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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

After Whistler: Arrangement in Grey & Black #61


Yesterday was my 61st birthday. As usual, in anticipation, I slept badly and moped about. Time passes glacially in these days, and I mean glacially as in before climate change was a hoax.

Really, bigly, slowly.

I turn off the radio when I wake, for the first time since the Great Jingo Revival that bought America the Middle East in 2003. I have only vomited in bed twice: once in 1963, and in hospital in 2001. But if I wake to hear that Sarah Palin is to be head of the patent and trademark office, I will drown in last night’s noodles.

Dreary, dark days are the norm for we Decemberists. And rolling birthdays over into Christmas, lest we seem like double-dippers. Eventually one reaches the age when even socks stop being gifted.

I arrived at Highsmith Memorial Hospital in Fayetteville, North Carolina, at 1.43 p.m., on another Tuesday, eleven presidents ago, after a long, tardily-begun, delivery.

My parents had it in mind I was to be born on my father’s birthday, December 9. When I was not, their disappointment knew few bounds or limits of retelling. It was the sort of story parents drag out for decades, thinking it endearing, along with how I made their lives a misery for six months of colic, as if I was just feeling snide over not being let to sit up for the Jack Paar show.

My arrival delayed Margaret and Tommy’s chance to see The Man With the Golden Arm, the hot movie of 12/13/55. Never fans of science fiction, they would have passed on seeing both Tarantula and The Day The World Ended, also drawing the kids to the theaters that week (they were still not keen on the genre a few years later, when I discovered them on Sunrise Theater on WRAL-TV at 0-dark-thirty Saturday mornings).

In regular rotation on the car radio, en route to the hospital, was Rock Around the Clock, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, Meet Me on the Corner, Autumn Leaves, and Winifred Atwell’s classic, Let’s Have A Ding-Dong.

The day I was born, the first commercial jet airplane to land in America, the DeHavilland Comet 3, stopped to refuel in Hawaii on an around the world tour. It was the feast day of St Lucy among Catholics and television comedy fans.

I have two of the best-selling books of that week, both in nice first editions: Andersonville and Marjorie Morningstar. Make me an offer.

People look back on those days with what the new president calls “extreeeeeem” fondness.

American was great then. Real men wore fedoras. Baseball players wore baseball caps. They bore team logos, nothing more. You didn’t pay the president $150 for one to hang on your Holiday Christmas, dammit!- Tree.

Mostly what I remember of my earliest childhood is that Americans were obsessed by Communists, and their threat to our greatness.

They were everywhere. Though the highwater mark of the Red Scare predated my arrival by a year, when Senator Joe McCarthy was censured for a 36-day televised circus investigation and four years of brandishing non-existent lists of Reds and exposing their influence everywhere, from the US State Department to the smallest village library’s card catalogue, the talk, in church, in the shops, on the TV and radio, was of little else.

The US Flag Code became scripture. “In God We Trust” was mandated on all US money in 1956. Ostentatious displays of Christianism were planted everywhere, most notably, in the wake of the remake of The Ten Commandments. As an article reminds me,

In 1956, [director Cecil B. DeMille, doing a remake of his film, The Ten Commandments], caught wind of an initiative by a Minnesota judge affiliated with the Fraternal Order of Eagles, E.J. Ruegemer, to place thousands of paper copies of the Ten Commandments in juvenile courtrooms to reduce delinquency rates. Realizing the potential for a massive publicity campaign, DeMille persuaded Paramount Pictures to fund the creation of large, granite copies of the Decalogue.

...Charlton Heston himself officiated at the Decalogue dedication ceremony in Dunseith, N.D., with more than 5,000 fans, and Yul Brynner, who played Pharaoh for DeMille, attended a similar event in Milwaukee in 1957 to coincide with the premiere of “The Ten Commandments” in that city.

Impressed by the success of the Ten Commandments campaign, the Eagles continued to donate the monoliths to towns around the country until 1985, and over the course of three decades nearly 150 monuments were erected.

Marching hand-in-hand with opponents of Americanism in the creepy shadowlands, and under beds across the continent,

both homosexuals and communist party members were seen as subversive elements in American society who all shared the same ideals of antitheism, rejection of bourgeois culture and middle-class morality, lack of conformity; they were scheming and manipulative and, most importantly, would put their own agendas above others in the eyes of the general population.

McCarthy also associated homosexuality and communism as "threats to the 'American way of life'." Homosexuality was directly linked to security concerns, and more government employees were dismissed because of their homosexual sexual orientation than because they were left-leaning or communist. George Chauncey noted that, "The specter of the invisible homosexual, like that of the invisible communist, haunted Cold War America," and homosexuality (and by implication homosexuals themselves) were constantly referred to not only as a disease, but also as an invasion, like the perceived danger of communism and subversives.

Senator Kenneth Wherry similarly attempted to invoke a connection between homosexuality and anti-nationalism. He said in an interview with Max Lerner that "You can't hardly separate homosexuals from subversives." Later in that same interview, he drew the line between patriotic Americans and gay men: "But look Lerner, we're both Americans, aren't we? I say, let's get these fellows [closeted gay men in government positions] out of the government.”

Wherry’s most remembered, and succinct, contribution to Red Scare talk was his remark to some reporters, “If you want to be against McCarthy, boys, you've got to be either a communist or a cocksucker."

[Editorial note: I can write such things now. The president-elect has declared every manner of vulgarity “harmless locker room talk”, and my governor has told me Mr Trump is not only “the best of America” but a role model for the nation’s young’uns. See also Hillary Clinton t-shirts, below.]

McCarthy’s trial balloon was first inflated by Senator Clyde R. Hoey, who from 1949-1952 investigated "the employment of homosexuals in the Federal workforce” and concluded that “all of the government's intelligence agencies are in complete agreement that sex perverts in Government constitute security risks."

The Hoey investigation- chaired by a native still revered in Shelby, North Carolina, where I grew up- was a useful, if short-lived cudgel for the newly-elected McCarthy, but who dropped the gay angle after rumors he was himself what Senator Everett Dirksen called one of “the lavender lads” surfaced in 1952. He hastily married an office assistant the next year, at forty-five), leaving to to others happy to carry on the fight in the smarmier depths of the gutter.

Among the panic’s effects was the dismissal of over five thousand federal employees, contractors, and military service members, and the suicide of a US Senator being blackmailed by several Republican colleagues to retire, hoping to swing Senate control to the GOP (his son had been arrested for solicitation; among the blackmailers was South Dakota’s Karl Mundt, who said of one of President Nixon’s Supreme Court nominations, “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?”).

Although a 1957 government report found the Hoey Committee report's conclusions nothing but, well, hooey, it insisted on retention of stringent anti-homosexual policies because "homosexuality is wrong, it is evil, and it is to be branded as such." The Crittenden Report remained secret until 1976, but somehow, word got out.

It took until I was eighteen years old for the American medical establishment to determine homosexuality is not a mental disorder, and until 2003 to stop being defined as a felony (despite Supreme Court rulings voiding them, thirteen state’s criminal laws on the subject remain on the books: North and South Carolina’s among them).

The executive order banning government service was repealed in 1995 and replaced by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which, in turn, was finally repealed in 2011 after another 13,650 discharges. It remains a commitment of the Republican Party to restore the ban.

An attempt by the City of Charlotte to protect me from sexual orientation-driven discrimination was barred by the General Assembly of North Carolina earlier this year (had it not been overturned, I would have enjoyed those protections only in part of my yard, through which the city limit passes).

The state law against discrimination was rewritten to include me out, as malaprop-prone movie mogul Sam Goldwyn used to say, and to conform to the equally exclusive federal law.

Governor Pat McCrory, who made the law the centerpiece of his re-election campaign in 2016, issued an executive order excepting LGBT state employees from some provisions of the law, and only as it relates to their employment. The governor assured the public this shows he hasn’t a discriminatory bone in him. It reminded me, mostly, of a comment by the 1921 Nobel laureate in literature, Anatole France:

The poor have to labor in the face of the majestic equality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

At 61, my rights hang from a thin sheet of court decisions and executive orders, all of which the incoming presidential administration has promised- to hundreds of evangelicals summoned to Orthanc on Fifth Avenue- to overturn.

Given the attendance of three Republican candidates for president at a 2016 Iowa conference organized by a minister who called, repeatedly, and in their presence, for LGBT Americans to be summarily executed, one may assume recriminalization is also on the GOP’s bucket list.

Having been largely a stranger to the law, and a threat to decency and democracy, most of my life, the new chill in the air is regrettable to see return, but not unfamiliar.

It is not reassuring, however, knowing that the president-elect’s most favorable comments on my rights in my native land are that he will protect me from being executed by radical Muslim terrorists. At the hands of my fellow Americans, I seem to be fair game in ways not in play before.

I see in the public prints, too, that my new masters in Washington plan to revoke Medicaid before I become eligible for it next December, pull my Social Security retirement age further into the future, and restore me to uninsurability as I reach the threshold of old age.

Public policy anxieties aside and presidential appointments aside, today was as uneventful as past birthdays.

Nothing happened. No one was here.

I got the pro forma card in the mail from one of my two siblings. I got a lot of pro forma “Happy Birthdays” from people on Facebook, most of whom I have never met, and who were prompted by The Great Algorithm. It was a nice gesture, though, if akin to aspirants in one of Mr Trump’s beauty contests expressing enthusiasm for world peace. Today Facebook sent me a little GIF- a best of reel of the half dozen who didn't type "happy birthday".

I am 22,281 days into whatever remains of my allotted span, and 754 full moons.

61, I am assured, is the new 62, or something like that. The writer Norah Ephron expressed the ambivalence I feel:

I survived turning 60, I was not thrilled to turn 61, I was less thrilled to turn 62, I didn't much like being 63, I loathed being 64, and I will hate being 65. I don't let on about such things in person; in person, I am cheerful and Pollyanna-ish. But the honest truth is that it's sad to be over 60.

Ephron died in 2012, at 71.

A year ago, on Facebook, the writer Anne Lamott announced,

I am going to be 61 years old in 48 hours. Wow. I thought i was only forty-seven, but looking over the paperwork, I see that I was born in 1954. My inside self does not have an age, although can't help mentioning as an aside that it might have been useful had I not followed the Skin Care rules of the sixties, ie to get as much sun as possible, while slathered in baby oil. (My sober friend Paul O said, at eighty, that he felt like a young man who had something wrong with him.). Anyway, I thought I might take the opportunity to write down every single thing I know, as of today.

She offered Fourteen Points, all reasonably useful and none as hortatory and didactic as those of President Wilson a century ago (“Fourteen? The good Lord had only ten,” responded the war-weary French premier, Clemenceau). I quoted them in last year’s long, tedious, Boomerly self-absorbed mediation on turning sixty.

A world of discounts, I see and hear, beckons- all dependent on my going places to spend money- even as the ascendant Republicans announce, once a week, benefits I have paid into for decades that they will snatch up just as I get in sight of getting some ROI.

AARP assures me they can fill the gap: they invited me to join, twice, this year. They offered to throw in a plastic tote bag I can carry everywhere to announce, “I’m old!”

According to the television ads, I will need a bag, in which to carry drugs I cannot afford, and incontinence products shipped to my home in unmarked packages.

I have seen AARP’s magazine. It reminds me of when I subscribed to Southern Living, where only happy straight couples have good taste and only the rarest handsome young bachelor appears to show off the starter bungalow he has done up to perfection, and will move on from as soon as he meets the right girl.

I do not have anyone to hold hands with in adjoining bathtubs, nor four or five male friends with whom to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway in a vintage convertible, laughing merrily.

After a very dry year in the rare book business, I saw glimmers of hope at year’s end. It focuses my mind wonderfully to hear the Wall Streeters moving to DC explain how I am going to thrive in the new Opportunity Society.

They are pledged to help me save to pay for my own health care by limiting where I can spend my money with the First Amendment Defense Act. Once signed into law, it will allow you to 86 me from your shop or restaurant or apartment or job, because Jesus.

What I can’t spend, I can save to pay to insurers who are already planning how to not fill the gap created by repealing but not replacing.

I am grateful for my continuing good health, as I am in for trouble if I get sick. I gather, from what I hear from our new masters, I still have the chance, under unleashed capitalism, to make a billion dollars and buy myself a hospital, out the back door of which I can dump all manner of waste except that which is fetal.

Those, thanks for the mightiness of the funeral lobby, get the whole casket and burial routine under Texas law, and where goes Texas, so go the attorneys general of 23 other states.

Otherwise, I am at the mercy of my legislators, lest they hear- via the GOP law factory ALEC- of Michigan and Florida bills to make it legal for doctors, nurses and EMTs to let people die they think might be gay, and decide we need laws like that in the Tar Heel State.

Given their tendencies to mischief- finding their way through to new abortion restrictions in a 2013 motorcycle safety bill, passing HB2 in a day- such things are entirely possible in Raleigh. It is of little comfort to know that Governor McCrory has summoned the North Carolina General Assembly into special session on my birthday, there to deal with hurricane and wildfire relief, and “whatever else is on your minds.”

A Republican member of Congress, Sam Johnson of the Republic of Crazy- which markets itself as “Texas”- has unveiled a new plan to “save” Social Security by teaching more old people how to live on ketchup.

Congressman Johnson is 86. He figures if others were as ambitious and gerrymandered as he, they, too, could be members of the world’s most exclusive assisted living facility, the US Congress.

Still and all, I count my blessings, waking up 61. I didn’t think I’d see 35 during the plague years of the 1980s and ‘90s.

Many people have had to make do with 61 years, starting with Gwen Ifill, whose smile and insight  I miss on The News Hour every night, and on Washington Week in review on Fridays.

Those who did more in 61 than I will do in 200,000 and 61 years include James Fennimore Cooper, Ernest Hemingway, the singer Leadbelly, George Eliot, Sir Walter Scott (responsible for much bad art and architecture), Sergei Prokofiev, Gregor Mendel, Mussolini, Peter Lawford (well, OK, so not everyone made the best use of his time), and Jeremy Brett, who retired the trophy as Sherlock Holmes.

Others, blessed with longer stays, also departed this year: two aunts and an uncle, all in their 80s, shuffled off the mortal coil. One of my favorite high school teachers, who had no idea who I was when I last saw her in 2008, I nevertheless mourned. She wasn’t demented, I just didn’t apparently, make much of an impression. My mother, who is demented, turned 86 this year, her last coherent thoughts of me that my existence embarrassed her.

My friend Jeff Shiver, who was about to go into the book business with me when some faster characters talked him into returning to the louche world of coastal bar and restaurant work, was murdered by his housemates over money last fall in Charleston. He was 41.

I joke, in my brittle, bleak manner. But I remember all the friends who did not make it to 61. They are frozen in photo albums.

In other necrological news, the American CIA celebrated the success of its final anti-Fidel Castro plot: just waiting until he died, and claiming the win.

The grand old man of Communism in the Caribbees, who checked out at 90, spent his last decade muttering to himself (debating which tracksuit to wear to meet the next Pope who dropped by to redeem some of Fidel’s infidels), cosseted by the improbably good health care system he created for those not among the hundreds of thousands he jailed and murdered, and the millions he drove out of the country.

Castro was cremated, and his ashes put on public display to all willing to sign a pledge to support the Communist state, at least until his brother and successor head of state, Raoul ( a stripling of 85), finds a new sugar daddy to replace the USSR and Venezuela as Propper-Upper of The People.

He decreed that there be no other monuments or stuff named for him. He knew his brand value.

I am hoping to welcome back to our videoconferences my bookselling mentor, Werner Hindrichs, felled by a stroke in October. His support and friendship, and that of his family, has meant much, and kept me connected to the world.

Last year, on turing 60, I reported on new technology that will turn my ashes into a diamond my heirs can sell off.

This year, reported, I can have my cremains- as the funeral-industrial complex calls them- turned into a coffee mug my heirs can take to work, sipping from while listening to John Boy & Billy, where someone else can then steal it.

As I mentioned, I  was sure I’d be dead by 35, so how to fill the quarter century since has been a puzzle. Colonel Sanders started KFC at my age. Women in China and the UK filled the lacunae looming before them by giving birth at 61 during ‘16.

This year, Mick Jagger fathered a kid at 73. So far, the height of parental irresponsibility, in my book, remains the novelist Saul Bellow, who fathered one at 84 and wished the confused brat well as he died, at 89.

Actor Kelsey Grammer, who upholds Republican family values in Hollywood-by-the-Sodom, fathered his seventh child this year. He is 61, too.

Grammer’s brood mare was the latest of a string of hairdressers and cocktail waitresses- some of whom he married- with whom he upholds the value of traditional marriage.

“According to People” -and where else would we go for the skinny?- “the couple said in a joint statement that the name Auden was ‘chosen to honour the great poet W.H. Auden, and James [was] after another great poet and singer James Taylor.’”

Grammer’s choice of names is inexplicable, given his politics. As Alan Jacobs wrote, in 2001 in First Things, the magazine of the American conservative mandarinate:

Why are Christians so indifferent to Auden? ...Auden is almost completely neglected. This state of affairs bears reflection.

The first problem is an obvious one: throughout Auden’s life he was a practicing homosexual...The Christian world has its hierarchy of sins, and may be right in its judgments. But it is singularly unfortunate that, even if we have judged Auden’s sins rightly, we should allow that judgment to stand in the way of learning from the wisdom contained in his writings.

Me? I just admire Auden’s work. That, and his bracing response to Luke Chapter 18-style Pharisees who asked if he was really a Christian: “I’m trying to be.”

Christianists, I read, are stoked these days. 81% of them turned out to elect as our 45th president a man who says his personal Vietnam was not getting a sexually-transmitted disease in the 1970s and ‘80s, and that he prefers being given Purple Hearts by deluded old men who actually earned them to having risked his hair in war himself.

(Bristol Palin was so excited by the the advent of The Great Cheeto, she decided to have a child in wedlock for a change. It is for such people that the incoming president has sworn to remake the Supreme Court to revoke marriage equality. God ordained it).

After so many decades of judgmentalist jabber about louche leftists, American religious zealots have decided to it all hang out. “If it feels good, do it”, is a slogan with which they have finally made peace, although the variant, “to somebody else, hard” is gaining traction. Stand for good Christian values, like wearing t-shirts boasting, “HILLARY IS A CUNT” to rallies where the candidate of your choice urges you to act on your most godly instincts by beating someone up.

Then come home and post, on Franklin Graham’s Facebook page, how you know your candidate is lying to you but, in doing so, he says what you think.

Then stand up for your beliefs, anonymously, as someone in my home town of Shelby, North Carolina did last month:

shelby faggots.jpg

Shelbians turned out, with the rest of Cleveland County voters, to give North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory the highest winning percentage of his three runs for the office, over 62%.

They also posted a solid 60% for Buck Newton, the HB2 enthusiast who pledged he would, as attorney general, “keep North Carolina straight.”

And they re-elected another local, NC House Speaker Tim Moore- unopposed- who promised to keep HB2 on the books until all the gays give up and go.

Me? I’m not sure Fayettevillians believe I belong there, either. All their legislators voted for HB2, though several later admitted they had no idea what it would do, it was just that they heard so much from the churches. One, recently appointed to his seat and keen to keep it, was solomonic. He voted for it, then said he realized it goes against everything he believes, and apologized, promising to work tirelessly to repeal it as only a Democrat in a House that is over ⅗ Republican can tirelessly- and pointlessly- do.

Robert Frost did not have The Gays in mind when he wrote, “Home is where when you have to go there, they have to let you in.”

The Charlotte Business Journal reported in October, “I need to let you know this is not just a Charlotte debate,” [Governor McCrory] said when asked about HB2. “As governor now, not as a former mayor, I need to tell you, if you think this is only a Charlotte issue, you need to think (about) what people are saying about it 20 miles outside of Charlotte.”

“McCrory listed the names of several smaller cities — Shelby, Lincolnton and Wadesboro — as examples of places where support for HB2 runs much stronger.”

Pat McCrory lost Mecklenburg County, where we both live, by 150,000 votes in November. He finally conceded this month, after a 52-county smear campaign against the state election board whose Republican majority he appointed, the county boards whose Republican majorities his state elections board appointed, and randomly-chosen voters he decided to call felons to try to pull down enough votes to win another term. One was a 100-year-old World War II veteran in a nursing home.

He then went to kiss the ring at Trump Tower. He is rumored to be the next Michael Brown, destined for FEMA after his adept media appearances in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Governors all have Official Natural Disaster Wardrobes they love to wear, and had the storm come a week later, Pat McCrory’d be governor for four more years.

Gerrymandered, veto-proof GOP majorities in both houses of the General Assembly survive McCrory, astonished that a federal appeals court has dared them to come up with fair voting districts for a change, and has cut their terms by a year by ordering a do-over in November 2017, to make its point.

Observers anticipate the same response next year as this, when state senator Bob Rucho said this year, when the same court made him redraw his racially-discriminatory congressional district maps, “OK, we’ll redo them to bury Democrats.”

In November, the Party of No got 50% of the vote but 10 of 13 North Carolina congressional seats, elevating Congresswoman Virginia Foxx- who co-wrote the most anti-LGBT Republican Party platform in history, and who says the murder of Matthew Shepard was a hoax, to a committee chairmanship from which she promises to reduce public education to a ghetto for the ineducable, which she defines as other than herself, and otherwise mostly black.

The one of their own the GOP drummed out in the primary- Renee Ellmers- was the first congresscritter to win Mr Trump’s endorsement. She has wormed her way into his transition team and announced plans to set up shop as a DC lobbyist. You don’t have to pretend for term limits on K Street.

For the foreseeable future HB2 remains on the books in North Carolina even though the new governor, Roy Cooper, says he wants it repealed.

State Senate President Phil Berger told Cooper to go pound sand. Berger is excited there are more tax burdens he can shift away from the wealthy in 2017, and keen to launch his university-within-the-University of North Carolina, a new think tank where peer review is vouchsafing how much money you’ve given the GOP. He calls it “The Collaboratory.”

This development alarms the state’s other, privately-funded conservative think tank for the ignorant (“We think, therefore, we’re a tank”), Civitas Institute. Founded by a dime-store mogul who holds the mortgage on the General Assembly’s majority party, Civitas spent 2016 screaming that democracy in North Carolina was imperiled by marauding bands of college students, Negroes and the dead, all itching to cast fraudulent ballots everywhere.

After the election, Civitas filed suit to throw out 9,000 same-day registered votes and save the day for Pat McCrory. The elections board, beset by McCrory’s appeals and demands and voter-libels, asked for money to hire some extra lawyers for the Civitas suit.

McCrory, who has a personal, parallel AG’s office of DC GOP lawyers on retainer to defend HB2 and the state’s various election-suppression laws- said no. In the end, every audit and recount McCrory demanded just upped Cooper’s total until finally he caved- sort of:

mccrory voter fraud..jpg

But McCrory’s legacy will slink on after he returns home to Myers Park and the shunning he complained of from his friends in October.

HB2 continues to protect the safety of women who want to pee in in public buildings by suppressing the minimum wage for every worker in the state, and gladdens the heart of the incoming secretary of labor, who argues that raising it would cost jobs, forcing him to fire Hardee’s burger slingers and replacing them with robots who work for occasional oiling, though not from the french fries vat.

HB2 also safeguards the urinary privacy of little old ladies, bubbas and children worried that they might not be able to bar me from shopping alongside them in stores, eating near them in restaurants, working with them, or living close to them.

HB2 was amended, midsummer, to restore my right to seek redress in state courts for discrimination HB2 makes legal, but, to make the Chamber of Commerce happy the General Assembly cut the statute of limitations on the few discrimination claims left from three years to one. So I can sue in state court, except for their having taken away any rights for me to complain have been violated, and I have to be quick about it.

The number of corporate and artistic HB2 boycotters has trailed off. Deutsche Bank, which loudly canned plans to expand here in, ended the year with news it has held onto its state incentives cash and plans to sneak back in later, when no one is looking (the state commerce secretary, John Skvarla, demanded the return of a commemorative wooden bowl from PayPal, the first of the corporate walkaways, and sold it at auction. He later said he wished he’d kept it for display in the state historical museum).

The San Francisco Symphony cancelled two concerts at UNC-Chapel Hill set for next spring, over HB2.

Republicans yawned. Congressman Mark Meadows, a Baptist preacher, called Bruce Springsteen a bully for cancelling last spring, and Governor McCrory had to back down from a lie he told about it, claiming no one had bought any tickets for what turned out to be a quite sold-out house.

Meadows said his music groupie urges would shift to the Canadian freak show, Justin (Eggplant) Bieber, whose penchant for flopping his copious willie around for the paparazzi is rather non-SoBap.

I will not add photos, but you can look them up (in a famous tweet, his father proudly called him a chip off the old penis).

Anyway, no one cares about the San Francisco Symphony: fudge packers, the lot of them, from the conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, right down to the triangle player (who ain’t, you can rest assured, coming to do research on any sort of triangles).

Least of all, Bush 2 courtier Margaret Spellings. Called up by the GOP-controlled Board of Governors to replace UNC president Tom Ross- whom they praised as a fine leader just before firing him for not being a Republican- Spellings has found HB2 the perfect cover for transforming the university system into a place where people talk about educational outcomes and “value propositions” while everyone is looking the other way.

“I'm not an academic. I'm not a teacher or a researcher. I'm someone who understands public policy-making. I understand advocacy. I understand how to bring people together around a shared mission, and I have a track record of doing that in my career," she said as she began firing career public servants to make room, and payroll, for “strategists.”

Meantime, under Governor McCrory’s “Carolina Comeback” and HB2, Wal-Mart remains North Carolina’s largest employer, offering the tenth-most-populous state’s residents the thrill of rock-bottom prices made possible by the awful trade deals the new president has pledged to end, and the adrenaline rush of getting away from the store without being robbed and having your car stolen.

That’s how Governor McCrory went to Robeson County to explain how a new, 56-job fizzy drinks warehouse advances the state’s world-class rep as a jobs creator, while insisting that the loss, to HB2, of seven hundred $100,000 a year tech jobs to Richmond was of no consequence whatever.

In the rural counties that rule North Carolina, a steady supply of RC Cola trumps all.

A Virginia newspaper named Governor McCrory that state’s chief economic development officer for 2016.

What makes the events of my sixtieth year so fascinating is the speed with which they are driving public policy and social attitudes full circle. America seems intent on driving, pell-mell, backwards in time to the beginnings of the interstate highway system.

Religious enthusiasm has replaced more outright, and outre’ forms of retrograde thought, like overt racism. Where once we closed schools to avoid integrating them, now we champion private charter schools and school vouchers, locking the poorest students and lowest-paid teachers into a death spiral that ends in public schools being declared “failed” and closed.

Under President Eisenhower, Secretary of Defense Charlie Wilson was asked, at his confirmation hearing, if he could make a decision adverse to the interests of General Motors. Wilson answered affirmatively but added that he could not conceive of such a situation “because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”

Our next president has ransacked his binders full of billionaires to fill his cabinet, led by a man who, after spending forty-one years drilling holes in the earth to extract money until it is all gone, has been made secretary of state as a retirement present.

Rex Tillerson, who will leave Exxon with $218 million in stock, a $70 million retirement plan and whatever he has saved from his $20-40 million annual salary, was head of a company so big it ranks as the 41st largest economy among the nations of the world and hires former government officials to help formulate its own foreign policy. Mr Tillerson is, among his many honors, a holder of the Russian Federation’s Order of Friendship, conferred by President Putin three years ago.

Mr Trump seems to be drawn to the model of President Reagan’s cabinet: a charmingly vicious assortment of ideologues and zanies at the top, with the day-to-day of assistant secretaryships doled out to industry lickspittles and grifters, many of whom ended up in jail. Surely Mr Tillerson is the most inspired choice at State since Mr Reagan elevated Nixon henchman Alexander Haig; next to Interior Secretary James Watt, Cathy McMorris Rodgers Congressman Ryan Zinke offers all the urge to despoil with none of the LDS self-righteousness of the great creationist (remember his Doonesury prediction that Jesus would call us home in Fiscal Year 1985?).

Ben Carson is the new Sam Pierce, Reagan’s HUD secretary, a man so commanding in office that after seven years, Reagan mistook him for a mayor.

But surely, Rick Perry- elevated to the energy department he forgot he wanted to abolish eight years ago- is the most Panglossian nominee since Reagan raised an amiable dentist and accidental governor of South Carolina, James Edwards, to regulate the nuclear power industry (“I understand x-rays: I do teeth all the time”).

After all, Perry did, after flaming out his second campaign for president to Mr Trump, work as a lobbyist for a prepaid dental consortium that was also his biggest campaign donor.

Nor can one gainsay Perry’s willingness to sacrifice for yet another government pension, after he declared, on Dancing With the Stars’ holiday show, that being onstage with Vanilla Ice was the best thing ever. Rubber-stamping pipeline routes and fracking permits for four years is, surely, a step down for a man whose career as a stunt dancer was scarcely better than that as a candidate.

rick perry dancing with the stars.jpg

(My money was on Perry to the National Endowment for the Arts).

During Mr Trump’s regular campaign rallies in North Carolina, the credulous expressed not only their desire that he start jailing political opponents, but that he make good on the fantasies that he will bring back long-shuttered textile plants in towns like Kannapolis and Raeford and Gastonia: the one-time hosts to corporations like Cone Mills and Burlington Industries, all scooped up, consolidated, and shipped overseas by Wilbur Ross, the billionaire who helped Mr Trump manage his casino bankruptcies and will shortly become secretary of commerce.

The rest of the cabinet seems destined to be filled out by more moguls who will be given departments to dismantle in the service of their business interests, and generals, who, seeing a nail, reach for a nuclear weapon.

After denouncing his election opponent as corrupt, inter alia, for taking jaw-droppingly large speaking fees from the House of Goldman Sachs, the new president is clearing out its C-Suite execs- who signed those jaw-dropping checks- to run the economy.

Apparently, “draining the swamp,” means turning it into a very expensive, and exclusive, Trump-branded resort surrounding a luxe koi pond full of big, fat, cosseted fish who scarf up tax dollars all day long.

Baffling times, these. I agree, more and more, with H.L. Mencken, who declared,

The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.

Our new president will be history’s oldest, and already he has dismissed the idea of sitting through intelligence briefings where they tell him the same thing, in the same words, every day for eight years. Whether that scenario involves elections in 2020, I have no idea.

If, I was Ivanka, though, I’d be worried. By the time President Trump rounds on the end of his second term, and his 80th birthday, she is so not gonna be a sweet piece of ass any more.

Work with me: I am trying to adapt to the new order of things. The president-elect and I are both Presbyterians, but I can’t place him, for the life of me, as either PCA or PCUSA.

Trying to find my bearings, I feel a bit like Ellen DeGeneres’ grandmother:

She started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the heck she is.

So, as Jeff Probst tells the losers of Survivor competitions, “I got nothin’ for ya.”

No advice. No uplifting closing thoughts. I see a bleaker future than I did at sixty, one darker with danger and worry. This is a new experience for me, and I do not have good ideas for addressing it, or avoiding it. Neither do I see, or hear from, many who care. Fred Allen, the radio comedian, kept a postcard to send to people who wrote in with complaints about the show:

Dear Sir/Madam: You may/may not be right.

As Edward R. Murrow closed his broadcasts, “Good night. And good luck.”

You may/may not be right.

1 comment:

  1. I read it. I read all of it. I don't disagree but now I need an aspirin or two - and maybe a razor blade for the resultant suicidal depression. Jaysus!

    Old Jill in N.C.