Be Forever Vigilant

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which finally granted American women suffrage- the right to vote.

For many today, the sad fact that roughly half of our country’s citizenry were not allowed to exercise this basic franchise as an inherent and unalienable right may seem incredible. History forgotten is history repeated. Rights of any kind are not permanently etched in stone. What might seem to be a basic and impermeable right could prove to be fragile and vulnerable to regression, and ultimately extinguished all together.

After Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retired and was replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, legal scholar and commentator Jeffrey Toobin predicted that within months a number of Red States would move aggressively to outlaw abortion. Mr. Toobin’s words were prophetic. The Supreme Court now has a decided five out of nine justices who have a history of questioning a woman’s sovereignty over her own body. Since Roe V Wade was ratified forty six years ago, the Religious Right has been fixated on reversing it. Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia were quick to react, but the true opening salvo to the broadside of Roe V Wade was fired by Alabama, where virtually all abortions are illegal, including  where pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Unbelievably, abortion laws in Saudi Arabia and a number of other Muslim countries are less restrictive and punitive. It quite literally is a religious war waged within our own country. The anti-abortionists believe that human life begins with conception, and that a zygote should have the same right to life as a fully mature,  autonomous person.  Any doctor who performs an abortion in Alabama has committed murder, and could spend the remainder of his or her life in prison. Alabama’s new abortion law, incredibly, has even been described as Draconian by no other than Pat Robertson (yes, that Pat Robertson, who in the wake of the 9/11 attacks opined that New York City was being punished by God because the Big Apple was a haven for gays, atheists and, yes- abortionists).

The Alabama law has been challenged with law suits and will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court. As other states follow in Alabama’s footsteps, there will be other litigation. Roe V Wade may go down, not in one fell Supreme Court swoop, but in increments, until it is whittled down to nothing. It would be a great day of glorious celebration, not just for the Religious Right, but for back alley quacks wielding rusty coat hangers.

And so the struggle continues. The warped patriarchy that wanted  women in the kitchen but not in the voting booth is the same that would shackle women who want freedom and autonomy over their own bodies.

Framing the battle as between Progressives and Conservatives is a misnomer. It is a battle between Progressives and Regressives. And as the slippery slope of regression grows steeper, those of us on the side of reason and justice must remember: Achieving freedom is only half the battle- keeping it is the other half.



Rachel Maddow Is Hot!

I must admit, for as long as I can remember, I have been smitten by attractive, intelligent and powerful women. There was always that certain teacher, den mother (yes, incredible as it may seem, especially to me, I was a cub scout,) librarian or nurse (this was pre-second wave feminism, and there was a dearth of women doctors, hence their omission on my list) who activated a clarion call to my burgeoning hormones. I thought from time to time I would pay homage to some of them, and who better to start with than that lady who makes the word Progressive sound like a mating call- the one- the only- Rachel Maddow!

Is it her towering height? Her preternaturally long fingers? Her Modigliani neck; her incessant and completely incongruous girlish giggles? Her dark eyes- her brazenly progressive politics?

Is it her lesbianism, making her infinitely unobtainable? Is it the knowledge that, if for some inexplicable reason she deviated from her norm for a day, an hour, even a few minutes, and we somehow, through some fluke, were to couple, that she would destroy me- that within two minutes into foreplay, she’d break every bone in my body? That one sharp contraction of her thigh adductors would be like the Heimlich Maneuver applied to my entire body, and all of my internal organs would jettison out through my mouth in one fell swoop?

Whatever the Hell it is, Rachel Maddow is HOT, HOT HOT!!

An Embarrassment Of Conspiracies

Since the dawn of humanity, there have been, I suspect, conspiracy theories. I might go a step further and postulate that there is a human need for conspiracy theories, just as there appears to be a human need for religion. Various explanations for this need are almost as plentiful as the theories themselves. One explanation for a type of conspiracy theory is a need to rationalize and externalize blame for our short comings and failures. If one’s life is not what one had hoped it would be, ah, so easy to eschew personal responsibility and cast blame on some outside group or cabal. Feel like a loser? You shouldn’t. The “Other”- that all powerful group- has been holding you back since day one from getting that promotion, that acceptance letter, that man of the year trophy or the girl or guy of your dreams. This type of conspiracy theory occupies its own niche and is paradoxical. On the one hand you’re an underachiever and “loser” (low self-esteem) but by the same token you’re so important and powerful that you represent a threat and “They” are out to get you (delusions of grandeur).

Another brand of conspiracy theory also has paranoid elements, but the conspirators are not singling out an individual but an entire group or race of individuals. One of the most enduring of these is that for hundreds of years Jews have been pulling the strings as the puppet masters of non-Jews. The various incarnations of global Jewish control may be an outgrowth of  a general antisemitism that at least goes back to the early days of Christianity, and was memorialized in the fabricated text “”Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion” which was “discovered” in the early 20th Century and vigorously promoted by Henry Ford. This supposedly ancient tome mapped out the path to Jewish world hegemony. Powerful Jews, like the Rothschild family which emerged later, will take over the banking institution and control the World’s economy, or so say the theorists.

Probably the Granddaddy of conspiracy theories concerns the JFK assassination. Hundreds of conspiracy books were spawned by this singular event. For those of us old enough to remember, at some point it was difficult to not get drawn into the conspiracy vortex, and within a few years those who adhered to the “Lone Gunman” theory became outliers. How could one person (Lee Harvey Oswald) possibly commit the crime of the century alone? But as time passed, and the evidence of a wide ranging conspiracy grew specious upon further and more modern forensic examination, the Warren Commission’s conclusion of a single assassin gained greater credence. And then there are those pesky elements of logic and common sense. If dozens, if not hundreds of co-conspirators were involved, as most of the theorists posited, after 54 years one might expect a death bed confession, or a tell all to the tabloids.

The theories come and go. Some lie dormant and resurrect depending on the times and the players. Bill Clinton, a White male from Arkansas with basically centrist positions (did he not take a Republican deficit and create a surplus? Did he not work in unison with the Republicans to affect a paring down of welfare that was arguably draconian?) , somehow was vilified by every disparate far right group or polemicist imaginable ( to say nothing of his wife, his “partner in crime”who fell again into their cross hairs twenty years later). The Clintons, they maintained, were mass murderers who for some reason had a penchant for dispatching their friends (i.e. Vince Foster, Ron Brown, James Mcdougal et al.) while not laying a finger on their enemies (prosecutor Ken Starr, etc.). This period in the Nineties spawned militia groups, a belief in sinister black helicopters and the United Nations internment camps on U.S. soil. Again, why Clinton, moderate bubba that he was?

The Birther Theory (Obama was really born in Kenya) may have been a turning point in conspiracy theories. For the first time, a conspiracy theory was given “birth” by a non-event, as opposed to a tragedy or calamitous happening. Barack Hussein Obama. His name alone opened the floodgates of both xenophobia and racism. The first Black president with the added authority of having an Islamic name that even his supporters often stumbled over (Obama- Osama?) The rules of the conspiracy game were about to change. Traditionally, the accuser will have some evidence to support the accusation (i.e. I accuse you of sleeping with my wife last night, and I have a picture to prove it.) With the Birthers, with Donald Trump as point man, the conspiracy theory required only an accusation (I accuse you of sleeping with my wife- now prove that you didn’t.) With prior conspiracy theories, as absurd as they were, there was at least some grouping of facts (Vince Foster and Ron Brown really did die.) The purported causes of their deaths may have been unfactual (homicide), and the theories’ conclusions fallacious, but at least there was some theoretical underpinning.

But the theories became more absurd and stomach turning. The despicable Sandy Hook conspiracy theory, promulgated by the sublime Alex Jones, postulated that 20 children and six adults were not slaughtered at the elementary school; it was in fact a hoax utilizing “victim” actors. Based on what smoking gun? What series of facts leading to a logical conclusion? The conclusion came first, independent and apart from facts.

Pizzagate? Hillary Clinton and Democratic operatives were running a Satanic child sex slave ring out of a D.C. pizzeria during her presidential campaign. Preposterous at face value? Not for thousands, including a man who opened fire on the pizzeria with an AR-15. Support for the theory? A twitter account that posted White Supremacist rants stated that John Podesta’s hacked emails contained codes spilling the beans on the true goings on at the pizza shop. It soon went viral.

And so it has become. Welcome to the new world where any hate monger, yahoo or idiotic bigot can pop lunacy into social media and it becomes true simply because it’s there. All are welcome on the World Wide Net, without examination or vetting. Critical thinking is a dying art and logic is no longer relevant.

Life involves a series of decisions- one of which is- how stupid do we choose to be?




Not One Of The Guys

Back in the early nineties there was an odd phenomenon called “The Iron John” movement, spearheaded by the poet Robert Bly. It was composed of men, middle aged and older; men who harbored a deep spiritual yearning to connect with their ancient, archetypal manhood, and to attain “self hood”, not unlike the feminists who were on their own search.

These men would form groups and meet out in the woods and make bonfires, then strip to their skivvies and retreat to makeshift sweat lodges, emerging cleansed and glistening. They would then form circles and beat tom toms, their breasts and bellies flopping in sync with the primitive beat; they would wail and cry and and hug each other, trying to heal and fill the void created by their fathers who didn’t spend enough time with them. Then, the climactic moment. Holding hands with fervent solidarity, they would perform the Heron Dance.

I don’t like to sweat and I don’t like other men sweating on me, especially when they wail. I wish I had never met my father.

And if you ever catch me doing the god damned Heron Dance- shoot Me!

Equal Under The Law

Tamir Rice was a twelve year old Black boy living in Cleveland. In November of 2014 two White police officers responded to a dispatch that a Black male in a recreation center was pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people. The caller twice emphasized that the gun was probably fake, then added that the Black male was probably a juvenile. The two officers arrived at the scene, claimed Rice pointed the gun at them, and one of the officers shot Rice twice. No first aid was administered . Two days later Rice died. During investigation, it was disclosed that the gun Rice wielded was indeed fake. It was also disclosed that the officer who shot Rice had previously worked for another police department, where he was deemed emotional unstable and unfit for duty. Neither officer was indicted.

In July of 2014, Eric Garner of Staten Island was approached by several police officers for allegedly selling “loose” cigarettes. He was unarmed and posed no threat to the police or bystanders. Garner expressed resentment as he felt he was being singled out. An altercation resulted, and Garner was taken to the ground. One of the officers held Garner in a prohibited choke hold. After repeatedly screaming, “I can’t breath, I can’t breath!”Garner lay motionless and unresponsive for several minutes. No attempt to provide first aid was made, and when an ambulance arrived no emergency first aid was given. Garner died, per coroner’s report, of compression to the neck; he was strangled to death. No police personnel were indicted.

In July of 2016, a 32 year old Black man named Philando Castile was pulled over by two police officers in Falcon Heights Minnesota. Also in the car were his girlfriend and her four year old daughter. When one of the officers asked for his license and registration, Castile informed the officer that, “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.” It was a licensed firearm. The officer responded, “Ok- don’t reach for it then- don’t pull it out.” Castile responded, “I’m not pulling it out.” The officer raised his voice and said, “Don’t pull it out!” He then fired at Castile seven times as Castile’s girlfriend and her daughter looked on. The aftermath of the shooting was streamed live on Facebook by video taken by Castile’s girlfriend as she and her daughter watched Castile die. Additional police arrived, and Castile’s girlfriend was cuffed and taken into custody. After an investigation the shooting officer was charged with manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm. At trial he was acquitted of all charges.

In July of 2015, Samuel Dubose, an unarmed Black man, was fatally shot by a White University Of Cincinnati police officer during a traffic stop. The officer asked for Dubose’s driver’s license, and he replied he did not have it with him. The officer opened the door on the driver’s side, when Dubose pulled it shut and started the engine. The officer drew his gun and shot Dubose in the head. Sources differ as to whether the car was moving before Dubose was shot. The officer was indicted for murder and involuntary manslaughter. His first trial was deadlocked. The prosecution wanted to retry, but the judge denied the prosecution’s request for a change of venue and that a Confederate flag t-shirt the defendant wore at the time of the shooting could not be presented as evidence. A second trial also deadlocked, after which the case was dropped. The defendant was, however, fired, and was later awarded $350,000 for unfair dismissal from his employer.

In June of 2015, Dylan Roof, a blond haired, blue eyed, baby faced White supremacist, entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and shot nine Black people to death during a Bible study. His motive, purportedly, was to incite a race war. After a brief manhunt, Roof was arrested and eventually convicted of his heinous crimes. At the time of his apprehension, young Dylan complained to the arresting officers that he was hungry. They promptly responded by treating him to Burger King.

Mommy Dearest

The question has been asked- why hasn’t Donald Trump unfurled his famous expletives and invective toward the person who has emerged as his number one nemesis- Nancy Pelosi? Could it be, oh gentle reader, that in spite of his dominant strong man persona, the POTUS is in fact- and in secret- a submissive- in the parlance of the sm subculture, a bottom?

What if- and this is not beyond all conjecture- Trump enjoys a rich fantasy life in which he imagines The Speaker Of The House giving him spankings- sound relentless spankings; forcing him to crawl on hands and knees and wearing diapers? Perhaps Pelosi is in fact a dream come true for The Donald. None can deny that Madam Speaker is very stern in a Mary Poppins sort of way, and a strict disciplinarian (perhaps qualities acquired from years as the Minority “Whip”). Perhaps not only in the dark chambers of his imagination, but in the House Chambers themselves after hours, the two of them actually have clandestine interludes. I can almost hear that calm but no-nonsense voice- “Donald- have you been misbehaving again? I’m not going to have to give you another punitive enema, am I? You’ve already had six today.” And perhaps such enemas are not just punitive, but palliative as well, considering the possibility- nay, the likelihood- of decades of impacted KFC.

Yes indeed, the pundits have pondered why Trump has not coined a disparaging nick name for Madam Speaker, as he has with “Crooked Hillary”, “Lyin Ted” or “Little Marco”?

But perhaps he has- spoken only in those private moments when he is awash in a glow of warm, docile obedience, when he calls her- yes- “Mommy!”

Sins Of Omission

As I grow older and the hour glass grows bottom heavy, I find myself reflecting upon my life. And although I have turned my back on formal religion, the concept of sin has never strayed far. I am a man, I like to believe, of both compassion and conscience, and perhaps this is why my sins continue to haunt me. None of us are pristine, and we all have blood on our hands to some degree, either through our own direct actions, or by others once removed. But the sins that haunt me the most are not the result of what I have done, but what I did not do. The worst of sins, for many of us, are sins of omission; those times when in the face of cruelty or injustice to others, we were passive and did nothing.

There are two examples from early childhood of sins of passivity, the memories of which never dim with time; they are always in my thoughts.
When I was six, I attended Imperial Grammar School, in South Gate, a city in South East Los Angeles County. I remember it was a school with no grass, and during recess the children played games on the asphalt, and adult supervision was nearly laissez faire. This was the Nineteen Fifties.
One day I saw an extremely angry group of children who had surrounded another child. As I moved closer, I saw a little Black girl in the center. The other children, all White, shouted and screamed at her, and I will never forget the hateful words of one of the more aggressive boys- “We don’t want you here because you’re a nigger!”And the face of the little girl showed fear and hurt; and much more. I saw strength, pride and defiance in her eyes. I do not know where she came from, or her name. I do not know what happened to her, nor remember seeing her again. But I remember her face and those eyes-they have become a part of me.

A few years later, my family moved a short distance to the city of Downey. Upward mobility. We lived on a cul-de-sac private street. There was a sense of privilege and superiority among both the adults and their children. Adjacent to our street was a large lot, vacant except for a very old, ramshackle house where the Tanner family lived.
They were a poor family, and the daughters, Carol and Eileen, wore old hand me downs that seemed to be from another era. Carol was the older, about eleven, and Eileen was about my age, nine. There was nothing wrong with those girls. They were sweet, pretty and intelligent. Both had red hair and cute freckles. And they were pariahs.
They were victims of class hatred. The kids who were my neighbors despised them because they were seen as a blight on our perfect, upper middle class neighborhood of custom homes and large yards.
One day after a rain, a number of the boys from the neighborhood, all older than me, were playing in the vacant field across from the Tanner’s house. Carol unwisely ventured over to them. She wanted to visit- to be a part of the neighborhood. After screaming names at her, Carol was chased and caught, and thrown into a large puddle. One of her shoes came off, and a boy gleefully put mud in it. I remember as if it were yesterday.
As she cried and struggled, Mr. Woods, one of the fathers and a principal at a local school, drove by on his way home. he stopped, and got out of his car. I breathed a sigh of relief; he would put a stop to it. And he did. He sided with the boys, and scolded Carol to never come to our neighborhood again; to stay where she belonged. And she limped home on one shoe, sobbing with every step.
Not long after, the Tanner’s house was demolished to make way for an apartment building. I never saw Carol or Eileen again.

What could I have done? Physically intervening would have required more physical courage than I had, certainly back then. But I could- and should have done something- even something small.
I could have approached the little Black girl, perhaps in private, and told her how sorry I was; that although I could not feel all of her pain and humiliation, I certainly felt some of it. I should have done something to show her she was not entirely alone. And perhaps I could have gone over to Carol’s house with a gift or note telling her that I always felt she was pretty and worthy, and that I was far more like her than the boys who had bullied her, and told her of the times when I was bullied by them as well. But I did nothing, and am forever haunted by the faces of those girls.

But I’m not dead yet. And neither are you. I try to be active in the face of injustice, but I often falter. The opportunities are everywhere to step in and defend someone. To give and take a risk, however small. To intervene; to stand up for someone else.
We don’t have to take a bullet for someone, but by doing nothing, in a sense we already have.

The Exquisite Humor Of The Serial Killer

Of late there has been a spate of documentaries on serial killers (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, The Golden State Killer and of course, the perennial favorite, Charles Manson and family). We are fascinated and repulsed by them; they are like road side carnage that, try as we may to avert our eyes, we simply have to gawk with morbid curiosity. They do unspeakable things; they are evil incarnate, and we absolutely love to hate them. But they are not without redemption. As the following thoroughly researched piece will show, they have, well, after their own fashion, an exquisite sense of humor.

In the nineteen teens and twenties, a man with the ludicrously benign name of Albert Fish terrorized New York City. This fiend, also known as the Brooklyn Vampire and the Moon Maniac, raped, tortured and murdered- and his demonic appetites focused on children. In addition to his other vices, he was an unabashed cannibal.
He wold abduct children, and after murdering them he cooked them, savoring their most delectable parts in stews and roasts. Well mannered gourmet that he was, he would then send his victims’ parents thoughtful, eloquent thank you notes expressing gratitude for providing him such tasty meals.

Life long penal system recidivist Gary Gilmore had gained fame for insisting to be executed for a pair of senseless murders he committed in Utah in 1976. He was interviewed by Playboy Magazine shortly before being dispatched by an eager firing squad. The interviewers asked him why, after the second murder, he carelessly shot himself in the hand; allowed himself to be sighted near the crime scene by someone he knew; then, called his cousin, describing his predicament and asking for a ride home. Instead, she called the police. When the interviewers asked if shooting himself then calling his cousin suggested a subconscious desire to get caught, he replied, “Accidents can happen to psychopaths as easily as anyone else.”

In the summers of 1976 and 1977, David Berkowitz, a.k.a. the Son Of Sam, believed his dog was exhorting him to embark on a murder spree. He murdered six people and wounded several others on the steamy streets of the Big Apple-terrorizing Queens and the Bronx- paralyzing with fear the neighborhoods of Flushing and Yonkers. He mocked the police between murders in the form of enigmatic letters. But ultimately, his luck and elusiveness ran out. When finally captured, a search of his car produced a machine gun.
“Where were you going with that machine gun?”, asked the arresting officer.
“To the Hamptons”, The Son Of Sam blithely replied. “To the Hamptons.”