"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Filling The Last White House Diversity Slot - When A White Bass Boat Trucker Joined The Cabinet

It took Joe Biden almost the entire term of his presidency to finally round out the DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) bit of his agenda, but because the election was only a few months away and so many white, working class voters were abandoning him, he knew that he had to make a very visible statement of commitment, and so the search began for someone to be their representative in the White House. 

The position of Deputy Assistant, Labor Relations was to be filled by a man from this forgotten, aggrieved, and politically restive electoral group.  Biden had already made the gender issue the frontispiece of his administration.  He had originally intended to hire all women to his Cabinet, the kind of affirmative action program that would parallel the racial one, but was told by his inner circle that that would be too alienating and off-putting to male voters.  

 

It was one thing to consign men to the lower reaches as predatory animals without sense or sensibility in certain venues, position papers, and public utterances; another thing to remove them lock, stock, and barrel; and so it was that his cabinet had a smattering of men, window dressing, gender mannequins only. 

Second, the man had to be white, for the President had been increasingly seen as black-only.  He had so championed the black man and clearly intended to see him placed at the top of the human pyramid where he belonged. 

The recent paper, Race, Environment, And The Native Genius of the African written by a well-known Harvard professor, contended that because of the African's tribal, animist, and forest legacy, he was more integrated within the natural environment than the white man - 'a natural man' as the academic put it. 

Biden had made references to this paper every time a black man was appointed to a senior position in the White House. 'We're doing the right thing', the President said. 'The only thing'.

Needless to say there were many in the political opposition who disagreed with the President.  What had Africa ever accomplished, they asked? When compared to the great civilizations of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, it barely registered a blip.  What was this forest-based nonsense all about anyway?

White working class men took the President's words and appointments especially hard.  Not only were whites, white civilization, and white culture being derogated, dismissed, and forgotten; but the lower tiers of white society - the working classes - were especially slighted.

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There wasn't a day that went by without some prominent Democrat referring to them as bass-boat, gun-rack, pickup, tobacco chewing, toothless, sister-fucking cr--kers; and they were angry. 

So the election year decision to recruit at least one white, working class male to a senior White House position was taken, and so it was that Mayberry P. Lassiter joined the staff. 

How, out of all the millions of white, lower class, working men did the President find Lassiter?  It was one thing to pick potential appointments from a roster of high-achieving individuals - they fit well into familiar class, educational, professional, and academic categories and were easy to find; but someone from a Ford assembly line? What criteria would be used?  He would have no degrees to speak of, no accomplishments, and nowhere to be seen on the Internet. 

'I've got just the man', said one of the President's senior aides, and went on to explain how he had met Lassiter at a truck stop in Texas. The man was carrying a load of pig iron from Chillicothe to Galveston, and had stopped to fuel up and eat.  The Presidential aide would never have stopped in such a place, not his kind of people really, but had had car trouble which forced him off the road.

Lassiter he said, was exactly what he was looking for - an unshaven, tobacco-spitting, drawling, grit and oil stained specimen. As they sat next to each other eating steak and eggs, Lassiter told him about his day - overheating, shifting cargo, speed traps, rancid coffee, and fucking truck stop hookers.  Yet, through all this Lassiter was a mensch, a good hardworking American.  Why not him?

He had the right credentials.  Born and raised in red-dirt Alabama, one of seven, schooling limited, aspirations high but fulfillment low, trailer nomad, doper father and alcoholic mother but with the gumption to put that all behind him and make something of himself.  He started behind the wheel of a garbage truck, worked his way to short-haul scrap metal deliveries, and finally on to serious trucking.  When the aide asked him about his education, Lassiter said, 'I can read the road signs', and that sealed the deal. 

When asked if he wanted to meet the man, the President demurred.  Some things were best left to others, and so it was that Lassiter passed easily through the vetting process and was named. 

When he opened the official letter of invitation on embossed White House stationery, special delivery, he was sure it was a scam; but when a second, registered one was pushed through the mail slot along with coupons and bills, he paid some attention - not exactly top drawer attention, for by the time he got to it, the coffee rings and stuck-on cat hairs had made portions unreadable - but he got the drift, and via the post office, Veterans Affairs, the county clerk, he realized, as implausible as the suggestion was, that he was being considered for a Washington appointment.  The letter-writer reminded him of the truck stop meeting which had gotten the White House attention. 

'We've got to clean him up', said one recruitment deputy, a young gay black man who wanted to keep a COVID-era social distance from Lassiter, but who said, 'This simply won't do' and fussily arranged for a remake.   

Now, Lassiter for all his lack of sophistication was not stupid.  'We want a white working man to be represented in the President's color wheel', he was told, and quickly understood what was up.  He would get paid for just showing up, not unlike the rest of the diverse appointments made during the President's first term; and so he sold his beater pickup and his trailer, thanked J&B Trucking, bought a final round of drinks at his local bar, and waved goodbye to Lucinda. 

 

Needless to say Lassiter lasted only through the campaign and along with everyone else in the White House was let go after Biden's defeat at the polls. He had been hauled out and given a place beside the President in Detroit, Dearborn, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo.  'I am for the working man', said the President, 'just like this one', pointing to Lassiter and giving him an embrace. 

Lassiter went back to Alabama.  J&B took him back, wrote 'The Gentleman Trucker' on the door of his cab, and sent him off to Baltimore for gypsum.  He raised his salary thanks to Lassiter's newly minted credentials, and the whole episode turned out well for all concerned.  Not for Joe Biden, of course, who lost miserably to Donald Trump, but for just about everyone else. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

An African Big Man Comes To The Biden White House - 'Black Is Beautiful', Said The President

Charles M'bele was the longtime ruler of a central African country and had no intention of leaving.  Like Mobutu of the Congo a generation before, M'bele was the darling of the West because of the vast mineral wealth of his country. In Mobutu's day it was copper, today it is rare earths, those minerals without which cell phones and computers cannot operate.  American and European leaders overlooked his autocratic rule, or at least accepted it as the price for doing business and because he kept the insurrectionist factions always in their barracks.  

Life in the country was miserable, a sink hole of corruption, crime, and destitution.  M'bele had siphoned every last penny of foreign aid to his cousins, loyal supporters, and most of all to his Swiss bank account.  It was reported that he was worth over $10 billion and that, his critics noted, was a gross underestimate. 

He, like all big men in Africa was adept at keeping civil order, encouraging the West with promises of elections and judicial reform, building a bridge here and there, and speaking eloquently about world peace and cooperation at the United Nations.  He was a symbol of what Africa could be with decisive, forward-thinking leaders like him. 

Recently, as part of his strategy to secure more untied funding from the United States, he called national elections, rigged every last polling place, surrounded them with Tonton Macoute-type thugs, distributed free palm wine and trinkets, played the most popular high-life and reggae, brought in dancing girls from Kinshasa, and went on the stump with his retinue.  

The UN observers were a bit put off by the Tonton Macoute look-alikes, but they were a Central African Republic contingent, a kind of neo-blue helmet deployment more interested in the women provided by the President than the polls, and the UN wrote them off as 'civil disciplinarians'. 

The President won the election with nearly one hundred percent of the votes, but for propriety's sake and for his upcoming visit to the White House, he set the victory at a reasonable 60 percent margin.  The Biden White House bought all this lock, stock, and barrel so intent were they to secure M'bele's country's wealth and to fete and honor a real black African.  In Biden's introduction of the African President to the American public, the man could have no blemishes, no taint, and no scars.  He was to be a Black Athena. 

 

Now, M'bele was not alone in Africa with his autocratic rule.  The whole continent was ruled by big men who neutered and stifled any local enterprise that might have existed - observers have used the term 'might' because even during the European colonial period most of the continent was still tribal, barely Paleolithic, and populated by little more than hunter-gatherers.  

Any hopes of an economic miracle a la Japan, China, or Malaysia had always just been whistlin' geopolitical Dixie, and when topped off with dictatorships like those of Amin, Kagame, Deby, Mobutu, and M'bele, Africans were destined to remain boiling peanuts in the forest. 

M'bele was one of the worst big men on the continent.  At least the leader of Angola had let the Chinese build a modern rail, shipping, and air traffic system for a guaranteed long-term basement floor price for oil and as many diamonds and rare minerals they could carry; but M'bele didn't even do that.  He did contract a Chinese company to mine rare earths in the Eastern Provinces and an Israeli one to protect the mines from rebel attacks.  The minerals were sold to the highest bidder and the profits transferred to personal accounts in Switzerland, Macao, and Caribbean islands. 

The country festered in miserable poverty.  Social, economic, financial, educational, and health indicators were the worst in Africa, and that was saying something.  M'bele's country was the Mississippi of Africa; and like the American state, showed no signs whatsoever of improvement. The cities were rat-infested, malarial, crime-ridden miasmas.  The countryside was denuded, unproductive, and empty. 

M'bele - again like his autocratic neighbors - was indifferent to the plight of his countrymen.  He once explained to a visiting UN mission how Africa worked.  'I am sitting in this Presidential chair thanks to my family, my tribe, my community, and my nation; and I will repay them in exactly that order'. Allegiances or even concern for governance and people governed were last on the list to be given only desultory interest and little tangible support. 

So it was a surprise that M'bele had been invited to the White House; but maybe not that surprising when the diplomatic traffic between the two countries is read.  M'bele had, among all other African leaders, shown a compassionate concern for the fate of black Americans.  He more than anyone else had praised the American president for his unremitting efforts to raise the stock of the black man and to raise him to his rightful place atop the human pyramid.  M'bele might be politically suspect in his own country, but to Biden he was an African's African - a man deeply committed to race, Negritude (a concept borrowed of course from Senghor), and black racial superiority. 

Not only that, M'bele's country showed promise.  Biden and his foreign policy advisors knew that promise was just about all one could hope for in Africa, and they believed that if just a few corners were turned, a bit of adjustment here and there, the country would be on the road to progress and prosperity. 

Of course this was all fiction, imagination, and fantasy.  No sub-Saharan African country had made the least progress in their sixty plus years of independence.  In fact they were far better off under the French, the British, the Portuguese, and the Belgians.  Yet, without hope and promise, Africa would be consigned to perpetual misrule, penury, and tribalism; and this is why Biden was so anxious to have M'bele to the White House.  He was the great, black African hope. 

M'bele showed up at the White House in a caravan of Mercedes and Range Rovers, bedecked in military dress festooned with medals and honorary sashes, and accompanied by ten beautiful, lithe, graceful, and seductive young African women.  He brought his own honor guard with him, his own ceremonial garb, and his adoring legions. He took President Biden by the shoulders, looked him in the eye, and said, 'Brother, I am here'.

Nothing could be more endearing to the American president who had always wanted to be black, who had envied his boss Barack Obama for his African roots, and admired Bill Clinton, the self-proclaimed 'first black President'.  This invitation of M'bele was for mineral wealth, geopolitical security, and electoral influence; but more than anything it was because of Biden's lifelong desire to be other than white. 

Biden's briefing papers had given him fair warning about whom he was about to entertain in the Rose Garden and at a formal state dinner - the corruption, the undiluted greed, the venal, self-interest governance, and the universal kleptocracy of his government - but the President had firmly held on to 'hope and promise'.  His adage had always been, 'Never give up on the black man', and here was a prime example of policy put into action. 

 

The conservative press had a field day with the visit, but the liberal media outlets were overjoyed that finally a real African was to break bread at the highest level of the American government.  Biden's political supporters, the Squad, and the Congressional Black Caucus were overjoyed at the invitation and seated at places of honor at the banquet table.  Black leaders, pastors, and ordinary black Americans were to meet the African President.  He would see how black Americans were so important to Biden and his party. 

M'bele's speech to the banquet guests went on for an hour - a rambling, self-serving, biopic of the great man and his accomplishments, the salvational nature of the African, the spiritual contribution of the great black diaspora, and the future of the world's 'new Asia'.  'We will be there, my good friends', he assured the crowd. 'You can be assured of that'. 

And so it went from Washington Monument to the African American Museum where M'bele's photo was taken next to sports and entertainment greats.  Up and down the Mall, quick ins and outs of famous places, a farewell lunch, and a ceremonial sendoff. 

 

M'bele went home with a check for $100 million in untied aid in his pocket, a warm embrace by the President of the United States, and an open invitation to return.  The trip had been a success. 

M'bele of course changed not one bit, distributed the American aid money to family, relatives, and supporters and padded his Aruba account with the rest; lit a cigar and sipped a glass of Remy Martin fine champagne cognac and whispered to the lovely young thing on his lap, 'I'm home, sweetheart'. 

Monday, June 17, 2024

The Coming Sexual Revolution - Virtual Reality, Hope For Nerds, Dorks, And Losers

Everyone seems to be worried about Artificial Intelligence (AI) but the train has left the station and in a few generations no one will be able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.  Much more importantly, they won't care.  Who would exchange the woman of their dreams for spotty, shaggy Louise from Accounting?  

When complete computer-brain interface has finally become seamless, we will be able to wander through the gardens of Versailles with the Duchess of Nantes, drink the finest wines in the vineyards of the Loire, sample the delights of a geisha from Kyoto, all without leaving home.  Brick and mortar will be things of the past, cloddy things left far behind. 

 

Scientists have already begun to decipher the complex electronic circuitry of the brain and link impulse and synapse to particular thought. Elon Musk has reported that his scientists have deciphered enough of the human brain's electrical code to enable a quadriplegic man to move a cursor with his brain only - to think its movements.  It is only a matter of time before the electronic language of the brain is understood, enabling a mind-computer communication and an opening a limitless virtual world. 

Once vocabulary, syntax, and grammar have been mastered and employed, the symbiosis will be complete. Our thoughts will be mediated by the computer thus enabling us to access the billions of bits of electronically-stored information in cyberspace, to manipulate it, and to create our own personal virtual realities. There will be no ‘mediation’ required by the computer. It will be the human brain and/or vice-versa.

These advances in Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality are particularly significant because once this symbiosis between mind and machine is complete, there will be no reason to simply rely on the ‘real’ world for stimulation or satisfaction. A virtual world which is indistinct from the ‘real’ one and of infinitely more possibilities for interaction will replace reality.

Much has changed over the last decades. Interactive virtual reality in the form of super-real video games is but the precursor to advanced games where there is no manipulation of a gadget, but a seamless interaction with the characters within one’s mind-environment.  More and more data are being digitized.  

Stimuli of the real world – the scent of jasmine, the taste of briny oysters – are being disaggregated into their component parts and then recreated. There is no mystery or some cosmic pleasure in eating an oyster.  Soon, thanks to this disassembly and virtual recreation, the gourmet diner will be able to ‘eat’ Olde Salt, Apalachicola, Hood Inlet, and Wellfleet oysters every day; or fresh foie gras; or the finest Sonoma Flowers pinot noir. 

Image result for images hood inlet oysters

It might take some getting used to, this replacement of the ‘real’ by the virtual; but soon enough the distinction will disappear altogether.  In fact, once we realize that virtual reality is better than the real thing, thanks to the infinite personal adaptations possible within a virtual world, the easier it will be for us to drop our archaic notions of what is.  In other words, if one cannot distinguish between the ‘real’ and the virtual, then they are both equal in value.

Herman Figgins was a slow thinker and could not have understood the first thing about such a metaphysical issue even if he tried.  For him fantasy and reality were already so indistinctly separated, that even if he had heard about the cybernetic revolution, it would have made no sense and made absolutely no difference. 

This is not to say that Herman was psychotic or schizophrenic.  He knew well enough when he transported the lovely Nancy Blythe into his daydreams, she was still in Virginia somewhere; but that made no difference.  He had no chance with her in reality, but every night before he shut his eyes, he travelled with her, dined with her, danced with her, and made love to her.  

A real life with her would have been impossible - he a stumbling dummy and she a beautiful, blonde thing who came across the river to work on the seventh floor, all bouncy and delightfully sweet - so daydreams would have to do; and the more time he spent with Nancy in his fantasy world, the less he wanted her in reality.  Fantasy was far better. 

Which of course was the whole point of virtual reality.  It trumps the real thing every day of the week.  The steaks in a virtual world will be juicier, the oysters more briny and succulent, the colors and fragrances of a rose garden more intense. 

 

As a child Herman loved fairy tales, and even then was able to completely immerse himself in fables.  He was the knight in shining armor, the hero who won the princess.  He was the boy in the meadow, the Prince Charming wooing his lady.  In his dreams he was always rescuing a maiden in distress, slipping into her bedchambers and placing a wreath of lilies-of-the-valley on her head. 

Now, in today's clinical, solve-all world, Herman would be thought emotionally retarded, a young man unable to adjust to life's demands and forced to retreat into a make-believe world to compensate for his inadequacies; but he was no such person.  In his own instinctive way he realized that not only was there really no difference between fantasy and reality but that he could manipulate one to enhance the other.  Virtual reality was made for him. 

This rather unattractive, clumsy young man was actually a metaphysical giant - someone who intuitively grasped the essential question of what is.  Without being able to articulate it, to explain it in Kantian terms or even to intimate what he knew, he was far ahead of the curve.  He got it.  Reality was not all it was cracked up to be. 

 

Of course the glitterati thought they had it all, and sniffed at the idea of a virtual replacement for their arm candy, yachts, and homes in Biarritz and Rimini.  Only dorks and nerds squirrelled themselves away reading girly magazines and watching sex tapes.  While they were right, their vision was myopic. In the arrogant assumption that they knew it all, that the actual blue waters of the Mediterranean and lovely Corsican women were the be-all and end-all of existence, they missed the point.  

Soon, with or without them, everyone would be able to enjoy not only the same pleasures but far more exciting, sensuous, and satisfying ones - personally crafted fantasies derived from the deepest reaches of childhood desire. 

And so it was that Herman Figgins, metaphysical giant, man well before his time, lay back in bed and dreamed of Nancy Blythe.  Where would they go tonight, and how many sweet, luscious kisses would she give him?

Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Vicar Of Christ Snookered By America - Pope Francis Goes Way, Way Diverse

Cardinal N'diaye, a former African archbishop recently raised to the Church's highest penultimate rank, had like most African prelates in the Church grown restive and unhappy with the Vatican's new secular drift.  There were enough homosexuals in the vestry, they said, without Francis banging on about diversity and even going so far as to bless gay marriage. 'I did NOT bless gay marriage', the Pope retorted, 'I just blessed the men involved'.  

 

Some fancy parsing and linguistic acrobatics, Cardinal N'diaye thought before his audience with Francis. Of course he was blessing the marriage, who did he think he was fooling? Before long this pope would go completely off the rails.  The rumblings of a palace coup had already been felt in the Vatican as conservative cardinals felt it was time to remove this apostate.  None too soon, thought N'diaye, none too soon. 

The title Vicar of Christ is an important one, for it indicates the direct line a Catholic pope has to St. Peter and through him to Jesus Christ himself.  The selection of a new pope is not the black smoke white smoke deliberation of a hundred old men, but the hand of God.  Francis, Ratzinger, Paul II, John Paul and all the rest were chosen by the Almighty to do his bidding on earth. 

So what was this pope doing banging around in kitchens where he didn't belong? At that errant thought, Cardinal N'diaye thought of his mother's thieboudienne and poulet Yassa eaten under the banyan tree in Thiès with his aunts and uncles and little Ivan, named after the Russian who had fallen in love with his great aunt, Fatima.  Francis should visit Africa, N'diaye considered, for there he would give up any notions of gay sex and not hesitate to cleanse parish vestries of buggery just like Hercules cleaned the Augean stables.

Jesus was gay, wrote a well-known French cleric turned Biblical historian.  Do you think that the apostles just sat around like a group of golf buddies?  And the Last Supper simply a seder? The betrayal of Judas was a matter of homosexual pique by a jealous man, not the ecclesiastical betrayal interpreted routinely by white straight men. 

 

When N'diaye heard of this, he was incensed.  Where was Francis? and why didn't he excommunicate the man? Another case of craven capitulation to the West, gay this, gay, that; and before you know it there will be a transvestite in St. Peter's.  As a matter of fact, who really was Archbishop Finnerty, that Irish arriviste pushing for Cardinality.  What was beneath his cassock, or rather what wasn't?

Burned by the press after the gay marriage thing, the Pope got on his other hobby horse, the environment, and in a discourse on Thursday had said that it was Catholics' duty to protect the environment as part of 'God's creation', as sacred as an unborn child.  Life should be sacred wherever and however it might be found. 

All well and good, but when he started in on the greedy, manipulative capitalist energy czars, he crossed the line.  The whole eye of the needle thing was not about the inherent evil of wealth, but how the acquisition of it often deflected Man's spiritual vision; but there he was banging on about ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and electric cars. 

'When will you make an end', Julius II had yelled at Michelangelo hanging from a scaffold under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, paint dripping onto his face. The pope was getting impatient with Buonarotti, hanging up there for ages when the thing should have been done long ago; and N'diaye had the same frustrated sentiment about Francis. Get it out of your bloody system, and get back to business. 

Which was what, exactly, asked a colleague of N'diaye's, a supporter of Francis's progressive causes.  'Wasn't Jesus about the very same things?'

Now, it was just this post-modern, deconstructionist parsing of the teachings of the Church that drove N'diaye up the wall.  Jesus never said a thing about the environment except that it and all that was in it, i.e. the universe, was the creation of God the Father, suffused with goodness, infested by the devil, one place, a comprehensive unity of all living things.  Some things come, some things go, and Man is but one equal part of that place.  So why all the banging on about global warming? So what? God's universe, God's marbles, God's game. 

 

Just when Cardinal N'diaye had thought that Francis had turned the corner and was headed back to Catholic originalism - a return to Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, and Aristotle - he showed up at the G7 meeting in Rome and hectored the world leaders about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence, whingeing and whining about 'veracity in an age of duplicity' or some such thing in Italian-ese (the old Argentine community organizer still had not mastered the tongue of the Church).  Francis had no idea what he was talking about and pulled randomly-selected speculations from the likes of that monastic loudmouth Biggins from America who said that humanity was in for it. 

Francis had more on the ball than Biden who looked dazed and confused throughout the meeting and who couldn't keep his eyes off Giorgia Meloni, the young, attractive Italian President who presided over the meeting.  Francis at least looked like he understood bits and pieces of the colloquy. He should have spoken up when the discussion turned to abortion - the only area in which he was supremely qualified to speak - but once again, concerned about 'inclusivity', he said his rosary under the table and kept quiet. 

N'diaye knew that most Africans had no concerns about artificial intelligence and virtuality.  Their animist world was all virtual - immanent spirits, evanescent beings, unseen supernatural forces, insidious djinns and devils - so any electronically-generated world would be no different; and besides, it was just like the white man to fool around with toys rather than rut in the forest.  

The Cardinal was ashamed to even think these thoughts, but it is what it is, and unlike his father - chosen by France as an honorary Frenchman, given an internship in St. Louis, Senegal, and then invited to citizenship after the war - most of his fellow Africans were still spear-hunting on the savannah. 

When he finally had his long-awaited meeting with Francis, he spelled out his concerns, quite a litany unfortunately, but all of which needed to be said. 'Stick with the program', he told the Pope, referring to the received wisdom of the church developed by the Early Church Fathers and passed on from century to century by a succession of Vicars of Christ, and went on to air his grievances. 

'Have faith, my son', Francis said to him, taking gentle hold of the African's shoulders and looking him in the eye. 'God will provide'.  He sounded just like N'diaye's parish priest in Thies who had nothing better or more profound to say when the young man asked him doctrinal questions.  He was the Pope, for God's sake, and this was all he had to say? 

N'diaye soldiered on, gay men in the vestry, the primitive, myopic view of environment and man's place within it, the give and take on abortion, the empirically sound notions of capitalism and Francis' meanderings into socialism; but the Pope merely smiled and repeated his nostrum about God.  

The next Pope must be African! N'diaye thought.  That would put an end to all the puerile nonsense that has captured Francis' attention. 

He kissed the Pope's ring, and left his chambers, discomfited, as frustrated as ever, and looking forward to thieboudienne for dinner, not at his mother's hand, God rest her soul, but by Ibrahim, recruited especially to be his aide de camp. 


Saturday, June 15, 2024

One Hundred Comedians Meet The Pope - 'Lighten Up', He Tells Catholics

One hundred comedians met with Pope Francis recently in His Holiness' desire to spread world peace through laughter and more to the point, to lighten up the Vatican which had gotten some very bad press. The Church's sexual abuse scandals had not been easily forgotten, and its straying into progressive politics had discomfited many who would have liked the Pontiff to keep on message - eternal salvation, not inclusivity should be the only item on the Pope’s calendar.

 


The Church is not what it once was, aggressive, defiantly arrogant, territorial, and above all the only home for absolute truth. No pope since Vatican II, which instituted revolutionary changes to Catholic ritual, procedure, and doctrine, has taken John Paul's reforms so seriously.  

Turning the priest around to face the congregation instead of to Christ on the cross, performing the mass in the vernacular instead of in Latin, decommissioning nuns, and encouraging popular participation in the liturgy are nothing compared to Francis' forays into liberal politics - the climate, foreign affairs, and matters of state. 

Of course Francis knows no more about these issues than the man in the street, and each time he ventures into the muddy waters of social debate, he gets swamped. Well-meaning perhaps but completely out of his element; and wandering far from his ecclesiastical mission. 

No sin is more heinous and damning than the sexual predation of priests.  Thousands of young boys have been assaulted, abused, traumatized, and disabled because of sexually greedy, intemperate, unholy priests.  These men are not simply functionaries of a large institution shuffling papers and making speeches.  They are sacramentally-appointed representatives of Christ on earth.  Doing what they did is unconscionable; and they are still there. 

As pointed out in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight which chronicled the Boston Globe's expose of thousands of pedophile priests in Massachusetts dioceses, the Church simply recycled pedophile priests with no exposure and no censure.  The Vatican continues this policy. 

So, in the light of all this it is no wonder that the Pope invited Jerry Seinfeld and a host of other funny men and women to the Vatican.  They had no chance to do their shticks - some of these guys like Sarah Silverman, H.D. Hughley, Ricky Gervais, and Eddie Murphy are no-holds-barred performers who are downright, stone hilarious and 'Tummlers At The Vatican' would have been sold out months in advance; but if there was any real comedy, it had to be in a quick joke down the receiving line. 

Did Jesus have a sense of humor? Of course he did.  He was human and a smart one at that, not one to suffer fools, a man with a funny bone. What God created might have been not what he expected and so badly in need of salvation, but neither he nor his son could have predicted the absurdly comic ways it turned out.

Jesus might have been divine, but he was also human, and a sense of humor is one of humanity’s most characteristic traits.  At some point even the sourest, pinched, and humorless person has to laugh. 

The Gospels are are noticeably silent about Jesus’ early years.  The twelve years between his birth and his appearance in the temple where he preached get no mention; but surely as a boy he must have found things funny.  His father was a carpenter who must have misplaced things, banged  his thumb, stumbled over the water bucket, and got kicked by the mule.  

Some Biblical scholars infer from the tales of his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem that he must have enjoyed himself.  At the many banquets described in the New Testament, could he have always kept a straight face? Or not shared in a joke? 

Was there no bantering and joking between him and his disciples like there almost always is when men get together?  Was everything in the three years recorded in the Gospels such a serious affair?  Surely, even a man on a mission as revolutionary as his could not have thought only of his Father, his being, and his divine purpose.  If God indeed created him as a man, then he must have given him room for a good laugh. 

Whether or not there is a record proving that Jesus was funny is not the point.  If he was human, of course he was funny.  All of us know that everything is funny. Whether or not Jesus was funny is not the point.  If he was human, of course he was.  All of us know that everything is funny.  Mel Brooks found the Nazis funny: 

Germany was having trouble
What a sad, sad story
Needed a new leader to restore
Its former glory
Where oh where was he?
Where could that man be?
We looked around and then we found
The man for you and me and now it's
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Deutschland is happy and gay
We're marching to a faster pace 

Look out, here comes the master race

So, Pope Francis wants to tell Catholics that is OK to laugh; but of course we have always known that; just don't laugh at the Church because salvation is no laughing matter. Yet what about that papal get up, the red slippers, silk, and gold embroidery; that marvelously orchestrated, organ-thundering, incense-and-candles high Mass; the flagellations on Spain's Via Dolorosas, the incredible myths, superstitions, and elegant pomposity of the Church? Who can't laugh at it all? It is about time for good send-up, especially given the rise of Islam, the most humorless, deadly serious religion going. 

It is reported that Jerry Seinfeld told this joke to the Pope when his turn came:

A priest and a rabbi are walking down a street when they see a 13 year old boy walking towards them. The priest says, "Let's take him down this alley and screw him". 

The rabbi says, "Out of what?" 

 

The cameras caught a smile on the Pontiff's face, but it could have only been a polite smile.  A man who has spent his life in sanctimonious seriousness can wake up all at once. 

Friday, June 14, 2024

Sexual Obsession - God's Dogged, Unholy Irony

Bob Phillips thought of women all the time and had since he first had a look down Nancy Barber's sleeveless blouse in Latin class one late Spring day.  Konstantin Levin, a protagonist in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina reflects on God's ultimate irony, having created Man as an intelligent, insightful, creative, spiritual figure with a great sense of humor, giving him a few decades to express this marvelous package of divinity, then consigned him for all eternity in the cold, hard ground of the steppes. 

Bob thought Tolstoy was on to something, but never mentioned the more obvious, more real, and far more painful irony of life.  God created men with a lifelong, ineluctable, persistent and unavoidable sexual interest in women, but granted them but a few scant years to do something about it.  Bob's daydreams and nightdreams of beautiful young women, all the most succulent, warm and willing incarnations of Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Scarlett Johansson, and Taylor Swift all amalgamated, sourced, and AI generated into one woman who wanted him never ended.  While only add-ons to his actual escapades in his younger years, they were now his only sustenance - or his early Purgatory. 

The Coleman Silk character in Phillip Roth's The Human Stain had it exactly right when he was telling his colleague and friend about his young mistress - a woman far from his intelligence, pedigree, education, and social status but willing to take him to bed.  'She is not my first love, Nathan', Coleman says, 'and not my best love, but she most certainly is my last love. Doesn’t that count for something?’ And so it was with Phillips who had had his December-May affair with Laura from Accounting, one with the same disparities in class, culture, and intelligence as the Roth character but fortunately disengaged before an unfortunate end.

'Have you thought of a prostitute?' his doctor asked him when he shared his existential troubles with him.  Phillips was nonplussed, taken aback by the suggestion, but on reflection it made perfect sense.  At his age any hopes for a non-commercial liaison were nil, trolling for fifty- and sixty-year old divorcees held no interest whatsoever, and only a young, soft, supple, wet, and willing girl would do, paid or not. 

Of course this idea took some time to formulate and mature. He had never resorted to prostitutes in his long life nor ever had to. Sexual adventure and conquest came easily and naturally, but then he hit the wall.  Women were simply no longer interested.  He neither had the good looks of an elderly Mafia don nor the wealth of a retired investment banker to attract arm candy, so the physician's suggestion had to be considered. 

 

At his age AIDS, given its long incubation period, was irrelevant, and he certainly could afford the highest-paid call girls in Washington, so what was he waiting for? 

Ah, yes, that indecipherable love thing.  Even with the most fleeting, random sexual connections, there was at least some empathy, some twinge of more than just physical desire; so having sex with a poseur, a tummler, a fake would take all the anticipation, hope, and excitement out of it.  It would be rutting, nothing more, nothing less.  Is this all there is? he asked. 

He looked around him and wondered.  All these alte kockers had to be in the same soup, all searching for answers in the last decades of their lives but still in the thrall of that goddam thing, that irritatingly persistent sexual obsession; but what he thought was a universal hell was not so.  There was a spectrum in sexual interest, a bell curve, just like for everything else.  There were men who drew down on their children's inheritance with hookers galore and never gave it a second thought; and men who practiced the same abstemious fidelity they had their whole lives.  There was more to life than just the temporary, temporal adjustments that Bob was seeking. 

'All is Maya, illusion', said one classmate, reciting the words of the Bhagavad Gita, 'and you, Bob, can't see the difference'; but so what if la poupée from Ghislaine's stable was a fiction, a misleading temptress? Life might be an illusion, but born we were in it, so why climb Mount Kailash when there was still fruits to be picked on earth?

'Speaking of illusion', another friend noted, 'virtual reality trumps the real thing any day of the week', referring in academic-ese to self-pleasuring; and like Bob's other friend and his doctor, he had a point. We were headed for complete virtuality anyway, so what was  the problem with a thunderbolt orgasm just imagining Nancy Barber loving him?

It was so unseemly for a man of his age to look up the skirts of attractive young women on K Street.  It was the prurience of it that bothered him - sniffing at the hems of these ladies and doing nothing whatsoever about it.  Of course he was not like Henry Dolphin who came home from the World Bank and watched streaming Sissy Lorton take off her undies.  Bob had never and would never sink that low. 

Maybe Konstantin Levin had it wrong in the first place, pushing the blame onto God.  Man up! Figure out what's what before it's too late, 'When I was child...', etc. etc. And above all, quit this nonsense about sex. Not worth it, never was, never will be. 

 

Of course this train of thought did nothing for Bob's nightdreams or daydreams, and until his dying day, he kept seeing Nancy Barber's sweet young breasts. 

'I wonder if women suffer the same fate', he asked a woman friend he had known forever. 'Of course not, you idiot', she said. 'Haven't you learned anything?'; and with that he swallowed the last bite of chicken on his plate, and went to bed. 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Burning At The Stake - Time To Rethink The Witch Hunts Of Salem

Mary Tides was a difficult, disobedient, nasty little girl that nobody liked, least of all her parents who blamed her very being on a distant relative.  They could not be responsible for such a child, so she must be the legacy of someone else in the family, Uncle Harry, for example, twice arrested, locked up in Danbury, and as malevolently twisted as the judge had ever seen, but not insane enough to get him acquitted, excused or pardoned.  

He and his brother Arthur were born miscreants, forever arrested for shoplifting, vandalism, and battery, but they were apples that didn't fall very far from the tree, for the patriarch of the family who set the ball rolling through his own deviance and anti-sociability was no different.   

Be that as it may, Mary Tides was a bitter, hateful girl whom no one could handle. The nuns of St. Joseph, bulls of the old school with a reputation for discipline, order, and obedience admitted that the girl was beyond their reach, a demonic little bitch who deserved something more than just the severe punishment meted out by them - the vestry closet, the icy basement, and the church tower. 

Father Brophy asked the nuns to have patience.  "'Suffer the children to come unto me', Jesus said, and you, Sister Mary Joseph, must also have love in your heart and patience in your breast" 

'But she's a devil, Father', the nun replied, 'good for nothing but hellfire and brimstone and the company of fools'. 

'Now, now, Sister', the old priest said, placing his hand on her shoulder and smiling. 'She is one of God's own, and He knows best'.

That little episode was but the first of many to follow. On the playground she was an intimidating kindergarten enforcer, dragged out of recess and sent home. As she grew older, she cut her own path, a swath through high school and in college a laid-waste bloody battlefield.  Never had teachers, administrators, and counselors seen such a young woman of such horrific meanness. 

She was smart, they granted her that, and professors were warned not to deny her the grades she deserved on the grounds of personality. 'Venomous, hateful personality', they all said. 

Her valedictory speech at Sedgwick Friends school oozed with sarcasm, irony, and ill-concealed disgust.  The Principal knew what was coming but couldn't very well prevent her from speaking.  The school, after all, prided itself on inclusivity, tolerance, and humanity; yet even he clenched his fists and wanted to throw the girl from the second floor balcony onto the cement below.  

 

Law school was next, and there Mary found at least some outlet for the nearly irrepressible aggressive spirit that had been blunted so far by every adult she had met.  Courtroom law - there was no doubt in her mind that that was where her future lay - would be the perfect venue for her brilliance and her absolute disdain and disregard for the defense who were amateurs, sticklers for fine points of the law, masters of procedure, and losers.  Her bilious scorn for her opponents, and her disgust with the trash they defended was evident from the first words of her opening statements. 

The story of Mary Tides, however, is but a preamble to the larger one - how Mendel in his precise and detailed laws of genetics somehow missed something - things that go totally awry and follow no XY, DNA double helix patterns.  

'I cannot account for it', said Paddington Harper, Professor Emeritus of Genetics at Duke when he heard of Mary Tides and a hundred women like her, stories from psychiatric journals that chronicled the lives of what in social terms had been called harridans, vixens, and shrews; and who had in 1692 been burned at the stake for witchcraft.

 

For all their cant and wild accusations of demonic possession, the Calvinist pastors of Massachusetts had been on to something.  Mary Tides was the virtual clone of Hepzibah Parsons, a woman whose venomous hatred for men and howling attacks on 'the bloody souls' of women sent her crackling and burning at the stake faster than any other accused.  

'Bloody Hell', she shouted as the flames licked up her legs, 'A curse on everyone of you putrefying maggots'. 

Of course Mary Tides who up to a point kept her own counsel would never have been so outspoken about her misanthropy.  Every other one of the women researched by the Duke professor had the same profile - as organically hateful as Hepzibah Parsons, but smart enough to word their vindictiveness and dismissiveness more carefully, masters they all were of dripping sarcasm and irony.

'Bitches', said Paddington Harper's colleague to him over coffee one day. 'Cunts, always have been, always will be'.  The colleague however had just been burned by his former wife in a contentious divorce where she ended up with everything, so his resentment was natural; but, thought Harper, he too had a point.  Where on earth did these women come from?  

These hectoring, bloodsucking....Here, he held his tongue.  Even in rare moments of pique he never resorted to the language of his colleagues; but his inner voice shouted them.  'Othello was right', he said to the face in the mirror. 

Othello accused Desdemona of infidelity, and he murdered her by his own admission, to save men from her duplicity.  'You're next', he shouted as he was taken away from the tribunal, guilty as charged.  

The likes of Mary Tides, mused the professor, was in another league altogether, beyond the pale, a Kate the Shrew, Goneril, Regan, Lady Macbeth, Tamora, Dionyza, and Volumnia all wrapped up in one.  Shakespeare never offered any reasons why these women were so evil-minded.  Genetic twisting and Freudian analysis were far in the future; but he knew that such women existed and men were most often powerless before them. 

The Professor went over all the extant cases of such unexplained malevolence and sorted them through every psycho-physiological, social, and genetic filter at his disposal; and he still came up dry.  He thought the unthinkable for a fleeting nano-second; but no, that was impossible.  Cunts and bitches they might be to his colleague, but....witches?  Impossible.  There simply had to be another explanation. 

The Catholic Church, of course, had no trouble in concluding that demonic possession was possible, and a senior member of the Vatican Council on Doctrinal Affairs admitted that the Devil was real and among us. 'Yes, we tend to see more possessions in women', the priest said, 'in fact a lot more, but that should in no way suggest that women are any more the vessels of satanic residence than men'. 

'I had to say that', whispered the Vatican priest to Paddington Harper and winked. 

Where does that leave us? There are many men who would certainly like to see their wives go up in smoke a la Salem but in the main they are simply henpecked, put upon husbands who have not learned the ins and outs of today's gender politics; yet once in a while a Mary Tides does show up and God forbid that any man should be taken in by her tasty bait. 

Burning at the stake? In today's climate of MeToo, gender inclusivity, and sexual vigilance?  Hardly, but still Harper could not shake the thought of Cotton Mather, the parsons and clerics of Salem, the witch trials, and burning at the stake. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

When Town Meets Gown - The Felicitous Alliance Of Yale And The Mafia

New Haven has always been an Italian town since immigrants first arrived there from Amalfi and Sorrento in the late 1800s. Wooster Square was the epicenter of the new generation of New Englanders, and new arrivals never had to speak a word of English.  Butchers, bakers, and greengrocers all spoke Italian, and residents never had to venture beyond Olive and Grand Streets for anything.  The police were never called - all disputes were settled internally - childbirth was always at home, and serious illness simply took its course. 

 

The new arrivals found work in the many factories of the city - guns, locks, metalworks, tools, and hardware.  Their children swept barber shop floors, ran errands, shucked oysters, and cleaned the muck from gutted fish on the wharf.  School was a luxury that few could afford and few attended. 

The Mafia of course was an important institution on Wooster Square.  Serious disputes were settled by them, money was lent in return for favors, peace kept between landlords and renters, and the Irish police, judges, and prosecutors kept at bay thanks to generous remembrances at Christmas and a few unpleasant visits to chambers. 

 

In the early days of the new century as the demand for foreign labor increased, ships sailing between Naples and New York were filled with families from Vico Equense, San Moreno, and Cabrini Agricola, all of whom said farewell to the aunts, uncles and cousins they would never see again, and looked to l'America for their fortune.  

Don Cicci, the Mafia boss of Wooster Square in the 1960s, had risen in the ranks of La Cosa Nostra, and although he maintained his allegiances to the Italian community there, his business ventures extended far beyond.  Thanks to his timely help with the dock worker strikes in 1955, he was given 'adjunct' membership to the Bonanno family and then full partnership a few years later.  He spent most of his time at his New York brownstone with a young dancer from Bari whose position as a Rockette was thanks to him and his friendship with the manager of the troupe. 

Yale University of course needs no introduction.  One of the oldest institutions of higher education in America, established in 1701 after the vision of John Davenport, Puritan minister and founder of the New Haven Plantation.  Davenport, an original member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had become disaffected with it and set off to create a more conservative Calvinist settlement.  He found the weather, the harbor, and the Indians congenial and he and the residents prospered.  A few years later Yale was on the New Haven green 

Yale in the 1960s was one of the richest, best endowed, and financially well-managed of all the Ivy League.  'The Vatican of North America' it was called, for like its Roman counterpart, Yale sat on billions. 

All of this was not lost on Don Cicci who saw in the credulous, patrician Yankees a goldmine.  Why was he to spend his entire life with the goombas of Brooklyn and the capo regimes of the Five Families when he could hob nob with the nation's elite and make a fortune.  Snookering these Cabots and Lodges who summered on the Vineyard and wintered in Gstaad would be a snap.  Although Don Cicci smelled profits in the university's plans for campus-wide renovation and the construction of two new colleges the real money would be made on Wall Street. 

Now, the town-gown relationship in those days was almost nil.  Thanks to Italo-Search, an initiative undertaken by the university to recruit and admit Italian Americans to Yale one or two Wooster Square boys were chosen.  'We want Italians to eat strawberries, not just serve them', said Alderman Benito Palumbo referring to the strawberry endowment at Trumbull College eaten by Cabots and Lodges and prepared in the kitchen by Petruccis and Garaffas. 

Other than that, the division between Yale and Wooster Square was as impenetrable as the Maginot Line or at least it was until Don Cicci and Harrison Putnam IV, descendant of John Davenport and Cotton Mather and an important Salem prosecutor, got together. 

Putnam had fallen on hard times.  Despite the family's pedigree and good intentions, it had lost millions in successive downturns of the market, bad investments, and a rather myopic look at American investment banking.  Add to that Putnam's drinking problem and frequent trips to Las Vegas.  

Once Don Cicci had got Harrison Putnam in his sights - intelligence on him was detailed, corroborated, and unimpeachable - and thanks to the intercession of Alderman Palumbo and the celebration of New Haven's founding to which Putnam was invited, a meeting was arranged.  With all his 'guinea charm' (patrician Yale was never shy about its characterization of Italian Americans), and subtle but unmistakable offers of financial salvation, the first steps to a town-gown partnership were taken. 

It is often assumed that Wall Street in those days was a fortress of patrician rectitude; and that the Enron scandals and the insider shenanigans that would lead to the financial meltdown in 2008 could never happen while the Cabots and Lodges were in charge.

Nothing of course could be further from the truth, and just as Don Cicci had identified Harrison Putnam as a weak link in an otherwise solid chain, so did his family locate an early Bernie Madoff at Bear Stearns. 

This trader was a hungry little man with no pedigree, no legacy, no entitlement who had gotten onto Wall Street with chutzpah, balls, and intimidation.  A rare bird in those days, but there he was, and before long Yale's money was being funneled through him into credit swaps and downstream Alabama bundled securities that later scammers could only admire. 

Putnam gave a big sigh of relief as his debts disappeared, a ten-bedroom mansion was built on Gay Head to replace his Menemsha cottage, and a longer lease negotiated for his Central Park South tower condo.

He remained in New Haven, however - remote work was far in the future - and with considerable skill and financial deftness kept the university in the dark, happy with the modest rewards he had engineered, and unsuspecting of the depth and extent of the scam. 

The relationship between the two men became cordial and then friendly.  For the first time in his life, Putnam set foot in Wooster Square, had an espresso at Cafe Napoli, and met Angela, Leona, and Lucinda.  'Notta so bad', he joked with Don Cicci as he expressed his thanks for the money, the freedom, and the delightful company. 

 

At the same time Don Cicci rubbed shoulders with the Vineyard's finest summer residents and met and drank with David Attenborough and Carly Simon.  The whole idea of town-gown relations had been expanded far beyond the New Haven green and Wooster Square.  

Both Putnam and Cicci were introduced to new worlds; and while Putnam still shot his cuffs nervously at some new Italian acquaintance of Cicci's; and while Cicci still smirked with irony when he met a Hart or a Chamberlain and listened to their stories of sailing and furniture, the match was a surprisingly good one. 

The best part of it all was that no one was the wiser, and the devilishly brilliant scheme went on for years.  The little greedy man made his millions and retired to Bimini.  A statue of Don Cicci was erected on Wooster Square in honor of the man who had done so much for the Italian American community; and Harrison Putnam was appointed Dean of Students - a post he declined, although appreciated, for he like the little greedy man wanted to retire and enjoy his fortune.