Hot Air: Our Two Faces

The 2020 presidential election is still up in the air as I type this.

Old Joe Biden is about 3 million actual votes ahead of Li’l Duce and leads the incumbent by a 248-214 Electoral College count.

From The Guardian at 4:20 PM EST, Wednesday, November 4, 2020.

Nevertheless, it’s nearly 24 hours after many polls closed and we still don’t know who’ll be taking the oath of office next January. A candidate needs 270 EC votes to win. The actual vote count is relatively irrelevant, something we have to remedy but won’t until a Republican wins the popular vote but loses the EC. Then we’ll see some action.

Anyway, President Gag already has amassed 4 million more votes than he did four years ago. This despite everything he’s done during his term in office: withdrawing from the Paris Accords; quitting the Iran-nuclear pact; dismantling many, if not most, federal agencies; trying to throttle the Postal Service; calling for a return to the darkest days of the nuclear arms race; voiding or annulling hundreds of environmental protections. The insults. The bizarre behavior. The obsessive tweeting. The pussy grabbing. The mocking of the handicapped reporter. The utter lack of respect for John McCain’s prisoner of war experience and the Muslim family’s tragic loss of a US soldier. The comical, if it wasn’t so awful, mishandling of the coronavirus crisis.

Some 67.7 million people at this hour have iterated that they want him as their leader, him as the symbol of America, him to steer the course of this holy land.

Perhaps Old Joe is on his way to victory. The Democrats will keep the House and just may take control of the Senate (although I wouldn’t bet on it).  Even so, more people went for P. Gag than did in 2016.

All this proves one thing: we are a divided nation, almost irreparably so. There are two Americas right now. One that says, beaming proudly, when they cast their gaze upon Li’l Duce, “There goes my leader.” The other, discouraged and fretful, says, “There goes my country.”

Hot Air: A New Perspective

Our long national nightmare may be over and done with after the polls close tomorrow. National? Hell, it’s been a planetary nightmare, for pity’s sake!

Then again, let me tweak the above statement a bit. Tomorrow may signal the beginning of the end of the nightmare, something I’ve been warning about for months. My pal Jeff Isaac cites this piece, making the same point in the conservative-lite website The Bulwark.

The point is even if Li’l Duce gets his well-deserved ass-whipping tomorrow, he’ll still be in office for another 89 days, plenty of time for him to dismantle our democratic republic even more than he has already.

So, to torture the analogy further, for the next two and a half months we may be trying to rouse ourselves out of the the troubled sleep we’ve been in since 2016 even as the gremlins and ogres and monsters and swarms of rats and bees, the falling from an airplane, the drowning in the backyard pool, the being caught naked outdoors, the looming high school semester final you’re not prepared for — all the beastly terrors that torment us as we repose in the arms of Morpheus — continue to flood our half-awake imaginations.

But, beginnings are good. Throwing President Gag’s sorry carcass out of the White House tomorrow at the polls will only be a start but, of course, a journey of a thousand miles…, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I realize I’m about to stun into catatonia the loyal followers of this global communications colossus but the hellish Trump regime just may have done something good for us. Not good in the sense of, say, ending world hunger or curing one or another of the cancers but, like the journey that begins with a first step, even the slightest good is a net positive.

Here’s the good thing: the presidency of one Donald John Trump has put politics in perspective for those of us who reside, metaphorically, on my side of the fence. See, when I first came to this bizarre state back in 2009, the Democrats, the liberals, the progressives and everybody else to the left of Dan Quayle (Hah! Bet you hadn’t thought of that name in decades.) viewed the relatively innocuous likes of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as the second coming of Joseph Stalin. Then, when Mitt Romney, Barack Obama’s white clone, challenged the incumbent president in 2012, we all gasped in horror that he’d take a page from Pol Pot and turn America into a westernized Killing Field. I’m exaggerating, natch, but not by as much as you might think.


We ran around like chickens sans tetes, worrying about the hell in a hand basket we were surely falling into under the malignant watch of Daniels or the putative reign of Romney. And what of John McCain, who ran the first broadside against Obama in 2008? He was close enough to his opponent on the political spectrum to flash him a subtle wink yet, in our petrified eyes, a win by him would surely have turned this holy land into a tyranny, or at least into another c. 1960s Alabama.

It must be conceded, though, that McCain selected as his running mate an unprepared, incurious, anti-intellectual dingbat of a half-term Alaska governor — and a wannabe beauty queen and aspiring small potatoes TV talking head at that. Sarah Palin was the Republican Party’s failed experiment in creating a franken-candidate, although they did learn from their mistake, bringing us to their successful model, our current president.

And herein lies the aforementioned good thing. Now we know what happens when the American electorate elects on a whim the worst possible person to take the reins of government. We get a vengeful, impulsive, ignorant, corrupt, pathological liar who appeals to all the worst instincts in humanity.

This, my friends, is what we should have been living in terror of for the last 25-50 years. The likes of Mitch Daniels and Mitt Romney were merely guys whose philosophy of governing were different than ours. Yet we shrieked and moaned about them as if they were sexual predators, tinpot dictator wannabes, and Constitutional vandals. Sickos. Terrorists in business suits. Family dynasty progenitors. All of which, BTW, we wound up getting in one package, known unaffectionately herein as Li’l Duce.

My guess is as P. Gag goes down in flames tomorrow, his party (if they have any sense about them at this point, which is a consideration after all) will commence to mend their ways and revert to something resembling a norm.

And, should that occur, mirabile dictu, we won’t have to live in panic at the prospect of every single Republican coming down the pipe. I say this even though I am deeply committed never, ever to vote for one so long as the party refuses to back the ERA, continues to appeal to white supremacists, pretends climate catastrophe hasn’t begun yet, and fights tooth and claw against universal, single-payer health care.

From now on, it is to be profoundly hoped, we won’t view all Republicans as a Stalin, even if their current top dog fancies himself a Putin.


Hot Air: Show’s Over

I’ve been so petrified by the rise and rule of Li’l Duce, fearing a hostile takeover of the US by him and his family, that the only logical outcome of his arrival on the scene escaped me. His people are getting tired of his act. They want to change the channel.

He’s never been anything but a cheap TV star, the 2010s version of Milton Berle. The TV audience ate him up and snickered in everybody else’s faces when he did the most outlandish things. But even his base is falling asleep in front of the TV (that is, except for the radical militia terrorists and the dyed-in-the-wool racists — they’re with him until the end of time). More people tuned in to Biden’s snooze-fest than Trump’s burlesque show. That’s just one piece of evidence bolstering my argument. Another is the long, long, long, long, long long, long lines at polling places across America.

Nobody in my lifetime has driven more people to the polls than President Gag. I’d like to kick them all in their asses for voting for him in the first place in ’16, or opting to sit that election out, but let’s bygones be bygones. We’re seeing a national cancellation of the show.

Hot Air: Freedom & Courage

A couple of thoughts, one each for the concepts of freedom and courage.

First, in this topsy-turvy 2020, the word freedom is bandied about almost exclusively by Right Wingers who want to carry semi-automatic weapons into Subway shops (where they can buy sandwiches made with a substance that at least one country has declared not to be bread) and more of them — Right Wingers, natch — who can’t bear the tyranny of having to wear face masks during a global pandemic.

This is a new paradigm inasmuch as, when I was a pup just coming into awareness of national and world events, the freedom heralders and carolers were almost exclusively on the Left. Republicans weren’t calling for freedom in the 1960s; no, hippies and anti-war protesters and civil rights activists and drug culture aficionados were shouting the word from every rooftop.

Again, in the now, those who agitate for, say, racial equality and marijuana decriminalization rarely, if ever, use the term. It has been snatched and owned by The Other Side.

What Does She Stand For?

The truth is, freedom means everything and anything and, as such, really means nothing. You realize, of course, that every single nation, today and in decades past, has crowed, in so many words, that it is the lone and most vigilant defender of freedom on the globe.

What do you think the architects of the Third Reich told their followers about their nation? That it was a crushing dictatorship? Hell no! Dr. Goebbels and the rest of the Nazi big shots all told their fellow Germans that they were free people, that if push came to shove and war broke out, good Germans would be putting their lives on the line for their own freedom. The government of Putin’s Russia tells its constituents they have freedom. Same with Kim’s North Korea. Everybody’s free in their own country; those who aren’t free, the poor slobs, live elsewhere. That’s a universal on this planet.

American Black people fought overseas in the Philippines, World Wars I & II, and on the Korean peninsula even as, at home, they were yoked under Jim Crow laws, legalized voter suppression, and the rotting, ancient remnants of Reconstruction-era apartheid. Those American Black people told themselves they were fighting for freedom. Perhaps, as I’ve written herein before, they actually believed they were fighting for some vague promise of freedom. No such promise seemed forthcoming for American women — Black or white — in the 1940s, though. They rolled up their sleeves and worked in factories for the cause of freedom (they would have gladly informed you) even though the vast majority of them couldn’t own homes under their own names and were compelled by law to submit to sex with their husbands even if the latter were stinking drunk and/or stinking, period.

So what does freedom mean?

I’ll be damned if I know.


Here’s the case of an Indiana woman who lost her job because she told a couple of newspaper reporters a truth.

Kimberley Jackson was a discharge planner for NeuroBehavioral Hospital in Crown Pointe. The New York Times was doing a piece on “patient dumping,” the practice of nursing homes to eject patients who are no longer “profitable.” These extended care facilities transport patients to hospital emergency rooms when, for instance, they need care above and beyond the absolute minimum a for-profit corporation is willing to provide or their extended care coverage is running low or even if their personal wealth is becoming, shall we say, insufficient.

The nursing facilities come up with any and all excuses to label such patients as as in need of immediate extraordinary care (they’re too often not) so they must send them to the ER. Once there, the patients are now the hospital’s problem. The extended care facility has effectively washed its hands of them.

Just Leave ’em There.

I suppose the practice makes good business sense but, in terms of human decency and health care, it sucks. The patients find themselves in a limbo, banned by the nursing home and not all all in need of emergency care. What would happen to them? Who knows? Worse, who cares?

Kimberley Jackson appears to have cared.

By the way, being a discharge planner does not imply that Jackson was responsible for people’s bowel, bladder, sputum, and bleeding schedules. Jackson’s job was to help patients who either stayed at her hospital or had visited its emergency room find proper care after they left the place. Hospitals these days run on an assembly line system: Get ’em in, fix ’em up, and get ’em the hell outta here as quickly as possible. That, hospital administrators have determined, is good business. As such there must be some professional in each hospital who helps patients and their families figure out how they’re going to be cared for, properly, once they’re shown the door.

So she’s quite familiar with the plight of people who been evicted from nursing homes and dumped on her hospital’s doorstep.

As such, she told NYT reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Rachel Abrams how her particular hospital responded to the practice. I should say, her former hospital. She was fired for blabbing to the reporters.

Jackson says she didn’t know it was her hospital’s policy for unauthorized employees never to speak with the media about goings-on there. I don’t buy it; everybody who works in a hospital has it pounded into them from day one that they are to STFU when reporters come nosing around. That way, nobody’ll divulge any potentially embarrassing details. Hospitals, being for-profit businesses (even when they label themselves non-profits) have, after all, brands to protect. Those, my friends, too often are viewed as equally vital to a hospital’s interests as the public’s health.

More likely, Jackson was so repulsed by the patient dumping practice that she felt compelled to reveal all to the reporters and damn the torpedoes. Either way, Jackson showed real courage is speaking with Silver-Greenberg and Abrams.

Jackson was a whistleblower. For my dough, whistleblowers have 23 times more guts then a whole platoon-full of semi-automatic rifle-wielding militiamen.

He Can Learn A Thing Or Two About Courage.

Hot Air: Football & TV, A Sacred Union

Just a week ago last night one of this holy land’s cultural touchstones celebrated its 50th anniversary. Hard to believe for a lot of people of my generation (and older) but Monday Night Football first aired on ABC-TV September 21, 1970. Since then the network television colossus has presented somewhere in the vicinity of 700 football games.

Joe Namath Calls the Signals During the First Monday Night Football Game.

Funny thing was, no network really wanted any part of it. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle went begging to the three main networks at the time — CBS, NBC, and ABC — and came away with an empty hat. None of the nets wanted to mess up its regular prime time schedule, especially on a Monday night when middle class America began settling in for the week in front of their TVs after work. ABC in 1970 was the lowest rated of the three networks so Rozelle hammered hard at it. He told ABC honchos he was prepared to sell the idea of prime time football to the Hughes Television Network, an independent entity dreamed up by wealthy loon Howard Hughes who’d envisioned it as a fourth player in the coast-to-coast TV scene. Just a couple of years before, Hughes had tried to purchase a controlling stake in ABC and was rebuffed, leading him to want to stick it to the company. ABC, afraid it might even be overtaken by the nascent Hughes operation, grudgingly signed a contract with the NFL and threw together a trio of booth announcers, a novel idea. for the first game.

One of those announcers was a lawyer from New York City named Howard Cosell, a loud, annoying, tell-it-like-it-is kind of a guy who’d ridden the coattails of a young Cassius Clay. In 1960 Clay (later, Muhammad Ali) won the heavyweight boxing gold medal at the Rome Olympics. Cosell’s announcing of his subsequent professional bouts made him as famous as the fighter. Cosell’s Wikipedia page describes him thusly:

Cosell’s style of reporting transformed sports broadcasting in the United States. Whereas previous sportcasters had mostly been known for color commentary and lively play-by-play, Cosell had an intellectual approach. His use of analysis and context brought television sports reporting closer to “hard” news reporting. However, his distinctive staccato voice, accent, syntax, and cadence were a form of color commentary all their own.

Funny thing was viewers hated Cosell. I mean they despised him. Many Monday Night Football tavern parties turned into Cosell bash-fests. One bar owner in Denver even sponsored contests to allow a weekly winner to throw a brick through the TV when Cosell appeared on the screen.

Ali Attempts to LIft Cosell’s Toupee off His Head.

Monday Night Football creator and executive producer Roone Arledge realized viewers’ antipathy toward Cosell just might draw even more of them. Rather than axe Cosell, Arledge instructed him to be…, well, more himself. The more Cosell played Cosell, the more people tuned in. Eventually, Monday Night Football became the most watched prime time show on television for many years.

It’s a bizarro world story, one that would be inconceivable even a year before it began to play out. But the country had just emerged from the topsy-turvy Sixties, an era when many cherished American institutions were mocked and discarded. So, tens of millions of male football fans — as well as their girlfriends, wives, and sisters — tuned in to see if they could get in on the hate orgy.

Nearly Half of All NFL Fans Are Female.

And that’s another shibboleth Monday Night Football laid to rest — that the gridiron game was solely played for the pleasure of men. Before Rozelle, Arledge, and Cosell, the game was played on Sunday afternoons to a TV audience almost exclusively male. The term “football widow” described women who couldn’t get their husbands to do anything other than park themselves in their dens and watch the Giants or the Bears or the Colts. After the trio worked its magic, football watching became the province of a more balanced gender viewership.

Me? I’ve never given a good goddamn about football, either the pro or the college game. Oh sure, I know who the great stars were and occasionally have enjoyed watching highlights of pigskin wizards like Joe Montana or Lawrence Taylor but ask me who won what game yesterday and I’ll sit there with a blank look on my face.

In fact, The Loved One and I had a tradition every Super Bowl Sunday of driving down to Jasper, Indiana to have a cone at an old-fashioned ice cream shop on the west side of the square there. Sadly, that ice cream parlor — I seem to recall it being named Libby’s — closed down before the 2020 Super Bowl so we’ll have to come up with a new tradition.

Anyway, we could do that because the streets of America are pretty much deserted on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon and evening. It’s as though we have the whole nation to ourselves.

Truth is football is the quintessential American sport. And only the Hallmark Hall of Fame drama anthology program has run longer on prime time television.

Charlotte’s Memoir

Copies of Minister’s Daughter: One Life, Many Lives, by Charlotte Zietlow and me have begun to arrive at the Book Corner. The book’s flying off the shelves so far. Call the store at 812.339.1522 or email me at to order your copy today.

And you can always cop an e-book copy via Amazon. But, really, wouldn’t you rather have a good old hard copy in your hands?

Hot Air: All Lies, Natch

At long last, somebody has got ahold of the Orange Baboon’s tax records. Reporters for the New York Times got their hands on the documents and the paper blasted headlines about the revelations therein Saturday.

There’s not a single thing in those records that should shock anybody who’s paid the slightest bit of attention to this man since way before he decided he wanted to become King of the United States. I’d been following his exploits closely since about 1987 when both Spy and Vanity Fair magazines started becoming obsessed with him. And, yeah, he is worthy of obsession because he was, at the time, a big player in New York City’s real estate and high-rise construction rackets and, since 2015, has become — inexplicably — a demagogic hero to tens of millions of Americans. Tens of millions of Americans who, I might add, generally fear, mistrust and detest anybody from NYC, often painting said habitués with an anti-Semitic brush. Hell, Mario Cuomo was an Italian Catholic but much of this holy land viewed him as a sneaky New York Jew.

Strict definitions and subtleties are not strong points among the folks who flock to Li’l Duce like so many flies around a pile of excrement.

In any case, the Trumpists will react to the NYT reports in predictable ways. Here are a few of them:

  • It’s all lies. President Gag himself took that tack within hours after the story was published online. In fact, his public relations firm, Fox News, ran this headline…… while the rest of the civilized world’s news media ran heads saying the records show he is a grifter, a tax evader, a fraud, and hundreds of millions of dollars in hock.
  • Hell, I don’t want to pay taxes; if I had the smarts and the means, I’d do exactly what my president did.
  • Who cares? Nobody’s perfect. Besides, Trump has more important things to worry about, like saving Western Civilization from the brown- and black-skinned, LGBTQ, feminist, marxist, bleeding heart hordes.

Those are three possible reactions. There may be more. It doesn’t matter inasmuch as that 35-40 percent who’ve gone gaga over the Miscreant-in-Chief wouldn’t be swayed if Jesus H. Christ himself came down from heaven and declared Trump to be the devil’s sibling. After all, it’s clear Trump has supplanted for them the son of god as the divinity they gleefully worship.


I’ve been on a music kick of late. A few of things I’ve been playing again and again are a couple of big band ditties from the Glenn Miller Orchestra, I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo and Chattanooga Choo-choo, as well as the theme from’s Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The Curb theme first. The song is called Frolic and it was written by an Italian named Luciano Michelini, a film composer who’s based in Rome. The story goes that David heard Frolic in a bank commercial some years ago and decided, because it was light and frivolous, that it’d be perfect for his show. “It just sort of introduces the idea that you’re in for something pretty idiotic,” David said in a panel for the Paley Center for Media in 2009.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly downcast — um, pretty much every day these days — I play a repeating loop of the song that I found on YouTube to get myself to sleep at night. Here’s a snippet of the tune:

Now for the Glenn Miller tunes. Chattanooga, I’ve learned, was the very first gold record ever. It was released under an imprint of RCA Records and sold 1.2 million copies in 1942. RCA initiated the award, presenting it to Miller for the sheer number of discs sold. It wasn’t until 1958 that the Recording Industry Association of America codified the practice, awarding gold records for a million singles sold or a million dollars-worth (wholesale) of albums sold. There are now also Platinum, Multi-Platinum, and Diamond awards, given for records that sell certain bazillions of units.

Both Chattanooga and Kalamazoo were movie tunes, the former featured originally in the Sun Valley Serenade (1941), centered around a bizarre romantic mixup including Milton Berle, John Payne (not Wayne, Payne), Lynn Bari, and Olympic skating star Sonja Henie, and the latter from the 1942 film Orchestra Wives, its cast including Cesar Romero and Jackie C. Gleason (yes, that Jackie Gleason — he went with the initial the first few years of his career) as musicians in the Miller band. In both movies, the Nicholas Brothers dance. If you’ve never seen the Nicholas Brothers perform, do so forthwith and you’ll never even think of Fred Astaire again.

The Nicholas Brothers.

Here’s the thing about the Glenn Miller stuff. The tunes are performed in their respective movies by enormous orchestras. Kalamazoo, for instance, is played by four trombones, five saxophones, four trumpets and cornets, a couple of clarinets, a bassist, a guitarist, and a pianist, with vocals sung by Tex Beneke and the four Imperials. That’s 23 people. And in those days, Miller’s band, as well as those of Bennie Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman and many more made their dough primarily by touring. They’d visit every big city and small town in the nation that’d fill a hall for them. They’d travel by train. Imagine the logistics that went into planning such a tour. It’s impossible to imagine carting 23 people around the nation to perform live music these days for a ticket at even a dime less than $200. Yet folks from my parents’ and your grand- and great-grandparents’ generation were able to scrape up the dough when those big bands came to town. Economics, it must be said, have changed.

Anyway, one sour note on Chattanooga: The lyrics go, “Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo? Track 29! Boy, you can give me a shine.”

That boy, sad to report, was a black man. Grown men with dark skin were routinely called “boys” back then. And the fellows who ran shoeshine stands in train stations invariably were black men. These verbal atrocities held until well into the 1960s.

The racism in the song surely detracts, mightily, from my enjoyment of it.


Hot Air: Worth Fighting For

Many thanks to Ron Eid, the big boss over at Limestone Post. Many, many thanks. I’d kiss him if these damned masks wouldn’t get in the way.

Eid and the Post today are running a lengthy excerpt from the book, Minister’s Daughter: One Life, Many Lives, by Charlotte Zietlow with Michael G. Glab (me, natch). This partial chapter of the book covers the year the Zietlow family spent in Czechoslovakia. This was in the immediate aftermath of the Prague Spring and the subsequent invasion of the country by hundreds of thousands of Warsaw Pact soldiers. The liberal reformers who’d chafed against harsh, Soviet-style communism were rounded up and “re-educated.” Many of their civilian supporters were punished and even killed.

During the Zietlows’ year-long sojourn, Charlotte was reminded that American democracy and freedoms — warts and all — were worth fighting for.

Once again, Minister’s Daughter, is out on the market (although with the current printing business slowdown, hard copies have yet to hit the streets. Give it a week or two more before the book — y’know, that thing made of paper and ink — becomes available. Hell, I’m still waiting for my own case of comp copies.

For now, you may pre-order the book at the Book Corner (812.339.1522), via Amazon (if you want to enrich Jeff Bezos et al any more), anywhere you can buy e-books, or through me at

Meanwhile, enjoy the excerpt.

King Of The United States

It’s ironic Charlotte’s recollection of living in a repressive nation for a year should come out now. Many believe — me among them — that this holy land is fast slipping into its own brand of repression. Hell, people are wondering if Li’l Duce will even honor the results of the coming presidential election should he lose to Joe Biden.

As an American, I’ve been through a lot, including the traumatic annum 1968 as well as the horrible 9/11 attacks. Somehow, we pulled through ’68. Our responses to the WTC et al tragedies, though, contributed mightily to our perverted state of democracy these days. After the bunny-rabbit-scared Congress passed the Patriot Act and otherwise gave Pres. Bush carte blanche to botch the geopolitical stases in both Afghanistan and Iraq, we’ve become a nation perpetually at war both overseas and within our own borders. In fact, many police departments around America have become occupying forces, their newly recruited officers (since 2001), seeing themselves as action movie characters, clad in armor, packing automatic weapons of war, and driving around in armored military vehicles.

Too many young men watched “reality” shows like Cops and became tumescent over the idea that they, too, could bust down doors in the middle of the night to protect the citizenry from…, from…, for chrissakes, who the hell knows what?

Anyway, here we are, wondering if the presidential election will even mean anything this year. We found ourselves with a grifting, unprepared, incurious, neo-fascist ideologue as president in 2016 and now we face the distinct possibility he and his congressional and Supreme Court lickspittlers will declare him king of the United States.

BTW, there once was a King of the United States. His name was Garfield Goose and he reigned weekday afternoons on WGN-TV, Ch. 9 in Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s. Truth be told, I don’t know whom to take more seriously, Gar or President Gag. I suppose it would be the latter, considering the self-declared ruling fowl was a goddamned puppet and the self-important orange warthog is in actuality the Commander-in-Chief of this nation.

Garfield Goose, King of the United States.

One question remains: where, oh where, is this country’s Alexander Dubček? Or, even better, our Václav Havel? Instead, we’re stuck with a ruling class all cut from the same bolt of cloth as the character played by Frazier Thomas, an enabler to a megalomaniacal puppet goose .

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Life Is Beautiful, Now And Then

A final note: the sky is putting on a fabulous show each night this early fall with a waxing moon being chased by Jupiter and Saturn. I set up my astronomical binocs last night at the Paynetown peninsula on Lake Monroe and zoomed in on the three orbs.

The moon was a tad bigger than half a disc with its craters and mountains at the terminator line standing out in spectacular relief. I shifted the specs a tad to the left and focused on Jupiter and was able to make out its disc as wall as its four Galilean moons, one to its immediate right and the others to its left in a line. Then a few degrees further to the left I caught Saturn with its easily discernible rings.

A few people fishing or just hanging out in the peaceful, cool early evening came up and asked me what I was looking at. I let them peer through the binocs and they were uniformly awed. One young woman told me her name was Hailey and she’s always wanted to see, therefore, Halley’s Comet. “But I’ll be 86 years old when it comes around again,” she said, a touch ruefully. “Don’t worry,” I told her, “you’ll make it.”

A note: I didn’t have the heart to tell her Halley is pronounced differently than Hailey.

Edmund Halley, pronounced HA-(as in cat)-lee.

Back From The Dead

The Pencil, that is. This global communications colossus has been lying in state since early July and for weeks, even months, before that The Pencil was on life support. But, yea, a miracle! Here we are — you, me and The Pencil — in the midst of the weirdest, goddamnedest year most of us have ever experienced.

Some of us, to be sure, have experienced at least one other similarly novus annos singulos (all you medical and law students ought to get this one forthwith); that would be the heart wrenching, trauma-inducing 1968. Of course, you have to be one of the oldest bats among the populace, as I am, to compare the two, experientially. Somehow, our nation held itself together in the wake of that fateful year. Will the same outcome play after this one? I ain’t makin’ no bets, babies.

On the streets of Washington, DC, April 1968. [Bettmann Archives]

Anyhow, here we be, you and me.

And in the midst of all the horrifying happenstances, revelations, realizations, knee-jerks, and preps for the coming end times, here’s a smidgen of good news. Actually great news, if I may be permitted to crow.

The book, Minister’s Daughter: One Life, Many Lives, is out and available for you to whip out your wallet and unload $17.95 plus tax and shipping & handling in order to groove on its literary genius (if I do say so myself). It’s the memoir of Bloomington’s treasured political doyenne, Charlotte Zietlow, written by her and me.

Minister’s Daughter has been a project six years in the making. Yep, Charlotte and I first sat down with our voice recorders in August 2014, even before the Chicago Cubs had won a World Series and the nation somehow fell under the spell of a repulsive grifter who promises to turn the world’s last remaining superpower into a tinpot banana republic. It’s been that long but, I daresay, worth the wait.

Charlotte got cooking in the political sphere in 1960 when she, too, fell under a spell, in her case to a young, handsome, inspiring senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy. “Kennedy made me feel as if I could make the world better,” Charlotte remembers. She goes on to add: “We just thought: Here’s this man, he was vibrant, exciting. There was a lot to be hoped for.”

Ha! Hope. What a quaint concept. And isn’t that a damned shame? Yeah, there was a time when people actually had hope. In 1960, humans were on the verge of rocketing off into space, curing cancer, inventing flying cars, building the first lasers, and reading for the first time — it’s true — Green Eggs and Ham. It was a heady time. I won’t bother to recount all the horrors humanity visited upon itself that same year because, y’know, why kill the buzz?

Despite humans being humans and doing their usual utmost to kill, maim, and otherwise wreck the day of their fellow species-mates, 1960 was a time of great hope and wonder. A rich man’s kid whose daddy-o demanded nothing less of him than to attain the presidency of the United States of America represented this holy land’s dynamic, vigorous, boundless future. Natch, he had the top of his head blown off a few short years later but still…, well, loads of people dreamed of better days to come as they listened to Kennedy’s endearing Boston accent and gazed, dewy-eyed, at his tanned, sexy face.

Charlotte was one of them and she’d go on to serve as a Democratic Party field volunteer through three presidential elections and numerous state and local races before spending a year, with her family, in communist Czechoslovakia. There, in the old Slovak capital Bratislava, she learned to cherish even more her beloved American democracy after witnessing the repression, the dream-killing visited upon a nation that dared to challenge the Soviet juggernaut. Czechs and Slovaks were punished, brutally, and many were disappeared after Warsaw Pacts tanks and hundreds of thousands of Eastern Bloc soldiers tromped down the streets of Czechoslovakia’s cities.

Prague Spring

“What we had,” Charlotte says, “was something worth fighting for.”

If you’d like a test drive, keep an eye on the Limestone Post as an excerpt from Minister’s Daughter specifically recounting parts of the Zietlows’ stay in Bratislava runs soon.

If you’ve no need of a teaser and want to cop the tome right now, feel free to put in your pre-order at the Book Corner (812.339.1522), on Amazon (even if Jeff Bezos doesn’t need any more of your dough), through me at, or wherever you buy e-books.

Hot Air: Five Years

When I went through chemo-radiation therapy for cancer in my neck, I marked the posts on this global communications colossus journaling the ordeal with the label My Olive Pit. That, in fact, is what the malignant lymph nodes surrounding my larynx felt like. And, yeah, I should have called them My Olive Pits, plural, but from the time I sensed the first one growing in me — I found it while in the shower and, at that moment, every hair on my body stood straight out with the seeming bristle of steel wool — the singular just sounded right. Here’s the logo I developed for that series:

And when I’d type in the label, I’d place a little trademark superscript next to it — like so: My Olive Pit™ — which tickled a lot of my readers. The whole idea was to treat the thing with as much humor as I could muster. In fact, when I learn about friends and acquaintances joining the Cancer Club, I advise them to find the humor in it as well. Jokes, irony, laughter, and amusement can be found there. They can be found anywhere.

When people fear they may soon be staring death in the face, humor just may deter them from speeding that appointment along by their own hands. Indeed, cancer can make us want to throw ourselves necktie parties. Even when the doctors tell us the treatment is coming along fine, the pain, the discomfort, the nausea, the grossness of it all can make us want to lament, Dang, I’d just as soon not wake up in the morning.

Squeezing a touch of humor in among the constant tears and gnashing of teeth is a survival mechanism. It worked for me. And should you ever be informed you’ve joined the Club, it may very well work for you.

Anyway, I was diagnosed in November, 2015. From that moment on, I was examined, treated, studied, fussed over, palpated, zapped, poisoned (yes, poisoned; what do you think chemotherapy is?), sliced open, glued, stitched up, probed, prodded, jabbed, punctured, and a hundred other unpleasantries by no fewer than 15 different doctors. That’s the way these things go.

Let’s see, there were my…

  • Family practice physician (who pegged the Pits as cancer)
  • Ear, Nose & Throat specialist (otolaryngologist)
  • Pathologist (who examined the cells in my lymph nodes)
  • Radiation specialist
  • Oncologist #1
  • General surgeon (to implant my drug port)
  • Gastroenterologist #1 (to examine my throat, esophagus, and stomach for irregularities)
  • Gastroenterologist #2 (to insert a feeding tube into my belly)
  • Dentist (my teeth had to be in top-notch condition before radiation would start)
  • Periodontist (my gums, too)
  • Cardiologist #1 (to make sure my pre-existing genetic heart malformation wouldn’t complicate things)
  • Oncologist #2 (because Oncologist #1 was on vacation)
  • Cardiologist #2 (because Cardiologist #1 moved)
  • Cardiologist #3 (because Cardiologist #2 retired)
  • Oncologist #2 (because Oncologist #1 moved out of state)

The whole shebang continues to this day. And I really mean this day; I saw my ENT guy — a big Cubs fan, BTW; he’s got posters and pix of Wrigley Field and Kyle Schwarber on his office wall — this morning. My oncologist and my ENT guy alternate with each other, one and then the other seeing me every few months. They feel around the outside of my throat, they dig with their fingers under my tongue, they look at all sorts of scans and X-rays. The ENT guy occasionally shoves a hose up my nose, down my larynx, and into my trachea to make sure no new Olive Pits are growing there. Oh, sure, his nurse sprays my nasal passages with local anesthetic but I still gag every time he jams that little hose in me. After a while, a cancer patient learns to accept these kinds of intrusions with a shrug.

Before every single visit with one or another doctor, I fret. Sometimes it’s just a general fretting. There’s a background dread that cancer will reappear in my neck or will develop somewhere else. Hey, one of the primary causes of cancer is radiation exposure. Ironically — humorously ironically, I might add — I was strapped under a linear beam accelerator, a multi-million-dollar ray gun, every weekday over a six-week period during radiation therapy. It was hoped that the ray gun in conjunction with the poison (okay, chemotherapy) would blast the tumors into smithereens. The cure might well become another cause if my luck runs out. So there’s that worry.

Another is my nearly constant search for new lumps. I run my hands over any and all bodily locales that might get cancerous when I’m in the shower, in the car, in my recliner, hell, sometimes in the grocery store, looking for the next Olive Pit emergence. You’d be shocked how often I find little lumps, suspicious but minuscule irregularities on a bone, in some soft tissue, on my tongue, anywhere really. So, I wring my hands until the next time I see either my oncologist or the ENT guy. Sometimes the lump is scary enough that I call for an unscheduled visit. The doctors insist I do that and I’m happy to because if I don’t, getting a good night’s sleep becomes problematic. I ought to play the Lottery because so far, knock on wood, none of the little lumps has been proven malignant.

Alright, so I’m now nearly five years into this mess and, yep, five years is the generally accepted length of time the cancer experts call for treating and monitoring my particular cancer. After my chemo-radiation therapy was completed in the spring of 2016, I was declared in remission. And, lemme tell you, hearing the word remission after all that was like being told I’d won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and a lifetime free pass to every pizzeria in the nation.

This coming November will mark exactly five years since I was diagnosed. If my luck holds, the next time I see my ENT guy, he’ll tell me I’m cancer-free, and that’s the official term for it. He’ll still want to see me every year for the rest of my life but that’ll be cool. It’ll be like visiting with a fellow soldier who shared a foxhole with me. I ought to bring a bottle of bourbon in for those visits.

The years 2016 and 2020 are the bookends in this five-year struggle. That first year (I don’t count ’15 because I found out about my cancer so late in the year) I suffered through treatment, rejoiced at its effectiveness, went delirious when my Cubs won a World Series, and then fell into a funk when You-Know-Who was elected to the presidency on a technicality six days later. What a year.

Yet ’16 was almost as nothing compared to 2020. There’ve been natural and man-made disasters galore, a pandemic and lockdown, a recession bordering on a depression, street rebellions, and even a Saharan dust cloud sweeping over the country. Yet come November I might be declared cured of cancer and that You-Know-Who knucklehead just might be evicted from his palatial Washington DC digs. What a rollercoaster this year may be!

I can only hope 2021 turns out to be a bore. I need a little rest.

Hot Air: In & Out Of Touch

Her eyes filling with tears, Charlotte Zietlow says, “I feel terrible about all this.”

The longstanding doyenne of the Democratic Party here in Bloomington found herself smack dab in the middle of a maelstrom over the weekend. In a clumsy effort to show solidarity with the Enough Is Enough marchers who gathered at Dunn Meadow and then paraded to courthouse square Friday, Charlotte displayed a sign on her balcony railing reading, “This old white lady says All Lives Matter.”

The all-lives-matter variant on the Black Lives Matter is generally viewed as a Trumpist, racist response to the call for justice and equity by people of color.

Charlotte tells me she was unaware of how hurtful the all-lives-matter line is.

She might have known that had she been an habitué of social media. Alas, she’s not. Charlotte can’t see well enough to read her computer screen these days. Now fast approaching her 86th birthday, she’s struggling to remain a step ahead of the inevitable physical breakdown we all will be subject to. Charlotte keeps abreast of world and national events via her TV, always tuned to one or another of the political news and talk channels when she’s not indulging in watching tennis or soccer games. A voracious reader until a few short years ago, she’s now only able to gobble up audio books.

All the latests dos and don’ts many of us learn through Facebook, Instagram, or whatever other instant communication platforms people use today zip right past her. The cable channels, MSNBC for instance, don’t run breaking news chyrons warning the populace that the all-lives-matter thing is taboo (as well it should be).

Charlotte found out the rules of that game the hard way. Almost immediately after the sign was hung on her railing, Charlotte’s phone began ringing. Friends and colleagues, including members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, wanted to know what in the heck she was doing. As soon as her faux pas dawned on her, Charlotte had the sign edited to read Black Lives Matter. That might have been the end of the tempest but activist and a candidate for Bloomington’s city council last year, Daniel Bingham, posted pix of the original sign on his Facebook page.

The reaction was swift and passionate. Commenters suggested she was losing her mind, that she was suffering from Alzheimers’, that she’d been hoodwinked by her caregivers, and even that she was a longtime racist. One fellow, I’ve been told (I did not see his comment), allegedly said her balcony windows would be an easy target for anybody who wished to heave a rock at them. If this person did indeed post that or a similar comment, it would immediately be taken down for violating FB’s violent speech guidelines.

Knowing Charlotte as well as I do — and, I might add, in a way that the most vehement of the commenters under Bingham’s FB post do not — I’ll guess her original message was in keeping with her lifelong belief that we’re all in this together. She became politically active with the rise of John F. Kennedy and cut her activist teeth in the era of the hippies, anti-war protesters, and civil rights marchers of the 1960s and early ’70s. Power to the People, was a favorite line at that time. Black Power might have seemed too divisive for her tastes. All of us are being screwed in one form or another, so let’s not single each other out; let’s, instead, fight the power as one.

That take rankles a lot of people of color these days. Their allies, too.

But that’s only a guess. I will say for certain though, after working with Charlotte for the last six years on her memoir, that she’s as sickened by the mistreatment, the dehumanization, the abuse, the inequity people with dark skin suffer daily, hourly…, hell, by the second as the most vociferous 22-year-old marcher last Friday. She, like me, is unable to walk well enough to join the dramatic, historic protests. We’re both deeply disappointed because of that.

The only difference is I’ve caught on via social media how inflammatory, how wrong, the line All Lives Matter is. Charlotte, again, has come to that chapter of civics class late. Tardiness, of course, does not mean one has lost one’s mind.

And if she is racist, she’s as racist as I am, or any white American, inasmuch as we all were born and raised in a profoundly racist society. I’ve been trying to shake that virus for more than 60 years and I’ll bet I’ll still be doing it by the time I quit this world. That’s how deeply ingrained white supremacy is in us. But Charlotte is no more racist than any of the white marchers Friday nor any of the passionate, enraged commenters under Danial Bingham’s Facebook post. As much as they’ve hollered, rightly, for justice, she’s written and enacted laws, she’s ordered local government agencies and departments to change their ways, she’s spoken to neighborhood groups and political caucuses, for that same justice for people of color.

A little more background on the sign genesis: the caregiver who Charlotte directed to draw up and hang the sign originally declined to do it. “I don’t feel right doing this,” she told Charlotte.

Late this afternoon (Monday) a friend who spoke with Charlotte before the sign was drawn up, posted this comment under Bingham’s FB post:

I happened to speak with Charlotte by phone before the march began. Her intention and her heart was to participate in the march because she cares profoundly about Black Lives Matter. It was all that we could do to persuade her to stay home because of the pandemic. Since she could not go to the march, she asked me if I thought it was a good idea if she were to hang a sign from her balcony that said; “Old white lady says Black Lives Matter.” I told her it was a fabulous idea. As some of you know, her eyesight is failing and she had help making the sign. In the course of the sign’s making, something was lost in translation. Charlotte’s intent was to stand for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Confusion, to be sure, reigned. Perhaps a directive was misspoken or misheard. The incident shouldn’t negate all the good Charlotte’s done since she came to this town in the summer of 1964.

And, for the ten thousandth time, the people on my side of the fence have to — have to! — stop strangling each other.


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