I have this weird ‘waking-up’ quirk almost every morning. Some might say it’s a nice thing, but it can be irritating at times. Actually, more than irritating. I wake up with a song in my head. It’s very random and it can be anything from Bruce Springsteen to Glenn Miller.
This morning, for instance, it’s ‘Pennies from Heaven.’ I have no idea why and, no, I don’t think it’s necessarily a sign of anything, although it would be interesting if it was. I never sleep well — my mind goes on all night long and the dreams I had last night were not the kind you would associate with a song like that.
Now many would say that waking up with a song in your heart is a good thing. Unfortunately, this is a song in my head, and it stays there for hours, over and over again.
Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven Don’t you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven? You’ll find your fortune’s fallin’ all over the town Be sure that your umbrella is upside down
Over and over and over. Round and round my head it spins.
Who is singing? No one. No, not Bing Crosby, nor Frank Sinatra. Just a generic vocalist, happily ramming the tune into my head like a hammer on an anvil.
Trade them for a package of sunshine and flowers If you want the things you love, you’ve got to have showers . . .
After a while, I’ll try to break the spell by subbing contrary lyrics. ‘Pennies from Heaven,’ turns into ‘Nickels from Hell.’
Alas, it doesn’t work. The spell is too strong and will only leave me as the hours in the day pile up and some other tune invades my thoughts.
I’ve tried playing these morning reveries on YouTube to break the spell, but hearing the actual song only adds to the torture.
The worst songs are the catchy little ditties like ‘Pennies from Heaven.’ Think of a few other torture devices like ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’ ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz,’ or the theme from Gilligan’s Island, which actually happened to me once. And everyone my age knows the entire theme, including the ending credit lyrics, by heart. Pure torture.
When I was a kid, I had a pretty strong obsessive-compulsive problem. I couldn’t sleep unless I performed a check of every corner of my bedroom, followed by an elaborate counting ritual. Although I tell people that I ‘white-knuckled’ my way out of that Hell around the age of 14, the compulsions just take other forms for the rest of one’s life.
The song thing, I think, is part of that. It’s like an earworm only it’s an . . . entire . . . song.
There’s a famous Mark Twain short story from 1876 about the author finding a bit of amusing doggerel about a conductor on a train punching various fare tickets. I read it in the eighth grade. At the risk of the reader hating me for life, here it is:
Conductor, when you receive a fare, Punch in the presence of the passenjare! A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare, A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare, A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare, Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Punch, brothers! punch with care! Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Twain, as the narrator, finds the rhymes infectious, but it soon takes over his whole being and, in his words, leaves him “a tottering wreck.”
Then he meets a friend of his, a Reverend, who sees Twain is distressed. Asking what is bothering him, Twain repeats the poem, unburdening himself, while infecting the Reverend.
I won’t ruin the rest for you (although I may have already ruined your day by planting the diabolical seeds of two or more earworms in your consciousness) because the ending is really quite funny, and everyone deserves a good short story to start their day.
Really, you deserve it. As for me, I will, no doubt, be tortured with some new, perhaps obscure, tune tomorrow. For now, it’s:
So, when you hear it thunder, don’t run under a tree There’ll be pennies from heaven for you and me. . .
Controversy Over A Blue Lives Matter Flag Threatens to Tear Chardon Ohio Apart
When a flag is more than a symbol. Chardon’s Hilltoppers take the field Aug. 28 (News-Herald photo)
My hometown of Chardon, Ohio (I call it my second hometown since I spent the first five years of my life in Mayfield Hts., Ohio and still feel an affinity for it), is going through a firestorm revolving around Black Lives Matter/Blue Lives Matter. I’ll get to that in a second. Let me talk about where I grew up first.
When my family moved to Chardon in 1968, I hated it. Although I made my peace with living there, I always regretted we left Mayfield Heights. Back there, I had a neighborhood to grow up in — sidewalks, streetlights, an ice cream man, local stores and schools. In Chardon, I had none of those things. My mom put me in a public school for three months then a spot opened at a local Catholic elementary school and I went there for 8 ½ years of incarceration.
My parents weren’t wealthy enough for the school they sacrificed to send me to, and I felt it every day I attended. But to the kids in my neighborhood, I was the ‘city slicker.’ Growing up, it took me awhile to figure out what seemed weird about the town and then it eventually hit me — Chardon was one of those places where you would never be fully accepted until you were third generation. Or had money.
Also, the town and surrounding county are relentlessly conservative and almost completely white. The county GOP had its headquarters on Main Street when we moved there and it’s still a flaming red county. In 1969, Geauga County, of which Chardon is the county seat, was ranked the 31st wealthiest county per capita in the United States. The town itself was a mix of generations of natives and arrivistes.
My dad moved to Chardon to get ahead of the migration of ‘undesirables’ (he would have used more racist language) into Cleveland’s eastern suburbs, which was ridiculous, since Mayfield Heights would remain lily white well after my father died in 1983. Dad wanted was to move to a place where he would never have to worry about moving again. In that, he succeeded.
My dad’s other motivation was he wanted a backyard bigger than suburbia. I called it “The Oliver Wendell Douglas Effect” throughout my older childhood, after Eddy Albert’s character in “Green Acres.” You know, “land, spreadin’ out so far and wide, keep suburbia just give me that countryside.”
Ugh. Well you know where I’d rather have been.
Anyway, even though I moved away, I returned to Chardon in 2007 to take care of my dying mother and try to make a go of a local bookstore. I still found the atmosphere of the town insular, which is sad in a way, because the town itself, architecturally, is so charming. Many of the people, alas, share the same small-town biases as most of middle America.
I made that observation in a Facebook post a month or so ago and lost my last friends from Chardon who unfriended me. What I said wasn’t aimed at them; they are not the kind of people I was talking about. But the insularity of the town requires everyone to circle the wagons. I regret they were offended, but that’s life.
Last weekend the Chardon High School football team ran on to the field with the Thin Blue Line/Blue Lives Matter flag (top photo). The superintendent, Dr. Michael P. Hanlon, Jr., whose letter to the community is in this Facebook post, received complaints that the presence of the flag was polarizing. He decided it would not be flown again, as the district has a policy that they will avoid anything that might cause people to think they’re taking a political stand.
The superintendent has been consistent. A teacher engaged in virtual learning, had to take down her Black Lives Matter backdrop for the same reason.
But the story went national and was covered by Fox News, which meant yahoos from all over the nation are joining the home-grown yahoos littering the district’s social media accounts with hateful messages, A LOT OF POSTS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and general idiocy.
The Board of Education has announced its support of the Superintendent. But if I were them, I would take a week’s vacation out of state, because they are going to be targeted. Within minutes of the Board’s Facebook post, the comments were being bombarded with Thin Blue Line flags and the vitriol we’ve come to expect from the local self-appointed guardians of America.
One of the county commissioners, Ralph Spidalieri, has called for the superintendent’s resignation: “Your letter sickens me and so many others that have reached out to me and expressed the same disgust with your inability to stand up and recognize their patriotism,” he said, obviously missing the point by a mile.
Typical of too many of the Facebook comments was this one:
Mary Ann Friihauf: In Mrs. Diehm’s classroom in Chardon School, this is displayed. ‘In this classroom we believe black lives matter, Love is love, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, water is life, Science is real and compassion is everything. ‘ Now if this isn’t political, I don’t know what is. I demand it be taken down Immediately.
She wasn’t joking. It seems many of these people are incapable of feeling empathy towards anyone outside their tribe. This lack of humanity and logical reasoning skills seems endemic to the “All Lives Matter” crowd. I can’t imagine living in such a cold, heartless place in my mind.
If I were Hanlon, I would not have died on this hill, precisely because of what has happened since the weekend. I know the town. The superintendent was my oldest child’s principal at Rice Elementary in the Mentor (Ohio) system. I can’t believe he didn’t realize the vast cultural differences between the two districts. This will most likely end his career at Chardon, and may hurt his career prospects in the future.
The social media vitriol, while expected, is still vile and uncalled for. The superintendent does not hate the police. People have tried to explain this online. But those who would sow discord, who hide their racism and hate behind a Blue Lives Matter flag, of course, were going to pounce on it.
There were people in the comments who voiced their concerns with the Blue Lives Matter flag and the larger issue of how people of color are treated by the town (which was almost 98% white in the 2000 census) and its’ schools. This woman did, in a public post, and, of course, after being harassed (‘make her famous,’ = dox her), she took it down.
The police chief, whose dad was also the police chief and lived two doors down from us, wrote a decent, non-political letter of thanks to the community, which I think was designed to help defuse the conflict. It doesn’t seem to be working.
I have been against the Blue Lives Matter movement for two basic reasons — one, it’s obviously being used as a cover for racism by many and two, even among those whose primary motive is supporting the police, the message seems to have taken on ominous authoritarian (if not actually fascist) overtones: Blue Lives Matter . . . OR ELSE!
It seems as though these demands for police worship are similar to smearing anyone who doesn’t show the appropriate fealty toward authority, the flag, mom, apple pie, Trump, Jesus, or whatever other symbols and organizations the right is holding above everyone’s heads for political gain.
But the unjustified killing of black people by the police created BLM, in my opinion, and the resulting violence on the streets and in our politics are threatening to tear the country apart. What’s happening in Chardon is the natural product of an increasingly dangerous cultural civil war.
Against such violent emotions, many people not in agreement keep their heads down; especially in small towns.
This is, unfortunately, the lesson Superintendent Hanlon is going to learn the hard way. In my interactions with him as my son’s principal, I felt he was a solid educator and a good citizen. It is sad to see what is happening to him and I am appalled that people nowadays feel they can say vile things about a man they do not know and about a policy they don’t understand.
I am glad to no longer have any ties to Chardon. There’s enough thick-headed reactionaries where I live now without having to accept as my hometown a place which has been stuck in the 1950s since I lived there.
The thing is, there are Chardons all over the country where the same dramas will play out. With what promises to be the most perilous election in American history since 1860 coming up, I fear these skirmishes are just the beginning of something far worse coming.
There’s a feeling I can’t describe when I read a book like this; a sort of ‘I’m dying inside’ sensation in the pit of my stomach that what I am being exposed to confirms many things I believed to be true, but did not want to accept. In the end, while reading Sarah Kendzior’s ‘Hiding in Plain Sight (Macmillan, 2020)’ I felt both a cold rage and an embarrassment at my own naiveté.
The book’s author, a student of autocratic regimes and author of the 2018 bestseller ‘The View from Flyover Country,’ has said she is surprised the book was published in the middle of a pandemic, much less published at all. Regardless, the book is now on The New York Times bestseller lists as well as several other bestseller lists.
Kendzior, who has made the rounds of cable news shows for years, especially AM Joy on MSNBC, and also co-hosts her own podcast ‘Gaslit Nation’with Andrea Chalupa, has pursued the dark history of Trump for many years, much like Ahab stalked the whale. She pegged Trump for The White House before anyone took him seriously (I had after he ascended the golden escalator, but that’s a story for another time), and meticulously documented his rise through the ranks of the New York real estate gangsters and glitterati to Washington DC.
A warning to the reader: Kendzior pulls no punches. What is detailed in these pages is, in reality, a true crime work, with the President of the United States as the benefactor of a criminal machine so powerful and immense that it seems every institution of American government and media has, in some way, been compromised by it. The language, for a political science book, gets salty, but it is justified.
For me, every page brought fresh anguish. But sometimes in order to save the patient, the wounds must be cauterized. If you need to know, if you must know, how America got into this sorry situation, you will take the medicine, bitter as it is. Much of the book reads like one long indictment of Trump and company, which it could be if anyone in government had the nerve to pursue it.
I usually inhale books that catch my interest, but this one proved to be a challenge to get though quickly. The reason is my compulsive need to highlight content I deem important. And there are tons of it. There is no filler or fluff here — every paragraph leads to another fact, another revelation — something else we should all have looked at.
Other than Trump, who are the players? The Russians, yes, but in addition to oligarchs and mobsters, there are so many players from other nations, notably Israel, and Americans in business and government who made their shady deals for access to money and power.
Even Trump’s show, The Apprentice, served as a cover for a money laundering scheme connected with the proposed Trump SoHo condominiums (now The Dominick). The show would be among many media exposures that served to normalize Trump in the public’s eye.
The connections between Trump and the entire motley cast, including dead pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the excretable Roy Cohn from whom Trump learned his trade in duplicity, lobbyist for butchers Paul Manafort, Russian mafia figures, and other sleazy power brokers, are all laid out for the reader in chronological order.
Kendzior has stressed throughout her interviews that all the information in the book was available for anyone who wanted to find it. She chronicles time after time when the US media passed on tips of Trump and company’s criminal acts, preferring to concentrate on celebrity gossip.
She also decries the fall of American journalism, noting that the ability to practice the craft in a city as expensive as New York, fell to the dilettantes of the field who would be loath to expose the misdeeds of their own social class. As a former print journalist, I share her sense of loss and appreciate the fact that Kendzior stayed true to her working-class roots. As she noted, for many of us, we had no choice.
I will leave the reader to dissect Kendzior’s highly readable connecting of the conspiracy dots. But one passage which struck me speechless, is perhaps the most important paragraph in the book:
“In 2006 — the same year Trump SoHo was showcased on the Apprentice, the same year (Felix) Sater took the Trump children into the Kremlin, and the same year Manafort moved into Trump Tower, Michael Cohen became Trump’s personal lawyer. In 2015, Sater and Cohen exchanged a series of emails saying they were conspiring to gain Vladimir Putin’s support in bringing Trump to power. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email to Cohen. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage the process.”
Dear reader, have you ever heard of this? Neither did I.
I was struck by the sheer volume of jaw dropping revelations about Trump that are obviously unknown to his biggest fans. The question arises — even if you forced them to sit and listen to it on audiobook and showed them the voluminous footnotes, would they believe it? Sadly, I believe they would not; willful ignorance is as dangerous to our struggling democracy as any tyrant.
That brings me to the underlying story in this book: in Kendzior’s view, the rise of Trump coincides with the fall of both integrity in American political and social life, but also the last gasps of the American Dream itself. Kendzior takes us to Missouri and St. Louis, where she lives, and uses them as a microcosm of the political and economic rot that started to take hold of America in the 1980s and led us to our present condition.
The struggles her family and friends endured in St. Louis after the crash of 2008 are particularly telling. The loss of expertise in academia and the media to minimum wage survival left the country intellectually poorer. “Most of my friends have life stories that are simply a series of reactions to disasters,” she writes.
“Every ordinary person around my age has a secret self from before the crash, one who dared to dream of more than a life of necessities reclassified as luxuries. There are marriages that never happened, children never born, chances never taken, because the struggle to hang on to what you have is so great that it hurts your heart to hope for more. You can’t afford the literal cost, and you can’t afford the psychic cost. In the postemployment economy, a generation learned to manage its expectations.
The rage though — that stays with you.”
You sense that struggle between the writing of a political scientist and the inner rage of a pissed off citizen throughout the book, and it’s a quality that makes her writing so approachable. These are not just bad events in time, but inextricably entwined in the stuff of our lives, and their consequences will reverberate throughout the generations. And people should be pissed about it.
Another aspect of the political and social scene Kendzior covers is the way the Internet has been co opted by state actors for their own ends and as a surveillance tool. The fall of the internet as a hope for democracy and openness, with incidents like Gamergate among others, is another loss of innocence people of her generation also dealt with.
An incident in which black female twitter users outed trolls impersonating black people in 2014 is telling. The women were able to reveal the harassing accounts to be Russian agents and Breitbart trolls, laying the groundwork for interference in the 2016 election.
Kendzior points out that had Twitter taken the harassment these women experienced seriously, the scheme to interfere with the 2016 elections online could have been squelched two years before it happened.
“It took Congress years to identify an intelligence operation that black women pointed out in real time,” Kendzior writes. “The system racism enabling this willful ignorance put democracy in jeopardy.”
Racism and white supremacy play a major part in the rise of Trump and Kendzior explored their inculcation in American life. In particular, the Ferguson uprising, happening in her own back yard, is still an open wound.
She writes: “In St. Louis, we still live the Ferguson aftermath. There is no real beginning, because Brown’s death is part of a continuum of criminal impunity by the police toward St. Louis’s black residents. There is no real end because there are always new victims to mourn. In St. Louis, there is no justice, only sequels.”
In the end, ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’isabout Trump, but so much more. Kendzior takes pains to show that the Trump phenomenon did not happen in a vacuum, but in an America that was stripped of its promise and its empathy, pumped full of racial resentment and despair, until there was nothing left for many but hate.
It is the kind of hate that puts children in cages, kills a woman in Charlottesville, and makes death threats a part of both Kendzior and podcast co-host Chalupa’s lives.
The book ends with Kendzior taking her children on a whirlwind tour of American heritage sites, national parks, presidential libraries and monuments. She wants her children to see the America she knew in case it disappears.
In some respects, parts of it, the intangibles of life, honor, integrity, decency, empathy, may already be gone. Loss is a theme that runs through her work, with Trump and his gang the nexus around which all things revolve.
“In the end, The Apprentice cancelled America,” writes Kendzior.
If you need to have a reason to believe and fight for your children and those yet unborn, read this book.
When I got home the other day from work, I went inside, peeled off the work clothes, put on some shorts and a T-shirt and wandered around outside.
Late February in Pittsburgh. That ‘Chinese hoax’ is feeling mighty mild if you ask me.
And it’s been like this all month.
It seems that for the last few years, every winter is warmer and with less snow. So far this year, we’ve had a little over five inches of the white stuff for the entire year and nothing approaching a significant snowfall.
“Denmark has had its warmest January on record, with an average daytime high of 5.4 degrees Celsius (42 Fahrenheit). This eclipsed the previous record of exactly 5C (41F).
“In the past 30 years, January has become 1.6 degrees warmer — and this year, the country has had no snow and very few frosts.
“Similarly, Norway had its warmest January day on record with a high of 19C (66F) in the village of Sunndalsora on January 2 — a massive 25 degrees above average.
“Even the Scottish highlands recorded their hottest December day in 70 years. A weather phenomenon known as the Foehn effect caused temperatures to soar to 16.8C (62F) at 03:00 GMT in northern Scotland.
“Elsewhere, Moscow had its warmest December in 133 years, notching up its warmest day for that month in the process with a high of 5.6C (42F) on December 18. December’s weather was so mild that authorities were forced to bring in artificial snow for the festive period.”
Norway’s skiing industry is gasping for air. Ditto Austria, Switzerland and France.
It’s much the same all around the Northern Hemisphere. Meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere, where it is summer, is broiling with record temps throughout.
Up here, trees are budding, flowers are poking up through the soil, and the backyard animals are confused. A plant in my koi pond has continued to thrive underwater during the winter.
Nobody talks much about it. The climate deniers don’t want to bring attention to it and the climate believers are too worried to try to convince them otherwise. A lot of people are pretending this isn’t happening and many people just seem to think this winter is a bit odd, but hey, why not enjoy it?
Gradually, the pressure on the extraction of natural resources and the loss of arable land will push the world’s economies to the brink if the new Coronavirus doesn’t get us there first.
For those that do notice and understand why these things are happening, a new kind of anxiety is finding its way into the offices of therapists: eco- or climate anxiety. And the bad news is, the more you learn about what is happening to our world, the worse the anxiety gets. Perhaps the most comforting thing to me about it, is that I stand a fair chance of being dead before things really get bad.
But then I worry about my adult children.
And then there’s the reinforcing loop of inaction. Despite all we know, despite all the marches and speeches and demands, we are now and will continue to pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we ever have before. In reality, governments and businesses aren’t doing a damn thing and, most likely, won’t.
Look, we got the world we asked for in many ways. For centuries we collectively befouled out planet without a care to long term effects. Only in the 1970s did it seem we learned enough to politely ask the power structure to do something about it. The power structure politely declined while pointing out that all the ‘stuff’ of modern life and rising living standards was predicated on energy extraction and the resulting after-effects of it’s uses.
So, we kicked the can down the road and hoped for technology to save us. Now there is no room to kick the can any longer and it’s likely too late anyway. People scream for solutions without understanding that some issues become intractable and there are no longer any solutions. Real life and the planet are not part of some movie script. Sometimes there are no happy endings. Sometimes we must eat the shit sandwich and it kills us.
So, while you enjoy the early spring with the daffodils in February, the balmy winters and the extended falls, give a thought to the seasons of your youth and remember them fondly, for they are gone forever.
So when one stops on the street to exclaim ‘lovely weather we’re having for this time of year,’ I find it hard to hear anything but a harbinger of doom.
pan·ic1 /ˈpanik/ noun sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior.
January 23, 2020
Five thousand miles from Wuhan, China, our office is abuzz.
A co-worker has now been home for two days with a mysterious ailment.
She’s upset because her doctor will not prescribe antibiotics until he sees how the illness is progressing. And she feels like warmed over horse dung.
The media, doing its usual job of panic-selling, is couching it’s reports on the latest Coronavirus update in quasi-apocalyptic terms. Twitter is doing its job of amplifying the growing panic and feeding us memes of beer bottles.
Of course, as a person with an anxiety condition and PTSD, I’m consuming a steady diet of panic reporting, trying to remain emotionally detached while mentally calculating if I have enough food and bottled water in the house to wait out a global pandemic.
And as I stare at the photos and memes churning from social media I wonder: who eats bats?
But seriously, listen up — as a dedicated follower of all things climate emergency, I can only worry about one global extinction event at a time, OK?
I think I’m getting swollen glands. I’ve just downed a multi-vitamin. Maybe some hot tea?
Nervously, Twitter scientists tell me that the virus can be spread to each other through coughing. Every damn person up here is coughing.
Look buddy, I’ve seen the movie ‘Outbreak’ as well as ‘Twelve Monkeys’ and ‘Contagious,’ and read ‘The Stand.’
It strikes me at that moment: I work in a hospital.
OK, I’m in public affairs but just across the parking lot are sick people. We’re a veritable living stew of reduced resistance.
The world’s attention ricochets sharply from a burning Australia to the far east. In America, we’re distracted from the Kabuki theater of a presidential impeachment. In a world where dystopia is an everyday media experience, everyone suddenly wonders: now what?
In China, they’ve quarantined an entire city of 11 million — no one in or out. Imagine trying that in New York.
If you really want the whole scene in real time, US researchers have created this map. Go on, you know you want to see it. Look at it every 15 minutes for updates on your smart phone.
Sometimes I think America has been so amped up about so many things that we’re just waiting to panic. A few weeks ago, we were going to be at war with Iran until we weren’t. Before that, we were thinking North Korea could launch a nuclear weapon against the West Coast. Events move from one crisis to another and everyone wonders: which one will be the real deal? Which one will be the existential threat?
Again, I must remind myself that each person faces their own fate but so do nations and worlds. At an individual level, I think that by paying constant attention and figuring out the angles, I can avoid catastrophe. I’ve been doing it all my life thanks to a volatile family upbringing.
I know that’s an irrational belief, and yet that’s my coping mechanism and so many others’ as well. We don’t trust anyone, but we read everything. We say we’re comfortable with our fate but want to choose how we’ll meet it. We say we’re not afraid, but deep down inside we are terrified.
And, as if to make us even more frazzled, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists just pushed the hand of the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds from Midnight.
It almost seems as if events are calculated to keep us in continuous agitation. But I’m not paranoid. I think.
Now that climate disaster news has moved into the (American) mainstream media, a few caveats are in order.
First, the studies will be soft-pedaled to a degree. If you would read them, and the raw data associated with them, you would get the whole, horrible message. But newspapers and other media in the US can’t go doomer at this point. The problem, as always, is people believe there are solutions to every problem and demand them in articles about climate change. If a solution is not included, it will be dismissed by most readers.
Second, in general, people don’t want to believe they and their world are doomed. If they actually did buy off on it, wouldn’t you think many people would cash in their assets, quit their jobs, stop buying all the ridiculous shit that fuels our retail economy and essentially, check out on capitalism? Do you understand what that would do to the markets and the fortunes of those titans of industry who depend on the worker bees to produce and consume?
By the time you see total honesty about climate disaster in the media, someone you know personally is probably already starving or dead from a climate disaster. And even then, you’ll have Fox News blaming people for waiting around for a government handout rather than stalking the neighborhood for dogs and cats to shoot. After all, dem’s good eatin’ when you’re starving? Ain’t that right Kilmeade?
In any case, the fact that the major media is allowing progressively more frightful news, however its couched, into the information sphere, is and will continue contributing to more cases of ‘eco-anxiety’ (ow whatever they’re calling it this week), which is the fastest growing field of psychology.
I’ve even brought it up with my quasi-conservative (likes Trump on Facebook) psychologist myself. I don’t quite remember how we got on the subject, but I wanted to back away from it, but she wanted to know more. I really didn’t want to open her eyes (if that’s possible) since she has a nine-year-old daughter, but remembering that she is a pro-life Trump lover, I decided to let curiosity kill the cat.
I gave her two names to Google: Jem Bendell and Guy McPherson. I told her between the two of them, you’ll get a good introduction to, um, this ‘issue.’
I see her again tomorrow. I wonder how far down the rabbit hole she went?
The doomer groups on Facebook that I’m a member have been talking about this more and more: how do we continue on knowing what we know. As you can imagine, the answer is unique to every person. I’ve said that, in a large part, my own mental illness/personality disorder has provided a shield of sorts from emotional crash and burns. Basically, when you’ve had enough trauma in your life, something like the end of the world doesn’t seem so bad, especially when you’re my age. And besides, being something of a misanthrope, I’d like to like long enough to see Jeff Bezos’ drown in his limousine trying to escape a inundated Seattle.
Then I have no problem going with a smile on my face.
But it’s only when I turn to that other side of me – the sensitive nice guy who appreciates art and beauty, that my iron helmet of denial cracks. When I hear a particularly beautiful piece of music or see a painting or remember a scene from a musical it all is too much. We did create so much beauty, well, one part of our community did. And all these wonderful books, movies, plays, paintings and music will be gone, perhaps consigned to the memories of a handpicked group of survivors, ala ‘Fahrenheit 451.’
How could the same race create such beauty and be stupid and greedy enough to destroy the ecosystem that housed these works? It’s enough to cast my soul into a deep melancholy.
Shrinks will be boning up on treating a different kind of grief if they aren’t already. Grief will be the major issue of our time.
The question then becomes: how does one soak in the beauty that still exists without going to pieces? I have no answer to that. All I know is that we only have so much more time to experience the best of humankind and nature. I want to have some memories playing in my head when I go.
In some respects, going to Key West is akin to traveling to the edge of the American universe and taking a good look at the future – and it’s not bright.
I’ll spare you the geography lesson, but suffice it to say we are dealing with an isolated island community that has been pumped up almost solely by tourist dollars. It is also a community that can only be supplied by road (only one), and, to much lesser extent, by air and sea. If Key West had to depend solely on air and sea replenishment, it would probably last about two weeks.
It is hot there in October and very humid too – much too much for me. I had hoped that there would be some moderating in temperature, but there wasn’t. Daytime highs were 87-92 not counting the real feel which was more like 91-99. Nighttime lows were in the mid to high 70s. Humidity generally was around 60% in the daytime hours. Without air conditioning, this place also curls up and dies.
The town itself is fighting a losing war on two fronts – culturally and environmentally. First, culturally. Key West is, if we are to be honest, a giant tourist trap that is fighting a rear guard action to maintain it’s historic charm. The famous Duval Street has, in the past few years, been likened to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street with the exceptions of the lack of world class restaurants and the proliferation of chintzy souvenir shops.
There have been some efforts to rein in the scam artists in the last few years but overall, the street is best taken in during the day unless you want to experience a mile long fraternity drinking party at night with all that goes with it.
The charming parts of the city are holding their own and are
worth a look. Hemingway’s house, in my opinion, is well worth a look. We didn’t
go to Truman’s Winter White House – they can sell their Trump souvenirs to
someone else. There are gardens and wildlife exhibits as well. Basically, the
tourism revolves around water sports and drinking. There are only a few bona
fide land based attractions.
The old homes sit uncomfortably near new development, which is making continued infrastructure demands on the city. Also, you don’t have to set foot in the city proper, as there are a number of all inclusive resorts in Key West that have their own private beaches.
A final point – the city is for the rich. Cheap shacks and beat up trailers are going for $250k and up. Trolley drivers and other residents constantly complain they can’t afford to live in the city. Everybody is living 2-4 to a flat. The one trolley driver admits he and his wife can only afford their modest flat because she is a ‘professional,’ whatever that means.
And the apartments they live in are ugly. All of the new housing in Key West looks brutally out of place. For the sake of the people living in the old town, they can’t be seen from there.
If anything, the cost of living will get worse. Key West’s police cruisers are emblazoned with the words ‘protecting and serving paradise.’ Remembering the lyrics of the Eagles’ song ‘The Last Resort:’ “call some place paradise; kiss it goodbye.” Never truer than referring to Key West.
Strangely enough, perhaps out of sheer necessity for ‘the help,’ Key West has the rare distinction of having both a working Sears and K-Mart in town. I doubt you will find that combination anywhere else in the USA. Outside of the immediate downtown and quaint living spaces, it’s pretty much a resort town strip shopping center. I don’t believe there is one square foot of undeveloped land left in town, but I may be wrong.
This leads to the obvious – the whole thing is
unsustainable. I wonder how many people know it?
Each day I was there, the sea reminded both tourists and residents that it will reclaim their paradise soon. Flowing under the permeable limestone, the sea water (from the Atlantic or Gulf, take your pick) comes up, sometimes violently, from the storm grates in the streets all over town. Some of the streets get a little wet, some turn into un-navigable rivers. The city leaves ‘Street Closed’ signs on most street corners to make shutting down the streets easy and fast. They need to: I saw the street in front of our place go from zero to completely flooded in about 30 minutes.
The National Weather Service issues bulletins about this
phenomenon every day. It looks like this:
Minor coastal flooding is possible in portions of the FloridaKeys. The coastal flooding will be greatest around the times ofhigher high tides in the Middle and Lower Keys, but water levelswill remain high even during low tide along the Bayside of theUpper Keys. See the latest Coastal Hazard Message for additionaldetails.
And the water smells. God, does it smell. If you go to the south beaches as we did on the trolley tour, the guide will point out that these beaches, usually swarmed, are practically empty. Because it smells so bad. Why? Here’s the brief explanation from keywestislandnews.com:
That ubiquitous smell is decaying sargassum, islands of floating, brown sea algae that is piling up along the beaches of Key West, the Florida peninsula, Mexico and other Caribbean islands. Happens every summer when the winds and currents come from the south.
Except October isn’t ‘summer’ and this stuff is coming in by
the tanker load. We had just observed the beach after the city had come by with
some kind of scrapers to take as much of the sargassum off the beaches although
some remained. The water is still full of it – you can tell because it’s brown.
No one wants to swim in it because you will smell like raw sewage the rest of
When the water comes up from the drains, it has the same
smell. It makes ‘enjoying’ paradise rather difficult at times.
But the seagrass, as the locals call it, is a natural occurrence and the rest of Florida’s beaches are stocked with it as well. The real threat is the red tide which was forming off the Gulf Coast in the Tampa area when we were there. From mote.com:
Why are red tides
harmful? Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine
organisms and humans. … The red tide toxins can also accumulate in molluscan
filter-feeders such as oysters and clams, which can lead to neurotoxic
shellfish poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish.
But back to the main point – Key West is barely above sea level and the rising ocean levels will eventually overwhelm the island. Miami is experiencing the same phenomenon, perhaps worse, since they get ocean currents that Key West does not (because of the coral reefs protecting the island). Building sea walls won’t work as the salt water is coming under the foundations, through the porous limestone and up into the city. There is no way to stop it.
Fun fact: Hemingway’s home was built on what may be the most hardened bedrock-like foundation on the island and its walls are three feet thick making it practically hurricane-proof. It’s also built on the highest part of the island. All this guarantees that when the island flood, Hemingway’s home will be the last structure standing. I’m sure he would have liked that.
Another fun fact: all the sand on Key West’s beaches come
from somewhere else. There is no natural sand on the island. And the world
supply of sand is decreasing sharply.
Some other things:
We saw one large iguana on a sidewalk in Key West. When the
state of Florida declared open season on the creatures, Key West really took it
to heart, according to the local guides. The only iguanas we saw outside of
that one big one, were little baby ones here and there. The exterminators had
done a pretty thorough job which kind of saddened me because I wanted to see
more of them.
Burmese pythons and other snakes: we didn’t see any snakes
And the most important:
Insects: imagine this subtropical island surrounded by water
and there are no insects at all.
No June Bugs or ‘Palmetto Bugs,’ ants, mosquitoes or any
other flying pests.
I came ready to do battle in our rented condo. I was
mentally prepared for big bugs. There were none – not even an ant or housefly.
There was no need for DEET spray at all.
At first, it seems OK. Then when you think about it, it gets
creepy. The insect apocalypse is real and is no more evident than at Key West.
The place should be swarming with pests and it’s not. Not at all.
Of course, I could say the same thing for Florida as well
and most of the South. And this is not good.
So Key West may not be the end of the world but you can see
it from here. Despite the time and money we spent to come here and take a look,
I still feel it was worth it, even if the fun quotient was lacking. I did come
back with some nice cigars, so there’s that.
But I couldn’t help feeling sad as I left that so many of
these people who have paid so much to live in this ‘paradise’ will soon see
The whole island is unsustainable and, well, nature bats
Some rich man came and
raped the land, nobody caught ’em,
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes and, Jesus, people bought ’em
And they called it paradise, the place to be,
They watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea
I know it has been awhile since I put fingers to keys. I am
sorry but sometimes I simply cannot write more than a few paragraphs. It’s hard
for me to remember how much I loved writing, especially during my career in
journalism. Now that that’s forever over, it’s tough to write when you know
only a handful of people will ever read it.
I tried writing for Medium, but I don’t know their editors
and I would seriously question their credentials. I know what real editors are
– trained in J school, seasoned on the copy desk and on the beat – with years
of experience to do a good job. If that makes me a dinosaur, I don’t care. If
they’re going to knock down what I write for specious, unknowable reasons, it’s
no better than writing for a blog no one reads. They seem to have a star system
there and I won’t abide by it.
Another example of my increasing fuddy duddy-ism is an article
I read this morning in the NY Times (who did not allow comments on which I
find infuriating). The article was on the crass morons who attempt to video
classical concerts with their phones. This line especially was infuriating:
“Some observers suggest that the restrictions on audience
behavior are snobbish, elitist, or even manifestations of white privilege.”
Well, some observers are wrong. It seems like certain ‘weapon-words’
can now be wielded at any social convention that gets in the way of spoiled
brats who insist their lack of manners of common courtesy outweigh an artist’s
desire to perform and the audience’s right to enjoy, a performance without
being interrupted by these phone-heads.
Yes, I have a smart phone. When attending an event as I did
on Broadway a few months ago, the phone is OFF and in my pocket where it remains for the entire performance. What
the Hell is so difficult about that?
I’m so done with this ‘woke’ shit. It’s weaponized for the
sake of cultural power trips and causing a backlash among the very people who
could be persuaded if they weren’t being blindsided with accusations. I’m
surprised they didn’t say manners was also an example of ‘toxic masculinity.’
Call me what you will, I don’t care anymore. Is it any
wonder I’ve withdrawn from all social organizations and become a semi-hermit? You
can’t get embroiled in this ‘holier than thou’ nonsense if you avoid it all
In the end, none of this will matter in a few years when
we’re fighting for our very survival thanks to climate change plus economic and
political upheaval. A lot of nonsense will fall by the wayside when a head of
lettuce costs $100 and arrives at the grocers once a week.
I also get amazed at people whose reactions to the upcoming
upheaval are to find arable (for now) land somewhere, but it and take up
farming. As anyone who has ever farmed will tell you, it’s not something you
can just learn from reading a ‘dummies guide to farming for societal collapse.’
It is fucking hard work and completely dependent on a climate that is going to
turn very inhospitable to American staple crops in a few years. Your crops will
also have to be guarded 24-7 for obvious reasons.
But knock yourselves out. Me? I’m buying freeze dried food
that lasts 25 years. I don’t expect to last 25 years.
I’m about to embark on what the odds say will be my last
grand vacation – a road trip to Key West. I plan on making it a semi-travelogue
to chronicle the effects of climate change on the Southern states, as well as
the, um, cultural uniqueness of the South.
There will be much to video as the South has now been hit
with a flash drought and Florida itself is overrun with giant snakes, iguanas
falling from trees and apex predator mosquitos. Key West itself is suffering
from the same phenomenon afflicting Miami – sea water is seeping through the
limestone the city sits on and coming up through the sewers and drains. The
entire area along the Atlantic coast to the Keys is living on borrowed time,
hence I have named this the ‘Say Goodbye to Florida Tour.’
It has also caused the usual nostalgia I get when
replicating (somewhat) family vacations from the 70s and previous trips to
visit a friend living in Florida in the 90s. I expect to find a totally
different state now.
The family vacations were on the other side of the state –
to what was a sleepy hamlet named Holiday, about 15 miles north of St.
Petersburg. It’s now a typical Tampa Bay area suburb. I recently Google street
searched where my grandparents (whom we visited in 1971 and ’72) lived and
found the once pristine neighborhood is now shabby and run-down.
The vacations were some of the rarer fond memories of my
childhood. I used to count down the days until we left and found the idea of
exploring unknown lands exciting. In the early 70s, not all of I-75 was
complete through Tennessee, so you have to get off the interstate south of
Knoxville for a 30-mile trip down US 11. The road would be lined with desperate
tourist shops displaying large Confederate flag bath towels and other such
things. I say desperate, because these merchants knew once the interstate was
finished, so were they.
And we’d carefully make our way through Lenoir City, mindful
of the speed traps (or ‘Yankee traps’ as they were known then) as we made our
way through scenes which had not changed much since the 50s.
So much about travel, even by car, has changed. My father
would have been blown away by GPS maps that talk to you so my mother would not
have to fumble with the map and then give it to me since I was a far better
navigator than her. TripTiks from AAA helped as they were small and compact,
told you a little about the terrain you were covering (“traverses rolling hills
and pecan farms. . .”) and also marked where the known Yankee traps were
He would also be amazed that the $150 he took in cash for
the entire trip in 1971 would buy him one night in a hotel today. And who needs
cash (or traveler’s checks later on) anymore when everyone takes plastic debit
and credit cards? Wave the magic phone at a gas pump to pay for gas or at many
other places as well. Dad would thought he’d stepped into Buck Rogers
territory. But I remember how impossible it was to get a BankAmericard (Visa)
or MasterCard (Master Charge) back in the day. Dad had worked for Sears for a
decade and couldn’t even get approved for one of their charge cards.
So, you had to carry cash or traveler’s checks.
If you broke down, there was no Onstar or quick cell phone
call to AAA or your car makers’ travel program or State Farm’s roadside service
or any of that. You waited for a cop or started hiking to the next
intersection’s gas station for a tow. It was a harrowing experience and one we
don’t even think about any more.
Road side rest areas of the early 70s were absolutely
primitive by todays standards. Here and there you still found pit toilets! It
was a real hit or miss in many states and finding a clean restroom was
something you’d note for the return trip. Rarely were rest area and gas station
restrooms up to the standards of your average Pennsylvania or Ohio turnpike
rest areas of today.
Travelling the South, you’d look for Stuckey’s. Stuckey’s
are still around, sort of, never a stand alone store any more but paired with a
fast food/gas station. They were bought and sold over and over a long time ago
so those are not the Stuckey’s old people like me would remember. They had a
distinctive roof, pristine, air-conditioned interiors, clean restrooms, lots of
pop and snacks and their famous pecan rolls. You noted them on the map for
sure. There were McDonald’s but a low fewer than today. What was in season were
the old-style family restaurants where chicken fried steak and cheeseburgers
were always on the menu.
It’s so easy now. Your car’s computer tells you if there’s
to be any breakdowns (usually) and Google maps or Siri will tell you where the
nearest gas, food or anything you want is. Modern technology has taken a lot of
the adventure out of vacation travel, but this is one instance I won’t be
counted as a fuddy-duddy. I much rather appreciate the security of the smart
phone on trips even though I do miss the mom and pop roadside attractions of
As for the cultural uniqueness of the South, I am putting a
few magnetic bumper stickers on my car as magical talisman to make my trip
safer. Nowadays, the big worry traveling, especially as a Yankee in the South,
is road rage caused by Bubba taking personal offense at the Hillary Clinton
2016 bumper sticker you never quite got around to peeling off. You can see what
I did in my latest You Tube video and follow the travelogue on the Facebook
So, there you have it – a new column where I will probably lose any readers I may have picked up from the South or offended Millennial liberals of whom this Hubert Humphrey/Scoop Jackson Democrat apparently has little left in common.