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

Oct
29

          There’s a saying: “Cheer up, things could be worse; so I cheered up and sure enough—things got worse.’ Bobby McFerrin’s decades-old ditty, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” won’t work now, if it ever did.

          There’s plenty of fright left over from Halloween–and in biblical proportions: war, famine, earthquake, pestilence, fires and either too much water or not enough–some called acts of God, i.e., God’s fault (funny that). The rest is our doing, like nuclear weapons and political sadism, like Putin–and our own abuse of all minorities that come to mind or deign to get in our way.

          All mischief was once the work of a very scary Devil, portrayed as such because real evil often appears harmless when it’s really much worse. Salem, MA comes alive (or dead?) this time of year and all in fun, though it was no joke to the targets of social hysteria in 1692. Victims weren’t really witches, but that hardly mattered. Authors ever since have teased readers’ imaginations with whether a real Devil was at work back then—as if that were a serious question.

Marion Starkey’s landmark book, “The Devil in Massachusetts,” set the record straight: it was but the meanness of a gaggle of pubescent girls who cornered a ton of social power and rid their town of anyone they didn’t like, later begging off with the excuse that they had no idea what had gotten into them. Whoever doubts that kind of sway over others need only look at how kids that age now have driven classmates to suicide with another vehicle of hysteria—the internet.

But the same has been used by adults to convince others of big and little lies—and a Big One that plagues our electorate today. Not only does nearly half the population believe any and every glaring deception they hear but, while not coming out and saying so, are willing to forgo democracy for dictatorship.

What knuckleheaded history are they reading? Some twisted fantasy of the Confederacy or a glamorized narrative of slave owners and the human capital they cornered, trapped and cruelly used as chattel? Politically, are Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln not to their liking? All that money spent for more than a century to build new schools and universities—what went wrong? Or is it just the bewitchment of a tone-deaf, ignorant crowd whom soulless politicians will jump in front of once when they see where the mob is going?

It’s a cult with cult leaders. Give us a bit more rope and we can party like ancient Rome where might made right and the most depraved and violent got to be leader of the band. We thought it couldn’t happen in America, but it’s at the door and not at all like the one in our history books. Not that it hasn’t been tried, and luckily failed: a looney-tuned priest, Fr. Charles Coughlin, once championed such nonsense from behind a pulpit in Detroit; it looks like a mere blip of the past now but had it not been for the political mastery of FDR, things would have taken a nasty turn back then.

But the well was poisoned and it’s a direct line from that to Lee Atwater and his “politics of personal destruction,” to the banal journalism of Murdoch and Fox News, to Donald Trump and the evil that now lurks. 

So enjoy your Brain-Eating Living Dead—whatever they are—at your next movie, but there’s worse ahead. The popularity of the old Disaster movies has been explained as our watching someone else’s horror with the perverse satisfaction that it wasn’t us. The next mash-up may well have us in it, and the next act of God be one of the Devil for sure.

Al Capp’s mouthpiece Mammy Yokum said that good is better than evil because it’s nicer. We can lose the next elections not because democracy is nicer but because the alternative is worse than we imagine.  

Cheer up if you will, but after Nov. 8 buckle up, it’s apt to get a lot worse.

Oct
04

          Not a big fan of royalty. I take no hankering to kings and queens on thrones or in decks of cards.

          Let’s admit that when we left the Empire we didn’t entirely: Hollywood is our re-creation of royalty, with its unending Red Carpets—as is the world of athletics. In all, we pay obeisance to a lot of people.

          But we also let them go easily, when the next pretty face or the next G.O.A.T. comes along which, by the way, is our saving grace. We’re good at “moving on,” as the saying goes. The Brit’s “grace” is not a saving one. He or she is the next thing to a figment of imaginations, emperors with no clothes–and no real power,as in the bad old days, but ones on which the great impressionable population can project its fantasies.

          Royals more or less do nothing but sit on a pile of money, rear the worst dysfunctional families, play and go to parties. They also know how to put on a show: lift a finger and it’s to the tune of long-horns, parades, men dressed in fine but funny costumes—and the sound of cannon to drown out all who dare complain.

          The past queen outdid them all except for her namesake, in whose time all the world went on the move: to Rome, Canterbury, Jerusalem, et al, to look for bones and relics of the dearly departed saints. By the end of our Liz’s time we’re on the move, all right–apparently to hell and back, amid national and world disunity while peering into the chasm of god-knows-what.

          With her passing, the best we can say is: here we go again. Any and everyone who dislikes monarchies gets another dose of pomp and circumstance and maybe a tinge of guilt about being rough on all the grieving family. Then we’ll go through it again with Charles’ coronation, and who knows how long he may or may not live, or when he may just give up. Then William and his pretty little bride will have the hopes of all to be another young Charles and Diana but without all the drama.

          Sadly, I’ve mentioned Charles in passing and that won’t do–a man we first knew as young and dashing, and now an old fuddy-duddy, along the way having messed up his marriage to the people’s ab-fab favorite and is now with his dearest darling from the beginning—she who has no business being anything royal. Don’t expect Camilla to go hugging AIDS patients, the world’s hungry or hopscotching land mines. But the Buckingham press is already doing all it can to make her look presentable while she dines at the table that’ll never be empty. What’s really going to hurt, though, is that William and Harry, for the time being, literally have to bow to Camilla, oh, excuse me—the Queen Consort—trying all along to forget that it should be Diana, their own mum, instead.

          Charles actually thought about changing his name, given the checkered past of the earlier ones: Chaz I brought on the English Civil War and lost his head for it; and son C-II had a scandal-ridden reign in which he fathered more than a dozen illegitimates and took up sympathy for the wrong religion. This makes us ask why, along with all the other mistakes of our most-recent royalty, did they name our Charles that in the first place? But after he and his brain-trust mulled it over, they stuck with the moniker; hence, two mistakes over the same matter. This is going to be a pip of a reign.

As for the cornucopia by which the Royals barely survive, we also learn that Charles will not pay inheritance tax on his mum’s private estate: such a dun might put a harmful dent in that $750 million property. Our Bonnie Prince Charlie had already built his own empire whilst fumbling his youth away, but money breeds money and his own estate’s now worth a billion in its own right. The article heading that revealed this fact was headed, “King Charles Inherits Untold Riches, and Passes Off His Own Empire.” At first I thought the word “Passes” was a misspelling, but an outcry was unheard; it seems adoring Brits will care more which shoes the first family’s ladies will wear to the funeral and following coronation.

What Charles is truly blessed with is luck. After having been anything but a poster child for a New Royal Order—and whom his mum had no wish that he long wear the crown—he gets a fresh start at the top of the heap. All he has to do is emulate her as a “constant” that smiles, waves, and otherwise does nothing.

Meantime, we’ll all be subject to the big show, and the next and the next. Liz will always be the Queen of Hearts for all who care for that nonsense, and for the rest of us, our mantra will ever be, until this silly monarchy runs its course: “Here We Go Again.”)

Jun
30

          Another violation of humanity, another sacrifice of our children. Aside from the usual suspects of our finger-pointing, we do well to take a look within. “Swords into plowshares” is but a dream; the reverse is more the truth.

          We love violence. Young and old, most of what we see is found primarily in TV and movies. So herewith a little self-test: Among our favorites for prime-time viewing, how many contain violence–characters brandishing firearms, knives, fists and other bludgeons; featuring angry, threatening situations, where others, including the young, are witnesses? How many, by title or teaser, hint of mayhem to the extent that we are literally choosing them over other options where necessary differences are given rational, reasonable and realistic chances of resolution?

          Damn few, to be honest with ourselves: all those Bond movies, crime and gangster flicks, eerie spine-tinglers, even the brain-eating living-dead to which we give a pass because they’re “not real;” but neither were “Jaws” and “The Exorcist.” So what’s the attraction?

          Psychologists were besieged for explanations for the “Disaster” movies and replied with the old “it’s not me” viewer excuse. Really? We need for someone else to get the worst imaginable so we can feel better about ourselves?

           We can understand the occasional cheap thrill of such entertainments, but the mayhem-themed become epidemics of attraction, not to mention block-buster successes. The Hollywood intelligentsia insist that this is the “real world,” but how many reminders of that do we need beside daily headlines and all else that happens “for real” in this life?

          And don’t look back: movies in the good ol’ days had their own bad start. “The Great Train Robbery” of 1903 featured gunfights and the beating of the train engineer—and we were off and running. Presently 91% of movies on tv contain violence or extreme violence. Ninety percent of high-grossing movies portray the main character, whom we usually adore, involved in such behavior. “No violence, no story,” is the motto of the same intelligentsia: hence fighting or murder often launch the plots or are the pretext for action that follows.

          When movies evolved into “talkies,” the Hays Code came about to check on such things. E.g., Howard Hawks’ “Scarface” was edited so that the prologue condemned violence in general and the bad guys either came to know and admit their wrongs—or were killed off as a teaching moment. After all, it was just entertainment.

          No longer. Since then we’re sufficiently “woke” to where we think we can, with sophistication, stand anything—and have, from the fun folks in “The Godfather” series to the uncensored rape scene in “Clockwork Orange.” And that’s but the tip of the iceberg: did you enjoy “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul,” and “Ozark”? Our tv fare typically depicts no consequences, not for atrocious crimes and psychological trauma to others, and with no judgments on the morality or lack thereof in the most heinous acts.

          Among crime dramas, including the one with the best writing and overall casting—Law & Order: SVU—so much violence is gratuitous, i.e., unnecessary and overreaching for the message of “special” victimization of innocent, trusting and vulnerable persons regardless of age, sex or lifestyle. And too many youth get a good start from video game mayhem where incitement to violence in young men is driven by the interactive nature of said games.

          Non-violent fare among our menu of amusements–you know, love and other silly emotions–are branded “chick flicks.” Best to ignore sophisticates who spout such nonsense and run, don’t walk, to our priceless local Screening Room.

Forgive me for no mention of the NRA and spineless politicians. They are a big part of the story. And we’re another part. Someday what we see on the order of Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Uvalde will bring hardly a tsk-tsk from us whilst we turn the channel back to our fave crime drama.

          (John Burciaga is not available for duels should anyone take serious issue with his comments—unless it’s snowballs in August. But you may disagree peacefully with him at Ichabod142@gmail.com)

Jun
30

         In like a lion, out like a lamb; make way for April showers and the promise of spring. Such is the month of March, named after the Roman god Mars, successor to Ares of the Greeks who began as an agricultural deity but became quarrelsome, leading to fights, which led to wars. Good choice for a lion. So why is April called the “cruelest month”?  

After all, March has its Ides, which was a hell of day for Julius Caesar, stabbed as he was in the rotunda, which had to hurt.  Brutus was among the stabbers, which added insult to injury–the great general-cum-dictator had been his proud and doting mentor. Score one for the lions. Caesar was a brilliant warrior and a gifted writer—read his account of the Gallic War–he just wanted more than others wanted him to have, which was absolute power over their beloved Republic.

          Then there’s St. Pat’s Day; like next month’s Cinco de Mayo, it’s an excuse to party but no one outdoes the Irish in that regard, who are fabled as brawlers as well, true or not. I know something about that, married to an Irish lass half my size, and of whom I’m scared to death. She wins all our fights.

          March’s fabled winds add to its reputation but aids pollination, so there’s that. Still, down through history there’s as much boil and bubble in April as in other months. As the Good Book says, “We are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,” to which may be added another piece of its wisdom, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” So Lions 2, Lambs 0. But April has just begun to fight.

          Every year I remind readers that April is the month the world’s greatest metaphor hit an iceberg–the 14th day of 1912, to be exact, upon which passenger John Jacob Astor famously objected, “I rang for ice, but this is ridiculous.” And there was more to come, namely, World War I, inspiring T.S. Eliot to call it “the cruelest month of all” in his poem, “The Wasteland”—oddly, that conflict neither began nor ended in April but he had lost a dear friend who may or may not have died in one of the two conflicts that month in 1915–the second Battle of Ypres, or the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Or he was thinking of the U.S. declaring war on Germany, April 6, 1917.

          So this contest is tied at 2-2, though April has a much greater case to plead, like the first battle for our Independence at Lexington in 1775, Revere’s ride the day before, and Pickett’s Civil War defeat in 1865—much more than “tea parties” in any case.

Keep also in mind that the Beatles grabbed the first five slots on our singles chart in ’64 but, sadly for others, the guy I don’t think was Shakespeare fell from this mortal coil on an April day. And it promises showers to help the seeds that March has scattered with its breezes, however mild or tempestuous. Ancient Greeks must have welcomed that: the age-old prayer to Zeus was a plea to “Rain, rain, upon the fields of Athens,” signaling a seasonal problem in those parts.

          I would go on but I hear the snoring, so I close with delicate thoughts by Robert Browning who, when away at such time, longed to be back “in England, now that April’s here.” He was not alone: it was the best of all months for many a poet who welcomed a break in the weather.

          But take heed: there’s no clear dividing line twixt March and the month to follow. I took sabbatical here from Florida many a year ago, regrettably brought only spring clothes, and on a day in May saw huge flakes of snow cover lovely tulips already in bloom.

          Happily, the tulips survived. They wouldn’t have in my native Missouri. They’re not as hardy as your Yankee blooms. But if in truth April is cruel after all, good luck with your lambs this year.

        

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)