Monday, November 6, 2017

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MUELLER BEHIND THE CURTAIN

Because Americans are a naturally optimistic people, a surprising number of us believe that the current President will soon be impeached and booted out of office in abject disgrace. Cheerful hopes, in other words, spring eternal.

However, it’s also true that more Americans believe Elvis did not take drugs than believe he did, and more believe he’s alive than believe he’s dead. To make the point, this is the land that invented the Wizard of Oz as well as professional wrestling, which everyone knows is theater but still, is it? Is it really? Every good American knows he's only a lottery ticket or new invention away from a gross amount of wealth, and most can tell you in detail how JFK’s death was part of a conspiracy.

But there comes a time when we all must face certain truths and here are two. One: as God is my witness, I’m telling you that Oswald acted alone. Two: the Mueller investigation into Donald Trump and his Russian masters is going to achieve absolutely nothing.

Not nothing in terms of yield. On that score, the Mueller investigation is going to reveal quite a bit. Already, we have been given enough to gasp in shock that a greasy toad like Paul Manafort spent something like a million dollars on a rug that didn't even fly, or managed to spend an equivalent amount on clothing in a troublingly short period of time. This is good stuff, and more is surely to come from Mr. Mueller and his team, whether on Manafort or Papadopoulos or Mike Flynn or even the Wizard himself, but in the end it will amount to sound and fury achieving nothing -- meaning that it will have no significant impact upon the central ugly truth of American life right now. The ugly truth is that the entire political structure as a functioning engine has utterly failed and that a piece of human garbage now occupies the Oval Office.

The reason the Mueller probe won’t be able to address this problem isn’t just that the Republicans, should they still control both houses of Congress once the very worst that Mueller has stuck in his throat is coughed up onto the national carpet, must continue to sell their souls to the devil as long as he still holds the support of more than 80% of the Republican voters, which they will; nor is it because the Democrats seem unable to find the light switch as any kind of Loyal Opposition, although this is also true. The reason is more concerning and deep-rooted, and therefore self-condemning.

Trump won’t be impeached because we don’t really want to impeach him. Not in our darkest hearts. Because – left or right, Dem or GOP – we all believe he’s entertaining. He gives us something to rail against, to cheer, to despise, and to rally the troops. But most of all, he feeds a nation that chose entertainment over thinking a long long time ago. And we’ve only become more addicted to the crack pipe over time, which is why today more Americans can tell you who Kanye West is married to than can tell you who the Vice-President of the United States is.   It's also why most high school kids have no idea who or what the original thirteen colonies were.

This is a degenerative slide. In 1980, Ronald Reagan seemed to be the ultimate pitchman-turned-politician, an easy joke, except that when placed beside Trump, Reagan now comes off as the reincarnation of John Quincy Adams. And after Trump it will be… who?

Well, next time, perhaps, we will take the final plunge and vote for someone who isn’t even a person at all – Ronald McDonald, or Frank Underwood, or an emoji. This strikes me as the obvious next step for a country that just refuses to read. And vote what you’ve heard of, not what you know.

Let me be clear: this isn’t just a jibe at the great unwashed who can’t spell “cat.” I’ve read Hillbilly Elegy so I know those folks are the salt of the earth. This is an attack on those baffled souls as well as the educated idealists who figure they can sit back and let Mueller deliver them from evil. The problem is that the Mueller investigation is a game show, a magician’s distraction that serves all political stripes. Whatever he does serve up in the end—even if it’s Trump colluding with Putin to become his own Manchurian Candidate, or Russian hackers literally erasing votes in Michigan and Pennsylvania – actually pales against a much bigger story.

Here’s that story:

21% of all children in the United States live below the poverty line.

African-Americans make up 13% of the general population but 37% of the prison population.

Flint still doesn’t have clean water.

Now, who wants to hear about that?

The answer is no one. So, bring on Mueller. Bring on Trump’s tweeting indignation. Bring on the dancing bears. After all, it’s a country that believes Elvis is still alive.


           

            

Thursday, August 24, 2017

SOMETHING TRULY GREAT AND AMERICAN: PAUL RHYMER

I have spent the spring and summer working on a project that had me in Ontario, Canada and flying back to see my family in California.  That kind of schizophrenia, which often involved stops across the Midwest, left me weary from defending an entire nation which didn't seem to care if I defended it or not.  Usually my defense went something like this: "Forget the politics; this is a country that produced Scott Joplin and jazz and musical theater and Tennessee Williams, rock and roll, and Hollywood.  Beat that."  That's what I said, anyway.  In my truest heart, however, I would think of Paul Rhymer.  The very fact that Paul Rhymer existed makes America great. 

No one but a handful of truly crazy people know who Paul Rhymer was, and that handful is dwindling each day.  But I know, without a doubt, that Paul Rhymer was one of the finest and most insightful writers that American ever produced.  He could only be an American because that's the paint his brush was soaking in, the voice and pulse and nuance and tone of an entire nation at a very specific time in its history.  If Mark Twain gave us the indelible portrait of a certain mid-19th century America -- and he did -- and if Fitzgerald gave us the Roaring 20's and Sinclair Lewis gave us the post-World War I Midwest, then Paul Rhymer certainly gave us the regular folks of the first two or three decades of the 20th century.  He gave us "Our Town" before "Our Town" existed, and he did it with an unbridled humor.  He is Twain after Twain, but he was nowhere near as self-conscious as Twain could be, hiding his true light under a cornpone bushel.

But whereas Twain is someone everyone still claims to have read, no one but the aforementioned handful has heard of Paul Rhymer.  That's for two reasons.  The first is that Rhymer had the misfortune of working in radio.  The second is that many of the people who tuned into his genius had no idea what they were listening to.

Here's the basic backstory: Born in 1905, Rhymer grew up in Bloomington, Illinois in a middle class family.  Goes to college, drops out, does odd jobs.  Becomes a reporter.  Gets fired eventually when it's discovered that he's been writing interviews with people who don't exist.  He winds up a continuity writer in radio -- which is the lowest form of writing there is. Basically continuity writing is writing "And now, a lovely interlude as we take you to listen to Ramon Raquello and his orchestra playing today at the Purple Room of the Butler House hotel" or plugs for upcoming sporting events. Then, somehow, Rhymer creates a radio series called "Vic and Sade," which runs for 3,500 episodes.  15 minutes a day for 15 years. Every episode is written by Rhymer.  As far as I know, this is all Rhymer ever wrote in his life. Yet this is the basis on which I say he is Twain's equal.

The set-up of "Vic and Sade" was this: Vic and Sade Gook were a married couple who lived in "the little house halfway up the next block" in a drowsy, Midwestern town -- presumably modern day (the 1932-1946, the run of the series), although there were indications that Rhymer was harking back to an earlier time, whether he knew it or not.  They had an adopted son named Rush, a young adolescent.  Occasionally they were visited upon by Sade's Uncle Fletcher.  And that... was it. That is all the show was.  There were never more than four actors who performed on any episode, and while Vic and Sade and Rush and Uncle Fletcher talked a great deal about neighbors and friends and associates -- Rush's friends Rooster Davis or Bluetooth Johnson; Sade's best friend Ruthie Stembottom or Miss Trogel; Vic's lodge member pals or town characters such as Hank Gustop or Gumpox the Garbage Man -- we never heard another voice.  Think of that.  But because Rhymer's writing was so splendid, and because the actors were so terrific, we came to believe not only that they knew these townspeople but that we knew them as well. 

Almost nothing happened in any given episode of "Vic and Sade", and each episode took place in the real time it took to hear it.  So perhaps Sade has received a letter from her sister in Carberry and she wants Vic to read it; the back-and-forth on that (and over 3,500 episodes I don't know one time that Vic ever finished a letter written by Bess) would be the entire episode.  They talked.  They had plans, aspirations, concerns, excitements, arguments and frustrations.  One show might be about trying to figure out how to fix a broken alarm clock.  Another might revolve around Rush's frustration that his friend Rooster Davis claims to have more than 341,234 personal speaking acquaintances.  Another might revolve around the local Brick Mush Man (Brick Mush being a food product sold door to door) getting his head caught in the revolving door at the local department store.  As far as I know, no episode took place away from the house -- the furthest they went was the front porch -- and no episode had a time lapse.  This was Mr. Rhymer's haiku, the sonnet rules he set for himself, and he created his panoramic masterpiece within these strictures.

If, in "Winesburg Ohio", Sherwood Anderson explored the dark underbelly of the mythological small Midwestern town, and Thornton Wilder explored its pathos in "Our Town," then Rhymer found and explored both its absurdity and heart in "Vic and Sade."  I like no married couple as I like Vic and Sade.  I admire no father and son as I admire Vic and son Rush.  I know no town, nor love a town, as much as I love the town in which Vic and Sade live (although never named, biographers tell us that Rhymer was really writing about his own Bloomington, Illinois).  This world is real to me, not despite its absurdities and lunacies, but because of them.

Teenager Rush and his pals make a habit of going to the YMCA to watch the fat men play handball. Sade and next door neighbor Ruthie make a ladies day of it at the washrag sale at Yamilton's Department Store. Vic is not just a lodge member of the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way, he is the Exalted Big Dipper of the Drowsy Venus Chapter.  These things are talked about with such casual honesty, such integrity, that we can't help but believe in them, no matter how absurd;  Rush's friend Smelly Clark has his age officially changed, and Vic's lodge friend Y. Y. Y. Y. Flirch is once again hit by a fast moving passenger train. 

The miracle is not perhaps that "Vic and Sade" got on the air -- it was early in radio, the show was cheap to do and a filler -- but that it stayed on the air.  While we know there were rabid fans who clearly got it and became dedicated worshippers (such as the judge who retired to his chamber for fifteen minutes every day so as not to miss a single episode) I can only conclude that there were that many more fans who followed the show simply became it was plunked in the middle of a field of soap operas and serial dramas and featured the kind of simple home folk that resonated on the Depression era airwaves.  "Vic and Sade" was cozy on one hand, and high satire on the other.  But it was a kind of satire almost never found: it was heartwarming.

Rhymer had a pitch perfect ear for American speech and idiom, and he also, in Sade, wrote one of the first genuine comedic female characters who was also a human being.  His spareness with dialogue and incisiveness was American Harold Pinter before Pinter had been invented, and he predated the Theatre of the Absurd.  But it was his sense of people -- as Lyndon Johnson would say "I mean P-E-E-P-U-L -- I mean PEAPPAL, I'm talking 'folks'!" -- and their foibles, passions, and concerns that made the whole thing sing.


I can't love James Thurber as much as I'm supposed to, and while I admire William Saroyan I've not sure I buy all of it; Will Rogers was a performer not a writer, and the Robert Benchley's of the 1940's wrote satiric commentary, not people.  Rhymer was a great playwright who happened to write for radio, the master novelist who simply chose an unusual medium.  He was the real thing, and those of us who have managed to find him are all the richer for it.



There's more to a nation's cultural richness than "Game of Thrones" and cable news.  There are unique voices who are part of  the tapestry, voices who tell us not just what we were, but who.  



Monday, April 17, 2017

THE U.S. MILITARY KNOWS WHAT IT NEEDS

“Our military is building and is rapidly becoming stronger than ever before. Frankly, we have no choice!” - Donald Trump

Above is the moron’s latest tweet. It came in Sunday morning. I’m ignoring the others that arrived the same morning, the ones that had to do with the tax rallies around the country -- held in honor of the federal deadline for filing income tax -- for the simple reason that I don’t believe the moron’s rantings about “the election is over” and who is paying the rally folk to rally, are part of any existential threat to the nation and the world. They are merely the ravings of an eight year-old. This one about the military, however, cuts some real mustard.

First off, every word is a lie. In fact, the moron has yet to do anything to make sure that our military is building and rapidly becoming stronger; no major legislation has been passed, no budget amendments have been locked into place, and Northrop Grumman has not hired thousands of new employees to build any new super-fighters. Our military is what it was yesterday and what it was the day before and what it was under Obama. In other words, the most overblown and deadly force in history. That said, in his budget proposal, Trump did say that we ought to ramp up the military another 10%, but a budget proposal is just that -- a proposal -- and saying isn’t getting, hence no new budget has been passed. In fact, most of what Trump has done since his inauguration is roll back Obama initiatives (clean air and safety) in favor of making sure that mentally ill people can purchase guns and it’s easier to shoot sleeping bears from helicopters (I didn’t make that up).

So “our military is building and rapidly becoming stronger than ever before” is a lie. The other lie in his tweet is “stronger than ever before.” What in the world could that mean?  Stronger than during World War II? Stronger than during the Civil War? Stronger than at any time we had a conscripted force? Or perhaps he’s only alluding to our massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, which are actually pretty low-cost as far as killing goes.

The sad thing isn’t that the President of the United States is writing this, or even that he believes this flagrant untruth – for I don’t think he believes this or, in fact, anything at all (hence the vaguely insincere exclamation mark). No, the sad thing is that he knows millions of people will believe what he’s saying, nod their heads, and continue to support Militia Gargantua at any cost – most often at the cost of their own health, liberty, ability to put a roof over their own head, etc. – that he twitters on without shame, blush, or embarrassment.

Mark me: Trump wants a shootin’ and killin’ war. He wants it because he has discovered, surprisingly late, that the most effective thing an American President can do to make folks talk about him as if he's a real President – including leftist press and moderate intellectuals, who should know better – is start dropping bombs. Americans lose their minds and fall all over themselves supporting their President the minute he starts blowing up buildings, airstrips, and people in far away – ideally Muslim – lands.

The irony is that this isn’t what the military wants. The military has made clear what they want. They want a State Department that follows both the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine, which is basically to make friends and influence enemies through the proffer of fruit baskets, by which I mean cash, industry, and, if necessary, old weapons. This has been our strategy since the end of World War II, and as unwieldy as it’s been, it’s kept us from stumbling into World War III. Sadly, Trump likely has no idea who George C. Marshall is or why there should be more elementary schools named after him than John F. Kennedy. Kennedy, after all, took us eyeball-to-eyeball with the Russians, whereas Marshall extolled the very best in the American character and fed and rebuilt a continent.

The reason the military wants diplomacy above bombs is because our military has morphed over the last thirty years, more specifically the last fifteen, into a remarkably knowledgeable diplomatic force. It was the commanders and advisers on the ground, after all, who told George W. Bush that the last thing the United States should do is “de-bathifize” Iraq, advice neither Bush nor his idiot ambassador L. Paul Bremer chose to follow, thus creating… ISIS! It was the military who tried to explain to their civilian bosses the intricacies of a limited skirmish in Afghanistan, and the military who warned us about the dangers of not responding to the threat of chemical weapons in Syria. U.S. military leaders are no longer the guns and guts types that perpetuated Vietnam in lockstep with their McNamaras but, in the case of many, extremely erudite, multi-lingual, cultured professionals who know where the potholes are in the road and wish someone would listen to them.

Sadly, the last person listening to them is the President of the United States. The American people aren’t listening, either. And, as a result, more money is going to be apportioned for the hardware the military doesn't want and not the diplomacy it craves, and more soldiers and civilians are going to die for no reason other than to perpetuate the ignorance of Donald J. Trump and everyone who ever voted for him.

The mind only boggles to consider what George Marshall would say about who needs the rescuing now.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

THE TRUTH ABOUT VALENTINES AND LOVE

Like a lot of people, I don't get Valentines Day.  Who is this for?  What does it mean? This was a depressing and stressful day back in elementary school --when we had to give cheap little cardboard valentines to every person in the class,and invariably someone didn't get or give a valentine, and you can imagine the hurt feelings that created  -- and it didn't get much better over the years.  I have botched or forgotten this holiday any number of times; fortunately, my wife doesn't seem to care.  Chocolates are nice, but when aren't they?  For good or bad, we don't limit them to February 14.

The other day I noticed that there are still television commercials for this strange holiday, and they amaze me for their sheer sexist idiocy.  My favorite has an announcer intone, "Guys, what are you going to get your significant other on Valentines Day?" Then we see a slim beauty in satin tap pants and camisole answer the door to a hand offering flowers -- "flowers just get old in a matter of days" -- followed by chocolates -- "and chocolates are good for the first few but then she says" -- and now we see the beauty look sick from eating chocolates, asking (and I'm not making this up), "Do you think I look fat?"   I imagine you're wondering what the ultimate Valentine gift could be.  I sure was.   Don't worry, the answer is upon us.   You got it.  It's a four foot tall teddy bear! You may be skeptical, but I'm telling you, our slim beauty's eyes light up and she pounces on that teddy bear and cuddles it in delight with a simpering, "Ohhh!" The announcer goes on to tell us that this is the only possible gift for the lovely lady in our life, and who's to doubt him?

Unfortunately, if this vacuous moron were my lovely lady, I'd probably drink drain cleaner, but that's not my point.   This commercial seems wonderfully out of step with the times, but it's not really that far removed from bridal magazines and those hideous Harlequin or Hallmark TV movies that extoll the joys of real love, complete with montage sequence and gauzily lensed shots of quasi-sex.  It's romance porn, and it's not real love. It's a lie.

It's as big a lie as the perpetuation of the idea of the big wedding and the bride having "her day", or the ad images of happy folks at resorts walking hand in hand on the beach and drinking wine from big goblets (a sure sign of love if ever there was one, provided there's no alcholic gene in the family), or even the Viagra ads portraying middle aged couples in matching bathtubs holding hands, presumably after a terrific drug-induced romp.  I always wonder where in the hell they get those matching bathtubs and who exactly lugs them out on the back porch.

I guarantee you, young guys and gals, if you think this is love, you're headed for a life of unbelievable disappointment, with probably a side trip to divorce court.   Don't get me wrong: your big wedding will look lovely, and couples really do walk on the beach, and I guess if you can wrangle those bathtubs out on the porch, you'll be right on top of the world, but ...

But heartless bastard that I am, this kind of adventure really don't mean anything to me.  Perhaps I wouldn't be melted by someone giving me a four foot teddy bear, either.

Here's my Valentines lesson for everyone younger than me: love, believe it or not, is about losing your house.

I'm not kidding. It's about having your world crash in because sometime around 2008, a bunch of robber barons cleaned out the till.  Your wife looks at you and you look at her.  She hasn't worked since the kids were born.

You could both yell.  You could both fall apart.  I suspect the folks who had the big wedding they're still paying for might do exactly that.  But you don't do that. Nope.  This is where the rubber hits the road.  No TV commercial teddy bears are going to fix this one.

The wife goes back to work, doing part-time clerical for a neighbor across the street.  You pick up what jobs you can to keep the rent going, and basically beg borrow and steal what else you need.  A lot of humility is learned, just as you educate yourself on the value of clipping coupons and what days to buy 50% off at the grocery store.  Then your wife has the stupidest idea you've ever heard of.  "I want to go back to school and study medicine.  I want to help people."  Help people?  How about helping us, baby! 

But this is real love -- not Harlequin or Hallmark love, but the real thing -- so you go with it and she drives the little car to night classes at community college for two years catching up on courses she didn't complete in high school.   You keep doing what you can.  (Note for Betsy Devos: God bless community colleges for their cheap fees and their first rate education).

While you try to put your own career back on track, she keeps chugging along, full of doubt and anger and determination. Amazingly, she gets into one of the top medical programs in the country. Graduates with a Masters Degree in nursing. As for the actual job part, you find out she passed her certification tests while the two of you are sitting in a Carls Jr. burger place having a nervous "lunch", waiting for the news.  The message pops up on her phone.  She winds up working in a cardiac unit at one of the top hospitals in the country.  The woman managed all this when she was 52. 

Notice something?  There are no teddy bears here. There are no gauzy shots of couples clinking goblets of white wine while the surf rolls in in the distance.  There is, instead, this image: my wife cleaning up your husband in his hospital room, making sure your mother dies with dignity, and caring for your teenaged son like one of her own.  It's her working 7pm to 7 am four times a week when she's not also doing hospice care.  She's going to see you through the fear, the apprehension, the operation, and the recovery, and she's going to sit with your wife through the night and watch her vitals like a hawk.  She takes care of them, she advocates for them, and when they pass away she makes sure they do it with dignity.

Love is about a lot of things.  It's about laughter, it's about conversation, it's about what you get through together, and, yes, I guess it's also about beaches and goblets of wine, but that is so narrow a lens it's almost hard to find the true image. The true image, in the end, is about respect and admiration.   
Happy Valentines to my wife, to yours, to your husband, and to the truth.



Thursday, February 9, 2017

I AM WILBUR WRIGHT AND SO ARE YOU

As each day dawns and we're given another forehead-smacking political bombshell, it's becoming clearer just how badly America has humiliated itself.  Some days this infuriates me.   Some days I'm more rational.

Countries often humiliate themselves.  Look at France. France has humiliated itself a lot and yet it remains a great nation, a great culture, and a great people.  Take a look at Greece.  Greece humiliates itself so much it's become the long-lost brother who shows up at the wedding only to borrow money.  Greece, however, is also the cradle of democracy, and gave us theatre and philosophy.  Beat that.

The United States, of course, is exceptional, so it has to do stupid things exceptionally stupider than anyone else. The pedal goes to the metal, as it were, because this isn't Albania or Luxembourg.  So we've humiliated ourselves on a gargantuan scale -- think Superbowl half-time show, lights, lasers, smoke, gyrating pelvises.   Unfortunately, in our humiliation we've also threatened the rest of the world, causing all sorts of innocent people untold grief while putting our very history and name to shame.  

Yep, our election of the Big Orange Baby has made us an object of fear and hatred as well as a laughingstock.  How our institutions are handling the situation has made things even worse; under the leadership of Paul Ryan -- now sadly revealed not as the 'last rational man in Washington' but a craven little boy -- and Mitch McConnell -- not a tough political operator but a blowhard and scraping pol -- and the Democrats posturing as if they hadn't botched things on an epic level, we have revealed the U.S. Congress to have all the moral leadership of  a political Steppn Fetchit.  So if people truly hate the United States, who can blame them? The place is being run by the Keystone Kops, minus the charm. 

This isn't okay.  Nor, however, is it fatal.  There are some good things in all this.

For one, we are being given a unique opportunity to really run this thing around the track; to find out if the country (and all it thought it stood for) is truly great or truly full of crap.

Even more amazing, we know exactly how long that part of the process will take.   Four years!  Maybe sooner, but no longer.  Four years!  I've been delaying getting crowns done for longer than four years.

Think of it:  by the time four years is up we'll know for sure if we should rip up Gettysburg and turn it into an RV park, or keep it as a monument to the notion of government "of the people and by the people"; we'll find out if there should be a monument to Washington at all or instead put in a much needed ring-road to alleviate traffic in D.C.; or if the U.S.S. Arizona should be hauled up and sold for scrap or kept underwater for eons of little kids to gawk at.

It's a gift.  Like being told exactly how much candy you're going to have at the end of Halloween, or exactly what time your parents are going to wake up on Christmas morning.  

Four years, and all we have to do to just a little recasting. That means stop thinking of ourselves as the yo-yo's who foisted this great injustice on the world, or the hacks who fill our houses of Congress, and start picturing ourselves in far better starring roles: settlers struggling across the west, say, or the guys fighting in Guadalcanal.  How about the women of 1919 demanding the vote or John Lewis at Selma? Sacagawea leading Lewis and Clark to find the Pacific Ocean, or firefighters on 9/11?  Sully landing the plane. 

This isn't dead history stuff, unobtainable and as pertinent as the fables of Camelot, this is the real McCoy -- actual living DNA.

I have a framed picture on my wall that I look at every morning. Most people know this picture.  It's Orville Wright taking off in his airplane at Kitty Hawk, with his brother Wilbur off to the right, pausing after, I believe, having run with the plane until the moment when it should take off.   There is no artifice about this picture.  It's the real thing.  That's Orville in the plane and that's Wilbur on the ground, and they're sure too busy to have posed for this.

Some people look at the plane.  I look at Wilbur's bent left leg. There's something about that leg.  It's tentative.  It's worried.   Is this going to work?  Is it not?  It's the leg of Wilbur watching Orville take off, but it's also me trying to get my kid to get his grades up to even a "C", or trying to get my daughter to book her own plane ticket for the first time in her life, or get a loan application to go through so we can fight another day.  I am Wilbur Wright.  We are all Wilbur Wright. We are trying to get the plane in the air, despite all the failures that have come before.

This is the most inspirational picture I know of.  

This is what's going to get us through the next four years, and it's also what's going to make sure we come out better than before.  All we have to to do is master our craft and work at it, like Orville and Wilbur.  Each day.  We got out of the habit and now we're paying the price.  Now we just have to set things right.

The craft is running a democracy.  The work is paying attention.   The guys running the bicycle shop are you and me.




Friday, January 27, 2017

THE FUTURE: SOCIALISM OR MURDER

When the history of this time is written (more likely filmed, and by a director who has never read a book and co-written by his pal, who has never written one), and if the story is accurate, we will be remembered as the people who, despite the curtain being drawn back, believed in the Great and Powerful Oz, and not the meek man behind the curtain.  This is what is going to destroy us.  

The only good thing, perhaps, is that we will be too stupid to realize it's happening.  We're like the happy smiling dog who looks upon his owner with such delight, unaware that the needle the vet just plunged into him is the end.  In our case, it's not a needle, but our very vapid and all too available pop culture of dumbing down.  We'll believe anything that entertains.  Anything, that is, but the truth.

Because the truth is usually pretty complicated.  I don't just mean for stupid people, the ones watching "Dancing with the Stars" and living in double-wides, the ones we like to make fun of; I mean everyone.  Try sending an email that's more than two paragraphs long to someone with an office in a big glass office tower. They scream at you. They certainly scream at me.  When I send emails about film financing or raising money for artistic projects that have to straddle national borders, I often go into pages of detail for simpleton business types.  These business majors write back with lax punctuation and hysteria:  "thanx fr sending me a fkcing NOVEL!"   When I explain that some things -- like international co-productions of artistic endeavors, or, say tax structures  -- are complicated and thus deserve more than forty words, they shut down.  

These are the doofuses running our world.

And that's why we're actually discussing building a wall between my backyard (southern California) and Mexico. What's more amazing, people who went past the tenth grade are discussing it.  This is because the mental deficient we just elected President of the United States has convinced a huge number of people -- many of them in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other northern states -- that the reason they lost their job or feel economically pinched is because illegal Mexicans are running the Rio Grande with their laundry on their head and stealing those jobs.

Now comes the funny part.  Told to you by the man behind the curtain.

Those jobs and opportunities disappearing has absolutely nothing to do with Mexicans.  Those jobs disappeared because we no longer need people to do those jobs in any form at all, in any part of the world.  And the jobs that we do need people to perform, well, we've farmed those to Bangladesh and Pakistan, which is okay because they were shit jobs that wouldn't even buy an American a pair of jeans at Target -- which, thank God, only cost $20 due to cheap Mexican labor. 

No one who ran for President last year -- not in the primaries, and not in the General -- offered up this even harder truth, because it's too complicated and too tough to face.  Don't laugh when you first hear it, because I'm talking about the destruction of the entire society you grew up in.  Here it is.

We are less than two years away from your Big Mac being made by a machine. 

Think about that.  Obviously, if it's true for Big Macs it's true for a lot of things that we assume require the human touch. I'm talking everything from food to health care, from auto-mechanics to drug dispensing.  Factor that by twenty years and the rate of innovation and you'll realize that one of the things people will be rolling around the floor laughing about twenty years from now will be a big, crumbling piece of cement shit resting, rather lopsidedly I figure, between the United States and Mexico.  

Hopefully, they will not also be laughing about all the people we had to put to death in order to keep free enterprise humming.  Because that's the only option if we keep the blinders on.  If we don't face facts and and recognize that we have a whole new society to construct, if we just stick with simplistic rhetoric about innovation and free enterprise, bringing jobs back and creating opportunity, then we are going to run into this ugly truth eventually: too many people and not enough ways to make money to feed them.  (And, if you're an American, too many people and not enough ways to make money from feeding them).  So what's the solution?

The only solution is obvious: some sort of rational and incentivizing socialism that spreads both labor and capital across a new field of social science.  Maybe a 3 day work week for everyone and an entirely different tax structure.  I personally think it sounds pretty grim, but I don't hear anyone offering a viable alternative.  On the right, I only hear the warmed-over bromides of Ronald Reagan and all that shit about the shining city on the hill.  On the left, I only hear the pie-in-the-sky state as mother-father-sister-brother with no bill at the end of the day.  

Well, actually, we do talk about other things.

We talk about building a wall.  Which is why future generations are laughing.  Or not even there at all.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

YOU DON'T GIVE A RAPIST A HONEYMOON PERIOD

(Note: this document has been annotated for the express clarity of Trump and his supporters).

We are in for the ride of our lives.  America hasn’t been this exciting since the Civil War, or just prior, when Preston Brooks beat abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner with his cane. (For Trump and his supporters: this is a reference to a dispute between elected representatives that presaged the American Civil War, a conflict which ran 1861-1865).

And in this great age, we are going to be led largely by privileged billionaires who appear to know very little about the real lives of most Americans. The Department of Education, for instance, is to be managed by a woman who freely admits that neither she nor anyone in her family has ever had to apply for a student loan, grant, or scholarship to get higher education. She is on record as being against public education itself, something which has pretty much been on tap since Jamestown, when the town fathers decided to choose someone to act as school master for the little shavers. This inadequacy for the job is not unique. In fact, General Mattis, incoming Secretary of Defense, the guy who says, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet,” is the most qualified member of the cabinet. (For Trump and his supporters: I am not praising Mattis for this comment, but quoting it because I question the man’s state of mind and I'm comparing him to the other cabinet choices).

The Big Orange Baby, we are told, has cast these people in these roles not due to their qualifications, but because he figures they’re winners and because they look the part. That’s as far as his pee-wee intellect goes. Winners and look-rights. Their fitness to actually run anything, particularly the intricacies of government agencies, is not an issue.

Is this a great country or what?

(For Trumps: there is not an actual baby running the executive branch of the government; this is a mocking reference to Trump himself).

The Big Orange Baby was sworn in this week as Chief Big Orange Baby. He delivered a 16-minute speech written by people who, apparently, have never read or seen an inaugural speech delivered, or if they have, weren’t paying much attention. We’re supposed to believe it was written by Trump. See the picture of him writing it, here.   Doesn't he look natural?   Comfortable?   A man truly writing something?  I’ve been writing professionally since I was 16, and I can assure you, that’s what we all look like when we write something. (For Trumps: this is not true).


Of course, many believe that some guy named Stephen Miller wrote it, or the KKK guy, Steve Bannon. I don’t buy that, either. Having read the thing, I’m more inclined to believe it was written by the Young Republicans Club at my kid’s high school. What’s more, one of them, clearly, was forced to read “Native Son” in English class, a novel by Richard Wright written in 1940. Hence all that stuff about blacks in inner cities suffering great social injustices that force them to go for each other's throats.  It’s possible they also heard Elvis Presley’s recording of “In the Ghetto.” Someone sure boned up to understand the black situation in America. The one thing they didn’t bone up on is that the ‘inner cities’ are now gentrified in most parts of the country, and if you don’t believe me, try getting a house or apartment in Brooklyn or the Bronx.

I didn’t watch the actual speech because to see Trump acting the role of President reminds me of the grim fact that as of November 9, all my books about American politics and presidents are now tissue paper, worthless, just as the office itself is a farce, because this guy – and all the uninformed who voted for him, not caring about their fellow man or their fellow woman – have reduced the whole office to a comedy sketch. This may not be such a bad thing, because everyone has made too much of the role of President, but I still feel badly about all those books being so devalued.

One day after the inaugural, we got the first appearance of Trump’s Press Secretary in the actual Press Room. He held a long, informed Q and A with the members of the press, talked about how to make things work more efficiently, and outlined his methodology of attaching the job.

Joke! (Note to Trumps: this means that the previous paragraph was a joke and fake-out; it didn’t happen).

In fact, Sean Spicer stormed in and ranted for five minutes about how the press lied about the size of the crowd at the inaugural. Then Spicer himself lied, saying said the crowd was the greatest in history, certainly bigger than the crowd for Obama. He then warned the press that they’re on notice to stop putting out any stories that the Big Orange Baby is anything other than the greatest baby in the world – also a terrific dancer, musician, lover, jouster, and falconer. If you say otherwise, your head will appear on a spike on London Bridge. (For Trumps: this is a joke and comparison I’m drawing here; comparing Trump to Henry the VIII of England, who was notoriously thin-skinned about his achievements and popularity).

When questioned about Spicer’s lies the next day by Chuck Todd of NBC, Kellyanne Conway-Goebbels said, “He wasn’t lying; he was giving alternative facts.” The rest of her interview, when it came to discussing the press, included lines like “we let the press in,” “we allowed the press to cover the President,” and so on. (For Trumps: I am not supporting but decrying this woman as sorrowfully confused about democracy).

Okay, so where does all this put us? Well, as I said, we are in for the ride of our lives. And in for the job of our lives. Aye, there’s the rub. See, in my view, to survive this thing there are certain actions we must take. We must actually do something. I know that’s hard for American voters to imagine, but it’s the new reality.  Doing stuff.

Fortunately, a good step in the right direction was taken yesterday.

Yesterday, millions of women, men, and children in the United States and around the world took to the streets to protest Trump and his policies, particularly as they relate to human beings. I don’t know what this will do, exactly, but I think it’s a great practice, because we have to get into the habit of telling the government of the United States to fuck off. That’s the job I’m talking about. People like mealy mouthed hyper glib hyper-privileged Betsy Devos needs to be told to fuck off. This guy Sean Spicer, red-faced and hysterical sell-out that he is, needs to be told to fuck off. Kellyanne Conway as well. So does Exxon Mobil’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Jeff Sessions could do with being told to fuck off all day, and twice as much on weekends. In other words, this is the worst cabinet ever appointed in the history of the Republic, and I think we start right off not by bowing and scraping to the idea of the usual honeymoon period and “give them a chance”, but simply fight back from the get-go. 

Why not? You know what they’re going to do because we’ve done something they haven’t done – something the people who wrote the inaugural don’t do, something Trump doesn’t do, something his glib flak-catchers don’t do -- and that's read history books. So we know how this goes. And we’ve done something else they haven’t done: we’ve observed things, even in the last few days. So we know that fighting back, or hitting them with a brick, is the appropriate response. As General Mattis himself might say, don’t give them any quarter.

Yes, it’s highly possible that Trump the devil turns out to be no more threatening than Warren Harding, whom he resembles in so many ways, right down to the Jesus preaching VP and the corrupt cabinet, to say nothing of the popular college prof liberal who preceded him. It’s also possible he could turn out to be the last President of a relatively free and un-nuked America. But why wait to find out which one comes true? I say go after him from the get-go. He’s told us what he’s all about, over thirty years in the public eye and two years on the campaign trail. We know all we need to know. You don’t give a honeymoon period to a rapist.

That’s our ride. That’s what we’re in for. I hope we’re up for it. It’s a cinch that the glib smoothies that Trump has sunk into these super-powerful jobs aren’t up for their jobs. Let’s hope we’re up to ours.

A TRIBUTE TO BERNARD SLADE

The last time I posted to this blog, I was writing a memorial to my father, Rod Coneybeare, who passed away on Sept 5, 2019.    The in...