Hot Air: Imagine A World With No One In It

Despite all the bazillions of words thus far written and uttered about this whole new world we’re experiencing for at least the next few weeks, I’ve heard little or nothing said about how our voluntary (and potentially imposed) lockdown is going to depress the living hell out of a lot of people.

I don’t mean depressed in the casual usage of the word — I’m talking about those of us who experience real, clinical depression. Some folks I know are saying they love being shut-ins right now. Many of them are people who’ve seen themselves described quite accurately and vividly in Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. These people cherish their alone time and need lots and lots of solitude every day.

I cherish my alone time as well but only in short bursts — late at night or after I’ve spent eight to ten hours grinning and charming, listening to and attempting to assist people. People who work in retail or the food service industry understand this. You can only be lively and connected for a certain amount of time each day. Once you’ve passed your limit in that regard (and everybody’s is different) you have to shut yourself away and ignore everybody and everything. You have to decompress or chill out or do whatever you want to call the process of essentially reconnecting with yourself.

Nevertheless, I love being around people most of the time. When I lived in a studio at Dearborn and Erie streets in Chi. back in the early 1980s, I found it comforting that there was a 24-hour gas station right across the street. The sounds of humans and taxicabs coming and going throughout the night made me feel less isolated, more part of humanity. A lot of people wouldn’t feel that way at all but some of us do. I can go on and on, using this forum as a therapist’s couch and talk about my deep fear of abandonment but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I thrive on the sounds and sights of people going about their business. That may be why I was so loath to leave the big city until I was 51 years old. The loneliness of the country frankly terrified me.

Every day of my life I have to shower, dress up, and get the hell out of the house. Even when I’m sick as a dog, I have to go out. The Loved One to this day shakes her head in wonder when I get ready to split even though I’m in great pain or whacked-out fatigued from some malady or another. “I’ve just gotta get out,” I tell her. She has always described herself as a homebody which, ironically, makes us a good match. I push her to get out more and she pushes me to stick around the hearth more. We’ve reached an acceptable medium.

Holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving also have been problematic for me. The streets on those days are almost empty. The stores are closed. Nobody’s milling around. Few have to work. The world seems an empty, frightening place to me on those days. Where’d everybody go? Have I at last been truly and irrevocably abandoned?

Today, Monday, March 16, 2020, seems to be the mother of all Christmas and Thanksgiving days. Here in Bloomington, 3rd St/State Road 46 was flat-out empty when I got to the intersection. The libraries are closed. the coffeehouses are closed (or, if they’re not, they ought to be). It’s like a Twilight Zone episode. It’s terribly lonely and downright scary out there.

[Image: Rutger Blom Photography]

How many more days of this will I be able to take? Hell, days? We’re thinking weeks and maybe even months of this stuff. I don’t like this one bit and I know there’ll be both psychological and emotional tolls to be paid as this lockdown goes on.

Apartment dwellers in Florence, Italy are singing from their windows in an effort to buck each other up. My next door neighbor, Tom, is a good guy and a friend but should he decide to start singing out his window I might be tempted to sic Sally the Dog on him.

Who am I going to tell jokes to? Who am I going to argue with about Biden and Sanders? My pal Pat and I regularly meet to discus pressing world issues like who’s going to be the fifth starter for the Cubs this year. My friend Susan, like clockwork, plops a pile of clipped newspaper crossword puzzles in my lap every time we meet. I exchange morning mots with baristas Miles and Alyssa and others, a daily ritual I now recognize as essential. And what of the librarians in Nashville (IN), Salem, and Indianapolis whom I’ve come to value as everyday fixtures in my life even if I don’t know their names?

Are they all gone? Have they abandoned me? Or I, them?

To be sure, it’s all too depressing. Oh, I have plans. I need to rewrite a chapter of the Charlotte Zietlow book. I’m working on putting together a reference binder on telescopes. I play chess against my computer. I just got my hands on this year’s edition of Baseball Prospectus. The Loved One and Sally and I will be making daily trips down to Lake Monroe. I’ll keep myself occupied.

But everybody’s gone and that scares the hell out of me.

Hot Air: Only He Could Fix It

I’m guessing there’ll be fewer than 1.7 million deaths in America as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, unless something unexpected happens *. At this early date, the CDC estimates 160-240 million Americans will catch the bug and 200,000 to 1.7 mill will die from it.

[ * “Unless something unexpected happens”: That’s the most dangerous thing to say regarding such a fluid and unprecedented state of affairs. Hell, COVID-19 itself was something unexpected as recently as last Fall. Anyway, as I was saying…. ]

A good bettor’s policy is always to choose the most prudent option. Wagering on either of the tapering ends of a bell curve of probabilities is a sucker’s game, usually resorted to by someone on a long losing streak hoping to recoup his losses in a single strike.

So, yeah, I’m going (right now) with fewer than a million fatalities in the United States, prob. somewhere around 750,000. That’s horrifying enough but it’ll be a welcome outcome after these days and weeks of scary headlines.

And if things should play out that way, Pres. Trump, who’s getting battered by critics right now, will declare himself responsible for saving nearly a million lives. Oh, you bet he will! He’ll trot out the CDC charts and point to that 1.7 million figure and say, “That didn’t happen and it’s all because of me!” Of course, everything is because of him or can only be fixed by him. His bizarrely loyal base, natch, will eat his words up, something they’ve been doing since he descended that golden escalator in 2015 to declare his candidacy for President of the United States of America. For chrissakes, if Li’l Duce‘s words had calories, his base’d be 100 percent morbidly obese by now.

Who knows if more people than just President Gag’s base will buy it? People act and think funny when they’ve been scared to death. It may appear to some that this public health crisis will be the downfall of the Trump presidency. OTOH, it just may get him reelected.

And wouldn’t that be a horrifying outcome.

Trump On A Shrink’s Couch

BTW: Via a comment thread started by my pal, Jeff Isaac, professor of political science at Indiana University, I caught wind of a very compelling, recently published book entitled The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning. Authored by Northwestern University professor Dan P. MacAdams, the book is a series of his essays written over the last four years peering into the psychological makeup of (my words) the most whacked-out M-Fer ever to sit behind an Oval Office desk.

From an NU PR article written by Hillary Hurd Anyaso:

Trump, McAdams asserts, may be the rare person who lacks any inner story, something most people develop to givetheir lives unity, meaning and purpose.

A life story provides a moral frame of reference because it grounds your experiences in basic values and beliefs, according to McAdams, a narrative psychologist who pioneered the study of lives. 

Trump, McAdams argues, can’t form a meaningful life story because he is the “episodic man” who sees life as a series of battles to be won. There is no connection between the moments, no reflection and no potential for growth when one is compulsively in the present. 

Donald Trump is a “truly authentic fake,” writes McAdams, professor of human development and social policy at the School of Education and Social Policy. “Trump is always acting, always on stage — but that is who he really is, and that is all he really is. He is not introspective, retrospective or prospective. He does not go deep into his mind; he does not travel back to the past; he does not project far into the future. He is always on the surface, always right now.  

“In his own mind, he is more like a persona than a person, more like a primal force or superhero, rather than a fully realized human being,” McAdams adds.

Sure enough, right now Trump sees the COVID-19 situation as an assault on him, as evidenced by his continually referring to himself in newsers on the outbreak as well as his blatant statement, “I don’t take responsibility at all,” when he was pressed by reporters on why there are so few available tests in this country. Any other effective leader would at least give lip service to taking responsibility for everything that happens on his watch, but not the poor, aggrieved Victim-in-Chief.

I don’t blame Trump for the COVID-19 crisis. I only blame him for being himself.

Hot Air: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Lockdown

Anthony Fauci, a guy who actually knows something, as opposed to the president, the vice president, and several of their handpicked point people blathering about the COVID-19 pandemic — oh, and all your Facebook friends who suddenly are PhDs in virology — is recommending this morning that we start dramatically reducing doing things outside the house and in the presence of other human beings who don’t live with us. Fauci, of course, is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Those of us of a certain age recall him as a reasonable, expert voice during the AIDS crisis/panic of the 1980s.

And the we I mention above, it must be said, are Americans. That’s important because Fauci also said he’s leaning toward a national lockdown that would affect restaurants and bars in this holy land. That’d be a sort of lockdown-lite in comparison to the total lockdowns being imposed in other countries trying to get ahead of this rapidly spreading infection.

Lots of folks are calling for just that here, a general lockdown wherein no one would be allowed to leave the house and everybody resorts to leaning out their windows and singing to each other…, no, wait, that’s Italy. Let’s see, now, what would we do in such a confined state? Oh, I know! We’d probably fire guns in the air from our windows or we’d stand on our balconies and shriek about what the hell ever conspiracy theories had popped into our heads within the last 15 seconds or so.

I highly recommend not betting on a general lockdown here. This is, after all, a country wherein it is impossible to stop people from carrying weapons of war into Sam’s Club or even a public library! Yeah, that’s right. We are so in thrall to an extremely narrow interpretation of the meaning of freedom that we consider strapping one or more AK-47s or Beretta AR-70s on our back and, as an added display of our devotion to sweet liberty, carrying in waist holsters Glock G43s and/or Springfield XD-Ss — with an ankle holster containing a SIG Sauer P-365, because you just never know — as patriotic statements.

That Woman Sure Looks Suspicious.

If you can’t convince loons — and the legislators who pander to them — that such an array of armament is a tad overkill for dashing down to the store to stock up on lemonade that’s on sale for two for five dollars, you sure as hell aren’t going to force them to stay inside so as not to help spread a microorganism that might kill the elderly and the sick. After all, what kind of a trade off is my precious freedom against the lives of people who, quite frankly, aren’t representative of the best, strongest, and fittest in Great-Again-America?

My gut tells me we won’t have a general lockdown here. Maybe in a college town or some other blue bastion here and there, if that’s even legally permissible, but not for this mighty nation as a whole.

Let freedom ring!

Hot Air: Real Stories

Ready for a Conspiracy Theory?

I just came up with one. This COVID-19 scare is a plot by the supermarket-industrial-complex to get us to spend twice and three times more than normal on groceries.

Ready, Go!

The Loved One and I stood in the checkout line at the Kroger Theme Park for 45 minutes this afternoon. I mean, everybody on Earth was there, cramming everything on the shelves into their shopping carts. It was like that old game show, Supermarket Sweep.

Usually, I’d be griping and moaning and TLO’d have to bite her lip not to blurt STFU at me but this time I made sort of a joke about it all. And TLO actually left the line at one point to fetch a bottle of wine for a woman who was busy keeping her little baby in her cart’s kid seat from starting to bawl because, judging by the kid’s eyes, she was long minutes past her nap time. That TLO can be a sweetheart now and then.

So, there you have it. This coronavirus is a hoax. Hey, me and Sean Hannity, baby!

Holiday Boys

If you missed yesterday’s Big Talk (if so, shame on you!) here’s the podcast link for my interview with Addison & Lewis Rogers, the music- and mirth-making brothers who make up Busman’s Holiday.

It was Part 1 of the interview with the second part to air next Thursday, March 19, 2020, at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM.

Scary Books

I’m not going to win myself a ton of friends by writing this, especially in this college town bastion of rigid righteousness but a couple of recent developments in the publishing industry are really scaring the bejesus out of me. Plus, I don’t give a good goddamn if the fetishistic moralists-slash-presentists hate me or not.

Here’s what happened:

  1. Protesters raised holy hell over the publication of Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt. It’s the story of a middle-class family that has to flee Acapulco after the husband, a journalist, writes a story about the local drug kingpin. The family dashes to the US border and meets scads of other individuals and families who are also fleeing from something in both Mexico and the other Central American nations.
  2. Protester’s again raised holy hell when Woody Allen’s memoir was due to be published. Allen, the septuagenarian, highly decorated film director who has been accused of child molestation by several of the children of his one-time live-in partner Mia Farrow.

The protesters in the first case said, basically, that Cummins had no business writing a fictional book about a Mexican family’s experience because she is not Mexican. In the second case, the protesters said, again, basically, that Allen had forfeited his privilege to recount in print his life because he’d been accused of such a heinous offense. (Allen was investigated but never charged with any crime; some say he was given a free pass by the state prosecutor. Two of Farrow and/or Allen’s other children present at the time of the allegation have spoken up in Allen’s behalf, saying they don’t believe it happened.)

In any case, Flatiron Books, the publisher of American Dirt, cancelled the author’s book tour in response to the protests. This despite the fact the novel was an Oprah’s Book Club selection and it was rocketing up the bestseller lists. Allen’s memoir, Apropos of Nothing, was scheduled to be published by Grand Central Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, next month. When word of it got out, protesters pressured Hachette to the point that it has decided to dump the book.

I suppose it’s good we have a constitutional First Amendment that prevents the government from exercising prior restraint or otherwise punishing people who write things that aren’t violations of national security, but in practice we have hyper-moralists who do the censorship themselves. Oh, and weak-kneed publishing executives who can’t stand the idea that anyone might be offended by a book or an author.

Don’t get me wrong, Allen creeps me out. His eventual affair and subsequent marriage to Soon Yi Previn, Farrow’s adopted daughter whom Allen served in something of a paternal capacity when she was a child, still makes my hair stand on end. That romance alone made me never want to see Allen’s movie “Manhattan” again even though it was one of my favorite films of the 1970s. In it, Allen’s character Isaac, who’s 42, has a torrid affair with Tracy, 17. At first I thought the age-thing was a joke, an exaggeration in service of the plot. After Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi was revealed, the plot device began looking uglier and uglier. As for the charge of child molestation, suffice it to say Allen’s behavior was described by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at Yale-New Haven Hospital as “grossly inappropriate” despite its report finding no solid evidence of sexual activity. The guy was, at the very least, way fucked up.

Since these incidents, I haven’t seen another Woody Allen film, even though in my early 20s I saw Allen as something of a role model. I shudder to think of it now.

No matter. He is a world renowned artist. His memoir would have been fascinating. For chrissakes, Richard Wagner’s memoir probably is fascinating, despite the composer’s vile anti-semitism. For that matter, the king of anti-semites, Adolph Hitler, wrote a fairly riveting memoir, considering who he was and how he came to be.

But protesters have made sure we won’t see Allen’s opus (for now).

Protesters similarly made sure Jeanine Cummins wouldn’t get the satisfaction of meeting her literary fans because she authored a work of art depicting characters that weren’t her. Hell, Stephen King isn’t a murderer but he wrote a story about a guy named Jack Torrance. And King — ever more vociferous these days — in response to the Cummins imbroglio, said, “We don’t threaten writers with violence. Not in America.” Oh yes we do. Both Cummins and booksellers who dared defend her right to write whatever fictional story she wishes, have received death threats.

Then again, in this third decade of the 21st Century, the death threat has become the new normal way of saying I disagree with you. But I that’s another matter entrirely.

King, as well, has said the dumping of Allen’s book makes him “very uneasy.”

For my money, we need to know a person can be a monster and still be capable of making great art or even coming up with a cure for cancer. We childishly see people as either angels or demons when in truth the vast majority of us are a bit of both.

Anyway, I’m going to read American Dirt as well as Allen’s memoir, should it ever be published, simply to make the statement that I can. I’m no longer a First Amendment absolutist now that hate groups are ascendant and, for all intents and purposes, blessed by the president. But short of people calling for harm to groups of people or the curtailment of their liberties, I’m fully in favor of letting people write and say whatever in the goddamned hell they want.

And, yeah, the fact that I can’t see Jeanine Cummins read from her book and that I flat out can’t read Allen’s, scares the living hell out of me.

Hot Air: So, Anything New Happening?

Look, I’m your friend, right? So let me repeat a bit of advice I gave you a couple of days ago. Stay the hell off social media during this public health crisis! It’s a cesspool of terror and misinformation. It’s Panic City.

Once again, here are your indispensable and authoritative resources for information on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak:

Criminal Mouth

So shoot me. In the car today I had to tune to Louisville’s NewsRadio 840, WHAS. From my time living in that town I know the station carries the likes of Rush Limbaugh and a bunch of other even more delirious Right Wing bleaters (if that’s even possible). I was dying to find out how they’re treating this development. I was in time for the start of the second hour of Limbaugh’s program. Natch, he was blathering about the pandemic.

And, trust me, not in your wildest imagination could you conjure a more irresponsible and hateful rundown of the crisis we face.

First, I lost count of how many times he characterized the virus as something “foreign.” I guess that’s the watchword right now, thanks to our Dear Leader who himself employed the term during his crazy, mixed-up nationally televised speech Wed. night. Then, Limbaugh went on a rant about how, if this thing were a hostile foreign power with guns and airplanes and nuclear weapons, we would all be banding together to fight it tooth and nail but, No-o-o-o-o! the goddamned liberals are politicizing this thing and hamstringing our great president from acting as swiftly and effectively as he can.

Then, as if someone flipped a switch, Limbaugh started ranting that the virus is really nothing. Golly gee, only 39 people have died in this country! Why isn’t the fake news media headlining that key fact, huh?

So, after a few minutes, I had to flip the radio off before I had a brain aneurysm. In fact I did one of those annoying bend-your-fingernail-back thingies because I hit the button so hard. Anyway, I was left confused: Is the virus the equivalent of a war against a vicious opponent armed with the most destructive weapons ever conceived or is it no big deal at all?

How luxurious it must be to have everything both ways.

COVID & Me

Here’s what I’m doing for the next few weeks:

  • Laying way low so I don’t infect anyone
  • Avoiding all gatherings of more than three people (me included — and I have to be assured the other two are healthy as horses)
  • Shunning everybody with the slightest sniffle, not to mention any sneezing and/or coughing
  • Washing my mitts as often as I normally do (which has long bordered on an OCD symptom)

BTW: let’s stop telling each other not to touch our faces. It’s flat-out impossible. Every single time I touched my face today, I thought, Oh yeah, I shouldn’t have touched my face. I won’t reveal how many times that happened.

In any case, if this thing gets into me and I end up checking out, well…, it’s been occasionally nice and occasionally miserable. Life, right? For pity’s sake I’ve been figuring I’ll likely take my leave sometime within the next 20 years anyway, considering how certain maladies have kicked the shit out of me of late. A COVID-19 death’d just be an unexpected moving up of my sell-by date.

Let’s Do It The Right Way

Bunches of people have been saying they hope President Gag catches COVID-19 and dies from it.

Me? I figure that outcome would cheat us out of the opportunity to gleefully vote his no-good ass out of office come Nov. 3rd

 

Hot Air: Wise?

Catch the Busmen

Addison (L) & Lewis Rogers: Busman’s Holiday

Before I begin pontificating, I want to hip you to a fun Big Talk airing this afternoon at 5:30. I was joined Tuesday in the studio by Addison & Lewis Rogers, the brothers who make mirth and music under the sobriquet, Busman’s Holiday.

Dang, I hardly had to edit the raw recording because we three got on so well and made for such a compelling gabfest. In fact, we went on and on so long that I decided to turn the interview into a two-parter. Part one airs today on WFHB, 91.3 FM, with Part two slated for next Thursday, March 19th.

And, for goodness sake, throw some money down and cop some of the boy’s music. You’ll thank me.

The Owls Vs. The Workers

Let’s talk about the people on my side of the fence. Call us what you will (liberals, the Left, bleeding hearts, tree huggers, socialists, commies, queers, perverts, weaklings, losers, et cetera — I prefer to think of us as one great big unhappy family), the truth is you can’t call us the voice of the working person anymore. Much of it has to do with the Reagan Right’s clever strategy of crushing labor unions starting some 50 years ago. Labor was the Democratic Party’s biggest financial benefactor up until the 1980s. Reagan and his allies recognized it and for that reason (among others) stood on their heads to demonize and then break up unions. W/o their biggest sugar daddies, the Dems had to begin cozying up to Wall Street and the corporate world for their financing, changing the philosophical and practical positioning of the party.

But that’s not the only reason the Democrats and the Left lost the working class. It also was the fact that we stopped listening to people who were afraid of losing their jobs. We had much more important things to consider than your financial well-being, you fools. Chief among them was the environment. Let’s take as an example the Northern Spotted Owl wars.

The Northern Spotted Owl.

Northern California was one of the primary homes of said raptor. Environmentalists and their celebrity spokespeople in movies and pop music were aghast that continued logging in N. Cal. forests was on a trajectory to essentially destroy much of the natural habitat of Strix occidentalis caurina, as well they should have been. Northern spotted owls are particularly sensitive to adverse changes to their habitats. The logging industry up and down the northwest Pacific coast in the post-war era was clear-cutting woodlands at an alarming rate. The number of spotted owl pairs in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California plummeted concurrently. The dramatic decline in the population of the owls moved environmental activists to take the creature’s cause up in a big way. In 1973, responding to pressure, the US Dept. of the Interior put the bird on its Endangered Species list. All good so far.

Nevertheless, by 1990 the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the owl a threatened species. By that time, the protectors of the spotted owl had added legal remedies to their public relations campaign in an effort to save the owls (in fact, that very line, Save the Owls, became a popular bumper sticker not only on the northwest coast but around the nation). Lawyers for environmentalists went to federal court to get the government to curtail logging by private companies in the affected areas. The companies responded that the curtailment would hurt their business and so the fight became one of hardy, noble, nature lovers battling against greedy, monolithic corporate overlords. And because the overwhelming majority of Democrats at the time loved the environment and was justifiably suspicious of big corporations, why, there was nothing more needed to be said about the issue.

They were wrong. The number of working class people who lived in the northern spotted owls’ territories and whose livelihood depended upon the logging industry numbered into the hundreds of thousands. Many of those people might well have had concern for the birds but of more pressing urgency was the fact that they might be losing their jobs. Whole towns grew up around logging centers. Grocers, movie theaters, work clothes outlets, doctors, lawyers, cab companies, hardware stores, restaurants, and any number of other businesses concurrently grew up around those towns, serving people whose money came from logging. The operators of those businesses, too, began quaking in their boots.

Logging industry flacks warned that tens of thousands of people would lose their jobs if clear-cutting were to be curtailed there. The US Forest Service estimated some 30,000 people would be put out of work should clear-cutting in the affected habitats be slashed.

There were tons of reports and estimates that disputed these figures — primarily the fact that mechanization already had reduced the number of logging jobs by up to 90 percent since the end of World War II — but I’m not interested in arguing that point further here. Perception creates its own reality and as long as those hundreds of thousands of logging workers were scared to death their jobs might be in jeopardy, they needed to be heeded by the then-putative party of the working people.

But no, the environmentalists — and by extension, the entire Democratic Party — gave the big finger to them. By god, we gasped, how can you prioritize your paycheck over the loss of a species? What kind of a heartless, greedy bastard are you?

All we had to do was listen to those terrified people. Listen to their concerns. Take them into consideration. Try to allay their fears. Work with them. Compromise. Uh-uh. We ignored them, sending them running into the arms of the big business, anti-environment Right. They no longer felt at home in the Democratic Party.

That same scenario is playing out today. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people work in the private health care delivery system. More than half a million Americans alone work in health insurance administration. They tend to believe — rightly or wrongly (it doesn’t matter) — that Medicare for All or single payer, universal health care will put them out of work. And then there are the millions of people who are reasonably happy with their employer-based health care coverage. Again, rightly or wrongly (and, again, it doesn’t matter) they’re afraid they’ll be shunted off to some doctor or hospital that they don’t want.

Are we listening? Of course not! We’re saying, once again, fuck them. And when a preeminent charlatan like President Gag tells them, hell no, there’ll never be Medicare for All, he becomes mightily attractive to them.

It’s so simple: All we have to do is listen. All we have to do is let people know we care about their fears and concerns. All we have to do is sit down and craft some kind of bargain with them. But no. Better to tell them to fuck off because, for god’s sake, we’re in the right!

Hot Air: Social (Media) Distance

Suddenly, social media has become jam-packed with epidemiologists and virologists. Every other person posting on FB & Twizzler is offering urgent advice on how to avoid getting snuffed out by COVID-19. And half the tips are repudiations of previous posters’ tips.

That’s why I’m staying the hell off those hive mind ghettoes right now.

All I need to know is this: the virus is mainly — almost exclusively — transmitted by droplets. That means stay away from bunches of people who may or may not be sneezing or hacking. That’s why sports leagues, etc. are cancelling tournaments and games and businesses are telling employees to stay home.

Oh, and wash your damned hands. If you haven’t been doing that as a matter of routine before this public health crisis started, what in the hell have you been doing?

And — for chrissakes! — why in heaven’s name would you turn to social media for such vital information as what you should do as this epidemic spreads? Here are the online resources you should consult:

Qualified experts in fields of disease and public health know things; your Facebook friends do not.

Meet The New Boss

Lots of people — and I’m one of ’em, believe me — are fretting about humanity’s embrace of strongmen these days. The raised voices usually come from my side of the fence — the Left. I mean, take a look at the bossmen of Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, India, China, and, yes, these United States; not a one of them’d be considered a Leftist. Yet, more and more of humanity is embracing the tough talkers because they offer facile, faux-bold platitudes and promises. Effective leaders understand the world is a dizzyingly complex place and answers to problems will only be arrived at through mental and moral gymnastics, hard-won compromise, and an understanding of the sciences of history, psychology, sociology, ecology, games, and public relations, with smatterings of nuclear physics, biology, epidemiology, and human evolution throw in to further confuse those who seek simple, simplistic solutions.

We in this holy land like to position ourselves as some kind of bastion of freedom. Is that true or not? I don’t know the answer but I do know this, every goddamned country in the world advertises itself as the one real home of freedom. Every single one. Hell, even Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR bragged about their freedom.

Anyway, let’s just assume the United States is the world’s paragon of liberty. And one might get the impression that the most freedom-loving among us are those advocating for Bernie Sanders.

Funny thing is, when we get down to cases, many, many, many in the Sanders crowd (and, don’t forget, I voted for him in the 2016 Dem primary and plan to do so again this year) are just as in thrall to the strong man as those who go gaga over Li’l Duce or his wingman, V. Putin. Read enough and listen enough to Sanders backers and you’ll come away convinced they’re certain that as long as their boy gets in the White House, we’ll have Medicare for All; the wealth gap will be narrowed; everybody will have a home and enough to eat; college debt will disappear; our cars and factories will run exclusively on wind and solar power; every working person will earn a living wage; and corporate tax loopholes will disappear.

Just like that. In the snap of Bernie’s fingers.

Only They Can Do It.

The president, I might remind them, is not a dictator, not even if s/he’s benevolent. All the above grandiose plans and aims and more must be accomplished with the full cooperation of healthy majorities in the Senate and House as well as the statehouses, the governors, and even local officialdom. We’re talking tens of thousands of elected officials who have to get on board with Bernie’s ideals.

This, by the way, under the putative administration of a man who turns off half or more of the members of his own political party (well…, the political party he sorta plays nice with every four years). What’s he going to do? The man — should he become president — will go to work with a Congress that pretty much despises him. What’s he going to do? Threaten his opponents with expulsion? Keep enemies lists like Dick Nixon did or Presdient Gag is now doing?

Lots of Bernie folks want him in because he stands for all the right things, never mind that there’s a towering variety of wants and needs and philosophies in today’s American electorate. A variety, of course, that must be navigated by a leader who understands even those s/he opposes must be placated.

Bernie and a large swath of his backers imply to hell with them. We’re right and that’s that.

Isn’t that what a strongman and his followers say?

Hot Air: Same Old, Same Young

It took me until I was about 40 to really understand that all the olds I came into contact with were once young, vibrant, healthy, hopeful, and not shriveled-up prunes.

Now that I’m a shriveled-up prune with a body breaking down in more ways than I care to inventory, the knowledge that I and everyone else of superannuated condition am/are the same person who used to dance and drink until four in the morning, could play centerfield w/o feeling the need for a heart/lung transplant, and could express myself, shall we say, physically vis-à-vis other human beings at any time of the day or night just a few short decades ago seems an immutable given.

A commercial photographer named Tom Hussey has come up with a gorgeous, ingenious way of showing how those two seemingly disparate folks — the young one and the old — are actually the same soul. His photo series “Reflections of the Past” was inspired by a comment Hussey heard from an old bird who actually served in the military during World War II — which, I might add, would shock a ton of old-timers to consider is some 75 years in the distant, foggy past. That veteran, who was 80 at the time, told Hussey he couldn’t believe the ancient relic who stared back at him from the mirror was indeed himself. “I feel,” the guy said, “like I just came back from the war.”

So Hussey created a series of photo montages wherein he contrasted current images of people with old images of them, as if they were looking in the mirror and seeing themselves magically transformed into pups.

Here are a couple of examples:

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For more, go here.

[Once again, thanks to Maxxwell Bodenheim for the tip.]

One And Done?

I find it interesting that so many people are scared to death that President Gag is on his way to winning a second term as president this coming November, when so much evidence points to as popularly weak an incumbent since…, um, oh…, Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Recall, of course, the fact that the 39th President of the United States lost to his Republican opponent in a landslide, 489-49 in the Electoral College and by 8.4 million votes. OTOH, that Republican opponent was indeed Ronald Reagan, as sainted a figure as either party has managed to dig up since John F. Kennedy in 1960. Nobody on the Dem side this year carries the cache that Reagan did, so there’s that.

Still, a healthy majority of Americans feel Li’l Duce is a joke of a president — except there’s little to laugh at, really, in his actions, carriage, manner, and deep within his dark heart.

Anyway, 2016 taught me not to be at all sure of anything anymore when it comes to the will and whim of the American electorate. Were I compelled to bet on the outcome in eight months, I’d tend to want to shoot the moon on P. Gag being a one-termer. Then again, I’d only risk my dough on that outcome if someone was holding a gun to my head.

Few Americans Express Positive Views of Trump’s Conduct in Office

Hot Air: Stacey & My Mother

That’s The Ticket

Should Joe Biden win the Democratic nomination for president this year, he’ll have to — have to — select a black woman for a running mate. Stacey Abrams comes to mind. That move would create a bit of excitement in women, blacks, and the young — three groups that right now are not exactly doing cartwheels. As for me, I’d be a hell of a lot more happy to vote for him as long as he’s running with Abrams.

The Ma Factor

The current narrative among Bernie Sanders supporters runs like this: The fix is in.

See, lots of Bernie backers think the Democratic party rigged the primaries in 2016 and is even more sly and sneaky this year, all in an effort to thwart the candidacy of a man who, frankly, scares the bejesus out of Wall Street, the Goldman Sachs crowd, and whatever plutocrats toss scads of dough the Dems’ way.

The wealthy are petrified of Sanders, it is true. As they should be. The deck is stacked in their favor these days, and has been at least since 1980 when Ronald Reagan took office on a promise that every rich guy could keep his money so long as the allowed a couple of pennies every once in a while to “trickle down” to the 99 percent of us who actually have to live from paycheck to paycheck.

Sanders essentially calls for a wealth redistribution not unlike FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society programs. The Right and the Republican Party have magically transformed those sorta-controversial-at-the-time ideas into radical, revolutionary Molotov cocktails so effectively that most of the people who’d benefit from them are against them at this point. Anybody who even hints at wealth redistribution is immediately branded the second coming of Leon Trotsky, or at least Fidel Castro.

Anyway, many Bernie supporters are certain the Democratic leadership is forcing anti-Sanders-ism down people’s throats, to borrow an image that was so popular with Right Wing radio talk show hosts not terribly long ago. This theory holds that an overwhelming majority of Demcrats are four-square for Sanders, but the will of the people is being abrogated.

Bunk.

These particular Bernie supporters aren’t taking into account the fact that vast numbers of voters really are loath to a profound change in our economic system these days. A guy calling for such a dramatic rewriting of the economic rules of the game is terribly unsettling to a lot of folks.

I use my late mother as my model for this. She would never in a million years have been tempted to vote for Bernie, had she lived past the year 2014. She would have been a staunch Joe Biden supporter. Here’s why: She’d remember Biden as Barack Obama’s vice president. During the eight-year Obama term, Biden made few if any gaffes. He wasn’t caught robbing the public till. He didn’t drop the N-word. He was a good and loyal lieutenant to the first black man ever to occupy the Oval Office. Ma would feel good about him.

Ma & Dad in the backyard, circa 1964.

And Ma was a hell of a lot more in tune with the average Democratic voter than I am. I voted for Sanders in the 2016 Indiana primary. I’ll vote for him in this year’s primary too, unless by some miracle Elizabeth Warren remains in the race for the next eight and a half weeks.

Scads of Bernie people are convinced everybody wants Sanders but only some nefarious archvillain billionaires meeting in a secret cave have conceived an elaborate plot to stop him, including running a half- to a full-dozen pseudo-candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard in order to confuse poor us.

Again, bullshit. That kind of a complicated maneuver seems entirely out of character for a party that — for chrissakes — couldn’t win a national election against an unqualified, unprepared clown four years ago.

No. Sanders scares too many people. Not me, but — as I’ve said time and again these last few weeks — I in no way represent anything within a light year of the average American voter.

Hot Air: Labor & Women

My old favorite hometown newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, just signed a fab new contract with its reporters’ union. Columnist Neil Steinberg summed it all up quite nicely:

“Baby’s got new shoes!” I said, looking up from the Sun-Times this morning, where I learned that I, and everybody else at the paper, just got big ass raises. Cool.

When I was a kid my parents only brought the Sun-Times and the then-Chicago American into the house. Both were Democratic newspapers. We wouldn’t be caught dead with the Tribune in the house. And the Daily News at the time was pretty much on life-support so it really didn’t matter, although it did have Mike Royko before he began a Windy City newspaper tour to end his career. An aside: some time after Royko went to work for the Sun-Times, Australian media baron Rupert Murdoch bought the paper. As soon as the announcement was made, Royko walked a couple of blocks to the east and went to work for the Trib. He said, “”No self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in a Murdoch paper.” How prescient; Murdoch, of course, went on to bankroll Roger Ailes’ bastard child, Fox News.

Anyway, Sun-Times staffers will get a sweet raise, improved health care, paid professional development days, the commitment that the newsroom will be more diverse and equitable, and a few other things. I’m more than happy Chi. is still a multi-newspaper town. In addition to the Tribune and Sun-Times, there are the Daily Herald out of Arlington Heights and another daily suburban paper owned by the Tribune. There remains some real newspaper competition in what was once America’s premier newspaper town.

Newspapers have changed radically in the last 15 or 20 years. You used to turn to the paper to find out which pols were indicted yesterday, how many people died in the house fire, what the Cubs did last night in LA (and who hit the home runs, etc.) Now, all that detail-y stuff comes to your handheld device every freaking moment of the day so newspapers have mutated to something like the wise (or fatuous, as the case may be) old relative who comments on what you already know. I find that frustrating since I elected a couple of years ago to give up my handheld device. Now when I turn to the paper to find out who won or which alderman is going to jail this month, I have to tear through the whole thing before I can snatch a hint of detail. But that’s me.

There are local online daily news sources. In Chi., there’s Block Club Chicago, among others in that city. Here, there are a couple of noble attempts at local online news, Jeremy Hogan’s Bloomingtonian and Dave Askins’ B-Square Beacon. Ron Eid’s Limestone Post (for which I’ve been a contributor for years) has been (and Eid certainly hopes will continue to be) a several-times-a-week long-form news source. And, yeah, the Herald-Times still puts out a daily edition, but golly…, enough said about that. I was hoping to turn this communications colossus into a real news source at one time but my desire to do other projects, make a couple of bucks here and there, and my own lack of patience with…, well, people, caused me to jump off that train a while ago.

In any case, despite what nay-sayers say, journalism seems to be alive, if not exactly the indispensable pillar of democracy it once was. The profession is in a transition phase, to put the best spin on it. And the new deal between the Sun-Times and its union gives me a needed shot of optimism.

The Invisible (Wo)man

These stories just keep on coming and, in one sense, it’s heartening to see women of great accomplishment finally getting some measure of their due but, OTOH, it’s depressing, for pity’s sake, to think that so many brilliant, imaginative, hard-working women got screwed out of credit, plaudits, and even dough that they deserved while they were alive.

Here’s the tale of one Elizabeth Williams, a mathematician whose painstaking labor was responsible for the discovery of what at the time was considered the ninth planet, Pluto.

Pluto (foreground) and one of its moons, Charon.

Pluto was a wild card, its odd orbit messing with the then-accepted clockwork of the rest of the solar system. Sometimes Pluto is nearer the Sun than Neptune, sometimes, farther. It’s little chunk of ice and rock smaller than our Moon and so, back in 1930, just before it was officially observed and tracked by powerful telescopes, it was impossible to detect.

Williams worked for the astronomer Percival Lowell who, in 1905 noticed perturbations in the orbits of both Uranus and Neptune that couldn’t be explained. Lowell mulled on the problem and concluded there must be some body floating around way out there some three billion miles from the Sun. His “computer,” as female mathematicians were called in those days, amassed all the figures of distance and deviation for years and eventually predicted precisely where the unknown body would be. It was left to visual astronomers to strain their eyes against the lenses of the most powerful telescopes of the day to finally spot the dot. Pluto is so distant form the Sun (and us) that its surface temperature hovers around the -375ºF mark. Hell, that’s even colder than Ft. Wayne in January.

Some of Williams’ computations on the unknown planet.

Lowell had died by 1930 so it was left to the fellow who took over for him at his observatory, Clyde Tombaugh, to be the first human to eyeball Pluto. The newspapers and newsreels of the day went gaga over Tombaugh for expanding the solar system by one planet. No one mentioned Elizabeth Williams who, y’know, did all the goddamned work!

The vanishingly small pinpoint that moved in the two plates was Pluto.

Pluto was downgraded to dwarf planet status a few years ago. If we were to call all round objects of a size similar to Pluto orbiting the Sun planets, we’d have hundreds or even thousands of them. For now we have to be satisfied with eight major planets. Then, you have to take into account all the even smaller asteroids and comets spinning around the Sun here and there, a number that would reach into the millions.

Nevertheless, Pluto was a major discovery and, for chrissakes, Elizabeth Williams was the person who told everybody where to look. Should any women you know seem resentful or cranky when discussing their status, historical and current, keep in mind scads of people like Elizabeth Williams were ignored or worse simply because they possessed vaginas.

Elizabeth Williams

[NOTE: Another female was responsible for naming the then-ninth planet. An 11-year-old British girl named Venetia Burney, who was fascinated by classical mythology, suggested the name Pluto, the Greek god of the underworld, to her grandfather, an Oxford librarian, who in turn passed the suggestion along through a string of astronomers until it reached Tombaugh. An asteroid and a crater on Pluto have been named for her. Burney died in 2009.]

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