Nothing Ado About Much

Driving across flat-as-your-floor cornfields on a backroad of a previous life, I once spotted smoke rising from the horizon before me.  A minute or two later I slowed to see a dozen people laughing it up as they formed a line in front of the burning farmhouse and faced the road.

Instinctively, I continued until my car was behind a stand of cottonwood and killed the radio before stopping.  My windows down, I could hear them boasting about how easily they wiped out another home.

Soon I heard sirens and awaited their arrival before getting out.  I did not wait long.

A firetruck and an ambulance stopped abruptly, and a dozen fire fighters jumped into immediate action–only to be stopped by the arsonists, who all drew knives.

As the argument escalated and flames pushed through the second floor, cars and pickups began to arrive, passersby and people from nearby drawn by the sirens. Soon, the argument devolved into a physical altercation, and the arsonists aimed their knives not at the firefighters, but at the hoses.

When the fire burst through the roof, the firefighters stepped back, but the arsonists stepped toward the assembled crowd. One appeared to speak for all:

“You see!  The building burns out of control!  The fire department is incompetent!”

The fire chief answered:  “That’s because you stopped us!  You cut the hoses!”

I stepped out from behind the trees:  “Not only that,” pointing at the arsonists, “they set the blaze.”

One of the onlookers, seeming to speak for the rest, ignored me while yelling at both sides in the yard before us:  “All of you were here when the house burned down!  That’s what we saw!  You are all to blame!”

Having a satirical frame of mind and being the only eye-and-earwitness to the entire event, I couldn’t help myself.  Turning to the onlookers:  “But the arsonists agree with you that the firefighters are inept. You should just get rid of them and hire the arsonists to take care of future fires.”

To my amazement, a cry of agreement went up from the assembled crowd, many of whom rushed forward to shake the arsonists’ hands while the firefighters walked away and the top of the farmhouse collapsed into the billowing inferno.

This is the point of the story when a reader might expect the narrator to say, “I then awoke from the dream,” but for this narrator it’s day to day reality every time I hear someone complain about or see a meme ridiculing a “do-nothing Congress.”

If you do not make the distinction between what Democrats do and what Republicans undo–between the 400+ bills that a Democratic House has passed and that a Republican Senate has blocked–then you are the part of the problem that makes the problem impossible to solve.

America’s current non-stop nightmare is not a do-nothing Congress.  It’s a know-nothing citizenry.


According to Wikipedia, this is from US government files and labeled as “from the 1770s.” If you cannot quite read it, the inscription at the bottom says, “Ye FIREMEN of 1776.” Of all years!

If you want to dismiss the above scenario as preposterous, compare it to this true story from Tea Partying Tennessee ten years ago:

Call Him Galileo

Ever wonder who you might have been in a previous life?

Last week I took another turn in a marathon reading of Moby-Dick while still in the afterglow of the one in New Bedford back in January.  Though virtual, the effect was the same.  I’m being told that I didn’t just read but played the part.

Ishmael, 1819-1891 (est.)

A century ago, I could well have been Herman Melville’s smart-ass, manic, skittish, ever curious, overly inquisitive, and (at that age of 30) ebullient narrator.  Call me Ishmael grown old.

Since New Bedford, I’ve been in the habit of imagining others in another time.  Friends and family can be assured that I regard them as likable shipmates–most of them.

Public figures once tended toward Shakespearean dopplegangers:  LBJ as MacBeth, RFK as Hamlet, Nixon as King Lear.  Starting with Reagan, they mostly appear as refugees out of The Great Gatsby, Babbitt, and Main Street.

Even Obama, for all his literary fuel, adhered more to Bonfire of the Vanities than to The Fire Next Time.

Until P-grab.  Monomaniacal and authoritarian with the manipulating ability to make others adopt his obsession as their own, he’s Ahab reincarnated:

Ahab:  I’d strike the sun if it insulted me!

P-grab:  I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK.

Paradoxically, whereas Ahab was intent on finding his white whale, P-grab does all he can to deny that it exists, or that it’s a serious threat, or that it much matters.  While Ahab raced the Pequod past feeding grounds flush with whales that would have enriched the ship’s enterprise, P-grab pushes the economy every way he can, including the opening of schools, no matter the still-increasing risk of COVID-19.

No one stopped the Pequod from doom, so rather than search its decks for a savior, let’s turn to another uncannily analogous time.

Galileo, 1564-1642

While there needs be no Galileo gasping from the grave to tell us that the refusal to accept science is not new, he might tell us that America is more at the mercy of a psychological disorder than of an infectious disease.

So says my fellow Newburyport columnist, Jonathan Wells, a Starbuck if ever I met one whether he broods over coffee or not. He got me to thinking: As America watches science cast aside—at times ridiculed along with truth, logic, civility, and the rule of law—there must be a name for that disorder.

Given the success of most other countries to flatten the COVID curve, it’s apparent that America’s still-bulging failure owes to it.

It’s called the Semmelweis Reflex.  First diagnosed in 1847, this is, according to the National Library of Medicine, “a powerful human behavioral tendency to stick to pre-existing beliefs and to reject fresh ideas that contradict them despite adequate evidence.”

Though Galileo, facing a nagging Inquisition from 1610 to 1633, would not have known the name, he saw the Semmelweis Reflex in the faces of–and heard it in the accusations of–the Catholic cardinals sitting before him.

Just as America has seen and heard it for months from Republican senators, representatives, and governors, most vividly last week in the House hearing in which Republicans grilled doctors as if the doctors were the disease itself.

Most riveting was Ohio Rep. Jim “Guess What!” Jordan–who would be typecast as the personification of hate in one of those medieval morality plays–trying to shout absurdities into the mouth of Dr. Anthony Fauci who, whether he likes it or not, is the “you” in America’s 2020 version of “a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

In one of the most memorable moments in the history of ridiculous-versus-sublime confrontations, Fauci waved Guess What! off as breezily as you’d brush (or crush) a gnat off your arm.

Satisfying as that moment may have been, we are still left with P-grab staying the headlong-into-destruction course of a ship in the grip of Semmelweis Reflex.

Galileo was able to bargain for house arrest by confessing to his heresy because no one was going to die.  Whether the Earth was flat or round made no difference to the health of a population that didn’t care about such things.  Furthermore, Galileo had no mass media that might spread his word.

But what would Galileo do now?

Dr. Fauci, 1941-present

Considering that he has endured threats to himself and his family from rabid, anonymous believers in the white whale of MAGA, Dr. Fauci has served us as well as can be expected.  Though we may wish he was louder, more defiant, more accusatory, no reasonable person questions his honesty.

But we have failed him in the same way that we failed Robert Mueller. Some expect Fauci to solve the problem by himself. Others accept only what they want to hear, disregarding what they most need to hear.

If you ever laughed at, or felt anger or pity for anyone who could have opposed Galileo’s evidence 400 years ago, you may want to consider why Dr. Fauci isn’t present or remains silent at recent conferences.  At times he seems to be gasping from exile to tell us what science says.

The 17th Century population of the Italian peninsula, of Europe to boot, had no media to let them know what Galileo was going through, what he was up against.

The population that sings it own praises as “the land of the free and the home of the brave” does not have that excuse.


Cristiano Banti‘s 1857 painting Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition

I’m not the only one who compares P-grab to Ahab:

For more on the virtual marathon reading conducted by the good folks at Melville’s Arrowhead Farm:

The story of what transpired between the Vatican and Galileo is long, complicated, nuanced, shocking, and surprising to those of us who hear no more of it than the simplified story that he revealed things they didn’t want revealed and so they shut him up. For a summary of it, go here:

For the full story, get this:

For more on the Semmelweis Reflex and a look at the Newburyport Daily News column that prompted this post, see this:

Laughing at and waving off the Republican gnat as seen on CNN

A Butt for Mr. Heartbeat

Keeping up with news is like smoking cigarettes:

A handicap to some, recreation to others. A cause of nervousness, a way to unwind. An addiction for those who worry, a luxury for those who reflect. An annoyance to those nearby, or a pastime in good company.

Me? I rarely light up with the blow-torch Bics of page one, but with the kitchen-cranny Ohio Blues down at the bottom of page seven, or 37. For insight, it’s not what’s up front that counts.

That’s why all the front page and top-of-the-hour attention to our Reality TV president is all smokescreen. Breathe the news more deeply and you’ll choke on the environmental, occupational safety, food and drug protections, voting rights, and (just this past week) fair housing legislation that have been torched.

Unnoticed under the clouds of COVID and the election, it may well be that the Republican president’s foremost qualification for office may be the same as Bill Clinton’s: He never inhales.

For four years, lead stories have exhaled his foibles by the carton:

Cancer causing windmills, Finland raking forests, a Sharpie hurricane, a proposed water bomb to be dropped on a burning cathedral, Clorox down the hatch, UV lights up the butt, George Washington capturing LaGuardia, Logan, Dulles, JFK, LAX. Did he forget Cape Canaveral?

Last week we got “Person, woman, man, camera, TV” which prompted my friend in Fort Myers to yell, “Jesus, Mary, and Fred!” She didn’t need a phone.

Some of us laugh so hard at this that we can hardly distinguish the cellophane of page one from the ashtrays of editorial comment.

Except, of course, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg takes a tumble or feels a pain in her side and lands on an operating table. Then we’re off to the emergency room, re-reading the Surgeon General’s warning, checking the insurance policy–which in America is no guarantee.

As I write this, a few live-ash journalists are speculating on page eight, or maybe 28, that he might bow out of the election rather than face a loss, using health as a pretext. One glowing theory holds that a resignation will install Mike Pence in the White House and provide a pretext for postponing the election.

Very doubtful, but it is worth noting that America has had a VP these last four years–and possibly for another four, and who could become president at any time–who was writing op-ed columns less than 20 years ago saying things like:

“Smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, two out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and nine out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.”

Yes, Mr. Heartbeat is also on record saying, “condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted disease” and “Global warming is a myth. The global warming treaty is a disaster… a ‘chicken little’ attempt to raise taxes and grow centralized governmental power… the earth is actually cooler today than it was about 50 years ago.”

An odd record for someone put in charge of a national response to a pandemic, but that’s the front page stuff you hear everywhere, and it’s painfully (and now lethally) obvious that his only qualification is his willingness to begin his every pronouncement with: “Under the extraordinary, steady leadership of President Donald Trump…”

Somewhere between page nine and 39 last month, cigarettes wafted into the news when US tobacco companies became the beneficiary of yet more snuffed out restrictions on their trade in Asia. All of which gains the rubber stamp of Senate Republicans, most enthusiastically from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who represents Kentucky, the home of King Nicotine itself.

Thanks to the recessed filters of the Republican Party, it’s possible for a group calling itself “Right to Life” to approve or look the other way at such moves as they blow the smoke rings of “family values.”

As close to Heartbeat’s heart as Kentucky to Indiana, Right to Life was the lucky strike that put him on the pall mall course to become the VP candidate in 2016. The Republicans needed someone to reassure the evangelicals they were asking to overlook two divorces, hush money to call girls, open bragging of sexual conquest, glorification of sexual harassment, gratuitous vulgarity, open deceit, obscene smears–

I mean, Jesus, Mary, and Fred, they had to have something to hold up the camel’s back!

We in the press–Bic Flickers and Ohio Tippers alike–need to be more careful about these seeming jokes, the lunacy of 45, the absurdity of his slobbering, slavish, spineless, pathetic, pompous, pulseless, pusillanimous, limp, lame, grovelling, boot-licking, butt-wiping No. 2. These seeming foibles are diversions which we render successful every time because we fail to recognize the most cherished American freedom:

The right to be crude and stupid.

Though it’s no time to lighten up on COVID or the election at the top of the news, we do need to light up more attention to the pages from five to 55 where the real effects of our most debilitating national disease beg for treatment.

Election Day? Consider it Cold Turkey. Or else!


I learned long ago that when you imply that some popular pastime or habit is in any way bad, readers want to know whether you partake in it or ever did. Here’s the story of how and why I quit smoking in 2007, turned into an analogy to the Democratic primaries in 2016:

Nearly 40 years before writing that, I wrote this for oakwood, the literary magazine at South Dakota State University:

Camels and White Owls, my best of friends,

And though the Gods admit,

They have my lungs upon dead ends,

I know I shall not quit.

So with a butt between my lips,

Two smoke rings I shall blow,

One, a zero to the Gods,

The other is my halo.

Available at:

In February when Pence was put in charge of the tisk-task force, Newsweek ran an article that listed several more of his anti-science stands than I have used here:

My Coal Mine ’tis of Thee

America’s inability to flatten COVID’s curve is a direct consequence of a popular belief:

“Run government like a business.”

We should have snapped out of our fixation with that idea in 2014 when the water supply of Flint, Michigan, was switched from the treated Detroit Water Dept.  to the highly polluted Flint River as a cost-cutting measure with no regard for water quality.

That was overseen by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who ran for the office in 2010 following a 28-year career as an accountant, business executive, and venture capitalist, promising to run Michigan like a business. Just over a year into his term, he asserted state control over Michigan’s largest cities by assigning “emergency managers” who had no obligation to heed elected local officials. With a fresh model for control of cities, long a GOP obsession, the party’s accountants were so pleased so soon that Snyder made Mitt Romney’s short list for VP in 2012.

So much for Republican complaints about “government overreach.”*

All it took was the decision of one EM looking only at the bottom line–as if the environment, sanitation, geography, biology, and the human digestive system were all line-items he or she could veto–for a lethal disaster that to this day reduces fertility rates and increases miscarriages and fetal deaths

And so Flint became the canary in the coal mine that is 21st Century America.

By ignoring what befell that seemingly out-of-the-way mid-sized city–or by passing it off as an aberration, a mistake that can’t happen here (as if here is someplace else)–the fate of Flint is now the fate of us all.

Just as the EMs in Michigan ignored science for the illusion of a stronger economy, so too do a Republican president and his enablers in the US Senate under the illusion of “it will go away” or “the heat will take care of it.”

Just as young children were most vulnerable to the lead in the Flint River, so too are parents being pressured to send children back to school next month. Says the glib press secretary: “We can’t let science stand in the way.”

Just as Snyder stripped Michigan cities of local control, we are now seeing Republican governors overruling and nullifying efforts of mayors and county commissioners to require masks, restrict businesses, and delay school openings.

Just as Snyder’s administration tried to shift blame for their decision to the federal EPA, so too does our Republican administration cast blame for the pandemic on the Obama administration–even though they themselves gutted the agency developed by combined efforts of the Clinton, W. Bush, and Obama administrations that would have dealt with the virus promptly and comprehensively.

At the very least, we would have a flattened curve comparable to that of Europe these past two months. And, had we learned the lesson of Flint in 2014, we would not have made the disastrous choice we made in November of 2016 which made it possible for American canaries to fall dead, unheeded, and stepped over, if not on, once in the Dow Jones way.

As much as my liberal friends would rather not hear it, that’s because neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would have made that November ballot.

But that’s another argument, a moot point at best, and a distraction at length–as if we need any more–from the decisions we can make just three months from now when there will be one candidate on every American ballot pledged to put science first.

And down ballot candidates who will–who already are–supporting the Green New Deal and universal healthcare.

The health of our children, our elderly, our environment, ourselves, will no longer be line items to be vetoed for the sake of an economy that serves so few at the expense and occasional death of so many.

Time to run a nation like a nation.


By Mike Keefe of the Denver Post, April 16, 2010 following the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia on April 5, 2010 when 29 of 31 miners at the site were killed. An investigation would later conclude that flagrant safety violations contributed to the explosion. It issued 369 citations at that time, assessing $10.8 million in penalties.

*Turns out that shifting as much power as possible to state governments has long been a Republican national strategy. All while decrying “government overreach” and calling for “local control” when it comes to the roll of the federal government regarding states, they seek strong state governments that can control municipalities, especially cities which tend to have larger minority populations. This is what we are seeing play out regarding masks and reopenings this year, but since at least the 2010 census and subsequent 2011 redistricting, the main goal has been to restrict voting with ID laws, limited polling places, and other obstacles for an urban vote. All of this is described and documented in Democracy in Chains (2017) by Nancy MacLean.

Some might say that the idea to run government like a business originated with Calvin Coolidge a century ago, but “Silent Cal” claimed only that “the business of America is business.”

This is a Chamber of Commerce mentality that says everything is for the sake of business. Among the roar of the 1920s was the boosterism that bubbles in Sinclair Lewis novels and the drumming that beats down in Arthur Miller plays.

And we see and hear that every time the Republican president and his enablers say everything is just fine even when it’s all going to hell. That’s why even the cardboard cutouts in stadium seats all have big smiles on their unmasked faces, like the paid airheads wearing red backstage at MAGA rallies.

So, yes, government has been made the servant of business to varying degrees for a hundred years, but the push to turn government into a business was not introduced until Ronald Reagan announced in his 1981 inaugural address:

“Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

If the pandemic has disproved anything, it has annihilated that.

A Cool Rocking Daddy

Sitting in front of my Shoebox on Plum Island, I overlook the estuary toward the mainland, enjoying a daylong breeze.  It’s high tide and late afternoon, on a summer Sunday no less, a combination that sends many boaters through the channel, not close enough to see who they are–not that I would know any–but enough to exchange a wave.

If I’m just sipping coffee or quaffing ale, or if I happen to look up from what I’m reading or ranting, I wave to the slow moving small craft, catching their attention about half the time.  And I always wave to the 48-foot Yankee Clipper, a tour boat which I miss this summer, that leisurely floats by with up to 40 people out for a mouth-of-the-river-and-to-the-marsh-and-back-to-Newburyport-they-go sunset cruise. A few folks always return that one.

A few summers ago, I was on the Yankee Clipper when a friend won a cruise for herself and 39 guests.  Lived here for 30 years and it was the first time I saw the Shoebox from the channel.  I went racing around the deck, sat at various tables, and let everyone know:

“There’s my place!  See that small blue spot to the right? That’s the chair I’d be sitting in right now!  See that tiny white spot in front of it?  That’s a cooler I use as a foot stool!”  As if they weren’t already laughing at me enough, I finished this manic performance each time by waving at my own empty chair.  Some waved with me.

No waving today, however, as all the boats, mostly small yachts, are racing past full-throttle or near it.  Following the deafening roar of three gas-guzzling cigarette boats that raced by as I sat down, these motor boats, even the ones that bounce up and down in each other’s wake, are hardly noticeable.

Except for the one with the blaring radio or sound-system booming out “Born in the USA.”

At the time, I was back indoors preparing a salad for dinner, and, though I could have hastened for a look, let it pass, leaving me free to wonder:

Was it the Everglade that docked in Newburyport the other night with pro-Trump flags, one including the F-word, and a figurehead mannequin, a flimsily topped female with exaggerated nipples?

No, I didn’t see it in town either–haven’t been there, haven’t been anywhere but here–but the picture was posted on a local social media page, and the comments are, well, surprising when we consider that they have real names attached.  It’s not like an anonymous wave between this seat and the next fishing boat, much less like the anonymous trolls on the sites of newspapers.

There were many, and many simply joked about it. The mannequin led all to believe that the owner is male–and to several splintering wisecracks. But my favorite was from a fellow who noted the boat’s Florida registration and questioned the need for a quarantine for a vessel visiting us from the land of Gov. DeathSantis.

Surprisingly, for every expression of offense, there was an expression of admiration.  He’s living the American dream!  He can do whatever he wants!  He earned it! The implication being: Here’s proof that America is Number One! Here’s what we all should strive for!

At a time when American hospitals are bursting at the seams, when American cities are falling under federally imposed martial law, when millions of Americans suddenly are without income, and when schoolteachers in Iowa are writing their obituaries, leaving only the date blank–

At such a time, that is the kind of guy who would roar a 116-foot yacht through a salt-marsh to the blaring tune of “Born in the U.S.A.”

Anyone want to tell him–or tell the many Americans who dance with him–what the song is actually about?


The Shoebox, late March, as viewed by Michael Boer facing northwest from the end of the driveway. For more photos from his 2006 visit, see
The Yankee Clipper in Newburyport Harbor, in about the same focus from which I see it at the distance of a Canadian football field, endzones included. For more on Yankee Clipper tours, including many photos:

Lyrics to “Born in the U.S.A.”:

Disneyland Gone Wild

If you want a good laugh, type congressional map images and then Ohio or Pennsylvania or North Carolina into a search engine, and be sure not to have your mouth full of food or drink when they appear on your screen.

No, you did not type “Jackson Pollack abstract expressionism” by mistake.

As much of a joke as it appears, it’s not one of those head-shakers at how stupid or drunk a rogue cartographer can be.

It’s all deliberate, calculated to carve Democratic districts shaped like babies’ drool and Republican districts like badly combobulated farm equipment as a way to insure that the state will elect more Republicans to the US House than Democrats–even as the Democratic candidates gain more votes statewide.

As David Daley reports in his just published Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy, the Democratic and Republican candidates for the US House in 2012 split the popular vote 50/50 in six states–add Virginia, Wisconsin, and Michigan to the three named above–that nevertheless gave Republicans a 56-24 edge in their 80 contests.

Republicans will be quick to object with their knee-jerk whataboutism, and it’s true that Democrats are far from innocent. However, in both states that Republicans like to cite, Maryland and Massachusetts, all the seats in question were won by Democrats anyway, the gerrymander serving particular Democrats looking to preserve particular turf from upstart Democratic challengers. In Massachusetts, the offending districts were redrawn in 2010. (Regarding Maryland, see the link below).

In that same year, as if to capitalize on the Democrats’ correction, Republicans across the country instituted REDMAP, a campaign of “aggressive gerrymandering” in the states whose legislatures they controlled.

How aggressive? In Pennsylvania, one district was dubbed “Donald Duck Kicking Goofy,” and in North Carolina courts rejected Republican drawn maps as “monstrous” and “antidemocratic.”

Thanks to citizen initiatives, Penna now has a map that would not be confused with Disneyland Gone Wild. However, NC Republicans responded by passing one of the nation’s harshest voter-ID laws which a federal appeals court jinxed for “target[ing] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

These are samples of a dozen reports offered in Unrigged, something of a sequel to Daley’s 2016 as-confrontational-as-its-title Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count.

Good news is that it’s an optimistic sequel. As a new born breed of activists–from Maine to Arizona, from Idaho to Florida (always Florida)–kept telling Daley, the result of the 2016 presidential election shook them into action.

Accounts of voter registration include the reservations of North Dakota where Native Americans have never used street addresses–have never named streets–preferring to get their mail at the local post office. When Democrat Heidi Heitkamp won a US Senate seat in 2012, state Republicans looked for ways to suppress the Native American vote, so requiring street addresses was low hanging fruit. Though too late for Heitkamp’s re-election bid, that suppressive law was overturned in 2018. Ironically, but emphatically, the Republican state legislator who wrote the law was defeated and replaced by a Native American woman.

In Maine, Daley shares a delightful time with activists at their session in South Portland’s Foulmouthed Brew Pub where they sat folks down to flights of beer to demonstrate just how Ranked Choice Voting works. Maine’s alcohol industry no doubt increased in 2010 when Paul LePage, “a Tea Party bully with a posterior fixation, became governor in 2010, telling the NAACP to ‘kiss my butt’ and boasting that he’d ‘give it to people without Vaseline’.” He received just 37.6% of the vote in a five-way election, a travesty that would have been impossible with the built-in run-off of RCV (which is Question 2 on the Massachusetts Ballot this year).

In Idaho, Daley rode “the rickety ‘Medicaid Express,’ a literal vehicle for change” in the state’s resistance to federal funding under the Affordable Care Act. The 1977 Dodge Tiago RV was painted not red, not blue, but green. The words “Democrat” and “Republican” were left out of all discussion, which left more time for pure, clear, reliable mathematics to make the case. At the end of the year, Idaho–as well as Nebraska and Utah–adopted Medicaid for All with 61% of the vote.

Since it is a sequel to Ratf**ked, most of Unrigged‘s reports are about gerrymandering. In addition to a gallery of looney-tune maps–attached below, including D. Duck kicking Goofy into or out of Penna’s District 7–Daley describes political boundaries drawn right through the center of tight-knit communities and college campuses to split their vote and weaken their impact.

And others drawn parallel with little more than a road between them to connect two cities in a single overwhelmingly Democratic district while keeping the rural districts on either side safe for Republicans. How else to explain the baby-drool of Cleveland-Akron?

One villain in this is Chief Justice John Roberts who in 2013 penned the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, overturning Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and punting the issue back to the very state legislatures that were doing the damage all along.

But there are plenty of heroes who are, as the book’s subtitle declares, “Battling Back to Save Democracy.” In addition to so many activists, they range from mathematicians and cartographers with computer savvy to the Pennsylvania high school civics teacher “who returned from a deployment in Guantanamo Bay angry to find his hometown congressional district drawn into the shape of a barbell.”

More than anything, the book is timely. We all think of 2020 as an election year, and for many the interest ends at the top of the ballot. But 2020 is also a year for the US Census, and it’s the bottom of the ballot, the state representatives, with input from county and local officials, who will be charged with redrawing maps based on that census.

To put it in the current vernacular: All votes matter. Sheriff as much as Senator.

Will politics continue to stand in the way of geography–and grind its heel into the face of common sense? Or will we kick goofy geography’s butt off the American map once and for all?


If you ever wondered why Ohio Rep. James Jordan refuses to wear a jacket in House committee hearings, it may be simply because he represents a district where nothing fits. Jordan, of course, is the loud-mouthed, rapid-fire talking Trump shill who would be typecast in one of those ancient passion plays as the personification of hate. And it is easy to imagine many playwrights–from Aristophanes to Shakespeare to David Mamet–using Jordan’s frequent, high-pitched interjection, “Guess What!!!,” as a comic device.
This was struck down for, as the court ruled, targeting African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” But it’s worth noting that for the 12th District, they couldn’t even fit the number on the map and had to line it in from Virginia–while District 9 is so contorted, they had to number it twice. Together they make 4 and 13 more acceptable, even though they appear, respectively, as someone who just finished a shot-put and the results of an intestinal disease.
As ridiculous as 12 (the Barbell) and 7 (“D. Duck kicking Goofy”) appear, what may be most telling is the Pennsylvania GOP’s unwillingness to keep the state’s short lakefront in a single district. Compare that to neighboring Ohio (above) where District 9 is spread like already melted butter for triple the distance along Lake Erie. That, along with the Barbell and Disney characters gone wild, is remedied in the new map (below) thanks to the intercession of the folks who appear in Daley’s book and are well worth getting to know.

Regarding Maryland:

A White Male Apology

My conscience is bothering me.  Since the emergence of the brainless Tea Party in 2010, I have called Congressional Republicans arsonists, nihilists, cynics, paranoiacs, idiots, spineless weasels, witless lap-dogs, groveling nitwits, gullible puppies, outhouse grifters, fascist rubber stamps, corporate head-nodders, blind mice, deaf monkeys, dumb mules, cementheads, ostriches, jellyfish, snakes, quacks, goose-stepping storm-trumpers, and shit.

While listening to the Republican representative from Florida offer an obviously unfelt apology for smearing a Democratic rep from NYC on the Capitol steps, it finally occurred to me that shit serves a useful purpose.  As fertilizer, shit helps things grow.  Shit is good.  You cannot say that about Congressional Republicans–not one of whom said a word about the incident in the three days between the news report and the faux-apology.

I hereby apologize to shit, and hope to see plenty of it–tons of it–piled onto the heads of Mitch “Grim Reaper” McConnell, Susan “Oh, I Think He Learned His Lesson” Collins, Jim “Guess What!” Jordan, Ted “F—ing Bitch” Yoho, and all their obstructionist Republican colleagues, all their Confederate and Nazi flag-waving supporters, as well as their Russian overseers when the American toilet is flushed in November.

I should also apologize to puppies. That comparison really was over the top.


Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ refusal to accept the faux-apology is a tour de force that may very well begin to appear in American history textbooks before long, mainly because it so well captures the intersection of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter at a time when, for all the talk of black and white, Americans can’t seem to tell red from green:

The final words of Yoho’s “apology” are bizarre. Certainly non-sequitur. Perhaps an indignant refusal to apologize for his “love of country”–as if smearing AOC was motivated by patriotism–is Confederate code? An attempt to echo DT’s telling her to go back where she came from?

As for the “family man” facade, how about this for a rule: If any public official invokes a spouse or children over the age of 18 on the floor of the House or Senate, that spouse and those children must be made available to the press? They can invoke the 5th all they want, but the point is that they cannot be used as props.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley in Boston on Oct. 1, 2018, during a rally protesting the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. Pressley spoke on the House floor yesterday in support of AOC’s contention that verbal abuse of women permeates American government. In fact, AOC actually thanked Ted Yoho for putting the subject on the House floor with his “apology.” Photo Credit…Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

Oh Say Can You Think?

Major League Baseball opens its season tonight in Washington DC (of all places) with Dr. Anthony Fauci reportedly slated to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Judging by a few incidents during exhibition games, we may see players, coaches, and at least one manager kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem.

Which means, unavoidably, that we are going to hear and see complaints from those who believe that the symbolic, silent, and entirely peaceful protest shows disrespect for the flag.

Here are two suggestions for those who are caught between not wanting to argue and not wanting let the misrepresentation slide:

  1. Remind the speaker that the anthem begins with a question, “Oh say can you see…,” and then ask if he or she sees the reason why anyone would kneel.
  2. Notice if the speaker says “against the anthem” rather than “during the anthem.” If so, ask if they think there’s a difference. If not, ask just when the statement should be made.

Whether you want to pursue it any further than that depends on what you hear and your assessment of how reasonable the speaker is. However, I would recommend phrasing everything as a question, and that as many questions as possible be about the song.

For example: “Do you expect African-Americans to agree that America in 2020 can honestly be called ‘the land of the free’?”

And: “Do you believe that an America in which people would rather not be upset or inconvenienced by such silent, symbolic, peaceful protests can honestly call itself ‘the home of the brave’?”

If this sounds like a rough assignment, consider that the song itself, is not about living the good life, but about a military battle. Consider that the song’s questions are not answered, but are left to be answered. Consider that the answers do not accommodate relaxation, but insist on attention.

Consider that the Americans on their knees are asking us to pay attention.

Oh, say, what could be more patriotic than that?


A banner hung this week prior to the start of pre-season games by the Boston Red Sox. That’s the Mass Pike in the foreground running alongside the back of the left field wall, aka the Green Monster. Photo courtesy of NECN (New England Cable News).

Beautiful World Wars

Interviewer Chris Wallace is gaining much credit for challenging obvious lies about the virus being under control. Though he gained no admission, Wallace did force a full display of a 12-Step president’s gaslighting tricks in their usual succession:

1. Deny facts.

2. Dismiss or condemn those who make facts known.

3. Condemn with simple but vague words (nasty, disgraceful).

4. Make a false claim.

5. Repeat and exaggerate all of the above.

6. Change the subject to something unrelated but commonly known and imply a comparison to your claim.

7. Repeat the denial and the claim, adding repetition for single words and phrases to impress on the listener (buzzwords).

8. Praise anyone involved in the unrelated subject.

9. Praise with simple but vague words (tremendous, beautiful).

10. Compare the false claim to the unrelated subject.

11. Repeat and exaggerate the praise and the comparison.

12. Keep repeating until the interviewer gives up or until you call him or her “nasty” and walk away.

Yes, a 12-step program, but instead of beginning like all others with a recognition of the problem and calling it by its accurate name, this one begins by claiming there is no problem–or claiming it is already solved–and calling anyone who says there’s a problem some very nasty and disgraceful names.

Wallace deserves credit for leading our Republican president through his 12 steps, but the most revealing item of all has gained very little attention. Donny 12-Step’s unrelated subject for comparison to his hallucinatory victory over the pandemic was “two world wars.” What passes for logic seems to be that, since America defeated global military threats, we can–and in 12-Step’s mind, we already have–defeated COVID-19.

The two world wars, of course, are dear to America’s heart and soul, history and memory. But those are four qualities of which Donny 12-Step is null and void. For him, the buzzing phrase was nothing more than the verbal equivalent of flag waving. How else do you explain his saying it over and again, as if waving a flag back and forth?

And, as always in his fits of repetition, exaggeration kicked in–or what he may have thought was lavish praise–and at the end of it, as if in a carnival barker’s final pitch, we heard him say, “beautiful world wars.”

His supporters, always grasping at non-existent straws, will shrug this off with “You know what he meant,” referring not to bloodshed and death but only to military might as “beautiful.” Even at that, it’s a claim that would have horrified Washington, Grant, Eisenhower, and most other successful generals.

Question is: Does Donny 12-Step know what he’s talking about?

And for all the gaslighting with America’ military past–and all that credit heaped on Wallace–why was there no question about Russian bounties on American soldiers under the Republicans’ present day watch?


Necessary Trouble

In 1978, I was among 20 new Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) sent in to Washington DC for orientation, pep talks, and guidance that we were to share with hundreds of others back in our assigned districts—in my case, the Dakotas and a few nearby states.

One of those talks was from a very young John Lewis, still an organizer nine years away from taking a seat in the US House of Representatives.  When he fielded questions, including one from me that I can’t even recall, he quickly perceived an over-anxious idealism that he didn’t try to tone down so much as redirect.

Using a variety of examples and phrases, he imparted one message that I never forgot, even though I can’t recall if he said these exact words just once or several times:

“You can’t influence a place until you are part of that place.”