Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Save The Mosquito

Monrovia, California

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Those who haven’t spent much time out here might be under the impression that the appearance of things doesn’t change much from one season to the next. I know I was. But as I experience my first fall in southern California I can tell you that there are a number of deciduous trees whose leaves turn bright orange and red and yellow and fall off, just as they do in the north. To be sure this happens much later than it does in, say, Michigan. In fact, it’s happening right now. The trees that change colors most vividly are the ones, like maples, which contain the most sugar. Here there are few maples as we know them in the north or the northeast, as those trees need a decent period of hibernation in order to thrive. But sweetgums, which are similar, do well in warmer weather and appear practically the same, except for the shape of their leaves, which are five-pointed, resembling a hand with its fingers splayed. Although not members of the maple family, they seem to behave pretty much the same. The sweetgum, also know by the delectable name of liquid amber, is not native to southern California, but to the southeast; nevertheless it has been successfully introduced into the towns and cities hereabouts. Other trees that turn colors include many ornamental fruit trees planted along streets and in parking lots, and aspens and cottonwoods, which are native to the southwest and turn bright yellow. And there are many sycamores, with their familiar brown fall leaves.

Like much else here, many species of plants have been introduced by humans, and the flora of a typical LA county town is a mixture of all kinds of non-native growth, most of which, having been around for a hundred years or more, is taken for granted. Among these are the sweetgums, gingkos from Asia, eucalyptuses from Australia, ficus and citrus trees from the Old World, and a variety of palms from all over the world but none originally from right around here. It turns out that when you take away all “non-native” species what you have left is mostly western oaks, scrub brush, and evergreens, with some cactuses thrown in, and also I'm sure a bunch of plants I don’t know. So you can drive down the street enjoying the changing fall foliage just like you can in Grand Rapids or East Longmeadow, but when you look up into the hills above the cities, all is pretty much green or brown, as it was before lots of people came here.

I’ve heard people talk earnestly about returning areas to their native flora. To be concerned, much less obsessed, by what, in the plant or animal worlds, is and isn’t “native” to California (or anywhere else, for that matter) is an exercise not only in futility, but in misplaced ecological zeal, of which there appears to be no shortage anywhere. Clean the chemicals out of the rivers? Fine, I say, go for it. Reduce the smoke in the air? By all means. But to get back to some primeval state of things, Mr. Peabody would have to have his boy Sherman set the Wayback Machine first to some time before the Europeans came, bringing with them horses and sheep and fruit trees and such (not to mention disease and pestilence), then to before the so-called “native” Americans came, carrying with them whatever plants and animals they had, and then to the time when most of the world was covered with ice, then to when it was all tropical and filled with dinosaurs, and finally to when all the continents of the world were together in the time of Pangea—or multiple Pangeas, as they’re now speculating. So you see it never ends.

By way of example and not limitation, as they say in the law, how would the Europeans like it if someone decided to eliminate non-native plants from their habitat, to return it to, say, the days before Columbus set sail? Gone would be the potato, the tomato, peppers of all kinds, corn, chocolate, tobacco, and God knows what else. Conversely, if on this side of the ocean we eliminated things brought from the so-called Old World, we’d lose citrus fruits, coffee, bananas, apples, onions, rice, and a whole lot more.

The truth is that most people’s idea of when things were ecologically pristine and more or less as they should be goes back an absurdly short time—perhaps a generation or two or at most a century or two. More often than not it goes back to when the person speaking was about ten years old. It’s more a symptom of our inability to accept change than it is a recognition of reality, even historically speaking. It’s nostalgia, that hallmark of Republicanism, writ large on an apparently more liberal canvas. “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” Bullshit, there are seven billion of us and counting, operating the thin surface of the planet far more successfully for our own benefit than most people care to admit, and better than most other mammals for certain.

Our concern for other animal species, in particular, is remarkably selective. The animals we want to save are usually the ones that are closest to us, in some way. Animals with the characteristics we innately or unconsciously admire—the ability to use tools, to reason more or less as we do, to hunt and kill prey. Cute animals, sleek animals, cunning animals. Primates, large or carnivorous mammals, predatory birds. Animals, in short, at or near the top of their respective food chains, like we are. Save the eagle, save the polar bear, save the wolf, save the chimp. Hell yes. But species we find repulsive, or dangerous—rats, termites, naked mole rats, microorganisms—well, we prefer to exterminate them.

For as thoroughly self-serving as we are, why do we seem to hate ourselves so much as a species, I wonder? Why do we seek to forsake our carnivorous, or at least omnivorous, heritage? Our ability to prey on the weak and helpless, our ability to kill with precision and skill? Why do we see our explosive multiplication as a curse rather than an obvious sign of our success? And if perchance these things aren’t good, what the hell can we really do about them?

I marvel at our ability to worry about our future. Do other animals do that too, only we just don’t notice? Do bears, for instance, gather together and debate their fate? Do mosquitoes worry that their numbers might be getting out of hand? Does the Ebola virus regret having to go into comparative remission because it has a habit of burning through its hosts too fast?

Concern for what is often absurdly referred to as “the future of the planet” (as if anything we comparative specks of dust on the outer surface of Earth could do would have the ability to affect the planet as a whole) is a luxury undertaken only by those of us with enough wealth and power to imagine that we can bring about change—that we can steer or perhaps slow down the juggernaut of human progress. Make a car that runs on electricity rather than gasoline. Use makeup that hasn’t been tested on animals. Drink water from a biodegradable bottle. It is a game played by those at the very top of the human race, and we play it, I submit, not because we are concerned about anyone or anything at the bottom, but because we wish above all to preserve the high quality of our own way of life. Everywhere else, beneath us, the essentials are what they always have been and what they really are for us as well—get up, eat, reproduce, die. Where do we get the hubris to think there’s something more to it than that? And yet we do. Maybe it’s just a phase we’re going through in our social evolution, but it’s such a sad, patronizing, futile phase, and we’d all be so much happier and more relaxed if we could just let it go.

The preoccupation with saving the planet, and especially species other than our own, plant or animal, is often the province of the misanthrope. People who hate other people or themselves can, unless they’re truly psychopathic, find little problem relating to cute or sleek or cuddly animals. Folks who wouldn’t drop a dollar in someone’s tin cup will spend hundreds to keep a cancerous cat alive. People weep when they see mistreated pets on television, but wouldn’t give a dime to a wetback. More often than not ecological concerns are a more comfortable alternative to a commitment to, say, social justice and equality.

For some truly compassionate persons the desire to help people is as strong as the desire to help other species. But such compassion invariably stops when either the people or the animals or plants are seen as dangerous or irrelevant to, well, those very people. An interesting phenomenon, and one whose main lesson is often lost on everyone: we are, first and always, looking out for ourselves as humans, even when we think we aren’t.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Y & R

Monrovia, California

Friday, November 25, 2011

If you recognize the character in the photograph above you will know what today’s posting is about. If not, here goes. I may as well just come out and say this. I have begun watching a soap opera, “The Young and the Restless.” Back in the 1970s, under the influence of the good women at Plymouth State Home and Training School, Randy and I watched one or two “stories,” as the ladies called them, for a time. I think we followed “Another World” and possibly also “The Edge of Night.”

I was going to go into a long self-serving and face-saving explanation of how my addiction to the show came about, but why, really? It just happened. I began watching it a few minutes at a time during the summer, after “The Price Is Right” and the half hour of news at 11:00 a.m. on the local CBS affiliate. One thing led to another and now I’m DVR-ing it and watching it daily, fast forwarding through the commercials. That at least gets me my dose in less time.

I was also going to try to dress it up by making an elegant comparison between the essential characteristics of soap operas and the works of the more mannerly English novelists of the 19th century, like Trollope and Jane Austen, but to hell with that too, at least for now. The similarities are indeed there, but it’s probably been done already by a graduate student at UCLA. Speaking of literature, though, I do believe that one of my favorite 21st century writers, David Sedaris, would approve of my devotion to the show.

First I must say that as with most of the addictions I’ve had I don’t really enjoy this one as much now as I did at first. But I’ve put quite a bit of time and energy into it and it’s hard to quit it. Let me give you the basics of the show as I’ve come to understand it so far. This won’t go too deep, as there is much to be told and much more to be revealed. At least a few of you will know all about “The Young and the Restless” (hereinafter referred to as “Y &R”) and indeed will know much more about the show than I do. If so, feel free to correct me and fill me in on the deep background details. (As with just about everything else, much detailed information is available on Wikipedia about the show, its stars, and its individual characters--in fact, more than I've been able to digest so far.)

Y & R takes place in the imaginary town of Genoa City, Wisconsin, which must surely have more billionaires per capita than any place of its size other than Beverly Hills or Greenwich, Connecticut. First, there’s the 70ish kingpin of the town and the show, Victor Newman (pictured above). Victor is the anchor, the rock. He’s Vito Corleone and Donald Trump in terms of power combined with the urbanity and deep tan of George Hamilton. His wavy, winglike grey hair frames a distinguished face, which bears a moustache perpetually trimmed to about a one-week growth. (This is achieved, I imagine, by buzzing it nearly every day with a beard trimmer set on 1 or 2.)

Victor is the head of Newman Enterprises, a far-flung financial empire founded on cosmetics, of all things. Victor has his own jet and loves to use it to help his friends and exile his enemies. Jabot Cosmetics was originally the property of Chancellor Enterprises, owned by the late Phillip Chancellor II and his wife Katherine, another billionaire who is, with Victor, the opposing bookend on this decades-long shelf of treachery, intrigue and woe. The part of Victor is played by Eric Braeden (born Hans Jorg Gudegast), a German who immigrated to the U.S. in 1959. He started on Y & R in the late 70s after doing time as a bit player on TV during the 1960s, more often than not playing Nazi officers in shows like “12 O’Clock High” and “The Rat Patrol.” Katherine Chancellor, who has been a character on the show since 1973, the year it began, is played by Jeanne Cooper, the mother of the actor Corbin Bernsen, and also a veteran bit part actress, having mostly played western gals in tight-waisted gingham dresses, along the lines of Miss Kitty in "Gunsmoke." Cooper, well into her 70s now, at one point had plastic surgery in real life and had it worked into the story line of the show. This helps to explain the near universality with which the actresses over the age of 40 on Y & R have had some sort of work done to their faces. As with most such procedures, in addition to being obvious the results are usually hideous and sad and leave the viewer wondering by what distorted mass hypnosis all these women have been seized that they should imagine such puffing and plumping and stretching of the cheeks and lips and chin line actually looks good, rather than clownish and bizarre. To be sure, plastic surgery has its place. There are those unfortunate children with the cleft palates who appear in all the ads on TV and in magazines. But beyond that, and of course burn victims and the like, I really don’t see the point.

Among the other super-rich people in Y & R, apart from the feckless and promiscuous offspring of the self-made elders, is Jack Abbott, who looks like a TV anchorman and is about as deep. Jack, master of the puzzled look, has recently regained control of Jabot (after God knows how many changes of ownership). Another magnate is Tucker McCall, head of McCall Unlimited and the bastard son of Katherine Chancellor. All of them, I must say, treat their excessive wealth with admirable casualness, and embrace being billionaires with the kind of humility and magnanimity we all like to imagine we would do if we were so fortunate. The only really spoiled one is Abby Newman, Victor’s youngest daughter (by Jack’s sister and Victor’s former wife Ashley Abbott, who just got married to Tucker.) Girlish Abby is the token young rich brat, along the lines of Paris Hilton or one of the Kardashians, though she appears to have more brains and charm than any of her real-life counterparts. And then there’s Victor’s son Adam, the Bad Seed, a seething cauldron of sociopathic rage and skulduggery. Even though he's rich as hell like the rest of them, he seems to feel that he's been left sucking the hind teat, as it were--unloved, unfulfilled, misunderstood. If there’s an unalloyed villain in the show, it’s him (at least now that Diane is dead). He hates himself and the world, and his father most of all, and all that is what makes him so endearing as a character. His father Victor treats him alternately with bullying contempt and wistful indulgence.

The show is the usual soap opera mélange of intermarriage, bastardy, ex-spouses, pathos, bathos, and shady doings of all kinds. Everyone seems to reside either in a mansion or a hotel and the principal meeting places are cocktail lounges, hospitals, and the Genoa City jail, where someone gets called in for questioning nearly every week. Many people have been married to one another at some distant point in the past, and many are close relatives or in-laws, though there are hardly any full siblings, so few couples having stayed together long enough to produce two offspring from the same relationship. Exceptions to this are Nick and Victoria Newman, the eldest of Victor’s brood, both of whom are his children by ex-wife Nikki, who apparently is or was the love of his life. Nikki has been away in rehab for some time (perhaps due to real-life contractual disputes or, for all I know, real life rehab), but is poised as I write this to make her return to Genoa City, to confront her demons, and maybe to reunite with that lovable old twinkling-eyed arch-demon, Victor.

Well, enough of that for now. Just wanted to give you a taste of the thing. What’s actually happening is far less important than the characters are. The action is based almost completely on the repetition of three main ingredients, in one or more of which practically all the characters partake: infidelity, revenge, and bad judgment. Greed is curiously lacking, considering how much money floats around in the background. What this is meant to convey to us regular folks in TV land is that the super rich, even though they have been freed from the need to scrounge for their daily bread, must nevertheless adhere to a rigid code, founded on a reckless disregard for conventional morality. They're wealthier, but their behavior appears to be more contemptible than ours. This, I suspect, is what keeps us all buying lottery tickets and then helps us not to be too disappointed when we lose. And keeps us watching soap operas.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lotus Land

Monrovia, California

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Well, 11-11-11 at 11:11 has come and gone, and the world remains in existence and pretty much intact, at least here in what one of my friends recently referred to as Lotus Land, a longtime nickname for Hollywood. Several events were scheduled for that date and time in the LA area, sponsored by the usual soothsayers and wackjobs, which caused me to wonder, “11:11 in what particular time zone?.” By the time it’s 11:11 here, it’s already been 11:11 in most of the rest of the world. The rigid zones we have now only came into existence starting with the advent of the railroad, and in many places, such as Europe, weren’t fixed until after World War II. Before that it was whatever time the local clock, or town crier, said it was. More often than not sunrise was 6:00 a.m., and sunset was 6:00 p.m., give or take some allowance for the length of the days.

The trouble with reading too much of anything into a spot on the western calendar—or any calendar, really—is the inherently faulty nature of such measures of time. The year 2000, for instance, could easily have been off by two or three years either way, no one knows for sure, especially since it measures itself from the occurrence of an event that might or might not have happened and a person who might or might not have existed, in the corporeal sense, at least. (So the computer conspiracy theorists had to create their own version of the Year 2000 crisis—and made a ton of money from it to boot.) In any case, January 1st has only been recognized as the turn of the new year since the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which in the Roman Catholic world occurred in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII announced the adjustment for the fact that we’d had about ten too many leap years over the centuries. But the Protestant countries didn’t start to get on board until some time in the 1700s, at which point they had to skip thirteen days, not ten. The Russians didn’t make the adjustment until after the revolution of 1917. And that doesn’t include all the crazy regional variations along the way. The other thing that happened with that adjustment from Julian to Gregorian was the recognition that a year would start in January, rather than in March, as had previously been the case. Ever wonder why the last four months of the year as we now reckon it are based on the Latin words for seven, eight, nine, and ten, rather than nine, ten, eleven, and twelve? Under the old calendar, 11-11 wouldn't have happened until January.

The point is, with all this utterly arbitrary stuff in the history of the calendar and timekeeping, how anyone can get excited about the felicitous arrangement of the digits in any particular day, date, or time is beyond me. But it has created quite a cottage industry for mountebanks and crazies the world over. Of course there are the end-time Christians, about whom I've written before, whose methods of reckoning the second coming all seem to fall by the wayside. The touchstone of much of the buzz these days seems to be the Mayan calendar. Ah yes, the Mayans, the real smart guys of the world, right up there with the Tri-Lateral Commission and the Elders of Zion. And the aliens who built the pyramids.

I think whenever we come to some numerically catchy or portentous moment such as 11-11-11, or 12-12-12, we fall into a sort of willing trance of mass belief or stupefaction, which brings me back to Lotus Land. The reference is to the mythical island of the Lotus Eaters in Homer’s Odyssey, where a scouting party of Odysseus’s men went ashore, ate the narcotic food of the locals, which they called the lotus, and didn’t want to leave. When Odysseus went to investigate he found that the people were friendly enough, and had been more than hospitable to his men, putting them into a kind of mellow state where they forgot pretty much everything, including (and most importantly from the point of view of Odysseus himself) the purpose of their journey, which was to get back home to Ithaca so that Odysseus could resume his kingship. Odysseus had to force them bodily back onto the ship, restrain them, and row the hell away from Lotus Land. Obviously the sailors didn't have as much invested in their own return as Odysseus did. Their job, after all, was just to toil in the service of their leader. It makes you think immediately of the mutineers on the Bounty who, while they might have been staunch sons of Britannia, felt an even stronger desire to kick back and enjoy the tropical paradise they had already found in Tahiti rather than continue to labor under the lash of Captain Bligh. You can picture them balancing their options: Hmmmm. Work like a dog, eat hard tack and be whipped, or lie in huts all day with nubile young Polynesian women? Tough choice. Odysseus's men must have been going through a similar calculus.

This episode from Homer’s story has become a recurring theme in modern literature—the idea that we can get waylaid from our life’s plans by the lure of comforts and pain-killing diversions—that we pretty easily can be convinced to forget the Big Picture, which almost invariably has something to do with working hard for someone else, responsibility, pain and suffering, and cold weather, all followed by the possibility, but never the certainty, of a better life in the hereafter.

Three millennia after Homer, in the 1830s, Tennyson wrote a poem called “The Lotos-Eaters.” It’s about the same episode, but told more from the perspective of the men than of their taskmaster, with many of those questions being asked, such as "Why should we only toil?" So how does Hollywood fit into this metaphor? Well, I guess it’s the place where they grow the lotuses, and where people come and forget where they came from. Maybe. A century in advance of the heyday of the movie business Tennyson foretold one thing at least—the difference between the elite dwellers of the hills of northern Los Angeles, many of whom have climbed to the pinnacle of the movie biz and become its gods and goddesses, and the rest of the vast hot city and its ordinary, toiling population:

In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
For they lie beside their nectar and the bolts are hurl’d
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl’d
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world;
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands ....

Invariably when we think of Hollywood we think only of the few who have made it to the top. They are its representatives and its ambassadors. They are all we really know or wish to know of the business. But very few who seek to reach the Olympian heights of the elite club of hill dwellers actually get that far. Entertainment is after all a business, first and foremost, even if its product is escape and dreams and the making of something out of nothing. True, here is where they grow the narcotic food, but the lotuses are exported everywhere and eaten by people in every living room and theater in the world. You can’t escape from Hollywood by rowing hard in the opposite direction until it’s out of sight like Odysseus and his men did.

Here it should be noted that “Hollywood” is and pretty much always has been a code word for a larger and more far-flung media production region comprising much of the City of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, and other outlying towns and cities. In that regard it’s similar to the way “Detroit” as the symbol of automobile production stands for not just the Motor City itself but an archipelago of industrial towns outside its confines—Pontiac, Dearborn, Warren, Flint, etc. The something that’s made out of nothing hereabouts is what fills most people’s TV screens and imaginations all day everyday, just as the cars made (or formerly made) in the industrial centers of southeastern Michigan fill the highways of the country. People like to think in generalities, so they are inclined to use terms like Hollywood and Detroit in their larger historical senses.

Real or imagined glamour aside, Hollywood and the movies and TV are in many ways simply the local business. That’s why I make the comparison between Detroit and Hollywood. For every slick movie or TV show or commercial, and for every shiny new Cadillac, there’s a lot of really unglamorous labor involved, performed by people who don’t make a hell of a lot of money. In the end, the production of things for us to watch on screens, large and small, is to this area what automobile making is to the Detroit area. Flashier maybe, but essentially the same. The local television newscasts and the business section of the LA Times, for instance, are filled with statistics about movie grosses, movie deals, production companies, and so on, just as the Free Press or Channel 7 in Detroit would feature stories about hybrid cars, GM bailouts, and automotive purchasing trends.

At parties and in casual gatherings in southern California you’re as likely to chat with someone who is involved in some small and by no means glamorous way with media production as you would be to talk to a shop rat or an automotive engineer in Michigan. In just a few months I’ve met a camera operator, a sound production engineer for a reality TV show, a makeup technician who had just made a string of latex ears for an actor playing a Vietnam warrior to wear around his neck, and someone whose son is a gaffer. People know people who have been extras or have had small parts. The streets of the small all-American-looking outlying towns of LA County are routinely blocked off while crews shoot exterior footage for commercials or movies or TV shows. These are people who work for a living. Maybe they’re a little like the poppy farmers of Afghanistan or coca farmers of Peru, making something that makes everyone dream dreams, while they do the hard work, albeit often under the influence of the very drug they manufacture.

Just as you and I knew very few if any automotive CEOs when we were growing up, very few people around here have seen in the flesh the various figures we read about and see so often, despite the fact that they live only minutes away, just as did the denizens of Bloomfield Hills who ran the industry of the land of our youth.

The fact that stuff produced in Hollywood gets broadcast and spread all over the country is pretty much what you’d expect from the products of any industrial center. Chevrolet trucks and Fords and Chryslers go all over the place, too. People put their asses into them just as much as they put them in couches in front of TV sets and in movie theater seats. And as with Michigan and cars, there are other places, far away from here, where they make movies and TV programs, and in some peoples’ opinions make them better and more cheaply than they do here. But here is where the infrastructure and the technology and lots of the talent reside, and here is where the power, and the heady symbolism of the business, will always reside.

As a postscript to this ramble, I should mention that there is a botanical garden called Lotusland, up the Pacific coast in Montecito, near Santa Barbara. It was begun by a Polish-born woman named Ganna Walska on her estate in 1941. Ms. Walska lived from 1887 to 1984, and was married to six wealthy husbands along the way. They included a Russian baron, a New York endocrinologist, a carpet manufacturing heir, and an English inventor. The most famous among them was Harold Fowler McCormick, to whom she was married from 1922 to 1931. McCormick was the son of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper, and became chairman of the board of the International Harvester Company. (His first wife, whom he divorced, was the daughter of John D. Rockefeller.) When McCormick married Ganna Walska, he tried to promote her career as an opera singer, despite the objective fact that she had a terrible voice. Orson Welles said that he modeled the similar situation in Citizen Kane on the relationship between McCormick and Walska. But it was Ganna Walska’s sixth and last husband, whom she married in 1942, a man named Theos Casimir Bernard, who apparently inspired her to create Lotusland. Bernard was into yoga, and that’s him pictured above, in a version of the lotus position. At first Ganna Walska intended to use her estate, called Cuesta Linda, as a retreat for Tibetan Buddhist monks, but because of the war the monks couldn’t get visas. After divorcing Bernard in 1946, she renamed the gardens Lotusland in honor of the favorite flower of the Buddhists. Ganna Walska remained husbandless for the last forty years of her life, devoting her time and money to the nurture of the botanical gardens.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Gunslingers

Southern California

Friday, November 4, 2011

I’ve enjoyed watching Herman Cain slowly circle the bowl over the past week or so. To give him his due, the guy is infinitely more entertaining than the rest of the gunslingers still bravely riding the Republican debate circuit, like a group of heroes from the Wild West clinging to their reputations as defenders of the rugged past of our great nation. (Can I get a “God Bless America” here from someone? Or, as we hear more often these days, "God Bless the United States of America," which I suppose is the original version that was handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the modifier "United States of" being reinserted to insure that no one accidentally calls down heaven's benison on some place like Venezuela.)

The Cain ad with the guy smoking at the end really captured my imagination. I loved it. If all the tobacco smokers out there got behind Cain that would pretty much put him over the top, especially when you add in the non-smoking supporters of the habit, of which there have to be a few. The trouble is that lots of smokers are so filled with self-loathing and revulsion for their own deadly addiction that a bunch of them would probably not vote for him just because he seems, indirectly, to support smoking, or at least not have a strong opinion on it like most folks do. Then there's the matter of the secret smoking of our esteemed President. But from here I won’t tread further into what I must, in fairness, concede to be the rightful territory of Jon Stewart the TV talk show hosts.

As a long-time struggler with smoking (see my recollection, “Tobacco Road,” which you can link to on my web site,, by going to the upper right corner of this blog) I have to say I like the idea of someone who flaunts convention to the extent this guy Cain does. Sure he’s a Republican, and I wouldn’t vote for him under any circumstances, or for that matter probably wouldn’t cross the street to piss on him if he were on fire, but that smoking thing was just so .... darned ....cute.

But now there are the not-so-cute sexual harassment charges. Naughty, naughty, Herman. Though nothing I’ve read so far has remotely approached the kind of stuff our former President was accused of (and ultimately admitted to) during the same general time period, it’s not good. Probably in the near future it will mean the end of our enjoyment of Herman Cain as he “struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is seen no more,” in the words of Macbeth. In today's LA Times I read that Cain, or at least his staff while they're out smoking on the sidewalk in front of his building, see the harassment accusations as “part of a calculated effort to undermine his presidential campaign.” Uh, gee, do you think??

Cain and his people suspect that Rick Perry is behind the unearthing of the sexual harassment charges--that he's found a smoking gun to complement the smoking campaign manager. Perry looks like an good bet, because he’s the go-to Bad Guy for any shootout with another Republican candidate. The reason for this is that (1) he’s a naturally mean sumbitch and relishes the fact, and (2) the powers that be in the GOP know he will be falling by the wayside himself soon enough and need to get what they can out of him. Soon he'll shoot himself in the foot once too often. Failing that, they'll take him out themselves. He’s just a bit too far out on the lunatic fringe even for them. Expect news of a Perry peccadillo or two in the near future, something beyond just rubbing the head of his black golf caddy for luck. Eventually the guy with the white hat (and white sideburns) is going to come riding into town for the final gunfight with Cowboy Rick. And when the smoke clears, only God's righteous right-hand man will be standing.

Another theory about Herman Cain did occur to me. I figured it might be the Mormons’ revenge for the smoking thing. We all know how abstemious they are in their personal habits. Then on further reflection I thought, why would the Mormons bring up sexual harassment, when the founder of their religion had a revelation from God that said he could take a sixteen-year-old girl as his bride in addition to the wife he’d already had for six years? And that was only the beginning. After a few more additions to the harem over the next ten years, old Joseph Smith went on a frenzy of wife-taking, adding as many as thirty more during the period from 1841-1844. Talk about a gunslinger--that guy rarely got it back into his holster. (The first Mrs. Smith, it should be noted, was not entirely down with this deal.)

I confess I didn’t think I’d be as amused as I have been by the alternative-reality show the Republicans have been putting on lately, but what with the baseball season being over and the NBA being on hold and only one or two days of college football games a week, I guess I succumbed. And of course the media is so eager to put so much time and effort into covering these rascals, notwithstanding the fact that the nominating convention is still ten months away. It proves what I’ve always said: even with half a dozen 24-hour news stations and thousands of newspapers and tweets and twitters and all that, there are still only about fifteen minutes of actual news worth reading or hearing on any given day, and that includes the weather and sports. It was true during World War II, for Christ’s sake, and it’s even truer today. The rest is entertainment, good or bad, no matter what else it purports to be.