Sunday, December 31, 2017

#MeToo and Gender and 2018

Me, too. For a long time, that phrase described a woman's place in the world. An afterthought. A casual, last-minute addition. 

Today, it means something very different. It is a forum where women detail the sexual abuse and manipulation they have received at the hands of men.

Like so much else that surfaced in 2017, it is ugly.

Heading the list is Harvey Weinstein, an immensely powerful Hollywood mogul who held in his hands the futures of alluring young women eager to taste Hollywood's fame and its riches. Judging from the available evidence, it appears that Weinstein had no compunction whatsoever about taking advantage of that position.

These allegations are serious and are being taken in kind. Dozens of accused men have surrendered their jobs, their public standing and conceivably, their marriages or long-term relationships. It is a very high price to pay.

My concern is that so many of them are merely that—allegations. Only a tiny percentage have seen the inside of a courtroom, where they would be held up to the bright light of examination and proven or disproved.

Women, like men, are capable of holding grudges. Of crafting agendas. Of seizing opportunities. And what better way to soothe a wounded ego than to accuse a powerful and well-known man of withholding a coveted role because you didn't put out?

There is a faint whiff of the sordid Tawana Brawley – Al Sharpton affair, which was one of the more distressing events of my lifetime. You mean there isn't enough genuine racism in the world? We have to manufacture it???

And yet, having witnessed firsthand the depths my sex can sink to in the pursuit of female companionship, they aren't terribly hard to believe, either. And after folding in the intoxicating multipliers of celebrity and wealth, imagining the worst requires about the same stretch that reaching for the remote does.

As a man raised by a mother who had “...and to obey” stricken from her marriage vows, and as one who came of age in the sensitive seventies, I was taught to respect women as fellow human beings. They were neither superior nor inferior; they existed alongside me.

All of which made perfect sense to me.

But in the divisive twenty-first century, where everything has become a war, those attitudes would be roundly mocked by half of the population. Men reach for extreme expressions of masculinity in a changing social and economic landscape that increasingly favors women, while feminism becomes less about equality and more about control.

As an age-enchanced individual, I find it ironic when I encounter women who remind me of the men feminists once railed against. They are dismissive, arrogant and possess the same sense of gender-based entitlement my forebearers did.

When I don't find it ironic, I find it sad. This is progress?

I prize the French expression vive la difference, I can only wonder how it plays out in French culture. Are relationships between men and women really better there? Do French men and women truly love and respect one another for who they are?

In America, too much of life is about winning. And there can only be one winner. It isn't about co-existing, it's about emerging victorious. Being in control. Winning. Contentment is frowned upon. One must always seek the promotion. Desire the bigger house. Have and want more.

Sadly, this seeps into our personal relationships as well.

This competition was once the exclusive property of men in the workplace. But again, times have changed. Women, historically denied the opportunity to buy into that and becoming part of it, suddenly do. And are.

How funny is it that in a country as homophobic as the United States, we demand that our women become men?

The aforementioned age-enhanced individual laments that as a society, we refused to recognize traditional feminine characteristics as different—but equal—strengths. One sex got to dominate, the other was made subservient.

We refused to celebrate our differences. To appreciate and regard each gender for their unique qualities and what each brought to the world. To understand how vital each was to an ongoing, functional civilization.

Before I am labelled a Bible-toting chauvinist, I should add that we also refused to allow women opportunity when traditional roles didn't appeal.

While not a knee-jerk adherent of girl power (I don't remember the last male boss I had, nor do I make a third more than the woman working next to me simply because I have a penis), I have to admit the societal model is broken.

Women shouldn't ever be put through what so many have been, be it in Hollywood or on Wall Street.

Seventies feminism provoked the frequently-asked question “What do women want?”, which was, in retrospect, entirely the wrong question. Women are individuals. They are diverse and want as many different things as men do.

Maybe a better question is (and was) what can women want? 

With democracy on life-support, my wish for 2018 is that both sexes could briefly live fulfilling lives unconstrained and undefined by gender.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Incontrovertible Evidence

I have called Donald Trump a whore. I have called him spoiled, petulant and selfish. In place of human attributes such as integrity, maturity and morality, Donald Trump has, well, ego.

So very much ego.

I have wished for his death. I have accused him of everything except being a leader. If the human being exists whom I have less regard for, I have not been made aware of his (or her) presence.

You can, of course, argue that this is merely opinion. Conjecture. The wounded feelings of someone who mourns the passing of our democracy.

You might even be correct.

So it is with that in mind that I search for absolute proof. The convincing, unassailable fact that will convert the nonconvertible and make believers of those who do not.

It has taken nearly a year, but I believe I finally have that which will confirm Donald Trump's standing as an insensible, unintelligible, craven, immoral sub-human:

When asked how the president prefers his steak, a local restaurateur revealed that Mr. Trump likes it well-done—with ketchup.

Nothing more need be said.

The anti-christ is upon us.


Saturday, December 23, 2017

It's Bear Season

My hometown NFL franchise continues to struggle. As they have most of my life.

They were once the terrors of the NFL. But I spent my formative years watching as the team's legendary founder (George Halas) struggled to adapt to the realities of the post-expansion NFL and wasted draft choice after draft choice pursuing not the best available talent, but talent he could sign on the cheap.

It resulted in some of the most desultory football ever to soil a network television camera.

True, a world championship eventually followed the 1974 hire of the brilliant Jim Finks and the 1982 hire of Mike Ditka. Another Super Bowl visit followed the drafting of a once-in-a-lifetime linebacker. But not to worry—those successes have been thoroughly extinguished.

Torpor and incompetence have assumed their assigned seats.

The thirty-two years since the Bears' last championship dwarfs the twenty-two year wait which preceded that, and was considered a public indignity punishable by hanging.

One long-term drought is a fluke. Two bear an uncomfortable resemblance to a pattern.

As is usually the case, the defense is good enough. They play hard, and despite the woeful 4 - 10 record the team has rarely been blown out. In fact, the Bears have been outscored by just 4.2 points a game.

The common denominator stretching back over half a century is the absence of a potent offense. The franchise fails at this aspect of football as reliably as water douses fire.

Yes, the Ditka-era offenses were strong, but they were inevitably hobbled by a great quarterback who was usually disabled come playoff time. It's no coincidence that the only year the Bears went all the way was one of just two post-seasons in which Jim McMahon was available.

The remaining contenders were left in the hands of Steve Fuller (1984), Doug Flutie (1986), Mike Tomczak (1988 and 1990) and Jim Harbaugh (1991), none of whom will darken the doorway to the Hall of Fame anytime soon.

There was no confirmed sighting of a goat, but even the 2001 Bears, who came out of nowhere to go 13 - 3 behind quarterback Jim Miller, lost his services late in the season and for the divisional playoff game.

The Bears post-season quarterback? Shane Matthews.

True, Erik Kramer had an amazing 1995 and remained healthy throughout all of it, but that's mostly because those Bears never threatened to make a playoff appearance.

The Bears have had great runners (Matt Forte), great receivers (Brandon Marshall), great kickers (Robbie Gould) and even great kick returners (Devin Hester), but the offense rarely gels. Only for a single season after the tenured quarterback (Jay Cutler) is reunited with his favorite offensive coordinator.

When we're talking the Bears and offense, chemistry is something that happens only in a textbook. Were I a legal scholar, I would be checking the record for legislation prohibiting the Bears from point-scoring prominence. They are—once and for all—O-averse. 

This from the franchise that created the forward pass. 

Fast forward to 2017. The confused brain trust heading the Bears signed a career back-up quarterback to a very generous contract before trading up in the draft for a promising youngster.

It has mostly been a quarterback controversy in reverse.

The Bears stumbled onto a fifth-round running back (Jordan Howard) who has performed admirably—especially considering the unsettled line in front of him. And offensive tackle Kyle Long has performed at an All-Pro level throughout his brief career.

But the lack of a threatening or even dependable receiver corps allows opposing defenses to stack up against the run, further exposing the weak line. And the Bears best threat—tight end Zach Miller—is out with an injury.

So games end with single-digit first down totals. Drives that amount to a trip to the corner 7-11. And play-calling as predictable as a Supreme Court vote. It adds up to a Ph.D. dissertation in feeble.

Football is the most reciprocal sport out there. A great defensive line makes a secondary look good. A great secondary make a defensive line look good. A great offensive line makes a quarterback look good. And a running back. And vice versa.

Running opens up the passing game. And passing opens up the running game. It goes on and on. A great defense allows an offense to play without inhibition. And a great offense sustains drives, which keeps the defense fresh.

Football is a game that rewards balance.

Perpetually out of balance, the Bears remain the also-rans they have been for the better part of the last fifty years. Without a curse to market, attention is focused entirely on performance. In other words, the McCaskeys are fine administrators but come up short at talent acquisition.

A stream of executive-level football personnel has come and gone. Only the results remain stable. There is a blind spot.

True and incisive change starts at the top. Without it, the Bears will continue to flounder.

I'd love for the McCaskeys to prove me wrong.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

H. R. 1

Twenty-some years ago, conservatives were fond of using the phrase “transfer of wealth” to scare the base into voting Republican lest the country be overrun with poor people driving Italian sports cars and buying homes in affluent suburbs.

So it is ironic, then, that our current infestation of Republicans is presiding over that which they wielded as a threat all those years ago.

The latest installment of their ongoing effort to hand the country over to the one-percent is their tax reform, a hastily-written proposal composed in shadow to keep we the people from seeing it for the outrage it is. 

(But not to worry. I have it on good authority that the half-eaten bag of Doritos in your kitchen is, for the moment, safe.)

First off is the nearly fifty-percent reduction in the corporate tax rate.

Anyone with even the faintest knowledge of corporate America knows businesses routinely employ armies of tax attorneys to reduce their tax burden. And they succeed, wildly. No company able to keep its head outside its rectum pays the listed rate—none.

This reduction has the added benefit of relieving corporations of that need to keep tax attorneys around, which come to think of it must be frightfully expensive. *sniff*

To further assuage our put-upon corporations, they will be allowed to repatriate their offshore cash reserves to the U.S. at a suggested tax rate of just 10%. To ensure they aren't too inconvenienced by our largesse, they have eight years to pay up. 

To those of you made inconsolable by our immigration policy, which seemingly rewards illegal aliens for not getting caught, explain to me in excruciating detail how this is different. It is certainly interesting that our pillars of pilferage sit on historic amounts of cash—even despite the strangulating regulation forced upon them by the big, bad—and presumably liberal—government.

Someone is getting screwed, and it doesn't appear to be the folks with the mountain of offshore tender, does it? 

But the biggest, most-lavishly-wrapped gift is a change in the methodology of taxation. Our beleaguered corporations are no longer required to report overseas income, the likely outcome of which will be said cash returning to these shores virtually untaxed.

If the facts aren't horrific enough, Trump's stooges are actually attempting to sell this tax bill as a stimulus package. It's right there in the title: Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. Citizens of a certain age will recognize it as the Reagan Administration's trickle-down theory of economics.

You will be excused for proffering tart and unappreciative comments such as “Hey! It didn't work then, so maybe it won't work now, either!” 

As a twentieth-century wit once noted “Republicans are people who believe nothing should be done for the first time.”

Donald? Mitch? Paul? I'm pretty stupid. But I'm not vote Republican stupid.

Granted, your tax overhaul gives middle Americans a break in the same sense that—technically—I'm employed. But I shouldn't ever confuse 'employed' with 'self-supporting'.

Non-partisan summations universally conclude that middle-America's cut is not only faint, it's also temporary. By contrast, the parasite class receives cuts that are deep and full and also—to quote Trump's stooges—permanent.

If our homegrown corporations didn't routinely exhibit the venal and self-serving behavior they accuse their employees of, I might actually be inclined to believe the money they save will fund infrastructure investment and job growth.

But we all know where it's going, don't we?

And we haven't event touched on the ugliness of how these cuts are going to be paid for.

To compensate for lost revenue, Republicans will be forced to reduce costs. They will also want to avoid being seen as growing the deficit, which this bill does—in spades. And I'm guessing oil company subsidies aren't on the table.

More likely, frivolities like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security will be gutted.

The many will fund the few.

The most contentious, immature, hostile and sociopathic president in American history will oversee the most draconian tax reform in memory.

But like the suspense thriller with multiple red-herring endings, this show ain't over. Not yet.

There is one final indignity.

We must listen to the fortunate son, the spoiled, petulant, ungrateful recipient of an undue amount of life's blessings inform us that he is screwing himself because, as our president, he has discovered a higher calling.

Even higher than grabbing women by their pus... well, never mind.

Yes, his accountants are “going crazy” as Donald inexplicably directs his chauffeur to the poor house because the Republicant tax reform is going to break him.

(Do the room temperature IQs who voted for this cretin really believe this shit?)

I know of a waitress who posts regularly on Facebook. After Trump's election, she ardently, stridently and obnoxiously announced that “America got its balls back.”

Pity those selfsame balls will soon be slapping her on the chin.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Cold, Unvarnished Truth

This is a distinctly un-Christian thought, but every morning I wake-up hoping our president has been found dead on the floor of a White House bathroom, a half-finished tweet sitting forlornly on his phone. 

He is a repugnant man, the product of unending privilege and good fortune. He is the nation's very own Little Lord Fauntleroy, the unhappy and bored scion of wealth who desperately seeks happiness in ever-increasing amounts of that which no longer satisfies him: money, status and power.

Failing that, he has turned to torturing ants on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass.

As a member of the ninety-nine percent, it is desperately hard not to feel like a Jew watching the Nazis come to power.

Fuck you Donald Trump. 

May you rot in the worst hell of your imagination.   

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Christmas Story

Apologies for the blatant sentimentality, but even a bitter cynic like myself has a soft spot 'round this time of year.

For long-time readers, yes, you've seen this before. I originally published this on MySpace in 2008.


I was very fortunate as a boy. I loved to eat cookies, and in a divine act of convergence was born to a mother who loved to bake them. And Christmas brought out the best in both our talents.

My favorites were dates wrapped in strips of cream cheese dough, followed closely by cookies made of the same and dusted with powdered sugar. So good were her cookies that eventually I couldn't wait for the finished product. I organized clandestine raids on the refrigerator, looking for the melon-sized ball of tin foil that held the stuff dreams were made of.

My dough-based despoilment reached such proportions that one year my mother was forced to concoct a second batch. I was given stern warning that this second batch would remain untouched—or else.

As I grew older, I learned the virtues of consideration and patience, and waited for the transformation of dough into cookie before letting my appetite loose. But with the bottomless hunger of a teen-aged boy, this created another problem. How to have actual cookies to serve on Christmas Eve and Christmas?

The answer was obvious: hide them. But even despite my modest academic achievements, this answer was abundantly clear to me as well.

And so began a cold war-like escalation of confectionery hide-and-seek. The usual places (the closet, under the bed) were tried and quickly abandoned. My craving demanded more-sophisticated hiding places.

And they were found. The well at the bottom of the grandfather clock. The crawl space. And even the oven. 

But ultimately, all yielded their treasure.

Out of necessity, cleverness was discarded in favor of locks. It shames me deeply to admit that owing to my lack of self-control, cookies in my home were kept in a state of permanent lock-down.

One Sunday afternoon, my parents and two sisters left on what I knew would be an extended shopping trip. Industrious lad that I was, I seized the opportunity to conduct an all-out search of the premises.

It unearthed a basement storage cabinet that was suddenly and without warning locked

In yet-another moment of incisive clarity, I realized there must be a key and set about finding it. My search took me to my father's dresser, where in one of those slightly criminal acts of desperation I searched it. 

In the top drawer I came across an ancient leather case, that when unzipped revealed a treasure Howard Carter himself couldn't have been more awed by: two utilitarian and slightly oxidized keys that shone against the worn leather like the Holy Grail.

Excited beyond description, I rushed downstairs and tried them. Voila! Before me sat a Fort Knox of Christmas confectionery. Shelf after shelf was stuffed with cookie tins, each carefully lined with wax paper and oozing calorie-laden goodness.

My sixteen-year-old brain told me I could outsmart everyone by removing just a few cookies from each tin, thereby minimizing the appearance of theft and prolonging my access. 

Tragically, what I did not understand is that “few” is relative—especially to someone in the grips of an adolescent metabolism.

While talking to my parents many years later, they relayed a story how one of my sisters was storing cookies for a neighbor because the neighbor's kids found them everywhere they had been hidden. 

This of course revived my parent's memory of an earlier Christmas, a Christmas where they had been forced to store cookies under lock and key—only to find a sizeable portion missing.

Was it you?” they asked.

You reach a point in life, perhaps called adulthood, where you realize the magnitude of your parent's selflessness; of the profound sacrifices they made so you could attend a good school and live in a safe neighborhood.

And after coming to that realization, you absolutely, positively cannot lie to them.

Yes” I replied.

Afterwards, I reflected upon our conversation. And it occurred to me that after so many years without a viable cookie thief in the house, security must be very lax.

Yeah, that joint would be a piece of cake. A piece of cake I tell you.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Found Humor

There is nothing in the sign's appearance that suggests mirth or lightheartedness. It is a utilitarian structure, single-minded in its purpose. There are no frills, unless you count the coat of paint. Or the matching sandbags which anchor it.

Though mute, it declares its message twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Black letters on an orange background impart the following warning 'ROADWORK BEGINS 10-30-17 EXPECT DELAYS'.

To drivers exhausted by another summer of orange barrels and creeping traffic, it provokes a weary sigh. Suddenly, the Bible's notion of eternity seems less abstract.

But on a street which remains unsullied by men in hard hats and lime green vests (not to mention actual construction equipment) over a month after the sign's installation, it is quite funny. 

We aren't talking about traffic anymore, are we? 

A government-issued punch line. Imagine.

Humor takes many forms.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel

Embattled Alabama congressional candidate Roy Moore has vowed to "take off the gloves" as his struggling campaign heads into the home stretch.

Which is fine—as long as the accused pedophile doesn't remove anything else.

Only someone like Moore could make the current members of Congress look upstanding by comparison.

Best of luck, Mr. Jones.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving

Amid the actual and proposed wreckage of the Trump Administration, I'm finding it a bit hard to be thankful. After repeated exposure to the Trump-whore and the self-destructive lizard brains who, blinded by their anger, know no better than to support him, I am made unspeakably joyous by term limits.

Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, the world hasn't ended. Not yet.

There's still that sweet moment where we clock out of work and have yet to assume our domestic responsibilities. We are free. In that sweet, fleeting instant, we have both a job and unbounded time.

And in that unbounded time, we are able to enjoy this, the golden age of beer-making.

Owing to modern distribution channels, we have access to a world of fragrant nectars unimagined in my adolescence. Sam Adams' Summer Ale and Porch Rocker, New Belgium's 1554 and spectacular Trippel, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Leinenkugel's reliable Sunset Wheat and Berry Weiss and Trader Joe's (!) PLZNR.

Special props to Leinenkugel's and Trader Joe's for keeping their beers affordable—even for those of us not in the one-percent. Drink deeply but responsibly.

There is likewise a world of frozen food out there as flavorful as it is nutritious. Number-one are Sweet Earth's artisan bowls, meatless concoctions drawing their inspiration from points the world over. 

Best is the Moroccan Tagine. Twelveth-century traders likely dined on something very similar before they set out for India or the Far East, with the region's exotic spices (allspice, cinnamon and cloves) providing a singular mix of tang underlain with sweet.

Yes, it's vegetarian. But membership is not required for consumption.

Lastly, there is the consumable known as human companionship.

Having lost my father and mother and now shepherding my long-time mate through the ugliness of early-onset Alzheimer's, death is no longer something that happens to other people.

The death of a loved one lends a whole new meaning to words like permanent and void; one I never came close to understanding when I was young.

Those who remain take on special importance.

It might be the hoariset of clich├ęs, but before you complain about another family gathering and the attendees bounty of annoying habits and irksome opinions, be thankful you have somewhere to go.

A group to belong to.

An invitation to answer.

It is not guaranteed to always be so.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Exception

Mistake number-one was assuming I had outsmarted my fellow man by embarking on an early-morning trip to the supermarket the Sunday before Thanksgiving. If not packed, the store was aflutter with shoppers guilty of the same ill-considered thinking as I.

Long lines emanated from the few registers the store thought it suitable to open. And being twenty-first century Americans, we were, of course, suitably distressed.

With a miniature cart barely contaminated by groceries, I opted for the express check-out lanes, which were easy to find owing to the sizeable signs proclaiming '15 Items Or Less'. In my naivete, I assumed that a line of small purchases would move faster than a line of large ones.

(At least my first mistake wouldn't be lonely.)

When it became apparent that I had been eying the racks of impulse items and gossip magazines for an unduly long time, I looked to the front of the line.

There, a stylish middle-aged woman in black boots, sporting a modern, asymmetrical bob was stuffing the tiny counter with what seemed to be an approximation of the magician who pulls out unending yards of handkerchiefs from a breast pocket. Or the dozens of circus clowns who emerge from a single, tiny car.

The stream of groceries did not end.

I attempted to stare a hole in her, but my corneal lasers were in the shop undergoing recalibration. Unbelievably, her illiteracy (to be kind) was compounded by a desire to pay with a highly-unusual form of debit card which apparently originated in eastern Europe.

When the debit card problem was at last rectified, the harried cashier loaded three full-sized bags into her cart. With no acknowledgment that she had caused anyone any inconvenience whatsoever, the woman zipped up her tailored jacket, adjusted her scarf, pulled on her gloves and sauntered out of the store.

I issued a silent prayer, thankful that I wouldn't be late for work Monday morning. 

And that no one else felt the need to demonstrate their holiday shopping self-importance.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Drawing a Bead on the NRA

Ask an NRA member about mass killings, or going way out on a limb, impending gun control legislation and they'll invariably respond the way you or I do when confronted with a rate hike from our car insurer: but I didn't have any accidents! I didn't get any tickets!

There's a dynamic at work which effects a giant portion of our society: a careless or irresponsible minority can have a profound impact on the rest of us. It's just how it is. Nothing more, nothing less.

Because so many of us find it impossible to drive without texting, the rest of us pay higher insurance premiums based on the rising number of collisions and damage claims that are submitted.

Other examples stretch across the entire spectrum of consumerism.

Because some of us believe that immunizing our children actually harms them, the rest of us cough up more for health care as a result of higher rates of hospitalization and treatment.

Because some of us find it necessary to trash a rental property after the landlord refuses to fetch us mocha double-lattes every morning, the rest of us spring for larger security deposits when we decide to move in.

Because cold medicine contains pseudoephedrine and is easily re-purposed as an ingredient for methamphetamine, the rest of us encounter a raft of speed bumps en route to purchasing the formerly over-the-counter medicine that keeps our nose from running.

And on and on and on it goes. As the enlightened reader of The Square Peg, please say it again: the many pay for the few.

But in an occurrence almost as startling as the repeal of gravity, gun owners remain exempt from this dynamic. They are cloistered in a pretty little bubble because they're, well, special.

Despite the fact that a disturbing proportion of gun owners adhere to the production-for-use aesthetic and fire their guns as often as possible, there is never any blow-back for remaining owners in the manner of increased license fees, scrutiny, etc.

Like gun manufacturers, gun owners exist on a plane completely removed from the rest of us, immune to the rules, consequences and dynamics of our society.

And this is as accidental as sunrise.

The National Rifle Association has labored valiantly to protect all aspects of firearm manufacture, distribution, sale, ownership and use and keep them as consequence-free as fundraising ceilings and finite numbers of lobbyists will allow.

Which, come to think of it, is as it should be. Guns are rarely labeled as organic because they contain preservatives. The kind that ensures that through the purchase of said gun, you will remain a saintly individual for the duration of that ownership.

Because you own a gun, you will forever be immune to the indignities and stresses of life, be it impending homelessness, joblessness, divorce, custody battles or the detritus from a neighbor's tree which maddeningly and inexplicably falls on your side of the property line.

Gun ownership virtually guarantees you won't ever go off half-cocked (so to speak).

This also applies to any and all residents who share the address with the gun.

Your kids will never be tempted to kill you for some perceived social embarrassment you inflicted on them in front of their peers, or for actual social embarrassment in the manner of a week-long grounding or the denial of their cell phone privileges for a weekend.

Ditto your wife when she finds out that instead of looking for a job, you've been having extramarital sex with the twenty-nine year-old divorcee across the street for the past six months while she has been working two jobs to keep things together in the interim.

Kindly ignore statistics which confirm that the gun you keep at home is more likely to be used on you than by you. They're compiled by libtards who, for some unfathomable reason, want to keep you safe.

Let's be perfectly clear: no one should ever exonerate the likes of Adam Lanza or Stephen Paddock for their selfish and gruesome carnage. But taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, we shouldn't be greasing the skids to EZ gun ownership, either.

Which is exactly what the NRA seeks to do.

You are free to disagree or deny, but even in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Congress has before it legislation which will make it easier for gun owners to buy silencers—ostensibly to protect a hunter's hearing.

You can look it up. It's House bill H.R. 367 The Hearing Protection Act of 2017.

(Like you, I wonder if these shitheads have ever tried their hand at stand-up.)

Another seeks to gift gun-owners residing in states with Concealed Carry laws with the ability to take that protection with them—even in states with no provision for Concealed Carry.

You can look that up, too. It's H.R. 38 The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017.

(Ironic coming from a Republican-led Congress renown for trumpeting state's rights, don't you think? Can a woman carry her reproductive rights across state lines, too? Oh—didn't think so.)

Saddest of all, there is a piece of legislation which seeks to protect schmucks like you and me. It's H.R. 4168 and is called the Closing the Bump-Stock Loophole Act.

Like its title, it reeks of common sense. Which is likely why in a Congress as obedient to the NRA as a sixteenth-century wife was to her husband, it is estimated to have but a six-percent chance of ever being enacted.

Now we know what the NRA does. We know what the NRA wants to do. And we know what the NRA doesn't want to do. In order to diminish them and shrink their poisonous influence, a new approach is called for.

Here's one idea:

Being that one of the most-powerful aspects of gun ownership is the implied machismo, we start by creating a public-awareness campaign that suggests that owning a gun is something less than the ultimate expression of manliness. We then mandate that guns be cast in pink.

We repeatedly reinforce the idea that only pussies use guns. That real men carry knives and engage in hand-to-hand combat when they get the urge to kill because their favorite cartoon got cancelled or they can't get laid.

That killing people with guns is just too easy. Any peevish, self-pitying slob can squeeze a trigger. The real shining lights of the mass murder community are constantly challenging themselves. Pushing the mass murder envelope. And they embrace the old-school aesthetic of mano a mano struggle.

Cutting-edge killers get blood on themselves. They hear the labored breathing of their victims. They feel the resistance of their cartilage and ligaments. They know when a knife encounters bone, forcing an on-the-spot rethink of strategy. 

None of this nonsense of spraying of automatic gun-fire from the upper stories of a luxury resort hotel!

In all seriousness, we did it with cigarettes. We did it with drunken driving. We can do it with guns.

Providing, of course, that we want to.


Monday, November 6, 2017

The United States of Stupid

So. Who's next?

You?

Me?

Our parents?

Our siblings?

Our spouses?

Our kids?

Who will be the next sacrifice to this thing, this out-moded idea that has been protected beyond any and all reason? Is Stephen Paddock's and Scott Ostrem's and Devin Kelley's right to keep and bear arms really worth the carnage that is quickly becoming our indelible national symbol?

While our freedom of speech must allow voice to white supremacists and due process must guarantee a fair trial and other legal protections even to the worst of us, neither of these require the slaughter of innocents to remain viable.

We have enough guns. The psychotic and the paranoid and the hateful are not the “well-regulated militia” the founding fathers envisioned when they drafted the second amendment.

We know what we must do. It starts with the entity holding open the doors to unfettered and unregulated gun ownership. In other words, the NRA.

We must dismantle it.

Now.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Random Thoughts, Vol. 10

There is no more American sport than golf. Players are ranked not by tournament victories or a cumulative under or over par score, but by earnings. He who makes the most is the best.

Isn't the labeling of any Friday as 'Good Friday' like, really redundant?

Once upon a time, we paid for cable TV because doing so meant it would remain commercial-free. In perhaps the greatest marketing scam ever foisted upon the American consumer, we now pay to watch commercials. Wow.

When it comes to sausage, brats are the wurst.

If everyone is shopping online, shouldn't traffic be lighter?

How ironic is it that while millions of living-wage jobs go unfilled because tight-fisted businesses don't want to train people, we have a president learning on the job?

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. 

When I was young, I would pay to watch horror movies in the hopes of receiving a good scare. In 2017 America, I need only get out of bed.

The most beautiful women in the world are on boxes of hair color.

Marriage has a ring to it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Sanctity of Life Test

There is very little talk of it, and with good reason. With fifty-nine people slaughtered within seconds at the hands of a psychopath firing an automatic weapon from the thirty-second floor of a Las Vegas hotel, we're still trying to come to terms with a world changing faster than we can cope with.

But what about the wounded? What about those left alive to face a life impaired and diminished by Stephen Paddock's selfish and petulant rage? Who's going to pay the medical bills for those facing months or even years of highly specialized care and intensive physical therapy?

If this were a plane crash or a train wreck, victims would have an obvious alternative: sue the operator of said conveyance. But things become a bit thornier when guns are involved. That's because gun manufacturers can't be held liable for the carnage they enable.

Thanks to a 2005 bill called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, gun manufacturers are allowed to go about their business unconcerned and unhindered by bothersome law suits, even as their products place an inordinate demand on public services at great public expense.

Why? Because, to quote Dana Carvey's Church Lady character from Saturday Night Live, gun manufacturers are special.

No municipal, county, state or even federal unit of government can sue gun manufacturers to recover the costs incurred by firearms. In other words, despite the fact that alcohol, cigarettes and guns place an exorbitant amount of people at risk because of the very nature of their products, only the manufacturers of alcohol and cigarettes can be held responsible.

Gun manufacturers get off scot-free.

Lest I overstate their immunity to prosecution, the following scenario should clarify things: say the man raping your wife takes exception to her efforts to free herself and attempts to shoot her, only to have the gun misfire and injure him.

He is fully entitled to sue to manufacturer of the gun in question.

But if some cretin is disappointed by the contents of your daughter's purse and blows a hole in her head? Well, tough luck, bro. Sorry for your loss.

This twisted dynamic exists because we the people have mostly allowed it. Aided and abetted by our so-called elected representation, we have empowered the NRA's well-funded lobbyists to eliminate virtually everything standing in the way of unfettered and unlimited gun ownership.

Does anyone really believe the founding fathers could have imagined Stephen Paddock and his ilk when they created the Second Amendment nearly a quarter of a millennia ago? Does anyone really believe that a nation flooded with firearms was their intent? 

Besides the NRA, I mean.

The NRA is evil. It is an industry trade group bent on protecting and advancing market opportunities for the manufacturers of guns. Nothing more, nothing less. Feel free to laugh at their stated purpose of promoting gun safety.

They have been spectacularly successful at acquiring power and wield it like a police truncheon. Their heavy-handed efforts have yielded a congress too terrified to even suggest moderate gun reform.

Have you ever considered the similarities between ISIS and the National Rifle Association? Both are fear-mongers. Both prey upon the ignorant and manipulate them until they're foaming-at-the-mouth angry. Neither will brook even the slightest, most miniscule bit of reform or compromise.

(But I will credit the NRA with having a slick, well-oiled public relations staff.)

Their only distinguishing feature is that while ISIS likes to take credit for its members acts of terrorism, the NRA keeps an official distance even as it provides an umbrella of protection under which the darkest and most-destructive forces in American society can exist.

The NRA is the mother of all enablers. Make no mistake: Stephen Paddock, Omar Mateen, Dylann Roof and Adam Lanza were all enabled by the NRA and its ceaseless, unswerving mission to make the greatest number of guns available to the greatest number of people.

But the NRA's most-lethal threat lies in its ability to fund raise and consequently, its ability to influence legislation. Without the NRA, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act doesn't happen. Along with several dozen other pieces of self-serving legislation that enables the gun trade while essentially flushing public safety down the toilet.

Again, in the eyes of NRA leadership, compromise is tantamount to heresy. It has drummed out members of its own leadership for merely hinting that compromise might be the best way forward. Again, it's the NRA's way or no way.

That being the case, we the people need to figure out a way to shrink it. Neuter it. Or better yet, bring in the wrecking ball and destroy it. The NRA is antithetical to the very notion of democracy (a word Republicans continue to use despite their obvious contempt for it).

Write. Text. Phone. E-mail. Make it clear to your elected representation—on every level—that you are not okay with the unrestricted avalanche of guns flooding our country thanks to the relentless efforts of the NRA.

Tell them you're not okay with 559 people having their lives ended or irreparably damaged because they attended a country music festival in the same zip code a U.S. citizen decided to validate his existence by ending theirs.

Left unacted upon, ask them what we will one day have left to protect.

Our government and the leaders we elect routinely claim to loathe terrorism and seek the path to end it.

Physician, heal thyself. End the NRA's influence. Now.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Late Arrival to the ER

I was young, and in my youthful arrogance thought that I knew everything. But there is only one direction to go from the top of the mountain, and in the ensuing years I have steadily and faithfully regressed to the point where I hardly know anything at all. 

It is in this state of intellectual inadequacy and general feebleness that I issue this post. In a very specific sense, this is about a TV show. But in a more general one, it applies to so much more.

As an all-knowing snot I dismissed much. My three favorite things (movies, books and music), received the brunt of my critical attention. My tastes were unassailable. I was a genius. For confirmation, all you needed to do was ask.

This included television, of which I was frequently critical. And when ER took off in the late-nineties, I wrinkled my nose and said no thanks. Any prime-time hospital drama fueled by a male heartthrob just had to be defective.

I reasoned that if I were going to waste an hour of my life watching ER, why not listen to N-Sync, too? Why not read Ann Coulter? Eat deep-fried candy bars at state fairs? Consume red meat with abandon, drink too much and chain-smoke?

What difference did it make if I were going to sink to the depths of a celebrity-driven hospital drama like ER?

OK. Deep breath.

Thanks to my reduced circumstances and being firmly entrenched in my dotage, I have finally come 'round to ER.

And you know what? It's pretty damn good.

Yes, there are the standard plot conventions and requisite romantic entanglements (although I confess to hoping a friendship between Drs. Carter and del Amico would bloom into a romance), but the series regularly confronts the issues facing healthcare and a public city hospital and the grueling ordeal of emergency room work with a steadfast and unblinking eye.

It doesn't offer easy answers, and the casting and acting are uniformly high. As is the all-important writing. 

At the heart of creating a great story is drawing characters the viewer connects with. Pulls for. And identifies with. And ER has them in spades.

Who can't root for Mark Greene, an earnest and committed ER physician who somewhere down the line marries his job and is divorced by his wife? Or Doug Ross, a pediatrician torn between an urgent desire to practice 'pure ' medicine and an intricate web of protocols that seems to stifle that as often as it promotes it?

Or nurse manager Carol Hathaway, the series' heart and emotional center? An old soul, she can be counted on to hit the right note just as it seems the entire ER is about to careen off the rails even as her personal life is frequently a one-step-forward, two-steps-back struggle.

I would love to work with her. You would, too.

Episodes are stuffed with dozens of others, good, bad and in-between. They remind me of the inscription to a novel I once read: No one is as good—or as bad—as they first appear. Whatever their make-up, they're never boring. And if that doesn't make for great drama, what does?

ER also possesses a highly unique visual style, which is no small thing in television. And this is its signature move.

When a script transitions from one sub-plot to another, it usually happens in a bustling corridor with a backtracking camera framing one set of characters as they sign-off of the segment by briskly departing down a side hallway (lab coats flying) while a second group enters the just-vacated space from another hallway, introducing another sub-plot with lab coats again trailing in their wake.

(If nothing else, the cast of ER certainly got a nice little cardio workout in during filming.)

It is intense and dynamic and as perfectly choreographed as anything Welles or Huston or Hitchcock ever did, and just as effective. It is the visual manifestation of the urgency that surrounds their work.

Last but not least, the series was filmed in my hometown. And thankfully, it gets beyond the skyline-from-the-lake or skyline-from-the-Lincoln-Park-lagoon shots to reveal a city and its neighborhoods. It's been said that a locale is often another character, and on ER that certainly holds true.

I should add that like another favorite program of mine, ER possessed a sublime sense of humor. Its humor sneaks up, taps you on the shoulder and is gone almost before you know what's happening.

Given the often weighty nature of the scripts, it is a welcome relief.   

So there it is. A television series overflowing with memorable characters. Bursting with compelling scripts. And convincingly shot in a gritty, real-life locale that underscores its storylines. And when you least expect it, it provokes a laugh.

It has made me grateful that I no longer know everything. To think what I would have missed.



Monday, October 2, 2017

Las Vegas

I don't want to hear a single one.

Not a single Republican-issued condolence or apology or any other communique expressing sorrow or remorse or regret at what happened in Las Vegas yesterday.

Through their abject refusal to enact even the slightest and most common-sense gun control legislation whatsoever (does an assault weapons ban ring a bell?), they have not only allowed this to happen they have practically begged for it.

In a better world, having chosen to live by the sword Republicans would die by it as well.

The NRA and their servants in Washington DC are despicable. 

To hell with them.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Houston, We Have a Problem

I love cities. Despite their acres of shopping malls with identical stores and their generic skyscrapers erected by banks and insurance companies and their strangulated networks of traffic-choked expressways, there are glimpses of genuine individuality if you bother to scrape beneath the surface.

That's right. Even in our hyper-homogenized culture, cities still possess a unique character. But rest assured developers are seeking to eradicate this even as we speak.

Houston was a city that, for bad or for good, possessed a distinct personality. It was the epitome of wide open, free-market capitalism. The city father's hearty embrace of such made it a place adored by developers, who could build with abandon and not worry about the nagging minutia of building codes and zoning restrictions.

This made Houston a roaring economic engine, and its growth into one of the nation's largest cities was spectacular. In the four decades measured between the nineteen-fifty and nineteen-eighty censuses, Houston averaged a 43.3% annual population growth and nearly tripled in size.

While that growth proved unsustainable, Houston continues to grow at a rate well above average.

Of course, there was a downside. A developer's dream is an urban planner's nightmare. Building without regard to the natural configurations of the land and a citizenries needs is a dangerous proposition. It leads to a low quality of life on many fronts.

By paving over, well, everything, Houston was a nightmare waiting to happen. However nice sparkling skyscrapers, luxury condos and sprawling retail centers are, they ignore one essential question: where does the water go when it rains?

And in Houston, ignoring such a question is equivalent to ignoring the perils of snow or cold in Minneapolis. Already the site of multiple municipal floods, Houston got hit by a storm system in August which yielded an unimaginable amount of rain. You know the rest of the story.

Yes. To those of you who embrace the small government-big business ethos, you are correct. Even a well-planned network of sewers, retention ponds, spillways, etc. couldn't have handled the fifty inches of rain that fell in Houston within a matter of hours. It was positively Biblical.

But now we know what happens when we don't even try, don't we? Now we know what an environmental crisis is, don't we? Now we know what upending hundreds of thousands of lives in an enormous city looks like, don't we?

Let me ask you this: what costs more—implementing critical infrastructure that acknowledges a region's natural proclivities or cleaning up after a Harvey-scaled disaster that requires billions and billions of dollars in government aid?

Like you, I'm thrilled the developers and those who enabled them made out like bandits. But the reality is that this is a Texas-sized version of the 2008 Wall Street fiasco, where the public gets to bear the clean up costs of private recklessness and business-friendly irresponsibility.

And the story doesn't end there.

This is Trumpland, people. This is a portent. Our so-called President wants to roll back all manner of regulation and is in the process of neutering the EPA. Should that come to pass, we could all be Houston.

Let me ask you another question: how many Harveys can we afford? How many Harveys do we pay for before people begin to complain? Before people become immune to the suffering and fractured lives and create a Facebook-based backlash?

Yes, regulations and codes can be irritating. But if we even need the lesson, Houston is it. This is what happens when we build only with an eye for development and ignore virtually everything else.

Nature will not be denied. None of us can say we weren't warned.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

They Say It's Your Birthday

Happy Birthday, Mr. Springsteen.

Thank you so much for everything.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Orange-Haired Terrorist

Wow. That was a bit strong, wasn't it? Apologies if you were offended by my last post and its graphic imagery. After all, the point of running a blog is to attract readers, not repel them.

And yet, how else to describe a man so hateful? A man so wantonly arrogant? Donald Trump reminds me of a remark made by Dorothy Parker, wherein she opined that when she wonders what God thinks of money, she looks at who he gave it to.

Sadly, our president is an answer only for those who reckoned the best solution to congressional constipation was a bigger asshole.


Like the wild-eyed terrorist that he is, Donald Trump has again expressed his willingness to drive the car of the United States off the cliff in order to get what he wants. So the passengers suffer a little collateral damage—what's that compared to a needy president having his brittle self-esteem restored?

To wit, the object of Don's latest tantrum is the border wall. You know, the one that Mexico is going to pay for?

Oh wait—they're not.

At any rate, President Donnie's latest plan to fund the wall that Mexico-was-going-to-pay-for-but-isn't is to threaten a shut-down of the government. This transparent-as-glass ploy is intended to scare Congress into appropriating funding for Donnie's Wall in order to avoid a politically risky shut-down.

Being no strangers to power plays, Congress is (thankfully) resisting.

In his Twitter-steria, our terrorist President must've forgotten about his Labor Department's plans to roll back the salaried overtime extensions enacted by President Obama, which blunted corporate America's favorite payroll strategy: Put 'em on salary and treat 'em like a rental car!

Gosh, Don. Wouldn't the money your pals in the executive suite save on overtime fund the wall?

Oh that's right—you're committed to wealthcare. Making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires. And how's that going to happen if you use their no-overtime windfall to fund your wall?

Silly, stupid me.

On top of desiring to poison the water you drink and the air you breathe and the ground you live on because keeping them clean is costing corporate America too much money (sniff), tell me how you feel about President Donnie wanting to take your overtime, too.

Making America Great Again? For who?

Face it. Donald Trump is a compound word. He is a drug-resistant hemorrhoid. He is the tiny stone you can never quite remove from your shoe. He distracts you and baits you with your anger and your hatred while he steals from you and gifts the one-percent with the proceeds.

Please tell me again why you think he gives the tiniest, infinitesimal fuck about you?

You're a tool, bro.

Your enemy isn't the woman on the west side of Chicago trying to raise six errant kids with medicaid and food stamps, or the Mexican sleeping under a filthy sheet of cardboard in the Sonoran Desert, exhausted and left starving by their brutal trip into America.

It's that sneering, orange-haired billionaire in the White House. You better pray he uses condoms.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Rhetorical Question

Does the penis exist which is large enough to fill a cunt the size of Donald Trump?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

And Now for Something Completely Different

That's right. No anti-Trump rants. No dissertations on the evils of business. And not a word about gun control. Just me writing about something I enjoy. Well, mostly.

While it is my belief that the form of communication enabled by the computer will undermine civilization as we know it, the computer-beast does offer one saving grace in exchange for our humanity: the glorious availability of concerts captured illicitly.

Introduced to bootlegs in the mid-seventies, I partook whenever an appealing release intersected with a full wallet. But there was a serious downside—the expense. By the time the vinyl era was drawing to a close, the purchase of bootlegs practically required a bank loan.

And then there was the collateral damage, which consisted mostly of girlfriends and their burgeoning expectations.

Well, yeah, honey. I did drop seventy-five bucks on that four-record Springsteen boot. But um, I thought it'd be a great way for us to spend some time together. You know those nights where there's nothing on TV? We could cuddle up on the couch and...” 

Thud. 

By the time the CD had taken over, discretionary income barely allowed for legal CDs, much less illegal ones. And let's face it, priorities were changing. The beautiful soul who swallowed her frustrations because she just wanted me to be happy deserved a commitment to financial austerity.

So if I didn't capture it on the radio via the BBC's In Concert series, the King Biscuit Flour Hour, the odd simulcast or WXRT's UnConcert, I did without.

But then the Internet happened. And not far behind, the ability to digitize music and share it.

To my delight, there were more hard-core musiholics out there than I ever imagined. Music blogs were everywhere. And more often than not, so was someone's covert recording.
Thanks to the computer, I had been reunited with an old flame. I was able to re-visit the shows of my youth, and attend ones I had missed.

You'd have to go to Wall Street to find a bigger glutton than I.

How to explain the sublime torture of hearing a luminous April, 1987 performance by U2 I had come thisclose to scoring tickets for, or the joy of having my all-time favorite KBFH show (Rockpile New York City 1979) re-enter my life long after the cassette had paid a visit to Jack Kervorkain?

But neither could compare to the once-unimaginable act of going back in time and hearing a favorite concert for a second time.

Bob Seger at the Chicago Stadium on the Stranger in Town tour. All four of the Springsteen shows I saw in support of The River (including the one that so excited me I was unable to fall asleep afterwards and instead drove back to the Rosemont Horizon where I was able to meet and chat with Mr. Springsteen as well as have him sign my copy of Born to Run).

Then there's Neil Young & Crazy Horse on their metallic, amp-shredding Chicago stop for Ragged Glory. U2 on their smoldering 1984/85 go-round for The Unforgettable Fire. And again on their epic, multi-media extravaganza for Achtung Baby.

Siouxsie & the Banshees at the Riviera. Pink Floyd at Soldier Field. Aerosmith, the Clash, Keith Richards and REM—all at the venue we affectionately called the Aragon Brawlroom. OMD at Metro. Led Zeppelin the night Jimmy Page fell ill and couldn't continue. The Dave Alvin-era Blasters and John Hiatt, both at Park West. And the Rolling Stones on their 1981 visit for Tattoo You.

Each was either as buoyant or as ethereal or as fiery as I remembered, a fact attributable to my habit of never imbibing or inhaling before a show. My concert-going mates referred to me as Buzz Kill, which I suppose was better than Stinky.

Apologies to Brooke Shields, but nothing was going to come between me and the music I was about to hear.

Yeah, it was that important to me.

Bootlegs took me all over the globe. I went to London for an otherworldly 1971 performance by Pink Floyd. Belgium for a shimmering and ephemeral one by Dire Straits. (A pox on the house of the person who mistook them for Parliament-Funkadelic, and in the course of remastering the thing pushed the bass up absurdly high.)

I went to Zurich to hear Genesis in 1977. New York City for a wonderous 1997 concert by Bob Dylan. Naples to hear the Rolling Stones in 1982. The same year, I heard the unofficial Tom Petty live album, recorded in Utrecht.

And on and on and on it goes: Bruce Springsteen, Buffalo 1984. Neil Young, Frankfurt 1989. The Cure, Leipzig 1990. Mogwai, Reading 2001. Van Morrison, San Francisco 1974. New Order, Barcelona 1984. And the molten fury of PJ Harvey in London on April Fool's Day, 1999.

Ultimately, I think the thing that most appealed to me about bootlegs is that they were genuine. There was no studio sweetening. No overdubs. No glossing over of bum notes or fumbled passages. They were audio verite. Bootlegs laid it all out there as it happened—documentary-style.

And to their eternal credit, my heroes could go out there and do it. A couple of guitars, a bass, a drum kit and a good voice and they could set an audience on fire. And a bootleg didn't require corporate America's approval to hear it all go down.

Inevitably, there is a downside to this cornucopia of joy and time-travel. To date, I have downloaded in excess of three-thousand shows, performed by over four-hundred musical aggregations.

It poses a question: when did I become a collector and stop being a listener? Despite prolonged underemployment, I find myself with more music than I could ever listen to. And isn't unheard music a kind of crime?

Despite this, I continue to download. I continue to seek unheard doses of musical ecstasy; new-to-me discoveries that stem the contractions of my shrinking world.

To those of you who continue to share the glories of live, uncensored rock and roll, my heartfelt thanks.

People who listen to Justin Beiber on cell phones will never understand.