More Hidden Film Treasures

More Hidden Film Treasures

by Phil Noir

(dedicated to Martin Landau for his great work)

    So many films, so little time. These are some of my very favorite films. They’re all funny but dark — l loves me some darkness in my comedy. There are no car chases, gun battles, or stuff blowing up. These are films that weren’t box office smashes, and so may have escaped attention by many people. Because I write for bright, educated people (They’re my base) I want to share these beauties with you. So grab yourself some popcorn and the beverage of your choice, and please think responsibly.
    “Barcelona” (1994, 1hr 40min) — This little gem snuck up on me while I wasn’t looking. Ted (Taylor Nichols) is the sales rep in Spain for a Chicago electronics firm. He’s shy, bookish, and speaks like he’s reciting from a term paper. Small wonder that he has trouble getting laid, but that isn’t what he wants. He’s after a long-term relationship, but the “trade show girls” he’s exposed to offer little but superficiality. Enter his cousin Fred (Chris Eigeman), a U.S. Navy junior grade officer, who’s an advance man for the upcoming 8th Fleet shore leave. His arrogance plus the uniform aren’t always received well. The best parts of the film are with the wonderful Mira Sorvino. She wasn’t well known when the film came out, but the following year would win an Oscar for “Mighty Aphrodite.” The film explores European attitudes towards American exceptionalism slyly but caustically, as in the hilarious scene on an outing when ants are used as a metaphor of imperialism. Sorvino herself has the best line: “You seem very intelligent for an American.” It’s a quiet film, mostly, with great dialogue and wit.
    “Shadow of the Vampire” (2001, 1hr 33min) — The 1922 silent film classic “Nosferatu” is still one of the best and creepiest vampire films. It was made by German director F.W. Murnau and featured Max Schreck as the creature. “Shadow of the Vampire” is about the making of that film, with Murnau brilliantly played by John Malkovich. But the guy who really chews up the scenery is Willem Dafoe, unrecognizable as Max. He never appears out of character, which merely appears odd, until members of the cast and crew begin to disappear. When Max dines on the cinematographer, Murnau loses it. He’s not as concerned about the loss of life as he is in achieving his vision. He begs Max to lighten up a bit, and Max muses, “I do not think we need . . . the writer . . .” This is both a delightful comedy and a pretty good vampire film in its own right. Malcovich has never let me down; somehow he always delivers the goods. But Dafoe’s Max Schreck steals the show.
    “Mad Dog and Glory” (1993, 1hr 40min) — This film seems like a drama, but with every viewing it gets funnier. Robert De Niro plays a cop (when doesn’t he?) but this time it’s different. Wayne Dobie is a shy, withdrawn, police photographer who accidentally saves the life of a crime boss named Frank Milo (Bill Murray). In return, Franks gives him one of his girls (Uma Thurman as Glory) for a week. Naturally, complications arise. David Caruso plays Wayne’s partner Mike, and is dead solid perfect. He’s basically the same character he was in “NYPD Blue,” a show he left to pursue an unsuccessful film career playing the same guy. Here, he’s just right. The best part for me is Bill Murray taking on a dramatic role. I respect and admire artists who take risks, even if they don’t always work out. It’s the artist’s job to take risks. Murray is a sympathetic character as a mob boss who really wants to be a stand up comedian. So he buys his own club and his minions have no choice but to laugh at his less than perfect comedy stylings.
    There are several things to watch for in this film. Note De Niro’s body language; he looks shy and withdrawn, which has earned him the mocking nickname “Mad Dog” among his fellow police. Uma Thurman is sweet and vulnerable as Glory. Then there’s Harold, Frank Milo’s big gorilla enforcer. A giant in a cheap suit, strong but not so bright, Mike Starr plays him wonderfully. I’ve seen this film about a dozen times now, and the last few viewings I’ve enjoyed the Harold character more and more. My favorite scene, though, is when Caruso dresses down a fellow cop who’s also a woman abuser. It’s also the first time we encounter Harold. For some reason, though, what struck me about this film is the tragedy of Frank Milo, a man trapped in a life he doesn’t want and can’t escape from.
    “The Ruling Class” is a strange film, made in 1972. Peter O’Toole is at his best, I think, in this caustic satire on the British eccentricity, anal retention, and the class system. After the 13th Earl of Gurney accidentally dies in an auto-erotic asphyxiation mishap, while wearing a tutu, Jack, the rightful 14the Earl is found (O’Toole). He’s been confined to a mental institution for the last eight years, because he thinks he’s Jesus Christ. This isn’t an off the wall film; it’s very much an on the wall film, as I hope you’ll see. One line I love is when he’s asked how he knows he’s Jesus, and he says he realized that every time he prayed, he was talking to himself. People can talk all they want about his comedic prowess in films like “My Favorite Year” or “How to Steal a Million,” but this is definitely his finest comedy, in my view. This was one of O’Toole’s eight Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
    The family begins trying to figure out how to get rid of him. They try marrying him off so he’ll produce an heir, then they can throw him back into the madhouse. I must caution you, the film gets pretty dark later on, but gives you some things to think about. There are other terrific performances too, namely Alastair Sim as a Bishop, and the wonderful Arthur Lowe as Tucker, the butler. A restored version of this film was released in 1983, with over an hour of footage cut from the original. Don’t bother.
    “Ed Wood” — Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton have made a lot of films together, and they run the gamut in quality. But from “Edward Scissorhands” to their latest interpretations of Alice in Wonderland, these films are all great to look at. “Ed Wood” tells the story of Edward Wood, Jr., widely recognized as the worst filmmaker of all time. Wood just loved making films, and Depp beautifully brings that enthusiasm to the character. He also liked to dress in women’s clothing, especially angora sweaters. The film shows Wood making his first film, “Glen or Glenda,’ while playing the title role, but primarily concentrates on the making of “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” thought to be the worst film ever. Burton shot the scenes nearly identically to both original films; you could place them side by side and compare them (which has been done).
    The rest of the cast shines, too; Jeffrey Jones as Criswell and Bill Murray as Bunny Breckinridge, flamboyantly gay and yet not out of place in Wood’s circle of friends. Best of all, though, is Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi (who died before the picture was finished, and a double held his cloak over his face in Lugosi’s remaining scenes). Landau deservedly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Sadly, just as I was writing this piece, he passed away at the age of 89. This film is mostly about a man following his passion, for “following his bliss,” as the late mythologist Joseph Campbell put it.
    It is my hope that you will enjoy these films as much as Ed Wood, Jr. did making movies.

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User Error: Replace User

User Error: Replace User

    Today marks the 6th Anniversary of Wryly Coyote, the very first post of which I dedicated to my brother Jerry. July 19th is his birthday. I’d also like to thank all seven of my readers, as well as my long-suffering webmaster, John, my nonsensei.

    “Homosexual eases into 100m final at Olympic Trials,” read the headline on the site of the American Family Association, a heavily conservative Christian cult. “Tyson Homosexual easily won his semifinal for the 100 meter at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials . . .” The site downloaded an AP story, but they had used the search and replace algorithm to replace all instances of the word ‘gay’ with the word ‘homosexual.’ Tyson Gay is an American sprinter.
    Ben Zimmer is an editor at Oxford University Press. He has a regular column on the University of Pennsylvania’s website, “Language Log,” and I owe him tribute for many of these examples of the law of unintended consequences in using search and replace (find and replace in some systems).
    In July 2009, in The Chicago Tribune online obituary for Walter Cronkite, they’d replaced all instances of ‘Cronkite’ with ‘Mr. Cronkite,’ out of respect, you know. So the title is “Walter Leland Mr. Cronkite,” and there’s a statement by his daughter Kathy: “ ‘At home, he was gregarious, relishing spinning a one-line joke into an elaborate shaggy dog story,’ daughter Kathy Mr. Cronkite recalled.”
    The UK’s Guardian ran an article in 2012 about a new ebook translation of War and Peace. It was by Barnes and Noble, for their Nook e-reader. They had replaced any mention of ‘kindle’ with ‘nook,’ as Kindle is their competitor Amazon’s e-reader. So there’s a line that reads, “It was as if a light had been nookd in a carved and painted lantern.”
    Commonweal magazine found an old English version of a Pope Pius XII encyclical, in which all mentions of the word ‘times’ had been changed to ‘Times New Roman.’ A 2012 UK version of Trivial Pursuit had replaced all instances of ‘km’ with ‘kilometres,’ so a question on one of the cards read, “The film ‘Australia’ starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackilometresan is set during which war?” And a 1990 article on finance and economics in The Fresno Bee meant to use the expression ‘back in the black,’ but instead it came out ‘back in the African-American.’
    The Boston Metro is a free daily paper. They must have a search and replace algorithm so that if the day of the week mentioned was the day before, it’s replaced with ‘yesterday.’ That can be the only explanation for this item that had to be in the Tuesday edition after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday: “King’s birthday is January 15th, but the federal holiday bearing his name is observed on the third yesterday of January.” For the record, the third yesterday of January would be the 3rd, I believe. Wait, what if on the 1st you refer to the day before, would that make the 2nd the 3rd yesterday? Why don’t we just move on.
    There are results of religious organizations’ sites where the word ‘ass’ had been replaced by the word ‘butt,’ with hilarious consequences: Ambbuttador to the UN, the buttailant, when John Hinkley tried to buttbuttinate President Reagan, the bbutt guitar, and the famous artist Pablo Picbutto. You can imagine what happened to names like Cassandra, Cassie, or Cassiopeia. And don’t even think of replacing ‘tit’ with ‘breast.’ What happens then when you have to mention the U.S. Consbreastution?
    My favorite though, comes from Reuters article in 2006. It had been quickly corrected, but not before someone saved a screen shot. They had replaced any mention of ‘the queen’ with ‘Queen Elizabeth,’ which sounds innocent enough, until they ran an article about the genetics of bees. “Queen Elizabeth has 10 times the lifespan of workers and lays up to 2000 eggs a day.”
    In most cases, trouble can be avoided by stipulating that the change only applies to particular words. That would avoid all instances of the same letter combination occurring within another word.

    There are other traps for the unwary, one being autocorrect. I have the 2003 version of Word, and it’s grammar is horrendous. It consistently gets ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ wrong, and seems confused by the apostrophe. One time I had written “. . . the idea being to lower costs for the rest of us . . .” and it suggested “we.” Another time it suggested “they” in the sentence, “People can make themselves believe anything.” It’s just awful. I call it my special needs Word. It’s still handy for showing me when I run two words together or hit a wrong key.
    We should keep in mind that a spell checker is only as good as its word list. Have you ever heard of the Cupertino effect? Early word lists had the word ‘co-operation,’ but for some reason not ‘cooperation,’ so often it would suggest ‘Cupertino,’ which is a city in California. How and why would Cupertino be in a word list? That’s where the headquarters of Apple is located. There are still old UN, NATO, or EU documents floating around with wording like “The Southern Asian Association for Regional Cupertino.” There’s an even better one, though, from a South African Development Community communiqué: “The Heads of State and Government congratulates SATCC for the crucial role it plays in strengthening copulation and accelerating the implementation of regional programs in this strategic sector.” I would submit that copulation does require some degree of, uh, Cupertino.
    You have to pay attention to what the autocorrect is suggesting, that’s all. In one case ‘highfalutin’ had been replaced with ‘high flatulent,’ so that a Wall Street blog ran the following from an old debate with John Kerry and John Edwards, which had Edwards supposedly saying “Rhetoric is not enough. High flatulent language is not enough.” I actually like this one, especially for the present day, when we have a flatulent President with diarrhea of the mouth, constipation of the brain, and hair the color of warm piss.
    There was an Italian food blog in 2000 whose recipe included prosciutto, provolone, and pine nuts, among other ingredients. At one point it advised readers to “Stir in the prostitute” (I’m sorry, that was supposed to be prosbreastute). Its word list didn’t include ‘prosciutto.’ In another case, the word ‘socialist’ was recommended for ‘socialite.’
    All this makes me wonder; don’t any of these blogs and news agencies have proofreaders? Maybe it’s because of budget cuts. They can’t afford both a proofreader and a fact checker. These kinds of things aren’t anything new, though, only the technology has changed. A 1631 edition of the King James Bible printed 1000 copies. In the Ten Commandments section, the wording was “Thou shalt commit adultery . . .” It became known as the Wicked Bible or the Adulterer’s Bible, and of course it’s a collector’s item. One copy is currently available on an antique Bible site for $89,500.
    I guess the moral of our story is to always check your work. I’m reminded of the line by Morpheus in “The Matrix,” when he said “You have to focus, Trinity.” Wise words. You can always ignore the suggestions. Remember, when writing, you should feel enbreastled to the very best you can offer. You don’t want to embarrbutt yourself, do you?

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Go to Health!

Go to Health!

    The Republicans hate us, and want us all to die! That may sound like hyperbole, if you haven’t been keeping up with their plan to repeal and — kind of — replace Obamacare. As bad as the failed House attempt was, the bill in the Senate is even worse. It should have been called wealth care, because it’s really a big fat tax cut for the rich, paid for by gutting vital programs the low-income, elderly, disabled, and women — you know, the enemy. Here’s how the Senate bill breaks down, and keep in mind these projections are for ten years:
    — It guts the ACA protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
    — 22 million people will lose their health insurance.
    — Some $800 million will be cut from Medicaid. The program would be administered by the states, and matching government funding will be in the form of block grants, adjusted for inflation. Medical costs are skyrocketing compared to inflation. Medicaid serves about 74 million Americans annually, including about half of all births, almost 2/3 in nursing homes, and nearly 40% of children. As funding dries up over the years, states will either have to cut more people off or pay each less. The CBO score showed that by 2026 Medicaid spending will have been cut by 35%.
    — Nearly a $trillion in tax cuts, nearly all for the upper crust. People making less than $200,000 get no tax cut. $200,000 – $500,000 will get an average of $510. If you make over $500,000 your tax cut is $4740. Those making over $1 million will get $54,000. These numbers are from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The 400 richest households will get a total of $33 billion in tax cuts over those ten years. Here’s where the biggest tax cut applies — capital gains taxes, also know by the telling phrase, “unearned income. While working people pay a progressive tax rate with the top margin about 39.6%, capital gains are for those who produce nothing, do no labor, contribute nothing to society, but simply make money with money. That tax is 20% (it used to be 15%). In order to fund the Medicaid expansion of the ACA, another 3.8% was added to that tax, and the billionaire class has been upset about it every since.
    — It eliminates funding to Planned Parenthood for a year. That’s about $500 million, or 30% of PP’s budget. They treat between 3-5 million women a year.
    — The elderly may be charged up to 5 times the premium of a younger adult. Under the ACA 3X was the limit.
    — There will be a waiting period of six months, if you have no insurance and are trying to enroll. If you’ve been without insurance for 63 days or more, there will be a 30% additional charge on your premiums for one year.
    — $3-4 billion less in Social Security spending is a savings, alright. But it’s because in ten years, 209,000 more people will have died from lack of health care.

    Sen. Bernie Sanders has called the bill “not only incomprehensible, but unconscionable,” and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted: “CBO confirms this thing is a %#$@ sandwich.” Protesters have staged “die-ins” at GOP Senate offices in LA, IN, CO, WV, FL, TX, SC, MO, and CA. The bill has been opposed by the AMA, AARP, hospitals, doctors, nurses, and everyone else possessing a heart. One reason so many people will lose their insurance is because the bill drops the mandate for employers of 50 or more workers to provide coverage. The title of the bill says it all. The Better Care Reconciliation Act sounds benign enough, doesn’t it? I tracked down the bill and downloaded it as a PDF. That’s the short title. The full title is: Elimination of Limitation on Recapture of Excess Advance Payments of Premium Tax Credits. Do you see anything in there about health care? Me neither. Let’s just call it the Republican death care bill.
    At the same time, America is currently facing two public health emergencies — opioid addiction and diabetes. Last year, some 60,000 people died of drug overdoses, primarily on opioids and/or heroin. Have you heard anything from the lying orange asshole in the White House or the Republican controlled Congress? Ironically, the ten states with both the highest drug prescriptions and opioids addiction all voted for Trump. A study by two researchers at NYU and Harvard said this bill will leave an additional 3 million people with opioid addiction to lose some or all their coverage.
    There are 29 million Americans with diabetes, and another 86 million are pre-diabetic (CDC). Would you like to know what these scum-sucking pigs feel about that? Here’s Trump Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (who was one of the co-founders of the Tea Party), speaking at Stanford University recently, who classifies diabetes as a lifestyle choice: “That doesn’t mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly and gets diabetes.” It’s their own damn fault! The industrial food industry has nothing to do with it.
    Some states are actually trying to pass work requirements and/or drug tests in order to receive Medicaid. This is called poor-shaming. So someone who wants to get help for drug addiction has to pee in a bottle, then be told because he’s on drugs, he can’t get help for his drug problem. Brain dead former brain surgeon Ben Carson expresses the hard Right view: “I think poverty, to a large extent, is also a state of mind.” And if diabetes is a lifestyle decision, I would think opioid addiction certainly is. It’s their own fault! Big Pharma had nothing to do with it. I’ve said before how conservatives detest the poor. Let’s hear from Mulvaney again, as he details his idea of compassion: “We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs. We are going to measure compassion by the number of people we help get off those programs.” And House Speaker Ryan said it’s not a matter of losing coverage, but of choice. No, he really said that. You know Republicans are really big on choice (schools, health care) until it comes to women’s bodies. I guess people are choosing to not be covered (they’re choosing instead to buy food and keep the lights on). It’s getting harder to tell Republican talking points from headlines in The Onion.
    The profound ignorance of Americans never fails to amaze me. I keep hearing people say, “Why should I have to pay for maternity coverage when I’m never going to get pregnant?” Why should a woman pay for prostate cancer coverage? Because the more people in the pool the cheaper it is for everyone. People don’t even have the concept of “society” anymore. They can’t understand why they should pay property taxes for schools when they have no children. They really don’t get the concept. It’s that libertarian thinking, everyone is an island.   One of the problems the Senate had in getting enough votes is the same one the House had. Too many hard Righties thought the bill wasn’t “sufficiently conservative enough.” In other words, not mean enough. It’s ironic that nearly all evangelicals are conservatives. These are people who wear religion all over their sleeves, and yet turn their hearts away from pain and suffering in their brethren. They should go back and read Matthew 25  again (if not for the first time). Jesus is gently rebuking his disciples for not feeding him when he was hungry, not giving him drink when he was thirsty, or not clothing him when he was naked. When they ask him when did they not feed him, give him drink, or cloth him, he answers: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it to me.” If Jesus came back now, he would pinch these people’s heads off and spit into the neck hole.
    While all this is going on, over in the House the Republicans are deciding not if to cut food stamps (SNAP), but by how much, showing there’s really no end to their moral depravity. These people should feel shame for their actions, but they are shameless. At least I am comforted by the idea that if there really is a God, then this hypocritical nest of vipers will be on the Devil’s rotisserie for all eternity. That isn’t nearly long enough for my liking, but I’m a reasonable man; I’ll settle for all eternity.
    There is only one answer, and that is single-payer insurance. No, the government wouldn’t be in charge of health care, they would just be paying for it. Expand Medicare eligibility to all. The system is already set up. Or at least make Medicare for all a public option. That’s the way it is in the civilized countries. Of the 36 “developed” nations, the U.S. is the only one that doesn’t consider health care to be a right, and the only one to use a for-profit system as its main source of healthcare. Correction: Switzerland has a for-profit system for primary healthcare, but it’s heavily regulated and affordable to all. Remember the “death panels” the Right said there would be as a result of Obamacare? Here are the real death panels; the Republican House and Senate, and the for-profit insurance companies. Anyone who says this is the greatest country in the world is blowing smoke up their own ass.,

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The Bitter Battle of Buttercup Ridge

The Bitter Battle of Buttercup Ridge

Vreeping Buter Cup
    About ten years ago, when I began taking care of a large yard, my landlady Lois warned me “Don’t let those buttercups get into the lawn.” I didn’t pay attention; after all, there were only a few of them. That I did nothing about them can perhaps be forgiven. That I did nothing about them for seven or eight years cannot. The lawn in question is about 30 feet on a side. The buttercups were coming in from a shady area under some rhododendrons. What I should have done right away is examine the structure of the plant. If I had, I’d have learned why they’re called creeping buttercups. Like vines, they put out horizontal stems or runners, called stolons. Trace it to its source and you’ll see it comes out of a root nodule with several other stolons. All you have to do is stick a large screwdriver about an inch underneath it and with a cross bar, pry it up a little. Then carefully pull the root structure free of the soil. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? And I have the advantage of a target-rich environment.
    Last year, I decided seven or eight years too late to try and dig them all out. But they’ve colonized a large portion of the lawn. Every couple feet there’s a bright yellow smiley face, and if you look closer, several other buds forming. Digging the roots out only takes a few seconds. It’s tracing it along the ground level, while it’s intertwined in grass and other stolons from other root nodules. It looks impossible, and that may be because it is. Sometimes stolons are crossing over and under each other like the L.A. freeway. I am totally opposed to using poisons, so I fed a question into Google: “how to get rid of creeping buttercups organically” and the very first response — I kid you not — was by the county website, talking about Glyphosate. Glyphosate! It’s one of the most toxic substances on Earth (after testosterone). It’s the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup (see Archives, April 2015: “Glyphosate — the Chemical from Hell). Vinegar is supposed to work, too, but the stuff you find at the store is a 5% solution, and it doesn’t work that well. You need about 10-15%. I don’t have a car, so can’t just run out somewhere and find that.
    Other ideas I considered were flame thrower and rototiller, but the idea of putting in the whole lawn again didn’t appeal to me.  Then my Virgo meticulosis gene kicked in and I made a plan. First, stop them from spreading. Well, that’s not a problem, because they’ve already spread. So, keep them from spreading more. That’s how I’d start. Every day I picked all the blossoms so they wouldn’t seed, and worked on de-rooting and area of say, four feet square, or 16 sq. ft. It takes half an hour to an hour, depending on the extent of the infestation. So if the lawn is 30’ x 30’, that’s 900 sq. ft. And I’m doing 16 sq. ft. each application. How long will it take the idiot to rid the lawn of creeping buttercups? Keep in mind that he’s 72 and a smoker. 56 Applications? I’m not great at math but that seems right, and it seems doable.  And it also seems senseless. There’s too many. And now they’re coming in from both sides of the lawn. There are already hundreds, maybe thousands, of seeds that haven’t even sprouted yet. There’s too many.
    “There’s too many, Shane,” said little Joey in the classic Western. Shane was about to get his ass kicked by several bad guys in a saloon, but he wasn’t gonna back down. “You run along home now, Joey,” said Shane. Then they started pounding on him. I won’t give away the ending, but it has to do with Joey’s father and an axe handle. If Shane didn’t give up, I’m not going to either. To pump myself up, I composed a haiku:

            Creeping buttercups;
            The more of them one digs up,
            The more that remain.

    It was getting harder to ignore the fact that the battle was already lost. Still, it seemed possible. When a knight undertakes a quest, he usually does so after deciding that he stands a chance of victory. Well, unless he’s Don Quixote. Were these buttercups my windmills? Was I losing my sanity?
    My friends are becoming concerned about my mental condition.
    I began to ask myself, what was this really about? Maybe it was an attempt to assuage my guilt at having let the situation deteriorate to such an extent. Did you know the myth of Sisyphus? He had ratted out Zeus’ on one of his rape schemes. His punishment was to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back on him — forever. I’m not him, though. I can stop right now, and still say I gave it a go. I’m just not ready to stop yet. Then I thought of Captain Ahab and his obsession with Moby Dick, and how it led to the destruction of not only him, but his ship and crew as well (save one). Is there a difference between total commitment and obsession?
    My friends are concerned about my mental condition.
    It’s too late, I know that. The zombie buttercup apocalypse is upon me, only these zombies don’t lurch, they creepeth upon the Earth. It suggested another haiku:

            Creeping buttercups
            Send out runners called stolons;
            They’ve stolon the lawn.

    It’s too early to look for a light at the end of the tunnel. It could be an approaching freight train. I will go out again tomorrow, and do battle. To bastardize Sir Winston Churchill (sorry, Sir Winston), I shall fight them in the lawn. I shall fight them beneath the rhododendrons. I shall fight them among the bluebells. I shall fight them beneath the trumpet vine (which sends out its own runners to cut back). I shall fight them in the crepe myrtle and the Rose of Sharon hibiscus. I shall fight them beneath the magnolia and the plum tree. I shall fight them in the sidewalk cracks and the vegetable garden. I shall fight them among the bleeding heart and the corydalis. I shall fight them among the irises and daylilies. I shall fight them among the Herb Robert (Germanium robertianum, another creeping pestilence). Next winter I shall fight them beneath the camellias and among the sweet alyssum. I will never surrender. Isn’t that what Tim Allen said in “Galaxy Quest?” Never give up, never surrender.
    Last night I awoke in the middle of the night, to the feeling of something tugging at my skin. I turned on the night light to see creeping buttercups crawling up the bed, stolons already wrapped around my neck, my arms, and more private parts. Their bright yellow little faces smiled at me maniacally. No time to panic. I carefully pulled them off me and began tracing the stolons, looking for root nodules.
    My friends are getting very concerned about my mental condition.

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Fake!

Fake!

    From the time Donald Trump descended that fake gold staircase at Trump Tower to announce his run for President — Jeez, has it been two years already? — everything he’s done has been pure fakery. That was the speech about building the wall to keep out Mexican rapists and murderers, you’ll recall; “. . . and a few, I assume, are good people.” Not only would he build that wall, he’d bring back our lost jobs, and end all drugs and crime. And that was just the first day! His entire campaign was fake, full of fake promises. After a fake election marred by fake news, Russian interference, and unprecedented voter suppression, the nation had its first orangutan president.
    During the campaign he held an event to raise money for veterans charities, and bragged that he’d raised $6 million. Later, the charities said they still hadn’t seen any of the money. We also found out during the campaign that Trump had posed as his own publicist, calling the media and using either the name John Miller or John Barron. In a court testimony he admitted he might have used the name Barron on occasion.
    At his first post-election press conference Jan. 11th, he talked about all the great things he was going to do to make America great again, whatever that means. He pointed to a table on the stage piled up with folders and folders and folders. These were the policies and goals he would be undertaking, and for once he wasn’t lying through his teeth. Camera close-ups revealed that the folders were empty, the papers inside brand new and unruffled. The cheering, applauding people in back of the room turned out to be paid staffers (He’s paying the help now? That’s a new one). It was all a fake, a show. Whatever you can say against him, and I could go on for volumes, you must admit he’s a master showman. But then, he’s a star of “reality” TV.
    We heard him go on and on about the size of his inauguration crowd, despite photographic evidence to the contrary. He tweeted a backshot of him standing in front of that crowd, but it was a shot of Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Fake.
    As he entered office, he was in the middle of 75 ongoing lawsuits, including the now infamous fake Trump University scam, odd goings on at the Trump Foundation, and of course the numerous women accusing him of piggery.
    The next day, Jan. 21st, he visited CIA Headquarters, and in front of the wall commemorating the 117 agents that have died in service, he bragged again about the size of his inauguration crowd. I think he can’t stand it that Obama’s was bigger than his. You know what I mean. Again, the standing and cheering people in the back were White House staffers he’d brought along. The CIA employees weren’t quite so impressed.
    Remember when he was in Saudi Arabia recently, and there was this big signing ceremony over a $110 billion arms deal? That was fake, too, as we later learned there was no deal; no contracts were signed at all. Those papers were all “decision memos,” letters of intent. Later on the same trip, after scolding NATO members for not ponying up enough cash for defense, there was a dinner with Trump and NATO officials. One of them described the dinner as “a total shitshow.” You may also remember him shoving the PM of Montenegro out of his way, so he could get to the front for a photo-op. He stepped out, his gorgeous tail feathers fanned out in full male display. He adjusted his suit and puffed out his chest like a big rooster, and looked around, all leaderly. For the first time, I was no longer embarrassed by my country; I was ashamed.
    This guy is nothing but a bullshit artist, a con man, a shyster, a swindler, a flim-flam man. The only things genuine about him are his belly and his ass. Have you seen him since the election? He looks like he’s gained fifty or sixty pounds. That’s all bullshit, building up, swelling and bloating, and when he pops, there’s gonna be bullshit all over the place. We should all be wearing those plastic tarps like people in the front rows of a Gallagher show. Big successful business man. The truth is, he’s a terrible business man, and has been all his life. He blew through $50 million of his father’s money by the time he was 35. He’s made bad deal after bad deal, and used the bankruptcy system to bail himself out. There isn’t a single American bank that will have anything to do with him. This guy is a Loser with a capital L. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the reason he won’t release his tax returns is because they would show that he’s broke. Ivanka tells a story about years ago, during one of his multiple bankruptcies. They were walking down a New York street when they saw a homeless man. “See that guy?” he said. “He’s worth $8 billion more than I am.” Back when I was growing up in Wyoming, we had an expression for people like him: big hat,   big horse, no cattle. And yet he seems to have pulled off one of the greatest cons in history. How does he do it? How does he get people to believe all that rubbish?
    The term ‘con man’ is short for confidence man. That’s how the huckster does it; he gains people’s confidence. He may not be very bright, but he’s got that knack for persuasion, for telling people what they want to hear. That’s how he sold his ideas to all those banks and people who lent him money. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Maria Konnikova is a writer with a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University. Her latest book, out last year, is The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for it . . . Every Time. She talks about the dark triad of traits the con man possesses: psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism. He has no remorse or conscience, he’s skilled in the arts of persuasion and manipulation, and it’s all about him — always. The only goal of the con artist is personal profit. She writes that if Trump were a con artist, he would have no interest in politics or policies except as a means to some other end. In Trump’s case, that means enriching himself. I don’t think he ever intended to become the party’s nominee, let alone win the election. He was simply trying to build up his brand. Talk about confidence. I don’t think there’s ever been a man more confident in himself, maybe in all our history. He actually thinks he’s always the smartest guy in the room. So you can’t tell him anything, because his mind is already made up. Maybe that’s what makes him such a great salesman. Art of the Deal? It should have been called Art of the Steal.
    As for his marks, I mean supporters, they are true believers. Their minds are made up, too, so you will not be able to confuse them with the facts. They don’t dare not believe, because they’ve invested too much in the illusion that Trump really will bring back the jobs and all that other stuff. It’s called magical thinking; believing something one wishes, or needs, to be true. It’s also wading hip-deep in that famous Egyptian river, denial. I’m tempted to call that fake belief.
    So when you boil it all down, you’ve got a fake candidate who, after a fake campaign, won a fake election. Now we have a fake president with a fake cabinet, fake hair, fake tan, fake wife, fake university, fake foundation, and excoriates the “fake” media by having fake beliefs of his own. He’s just the thing for a fake democracy.

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Being on Time

Being on Time

    Yogi Berra wasn’t just a great baseball player; but also a master of unconscious tautology (“It ain’t over till it’s over”). The story goes that a player once asked him what time it was, and Yogi answered, “What, you mean now?” Now is always the correct answer. The science of time begins, I suppose, with Sir Isaac Newton, who said that time was immutable throughout the universe, and the same for everyone. Enter clock time, about which I have more to say later. Towns all measured noon by when the sun was highest, which meant when trains came along, there a lot of wrecks due to time differentials.
    In the early 1900s there were a slew of patent applications for accurate time keeping devices so everyone could be synchronized. One of the Swiss patent clerks who had to pour through all these applications was Albert Einstein, who began asking himself questions about time. He would go on to show that time and space are inextricably entwined, and that motion through space affects the passage of time. We call it spacetime now. Basically, if you’re moving, time passes more slowly, not for you, but for someone observing at rest. The difference is barely measurable, though, till you approach the speed of light. One thing would seem certain; the “arrow of time” is a one-way street, from past to present to future. On the other hand, many a physicist can tell us there’s nothing in the laws of physics that would prevent time from going backward. After all, we can move backward or forward in space. The late great George Carlin had a bit where he thought it would be better if time did run backwards. You’d begin elderly and infirm, and get younger all the time, and end in the best possible way, with a big orgasm. Or take this little snippet from Lewis Carroll:
    Alice: I can’t remember things before they happen.
    The Queen: It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.
    Well, as they say, it’s all relative. I’m much more interested in how we perceive time, which differs from person to person and depending on the circumstance. If you’re listening to a boring lecture, time seems to crawl along, but if you’re with a hot date at a concert, “time flies.” Speaking for myself, four months of Donald Trump feels like four years of Nixon, maybe because things are happening so much faster. Some great minds have spoken on the issue. Hannah Arendt is known chiefly by her seminal book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. But in another book, The Life of the Mind, she says that it is our “limited life span that transforms the continuously flowing stream of sheer change . . . into time as we know it.” Jacques Luis Borges thought time was the foundation of our experience of personal identity, and that it is inseparable from matter, spirit, and space. I especially liked what C.S. Lewis wrote: “Humans are amphibians — half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.” And singer/songwriter/author Patti Smith asks an intriguing question: “If I write about the past as I simultaneously dwell in the present, am I still in real time?
    In a show devoted to the subject, NPR’s “Radio Lab” interviewed athletes about their perception of time. A sprinter said once the gun goes off, running seemed like slow motion. I can add my own experience as a distance runner. It’s almost as if time didn’t exist (even though every runner is timed to the hundredth of a second). A high jumper said when she’s clearing the bar, time seems to stand still. Baseball players at the plate have claimed to be able to see the ball in slow motion. The famed slugger Ted Williams said he could see the stitches on the ball as it came near. Again, from personal experience, marijuana slows down the sense of time passing. When I was in my hippie days, many years ago, I did a lot of finger-picking on guitar. I liked doing speed, or amphetamines, because speeding gave me so much time to get to each string I needed to pluck. I had to give up on speed though; the crash just wasn’t worth it. It does appear that the perception of the passage of time varies according to our experience. What about other animals? Does a turtle perceive time passing in the same way as a hummingbird? Some butterflies are born without digestive systems. They live only a few days, just long enough to mate. Do they experience a whole lifetime in so short (to us) a period? What about our plant friends? They keep track of time, too, by noting the changes in light and temperature, and the change of seasons.
    Hopefully you’ve seen the 1990 film “Awakenings,” about a doctor working with catatonic patients (Robert DeNiro was one). The doctor, so ably played by Robin Williams, was Oliver Sacks, a neurologist fascinated by patients who seemed “frozen.” In his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” he tells of a patient named Myron. Over a couple hours, he would move one hand up, touch his nose, and return the hand to its original position. Twenty photos were made of it, and assembled into a flip book. When they showed it to Myron, he was “thunderstuck.” In his perception of time, he had merely reached up to scratch his nose, an action that only took a couple seconds. I’m somewhat skeptical of this account, however. If Myron perceived time at such a slow rate, wouldn’t normal speech sound speeded up, and wouldn’t people coming and going seem to flit around like our hummingbird?  Sadly, Dr. Sacks left us last year.
    However intriguing all these speculations may be, the fact appears to be that all we really have is now. That brings me to clock time, which always measures now. It’s a convenient way of measuring time that we all agreed to — or were coerced into accepting — so that we can get where we’re going “on time.” Greenwich Mean Time became UTC — Universal Time Coordinated. Today the ultimate is the atomic clock in Colorado, which measures in microseconds, using decaying Cesium atoms. The system seems a little regimented and militaristic, if you ask me; like a tyranny.  Alan Watts warns: “If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present. ‘Now’ will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past.” That’s a good warning against being a slave to clock time. He goes on to say that biological time is more rhythmic, swinging process. It’s antithetical to clack time, because it has its own flow.
    It’s odd, the many expressions having to do with time. We speak of passing or filling time, there being no time to lose, killing time, losing time, wasting time, all the time, time after time, biding one’s time, as time goes by, and let’s not leave out the capitalist motto: time is money. We may speak of someone living in the past, but physics doesn’t seem to allow it. I could go on and on, but time doesn’t permit.
    Anyway, the jury seems to be in, and it’s comforting to see Western science merging with thousands of years of Eastern philosophy: now is all we’ve got. Again, I refer to Alan Watts: “Actually, time is an illusion, because the only real time, if I may so call it, is the present. The past does not exist except as a memory, the future isn’t here at all. And all our knowledge of the future consists of guesses based on the past.”
    Mel Brooks has a brilliant scene in his less than brilliant film, “Spaceballs.” The Empire ship is chasing the rebels, watching through a monitor, when suddenly the screen shows that strange trick when you’re between mirrors, and reflections of you recede into infinity:
    “Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
    Colonel Sandurz: Now. You’re looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now.
    Dark. Helmet: What happened to then?
    Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.
    Dark Helmet: When?
    Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We’re at now now.”
    Precisely. Forty years ago the beat poets and philosophers were talking about living in the now, something the Buddhists strive for. I read the excellent Be Here Now, by Ram Dass, in the 1970s. Today we call it mindfulness, but it’s still the same. The present is all we’ve really got, and yet it slips through our fingers like sand.

    I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. — William Shakespeare, Richard II

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Binky Goes Abroad

Binky Goes Abroad

    The still-President-for-now just took his first trip abroad (Whoa — did somebody just say a broad? Take it easy, Binky). He hadn’t wanted to go at all, then he wanted the nine day trip shortened to five. At any rate, he was off to visit Saudi Arabia, then Israel, then Rome. In doing so he would be paying tribute to the world’s three great faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Oil — I mean Islam. Then he was to attend and speak to NATO. One NATO official said they were “bracing for impact.” Reuters reported that security officials were told to include his name as often as possible in his briefings, because “he keeps reading if he’s mentioned.” In short, Europe and the Middle East were being childproofed. The White House put out a paper outlining his goals, and one bullet point said “Promote the possibility of lasting peach.” Could that have been a Freudian slip because the word “impeachment” has been used so often lately?
    His first stop was to give a speech on Islam to the Saudis. I know, that sounds funny to me, too. I wonder if the Saudis remembered what he said during the campaign, that Saudi Arabia should be banned from exporting oil to the U.S. He had also accused them of masterminding the 9/11 attacks (well, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis), killing gay people, and enslaving women. In his speech he never used the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” the phrase he often accused Obama for not saying. But he did make a faux pas when he said “Islamic” extremism instead of “Islamist.” There’s subtle but important difference. Islamist infers that it’s a bastardization of Islam, whereas Islamic suggests it’s an integral part of Islam. The White House said it was because the President “was really exhausted.” Already? On the first day? Remember that debate with Hillary, when he said, “I don’t believe she does have the STAMina,” that’s how he said it, “To be President of this country you need tremendous STAMina.”. Of course she made about 200 overseas trips, and all without stamina! The Saudis weren’t offended, though. How could they be when they were about to accept a massive $110 billion arms deal from us? For that kind of money, decorum can be set aside. He also said in the speech, “. . . and we’ll be sure to give our Saudi friends a good deal from our great American defense companies.” Hey, isn’t he supposed to working for us? Overall, he got the warmest reception from the real #1 sponsor of terrorism, and he must have really loved a country that treats women even worse than he does.
    The most bizarre part of the visit was when he participated in a ceremony, akin to a ribbon-cutting, to open the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. The room was darkened as Egyptian President el-Sisi, King Salman, and Trump placed their hands on a glowing white orb. It was like something right out of a Marvel Comics super villains story.
    Commerce Secretary and Mr. Magoo lookalike Wilbur Ross was there, too, and said he was amazed that he never saw a single protester. Someone should inform him that the penalty for dissent is beheading. They do it every Friday right after prayers. Earlier, during Trump’s speech, Ross had nodded off, making him the first person to get any sleep since Trump was elected. Later, Trump participated in some kind of penis sword dance, but he didn’t look that much more awkward than most white man trying to dance.
    Then it was off to Israel. As he and Melania are walking on the tarmac, he reached back his hand for hers. And she lightly smacked it away. The video went viral. So he greeted Israeli PM Netanyahu, saying “We just got back from the Middle East.” Apparently he is unaware of Israel’s precise location. When he shook hands with Netanyahu he did his power hand shake, pulling Bibi’s hand to his chest and not letting go. Bibi was looking around, like what the hell is with this guy? They visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s principal Holocaust memorial. His visit was short, and he didn’t take the museum tour, but wrote in the guest book, “It is a great honor to be here with all my friends – so amazing and will Never Forget!” I guess by capitalizing the last two words he sanctified his messge. It reminded me of Justin Bieber visiting the Anne Frank Memorial, and writing in the guest book. “Anne was a great girl. I think she would have been a Belieber.” Later, speaking at the King David Hotel, the Doofus described the Arab feeling toward Israel as “really very positive,” proving once again, as if it needed proving, that he is completely delusional. He had also planned to visit Masada, another holy sight where hundreds of Jews martyred themselves rather than give in to the Romans. After being told that landing his helicopter on top of the monument wasn’t allowed, and that he’d have to use the cable car like everyone else, he canceled the trip. He did learn one thing; he can’t take out a loan from the West Bank.
    The next stop was Rome, where at the top of the stairs coming off the plane, he reached again for Melania’s hand. As he touched it she brought it up instantly to brush her hair. I think there’s trouble in Paradise. I now think when Melania said she wants to stay at Trump Tower until Barron is out of school, she meant until he gets his doctorate. So there they were; His Biglyness and His Holiness. There was no Alpha male handshake. Ivanka and Melania, both dressed in black (?), were there, too. You’ve seen many photos of this Popo; he’s always smiling, isn’t he? Not here. The photograph of the four shows him with a truly morose expression. They spoke for half an hour, and as they were beginning to walk out, the Pope leaned over to Melania and asked: “What do you give him to eat, Potizza?” That’s a very rich, high-calorie Slovenian desert. A very subtle fat-shame from the Pope.
    Then it was on to Brussels, and the NATO summit. Thousands were protesting outside the headquarters. They remember Trump calling Brussels “a hellhole” during the campaign. NATO was prepared, having urged officials to keep talks with him between two and four minutes, so as not to tax Trump’s notoriously short attention span. It was here where I began to have some admiration for the newly-elected French President, Emmanuel Macron. This guy is pretty cool. He and another dignitary are walking toward Trump, Angela Merkel, and a flock of other dignitaries. Trump is dead ahead, but at the last minute Macron veers right and greets Merkel, then shakes hands with a couple others. He turns to shake with Trump, who tries the Alpha male shit again, trying to pull Macron off balance. But Macron had adapted Canadian PM Trudeau’s tactic of putting his other hand on Trump’s arm. Then came Binky the Bald’s address to NATO, where he scolded them (again) for not ponying up their protection money. This fat asshole couldn’t find the word “class” in a dictionary. After the speech was another very telling moment, as Trump was pretty much left on his own as the other world leaders mingled with each other, talking and laughing.
    But my favorite moment of the whole trip was where he and Macron were seated, cameras rolling, while Trump was praising Macron’s victory. He reached out for the handshake and Macron grabbed his hand like a vice, holding it for seven seconds. You can see the knuckles of Trump’s hand turn white. If you watch the video carefully — and please allow yourself the pleasure — you can see Trump try to break off once, then on the second effort pulls his hand free. It was a magnificent example of how to deal with a bully.
    There’s another viral video from that summit. Trump and some other NATO officials are walking towards a photo op, and Trump reaches out and pushes the Prime Minister of Montenegro aside to get to the front (“Out of my way, you negro”). Then he adjusts his suit, puffs his chest out like a big ol’ rooster, and looks around. Mr. Alpha male. Mr. Ass-hat. Every time I think I couldn’t possibly be more repulsed by this braying jackass, he raises the bar  of boorishness yet again.
    Just one more stop, at Taormina Sicily, for the G7 Summit. And here occurred the sad metaphor of this man and his fake presidency. The leaders had finished an event at an amphitheater, and were walking together some 700 meters (about a half mile) to a piazza. Well, six of them were walking. Trump followed behind in an electric golf cart. I guess he must have run out of STAMina, or something. But what else could we expect? He admits he never exercises. He believes the body is like a battery and only has a finite amount of energy, which exercise depletes. And he eats junk food, which is just the thing for junk thought.
    We missed a big opportunity these last nine days. We should have changed all the locks while he was gone. Now he’s back; the creature is once again amongst us. Having alienated nearly all of our European allies, the Mango Mussolini retured triumphant. Press Secretary said it was a “historically successful” trip, but then, they are living in their own reality. The next day, Angela Merkel spoke in Munich, saying, “The times in which we could completely depend on others are to a certain degree over. I’ve experienced that in the last few days.” I think it’s pretty clear to whom she referred.

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The Amazing Nightshade Family

The Amazing Nightshade Family

    Hardly a day passes that we don’t learn something new and interesting about our friends in the plant kingdom. To me, one of the most fascinating families of plants is the nightshade family, or Solanaceae. It includes the potato, tomato, eggplant, tobacco, and the peppers (except ground black peppercorns; a separate family). This family contains some of the deadliest toxins known, as well as compounds we’ve synthesized for medicine, and yet we have daily contact with many of them. Keep in mind that plants cannot uproot themselves to flee from the dangers of insects, disease, or herbivores, so for their defenses they evolved and perfected chemical weapons. Why don’t we meet the family, while at the same time learning a little organic chemistry.
    Potato, Solanum sp. — They were first domesticated in Peru and Bolivia, between 8000 and 5000 B.C. They contain a glycoalkaloid called solanine, that can be mildly toxic. If the potato is green under the skin it shows a concentration of the chemical, so don’t eat it. Green areas just below the peel should be removed, too. Potatoes are the #1 vegetable fresh market crop, taking up twice the total acreage of sweet corn. Being half Irish, they are by far my vegetable of choice.
    Tomato, Solanum sp. — The earliest origins go back to the Aztecs, c. 700 A.D. In the early 16th Century they were introduced to Europe. Among the wealthy they were considered poisonous, but the poor loved them. That’s because wealthy people used flatware made from pewter, an alloy of tin and lead. The acid in the tomato would eat through the pewter, and lead would leach out. The French thought they had aphrodisiacal properties, hence the name pomme d’amour, love apple. Another reason they were thought poisonous is their resemblance to another family member, the Wolf Peach, Lycopersicon. The Old German word for tomato was Wolfpfirsich, the name derived from old folk tales that werewolves could be called up using members of this family.
    Tomatoes are a crucial ingredient of pizza, thought to be invented in Naples, Italy, in the late 19th century. Because Italy was only recently a united country (1881), the restaurateur wanted to reflect the colors of the new flag, so the green, white, and red became basil, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. Are they a vegetable or fruit? Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1893 they are a vegetable (for tax purposes), the definition of a fruit is the edible fleshy body surrounding a seed or seeds, and that’s good enough for me. Actually those fleshy parts you’re eating are the plant’s ovaries. Yum!
    Tobacco, Nicotiana sp. — N. Tabacum was and is cultivated for tobacco, and like our first two entries, also from the New World. Drop for drop, nicotine is more deadly than both strychnine and Western Diamondback rattlesnake venom, and three times more lethal than arsenic. Another deadly toxin the plant produces is anabasine, better known as neonicotine. Today, neonicotinoids are the #1 selling pesticide in the world, and the prime suspect in crashing the bee population. That’s why they’re banned in Europe. Recent studies have shown more positive uses for nicotine. It stimulates the brain’s production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter.  For decades, a different chemical was used for that purpose — levadopa, also called L-dopa, used to treat Parkinson’s, but a side effect was involuntary muscle movements. Nicotine doesn’t have that side effect. In fact, it’s showing promise in treating not only Parkinson’s, but also Tourette’s syndrome and schizophrenia. It’s normally administered in the form of chewing gum or a transdermal patch.
    Deadly Nightshade, Atropa belladonna — Also known as Devil’s berries, naughty man’s cherries, or beautiful death. The Genus name gives it away as a main source of atropine, a deadly poison. It was the plant of choice for assassins in the Middle Ages. Women back then used the herb’s oil to dilate their pupils, in order to look more seductive. That’s what the doctor puts in your eyes prior to an eye examination. The plant also contains scopolamine, another toxic alkaloid. Cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and rabbits are immune to the berries, but pets are not. The plant was used by the ancients for an anaesthetic for surgery, due to its effects of dizziness or drowsiness. Scopolamine (or hyoscine) is used to treat motion sickness. In the alley behind my house is Solanum dulcamara, or Bittersweet Nightshade. Whereas the belladonna flowers are purplish brown and bell-shaped, these are purple with yellow stamens, and very attractive. They eventually form red berries. I’m not worried about any animal getting sick, because these guys have another defense: they’re well guarded by a thicket of blackberry thorns.
    As a side note, when I was in the Army infantry, part of our combat training gear was an atropine injector. It’s an antidote for nerve agents, like the Sarin gas recently used in Syria. It was about the size of a Magic Marker. If attacked by nerve gas, you were supposed to push the plunger with your thumb as you jammed it down into your thigh muscle. I’m really glad I never got the chance to use it.
    Eggplant, Solanum melongena — Also known as augergine (fr. Catalan alberginia), garden egg, or mad apple, due to a legend that it causes insanity. Why, that’s crazy! The first written record is from China, 544 A.D. It’s been known to be allergenic, especially to those hypersensitive to allergies, but cooking usually neutralizes the threat. I know people love it, but I’ve never cared for the spongy texture. To be fair, though, I once tasted my date’s Moussaka at a Greek restaurant, and I must admit it was pretty good.
    Datura sp. — D. stramonium, is known as Jimsonweed, Angels’ trumpets, Devil’s snare, and Voodoo cucumber.  It also contains atropine and scopolamine and is highly hallucinogenic. In his book The Serpent and the Rainbow, Wade Davis tells how Voodoo priests used it to create real “zombies.” A related species is the Borrachero tree of Colombia, also known as Angels’ trumpets. It has also been used to make a chemical, burundanga, which can disorient victims, blocking their ability to form memories or make free will choices, similar to date rape drugs. Again, ancients used it for anaesthesia during surgery or bone setting.
    Mandrake, Mandragora officinarum — Because it contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids, and the shape of the root often resembles the human form, it is steeped in all kinds of supernatural lore. Legend has it that it would scream when pulled, and instantly kill the puller, so it was often tied to an animal to pull out. Effects of ingestion are similar to atropine poisoning; blurred vision, dizziness, pupil dilation, vomiting, and rapid heart rate (tachycardia). In proper dosage it, too, was used for anaesthesia, but also used to treat melancholy, rheumatic pains, and convulsions. Larger doses can lead to delirium and madness.
    Peppers, Capsicum sp. — Their defense system consists of capsaicin, the “heat” in a pepper. For some reason, birds seem to be unaffected. Widely grown in warmer climates, I don’t think I need to tell you all their culinary uses. I’m not a pepper guy, I don’t like hot foods, but I do make chicken paprikash, flavor a stew with just a touch of organic roasted cayenne, and use a 4oz. can of Ortega diced green chilis in my lentil chili. Scoville heat units, or SHU, are how the heat in peppers is rated. I don’t include “chili (or chile) peppers” in this list, as it can apply to so many varieties.

    Name                                                                         SHU

    Bell pepper                                                                     0
    Pimento and paprika (usually)                                          100 – 1000
    Poblano                                                                           1000 – 2000
    Jalapeno                                                                         2500 – 10,000
    Cayenne                                                                          30,000 – 50,000
    Habanero                                                                        100,000 – 350,000
    Ghost pepper, Carolina Reaper, Komodo Dragon              1,000,000 – 2,200,000

    Let’s compare these numbers to pepper spray, used for self-defense (I hope). The retail pepper spray you’re likely to find at the gun shop is about 2,000,000 SHU, roughly that of the Ghost pepper. Military or police grade pepper sprays can be as mush as 5,000,000 SHU. They are literally chemical weapons. What does the UN have to say about that? The UN Conventions on Chemical Weapons, in 1992, banned the use of chemical agents, including tear gas, pepper spray, and of course nerve agents — but only for use on the battlefield. Oddly, the Convention doesn’t include domestic police use. However, the UN Commission on Human Rights does, and over the years the U.S. has received many visits from UN inspectors.
    If you’ve been as impressed by this marvelous family of plants, consider that they’ve got a well over 100 million years head start over us. That’s a long time in which to evolve the kind of complex and sophisticated systems. Plants really are amazing beings.

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Don’t Laugh at Jeff Sessions

Don’t Laugh at Jeff Sessions

    “Woman Arrested After Laughing In Sessions Hearing,” ran the headline. It was Jan. 10th, at the Senate confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL. There were many protesters in the gallery, and several from Code Pink in pink Lady Liberty costumes. One of them was Desiree Fairooz, age 61, a decades-long activist. Sen. Richard Shelby (also R-AL) was giving an introductory statement, and when he mentioned that Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented,” she laughed. A rookie female cop who had never worked a congressional hearing asked her to “Please come with me,” Desiree cried out in protest and held up a sign: “Support Civil Rights: Stop Sessions.” Two people had donned Klan robes in mock support for the nominee, while others shouted that he was a pig and a white nationalist. Capitol Police made 25 arrests that day.
    Let me provide some context. Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III has a long record of bigotry and racism. As Alabama Attorney General he’d called a black attorney “boy,” and had said he thought the KKK was okay until he learned some of them smoked pot. Later he said it was a joke. Recently he actually said “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” In 1986 another Senate hearing denied him a federal judgeship due to his blatant racism. Desiree Fairooz was in the gallery that day, too. The Chairman of that Committee was Strom Thurmond, a Dixiecrat who had run for President in 1948 on a platform of segregation. And Sessions was too racist even for him! After a federal judge in Hawaii blocked Trump’s second Muslim ban, Sessions said: “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.” From that statement we can see that he has as much contempt for the Constitution as that malignant growth in the White House who appointed him. He later said it was a joke.
    On May 3rd, Desiree was convicted on both counts: disorderly or disruptive conduct and parading, demonstrating, or picketing. She could face six months to a year in jail. The jury foreman insisted she was not arrested for laughing, but for her disruption as she was being removed. That sounds like a distinction without a difference, so as a public service I am writing this post to caution any of you who might think of laughing at this deformed Keebler elf turned to the dark side. Don’t do it! You could be subject to arrest, fine, or prison. If I say Jeff Sessions is whiter than Mitt Romney in a snowstorm, don’t you dare laugh. I’m doing this for your own good, let me assure you. If I tell you Jeff Sessions isn’t really a racist, he just likes the feeling of walking on blacktop, show some self control.
    I’m going to tell some of the best jokes I could find about this little butt plug. You may think I’m putting you through this out of malice, knowing that you’re not allowed to laugh. Believe me, I’m only trying to build up your immune system, so that when you hear a joke about him in public, you’ll know enough to keep silent. After all, you may have a spouse and a family, and a job you’d like to keep. You don’t want to jeopardize all that, do you? No, no, don’t thank me yet. Wait till you get through the training.
    Why is Jeff Sessions always on the bottom during sex? Because Republicans can only fuck up.
    When did Jeff Sessions get a nipple ring? After hearing George Bush got a Dick Cheney.
    Trump misspoke when he said attacks on Jeff Sessions are a witch hunt. He meant to say Grand Wizard hunt.
    “Saturday Night Live” shouldn’t have portrayed Jeff Sessions as Forrest Gump. Sessions would never hang around with black or disabled people.
    Jeff Sessions is so white he makes vanilla ice cream go “Daaaammnn!” Ooh, did I detect the corners of a smile from someone out there? Don’t worry; it’s still legal to smile.
    He’s so white he makes the Queen look like Queen Latifah.
    He’s so white he makes “Prairie Home Companion” look like a Kendrick Lamar concert.
    He’s so white he makes Michael Jackson look black.
    He’s so white he won’t go shopping on Black Friday.
    He’s so white he gets sunburned by the moon.
    He’s so white he gets a tan standing in front of the TV.
    Did you know Jeff Sessions’ leg moves when you scratch him behind his ears?
    Why shouldn’t Jeff Sessions go swimming? Crackers get soggy when wet.
    Why can’t Jeff Sessions play chess? Because he’s been taught all white pieces are kings.
    Why did Jeff Sessions fail his biology test in high school? Because when the teacher asked him what’s normally found in a cell, he answered, “Black people.”
    What’s the difference between Jeff Sessions and a snake? One is an evil, cold-blooded, venomous, slimy creature of Satan, and the other is a snake.
    Jeff Sessions’ favorite joke: What’s white on the top and black on the bottom? Society.
    Jeff Sessions confirmed: Yes we Klan!
    Hasan Minhaj was the comic host of this year’s White House Correspondence Dinner. He said Jeff Sessions had wanted to come, but he was doing a pre-Civil War reenactment.
    The late night comics have had their shots, too. Stephen Colbert has referred to him as a forest gnome, and the first baby-grandpa hybrid.
    Seth Meyers offered this one: “After past allegations of racism, Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions said today, ‘I abhor the Klan and their hateful ideology,’ though he refused to answer the follow-up question, ‘Ku Klux or Wu Tang?’ “
    You are free to enjoy laughing at these jokes, safely in the privacy of your home. And my hope is that you’ll be somehow inoculated, so that if you hear them in public, you’ll know enough to keep quiet. I don’t want anyone getting in trouble. More important, perhaps you’ll come to the realization that there is nothing funny at all about this beady-eyed little peckerhead. Personally, I think we’d all be better off if his father had wasted that load against the wall. He has to be one of the most rancid pieces of fecal material the Republicans have ever vomited out upon the American political landscape. Now he’s ordering judges to go back to maximum sentencing, even for low-level drug offenses, and we know how this affects minorities at about a 4 to 1 ratio to whites. It’s appalling. That such a pathetic and twisted little bed-wetter can come to be the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement officer, must make the Devil himself blush. But at least when God made him a fool, he gave him a fool’s face.

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Republicans’ No Good, Nasty, Very Bad Ideas

Republicans’ No Good, Nasty, Very Bad Ideas

    I have searched my history carefully over the years, and have concluded that the last good Republican idea was 61 years ago, in 1956. It was the official platform for reelection of Eisenhower, and was far to the left of most any Democrat today; you can look it up. Since then, every idea they’ve had has been a bad one, especially for working people. Nixon signing into law the EPA and Clean Water Act? Nope, those were Democratic bills. If you can name even one piece of legislation proposed and passed by Republicans since then that benefitted all Americans, I’d love to hear it. I want to go through their talking points and what each one really means, and I’ll start with taxes, their big bogeyman.
    We’ve got to cut taxes, Americans are paying too many taxes, they’ll say. What they really mean is that billionaires are paying too many taxes. Back about 1980, a Reagan economic adviser named Art Laffer came up with what they thought was a brilliant idea. It was called the Laffer Curve, and it basically said that if you cut taxes on the rich and corporations, it would actually increase government revenues. The more the tax cuts, the greater the revenues, so I suppose zero taxes would lead to infinite revenues. It makes as much sense as the idea that if you want to be taller, you should cut off your head and stand on it. It led George H.W. Bush to call it “voodoo economics when he ran against Reagan in 1980.
    There’s a much deeper agenda behind tax cuts, called “starve the beast.” Cutting taxes brings less revenue, calling for budget cuts, and these cuts are always to social safety net programs that help the poor, who are lazy and unworthy. So Democrats are tagged as “tax and spend liberals” because they believe in spending on infrastructure, schools and hospitals, and programs that help the victims of Republican policies. That’s the purpose of the government, per the Constitution, to “promote the General Welfare” (of its citizens).
    Then there’s the estate tax, which Republican pollster and wordsmith Frank Luntz renamed the Death Tax, in order to demonize it. It only applies to the richest .2%, but the billionaire class, who are the Republicans’ sugar daddies, would like it gone.
    Republican Frankenstein says, “Regulations bad!” They hate regulations almost as much as taxes. To them, regulations hinder business growth, but what they really do is prevent industries from running roughshod over people and the environment. For regulations, try the words consumer protections, because that’s what they are. They protect our air, water, and food, or would if they were enforced. Capitalism and democracy are incompatible, unless it’s tightly regulated. Unregulated capitalism — aka free market fundamentalism — always, ALWAYS, leads to monopolies, and the monopolies are just fine with that.
    The Rule of Law — Oh, they love that one. They’re always talking about the rule of law, and being held accountable for one’s actions. Of course, that rule only applies to minorities and poor people. The banksters who nearly crashed the economy in 2008 have never been held accountable. White collar crime by white people is exempt from the rule of law.
    Republicans have spent decades demonizing the word entitlements, as if they were some kind of welfare program. Their favorite target is Social Security, because they want so desperately to privatize it. Social Security is an insurance program. In fact, FICA stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act. It’s an insurance program people pay into their entire working lives, so they won’t fall into poverty in old age. And they are god damned well entitled to it. You want an example of what Republicans mean by entitlements? The Capitol Gains tax is an entitlement for people who sit on their asses all day making money with money. They don’t contribute anything to society, but pay half the taxes of the rest of us.
    Immigrants have always been a target to prey upon, now more than ever. But only the colored ones, “Oh, they’re coming here and taking our jobs!” You mean the jobs you won’t do, like picking lettuce in the hot sun for 10-12 hours? Employers love undocumented workers, and depend on them to work for far less wages than Americans. We don’t have an illegal immigrant problem; we have an illegal employer problem. Our piss poor excuse for a president called them murders and rapists, despite the fact that his grandparents and his mother were immigrants, as were two of his wives. That’s different, though, because they’re white. His intensified roundups for deportation (something Obama was also guilty of) is misplaced. If we’re really concerned about national security, then deport white nationalists.
    How many times have you heard Republicans rave about choice? School choice is another term for private charter schools usurping our public education system. Health care choice is really saying you can choose which insurance company you want to be screwed by. Choice breeds competition, they’ll tell you, but when the four or five massive insurance companies collude with each other to keep prices high, well, that shows the need for tight regulation. Yeah, they love choice, unless it applies to a woman having control over her own reproductive system, then Republican Frankenstein says, “Choice bad!”
    These days, Republicans are scrambling to repeal and replace Obamacare. They had seven years to come up with a plan, and when it came time for their moment of glory, it was an epic fail. Why? Because it’s full of bad ideas. Take their idiotic HSAs, health savings accounts. People are supposed to save money so they can pay obscene deductibles. Never mind that a study last year by the Federal Reserve found that 47% of Americans couldn’t raise $400 for an emergency. They don’t HAVE savings accounts. They spend all the little they earn just to keep a roof over their heads. Then there are the high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions, to keep costs down for healthy people. What that means is that those who need health care the most can’t get it, or pay through the nose, if they can afford it. Speaker Ryan revealed his colossal ignorance when he said the main problem with Obamacare is that healthy people were paying for the sick ones. Yes, Paul, because that’s how insurance works, you sociopathic ass-hat!
    They also use the weasel word “access,” as in “Every American will have access to health care.” I have access to buy a Lamborghini from a dealership in Seattle. I can’t afford it, but I have access. Trumpcare 2.0 (which I call the Unaffordable Care Act) is bad, and they knew it. That’s why they pushed it through before the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, could score it. After the CBO scored the first try in February, no one would vote for it so they pulled it. At least, Paul Ryan had the nerve to say, “Doing big things is hard.” A Republican telling the truth is as rare as hens’ teeth. The final slap in our face: Congress members and their staff are exempt from all these provisions. By “access” Republicans mean that anyone can go to the Emergency Room and be treated. Yes, if you have a heart attack or gunshot wound. But if you have cancer and can’t afford the chemo, or diabetes and can’t afford insulin, or an unexplained pain that won’t go away, there’s nothing the ER can do. Same thing with follow up care for that heart attack or gunshot wound; the ER isn’t equipped for that. AND, all these ER visits by people with no other choice just adds to everyone else’s premiums. I thought Republicans were so hot about saving money. It’s just another Big Lie, and some of them actually believe it.
    You’ll hear constant preaching from the Right about the evils of federal lands, and how they should be given back to the people. Another word for federal is public. The federal government is holding those public lands apart for all the people, not fossil fool exploiters who want to get in there to drill and frack the place to smithereens.
    Well, if the Republicans’ ideas are so bad, why do they keep winning elections? Because they cheat. They know their ideas suck, so they have to rig the elections to have any chance. Using the phony bugaboo Voter Fraud, they’ve passed voter ID laws designed and intended to keep certain people from voting; minorities, women, the elderly, students, and the poor. These demographics traditionally vote Democratic, and for good reason. There are also voter purges in several Republican-controlled states. You show up to vote, told you’re not on the rolls, and fill out a provisional ballot. It should be called a placebo ballot, because these ballots are not only uncounted, they’re usually thrown away.
    These people don’t give a damn about democracy, and they hate everything America used to stand for. They don’t believe in government, something their sainted Ronald Reagan (curses be upon his name) affirmed when he said government is not the solution, it is the problem. They believe government can’t work, then go on to prove it every time they’re elected. They are liars and hypocrites, anti-life, and are toxic to democracy. I don’t just want them voted out of office, I want them voted out of the country.

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