1000 Words: A Brilliant Ignorance

One of the hallmarks of adulthood is the ability to accept seeming contradictions.

Like the Ghandi epigram: Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

Well, what is it? Am I gonna kick it within a day or will I still be here in the year 2525?

That’s the wrong question. A simplistic question. A question, perhaps, a child might ask.

But an experienced adult, one who’s flourished both emotionally and psychologically, would find no inconsistency in the line.

Ideally we, as individuals, will grow into that kind of mature thinker. Nations and societies, too. Although, based on my observations, it’s dauntingly hard for people, one by one, to reach that level of wisdom. Expecting — even hoping — for an entire population to get there seems to me a futile dream. This goes back to my dearly held opinion that the larger the number of people in a room, the dumber it gets.

I like to think I’ve accepted the idea that contradictory ideas can coexist, and so I pat myself on the back and try to believe I’m experienced and mature and oh so smart. Then again, I accept another contradiction: The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know much.

I’m trying, I guess.

Anyway, if this holy land, the United States of America, the 332.4 million of us inclusive, were, miraculously, to have grown into such astute thinkers, we’d accept the enormous contradiction that the Constitution upon which we base our laws and government was both the most advanced, progressive, ingenious, innovative document ever to be drawn up by a gang of people as well as a hateful, exclusionary, blind, knuckle-headed justification for awful behavior yet put into writing.

Sadly, several of the current members of the US Supreme Court buy into the flawed premise of Originalism. That is, the idea that all our laws and actions to this day must be hewn to the imagined thoughts of the framers of the Constitution. You know, a bunch of guys who owned muskets, horses, and people.

And, BTW, four of the nine current Justices were named by presidents who’d lost the popular vote but still were elected president. A quirk written into that very Constitution.

A Constitution that supposedly followed the parameters set by the Declaration of Independence that featured prominently the line, “all men are created equal.”

Except for slaves. And the indigenous peoples of the continent. And, of course, women. Although said Constitution was transparent enough not to even mention women, since, at the time of its writing, citizens of that gender were considered chattel. And I needn’t imagine what the Constitution’s framers thought of women, as Originalists purport to do; they were quite explicit, in speech and on paper, in their opinion of that gender.

Yet, rarely in the annals of human history had a ruling group codified the idea that neither priests nor royalty were superior, legally, to the rest of the citizenry. That, certainly, qualifies as an advanced, progressive, ingenious, innovative way to run a nation.

One could be forgiven for inadvertently typing the word Contradiction in place of Constitution.

Yep, that Constitution was brilliant. And spectacularly ignorant.

This point is driven home by the Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson, who stands these days as one of the bright, shining lights for the non-MAGA-tainted among us. I happen to be reading her 2020 book, How the South Won the Civil War. Her thesis is all the things the seceding South wanted prior to the 1861 hostilities — except slavery — were granted to them after the war ended, either immediately or as recently as these days via Supreme Court rulings.

Richardson and her book.

Granted, slavery was the thing the South valued most dearly. It was the underpinning of the region’s entire economy and culture. White superiority lie at the heart of it and that’s a visceral driver that remains to today. I won’t go into Richardson’s laundry list of reasons for her assertion (go buy the book) but I will cite a trenchant observation she makes about the Constitution.

Here goes:

America began with a great paradox: the same men who came up with the radical idea of constructing a nation on the principle of equality also owned slaves, thought Indians were savages, and considered women inferior. This apparent contradiction was not a flaw, though; it was a key feature of the new democratic republic. For the Founders, the concept that “all men are created equal” depended on the idea that the ringing phrase “all men” did not actually include everyone. In 1776, it seemed self-evident to leaders that not every person living in the British colonies was capable — or worthy — of self-determination. In their minds, women, slaves, Indians, and paupers depended on the guidance of men such as themselves. Those unable to make good decisions about their own lives must be walled off from government to keep them from using political power to indulge their irresponsible appetites. So long as these lesser people played no role in the body politic, everyone within it could be equal. In the Founders’ minds, then, the principle of equality depended on inequality. That central paradox — that freedom depended on racial, gender, and class inequality — shaped American history as the cultural, religious, and social patterns of the new nation grew around it.

Are we mature enough and experienced enough, have we flourished both emotionally and psychologically enough as a nation, to accept this dramatic, apparently irreconcilable polarity?

Simple answer: no. A friend of mine calls the US Constitution “a piece of shit.” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for one, believes it is the “Bible” of the nation. He wants the United States to be molded along the lines set forth by guys who wrote and ratified the document and owned muskets, horses, and people.

 

1000 Words: Hopelessly Hopeless

I’ve been touching on this, now and again, in recent posts here on this global communications colossus. The world, and especially this holy land, are in the deepest of funks.

Climate change is going to (pick one): burn us, flood us, starve us, drought us, or otherwise somehow whack the bejesus out of us until we and every other Earthly species, including Republicans, are wiped out.

Or, millions and millions of abortions are going to pare the population of Homo sapiens down to a scant few thousand.

Or, the Christian Taliban is poised to force every female human of reproductive age to bear as many children as possible.

Or, the war in Ukraine — or any spat between belligerents on this globe — will get out of hand and one side will resort to flinging nukes at the other, with the whole thing getting out of hand and engulfing the planet.

Or, a comet or asteroid surely will collide with the Earth, wiping us out ala the dinosaurs 165 million years ago. (See note at the end of the post.)

Or, either the Democrats or Republicans are engineering the End of Western Civilization.

Or…, or…, or…. See? There are countless dystopic scenarios the lot of us are fixating on in this year of somebody’s lord, 2022.

We’re all waiting for the next shoe to drop. We’re all — let’s face it — no better than that doomsday cult back in 1978, the Jim Jones gang, that was certain the Earth was about to be snuffed out so hundreds of its members sipped poison-laced Kool-Aid and beat the rest of us to oblivion. Or the Mayans, whose calendar technicians worked out the exact date of the end of the Earth: December 21, 2012. Or David Koresh’s Branch Davidians. Or that Heaven’s Gate bunch back in 1997 who committed mass suicide so they could escape this doomed globe.

Or…, or…, or…. See? There’ve been countless individuals and groups fixated on The End.

Humans are the only species, as far as we can determine, that has an awareness of finity. (Merriam-Webster and other authorities seem to disagree with me vis à vis the existence of the word finity.) Every once in a while, throughout history, large numbers of people have come to agree that our collective finiteness was just around the corner. The global human zeitgeist of this age is simply another manifestation of that bad habit.

Make no mistake, we face some mighty challenges over the next few years/decades/centuries. For all we know, our actions today or tomorrow, and those we’ve undertaken in the past, may well mean curtains for scads of us. Book it: our grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all the rest of our progeny had better learn to breathe a fossil-fuel-fouled air and batten down the hatches against mega-hurricanes. Don’t even get me started on viruses, both extant and fixing to come into being.

So I’m not a Pollyanna.

But I’m not buying into the doom.

I can’t.

Having been raised a Roman Catholic (and quitting that gang as soon as I reached the age of reason) I can attest that one of the good things arising from that belief system was explicated during a sermon I heard back in the late 1990s when, in the depths of gloom I resorted to attending Sunday mass for a few weeks. The priest that Sunday said, “We’re here on this Earth to love and to hope.” It was an epiphany for me.

There’s no point in going on if we’re not hoping and loving. That simple line was so beautiful, so touching, so appropriate at that moment that I’ve never forgotten it. I remember what the weather was that Sunday, what I was wearing, how many people were in the church, how just hearing those words was a first step for me to begin climbing out of what had been a psychological and emotional hell.

We’re here on this Earth to love and to hope.

For all I know, that priest might by now have been defrocked for not rapping his parishioners over the knuckles for even thinking of the word abortion or not embracing the tenet that all that counts in this world is to praise and worship Jesus and all his bandmates.

That line sounds like something a Unitarian Universalist preacher might deliver. Or some other cleric of an equally subversive faith.

If the priests and nuns I’d grown up with had stressed that love and hope angle, I might have hung around longer. But when I hit the age of 12 and started figuring this whole god idea seemed awfully dubious, I bolted.

Anyway, hoping specifically seems today to be the most quaint of ideas. Nobody hopes anymore. How old fashioned. How 20th century!

But we have to hope. I have to hope.

If we don’t hope, our actions and behaviors will be tainted. We won’t take drastic actions to stave off the coming fires, floods, mega-hurricanes, millions of abortions, forced pregnancies, and other inconveniences everybody seems to be obsessed with now.

I want to turn on the news or flip open the paper and see a story about…, well, something good. Something like the deploying of the Webb Space Telescope, which over the last few months has inspired me and those who might tend to be open to inspiration. But too many of us are not and the news reflects that. All we hear about are racism, misogyny, war, fire, drought, mega-hurricanes and the rest.

There’s something more.

There’s hope.

[Note: While I was writing this, I was told by a friend that her mother, who was alive in 1910, remembers the newspapers of the day warning that Halley’s Comet, due that year, was going to crash into the Earth and kill us all. Again, doomsday-ing is nothing new.]

1000 Words: The Only One

I was born in the year of somebody else’s lord, 1956.

Since I arrived in this crazy, mixed-up world 66 years ago, this holy land has staged some 17 presidential elections. I was too young to be aware of the first three. The fourth (1968) grabbed me and got me hooked on the quadrennial ritual ever since. Here are the winners and losers:

  • 1956 Dwight D. Eisenhower; Adlai E. Stevenson II
  • 1960 John F. Kennedy; Richard M. Nixon
  • 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson; Barry M. Goldwater
  • 1968 Richard M. Nixon; Hubert H. Humphrey, George C. Wallace
  • 1972 Richard M. Nixon; George S. McGovern
  • 1976 James Earl Carter, Jr.; Gerald R. Ford, Jr.
  • 1980 Ronald W. Reagan; James Earl Carter, Jr., John B. Anderson
  • 1984 Ronald W. Reagan; Walter F. Mondale
  • 1988 George H.W. Bush; Michael S. Dukakis
  • 1992 William J. Clinton; George H.W. Bush, Henry Ross Perot
  • 1996 William J. Clinton; Robert J. Dole, Henry Ross Perot
  • 2000 George W. Bush; Albert A. Gore, Jr.
  • 2004 George W. Bush; John F. Kerry
  • 2008 Barack H. Obama; John S. McCain III
  • 2012 Barack H. Obama; Willard M. Romney
  • 2016 Donald J. Trump; Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • 2020 Joseph R. Biden, Jr.; Donald J. Trump

Four of those elections were historically tight.

In two of them, the eventual winner actually lost the popular vote.

Two of the elections are thought by many to have been won unfairly.

One of the elections was not decided until the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the eventual winner in a state recount case more than a month after the vote.

In every one of those 17 elections, save one, the tens of millions of people who voted for the eventual loser quickly forgot about their chosen candidate.

That’s because there was always someone else coming down the pike, a comer, a bright shining star, perhaps a savior or a favorite son. Someone new for the electorate to fall in love with.

Hell, the population of the United States in ’56 was 168,078,000. In 2020 it was 329.5 million. No matter how dumb you may think the citizenry of this self-described democratic republic is (or was; and, hell, do I think they’re dumb as bricks!), the voters always at least had the basic smarts to grasp the fact that, there being so many of us, surely someone among us was capable enough, determined enough, good-looking enough, likable enough, and free-enough of closeted skeletons to be worthy to take the Oath of Office in the next election.

Perhaps your book club needs a new leader. You may call that person “president.” But probably not. In any case, you may feel certain no one else among you has the stuff to lead the club into the next year. Or month. Or what in the hell ever span of time you have between books.

That’s because there are six or so members, total, in your book club. One of them is going through a divorce. Another has been diagnosed with cancer. Two are annoying as all hell. Then there’s you and you surely don’t want the job. So that leaves Sharon. She’s the only one who can do the job.

No one else.

As indicated above, there are more people in the United States of America than there are in every other country on this planet, except for China and India. It’s a safe bet there are, perhaps, thousands of people in this nation capable enough, determined enough, good-looking enough, likable enough, and free-enough of closeted skeletons to be worthy to take the Oath of Office in the next election.

That’s why, when our guy or gal loses a presidential election, we quickly start scanning the horizon for the next fabulous candidate.

Even after Nixon lost the 1960 election amid rumors of hanky-panky in Illinois and Texas, Republicans who flipped the lever for him that year swiftly started scouting around for their next candidate. Even Nixon himself attempted to wipe the memory of that loss from his mind, reasoning that making a stink about it would be too expensive and potentially unsuccessful, and the process would throw shade on the entire American electoral system.

I repeat: even Richard Nixon. He was a fellow who forgot no slight and forgave no insult. He was the original eternally aggrieved Republican and even he said, Forget it, let’s move on.

Forty years later, Al Gore won the popular vote and then Bush-loving hoodlums stormed the Miami-Dade County vote counting center, delaying the process and intimidating the counters enough to cast doubt on the veracity of the Sunshine State totals. Nevertheless, Gore sucked it up and said, Forget it, let’s move on.

The rules of the game may be wacky, both Nixon and Gore might have figured, but rules is rules.

Not only did Nixon and Gore figure that, so did all the millions of people who dug them enough to vote for them as president. They, too, by and large, said, On to the next election.

In all the years after the elections from 1956 through 2012, never was there the phenomenon of people waving flags, displaying banners, carrying placards, or otherwise caterwauling about the person who’d run second. Their person. The person they thought was best to lead the country. Who they rooted for, who they agreed with, who they donated money to.

Their guys lost and they moved on. Even in 2016, their woman lost. And they moved on.

Except for all the people who, to this day, wave flags, display banners, carry placards, and otherwise caterwaul about the person who’d ran second in the 2020 election. A man who lost the popular vote both times he ran for president. A two-time loser usually gets relegated to history’s dust bin. Like Adlai Stephenson (he’d also lost in 1952, four years before I came on the scene).

But the 45th President of the United States of America continues to run around the country telling anybody who’ll listen the election was stolen from him — and conveniently neglecting to provide any solid evidence of it.

Tens of millions of Americans are listening to him. Including all those people with Let’s Go, Brandon bumper stickers. Or waving Fuck Joe Biden flags. Or the guy down the road from me who has a huge banner attached to his garage with the words Miss Me Yet? superimposed over the mug of the man who lost the 2020 race.

Do me a favor: look up the word cult.

1000 Word: A Rich Vein of Hatred

I’m old enough to remember the Oscars night when Sacheen Littlefeather took to the stage and declined the Best Actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando as a way to protest Hollywood’s depictions and treatment of Native Americans.

Brando’s turn-down of the award followed by a couple of years George C. Scott’s nix of it. Scott, though, thumbed his nose at the statuette because he didn’t like the idea of competition among actors. He’d won the Oscar for his portrayal of World War II Gen. George S. Patton in the eponymous biopic. Which, BTW, was co-written by Francis Ford Coppola who, of course, directed The Godfather, for which Brando was being celebrated — or at least scheduled to be — that fateful evening.

Marlon Brando, though, was a noted advocate at the time for Native Americans, and so came the appearance of Littlefeather.

Image: UCLA Library Special Collections

The New York Times yesterday ran a piece on the event that took place nearly a half century ago. Sacheen Littlefeather now is an old woman and the photo the paper ran of her was certainly jarring. About as jarring as the face that looks back at me from the mirror every goddamned morning. No matter how much we acknowledge that time flees, its flight freaks us.

Littlefeather was a White Mountain Apache. In keeping with the whole Hollywood thing, she was breathtakingly beautiful, her Native American accoutrements seemingly straight out of the costume department. Despite that, she spoke honestly and with real emotion about the film industry’s depiction of Native Americans through the years. It seemed she might break down in tears at any moment during her minute-long speech. Only a creep would be failed to be moved by it.

Well, the Oscar audience that night 49 years ago was filled with creeps.

I was 17 years old at the time and still in thrall to things like the Academy Awards broadcast. I watched as Littlefeather spoke and was aghast at the boos emanating from the crowd. Of course, not everybody booed. The cheers for her balanced out the jeering but it was the negative reaction that stuck with me. Even then I was baffled that anyone could be so…, well, assholish as to boo someone speaking from the heart about the racist portrayals and treatment of her people.

What I didn’t remember, and learned of in the NYT article, is many in the audience actually started doing the tomahawk chop while Littlefeather spoke. If you’re not a sports fan, you may be unfamiliar with the tomahawk chop. In places like Atlanta and universities whose team names are some variant of the Native American thing, fans launch into rhythmic faux-Indian calls, chopping with their right hands in time, mimicking warriors wielding their savage weapons. You know, the way they’ve seen Indians in old Hollywood movies behave. Cop a peek at the fans of the Florida State Seminoles doing the chop:

As an aside, this is a prime illustration of why I shun, as much as humanly possible, going along with the crowd. I steadfastly refuse to do a thing for the simple reason everybody else is doing it. Do you blame me?

Anyway, the Oscars, then as now, is not a sporting event. This despite that fact that, as George C. Scott pointed out, it’s a race between competitors. You’d figure an Academy Award night crowd would be rife with creative, sensitive, progressive, caring folk who’d at least wish to listen to the plaint of a young, frightened woman standing up for her people.

Sadly, the crowd on the night in question was (il)liberally sprinkled with, um…, assholes.

I’m no babe in the woods. I know there’s been a broad current of hate running through the American bloodstream since this holy land’s very inception. I know about lynchings and institutionalized racism and block-busting and red-lining and homophobia and misogyny and every other kind of emotional and spiritual cancer that afflicts far too many of our fellow citizens. Still, I was shocked to learn about many in the Oscars crowd doing that stupid chop during Littlefeather’s speech.

And it gets worse. Apparently John Wayne had to be restrained from charging the stage and stopping Littlefeather from speaking. And Sacheen herself claims she was shot at — with guns, mind you — in the aftermath of the event.

Another aside, this one about John Wayne. His career and legacy largely were made by his roles in all those gorgeous John Ford westerns like Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Stagecoach, and Rio Grande. During World War II, Ford served as a commander in the US Navy, heading the service’s photographic unit. He actually participated in the D-Day landing at Normandy, witnessing the carnage and suffering a wound himself. For his part, John Wayne, the movie tough guy, stayed home during the war, increasing his reputation and bank account while many other Hollywood actors and directors sacrificed years of their careers for the war effort. Ford never forgave Wayne for avoiding service. In fact, acc’d’g to accounts, Ford repeatedly harangued Wayne about it during filming of their last picture together, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

Pretend Hero.

Have we gotten better over the years? President Truman ordered the integration of the armed services in 1947. Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey gave his rousing “bright sunshine of human rights” speech in favor of integration and full civil rights in America in 1948. In the 1960s, Ernie Banks, the biggest sports star in my hometown, was compelled to live in the all-black Chatham neighborhood. Thirty years later, the one-time lily-white suburb of Highland Park was proud to claim as its resident Michael Jordan. Today, no one bats an eye when a black and white couple walks down the street hand in hand. The year Littlefeather spoke, I was in a car with an older co-worker when he spied a black man and a white woman walking on Grand Avenue. “Lookit that,” he said, his voice dripping with contempt, “a nigger and a white chick.”

I’d like to think we’re better than that today. We can’t say the word nigger in a public setting now. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has issued an apology to Sacheen Littlefeather for her treatment that night in 1973.

But they’re still doing the tomahawk chop in Atlanta.

1000 Words: When A Car Is More Than A Car

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1000 Words: Curiouser and Curiouser America

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

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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

I’ll guess you’ll imagine the following:

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

First Impressions.

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

Ah, yes! Now I remember.

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

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

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

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

WHITE PANTHER PARTY 10-POINT PROGRAM

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

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

They Even Had a Logo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

1000 Words: No News Is Good News

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

Woody Allen

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

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

But we’re not. Far from it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1000 Words: We Need A Shrink

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making us…, well, crazy.

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

That ain’t normal. That ain’t sane.

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

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

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

What’s the use? Why go on?

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

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

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

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

1000 Words: Filled To The Brim

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

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

Look What They’re Doing To Us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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