Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Mar
14

          The pandemic began and I was sure of one thing, but no idea other things were coming. I knew the virus would be around longer than expected but not that our national response would be outright resistance to good sense and the best science–that the war we would wage would be against each other, not the deadly disease. Nor did any of us guess that as it waned, a tyrant long in the making would rise to shake the Western world.

          Amid retirement and for the first time in my adult life I had no organization or newsroom to shepherd through a crisis. I had learned already, from having worked once with an aging population, that when one lays down a career, it’s risky not to have a plan. One cannot drift, cannot say he or she will merely sleep late, idle days away or travel aimlessly.

           My plan was not as structured as in mid-career but there were precious spaces waiting for me and I was ready to defend them from those who imagined I had nothing to do but help them get what they wanted; I knew how to say that I was saving that time for something else, which sufficed to being left to what I wanted thereafter.

          Those precious spaces would be filled with the bibliography that had shaped me through college and graduate studies. I re-visited that curricula to recall not only what I had learned but what I had missed—and what was at stake when the authors wrote what they wrote and what their ideas and the events meant in real time.

          My studies were in the humanities: literature, history, philosophy, theology, poetry and language—things that carried Western civilization to greatness in the centuries preceding ours. I revisited Plato and Aristotle where I first deplored the former’s absurd notion of two worlds and that we aren’t living in the real one; that people who didn’t believe certain ways should be punished or put to death; that if we had followed Aristotle religion would be far different today, based on ethics instead of dogma.

 When I re-read Aeschylus and his literary kin I realized for the first time how far ahead they were of their own world and what was at stake for them to say what they said—as it came to be for Socrates himself. And early on I loved the pre-Socratics, who were irreverent to the max, questioned all they were told and had their own thoughts; that so many then and long after them suffered for their beautiful minds because Plato had taught dogma only too well, and how to use it to silence upstarts.

          But there were many geniuses in the mainstream too, people who pulled up the rest of humankind with their disciplined minds. Science has done us the greatest favors but today in the face of potential world-wide devastation from disease we dissed them, called them names and, in our blessed ignorance, thought we knew better. Frankly, we were lucky that enough people were careful, followed the science and helped ease the attack while strains of the pandemic ran their course. My guess is we’re still going to pay for our obstinance in ways we won’t fully know for perhaps another generation.

          We were at war with COVID and its variants but we chose to fight each other. How dumb was that? And now, convinced that we know better than geniuses what’s good for us, we’ve set ourselves up for future devastation. We laugh at old depictions of evil, thinking they were meant to terrify gratuitously but folks then, like people now, thought evil shows up in obvious costume and the scary depictions called attention to look below surfaces for its presence—as Augustine startled the faithful in his time that the antichrist was not outside, but within, the Church itself.

          Now there’s Putin. Donald Trump needs to look deep into that guy and see not a “genius” but the next great evil in our world. No one seems able to stop him; maybe Aristotle’s notion of tragedy will save the day—that Putin’s kind is that of the unstoppable jerk who, at last, brings down himself.

          So the answer may be in the past as much as the present, for as Santayanna said, those who know not history are doomed to its repetition.

           

Mar
14

          February, though short in duration, began with the sage forecasts of Punxsutawney Phil, and ended with Presidents Day, to either of which we give little credence or importance.

Between were days of racy, suggestive Valentines and of storefronts are sick with every shade of red. Time to love, because we say so.

          But I offer no love whatever to pro football or its plantation culture, now or any time until it passes muster with those who’ve brought it adoring crowds, insane wealth and the attention of America and the world.

          I speak of certain skin colors within the showy helmets and uniforms that, combined with all the bright hues of reds, whites, blues, oranges and purples, grace the equally bright green gridirons before our tv and stadia eyes. The names of such athletes adorn not only our Sundays and Super Bowls but MVP lists and Halls of Fame. Sadly, while otherwise allowed to touch, pass and kick the football, those of darker skin are not given the coaching reins because—what?

          Surely my dear readers know whereof I speak. Many players of color have bit their tongues whilst suffering loss of such honors, typically the next step up from years of performance under high physical and mental standards. Brian Flores however will no longer shut up, but his case will be a hard one to press forward because the NFL is led by heads as hard as Confederate generals of yore who today still deny equality and by so doing perpetuate modern-day inequality.

          This outrage deserves what the great American Emerson said of the Fugitive Slave Law of his time: “…it is a filthy law and by god I will not obey it.” Nor will Brian Flores put up with this longstanding practice but if there is no incriminating tape or other whistleblowers to step forward and confirm his charges he, like Colin Kaepernick, will be just another casualty.

Today this vestige of plantation-ism is not said out loud. Players’ helmets and uniforms are affixed with words and symbols touting the end of racism in their sport but the real “players” are owners and front offices where actual rules are made and no zebras are around to blow the pea and cost them touchdowns, and money.   

          And the spectacle that begins in late summer now expands into February, furthering embossing its cachet in the calendar. Not even the seasons of major holidays can compete with this lowliest of months that also has more r’s and oysters than any other.

          This year it opened with Flores’ complaint and egg should be on all faces, fans included, who could rise up and stay away for even one game to show owners that there is power elsewhere to shake their foundations.

          And here’s the irony: football is the most macho of sports but also the most cowardly. Many of these manly-men can’t take a needle, let alone have the nerve to confront a sport that needs to know spectators aren’t the only people to be afraid of. Are you listening, Tom Brady?—they can’t hurt you now: you’re the biggest dog in the stadium and even beer-guzzling, pizza-chomping lowbrows would close their tailgates and listen to you.

          When can any sport fall from grace? When the actors—whether owners or athletes—think they’re bigger than the game itself, and bigger than the nation that has given them such wealth and opportunity.

          By the time you read this, maybe the Houston Texans or others will have hired Brian Flores. But until one does, no love here for the NFL.

Jan
14

A navigator/explorer sets out with royal backing to find a passage to India, and comes nowhere near it. He disembarks far from his objective, sees brown-skinned people and cries, “Look! Indians!” From thence he is known as a great discoverer and the rest is a ball of twisted history.

          Columbus discovered nothing. He wandered lost was found by people native to that soil. But such is the Euro bias regarding so much of what was the New World. Columbus was an interloper with the cheek to deem the house his, and all its inhabitants.

          There is something about when a time is right, and this is it. We can no longer afford to be numbskulls when it comes to the truth of origins, especially where we live, move and have our being.

          Worse, the people here are incredibly misnamed. What were they before this cockeyed invasion? Well, throughout the New World they were many and known by as many names, but those he found near San Salvador were Taino. Columbus, by the way, was also lusting for gold under the banner of God. The natives were unwarlike, unarmed and a willing market for baubles Chris brought along.

          It occurred to him that such nice people, who were well-built and handsome to boot would make good slaves so he bagged half a thousand

and FedEx-ed them to Spain. Imagine his surprise when Isabella sent them back—after all, if Spain were to own this land-grab, the inhabitants thereof would be Spanish and ineligible for enslavement.

          Chris was both a bad manager and a brutal one, which was known to all who knew and tried to love him but found such to be impossible. He ended up in irons, returned to Spain, stripped of titles and died 14 years after his great “discovery.” Good ol’ Chris: RIP.

          He had bounced around on that first trip–the Caribbean to Haiti and the Dominican, and later Panama. Sadly, he wasn’t the first in these parts. Leif Eriksson was ahead of him by 500 years, and seafarers from China and Africa likely even before Leif.

          Then there’s Amerigo Vespucci, after whom we are all named Americans. He followed shortly after Chris and knew something the latter didn’t—that there were two continents, now known as North and South America.

          So all this time we have been Indians and/or Americans, thanks to Italian explorers. And here it gets touchy. In all such bargains, something is gained and something lost. Italians are justly proud of Chris and Amerigo, but don’t call them “discoverers.”

          The majority of my DNA is Iberian and Central American. I know about lies on all sides of that. To Spanish conquerors God equaled Gold. That’s why they came to Mexico. The conquest of Mexico is a “patriotic” story, of which there are a many throughout the world, all intended to make winners look good. Spain was the deemed the capital of the world at the time but when Cortes entered what is now Mexico City he saw something even more grand, took advantage of trusting people and while putting an end to human sacrifice, took time to burn the feet of the leader, Montezuma, in hopes of getting him to tell them where the gold was.

          Nor am I a stranger to the bogus patriot-tale of the Alamo: Texas was part of Mexico and thieves and malcontents here begged to buy its land cheap, and become citizens of the host country. Once in the majority they said it was all theirs—unless Mexico wanted to fight over it. Hence the Alamo, a cooked-up story of “victims” who fell to a brutal enemy. If Mexico invaded us now how would we react? But to this day, Texans still say they “stole it, fair an’ square.”

          Enough of this. Let’s tell the truth, this time about Columbus. Our City Councils soon entertain changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Be there or be square.

Time to live the truth or go on living a lie.

         

Jan
06

A Christmas Meditation

          In old Depression times the above could have two meanings: for being so poor that a lump of coal (a precious commodity then) was all a kid could expect in a holiday stocking; or punishment for being bad before Christmas—both harsh lessons in life for youngsters.

          Today we’re putting it there ourselves. We’re bad to the bone and soon will wonder why our lives have become impoverished due to attitudes and actions of recent years, for we are in blessed denial of the current pandemic. Yes, there was some resistance to doing the smart thing during the one of some 100 years ago, but nothing to the extent of today. Or take the later Polio epidemic: remember how no one, but no one, wanted to end up in an Iron Lung?

          Today, half the population thinks it’s smarter than Fauci and all those who actually know a thing or two, and are following their own lies, hunches and jack-leg news sources to avoid needles, masks and close contact amid concerts and athletic events.

          Dare we think to get away with this? Our muddle-headed behavior will bring more “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 and its emerging variants as well as new spikes in death among the un-vaxed. We are literally headed for a holocaust from a Beast that long ago could have been neutralized save for our recalcitrance.

          We resist the simplest measures to save ourselves and others via immunization, masks, hand-washing and keeping our distance. But, oh, what a burden we feel the experts have laid upon us!—meanwhile grown men still wear ball caps uncomfortably turned around, and butt-crack jeans, while kids sport backpacks themed with all sorts of  trendy video heroes. Kids’ COVID masks would be an equally easy sell but such would be an imposition on “freedom” and a concession to “government” that would be an offense to God and our precious egos.

          Not to mention the fear of needles. Even big, strong athletes wreck their future health in the pursuit of fame and fortune, but are fearful of a pin-prick.

          In a life and galaxy now very far away, I was very hard on the so-called Me Generation, which I declared to be a pandemic of its own in the making—you know, the Coming of the Millennials–who pounced on me like jackals. I merely asked then what I’m asking again: Did we think we’d get away with that ridiculous notion of self-ness that at the time permeated everything from gurus of the day, therapists, preachers and vote-seekers?

          Well, it’s here, and it’s why we are where we are with COVID. But you can’t tell us what to do because we’re all Einsteins.

          Ronald Reagan, America’s pet cowboy in the day, piled on, telling us that government was our enemy, so he’s to blame for that lasting part of the equation. Of course, he said it so he could get elected, run the government, and drive the national debt to new heights amid conspicuous consumption—all in the name of Rugged Individualism.

          The Bagavad Gita is an ancient tale of a warrior standing amid a vast plain on which two great armies are poised for mutually assured destruction, when he notices that beloved friends and kinsmen are on both sides and he desperately wants to call it all off. But his charioteer, the god Krishna, lays on him the daunting truth—that everything they’ve done before has led to this perilous moment that now must be endured.

          It is a tale of the journey of the human soul, with the lesson that to change an effect we must change the causes of it. That’s karma.

          We’ll soon want to call off this pandemic, but it’ll be too late. To avoid another, we’ll need to change our ways.

          It’s an old story: while “things” may change, human nature does not. It is our greatest enemy, and the big lump of coal in our stockings.

         

Dec
31

          As history warns, democracy’s most lethal challenges come from within, not without. Donald Trump, until his ego thrust him into politics, presented himself to the world as a much different man: aggressive, yes, but charming and not a tad affably soft-spoken. Then he morphed into a monster: loud, insolent and name-calling–shedding hosts of public friends on whom, as well as countless others, he declared all-out war.

          That should have been an unmistakable clue, a warning that a mad dog was about the premises, and to extend a friendly hand was only to have it bitten. But Donald is at last a promoter, not a warrior, beneficiary of multiple deferments from manly conflict; laughably Gen. Bone-spurs at best, warring via courts and the intimidation of expensive lawsuits that sane people deem frivolous and unworthy–all learned at the feet of the disreputable Roy Cohn, lawyer to the equally disreputable Joe McCarthy of senatorial infamy whose creation of the so-called Red Scare hurt more innocent Americans than it thwarted the bugbear of domestic communism.

          Mankind is a herd animal, yes, but as Freud added, correctly– “with a leader”–and Donald is just that; it’s a cult and he’s the cult leader. When people believe any and everything from the mouth of one person, drink the tea and give the cup to their children, they’re in a cult. In its most basic expression: when two people think exactly alike, one of them isn’t thinking. I too assumed that Trump’s early threat that he could commit murder on Fifth Avenue in the Big Apple and get away with it, was mere hyperbole, public theater, but no longer: were that to occur, who could now doubt that his minions would say, Well, better that than the prospect of Joe Biden and his “socialism.”?

Many of Donald’s followers, like him, are a people of grievance; for years a people scorned, or so they felt. Their social cohort was not the one seen on TV or at iconic public celebrations—which is why they stuck with their evangelists despite the latter’s hypocrisy. But that has changed: their Awards shows and celebrity levels are good as any, and were merely undercover prior to that—researchers long knew that Country singers were far out-selling the Sinatra/Como/Williams etc. crowd. But all the public got to see in entertainment mags were the Rat Pack and their ilk.

So why should the aggrieved care? Actually they don’t. It’s a culture war more than anything. The Civil War was urban industrial North against an agrarian South, and the elephant of slavery inflamed the difference. Today it’s still two different kinds of people, staring across an unbridgeable divide, and race is still in the mix. Strange it is, however, that a rich blowhard northerner should be the modern standard bearer of the Red State crowd.

Some liberal moralists deem that they can woo Trumpkins with love, whatever that means: by being neutral, or pretending to be; not ruffling feathers; being good listeners. Lotsa luck. This too is a war, less with weapons than with words and influences. M.L. King, Jr. said he loved his enemies but didn’t flatter himself that it was the solvent of racial evil; only laws with teeth in them were the best means of legislating morality.

The real liberal fear is that Don will keep the GOP in a stranglehold and run again in 2024. File that under #AintGonnaHappen: Loss of power is a game-changer. When Truman fired Gen. MacArthur, amid an angry chorus of militarists Doug roared back to the U.S. to run against Harry and take his job. But without his eagle-crested hat, aviator glasses and corncob pipe, he was just a balding old man in a gray suit who settled for delivering a long, slow swan-song. Donald will be met by a score of other egotistical wannabes hoping to be president four years from now.

We’ve dodged a bullet. Trump is fired and all who come in second in the presidential sweepstakes are otherwise known as: Losers.

May
06

           In this Age of Coronavirus, as in other times that we were reintroduced to our sense of mortality, a cry is heard from sundry reverend voices, i.e. religious leaders, in solemn meetings and august journals: “Does God still speak?” and if so, “What is God saying to us today?”

          Back in my Missouri Ozarks, such daring remarks from pulpits brought lamentations that the preacher had stopped preaching and gone to meddling. When reporting on one such clergy-klatch a couple decades ago, I ventured a corollary that, to wit, when assuming one is privy to the mind of God, one had best be careful lest it be the Devil speaking to him.

          But the questions persist in these times, and as to whether the Almighty is trying to tell us something, I say, You tell me:

          When something good rather than ill happens to us modern Jobs (that’s a biblical reference, not a tech pioneer) we’re heard to say we’re blessed of God. When visited by woes, we say God has something good in mind for us if only we can figure it out. When a populace was beset by, e.g., a Nebuchadnezzar or other invading tyrant, it was declared in retrospect that God was using that person and his violent destructiveness to make the poor victims better people—a harsh means of doing so, to be sure. Why can’t we just say the sorry schmucks found that life is sometimes unfair and, yes, there may be lessons gained therefrom, but not always.

          To bring this line of reasoning up to date, just about the time the faithful had stopped tsk-tsk-ing over the grievous harm done by trusted Church leaders to children and youth, and decided it was time to forget about it all and go on with our lives, was it God or something else that burned down Notre Dame Cathedral—and on Holy Week, to boot?

          Or before even one presidential term is up, Who or what sent this Plague of biblical proportions that tries our souls and interrupts our precious lives? Where’s the blood supply to splash on our door lintels in hopes this whole damn thing will spare at least those of us who deem ourselves righteous, compared to all those we think deserve to be dope-slapped, big time, to show that we are right and they are wrong?

          I could go on, but no doubt you get the point.

          Still, news ink and air waves remind us that somebody still thinks they know what God is thinking, like leaders of certain mega-churches who despite science and whose experts continue to call their thousands of worshippers to gather in close quarters and be assured that they are washed in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus to be exact, and immune to the kinds of things that have laid waste to populations throughout history. Much as I disagree with these gentry, I wish no such harm on anyone, but can’t help fear they are in for a heap o’ trouble. One can only wonder what J.C. is thinking about of all this, but after all these centuries he’s no doubt seen and heard everything and may be concerned mostly about his brand.

          If Trump can blame Wuhan, China and Barack Obama for our current fix, I take liberty to blame Plato for the kind of religion we bear on our weary backs. Had we listened to Aristotle, God would be a less pushy so-and-so and we would not be abused of the notion that there are two worlds and we’re not living in the real one. Religion would not be creedal and there’d be no sects competing for which is most favored by the Big Guy. 

          Our hallowed stories of national and religious righteousness would be important, but not absolute, truth. Plato has dominated not because his fantastical notions were so appealing but because he was a talented writer, and Aristotle’s are gleaned solely from his students’ notes—and you know how bad that tends to be.

          In truth, what we know and believe are mostly accidents of history, not unvarnished fact. Thus we are constantly assailed by the noise of snake-oil peddlers—including presidents who will endorse things based on his “hunch” that they might work.

          Science and scientists are not perfect but they are the front lines of our most enlightened investigations of the world we live in—and again we can thank Aristotle for that.

          Do I hear a real call to #DrainTheSwamp; i.e., of out-dated notions and of favoring would-be tyrants and dictators over that messy, time-consuming but beautiful thing—democracy–?

          Time to give it a go.

          (John Burciaga of writes on politics, pop culture and social issues and may be argued with at will at Ichabod142@gmail.com) 

Apr
09

           Nixon tried but failed. It was ominous but he really didn’t even come close. We deemed it impossible anyway; we said it couldn’t happen here.

           But it has. Don’s not quite an emperor but he’s a tyrant. And please don’t say he isn’t. Look at everything he’s done, from start to finish, in less than four years. Say you like his tyranny, at least that would be honest, but don’t say he isn’t one. All he needs is just a little more time to put in on ice. Witness, adding to his already-long list of intrusions, the politicization of pardons and sentence commutations.

          He may be re-elected; he may not. But for now he’s here and he’s the proverbial bull in a china shop. He’s hardly the first in history, given there’s been lots of them, you know, back when men were men and life was cheap–i.e., men were chronic dogs of war and, yes, life wasn’t worth a sou.

          My mantra is that I love dead poets, as well as dead philosophers and playwrights. I think they got it right the first time. Check it out. But before we say that all old days were bad ones, we can bypass a lot of prior history only to find that we’re not all that different. Rome’s republic goes way back but change the suits and human nature was not all that different. The Republic was complicated and clumsy, and so is ours. Our democracy is downright messy: check the news any day.

          Rome got their system of government from Aristotle, including separation of powers, like we have, except that legislation started in their senate (same root as we get “senile,” i.e., the old pharts of the aristocracy) not the Assembly of average men which is more like our House of Reps. It worked well, then fell apart when Julius Caesar went for the brass ring and got stabbed in the rotunda, which had to hurt. But his adopted son took over, avenged ol’ dad and was really a Caesar for whom the senate was reduced to a bunch of suck-ups. Sound familiar?

          That first real emperor, Augustus, also introduced the Pax Romana, a long period of peace and low taxes—which, as you know, doesn’t sound familiar. And things went swimmingly, till they didn’t. For the next several hundred years there were good emperors and bad ones. Some of the worst you may not recognize by name, but you may Nero, Domitian and Diocletian, et a. All were in some way vile, vicious, murderous and/or perverted. The weakness in that system was that people often inherited that role; and when an emperor didn’t have a viable son to hand off to, he adopted one—that’s how Octavian became Augustus and followed his dad Julius.

          The people didn’t want bad ones but they got them. We said that couldn’t happen here because there is no divine right of kings or succession by family. And there’s the irony: we elect our leaders, and we elected the one we’ve got. Imagine that. So off and on the Romans had good emperors and every so often bad ones till the Visigoths seized the Empire at a weak moment and the toga party was over.

          Donald is a tyrant and if we can elect one, we can elect another. And another. Not in succession perhaps but, you know, off and on. And they’ll all be elected. So who’s better: the ancient Romans who had knuckleheads foisted on them, or us educated, sophisticated folk who choose our political poison? Go ahead, give me odds.

          The Romans also educated half of the adult male population, a high rate of literacy for the middle and upper classes, largely in the humanities. What, no STEM, you say? Nope, but in what we call the Classics, a tradition that lasted until near the end of the 19th century in Europe and into the early 20th in Britain. They learned about human nature and became world leaders for most of civilized history.

          What we know now are cell phones and all kinds of tech but things are running wild as hackers feed us fake news and tell us who to vote for. For over a hundred years we’ve been building and re-building schools and raising new ones but we’re dumb as posts about life.

          Thank god we’ve got a dictator. He says he’s a stable genius, the “Chosen One” who will do what’s best for us, and tell us what to do as well. It’s Hobbes’ Leviathan all over again.

          In your dreams you said it couldn’t happen here. But the dream became nightmare. Now it’s time to wake up and do something about it.

         Don’t wait for the Visigoths.

         

         

         

Mar
24

          Nixon tried but failed. It was scary but he really didn’t even come close. We deemed it impossible anyway; we said it couldn’t happen here.

          But it has. Don’s not quite an emperor but he’s a tyrant. And please don’t say he isn’t. Look at everything he’s done, from start to finish, in less than four years. Say you like his tyranny, at least that would be honest, but don’t say he isn’t one. All he needs is just a little more time to put in on ice. Witness, adding to his already-long list of intrusions, the politicization of pardons and sentence commutations.

          He may be re-elected; he may not. But for now he’s here and he’s the proverbial bull in a china shop. He’s hardly the first in history, given there’s been lots of them, you know, back when men were men and life was cheap–i.e., men were chronic dogs of war and, yes, life wasn’t worth a sou.

          My mantra is that I love dead poets, as well as dead philosophers and playwrights. I think they got it right the first time. Check it out. But before we say that all old days were bad ones, we can bypass a lot of prior history only to find that we’re not all that different. Rome’s republic goes way back but change the suits and human nature was not all that different. The Republic was complicated and clumsy, and so is ours. Our democracy is downright messy: check the news any day.

          Rome got their system of government from Aristotle, including separation of powers, like we have, except that legislation started in their senate (same root as we get “senile,” i.e., the old pharts of the aristocracy) not the Assembly of average men which is more like our House of Reps. It worked well, then fell apart when Julius Caesar went for the brass ring and got stabbed in the rotunda, which had to hurt. But his adopted son took over, avenged ol’ dad and was really a Caesar for whom the senate was reduced to a bunch of suck-ups. Sound familiar?

          That first real emperor, Augustus, also introduced the Pax Romana, a long period of peace and low taxes—which, as you know, doesn’t sound familiar. And things went swimmingly, till they didn’t. For the next several hundred years there were good emperors and bad ones. Some of the worst you may not recognize by name, but you may Nero, Domitian and Diocletian, et a. All were in some way vile, vicious, murderous and/or perverted. The weakness in that system was that people often inherited that role; and when an emperor didn’t have a viable son to hand off to, he adopted one—that’s how Octavian became Augustus and followed his dad Julius.

          The people didn’t want bad ones but they got them. We said that couldn’t happen here because there is no divine right of kings or succession by family. And there’s the irony: we elect our leaders, and we elected the one we’ve got. Imagine that. So off and on the Romans had good emperors and every so often bad ones till the Visigoths seized the Empire at a weak moment and the toga party was over.

          Donald is a tyrant and if we can elect one, we can elect another. And another. Not in succession perhaps but, you know, off and on. And they’ll all be elected. So who’s better: the ancient Romans who had knuckleheads foisted on them, or us educated, sophisticated folk who choose our political poison? Go ahead, give me odds.

          The Romans also educated half of the adult male population, a high rate of literacy for the middle and upper classes, largely in the humanities. What, no STEM, you say? Nope, but in what we call the Classics, a tradition that lasted until near the end of the 19th century in Europe and into the early 20th in Britain. They learned about human nature and became world leaders for most of civilized history.

          What we know now are cell phones and all kinds of tech but things are running wild as hackers feed us fake news and tell us who to vote for. For over a hundred years we’ve been building and re-building schools and raising new ones but we’re dumb as posts about life.

          Thank god we’ve got a dictator. He says he’s a stable genius, the “Chosen One” who will do what’s best for us, and tell us what to do as well. It’s Hobbes’ Leviathan all over again.

          In your dreams you said it couldn’t happen here. But the dream became a nightmare. Now it’s time to wake up and do something about it.

Don’t wait for the Visigoths.


         

         

Feb
02

          New Year’s greetings are past, Resolutions already broken, and the Year of Our Lord 2020 will be as messy as the last.

          To re-set expectations, comedian Ricky Gervais at the recent Golden Globes cared not a fig for the pompous array of egos before him and gave the world of celebrity a dose of what it needed most: humility—a reminder that, as he said, what they were about to hear were JOKES, for god’s sake, and since all those gathered would be dead soon enough, they’d best lighten up and stop taking themselves so seriously. Amen to that. Celebrities are our way of re-creating royalty despite giving it up when we left the Brits, but none of those who stride down Red Carpets will last as long as Queen Liz: new hunks and chicks are ever ready to take their places on the path of brief fame and fortune.

          The holidays past should remind us that the whole of our winter solstice is about the return of the sun, first noticed not by shepherds on Judean hillsides but by ancients long before, who feared the disappearing orb in the sky would depart forever and leave them as “people lost in darkness.” Imagine their delight when the source of heat, life and nourishment came back each cycle of seasons, making them the lucky ones who “saw a great light,” from whence cometh the notion.

          Early Christians deemed it advisable to co-opt that pagan date of celebration as their own, but all those other religions that also celebrate the returning light are totally legitimate—and one can do worse than to glory in that great source: take away the sun and, guess what: no life, and no religion too. Sobering thought.

          Then there was the death of Ram Dass (nee Richard Alpert) and, on its heels, the news that psychedelics are being re-discovered as beneficial to science and mental well-being. When I interviewed Alpert, a celebrity in his own right (and equally flawed), a select little group met him at an airport before leaving us for what became a long night.

          The ambiance was as reverent as if God had arrived, and continued to my time with him as he sat cross-legged on the floor and devoured oranges. One must grab as much time with a subject till his real self appears, and in the wee hours he became a Jewish boy from Newton, MA slapping his knee and laughing hysterically while dissing other notables of the time who also owned followings among the impressionable young: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, leader of Transcendental Meditation, but whose title, Alpert informed me, meant that he was only a “secretary” to another holy man in his native land; that Werner Erhard of “est” fame who called people “a—h—-s” to break down their personal and social conditioning—done also in the Marines, where the process is longer and harsher—and who though well-meaning had “still to find his real spiritual core,” quoth my guest; and Maharaj Ji who, I was assured, was but a power-seeking teenager. These were but three among many. A good time was had by all, viz., both of us—while I prayed that a film crew might show up.

         ’Twas a sad moment when I inquired of Tim Leary, his pal at Harvard in the psychedelic movement but who came to think of Alpert what the newly-minted baba thought of the gentry noted above, a when Ram Dass went to visit Tim in prison, the latter refused to see him and our room fell quiet again at recount of that occasion.

          Now wouldn’t you know that the acid trip is making a comeback in science labs, per a feature in the Sunday Globe. In truth, what may have set back real research was people like Alpert and Leary who sensationalized it and it fell into hands of the reckless and irresponsible, thereby scaring the hell out of polite society, that in turn called for its banishment. Sadly, they also called for incarceration of the young for lesser drugs while adults continued to abuse their pals Jim Beam and I.W. Harper.

          So things that can be beneficial to us are what we fight most harshly against; and what is most harmful is most warmly embraced. Dare any of us say the place of alcohol in society is on balance a good thing? Its cost is more than the other top ten drugs put together. But movies about the era portray its movement to the mainstream as romantic, featuring always silver screen studs of the moment.

           A researcher scoured my oral and written archives over a 20-year career elsewhere and allowed that my most frequent target was celebrity as the thing most corrosive of society—to which I plead guilty, given that around that crowd swirls all that we should love to hate: lives of excess, including alcohol and other drugs; the smoke-and-mirrors that lead us to think that others’ lives are better and happier than ours; the portrayal of violence as important to the redemption of all life situations; and the acceptance of movie scripts as actual history.

          Be sure we can count on this year as being more of the same. Wacky New Year one and all!

           

Feb
01

                                          [A post-Christmas meditation]

   It’s that time again: the season of Peace as the great gift of God in the person of his Son. And we have the Fox News to thank for breaking this peace annually, with a declaration that a great war is waged against Christmas in the form of the great liberal demon and its legions of independent thinkers.

          I celebrate Christmas with friends and family but largely on its particular day, which happens to be Dec. 25, and beginning with its Eve I indulge in the greeting “Merry Christmas!” I’m the same way about Hanukkah and the specific days of its commemoration, as well as Kwanzaa which begins the 26th and goes to New Year’s Day.

If we are free citizens who like to blow about the Flag and the Statue of Liberty we should honor that upwards of 30 holidays are observed by some seven of the world’s major religions during the period of Nov. 1-Jan. 15. What better way to celebrate freedom for all than to acknowledge that different people, who are part of our great Republic, happen to think and believe differently about religion—and all they ask is room to do so–a thought lost on a significant number in our society and its culture, for reasons unknown, perhaps even to God, who supposedly started us on the road to Peace and Freedom with the Gift intended for Christmas.

          But Fox news seeks instead War, one they say is not declared by them and their minions but by others who have different thoughts. They deem Christians as once again huddling in catacombs for fear of their lives from Roman legions. But there are more churches, huddling sometimes on the selfsame corners of every city and town in America, than there ever were pagan temples in Rome. Given such predominance, one might think the majority faith would have little concern for, let alone fear of, the lowly minority and its celebratory happiness at this season of year.

          I often say that certain people ought to read a damn book once in a while, in this case, the history of Christmas—a practice brought here from Europe and opposed by our Puritan ancestors for what they deemed its Catholic or “papish” tendencies that they had come here to escape, not to mention its pre-Christian pagan sources.

            School and businesses in Massachusetts remained open on that day and when finally beginning to gain acceptance, it was not in Dickensian New England but in Alabama, and not till 1836—or 60 years after 1776. So it was a slow staccato from the little Drummer Boy to being embraced across the nation.    

          This is not to ruin anyone’s party, except those who think the party is all about them, exclusive of the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free…’” who are supposed to choke on the words of their own religious preferences.

          Many of the seasonal songs and hymns that go way back had no reference to angels, miracles or other aspects of traditional religion, viz., Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Watchman, Tell of the Night,” and others.

           Hanukkah wanders around at this time of year, given that it’s based on a different calendar, and since it spans Dec. 22 to the 30th this time, if we’re as big-hearted as we claim, why not take cognizance of its lesson of struggle and of ultimate survival; Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle” could be sung with benefit in any Christian church, or we could be attuned to the strains of “Mi Y’Malel” that remind of “the things that befell” the Jews, not only then but ever since.

          Mine is a plea for Peace, not War, at this time. To speak the truth of anything, however dear, may be uncomfortable for some, but may be faced until it rests easy on the heart and mind, and a new spirit of inclusiveness fill our culture.

          There should be no “War,” but if there is, it too is a gift, and one from Fox. Take it up with them.