Category: History Lessons

Weird Scenes #109: Constitution Much?

Weird Scenes #109: Constitution Much?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – The Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment 1, enacted 1791, up for virtual repeal, Fall 2020.

Our Constitution is supposed to be the supreme law of our land, yet the above paragraph has never carried the full weight of law, certainly not as written. That’s a shame, as these 45 words are very specific, clear-cut, and quite elegant. They mean we can’t pass laws that favor individual religious philosophies, no matter how unpopular they may be, or laws that obstruct other religious philosophies, no matter how popular.

Freedom of religion always means freedom from somebody else’s religion: your right to exercise your religious beliefs ends where the next person’s religious rights begin, and so on to all 332,000,000 Americans. It does not say “except for Mormons, Santerians, Scientologists, Muslims, Jews, and whomever else offends the beliefs of those who run things.” Marginalizing them as “cults” is bigotry.

Therefore, Supreme Court designate Amy Coney Barrett is, arguably, the most unAmerican and most dangerous person in the nation today.

This is not because Ms. Barrett is conservative. Some of my best friends, as they say, are conservative. It is because she is fully committed to ramming her specific religious predilections down everybody else’s throats. According to the New York Times, she is a member of the People of Praise group and is accountable to a personal adviser, called a “head” if male and a “handmaid” if female. Husbands are the heads of their wives and therefore run the family. Current and former members say that these advisers direct all important decisions, including who its followers can date or marry, where they can live, whether to take a job, and how to raise their children. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #109: Constitution Much?”

Weird Scenes #107: Seditious or Insane?

Weird Scenes #107: Seditious or Insane?

Trouble with you is / The trouble with me / Got two good eyes / But we still don’t see / Come round the bend / You know it’s the end / The fireman screams and / The engine just gleams — Casey Jones, written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, 1970

People really are little more than complicated machines. We’re made of a different type of material, but we are the result of an assembly of various parts that combine to create a unit. Now that we’ve got robots making robots, this analogy is all the more appropriate.

Eventually, all machines break down. Some vital part is going to go blooie just when you’re changing lanes on the highway. Your keyboard is going to meltdown when you’re on deadline for Pop Culture Squad. Your scalpel is going to break when you’re half-way through posterior cerebral artery. I am not trying to minimize that pain when I quote the most famous bumper-sticker of all time: “Shit happens.”

When a machine breaks down we take it to a mechanic. When a people breaks down we take it to a doctor. These days, the major difference between is the amount of liability insurance they each needs to carry.

In Manhattan yesterday, a subway train derailed after a 30 year-old man allegedly tossed metal tie plates, a.k.a. D plates, onto the trackbed right before the A train pulled into the 14th Street Station. Thankfully, no one was injured and the approximately 150 passengers were able to exit through the rear car. The front cars wound up looking like an accordion after a Gallagher concert. The miscreant was seized on the platform and held for the police to take him into custody.

Tens of thousands of passengers throughout the subway system were inconvenienced, many massively, due to the rerouting of the four different lines that use that station and the resulting back-ups on other routes. Were it to have happened today, Monday, hundreds of thousands would have been late to work at the very least. Since I’m writing this on Sunday, it’s possible repairs won’t be complete by Monday’s morning rush, so this could happen anyway.

The New York Daily News, which appears reasonable only because the other daily New York City newspaper is owned by Rupert Murdoch (the New York Times is a national newspaper having about as much to do with NYC as the Wall Street Journal has to do with Wall Street), referred to the suspect as “a laughing homeless saboteur.”

I’ll concede the “laughing” part as there were witnesses. “Homeless” was a label hanged around his neck by his appearance; there was no way to know his status at the time of arrest but “homeless” is often seen as evidence of a crime. Perhaps he was homeless, but at the time of the incident that was a presumption. The issue of who he was went unanswered.

But “saboteur?” Really? Are we being told when this man woke up Sunday morning and decided to go to the subway station at 14th Street and Eighth Avenue with the intention of screwing up people’s lives by tossing loose D plates onto the tracks? If so, why? Are we certain of that? What do we really know? Where are the confirming quotes from those who could knowledgeably comment on this seditious behavior?

The seditious part would please Trump’s weasel-shill William Barr, but the claim he was a saboteur was without justification. Did he look like the stereotypical late-19th century bomb-tossing anarchist that’s all the rage these days?

All this is very presumptuous and that’s not the way I was taught back in journalism school. Then again, very little of what I read today follows that training. Who-What-When-Where-Why? Feh. It’s so much easier to jump to clichéd conclusions. There are few fact checkers left to tell editors what a fact checker does.

Let’s take a different look at this. Perhaps this guy was not a saboteur. Perhaps he was suffering from a mental illness. His actions indicate that possibility, and rather strongly. But we rarely treat mental illness unless the patient is white and at least fairly well-off. We just toss them in prison to satisfy our morally bankrupt sense of justice which is merely a euphemism for revenge and does little to make our planet safe.

According to the American Psychological Association, at least half of those in our prisons suffer from mental health issues, and between 10% and 25% have serious mental health issues. We’ve got 2.3 million people incarcerated; you do the math.

Between our lack of journalistic ethics and our lust to jump in order to pass judgment without the tedious tasks of due process and fair play, we have reduced America to a gaggle of nattering nabobs of negativism; busybodies who want to lock our problems behind bars instead of dealing with them.

The saddest part is, this analysis explains a hell of a lot about what’s going on in America these days.

Weird Scenes #106: COVID Don’t Give A Peep!

Weird Scenes #106: COVID Don’t Give A Peep!

We had time and space and freedom, / We had love and peace to spare / Though we ran out of things to smoke and say and eat and wear / And the morning of the avalanche / The Yeti kidnapped Blanche / And took her to his cave up in the Rockies. – Colorado, by Christopher Guest, Sean Kelly, and Tony Hendra, 1973

I will concede most of us are going crazy from the COVID lockdown. For a social Darwinist like me, though, is there is a bright side. Those who are not going crazy are out infecting and being infected by their fellow science deniers. As my father often told me, “you always gotta learn the hard way, don’t you?”

Uh-oh. There goes another chunk of my bleeding heart liberal street-cred. Well, easy come, easy go.

I feel sorry for the kids, although most have made out pretty good. Every politician claims the kids are desperate to go back to a real school. Yeah, you betcha. I have no doubt a small group of tiny freaks do feel that way, but the rest are just pissed off they’ve run out of things to do and friends to do it to. It’s the parents (certainly not the teachers, as they tend to value life) who want real school to start. They feel they have earned the right to chose sanity over safety. But parents already knew they made that sacrifice the day they decided to have kids, so um tut sut, mofos. You people brought these beings into this world, and you are obligated to keep everything kosher until they are old enough to change your diapers. Revenge is a dish best served old. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #106: COVID Don’t Give A Peep!”

Weird Scenes #104: Crossing The Line

Weird Scenes #104: Crossing The Line

Hey Jessica, you’re so funny / You’ve got teeth just like Bugs Bunny / Oh, so you think you know me now / Have you forgotten how / You would make me feel / When you dragged my spirit down? / But thank you for the pain / It made me raise my game / And I’m still rising, I’m still rising – Jessie J, written by Abrahams Kyle James and Astasio George, 2011

Whenever Donald Trump, a.k.a. the John Wayne Gacy of American presidents, does something that “crosses the line” — and this only happens on days that end in “y” — I am reminded of a classic Bugs Bunny routine. I’ll bet most of you folks already know the bit.

Bugs is being chased (and vice versa) by Yosemite Sam. Bugs stops and draws a line in the ground. “I dare you to step over that line,” Bugs challenges Sam, who then crosses the line. “How about this line?” He crosses that line as well. Bugs continues drawing lines and Sam keeps on crossing them, now by rote. Eventually Bugs draws the last line, on the edge of a cliff, and Yosemite Sam crosses it and falls to his cartoon death.

Here on Earth-Trump, the one in which we are compelled to live, we have yet to see that final scene. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #104: Crossing The Line”

Brainiac On Banjo #096: At Last – My Flying Automobile!

Brainiac On Banjo #096: At Last – My Flying Automobile!

Sweet birds are flying like the wings of my soul / The warm breeze / The eyes to the sky / Feel the even flow of the change in time — Trey Anastasio, Flying Machines, 2015

I blame Julius Schwartz.

Julie was a major editor at DC Comics from 1944 until he retired in 1986 and, before that, he was one of the nation’s first science-fiction agents. Julie represented — among others — Alfred Bester, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and H. P. Lovecraft. He co-founded the World Science Fiction Convention, and before that, co-founded Time Traveller, one of the first science fiction fanzines, partnering with Mort Weisinger and Forrest J. Ackerman. So when it comes to the realms of speculative fiction in prose and visuals, Julie was the nexus of all unrealities.

As a child, I grew up gawking at his science fiction titles Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space, which featured many of the top talents that would soon join him in creating what we refer to as the Silver Age of Comics. In true s-f faction, those stories thrilled us with tales about flying skyscrapers, flying gorillas, and flying cars. The first two were amusing but outside the bounds of likely possibility. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #096: At Last – My Flying Automobile!”

Weird Scenes #103: The Fire This Time

Weird Scenes #103: The Fire This Time

Self-destroyer, wreck your health / Destroy friends, destroy yourself / The time device of self-destruction / Light the fuse and start eruption / Paranoia, the destroyer / And it goes like this. — Paranoia, written by Ray Davies, 1981

Over my life-span I’ve been to Kenosha, Wisconsin dozens of times. It’s not quite the bucolic little anti-urban town President Tang’s choir members have been saying it is, as in “That’s the real America, and they won’t stand for these uppity communist terrorists.” Not true. It is a nice, previously pleasant, city that has the honor of being in two overlapping, blue-voting metropolitan areas. You can catch a commuter train that will take you straight to downtown Chicago, you can catch a bus that will take you to downtown Milwaukee.

Or you can take a long gun, put it in a car, drive 30 minutes from Antioch, Illinois and start shooting “antifa,” just like Überfuhrer Tang asks you to do. You could do this even if you’re 17 years old. You may be too young to vote, but you’ll get pardoned well in time to participate in Tang’s third presidential election. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #103: The Fire This Time”

Weird Scenes #101 — Everyday Surrealism

Weird Scenes #101 — Everyday Surrealism

There’s danger on the edge of town / Ride the King’s highway, baby / Weird scenes inside the gold mine / Ride the highway west, baby — The End, written by The Doors, 1967

As I walked upstairs to my Scribbler’s Sanctorum to write these words, I noticed daughter was watching a hockey game. That’s hardly unusual in this house; both of us are hockey fans and unless otherwise occupied we will watch any game that has a puck and a dearth of New York Rangers fans. But instead of nodding my head in regret, I was thinking of how surreal our times have become.

I do not believe we have ever had the privilege of watching the Stanley Cup playoff games in the middle of a workday afternoon. I’m pretty damned certain we never had new playoff games aired live in August. Hockey in the height of summer just feels wrong. To be fair, so does a team in Las Vegas, where it is (as I type) 106°. And I know for a fact that the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who dress like Doctor Fate on stakes, beat the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night. Las Vegas, very hot. Chicago, very cold. The only thing we’re missing here is Porky Pig’s landing at Wackyland. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #101 — Everyday Surrealism”

Weird Scenes #099: Attack of the Ninja Stormtroopers

Weird Scenes #099: Attack of the Ninja Stormtroopers

When der Führer says, “Dis war won’t last too long” / Ve HEIL! HEIL!, although he could be wrong / If you doubt der Führer, you won’t last for long / So, ve HEIL! HEIL!, still he could be wrong.” Der Führer’s Face, written by Oliver Wallace, 1942.

There’s this goosestepper in Washington, DC named Chad Wolf, who enjoys the title “acting head of Department of Homeland Security.” Some might think his job title implies he’s merely a placeholder, a guy who need not know his job because it’s only temporary. You know, just like our acting president.

Well, it’s possible that the longevity of all Trump appointments (except judges) might be only temporary. But until that magic day in January arrives, I think we’re stuck with this Wolf fool for the duration. This is because he has the only talent needed by a Trump appointee — in addition to a complete lack of morality, the law, and “knowledge,” Wolf certainly knows where to put his tongue. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #099: Attack of the Ninja Stormtroopers”

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Hound dogs on my trail / School children sitting in jail / Black cat cross my path / I think every day’s gonna be my last / Lord have mercy on this land of mine / We all gonna get it in due time / I don’t belong here / I don’t belong there / I’ve even stopped believing in prayer — Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam,” 1964

The first time I was able to have a conversation with the late Representative and true American hero John Lewis was about six years ago at the Baltimore Comic-Con. It was during set-up so the room was comparatively open and, as I was attempting to locate my booth I saw Representative Lewis behind a table. His name was on the sign behind his table — “Congressman John Lewis.” I did one of those patented Tex Avery eyeball takes.

I previously had been at the Heroes Convention at the Charlotte North Carolina Convention Center. A bunch of older white guys were walking around wearing suits that, each, could feed a family of four for three months. In the midst of that gaggle was Sarah Palin. I looked around to make sure I was at the right place because I could not believe these folks were there to add to their Funko Pops collections.

I was right; the state Republican Convention was upstairs and the comic-con was downstairs. The white men in their expensive suits looked disgusted but, to be fair, they always look that way. Sarah saw the cosplayers and beamed a megawatt smile. So you can’t say I’ve never said anything nice about Sarah Palin.

But this time, the statesman at hand was there for a comic book show. Considering he worked in Congress, seeing a couple thousand people dressed up as The Joker (including babies) was just another day at work. I approached him, he offered me a seat, and we chatted about the relationship between comic books and political organizing. It was one of those “holy crap” moments that make life wonderful.

Rep. Lewis did say I was the first to recognize him at the show. I laughed and said “Oh, just wait until the show starts.” He looked skeptical, but my prediction quickly came to pass: that was just about the only time during the show that I could see him clearly from the aisle. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior”

Weird Scenes #098: A Truly Honorable American

Weird Scenes #098: A Truly Honorable American

The goalie committed, Buddy picked his spot / Twenty years of waiting went into that shot / The fans jumped up, the Finn jumped too / And coldcocked Buddy on his follow through / The big man crumbled but he felt all right / ‘Cause the last thing he saw / was the flashing red light / He saw that heavenly light — Warren Zevon, Hit Somebody!, 2002

Statue of General Black Hawk

You may have heard that the Washington Redskins football team finally moved to change its name a mere 72 years after its founding as the Boston Braves. They played in the same park as the baseball team of the same name. When they moved to the hallowed confines of Fenway Park, they changed their name to the Boston Redskins and took that with them to Washington, DC four years later.

That would be 1937, so the response “Well, it’s about time” is way too late. The term “redskins” is and always has been an offensive term, particularly to those people who, quite frankly, should be America’s landlords.

This is going to upset some of my liberal friends, but I don’t feel the same way about the names “Indians,” “Braves,” or “Chiefs,” et al. These names are not inherently bigoted. Yes, it is a fact that there aren’t a hell of a lot of Indians employed by professional sports teams outside of India. Then again, there aren’t a lot of lions, tigers and bears earning their livings in such fashion either… any more. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #098: A Truly Honorable American”