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

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.


Feb
01

                                         [A post-Thanksgiving meditation]

         ‘Tis the season of the disappearing Day of Gratitude. Halloween now overshadows mid-Fall. Thanksgiving is just a long weekend from work even as Christmas wraps our malls in mind-numbing muzak and excessive displays. Before that, Halloween claims our fancy, turning a serious Latin commemoration into another drunken bacchanalia like St. Patrick’s, this time in honor of dead people who don’t stay dead.

          Why aren’t we grateful, anymore? We think and say we are. But deep inside we’re just looking for a break from the monotony. And it shows up in what we choose to make important, or not.

          There was a time you could say “Socialism” and somebody would shoot you. This year another aspect of it, universal health care, is on the table, albeit getting the usual ugly stares. Maybe we’re getting tired of what started long ago and lasted till now, except of course in Europe–and in papal pronouncements that, little noticed, have condemned capitalism in perpetua.

          Way back when we emerged and spread up the Nile (it flows northward) and into what is now Iraq and beyond, we humans got ourselves organized, especially around water, and lots of it, like the Nile Delta and where the Tigris and Euphrates ran merrily; the Nile’s annual flooding helped by leaving behind lots of rich silt as we settled down to farm as a way of life.

          Now, there always were and will be people who are smart, some who are smarter and those not so much. But all are alive and kicking—and here’s the catch: they all need each other, a lesson never learned. Back then, the brighter ones used warriors and priests: the first to make workers work, and priests to preach that that was what the gods wanted. The gods, they were told, were represented on earth by those who seized power, otherwise known as kings.

          As time passed, the ruling classes lived in palaces with fine foods and furnishings, and the majority, whose labor built it all, were known by their growling stomachs and humble huts. And so it is, down to this very day. The ruling class looks down on the real workers, who somehow live another day and typically give thanks for the little they have.

          That’s why big-shots don’t like protests and revolutions—not even sit-downs and stand-ins, or occupying administration buildings and Wall Street. It upsets the apple-cart. They like least of all union leaders and people named Spartacus.

          Here’s the thing: as always, the ruling class has more than it needs but they don’t think so. Back at the beginning, knowing they couldn’t have their palaces and lifestyles without someone willing and able to build them, why didn’t the rulers say—Okay, we’re in charge because we have the bigger and better ideas, but they won’t happen without your help; so when it’s all done we’re cutting you in on a fair share worth your time and trouble.

          But that’s not human nature, we say. Excuse me, greed is certainly one side of it, but fairness and compassion are the other side. Greed after all is a terrible thing; also a lesson never learned.

          Jefferson recommended a revolution every 20 years or so, not necessarily replacing the government but the people running it. “Throw the rascals out,” was his mantra. But now the rulers have learned to manipulate the little guys into thinking that everything is for their own good, and literally to vote against themselves.

          The rulers are also fierce believers in “Law and Order,” meaning the law as they make it and order as they conceive it.

          A good example of the wrong valuation of other people is the way we once looked on garbage collectors. We said anyone could do that, ignoring that not everyone was willing to. When the workers threatened to strike, polite society told them to go to hell, so workers left the garbage in the streets and suddenly we all understood how important picking it up was, you know, for the sake of public health.

          What is truly extraordinary is how and why people go so long allowing themselves to be de-valued. Others after all are using those people’s life energy, which is not only valuable but as sacred as the life and energy of the aristocracy. Equality is also good religion, so why do big shots get bigger and better churches too, given they don’t believe in equality? Maybe, deep down, that’s what’s shrinking Thanksgiving in favor of more distractions and dumb excitements, you know, like Halloween. Maybe the worker bees are sitting down, looking at the turkey and realizing something is wrong here.

Maybe they’re thinking: thanks for nothing.

         

Nov
05

          October will never be the same. It is after all a season of change: Summer’s green turns to myriad colors, and we complain not.

          But, oh, the howl that arose when someone dared suggest there’s something suspicious about our cultural myth of this continent’s founding—and not just from those of Italian descent. Indeed, ‘tis the greatest shame of all that self-serving wags of yore would tell a lie with which time and truth were bound to catch up.

          “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” which he did. What he didn’t do was “discover” what he said he did. Seeking a passage to India he came upon some brown-skins and said something akin to, “Look! Indians!”

          But kids in earliest grades, upon our first hearing the account, have always been heard to say, “But if he ‘discovered’ it, who were the people he met there?” Potted plants?—a reaction met with the kindly authoritarian rejoinder of “Now, now, children” followed by a “because-I-said-so,” which kids already learn closes any subject under debate.

          Truth is, Columbus was wandering around lost–and the natives found him. But might makes right and one party to the event had the power of a throne behind him and the other was about to become slaves to said wienies.

          It’s a twisted tale with variations in other times and places. Couple years ago I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was the October time of year and I was told how lucky I was to bear witness to the famed “Entrada,” or “Arrival” celebration of that fair city, whose name is translated, “Holy Faith,” and for good reason.

          It was the selfsame year that, whilst I beheld the cheesiest re-enactment of anything ever, as the Spanish establishment of that burg deemed again to spread the b.s. that the arrival of their foreparents into that region was a delightful event that brought nothing but good to the natives, who again were “there first” and largely residents of the many and scattered “pueblos”—as well as Mexicans who had migrated north from south of the Border and, again, were there “before” the Spanish.

          But victors tend to write the history, ignoring that later historians are bound to find the truth of the matter—that the Spanish enslaved all the native elements for forced labor, made them change their religion and when necessary separated children from their families so that the transformation of youth would go more easily as adulthood approached.

          The very year that I first saw the bogus “Entrada” in Santa Fe was the beginning of the end. Before I could register my own holding-of-the-nose in the presence of that stupid imitation of the #BigFatLie, an angry crowd was forming and I, a lifelong activist and protester, plunged in to join them. At the moment I wondered how long it would take for this reaction to have an effect, if any.

          Silly me, it had a solid and everlasting impact. It was the Second Uprising of the pueblecitos, so to speak, who had taken objection with a justified bloody insurrection in the late 17th century that of course incurred worse retaliation from the Holy Faith contingent, and things went back to normal—you know, slavery, torture, land-gabbing and gob-slapping.

          And now, just like that, there is no more Entrada, and thank the gods that be: after all, if you’re the longstanding “establishment” somewhere and have enjoyed all power and privilege, put on a gang-busters show about it, not a poorly-acted fairy tale that has long since morphed into an amateur presentation unworthy of your own kids’ pre-school Parents Night.

          But that’s what happens to lies: in time, no one believes them and they fall into discredit and ruin.

          In another trice, the movement in Santa Fe resulted in changing a “day” for Columbus into one for the Indigenous People of the region, the true believers and same folks who had claimed and tended the land long before snobs from a Galaxy Far Away came with artillery and so-called “better” ways, behavior and beliefs to change everything.          

          As I watched young Natives performing astounding Hoop dances and Interpretive movements, and heard speakers talk not of snobbery and social caste superiority, but of healing divides and the inclusion of all who come to their gates and communities, I knew I was seeing a Better World and a Holier Faith.

          Then I thought of my resident state of liberal Massachusetts and my town of Newburyport and wondered: why the hell is there no Indigenous Peoples Day here? Who and what are we afraid of? Our reputation? Then what about the reputation of being afraid of our reputation?

 

 

 

Nov
05

        Two “50s” occurred recently, i.e., half-century anniversaries of events that seem equally to have captivated the public mind. 

          There will always be commemorations of the Moon Landing, unto perpetuity, meaning fifty years from now and beyond. Woodstock will not. Woodstock will be forgotten, and with good reason. They couldn’t even pull off an anniversary concert for it. 

          What happened on a New York dairy farm in August of 1969 was a miracle for what didn’t happen, i.e., a tragedy. Modern music concerts are to make money, and that year it would have been a tidy sum had not twice as many people showed up as the 200K that were invited, making tickets a joke. 

          The photo of a pair wrapped in blissful embrace boggles the mind to be hence called “iconic”—it’s not a good pic and one face is unseen–a long way from the sailor-kissing-girl that captured the end of World War II. Other Woodstock photos were better but limited to bare-chested guys glad to be far from the din of war and gals too with bared breasts, twirling blithely in the flowing moon-skirts of the day.  

          Other concerts have followed, ranging from mild to disappointing to violent. But one thing organizers have learned is to make sure the revelers pay, unlike the freeloaders of ’69, with a business model of corporate efficiency. Such was the one four years later at Watkins Glen raceway in New York, but who remembers that? All went well, only three bands played, but mucho bucks were made. Can’t say the same where Hell’s Angels were hired as security, and shortly after Woodstock at Altamont Speedway when someone was murdered right in front of a Stones performance.  

          Some may opine I was just an old phart out of touch with his feelings for the time, tsk-tsk-ing at the Generation Gap that yawned before him. That would be a No: I ran a newspaper of the genre called the “alternative press” which was challenging, yea, assaulting big-city papers by running off with their younger readers. We targeted ages 18-35, for which I had a special gift of knowing precisely what they wanted to read and talk about. 

          But my ambition, throughout careers involving speaking and writing, was to make people think about what they’re believing and doing in the name of anything, whether life, love, morals or God. It never appealed to me to leap without looking when it came to fads of the day or to join the crowds of monkey-see, monkey-do. 

          In pot-filled rooms I was the unpopular one finally to say, to the dismay of many, that we needed new acts and new material. I guessed right that there was a mixture of anger and guilt for that goddam unholy mess in Vietnam which, yes, was brought on by the older generation at the expense of the young. Pot parties were escapes, but so were after-work bars filled with the pin-striped crowd that drank every day because they were selling their souls to “company stores” while violating their own morals and ethics.  

           So the bloom hath gone from the rose, everybody, like Topsy, has just “growed” up now and back in the old rut–some even casting ballots for Trump. But the youthful thought of being destined for eternal freedom was a mirage.  

          Among my companion careers has been conflict management, primarily for small businesses, newspapers and churches—the last of which are the worst. One was a large congregation near the nation’s capital, where I was sent to fetch the beleaguered clergyman before someone put thumb screws to him.

         His sins, as they became clear, were lesser than his enemies would have one think, and in the middle were four couples who were former hippies. It was a tense moment when I met solely with them and asked what the hell had happened to all the Peace and Love: they didn’t want the poor schmuck gone, they wanted to kill him.

        To me it was symbolic of the days of yore, when I knew that all the hugging and rhetoric was a cover for a human nature that will always be the same: “hare today, goon tomorrow.”

        This life and the world we live in is serious business, and it’s terminal; we won’t get out of it alive. The era of Trump is to me a logical conclusion—bad karma. As long as we believe anything without questioning, and do nothing but follow the leader and his crowd, we’ll end with as many Trumps as the Romans had bad emperors.

Nov
05

           Fifty years of bragging rights for landing on the moon cheers our hearts but, lest we forget, there were and still are plenty of knuckleheads who buy none of it.

          What it is about the contrarian mind, I know not, nor from whence it comes, but it would best believe nonsense than facts. But they are our countrymen, and we are locked with them in an everlasting embrace.

          After the space marvel feat of half a century ago, and as the intrepid editor of a new Atlanta newspaper, I found my way to Zeke Segal, Southeastern bureau chief for CBS who treated me to one of the daily Cronkite-led conferences with all regional chiefs. Walter’s genius was displayed in those crisp, no-nonsense reviews of what would—and would not—play on that evening’s news menu, ending always with the characteristic human-interest story.

          Later Zeke re-played clips of the then-recent Armstrong & Co. landing—and pix of the staged studio mock-ups used to simplify complicated details for the less technically savvy—and brought reminders of countless calls to the stations nationwide claiming that news channels were trying to fool viewers by presenting the staged version as the actual moon episode. Nothing apparently can turn a flat head into a normal cranium: a good quarter of Americans doubted that what was seen even from moon-zero was actual footage.

          Not long after arose another spaceman, so called, named Bill Lee, one of the most interesting and entertaining, not to mention capable, pitchers of the Boston Red Sox of those struggling times for the team. He was different, no doubt, and dubbed Spaceman due to certain antics and to his evasive but tempting answers as to whether he pitched while under the influence of weed. Don Zimmer was the Sox manager and didn’t like people who wouldn’t play the old-fashioned way—you know, with maws full of chewing tobacco, which led oft-times to mouth cancer—and ol’ Zimm, in his ignorance, pulled Lee, a real Yankee-killer at the time, out of a crucial game with the Bombers for little other reason than he didn’t like him and loathed the idea of the Spaceman being a hero.

          The back and forth between Lee and his detractors led to vocal  knots of defenders and detractors, and may have occasioned Spaceman Lee being taken less seriously as an ace pitcher. Some declared he was a selfish, self-absorbed egotist who cared for nothing but himself.

          In a recent year Lee was a presenter at our local Literary Festival, after which, in conversation, he misjudged my age and, finding me older than he thought, with characteristic humor asked if I were the Devil. In later trips to Vermont, passing close to his home in Craftsbury, I called, but always in his absence, and left voicemail greetings.

          Later, following a bad fall in that selfsame state I was rushed to a small hospital with broken ribs, half of which were completely apart, and every movement akin to a thousand little knives assaulting each nerve in my back and torso. How Lee found out, I don’t know, but after my departure for home the Spaceman showed up at the hospital to visit and wish me well.

          It’s hard to think of someone whom I hardly know as self-centered when he bothers to seek me out in my distress. Actually, I still haven’t seen him since, given his constant ball-playing where he yet swings a mean bat and strikes out ballers much younger than he. But I’m not among his doubters and will take said Spaceman over Zimmer any time—(I cheered when the latter once charged Pedro Martinez on the mound and unceremoniously ended on his own butt).

          Today in our wonderful republic where there is a palpable sinking sensation, we need more spacemen and women who will dare to do the un-doable, as on the moon; and those who will refreshingly march to their own drummers in a time while others follow false idols as do  ducklings scrambling after a rubber ball in the absence of their mother.

          I close with a word worth knowing but seldom used: kakistocracy; viz., government by the least suitable or competent citizens.

          May we rise above the muck of the current presidential swamp and into the rarefied air of the space above, where dwell daring, intelligent scions of science—and of people who know who they are, and live it, and have greatness of heart along with it.

Jun
26

          America’s certified moral diseases have returned with a vengeance, and old craziness is resurrected in multiple forms.

          Startled as we are by flagrant racism; violence towards women and children; as well as gays, lesbians, bi- and trans-sexual citizens, should we be? In my earliest career as an aspiring reformer, I was abused of the notion that people need but hear and know the truth, and the national character will be transformed in a trice. Silly me.

         Annual celebrations of M.L. King, Jr.’s life and message but remind us to re-set our expectations of racial equality. Courts continue to be filled with cases of domestic and family abuse, and hardly a day passes without news items of horrific torture and killing of those who are not strictly heterosexual. Racism as we really know it began with the forceful transport of slaves to this hemisphere. And though women have typically been second-class or worse in historical civilizations they have also been queens, priests and sometimes the sole authorities in scattered societies to which of course we pay scant attention in our education.

           That said, I wish to speak of the oldest hatred of all: antisemitism. The ravaging of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg came amid holiday preparations, the latter of which ever trump serious concerns.

           Hatred towards Jews is old enough to have beards longer than all  patriarchs put together. The Jewish problems is not that they are too smart for their own good but admirably too smart to suit the rest of us. Never mind that Jewish immigration from all over the world has enhanced U.S. culture and intellectual heft. That migration, by the way, is never as large as sometimes touted: they are and always have been a fraction of world population. So what’s the problem?

          The big gripe is the misbegotten notion that since the beginning of time they’ve always been around the money. Nay, they began as did all peoples, tillers of soil with this distinction: they were among the best of cultivators, and powerful elites, making mountains out of religious and cultural molehills, found ways to take it for themselves, always with lame excuses that invoked fear and loathing of perceived differences.

          It didn’t help that the ancient land of the Hebrews was necessarily as small as the number of inhabitants, and became a football kicked between superpowers of the times–brutish dogs of war unleashed by Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and the like. Along the way Jews were forced by exclusion to seek other means of gainful endeavor, viz., shopkeepers and artisans, though many, due to their brain power and ability were chosen to serve in the courts of sovereigns—until a new and intolerant reign swooped them out again, using all the lame excuses.

          During their many dispersals, never at peace and loathed by all, they traveled by foot selling wares borne on their backs or as tinkers, or menders of pots, and those who stayed behind were left in communities unsupported by government. Each time, due to discrimination or too much success they were evicted from all livelihoods, till world nations found themselves in financial pickles and discovered that Jews were among the emerging wizards who could bail them out. And once out, said nations gave them the boot once again but not until Jews financed some of the great cathedrals of Europe—a curious irony among Christian leaders who at auspicious time invoked the “Christ-killer” canard on their Jewish economic saviors.

          Why a Baptist boy from the Missouri Ozarks could ever come to care about Jews and Judaism is a tale of growing up during World War II and post-conflict discovery of a “holocaust” of destruction unleashed by the Axis powers. I saw post-war movies that highlighted some of the horror and were jerked from screens for showing Jews too much as victims which, by the way, they were.

          Among my father’s effects after his death decades ago was “A History of the Jews” by Abram Sachar, as much of an objective account as one could possibly expect from a Jewish intellectual, which I absorbed to my everlasting benefit, and which I returned to 20 years ago and then again after the Tree of Life atrocity. I’ve often said that Americans would do well to read a damn book once in a while instead of gulping down misleading, anecdotal jabberings of Fox News and Alex Jones. Sachar’s text is long but readable and more relevant than romance novels and what’s on the latest menu of brain-eaters.

           Life is a journey of learning and happiness is knowledge. I thought that all discriminations would have ended with the past century but they remain and it is daunting to think that the oldest one of all is so far from banished. Perhaps if we solve that, the rest will follow.