Talking Heads

To anyone who is bewildered by the hyper-nationalism, anti-immigrant stances, and vicious sexual politics of our present-day ultra right-wing politicians, I have a suggestion.

There is a book by William L. Shiner that was published in 1960 and is entitled The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Now before you go all nubba on me with cries of “There he goes with the Nazi comparisons again,” that is not what I am saying at all. What I am saying is that the book details excellent examples of what political extremists of all stripes routinely do to get and retain power.

Their programs are completely predictable. You can almost write their speeches for them.

  • Find a group to demonize, and blame them for whatever serves your purpose (Jews, people of any color but white, gays, immigrants, etc.)
  • Attack the media as a pack of dishonest and unpatriotic jackals
  • Tell one lie after another until the public gets so confused they can no longer tie their own shoes
  • Claim that Armageddon will be here before we know it unless we elect their candidates
  • Enlist the aid of aimless knots of sociopaths to beat up opponents when all else fails
  • Wrap yourself in the flag and religion whenever possible; and for good measure always refer to your opponents as traitors, pedophiles, or pedophilic traitors

Shirer focusses on what happened in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s , but this process has been repeated all around the globe for seemingly forever. It is always the same story. And while it may work for a while eventually this house of cards tumbles, often to be followed by yet another house of cards from the other side of the political spectrum.

It is up to us ordinary folk to keep our heads when those “leading” us seem to be losing their minds. To realize that the extreme wings of any of our political parties are really never on anyone’s side but their own. It is in the boring middle ground, the unexciting centrist wad, where the important but unsensational work of true governance gets done.

Shirer was not a historian but a newspaperman. What this means is that the book is readable and rarely drags. It is amply annotated and referenced, and even though it is now a 62 year-old publication, it gives truth to the words of the song telling us that “everything old is new again.”

Everything Old Is New Again, by Peter Allen


From The New Yorker


I am doing a small amount of indoor painting. I put it off for as long as possible, but when I finally found Robin packing her bags to go look for a husband who was more responsive to our home’s needs, I relented.

I submit that this is a classic case of misdirection of resources. At the art of house painting I am awkward, distractible, and just the littlest bit untidy. I can without batting an eye cause dripless paint to drip. On the other hand, I excel at supervising others who are doing the work for me.

Me: look over there in the corner, I think a bit more paint is called for

Painter: Why, yes, thank you for pointing that out

Me: And have a care there, but you almost dripped on the carpet

Painter: Please pardon my almost-carelessness, I will be even more careful, if that is possible

Me: Is that quite the proper brush to use with latex paint? I thought something in a synthetic bristle was called for to avoid those ugly stroke marks

Painter: Do you see this brush in my hand? Not only is it perfect for using with this material, but it is also good for stuffing into gaping apertures, if you get my meaning.

Me: Taking umbrage, are we? You know that you are not the only contractor in town. Many others would be happy for the chance to do this job

Painter: Could you please retrieve my estimate for this work? That’s the ticket. Now would you cross out the final total, and write in a new one that is 50% higher? That is what I am adding on for all this help you are providing. And I advise you to take care … it could go much higher.


From The New Yorker


A tale of a father and a son, containing two tragedies and two memorable songs.

Tim Buckley was a talented singer/songwriter who had many failings, one being that he was not much of a family man. He left his first wife shortly before the birth of his son Jeff, and had very little contact with the boy after that. When Jeff was 8 years old his father died of a heroin and alcohol overdose. Along the way Tim may have recognized some of his shortcomings when he wrote the song I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, which referred to his first wife and his son.

I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, by Tim Buckley


Jeff Buckley also grew up to become a musician and a singer/songwriter and went on to have a distinguished career of his own in music, releasing his first album in 1994, which was entitled Grace.

Grace won appreciation from a host of revered musicians and artists, including members of Buckley’s biggest influence, Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page considered Grace close to being his “favorite album of the decade”. Robert Plant was also complimentary, as was Brad Pitt, saying of Buckley’s work, “There’s an undercurrent to his music, there’s something you can’t pinpoint. Like the best of films, or the best of art, there’s something going on underneath, and there’s a truth there. And I find his stuff absolutely haunting. It just … it’s under my skin.” Others who had influenced Buckley’s music lauded him:  Bob Dylan named Buckley “one of the great songwriters of this decade”,  and, in an interview with The Village Voice, David Bowie named Grace as one of 10 albums he’d bring with him to a desert island.

Wikipedia: Jeff Buckley

One of the cuts on Grace was a cover of a Leonard Cohen song, Hallelujah.

 His rendition of “Hallelujah” has been called “Buckley’s best” and “one of the great songs”  by Time, and is included on Happy Mag’s list of “The 10 Best Covers Of All Time”,  and Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

Wikipedia: Jeff Buckley
Hallelujah, by Jeff Buckley

In 1997 Jeff went night swimming in the Mississippi River near Memphis when he was caught up in the wake of a tugboat. He was swept out into the river channel and drowned, dying at the age of 31 years. His father, Tim, had passed away at the age of 28 years.

Two young men gone too soon. Two fine performances left to remember them by.


It turns out that democracy did not come apart at the seams during this past election. The galloping herd of people who get paid to talk about things have now veered off toward shouting that the Republicans are so despairing that they might be willing to accept a replacement blowhard named de Santis as their standard-bearer.

There is way too much breathlessness in all of this.

I can begin to understand what a problem it is to come up with fresh stuff while serving the 24 hour news gods. I get it. For instance, if I were a newsworthy individual, my chores yesterday might have sounded like this on CNN:

Alan: Well, it has all come down to this moment. Jon has opened the paint can, assembled his tools, and masked off the areas he wants to protect. It looks like we’re finally going to get some movement on this project. What do you think, Buffy?

Buffy: Alan, we’ve all been here before, haven’t we? Remember only this past June when he promised to shore up those uprights in the backyard fence and then quietly put everything away and we haven’t heard from him since? Well, until he actually puts the brush to the wall, it could go either way.

Spencer: Let me jump in here for a second, if you will permit me. We may be missing the larger picture here. Have you looked at the color of the paint? It’s white all over again. Even when he’s done, it will be nothing more revolutionary than white on white. The rest of the world seems to think that mauve’s time has come, and yet this guy still doesn’t get it, does he? His color palette is firmly stuck in the 90s.

Buffy: I couldn’t agree with you more, Spencer. Time has definitely passed him by. Back to you, Alan.

Alan: Will you look at that … while we were talking he put way too much paint on the brush and now there’s a gob on the floor. What’s he going to do about this? Does he even notice?

Spencer: He seems to be oblivious to the facts on the ground, Alan. This paint dries so quickly that he might now have a major clean-up job staring him in the face. Only time will tell.

Buffy: Look at that! He forgot himself and scratched an itch without thinking, and now there’s paint in his hair! I can’t watch … could somebody please help him? Somebody?

Ad nauseam.

One of the things that older citizens like myself miss about the news reporting we experienced in “the good old days” was the dearth of drama queens among the newscasters themselves. Walter Cronkite, who was once described as “the most trusted man in America,” had a style of reporting that was like having your uncle sitting in that chair by the window look up from reading his newspaper to tell you something, then going back to reading his paper.


Flames did not shoot from his ears, he did not shove his microphone into the face of whoever he was interviewing, and Walter had obviously never taken a single acting class in his life so that was almost no Dramatic Posturing to be seen anywhere.

To me the shift came when the Tom Brokaws and the Dan Rathers of the news world began to think that their opinions were what we had tuned in for. They were much like the Kardashians of their time, where developing their personal brand was what it was really all about.

Empty suits and talking heads. Lord, have mercy.


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