Monday, January 18, 2021

An Inauguration Memory

Memories keep the wolf of insignificance from the door. 

— Saul Bellow

A vivid personal memory: K Street on a bitter-cold January evening; a driving snowstorm dims the streetlights; no sounds but the wind and the murmuring pinkish sky; a column of long black limousines silently snakes by, bound for the White House or some nearby hotel. I was working late at a video studio, editing a show my client needed in the morning; I had stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. It was 1985.

Ronald Reagan's second inauguration was history's coldestThe temperature that morning was 4° below zero, the wind-chill, 20° below. Reagan delivered his speech inside the Capitol Rotunda, before an audience of Congressmen; no crowds gathered outside, for fear of getting frostbite. 

The parade down Pennsylvania Avenue was also cancelled, the president saying, "the health and safety of those attending and working at the event must come before any celebration;" but in truth it was Reagan's health and safety that were in jeopardy.

His advisors had reminded the 74-year-old Reagan—America's oldest president—of William Henry Harrison's 1841 inauguration. On that day, Harrison spent five hours standing on the Capitol steps in a freezing rain. The event left Harrison with a nasty head cold; and 30 days later, he died of pneumonia.

Reagan's inaugural committee had given away 140,000 tickets to the swearing-in and sold 25,000 tickets to the parade. None of them was used.

When asked by reporters at a photo shoot what would be different about his second term, Reagan replied, “Well, I hope it will be warmer.”

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Beware the Devil's Bargain

What fools these mortals be.

— William Shakespeare

Five years ago, I spent three lovely winter weeks in Cape May, New Jersey, helping to care for my then-preschool-age granddaughter Lucy, while her dad was on an extended business trip.

Every morning while Lucy was in school, I'd grab a joe and a buttered bagel at a café near the county courthouse, and sit and read another front-page story in the local paper, The Press of Atlantic City, about the ruin wrought upon the region by a bankrupt casino developer named Donald Trump.

As story after story told, Trump had systematically cheated small-time building and hotel-service contractors throughout South Jersey, leaving them with nothing for their efforts but unpaid bills, insurmountable debts, and suicidal wishes.

Trump's biography as a businessman, we've since learned, is the tale of a consummate chiseler and all-time loserAtlantic City was just one brief chapter of the tale.

The chiseler-in-chief has just added a fresh chapter to his biography, as he stiffs the fools who stormed the Capitol on his behalf.

Like those South Jersey contractors, they'll lose everything, while Donald remains safely ensconced on his golden throne.

Beware the devil's bargain!

Friday, January 15, 2021


An epoch is but a swing of the pendulum.

— George Bernard Shaw

That momentous sound you hear is history's escapement as the pendulum swings back toward economic justice. I didn't think I'd live long enough to hear it. I'm glad I did.

Ninety years ago, the GOP—the party of the rich—handed FDR an economy in ruins. But by restraining the rich, FDR turned that economy around, rebuilding it on the basis of the New Deal and the nation's mobilization against fascism.

The New Deal epoch endured through seven more administrations—those of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter—until Reagan reversed the pendulum. 

Reagan and the GOP ultimately ruined the economy again, in the process awarding trillions of dollars to one of every ten Americans, while driving two of every ten into poverty

It took five more administrations—those of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump—to end Reagan's epoch; but, clearly, it's over. Trump made that certain.

Americans need good government—and to again deal the rich their comeuppance.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Time to Abridge Bullshit

The people shall not be deprived of their right to speak, write or publish their sentiments.

— James Madison

Although the Senate rewrote Madison's draft of the First Amendment before its ratification, no one questioned that free speech is a natural right in 1789.

Six decades earlier, a young Philadelphia printer, Ben Franklin, had said as much. "When men differ in opinion, both sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard," he wrote.

Franklin didn't worry that some opinions are wrong, because "when truth and error have fair play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter."

Free speech is a bedrock principle, as American as apple pie. 
Or is it?

The Founding Fathers never watched reality TV, where falsehoods trump the truth. Had they, the First Amendment might read: 

Congress shall abridge the freedom to bullshit.

I hate to say it, but our reality TV-star president has forced America to abridge bullshit. As we've seen—like raw milk, angel dust, and flammable pajamas—bullshit is bad for you. It ought to be outlawed.

Liberals will flinch at this suggestion, I know; perhaps some conservatives, as wellTough. We're neck deep in a national emergency, brought on Trump and his despotic stooges and abetted by the traditional and new media's addiction to fair play.

It's time Trump's league of bullshit artists were muzzled.

And not only muzzled. 

It's time—lest we forget—they were tarred for their chronic bullshit.

If they're not branded as liars and propagandists, they'll resort to "communicative silence" (kommunikatives Beschweigen)—the convenient path closet Nazis took after World War II, when these German "patriots" permitted Hitler's narrative to persist, albeit in the shadows.

To Trump, Pence, Pompeo, Navarro, McEnany, Limbaugh, Hannity, Carlson, Graham, McConnell, Jordan, Cruz, Gaetz, Johnson, Hawley and the rest of your ruthless, insurrectionary gang: It's time to shut up, time to fade away. 

Before we're trampled by your herd of incels, we will repress you and tar you, because you pollute public discourse with your unrelenting bullshit.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Lost Lingo

If it works, it's obsolete.

— Marshall McLuhan

Books, newspapers, broadsides and pamphlets were the 18th century's social media platforms; and printers, the century's Zuckerbergs.

To operate a press, printers would first assemble blocks of type inside a wooden frame, known as a coffin. They'd then place the coffin on a stone bed, add a page of paper on top, and crank the lever beside the bed to slide it under the press. Lastly, they'd screw the press down onto the paper, imprinting an image on the page.

When not pressing pages, 18th-century printers set type, the labor-intensive process preparatory to printing. To save some of that labor, they borrowed the Ancient Roman practice of substituting a graphic for the word "and" in written documents. ("And" is the third most common word in the English language.) Printers called their graphic—&—the ampersand, a corruption of "per se and," which was teachers' name for the graphic. (Eighteenth-century teachers insisted students pronounce the one-letter words "a" and "I" as "per se a" and "per se I" and demanded all students pronounce "&" as "per se and." Per se, as it still does, meant "by itself.")

Used type in the 18th century was tossed into a wooden box called a hell, often by an apprentice called a devil. (The printer's art, three centuries earlier, was considered black magic, because the pages were uncannily uniform. Many demonic terms stuck.) 

Type was scarce and expensive at the time, so to return it to service quickly printers would cast metal plates of entire pages. They called the plates stereotypes. French printers, instead of preserving entire pages as plates, cast frequently used phrases. They called these money-saving casts clichés, from clicher, meaning "to click,” the sound the cast phrases made when they were assembled in the coffin.

Such thrift was common among 18th-century printers. So was piracy. The printer of James Granger's Biographical History of England included blank pages throughout, to encourage artists to "extra-illustrate" the 35-volume work. Artists would interleave original drawings and paintings alongside the parts of the text their patrons found intriguing, adding "extra illustrations" to otherwise plain books. Enterprising printers—smelling money to be made—soon began to swipe images from other books and add them to copies of Granger's Biographical History, a practice they named grangerizing.

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