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


          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!



                                          [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.


                                         [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.



          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?





        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.


           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.


          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.



          Blackface?–making a comeback? This is lost on the younger generation, but they’ll learn quickly via the realm of celebrity: Katy Perry’s brand has dropped two pairs of shoes from its line, and Gucci tried to cash in on black celebrity with a tasteless production of an expensive knit top—both losing their sophisticated repute in the process. And it didn’t stop there: Prada used blackface on new figurines while Moncler adorned a luxury coat with it.

          Dear me. On the Mississippi River, where I grew up, blackface was already going out of style among Southern sensitivities that surrounded me. Now what is black in hue is making lots of people see red.

          The face of this renaissance in stupidity begins with Gov. Northum of Old Virginny whose decades-old school yearbook showed a feller in blackface and another in KKK garb, leading him first to apologize, then to deny that either knucklehead was him.

          This led to an outcry that he jump ship to assuage not only black folk but outraged white liberals. Alas and alack, his black voting constituents urged him to stay on. This of course complicated the issue and he was able to buy time whilst controversy of other sorts swam around his lieutenant governor and the state AG.

          It also gave modern Southern Rebels a respite from assaults on their defense of Confederate statues, which comprise a frightful number throughout Old Dixie—including Virginia itself, which as of 2015 has taken to honor John Wilkes Booth for trying to do the country what he thought was a favor and, sadly, succeeded in doing so. And just in the nick of time too as most folks, North and South alike, had already forgotten the Garrett Farm near Port Royal where Booth was caught and driven from his mortal coil.

          The whole problem here is the human memory, which tends to forget a lot: for one thing, that blackface entertainment, first done by white people using cork and polish to resemble another race, had been going on since slaves arrived in these parts some 200 years ago.

          Its comic value was in derisive stereotyping of slaves in what came to be called minstrel shows. Why was it so funny, and how could that be? After all, tragic circumstance had forcibly brought persons of a different color here and shoved them into a system that taught them  nothing but inhuman toil and whippings, let alone the language in which they would have to communicate.

          The psychology of it was possibly a subliminal desensitization process for whites to the horrors of slavery. Sadly, it was the only depiction many of them had of black people—portrayed as lazy, dumb, cowardly and hypersexual. And it was also funny to white audiences for the use of black vernacular. As luck would have it, such entertainments spread from the South to the Northern U.S.

          And should you think that the elite of dominant culture rose above this, consider that Al Jolson wore blackface in “Jazz Singer” as late as 1927, and forget not that some of the most beloved child stars of the age also donned the look: Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney among them. Two knuckleheads, Charlie Cornell and Freeman Gosden, did the worst such portrayal and, thankfully, were the last I was destined to see: they looked neither black nor white, just a couple of bums trying to do something, though we knew not what.

          So while we debate whether the Northums of the world should be judged for long-ago mistakes, or cut some slack in the name of “second chances,” we should know and understand why all of this is so hurtful to blacks, not only now but Back Then. All of it was a cruel lie and we tend more to carry the worst of it into our subconscious thinking and acting, making it harder to see and acknowledge that those among us of African descent are undeserving of such derision and stereotyping.

          But as it stands, white culture thinks this crisis and its debate is all about them. So here we go again.



          Let’s talk about the budding presidential primaries. The Dems so far have 20+ candidates and counting, which is a good thing. The GOP had 17 three years ago and that was a good thing too—they found out who they were, and it wasn’t who they thought they were: they hadn’t a clue that by the end of it they would be all-in as the Party of Trump.

          Now it’s the Democrats’ turn and we don’t know who we are either. It’s a conversation desperately needed. They will talk and we will listen. A lot of assumptions have been made since the 2016 travesty, to wit, that we are all agreed who we are and, again, we are wrong as can be. Yes, we’re all agreed that Trump stinks up the body politic and needs to be exorcised, but disunity lurks beneath and waiting to be revealed before we come together again to defeat Trump.

          At times it may not be a pretty sight but a necessary one: in time we’ll know what we will and won’t put up with, and from it will come the necessary synthesis of agreement with which we’ll sail into the ocean of politics to divest it of the Great Orange Whale.

          This is what primaries should do, at necessary times. America is no longer what we used to be—children of a notable heritage descended from the Judeo-Christian tradition and nourished thereafter by respected rebels like the English and American poets, but reaching clear back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to World War, and through racial, anti-semitic and gender struggles.

          Well, forget about that. Of late we’ve lost our couth, innocence and civility. It began with the GOP primaries of three years ago: lest we forget, the first person to forge ahead was—Herman Cain, pizza king and knothead whose “Nine-Nine-Nine” domestic plan and “Beki-Beki-stan-stan” foreign policy jarred even GOP sensibilities, and that’s saying a lot.

          Next came Ben Carson, whose career as brain surgeon somehow made sense to Republicans as a grand segue to running a country. The two just cited fooled no one with a brain not in need of a scalpel: conservatives were seeking a “good, decent” black man who would say nasty things about Obama, and give cover to white people to follow suit with their own racist scorn.

          Others in the GOP Clown Car ranged from Ted Cruz to Jeb Bush, the biggest targets of Trump’s invective. But, as said, the GOP found the latter’s insults and indignities more pleasing, and reflective of them, than sanity and moderation. And here we are today.

          The Dem lineup overall is by far more reasonable, regardless of who you like or don’t like. Liz Warren had every right to run though many think she lacks public encouragement to do so this time around; no one asked Donald either, but he rode down a golden escalator with a trophy bride and at the bottom found the presidency. How ironic that he found it at the bottom, where it’s remained since his arrival.

           The clutch of Democrats with ambition is far better than the former clutter of Republicans, the banality of which made possible the likes of DJT. What’s not to like about Mayor Pete, unless you despise gays?—sure, he’s short on specifics but at least he’s  not a crackpot. Or Kamala Harris, save for the sins of being black and female? Bernie’s the man who would’ve been prez save for the bruising internecine politics of the 2016 moment. But even Trump likes him.

          Biden rightfully scares the Orange Man because Joe has his own grip on the states that elected Donald. And Seth Moulton will get his necessary name- and face-recognition in this run; he’s only 40 years old with a lifetime ahead to become Commander in Chief. As a war hero he has more guts than Gen. Bonespurs would have in a thousand reincarnations. And good for Seth for taking on Pelosi, yet another conversation Democrats had to have because there were whispers about her effectiveness and it gave her a chance to show her real chops as a party leade–and not a lick of harm came of it in the process.

          So let the games begin. We’ll soon know what American really is: lying, sarcastic and gun-totin’—or a return to respectability from its flirtation with idiocy.

          It’s a conversation worth having.



          What drives the national divide today? Partially, but largely, a standoff between differing cultures in America. Growing up in the foothills of the Missouri Ozarks, whatever I heard on radio and saw on TV had nothing to do with my life or of those around me.

          It was all about what we now call the “elites” of the east and west coasts—what they were saying and doing, what they liked and didn’t like. And, by default, their amusements and concerns were ours too because nothing else was on the tube. Our tastes were home-made and lacking in the sophistication (and manipulation) of those who controlled the major sources of information. But ours at least were for, and about, us. But we were invisible to the rest of America.

          A look at the larger world drove me at last to take the first stagecoach out of Dodge, so to speak, and come to terms with what theretofore was alien territory. Laugh if you will, but my first diagnostic test flatly revealed that I was “culturally deprived” but accepted into a private grad school due to IQ.

Yet my speech separated me from those reared elsewhere. It is not rare even now to hear Southern politicians admit that they know other Americans feel that they “talk funny” and I’m here to tell you they have not a clue why, any more than Brits know we think they have silly speech patterns that only posturing snobs and celebrities care to emulate. In your case, you would talk funny too if you were reared in a home with Jeff Sessions for a dad: “There but for the grace of God,” and all that.

          Years of broader exposure have occasioned a different person. Only those with the keenest ear can detect rudiments of my former speech, and only those who knew me “then” know the differences in my head and heart.

          But I have not forgotten where I came from, or the people there. They have a national inferiority complex whether they admit it or not, and—news flash!–on a personal basis they have more ego strength than sophisticates burdened with much more inner conflict, whether they too admit it or not. Sophisticated northerners, especially New Englanders, are far greater male chauvinists than educated Southern men, and haven’t a clue how obvious is their cloaked racism regardless what they think they know of the southern variety.

          Those who’ve had this country their way for too long are unaware of other subtleties, i.e., back when celebrity crooners like Sinatra, Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, et al, were sucking up all the cultural air, country singers outsold them hands down in albums, sheer sales and money. And when people wondered why followers of televangelists continued to support their disgraced preachers, it was that cameras at crusades and revivals showed at last the forgotten people who were never in the news or on TV—and clearly were different from the self-described sophisticates and intelligentsia. To take down their preachers would ensure that they too, again, would disappear.

          In truth, that is no different than the rest of humanity: if you’re young and not into every new Rock group regardless of the inanity of lyrics, you’re a nobody. Cam-pan an Improv crowd and you know the only reason those people look like their having a good time laughing at lame jokes is because they’re drunk and know they’re on television.  

          As the noose tightens around Donald Trumps’s neck and we begin that sigh of relief at finally dodging a terrible bullet, let us not forget that along with a changing world that scares the hell out of some people and makes them lash out in equal parts at perceived authorities and any designated minority, we can continue to do our part to dig the cultural divide even deeper—and risk another Donald Trump that we won’t be able to get rid of.

           This warning is not about haters—that’s another subject, but it’s about a lesser animus that threatens ever to turn into hate. We look down on the kind of person I once was and short of hating them, we simply ignore them the way people pitied the poor in Dickens’ England.

          But America’s forgotten can’t ignore us and they don’t quite hate you. But they sure as hell don’t like you. And that’s why they voted for Donald. And will vote for him again.

          So be aware. And now that we know what Donald is like: be very, very afraid.