"You're not to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it." - Malcolm X
Playing Silly Games
Having finally replaced my dead laptop, which has been resting in peace for so long now, it feels good to type again. Creative writing is not easy when the input method is primarily poking a phone with your index finger. I didn't spend a lot on it; it's a Chromebook, what they call a "gamer" laptop, much like the one that Donald Trump's attorney (Alina Habba) is using in court right now.
But this isn't a game. It just feels like one.
Sure, throughout modern American history, governance (and the machinations thereof) has been a constant contest. But in earlier times, they were playing chess, as opposed to throwing their checkers at each other. Even at themselves... As we see in the GOP's House of Representatives. Republicans are rather roiled and rancorous among their own right now, with Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida (of all places) getting short with Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California (of all places).
Gaetz, who was not exactly possessed with a clean reputation in the first place, followed through on his squeaky threat to "oust" McCarthy from Speakership, which was particularly galling to most Republicans in the playpen since they went to so much trouble just to give Kev the gavel in the first place. One such Republican, Mike Lawler of New York (of all places), even went so far as to call Gaetz "a charlatan". The reason behind Gaetz's treachery and ire: McCarthy had the temerity to vote with Democrats to keep our government open.
See? Not playing games. Not at all.
These kinds of sporting events can be rough, though, and a little guy like party-boy Matt Gaetz ought to know that by now. As unlikely as his petty Motion to Vacate is to succeed - unless the Democrats decide to totally screw McCarthy, and, why not? - it will probably lead to a backlash Motion to Expel his ass. That has a much higher threshold of passage than the Vacation Motion, requiring a two-thirds majority vote to kick Gaetz out of the House, but it would be undertaken anyway.
Games, after all, have rules. And another word for "rule" is "commandment". Way back when, Republicans revered Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Thou Shalt Not Speak Ill of Other Republicans". But that was another era ago, it seems, as the Gipper fades further and further into the dusty background... Now, just another guy in a cowboy hat.
Reagan was an actor, though, a Union member through and through, until he wasn't. He was playing a role then, too. When America's air traffic controllers went on strike during his tenure as president, he fired them all without much thought. It wasn't a game to him, any more than D-Day was a game to General Eisenhower. However flawed their societal views may have been, Republicans used to take things pretty seriously, but that is not the case anymore.
I'd offer to you Exhibit A.
But I think you already know what that is.
Paul Heller, Tuesday, 3rd October, 2023
Thermal (Or: 'Some Like it Hot')
BREAKING NEWS HEADLINE: It's Hot in the Desert!
(Sub-header): Dry, too.
Those residing in my area, Southwest Michigan, awoke to 64° (F) temperatures and shining dew drenching the lawn. This is our pleasant season. Soon it will be gone.
Long after we have put away our Mountain bikes, kayaks and softball cleats, people will still be running their air conditioners in the sweltering Southwest. But by then, that story will be relegated to Page 2, nationally.
In the 14 years I lived in Phoenix, it never occurred to me that the place might be suffering from a drought. It's a desert; when it doesn't rain in the desert for a long time, that's normal. Similarly, I never felt that the heat was unfair... It's supposed to be hot. If you don't like the heat, what the hell are you doing there?
The 'Zonies have their own stroked-out sense of humor about it. You kind of have to. I actually didn't mind the heat being above 110°. For one thing, you could get on most golf courses readily and (usually) for a discounted greens fee.
As far as the actual heat goes, I can tell you things I witnessed. I saw people collapse on the sidewalk. I saw coins and bottle caps pressed flush into the asphalt. I saw compact discs warp on the dashboards of vehicles. I saw bicycle tires explode from the increased air pressure. (Okay, I never actually saw that happen. But I heard about it.)
We all saw it. We all felt it. And there was no choice but to be embraced by the heat until finally, sometime in mid-October, a nighttime cool breeze would sweep through the Valley to let you know that all was not dead.
As Editor of LUNCH Zine in the late 1990s - remember those? - I teamed with others to do what we could, you know, to help newcomers who were not acclimated. To assist their simmering brains in understanding what was happening all around them.
Some of our suggestions were inexpensive and practical, like the one about what to do with frozen Otter Pops - it's critical to cool the core temperature. Others were even less expensive, and less practical, such as staying in your car with the windows rolled up until it reached about 140° or 150° in there. Then, when you get out of the car, those sub-120s feel pretty refreshing.
Really, there is nothing to be done about it, other than the time-honored tradition of sleeping in the shade during the afternoon (siesta). The most rewarding way to beat the heat is to find an air conditioned restaurant that serves free chips and salsa, and stay there until the staff tells you to leave.
It's not going to end. Next summer will be hotter. The summer after that, hotter yet. This year, Phoenix area hospitals reported an 85% increase in patients showing up at their burn units... That's how hot a car door handle gets, or a seatbelt buckle, or a steering wheel. That's how hot the pavement is if you happen to come in contact with it.
Of course, such thermal pressure on humanity causes everybody to want to jump in the swimming pool, or have a big glass of ice water... But that's a different story.
I'll tell it to you someday. Until then, keep it on the back burner.
Paul Heller, Friday, 11th August, 2023
I can still remember, vividly, the first time I was introduced to the 4th of July. This would have been either the summer before or the summer after Richard Nixon got reelected.
It was somewhat puzzling at first. At dusk, our parents summoned us all out of the house, my three older sisters and me. They handed each of us a dull, gray metal wire. Then, with my oldest sister going first, they lit the end of the dull, gray metal wire with a lighter. It immediately began hissing and throwing sparks. Delighted, my sister commenced to run in a circle around our house, trying to complete the trip before the sparkler burned out.
"Paul Revere's Ride", they called it.
Then went sister number two, then sister number three... Then it was my turn. The thing began throwing sparks all over the place, and I did the same thing my siblings had done. I sprinted around to the backyard, ran up the hill, around the garage, and back to the driveway where I had started, making it "home" just as the sparkler fizzled out.
That's when I noticed that the metal was glowing red. In all my years I had never seen such a thing... So I touched it.
In the years after that, fireworks were something we went to see, not something we really did. In Michigan, until just about 10 years ago, you could not get any good fireworks. You had to go to Indiana or elsewhere to get anything better than Black Cats. And if you got caught with that, you'd be in trouble with the law.
My dad is from Kansas City, so we went there just about every summer, and we would stock up on contraband on the way back. That enabled the kids on my street, at least, to engage in bottle rocket wars and other mischief making, all to signify (somehow) America's Independence.
Once the state government changed its mind about safety, all bets were off. At that point, the 4th of July became a much more profitable holiday. I was enamored with this, having been largely deprived of explosives for my entire childhood, and for a few years there I spent quite a bit of money launching things and watching them blow up in the sky.
This year, though, I'm neither interested nor invested in all that. Independence Day was always a celebration. It was the day we shrugged off British rule, and it seemed like everybody came together in a big red, white and blue party.
But look at us now. Look at us now. We are more divided than we have been since the Civil War - a war that is not marked by any holiday. Only by solemn battlefields and silent cemeteries.
A lot of people would say we don't deserve our independence, the way we have been behaving toward each other the past 15 years or so. Americans are literally at each other's throats today. It went from ugly to out of control under the Trump administration. (Only ignorant people would deny that.)
This is nothing worth celebrating. It's barely worth a couple of hot dogs and a beer. It's certainly not worth blowing your fingers off. So, like a lot of folks, I will stay silent this year. I won't think of it as anything special.
I'll mow the lawn.
And call it a day.
Paul Heller, Tuesday, 4th July, 2023
Paris in the Spring
For 14+ years, when I lived in Phoenix, I was represented in the United States Senate by a maverick named John McCain. I found him to be both agreeable and easy to disagree with, if that makes sense.
When Senator McCain ran for president in 2008, I voted for his victorious opponent, Barack Obama. Even though I knew a lot about John, who you may recall was a war hero, I did not feel it would be prudent to put another Republican in charge on the heels of George W Bush's presidency.
Obama won that election handily, it turned out, but it was a tight race for the most part. One could say that McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate doomed him, which it did, and it also opened up a whole new can of worms on the GOP side.
From the casual voter's standpoint, the key moment in the race was not the TV Town Hall incident in which that confused, scruffy conservative woman wondered aloud if Obama was "a Arab"... To me, McCain's toast got burnt in the famous Paris Hilton commercial.
"That wrinkly white-haired guy used me in a campaign ad, so I guess I'm running for president," Paris began, and from there she led us down a non-dizzying path to energy independence. Extraordinary. This completely pulled the rug out from under McCain, who had dropped the Hilton name in an attempted excoriation of the Democrat and his "celebrity friends".
The ad worked because Ms. Hilton had the money to not only buy ad time, but also to produce the spot, not to mention the gumption to star in it. It was an act that was equal parts courage and indulgence, even though it did not lead to any further political activities on her part.
It is quite possible that the same thing is happening today. It is not a socialite, famous for being famous, who is stepping out of the spotlight and into the forefront of politics... It's the Monster on the Hill herself: Taylor Swift.
Inarguably the biggest name in pop music today, Taylor Swift is in the midst of her 'Eras' tour, which has created plenty of news where ticket availability is concerned. That's pretty much all I know about it, because I am not a huge pop music maven, dig?
What stood out, though, were the words that she spoke more so than the music she played or the lyrics she sang. In between songs, she addressed the crowd, and it kind of got political. But not in the usual angry way that people do, or even in the sarcastic way that Paris Hilton chose. When Taylor Swift attacked, she brandished love and acceptance.
“I wish that every place was safe and beautiful for people in the LGBTQ community,” she intoned from the stage.
"Right now and in recent years, there have been so many harmful pieces of legislation that have put people in the LGBTQ and queer community at risk. It’s painful for everyone. Every ally, every loved one, every person in these communities."
“Are they advocates? Are they allies?" She asked about the candidates whose names would be appearing on the ballot next year. "Are they protectors of equality? Do I want to vote for them?"
This is not good news for Republican candidates who are obviously not advocates, allies or protectors of equality. 74 million people voted for Donald Trump in 2020. 81 million people voted for President Biden... But more than 92 million people follow Taylor Swift on Twitter. To call them 'fans' is to do a disservice to the English language. They're fanatics.
And good for her for turning them loose. There is strength in numbers - a fact that bullies always find out too late. Taylor Swift is not Target. She's not Bud Light. She cannot be canceled, intimidated or outspent. Every day, thousands of Taylor Swift fans reach voting age. And we find ourselves on the cusp of a new Era.
Paul Heller, Monday, 5th June, 2023
I am not an American. None of us are. No such thing exists today.
"Divided, We Fell". That's next week's headline whether the economy collapses or continues teetering like a house of cards. Whether we throw a 7, an 11 or Snake Eyes.
Welcome to the bottom of the slippery slope. No, no... Don't try to climb back up; you'll only embarrass yourself. And we've already had plenty of embarrassment, pumped into us from front and back, without relent.
By now, we should be numb to it.
I grew up in a great country, they taught us in school. And it seemed that way until after I had moved away from the quiet, maple-strewn cul-de-sac where I grew up. Then I began to see. And hear.
Through the whine and static of AM radio, it came. Anger. Hate. Ridicule. Calumny. Bigotry. Misogyny. All of the things that our teachers told us we had defeated. The crimes that brought the Red, White and Blue wrath down on our enemies.
Today, the Bad People are on TV. They're all over the Internet. They've been elected to our highest levels of government - largely in states that once identified as Confederate, so, perhaps not surprising. But no less harmful.
They were only able to do this because of corporate bankrolling. Corporations don't care who is in power as long as the powerful are friendly to them. And if the ones who appeal to the lowest common denominator are the ones who end up in office, that is where the pandering goes. It's a two-way street...
Or it was, until the GQP started messing with giant entities, like Anheuser-Busch and Disney. But even if Corporate non-America gets its shit together and rejects the Rabid Right, it will only be because of their bottom line. Not because they believe in the things that most of us believe in.
And they still won't be paying their fair share in taxes. That, we know. Which brings us to the debt ceiling. The national debt is now over $31 trillion; it was $5.6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office. The annual tax revenue brought in by the IRS is a clearly insufficient $2.3 trillion, much of that being taken from hard-working (formerly) American families.
The United States will default on its debt obligations next week, largely because of the inactions of the same Republicans who mock school shootings, who profit from pollution, who enjoy racism, who view intolerance as a legal tool. These are not responsible people, and yet we pay them $174,000 a year each (which in no way explains the obscene wealth possessed by most of them).
What Ri¢hie Ri¢h doesn't seem to realize, though, is that we are not the ones who are going to suffer when the economy collapses. Most of us already know how to properly prepare Top Ramen. Some of us even know how to hunt, how to fish, how to chop wood, how to steal. We might not like it, but we'll get through it, and we may even look back on it fondly someday. Just as some of us may fondly look back and remember America.
But that's not what this is anymore.
See you next week. Amid the rubble.
- Paul Heller, Thursday, 25th May, 2023
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. - 1 Corinthians 13:11
America's is a depressing culture. It has been from the very beginning, and has not changed much over the years, occasional bouts of ebullience notwithstanding. This is not to equate our Western woes with those of our foes in places like Russia or North Korea (which veer into madness and misery), but still, look at us:
We're not happy unless we're not happy.
The not-happiest of us all: The Children. Like the song goes, life was easy when I was a kid, and who among us wouldn't like to spend his/her time meandering down Memory Lane? We all remember the nest. We all remember getting nudged out of it.
The adults of tomorrow, however, are not likely to look back fondly on the childhoods they are leading today. How could they possibly? Forget about the pandemic, the active-shooter drills, the cyber-bullying, or the fading away of so many species. Ignore the political rancor. Our contemporary tykes have no time for such realities; there's work to be done.
Child labor has come back to America in the 2020s. The hyper-dynamics of our wee workforce tumble in all directions. Whether it's a McDonald's franchisee or an Iowa farmer, employers have seemingly exhausted their resources where the talent pool is concerned, and are now dipping into the workforce's minnow bucket.
Painfully obviously, there's no feasibility to study in this. By most laws, kids can't be put to work, so many of these cases are illegal through and through (only with civil penalties rather than criminal ones). And many of the young victims are, you know, not from around here. So they would not know that this is something we left behind long ago.
In school, when I was a pupil, we learned about the horrors of child labor. The stories were gruesome in nature (like much of our history): Tiny, trembling hands reaching into the tight spaces among the cogs and gears of the Industrial Revolution... We shuddered accordingly and went back to our finger-painting.
Whether or not those Dickensian nightmares were actually true remains to be seen as staffing shortages push the profiteers further and further into our playgrounds. Many (red) states are trying to make sure it happens - as long as we're talking about big, strong kids.
One would think that the kindling of capitalism itself would be enough of a driver to get these young punks to punch the same time clock as their parents. Want a phone? It takes money. Oreo Blizzard? Takes money. Shoes you'd prefer? Money.
When I was a kid, to be sure, there was always plenty of work to be done. Some kids ended up at the concession stand counter. Others had newspaper routes. Or ended up corn de-tasseling. In some seasons, we raked leaves, or shoveled driveways. In others, we mowed lawns and washed cars. Or had babysitting gigs. Or lemonade stands.
The key difference, though, is that we wanted those jobs - even competed for them. We weren't much forced to do anything too unpleasant. It wasn't meat-packing.
If this republic cannot live up to the ideals that were presented to me as a young person, then it isn't worth keeping, period. If America cannot fulfill the promises that each generation makes to the next, then it is no better than any of those other places that we despise and fear so bloody much.
- Paul Heller, Friday, 5th May, 2023
Words That Rhyme with 'Tucker'
See me ride out of the sunset on your color TV screen/Out for all that I can get, if you know what I mean - AC/DC
It has been a chilly Spring so far in Southwest Michigan, but the fishing is already good. Yesterday, casting off the boat dock on Little Paw Paw Lake, I hooked into a good size largemouth bass. I unceremoniously dragged it up onto the boat ramp, got the pliers out, and started working to back the hook out of its cheek. And it occurred to me that I felt sorrier for that poor fish than I do for Tucker Carlson.
Just like Fox News did, I let the thing go, albeit for very different reasons.
"Be patient and calm; no one can catch fish in anger." - Herbert Hoover
Six years ago, the retread Carlson replaced the disgraced Bill O'Reilly at Fox. O'Reilly had been the chief provocateur at the extremist far-right cable news network for a very long time, and Carlson had big shoes to fill. Which he did. Before long, he had run off most of the remaining sponsors from his predecessor's tenure.
Ad revenue notwithstanding, Carlson's not-subtle dog-whistle racism - about as attractive as his neck flab - gave Fox News what it wanted: Ratings. A subsequent lawsuit filed by a former producer at the network alleges that Carlson also ran the same kind of aggressively sexualized workplace as Bill-O had... Predictable, though not admirable.
"There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech." - Idi Amin
Everything was going so swimmingly for all parties concerned until just after the 2020 election. That's when a number of Fox News personalities decided to ride or die with Donald Trump as he flailed and railed about his failed re-election bid. Carlson was pretty much the captain on that ship of fools.
Perpetuating such bombastic falsehoods eventually got his employer sued for defamation by Dominion, a company that makes voting machines. Having been sued for defamation myself, I can tell you, it is no fun - unless you win. I did; Fox News did not.
"A man is not finished when he is defeated. A man is finished when he quits." - Richard M. Nixon
Tucker Carlson signed off on his last program by stating he would see everyone on Monday - finally telling his last lie. But we don't need to worry about him. His middle name, after all, is "Swanson" (don't laugh, it's not polite). His family fortune makes him, if nothing else, the Chicken Broth Man. So he was rich before he was even born. And all of this is a stupid game to him.
Carlson was not, however, the only talking head to leave the airwaves yesterday. CNN released longtime host and news anchor Don Lemon. He will also be okay, leveraging book deals and speaking engagements to make lemonade out of lemons, just as Carlson should still be able to make chicken broth out of chickenshit.
"You're fired." - Donald Trump
Hateful Tucker was hardly the first domino, and perhaps not the last, to fall as Fox scrambled to mitigate the damage done by its red-light talent. Mushy Lou Dobbs was the first to walk the plank. The disturbing Jeanine Pirro was fed to the sharks shortly thereafter. That did not satisfy Dominion's hunger, and as the suit dragged on, it became clear that Defendant Fox could not win.
They settled for about three quarters of a billion dollars, and there is rampant speculation that part of the agreement must have included the removal of Carlson from the airwaves. From a shareholder's standpoint, it probably wasn't a very hard decision to make. There will always be another Tucker Carlson, unfortunately, and the network wishes to be around to exploit that for profits... To the detriment of us all.
- Paul Heller, Tuesday, 25th April, 2023
Take It From The TOP
"It would have been more comfortable to remain silent." - Anita Hill
God knows, when it comes to love of being more comfortable, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas* shares the feelings of the woman who testified against him at his Senate confirmation hearing in the millennium preceding this one. The revelations that have been brought to light about Thomas* (and his weird wife) being treated so amazingly well by a billionaire benefactor effectively drives a golden stake through the heart of our beloved princess, Appearance of Impropriety.
Island getaways, private jets, men's-only retreats and many, many meals were "gifted" to Clarence* and Ginny, and to hear the government tell it, no laws or hearts were broken. If a wealthy man like Harlan Crow - son of Jim? - wants to piss his fortune away by buying access to the Supreme Court, that's just a function of capitalism, don't you know?
No, you don't know. Or care. I get it. But at least now you do know why the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United - so that dark cash could be sprayed all over everybody at the Party.
Old Crow, though, isn't the only one filling the insatiable bellies of our public officials. He's just a bejeweled emblem of the problems. A billion problems.
In a country where wages haven't gained one yard against inflation since most of us were born, a certain class of people are happy to spend more money in one evening than most families see in a year, just to pamper their pet politicians. But nobody values every last dime like a billionaire does - you can bet your bottom dollar that they make a profit on an investment like that.
They used to prefer anonymity, but once Citizens United hit the fan, the uber-wealthy suddenly flooded the dance floor. Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jerry Jones, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon, George Soros, Mark Cuban, Michael Bloomberg, Charles Koch, Robert Mercer... Did I miss anybody? Oh, yeah, Donald Trump. They bought the world stage. Without even pooling their money.
In short, the United States has become the world's lone Superfiefdom. Meanwhile, we scramble to pay the bills, to put food on the table and medicine in our bodies, hoping to have enough left over to spend on booze and women and movies.
Can we, the Bottom Ninety-Nine Percent, flip the script? Sure. It's called "taxation". Look at what top rate-payers had to give back to the nation that tolerated their existence during our postwar boom, a time when some feel America Was Great. And what did those 90 points do for the rest of us?
Well, now there are a lot more of us than there were back then. Nobody's needs have changed. And nobody has gained anything, as fewer and fewer people continue to control more and more of the money. It works great for them; it doesn't work at all for us.
It's not payback time...
It's clawback time.
* - estimated annual salary: $285,000.00
- Paul Heller, Sunday, 16th April, 2023
Random Notes From an Undeclared War
Been gone a while... Did I miss anything?
I'm kidding, of course. When last I put down the old quill, our country had just begun its descent into the quiet before the storm. It was hard to care.
It wasn't a case of disillusionment that made me walk away from the business of politics. Or boredom. Times had changed, that's all, and seemingly for the better. Now they have changed again, as they must.
Heller Mountain began in the Summer of 2001, shortly after I got my first PC, complete with a Zip drive and SCSI ("scuzzy") output. By the time I stopped, the work station was a laptop. Today, I poke my phone screen with my finger to make a point.
The Internet at that time was like FM radio was in the 1970s. It was in the process of consuming the forms of media that came before it, yet was still largely an uninhabited wasteland of static.
Today, it is something more like the Pacific Garbage Patch. But I don't mind clutter, and hopefully, clutter doesn't mind me.
What hasn't changed? The vitriol. It existed then, it exists now, it will continue to exist. I'm not sure that it is any worse than it used to be - people still tend to say terrible things when provoked. The relative anonymity of the Internet does not exactly civilize the matter.
Where did you not find these classic Cyber-Warriors? Uh, anywhere. The nasty childishness we all encountered online (the first sign that the World Wide Web was no utopia) pretty much stayed digital.
Analog arguments were nowhere to be found. Not at work. Not at play. Not at church. Not at home. We all generally smiled and nodded and opted not to fight with each other any more than was absolutely necessary.
That's what's different today. Our political divisions have become compound fractures. More and more, Americans wear it on their rolled-up sleeves. People feel like they're aggrieved, oppressed, put out, and see no value in keeping quiet about it. There is little concern about the productivity of it all.
In other words, it's a slap-fight now, and everybody knows it.
I wish I could offer you a refuge from that, a higher place, where we could calmly discuss our differences while remaining above the clash and din.
I mean, maybe I can. It depends, after all... After all, on you and me, it depends.
- Paul Heller, Friday, 7th April, 2023