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Photo by James Gathany via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library; found on Wikipedia

As a straight guy of a certain age (SGOACA), I’ve long been aware of a central fact of male aging: We become invisible to young women. This week, on vacation in Mosquitoland USA, I’ve discovered what appears to be a corollary: Female mosquitoes, the only ones who suck blood, are also no longer drawn to me.

While I sit here totally unaffected by the insect population, all the others in my family are getting eaten alive. My companions have slathered on multiple types of bug lotion, applied half a dozen sprays, including those with extra-strength DEET, added citronella bracelets and ankle bands, and still they suffer big itchy welts on arms, necks, elbows, even the crown of the head. I have used no repellent at all except coffee breath and my natural blandness.

Oh god, does this mean that we SGOACAs are unattractive to females of ALL species? Turtles? Hamsters?

There goes my dream of romance with a shapely porpoise.

Wait, though, there’s another possibility, less devastating to the male ego. Maybe the corporate plutocrats deliberately make bug sprays and lotions ineffective so the deluded public will use gallons of the stuff and then buy more. In fact, come to think of it, these products must contain a secret ingredient that attracts mosquitoes, black flies and other nemeses. Why else would the bugs ignore me and swarm round those covered with so-called repellent?

I’m going to write to Donald Trump about this. I hear he may be running out of his own conspiracy theories.

Armageddon, Anyone?

June 3, 2016

Armageddon“You, reader, I, writer,” said Mrs. Gaskell, “have each our great sorrow bearing down upon us.”* A telling and poetic sentiment. True, there’s a certain aura of First World comfort about it—the sorrow is singular, and it hasn’t arrived yet, unlike the multiple present agonies of so many around the globe—but it’s a good reminder that none of us is ultimately secure.

Reading Mrs. Gaskell the other day (more evidence of First Worldism: having the leisure to enjoy a 19th-century novelist), I wondered how her insight would apply to the specter of Donald Trump—because in the United States right now, it seems everything has to be measured in DTs.

Is it the lost sense of security that drives so many white working-class Americans toward The Donald’s blustering fraudulence? That’s what the standard analysis suggests.

Or, I wonder, is it just that so many don’t give a shit anymore? They don’t care if he tosses insults like a fifth grader, offends allies or even starts a new war. It’s time for revenge on the elites, folks—meaning those people who’ve been running things while the rest of us watch sit-coms and football. The elites deserve whatever mockery the Donald can dish out, the more vulgar the better.

And if this means a great sorrow is bearing down on us all, so what? We’ll go down in a blaze of glory—that is, a flaming spew of intolerance, ignorance and spite. It’ll be fun! Like Armageddon. Like The Hunger Games. Time to die, everyone!

Is it possible to have a national death wish?

I think it is.

 

*The quote is from Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, A Dark Night’s Work (1863), Chap. 4.

The Border Question, Part II

February 20, 2016

In the current atmosphere of polarization and vitriol, my important suggestions for resolving the U.S. immigration crisis (“Tzapping the Borders,” August 31, 2015) have been ignored. I take no personal offense. My wife generally ignores me too.

Perhaps, in fact, one fear I expressed in that essay—that mutant penguins might swarm our beaches—was overblown. As yet, I haven’t seen reports of any such invaders, though I doubt Governor Christie has been patrolling the Jersey coast as vigorously as he ought.

In any event, I realize it takes repeated iterations to make a truth sink in, as our presidential candidates demonstrate by uttering the same phrases a dozen times each day. In this post, though, I’m not going to replay my arguments from last August. Instead, to keep up with the evolving debate, I’ll offer a modified proposal.

Our composite Republican candidate for president, Dred Crumpio, insists on building a wall along the Mexican border, and reiterates the plan so often that we have to take it seriously. All right, then, let’s say we agree to it. Let’s look at the practical implications.

The expense of a wall will be enormous, and asserting that the Mexican government will have to pay for it is ludicrous. Mexico City doesn’t have bags of cash lying around, and any Mexican politician who agreed to such payments without getting, say, Texas in trade would be hounded out of office. (And you wouldn’t really trade Texas back to Mexico, would you? The Alamo, Davy Crockett and all that? Wait, you would?)

But there are nongovernmental entities in Mexico that could pay for a wall. Think a moment. Do you see where I’m going?

The drug syndicates! The Sinaloa Cartel! Los Zetas! Cártel del Golfo! Et al., al., al., al. They’re the ones with cash and valuables spilling out of every pocket, not to mention other orifices. But what would induce them to put up funds for a border wall?

A rational businessman

Well, it’s obvious: We install a few gates in the wall, which only the cartels can access. Then they’ll be able to bring in drugs without hassle, saving the ongoing costs of recruiting and compensating smugglers and bribing law enforcement. Those costs must be considerable, after all. Consider how difficult it must be to convince potential mules to carry bags of cocaine in their rectums, even if you threaten to slaughter their parents and torture their children. Besides, such threats are abhorrent to successful businessmen. It would make much more sense for the Cartel Lords to help us build a wall through which they, and only they, could export goods safely. And being eminently rational, undeterred by sentiment or idealism, the Lords will agree.

Naturally the gates’ existence must be kept secret. If we the public knew, we’d want to use them for importing other stuff, such as cheap pottery and tequila and underpaid labor. Therefore, for this plan to work, we need to elect a president who is adept at concealing the truth and lying to the American public.

Dred Crumpio, the new face of America

Dred Crumpio, the new face of America

Luckily, we have just such a candidate. Dred Crumpio is our man! Can we all get together and support him now?

Nostalgia and Survival

February 18, 2016

Watching the Black Panthers documentary on PBS the other night (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution by Stanley Nelson) made me predictably nostalgic, but I was also confused. What exactly had I thought of the Panthers, and their now-mythic confrontations with the cops, back in the day? In some cases I was just a few miles away when the events went down, but I don’t remember my attitude. Was I mostly on the Panthers’ side, somewhat on the cops’ side, or in my usual utterly muddled middle?

Jed Garoover, as immortalized in the Library of Congress

Jed Garoover, as immortalized in the Library of Congress

The documentary also brought up fond memories of San Francisco Chronicle columns by the late Art Hoppe, who turned political figures into comic characters such as Elbie Jay and Billy Boomer, Boy President. Parts of the documentary featured Washington’s arch-villain, the head of the FBI, and I was trying to recall: Did Hoppe invent the name Jed Garoover for that multi-chinned Mephistopheles? It seems to me he did, though I can’t now confirm that.

Most important, the documentary got me thinking about my faith in America—its culture, its political system, its fundamental being. Despite all the polarization and hatred in the Panther days, I didn’t feel, as I do now, the same overpowering sense that the American Soul was at stake. Maybe my youth made me optimistic. Maybe I believed that truth would win in the long run (hah!). Maybe I trusted in the innate sense of the common people who supposedly have the final say in a democracy.

Now I know that we commoners are marginalized by power brokers and fixers, and many of us don’t give a shit anyway. A friend with relatives in Jerusalem tells me that many young Jewish Israelis have given up on politics, neither believing in the long-assumed “two-state solution” nor searching for an alternative. Instead, she says, they live for the moment; they go to cafes and dance on the beach. Is that what we’ve come to now in America?

My new home? (Courtesy of Google Maps)

Though we survived the empty-pated Reagan and the crook Nixon, not to mention earlier embarrassments like Harding and Grant, can we survive the new Republican, Dred Crumpio? (For a sketch of Crumpio, see my previous post.) In the event that the White House, as well as Congress, becomes the fiefdom of demagogic frauds, I’m at least half-seriously considering a move to Canada. I’ve already picked out a neighborhood with a large dog park (green area on the map), though I haven’t yet researched the regulations for exporting dog and family.

So: Would I be wrong to give up on the US of A? Would that be (a) cowardly, (b) a sign of clinical depression, or (c) sane?

The Composite Candidate

February 5, 2016

Crumpio

Dred Crumpio

Now that the presidential campaign season is truly underway, the composite candidates have begun to emerge.

Back in 2012, the composite Republican contender, whom I named Mick Somnorich, was kind of feckless, hard to take seriously. He was, in fact, boring, and everyone’s already forgotten him.

This year’s version is truculent and malevolent, much more exciting to watch in the present and likely more memorable in the long term. For those who haven’t tuned in yet, here is his message in a poetic nutshell:

Ready for a New American Century?
Calling the enemy by its name,
I’m the conservative who Democrats
fear most. I won’t let them take away
our giveaway to the corporate patrons.
They’re rapists on the lookout!
It is our job to kill terrorists. Weakness is
provocative. I would bomb the shit out of them.
And believe me, my temperament is very good,
very calm, I’m proud to have an “A” rating
from the American Rifle Association.
We stop bad guys by using our guns!
If I become president, Americans can work
together to revive Merry Christmas
and infringe on the rights of good, law-abiding
citizens. The whole world is on fire!
Look at that face! Pathological,
there’s no cure for that.

This composite’s name is Dred Crumpio, and he believes everything he says, even if he knows it’s a lie. Because talk is just talk, after all. It’s another thing entirely to whomp the bad guys, and believe you me, Americans don’t care about the actual score as long as we can pretend we’re winning.

The Resilience of Evil

December 7, 2015

Whac-A-MoleIn the wake of the most recent mass killings on U.S. soil, and the various posturings and evasions of our politicians, it’s time for another political column. However, in contrast to my usual rant, I’ll endeavor to make this post well-reasoned and scholarly. In the style of a philosophical treatise, the separate arguments will be enumerated, and footnotes will document the sources.

I. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”1

I.a. Syed Farook, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.

I.b. Dylann Roof, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.

I.c. Adam Lanza, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.

I.d. James Holmes, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.

I.e. Eric Harris, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.

I.f. Dylan Klebold, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.

I.g.–I.z. Et al., et al., et al.

II. Evil cannot be eliminated from the world.

II.a. Evil has been with us since the first human beings.2

II.b. Evil will not succumb to bombs, ground troops, atomic weapons or—except in fantasy movies—magic light sabers.

II.c. Indeed, the resilient, slippery and protean nature of evil—its ability to pop up in new forms in new places—suggests a popular game whose name now connotes a repetitive and impossible task.3

II.d. As point I above indicates, evil lives in all of us, not in any particular place.

II.d.1. Hence there is no one place to attack it.

III. Nor can the enticement of evil be eliminated.

III.a. Some types of evil will always look prettier or sound more convincing than good.4

III.b. In the basic sense, each person is tempted not by outsiders, but by his or her own desire.5

So, if we can’t get rid of evil, what might we do as a society? No easy solution exists. But we could try to make the good—that is, sane, peaceful, life-respecting behavior—more attractive. For instance, we could work to reduce poverty and the huge gap between the privileged and underprivileged. By doing so, we would boost the sense that everyone has something to live for rather than commit murder-mayhem-suicide for. Instead of empty patriotism, we Americans could then speak with a justified pride in our country, as one wild-eyed Revolutionary-era radical suggested:

When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness: when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government.6

Notes
  1. Pogo the Possum, 1971; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pogo_(comic_strip).
  2. Genesis, 300 B.C.E. or earlier.
  3. Whac-A-Mole; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whac-A-Mole.
  4. John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667.
  5. James 1:14, c. 100 C.E.
  6. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791.

Guns and Cheesesteaks

November 22, 2015

s[r]headlineI have a new guest post on the “s [r] blog” from Superstition Review. Here’s the link.

The post is titled “Guns and Cheesesteaks,” and it’s probably not quite as silly as the title suggests. In fact, I believe it’s as meaningful as any recent utterances by Donald Trump.

This past weekend, my neighborhood in Philadelphia had the privilege of hosting Pope Francis. The Pope’s outdoor mass took place roughly two city blocks from my house. What a momentous celebration!

Reporters and bloggers have already published hundreds of commentaries and thousands of pictures about his visit (see, for instance, this post by the inimitable Liz Spikol), so I won’t attempt to talk about the religious, social or political aspects. This essay offers a micro view, focusing on snapshots taken within one block of my house—some within a dozen steps of my front door—to show how we readied the place for the pontiff. I hope our way of honoring a great dignitary will become a model for other localities.

Because this was the largest National Special Security Event (NSSE) ever, we took extra care to make our little community safe and appropriate for the Pope and his million-odd admirers. To begin, we closed the streets to traffic and towed away any parked cars left behind:

Before

Above: Before the preparations began. Below: Afterward.

After

We installed extra trash cans, and they were prettier than our usual ones:

Trash cans

We removed the mailbox, which might conceal bombs, weaponized hoagies or other dangerous objects:

Before: "this collection box will be removed.... This is Due to the Papal visit."

The sign says: “Please be advised that this collection box will be removed on Thursday, September 24th, 2015 and will be reinstalled on Monday, September 28th, 2015. This is Due to the Papal visit to Philadelphia.”

We blocked access from side streets:

25thSt

PAave

We also blocked the sidewalks of intersecting streets, leaving just enough room for pedestrians to squeeze through. This was to prevent terrorists from swooping in on golf carts or riding mowers:

SidewalkBlocked

We installed air-quality monitors to warn of chemical and radiation attacks (though some residents who tend to be gaseous worried about setting them off accidentally):

AirMonitor

We set up checkpoints:

Checkpoint2

We placed sharpshooters on rooftops. (Sorry, no picture. You know what guys with high-powered rifles look like.)

We brought in large groups of friendly young men in camouflage uniforms:

NationalGuard

We conducted constant surveillance from helicopters:

Helicopter

Looks like a spider up there, but it was much louder.

A little farther from our house, I spotted one low-flying Osprey, barely a hundred yards over the rooftops. This is an aircraft used only by the Marines and Air Force. Even the National Guard guys stared up at it in wonder, perhaps worried about its notorious crash record.

Of course we closed our schools and most of our small businesses. We detoured or stopped buses. To make room for the faithful, about half of our residents left town. Restaurants, if they stayed open, were empty.

Even the multigenerational Catholic family next door—a family that’s lived in the neighborhood for more than half a century—departed when they were unable to get tickets to the event. They planned to watch on TV from the Jersey shore.

So our neighborhood was all prepared to welcome Pope Francis. Proud of our efforts, we were ready to celebrate with him.

The only problem?

Our neighborhood wasn’t here anymore.

Our very empty block

Our thriving city block

 

Tzapping the Borders

August 31, 2015

I’ve never before used this blog to endorse a commercial product—other than my own books, of course—but a special case has arisen concerning the very integrity of our country, and I feel I must alert my fellow Americans to what I’ve discovered.

We’ve all listened to the proposals from presidential candidates to build a wall along the Mexican border to stem illegal immigration, and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has logically extended the proposal to the Canadian line as well. There is nothing hysterical or paranoid about these concerns. Just pause a moment to think what would become of this country if we allowed the Mexican-Canadian rapist-murdering-drug-dealers to steal the lawn-care jobs of American workers!

There is a major problem, however, that none of the candidates has addressed. The barriers would be enormously expensive to construct, possibly requiring a rise in taxes that no patriotic American would support. (Those who suggest that cinder block and labor could be imported cheaply from Mexico miss the point entirely.)

Moreover, the Great Wall advocates have overlooked thousands of miles of other entry points: the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Who knows when Mediterranean people-smugglers will invest in better boats so they can drop off Syrian refugees on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City? There’s also the possibility, remote at this time but certainly a concern for the future, that alien shark-creatures might swarm ashore and apply for work cooking fish fillets at McDonald’s. And what about mutant penguins? Has anyone considered the mutant penguins?

Thus it’s apparent that the political debate has been riddled with gaps in logic as huge as the holes in Carly Fiorina’s resume. Luckily, technology—American technology, best in the world!—can again save our butts as well as our souls. A leading innovator in the security industry, Pharr Integrated Security Solutions of southern Texas, is now marketing the Tzapp Total Border System, and this is the product I’m compelled to tell you about.

Based on the groundbreaking work of legendary physicist Seymour Tzapp, the laser-based system is both efficient and economical. One relatively inexpensive laser weapon, adjusted properly, can protect 425 miles of border or coastline; hence a complete system would cost a fraction of a Great Wall.

One unit of the Tzapp Total BS system

One unit of the Tzapp Total BS

How does it work? When any object larger than a hare begins to move across the secured line, the Tzapp Total BS delivers a pulsed, narrow-beam wallop strong enough to enforce immediate retreat. In tests conducted in the Rio Grande Valley, the system has scattered deer, terrified ocelots and caused skunks to spray themselves uncontrollably. The Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri), once Tzapped, has been timed at 30 mph, outrunning a raccoon.

One additional feature: The Total BS leaves a prominent raised scar, curved like a Nike swoosh in bright orange. This will prove as embarrassing to a Mexo-Canadian rapist-murderer as to a nefarious opossum, and a single Tzapp will be enough to discourage future transgressions, especially if the lasers are aimed to strike a delicate part of the anatomy. During the beta test, the tortoise was so mortified he never came out of his shell again.

I would supply a link to further information about the Tzapp system, but in its haste to bring this amazing product to the American public, the company has not yet developed an online presence. However, all interested parties—politicians, military officers, gun freaks and ordinary citizens—are invited to visit corporate headquarters in Pharr, a lovely community just a few miles from the McAllen Miller International Airport. Although it’s a small and unprepossessing city, you can’t miss the signal that you’ve arrived: a sign at the border tells you that you’ve gone to Pharr.

VotingStickerWe had an election this week in Philadelphia. A special election to fill three vacancies in the state House, two of which arose because the incumbents quit after pleading guilty to corruption.

This event produced a grand Y-A-W-N in the city. The media ignored it, and the outcome was predetermined. (Local Democrats, with a huge registration advantage, automatically win any vote with such little publicity.) Besides, most of us don’t even know our representatives in the state House, and as far as we can tell, their only function is to send us a boastful newsletter just before the next election. As for corrupt officials, they’re as common here as in Iraq, and perhaps cheaper, and we don’t expect new ones to be any less venal.

Nevertheless, stifling my Y-A-W-N, I wandered over to my polling place about 11:30 in the morning. It was deserted. They told me I was the 19th person to come in since the polls opened. Explained one attendant who was eating a pastry, “We don’t even call this light turnout. It’s dim turnout.”

For the 30 seconds I spent in the booth, I received the sticker shown above—a more than adequate reward. I chose the Spanish version because I’m trying to learn the language. Combining this with the sign I encounter frequently, “NO TIRE BASURA,” I’m up to six words total. It’s a start.

But I was upset about being number 19. That’s worse than dim turnout, it’s like Milton’s description of Hell: “No light, but rather darkness visible.”

For an election pitting Luigi’s Pizza against Pete’s Famous Pizza, my neighborhood would have several hundred voters by late morning. Everybody knows Luigi’s would win—it’s predetermined by the crust—but people would show up at the polls anyway.

So I went into my typical funk about the trashing of American democracy. In my view, we can survive Donald Trump and Fox News (which treated the recent Republican debate like a game show), but what we can’t survive is indifference.

Okay, you’re heard that before. Everybody complains about the apathy of the American public. And the counterargument seems like a good one: If the choices are Tweedledum and Tweedledee—or, say, Trumpledump and Christiedweeb—indifference is a rational response, isn’t it?

I disagree, and here’s my reasoning.

Imagine your typical city neighborhood, which averages 60% turnout during presidential elections, 40% in midterms, 20–27% in mayoral elections, and way, way less in off-off-season polls like the one we just had here. On average, then, a lot more than half of the people don’t vote. Now suppose that, in the next election, the neighborhood’s turnout jumps a modest 15% for no obvious reason (no candidate from the dominant ethnic group, no hot-button issue on the ballot). What will happen?

The local politicians will suddenly get very interested in that neighborhood. They’ll start to ask what’s going on there. They’ll stop by and talk to people. They’ll want to know what issues the community cares about.

This imaginary scenario leads to my slogan, with apologies to Field of Dreamers:

VOTE AND THEY WILL COME!

It doesn’t matter if, at the moment, you can’t tell a Fiorina from a Cannoli. Vote in reasonable numbers and they will be forced to address your issues. Vote especially when the slick pols and the talking heads don’t expect you to.

After all, we citizens have just two things politicians care about: (a) votes and (b) money. For those of us with little cash to spare, votes are the only weapon, and if we don’t use that weapon to defend ourselves, we’re choosing to bend over and take it up the … wherever (to use a famous Trumpism).

Sure, I understand all the points about the influence of big money, the rise of the oligarchy or plutocracy or whatever you want to call it. I also sympathize with the rage that leads people into the streets to scream and throw rocks at the cops. But when we throw rocks, we’re not hitting the moneymen and asshole politicians who run the system. As soon as we go home, those bigwigs will go back to ignoring us unless they think they’re losing money or votes.

Thus, no matter how oppressed or depressed the community, I get upset with locals who complain but don’t bother to vote. Despite Republican efforts to suppress turnout, most people wouldn’t have any trouble voting if they made an effort.

It’s the one defense we have left. Nobody’s forcing us to be helpless.

According to Google Translate, the slogan is even simpler in Spanish:

VOTA Y ELLOS VENDRÁN!

Plus, you get a nice sticker. Feel free to print this one and glue it to your shirt. Do correct my Spanish if I got it wrong.

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