Hot Air: The Rich Just Got Richer

I’m pretty much over America. You?

Speaking of which, let’s talk “American Dream,” shall we?

I suppose — and the historical record bears this out — that once, long ago, back in the hazy mists of time, there was such a thing as an “American Dream,” one that was attainable by many. Not all, mind you. At various points in our checkered past, the likes of indigenous people, blacks, Jews, Chinese, Irish, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Arabs have been proscribed in one way or ten thousand others from reaping the benefits of that so-called dream.

The optimists among us — and I’ve been one of them — subscribed to the thesis put forward by Molly Ivins in the 1990s, that the history of this holy land was one of a gradual extension of Constitutional (as well as social and economic) rights to more and more of our populace as the decades rolled on. We optimists dearly embraced that proposition when Barack Obama, a black man, was elected president. Basically, we said, See?

A Dream

Chief among the perks of that American Dream were home ownership, retirement savings, a lifelong job, and the surety that one’s kids would do better, economically, than one’s self. For a large swathe of Americans, say as recently as the 1960s, that really played out.

Now, of course, that American Dream is dead. Wealth has been funneled upward in a seemingly inexorable resistance to the gravity of democratic prosperity. Homes are getting untouchable. Hell, even in places like Bloomington, Indiana, rental apartments are becoming too sky high for the average citizen. Savings? What’s that? And your kids? Good luck.

Yet we’re still dreaming, even if we all are cognizant of the fact the the American variety thereof is dead and gone. Yeah, we’re dreaming, and one of the prime proofs of it was the election of Li’l Duce as president in November, 2016.

Tens of millions of people are enraged that the American Dream is far beyond their reach, that it’s an anachronism. Yet they still believe a rich man can save us. Only a billionaire can say, “Only I can fix it,” and have an electorate believe him. That’s because we still believe uber-wealth is might, uber-wealth is right.

And, do you know what else we believe? That even though we can’t keep up with our mortgages anymore, that many of us can hardly afford a monthly rent, that too many of us need two and three jobs merely to make ends meet, we still, each and every one of us, can become a rich guy. Like Steinbeck said, “The poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

See, there is no more American Dream — only an American Pipe-dream.

Canon’s Shot

Canon’s Civvies

The fact that New Albany’s Dan Canon wore a Notorious RGB T-shirt under his dark suit and blue dress shirt as he argued Obergefell v. Hodges in the United States Supreme Court back in 2015 makes him my fave in Indiana’s 9th District race for Congress next year.

That is, fave in the sense he’s my preference. Not in the sense that he’ll win.

A certain fellow named Hollingsworth is, himself, a privileged beneficiary of the American Pipe-dream (see above) and can pay for any sized victory he’d like.

Business Is Good

Kiddie’s Car

I’m hearing high end auto repair shops in Bloomington are doing land office biz these days.

Why? Because Indiana University is turning — hell, has turned — into a destination for uber-rich Asian kids who tool around town in Maseratis and Jaguars, Teslas and even Bentleys. These kids are so loaded that they care little if they crack up their expensive wheels. They’ve got plenty of dough to fix ’em right back up.

In fact, a significant number even have enough ready cash in the form of monthly allowances that they can plop a wad down whenever they’d like on an auto salesbeing’s desk and drive out in a new princely carriage.


Hot Air: Yawm Al Jumea*

Go ahead, look it up!

Words & Lyrics

Ross Gay

Don’t miss it: Bloomington’s unofficial poet laureate, Ross Gay, and singer songwriter, Kacie Swierk, will perform live tomorrow at the Book Corner.

Gay, the award-winning professor of creative writing at Indiana University, will be reading from his bestselling Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude as well as new stuff from his forthcoming book. Swierk will play songs from her debut album, This Is Water.

Kacie Swierk

The reading/singing festivities begin at 3:00pm and will run through five o’clock. The Book Corner is located on the southeast corner of courthouse square, 100 N. Walnut St., 812.339.1522.

Old Bird Watching

A funny little memory. Then again, maybe not so funny. In fact, it’s rather sad.

A few years back, when The Loved One and I cribbed in Louisville, I used spend a lot of time in the cafe at the Barnes & Noble on the city’s east side.

At Least These Two Were Sort Of Likable.

Every single solitary time I went there, no matter if it was a Monday, a Friday, or a Sunday, there’d be these two bitter old birds sitting at one of the tables, egging each other on over how our holy land was going straight to hell. They’d have the newspapers spread out on the table before them — the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Louisville Courier-Journal — and they’d be complaining all the while about how the papers were wrong about everything and, in fact, were purveyors of the worst kind of lies. I first saw the two when we moved to the area in the spring of 2007. They were loud, opinionated, sure of everything the believed, and contemptuous of anyone who wasn’t…, well, them.

Every day I saw (and heard) them, they lamented angrily the fact that one of America’s major political parties seemed on its way to nominating a black man for president. Countless times, one would tell the other how enraged he was by all these people who were going to vote for Barack Obama because they suffered from “white guilt.”

One day in the spring of 2009, while TLO and I were in transition mode (she was already working here in Bloomington while I remained in L-ville waiting for our house to be sold) I found myself, as usual, at the B&N cafe. And, naturally, the two bitter old birds were there.

They were carping about how much dough they’d lost in the Great Recession. Just to refresh your memory (and to make the kicker clearer), the Great Recession began in December of 2007, acc’d’g to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The precipitous dip was caused, among other things, by 1) the repeal of the Glass-Steagal regulations on banks, ensuring that they keep adequate cash reserves on hand as a ratio of loans they’d extended; 2) the creation, unregulated growth, and subsequent abuse of mortgage-backed securities; 3)  an unchecked feeding frenzy at major Wall Street investment banks; 4) an enormous, unsustainable housing bubble; and 5) giddy investment in risky bonds and other financial instruments by retirement plans, mutual funds, and municipalities. The coming collapse of the world economy seemed assured in March, 2008, when the Blackstone Group, manager of the world’s biggest buyout fund, announced its profits had fallen fully 90 percent in the previous quarter. The global economists who’d predicted since as early as 2000 that the world economy was in for a mighty fall, all said I told you so, and predicted bad news from other institutions would soon follow. It did. It sure as hell did.

In any case, the seeds of the worldwide economic collapse — the effects of which are still felt, and still being remediated, to this day — had been sown many years, even decades, before the hammer came down in the summer of ’08. You may recall that the big news during that year’s presidential election was Republican candidate John McCain’s suspension of his campaign in September so he, purportedly, could focus all his attention on putting out the fire. The US stock market, which had peaked at 16,451 in May 2007 at that moment began an historic plunge, losing half its value by February, 2009.

So now you’ve got the background — and the timeline.

And on this day in the spring of 2009, the two old birds told each other the Great Recession, which had erased much of their wealth, so much so that one of them embarrassedly revealed he might have to take a part-time job to make ends meet, was the result of one thing and one thing only: the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency. They sat nodding at each other for long moments after that pronouncement was made.

Obama’s Fault!

I was tempted to shriek, What the goddamned hell is wrong with you idiots!

I didn’t. And not because I was loath to make a scene. Hell, I wanted a scene. In fact, I would have wanted one of them to to stand up and say something to me just so I could knock him down.

No, I didn’t hold my tongue because of that. I remained silent because here were two educated men — I’d overheard them talking about the top-flight universities they’d attneded — two guys who scoured the financial newspapers and all the cable news shows focusing on money, two fellows conversant in all the terminology and all the nuances of economic theory, still able to convince themselves that it was the black man who brought ruin to the global economic system.

There’s nothing I could have said that would have swayed either of them one half degree off their cherished belief.

I’ll bet the two old birds — if they’re still alive — are thrilled with our current president.

In Out Like Flynn

Domino #2

So, Michael Flynn’s going to cop a plea, eh?

Get ready for the coming mother-of-all constitutional crises, babies. President Gag surely is going to try to pull the plug on Robert Mueller’s probe into the odiferous  rectum of Li’l Duce‘s presidential campaign now.

And the Republicans, with this stinking albatross carcass hanging over their heads, most def. aren’t looking forward to the 2018 mid-term election w/ relish.

Hot Air: Mea Culpa


Just a quick observation about our president and Russia and then we’ll get to the meat of today’s post.

Image: Jon Berkeley

Here’s what I believe: The Russkies did not go out of their way to help Li’l Duce win the presidency because he and they were in agreement about what the two sides could do together once he got in the Oval Office. Tsar Putin and his boys don’t give a good goddamn about anything the now-President Gag can, should, or will do for them, mainly because it ain’t much.

They gamed the 2016 US election in his favor because they thought his election would throw the US into a kind of chaos — which it has — and because having a know-nothing blowhard as our leader would weaken us and turn a lot of our allies away from us (which it has).



Swierk (L) & Gay

Oh, and don’t forget to tune in this afternoon to Big Talk on WFHB 91.3 FM. My guests today will be poet Ross Gay and singer/songwriter Kacie Swierk. Big Talk is a regular Thursday feature of the Daily Local News at 5:00pm.

Now, then, the meat….

The Entrée: We’re All In On It

Let’s begin with the obvious: We’re all guilty. Every one of us. Men.

Guilty. I am, too. Because I am a man.

The for-profit media rage for workplace sexual harassment is a good shake out, a necessary clearing. As the lyric poet wrote, “You may expel Nature with a pitchfork….”

It is to be dearly hoped that Horace‘s  kicker line — “But Nature always returns” — won’t play here and now.

We men have been the beneficiaries of a stacked deck, the rules of which males wrote with little or no consultation with fully one half the participants in the game.

The steps to the physical courtship dance were laid down by men. Women — those who wished to engage with men in the act of bonking* — had to play by those rules.

[ *  usage of science journalist Mary Roach.]

Men, throughout the millennia, have forced sex upon women, raped them, molested them, cajoled them, lied to them, and broken every standard of decency — written by men, natch — in order to get a single night’s pleasure, or a whole series of them.

And boys and men have been taught most such taking is “manly.”

Throughout the centuries, many women came to believe this is the right and natural way as well. When you’re hammered day and night with a message, no matter if it resounds within you or not, that message takes root.

The rules were written by men because we had the muscle. We were able to take what we wanted — much as governments do to other governments, and business titans do to each other, as well as to their laborers and consumers. Strength, raw power, physical stature, plus wealth, have won out in pretty much every field of human endeavor since the moment we became human.

I like to think that now, with civilization advancing, fitfully, often taking two steps back for every one ahead, but in the long view of history moving forward toward reason and civility, the sinew factor may be losing sway.

Still, the rules of the game of sex continue to be a male conception. Men in power believe they have a divine right to sex from the women “under them,” a king’s prerogative. CEOs figure a woman who wants to advance will surely like to see him fondle his junk. Branch managers want to establish who’s boss and the best way to do it is to make a woman sexually subservient. It’s only right and natural.

Sex between men and women largely has been positioned not as an act between equals but a seizing by the mighty from the weak. Women who like sex are considered weak. Men, robust, impressive.

Even those of us males who fancy ourselves enlightened and sensitive have been tainted by this asymmetry. All we’ve been taught, from our street corner chats, our porn, the heart-to-hearts we’ve had with our parents and our pals, our priests and our social arbiters, is that a woman who fucks a lot is, at very least, suspect. A man who does the same is…, well, vigorous.

I’d like to pretend I’ve ignored this law-of-the-jungle bullshit, but I haven’t. Not really. When you’re hammered day and night….

I too have made offensive remarks. I too have leaned on women — more indirectly than otherwise, but still — in order to get near them. I too have touched women inappropriately. I’ve committed most, if not all, the sins we’re reading about in today’s papers.

That said, I consider what’s happening these days to be a bright new morning in relations between men and women — between me and women.

Why? Because, at long last, women have achieved the status and the power to begin writing some of the rules. Because women hold elective offices. They write news stories. They are branch managers and CEOs. That’s what’s happening today. Women are saying, Enough! Here’s the way it’s going to be.

They don’t want to see our junk flopped out in the office or the back room. They don’t want the boss to extort sex from them. The don’t want strangers’ hands creeping up the backs of their shirts or sneaking between their thighs.

They’re taking charge.

It’s about goddamned time. Let’s celebrate it.

A Hint Of What It’s Like

I once was forced by threat of violence — a weapon was involved — to engage in a sex act with a person. It happened one night as I walked on Belmont Ave. just off Broadway on Chicago’s North Side. I was led to a gangway.

The person who did the forcing was, for that moment, superior to me. I was robbed of all will and choice. That person was the king, possessing the prerogative, and I was weak. I had no recourse.

It happened just the once, so I was able, with ease, to compartmentalize it, to stash it away in some hidden pigeonhole of my memory. I’ve thought about it now because, I’m guessing, that’s the way women — too many of them — feel. Weak, with no recourse.

It’s a lousy way to feel. And women are placed in that position every day of their lives.

That’s why I want to celebrate this re-writing of the rules. With luck, within a generation or so, few women will have to go through life feeling this way.

Hot Air: Oh, I’m Deep

Simia Est Simia, Etiamsi Purpura Vestiatur *

One of the fascinating things about the Gag presidency is the textbook portrayal of a psychologically disturbed individual that occurs almost every time he opens his mouth.

To wit: He — and only he — called Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” back on May 23rd at a campaign rally in Albuquerque. No one since has called her that, save those who dig Li’l Duce enough to mimic his oral effluvia. Then, day before yesterday, he joked in front a bunch of Native Americans about how “they” — that dependable gang of villains referred to and depended upon for strawman-ism by all ignoramuses — “call her Pocahontas.”

The takeaway? P. Gag is incapable of distinguishing between the world inside his head and the world outside. If he thinks it, if he says it, if he does it or demands it, then the whole world is thinking, saying, doing, or demanding it.

His view of existence is infantile. The child in the crib sees the universe through the lens of self. All that exists are her/his pains, wants, pleasures, moods, and so on. Healthy kids learn quickly that’s not the reality of the world. Somehow, some way, President Gag never learned that.

We are being led by a brat. A mentally stunted one at that.

[ * From the Latin: An ape is an ape, even if dressed in royal purple.]

Caritate Patriae *

Re: The above entry — I still can’t believe this loon won the presidency of the richest, most powerful nation ever on Earth. My nation. Although, with each passing day, it becomes less and less easy for me to employ that particular modifier in reference to this holy land.

[ * Love of country.]

Ubi Bene, Ibi Patria *

[ * Where one feels good, there is one’s country.]

Sunt Pueri Pueri, Puerilia Tractant *

The hammer continues to fall on frats across the country, what with even football/basketball factory, Ohio State University, suspending all its fraternities’ activities earlier this month. Now, a couple of Indiana University boys clubs have been slapped with sanctions due to their obstinent predilection for hazing and binge drinking.

Higher Education

Once again, sure, I know several decent Joes who’ve emerged from the Greek systems at various colleges and U.’s around the country but, still, you put a gang of 18-22 y.o. males together in close quarters for nine months of the year and you’re going to get scads of jaw-dropping puerility as a result.

It’s like slamming young punks into prison and expecting them to come out of the joint polished orators and experts in etiquette.

[ * Children are children, therefore they do childish things.]

Vincit Qui Patitur *

BTW: It was a little more than two years ago– specifically the first Wednesday in November, 2015 — when I got the news I had cancer.

I recall one of the very first things I thought was, I wish I could jump ahead in time, to the day when this whole damned mess’ll be behind me.

Well — whaddya know? — here I am!

[ * Who endures, conquers.]

And, Finally…,

…quidquid Latine dictum, altum videtur. *

[ * Anything said in Latin appears profound.]

Hot Air: Tuesday Torrent

Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.

— Thucydides


The Kochs’ World

Well, well, well. Those Koch boys have gone out and bought themselves a media empire. The two ultra-Right Wingers have plopped some $650 million into the Meredith Corp.’s purchase deal for Time, Inc.

I’m getting the feeling — what with the end of net neutrality, the relaxation of media ownership regulations, and now this deal, among many, many, many other such developments — that our holy land’s news and communications industry is on an unstoppable course toward the Brave New World/1984 dystopias that Huxley & Orwell foresaw so long ago.


Oh, well, the sentient among us will come up with ways to circulate real news and considered opinion among each other but — since the vast majority of the populace has little inclination to be sentient,  only entertained — most “thought” and “knowledge” will soon be controlled by aggressive, testosterone-driven, uber-capitalists like the aforementioned freres, exclusively.


Darwin’s Kids

Smartphone Zombie

I have it on good authority that the people in charge of security at Chicago’s Columbia College, a creative and media arts school just south of the Loop, have issued an advisory to students to “keep alert.”

Now, what peril could a bunch of painters, poets, filmmakers and other such sorts be facing in an area so densely packed with people nearly 24 hours a day?

Why, scads of them are in danger of getting run over by cars. Yep. And not those driven by “terrorists” or other bad guys whose religions or skin colors differ from good Americans’.

The security alert warns: “electronics diminish your awareness.”

Hmm. So, even supposedly savvy, street-smart big city kids apparently are too stupid these days to pull their faces out of their smartphones (and their heads out of their asses, for that matter!)

Get Real

When I was a rotten little kid of, say, seven, this was precisely the type of tree and revolving color-shaded light my parents set up in the living room around two weeks before Christmas:

At the time, they bought into the whole-artificial-is better zeitgeist that’d swept America in the post-war years. There was a gag on an old episode of the Honeymooners where Ed Norton looks at some flowers and says something on the order of, “My, those are beautiful. Almost as good as the artificial kind.”

In the same vein, when the Mob had blown up the restaurant across the street from our house in 1960, the resultant pressure wave shattering every single one of our bungalow’s gorgeous, historic stained glass windows, my parents were happy to be rid of them. The Mob’s insurance man showed up at our crib the next morning and wrote out a check for them to replace their shattered fenestrations with nondescript storm windows. Ma & Dad pocketed the check happily. A decade and a half later, Ma would lament the loss of that stained glass. “What the hell were we thinking?” she’d say, again and again.

I wonder what silly, trendy thoughts of today we’ll be embarrassed about in the year 2032. I mean, besides you-know-who.

All About… Yeast?

Yeah, yeast. One of the most important forms of life on this world and — who knows? — maybe every other life-bearing planet extant. It’ll be the topic of discussion during tomorrow evening’s Science Cafe at Bear’s Place, 1316 E. 3rd St. (around the corner from Soma Coffee’s 3rd & Jordan location).

Single-cell eukaryotes (individual yeast organisms).

W/o yeast there’d be no bread or wine — or, it follows, any reason to go on living.

When making bread, my mother always used this kind…

… called cake yeast — not because you used it in cakes but because it was, well, cake-y. Me? I use powdered bread machine yeast from a jar. When Ma made her pane, the whole house for a few hours smelled like the stuff as she soaked her yeast in water, liquefying the cakes. I don’t get that particular aroma when I make my own bread.

BTW: the first time I ever drove through the city of Milwaukee, the whole damned town smelled like that — ‘course, this is back when M-town was full of breweries.

Anyway, tomorrow’s yeast maven pontificating on the little single-celled eukaryotes will be Matthew Bochman, ass’t prof in Indiana University’s Dept. of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. Betcha didn’t know the little critters were such a topic of fascination in the brainy community, did you?

Well, they are. Hell, they’re fascinating even to us lay folks. See you there. Festivities begin at 6:30pm.

Hot Air: Monday Meanderings

The Fix Is In

As long as you can’t get a fair shake in this holy land, as long as there are too few well-paying jobs left, as long as people need two or more dead-end gigs to make ends meet, and as long as Congress can’t seem to do anything about it, you might as well settle for channelling all your rage toward millionaire football players who kneel during the national anthem.

That’ll fix things.

Washington Then, Washington Now

I gushed yesterday about my favorite mayor of all time, Chicago’s Harold Washington.

Former editor extraordinaire Linda Oblack, among the loyalest of loyal Pencillistas, read the bit and pointed out Ira Glass of This American Life, himself a Chi-towner, did an hour-long love letter to the late mayor back in 1997. The TAL piece marked the ten-year anniv. of Washington’s untimely death. Ten years after that, Glass updated the piece just as another Chicagoan, Barack Obama, was kicking off his run for the presidency.


I asserted yesterday that it can be said Washington’s success as mayor — the city didn’t blow itself to smithereens as some had feared if a black man took the Fifth Floor office — made it possible for Obama to become this holy land’s C-in-C. Tom Bradley of Los Angeles had preceded Washington by ten years as chief executive of one of America’s three biggest cities, but no one’s ever viewed LA as a normal place. I mean, it’s where the likes of the Manson Family, the Beverly Hillbillies, Chyna, the Captain and Tenille, Pauly Shore, Michael Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, the Kardashians, Morton Downey Jr., and Mamie Van Doren hold (or have held) sway. So whatever happens in LA means nothing to the rest of America.

But when Washington ran Chi. and the city flourished, white America — at least a portion of it — sat back and thought Hey, maybe these colored guys ain’t so bad after all.

That sliver of microscopically enlightened white America helped propel Obama to the White House.

And, speaking of the White House, its current occupant and Harold Washington had something in common. Something big and unmistakable. Each spoke (or speaks) fearlessly, with little regard to repercussion, pronouncing what he thought (thinks) was (is) an eternal and inarguable truth. President Gag spews whatever effluvium — it isn’t worth rehashing his bombast here — but Washington spoke truth to power, indicting rhetorically a Chicago Democratic machine that screwed over its loyal black base and a Chicago Police Department that routinely brutalized dark-skinned youths, among other bête noires of les noirs Chicago.

The essential diff., of course, is Li’l Duce is an imbecile whereas Harold Washington was brainy and supremely articulate.


So, here’s the podcast of Glass’s This American Life piece on Washington. It’s a hoot:




I’m reading a book entitled The Biological Universe right now. Author Steven J. Dick, an astronomer and proud child of Evansville, Indiana, who at various times in his life has served as historian for NASA as well as the US Naval Observatory, takes a look at all the possibilities that life may indeed exist in places other than this mad, mad world.

Steven J. Dick

Dick, BTW, is the uncle of a pal of mine, Chris Chandler, who’s a digital producer at WLKY-TV in Louisville. Chris brought Uncle Steve over to the Pencil’s alternate HQ, Hopscotch, last spring, for the sole purpose of meeting me. Chris figured correctly that I — a space geek of the highest nerd order — would be thrilled to meet a guy with his uncle’s pedigree. The author signed my copy of his book and I sat outside on the Hopscotch porch just goggling the man as he spun tales about astronauts and rockets he’d know.

Anyway, the conclusion one must come to when considering extraterrestrial life is this whole shebang, this cosmos, this everything, is made for life. Indeed, fostering life just may be its raison d’etre.

Which reminds me. When I was a punk teenager, and even back before those primordial days, UFOs were the big thing. TV newscasts often featured breathless accounts of UFO’s sighted and the panics and hazy suppositions that ensued. A fellow named J. Allen Hynek made himself into a minor celebrity by giving credence to UFO spotters in the post-World War II era. He was even cameo’d in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Not a Documentary

In the ’60s and ’70s, a slew of grocery store bestsellers about long-ago visits to Earth by dudes from another planet came out. The champion author of such tomes was a fellow named Erich von Däniken. The erstwhile Swiss thief, fraudster, and embezzler penned such blockbusters as Chariots of the Gods? and Gods from Outer Space, the gists of which were humans were a bunch of grunting primates who were elevated to our present level of brilliance by aliens who visited the Earth tens of thousands of years ago. Much of the general public gobbled his stuff up. Others, like Carl Sagan, were a little less infatuated. Sagan wrote:

That writing as careless as von Däniken’s, whose principal thesis is that our ancestors were dummies, should be so popular is a sober commentary on the credulousness and despair of our times. I also hope for the continuing popularity of books like Chariots of the Gods? in high school and college logic courses, as object lessons in sloppy thinking. I know of no recent books so riddled with logical and factual errors as the works of von Däniken.

No matter — von Däniken’s books were hot sellers and the topics of Sunday dinner conversations from one end of this holy land to the other. There also were Whitley Streiber’s Communion and the books, TV shows, and talk show appearance based on the case of Barney and Betty Hill, a New England couple who claimed they were abducted by aliens. Alien abduction became a huge deal in the ’70s with reports surfacing seemingly every other day of hapless citizens being snatched by interstellar hoodlums who, for some odd reason, loved to probe human anuses. A Roper Poll in the ’90s indicated as many as four million Americans believed they’d been abducted by aliens and then released. It got to the point that people who hadn’t been snatched off lonely roads in the middle of the night were feeling left out.

The Hills

Then, suddenly, talk about UFOs and ancient astronauts died out. Why, I don’t know.

Now, with the discovery of new exoplanets every week and improvements in telescopic and radio technology, it seems a cinch that life outside our solar system will be discovered sooner rather than later. With the current rage for anti-science and the populace’s invigorated addiction to credulousness, just imagine how people are going to react to that news.

Hot Air: Wealth, Protein & Harold

That’s Rich

The big news: Black Friday obsessive/compulsive consumer sales were so fabulous and Amazon’s share of same was so deliciously big that the company’s stock soared and founder/owner Jeff Bezos is now — get this — a one-hundred-billionaire.

That’s right. The online caliph’s personal net worth has reached 12 figures, making him the richest son of a bitch alive.

You wanna know how a guy gets to be the richest son of a bitch alive? By devoting his heart and soul — and those of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of others (whether they like it or not) — to the enlargement of his own purse.

Now, that might seem a rather elementary conclusion. I consider it a necessary statement to make considering most news outlets, wits, wags, and politico-religious figures hereabouts will be singing Bezos’ praises as if his cornering of the planet’s wealth is some kind of blessed achievement.

It’s not.

Watch Your Language

Okay, “Protein” Works Better Than This

Personal to fast food outlets: It’s meat okay? I want beef or chicken on my sandwich. A meat, see?

Not freakin’ protein.

All living organisms on Earth are protein-based, okay?

What next? Instead of asking me if I want white, wheat, or rye, are they going to say, “And what kind of gluten/carb do you want that on?”


Harold’s Day

Yesterday, November 25, was the 30th anniversary of the death of my favorite mayor ever, the Honorable Harold Washington of Chicago. Thirty years! Holy cats!

Harold was the symbol of Chicago’s rejuvenation, after pretty much all American big cities had gone to hell — in the public’s perception (especially the white public’s) — during the Sixties and ’70s. The election of Harold was a stunner. He and Richard M. Daley (son of Chicago’s late boss) challenged sitting mayor Jane M. Byrne in the 1983 Democratic primary. Daley and Byrne split the white vote (for which a lot of white Chicagoans never forgave Daley) and Harold emerged victorious. It was as earth shattering an upset as that of a certain current occupant of the White House, although that man’s victory was on a technicality and, to this day, makes me want to retch.

Washington (L) debates Daley & Byrne.

Anyway, Harold went on to face the Republican candidate, a liberal Jew named Bernie Epton (and, yes, there was such a thing in the hazy past as a liberal Republican). Tens of thousands of white Chicagoans overcame their dearly-held anti-semitism to vote for Epton rather than marking their ballots for a man from an ethnic group they despised even more than the Jews. Epton’s campaign employed the slogan Epton for Mayor… Before It’s Too Late!, a clear racist appeal. For his part, Epton lamented after the election that he was uncomfortable with that sentiment — although that didn’t stop him from allowing his precinct workers to hammer it home night and day.

Epton campaigning on Michigan Avenue. (Image: Lee Balterman]

Election day in April brought scads of new voters to the polls. Washington backers had registered more than a hundred thousand new voters, inspired by a black man’s presence on the ballot. During the election, Republicans and turncoat Dems whispered loudly about a couple of brushes with the law Harold had had in his past — one true, the other an ugly lie. The true criminal rap against Harold was that he’d served 40 days in Cook County Jail on charges of failure to submit federal income tax returns for a number of years. He had, though, paid all his taxes, so the rap was for his paperwork oversight. Many suspect Harold had intentionally neglected to file because he was, for a number of years, serving as his father’s personal money launderer. Old man Washington, it seems, had been a South Side numbers (or “policy wheel“) kingpin. The two, the story goes, figured it’d be better for the son to face a failure to file rap than for the father to be pinched for his organized crime activities. Normally, a failure to file charge would result in a fine and a stern lecture from the IRS, but since Harold was a polarizing figure in the Illinois State Legislature at the time, Chicago bosses (read: Mayor Richard J. Daley) fixed it so he’d have to serve time.

In any case, most Harold supporters shrugged when informed of their guy’s criminal record. Harold haters, on the other hand, squealed in glee when they were informed by doorbell-ringing canvassers that Harold had been imprisoned for child molestation, specifically young boys, in the murky past. The fact that tale was conceived out of whole cloth meant nothing to them as they pledged to make their parents and grandparents spin in their graves by voting for a Jew.

Some 81 percent of Chicago’s white voters went for Epton while three percent of its blacks pulled his lever in the general election. Harold won by 40,000 votes out of more than 1.2 million cast. His term in office brought city services and recognition to neighborhoods that had for decades been neglected by white administrations. Somehow, during the four-plus years Harold was in office, the city did not slide into Lake Michigan or go belly up or suffer any of the apocalypses the anti-Harold faction had predicted.

Outside the Mayor’s office after he’d died. [Image: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune]

What did happen was Harold ate himself to death. By the time he was re-elected in 1987 he’d gained an enormous amount of weight. Then, the day after before Thanksgiving, he was meeting in his office with his press secretary around midday when he dropped a pencil. He leaned over in his chair to pick it up and, when he failed to straighten up again, his PR man, Alton Miller, realized the mayor was in deep trouble. Harold was dead the moment he bent over. Heart attack. The city’s medical examiner later expressed astonishment at the size of Harold’s enlarged heart after performing an autopsy on him.

Conspiracy theorists immediately screeched that Harold had been poisoned to death. They were the same folks who claimed Cook County Hospital doctors had injected black babies with the AIDS virus, just for kicks.

City Hall was never so lively and colorful as when Harold reigned from the Fifth Floor. One fellow I knew, the street-corner philosopher and columnist for Chicago’s LGBTQ press, Jon Henri Damski, once observed, “They hated him not because he’d gone to bed with boys or men, but because he went to bed with a book.”

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Harold’s term in office changed Chicago — even its fear-of-a-black-planet whites. They realized life in the city went on despite the presence of a black mayor. In fact, under Harold, Chicago experienced the greatest downtown building boom in its history — even as residents of Garfield Park and Englewood started getting their garbage picked up regularly and their potholes filled. The nation watched, too, and realized the same thing.

It can be said the election of Harold Washington as Chicago mayor led directly to the election of America’s first black president a quarter of a century later.

Hot Air: Not Neutral On Net Neutrality

What Concrete & WiFi Have In Common

Allow me to explain — as I understand things — why the big corporations that are lobbying for an end to net neutrality are full of shit.

Pay or don’t — it’s up to you.

AT&T’s flacks, for instance, earlier this year in a public comment to the FCC said the Obama-era net neutrality ruling was “an unprecedented regulatory overreach for which there is no economic or marketplace justification.”

Unprecedented? Really?

No. Not really.

The simplest analogy is the automobile. You go out and buy whatever hot rod you see fit, depending on your tastes and budget and your belief in advertisements that imply you’ll be able to get laid every day and night of the week if you buy our model station wagon. So now the car is yours. You start it up and drive on any road — every road — you wish to whatever destination you care to go. You can drive to Wal-Mart, Hopscotch, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Mount Rushmore, the hospital, a Nevada bordello, a Colorado pot store, or even around courthouse square a thousand times in a row, should you be so inclined. With rare exceptions (toll roads and bridges, etc.), everyone gets to access every roadway for the same price (usually free).

Call it pavement neutrality.

Now let’s look at the internet. You go out and buy whatever computer and modem you wish, depending on your tastes and budget. You plug the shebang into the internet and — voila! — you’re in contact with pretty much everybody else in the world. You can surf sites like this global communications colossus, Wonkette, Lawyers, Gun & Money, Xhamster (this one’s hard core porn; if you need to check it out, do your own search for it), Bleed Cubbie Blue, InfoWars, TheBlaze, WorldNetDaily, Democracy Now!, PolitiFact, ProPublica, Zappo’s, Abe Books, The Oatmeal — the list goes on seemingly forever. With rare exceptions (paywalls, etc.) everyone gets access to every website for the same price (whatever your monthly broadband bill is).

That’s net neutrality.

The marketplace rules for cars are so designed that the pavement is accessible to the vast majority of people who can afford gas, insurance, and upkeep. Under net neutrality, the internet is accessible to the vast majority of people who can shell out the monthly broadband fee.

Over the 120 or so years that cars have been roaring across our planet’s landscapes, laws have been written, government regulations enforced, economic strictures adhered to, and traditions upheld in the service of ensuring free access to the pavement for (almost) all.

The end of net neutrality will surely give license to predatory ISP’s to fleece customers trying to get to sites that are either necessary in this modern world or that people are aching (for whatever reason) to get to. That’s the way capitalism works.

It’d be like Bloomington making you pay a hefty fee to drive up the 100 block of North Walnut Street or Chicago charging you to cruise the Magnificent Mile — which would happen if we let private outfits own and control the streets.

So, AT&T, unprecedented? Uh-uh. You’re full of shit.

Pay To Pave

Public Works On The Public Dime

One more thing: governments — local, state, and federal — built all those roads just so you can hop in your Corvette and dash over to the Circle K for a box of Pop Tarts™ whenever the mood strikes you. If we really wanted to follow precedent, our cities, counties, states, and the entire US would be engaged in a massive construction project, wiring every inch of this land for internet service, à la the century-plus long building project that has resulted in a network of streets and highways from one end of this holy land to  the other.

Whose Ox Is Gored?

BTW: this one’s a slam dunk: When it comes to politicians being named in the current corporate media rage for workplace sexual bullying, if it’s a Republican being fingered, the Left-leaning alternative news sites go all giddy over it, and if it’s Dem, the Right-side polemicists, jump for joy.


Correspondingly, the behavior of the Left’s heroes who grab tits and pressure young maidens for sex are rationalized or otherwise excused. Same thing, vice versa.

There are a few news and opinion outlets that come down hard on accused perpetrators from both sides of the aisle but, honestly, they’re about as rare as a billionaire with a soul.

It makes you want to stay away from social media, where each side’s alternative news sites’ screaming headlines are posted to the brink of nausea. And, yeah, I do often take a few days’ break from social media. I consider it time off for mental health.

I Want To Thank You

Hot Air: Thanks But No Thanks

It’s A Crime

Mashrou’ Leila

There was talk after the recent Mashrou’ Leila show at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The Lebanese alternative rock band is notorious in the Middle East for its confrontational and subversive songs. Perhaps most infuriating of all to certain Middle East tyrannical regimes is band front man Hamed Sinno’s open homosexuality. The chatter after the band’s Bloomington gig on November 8th centered around Egypt’s latest crackdown on gays.

The Egyptian government of late has decided that ridding the ancient land of homosexuals would go a long way toward making this crazy, mixed-up world a better place. Whether such strategy would clean up the planet’s air and water or promote world — or even regional — peace is left unsaid. In any case, Egyptian cops are engaging in clever ruses like posting come-hither messages on social media and gay meet-up sites, luring men to designated places and then slapping the bracelets on them for the crime of “habitual debauchery.”

Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt but law-enforcement authorities won’t let a triviality like that stop them. After the men are thrown in jail, acc’d’g to multiple sources, they undergo intrusive physical examinations including tests to determine if they’ve recently engaged in anal sex. I’d imagine these tests are only effective for catchers, as opposed to pitchers, which makes perfect sense. After all, a participant who gets it is the bad guy; the one who gives it is…, well, merely doing what men do.

Twitter Image: @hithamalkashif

Anyway, Mishrou’ Leila played a big show in Cairo, Friday night, September 22nd. At one point during the proceedings, a few audience members down in front unfurled a rainbow flag. The flag raising was posted on Twitter. Next thing anybody knew Egyptian TV and newspaper opinionators as well as aghast politicians were screaming bloody murder. The following Monday, the Egyptian national prosecutor ordered the arrests of seven people. The seven were rounded up and tossed in the slammer where, presumably, their nether orifices were eyeballed. In addition, one concert-goer, it was reported, had been pinched on his way home from the show and charged with “debauchery,” apparently for getting a little hotted up with a same-sex partner. Why only one of the participants therein was clipped has not been explained, but it’s safe to assume the aforementioned pitcher-catcher dichotomy was in force. The man already has been tried and convicted. He is now serving a six-year prison sentence. Justice is awfully swift in Egypt

For all the rotten madness going on in this holy land these days, GLBTQI Americans are not being jailed for their indulgences. Oh sure, gay and trans men and lesbians are being beaten to pulps here and there but at least such extra-judicial corrective actions are not being sanctioned by local or national police forces. Hate crimes of that sort are the acts being prosecuted on these shores, not acts of love.

Hell, it’s Thanksgiving week and I’ve got to find something positive to be thankful for in 2017 America.

Let’s Talk Science

● Hello Out There!

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been going on for decades. It’s only reasonable, considering terrestrial intelligence is in such short supply. The very act itself is embodied in the name of the world’s foremost group (the SETI Institute) looking for signals from alien creatures who’ve mastered the arts of electromagnetic communications as well as those of watching and listening.

Now comes a gang doing the same thing in reverse: METI International (for Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has sent a communique out toward a little star system known as GJ 273, a red dwarf around which circles a couple of Earth-like planets that seem to be in its Goldilocks zone. That is, the planets lie within a region around their host star that conceivably could be supportive of life.

Luyten’s Star [Artist’s Conception]

GJ 273, AKA Luyten’s Star, is a mere 12.36 light years from us. Before you pack the station wagon in hopes of making a quick jaunt there, keep in mind each light year is the equivalent of 5,879,000,000,000 Earth miles. Those are trillions, just to hammer the point home.

Acc’d’g to Einstein and Morley and Michelson and all the rest of the spacetime geeks who determined such things, a radio signal travels at the speed of light, and a light year is the amount of roadway a beam of light travels per annum, so the METI love letter won’t hit Luyten’s Star until sometime in the year 2029. It’s hoped some sharp-eyed and/or -eared Luytenian will catch the message and send a response back, which itself will take another 12 years to get to us. So we won’t know if the METI message has been received and decoded until at least 2041.

I’ll be 85 years old then and — I hope (I suppose) — still kicking. And, man, I’ll get a hell of a kick out of the news that smart guys live on a nearby planet.

Won’t you?

● A Changing Climate May Have Brought The Trumps To America

File this under Ironic.

Our climate change denier-in-chief is a big orange ball of contradictions, natch. He reached the White House largely by demonizing immigrants even though his family came to this holy land, like all other white families, by, um, immigrating here.

German Immigrants

Now it turns out the reason the Trump (or Drumpf) clan sailed to America could have been because the climate in their native region of Germany was — get ready for it — changing!

Yep. Here’s a snippet from a Science Daily post about a study of German immigration to America 150-175 years ago:

In the 19th century, over 5 million Germans moved to North America. It was not only a century of poverty, war and revolutions in what is now Germany, but also of variable climate. Starting at the tail end of the cold period known as the Little Ice Age, the century saw glacier advances in the Alps, and a number of chilly winters and cool summers, as well as other extreme weather events such as droughts and floods.

“Overall, we found that climate indirectly explains up to 20-30% of migration from Southwest Germany to North America in the 19th century,” says Rüdiger Glaser, a professor at the University of Freiburg, Germany, and lead-author of the Climate of the Paststudy.

Now, climate change deniers’ll howl that climate change has been a feature of our planet since it came together out of that orbiting mass of rocks, dust, and sundry space detritus some four and half billion years ago. That, of course, isn’t the point. Humans have only been obsessive-compulsively burning fossil fuels — and frying the planet — since the onset of the Industrial Age in the mid-18th Century and the recent upsurge in temps is surely related to that.


Healing Words

Do me a favor: Drop whatever you’re doing and check out my latest Big Mike’s B-town in the Limestone Post.

This month’s feature focuses on Osunbimbe Abegunde, also known as Dr. Maria Hamilton Abegunde, visiting lecturer in Indiana University’s African American & African Diaspora Studies Department.

Abegunde helps the descendants of slaves and other folks who’ve been traumatized either directly or historically heal by writing.

Big Mike’s B-town is a regular feature in Bloomington’s premier online magazine, Limestone Post.


One glorious day, conservative icon and commentator William F. Buckley invited the esteemed theoretician Julius Henry Marx onto his public television program, Firing Line.

The two squared off in a formal, moderated debate. The topic: Is the World Funny?

Well, sure, Julius Henry Marx was none other than Groucho Marx. And he more than held his own against the revered orator.


Hot Air: The Life & Death Of A News Story

The way corporate media works is a few reporters or even, occasionally, a single one find out about some certain event or disaster or transgression and break the story. Then all the rest of the for-profit media outlets — especially TV news operations — turn the biggest or most salacious of the stories into a 24-hour circle jerk.

That’s what is happening now with the workplace sexual abuse story.


Then, after a few weeks, the consumer public grows weary of the story. Sometimes they even grow angry with it, their rage shifting from the perpetrator(s) to the messengers.

That’s what will happen with the workplace sexual abuse story.

I bet the way it’ll come down is some beloved male figure will be accused of grabbing some intern’s breasts or cracking a joke about the length of his dick, and a wellspring of evidence will arise that the incident never happened. Let’s say it’s Tom Hanks. Some five-degrees-off-the-center-of-sanity young woman will make the charge, it’ll be easily refuted, and, suddenly, Tom Hanks and his nearly holy rep will become the story rather than the gazillions of women who’ve come forward to make real, provable charges against other lunkheads.

That’ll be the death knell of the workplace sexual abuse story.

You just watch.

A New Day

BTW: Don’t fret that the recent revelations of asshole-ishness, ranging from Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose, will go for naught. Uh-uh.

Ancient History (Hopefully)

My guess is the tipping point not only has been reached but, sooner rather than later, it will be so far in the past that we won’t be able to see it with a telescope.

Workplace sexual abuse is dead, babies. Anybody stupid enough to try it now will suffer a deserved firing and public humiliation, just not on a national news level. Branch managers and community theater directors, fire department deputy battalion chiefs, restaurant shift supervisors, and all the rest of the heretofore petty tyrants who thought it was a riot to make fish market jokes around women co-workers or underlings will, for the sake of self-preservation, abstain from being dickheads from now on.

You just watch.

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