved their gains though brilliant planning, both long-term and short, and hard work.

The Democrats, the Liberals, the Progressives, and even the silent middle that often leans slightly left, snoozed. I snoozed as much as anybody. The alarm is ringing. It’s morning in Trump’s America.

 

1000 Words: Murderers

Here’s the heart of the anti-abortion argument: voluntarily ending a pregnancy before its term is the moral, and now legal, equivalent of killing a born human being.

At any given anti-abortion rally or demonstration, you’ll find numerous “Abortion Is Murder” signs. This is the most positive spin I can imagine applying to the movement that took over the Republican Party beginning in the mid-1970s and gained steamroller momentum during the Reagan Years. Those who decide to abort, those who help them get an abortion, those who provide medical assistance in the surgical procedure itself, are parties to a capital crime.

Among Roman Catholics and other god-ists, participation in an abortion condemns everyone involved to a sentence of eternal damnation, an exile to hell. In that sense, the souls of the people involved in an abortion are as stained by mortal sin as those of murderous mobsters, serial killers, war criminals, assassins, and everyday brutes who’ve snuffed out another human being’s life.

Notice I said this was a positive spin. The reason I say that is there are at least a half dozen other, less savory, reasons many people oppose reproductive rights. They include misogyny, fear of female sexuality, desire to control women, tribalism, and a few others. I can’t accurately state how many anti-abortionists fall into any of the aforementioned categories but I feel confident to assert a huge swath of those prohibitionists are driven by rationales less lofty, less spiritual, less altruistic, than the simple Abortion Is Murder doctrine. But for the sake of this argument, I’ll focus on those who hold zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as close to their bosom as any human who’s ever emerged from a mother’s birth canal.

Many of the new state laws triggered by the US Supreme Court’s recent reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision criminalize doctors, nurses, technicians, and any and all friends, family, and loved ones who perform, assist, or enable women to get abortions. Abortion, these laws clearly imply, is a crime. The worst crime a person can commit. Murder.

This makes sense if one is to accept the fact that a zygote, embryo, or fetus is an actual human being with guaranteed constitutional rights. Now, I don’t believe that, nor do the vast majority of people who espouse reproductive rights. But, again, millions of people believe with all their hearts the clump of cells in a woman’s Fallopian tube, making its way toward the uterus, is as human as you and me.

A Person?

Why, then, do none of the new state laws restricting abortion, as well as those long in the books, call for criminally charging and legally punishing the women who choose to abort?

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if many of the Abortion Is Murder folks would be four-square in favor of putting a woman who aborts in criminal jeopardy. Yet the legislators and the prosecutors who are eager to put the new and existing state laws into practice have steadfastly avoided criminalizing women who abort.

In fact, if one were to accept the Abortion Is Murder idea, a woman who aborts must be held criminally responsible for her act. She has killed a human being. She called a clinic to set up an appointment, asked her best friend to drive her there the day of the procedure, and voluntarily submitted to the medical personnel’s physical act of snuffing out the human life that heretofore had been thriving within her womb.

She is a murderer.

At least in theory.

Separating the woman who chooses to abort from the criminal consequences of abortion is the equivalent of saying the person who drove the getaway car, the armed lookout, the abettor who provided the hideout, and the fence who laundered the loot all are to be held criminally responsible for the bank robbery. Only the actual person who stuck the gun in the teller’s face and ran off with the bag of cash would be exempt from prosecution.

You’d find that ridiculous, wouldn’t you? I do. Anybody would.

So why do the abortion restriction laws let the woman off the hook?

The only conceivable reason must be that everyone understands a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy is the ultimate personal choice, one that countless women have been forced to make since human beings came to realize they could actually abort. That realization came about thousands of years ago, so it’s not some newfangled, commie, socialist, homosexuality-grooming, Black Lives Matter attempt to bring down all of Western Civilization. Carrying a fetus to term is a life-altering thing. Raising a child changes a woman’s life in ways none of us males can even comprehend. And deciding to terminate the clump of cells within her Fallopian tube or uterus is a choice women agonize over. The idea that there are scads of women running around getting pregnant every half hour and then blithely submitting to abortion after abortion is as false as saying every grown man is a child molester or all politicians are crooks.

It’s a simplistic, non-thinking take on a complicated world.

A rational person must be compelled to call for our state legislatures to enact laws mandating the prosecution and criminal punishment of all women who choose to undergo an abortion. It’s murder, isn’t it?

I wonder how far that would get the anti-abortion state senators and representatives. It might cost those politicians votes. Many votes, inasmuch as a majority of the American electorate is in favor of maintaining a woman’s right to abort.

We all agree murder is a crime. We don’t all agree abortion is murder. Even the lawmakers restricting or outright banning abortion understand that.

1000 Words: Obsessed

The Loved One and I take regular, weekly drives through the hinterlands of southern Indiana. Now, before you tell me I ought to get out of the car and walk or hike a bit, please be aware I can hardly walk due to still having one hip joint with Category 4 osteoarthritis. That means the ball and socket no longer have any cartilage cushion between them. It’s bone on bone, baby, and that’s a formula for howling pain.

But enough of that. Today’s screed has to do with people who seem to have a one-track minds.

As we make our way through small towns and winding farm roads, we see an endless stream of billboards addressing abortion. And the topic ain’t controversial. Every single one is an anti-abortion scold.

Some examples:

My heart began beating at 23 days — accompanied by a picture of a cute little toddler with a blanket partially covering her head.

I felt pain before I was born — with a similar aww-inspiring pic alongside it.

A baby is God’s miracle gift.

Black people didn’t choose slavery. The Jews didn’t choose genocide. Babies don’t choose to be aborted.

And of course, the old standby:

Choose life.

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If we were to try to count the number of such signs during any of our Sunday drives, we’d soon become overwhelmed by the immensity of the task.

Now, for the sake of this post, I’m going to give the people on whose property these sign are erected, as well as the people who pay to have them put up, the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume they honestly and truly believe ending a pregnancy before birth is a crime, both morally and, now that the Trump Supreme Court has had its say, legally. I’m not always so generous, though. My sneaking suspicion long has been that a lot of anti-abortion-ists simply can’t bear the idea that women like to have sex. They think all women have to do is not engage in it. Problem solved.

But, damn it all, these women keep spreading their legs and getting pregnant and then blithely murdering the infants inside them. And they do it again and again and again.

Let’s ignore the blatant falsehoods in that line of thinking. Let’s ignore it all right now. Let’s, as I say, give these folks the benefit of the doubt.

Today, we were behind a guy in a pickup plastered with anti-abortion bumper stickers, including this one:

93% of Woman Who Had Abortions Regret It.

Which is rather presumptuous on his part, wouldn’t you think? In his mind, those seven percent who are cool with their decision to abort must be ghouls.

Again, let’s assume these folks hold dearly in their hearts the unshakable belief that all human life is precious and to end one is the most heinous crime of all.

Why, then, is abortion the only ending of life that drives them to put up signs, to hang banners down from highway overpasses, to harass women trying to enter abortion clinics? Why, why, why?

They’re not out hanging banners calling for an end to the murder of already-born people. They’re not calling for an end to war. They’re not agitating for safer cars and highways, where tens of thousands of Americans each year are killed in crashes. They’ve yet to weight in on the Flint, Michigan water supply crisis that was responsible for countless deaths. The don’t have bumper stickers calling for the arrest and conviction of the Sackler family for their part in the opioid epidemic.

I don’t see any such signs, placards, billboards or bumper stickers decrying anything but the ending of a pregnancy prior to term.

They don’t march around their town squares demanding an end to rape.

They don’t hint at any concern for industrial pollution or global warming, both of which already have caused immeasurable sickness and death around the world.

That’s why I refuse to call their crusade “pro-life.” It’s not.

It’s solely anti-abortion. Anti- a few other things as well but, as I say, let’s ignore that today.

1000 Words: Movie Magic

I had a fun and informative chat with IU Cinema director Alicia Kozma yesterday afternoon. It was the first time I’ve recorded an edition of Big Talk in the WFHB studios since February 2020.

Kozma.

That time, I shot the breeze with the Busman’s Holiday boys, Lewis and Addison Rogers. Next thing any of us knew, the nation — hell, the entire world — was being shut down. So for some 27 months I’ve been recording Big Talk editions à la Marc Maron — in my garage. It took quite a few tries but I think I was able, eventually, to get a pretty decent sound quality even as I was squeezed in among the lawnmower, The Loved One’s hot rod, some old rolled-up carpeting, the washer and dryer, and tons of other clutter.

Lewis (L) & Addison Rogers.

I figured I’d venture out into the world yesterday so I reserved one of the station’s recording studios. It was a blast seeing the old community radio gang again — GM Jar Turner, news director Kade Young, and development director Brooke Turpin. The big news at the station is Kade cut off his extremely long pandemic hair and Jar has let his tresses grow down to his shoulder blades. Brooke’s mop remains stylishly trimmed.

As for me, well, I haven’t worried about the hair on the top of my head since the 1990s. That emanating from my ears and nose, though, must be controlled using Wahl machinery.

By the way, did you know the word glabrous means free from hair? Ironic, isn’t it? I mean, it’d be like the 45th President of the United States being surnamed Noble or Goode. Hair has sprouted in generous amounts from every corner and niche of my bod since I was an early teen. This even though my scalp became largely desolate starting in about 1981.

Glabrous.

Anyway, in researching Alicia Kozma, I learned about a woman named Stephanie Rothman. She’s one of Kozma’s fave producer/directors and was one of the very first female top executives in Hollywood.

Rothman was the first female winner of the Directors Guild of America fellowship while a student at the University of Southern California. Cult film director Roger Corman hired her as an assistant straight out of college. Stephanie worked in every possible position on Corman-produced movies with titles like Beach Ball, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, and Queen of Blood. Her stint with Corman was an invaluable apprenticeship where she learned every aspect of making a commercial movie. Corman eventually tabbed her to direct It’s a Bikini World.

Rothman.

This all came about in the 1960s when Hollywood saw women as good only for parading their breasts onscreen. Sure, there were female directors and/or producers — Ida Lupino comes to mind — but you could count them on one hand that’d suffered the loss of three fingers in a farm accident.

Lupino.

Rothman hated working on what was called the “exploitation” genre. Kozma defines exploitation films as those made on the barest of budgets, designed to make quick box office money at, say, drive-in theaters, and which featured plenty of jiggling female flesh and a whole hell of a lot of violence.

“I was never happy making exploitation movies,” Rothman said. But she did so because women directors were rarely hired or bankrolled a half century ago. The only job she could find was at an exploitation factory.

Corman.

Rothman did, though, inject a mote of enlightenment into the process. She directed the films Student Nurses and The Velvet Vampire for Corman. As long as the exploitation film formula demanded nudity to one degree or another, Rothman chose to have as many male actors shed their clothes as female actors. And as long as she had to include violent scenes in her movies, she strove to show the results of that violence, both physical and emotional. She also focused on female leads as more fully developed characters rather than simply unclad bodies prancing around the screen.

Kozma calls Rothman the “anti-Russ Meyer.”

A Russ Meyer Opus.

She split off to start her own production company, Dimension Pictures, with her husband, Charles S. Swartz. Rothman directed three Dimension films: Group Marriage, Terminal Island, and The Working Girls. She scripted Beyond Atlantis for Dimension as well. In all of them, she took an exploitation standby, unbridled male desire, and extended it to include that of her female characters. It may be hard to believe today, but the idea of a female movie character really wanting to engage in sex back then was utterly groundbreaking.

Still, Rothman remained unsatisfied with the whole exploitation thing. Even when she left Dimension in 1975 and hoped to make serious films, she couldn’t because Hollywood had typecast her as an exploitation director. She couldn’t win.

Alicia Kozma says she’d love to get Stephanie Rothman to make a personal appearance at the IU Cinema sooner rather than later. Rothman, who hasn’t worked on a film since 1978, is now 85 years old. She remains healthy and energetic, acc’d’g to Kozma. The IU Cinema director has her fingers crossed that Rothman may soon make her way to Bloomington.

Sometimes when I think I might like to retire from radio, I simply remember I get to meet and chat with cool folks like Alicia Kozma. And learn about others like Stephanie Rothman. So I’ll stick with Big Talk for the foreseeable future.

(The podcast of my chat with Alicia Kozma will post later today at 6:00pm on the WFHB website. Podcasts of all previous Big Talks can be found here.)

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