Monday, August 21, 2017

What to do with that torn down Confederate statue? That’s easy. Leave it just the way it is.

Angry protestors transformed this object from a monument
to a work of art
Statues of military figures, Confederate or not, are pretty much clichés in this nation. They’re everywhere — from the oodles of them on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, to the front lawns of obscure county courthouses around the nation.

The statues don’t say much. Essentially, all they tell us is, “Here’s a soldier. He stands for the thousands of soldiers who fought and died. He’s on a horse. Or on foot, weapon ready, prepared to defend his cause.” 

The cause might be anything — the defense of this nation against foreign invasion, or the destruction of naziism, or the complaint that the Kaiser was blocking our shipping lanes, or the demand that only the United States may colonize the Western Hemisphere, or the continuance (or destruction) of slavery on American soil.

Last week, in Durham, North Carolina, angry protestors tore down a civil war statue. And in so doing, instead of simply vandalizing  a clichéd monument, they created a visual masterpiece.

Lying on the ground beneath his own pedestal, his legs bent or broken just above the ankles, his hat bashed in, his head bent as if to hide his face in shame, his body supported partly by his own base and partly by the soil, he now has more to say to those who pass than he ever did high atop his pedestal.

He is now a symbol not only of soldiers who fought for slavery in the Civil War, but also of what became of many of them, and of the world’s regard for their cause. And he speaks also of the rage of 21st Century protestors who said, in effect, enough! This worship of “lost” causes must stop when the lost cause is an evil cause. Those who fight for malevolent ends will always, in time, be toppled.

The bent and broken body, lying in front of a pedestal bearing the inscription, “IN MEMORY OF THE BOYS WHO WORE THE GRAY” is no longer a monument. Instead, it has all the characteristics of a work of art. It shows us something familiar in a new way. It prompts discussion. It makes an impassioned commentary. It tells a story.

It should be preserved in its present state. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thimk, damn it! No no, thimk harder!

This painting, hanging in the lobby of a Trader Joe’s supermarket
in Manhattan, purports to be a New York street scene. But look 
closely. How did those cars get up on that sidewalk bridge?
Did they drive up the wall of the kiosk that’s holding it up? 
Was the artist thinking? More likely he was only thimking
Like Donald Trump.

Once upon a time, back in the early 1960s, there was a big, prosperous, international company that specialized in making adding machines and typewriters. Its name was IBM, an abbreviation for International Business Machines.

Additionally, the company was futzing with things called computers — room-filling assortments of big, metal-boxed vacuum tubes, flashing and flickering while they spun tapes on which data was recorded. Data got put into the machines by feeding it cards in which holes were punched at various places. The machine would “read” the data on the cards, and manipulate it ways that would enable it to retrieve information it had already been fed, or do the work of dozens of calculators.

At that time, the company had a long-established one-word slogan. It was coined by the company’s founder, Thomas J. Watson, a remarkable character who also demanded, on pain of dismissal, that all his employees always wear white shirts with suits that were either blue or charcoal. I don’t recall what the dress code said about ties, but you had better bet it was pretty conservative.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the company was desperately hanging on to its slogan despite merciless parody. Typically, the letters THIN would fill a column, with a K either squeezed into the margins, or placed above the rest of the word with a carat. Another popular parody was meant to indicate that some unthinking sloganeer hadn’t proofread his work. “THIMK,” it said.

By the mid 1960s, parody was the least of the problems with the IBM slogan. Computers were being touted around the media as eerie devices that were going to take away everybody’s job. We’d all become unemployed drones, left without income by the terrible “thinking machines” that we’d be forced to serve.

In retrospect the touting was fairly accurate.  But IBM was not about to take that kind of reputation-wrecking rumor lying down. It launched an advertising campaign in which every headline began with the words, “IBM computers don’t think.” The ads would go on to list human-helping benefits of the machines, such as helping to find rare blood to save a life, or locating a lost ship at sea. I’m familiar with this obscure corner of history because I was the 23 year old kid who was writing most of the ads.

But if computers hewed to the company line and didn’t “think,” what was one to do with a slogan that said “Think” at the bottom of the ads? Well, we got rid of the slogan. And for good measure, we generally added to the text of the ads a thought that computers would “free up people to think.”

Pretty soon the THINK slogan suffered the same fate that Grover Norquist wishes on government. It shrank away until somebody drowned it in the bath tub of history.

Now, thanks to Donald Trump,  the United States is also in danger of drowning in the bath tub of history. We are being sucked threat-by-threat into a potential war with North Korea. We are rattling our sword at Venezuela. It may have been possible to fight massive wars on two fronts during WWII when we have a draft. With today’s all-volunteer army it is not. 

And never mind just two fronts. There's still Afghanistan. There's still Iraq. Iran, too, anybody?

Eric Prince and his private war company, Academi (formerly called Xe, and before that, Blackwater) cannot save us, although if he sells the Trump administration on paying him to conduct a war he may quite possibly bankrupt the nation. 

Yet Trump shoots off his mouth — at North Korea, at Venezuela, at Iran, at….well hell, maybe we can go to war with the entire world. 

While in principle I don’t mind Trump painting himself into a corner, he has also managed to paint the entire United States into the same corner to keep him company. And all the national forests and spectacular landscapes that he turns into coal mines, all the streams and drinking water he poisons, all the social safety nets he destroys in the name of…..whatever, will not save us.

Give him a chance and he’ll shoot off his mouth — via Twitter — about any thing that pops into his head. He’ll support racists until his frantic staff grabs his arm and twists it to make him stop. He’ll create internal chaos and disorganization throughout the government. He’ll insult and alienate potential allies. 

Can’t anybody in the White House think? Or even pretend to think? Of if that’s too much trouble, at least Thimk?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Call the so-called “Alt-Right” what they really are. Terrorists. And then hunt them down and lock them up before they murder any more Americans.

"Peaceful protestors" don't show up in strange towns brandishing combat
weapons, bulletproof vests and camo unless they're hellbent on doing violence.
How can you categorize this as anything except extremist terrorism?
The time for equivocating is over. When the so-called Alt-Right shows up in a college town, and on a college campus, brandishing combat weapons, they are not merely “protesting.” They are terrorizing, plain and simple.

When one of their number slams his foot down on the gas pedal of his car and roars into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring many others, he is not a protestor. He is a terrorist.

These disgusting excuses for human beings are not participating in the democratic process. They are not practicing freedom of speech. They are practicing freedom to murder and terrorize.

They must lose that freedom. And they must lose their personal freedom. They belong in prison for a very long time.

Moreover, those who encourage them either directly or, like Donald Trump, through equivocation are by their actions and inaction clearly aiding and abetting terrorism. They are little Osama bin Ladens, human scum inducing others to commit murder and mayhem. They, too, must be eventually called to account.

Enough of these damn terrorists.They say they are Americans, but they display no American values. They say they are Christians, but their outlook is not Christian, it is barbarian.

Treat them like the barbarians and terrorists that they are. Round them up. Charge them with murder, with incitement to riot, and most importantly of all, with terrorism. 

Put them on trial. Then slam the iron bars of a prison cell behind them and let them rot.

Monday, August 07, 2017

“Speak English if you want to come here”

Give me your fat cats, your rich
Your money-grubbing English-speaking thugs
Send these, the well-heeled oligarchic crooks
I lift my....oh wait, wrong poem
English was the fourth language of my immigrant grandparents. They didn’t learn it until they were heaved up on our shores, victims of oppression that would have cost them their lives had they remained where they were born.

As for skills? Hah! 

My paternal grandfather, for example, had no skills whatsoever. Nor was he employable until late in life. He had to invent his own “businesses.” In fact, he virtually had to invent himself.

He was a marginal "antiques" merchant for a while, often selling stuff that he had dragged in off sidewalk trash piles. He was an equally marginal hand laundry proprietor for another while. 

But one of his sons became a division head of an international corporation. Another became a lawyer. And his grandchildren included a computer engineer, an advertising executive, a senior hospital administrator, a bank co-founder, and a plastic surgeon who, during the Viet Nam War, ran a burn ICU aboard a naval hospital vessel that saved the lives of hundreds of gravely-wounded American soldiers and sailors.

Countless waves of immigrants, driven by desperation and an unrelenting hunger to succeed, came to this nation and worked their ways up. Their jobs were menial for the first generation. But within a generation or two they were the Ph.Ds and the M.D.s at the top of the heap. They were too familiar with and too fearful of a past that they could not backslide into through intellectual sloth.

Donald Trump cannot either stand or understand this. Nor can Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, who are sponsoring onerous new immigration laws that would choke off the flow of fresh blood and brains to the United States.

By insisting that those who immigrate to America have advanced degrees and a knowledge of English first, these regressives choke off the flow not only of immigrants, but also of the drive, and ambition, and brain power that made America great in the first place.

This is not making America great. If implemented, it will continue the disgraceful process of making America fourth rate.

And then, on the evening of August 8th, I discovered this.

Friday, August 04, 2017

I-wish-I-wrote-that department

Leonard Pitts, Jr.  Bravo!
In the absence of anything original of my own left to say about Donald Trump, let me share a few thoughts from Leonard Pitts, Jr., one of the Miami Herald's great columnists:
"This has been said a million times: Donald Trump is a lying, narcissistic, manifestly incompetent child man who is as dumb as a sack of mackerel. But he is the president of the United States because 63 million people preferred that to facing inevitable cultural change. So I am done asking — or caring — what’s wrong with him. Six months in, it’s time we grappled a far more important question."What in the world is wrong with us?"

Read more here:

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Moochie we hardly knew ye

SHERIFF: "Who was that foul-mouthed man?"
OLD COWPOKE: I don't know, but he left these.
SHERIFF: A pair of silver shades?
House, you're fired!
Dang! I’m a semi-invalid. Well, a recovering semi-invalid, slowly regaining my mobility after hip surgery. But it's no fun.

Even so, I'm trying to heal. Why, just yesterday, I took my cane and my shopping cart and lurched six blocks  to Trade Joe's to restock my empty larder. Then I lurched home again. Then I lay down in agony.

In between, because I’m homebound and sometimes in a bit too much pain to concentrate on what’s left of my pathetic business, much less blogging, I need entertainment — lots of entertainment. 

Donald Trump obliged beyond all expectations with Anthony Scaramucci, the White House communications director who turned into a flash-in-the-pan former communications director, likely at the very moment I was buying cheap bananas and a big box of Joe’s O’s. 

Well, The Mooch’s short-lived career, like a dud rocket that gets halfway off the launch pad and then explodes rather spectacularly, was entertainment, too. But then some wet blanket of an ex-Marine, General John F. Kelly, became White House Chief of Staff. He fired The Mooch, who had been threatening to fire everybody, thus cutting the level of late night merriment in half.

Worse yet, Kelly  is threatening to restore some semblance of normalcy to the executive branch.

Good luck with that, unless Kelly can sew The Donald’s mouth shut with fishing line and confiscate his cell phone. All the same, Kelly has thrown a pall of grim earnestness over what had been America’s best source of yaks since late night TV was invented.

If the high mucky-mucks at Disney had any courage (that’ll be the day!) they’d commission a Donald Duck movie called, “Donald In The Oval Office.” The plot? A cranky duck becomes President of The Ducked-Up States of America. He appoints as his closest advisers his nephews, Huey, Louie and Dewey. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away across the Pacific Ocean, Porky Pig begins launching nuclear missiles.

Will America survive? Will this nation, and its president, turn out to be everything we're quacked up to be? Hollywood, do your stuff!

Meanwhile, I’ve been speculating how all this could have come to pass in the first place. And again, Hollywood may be able to supply the answer. Here’s a transcript of events as I imagine they happened:

DIRECTOR: Roll Camera. Sticks!

SLATE BOY: Mr. Trump Goes To Washington. Scene one, take ten thousand, nine hundred and eighty-five.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: You freaking leaker, I’m going  fire you. I’m going to fire everybody. You're all fired. I told you not to leak but you’ve leaked all over everything. If I don’t fire you today, I’m going to fire your ass tomorrow.

DIRECTOR: What? Cut! Cut goddamn it! Who is this guy?

SCARAMUCCI: What the f….? I was doing great. I hit my mark, I read my lines….

DIRECTOR: Those aren’t lines from this movie.

SCARAMUCCI (WAVES HIS SCRIPT): Sez who? Here’s my lines, right in the script.

DIRECTOR: That’s the script for Deplorablefellas. This is Mister Trump Goes To Washington. You’re in the wrong movie!

SCARAMUCCI: Isn’t this Sound Stage 2?

DIRECTOR: No, this is Sound Stage 15. Somebody hustle this guy out of here.

And so they did.